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Improbable killers. A stubborn and relentless detective. Misleading evidence. To muddle the waters, a tempting young woman worms her way in the cold detective’s heart.McNamara, a Scottish C.I., fights crime in the streets of Edinburgh and in its suburbs. Diagnosed with Asperger as a child, the detective is meticulous, cold and dedicated. He is interested in doing his job and is a master in avoiding any kind of sentimental involvement.In the first novel, the C.I. chases an elusive killer who blends well with the people on the Nightingale Street and makes the police run in circle.A scream wakes up everyone living on Nightingale Street and unleashes a series of events that will dig up secrets and turn the peaceful suburban street into a living nightmare. People won't know where or who to turn to. General mistrust accompanies the man hunt.Surprisingly, the Chief-Inspector, known to everyone as a cold man, seems to lose his mind when he meets a young woman caught in the events.The second novel of the series will baffle you. Nothing is what it seems to be.A beheaded victim leads to revealing a sordid story. Throw a new crime in the middle, and you may get lost in the evidence.Follow McNamara and his team in his quest to find a bold murderer. Even though many might think the killer should be decorated, McNamara must follow the letter of the law.A shy love story seasons the darkness of the crimes.If you love a good traditional crime story, then this is the book to you. Buy it and spend a nice afternoon – or two with a compelling and riveting story.Join McNamara in his hunt and fall in love with the young woman that catches his eye. Intrigue, suspense and cynical humor, together with unique characters, create a thrilling atmosphere.
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BOOK SET ONE
BOOKS ONE & TWO
Mayhem on Nightingale Street
Scents and Shadows
© 2017 by ROXANA NASTASE
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, with the exception of a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
All characters in this book are fictive, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Scarlet Leaf Publishing House has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended.
PUBLISHED BY SCARLET LEAF
I dedicate this book set to my parents for their love and support
MAYHEM ON NIGHTINGALE STREET
SCENTS AND SHADOWS
PROLOGUE - MAUDE IS IN FOR A HARSH SURPRISE
CHAPTER 1 - MCNAMARA DECIDES TO TAKE ACTION
CHAPTER 2 – EXPECTATIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS
CHAPTER 3 – AN INTERESTING BEGINNING FOR AN EVENING
CHAPTER 4 – THE MISSING BODY
CHAPTER 5 – A CHAT WITH MAUDE
CHAPTER 6 – THE BODY ISN’T MISSING ANYMORE
CHAPTER 7 – BEWILDERMENT OVER A MERE RELATIONSHIP
CHAPTER 8 - MEETING THE GOSSIP OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
CHAPTER 9 – LIZ TAYLOR MYSTERY ELUCIDATED
CHAPTER 10 - IDENTITY AND SURVEILLANCE TAPES
CHAPTER 11 – A SEARCH WITH SHOCKING SURPRISES
CHAPTER 12 – A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
CHAPTER 13 – MORE LIGHT SHADED ON THE VICTIM
CHAPTER 14 – BATTERIES MISSING IN A HEARING AID
CHAPTER 15 – A NEW CRIME SHADOWS THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
CHAPTER 16 – ANOTHER TYPE OF BATTLE
CHAPTER 17 – A MEETING WITH SURPRISES
CHAPTER 18 – APPEARANCES MISLEAD
ROXANA NASTASE’S BIOGRAPHY
Should we fear the dark? What about the daylight? Is life only insecurity and hell? Could we dream of heaven or at least of a piece of it?
A SHARP SCREAM PIERCED the silence of the night, filling the air with the smell of fear. She woke up frightened, shivering and panting, as if from a nightmare.
Turning on the light, she discovered John, her lazy and chubby husband, lying next to her, his knuckles pale and clenched in terror on the blanket wrapped over his chest. His eyes were wide open and horror was engraved on his face.
Neither of them said or did anything. It was as if that scream had paralyzed their minds and bodies. All they could do was look at each other—eyes wide and faces pale. They couldn’t imagine what had happened, or understand what that horrible scream, which had spoiled their night, could possibly mean.
After several long moments of painful silence, John spoke in a low murmur, as if he were afraid he’d awaken ghosts lurking in the dark.
“What the hell was that, Doris? Did you hear it?”
“Of course, I heard it, stupid,” she spat. She finally felt safe enough to speak. “Why do you think I’m staring at the walls in the middle of the night? You absolutely must go out and see what’s going on,” she spoke quickly.
Her usual determination screeched in the man’s ears. He looked at her in shock. He couldn’t believe his ears. The daft woman actually wanted him to go out there.
Her words stirred a torrent of anger in him. Years of frustration had already piled up in his chest painfully and the dam broke.
“You’ve given that a lot of thought, haven’t you?” he snapped at her in a bitter voice. “Do you think I’ve got the guts to go out there, in the night, after something like that?” he shouted, waving his hand in the air. “You must be daft, woman.”
For a few seconds, she didn’t say anything, but the look on her face did the talking for her. Not that he cared to know. After forty years of marriage, her opinions weren’t a secret anymore.
He was aware of the shift in her feelings for him. She’d looked at him differently for a few years now. She didn’t harbour any warmth or delight for him in her bones.
“Oh, God, you’re so pathetic! You’re such a wimp, you know!” she exclaimed bitingly.
She thought she might make him move if she’d used such words. She knew what buttons to push so he’d do her bidding. Over the time, she’d learnt how to use everything in her favour.
“This time around, you can say whatever you want, my dear... This time, it won’t work,” John dragged his words. “I don’t give a fig about any of that. I won’t go out just to please you... you... harpy!” he stuttered. “It sounded like it had come directly from hell, and hell and I have nothing in common save for you,” he repeated one of his favourite quips.
“I know, I know, don’t remind me,” she snapped back, annoyed.
By now, she would know his lines by heart. They had been living together for far too long and there wasn’t anything left unsaid between them.
“But maybe someone needs help and look at us, we’re just lying here. We’re wasting our time talking nonsense,” she whined.
