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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12. Snap Decisions

Jackie

Martha Kane’s case should have been enough to deter anybody from walking alone in a dodgy neighbourhood in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t just any woman out for a casual stroll in the run-down part of London; I had a murder to solve, and the two suspects at the top of my list happened to live in the run-down part of London. That was why now, at seven o’clock in the evening, I found myself alone, in the dark, at the fraying edge of a park that had long since become a home for vagrants and drunks. I was off-duty, but that didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to waste another second until the murderer of Martha Kane was caught and brought to justice, and a seedy park was not going to be enough to turn me back from my investigation. I was on my way, of course, to the house that Charles Kane shared with Max Castello. One of them was the victim’s criminally alcoholic ex-stepson and the other was just a right pain in the ass, but they both seemed equally suspicious. Hopefully, by the end of the night, there’d be one less criminal loose on these streets, and then the public could sleep a little easier.

Here, the smell of alcohol hung in the air even more thickly than the evening fog. The sky was stained filthily brown with pollution, the stars were a fictional fantasy if ever I knew one and in the distance, I could hear car alarms and people shouting. The tingle in the back of my neck could have been taken as a sign I was being watched, but that was bullshit. The loneliness was so crushing that I could have been in the middle of the desert, not the middle of London.

I reached the house whose address I’d been given, noting that its run-down state seemed to exactly match its occupants, and tried to professionally ignore the garbage bags, shards of glass and patches of dead grass strewn across their poor excuse for a lawn. The door was covered with tiny burn scars, there were brown puddles of something on the doorstep, and the prickling stench of drunkenness assaulted my senses the moment I stepped onto their path. My knock on the door sounded surprisingly sharp against the distant shriek of sirens and throaty barking of a dog on the next block. There was a second of silence, and then, the door opened. Max Castello’s eyes visibly widened when he saw me, and I felt my heart starting to pound just a little as I noted how uncomfortable he seemed.

“Um… hey.” He said, keeping the door ajar.

Hesitation.

He was still wearing the same crumpled shirt and tie he’d had on hours earlier when I’d spotted him lurking outside the police station and told him to piss off.

“Mr Castello, I need to speak to Charles. Is he at home?” I asked. I’d decided this was how I’d present myself; I’d claim I was asking for Charlie but I’d keep my eyes on him as well. I was equally suspicious of both of them.

Max’s eyes flickered to one side and he shoved his hands into his pockets.

Eye movements. Nervous twitches.

“Sorry, he, uh… he’s not home,” Max said. One of his eyebrows was raised and he was almost slouching against the doorframe. “Guess you’ll have to come back another time.”

Ums and ers.

“Max,” I said. “I’m working for the Met Police, and I’ll have you know I can speak to suspects any time I dam well please.” The tug of a smile faded from Max’s face. Uneasy laughter. “Now, I’ll ask you again. Is Charlie home or not?”

“No,” Max said, stepping back from the door. “He’s really not. But I’m getting the impression you’re not just here to speak to him. Am I right?”

I tried not to raise my eyebrows. “No, I’m not. As a matter of fact, my colleague and I found a diary Martha Kane had written, and-”

“Diary, huh?” Max raised one eyebrow. “Any chance you’ll turn away so I can steal it?”

“Not slightly. Don’t avoid the questioning, Castello. From what I could gather from this diary, she-” I made a snap decision to lie. “-seemed to have quite a dislike for you. That, believe it or not, makes you a suspect too.”

“Me?” Max laughed. “I never even knew the woman. Only spoke to her once, and I was only mildly rude. Returning a favour, actually. Assuming that’s what she wrote about?”

Unnatural stillness.

Yeah, I could spot a liar a mile off.

I sighed. This man’s cocky attitude was the reason I’d been suspicious of him from the very start, but it was also the reason I’d never been able to get any useful information out of him. He clearly wasn’t the smartest guy on my list, but he was the slipperiest.

“What did you say to her?”

Max paused for a moment and his eyes flicked away from mine again. I tried to suppress the urge to tap my foot impatiently as I waited for his answer, but when he turned back, the look on his face wasn’t defeated. It was triumphant.

“Detective,” he said. “You’ve read the diary. Wouldn’t you know what I said to her?”

Shit.

He grinned, but I snuffed it out.

“Don’t talk back to me,” I said. “I’ve been keeping a log of every single pissy remark you’ve made over the last few days, and it’s really not going to help your defence if you get arrested and charged with the murder.”

“Which is…” Max frowned. “A possibility?”

“A probability.”

“Right then. Because of Charlie?”

I shrugged lightly. “Partly, yes.”

“And partly not? I’m digging myself under with my own shovel, am I?”

“Anyone who shows up with as cocky an attitude as yours, Castello, is going to become a suspect pretty damn quick. Any thoughts?”

Max shrugged. “Yeah, I get it. You want to come in?”

“No, the smell of drunken despair is reaching me just fine here, thanks.”

He tittered nervously. “Yeah, sorry. Charlie, um, got a bit tipsy. Before, um- I mean, before he went out. Obviously.”

“Sure.” I said. “Do you drink?”

“Nah. Well, I mean, yeah, a bit, but not on his scale. I mean, Charlie’s problem makes a couple of beers look like nothing.”

