C3 Chapter 03
James Clarke is a fifty-something stubborn cop, married with three grown-up kids. He goes out hunting on the weekends with a bunch of other retired cops. I notice a deep frown on his forehead when Rogers and I walk through his door and I can only hope that this isn’t about last night. Clarke has dark hair, a thick moustache, and is wearing a suit with a brown tie. He is an old school out-of-duty detective with plenty of baggage. I know for a fact that he doesn’t like me.
“Thomson, Rogers. Good you’re here. Have a seat,” he says with a heavy sigh.
We pull the chairs out and take our seats right in front of him. I heard rumours that Clarke started climbing the ladder when he joined the force. He didn’t get to this position because of his connections. The rumour has it that he busted one of the big drug suppliers fifteen years ago and cracked the entire network of dealers in the southeast of England. Normally I don’t listen to stuff like that, but I do have respect for the old man. Unfortunately he can’t say the same thing about me.
“There was a murder in Braxton University last night. A girl was found dead this morning in her room. I’m assigning this case to both of you; however, Thomson, you will be the leading detective,” Clarke states, looking at me with his heavy, tired eyes. “I have spoken to the chairman of the university and I assured him that we will deal with it as soon as possible. The police are already there, securing the crime scene, assuring the students that everything is under control.”
I shift on the chair, feeling like I have just won the lottery. I’ve been dreaming about a murder case since I showed up in this crappy city. Maybe this is finally my moment.
Rogers looks at me and then back to Clarke.
“Sir, do we know—”
“Shut up and listen, Thomson,” Clarke says, cutting me off. “You both will report to me and only me. The press will be all over this before you know it. You will leave immediately. Get the team, put together the list of suspects and figure out the motive. We need to have some leads sooner rather than later.” I have never seen him so wound up about a case. Maybe this is personal or maybe he is getting pushed out.
I want to tell him about Knox, but Rogers is already up and I don’t want to push my luck today. This is huge, my first homicide. This is my opportunity to shine, to prove to everyone that I’m not just a smart teenager with a badge.
Kerry winks at me as I catch up with Rogers in the corridor. My heart starts pumping faster, and the excitement rolls through.
“Remove that grin from your face, Micah. It’s a fucking murder case,” Rogers barks at me as we get back to our office. I grab my jacket and car keys. He is right. I can’t look too happy. The girl is dead and it’s my job to get to the bottom of what happened to her.
“I’ll drive,” I tell him, thinking ahead, wondering if the girl had any chance. Shit, I really need to calm down. Five minutes later Rogers gets into the passenger seat and I put my foot down. Eight years ago the police found Stephanie in her house with a slashed throat. I never managed to find out how the killer got inside her room. Well, I was just a kid then. All the doors were locked, and it was the first floor. I never got over that and now here I am, the youngest inspector in the UK, going after bad guys.
“Micah, are you sure you should be taking on something like this?” Rogers asks as we settle into the car. I glance at him, wanting to appreciate that he is looking out for me, but it’s unnecessary.
“I think you just insulted me,” I snap at him, pretending that I don’t know what he’s talking about.
He sighs heavily. “You took a bullet for me a couple of months ago and you’re still going through therapy, and after yes—”
“Rogers, I’m fine.” I cut him off, tensing my jaw. “The shrink cleared me. I know that you’re grateful, but you don’t have to worry.” I feel uncomfortable that he is worried. Since we became friends, I’ve been having trouble adjusting to being looked after. Lisa, Rogers’s wife, keeps inviting me for dinner and so far I’ve managed to avoid it, but for how fucking long?
Six months ago when we went into the field, we got stuck and I ended up getting shot. I saw Rogers standing in the line of fire. Instinct took over and I pushed him aside, taking the bullet. Clarke brushed it off as if it was nothing. I recovered pretty quickly, but then I had to go through therapy and that was worse than anything I’d ever experienced.
“Micah, chill. Sorry that I didn’t get to Broomly on time. Car trouble, and I was out of the area,” he adds.
That familiar discomfort comes back, and the anxiety slowly begins to shut me down. I don’t need Rogers to worry about me. This new friendship is scaring the shit out of me.
