The case comes in, or anyway it comes in to us, on a frozen dawn in the kind of closed-down January that makes you think the sun’s never going to drag itself back above the horizon. Me and my partner are finishing up another night shift, the kind I used to think wouldn’t exist on the Murder Squad: a massive scoop of boring and a bigger one of stupid, topped off with an avalanche of paperwork. Two scumbags decided to round off their Saturday night out by using another scumbag’s head as a dance mat, for reasons that are clear to no one including them; we turned up six witnesses, every one of whom was banjoed drunk, every one of whom told a different story from the other five, and every one of whom wanted us to forget the murder case and investigate why he had been thrown out of the pub / sold bad skunk / ditched by his girlfriend. By the time Witness Number 6 ordered me to find out why the dole had cut him off, I was ready to tell him it was because he was too stupid to legally qualify as a human being and kick all their arses out onto the street, but my partner does patience better than I do, which is one of the main reasons I keep him around. We eventually managed to get four of the witness statements matching not only each other but the evidence, meaning now we can charge one of the scumbags with murder and the other one with assault, which presumably means we’ve saved the world from evil in some way that I can’t be arsed figuring out.
We’ve signed over the scumbags for processing and we’re typing up our reports, making sure they’ll be on the gaffer’s desk all nice and tidy when he comes in. Across from me Steve is whistling, which out of most people would make me want to do damage, but he’s doing it right: some old trad tune that I quarter-remember from singsongs when I was a kid, low and absent and contented, breaking off when he needs to concentrate and coming back with easy trills and flourishes when the report starts going right again.
Him, and the whispery hum of the computers, and the winter wind idling around the windows: just those, and silence. Murder works out of the grounds of Dublin Castle, smack in the heart of town, but our building is tucked away a few corners from the fancy stuff the tourists come to see, and our walls are thick; even the early-morning traffic out on Dame Street only makes it through to us as a soft undemanding hum. The jumbles of paperwork and photos and scribbled notes left on people’s desks look like they’re charging up, thrumming with action waiting to happen. Outside the tall sash windows the night is thinning towards a chilled gray; the room smells of coffee and hot radiators. At that hour, if I could overlook all the ways the night shift blows, I could love the squad room.
Me and Steve know all the official reasons we get loaded down with night shifts. We’re both single, no wives or husbands or kids waiting at home; we’re the youngest on the squad, we can take the fatigue better than the guys looking at retirement; we’re the newbies—even me, two years in—so suck it up, bitches. Which we do. This isn’t uniform, where if your boss is a big bad meanie you can put in a request for reassignment. There’s no other Murder Squad to transfer to; this is the one and only. If you want it, and both of us do, you take whatever it throws at you.
Some people actually work in the Murder Squad I set my sights on, way back when: the one where you spend your day playing knife-edge mind games with psychopathic geniuses, knowing that one wrong blink could mean the difference between victory and another dead body down the line. Me and Steve, we get to rubberneck at the cunning psychopaths when the other lads walk them past the interview room where we’re bashing our heads against yet another Spouse of the Year from our never-ending run of domestics, which the gaffer throws our way because he knows they piss me right off. The head-dancing morons at least made a change.
Steve hits Print, and the printer in the corner starts its rickety wheeze.
“You done?” he asks.
“Just about.” I’m scanning my report for typos, making sure the gaffer’s got no excuse to give me hassle.
He links his fingers over his head and stretches backwards, setting his chair creaking. “Pint? The early houses’ll be opening.”
“You must be joking.”
Steve, God help me, also does positivity better than I do. I give him a stare that should nip that in the bud. “Celebrate what?”
He grins. Steve is thirty-three, a year older than me, but he looks younger: maybe the schoolboy build, all gangly legs and skinny shoulders; maybe the orange hair that sticks up in the wrong places; or maybe the relentless god-awful cheerfulness. “We got them, did you not notice?”
“Your granny could’ve got those two.”
“Probably. And she’d’ve gone for a pint after.”
“She was an alco, yeah?”
“Total lush. I’m just trying to live up to her standards.” He heads for the printer and starts sorting pages. “Come on.”
“Nah. Another time.” I don’t have it in me. I want to go home, go for a run, stick something in the microwave and fry my brain with shite telly, and then get some sleep before I have to do it all over again.