“So I understand. Is he in any fit state to talk to me?”

“Um…” Max glanced over his shoulder, up the stairs. “No, not really.”

“You said he went out.”

“Oh!” Max shook his head. “Yeah, I did.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah.”

“Where did he go?”

“Um…” Max paused and scratched his head. “Shit. You know, I have no idea. But-”

“To the SUPERMARKET!” yelled a very, very slurred voice from upstairs.

Max looked back at me, eyes closed. “To the supermarket.”

“To buy eggs!”

“To buy eggs, Charlie says.”

“Right.” I tried not to smirk. “How much else have you been lying to me about, Max?”

Max faltered. He called upstairs. “Charlie, you fucking idiot, you gave yourself away. There’s a police officer here who wants to talk to us about the murder.”

“Which one?” Charlie yelled.

“Which one?” Max asked, completely ignoring me now. “Your STEPMOTHER’S! Martha Kane’s! You know anything about that, you drunk twat?”

“No, not which murder,” Charlie’s voice insisted from the upper floor. “Which police officer?”

Max glanced back at me, his eyebrows raised in apology. I froze my face blank.

“Jackie Truman.”

“She the one you’ve been harassing?”

Max sighed and cursed under his breath. “Yes.”

“The hot one?”

“Charlie, cut it the fuck out. Yes.”

He’s the one who said that,” Max hissed at me from the corner of his mouth. “Sorry.”

“The one who’s really scary and who you said would be the one to solve the case eventually?” Charlie yelled down. “The one who’s not an ignorant piece of shit?”

“Yes!” Max turned back to me. “I said that to him last night.”

I nodded. “Yep.”

“Only ‘cause you seemed like a, uh… a good detective and I reckon the case is in good hands while you’re around,” he said. “It wasn’t as bloody suspicious as this drunk-ass idiot’s making it seem, I swear.”

“Well,” Charlie’s voice yelled louder and wavered like a tree in the wind; I could almost hear the alcohol on his breath. “Tell ‘er to FUCK OFF!”

Max groaned and turned back to me. “No luck, I guess. You’ll have to come back another time.”

“Mr Castello, I want information from you and Charlie and I’m not leaving until I get it,” I said, raising my voice and sticking my hand into my completely empty pocket. As I’d hoped, he flinched. The idiot obviously still thought I had a gun.

“Look,” he said firmly, taking a step back. “I’m sorry about Charlie, I really am. But you’re not getting shit from him while he’s like this. And you- you’re not getting shit from me either.”

“I have the right to march in and arrest you both right now if I felt so inclined!” I said.

“You got a warrant?” he said, the attitude leaking into his voice as one eyebrow shot back up.

This time, I was the one to glance away. “No. Not yet.”

“Well, then, you have no right to anything. Are you…” he looked at me again. “I saw you working half a day ago. You’re not even on duty any more, are you?”

“No, but I-”

“Sorry. No sale.” He said, and slammed the door in my face.

“I-” I gave up.

“Charlie, you fucking idiot!” I heard Max yell on the other side of the door.

I turned on my heel, feeling almost drunk myself on the frustration Max Castello seemed to inspire in everyone he met, and strode back down the path. That bloody dog was still barking its ass off and the sirens were wailing for attention on the next street. I heard a door opening and closing behind me, but when I turned, I couldn’t see anything. The town was dead. The sky was deader. The case was getting colder and colder.

Every few feet, I paused and tried to resist spinning on my heel, my paranoia insisting something wasn’t right. Every gust of winter wind felt like breath on the back of my neck. Every sound the city made could have been footsteps on my trail. Every tug from the goosebumps on my skin made me wonder if I was being watched. I tried to ignore it and kept walking, deeper into the park. The air was musty with the smell of beer and mildew, the silence was deafening, and every goddam tree could have hidden a new danger. No wonder Martha Kane’s killer had been so hard to trace. No wonder London had the highest crime rates in its history. No wonder I felt as though I was seconds away from being jumped. What kind of city was this, where even I could be made to shiver just by walking down a damned path?

A completely average one, actually.

I knew I was close. I knew I was so bloody close to finding Martha’s killer and clapping them in irons. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d already found them. Charles Kane had hidden an alcohol habit and a criminal record from me throughout his entire interview, and as for Max… well, he was a journalist. An annoyingly good journalist, as it happened. They lied for a living.

Suddenly, my phone buzzed, and the pressure in my pocket made me jump out of my skin. I dug my phone out and saw a text from Lloyd.

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

I tried not to smile as I typed my response.

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

I shivered as another gust of breeze cut a flurry of imaginary footsteps into the path behind me. In the corner of my eye, there was a flicker of sound and a flicker of movement.

“I know it was you,” I whispered to myself. “I’m so close to catching you, you slimy little shitbag.”

The words gave me a little more strength as I turned to continue my walk, but about ten yards further down the path, I stopped. I was hearing footsteps again.

Once I’d paused, there was just silence. The dogs were barking and the sirens were yelling but the world was quiet.

“I’m so close,” I whispered. The words disappeared into the empty air and made me shiver, but once the shivering was over, there was something more. The goosebumps were coming back. Then, a hand grabbed my arm.

“Damn right, Jackie,” he murmured into my ear, grabbing my arm and plunging the steel into my back.

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