“Clarke assigned the case to me, but I know for a fact that the old man thinks that I’m not experienced enough. You’re supposed to keep an eye on me.”
“You’re exaggerating. We’re partners and you don’t need a babysitter,” he chuckles.
“The old man is pissing me off, and I’m going to prove him wrong,” I say, not quite sure why I’m wound up by this whole thing. At least Rogers doesn’t bring up the incident from six months ago anymore. Kerry was only trying to pre-warn me, but I took it as if it was a big deal. Maybe I should stop seeing her until I get on with this new case.
Braxton is a small city; however, the university injects life into businesses in this area, attracting quite a lot of students from all over the world. We arrive at the gate and show our badges before we are let through. The porter directs us to the main building, and after that there is a short walk to the crime scene. There is a group of police officers outside. The yellow tape blocks access to the old Victorian house fronted with bay windows. Thick grey clouds hang above us. Finally it stopped raining last night. I missed the sun—the fresh rays of warmth might attract some positivity to my dull life.
I look around the crowd. It’s known that the killer sometimes comes back to the crime scene. I try to spot people that look out of place, that appear too interested, but no one stands out. There are a few Asian students, two or three large guys, probably from the local rugby team.
The crime was committed in one of the semi-detached houses. I count seven. The one that we are interested in is in the middle. My stomach contracts, because this whole setup looks familiar, too familiar for my liking.
“Can you tell us briefly what happened, who found the body?” I ask one of the officers when we approach.
“The victim is a white female, age twenty-three, dark haired. She has a fatal wound running from one side of her throat to the other. There is no sign of breaking in and the room had been locked from inside. We’ve spoken to a few students that live in the house. They all confirmed that the victim was in her room all night.”
The guy who gives us the overview must be in his mid-thirties, clean-shaven, quite good looking. I instantly know that I need to get inside and see the victim for myself. As I grasp the surroundings and focus on the details, I feel like a giant nail is being drilled down into my stomach. I look through the profile of the girl that was killed. She could have been Steph’s twin sister with her dark hair, wide brown eyes and long narrow nose. I need some fucking air—this can’t be happening.
While Rogers asks his own questions, I try to pull myself together. The house consists of two flats for two students each. After about five minutes, the officer in charge takes us upstairs, while my heart pounds a hundred miles an hour. We get to the second floor, and inside there is a small kitchen with a spacious living room. The space looks immaculate, far different from other crime scenes that I have seen. As soon as we walk into the victim’s bedroom, panic punches the air out of my lungs, numbing my limbs. The victim is lying on the bed; the sheets are soaked with blood. There is a large pool of red liquid on the carpet too. Everything about this crime scene reminds me of the one from eight years ago.
Suddenly the moment when everything was ripped away from me is rolling in front of my eyes.
“Man, I don’t know why you need to see her today. It’s too fucking early,” says Josh, my mate from the council estate. We have been friends since we were kids, but he is doing my head in now, asking pointless questions.
I keep checking my phone, wondering why Stephanie hasn’t texted me back yet. It’s been a whole day and I’m worried.
She was supposed to call me this morning and tell me if she was all right. It’s twelve o’clock now and she hasn’t been in touch.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Just start without me,” I tell him and run to get to the tube.
Stephanie is studying in a private college on the other side of London. Last night she was having a studying session with some other girls. One of her housemates went home, so one of the rooms was free. She only has a couple of months left to finish her year, and then we are planning to get away from the city, take a break somewhere in the country. I hate London, the people, and the fact that my parents want to carry on living like they did twenty years ago.
It takes me forty minutes to get to her place. The weather is gloomy, as usual, the sun hidden behind grey clouds. One of her mates lets me in and then leaves, hurrying to a lecture. He tells me that Steph has been in Helen’s room all morning. The girls live on the second floor, and all of them were studying yesterday for an upcoming exam. The flat is immersed in silence. I scratch my head, wondering why Steph is still in bed. It’s nearly ten in the morning.
“Steph, it’s me, Micah,” I say loud enough for her to hear me. There is no answer, so I assume that she’s probably sleeping.
