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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10. Smashed Things on the Floor

Max

So in conclusion, I’m a potential murder suspect, sharing my house with another murder suspect who also happens to be an alcoholic, and now the detective, the victim’s sister, and the top forensics guy all probably want to kill me. Excellent.

‘If this was a TV series,’ I couldn’t help thinking as I unlocked my front door and held my breath against the tidal wave of alcohol stench. ‘I’d be the guy everyone suspects at the very start. I’m the suspicious-looking dude who’s always hanging round and, let’s be honest, I’m a little bit of an asshole. Anyway, all I have to do to clear my name is whatever THAT guy always does in every detective thriller ever.’

Wait. Normally, they find out it wasn’t the obvious guy when the obvious guy gets murdered too.

Oh no.

‘If this was a TV series,’ my mind persisted. ‘It’d probably be called The Truman Show. Personally, though, I’d call it Backstabbers.’

Moving on.

“Charlie!” I yelled, pulling off my backpack and dumping it in its usual spot on the carpet. “You home?”

I knew he was home. The stink of beer was so strong I might as well have been drowning in a barrel of it. I wondered if the police had smelt it on him after he’d been arrested, or whether he’d just managed to get drunk in the hour before I got home. I wouldn’t have put it past him. Now, in fact, with Martha and James Kane as his parents, I was beginning to understand his drinking problem.

Just as I went for the stairs in order to lock myself in my room, I heard a crashing sound from the kitchen, followed by an exclamation of the most prominent word in my housemate’s vocabulary.

Fuck!”

I sighed. When he was in this state, he was more likely to kill himself with broken glass than clean it up himself.

When I went into the kitchen, I noticed that the kettle had been knocked onto its side. Water and limescale were spilling over the edge of the counter and mingling with the beige pool of alcohol. Green shards of glass were spread out on the tiles in a haphazard spiral pattern, but the bottle wasn’t the only smashed thing on the floor.

Charlie was lying on his side next to the mess, curled up with one arm under his head, and I was just starting to panic when he rolled over onto his back, proving that he was actually still alive. When he saw me standing in the doorway, he dropped the broken neck of the bottle, which was still clutched in his hand, narrowly missing his own head.

“Ma- Man, what’ya doing in my bedroom? I’m try... I’m tryna sleep here.” His voice was raised, but his words were slurred so heavily that one was barely discernible from another.

“Charlie, this isn’t your bed.”

“Whu... What?”

“You’re not in bed. You’re lying in a damn pile of broken glass in the kitchen.”

“No I’m not. Stop LYING to me!”

He rolled over, seemingly oblivious to the damp puddle of beer on the back of his shirt.

‘For fuck’s sake. It’s going to be another one of THOSE nights, isn’t it?’

“Charlie. LISTEN to me.” I tried to conceal my sigh. “You’re drunk again. Let me help-“

“I’m NOT DRUNK!” He yelled, sitting up and almost falling back over again. “Why d’ya keep trying to tell me I’m... I’m drunk and I’m not! I’m fine! I’m just sad because of the police and... because of Muh... um-“

“Because of Martha?”

“Yeah. Martha. That’s the name. That’s the name, m... man.” His voice caught on the last word, which was, I think, an attempt at my name.

“Okay, fine. You’re sad. That’s fine, mate. But you’re also drunk. Very drunk.”

“No, I’m NOT!”

“Yes, you are. You drink when you get emotional. It’s your solution to everything. Tonight, you drank because you were sad. And now, in conclusion, you’re drunk.”

“I’m not drunk, man. And I’m not high either. You can check my dresser drawer, you won’t find ANYTHING!”

‘I thought it smelled a bit weirder than usual.’

“Well, whatever. Never mind. Charlie. Charlie!”

He’d fallen back down onto the ground, and now he wasn’t moving.

CHARLIE!”

He lurched up again. “What?”

‘Thank God.’

“You wanna know how I can tell you’re drunk?”