The door bangs open and O’Kelly, our superintendent, sticks his head in, early as usual to see if he can catch anyone asleep. Mostly he arrives all rosy and shiny, smelling of shower and fry-up, every line of his comb- over in place—I can’t prove it’s to rub it in to the tired bastards stinking of night shift and stale Spar danishes, but it would be in character. This morning, at least he looks ragged around the edges—eye bags, tea stain on his shirt—which I figure is probably my bit of satisfaction for the day used up right there.
“Moran. Conway,” he says, eyeing us suspiciously. “Anything good come in?”
“Street fight,” I say. “One victim.” Forget the hit to your social life: the real reason everyone hates night shift is that nothing good ever comes in. The high-profile murders with complex backstories and fascinating motives might happen at night, sometimes, but they don’t get discovered till morning. The only murders that get noticed at night are by drunk arseholes whose motive is that they’re drunk arseholes. “We’ll have the reports for you now.”
“Kept you busy, anyway. You sort it?”
“Give or take. We’ll tie up the loose ends tonight.”
“Good,” O’Kelly says. “Then you’re free to work this.” And he holds up a call sheet.
Just for a second, like a fool, I get my hopes up. If a case comes in through the gaffer, instead of through our admin straight to the squad room, it’s because it’s something special. Something that’s going to be so high profile, or so tough, or so delicate, it can’t just go to whoever’s next on the rota; it needs the right people. One straight from the gaffer hums through the squad room, makes the lads sit up and take notice. One straight from the gaffer would mean me and Steve have finally, finally, worked our way clear of the losers’ corner of the playground: we’re in.
I have to close my fist to stop my hand reaching out for that sheet. “What is it?”
O’Kelly snorts. “You can take that feeding-time look off your face, Conway. I picked it up on my way in, said I’d bring it upstairs to save Bernadette the hassle. Uniforms on the scene say it looks like a slam-dunk domestic.” He throws the call sheet on my desk. “I said you’ll tell them what it looks like, thanks very much. You never know, you could be in luck: it might be a serial killer.”
To save the admin the hassle, my arse. O’Kelly brought up that call sheet so he could enjoy the look on my face. I leave it where it is. “The day shift’ll be in any minute.”
“And you’re in now. If you’ve got a hot date to get to, then you’d better hurry up and get this solved.”
“We’re working on our reports.”
“Jesus, Conway, they don’t need to be James bloody Joyce. Just give me what you’ve got. You’d want to get a move on: this yoke’s in Stoneybatter, and they’re digging up the quays again.”
After a second I hit Print. Steve, the little lick-arse, is already wrapping his scarf around his neck.
The gaffer has wandered over to the roster whiteboard and is squinting at it. He says, “You’ll need backup on this one.”
I can feel Steve willing me to keep the head. “We can handle a slam- dunk domestic on our own,” I say. “We’ve worked enough of them.”
“And someone with a bit of experience might teach you how to work them right. How long did ye take to clear that Romanian young one? Five weeks? With two witnesses who saw her fella stab her, and the press and the equality shower yelling about racism and if it was an Irish girl we’d have made an arrest by now—”
“The witnesses wouldn’t talk to us.” Steve’s eye says Shut up, Antoinette, too late. I’ve bitten, just like O’Kelly knew I would.
“Exactly. And if the witnesses won’t talk to you today, I want an old hand around to make them.” O’Kelly taps the whiteboard. “Breslin’s due in. Have him. He’s good with witnesses.”
I say, “Breslin’s a busy man. I’d say he’s got better things to do with his valuable time than hand-holding the likes of us.”
“He has, yeah, but he’s stuck with ye. So you’d better not waste his valuable time.”
Steve is nodding away, thinking at me at the top of his lungs, Shut your gob, could be a lot worse. Which it could be. I bite down the next argument. “I’ll ring him on the way,” I say, picking up the call sheet and stuffing it in my jacket pocket. “He can meet us there.”
“Make sure you do. Bernadette’s getting onto the techs and the pathologist, and I’ll have her find you a few floaters; you won’t need the world and his wife for this.” O’Kelly heads for the door, scooping up the printer pages on his way. “And if you don’t want Breslin making a show of the pair of ye, get some coffee into you. You both look like shite.”