“Well, if you’re so brave, my dove, then, maybe, you should go out there,” he challenged her, with more than a little sarcasm colouring his voice. “But, I don’t advise you to do that. You’re crazy, old bat! I tell you.”
“I don’t think so,” she replied grumpily.
She had sharpened her ears to catch any noise from outside.
“I hear hurried steps outside, John... I think, Mr. Thompson’s woken up... I’m sure I hear others as well... Well, what do you say now?” she eagerly provoked him.
She was sure his pride would suffer if he didn’t go out then. Men were like that. They would take a dare at the snap of a finger. They always tried to show they were better, stronger and braver than any other man in the room.
“All right, back off!” he snapped, throwing the cover away. “If he’s out there, I’ll go, too. Now, just shut up, back off, and let me get dressed,” John bellowed, cornered by his nagging wife.
He got out of bed, still springy for his age, and went to the bathroom to get his bathrobe. His gestures were abrupt, full of irritation.
He tied his bathrobe and went downstairs. All the way down, he muttered a few choice words under his breath about his nosy wife.
She had remained in bed. She was content to stay there and wait for news from him. Of course, she didn’t have enough courage to get up and go look out the window, like she usually did. Yet, she would push him out in the middle of the night just on a whim.
He opened the front door to bright lights. All the windows on the little street were lit. The uncharacteristic illumination unsettled him. Not even at Christmas did their street display so many lights. They were Scots and they minded their pockets after all.
John noticed three men heading with long strides towards his front lawn. They were talking to one another and pointing to one spot on his lawn. He glanced there as well. When he saw what they were staring at, his blood ran cold.
Right there on his lawn, a body lay motionless in the light of the moon, which had just come out of the clouds. It took him only an instant to notice the blonde hair and the white dress. The dress was torn and stained with blood and the green of the grass. The body’s right hand lay in full sight. The crooked fingers created the illusion they intended to cling on to something in the air.
Then, the smell hit him — somewhat sweet and sour at the same time. One wouldn’t forget that smell. He could have betted his last quid in the bank that the scent would linger there for days or maybe more. The lawn didn’t belong to him anymore.
John suddenly felt dizzy and overwhelmed. His body seemed to have left the material space occupied by the horrific scene before him.
The relief was shortly lived, though. The nausea hit him, like a ruthless punch in his gut, knocking the air out of his lungs.
John bent in an awkward position and remained hunched, unable to move. His muscles lacked oxygen and he tried to breathe, yet he couldn’t. His lungs screamed for air. His head was spinning faster and faster.
He saw everything as if through a dense fog. Mr. Thompson was on his lawn, and he had just leaned over the body splayed on the grass. He said something, motioning to Mr. Reid, who lived in the third house across the street. Mr. Reid replied. John thought it was strange that he couldn’t make any sense of the two men’s words.
Then, John caught a glimpse of a shadow in the dark, by the corner of the house at the edge of the lawn. He felt threatened, although he still had enough wits to understand it was just foolish thinking. Nothing bad could happen to him with so many people around.
John had never been a very brave man. That was more evident now when he was old and lacked the advantage of youth’s stupidity.
Overwhelmed, he fell on the veranda like a log. Everything went black and downright silent around him. Only that iron fist of pain, squeezing his chest tight, remained present for another second. Then, the peace he’d longed for, surrounded him.
It was a safe and easy way out, although, truth be told, John had never thought he’d feel that way when his last day would come.
From upstairs in her bed, Doris, his wife, heard Mr. Reid call to the others.
“Oh, I think Mr. Dobbs fainted. We should call a doctor or something, I think.”
Doris’s fingers and legs started shaking. Dark thoughts piled up in her mind. She wanted to get out of bed but her legs shook badly and didn’t help her much.
She finally threw her legs over the edge of the bed, but she couldn’t find her slippers, although they were just there, right where she would always leave them, under the bed. She couldn’t pull herself together.
She knew John. He might have been a little lazy and sometimes too stubborn for his own good, but he wasn’t the coward she’d accused him to be. He’d never fainted before, even if the situation had been bad.
Guilt weighed on Doris’s heart. If it had not been for her, her husband wouldn’t have gone outside at all. He would have lain next to her, in their old bed, waiting for everything to get back to normal.
John wasn’t a curious person. No one would have cared less about what happened in the street or in their neighbours’ houses.
Doris tried to keep her balance, leaning against the wall on her way down the stairs. She was shaking all the worse, the closer she got to the hallway.
Then, for a moment, Doris controlled her wild panic. Truth dawned on her — things wouldn’t ever be the same for her again. Something irreparable had happened to her husband and that would change her life.
That unbearable thought made her move faster down the stairs. When she reached the hallway, Doris saw the front door opening, and fear seized her heart. Stunned, she watched the slow movement of the door. She held her breath, waiting to see who would come inside her house.
After a few seconds, heavy steps sounded on the wooden floor. Two men entered but she didn’t recognize them at first. They were carrying her John in their arms.
She stared at John intently, willing him to move or say something. She glanced at the men again and now, she recognized her neighbours, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Reid.
Mr. Thompson said, “Don’t be afraid, Mrs. Dobbs. I think Mr. Dobbs has just fainted, that’s all. He’ll be back to his usual self in no time, you’ll see. I do hope he doesn’t have a weak heart, though,” he continued, shaking his head. “That scene out there isn’t for the faint of heart. Where should we put him, Mrs. Dobbs? The doctor is on his way already. He’ll be here in a minute. Mrs. Dobbs?”
He kept talking and talking, his lips moving, forming words, yet Doris couldn’t hear a sound. She needed a few seconds to become aware that they were staring at her. She shook her head to clear her mind.
Mr. Thompson repeated slowly, when he understood she was in shock, “Mrs. Dobbs, are you feeling well? Where should we put poor Mr. Dobbs?”
Doris struggled with herself and finally pulled herself together just enough to reply softly, “On the sofa, I think. Aye, on the sofa,” she repeated in a stronger voice. She almost regained her old composure. “I think that’s the best place for him now. Thank you, Mr. Thompson. You said the doctor was coming?”
