This has to be the quickest story I’ve ever written and the least thought about. Last week’s piece of Flash Fiction was so well received (thank you all for your positive responses, by the way) that I thought I’d have another go. I didn’t know when I would get round to it, but then, last night I sat down in front of a blank word document and typed the first line. However, although this could have been a flash piece, I decided I wanted more from it, once I got going, and so, instead, we have a short story. In at around 1800 words, this is an achievement for me. This short is also quite different to my other few in that it has absolutely no basis on real events from my life, at all! So in a way, I consider this to be quite special in my portfolio up to now. It is also special to me because it’s my first stab (pun intended) at one of my favourite genres; detective/mystery fiction. Furthermore this one comes directly from a Friday Phrase micro-fiction piece which I wrote at the start of June under the “Grave Digging” optional theme. (You can find the piece at the end.) So without further ado, may I present….
The summer sky, swathed in a metallic grey sheet, threatened more rain than the open grave containing the coffin would be able to cope with, should the heavens open.
The vicar spoke rapidly. The warm, oppressive air did nothing to counteract the chill of Detective Chief Inspector Stone Rawlings’ steely, cold eyes boring into him, hurrying the ritual along.
“For as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this world the soul of Chad we therefore commit his body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, looking for that blessed hope when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The vicar threw a pitiful handful of dirt onto the coffin and bowed his head.
Stone tapped his fingers impatiently inside the pockets of his rain mac and cast a glance at the grieving family as they each stepped forward and tossed a handful of soil over the mahogany casket.
Whichever one of them was guilty of Chad’s death was, at the moment, of minor relevance to him. Stone was a good enough detective to know he’d work that one out eventually. No, he needed to focus on other things first.
Great globules of rain plopped to the ground. Stone turned up his collar and stalked away from the grave.
No one saw the tears well up in his eyes.
Stone was grateful for the impromptu invitation from Sara to the house for the wake. Granted, an unusual act from a grieving widow, but a welcome one nevertheless. He had needed an excuse to have access to the home – access to Chad’s personal effects, without a warrant and the prying eyes of other officers. It was a stroke of luck Sara had thought it only proper to invite the officer in charge of her husband’s murder case to the wake, though he had hoped she would. In fact he had been counting on it.
After making awkward small talk with numerous distant relatives, Stone left the family to their plates of cold, beige buffet food. He slipped off to the master bedroom on the second floor in search of his secret. He knew for certain Chad had kept it. Now all he had to do was work out where.
A large, dark mahogany wardrobe dominated the room. Like so much else in the house, it was vintage and ornately carved with elaborate embossed designs. Stone thought it couldn’t have summed up Chad’s artisan tastes more perfectly, so at odds with Stone’s own preference for the minimal. He smiled to himself and traced his fingers over the embellishments. This was Chad. The person those people spoke of downstairs held no resemblance to the dead man. Stone opened the heavy doors to the robe.
As good a place to start as any.
Sifting through the layers of crisply pressed shirts, Stone couldn’t help but bury his face in them. He drank in the scent of the dead man and sighed.
Focus. Find the chain. I must find the chain.
In a central console, three drawers dropped down under the shirts. Stone slid the first one open. Inside he found a collection of silk and lace women’s underwear, designed to attract and flatter. Not undergarments to wear. This stuff, unsurprisingly to Stone, seemed as though it had never seen the light of day. Some pieces retained their shop tags. Stone didn’t touch them. He wouldn’t find what he was looking for in there.
He moved to the second drawer but this clearly belonged to Sara too. Diaries decorated with images of butterflies and flowers stacked neatly in two rows. He’d come back to these in the investigation which would follow the funeral. The investigation where he would have to delve into every crevice of the dead man’s life in order to deduce who had killed Chad.
But not now. Now he needed to ensure he found the one thing which linked him to Chad. He had to find it before anyone else did; to break the link.
On opening the final drawer he knew instinctively he’d find what he was looking for. Chad’s unmistakable organisation was evident. Neat rows of cuff-links, each pair still in their individual boxes, were arranged side by side. A stack of linen handkerchiefs lay in the far left hand corner of the drawer. Stone lifted them up and found hidden underneath a small silver key.
Now to find the box. Stone pushed his hand further to the back of the drawer on the right hand side and groped around. He placed his large hand on two lacquered wooden boxes and felt for a keyhole. On the left hand box he found one and he extracted it from the drawer, taking care to disturb nothing else. His hand shook as he inserted the key. It fitted, and he breathed in.
