A Stab in the Dark

A detective. A forensic scientist. A journalist.
Three lives drawn together by a murder.
When evidence lies and the case evolves, who can you trust in a city full of lies?
---- Updated every Wednesday ----

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1. A Corpse with a Familiar Face

Jackie

The phone call came in at around four in the morning, but I didn't have to ask why the caller felt it necessary to contact me so early in the day. One thing I've had to deal with since taking this job is lack of sleep; I'm used to it by now.

After all, murder doesn't tend to follow a schedule.

By the time four thirty rolled around, I was stepping out of the taxi into the frostbitten street. It was a bitterly cold morning- colder than any of the days I spent in the States growing up- but I lived in London now, and grey days were the norm. A gust of wind roared down the street, tugging at my coat and knocking my hat off my head into a puddle. Sighing, I knelt down on the wet pavement and picked it up, wiping it dry on my coat and placing it back on my head. As I stood up, I was blinded by the headlights of an approaching car, and I winced as it tore past, splashing into a puddle and drenching me with icy water. I resisted the urge to flip the driver off and instead did my best to brush the water drops off my coat and wiped my face with a stray napkin I found in my pocket. Another day, off to another bad start. Just another grey day in my grey life.

So this was England- the home of the glamorous murder mystery. So far, my new home wasn't living up to the expectations set by my favourite novels. I hadn't been called out to any idyllic manor houses or glamorous hotels. I hadn't foiled any elaborate revenge plots or unravelled any tragic stories of love and heartbreak. What had I done? Well, I'd been called out to plenty of falling down council houses and rundown old pubs and blackened alleyways. I had “foiled the plot” of a clinically depressed mother of two who had driven her children into the middle of the countryside with the intent of burning herself and her family to death on the side of the road. We found her burned- out Ford Fiat on the side of the road. The kids- aged two and six- were still alive. The mother,-well, let's just say she got her wish. Another time, I “unravelled” the tragic story of a seventeen-year-old boy who had come home blackout drunk one night and stabbed his father and stepmother to death with a broken bottle. The poor kid had called us himself the next morning; said he had woken up surrounded by broken glass and blood, said he didn't remember a thing. I almost cried at that one. Almost. See, murder isn't always the result of a tragic romance, or a family feud, or an elaborate revenge scheme months in the making. Sometimes it's the result of a mental disorder, or an addiction, or a night out with friends gone tragically wrong. It doesn’t have to happen for a reason- in fact, it rarely does. And it's certainly never glamorous.

And as I stood there on the rain-soaked pavement, surrounded by the darkness and cold of the London morning, I knew that the crime scene around the corner would be no different.

I flipped up my collar, shoved my hands in my pockets and started down the street. My footsteps were the only ones I could hear. The city was silent. I checked street signs until I read ‘Hawkestone Avenue’ and rounded the corner, looking out for the familiar blue and white of the police tape. If I'd been any old passer-by out for a morning stroll, I would have seen this as a signal to turn around and walk away, but I wasn't, so I didn't. I showed my badge to the man in the fluorescent coat and ducked under the police tape.

“Detective?”

I turned around and recognised the tall, stocky build of the superintendent. Miller, I remembered.

“Morning, Superintendent. So what's the story this time? Traffic collision? Drunken mishap?”

“Well, uh, we don't exactly know. That's why we called you out here.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So what do you know?” I waited for Miller to start talking. He didn't.

“I'm going to need you to tell me something, Superintendent. Do you know the identity of the victim? Have you been in touch with their family?”

Miller scratched his head, looking visibly uncomfortable.

“Is something wrong, Superintendent?”

“Um, actually, one of the sergeants recognised her. He was pretty shaken up, I can tell you.”

“A name, Superintendent. Give me her name.”

Miller cleared his throat. “Her name’s Martha Kane. Forty-two years old. Lives alone. Works for the Metropolitan Police service- has done for seventeen years now.”

I finished scribbling in my notebook and looked up. “So where’s the body?”

“Um, right over there.”

He gestured vaguely to the right, and I looked over to see the dark mass, huddled just next to the kerb. The first thing I saw was the blood. It was all over the place- streaked along the pavement, pooling in the road, mingling with the puddles. I approached the body carefully, making sure not to step in the blood, and immediately noted the odd position the body was in. The dead woman was curled up in a foetal position with one hand dangling into the gutter and her head turned to the side, eyes wide and sightless. If I'd been any old passer-by, the scene would have been shocking- horrifying, even. It certainly must have shocked and horrified the elderly couple that had stumbled upon it while walking their dog. But to me, it was just another crime scene. Just another fragmented story for me to piece together. Just another mess for me to clean up.Then I took a second look at the corpse’s face and realised that I knew her.

I suppose that I should have known to brace myself when Miller mentioned that the victim worked for the police- I’ve worked closely with the police on a number of cases, and I've met some of my closest friends through my work. But the woman that lay dead at my feet wasn't one of my friends; in fact, I'd disliked her, as had a number of my colleagues. I’d seen her around the station a handful of times, and I remembered that whenever she saw me, her eyes would narrow and her lips would twist into a sneer. But her familiar scowl was nothing more than a memory now- as she lay there, her eyes were wide and baleful, and her mouth was slightly agape, as if in surprise. Her hair was loose, and lay in a matted, dark puddle around her head. Yes, I had known her briefly, but her life was over now, and she now represented little more than an unsolved case.