“Aye, Mrs. Dobbs, right now. I’ve asked Mr. Brown to call him. We’ve called the police too. They’re on their way.”
“What happened, Mr. Thompson?” she asked, somewhat reluctantly.
That was something peculiar. She was always the first on their street to find out what was going on around. She made it her business to know if a neighbour had had a row with his wife or with another neighbour. She had been the first who found out that the Porters’ little Patsy had eloped with that good-looking young man, who was working for the Browns, or when the Davidsons had decided to divorce.
“It’s best you didn’t know, Mrs. Dobbs. It wouldn’t do any good to you now, I think. Here’s the doctor,” Mr. Thompson said when he glanced out the window.
The doctor’s car had just stopped in front of the house and Mr. Thompson went out to greet him.
Doris sat down on an armchair near the sofa and studied her husband. John’s face looked unnatural in the soft light of the living room. All colour had left his cheeks. His left hand still clenched his bathrobe stiffly, and the other hung on one side of the sofa lifeless.
Doris didn’t hear him breathing and she knew. The doctor needn’t come anymore... At least not for John. He was gone.
She didn’t move. She merely stared at him. Only one thought repeatedly sounded in her mind like a mantra, drowning out the sounds from the street, her heartbeat, everything ‘He’s dead. Oh, God, he’s dead.’
She felt like a puppet whose strings had been suddenly cut off. Nothing bothered her anymore. Even her pain had hidden inside her mind.
ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE street had gathered in front of the Dobbs’ house. They saw the doctor arriving and going inside.
Here and there, a rumour passed around. Poor Mr. Dobbs had had a heart attack and, probably, had already passed away before the doctor got there.
They didn’t understand why his wife hadn’t come out yet and why no one had heard anything from her. Everyone knew she was too nosy of a woman to stay inside when something like that happened on the street and especially on her own lawn.
The sirens announced the police cars. The people fell silent and watched the cars drive up Nightingale Street. Unconsciously, they stepped farther away from the Dobbs’ yard, as if they’d wanted to distance themselves from all that had happened there. They were not involved in the mess on that lawn.
The police cars pulled up to the Dobbs residence and men came out of the cars. Some of them were wearing police uniforms, while others wore dark coveralls, somewhat resembling the uniformed officers’ clothing. The residents of Nightingale Street curiously observed the coverall-clad respondents carry black cases in their hands.
One of the detectives, a tall man somewhere in his late thirties or early forties, noticed the crowd in the street and shouted to a younger policeman, “James, get their names and addresses, and send them home. We’ll talk to them later in the morning. Right now, I want more room here and no on-lookers in front of the house. Too many people have already trampled through this yard, and they’ve probably destroyed all the evidence.”
“Aye, sir,” said the young man.
He headed to the people, taking a little black book out of his front pocket. He went to each one of them and asked for their names and addresses. He inquired whether they’d seen anything before the murder happened.
That last question remained unanswered. No one had seen anything. They had only heard that inhuman scream and woken up. Coming out of their houses, they had seen the body on the lawn and nothing else. Neither of them had approached the young woman, at Mr. Thompson’s request not to touch anything until the police arrived.
They even told James of the rumours about poor Mr. Dobbs, who had fainted on his own porch. When there was nothing left to say or spread rumours about, they let themselves be sent home, somewhat reluctant to abandon the ghastly sight without having any of the answers they’d expected.
James returned to his colleagues and reported to his boss everything he had learnt.
The CI listened to him carefully. “All right, James. Good job. Now go and see what’s with that Mr. Dobbs. I think I just saw two men go into his house. I want to talk to the three of them, too.”
James nodded and walked to the Dobbs’ front door. The door was ajar and he didn’t bother to knock. He just entered.
Whispers came from somewhere on the right, so he followed the voices.
When he entered the living room, his eyes fell on a man, probably the doctor, checking the pulse of a woman of an uncertain age. The extreme pallor in her cheeks and the obvious toll the evening had taken on her made it difficult to tell exactly how old she was.
James’s eyes scanned the room. He analysed the five people, and then, knocked on the door and interrupted them, “Good evening, everyone. I’m very sorry to disturb you at such a time. I’m DS James, and I need to speak to Mr. Dobbs.”
At that precise moment, as if his words had been the signal for which she’d been waiting, the woman burst into tears. The men froze in place, surprised for one moment.
Then, the man James thought to be the doctor, studied her, and said, “Finally, she’s crying. That’s good. She was bound to do it sooner or later, and it’s always better if the grieving starts soon,” he commented with a satisfied, yet sympathetic nod.
He turned to the sergeant, “I’m sorry, Sergeant, but I’m afraid Mr. Dobbs died earlier tonight. He had a massive heart attack. There was nothing I could do for him, unfortunately. I think the shock was too much for him.”
“I see,” James nodded. He wondered why the shock had been so devastating for the old man. Yet, he continued, “All right, then. I’ll leave you now to Mrs. Dobbs. But sir, when you’ve finished here, we must talk to you. And to you, too,” he said, turning to Mr. Thompson. “Who are you, sir?”
“I’m Thompson. I’m Daniel Thompson,” the man answered and came forward to shake James’s hand.
“Oh, I see. I’m told you’re the one who made sure the others didn’t disturb the body.”
“Indeed, sir,” Thompson nodded. “I was in the Navy in the past. I know something about such things. There are also the movies, you know... I’ll be with you shortly. I just need to finish talking to good Doctor Connolly. Is that all right?”
“No rush, sir. We still have plenty to do outside. We’ll be here for a while. Come and see us before you leave.”
James went back outside. His eyes found his boss, CI McNamara. He was talking to one of the investigators.
James waited a few steps behind, going through his notes, until the chief had finished discussing the scene with the detective. Then, he approached McNamara to relay his latest findings.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Dobbs passed away. He had a massive heart attack. His wife is in shock right now and I don’t think we’ll get much out of her. She’ll probably need some time to recover. However, Mr. Thompson will come out with the doctor soon and we can talk to them.”