In the Castle grounds the street lamps are still on, but the city is lightening, barely, into something sort of like morning. It’s not raining—which is good: somewhere across the river there could be shoe prints waiting for us, or cigarette butts with DNA on them—but it’s freezing and damp, a fine haze haloing the lamps, the kind of damp that soaks in and settles till you feel like your bones are colder than the air around you. The early cafés are opening; the air smells of frying sausages and bus fumes. “You need to stop for coffee?” I ask Steve.
He’s wrapping his scarf tighter. “Jaysus, no. The faster we get down there . . .”
He doesn’t finish, doesn’t have to. The faster we get to the scene, the more time we have before teacher’s best boy pops up to show us poor thick eejits how it’s done. I’m not even sure why I care, at this point, but it’s some kind of comfort to know Steve does too. We both have long legs, we both walk fast, and we concentrate on walking.
We’re headed for the car pool. It would be quicker to take my car or Steve’s, but you don’t do that, ever. Some neighborhoods don’t like cops, and anyone who bottles my Audi TT is gonna lose a limb. And there are cases—you can never tell what ones in advance, not for definite—where driving up in your own car would mean giving a gang of lunatic thugs your home address. Next thing you know, your cat’s been tied to a brick, set on fire and thrown through your window.
I mostly drive. I’m a better driver than Steve, and a way worse passenger; me driving gets us both where we’re going in a much happier mood. In the car pool, I pick out the keys to a scraped-up white Opel Kadett. Stoneybatter is old Dublin, working class and never-worked class, mixed with handfuls of yuppies and artists who bought there during the boom because it was so wonderfully authentic, meaning because they couldn’t afford anywhere fancier. Sometimes you want a car that’s going to turn heads. Not this time.
“Ah, shite,” I say, swinging out of the garage and turning up the heat in the car. “I can’t ring Breslin now. Gotta drive.”
That gets Steve grinning. “Hate that. And I’ve got to read the call sheet. No point us arriving on the scene without a clue.”
I floor it through a yellow light, pull the call sheet out of my pocket and toss it to him. “Go on. Let’s hear the good news.”
He scans. “Call came in to Stoneybatter station at six minutes past five. Caller was a male, wouldn’t give his name. Private number.” Meaning an amateur, if he thinks that’ll do him any good. The network will have that number for us within hours. “He said there was a woman injured at Number 26 Viking Gardens. The station officer asked what kind of injury, he said she’d fallen and hit her head. The station officer asked was she breathing; he said he didn’t know, but she looked bad. The uniform started telling him how to check her vitals, but he said, ‘Get an ambulance down there, fast,’ and hung up.”
“Can’t wait to meet him,” I say. “Bet he was gone before anyone showed up, yeah?”
“Oh yeah. When the ambulance got there, the door was locked, no one answering. Uniforms arrived and broke it in, found a woman in the sitting room. Head injuries. Paramedics confirmed she was dead. No one else home, no sign of forced entry, no sign of burglary.”
“If the guy wanted an ambulance, why’d he ring Stoneybatter station? Why not 999?”
“Maybe he thought 999 would be able to track down his phone number, but a cop shop wouldn’t have the technology.”
“So he’s a bloody idiot,” I say. “Great.” O’Kelly was right about the quays: the Department for Digging Up Random Shit is going at one lane with a jackhammer, the other one’s turned into a snarl that makes me wish for a vaporizer gun. “Let’s have the lights.”
Steve scoops the blue flasher out from under his seat, leans out the window and slaps it on the roof. I hit the siren. Not a lot happens. People helpfully edge over an inch or two, which is as far as they can go.
“Jesus Christ,” I say. I’m in no humor for this. “So how come the uniforms think it’s a domestic? Anyone else live there? Husband, partner?”
Steve scans again. “Doesn’t say.” Hopeful sideways glance at me: “Maybe they got it wrong, yeah? Could be something good after all.”
