Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Baby It’s Cold Outside.

This is part 5 of ‘Mince Pies and Murder’ if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

The door swings open and Patrick pulls his mouth into a wide smile that make his teeth appear like fangs in the dark room.

“Heard moving around. If you’re not sleeping you may as well come and sit with me.” He gestures for her to leave the room and she does, making sure to face him as she passes. “I could do with a drink… got any liquor?”

“Nah, I’m clean out.”

“Yeah right, it’s Christmas. Get me a drink Em.” Only the slightest pretence of friendship remains in his blue eyes that now glint with the frostiness of an ice burg. She crosses the room and opens cupboards at random, hoping for the dregs of a bottle of something to offer to her former friend who has clearly now become her captor. A bottle of whisky with a few glasses left is her saviour, a knight in a murky brown armour on the bottom shelf.

“So that crime, you know the murder from today… what do you think happened? Lover’s tiff?” She pours a measure as she speaks and crosses the room to hand him the glass.He smiles as he accepts the glass with that same frosty smile he’d given when he entered her room.

“Don’t worry yourself about that dear.” He takes a sip of the whisky and blows out a deep breath, staring at the black screen of the television.

“It is if I’ve been framed for the murder Patrick, don’t you think?”

“Listen Emmeline. You weren’t born to be a detective, or lawyer or writer or adventurer. You were born to be a princess. Don’t you know that? You worry too much about these things, it damages your brain sweetheart.Don’t trouble your little mind about it any more dearie, I’ll end the mystery. It was me of course. Stupid girl took me back to hers, played the sweet and innocent cards and then rejected me. Spurned me. After offering herself on a platter she changed her mind. She had to be shown the weakness of her sex.”

His voice is flat as he speaks, emotionless, lacking remorse. He almost smiles as he tells her to sit beside him again on the sofa that she’ll throw out if she survives this situation herself.

“We’re going to be great together Em, did you get my messages? I assume you did… I saw the bauble, me and you together as children as we could never have been. But we’re together now, and I’ll never leave you. Never let you weaken your mind by thinking too much again. All you need to do is trust in my devotion… and get me another drink, there’s a love.”

She stands again and takes the glass from him, careful to control the slight tremble in her fingers. She walks to the counter and picks up the bottle, pouring the remains of it into the cut glass tumbler he’d been drinking from . But she keeps hold of the bottle, unable to let go. Somehow it makes her feel safe, powerful even, which he would no doubt despise. Either way she keeps a tight hold of the bottle, right hand slightly above the other as her dad had taught her with a cricket bat all those years ago.

“I don’t think I want to run Patrick, running will only make me look guilty. Besides, I’m not quitting my life for something I’m innocent of.”

He still hasn’t looked around but she sees his shoulder shake a little as though this had made him chuckle.

“Don’t be ridiculous Em. Where’s that drink?”

She takes a step toward the door and glances around for her keys which are absent from their place in the lock. She takes another step and a deep breath before responding.

“Oh it’s just on the side, I’ll bring it in a moment. I’d just like to know why you decided to frame me if you don’t mind. Why you’re keeping me here?”

She takes another step toward the door,  not far now. The keys are hanging on their hook a few feet away. She reaches her arm out. Not quite. She takes another step.

“Well my dear I couldn’t think of getting you to myself any other way. It worked anyway so I’ve got no regrets. Besides, I needed someone to take the blame once I’d ended up killing that girl. You should’ve kept those chairs, the broken leg was handy.”

“Why do you hate me Patrick? I thought we were friends!”

She takes another step. Loose floorboard. A creak escapes from the ground that may as well have been a screaming alarm. Patrick stands up and spins around in an instant to face her, crossing the gap in a few long steps and ducking as she launched the bottle at his head. His face transforms into a beast of anger as he slams her into the wall and bares his teeth in a smile that wreaks of whisky only inches from her face.

“All I did was love you and you didn’t have it in you to be grateful?” He is shouting now, in a booming gruff voice that is raked from his throat in painful, gravelly syllables. “A powerful woman, needing rescuing from herself. You weren’t made to be powerful so I was going to save you… ungrateful bitch!”