“Oh, damn it!” McNamara swore, furious because they were too late. “Rotten bad luck! He must have seen something if he died so suddenly. We’ll see,” he said in a hushed voice, and then repeated, “We’ll see.”
His thoughts still on the Dobbs situation and the significant piece of the puzzle they might have lost, he turned to the older man next to him and inquired, “So, doc, what do you think?”
“Well, not very much now... But it is obvious she had her throat slit – brutally too, from one side to the other. She was stabbed several times before that. You see those stab wounds there?” he showed the detective several marks with significant traces of blood. “I can tell you she didn’t go quietly,” he continued, shaking his head. “Look at her hands. Scratches and broken nails. This girl fought hard to survive. I can’t make a positive statement right now, I know you understand that, but I’m almost positive the time of death is somewhere between only several minutes ago and an hour,” he waved his hand. “We’ll know more later. Anyway, before she was killed she was severely beaten, more than once. The beating occurred over the course of several days. Notice here,” he pointed to the body, “the bruises on her body are at different stages. Their colour isn’t the same. These marks here are older, maybe three or four days old. They’ve already changed colour. As you can see, her face is beyond recognition, I’m afraid. Aye, lad, we’ll have to find another way to identify her,” he concluded, then looked across the lawn to the Dobbs house.
He shook his head in regret again, before he glanced back to the detective, “Well, I’ll tell you more later. I’ll have to do the autopsy first.”
“All right, David. Anyway,” he continued, “if we consider the time when dispatch got the call and the time when people heard the scream, supposedly just minutes before the call came through, I think we may safely presume that she died then or a few minutes after. That would mean she died a little over 30 minutes ago,” CI McNamara said. “James, go and see if there’s an ID in her purse. If I remember correctly, they found her purse on the ground there,” he pointed somewhere towards the middle of the grass, several feet away from the body. “It must have been hers,” he concluded.
James followed the path marked by numbered, yellow cards on the grass, until he reached the investigator who was taking inventory of the personal effects found in the victim’s purse.
James asked him for the sealed evidence bag. At first glance, it contained several cosmetic items — a lip-gloss, mascara, a compact. A closer look at the investigator’s notes revealed that they had found a card inside, as well.
James felt a small surge of pride at their first significant lead that evening. He signed on the bag, opened the seal and carefully moved the other items within the bag with his pen until he found the ID. After he located the name and address on the card, he resealed the bag and signed it.
James returned to McNamara and spoke to him in a low voice so no one else heard him, “It’s an ID for a Patsy Porter, sir. She lived right here on this street. Oh,” he stopped, noticing he’d missed one bit of information. “She was quite young, sir, only sixteen,” he continued with dismay.
“It’s good we found it, James.”
McNamara found solace in the progress they’d made to counter the sadness they both felt at the loss of such a young lass.
“We’ll go and see her family in the morning. They’ll have to come to the coroner’s office and identify the body at the morgue sometime tomorrow.”
CI McNamara sighed. He knew from experience how unsettling those formalities were for the families involved.
McNamara signalled the two men waiting by a stretcher. One of them was leaning on the stretcher by the van, a plastic bag hanging off his hand carelessly. He passed his boredom away with a game on his phone.
The detective scowled. He understood their job demanded they become tougher and not allow the violence they witnessed affect them.
Yet, he didn’t like the complete desensitized lack of emotion either. He refused to understand the cynical and callous attitude of some of the people who had seen too much death. Sometimes, they reacted as if they’d lost any kind of humanity.
“You may take her now,” he said in a harsh voice.
The sound of his voice snapped the two technicians out of their boredom instantly.
They placed the body inside the black plastic bag and took it off the lawn. They carried it to the coroner’s truck and left the area free for the forensic team.
The forensic experts had already been searching the place minutely and collected what little usable evidence they found.
They didn’t find the murder weapon, but, after all, they didn’t hope to find it, either. It would have been too good to be true, to have the knife, and if possible the killer’s prints on it...
ONCE THE POLICE LEFT, peace fell over the little suburb street again. However, this time, silence didn’t comfort the residents, as before.
People didn’t feel safe there anymore. They weren’t uninformed. They read the papers and followed the news and knew such things happened in other places all the time. Yet, nothing similar had ever happened so close to home.
Suddenly, their peace had been destroyed. Preservation made them focus on their lives and bury what they had witnessed earlier in a corner of their mind.
Only Doris remained there, in the middle of things. She kept looking out the window in the night, intent on finding out what had led to her husband’s death.
This time, she didn’t feel any curiosity towards what was going on in the street. But she thought it was her duty to find out why her husband had died.
She felt guilty. She had pushed him out of the house. He never would have gone out otherwise. He wasn’t a curious person and he loved his personal comfort.
At the same time, she felt lonely, hollow and deserted. She hadn’t been in love with her husband anymore. That was true. Too much time had passed, and life had been somewhat dull for the two of them for years now. Yet, she’d cared for him.
Right then, she thought they had been meant to be together in a way, and ultimately, they’d had a good life together.
Doris knew he was at the morgue now. She shivered when she thought he was lying on a cold slab.
To make things worse, she hadn’t been aware his heart was weak. She’d been self-centred and hadn’t paid attention to any of his complaints about his health. She had just pushed them aside, as if they hadn’t mattered. Now it was too late to do anything.
She kept looking outside into the night. Someone was crossing the lawn, looking for something on the ground, a small flashlight in their hand.
She didn’t see who it was, but then, she didn’t care. She didn’t think she could be in any danger from the light in the room projecting her image in the dark. She merely presumed the police were still looking for evidence on the ground. Yet, the person moving in the shadows of the cloud-covered moon saw her looking out the window.
IT WAS ALMOST TEN O’CLOCK in the morning when McNamara, together with James, returned to Nightingale Street to question their witnesses about the murder. First, they went to the Porters, and knocked on their door.
Waiting — waiting seemed such a great part of their lives, they didn’t even bother to notice it anymore — they heard hurried steps on the stairs and then, the voice of a woman shouting,
“One moment, please. I’m coming.”
