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An improbable killer. A stubborn detective. Misleading evidence. 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.
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© 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
To Jennifer Evans – the best friend one could wish for
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
THE LITTLE BEAGLE GROWLED and pulled on the leash. She made old Maude jump ahead and almost fall on her face. The harsh move came as a surprise to Maude.
Going out with Missy meant she would just drone along, wrapped up in her own thoughts. The sedate stroll helped Maude order her ideas, make plans or think of something she’d read or seen on TV. Her old beagle had never reacted so unpredictably before or, at least, never during the last six years. She was never excited even when she was around playful or hostile dogs.
Their strolls always followed the same pattern. In the morning, they would saunter leisurely along the shore and at night they would take the trail near the ravine close to their house. Missy would trot a little ahead, neither too fast nor too slow, and Maude would stroll along at a comfortable pace. Along those last years, Maude had gotten somewhat brittle and she didn’t have the strength to wrestle with a dog, even though her beagle was not a big hound.
Maude had been pleased to see that her dog quieted down once she’d reached a certain age. She’d had her doubts in the beginning. She’d feared that she wouldn’t be able to control her once her age and arthritis had advanced.
“Missy, calm down, girl,” Maude commanded with all the authority she could muster after her fright.
For a moment there, she’d almost seen herself thrown to the ground and that scared her. She didn’t know if she’d have been able to stand up again. Those days, she couldn’t rely on her knees anymore.
The woman tried to yank the leash so Missy would understand to go back to the peaceful pace they both enjoyed. It was just wishful thinking, though. Missy had sniffed a strong scent and her primal instincts overcame all her training. That instinct was pushing on the old dog now. It made her forget the aches and stiffness the unforgivable time had brought upon her.
The scent trail was compelling. The hunting dog, which was lurking inside Missy, had woken up. The dog had already reached a special zone and a new spring appeared in her walk. Maude’s commands were falling on deaf ears.
The beagle growled fiercely again. That sound was frightening. A shiver of fear crept down Maude’s back. The ferocious sound that came from her sweet, behaved dog made her hair stand. Hairy spider legs dragged along her spine.
Maude glanced around with apprehension. Her fingers shook on the leash when her eyes swept over the vast wooden area on her right. The midnight glow drowned the trees in an unreal light. Maude had been walking her dog in that wooden area for years and she knew it as well as the back of her hand. Yet, that night, it was as if she had just noticed its menacing midnight appearance for the first time.
Missy suddenly broke into a run. That didn’t sit well with Maude at all. Her arthritis had restricted her movements for some time now, and there were days when she couldn’t do more than drag her feet. And that was one of those days. Maude cursed the beagle under her breath.
The dog seemed very intent on getting to a specific destination. The old woman began shouting and demanded the dog to stop, but with no effect.
Then, she became aware that Missy was hurrying toward her favourite hydrant and that confused her more. Missy had to know she would get to that hydrant sooner or later. It was one of the main attraction spots of their walks, after all.
“Easy, girl, easy,” she tried to soothe the dog and make her walk slower but to no avail. Missy continued her forced race and, in the process, she dragged a cursing and aching Maude in tow.
Maude had a great respect for exercising. Her doctor had advised her again and again that she needed to keep moving or her joints would grow more painful and stiff. She had heeded his advice. However, her exercising was limited to fairly-paced strolls, not sprints. She hadn’t been too fond of sprinting even in her youth and she’d never understood the logic of jogging with no destination in mind. Now, her knees were not accustomed to taking such abuse and began to protest loudly to the effort.
Again, she cursed the little dog and what might have turned her obedient companion into a beast. The old woman had a hard time trying to keep up with the now running dog. She couldn’t ignore either the gruelling rhythm or her tortured knees and she wasn’t aware that tears were running down her face, let alone wipe them off. Yet, the thought of letting the leash go never crossed her mind.
Maude felt a deep gratitude when Missy finally stopped in front of the blasted hydrant and she closed her eyes in relief. She breathed deeply for a minute or two and took her time to rest her mistreated knees unaware of anything else.
Now, the dog was howling and snarling. To be truthful, Maude had never heard anything like that and her heart pumped faster. Yet, the woman needed to catch her breath, so she still took her time. No other sound reached her ears so she didn’t believe they were in any kind of danger and she didn’t even care at that moment. There were other things taking precedent in her mind, like stabbing pain in her joints and laboured breath.
Only when the piercing pain in her knees subsided and became more bearable, Maude decided to see why her lovely pet had turned into a primal being. The howling was gone, but the dog’s snarl had turned deep and vicious now, and the old woman couldn’t ignore the real world anymore.
When she finally opened her eyes, Maude froze. She couldn’t do anything, but stare. She was riveted in place and her fingers turned into stone on the leash.
