The Witness is a moving and insightful novel of a woman’s recovery from unspeakable violence. Jennifer Jeffries, an American tourist in London, escaped death at the hands of a serial killer but could not escape the fear and pain that followed. She must reconcile what she lost — innocence, independence, and confidence — with what she finds — a new purpose, a wiser and more compassionate self, and love. A crime/suspense novel with a twist, The Witness details the trauma and experiences of the victim as well as the law enforcement procedures which bring her attacker to justice.
Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sinclair was dog tired. Sleep had been a stranger to him since early Tuesday morning, when the girl’s body had been found. Victim, he corrected himself. She was still alive, although the first officer on the scene had not thought so. Young and inexperienced, he’d seen the blood and the pasty white skin of her nude body and had concluded that the young woman rolled up in the rug was dead. Never checked. Fortunately his supervising officer had not been deterred by her condition or the squalor in the alley off Liverpool Road. He had lifted her out of the rubbish in the skip and found a very faint pulse.
At that point things had begun to happen very quickly. An ambulance had arrived. Islington was his borough, and he had been called. He and his sergeant, David Andrews, had gone first to the alley to view the deposition site and then to University College Hospital’s casualty department and operating theatre. The ambulance, a crime scene now, had been isolated. A forensic doctor had worked with the UCH staff to supervise the collection of evidence from the victim – also considered a crime scene – a delicate procedure since it was of paramount importance not to endanger her life.
He ran his hand through his hair. At first the doctors wouldn’t give him any odds on her survival. They were brusque. “It’s too soon for a diagnosis,” he’d been told. “We’ll know more in seventy-two hours.” When he’d heard the catalogue of her injuries, he understood why. The only things she had going for her were her age and a strong heart. She was unconscious and heavily sedated. It had taken all his considerable powers of persuasion to convince Doctor Walsh to let them see her.
The doctor’s face had registered his displeasure, but he hadn’t wanted Sinclair’s arguments to deplete his time any further. He had donned a surgical mask and given Sinclair and Andrews masks as well before taking them onto the intensive care ward, each bed with just a curtain for privacy. The only sounds came from life support and other medical equipment. “She was bleeding internally,” Walsh said in response to their surprise at the masks. “Her spleen had ruptured. We had to remove it. As a result her immune system has been compromised. If she lives, she’ll be more susceptible to infection the rest of her life.”
Dr. Walsh’s movements were smooth and precise. He pulled back her hospital gown with slim, gloved fingers and described the injuries covered by surgical dressings. One of the victim’s arms was in a cast. “She was also severely dehydrated when she was admitted. She has several cracked and bruised ribs. Broken ribs – here and here – punctured her lung and caused bleeding in her chest. We’re draining that.” He pointed to a tube stitched to the skin beneath and to the side of her left breast, and Sinclair winced.
“She’s not breathing on her own,” the doctor added, gesturing to another tube which ran from her mouth to a machine on the floor. “We sutured multiple lacerations. There are too many contusions to name. The worst, aside from those on her abdomen, are on her right shoulder and left thigh. If haematoma develops in the thigh – blood collecting in the tissues – we’ll have to open it and drain it surgically. The leg is elevated to reduce the danger of a clot. The man who did this didn’t hold back his rage, and he didn’t miss much.”
It was always difficult for Sinclair to see the damage done by brutal men to innocent women. This young woman was clinging to life. If she regained consciousness, at some point she’d know that others had seen her without her permission. It struck him that that would be another assault, an assault on her soul.
Walsh was still speaking. “Her liver was bleeding and needed repair, and there are some unusual marks on her thighs.” He lifted one of her legs slightly to show them. “Her concussion wasn’t severe, but there’s something else you need to know: She was a virgin when this bloody attack took place. The complete details will appear in her medical record.” The anger in his voice had been unexpected. “I have a daughter,” Walsh explained. “It’s not possible to be equally objective with all patients.” He covered her, removed his latex gloves, and led them into the corridor.
“When can we speak with her?” Sinclair asked.
Walsh looked as tired as Sinclair felt. “It’s Tuesday. We won’t begin to ease up on the sedation until Friday. She should regain consciousness later that day, assuming no complications develop. She won’t be able to talk to you, though. We won’t start weaning her from the respirator until Saturday, and the endotracheal tube will have to remain in place until we do.”
“I understand,” Sinclair said, but Walsh gave a further warning.