A few seconds later, the door opened. The woman at the door looked at them, questioning their possible reason for being there.
Mrs. Porter was short and a little on the plump side. Her face wore signs of exhaustion. She looked old, anywhere between fifty and sixty, but the detectives knew she was much younger than that.
“Oh, yes... And who are you, please?” she asked when she found her voice again. She’d been surprised to see two unknown people instead of the friend she was expecting.
“We’re with the police, ma’am. Here are our badges,” the tall man said. “CI McNamara and DS James. May we come in?”
She hesitated a moment. She was uncertain she could offer any insight into the previous night’s events. In the end, she stepped aside and invited them inside.
Although she didn’t have any information, she couldn’t just tell them to leave and slam the door in their face. Not only because they were the police. Anxiety had been bothering her since the night’s violence occurred.
She’d been trying to forget the rumour about a girl lying dead in the Dobbs’ yard, but it still haunted her. She’d spent most of the night lying awake in bed, frightened by her own imagination.
She never went out after she had heard that scream because she was alone and afraid. When she finally found the courage to glance out the window, she saw her neighbours huddled up in front of the Dobbs’ house.
Yet, she had been too frightened to leave her bedroom. She didn’t have the stomach for pain, violence, and horror. And part of her had feared more than just a grizzly sight.
She led the detectives into a living room, which looked like it had seen better days. The dark thoughts, which had kept her awake that night, nearly paralyzed her upon the arrival of the detectives. She couldn’t find her voice to invite them to take a seat, and with a shaky hand, she merely showed them to the sofa.
The policemen took their time sitting down. They looked over the living room, glancing at family pictures or small curiosities. They tried to delay the discussion with the woman.
McNamara was still looking for a way to tell her that, probably, her daughter was at the morgue. He’d been thinking about that the entire morning, but couldn’t decide what to say.
From experience, the detective knew there was no perfect way to break news like that and make it less painful. He’d always felt unprepared despite his many years with the police.
That was more evident when he had a woman like Mrs. Porter before his eyes. She seemed extremely fragile and that made him hesitate more than usual.
He tried to steal some more time and delay the dreadful moment with some routine questions.
“Where’s Mr. Porter, please?”
He thought maybe it would be easier for her if she had someone there, to comfort her after their leaving. He knew people endured such things easier if the burden was shared, regardless of their mutual feelings.
No, that wasn’t an absolute truth, he chided himself for being naïve. Sometimes they would use the other person and tear them to shreds just to numb their own pain.
He had hardly asked the question when tears welled up in the woman’s eyes. For a few long seconds, he feared she would start crying.
When she finally answered, she spoke slowly and sheepishly, as if she’d confessed a terrible and humiliating sin.
“He left me, you know... A week after Patsy, my daughter, left, he left too. He was so angry. Oh, dear! If only you could see him! He said I was to blame for the girl’s leaving with that boy.”
“What boy, ma’am? Do you know his name?” McNamara asked.
He shifted closer to the edge of the sofa, impatient to have finally found a lead to follow. So far, he hadn’t had any idea why his victim was targeted, and his only connection to the body they found was that little street.
“Oh, aye. He was such a good-looking boy. And he was such a smooth talker... but he was a good boy. He used to work at Mr. Brown’s pub at the other end of the street... He left at the same time. I mean when Patsy left home to go God knows where. But I don’t know where they are now. I haven’t heard a peep from my Patsy ever since.”
“But do you know his name, ma’am?” McNamara asked her again patiently, although he felt like shaking her so she would get to the point. He hated people’s blabbering, but he knew better than to interrupt.
She thought for a few seconds, shook her head and said, “I think... It was Peter but I’m not sure... In the beginning, I didn’t ask Patsy because I didn’t know she was going out with him. I found out when she left that dreadful message and went away, but that was the name she wrote on the note. That she was leaving with Peter from the pub on the corner... And then... I was too ashamed to go to the Browns and ask them... But ... what’s the matter? Has something happened to my husband or Patsy?”
Her eyes passed from one detective to the other as if begging them not to confirm her fears. Her voice almost broke.
McNamara’s eyes, as dark as the shadow cast by his stubby beard. had already given her the dreadful news.
McNamara cursed himself silently. He should have sent Jo to deal with Mrs. Porter. Jo would have been the logical choice. She’d have known how to comfort her. He feared that neither he nor James could offer proper emotional support.
He searched for the right words to tell her that the girl found dead in the Dobbs’ yard was probably her daughter because of the ID and general description. Yet, no words came to him, although he’d done that in the past.
But the woman seemed so delicate that he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth bluntly, as he’d done in similar circumstances. He was afraid she would fall apart in front of him.
He was staring at her, almost without blinking, trying to decide what to do. The silence was dire. It scratched their skin and deafened their ears.
Finally, when she couldn’t bear the silence anymore, Mrs. Porter whispered, “It is bad, isn’t it? Which one of them, please? I only hope it isn’t Patsy. That I wouldn’t bear.”
She looked again straight into McNamara’s eyes and she knew. It was Patsy. Suddenly, another painful thought penetrated the fog in her mind. Her daughter was the girl from the Dobbs’ yard last night.
For a moment, she thought her heart had stopped beating, but she was wrong. Her heart continued beating, yet, her mind had stopped working.
She was stunned — her hands joined in her lap and a horrified grimace in the corner of her mouth. She looked like carved in stone.
McNamara knew she understood. He stood up, intending to put his hand on her shoulder and comfort her.
Surprised by that unusual thought, he admonished himself. He’d never felt anything of the sort before. He’d always remained cold and detached from everything. Only finding answers and convicting killers counted. He wasn’t a psychologist but a policeman, so he sat down again.
To his horror, the next moment, something broke inside the woman. First, she groaned loudly, then she burst into tears. Sobs followed and it sounded as if a dam had broken.
Somewhere in her mind, she had a vision of her plans for Patsy, for the day she’d come back home. But that day would never come now and the vanity of her plans punched her in the stomach, leaving behind only sharp and devastating pain.