“No, it’s fucking not. It’s another fucking domestic, or else it’s not even murder, she died from a fucking fall just like the caller said, because if there was a snowball’s chance in hell that it was anything halfway decent, O’Kelly would’ve waited till the morning shift got in and given it to Breslin and McCann or some other pair of smarmy little—Jesus!” I slam my fist down on my horn. “Do I have to go out there and arrest someone?” Some idiot up at the front of the traffic jam suddenly notices he’s in a car and starts moving; the rest get out of my way and I floor it, round onto the bridge and across the Liffey to the north side.
The sudden semi-quiet, away from the quays and the workmen, feels huge. The long runs of tall redbrick buildings and shop signs shrink and split into clusters of houses, give the light room to widen across the sky, turning the low layer of clouds gray and pale yellow. I kill the siren; Steve reaches out the window and gets the flasher back in. He keeps it in his hands: scrapes a smear of muck off the glass, tilts it to make sure it’s clean. Doesn’t go back to reading.
Me and Steve have known each other eight months, been partnered up for four. We met working another case, back when he was on Cold Cases. At first I didn’t like him—everyone else did, and I don’t trust people who everyone likes, plus he smiled too much—but that changed fast. By the time we got the solve, I liked him enough to use my five minutes in O’Kelly’s good books putting in a word for Steve. It was good timing—I wouldn’t have been in the market for a partner off my own bat, I liked going it alone, but O’Kelly had been getting louder about how clueless newbies didn’t fly solo on his squad—and I don’t regret it, even if Steve is a chirpy little bollix. He feels right, across from me when I glance up in the squad room, shoulder to shoulder with me at crime scenes, next to me at the interview table. Our solve rate is up there, whatever O’Kelly says, and more often than not we go for that pint to celebrate. Steve feels like a friend, or something on the edge of it. But we’re still getting the hang of each other; we still have no guarantees.
I have the hang of him enough to know when he wants to say some- thing, anyway. I say, “What.”
“Don’t let the gaffer get to you.”
I glance across: Steve is watching me, steady-eyed. “You telling me I’m being oversensitive? Seriously?”
“It’s not the end of the world if he thinks we need to get better with witnesses.”
I whip down a side street at double the speed limit, but Steve knows my driving well enough that he doesn’t tense up. I’m the one gritting my teeth. “Yeah, it bloody well is. Oversensitive would be if I cared what Breslin or whoever thinks of our witness technique, which I don’t give a damn about. But if O’Kelly thinks we can’t handle ourselves, then we’re going to keep getting these bullshit nothing cases, and we’re going to keep having some tosser looking over our shoulders. You don’t have a problem with that?”
Steve shrugs. “Breslin’s just backup. It’s still our case.”
“We don’t need backup. We need to be left the fuck alone to do our job.”
“We will be. Sooner or later.”
Steve doesn’t answer that, obviously. I slow down—the Kadett handles like a shopping trolley. Stoneybatter is getting its Sunday morning underway: runners pounding along the footpaths, pissed-off teenagers dragging dogs and brooding over the unfairness of it all, a girl in clubbing gear wandering home with goosebumps on her legs and her shoes in her hand.
I say, “I’m not gonna take this much longer.”
Burnout happens. It happens more in the squads like Vice and Drugs, where the same vile shite keeps coming at you every day and nothing you do makes any difference: you burst your bollix making your case and the same girls keep on getting pimped out, just by a new scumbag; the same junkies keep on buying the same gear, just from a new drug lord. You plug one hole, the shite bursts through in a new place and just keeps on pouring. That gets to people. In Murder, if you put someone away, anyone else he would’ve killed stays alive. You’re fighting one killer at a time, instead of the whole worst side of human nature, and you can beat one killer. People last, in Murder. Last their whole careers.
In any squad, people last a lot longer than two years.
My two years have been special. The cases aren’t a problem—I could take back-to-back cannibals and kid-killers, never miss a wink of sleep. Like I said, you can beat one killer. Beating your own squad is a whole other thing.
Steve has the hang of me enough to know when I’m not just blowing off steam. After a second he asks, “What would you do instead? Transfer back to Missing Persons?”
“Nah. Fuck that.” I don’t go backwards. “One of my mates from school, he’s a partner in a security agency. The big stuff, bodyguards for high flyers, international; not nabbing shoplifters at Penney’s. He says, any time I want a job . . .”