And so I did what I was paid to do- I began to solve the case.

My primary task was working out how this woman had ended up as a corpse on the roadside. The corpse's clothes were stained with blood- mostly around the torso area- and the black T-shirt she wore was bunched up slightly around the waist, exposing the grey skin of her midriff. I didn't need to look any closer- the deep wound above the waistband of her trousers was plainly visible. She hadn't been shot- bullet wounds are small and round. No, this was a long, thin and deep cut- a stab wound. Martha Kane had been quite literally stabbed in the back.

An hour later, I was tucking my notebook away.

“So, what's the lowdown, Detective? Who’re we looking for?”

I didn't recognise the officer who had spoken, but his jaunty attitude and cocky smile pissed me off. We were standing over a dead body, and he was grinning like a self-satisfied schoolboy.

Sighing, I flipped open my notebook and read him what I had.

“I found a stab wound in the small of her back, nothing else, other than the abrasions on her hands and right cheek, presumably from hitting the ground. Whoever did this to her wasn't drunk, or high. I've seen cases like that. The body is covered with wounds- all of them shallow, jagged. This was very clean, very deliberate. My theory is that somebody came up behind her, took her by surprise. And whoever did it, they wanted her dead. They wanted her specifically. And they knew what they were doing, too.”

The officer smiled unpleasantly. “And have you ruled out suicide?”

I sighed. “The wound was in the victim's lower back, and it was at an angle that meant she couldn't possibly have inflicted it herself. There is no weapon in her hand or anywhere nearby. And I don't know about you, but if I was going to kill myself, one, I wouldn't go out into the street to do it, and two, I'm fairly sure that my last expression wouldn't be one of surprise.”

He smirked. “Maybe you're right, love. Probably wasn't suicide. But I'll tell you something- if I’d been her, I would have put myself out of my misery at the earliest opportunity. Yeah- I would’ve ended my own miserable life long before some psycho with a knife showed up in the middle of the night to end it for me.”

I frowned. “I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name.”

“It's Chesterfield, love. Harry Chesterfield. Police sergeant.”

“Tell me, Mr Chesterfield, are there any other sergeants on the scene today?”

“No, love. Just me.”

“You identified the body?”

“I did.”

“So you knew the victim?”

“Yes, love.”

“Superintendent Miller said that you were upset when you realised that you knew the victim. That was an hour ago. I don't know about you, Mr Chesterfield, but if I'd seen a friend and colleague of mine lying dead in the street, I don't think the shock would have worn off by now. Any thoughts?”

The sergeant chuckled. “Oh, we weren't friends. No, not at all. I don't think anyone could stand the bitch. I’m not saying I'm happy she’s dead- don't go thinking that. But if you'd met her, you wouldn't waste any time missing her.”

Harry Chesterfield wasn’t looking at me as he spoke- he was staring off over my right shoulder, towards the spot where the body of his ex-colleague lay. He didn't notice me scribbling down every word he said. I kept him talking.

“I did meet her, as a matter of fact.”

He chuckled. “Then I'm sure you'll agree that she deserved what she got. Right, love?”

 “Mr Chesterfield, I would prefer that you call me D.I. Truman.”

“Well, excuse me, but when I look at you, I don't see a detective doing her job. I see a woman trying to do a man’s job. No offence.”

“Well, Mr Chester-“

“Sergeant, if you don't mind.”

I clenched my teeth and resisted the urge to slap him. I was used to this kind of treatment. I was good at my job, and most people had learned to respect me for it. Clearly, this guy hadn't got the memo.

“Sergeant Chesterfield, the things you have said to me today are extremely inappropriate, not to mention incriminating-“

“Well then, why don't you write that down in your dinky little notebook?”

“I already have. For now, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re just an asshole, but I swear to God, if you call me ‘love’ one more time, I will march right up to the Superintendent and let him know that you wanted Martha Kane dead. Do I make myself clear?”

He cleared his throat nervously. “Yeah.”

“Yes, Detective Truman.” I corrected.

“Yes, Detective Truman.”

“Now, leave me alone. Go and do your job and let me do mine.”

He turned on his heel and walked away wordlessly, his fists clenched.

I made one final note in my book and turned around, my eyes coming to rest yet again on the corpse of Martha Kane.

I hadn't known her well, and I wouldn't have wanted to, but I knew that just hours before, she had had a home, and a job, and a life. She had had hopes and dreams and fears all of her own. Perhaps she had had parents she wanted to make proud, or a husband she loved, or children she worried about. But none of that mattered now, because she was dead, and she was now little more than a corpse with a familiar face. When she had been alive, she had given me nothing but sneers and glares, and so I had owed her nothing in return. But now she was lying dead in the street with a knife wound in her back, and now, I did owe her something. I owed it to her to find out the truth. I owed it to her to find the sick person who had done this to her; the person who had reduced her to the empty shell that lay before me. And I owed it to her to make that person suffer for it.

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