“Oh yeah? Well, I’d just like to see you try!”

“Uh... that sentence didn’t make sense, but still. What’s my name?”

“You what, man?”

“If you were sober, you’d remember my name.”

Suddenly, he jumped to his feet, brandishing another piece of glass. “Is that a threat?”

I took the piece of glass away from his with ease, tossing it back onto the pile. Charlie’s eyes followed it across the floor, but he didn’t try to get it back.

“No,” I answered. “It’s really not. C’mon. Prove to me you’re sober.”

 “Um... all right. It’s... It’s, uh. It’s M- It’s Ma... Man.”

“Nope. Guess again.”

Asking him questions until he gave up was the only way to convince him he was drunk. It’s like goddamn Rumpelstiltskin, except with us, it never ends after three guesses.

“Ma... Massachusetts.”

“Come on, Charlie. It’s literally the easiest fucking name in the world.”

“M... Wait. I know this.”

“Good.”

“It’s, um… It’s Cass, right? I swear to Christ that’s what it is. If it ain’t, I’m going crazy. And maybe drunk. It’s Cass.”

“Did you get that from Castello? You know what? Fuck it. Sure. Now will you please drink some water and go to bed? I’ve got an article to write.”

That was the wrong thing to say. Charlie suddenly laughed hysterically, and then slammed his hand down onto the counter.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “You got an article. ‘Bout my mum. My mum. I think she’s my mum, anyway. I dunno or remember. She’s dead. She got stabbed. With a knife. A big one. She’s dead or something. And d’you know what?”

“What?” I said, walking to the cupboard and opening the door to let the dustpan and brush fall out.

“I bet it was you.”

‘Great. He’s depressed drunk, angry drunk AND crazy drunk all at the same time.’

“What the fuck?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, swaying dramatically on his feet and grabbing hold of the counter. “T’was you. I know it was. I saw.”

“You saw what?” I sighed.

When I turned round, he was right behind me; his bloodshot eyes were narrowed into what he probably thought was an accusing squint. When he exhaled, the smell was so overpowering that I felt as if I was being smacked in the face with a bottle of Guinness.

“Everything.”

Then, his narrowed eyes rolled before closing completely, and he passed out. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and managed to lower him down to the floor sideways, just managing to keep him from landing in the puddle of glass. Pausing before rifling through his pockets, I managed to confirm that he didn’t have anything that he could hurt himself with. It’s not that accidentally leaving the house with a knife is a common problem for him; it’s just not completely unheard of, and now that we’re both suspects in a murder, we’ve got to be extra careful.

Sighing again, I gave his motionless body a half-hearted kick before grabbing the blanket I kept in the cupboard.

“I swear to Christ,” I muttered as I chucked it over him. “One of these days I’m kicking you out.”

Starting to sweep up the broken glass, I winced as I strained the scar on my arm. Charlie wasn’t the only person he could hurt when he was blind drunk.

“And I’ll phone the police, too,” I added, turning off the light. “Just as soon as I stop feeling sorry for you.”

Trudging up the stairs, I noticed that it wasn’t completely dark yet; the sky was deep purple and a single star glimmered on the horizon. Then, I remembered that it wasn’t prehistoric times and turned to check the clock instead.

‘Seven-thirty,’ I thought to myself, snatching up my laptop and the old Domino’s pamphlet from my bedroom carpet. ‘Twelve hours till I need to get up. Okay, time to work.’

I found myself grinning as I read the opening paragraphs from the night before and started to type the new ones. I had a lot of new material to work with, thanks to my unwilling man on the inside. Well, woman on the inside. Jackie Truman was handing the information to me on a silver platter, and she didn’t even know it.

I wrote seven hundred words on the questionings before eight-fifteen had even rolled around. James Kane had been the first out of the police station, so he was the first in the article. Next came that whimpering head-case who’d once been Martha’s sister.  I paused for a second.

‘Why was she so happy with Jackie?’

