“Jesus Christ,” DI Vincent Cornick muttered, gingerly stepping over a box overflowing with very precise miniature chairs and scanning the floor for a safe place for his foot to relocate to. The flat had belonged to one Wendy Briggs, who’s apparent love of Dolls Houses surpassed the actual space in her flat. Thus Vincent was suddenly in the middle of a bizarre situation when he felt like he was stepping over a tiny village, where each moment when shoe touched floor he almost thought he could have crushed a tiny person, or some furnishing replicated in exact miniature.
“Are you sure this is our division?”
Sergeant Bennett, Vincent’s company for this obstacle course of slightly strange proportions, was near incapacitated by his own clumsiness: Vincent usually pinned it down to the fact that Brandon Bennett seemed to live far from the world everyone else inhabited – not a genius but more tenaciously interested in things – and if it wasn’t something that you could research then his skill tended to be somewhat lacking. Dealing with people, for example, wasn’t exactly one of his strong suits. For investigations like this he was invaluable. He could create links and catalogue great swathes of information, if only he didn’t fall over at a crime scene and ruin everything before he had that chance.
In short, navigating this flat full of very delicately crafted furniture for a bunch of dolls was likely torturous for his fellow.
“I’m not sure this is anyone’s division. The Borrowers, maybe.”
“Bit of a fire risk,” Brandon muttered, “would have made more sense to torch the place, if you wanted to do her in.”
“Sentimental as always.”
“Well,” Brandon said, stumbling slightly over a box of miniature doors, “that tells us a lot. Not planned or some emotional connection, otherwise stabbing would have been redundant. Likely crime of passion?”
“Two wounds,” Vincent returned, “the first one missed, the second perforated a major artery.”
“Not really much room to stab someone,” Brandon said, his forehead creasing as he side stepped a miniature conservatory, “you’d step on someone’s house.”
“Well, there’s your answer to that one,” Vincent said, stepping into the corridor. The floor in the rectangular expanse of white walls and laminate flooring was likewise covered in a scattering of tiny bits and pieces, although the miniature faces were a little sparser in this area of the flat.
“Ah,” Brandon said, once he too could see the view from the corridor. In contrast to the rest of the house, the bedroom looked almost minimalistic. Double bed with a channel of clear space either side of it, Wendy Brigs atop of the bed. No longer bleeding out of her chest, but the evidence of her death was obvious from the bedcovers. “Partner’s orders, then.”
“Well, I wouldn’t really want to roll out of bed and land on someone’s roof.” Vincent said, stepping forward. The police presence was a lot more obvious now, with the congregation of police officers and the forensic team either out in the corridor or stuffed inside the bedroom with the dead body.
“Or have sex with a bunch of tiny eyes peering from the windows.”
“Still, maybe she wanted a bit of space from the dolls. Might not be partner intervention.”
“Please,” Brandon said, rolling his eyes, “I’m married, I know. Is the partner in the frame?”
“Abroad, currently,” Vincent said, standing in the doorway and assessing the scene, “flying back from Spain right now. Business trip.”
“Friend then,” Brandon said, eyes darting around the room, “got to be someone she knows, or she wouldn’t have invited them into her bedroom. Too intimate. Obviously no sign of a struggle, or else some of those houses might now have construction issues.”
“We’ve can talk to the sister this afternoon,” Vincent added, “the fiancé will be back tomorrow, so he might be able to help us rustle up some sort of motive.”
“Maybe she had a bit of highly collectable Doll’s furniture.” Brandon said dryly.
“Nah,” Vincent said, dragging his gaze from Wendy Briggs and back to his colleague, “if it was Dolls House jealousy, they’d have torched the place.”
“Stupid comment before, this is a big set of flats. Fire probably wouldn’t stay contained. Pretty immoral.”
“As opposed to stabbing someone in the chest. Guess that’s just a bit rude.”
“Exactly. So, not ruling out the fancy doll’s furniture.”
“Fine,” Vincent ruled, “you volunteering to go through and catalogue every piece of furniture, see if one of the rooms looks a bit empty?”
Vincent thought he probably deserved the returning swearword.
“You have a point, Brandon,” Vincent said, frowning slightly from his office chair, “if it were Dolls House related then the killer would probably have damaged the other houses in some way. Or maybe not; that would have made it more obvious in terms of motive.”
