Heather rubbed her hand across her eyes, trying to make sense of this new information. Her mum had never been the type for reminiscing, and Heather had never questioned it. Now it was apparent there was a whole stretch of her life that had never even been hinted at. As far as she’d ever known, there had been no other serious relationships with anyone other than her dad. Yet here was this man in the letters. This man who, it seemed, was in prison.
And in all the letters Heather had read, her mother hadn’t mentioned that she had a daughter. Not once.
Who was this man? Reluctantly she thought of the suicide note again, the strange phrases her mum had used—as though she was talking to someone as well as Heather.
“Oh, shut up,” Heather murmured to herself. “You’re jumping to conclusions now.”
She gulped down the last of the coffee and pulled her laptop from her bag. Her mother had always been something of a techno- phobe and had refused to get even dial-up Internet, so Heather had to piggyback off the Internet data on her phone, and within seconds she had the Internet browser page up. She looked at the name, Michael Reave, sitting in the search box.
She paused before clicking search. “There could be nothing at all, right?” she said to the empty kitchen.
The first image that came up was his mugshot, and of course she knew it—it was as familiar to her as the hateful, lax faces of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, as familiar as the snarling goblin face of Fred West. For a moment the bitter taste of coffee lapped at the back of her throat, and she wondered for an agonizing sec- ond if she was going to be sick on the kitchen table, but then her stomach croaked and settled. In the photo, Michael Reave was looking straight at the camera, his tousled black hair not quite meeting his collar. There was none of the blankness you often saw in these sorts of photos; Michael Reave looked aggrieved, even faintly rueful, as though the arresting officers had made some sort of foolish mistake that they’d feel bad about soon. He was unshaven, but it suited him, and the little lock of white hair at his temple only made him seem appealingly quirky. As pictures of serial killers went, it was a reasonable one.
A serial killer.
“Fucking hell, Mum. Fucking hell.”
There was a Wikipedia page, which in the little introductory paragraph explained that Michael Reave was a convicted serial killer from the UK, known in the British tabloids as “the country ripper,” “Jack in the Green,” and, more popularly, “the Red Wolf.” He was finally caught in 1992, but not before murdering five women in Lancashire and Manchester, with another possible ten victims elsewhere. The article noted that it was widely thought he was responsible for a great many more missing women, but that Reave had always protested his innocence, and continued to do so. The page was oddly truncated; Heather knew Wikipedia well enough to know that anything involving grisly murders tended to have paragraph after paragraph of lovingly researched detail, but here there was little to go on. She scanned through what there was, her lips pressed into a thin line of revulsion. Michael Reave was known for leaving flowers with his victims, sometimes planting them in wounds—Heather looked away for a moment, trying not to picture that—and sometimes winding blossoms through their hair or placing them in their mouths. The “Red Wolf” nickname was one he had apparently given himself; he had left a note with one body reading simply: “the red wolf hunts.”
Heather clicked back to the search page. Under the image tab
there were pictures of some of his victims. They were young women mostly, their old-fashioned haircuts catching them in time like flies in amber, their images forever linked to the man who had killed them.
The house was very quiet. Heather sat, thinking about her mother, sitting in this kitchen, probably at this table, writing letter after letter to a man who had butchered women. Her daughter in the other room watching television, her husband out at work, while she wrote letters to a killer.
She thought about her mum sitting at the kitchen table, writ- ing a suicide note.
Monsters in the wood.
Feeling sick, Heather picked up her cell phone, her thumb hovering over Nikki’s number. She felt cold, and untethered some- how, but she also couldn’t help noticing a certain tension in her stomach, a kind of delirious excitement that was oddly familiar; it was a little like the feeling she got when an enormous story landed in her lap. Biting her lip, she pressed the number. When her friend’s voice came on the line, it was suddenly difficult to say anything, but she forced the words out.
“Nikki, can I come over? I need to talk to someone.”