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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15. Striking Nerves

Where the fuck did they get off arresting me anyway? There was literally zero evidence against me. Except, of course, from the fact that Jackie had been killed yards from my house, she’d severely pissed me off hours before the murder, and I’d been caught sneaking eerily around the crime scene. Also that I was apparently in league with the alcoholic much-abhorred ex-stepson of my apparent first victim.

Never mind. I was fucked.

Even with that, where the fuck did LLOYD get off arresting me? I wasn’t handcuffed. I wasn’t in the back of a police car. I hadn’t even been arrested by a sodding POLICEMAN. He was a fucking forensic scientist. He had no right to shove me into his car and cart me off ANYWHERE. Technically, I’d been kidnapped. HE was the criminal, not me.

“Shut up back there,” he said in that slimy voice of his. I swear to Christ, NO man should have a voice that smooth. It’s fucking unnerving.

“Yeah, sorry. It’s just actually really, REALLY fucking hot back here.”

It was the middle of winter, and I was sweating. Actually, PROPERLY sweating. Why did he need the heating turned up THIS goddamn high? Was he a mammal with self-regulating blood like the rest of the fucking world? Did he have cold blood like some kind of fucking reptile? Was he a vampire? Sure as hell looked like one.

Lloyd didn’t reply, as always. He just twitched the knob of the heating duct to turn it up even higher.

“Fuck you, you fucking idiot,” I muttered, slumping further down in my seat and trying not to choke on the stuffy air. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

“Leave that for the police to decide.” He swallowed hard. Choking back tears? Possibly. I hoped he was every bit as bloody uncomfortable as I was.

“Yeah, mate, that’s really what YOU should’ve done,” I muttered. “Left it to the police. Where d’you get off arresting people anyway?”

“I don’t give a shit about what’s proper anymore.” He said. “You killed my colleague and my best friend.”

Best friend my arse,” I said.

His head jerked round. “What?”

“Nothing.”

The phone in my pocket started getting heavier.

“Just wanted to point out you’re gonna feel really fucking stupid when we get to the station.”

“And why’s that?” He was gritting his teeth. I betted they were perfectly neat and straight and calculated, like everything else about him. Perfect voice, perfect hair, perfect fucking suit. What the fuck was wrong with this person? He was like a caricature, some idealised version of what a person is supposed to be. Like a robot. Not quite human.

I dunno. I was probably being overdramatic but I swear to fucking Christ he was freaking me out.

“Because,” I said, “for the final time, I did not kill Martha Kane.”

“Tell that to them,” he said.

“I will. Once I get to someone who’s qualified to accuse me of this bullshit, I will.”

“Good.”

“I didn’t kill your girlfriend either.”

Suddenly, Lloyd’s head jerked around like it had been pulled by a string and the car lurched sideways as he took his hands off the wheel. I’d struck a nerve.

Fuck, he was a bad liar.

“Don’t…” he panted, “say that.”

“Say what?”

“G- girlfriend.”

“Okay, fine. You want to pretend you and Jackie weren’t a thing? Fine. I’ll believe you.”

He blinked at me. “Jackie? You think we- you think I… shit.”

He dragged his thin lips into a smile and shook his head in disbelief.

“You journalists really are stupid, aren’t you?”

“Whatever. Yeah, whatever. Didn’t kill Martha, log that away. Didn’t kill your girlfriend.”

“Nah,” he said, turning up the heater all the way and jamming his foot harder onto the accelerator. “Some drunk son of a bitch in a lorry killed my girlfriend.”

Whoops.

*            *            *            *            *

All the way to the station, I maintained my dignity. My hair and shirt were soaked with real, actual sweat that froze against my skin in the serrated winter air, and my wrists were sore from the handcuffs Lloyd had literally pulled out of nowhere outside the crime scene, but I maintained my dignity.

‘What the fuck is he doing with handcuffs in his fucking glovebox anyway?’

‘Stop it, Max. This is at least a little bit serious.’

I returned all the confused and disdainful glares Lloyd and I got as he dragged me down the corridor, managing to shrug him off once a big guy in a reflective jacket came out of the interrogation room. I kept my head held high.

“Didn’t do it,” I shouted as we walked in through the double doors. “Swear on my mum’s grave. Swear on my life.”