He drags her head into the wall with a handful of hair. She screams, lifts her fist up and into his chin with a crack. He shouts, almost a growl like every human cell was losing a battle with the beast within.He grabs her wrists and slams them into the wall with one hand, slapping her across the face with the other and punching her in the stomach. She doubles up in pain, focuses, brings her knee up between his legs with a shout and as he bends over she uses his own momentum and her fist to bring a pool of blood from his nose. They tumble to the ground. Rolling in a deathly tangle on the old carpet. He has her, legs buried beneath his knees, hands pinned to the ground. He smiles at her then, all warmth returning suddenly to his face.

“I’ll let you go and we’ll be friends. Together forever my beautiful Emmeline.”

He kisses her then. Forehead, cheeks, chin, she accepts them, plotting. He smiles, taking this as her submission, bring his lips toward her mouth. Kisses her long and hard. She bites his lip, and while he shouts in pain she smashes her head into his nose, furthering the earlier damage. He’s loosened his grip on her wrists in shock, she brings a fist into his stomach, then another. Pushes him over and straddles him, reaching for a part of the bottle which had remained intact. It shatters on impact with his bloodied head and the battle is done. She jumps to her feet and slots the key into the door, hands shaking she fumbles with the lock and runs down the stairs. Down the street. Stops at her neighbour, Eliza’s house and bangs on the door until her friend answers it in a dressing gown, just as the lights begin flashing in their regular blue strobes.

“God, Emmeline, it’s cold outside. Get in here.”

 

 

Examination of the Overlooked.

Examination of the Overlooked.

This is part 4 of ‘Mince Pies and Murder’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

Emmeline closes the door to her bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed, examining the pictures of her family pasted onto the bauble.  There’s one that isn’t quite right, the picture of her at two years old wearing one of those enormous puffed out skirts that only look at home sitting on top of a toilet roll. It’s the most horrific colour, a sickly peach that borders on the colour of something one might produce after a night of heavy drinking or eating badly cooked food. She’s smiling in the picture, huge gaps between shiny white baby teeth on plain view between her wide open lips. A little boy is pasted beside her, his head slightly above as though he’s stood next to her but is taller. She doesn’t recognise him. Having looked at this picture a number of times it’s clear to her that the picture is meant to be beside hers, but the boy is not one of her relations.

She pulls out the little pile of letters from beneath her pillow and replaces them with the bauble. The letters start of at some degree of friendliness with suggestions of going for coffee, dinner, movie; but they develop quickly into ‘long and passionately secret encounters’, running away together and getting married. Either way, the scrawling green pen tells her, she’d have to leave her job and give herself over to the complete mercy of this new lover. She’d not replied, at first thinking they were a joke, and then living in denial of the existence of a stalker in kind who wanted her submission to his greater power and manhood.

She closes her eyes and pictures each of her memories with Patrick in turn. He’d been friendly when she’d arrived, taken her under his wing and welcomed her to the team. He’d brought her coffee most mornings, and once he’d bought her a minuscule birthday cake when she’d refused to take her 30th as holiday. He’d cooled down a little bit after the promotion, she supposes, but she hadn’t noticed at the time having been so absorbed in her own success. It was probably a mistake, she thinks, opening her eyes and surveying the inside of her room. At least he hasn’t tried to come in yet.

Tucking the letters back under her pillow she walks to the window and looks out, judging the distance to the ground below. Too high. She is uncertain what happens when men this power hungry have the object of desire within their grasp, but it’s doubtful that he’ll let her go now. Possibly not ever. Newspaper headlines flash through her head: Disappearing Detective. Loner Detective Vanishes At Christmas. Murderer On the Loose. In her panic she’d almost forgotten the murder… everyone thought she’d killed that girl! She couldn’t really ask for help in her present state.

She pulls the blind closed and begins fumbling in the bottom of her wardrobe, looking for the floorboard where she hides her passport and a little cash in case of emergency or robbery. Gone. Empty. Dammit. She needs to prove that she hadn’t killed that girl. She’d looked like she was about to go on a date, all preened and in a nice dress, freshly done nails by the look of them. Unless she’d just got back from a date instead. Either way, there was a lover of some kind involved, or someone who’d pretended to be…a detective perhaps who was hoping to get his partner all to himself? Paranoia, has to be.