McNamara glanced at James, hoping for help, but gave up. He finally decided to go on with what he had to do.
He said in an apologetic voice, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Porter, but I must ask you to come down to the morgue and identify the body, just to be sure. We need someone to ID the young girl, and we only have a document that says it was Patsy.”
A glimpse of hope nestled in the woman’s heart, but died almost instantly. She knew it was wishful thinking to hope the police had made a mistake.
She’d already felt it in her soul. Her Patsy was gone. The thought had been hunting her for a few days already.
She’d been feeling an acute loss during the last two weeks. She hadn’t believed in such things before and she’d called them crap. Now though, she thought such presentments really existed and berated herself for not acting sooner.
As if awakened from a trance, she said with difficulty, “When do you want me to come?”
“When you feel able to, but the sooner the better... Do you want me to send a car to drive you to the coroner’s office this afternoon?” McNamara offered.
“No, thank you, that’s kind of you but... I’ll come by myself... Maybe I’ll ask my friend, Mary, you know, Mary Brown, to accompany me. I don’t think she’d mind...” She realised she was rambling and shut up.
“All right, Mrs. Porter, then we’ll see you there in the afternoon. Now, I think we’d better leave you alone,” McNamara said, standing up again.
He couldn’t wait to move on to the next item on his to-do list.
Mrs. Porter nodded, but didn’t reply. She stood up with difficulty, much like an old woman, and showed the two policemen out. She opened the door mechanically and nodded to them as an afterthought.
After they left, she eased the door closed. She leaned against the wall for a few seconds. Then she slid down to the floor where she remained motionless for a while, completely numb. After a few long minutes, she burst into tears again and sobbed her heart out. Her child was gone.
“COME ON, JAMES. LET’S go to Mrs. Dobbs and see how she is. Maybe last night’s shock has eased a little and she might have something to tell us now,” McNamara said.
“Aye, sir, that’s a very good idea.” James agreed, following him down the street.
They strode over to Mrs. Dobbs’ house and knocked. They waited but no answer came from inside. They shot each other a questioning look, then knocked again... harder this time. Still no answer.
James stepped back and looked up at the windows on the first floor. “Sir, I think something isn’t right here. It’s ten o’clock and the light’s still on upstairs.”
McNamara initially dismissed his concern, but thought better and said, “Who knows why? We’d better try the back door. She might be there. James, stay here and keep knocking, maybe she’ll hear you. I’m going to see at the back,” McNamara continued. “I’ll call you if there’s something.”
McNamara went with long strides to the back of the house, glancing thoughtfully at the window James had noticed earlier. Perhaps the woman had fallen asleep with the light on. That was one possible explanation. It was also possible she hadn’t woken up yet. After all, the previous night must have exhausted her. McNamara knew he shouldn’t make assumptions or think of the worst.
He arrived at the back of the house in no time. He raised his hand to knock when he noticed the door was ajar. He pushed it open and called, “Mrs. Dobbs, are you at home? We’re with the police.”
No answer came from inside. Only his voice bounced off the walls. He didn’t like it. He waited a few more moments then called to James, “James, come here.”
James rushed from the front door, following the sound of McNamara’s voice to the back of the house. There, he found McNamara cautiously advancing through the kitchen.
McNamara pointed to him with his index finger, to himself with his thumb, and then to the inside of the house.
James nodded and both entered the house slowly, ready to fight back if anybody would have attacked.
Their eyes swept all over the kitchen. The area was clean with no sign of recent use — no plates anywhere in sight, not even a cup of tea.
They continued outside the kitchen, along the corridor. They moved silently to surprise any intruder.
They opened the door on the left only to reveal a well-stocked pantry. McNamara shook his head and closed the door.
They walked on, always catlike, until they reached the hallway. Another small corridor stretched before them, and on the left, they saw that stairs which led to the upper floor. On each side of the staircase, there was a door, and they chose to check those rooms separately.
James tiptoed into the room on the left and discovered a small but cosy drawing room. It sported a beige loveseat and two big armchairs in the same neutral colour.
McNamara opened the door on the right of the stairs. He looked inside — it was the dining room, dominated by heavy sculptured furniture, which had been in fashion decades earlier.
They quietly walked along the corridor towards another room on the left. That was the living room, which James had already seen the night before.
A trace of blood beckoned to them from behind the door, but not before the strong smell of spilt blood hit them.
McNamara glanced behind the door and waved to James to look as well. Reluctantly, James did look and as always, nausea rose in his throat. That happened to him no matter how many bodies he had seen. He’d already resigned himself to suffering through it if he wanted to do the job.
Mrs. Dobbs lay face down behind the door. A pool of blood had almost completely coagulated under her.
They looked around. The small stand that used to be near the wall had been knocked over. Last night, a vase with flowers stood there. Now, it was shattered on the floor. The water had wetted the floor, flirting with the edges of the pool of blood. The flowers had fallen a little further and reminded James of the flowers thrown over coffins at funerals, and that made him feel worse.
“I think she heard some kind of noise and she came to the door... I can see she tried to defend herself when she was grabbed... Aye, I think she fought, but she didn’t stand a chance,” McNamara said, analysing the body, his hands buried deep in his pockets. “Probably, because the attacker was stronger... We can’t dismiss that she was surprised, of course,” he added, glancing at James who nodded his assent.
“I’ll call the headquarters, boss. We need them to send in the coroner and the forensics,” James said, starting to dig out his phone from his front pocket.
“All right, James, you do that. Until they come, let’s wait in the hallway. I don’t think you want to stay around this too much, and neither do I.”
MRS. THOMPSON NOTICED the cars crowded in front of the Dobbs’ house. After what happened the night before, she was more than curious.
She went outside with a determination that she didn’t usually feel, and headed directly to DS James who was speaking to a man dressed in a brown jacket. She’d already seen James the night before when he talked to them and she felt confident in approaching him.
“Do you mind, sir? What’s happened now?” she asked him.