“It’s going to be difficult. Even after the tube comes out, she’ll be in significant pain for some time. Your sessions will have to be very brief.” He’d given Sinclair a sharp nod of dismissal and moved quickly toward the nurses’ station.
So Sinclair had waited, visiting the hospital regularly. Each day the nurses reported no change, but Sinclair still spent a few minutes by her bed, brooding over her broken, battered, and ravaged body. It was hard to imagine this frail, still form having a life, laughing, loving. The end of a life usually meant, for him, the beginning of an investigation. This life-in-stasis meant that he could not advance. He had never been one for marking time, always preferring forward motion with reason dictating each step.
Their lack of progress on the case ate at him. They still didn’t know who she was. A missing persons report had been filed by a central London hotel and was being investigated, but no determination had been made. According to the hotel manager, a white female, American, had not returned to her room. She was described as short and slim, with dark hair and eyes, probably in her early twenties. Police had spoken to her family briefly to inquire about her possible movements. Did she have a friend she might be visiting? Was she planning to travel somewhere outside London during this time? Had they heard from her? A photograph had been requested but not yet received. The unidentified female in hospital had not been mentioned.
This young woman had not been the first victim; six others had preceded her. When London’s Metropolitan Police had realised they were dealing with a serial killer, the pressure to get things done had escalated exponentially, and the Special Homicide Squad had been created at New Scotland Yard. It stood to reason: They had the space to accommodate all the personnel and specialist functions required by a major investigation.
Sinclair and his sergeant had just recently been seconded to the squad. Andrews had rearranged the letters and called it, SSH, the Library Squad, and Sinclair appreciated his sense of humour. He was surprised, however, that the summons had come so quickly, before forensic evidence had been processed that would establish substantive links to the other crimes. It was an indication, he supposed, of the Yard’s desire to commit their full resources to solving the case. Crimes committed by strangers were the most difficult to solve. Evidence collected in this woman’s case could provide new avenues of investigation for the others. “Operation No Mercy,” it was called, and indeed the villain who had murdered six women and nearly killed a seventh had shown none and deserved none.
It was now Friday, and the first newspaper story – “Newest Victim of Carpet Killer?” – had appeared two days earlier. The man who had tried to kill this girl knew he had not been successful. He also knew where she was, hence the uniformed officer assigned to guard her. She looked tiny and completely defenseless in the big hospital bed. She had a straight nose, arched brows over long lashes and a small mouth, still closed over the tube that helped her breathe. A bandage covered one cheek. Her skin – where it wasn’t bruised – was unnaturally pale, and it made her short brown hair look particularly dark against the pillow.
He wanted very much to speak with her. Would she be coherent? What would she be able to tell them about her attacker? If her memory were intact, she would awaken to a nightmare. The injuries to her body were appalling, and he knew from experience that her mind had been raped as well. At the moment she was blissfully unaware of the challenges that lay before her. Soon, he hoped, she’d be reassured by the sheer number of people working on her case. The Yard was like a huge lion, crouching in the shadows and ready to spring upon the monster who had caused such heartache to so many. All they needed was a description, and they would find him and sink their teeth into him.
Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long.
~ William Shakespeare
The room was dim, but the pain was not. The woman without a name remembered the pain, and she felt it now, as sharp, constant, and deep as her fear, commanding her attention and making it difficult to think. My God, there was something in her throat! She reached for it, her shoulder throbbing, and heard a man’s voice say, “That must be uncomfortable, but you need it just now.” She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t even make a sound. She struggled against the firm hand restraining her weak, slow one. When he moved into her field of view, she saw a wide face drawn in fatigue. The eyes above the mask were startlingly blue.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You’re in hospital.”
Curtains instead of walls. Sheets covering her. Light pulsing across a screen. She could hear the bleep of a monitor. Other buzzes and clicks. Was he a doctor? He had dark brown hair, mussed as if he had run his hand through it one time too many, but – a tweed coat? Was he a minister? Was she dying?
“You’re safe now.”
She would never be safe.
“I’m a policeman. I’m here to help. Are you in pain?”
She dipped her chin. Even that motion hurt, and tears she couldn’t wipe welled up.
He took her hand. “I’m Colin Sinclair. I want very much to know your name.” He put a pen in her fingers and held a small notebook against them. She wrote Jenny before her grip weakened and the pen fell. She closed her eyes.
Very quietly he retrieved his pen. She knew who she was, so she had memory. That was positive for the investigation but perhaps not merciful for her. On his way out he reported her brief period of consciousness to the nurses.