May 26, 2009 § 1 Comment
Detective Frank Starkey wearily climbed the stairs. It had been a brutal morning already and an impromptu lunch with his wife, which was supposed to alleviate his mood, had quickly turned sour. Eliza Starkey had accused her husband of long nights, excessive drinking, and neglect of her needs. He had risen silently and then turned and left her sitting on her own at the table, a half-finished plate of food in front her, staring incredulously after him as he left the restaurant.
Sighing, he opened the top envelope of the stack of mail from his mailbox in the foyer. As he ripped open the first couple of inches with his calloused thumb, something dropped out and landed on the stair. With a concerted grunt and a slight squint, Frank bent down and studied it.
It was a fragment of a photograph, which seemed to have been torn into quarters; a shot of a dark-haired man against a white background. Frank reached down and picked it up. He noticed that the bottom edge was actually straight, as if the photo had been cut horizontally and then torn vertically. A frown furrowed his brow. He flipped it over. On the reverse, scrawled in black ball point pen, was part of a crude drawing of a loft. He made out several beams, and even the head of a rocking horse. After flipping it over once more and studying the portion of face the photo afforded him, a sense of unease began to creep over him. The face was familiar, but specifics were not coming to him.
He ascended the rest of the staircase quickly now, pushing through the double doors and into the bustling clamour of the Criminal Investigation Department. He crossed quickly to his own desk, buried in foot-high stacks of paper; evidence collected from a dozen cases that had passed through his hands recently. He sat down heavily in the beaten-up desk chair, the stuffing spilling out from a deep gash in the upholstery. An ashtray in front of him was overflowing with half-finished cigarette butts.
With trepidation, Frank tore open the rest of the envelope. He upended it over the desk – the three remaining pieces of the torn photograph tumbled out. Sweat broke out on his temple.
The top-left corner of the photograph showed the right-hand side of the man’s face. Daubed in red paint over the eye was a thick cross. Was it paint? Could it be blood? The bottom quarters of the photo were more disturbing. Around the neck of the man in the photo was a rope, bound tightly.
Frank assembled the fragments on his desk. A face, clearly recognisable now, stared up at him. He knew why it had seemed familiar – the man was a detective, a rookie who had started not more than a month ago. The name escaped him, but Frank Starkey was convinced that this was a colleague of his. The man in the photo was smiling, despite the rope, but Frank detected the fear in his eyes.
He turned the pieces over, hoping for further clues as to what the hell this was all about. And then, his heart stopped. On the back of the photo, beneath the crude drawing of the loft, were the words: ‘For the crime of treason against Detective Frank Starkey.’
In an instant, he had picked up the phone and punched in an extension.
“Get me Chief Inspector Daley. Now.’
Frank tore down Busby’s Way towards Charlton, behind the wheel of his unmarked Lexus. Behind him, another three unmarked police cars struggled to keep up with him; such was his manic sense of urgency. Daley had recognised the man instantly – a brand new rookie within the department, not even four weeks into the job, by the name of Andrew Noble. A search of the records had thrown up an address, along with the realisation that Noble hadn’t been at work all week. No reason had been given.
Frank screeched to a halt outside a terraced house, a large hedge shadowing the front courtyard. The facade was covered with peeling white paint. The windows were getting grimy, and the house was dark, despite the midday sunshine trying to penetrate the gloom. Frank stepped out of his car as the back-up officers pulled up to the kerbside behind him. He motioned to them with his hand to hurry. Together they walked up the path to the front door. It was open. Frank glanced back at his supporting officers; once again his aging memory fumbled over their names. He gingerly pushed the door further open. Thick silence rolled out from the hallway beyond.
“Mr Noble?” he called out uncertainly into the gloom. “Detective?” No answer.
He stepped into the house. He motioned to the two men behind him to search the lower ground. Frank knew already that they would find nothing there though – he was being inexorably drawn to a particular part of the flat. He started climbing the stairs. At the top, he could make out the square in the ceiling that marked the entrance to the loft. A rubber ball on a rope dangled down from it’s edge. Frank pulled on it. The loft hatch opened downwards and a ladder tumbled down. Then, a stench hit him like a punch in the gut. Frank recognised it instantly. It was death.
He climbed the ladder. His head was only a foot above the loft floorboards when the scene hit him. The first thing he noticed was the rope, fashioned into a noose hanging from a thick beam overhead. Beyond the rope, a large white sheet was tucked over another beam. Beneath the noose, centered in a pool of dark, dried blood, were four hacked pieces of a man’s body, roughly hewn into quarters. Placed inbetween the quarters was a mobile phone, plugged into a power socket by a long cord. Frank approached slowly. On the phone screen was a text message.
It was from his wife, Mrs. Eliza Starkey.