A lumpy, bruised hose, spread across the floor, coiled around the scattered debris of broken china, glass and wood. In the light of the torch, the shards of shattered cutlery sparkled with deceptive beauty, and the slightly glistening rings of bloody entrails encircling them seemed almost artistic. If it weren’t for the putrid stink of loosened bowels, blood and fear, you could probably call this modern art.
Caine picked his way across the ruined dining room with uncanny grace for such a large man, deftly avoiding stepping in any guts. Shit, this was nasty. Definitely the same perp as last time—some kind of gut-fetish freak, ritual disembowelment, shit, why did he always have to deal with shit like this?
There was a gasp and a quickly muffled squawk from behind him.
“Whatsit now?” Caine barked, still concentrating on the floor.
Getting no response, he paused and glared over his shoulder. Weatherby, his new milksop of a trainee, was cowering against the door with his eyes locked on the floor. He had a hanky pressed to his mouth and nose, and Caine could see that what skin was left exposed by the expanse of blue starched linen had turned deathly pale. Even the boy’s usually light dusting of freckles stood out starkly on his face like Dalmatian spots. In other words, he looked about five seconds away from being sick all over the evidence.
“Wait outside if ya ‘ave to,” Caine grunted, not unkindly.
Weatherby nodded miserably in acquiescence and exited, still clutching the hanky to his mouth. Caine let loose a sigh of annoyance. He could never get used to his trainees. Amanda kept telling him that he needed to stop being “so bloody intimidating.”
“We have a limited number of trainee detective constables you know!” she had huffed at him in exasperation just last week. She shook her head, already sifting through one of the three-foot-high piles of papers covering her desk, with a cigarette clamped tensely between her red lacquered lips.
“Well, if ya’d stop givin’ me the stupid ones…” Caine muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” Amanda frowned, fixing him with a beady glare. “That better not have been what it sounded like.” She handed him a paper. “Here’s your new trainee, Hue Weatherby. If you screw this one up, that’s it, Caine. It’s over. Got it?”
Caine had nodded sullenly at the floor, shuffling out of the superintendent’s office with relief. Weatherby was his fifth trainee in as many weeks. It was a common trope in mystery and thriller novels, wasn’t it? The brilliant, misanthropic detective, who can’t cooperate with anyone, yet, nevertheless, always manages to get to the bottom of every mystery and catch every perp.
Except that that was not case for Caine. He was far from brilliant, and hardly misanthropic. In fact, if he was known for anything throughout the department, it was for his uninhibited drunken dancing at the monthly pub nights. He was famous for once daring to kiss Amanda on the cheek at the Christmas party, years back when they were both young trainees, a crime for which he’d reportedly been knocked out cold for five hours—though he couldn’t remember the incident. No, Caine was no dark, tortured genius. He was a run-of-the-mill, ambitionless detective investigator—not even a P.I., like all those film noir types his soon-to-be-ex-wife so admired, just a commonplace street-corner copper.
Well, as long as he could pull this off. This case was his last chance. He could tell from the look in Amanda’s eyes when she had handed him the case five weeks ago: her eyes had told him that this was the last big murder case she was going to hand down. If he showed as little initiative in this as he had in everything else, he could kiss his cozy post in the Criminal Investigation Department goodbye. At the very least, it would mean a demotion to some paper-shuffling desk job down at the courts.
Caine sighed again and passed a hand over his face, first feeling the harsh scratch of stubble on his chin, then pressing the cool pads of his fingertips against aching eyes. If he was honest with himself, the case was big, too big for the likes of him. A serial murderer who disemboweled his victims and painted the scene of the murder with their innards. A murderer who had hit everywhere from London to Cardiff, a different victim in a different district every other week. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. The worst was that this perp left no evidence. The bodies were untouched, except for the minor fact that they were all missing their intestines. The morgue technicians were flummoxed. No one could figure out how the perp had managed to disembowel his victims without causing any wounds. It was almost…supernatural. Bah. Caine didn’t believe in such things, did he?
Caine made his way across the small dining room towards the kitchen area. It was one of those modern houses, with a one-room dining and kitchen area, separated only by a waist-high marble countertop. He approached the countertop, noting the bloodstained surface, and skirted around it with care. As he rounded the corner of the counter, he froze dead in his tracks.