I walk up to the first floor and knock. I try the handle, but the room is locked. Something triggers my suspicion and I instantly know that something is wrong. I go back downstairs, knock at one of the rooms and ask the sleeping girl for the key. She seems pissed that I woke her up, but goes to the kitchen and hands it to me. The girls were supposed to study. Maybe they had a party instead. I run upstairs and after fiddling with the lock I barge in, pushing the door wide open.
The curtains are open, the rays of sun radiating, lightening the space. For a long moment I just stand there looking at the pool of red liquid on the bed and floor. It takes me a second to grasp that Steph is dead. Someone had slashed her throat.
Someone snaps fingers right in front of my face. I blink rapidly, realising that it’s not a dream, but cruel reality. For a split second I think that I have been pulled out of a dungeon filled with rats and corpses. Rogers and the other officer are staring at me with baffled expressions on their faces, probably wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. I think that I’m losing my mind; the earth underneath my feet is slipping away. I need to get a grip. This isn’t a joke. Steph died eight years ago, and this girl—the victim—looks exactly like her. The hollow darkness in my chest keeps rising, crawling its way to my throat. I can’t keep looking at her without throwing up. Someone must be fucking with my head. All I see is the victim. She is lying in the exact same position that I found Steph. The blood, fuck, I can barely breathe.
Rogers and the other officer are staring at me. I pull it together. “You said that the door was locked from inside?” I ask with a cough, trying to cover the tremor in my voice. This is absurd. I can’t pretend that I’m okay with this.
I walk to the window, trying to calm my panicky breathing, looking at the crowd outside, while the officer tells us that the doors were locked all night. The houses are close to the small park on campus, so whoever killed her couldn’t get inside without being noticed.
“Yes, that’s what the victim’s roommate said. She was the one that called 999. She seemed calm when she was talking to the dispatcher,” the officer says.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Davies, Matt Davies.”
“Okay, PC Davies, we will take it from here,” I say. “Secure the area, and make sure that we won’t be disturbed for a good ten minutes.”
Davies doesn’t look too pleased with my demand, but he knows that he’s just an ordinary cop, and he has to obey. I bet the fact that I’m much younger than him makes him uncomfortable. He nods like an obedient lamb and leaves the room.
“Hey, he was useful,” Rogers points out, looking around the room.
“He thinks he knows it all,” I say, still unable to shake off the crawling panic in my throat. Stephanie’s killer was never found. There is a possibility that I’m reading too much into this whole thing, but for years I’ve been having the same nightmare over and over. I have seen this crime scene almost every night and it’s like I’m in the same dream now.
“The door was locked from inside out, so no one could get in. The killer must have known the victim. The wound is fatal; I would say one slash,” Rogers states, looking over her neck very closely.
“One, maybe two,” I agree, feeling my mounting anxiety. “We need to find out as much as we can about her. See who she was hanging out with, speak to her tutors, but the girl that found her might be the key.”
Rogers nods and leaves the room. I take a last look at the setup, feeling the bile rising in my throat. I fucking wanted a murder case, but now I don’t know if I can do this. It’s the same case as eight years ago, the one that I have never forgotten.
“Micah, come on, the forensics are on the way,” Rogers shouts after me. I catch up with him at the stairs. We head out, walking towards the campus. The victim’s roommate is with the psychologist, and I’m eager to talk to her. Find out if she knows anything.
We are lucky that the press hasn’t sniffed out the story yet, but sooner or later they will be outside the gate.
Davies points us to the right building and we both are standing outside the room, ready to have a chat with the victim’s roommate. Davies’s report says that her name is Tahlia Sanderson, a twenty-four-year-old psychology student.
“I’ll talk to the others, take their statement and see if they match with the rest,” Rogers says after Davies informs us there are only two more witnesses from the night before. The other two students hadn’t arrived yet; the academic year had only just begun.
“Fine; in that case, I’ll speak to the girl first, see if she knows anything.”
Rogers nods, hesitating for a split second. I think he wants to add something, but then changes his mind and follows me through the corridor. I press the door handle and enter the small classroom filled with tables and chairs.
For a split second I think I’m in the wrong place, because it turns out that the victim’s housemate is the girl I met last night, the cyclist that blew my cover.