Could Kill for a Chocolate Bar
“Do you think it’s murder, Ma’am?”
Detective Rose Gallows attempted to mask her irritation in the sigh she released, but didn’t concern herself about the guttural grunt it morphed into, its tones oddly at home in the forest air.
“No, Detective Collins. I do not.”
“Ryan is fine, Ma’am. But how can you tell?”
This time Rose took comfort from the exasperated whimper that left her.
“Because, Detective Collins,” she said slowly, “the skull is suspended from that noose up there, and what remains of the body lies at your feet.”
She gestured from the pristine skull, which was suspended at least twenty feet above them, to the unformed mass of weathered fabric, fermented flesh and jutted bone laying upon the forest floor.
“But-” Ryan Collins began, his eyes caught between his superior officer and his little black notebook.
“But what, Collins? You think the body was carried up that tree and hung there? Alive or post-mortem?”
Rose spat to the floor and adjusted the waistband on her new work trousers. She had known they were a size too small, but she was never one to miss out on a sale. She had told herself they would kick-start her already three-month-delayed diet.
“Or,” Ryan began nervously, “the body was decapitated and it was staged to look like suicide. It’s the perfect cover.”
Rose’s head sagged as she shook it, her eyes catching the powdered sugar on her blouse from lunch.
“You see that little bit of bone poking out from the bottom of the skull?”
Ryan strained his eyes and nodded.
“Well that’s the top of the spine. When a body’s been hanging for a while, the neck elongates under the weight. And when it can take no more-”
She snapped her fingers for effect causing Ryan to jump a little.
“Off pops the head, leaving behind that bit of bone. And that, Detective Collins, is how I know it wasn’t murder.”
The satisfied silence did not last long.
“No, Collins!” Rose exploded, face flying into a blaze, “It is not murder! My God, how did you even make detective? Did you just have to collect five crisp packets or something!? Now make yourself useful and help that constable search the ground over there.”
Her hand flashed, pointing in no particular direction and at no particular constable.
Slouched, he shuffled off, returning the little black notebook to his pocket as his eyes searched the cluttered forest floor.
Rose’s fingers flirted with the empty foil wrapper of the chocolate bar in her pocket, her temptation reminding her of the multipack in the glovebox of the car, but she resisted the urge and instead paced about, snapping her fingers to keep herself busy.
Oh I could kill for a chocolate bar, she thought.
The all clear was given by the forensics team that the remains could be examined further, and from a little distance to avoid the worst of the putrid aroma, Rose watched on.
They don’t pay me enough for this.
No keys, no wallet, no nothing.
Rose’s nose wrinkled as Detective Collins kicked leaves around, occasionally picking up a twig and scrutinising it, as though the answer would be found in the spindles of ash and beech.
She sighed to herself. She wasn’t keen on babysitting and this new detective was as wet behind the ears as they come.
Probably says ‘lolz’ and ’bants’, Rose grinned to herself. And do they still say ‘whateva minga’?
“Nothing there, Ma’am.”
He broke her thoughts.
At least he says ‘Ma’am’.
“Nothing on the body either, Collins. We’re in for a long haul. We’ll get forensics to work their magic and then run it past Missing Persons, see if anything turns up. Though I’d be surprised if-”
She was cut short by a shout from a young constable.
A set of keys had been found amongst the leaves.
“Oh look at that,” said Ryan as he stooped and lifted the keys.
A collective gasp was issued by all.
“Collins!” cried Rose, “What in God’s name are you doing!? You’ve just contaminated that! Where are your gloves?”
“Oh sorry Ma’am,” said Ryan sheepishly, “I forgot.”
Rose buried her face in her hands and groaned loudly, drowning out the profusely repeated apologies of Ryan.
“Wait Collins,” she said, peering between her fingers, “Isn’t that where you were searching? How did you miss them?”
Ryan rubbed at his neck.
“Well, you see Ma’am, I left my glasses in the car. And you have the keys. And I didn’t want to annoy you any further. So…”
Rose groaned again.
They definitely don’t pay me enough.
“Our luck’s in, Collins,” Rose declared as she tossed a folder onto his desk.
“We got a fingerprint on the keys?” he asked with a chastened smile.
“No, we got your fingerprint. That was all. But, thankfully, the keys had a gym tag on them. We know our man; Billy Gould. Goes by Billy the Ink, heard of him? No? Too new on the block. He is - was - a top forger, free lance, but worked closely with the Kutch cartel.”
Ryan’s eyes widened at their name, his fingers teased the edges of the folder.
“Yes, Collins, I bet you’ve heard of them! But it raises the question-”
“Why would he kill himself?” Ryan finished for her.
A satisfied smile trickled across his face.
“So you think it was murder, Ma’am?”
“Sweet Chri… No, Collins! It was not murder.” The words shook from her. “It. Was. Suicide. What we need to figure out is what drove him to suicide. I’m thinking the Kutch turned on him, threatened him and he turned to the rope. Ah, I’d love to get one of those Kutch’s, just one.”
Ryan continued to thumb the edge of the folder, causing it to spit into the air with every flick.
Rose eyed the uneaten chocolate biscuit sitting beneath Ryan’s computer monitor and lamented that her diet started twenty minutes ago.
“So what do we do now, Ma’am?”
“We investigate, Collins. Come on, Gould’s apartment is over on Carson’s Row. I’ll drive.”
Rose ran her thumb along the jagged edge of the apartment key as they walked the hallway of Carson’s Row. Beside her, Ryan was mercifully quiet.
She couldn’t shake the unease that had crept upon her since hearing Gould’s name mentioned. The man had everything; fast life and easy living. Too clever to be caught, too useful to be killed. And then he just hung himself. In a remote forest, with no ID on him, with no reason. It just didn’t fit.