Second hiding place. A tiny box on the top shelf of her wardrobe, so short that you couldn’t feel it when it was pushed all the way to the back. Bingo. A second mobile phone. She switches it on and crosses the fingers of her left hand, praying it has some juice.She dialls 9-9-9 and hides it in the inside pocket of her jacket just as her partner opens the door without knocking.

 

Snowed In.

Snowed In.

This is part 4 of ‘Murder and Mince Pies’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

The next afternoon begins to remind Emmeline of the time she was snowed in as a child. Her school had closed for the day as most students and teachers were unable to get there through the thick snow that blanketed the world, hiding the shapes of the earth beneath. She’d looked through the window dreaming of the world beyond, of jumping in the untouched snow that coated their garden and making snow angels. Her dad hadn’t let her go outside though, banning his child from venturing into the icy cold outside for fear that she’d catch a cold.

She hands Patrick his coffee and sips hers, leaning on the kitchen counter and thinking of all the places that she could escape to. Whenever her dad was at home he’d told her bedtime stories of all the places he’d been: the blazing heat of his Spanish offices and the ice cold beauty of those in Russia. He’d painted a picture of beautiful little harbours and ancient winding streets in Italy. Those moments had built a craving within her to visit these places and she thought perhaps she’d take the next flight and work her way through the list in her heart from there.

“Have a seat Em.” Patrick doesn’t look up as he speaks, but maintains his perch on the edge of the sofa facing away from her. Emmeline doesn’t move. Her mind flicks back to Patrick’s face when he examined the bauble, and the emotion that flickered in his eyes too briefly to identify when he’d pulled the car over. “Emmeline?”

“I just think I’d better get off soon, probably not the time to be chilling out with a coffee Pat.” He turns around now and looks at her, this time the emotion stays on his face for long enough to recognise danger.

“Sit down.” Instinctively, she crosses the room and drops onto the other end of the sofa,, wringing her hands on the Mickey Mouse mug she’s holding. Patrick’s face returns its usual concrete lack of emotion and then he smiles at her. She is reminded of a dog baring its teeth. “Ok, here’s the plan. We’ll go to your Aunt’s in Spain, she’s got a big place right, we’ll stay there…”

“How d’you…”

“Or in fact, we could go to mine. I’ve got a holiday cottage over there, it’d be perfect. Why don’t you get some sleep, we’ll leave in the morning.”

“I was hoping you’d stay here and solve this case, clear my name…”

“I can’t leave you Emmeline, silly! I’ll be with you every step of the way. We’ll drive over and catch the ferry. Get to bed, we leave at 5am.” His eyes are glittering with something, perhaps the thrill of being in control. She isn’t sure, but something about his expression forces her from her chair and into her bedroom with uneasy steps. It doesn’t stop her slipping the little file of letters out of the drawer, and snatching the bauble from the sofa on her way out.

 

A Working Holiday.

This is Part 3 of ‘Murder and Mince Pies’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

Patrick turns around to face her for the first time, an indecipherable emotion flicking across his face before moulding itself into concern. Emmeline bites the inside of her cheek and explains how her DNA may have ended up at the scene. He raises his eyebrows and stares at her for a moment before returning his eyes to the road.

“In that case I’d better take you elsewhere, don’t want you getting put away all for a coincidence.”

Silence fills the car with its suffocating presence for the remainder of the journey. Emmeline makes a conscious effort to continue breathing evenly, hyperventilating will not help her situation. She watches through the window, making mental notes of every turn they take and the street names surrounding them, she stops when she realises they’re heading for her house.

“You’re taking me home?”

“There’s no place like it.” His voice is flat and hollow, devoid of any emotion, perhaps fear does that to a person. He pulls over beside her flat and gets out slowly, walking round to her door, which is locked. When he opens the door, Emmeline is blocked by the bulk of her partner who stands inches from her face and grabs hold of the handcuffs. “Better get these off.” He whispers, before clicking the key in the lock and setting her free.

She hurries up her path, Patrick following closely behind, his shadow hiding the light from the winter sun. Once inside she runs to her room, grabbing a rucksack from beneath the bed and slamming a few essentials into it. Patrick waits in the living room. With the exception of the jangling and crunching of items being crushed into her bag, silence again ruled in the household.