Stop it,” Lloyd hissed.

“You first.” I said, continuing. “Hey, guys? The scientist just kind of kidnapped me. Just trying to do my job. Y’know, reporting and all that shit. He just kind of punched me. That counts as police brutality, right?” Lloyd turned around with his brows furrowed into a thin line, but I glared right back, trying not to let the smile creep onto my face. “Except from the fact he isn’t actually police.”

Lloyd loosened his grip on my handcuffs as a few heads turned our way.

“I bloody hate you,” he was muttering, “I bloody hate you, I bloody hate you.”

“Join the club,” I said.

“I would,” he said, “but everyone else in the club got murdered, didn’t they, you piece of shit?”

“Yeah,” I murmured, dropping the smile as we entered a deserted corridor with a faulty light fixture. “So I reckon you’d better watch your back, huh?”

He was already vampire-pale, but at that moment, I watched him turn whiter than his shirt.

“Lloyd!” a voice yelled from the far side of the corridor. A big guy in a reflective jacket had come out of the scummy door labelled ‘interrogation’ and was coming towards us. “This the guy?”

Lloyd let go of me. “Thanks for coming, Chesterfield. Yeah. This is Max.” I waved. They glared. I shrugged. “He killed Jackie and Martha and I’m absolutely sure-”

“You shouldn’t’ve arrested him,” the guy called Chesterfield said. “Should’ve left that to us police.”

“That’s what I said,” I said. “Any chance I can claim kidnapping?”

“Nah,” Chesterfield said with a  grin that was a little too comfortable. “Not if you’re the ruthless murderous bastard Lloyd reckons you are.”

“Yeah, I can help with that,” I said. “Firstly, no-”

“Shut up.” He dismissed me with a lazy wave of his hand. “Trying not to thank you too soon.”

I narrowed my eyes. ‘The fuck is this guy’s deal? Is he trying to trick me or what?’ “I’m sorry, what?”

“Couldn’t stand the bitch.”

Lloyd gave a growl, clenched his fist and twitched his arm towards Chesterfield. Chesterfield raised an eyebrow and looked at him.

“Sorry, you got a problem, Lloyd?”

“Don’t…” he was saying. “Don’t call Jackie a bitch, you sexist piece of shit.”

Chesterfield stepped smartly backwards, rolling his eyes as I looked from one to the other to the exit and wondered if I could make a mad dash for it. I was pretty sure I’d get a stitch before reaching the front desk and then they’d decide I was guilty and lock me up.

“I was talking about Kane,” Chesterfield said. “Although, to be fair, Ja-”

“I swear to God, Harry,” Lloyd said. “One more word against Jackie and I’ll punch you even harder than I punched him.”

They both looked up at me and I grinned, wiping a crust of dried blood away from my aching nose. “He’s not kidding. I literally did nothing wrong.”

Lloyd turned to me. “You-”

“He’s out of control, I tell you,” I said to Chesterfield. “I was just strolling-”

“Shut up!” Lloyd yelled. “You murdered my best friend, you piece of shit, and I’m ridiculously stupidly on edge because I just lost her and my life’s falling to shit, so if you piss me off one more time I’ll… I’ll make you regret the day you were born.”

I twitched an eyebrow at Chesterfield. “Drama queen.”

The police officer was trying not to laugh. “Lloyd, you can be on your way now.”

“My… my way?”

“Yes,” Chesterfield said. “You got hold of this guy where, exactly?”

He fumed and didn’t answer.

“Outside the park,” I said.

Climbing out of the crime scene,” Lloyd corrected, “with blood on his hands.”

I looked down at my hands and then back at Lloyd. “You mean before or after you socked me in the face?”

Before, you bastard. You were caught red-handed. I caught you red-handed. We can see through your-”

“Hold on, hold on, hold on.” Chesterfield was holding up both hands, looking decidedly insincere. He turned to Lloyd. “You found him at the crime scene?”

Lloyd took a deep breath to compose himself. “Yes.”

“What time was this? What time did you get there and find him?”

“About…” Lloyd thought, throwing a glint out of his eyes at me as if to say “Ha, I got you now.” Pity he wasn’t as good at reading people as I was. Pity he didn’t know Chesterfield was mocking him. “Eight forty-five, I guess.”

