Even though it was a secluded spot and rain seemed unlikely, a tent had been erected over the corpse. Treading carefully on the stepping plates put down to preserve any important evidence, Imogen entered the tent, with just Emma behind her.
The woman was lying on her back, arms by her side, legs together, as if she were already in her coffin. As Pete had said, her eyes gazed sightlessly at the canvas overhead.
Scene of Crime Officers moved around the victim, taking pictures.
Imogen crouched beside the body. As with the others, there was no blood, no marks on the throat, no obvious signs of violence. The woman was in her late forties or early fifties, white, with mid-length brown hair that looked like it had been recently highlighted. Average weight, about five foot seven. Lightly made up, though the mascara around her eyes had smeared. She was a good-looking woman, well-groomed and wearing casual but expensive clothes: a pair of designer jeans and a light cashmere sweater. She wore white pumps on her feet. And Pete was right: she appeared to be smiling, her lips curled upwards at each corner.
Just like the others.
She wished she could roll up the woman’s sleeve to check for what she was sure would be there, but she didn’t want to risk incurring the wrath of Karen Lamb or do anything that would jeopardise this investigation.
She got to her feet, taking another look at the body and the grass around her.
‘No drag marks,’ she said. ‘She was carried here. And no sign of a syringe of any other drugs paraphernalia. Just like the others.’
She left the tent, Emma at her heels, and turned slowly in a circle, scanning the perimeter. To the west and north, open countryside stretched as far as the eye could see. To the east, Imogen could see the town, and to the south, the streets where most of Much Wenlock’s inhabitants lived, the houses a mix of new and old. Could the killer live there, within spitting distance of this place? It seemed unlikely. The three victims had been found at spots spread out across the country. There was nothing to suggest he was leaving them in his own backyard.
‘He can’t have carried her too far, not unless he’s incredibly strong,’ Imogen said. ‘He must have parked somewhere nearby before entering the site.’
She closed her eyes and tried to picture it: the man she’d spent so many hours thinking about over the past few months, carrying this woman – like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold? Or over his shoulder? So far, they hadn’t found signs of entry at any of the three scenes. It was as if he’d swooped down from the sky and placed his victims gently on the ground before taking off again.
Her phone rang. She took the call, then turned back to Emma.
‘That was the station. A guy in Ludlow’s reported his wife missing. Five seven, brown hair with blonde highlights. He described her jewelry, too. It matches. Her name’s Fiona Redbridge.’
She stepped back through the opening of the tent, hoping Karen would get here quickly so they could at least close the poor woman’s eyes. Once more, she crouched beside the body, wishing again that she could roll up the sleeve of that blouse and check for the needle mark she was certain would be there.
Rising and leaving the tent, Imogen stopped as a movement in the middle distance caught her eye. Someone was standing in the field, just beyond the perimeter of the Priory. A man, dressed in black, too far away to make out his features. When she took a few steps towards him, he turned and began hurriedly walking away. Imogen approached one of the younger officers with orders to pursue him, but before she’d even finished speaking the man had vanished, as if he’d melted into thin air.