The blonde woman crouching over the lifeless body sprawled across the tile floor froze too.
For several breathless moments they just stared at each other. She was a petite woman, or so it seemed—it was tough to tell with her bent over like that. Nondescript straight blonde hair just brushed her shoulders, framing a square-jawed face with a slightly snubbed nose. She looked no older than thirty, perhaps even younger. But the deep furrow between her brows, and the expression of worry she wore with defeated exhaustion, aged her. All in all, the only extraordinary thing about the woman was her clothing. She was dressed in a long black cloak, the sort of thing you sometimes saw goth kids wearing in the park, paired with dark eyeliner, dyed hair, and a whiny acoustic guitar. But this woman didn’t look like that type, in fact she wasn’t wearing any makeup at all. Caine’s eyes flicked down towards her hands, which were still resting lightly on the victim’s body. They were tiny and pale, with brittle-looking oval nails. No ring. Huh. No notebook either. Something was out of place…
“Wha-what the bloody hell is THAT?!”
Caine pointed a shaking finger, not at the corpse, but into the air about two feet above it, where a scroll of oddly thick paper was floating, floating, along with a black feathered pen. Caine could not believe it. He was too shaken even to be ashamed of his stuttering.
“Bugger,” the woman mumbled. “Confundo!”
All at once Caine’s body relaxed, and a gentle fuzzy feeling enveloped his brain. Blinking slowly, he noticed, as if for the first time, that the blonde woman was holding a notebook and pen identical to his own. What? He shook his head once, trying to clear the fuzziness. God, he needed a good cup of coffee.
“What are you doing here?” The woman’s voice was harsh, and higher than he had expected, with an edge of panic.
Caine frowned, not liking her attitude. “I’m the detective investigator on this case. I’m authorized ta be here. What’re you doin’ ‘ere?”
“I’m—I’m from the Ministry.”
It was a cryptic comment, but Caine thought he knew where it was leading. She was probably some bureaucrat’s flunky sent to mess with the evidence. It wasn’t unprecedented. There had always been whispers around the department about how some of the higher-ups had deals with “people in power.”
“Oh yeah? What gives you the right ta be poking ‘round a crime scene then?”
Caine crouched down over the body opposite the blonde, getting right in her face with his most intimidating, trainee-conquering glower, but she didn’t even flinch. Just that worn out worry, which he was beginning to think was a permanent feature of her face, and a flicker of confusion.
“I work in law enforcement, so this is my job.”
“What, so you guys are trying to poach detective work from us blue collar sods now, is that it? Wanna take all the glory?”
“Glory? I don’t understand.” She was looking more and more bewildered.
“I mean praise, recognition, thanks, kudos—the credit. Get it? You’re tryin’ to steal my thunder when ya ought’na be ‘ere. Go back to London to do whatever official shit you lot take our tax money for, see?”
“Ah,” a look of dawning comprehension crossed her face, replacing the confusion, if not completely erasing the worry. “I think you’ve made a mistake. I’m not from your ministry, I’m from another ministry. The victim was one of ours, so I was sent to investigate.”
“What?” Caine had read the victim’s file on the way to the scene. Parvati Patil, 22 years old, single, working as an alternative medicine practitioner, whatever the hell that was. She was of Indian descent, obviously, but she was an English citizen. “She ain’t foreign, what’re you talking about?”
“No, she’s definitely one of ours,” the woman replied shortly. “And I suspect the criminal is, as well.”
“Then ‘ow come you ain’t been investigatin’ any of this perp’s other victims?”
“There were other victims?” She looked truly shocked.
“Yeah, six so far. The first two were all over the papers, where’ve you been? Really messy murders just like this ‘un, up in Leeds and th’other in Cardiff.”
“I guess they weren’t covered in our media, since the victims weren’t our kind.”
What kind of country is this lady from? Caine wondered again.
“Anyway,” she continued, lowering her voice, “is this really an appropriate place to be having this discussion?”
Caine looked down at the body sprawled between them, a chuckle escaping from between his lips. In his opinion, it wasn’t like Ms. Patil would care whether they argued or not; she wasn’t going anywhere. Too many years in the business does that to you. But all the same, he found himself unbending. “Fine, love. I’m Caine, detective constable with the Criminal Investigation Bureau at Scotland Yard.”