I’m not looking at Steve, but I can feel him motionless and watching me. I can’t tell what’s in his head. Steve’s a good guy, but he’s a people-pleaser. With me gone, he could fit right into the squad, if he felt like it. One of the lads, working the decent cases and having a laugh, easy as that.
“The money’s great,” I say. “And in there, being a woman would actually be a plus. That’s what a lot of these guys want for their wives, daughters: women bodyguards. For themselves, too. Less obvious.”
Steve says, “Are you gonna ring him?”
I pull up at the top of Viking Gardens. The cloud’s broken up enough that light leaks through, a thin skin of it coating the slate roofs, the leaning lamppost. It’s the most sunlight we’ve seen all week.
I say, “I don’t know.”
I already know Viking Gardens. I live a ten-minute walk away—because I like Stoneybatter, not because I can’t afford anything fancier—and one of the routes I use for my run goes past the top of the road. It’s less exciting than it sounds: a scruffy cul-de-sac, lined with Victorian terraced cottages fronting straight onto patched-up pavements. Low slate roofs, net curtains, bright-painted doors. The street is narrow enough that the parked cars all have two tires on the curb.
This is about as long as we can get away with not ringing Breslin, before he shows up at work and the gaffer wants to know what he’s doing there. Before we get out of the car, I ring his voice mail—which may or may not buy us a few extra minutes, but at least it saves me making chitchat—and leave a message. I make the case sound boring as shite, which doesn’t take much, but I know that won’t slow him down. Breslin likes thinking he’s Mr. Indispensable; he’ll show up just as fast for a shitty domestic as he would for a skin-stripping serial killer, because he knows the poor victim is bollixed until he gets there to save the day. “Let’s move,” I say, swinging my satchel over my shoulder.
Number 26 is the one down the far end of the road, with the crime-scene tape and the marked car and the white Technical Bureau van. A cluster of kids hanging about by the tape scatter when they see us coming (“Ahhh! Run!” “Here, missus, get him, he robs Toffypops out of the shop—” “Shut the fuck up, you!”) but we still get watched all the way down the road. Behind the net curtains, the windows are popping questions like popcorn.
“I want to wave,” Steve says, under his breath. “Can I wave, yeah?”
“Act your age, you.” But the shot of adrenaline is hitting me, too, no matter how I fight it. Even when you know trained chimps could do your job that day, the walk to the scene gets you: turns you into a gladiator walking towards the arena, a few heartbeats away from a fight that’ll make emperors chant your name. Then you take a look at the scene, your arena and your emperor go up in smoke, and you feel shittier than ever.
The uniform at the door is just a kid, long wobbly-looking neck and big ears holding up a too-big hat. “Detectives,” he says, snapping upright and trying to work out whether to salute. “Garda J. P. Dooley.” Or some- thing. His accent needs subtitles.
“Detective Conway,” I say, finding gloves and shoe covers in my bag. “And that’s Detective Moran. Seen anyone hanging around who shouldn’t be?”
“Just them kids, like.” The kids will need talking to, and so will their parents. The thing about old neighborhoods: people still mind each other’s business. It doesn’t suit everyone, but it suits us. “We didn’t do any door-to-door yet; we thought ye might want it done your own way, like.”
“Good call,” Steve says, pulling on his gloves. “We’ll get someone onto it. What was that like when you got here?”
He nods at the cottage door, which is a harmless shade of blue, splintered where the uniforms bashed it in. “Closed,” the uniform says promptly. “Well, yeah, I got that,” Steve says, but with a grin that makes it a shared joke, not the smackdown I would have pulled out. “Closed how? Bolted, double-locked, on the latch?”
“Oh, right, sorry, I—” The uniform’s gone red. “There’s a Chubb lock and a Yale. ’Twasn’t double-locked, but. On the latch, only.”
Meaning if the killer left this way, he just pulled the door closed behind him; he didn’t need a key. “Alarm going off?”
“No. Like, there is an alarm system, like”—the uniform points at the box on the wall above us—“but it wasn’t set. It didn’t go off when we went in, even.”
“Thanks,” Steve says, giving him another grin. “That’s great.” The uniform goes scarlet. Stevie has a fan.
The door swings open, and Sophie Miller sticks her head out. Sophie has big brown eyes and a ballerina build and makes a hooded white boiler suit look some kind of elegant, so a lot of people try to give her shit, but they only try once. She’s one of the best crime-scene techs we’ve got, plus the two of us like each other. Seeing her is more of a relief than it should be.
