Authors: Emma Kavanagh
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #UK
A digital short story from the author of
Featuring Charlotte Solomon, a brilliant and relentless reporter, from Emma Kavanagh’s new novel
, out in April 2015.
A couple have been found dead in their living room.
Was it a simple domestic misunderstanding or is there more to it than meets the eye...?
Emma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in Psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. She lives in South Wales with her husband and young sons.
The bodies are still inside. I’m not even sure how I know that – whether I heard it ripple through the crowd, the whispers carried on the breeze, whether I saw it on the face of the waiting police officers, or whether it is simply that I have been here, or a variant of here, so many times before.
I squeeze my way through the throng of people, wishing that I had remembered my press pass – Charlotte Solomon,
. That it wasn’t currently languishing in amongst the Twix wrappers and the scrambled scraps of paper on my desk. But then in all likelihood my press pass would make very little difference to the crowd that has gathered. So what that I have a job to do? They live here in Harddymaes with its boxed-up council houses and its harsh scrubland, and right here, on their doorstep, they have a murder. Not just a murder. A double murder. They’re not moving for anyone.
I shimmy in between a thick-chested man, smelling sickly-sweet of stale booze, and a narrow woman with a large, hook-shaped nose, who has wrapped her arms so tightly around herself that it is a miracle she can breathe. Not for the first time, I thank God for the five-foot-two-inch frame that allows me to slip into places normal-sized people wouldn’t be able to go. Rather like a rat up a drainpipe. The booze-soaked man glances at me, leers appreciatively, and I suppress a shudder, instead forming my face into what I’m hoping is a charming smile. You never know who your source is going to be. He winks.
The call came in to the
offices from a ‘concerned’ citizen. A believer in the freedom of the press, someone not at all out for a reward – is there one, by the way? The twin dead bodies had been found in a terraced house, in the heart of Harddymaes, a house registered to a Mr Morris Myricks and his wife, Mrs Sian Myricks. Now, said the caller, don’t quote me on this, and I couldn’t tell you for sure, but it definitely looks like old Morris has had it. My boys, said the caller, well, they were just in the Myricks’ back garden to get their football back. Perfectly innocent, like. Only the thing was, they couldn’t ’elp looking through the window, and that’s when they saw them lying there – two of them, in all that blood.
I’ve been to these houses before. The back windows are six feet off the garden. Perfectly innocent, my arse.
I glance around the crowd. A couple of teenage boys, younger than they look, hang at the edge of it, leaning against bike handles and trying to look worldly. One of them has been crying. The footballers, I presume.
The police tape lines the front garden, roping off the knee-high grass, the rough concrete path, the window beyond. I bounce on my toes slightly, trying to get a view, to see beyond the cordon into the darkness beyond. But there is nothing. Flowers have been left already, a mass of cheap carnations in cellophane wrap. They have been propped against a neighbouring wall, a makeshift shrine in this most unlikely of temples. It always mystifies me, how these things are gathered so fast. Do people keep a handy supply of carnations and sad-looking teddy bears around, just in case?
My gaze shifts from the flowers to the uniformed officers. There are three of them, standing with arms folded, serious faces. I study them, looking for a face that I recognise, but these ones are young, preternaturally so. The one nearest me has his arms folded across his chest, but his pallor is grey. I’m laying odds on him being the first on the scene. I study him for a moment: double or nothing, it’s his first dead body. Two for the price of one. Lucky boy. I sigh, settle back to wait.
I recognise the odd face in the crowd. After all, I am here in Harddymaes a lot. Rampant car-crime; an off-licence that has been knocked over more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I know the area, I know the wide-splayed roads with their views down to the sea, which anywhere else should cost a fortune, but here come at a budget price. I know the twisting streets with their stacked-up houses, the gardens seeming to spill from one into the other. I know the people; some stumbling through life as best they can, others boiling with anger at the injustice of it all.
I slip my phone from my pocket, run a quick check on Facebook. There was a time when you would have assumed that people of the Myricks’ age, approaching fifty, childless, would have sooner climbed Everest than set up a Facebook account. But times are changing. I find Morris first. His account is unprotected, open for anyone to read. In his profile picture he is standing in his garden – I assume it’s his garden – bare-chested, face that looks like it’s been flattened by a shovel, pulled into a wide grin. I study it for a second. Not an attractive man: small eyes that are far too close together, a nose that looks like it has been broken more than once. He is, however, powerfully built, even though in his photo he is sucking in his stomach so hard it’s probably sticking out through his spine. It would have had to be someone pretty strong to get one over on Morris. Or someone he wasn’t expecting. I scroll through his posts. A bunch of comedy – or should I say ‘comedy’ – videos, adverts for a car he was selling. Nothing personal. Nothing that would give any answers. Then I try Sian’s. Her profile shot is different, more at a distance. She wears sunglasses and looks uncomfortable, like she would rather there wasn’t a camera pointing at her right now. Her account is more personal, a window into her life, new status added most days. I look for Saturday: BBQ with neighbours. Let’s hope the rain stays away. LOL.
There are pictures, a knot of people gathered around a tin-can barbecue. A table thick with bottles – vodka, Stella, a cheap white wine. A picture of Sian and Morris, arms around one another, their gazes slack, unfocused. Sian and a woman – thin, a hook-shaped nose – raising a glass to the camera. I sneak a look to my right, trying to be subtle. It is her – the woman beside me sniffing into a tissue. I glance back at the photo, at the dark eye make-up, the cerise lipstick. She looks different now: no make-up that I can see, her black hair pulled up into a rough ponytail. Her eyes are swollen, face puffy from crying. Bingo!