She relaxed slightly too. “I’m Audrey, from Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.”
The words dropped heavily into the suddenly frigid atmosphere of the kitchen, followed instantly by Caine’s jaw. Audrey’s hand flew to her lips, as though she couldn’t believe what she’d just said. The silence congealed around them, stifling further conversation.
“Did you say ‘Magic’?” Caine croaked out finally. “That’s—you’ve gotta be joking—”
And everything went black.
Brilliant. This was just brilliant. Fan-fucking-tastic, in fact.
Audrey paced the tiny kitchen, mindful of the two bodies—one manicured, young and lifeless, the other scruffy and older, but breathing softly—now slumped on the floor. Bloody muggles, why the hell was he here anyway?
Audrey stopped, staring down at Caine. He was drooling slightly in his stun-induced sleep, a stupid grin on his face. A natural born idiot, most likely. Which made her even more of an idiot for stunning him instead of obliviating him, like any competent auror would have done. But now what was she going to do? Audrey chewed a lank strand of blonde hair nervously as she thought. If she could just obliviate him—but she’d always sucked at memory charms. There had been that fiasco with a parrot a few years back, and, well, she’d just never gotten up the confidence to try again. Besides, she needed him. He’d mentioned something about other murders, muggle murders, that she knew nothing about. It could be important for the case.
Well, first things first. Audrey drew her wand from her sleeve and flicked it at the notepad and pen. Instantly they returned to their original forms, the parchment and quill again rising into the air, poised to begin taking notes.
She had recognized Parvati immediately when she’d seen the body. They had only overlapped at school for two years, and they’d been in different houses; but the magical world was a small one. Audrey could remember seeing Parvati at Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes when it had first opened, though she herself had already graduated by then of course. She’d seemed rather silly at the time, and was attached at the hip to her even sillier best friend, Lavender Brown. The two of them would always head straight to the Wonder Witch products, giggling madly over the love potions and more risqué daydream charms. Audrey hadn’t thought much of either girl back then, but God, she’d never wanted to find one of them like this.
The quill scurried across the parchment, leaving a neat trail of wet ink writing in its wake. Audrey glanced up to check the progress of the quill, then turned back to the body.
Parvati’s café au lait skin still looked soft to Audrey’s trained eyes, which meant that the murder must have occurred within hours. In fact, if it weren’t for the puddle of still-sticky blood on the counter and the grisly display of innards in the den, the young woman might have been sleeping. Upon closer inspection, however, Audrey realized that what she’d originally taken for dark lipstick was actually blood. Parvati’s mouth was gummed with the stuff. Audrey’s stomach rolled. She’d assumed that the murderer had Avada Kedavra’d his victim before removing her intestines; but clearly Parvati had been alive during the ordeal, or she wouldn’t have coughed up all that blood…
Audrey rose from her squatting position, looking around for more clues. The small kitchen was clean and sparsely furnished—the countertops and sink were bare of food and cooking utensils. The refrigerator was similarly empty, save a few heads of broccoli, some apples and a butterbeer. The only thing out of place was the bloodstained counter.
As Audrey took a step forward to get a better look, she felt the toe of her boot kick something small, which rolled away from her under the counter. Bending down, she felt her pulse quicken. A wand. “Accio!”
The wand shot into her outstretched hand. It was unexpectedly short and delicate, and made of a honey-coloured wood Audrey couldn’t identify. Her heart sank as she realized that the wand must belong to Parvati. Still, it was worth checking. She placed her own wand tip-to-tip with the honey-coloured wand, and whispered, “Prior Incantato.”
A silvery rope blossomed from the wand. As it lengthened, Audrey saw that it was actually an uncoiled intestine. Once released from the wand tip, the ghostly intestine hovered spookily in the air above the countertop, undulating like a snake. Audrey was about to cancel the spell, when something strange happened: a portion of the intestine about ten centimeters in length broke off and fell to the counter, where it disappeared. The rest of the intestine sealed itself back together. Audrey watched open-mouthed. Was this what the murderer was after? A piece of Parvati Patil’s gut? She bit her lip, fighting the urge to vomit, and the intestine vanished. She was so not cut out for this job.
