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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13. Digging up Dirt

As soon as I saw the police car, I knew. As soon as I’d heard the sirens that morning, in fact, I knew. Call it journalist’s intuition, if you like; call it a guilty conscience, or paranoia. Personally, I’d blame the fact that I’d been woken up at six in the morning by a call from my boss. Again. About a murder. Again.

I groaned when she first ordered me down to the crime scene, since I was sure it’d be just another run-of-the-mill open and shut case; some drunkard going nuts with a broken bottle. Anyway, what was the point of going down there when Jackie goddamn Truman would doubtlessly hold me back and keep me from getting what I needed?

Then, of course, I’d been informed that this time, Jackie goddamn Truman, the intrepid detective desperate for nothing more or less than justice, was the one lying face-down in the gutter with a knife in her back and fright in her eyes. I tried to hold back the gasp and the thin shiver playing my spine like a xylophone, but I did my best. After all, I had a job to do.

You know when I said I’m used to murder? Yeah, I take that back.

I left the house in a hurry, feeling the bite of the wind on my bare arms and shouting all the worst curse words I knew at Charlie as he yelled down the stairs to keep the noise down. I’d been readying myself for a long walk, or at the very least a short stint on my motorbike, but I’d been wrong. The crime scene was right at the end of my street.

That couldn’t make me look good.

I grabbed my phone from my pocket, just like always, and snapped pictures of the marquee, just like always. It was only when I’d gotten closer to where all the other journalists were that I could see her, and fuck, was it an ugly sight. Not because of the dead body; in fact, I could barely see shit with all the people in my way.

I tried to ignore the dark shape huddled against the kerb next for now; all of the other idiots with their big-ass cameras and their total obliviousness as to who the victim were taking up all the space. I, being the best journalist in London, decided to try a different angle. The fence surrounding the park was six or seven feet high at most, which was useless, since the vagrants and the drug pushers and the fucking knife-wielding murderers seemed to have got in just fine. I climbed up onto the fence with my phone camera, leaning all the way around to catch another glimmer of the white tent from behind the nearest tree. When I did, I saw a couple of flashes of neon yellow: the police officers, none of whom were Martha Kane, keeping back all the amateur paps and completely ignoring the actually good one climbing right into their way. No blue gloves yet. No black suits. No sign of Lloyd, or any of his slightly less creepy buddies, yet. As I caught sight of a tiny smear of burgundy hair- or was it blood?- on the shaded pavement underneath the tent, I thought for a minute about Lloyd and Jackie’s other friends at work. I couldn’t help feeling a cold pang of pity… or was that just the wind?

I remembered how Lloyd had thrown me out onto the street, and Jackie had threatened me with arrest, and Martha had shoved me back from every damned job I’d ever been ordered to as if I was vermin.

Yeah, you know what? It was probably just the wind. All those uptight CSI bastards could go screw themselves.

With all the elegance of a delicate butterfly who may or may not have had slightly too much to drink, I swung one leg after the other over the top of the fence and landed, hard, in the middle of the crime scene.

I didn’t dare get any closer to the police and the probability of being hurled back out arse-first (or possibly arrested) so I lurked in the background of the other journalists’ view, trying to spot a glimmer of red or even a glimmer of black. Jackie had been wearing black last night, just like always. She’d come to our house, wanting answers, and I hadn’t given them to her; she obviously thought I was the killer. The thought of getting arrested for the murder impressed me, confused me AND scared the crap out of me at the same time, but now, it was only a possibility. NOT a probability any more. Poor girl. When all was said and done, all she’d wanted was to help people, and to thank her, some fucker had painted the pavement with her blood. London’s a bloody rotten place if you get into the wrong job. That lesson had come too late for Jackie Truman.

Now, she was just a corpse with a familiar face.

As one of the dipshits from the Daily Mail lowered his camera and looked in my direction, I sidled off behind a tree, nervous about being spotted lurking like a weirdo at the corner of a crime scene. When I stepped back, the grass hardened back into stone under my feet and I looked down, realising I was standing on another path. Another thing I noticed, as I bent down to take a closer look, was the tiny rectangle of black plastic lying at the foot of the tree. A phone. Obviously. Not just any phone, either.

A phone covered in little flakes of drying blood.

Oh, fuck. Should I say something?