“So you were at the crime scene?”

“Yes.”

“To do a job?”

“Yes.”

“And instead of doing your job, you took it upon yourself to play Batman and start arresting people because you were too hysterical to be professional?”

Bam.

Lloyd struggled. “I…”

“I wish you weren’t so good at your job, Lloyd.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I’d have fired you by now for being a little bitch. Please go back to the scene of Jackie Truman’s unfortunate blunder and take the scrapings and shit. Do your job, and let me do mine.” Chesterfield beckoned me into the room, and I followed.

Chesterfield’s words were still echoing inside my head as he slammed the door of the interrogation room, leaving Lloyd on the other side. I manoeuvred my hands into my pocket, managing to slide Jackie Truman’s phone through a hole and into the lining of my trousers. Would they find it if they searched me? Maybe. Did I care? No. I had a job to do.

“Unfortunate blunder,” he’d called it. Murder. An unfortunate blunder? Christ, was EVERYONE on the police force as cold and robotic as Lloyd? I hoped not.

Real people were easier to manipulate.

“Alright,” Sergeant Chesterfield said as he switched on the recording box under the table. “So, what’s your whole name? I heard Max, but I don’t trust the Wonderkid with much. Name?”

“Oh, uh…” ‘Wonderkid. He just called Lloyd the Wonderkid. I’m trying so hard not to like this guy.’ “Max, yeah. Max Castello. You want my middle name too? It’s really embarrassing, but whatever.”

Being friendly. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

“Nah, we don’t need it,” Chesterfield said, “but what is it anyway?”

Being friendly worked this time.

I rolled my eyes. “Jem. Max Jem Castello. Fucking girl’s name.”

“Right,” he said, grinning as he wrote something down. “And, uh… Mr Castello, where were you this morning?”

“In the back of Lloyd Jones’ car.”

Chesterfield grinned. “Nah, before that.”

“I was lying on the pavement, having been punched in the nose by Lloyd Jones.”

“Before that.”

“I was watching Lloyd Jones get out of his car and prepare to punch me.”

“Like, in the early morning, Max. Say, two or threeish, I guess? That’s when she was found.” He rummaged in his stack of papers for the right one. “Yeah, three-twenty. Where were you right before then?”

“I was at home.”

“You live…”

“Right next to the park where they found her, yeah. Know it can’t look too good for me.”

“Don’t worry about it. In London everyone lives near something awful.”

My mind flashed back to how I’d found Charlie that night, huddled in the corner, a bottle of vodka clutched in his sallow fist and another smashed all over the table. Blood on his hands. Blood on his face. I closed my eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Did you hear or see anything suspicious at around that time?”

“Nope.”

“Ms Truman visited you and your housemate that evening, right?”

“Right.”

“What did she want?”

“She wanted to speak to Charlie and me.”

“About what?”

“About the murder of Martha Kane.”

“Why?”

“She, uh…” I leant back in my chair and rubbed my face with my hand. “She suspected us.”

“Both of you?”

“Yeah.”

“And what did you tell her?”

‘Time to lie.’

“I told her the same thing I’m going to keep telling you, mate. And I’ll keep telling it to you until you find me guilty and plug me into the electric chair or whatever the fuck they do to accused murderers.”

“We don’t use the electric chair in England.”

“Yeah, whatever. Anyway…” I muttered, trying to hold off the slur that came with a lack of sleep and a decent swig of vodka I was keeping away from Charlie. “I’m going to keep telling you this, over and over. I didn’t do it. I’m innocent.”

“Well,” Chesterfield said, turning off the recording machine and rummaging in his bag. He brought out two cans of beer and tossed me one as I raised my eyebrow. “You know what? Fuck it. I’m tired, I’m a little bit shitfaced, and I hated those two bitches anyway. So I’ll tell you what, Max Jem Castello…” The guy who spooked me more than Lloyd and intimidated me more than Jackie cracked open his beer. “That’s good enough for me.”

My heart sank as he brought out his walkie-talkie and spoke into it.

“Hey, Smith, I’m done with the smartmouthed one. Take him to the cell block and bring in the wasted one.”

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