“Looking for this?” A smooth voice broke the silent tension. Stone dropped the box and his jaw almost simultaneously. Sara stood, her black clothed frame, silhouetted against the light from the doorway. She held up a gold St Christopher on a chain.
“Wherever you go I will follow; all my love and protection forever, Stone.” She read the engraving on the back of the charm as she dangled it at arm’s length between herself and the detective. “Touching sentiment. Though sadly your little trinket didn’t protect him, did it?”
“You.” Stone’s voice cracked like the thunder outside. “You did it, didn’t you?” Sudden realisation hit him. He rose to his feet, shaking. Sara might have the upper hand right now, but he could to at least try and intimidate her with his height.
“Prove it,” she said. Her blue eyes fixed on Stone as she wound the chain back in and clutched it tightly in her fist. “I knew. I’ve known about you for a long time. What you two did. How Chad used the fencing club as his alibi. You disgusted me. Both of you.”
“So he deserved to die?” Stone spoke almost in a whisper.
“Only in death could he become pure again, only in death could he be restored in my mind to the man he was. You corrupted him. He needed freeing. Only in death can we ‘look for that blessed hope when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.’ He was dead in Christ, thanks to you. Now, thanks to me he is alive once more.”
“You’re mad!” Stone looked at her incredulously. “You will pay for this,” he added, a menace now creeping into his tone.
“Oh I don’t think I will,” Sara said sardonically. “Not when the inspector in charge of the case could very well come to light as a suspect. If this were found.” She unclenched her fist to reveal the gold chain once more. “Such a small thing,” she said nodding towards the object. “It gives us both a motive yet without it in your possession I am free whilst you are lost.”
Stone made a sudden desperate lunge at Sara to try and retrieve the offending item, but she pulled back away from him and hastily pushed it down her front into the cup of her bra.
“Blackmail is a serious offence Mrs Cummings,” he said shrinking back towards the wardrobe, defeated.
“So is adultery and sodomy.” Sara said, unflinching. “In the eyes of God.”
“That’s not the same thing.”
“We just work under different principles Detective Rawlings. My laws are made by God, and yours are made by people.”
“And your God’s law on murder is the same as the law of the land. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Or perhaps you had conveniently forgotten that one.”
Sara didn’t so much as blink. “Sometimes the Lord’s will moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes laws have to be broken for the greater good. Chad has been saved. By the grace of God, he now has a chance of eternal life.”
Stone knew there was no arguing logic with this maniac. She’d killed her husband, seemingly on religious principal.
“Please,” Stone said, reaching his hand out towards her. “That chain is all I have left of us.”
“Ha! You and I both know that isn’t why you want it,” Sara said. She turned and moved towards the open window of the Juliet balcony. “You want it so that once your investigation begins there is nothing to link you to Chad. Nothing which could make you a suspect. This chain…” she patted her blouse, “makes you a suspect.”
For the first time in his professional life, Stone knew he was beaten. He would not be able to solve the case now. If he pulled Sara in for questioning she could reveal everything she knew about his relationship with Chad and had the proof to back it up. He’d not only be dismissed from the case but become a suspect himself. The situation seemed hopeless. He’d lost the only man he had ever loved and now his future reputation and career lay in the hands of this woman.
Sara stood gazing out across the countryside as the rain lashed down. A flash of lightning forked across the horizon brightening the pewter skies momentarily. There was always something mystical and magical about a summer thunderstorm. Yes, she thought as a clap of thunder crackled through the air. “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” She smiled, lost in her own triumphant thoughts.
She didn’t hear Stone’s footsteps softly pad across the plush carpet behind her. She had no time to cry out as he cupped his large left hand over her mouth and shoved his right down her front to retrieve the gold St Christopher. “Wherever you go, I will follow,” he hissed into her ear, “Even if it’s into hell.”
With the next crash of thunder, and one almighty shove, he sent Sara tumbling over the balcony railings, her screams drowned in the chaos of nature’s noise. Stone dared not linger to look as her skinny frame sailed three storeys down to the gravel path at the back of the house. Sara landed with a thud, her neck snapping and spine cracking on impact.
Suicide will be easily plausible, Stone told himself. Grieving widow? Guilty widow? Either way, it was the only way.
Maybe Sara had been right. Maybe laws sometimes needed to be broken. He put the St. Christopher in his pocket, wiped all surfaces of his fingerprints with Chad’s handkerchief and re-joined the grieving relatives of his dead lover.
As I said at the start of the post, here’s the FP which inspired the story:
Detective Stone fell grave. Digging into every crevice of the dead man’s life was wrong. Yet he knew he must destroy every link between them.