“You’d better go inside, ma’am,” James replied and turned her towards her own house. “We’ll stop by your house later and we’ll explain everything then.”
Alice Thompson didn’t want to leave, but she couldn’t find an excuse or something smart to say so she could stay there and find out what was going on. As usual, she obeyed because she didn’t know to refuse a direct order, even though James made it sound like a mere request.
Lost in her thoughts, she returned to her house with small steps. Someone called her name.
“Alice, what’s going on?” asked a woman in a summer outfit, completely inadequate for the chilly weather of the morning.
The summer was flirting with its last days, and autumn was already in the air and in the colour of the leaves. The temperature wasn’t as high as it used to be, and that flimsy outfit didn’t offer any protection against the chill.
The strange woman was Mary Reid, her neighbour. She’d also heard the sirens of the police cars.
As a woman who shared the imagination of two people at least, and especially after witnessing the events of the night before, she imagined the worst. Out of the ordinary was the fact that she wasn’t far from the truth this time.
Mary was a woman a little over thirty, but not the typical thirty-year old. She was slightly plump, swarthy-faced and green-eyed. Yet, her temper was in total contradiction with the type of woman she was portraying.
She’d married one or two years before. Alice didn’t know exactly how long ago because the Reids had moved into the area only half a year before. They bought the house from Mr. MacDonald’s grandsons, who had been trying to move that house off the market for quite some time. Poor Mr. MacDonald had died one year earlier almost to the day.
Alice and Mary made some sort of friends, some said, but only because they stayed at home in the morning, while their husbands went to town for work. They weren’t very close, even though there wasn’t a gap in age between them. Yet, they had completely different interests and weren’t fit to be friends.
Alice was the typical and obedient housewife, who had only her house and husband on her mind all day long.
Mary was nothing of the kind. She was a modern and independent woman. Understandably, she didn’t seem to need or heed her husband’s opinions. She would do whatever she wanted regardless what that poor guy would say.
Consequently, the quarrels coming from their house were legendary, and even quite entertaining sometimes. Some neighbours craved them. It was a free show after all and made them forget about their pesky little rows.
“I don’t know, Mary,” Alice finally answered. “I’m afraid, you know. I think something bad happened at the Dobbs’ again. Something happened to Mrs. Dobbs. That young policeman over there didn’t want to tell me anything... He sent me packing quite fast. He said they were going to talk to us later,” Alice shared what she knew.
She headed to her house, failing to see the disappointed grimace on Mary’s face, who was put out by the lack of news.
Suddenly, Alice turned back and asked, “What do you think, Mary, would you come for tea? Oh, sorry, I’d better invite you to coffee. I know you don’t like tea, although I don’t understand why,” she said apologetically.
However, she didn’t feel any remorse. She’d intentionally had that ‘slip’ of the tongue. In reality, she didn’t like Mary, but she had to pass her time somehow. Mary was as good as any.
“I don’t know, Alice,” Mary said pensively without paying any attention to the woman’s reproach.
She appeared to sink deeply into her thoughts, and Alice felt like slapping her. Mary would always think of something! She would never react like a normal person and accept an invitation without having to ponder it.
“All right, I’ll come,” Mary replied. “I can’t work now anyway. There’s too much noise coming from across the street and I would think only of what happened there and make a lot of speculations... All right, I’ll come. At least, if I spend some time with you, I’ll relax a little, and then, I’ll be able to work more and even better,” Mary concluded, cheerfully following Alice.
Hearing about her work, which she loathed, Alice turned up her nose. Mary failed to see. She’d learnt to ignore Alice’s disapproval.
Alice didn’t think Mary’s work was a dignified occupation for a married woman. In her opinion, Mary should have taken more care of her household, instead of wasting her time with such absurd things.
Obviously, she’d expressed her opinions loudly, and not only once. But then, Mary only laughed at her and didn’t care for her ideas.
Alice opened the door and invited her into the house. She led the way into the kitchen, where Mary sat down at the kitchen table.
Alice started making coffee for Mary and tea for herself. Her face showed she’d have liked to say something and she was trying hard to keep her mouth shut.
Mary silently observed her. Alice’s efforts amused her, and her eyes shone with glee. She knew Alice well enough and she was aware the woman wanted to say something, probably some wife-to-wife reproach, as she usually did. However, this time, she didn’t seem to have the courage to start.
Mary had had a very boring morning and needed a little entertainment, so she decided to nudge Alice a little. It wasn’t like she cared about what Alice had to say anyway. She’d never paid attention to her words but, now and then, she liked to play the game. Well, it was probably petty of her but she enjoyed seeing Alice all worked up, only to run out of steam at the end.
“All right, Alice, say it. If you have something to say, just say it. You shouldn’t hold back. You know I couldn’t ever get mad at you,” Mary said.
She added in her mind, ‘You’re a stupid cow and you don’t have a back bone, so why the hell would I get upset with you?’
Alice thought for a few seconds more, trying to choose the most appropriate words.
“You know Mary, I heard your husband yelling at you yesterday evening. Again... You know, far from me to advise you how to run your marriage... far from me, of course... You know me. I think everyone should do whatever they want,” she said, thinking exactly the opposite. “But,” she continued coyly, “maybe... if you took more care of him and if you took more care of your household chores... I mean, a wife should always put her husband first... everything else should come second.”
“I know that’s what you think, Alice. But I don’t,” Mary replied in a determined voice.
She enjoyed egging Alice. She didn’t consider herself a mean person, but she did like throwing Alice’s opinions back in her face.
“A husband may be here today, Alice. Tomorrow, he might be with another woman. Believe me, my dear, nothing will stop that... if it’s meant to be. Even if you cook the perfect dinner and your house is spotless, Alice. But, you see, if Michael leaves me, I won’t have to ask money from him or to wait for alimony every month. I won’t be afraid he might want to punish me or not give me two pennies. I won’t wonder whether he sends me the money on time so I could pay rent or food or whatever. I’ll have my work and make my own money. That’s the truth, Alice. I’ll have my work whatever the situation. It’s something I can rely on. He can stay or he can go... Anyway, I won’t spend my entire day cooking his favourite dishes. I’d die in less than a week. He knows that. And he also knows he isn’t everything in my life. He’s not so sure about me now, so he might think twice before shopping around for a new woman... And, if he does — which I don’t think it’s impossible, by the way — I won’t join the line of those deserted women, left with nothing to their name.”