“Whereas currently we have…?”
“Not very much,” Vincent said, picking up the report and frowning at it for a few seconds, “victim was in her mid-twenties, engaged, no previous relationships that ended badly, close circle of friends, librarian, apparent obsession with Dolls Houses.”
“Miniatures,” Brandon corrected, “they’re called miniatures. Look,” he continued, gesturing to his computer screen, “I’d say from the look of these photos that Wendy Briggs brought hers in a flatpack and built them herself, as there’s a couple of imperfections that you wouldn’t expect from something that had been premade. So she’ll have glued, painted and wired all those houses up herself.”
“Functioning light fittings,” Brandon said, scrolling down to the lights section of the website and nodding towards it.
“Forty quid for a set of lights for a Dolls House?” Vincent said, leaning towards and scrolling down the list of products. “I don’t think my lights cost that much.”
“Houses are on sale for a hundred and fifty upwards, as the kit version, then there’s wallpaper, carpets, light fittings, furniture, clocks, cushions, books; it’s not a cheap hobby. All that stuff in that kitchen probably cost her thousands.”
Vincent swore appreciatively.
“What have we got from forensics?”
“Waiting on the report.”
“Damn,” Vincent said, “well, have we got the address for the sister? We can talk more in the car.”
“Fine,” Brandon said, reluctantly pulling himself away from the Dolls House website; typical Brandon. Vincent suspected he’d be hearing in awful lot about bloody ‘Miniatures’ until the case was finished; better tie the loose ends up quickly, then. His tenacity usually got shut off the second the case was closed and packaged up again, but for now it was sure to be a full blown annoyance. “From the look of the photos she has a different era for each house,” Brandon continued.
“Excuse me whilst I tune you out,” Vincent said, “tap me if you’ve got anything relevant.”
“I could all by relevant, Vinny,” Brandon said pointedly, “you never fully immerse yourself in the case. And frankly, it’s not like you’ve got much else to do.”
“Well,” Vincent counteracted as they reach the exit out onto the street, “you fully cover the complete immersion and I stop you from drowning, Sergeant. Teamwork. What were you talking about before this diversion? I was really enjoying not listening.”
“Different era for each individual Dolls House, stretching from Victorian to futuristic,” Brandon continued and then continued further, and then just didn’t shut up till they’d pulled up in front of the sister’s house.
“Look, Brandon, shut up about the Dolls Houses now, all right?”
“I thought you were tuning me out,” Brandon said pointedly, “look, it might be important.”
“Or it might be ear pollution.”
“You need to cover all the angles,” Brandon said pointedly, reaching out to ring the doorbell, “did you ring to say we were coming.”
“Why?” Vincent asked pointedly, “Didn’t cover that angle?”
“Bet you a tenner the Dolls House trivia is helpful.”
“This is a murder case, Brandon.”
“I know, Vincent, it’s sort of a day to day occurrence. Full immersion general leads to me understanding the basic outline of the case in question, unlike some.”
“We’re standing on a relative’s door step. We can’t make bets.”
“Oh come on, ten pounds and a pint.”
“Only to shut you up before the poor woman gets to the door.” Vincent conceded.
“Shake on it.”
“Shake on it.”
“Fine.” Vincent said, reaching out to shake his hand for a splint second before dropping it, just as the door was pulled open by one Moria Briggs. Vincent never much liked talking to the victim’s families – he didn’t loath it quite as much as Brandon – but it was easier to dehumanise the case when you didn’t have to see the effect of the grief. Both of them cared, but years of seeing murders daily hardened their skin against the onslaught of most of the emotion surrounding it.
Brandon immersed himself fully and made stupid bets, Vincent battled his insomnia with numerous long and length fantasy novels. As a system, it worked nicely.
“We spoke on the phone,” Vincent said, “DI Cornick and Sergeant Bennett.”
“You better come in,” Moria said quietly, her bottom lip shaking slightly – she looked like she hadn’t slept for months, rather than the hours since the body had been found.
Vincent found himself being led through the flat and thrown by this new manifestation of a love of blasted miniatures – dozens of photos in cheap frames, blown up images of tiny Houses (Vincent thought that more or less defeated the point, actually, but he wasn’t about to say anything). It took him a few seconds to note that Moria was limping badly and took that as an explanation as to why they were stood on the doorstep for so long when she’d been expecting them. “Sorry,” she muttered as she limped into the kitchen, “I just…” then she trailed off, turning on the spot to navigate herself into her wheelchair.
