Authors: Emily Winslow
I padded up the stairs, in the still-wet footprints on the carpet. I put on an outfit that was still somewhat damp from our underpowered tumble dryer. It was a skirt and a blouse, over knickers and a bra. I held my wet hair back with a clip. I listened for him downstairs, but he wasn’t doing anything I could hear. The soft spring of the old couch, the couch we’d sat on all those years ago in front of the television, wouldn’t travel upstairs.
I put slippers on my feet. “Luke?” I said, to warn him I was coming back.
He was still standing by the door.
I looked back and forth between him and the television. “I thought you’d sit on the couch,” I said.
“I didn’t mean you have to. I only thought you would.” No. Dad and Amy weren’t in the kitchen. He was nineteen years old. We weren’t watching a rental video. “What do you want?”
“I heard about your father. Mum’s come back with me, for the memorial.” Of course the others hadn’t been Luke. Of course. Students go home for Easter. Stupid of me,
… “I’m so sorry. I should have come sooner, to see him, but—” He swallowed, and leaned his head over his shoulder. “I didn’t know for sure if you still lived here,” he said. “And university’s tougher than I thought, and I—”
“What do you mean?”
“How is uni difficult?” I tilted my head up to look right at him. I didn’t blink.
“It’s just—” He opened and closed his hands. “Work. It’s hard.”
“Oh.” I looked at my thin slippers and he ducked his head to catch my eyes.
“Was that the wrong answer?” He tried out a smile.
“I’m at the Open University. I might apply elsewhere. Maybe.”
“John’s is good.”
I waved my hand in front of my face as if scattering flies. “So many tourists.”
“I know. I live in the Cripps Building, though. Not so many round there.” Cripps funded a lot of Cambridge architecture in the sixties. It’s not what people photograph.
“Are you doing all right, Mathilde? Is there anything you need?”
We were still standing in the hall. I covered my cheeks with my hands. “I’ll get us some tea.” He followed me into the kitchen.
I’d taken all the rubbish out, but a mound of black bags by the back door looked like I wasn’t hygienic. “That’s all for the charity shops,” I explained.
But he was more concerned about the window. “What happened here?”
“Somebody—but it’s all right. They’re gone now.” I put water in the kettle. I plonked cups onto saucers.
“Somebody broke in to the house.” The damp clothes caught up with me, and I shivered. “But I cleaned it up.”
“Have you called the police?”
“No!” I said. “Nothing’s gone.”
“Then why do you think—”
“Maybe they ate something?”
“I don’t know! But the house being messed with isn’t the worst thing that’s happened recently, so forgive me if it’s not the first thing on my mind!” Tears bubbled over my lashes just as the kettle shrieked.
“Mathilde,” he said again.
I fiddled with my collar, bending and unbending it.
“Is there anything I can do?” he pressed.
He was so close that I could feel his voice on my face.
I shook my head. I didn’t need anything. Not anything, but: “Would you like to stay the night?” I said.
It just popped out of my mouth. It got out and I couldn’t take it back.
“What?” he asked, looking from side to side, even though there was nothing in particular on either side of him.
“No,” I explained. “I didn’t …” I rubbed my cheeks.
“Mathilde …” he said. I started undoing my buttons. “Mathilde, no,” he said. “Stop!” He pushed my hands down, and I wrestled away from him. My shirt fell open between us.
He looked at me. I was leaning forward, and he was above me, looking down. I put my hand on my breast, covering the white bra cup. My breathing lifted and dropped my chest, over and over.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He slammed the front door.
I lifted back the corner of the living-room curtain. He mounted his bike. He pedalled in quick, forceful bursts out of the yellow lamplight.
he CSI team is already at work in the brook where the hammer and shirt were found. Their full white coveralls cover, well, all of them but the face. It’s unlikely they’ll find anything. The blue unisex sweatshirt had been wrapped around the hammer and the sleeves knotted to make a tight parcel; the person who did that wouldn’t just throw something extra in on top. And anything from their person—hair or fabric caught on a branch in the wild tangle on the banks—would be impossible to link, even if it’s lasted this long, which itself is remote.
Commuter traffic shuffles along beside us on Trumpington Road. On a sedate parallel street on the other side of the brook, a line of schoolchildren marches towards the Botanic Garden. Teachers try to distract the students from looking at us, but it’s impossible. As they pass, they become little owls, heads turned nearly all the way around to keep us in view.