“I can’t believe what you’re saying. I can’t, you hear me,” Alice exclaimed heatedly. “A husband always appreciates when his wife takes care of the small things for him. He appreciates her if she’s there for him. When he knows he is the first and most important thing in her life, of course he appreciates and loves his wife more and he won’t desert her. I saw that with Mr. Thompson. I know what I’m saying,” she nodded knowingly.
‘You know nothing, damn it!’ Mary said to herself. She knew what the ‘wonderful’ Mr. Thompson did, as well as most of the people living in their neighbourhood.
Yet, she couldn’t let her friend know. That would have been spiteful. And anyway, it wouldn’t do any good. Alice wouldn’t believe her. She would even accuse her of being envious.
So, instead, she said, “Maybe, Alice. Maybe you’re right,” she repeated for good measure. “But you see, I saw my mother. She was exactly like you — the caring and hardworking little housewife who didn’t think of anything else but her husband and his whims. When he took off, he left her behind, alone, with three children to bring up by herself, because, of course, he didn’t care about any of us. She didn’t have money in her pockets, and she’d been left without a friend in the world. All their friends were his, not hers. They turned their backs on her as soon as he moved out of the house. So, she had to start all over again. If you think about it, she had no training, nothing. It was a very difficult time for her... I’m sure you can’t even imagine. The only thing she knew was to clean people’s houses... So, Alice, I’m sorry, but I prefer being exactly the way I am. You see, if Michael leaves me one day, I won’t be left with no job, money or friends. And, by the way, so you know, I prefer having my own friends, if you understand me, not his.”
Alice couldn’t say anything for a few moments and decided to keep her counsel. She still thought that Mary had it all wrong.
Who knows? Maybe her mother wasn’t good enough to keep her marriage strong. And after all, like mothers, like daughters. Considering Mary’s aversion to household chore or heeding her husband’s wishes.... Well, that said something about her mother, as well.
Alice was convinced that her husband wouldn’t desert her if she kept doing her best. No, her husband wouldn’t do that, unlike Mary’s, who would do it in the blink of an eye.
Mary was far too lazy and didn’t do anything for her spouse. She hardly cooked and preferred to buy everything already prepared from the grocer’s. Now, what man wouldn’t like a nice homemade meal, at least now and then? A man worked hard to provide for his wife so he had the right to demand it.
Mary didn’t take care of his clothes. Mr. Reid’s shirts weren’t always ironed and sometimes, even his trousers looked a little wrinkled. Mary didn’t care if he was tired when he returned home from work and she would ask him to mow the lawn or do other things in the house.
That was something Alice would never do. And to think she’d even heard Mary telling him to start cleaning if he wanted a neat house and ironing his clothes if he wanted unwrinkled clothes. That was unacceptable. A wife shouldn’t ever do that, Alice shook her head in disbelief.
Mary had a completely different position. She considered Alice a simpleton, even if she was a few years older. Alice lived in her own world, disconnected from reality. Mary knew, as everyone in the street did, that Mr. Thompson was seeing Ann, the young typist living on the same street. He wasn’t as faithful as his wife believed.
Having a mistress took its toll. That was why he was so tired when he came back home at night. There were rumours that he might have had other women stashed in town, as well.
Alice never asked him to do anything in the house, since she took care of every comfort for him. He was living the high life, like a king in his own castle.
He had Alice for cleaning, cooking and taking care of his clothes and other boring details of his life. He also had Ann for his soul and for fun, and God knew how many others to entertain him in town.
Mary couldn’t tell that to Alice. Now that would have been cruel. That would have crushed the little wife, so proud of her marriage and her husband.
Mary had a moment of uncertainty. Maybe Alice wasn’t as satisfied as she pretended to be. Wouldn’t that be news? However, only God knew!
Alice’s marriage was not as vocal as hers. No one really knew what happened behind the flowery curtains carefully drawn over all the windows of their house.
Alice continued to drink her tea in silence, lost in thought. She felt bitter. Daniel wasn’t as loving as he’d been during the first months of their life together. She consoled herself that everything was for the best because she couldn’t deal with his passion. Aye, maybe, it was better like that, although, sometimes, she would have wanted something different.
Something important was missing from her life. It bothered her that she couldn’t say what. Alice didn’t want to think of that anymore, so she turned her eyes to Mary.
“What are you writing these days?”
It wasn’t as if she’d had any real interest in Mary’s writing. She didn’t read anything else but some magazines and the newspapers Daniel brought home in the evening. She only needed a distraction, something to make her forget about her restlessness.
“Oh, that. Just a little story with ghosts,” Mary cheered up and laughed merrily.
She liked talking about her work. There, she felt on a safe territory because she knew what she was doing. She didn’t experience any uncertainties as she did in her real life.
“The ghost of a man falls in love with a living woman and pursues her everywhere. It’s something romantic with some comic scenes here and there. All sorts of funny things happen.”
“I wouldn’t like to read it,” Alice exclaimed.
The idea of such a love relationship shocked her. She was a pragmatic woman, in her way, and she had no taste for things like that. The disdain and repulsion in Alice’s eyes upset Mary.
“Don’t worry,” Mary snapped. “There are a lot of other people who like to read such things. My editor told me I could make good money with it. This is also important, don’t you think? I want to visit Egypt one day, and who knows, maybe this little novella might help me see my dream come true,” said Mary winking, just to annoy Alice, because she knew Alice didn’t like it. She’d seen her making faces a few times in the past whenever Mary winked at her.
“All right, all right, I hope you can do it,” Alice grumbled. “Do you want some more coffee, Mary?” she asked, suddenly sick of Mary. She wanted her out of her house.
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