“That’s okay, Miss Briggs,” Vincent said gravely, “we’re sorry about trespassing on what must be an awful time for you.”
“You want me to talk about my sister?” Moria said, jerking her chin up to face the two police officers in her kitchen.
“Did she have any enemies at all?” Bit of a brutal start from Brandon; classic case of foot in mouth.
“No,” Moria said, shaking her head vehemently, “no one would hate Wendy, she…” Moria took a steady breath. “She never… she was always lovely to everyone and…”
Oh God, she looked like she was going to be a crier. Brandon Bennett was never so awkward as when a woman was crying in his presence – in actual fact, at Brandon’s wedding Vincent had been half convinced the man was about to leg it down the aisle when his wife started crying silently half way through the I dos. It had been Vincent’s best part of the ceremony (he really disliked weddings), but it wasn’t very useful to have his colleague breaking down into awkwardness when they were in the middle of an investigation.
“Miss Briggs,” Brandon said, nodding up to a rather more expensive looking photograph of yet another Dolls House, “is that miniature Edwardian themed?”
“Yeah,” Moria breathed, seeming to calm slightly, “that was Wendy’s first Dolls House. There’s a bit of detailing wrong, a couple of things out of place, but we were just thirteen when we got our first ones. Our grandma was a fanatic and we… well, we always admired her I mean… we’d ask for new carpet for Christmas and proper mahogany tables… I can’t afford it so much these days,” Moria’s expression dropped suddenly, “that’s why I started with the photos and so Wendy dug this one out and gave it to me. Always giving me presents. Feels guilty.”
“My leg,” Moria said, swallowing another breath of air, “Wendy was driving the car when it crashed and she never forgave herself for it. I… I try and push myself to walk short distances, especially in my own house, but… I’m depended on my disability allowance and…she was trying to save up to send me to this special physiotherapist that she found but I guess…” Wendy trailed off slightly.
“Who were your sister’s closest friends, would you say?”
“Erica Good,” Moria said, frowning slightly, “she works at the same Library. Elderly lady – she’s quite a motherly figure, I think. And Tess Bruce. They went to university together but she… she was never a very good influence on my sister. Seriously bad news. Drinks, drugs, that sort of thing. Not that Wendy every got pulled by that but… I never liked her but Wendy was mad about her. Always pulling her out of scrapes. Even managed to get her a job at the local Dolls House shop. I can get you their addresses, if you like?”
“Right,” Vincent said, pacing the walls of their office feeling slightly frustrated, “neither Tessa Bruce or Erica Good were remotely useful. The fiancé said she’d been acting funny since her sister’s accident: refuting the original plan to move in together, acquiring more Dolls House than ever before, wanting to be alone a lot, being more distance. But then again, she believes it’s her fault her sister is in a wheelchair. No obvious motive: sister didn’t blame her for the accident and, anyway, I don’t think her sister would have been able to navigate Wendy’s flat enough to escape, fiancé in a different country – not dark past, no dangerous liaisons, no nothing. Anything to add, Brandon?”
“Wendy must have led the killer to her bedroom,” Brandon said slowly.
“So, a lover then?”
Vincent turned around and did a near double take. Brandon’s desk was now covered in a miniature set of bedroom furniture in a cheap looking shade of beech wood and two rather startled looking Dolls, one of which seemed incapable of standing.
“Bloody hell, Brandon,” Vincent complained, “if you want to play Dolls, do it in your own time.”
“It’s a recreation of Wendy’s bedroom,” Brandon said, pointing towards the figure that Vincent had thought incapacitated by its plastic legs, but was actually a reconstructed Wendy in the position they’d found her on the day they visited the crime scene. “Unless the killer physically arranged her on her bed, he must have been stood in the doorway. So that suggests less intimacy.”
“They could have been having an argument.”
“No,” Brandon countered, “why would you lead someone you were arguing with to your bedroom? She might have been threatened, but why purposefully force someone into their bedroom before killing them? No, if you were Wendy and you lived in a house that full of Miniatures, where would you take someone to talk?”
“The bedroom,” Vincent nodded, “it’s the only space available.”
