Blood would have dripped from the wood’s sharp corner. The plasma would have obeyed the immutable laws of physics and followed the grain until it met an uncrossable barrier, such as a five foot gap of air to the stained carpet below, and gathered until its collected mass would have overcome its own surface tension to fall. It would have fallen, but after a few hours blood dries to a flaky crust. Everyone knows that. But if there is enough it takes longer to congeal, and that’s what had happened here. Now small fatty globules of still shining blood defied gravity by clinging to the underside of the pine shelves, and in turn was examined by Sergeant Mark Saunders.
‘Very nice’, he said. ‘Ikea.’
‘I know. Sally and I were looking at the same ones last week,’ said Detective Sergeant Lee Jensen.
‘You guys decorating again?’
‘We’re thinking about the nursery,’ said Lee.
Mark nodded and took a sip of coffee, wincing at the cooling bitterness. ‘Probably a good idea to do that sooner rather than later, then.’
‘Sergeants, I think we have a partial down here.’
The two men turned from the soiled shelves. The small living room boiled with activity, and there was barely a surface left that was not being examined minutely or covered in fine forensic powder. Half a dozen men and women bent industriously to their individual tasks, and each body squeezed into the room added their own shadows to the already darkened space, starved of light by a heavy cloth draped across the one window. Forensics established that had come from the linen closet upstairs, a minor factual victory in a wash of clueless evidence.
The whole effect was to add up to what Mark called a real scene, a policeman’s workspace. A crime had been committed in this room. An awful and grotesque act had occurred which needed to be rectified, and that was where Sergeant and Detective Sergeant Mark Saunders and Lee Jensen came in.
Mark and Lee had to squeeze between the warm bodies in the room. One at a time, first threading past an officer measuring the holes punched through the door, establishing what kind of implement would have the same size and dimensions to the one that had forced the lock, then past the blood spatter experts. They would have the most work today. Whoever had done this had done it properly and had not been neat about it, at least in his execution. They would see if he had the same cavalier attitude to any evidence left behind.
Although, if this was the same guy as the others, and so far it seemed to be, then Mark doubted it.
They had to be careful where they trod. From the looks of it the victim had not died from the initial blows and had either staggered or run away from her attacker, spraying a large volume of blood across the room which had pooled across most of the floor and Swedish furniture.
The two officers managed to get to the newly found evidence without disturbing any of the existing, and looked down at a technician bent almost to the dark grey carpet. ‘What do you have, Mitch?’ Lee asked.
‘Looks like half of a thumb print, sir. Down here on the skirting board.’ The technician indicated a length of wall, marked off by four lengths of police tape. The area contained pristine white paint and a vivid splash of bright scarlet, one edge of which was vaguely smudged. It was incongruous how the rest of the splash was so well defined and that one corner was out of place. ‘It’s kind’ve far away from where the victim landed, and at first guess I’d say it’s too big to be hers. Looks like we may have a lead, sergeants.’
‘That’s great,’ said Mark, slapping the technician on the back. ‘Good work. How long before we know for sure?’
Lee nodded. ‘All right. Let us know first thing, ok?’ He indicated to Mark they should leave and they made their way back passed the working bodies in the room, into the thin hallway and out by the officers in the garden interviewing the neighbours. No officer, we never heard anything, yes officer we’ll call you if we remember something. After the darkened house’s oppressive gloom even the overcast light forced the two men to squint, but they could still see the outline of the crowd, bulging at the police cordon at what was considered to be a respectful distance for the families but close enough for the cameras to get some decent footage.
They waited until they were by their cars and before either spoke, then Mark said ‘Same guy?’
Lee nodded. ‘Definitely looks like it. He’s getting bolder, too. There must have been a dozen people within fifty metres of him last night. Must have made quite a bit of noise. I’m surprised no one heard anything.’ He looked back the house and was quiet for a moment, his tongue working to dislodge something from in between his teeth. Eventually he said; ‘Did that thumb print seem odd to you?’
Mark made another face at the sour coffee. ‘How’d you mean?’
‘Well, if it is the same guy he hasn’t messed up so far, and to suddenly leave an obvious clue…. I don’t know. It just seems too easy.’
Mark smiled at his friend. ‘And if it’s too easy it’s probably wrong, eh? We’ll find out tomorrow. I should get back. Kate’s cooking early today, she has her book group coming over, and if I’m late I’ll pay for it.’