Nah. They’re busy. Anyway, I don’t want to get arrested.

Plus…

I turned the phone over. Two new text messages. I’d pressed the on button by accident, I swear. When my finger slipped and I mistakenly opened the lock screen, I saw the last conversation the dead woman had ever had.

With some fucker named Lloyd Jones.

‘Are you okay? We need to talk. Beer and takeout?’

What the fuck was Beer and Takeout? Some kind of fucked-up version of… No, Max. Stop thinking like that.

‘Sorry, not tonight. One more night of work. I’m so close to figuring this out.’

She thought she was close, anyway.

I backed behind the tree again, for fear of ending up as the creepy shadow-man in one of my competitors’ front-page pictures, and tried to punch my chest harder than my heart already was. In the last few days, I’d harassed a detective, broken into New Scotland Yard, stolen dozens of pounds’ worth of alcohol from my roommate, broken into a crime scene, and done quite a few other things I wasn’t proud of. Now, I could call myself a hacker too. And a master of espionage. And, if I didn’t get out of here fast enough, an accused murderer.

Oh, and if you decide to keep hold of that phone, you’ll also be the best damn investigative journalist in the entire country. Just saying.

I’m also probably a schizophrenic.

It’s easy. Just drop that phone in your pocket and climb the fence again and walk off.

“I’m going to hand this phone into the police.”

You might even end up solving the murder.

“I’m going to be a responsible citizen.”

Think of all the acclaim. “Max Castello, unlikely hero of the Kane/Truman murders.”

“Nope.”

You could just dig up some dirt, then. Just a tiny bit. To jazz up your article.

I looked reluctantly back down at the text messages. Beer and Takeout my arse. Jackie and Lloyd were up to something, and it probably wasn’t extra work. But still, I didn’t want to get arrested and thrown in jail for anything, let alone withholding information. Let alone murder. Let alone double murder. That might happen if I handed the phone in too.

Fine. You’re boring. Just put the phone back down.

“All right then.” I took a step back towards the fence.

In your pocket.

I dropped the phone into my pocket.

What the hell are you doing?”

WHAT the hell are YOU doing?”

Oh.

Shit.

I turned around, trying to look casual for the sake of the very, very scary-looking police officer in front of me. Just kidding. He was weedier than a dandelion, with little tufts of yellow hair and some sort of nervous tick. I could take him if I wanted to. Not that I would.

“Oh, uh…” I shrugged. “Going for a walk.”

He raised his eyebrows. “This area is completely in lockdown.”

“Well, then, you shouldn’t’ve left the, uh… the fence open.”

“The fence open?”

“Oh, uh…” Shit. I meant to say gate. Why do I keep fucking up? “Yeah. I always come in here for my walk through the, uh… the fence.”

“You climbed over the fence.”

“Uh-huh.” I looked back at the fence. Should I make a break for it now? I’ve got neither speed nor justice nor God nor the law on my side. I didn’t move.

“You understand there’s been an incident here this morning?”

“Oh, uh… really?” I stuck my hands in my pockets, trying not to let my face go pale as one finger brushed against Jackie’s phone. Stay calm. The police can smell fear. No, wait. That’s tigers. “What kind of incident?”

“A murder.”

I looked back at the marquee, my stomach flipping as I spotted a couple more splashes of blood trailing along the pavement.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

I closed my eyes. Oh, shit. You’ve done it. You’re going to jail.

The policeman grabbed me by the shoulder. “I swear I’ve had it up to here with you bloody paps. If you don’t get out of here right now, I’ll give that lot another dead body to photograph. Now piss off!”

I pissed off. As my arse landed way too hard back on the right side of the blue police tape, I counted myself lucky I wasn’t getting arrested and prayed the one-way promotion ticket in my pocket hadn’t been smashed by the fall.

One week, I thought, feeling the phone that was mine buzzing with another call from my boss. Give me one week, and I’ll give you the best damn crime report you’ve ever seen.

I got up, brushing myself off and getting ready to haul my acquitted ass back home and fall asleep on the sofa before the sun had even come up. Then, of course, another car pulled up to the kerb and Lloyd Jones got out, wearing a black suit and an even blacker scowl.

I saw him. He saw me.

He had a job to do, and so did I, but it was too late, because I’d already grinned and he’d already smashed his fist into my face.

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