“So not necessarily an intimate relationship. But she definitely knew the killer.”
“Okay,” Vincent said, frowning, “So, check all the phone records of all the numbers she called on a regular basis? Maybe she called her killer that day to sort some sort of problem out…then the killer came over and…”
“Stabbed her with a knife?”
“A knife with a serrated blade. Post mortem said there were traces of sawdust on the blade. Probably used for some sort of woodwork.”
“Or,” Brandon said, “making a Dolls House from flatpack?”
“So the weapon could have come from Wendy’s own flat?”
“The fiancé said he didn’t think there was anything missing.”
“But a room like that,” Vincent said, “stuff everywhere, who would know?”
“Vinny,” Brandon said slowly, looking up away from his miniature reconstruction of Wendy’s flat, “whilst I understand that you are not married nor are in any form of serious relationship, you most see that if your fiancé had been stabbed to death and you kept knives in the house, you’d definitely check the knife draw.”
“The sister then,” Vincent said slowly, “she had her own Dolls Houses. Not as many as her sister, mind, but she’d have had the equipment. And she did walk to answer the door.”
“I couldn’t walk through that mess.” Brandon countered.
“And? You can’t walk without tripping over your feet at the best of times.”
“Anyway, the motive doesn’t make sense. Wendy was trying to save up money to pay for her sister’s physiotherapy. She wouldn’t gain anything by murdering her -”
“Hold that thought,” Vincent said, frowning, “it costs forty quid for a set of light fittings for a Dolls House.”
“And our Wendy has been buying more Dolls Houses since her sister's accident,” Vincent said, slowly, “and they’re expensive. And… she’s a librarian living in London. Her finances are kept separate from her fiancés. How the hell has she managed to afford a city of bleeding miniatures?”
“So either she lied to the sister…”
“…or the Dolls Houses are making her money in some way. Can you make a profit from building Dolls Houses from flatpacks?”
“It’s possible,” Brandon said, typing something into his computer, “but hers were all crudely made. I thought that, actually. The picture of Wendy’s first Dolls House – everything was done much more carefully. I thought maybe that a parent had helped her, or something, but then there were a few Houses in the flat that had a more professional finish and…”
“I backtracked through her receipts when I was looking for a really expensive Miniature wardrobe or a really tiny antique and all the newer Dolls Houses seemed shabbier to me. And the older ones – and the ones in the kitchen – they all had little scenes and stories attached to them. Little details. She’d made some of the parts.”
“So,” Brandon said, “why keep up at a hobby if you’re not aiming to get better at it? So she’d lost some of her love for the hobby and was continuing anyway.”
“Did Moria say Tess Bruce was a Junkie?”
Wendy Briggs’ fiancé couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. His bride-to-be, his Wendy, had been caught up in drug smuggling.
It didn’t matter how much the Detective Inspector explained, Ian Yates didn’t think he was ever going to comprehend what he was hearing. He was entirely sure that this was some sick fictitious practical joke and that any second Wendy would appear, offer him a bright smile and yell ‘gotcha!’ The feeling wasn’t dissimilar, actually; his heart appeared to have stopped momentarily, his stomach had dropped, he couldn’t quite breath.
Yet the story had a ring of truth about it. Wendy, desperately guilty after that horrible accident, desperate for money and no way to access it: he’d thought it strange that she postponed their moving in together for so long, considering that was the most financially viable option (and, anyway, they were engaged), but…
She’d told Tess about her financial war. Of course she had, Tess and Wendy were polar opposites and yet their friendship seemed to endure far beyond what seemed sensible to Ian (he’d been stood up all too many times by Wendy speeding off to come to Tess’s rescue) and then Tess must have suggested it… Tess, who’d since been arrested. Wendy dead. Tess in prison.
A Drug smuggling system through a Dolls House shop. Wendy acting as a dealer – a buffer from the organisation’s gritty centre – filling her house with poorly made Dolls Houses, the flat packs lined with drugs, for the sake of fixing her sister’s legs. Nearly having enough money (cash, hidden in the basement of the actual version of Wendy’s first Dolls House) she’d tried to back out. Murdered by the knife from her favourite shop by a man who’d found Wendy’s services so useful.
His poor, poor Wendy.
Ian’s forehead found the palm of his hand, his fingers pressed into his receding hairline and then he started to weep.