“Hey,” she says. “About time.”
“Roadworks,” I say. “Howya. What’ve we got?”
“Looks like another lovers’ tiff to me. Have you called dibs on them, or what?”
“Better than gangsters,” I say. I feel Steve’s quick startled glance, throw him a cold one back: he knows me and Sophie are mates, but he should also know I’m not gonna go crying on my mate’s shoulder about squad business. “At least on domestics, you get the odd witness who’ll talk. Let’s have a look.”
The cottage is small: we walk straight into the sitting-slash-dining room. Three doors off it, and I already know which is what: bedroom off to the left, kitchen straight ahead, shower room to the right of that—the layout is the same as my place. The decor is nothing like, though. Purple rug on the laminate flooring, heavy purple curtains trying to look expensive, purple throw artistically arranged on the white leather sofa, forgettable canvas prints of purple flowers: the room looks like it was bought through some Decorate Your Home app where you plug in your budget and your favorite colors and the whole thing arrives in a van the next day.
In there it’s still last night. The curtains are closed; the overhead lights are off, but standing lamps are on in odd corners. Sophie’s techs—one kneeling by the sofa picking up fibers with Sellotape, one dusting a side table for prints, one doing a slow sweep with a video camera—have their headlamps on. The room is stifling hot and stinks of cooked meat and scented candle. The tech by the sofa is fanning the front of his boiler suit, trying to get some air in there.
The gas fire is on, fake coals glowing, flames flickering away manically at the overheated room. The fireplace is cut stone, fake-rustic to go with the adorable little artisan cottage. The woman’s head is resting on the corner of the hearth.
She’s on her back, knock-kneed, like someone threw her there. One arm is by her side; the other is up over her head, bent at an awkward angle. She’s maybe five seven, skinny, wearing spike heels, plenty of fake tan, a tight-fitting cobalt-blue dress and a chunky fake-gold necklace. Her face is covered by blond hair, straightened and sprayed so ferociously that even murder hasn’t managed to mess it up. She looks like Dead Barbie.
“We got an ID?” I ask.
Sophie lifts her chin at a table by the door: a few letters, a small neat stack of bills. “Odds are she’s Aislinn Gwendolyn Murray. She owns the place—there’s a property-tax statement in there.”
Steve flips bills. “No other names,” he says to me. “Looks like it was just her.”
One look at the room, though, and I can see why everyone figures this for boy-beats-girl. The small round table in the dining area is covered in a purple tablecloth; two places laid out, white cloth napkins in fancy folds, the gas flames twinkling in china and polished silver. Open bottle of red, two glasses—clean—a tall candlestick. The candle is burned down to nothing, drips of wax stalagmited on the candlestick and spotting the tablecloth.
There’s a wide splotch of blood on the fireplace surround, spreading from under her head, dark and sticky. None anywhere else, as far as I can see. No one bothered to lift her after she went down, hold her, try and shake her awake. Just got the hell out of Dodge.
Fell and hit her head, the caller said. Either it’s true, and Lover Boy panicked and did a legger—it happens, good little citizens so petrified of getting in trouble that they act squirrelly as serial killers—or he helped her fall.
“Cooper been yet?” I ask. Cooper is the pathologist. He likes me better than he likes most people, but he still wouldn’t have stuck around: if you’re not at the scene when Cooper shows up to do the preliminary, that counts as your problem, not his.
“Just left,” Sophie says. She has one watchful eye on her techs. “He says she’s dead, just in case we missed that. Her being right next to the fire messed with the rate of cooling and the onset of rigor, so time of death is dodgy: anywhere between six and eleven yesterday evening.”
Steve nods at the table. “Probably before half past eight, nine. Any later, they’d’ve started eating.”
“Unless one of them works an odd shift,” I say. Steve puts that in his notebook: something for the floaters to check out, once we have an ID on the dinner guest. “The call came in as injuries from a fall. Did Cooper say whether that’d fit?”