I tried to ignore the sexist voice in my head that claimed it was just a girl-power thing. Jackie Truman didn’t exactly seem the type to have a lot of female friends; in fact, I’d be surprised if she had any friends outside of work at all. Just before leaving the crime scene on day one, I remembered seeing her walk over to the forensics guy in the suit and put her hand on his shoulder. Obviously, it wasn’t flirtatious. It was just supportive. Obviously.

‘Shut up, Max. Your article doesn’t need anything else.’

My mind has a tendency to meander when I’m writing. I keep telling myself it’s just part of the creative process, but it sometimes ends with a stupidly convoluted story involving way too many side-plots. I’m not saying I fabricate any of them, because I don’t. I always stick to the facts. It’s just that, sometimes, I may embellish a few bits and pieces for entertainment purposes. Oh well. The editors seem to like it. And all I need right now is my job.

Actually, keeping my roommate from killing himself in my kitchen might be nice too.

On a whim, I decided to leave Charlie out of the article. I’m not sure why I did that. Perhaps I felt protective. Suddenly, something occurred to me; namely, the terrible smell. I saved my work, got up from my chair, and went into Charlie’s room.

I couldn’t see any bottles or boxes or suspicious-looking bags, but I knew the alcohol would be somewhere. It always was. Last week, when he’d ‘nipped out to the corner shop for some milk’ and not come back for four days, I’d found two bottles of beer and a bottle of vodka under a loose floorboard in his bedroom, and three six-packs at the back of his wardrobe. I’d also found the nets for at least a dozen more six-packs underneath his mattress, which was slightly worrying, but at least he hadn’t dumped them in the river or something. I’m no genius, but I’ve seen the news.  That shit kills fish. Anyway, since that day, I’d taken to secretly getting rid of his alcohol before it killed him.

I pulled up the loose floorboard again. After pulling out two more full bottles, two empty ones and six cans from the space under the floor, I put them to the side of the room. Then, I spent twenty minutes pulling several cans of beer, a few bottles of vodka and a bottle of some weird-looking red liquor from his wardrobe. There was another half-full bottle of the same stuff in a drawer of his bedside table, underneath an ancient textbook with half the pages torn out. After an hour of searching, with no signs of life from the kitchen, I was confident I’d got it all. There was even more alcohol in Charlie’s room than normal, which made me think his problem was getting worse.

‘How many fucking times have I done this now?’

Taking three trips to the bathroom, I poured every last drop of drink down the sink. Then, all the containers went into a pillowcase, save for three empty bottles, which I put back under the floorboard. I felt sorry for Charlie, but I was sure that every single alcohol search I’d conducted had saved his life once over. Anyway, no matter how many bottles and cans I threw away, he always managed to get hold of more. He barely even noticed the missing ones.

After the pillowcase had been heaved across the street and dumped into my neighbour’s skip, I went home and sat back down to my writing. My eyes and head were throbbing with exhaustion; I hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep since Martha Kane’s murder, but it was nothing new.

During the night, I dozed off at my desk for about an hour and a half collectively, which was a good enough night’s sleep to get by on. By the time the sun had come up, I’d had a shower and was ready for work. I had no idea if Charlie was supposed to be working today or not, or if he even still had a job, but he was stirring on the floor. In contrast to his loudmouthed drunken lunacy, he was always scarily quiet when he was sober, but this morning even a hangover couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

“Max? Wh... Where are you going at this time of night?”

I glanced into the kitchen as he propped himself up. “It’s eight in the morning, mate, and I’ve got to go to work. I have a job.

“What job?”

“Um... y’know, writing. Journalism. Look, I have a detective to harass, okay?”

“Ah...” Charlie staggered to his feet, clutching his temples. “My fucking... OW! My fucking head.”

I winced, blinking away the sting of tiredness in my eyes that came from staring at a computer screen all night.

“Charlie,” I said, grabbing my backpack and keys from the floor. “Join the fucking club.”

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