Maude opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her screams remained trapped at the back of her throat even though she could still hear them reverberate inside her head.
Her eyes had widened with shock and the skin on her face tightened over her bones, as the blood receded. The spiders that had been crawling on her back earlier multiplied, and their hairy legs left traces of fright in their wake. Her legs began to shake and she wondered for a split second if she would still be able to stand.
Now, the moon had just come out of the clouds and she had a clear view upon the hydrant. There, a severed human head basked in the moonlight.
Maude’s terrified eyes took in the rugged edges of the skin that once might have covered a quite graceful neck. Traces of blood smeared what was left of the once-long and supple neck.
Blood was still dripping and Maude’s shocked eyes followed the downward direction of the blood drops with morbid fascination. They fell in the dark and almost coagulated pool which covered the now sticky grass at the foot of the hydrant.
She gazed back at the head. Open and lifeless eyes were staring back at her and she noticed the unusual violet colour of the iris. The colour gradually faded right there in front of her eyes and yet, the fixed gaze mesmerized her.
The old woman had to make a huge effort, but she was finally able to shift her eyes off those cold, hypnotic pupils. She shifted her sight above the head and only then, she saw the knot of hair fastened to the hydrant.
A bubble of fog had enveloped her mind and Maude shook her head to clear it. She knew she had to do something or call someone because she couldn’t just leave it alone there. Her generation had been brought up with a sense of justice and responsibility and she couldn’t just avert her eyes and be on her merry way.
Only then, she remembered the cell phone her niece had made her carry with her everywhere. With a shaking hand, she took it out of her pocket and started dialling 999.
She had become aware that she was alone with her beagle near the ravine and the closest building was at quite a distance away, maybe even more than five hundred meters.
If anything, she didn’t think Missy would be able to protect her. She had already used up all her energy with her run to catch the scent she was hunting and with her ferocious growling. Now she was just panting and apparently, she had lost any kind of interest in the severed head, which did seem curious.
Waiting for the call to go through, Maude’s eyes swept the surrounding area with dread. The shadows of the trees, which she had loved so much in the past, suddenly seemed to hide dangers she had never imagined before. The thought that someone was lurking and stalking her from afar crept in her mind and her lips trembled.
The voice of the 999 operator startled her and she almost dropped the phone. She recovered fast, though and with a hesitant voice, related what laid before her eyes. Fear that the operator wouldn’t believe her seized her throat.
Maude couldn’t have condemned the operator. The scene did echo a horror film.
She was thankful that Halloween wouldn’t be there for a few more weeks. Otherwise the emergency operator would have advised her to have a nice cup of hot milk, go to bed, and stop looking at the neighbours’ decorations. Maude said a silent prayer. She knew when to express her gratitude.
MCNAMARA RUBBED HIS forehead and then glanced at his watch impatiently. He scowled. It was almost eight in the evening.
He had put in another long day, in spite of his promise to stop staying in the office and working overtime, especially when he didn’t have an active case. He knew he would record enough overtime then, and such a harsh regimen wouldn’t work forever.
Everybody had their limits. The C.I. was realistic enough to reckon that time would come for him as well. One day, he would have to pay the price for his lack of respect toward his own body. He shook his head and muttered a few choice words under his breath.
The man stood up and stretched his strained muscles. His knotted fibres objected loudly. He grimaced when he felt the sharp stabs in his lower limbs and the knots in his neck. In such moments, he would feel old, older than he was, and one of the things he disliked most was thinking of his age.
He went to the window and glanced at the square on the corner, burrowing his hands deep in his pockets. He looked out the window, yet his eyes didn’t notice the couples strolling hand in hand or the young proud mother pushing a blue pram.
McNamara’s mind was far-off, wandering other trails. His green eyes seemed remote and cold, as if he’d been trying to make up his mind about something. He was alone and his features unguarded. Suddenly, a metallic sparkle shone in his eyes and showed his resolution.
He had decided to call Bryony again, and even more, to go and visit her. It was high time he had done it. McNamara had been thinking of the young woman for the last couple of weeks and quite constantly, which had bothered him enough. He couldn’t take her out of his mind.
When they closed the Nightingale Street case, he thought he would forget about her soon enough and he would be able to go on with his life, as boring and dry as it might have appeared at times.
He wasn’t a very social person and he liked it that way. He was a loner and functioned well on his own. The problems appeared when he interacted with others outside of his work.
His romantic involvements didn’t last enough to grow into an intimacy. It was quite a stretch to use the word romantic when it came to his affairs. He had always avoided any romantic tangles and all his male acquaintances envied his skills in evading any unwilling connection.
McNamara had spent a second night in Bryony’s house when the Nightingale Street case closed. He had spent that night in her bed right from the beginning. There wasn’t anyone there to stop him.