The shrill beeping of Patrick’s phone cut through the quiet as efficiently as a knife. Emmeline knocks over a photograph in shock and finds herself looking into the eyes of her mother, the woman who at the present moment would be wondering about the presence of her Christmas Pudding. For a moment Emmeline questions whether her mother would put out a search party if she never arrived.Patrick’s voice echoed from the kitchen where he was barking into the phone.

“Yep, on  our way to the station, traffic’s a nightmare mate been sat on this road for ten minutes. Yeah it’s ridiculous, that roundabout up on Harley Street’s closed innit causing mayhem. Nah, I’ll survive, she’s not about to murder me is she!” The conversation ceases for a minute while both ends of the phone erupt into helpless laughter. “Alright mate, better concentrate on the road I s’pose, what with the increasing fines! Ha! See ya later. Alright, yeah, The Admiral at nine? I’ll be there. Bye”

“You lied for me? Thanks Pattie.”

“Well I’m not about to tell ’em that I’m now working with someone whose s’posed to be in the cells am I? It’d look as bad on me.”

“Well, thanks anyway. I’ll get going now, there’e a flight in forty-five minutes, I can get it if I hurry.”

“Ah no! No one’s looking for you yet Em, have a coffee before you go.” It isn’t a question. Emmeline walks around behind the kitchen counter and flicks the switch on her kettle, pulling two mugs from the cupboard and filling them each with a teaspoon of cheap, instant coffee. She watches her partner fiddling with the bauble she’d opened this morning, a slight smirk playing about his lips.

Sledging.

Sledging.

This is part 2 of ‘Murder and Mince Pies’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

When she was younger, Emmeline Fontane would go sledging on the first day of the Christmas holidays. After her dad died her older brother took her for a couple of years, but once he went to university she was left to watch the snow falling from the warmth of the living room with her mother.One day, she was watching her neighbours skating along the ice with their dad when one of them fell and he cracked his head on the ground. Crimson blood snaked out across the white, claiming territory on the pure ground. A little while later, an ambulance arrived. She never found out what happened to the boy, but she remembers that feeling of helplessness. All she could do was stand and watch and hope…

She feels that now. As her partner takes the note from her hands and reads it in disbelief, she can only stand and watch and hope,  as the evidence condemns her as a suspect on her own crime-scene. It is as though she is watching from outside of her body, unable to move or speak. Her partner makes a call and speaks to their boss, explaining the situation, she still doesn’t move. Life is a game of ‘stuck in the mud’ and no one is tagging her free.

The only reason she’d been working Christmas eve was to make some extra cash to pay for her new furniture. She’d got rid of the old stuff a couple of weeks ago and had been looking forward to eating dinner on a seat that didn’t wobble tonight. That isn’t even the problem though, despite it suddenly seeming important, the problem is that with the money she’ spent on the furniture, there’s no way she can afford bail. Her partner’s face swims into vision, but it’s like she’s looking at him through a kaleidoscope. She squints her eyes and bites her lip, concentrating on the movement of his thin lips as he speaks.

“Em, did you know the victim? I’m sorry, you know I have to ask.” Emmeline fights at the fog that’s clouding her mind and forces her mouth into the shape of a response.

“No.”

“You know what it looks like Em, like blackmail gone wrong. Like someone didn’t want to pay any more and came here to sort things out. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, maybe the meeting went awry. I don’t know, but you need to speak to me now…anything could help but it’s not the time to freeze up.”

“I’ve never seen that face before. I didn’t know her Patrick I swear.”

“And you don’t know anyone who’d want to set you up then? Anybody who holds a grudge for something, might be linked in with this woman somehow?”

“I’m a cop…. there’s plenty of people holding grudges who’d be happy to kill to satisfy them Pat. But I don’t know who they’d be, I can’t even think right now. I’m going home.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that yet. You know the drill. You have to go to the station, I’ll drive you down.”

In the back of Patrick’s car, Emmeline focuses on her breathing for a moment, calming herself enough to think with some semblance of clarity. She needs to find a way out now. She flicks through the crime scene in her mind: blunt object to the back of the head, seductively dressed – date? Missing fingernail and ripped dress – struggle. Broken chair – murder weapon… broken chair.