Like an apple in a vending machine, Rose mused.
The rhythmic tramp of their feet was interrupted by a fast, hurried foot fall, rapidly approaching. The detectives shared a glance, both slowing to a stop.
Rose’s breathing increased to match the approaching steps, until a young boy came sprinting around the corner. With a face akin to an overripe strawberry, he ran on unperturbed by the sight of the two detectives, colliding with Rose’s elbow as he passed.
“Excuse me?!” she roared after him, the child not breaking stride, as a twang of preternatural paresthesia tingled down her arm.
They don’t pay me enough for this, she regurgitated but said nothing, instead nodding for Ryan to follow on.
“Sweet Mother of Mercy,” Rose uttered under her breath, the squeak of Gould’s living room door almost drowning it out, as it opened before them.
“Ma’am…” Ryan started without intent to finish the sentence.
The room lay sprawled before them, a trail of destruction running through the heart of it. A coffee table stood half collapsed, missing its two front legs, bowing in reverence to greet the guests. The deep hardwood floor was littered with pages, letters and forms, some of them over the large dark stain that engulfed the centre of the room, grasping outwards with long, spindled fingers. Rose’s eyes scanned quickly. Every surface was sprinkled with dried blood, fissured and cracked, like their mother mass on the floor.
“So, do you think it was murder, Ma’am?”
Rose sighed as she breached the doorway.
“Just be sure to wear gloves this time, Collins,” she retorted, “And try not to move anything. I’ll call it in.”
She picked her way through the littered mess and on to the kitchen where more papers lay strewn and drawers were agape and gawking at her.
She reached for her phone but stopped short, her eye catching sight of the nearest page to her, a photocopy of an ID badge
And there was his photograph staring back at him, deadpan and glass eyed.
The cock of a gun behind her snapped her back to the room.
“I’m sorry Ma’am, you shouldn’t have seen that,” Ryan said, flat and even.
She turned slowly.
There was Ryan, gun raised and pointed at her.
“Collins, I don’t understand, what… why…”
“It just got out of hand, OK? I didn’t really mean to kill him. But he fought back and then it was either him or me, and I chose me.” He held the gun steady, no tremor.
“So then you what? Dragged him out to the woods and climbed the tree with him to make it look like suicide!? That’s insanity!”
“No!” Ryan half-laughed, “Of course not. I chopped him up first, but was sure to leave the atlas bone in the skull. Wanted to make it look like suicide, in case he was ever found.”
Rose let out a low whistle, shaking her head.
“That’s a lot of trouble to go to.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “I panicked! OK? I panicked and it seemed like a good idea. I’ll not make the same mistake twice.” He grinned at this and Rose couldn’t help but smile back a little.
“But why were you even here?” Rose said, gesturing around her, “How did you know him?”
Ryan hesitated, his tongue darting to the edge of his lips and back again.
“I’m a Kutch,” he said, angling his gun a little to the side as though proving he was a gangster, “They wanted me on the inside, part of the coppers, to keep an eye on things. Gould forged my papers. So no, it wasn’t crisp packets. It was Gould. Said I was to meet up with someone they’ve had on the force for years. Said I was to shadow them, learn from them, to learn the ropes. But instead I got lumped with you. And he was asking for more money. And we argued. And then I killed him. And then that bloody jogger found him. And the whole thing messed up.” He panted as he finished, beads of sweat forming on his brow.
Rose continued to nod.
“So why did you keep suggesting he’d been murdered? Why not go with the suicide angle?”
Ryan shrugged, his eyes shifting away from Rose momentarily.
“Wanted to make you look stupid, Ma’am.” He added drily. “Kutch wants me high up. Crack a case like this and I’d be fast tracked I reckon.”
Rose fixed him with a stare.
“So this,” she gestured beyond the door, “The crime scene, shall we say. You left it like this to prove it was murder? With your details out in the open? Are you really that thick, Collins?”
“Who are you calling thick?” He snarled through gritted teeth, “I had the wool pulled over your eyes, hadn’t I?” He licked his lips again. “But no. I meant to come back and clean up. But I dropped his keys in the forest. And it was getting dark. And I couldn’t find them. I was sure I had taken anything with my name out of here but I guessed I left that sheet on the counter. That’s a pity. For you.”
Rose slapped her hands by her side.
“So this is it?” she said defeatedly, “Where do you want to do it?”
“Living room,” he answered, gun now jiggling slightly, and he gestured her out of the room with the barrel.
She took her place in the centre of the dark blood stain and turned to face him.
“Mind if I have one last chocolate bar? To send me off?” she asked with a half smile.
“Go on then,” he answered, raising his free hand to grip the pistol, which now danced in his hands.
Rose eased her hand into her coat pocket.
A loud crack split the room and Ryan stared at her, wide eyed and slack jawed as a trickle of blood snaked down his face from the hole now burrowed in his forehead.
He collapsed face forward, falling at Rose's feet.
She looked at the exit wound in his skull, as blood spurted free, and shifting her gaze to the oddly similar hole in her coat pocket, she tutted to herself. She had only bought this coat a week ago, it had been fifty percent off in the sale.
She took the pistol from her pocket and sniffed the smoking barrel. She loved that smell.
Stepping over the body and out into the hall, she reached for her phone. Her thumb scrolled through her contacts, the names passing like a pinwheel.
She dialled. It rang twice.
“Hello? Yes. It’s me. Listen, the next one you send me, please try and be sure they’re capable. And babysitting is going to cost you extra. You don’t pay me enough for that.”