She looks at me, her attention pulled by the intensity of my gaze. I never have been great at subtle. I smile carefully. She stares for a moment, then bites her lip, the flood of tears starting anew. I look away. There is time.
Terrible. That is the word floating on the air. It is muttered by the elderly woman with the coiffured hair, the cherry-red lipstick. It comes from the mother, a slack-jawed baby on her hip, no more than seventeen or so herself. It comes from the man beside me, his breath loaded with Strongbow.
‘Well,’ mutters the elderly lady in a voice that carries, ‘you just wonder who it was that could do such a thing. I mean …’ A meaningful pause. ‘It could be anybody, when you come right down to it.’
Her words ripple through the crowd, feet shifting, as they absorb the implications of that, heads turning, everyone wondering if it is the person standing next to them who is the killer. The woman beside me lets out a quiet sob.
‘The thing is, it’s not really a surprise, is it?’ says the elderly woman.
I wonder who it is that she is talking to? Is she looking for answers from us, or the universe in general?
‘I mean, you know Morris. Lovely boy, salt of the earth. But he did like to hang around with some unscrupulous people. I know, I’ve said to him before, “Now you mind, Morris-boy. You’ll get yourself into trouble hanging round with the likes of those.”’
I make a note on my phone, through force of habit rather than any real danger that I’ll forget. Check Morris’s criminal history, convictions. Who were the unscrupulous people? I look back at the elderly woman, wonder if she will talk to me.
‘Well, I’ll tell you, Muriel …’ I jot down the name Muriel. Another voice, this one floating from somewhere near the back. ‘I heard a car, late – late Saturday night. Was out of here like a bat out of hell. I bet you anything that had something to do with it. I said to you, didn’t I, Phil?’
‘Aye, you did.’
Phil. Car, late on Saturday.
I look back to the front door. It stands open, and every now and again there is a flutter of movement as a white forensic suit crosses the opening. They do not look at us, the waiting audience; just keep their heads down and get on with studying death. I think about Sian Myricks, about the profile picture with the round face, clumsily applied lipstick and the expression that seemed to be slightly surprised. Why are you dead, Sian? Were they coming after you, too? Or were you simply one of the unfortunates, in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Clouds are beginning to mass overhead, dense and grey. The wind has picked up. I suppress a shiver, wonder if the neighbours will have solved the murder before the rain starts. Then I hear the soft squeal of car brakes, the squawk of an opening door.
My feet begin to move before my mind does, because I have done this before and I know how these things work, so I already knew that Del would be here. I push my way through the crowd, get to its edge just as he is climbing his way out of the unmarked Ford Focus. He catches sight of me, grins.
‘Might have known you’d be here.’
I smile back. ‘You know me too well.’
I’ve known Del since nursery school, kissed him once in a game of spin-the-bottle. That, however, was the beginning and the end of our romance, and these days we settle for passing gentle barbs back and forth at one another across police lines. He’s a good guy, a detective constable for the moment, although scuttlebutt tells me there’s a promotion in the offing, a shift back to uniform, but as a sergeant this time. He often tells me more than he should. Fortunately I know how to use his information judiciously. It must be working. He hasn’t been fired yet.
‘So, you have something for me?’
Del laughs. ‘Patience, Charlie. God! All I know so far is it’s a married couple …’
‘Morris and Sian Myricks.’
‘Yeah, that’s them. Forensics are in, but we’ve got to wait for Firearms to clear the scene.’
‘Firearms? They were shot?’
‘No, but Forensics found a gun in the house. So it’s got to be checked and removed. Do you know Aden, by the way?’
I hadn’t noticed the officer behind him, dressed in dark firearms gear, boots laced up high. Tall, dark-blond hair, good-looking enough that I wished I’d run a comb through my hair before I left the office. ‘No, hi. I’m Charlie.’
Aden nods, gives me a swift smile. ‘Nice to meet you. I’d better get inside, Del.’
‘Yeah, I’m coming. Charlie, I’ll call you in a bit?’
The crowd parts before them, heads turning as if on springs to follow this latest development. And I go back to waiting. I do this. A lot.
The elderly lady, Muriel – the one who looks like she has been dipped in make-up – looks across at me, the foundation facade fracturing as she frowns. ‘I’ve seen you before somewhere, ’aven’t I?’
I add my best smile. ‘Charlotte Solomon,
. I tend to work around here quite a bit. Can I ask – you knew the Myricks?’
‘Aye, well, been here a long time, me. Lovely girl, Sian, lovely.’
The division leaps out at me. ‘And Morris?’
She purses her lips. ‘Well, let’s just say he was lucky to have Sian. What with everything.’ She isn’t looking at me, is glaring off into the crowd at the narrow woman with the hook-nose. It seems that she feels the force of the gaze, her head lifting slowly, her stare baleful. Muriel shakes her head, a Tchh sound escaping her.
‘You mean …’
‘No, well, there are others that would need to talk to you about that. It’s not my business what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes.’
I study the dark-haired woman. She has looked away now, but it seems that Muriel’s glare has done its damage. She has folded in on herself, is sobbing, and I think that someone will come, will detach themselves from the mass of people and put their arms around this woman, comfort her. After all, this is that kind of neighbourhood, where everyone knows everyone else, where people are involved, intimately, in one another’s lives. And so I wait. But there is no movement, no concerned looks, no supportive touches, just her crying.