“Patty, you know this wasn’t me.”

“I do, but they don’t Em. You need to trust us to fix this for you.”

“Someone’s setting me up Patrick and you need to help me right now, ’cause if I go in there I’m not coming back out.”

“What’re you on about…Crap Emmeline, did you actually do it?”

“Of course not! But my DNA may end up on the murder weapon.”

Patrick pulls the car over at the side of the road in a manner which would have failed him his driving test. The brakes squeal in protest as he yanks on the handbrake and turns around to face her.

“What the hell Emmeline?”

Late Call.

Late Call.

“No mum, I won’t forget the Christmas Pudding… yes I have the recipe, I make it every year!” Emmeline rolls her eyes from the safety of her end of the phone as her mother relays the recipe anyway. “No mum I haven’t forgotten about Grampy’s nut allergy, I’m making him a mini-pud all to himself…of course without any nuts, I’m not about to murder an 83 year old man!” She shakes her head and stifles a giggle as her mother rants about the importance of not letting Gramp’s pud come into contact with any nuts.

After another ten minutes and three ‘goodbye’s, Emmeline finally hangs up and drops the phone on the sofa beside her. A stunted Christmas tree sits in the corner, decorated scantily with a draping of white fairy lights and a few silver baubles. Silver has always been her Christmas colour, for her mum it was always red, but silver reminds her of the snow that has long since stopped falling. She remembers when she was a kid and snow was everywhere, her dad used to dig them a path out of the house and take them sledging in the holidays. When she looks outside now, all she sees is rain falling steadily from the sky and coating everything in its dreary greyness.

She pops open a bottle of beer and grabs a parcel from the kitchen side, sliding a knife under the sellotape to open it without ripping the paper. A note falls onto the side. She pulls a cardboard box from the package and puts her ear to it before prising it open. Inside is a tiny bauble decoupaged with pictures of her family.She places it on the black marble surface and picks up the note. It’s written on one of those ‘Letter to Santa’ notecards she’s seen her niece with around Christmas, in a sloping green ink. But where her niece would have written a list of all the gifts she’d like, this note simply says: Merry Christmas. Ho. Ho. Ho.

She is startled by the blaring chime of her phone ringing and slides it right to answer.

“Fontane…Five minutes”

Four minutes and thirty-two seconds later, she arrives at a little flat on Fawley Place. The blinking blue lights of police cars cast beams of danger into the night sky, and a few police-men are cordoning off the area. Her partner approaches, handing her a file and directing her inside.

“The victim’s Rosie Clifford, 27 years old, worked for the beauty salon down the road…Belladonna, know it? Anyway, her friend Leo found her ten minutes ago, they were supposed to be going on a night out and he’d come to pick her up. He’s dressed to the nines and she was too, so it looks like that checks out. They reckon she died within the last couple of hours, cause was a blow to the back of the head… blunt object. Possibly this chair leg seeing as it’s covered in blood. Nice, take that to evidence will you, dust it for prints. What’re you thinking?”

He’d been gesturing around the room to various items and people, as well as the seductively dressed corpse on the floor; but now he stops and looks at Emmeline directly. She absorbs the scene, the chair he’d mentioned is broken, deformed and balancing precariously on three legs. There’d been a struggle.  She bends down and looks closely at the body. Her hair had been curled before it had matted with the blood and what had clearly been some sort of fight. Nine manicured acrylic nails sit undamaged on her dainty fingers, but her left thumbnail is absent. One shoulder is torn off from the dress.

“Any sign of break in?”

“No, so she probably knew her…”

“Detective Fontane” The kid who’d taken the chair’s missing limb off to evidence returns holding an envelope. His hand shakes a little as he holds it out to Emmeline. “This is addressed to you.” She slips on a silicon glove from her pocket and takes the envelope, sliding a finger beneath the seal to open it without tearing the evidence. It is a plain piece of notepaper with a single line of black typed font in the centre.

EMMELINE FONTANE.

I KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE AND THERE’S NO GOING BACK. I WILL GET YOU FOR THIS.