The trail of devastation is clear, the evidence becoming more and more compelling the further into the crime scene I step. I move with careful stealth, to ensure that nothing is disturbed, careful not to move a single piece of evidence. I am not going to blow this by rushing through the scene.
At the epicentre I stand and turn, a slow lighthouse, to study the scene with a practiced, veteran eye. This is not my first rodeo. There are traces everywhere: a crumb, a discarded wrapper, a knife that lay where it dropped, a broken plate. I fit the clues together. There had been a struggle, some resistance, then an escape. The questions came quick to mind, a puzzle to be solved. Who was involved? How many perpetrators? And, most urgently, where was the victim?
With slow, methodical precision, I walk about the room, eyes searching for further clues. It is suspiciously silent, and I slowly pad on stockinged feet, so any culprits, who may still linger, will not be alerted to my presence. Cautiously, I sidle from this room to the next, slipping through the partially opened door without moving it. I am aware that any creaking will instantly alert anyone within the house. My God, it would be such a coup to catch the culprit red-handed! I’m so close, and my gut feeling tells me the perp is still here. As I said, I am not a rookie. I know this pattern, had seen it play out time and time again.
I am tracking my nemesis. All the hallmarks are there. So typical of his M.O. The struggle, the knife, the little crumbs that no one else would notice, but my practiced eye took it all in. I know I am close to cracking this case wide open. He’d gotten away with similar crimes too often. The benefit of the doubt had worked in his favour, and of course the appearance of innocence always swayed the judge and jury. This time, he had become too brazen, crossed the line, and I would not let him wriggle his way out, not this time. This time, the charges would stick. There will be no escape, no excuse. I am personally going to see this case through to the bitter end.
I pad cautiously down the hallway, pausing to listen at each door, my heartbeat loud, so loud, that I fear I might scare off any intruder with the force of its pounding. The anticipation is stealing my breath and my heart is thumping, pumping adrenaline steadily through my veins, until I am almost dizzy with it. I can almost taste it! I will solve this case, and I shall be vindicated!
At the last door I pause, barely a breath passes my lips. From behind the wooden barrier, I can hear a sound that chills me. The soft, wet squelching straight out of a horror movie, and my blood runs cold. The perp is in this room, behind this very door, and I am about to catch them in the act! No judge or jury will be able to acquit them this time!
I take a deep breath to calm myself. The excitement is going to ruin my moment if I don’t get it under control. I remind myself that I’m a professional, that I can do this without emotion, without ruining my case. The poor victim deserves no less than my best effort in this investigation. I can’t ruin it by rushing in blindly.
Slowly, I reach out and turn the handle. It is well maintained and makes hardly a sound. I ease the door open and peer through the crack. Nothing. The first visual inspection reveals nothing out of the ordinary. I can hear more clearly though with the door open, and the moist sounds turn my stomach. I know what I will find. Slaughter of the most horrific kind. I shudder. The victim had no chance.
Easing myself carefully into the room, my eyes dart everywhere at once, taking the scene in with a professional eye. It’s a child’s room, toys scattered in disarray, bed unmade and clothing lay where it had been discarded. Where was the child? I dread to look, knowing what I would find. The carnage would be unbearable, based on the continuing moist sounds of violence. I steady my breathing, brace myself to witness the horror I know I will see, a sight so gruesome that my soul is shrinking from it in anticipation.
I slip around the other side of the bed and even though I have been focusing on controlling my reactions, an unconscious gasp of horror escapes my mouth. The sticky smears cover every surface, wiped with sociopathic disregard for life. The carnage is worse than I feared.
The victim is hardly recognisable, so totally mangled and dismembered. Although I am a professional, although I have seen the sort of horrors that would cause most people to recoil, my stomach turns. I’m not normally so squeamish, but this is the worst crime scene I have experienced. Probably because the perpetrators sat with wide-eyed innocence in the centre of the gruesome mess!
“Sorry Mummy!” The eldest gasps, his face white with shock at being caught. He knows that this time, there will be no chance of talking his way out of it, of convincing me that it was his brother, or the dog, or a random stranger who happened to walk into our house.
“That was for Daddy, for his birthday!” I tell him. I’m calm on the surface, but perhaps calm comes out a little louder, a little more forced and a lot more cross than intended. “I spent hours making and decorating that cake. And you have ruined it. Look at this mess.”
“Sorry, Mumma!” the youngest wails, his face is smeared with chocolate as the tears of fright and contrition trail a sticky path through the ganache.
Their eyes, like twin pools of watery remorse, spear me. How can I be mad? Well, I can be mad. Not only do I not have a cake, but I have a huge mess to clean. However, their expressions are so contrite, and it’s the only thing that can melt this mother’s heart.
“You are both going to have to help me clean this up, and then we’ve got to go to the bakery and buy Daddy a cake before he gets home.”
“We’re so sorry Mummy, the cake looked so yummy, you made it look so good and we just couldn’t wait.” The oldest explains, ever the smooth criminal, justifying his actions with sweet words.
“We sorry,” the younger echoes.
“Oh, you will be!” I tell them ominously as I hand them a bin and a cloth. Forgiveness will be earned.