However, he had felt compelled to refrain himself from enjoying the moment. He’d have felt like a cad only for thinking of taking advantage of their proximity so soon after she’d survived the killer’s vicious attack.
That creature, as the policeman liked to think of the killer on the Nightingale Street, had tried to rape and kill Bryony and the circumstances had dictated the detective’s behaviour. He’d thought only about protecting the young woman, even if only from the memory of the savage attack.
He had thought he would have his chance later. Nonetheless, the following day, that window of opportunity closed, to his total dismay. That Cerberus, Bryony’s older neighbour, Mrs. Stevens, had appeared at the lass’s door early in the morning, as if she’d wanted to make sure nothing inappropriate would happen between the two of them.
Then, McNamara chose to go to the police station and leave the two women alone. He couldn’t forgive the old woman’s selfishness, which had led to the attack on the lass, and he knew he’d have been unkind to her, if not worse, had he stayed.
He knew himself well enough and he wasn’t a forgiving person. He also kept a very accurate account when it came to such things. He couldn’t forgive or forget. He wasn’t built that way.
The detective had phoned to Bryony a few times afterwards. McNamara had pretended he wanted just to check on her and avoided looking too deep into his own reasons. He was afraid he was trying to deceive himself or her, and he didn’t like either of the two. He wasn’t a coward as a rule, but now he felt like one.
He liked to play everything close to his vest and he was painfully aware that he couldn’t be entirely open with her. Yet, after a few sleepless nights, McNamara admitted his feelings surpassed a temporary attraction for the contrary lass. To his dismay, she’d wormed her way into his heart and mind, and he couldn’t shake the memories of her.
McNamara frowned and shook his head. He reckoned his defeat, at least for the moment. With determination, he returned to his desk and sat down.
He picked his cell phone off the desk, and fast, as if he’d been afraid he would change his mind, he dialled her number. Then, he waited, with his characteristic impatience, to hear her voice over the phone.
His fingers tapped the desk top in an increasing staccato. When he became aware of the telling gesture, he stopped his fingers with a glower.
She took her sweet time to answer and all that time, he clenched his fists, irate.
The ring of the phone sounded ominous in his ears and his eyes narrowed to slits. He missed the smile that perched on his lips when her sunny voice came on the line.
“Hullo,” she said breathlessly as if she’d run to get to the phone and his heart skipped a beat.
“It’s me, McNamara,” he replied and then paused for a few seconds.
To his horror, he didn’t remember what he had wanted to say or the reason of his call and he struggled to find his words.
“I’ve been wondering how you were,” he continued, saying the first thing that came to mind, suddenly unsure of himself.
That was something new. He was never unsure and he scowled at his stupidity. He’d never experienced anything similar, not even when he’d tried to get his first date, back when he was thirteen, and he didn’t like it.
He waited a few long seconds, straining his hearing, but he heard only the static on the line. That made him wonder if she’d already disconnected the call. He felt cold inside at the thought that she wouldn’t welcome his call.
With a steely resolution, he decided to count to five. If she hadn’t answered by then, he’d terminate the connection himself.
He looked around with feigned disinterest and counted the seconds in his mind. He had counted only to three, when a slight sigh reached his ear.
“I’ve been fine,” she said in a soft voice. “And you?” she inquired, and now, her hesitation filled the line.
“Just work, you know how it is,” he answered automatically.
Then another pause ensued for a few seconds.
“Are you busy tonight?” he asked once he’d found his determination again.
“Not really,” her soft voice replied. “Do you have anything in mind?”
“I haven’t planned anything,” he admitted. “I was just thinking that we could have a drink or... a coffee, maybe...”
McNamara hated himself because he heard defensiveness in his own voice and he flexed his fist on the tabletop. He hated the thought that a mere slip of a woman could make him feel so insecure that he wouldn’t be able to gather his ideas and articulate a coherent sentence.
“That would be nice,” she answered. “I’ve already got home, though...”
“I see,” McNamara answered, and this time, there was no mistake. The steel was there back in his voice.
He assumed she was brushing him off and his pride couldn’t take it graciously. His expectations had leaned onto another result to his invitation and her soft refusal bruised his ego.
“No, you’ve misunderstood me,” she rushed to say, and he grinned catching the haste in her voice.
McNamara knew Bryony had a pretty clear idea about what kind of man he was. Probably, she thought he would disconnect the call immediately.
“I wasn’t saying I wasn’t available tonight,” Bryony specified to make sure there was no misunderstanding in his mind.
The slight reproach in her voice brought a twinge of guilt in his heart.
“I was just saying I’d like you to come here to my place for that drink. I’m already home and yes, I don’t feel like going out into town again. However, I’d like to spend the evening with you, if you could make the trip here,” she clarified her statement patiently, as if she’d been talking to a child.
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