Audrey stowed away the murdered woman’s wand in on an inner pockets of her robes. Of course the murderer would use a stolen wand—stolen from the victim, no less. At least she knew the cause of death now. She dictated her observations to the quill, when silently rolled up the parchment, stuffing it in yet another pocket. Time to go. A regular law enforcement squad from the Ministry would be by later to retrieve the body and clean up—they’d find any little details she’d missed. All that was needed now was to seal the house and set a few wards. Audrey had never wanted to leave a crime scene so much.
In her haste, Audrey was almost across the living room by the time she remembered Caine. Cursing under her breath, she marched back. There was nothing for it, she thought, staring down at the prone figure. She’d just have to bring him back to the Ministry; then Williamson could deal with him.
She levitated Caine with a charm, but he kept drifting off when she wasn’t paying attention. Finally, she conjured a rope and tied it around his waist, towing him alongside her to the front door. As she left the building, she heard a sharp intake of breath to her right. She swung around, nerves blazing and wand at the ready, only to come face to face with—Percy Weasley?
“A-Audrey?” Percy yelped, staring at the wand pointing directly at his heart. “Is that you?”
Audrey dropped her wand to her side. “What are you doing here, Percy?”
“I was reassigned last week,” Percy replied, quickly recovering his usual condescending tone. “I’m undercover, following this muggle detec—blimey! That’s him!” Audrey followed Percy’s shocked gaze to the body floating behind her, like some sort of macabre balloon.
“What did you do to him?” Percy turned back to Audrey with a disapproving frown.
Audrey rolled her eyes. Percy was her least favorite of the Weasley brothers, but, sadly, the one with which she had the most experience. They had been in the same year at Hogwarts, he in Gryffindor (only the Sorting Hat knew why…he was a coward if she’d ever seen one) and her in Hufflepuff. He was always whinging about propriety, or showing off his prefect badge and, later, his ministry credentials, or droning on about something equally exasperating and banal.
“He’s just stunned, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” she snapped. Percy looked extremely offended.
“Well, what was I supposed to think? I’m here conducting an important investigation of muggle detective procedures for the Ministry,” he retorted waspishly, “and suddenly you waltz out with my subject on a lead.”
“Ha. ‘Conducting an investigation?’ More like hiding out in the bushes, puking.”
Percy flushed. “I was on guard duty!”
“Whatever.” Audrey had already turned back to the darkened house. “Can you give me a hand with this?”
Without waiting for an answer, she thrust the rope at Percy, who scrambled to catch it before Caine could float off. Audrey raised her wand to set up the protective enchantments, which included several layers of locks, an alarm charm, and a ward to keep curious muggles away. The spells were complicated, and Audrey was feeling drained by the end. A quick look at her watch revealed that it was approaching 7:30. Williamson would be at his desk by now.
She turned back to Percy, who was staring at her with an odd expression on his face, the rope held limply in his hand. Merlin, couldn’t it have been anyone else?
“Thanks,” she murmured grudgingly, plucking the rope from his fingers.
Percy snapped to attention. “That was an impressive piece of magic,” he said with respect. “I don’t think I could have managed it so quickly.”
Audrey’s eyes widened. Did Percy Weasley, the stuck-up, holier-than-thou, patronizing Percy Weasley just compliment her? On her magical talent, no less? Audrey knew she didn’t give a damn what he thought, but her mood inexplicably lightened and she felt just slightly more alert. “Thanks,” she repeated, in a more friendly tone.
They paused awkwardly. Audrey couldn’t really remember the last time they’d had such a civil conversation, and now she wasn’t sure how to break it off. See you later? But then he might think she actually wanted to see him again…and given his usual behavior towards her (and, frankly, towards everyone else as well), she didn’t. This morning was surely a fluke, born of sleep deprivation and confusion.
The still-floating Caine conveniently ended her dilemma by drifting into Percy, causing him to stumble backwards on the pavement.
“Well, gotta go,” Audrey called, and, grasping firmly onto the unconscious detective’s ankle, she turned on the spot, vanishing with a small pop! into thin air.
I hope you liked the first chapter! Please R&R...I'd love to know what you think of Caine, Percy and Audrey.