“I guess I owe you a pint,” Vincent muttered, sliding his tenner across the table in the pub towards his colleague.
"Don't give me the money now," Brandon muttered, "Lost my wallet."
"Lost your wallet?"
"Yes, yes," Brandon said, "I'll get the lecture from Sharon later. Careless, clumsy little boy - can't be trusted with anything. Insert nagging here.."
“Still, Dolls House drug smuggling. God, who’d have thought it?”
“Maybe for you,” Vincent sighed, “tomorrow I’ve got a horrible amount of paperwork to sift through.”
“Ah well,” Brandon shrugged, “not like you’ve got anyone to go home too.”
Vincent rolled his eyes, taking up his own pint and taking a sip. It was usually straight after the caught-a-murderer (who happened to be a drugs dealer, which certainly boosted the high) glow wore off that he hit a position of thinking that perhaps Brandon was right – it probably wouldn’t be too awful to have something to go home to that wasn’t tea for one, but in between it all he’d never really found the time to find someone.
Well, not since the divorce.
Either way, it was all a bit of moot point. The only time he’d have a chance to meet someone was at work and the Cornick-Benett twosome had become largely a duo after solving six cases in quick succession and the uppers had concluded that it worked pretty well.
And honestly, Vincent Cornick was not looking for anything big in his life to change; things were perfectly fine just as they were.
“You were wrong about the Dolls House clear bedroom though,” Vincent said, “it wasn’t partners’ orders. She just needed them out the way so she could sleep at night.”
“Can see her point,” Brandon said, “bloody creepy things, Dolls Houses.” Vincent decided not to sodding comment on that, he’d only get angry. Brandon grinned at him. "Either way, Wendy could probably have done with one of those accident support groups they've set up."
"What it says on the tin, Vinny. Anyway, here’s to solving another murder tomorrow,” Brandon said, raising his pint.
“And maybe even catching a serial killer.”
Cho Chang was just past the point in the post-breakup stages when she was trying to convince herself that Mike Zheng was not a very nice man and nearing the point when she’d start trying to throw herself into another relationship to alleviate the gaps in her life.
It was a rather irritating side effect to suddenly sleeping alone that her nightmares had begun to return. She was entirely too old for nightmares, anyway, and dreaming of Cedric’s dead body years after the event was bordering on the pathetic, but that didn’t stop the images that would play out in her subconscious every now and again.
Then after two nightmares in a trot she’d found herself entirely unable to sleep at all, her awareness of the onslaught of the images somehow transferring into a flat out fear of sleep.
Which led to her staying late at the Ministry in an attempt to work herself to the bone and force her body to sleep. The final few weeks of her relationship with Mike had kept her so distracted that she was really behind on her work, anyway, and filing away the incidents where magic and muggle crime seemed to hit was almost therapeutic. Ministry Official having to bail out a wizarding teen for being drunk and disorderly; a woman inadvertently apparating into a Muggles flat and being accused of breaking and entering; an elderly wizard being scammed out of his pension by a muggle con artist.
The invoice arrived at half ten and, naturally, she was the only one left in the office. A muggle had been found dead in their front living room; suspected use of the killing curse (no doubt to be confirmed by some poor shift worker of sorts). It was fairly uncommon for Muggles and Wizard’s lives to collide as forcefully as murder, but it certainly wasn’t unheard of (particularly when she’d first started working for Law Enforcement, when there were still plenty of Death Eaters to be rounded up and charged). Protocol was usually just to file it under ‘M’ and start investigating, maybe plant some fake story for the muggles or else leave them to be forever wondering. There had been two cases in history where the Ministry Detective force and the Metropolitan Police had worked alongside each other – both of them involved serial killers.
And Cho very much doubted anything like that would happen now.
Cho left the invoice on her desk, blew out the candle and headed towards the door; murder was one of those things she needed a fresh mind for. And it was hardly likely to shield her mind from the nightmares.
So I have never written a murder mystery before. I decided that it wasn't within my range of capabilities, so then I definitely had to try it. This was just a little warm up mini-mystery acting as a sort of prologue/ experiment to see if I can even remotely get my Murder mystery brain on. Also, I do not own the Borrowers; Mary Norton does. Merely a fan. Please tell me what you thought as this is all new to me. Thanks for reading :)
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