Sophie snorts. “Yeah, right. The special kind of fall. The back of her head’s smashed in, and the injury looks to match the corner of the fire- place; Cooper’s basically sure that’s what killed her, but he won’t say so till the postmortem, just in case Peruvian arrow poison or whatever. But she’s also got abrasions and a major hematoma on the left side of her jaw, a couple of cracked teeth—probably a cracked jawbone too, but Cooper won’t swear till he gets her on the table. She didn’t fall on the fireplace from two angles at once.”
I say, “Someone hit her in the face. She went over backwards, smacked her head on the fireplace.”
“You’re the detectives, but that’s what it sounds like to me.”
The woman’s nails are long and cobalt blue, to match her dress, and perfect: not one broken, not one even chipped. The pretty photography books on the coffee table are still nicely lined up; so are the pretty glass whatsits and the vase of purple flowers on the mantelpiece. There’s been no struggle in here. She never got a chance to fight back.
“Cooper have any clue what he hit her with?” I ask.
“Going by the bruise pattern,” Sophie says, “his fist. Meaning he’s right-handed.”
Meaning no weapon, meaning nothing that can be fingerprinted or linked to a suspect. Steve says, “A punch hard enough to crack her teeth, it’s got to have banged up his knuckles. He won’t be able to hide that. And if we’re really in luck, he’s split a knuckle, left DNA on her face.”
“That’s if his hands were bare,” I say. “A night like last night, chances are he was wearing gloves.”
I nod at the table. “She never got as far as pouring the wine. He hadn’t been here long.”
“Hey,” Steve says, mock-cheery. “At least it’s murder. Here you were worried we’d been hauled out for someone’s granny who tripped over the cat.”
“Great,” I say. “I’ll save the happy dance for later. Cooper say anything else?”
“No defensive injuries,” Sophie says. “Her clothing’s all in place, there’s no sign of recent intercourse and no semen showed up on any of her swabs, so you can forget sexual assault.”
Steve says, “Unless our fella tried it on, she said no, and he gave her a punch to subdue her. Then when he realized what was after happening, he got spooked and did a legger.”
“Whatever. You can forget completed sexual assault, anyway; is that better?” Sophie’s only met Steve the once. She hasn’t decided whether she likes him yet.
I say, “Attempted doesn’t play either. What, he walks in the door and shoves his hand straight up her skirt? Doesn’t even wait till they’ve had a glass of wine and his chances are better?”
Steve shrugs. “Fair enough. Maybe not.” This isn’t him diving into a sulk, the way a lot of Ds would if their partner contradicted them, specially in front of someone who looks like Sophie; he means it. It’s not that Steve has no ego—all Ds do—just that his isn’t tied to being Mr. Big Balls all the time. It’s tied to getting stuff done, which is good, and to people liking him, which comes in useful and which I watch like hell.
“Her phone show up?” I ask.
“Yeah. Over on that side table.” Sophie points with her pen. “It’s been fingerprinted. If you want to play with it, go ahead.”
Before we check out the rest of the cottage, I squat down by the body and carefully, one-fingered, hook her hair back from her face. Steve moves in beside me.
Every Murder D I’ve ever known does it: takes one long look at the victim’s face. It doesn’t make sense, not to civilians. If we just wanted a mental image of the vic, to keep us reminded who we’re working for, any phone selfie would do a better job. If we needed a shot of outrage to get our hearts pumping, the wounds do that better than the face. But we do it, even with the bad ones who barely have a face left to see; a week outdoors in summer, a drowning, we go face-to-face with them just the same. The biggest douchebags on the squad, the guys who would rate this woman’s tits out of ten while she lay there getting colder, they would still give her that respect.
She’s somewhere under thirty. She was pretty, before someone decided to turn the left side of her jaw into a bloody purple lump; no stunner, but pretty enough, and she worked hard at it. She has on a truckload of makeup, the full works and done right; her nose and her chin would be little-girl cute, only they have that jutting look that comes with long-term low-level starvation. Her mouth—hanging open, showing small bleached teeth and clotted blood—is good: soft and full, with a droop to the bottom lip that looks witless now but was probably appealing yesterday.
Under the three blended shades of eyeshadow her eyes are a slit open, staring up into a corner of the ceiling.
I say, “I’ve seen her before.”
Featured image: Stavchansky Yakov/Shutterstock.com
Author Photo: © Kathrin Baumbach