“Why here?” Keene wonders. All those schoolchildren, all those commuters, the tall terraced houses overlooking the brook. It hardly
seems a safe place to dispose of something anonymously. But at night it must be a different place.
“Had to be in the dark,” I say.
“Yes, but why? Why here? I can think of a hundred secretive places in preference to this. Maybe someone chose here because they couldn’t get much farther. Someone without a car?”
That would be almost all the students in Cambridge, a fifth of the city’s population. “But you wouldn’t want it near you,” I insist. “You’d put it where it couldn’t be attached to you. You’d walk. You’d ride a bike. Anything to get it far.”
“Or you’d put it where you could keep your eye on it.”
I look around.
Is someone watching us now?
We sort through the latest Crimestoppers tips in my car. Too many of the reports don’t fit our profile exactly. People are lazy, or desperate. Here’s one: Ashley Abington, seventeen, runaway. Had an online-only relationship with a supposedly seventeen-year-old boy in Cambridge. Missing since October. Dark hair.
We visit her parents. They suggest that Ashley could have dyed her hair blond. I assure them that the hairs found with the body were not dyed. The mother crumples in relief.
We don’t mention the dark hairs on the hammer.
Twice that week I hear from them, pressing me about their missing daughter. I assure them that Sergeant Spinola is doing everything he can, to remind them that this is his case, not mine. They don’t believe me. I start to regret being so free with my card.
At home, I rummage through our tools. The weight of our household hammer had sifted it to the bottom. I fish it out and heft it in my hand. This one is wood-handled. The weapon one is metal-handled and heavier.
The spatter pattern on the bloody shirt positioned it as worn by the attacker. The hairs wound around the hammer claw indicate the target was the victim’s head. Any traces of who had once grasped the hammer handle were obliterated by its long soak.
A heavy footstep presses on the floorboard behind me. I turn fast, both hands on the hammer grip.
“Whoa.” Dan takes a step back.
I apologise. I breathe deeply.
“What’s up?” he asks, waiting for permission to come close.
I drop the hammer back into the box and shake out my hands. Once the press is on to something, I’m allowed to tell him. “She was killed by a hammer,” I say. Whether the hammer from the brook is the same hammer is up for grabs.
Dan touches my shoulder. “Don’t let it in,” he says.
I know that. Letting it get to me isn’t helpful. If I’m emotional, I can’t do my job right. A good job takes a clear head. “Our forensic results have been compromised by the water. Not much to go on. So I’m … acting it out,” I say. Under what circumstance would a hammer be the weapon of choice? Did the killer bring it, or was it to hand?
My first thought it that you’d have to be angry to swing a hammer like that.
My second thought, based on my reaction when Dan unexpectedly entered the room, is that it might be enough to be afraid.
Keene gets the call, as usual. I’m behind the wheel. Funny how the same day has been on repeat for the past week.
“Train station,” he reports to me, flicking his mobile shut. “Cambridge city centre. Someone jumped.”
“Who’s on the scene?” I ask.
“Two transport police are there. Three uniforms.” He shakes his head. “And almost two hundred bystanders, from the platform and the train. Names and witness statements are being noted, but it’s not practical to hold the whole crowd.”
“Was it a man or woman?”
“Woman. Maybe girl. They found her bag. It had a library card. No credit card, no driving licence.”
That sounds like a teenager. “Jesus,” I mutter.
“I know. She’d been harassing people on the platform. Could have been a push, maybe.”
I change lanes. Normally I’d hate to be distracted from a bigger case. For a suicide? An accident? But our fen girl remained as anonymous
as that winking mannequin in Wisbech, peeking out the sex shop window.
“At least this will be straightforward,” I say.
In the back of my mind, the memory of that mannequin face hovers:
pressed the red
button. It had been fastened onto the post wrong, reading sideways. I pushed it down hard, covering the error with the pad of my thumb. A distant bell pinged to alert the driver. “I have to leave now,” I said. The girl next to me had an iPod, but the man behind me might have wondered. A mother with a pushchair tilted it to make a token space for me to fit through. The baby’s hand flailed, cracker crumbs flying from his dirty fist.
I leaned on the button again, then pulled my hand back to my chest. The driver has a mirror. He’d know it was me. We’re not supposed to hit it twice. That’s why the red letters at the front of the bus light up: S-T-O-P-P-I-N-G. They light up so we know the button’s been pressed already.