The two men peeled off to their cars, each busy with their own thoughts. Mark was lucky on the way home. A crash on a major road blocked traffic for kilometres, allowing a clear run most of the way leaving him to mull over the day’s findings. Lee was right, that print was too obviously out of place.
Arriving home he found Kate’s easy-to-cook-quick-to-clean meal already on the table, and her urging him to eat up, wash up and get out of the way before her friends arrived. Playing the dutiful husband Mark washed down the kitchen and pecked his wife on the cheek as the doorbell chimed, before heading down to the basement to work on his hobby. Every man needs one, she kept telling him, and so he took one.
He descended the stairs, welcomed by the musty smell of not too distant earth and mothballed clothes. He had to make the cellar himself, so few houses came with them these days, but it meant he could build it to his own specifications. Sitting down at the workbench he looked over the rows of miniature trains and model hills, some bare, some picnicked upon by tiny plastic people. Little town scapes at five millimetre size just waiting to be put together. He used to envy the little people on the perfectly green fields. Their existence was pre-ordained. Had they the ability they would know that their tomorrow would be so similar to their today as to make no difference. The ultimate in comfort, the ultimate in predictability, in order.
He smiled at his work before leaning forward and reaching under the bench. His hand found the handle with a practiced ease, and pulling hard he was rewarded with the sound of a heavy bolt dropping somewhere behind the wooden walls. He left the stool and walked over to a section of wall where a sudden line of shadow indicated a door, slightly ajar, allowing a flow of cooler air into the room, and heaved it open. The faux-wooden door swung open easily on well-oiled hinges. Behind was a tunnel, propped with treated wooden struts and tall enough for him to walk down with just a slight incline to his head. It was unlit, the only slight illumination coming from the low wattage bulb in the basement room behind, but he walked confidently without slowing. Five metres forward, stop. Right turn ninety degrees, stop. Another three metres, and then a turn to the left and the soft light from the next room lit his way down the last stretch.
He emerged from the dark tunnel into a room similar to the one he just left and walked past the first three empty cages lined on the right hand wall, ignoring the last two. The occupant of the first was still sleeping, or pretending to, but the second looked at him with large round eyes through dirt-matted hair. Pulling the heavy blanket to its face, it tried to shrink away from him and into the corner.
‘Not long now,’ said Mark conversationally. He was not facing the cages, instead he had opened an old bar fridge in the corner, one hand on the door the other searching for something inside. ‘Your friend did well last night. She really has the station in a buzz.’ He found what he was looking for and stood up, a syringe in one hand and he held it to his face, gauging the clear liquid within. He was still facing away from the cages, otherwise he may have seen the entry corridor’s shadows darken slightly.
‘Still, I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me whip them up a bit more, everyone likes to be kept busy,’ he continued, smiling slightly. ‘I think you have the potential.’
And he turned, straight into the face of Detective Lee Jensen.
The two men were silent, neither moving, neither breaking eye contact from the other. The only sound was the rustle of woollen cloth as the cage’s occupant looked quickly from one to the other.
The two men kept staring. And then Mark blinked.
‘You made a mistake, Mark,’ said Lee, still not moving, although his eyes flicked to the syringe in Mark’s hand and then back.
Mark swallowed. ‘Made a mistake, did I, Mister Bloody Genius? It’s easy to make grand proclamations when you’re never in that bloody position.’ He licked his lips. ‘It was the thumb print wasn’t it?’
Lee nodded. ‘What was it you said? If it’s too easy it’s probably wrong. I think you were right there. Whose print is it? I know it’s not yours.’
Mark nodded to the girl in the cage, his eyes did not leave Lee. Moving for the first time, Lee turned and saw one of the young girls hand’s had been clumsily bandaged, an ugly brown blotch seeped through one side of the wrapped cloth. ‘I can see I can’t let you do anything on your own, can I?’ In one smooth motion he turned, took off his coat, dropped on the bench and then turned to inspect the girl in the cage. ‘If I do you’ll get us both caught.’
Mark joined his friend at the cage, their backs to the room. A small whimper escaped through the mesh bars.
Lee sighed. ‘Well, this is one way to make sure we stay in a job.’
The Austraian Literature Review