Anonymous tip off
The call came in from the duty sergeant at around 2am, an anonymous tip off, he said.
“Was it a man or a woman?” I asked down the crackling receiver, more to delay getting out of bed than any real need to know.
“Man, ma’am. Sounded drunk. Deep voice, bit of a lisp. Probably a tramp - that alley’s pretty popular with rough sleepers, especially in this weather, it’s nice and secluded.”
“Alright, I’ll go straight there” I told him, wearily. “The others?”
“Already on their way, ma’am.”
Outside was miserable; the tail end of autumn when the once crisp, fresh picture-book leaves are turning to brown, stinking mulch on the pavements and the air is permanently damp and freezing. My car smelled of mould and old cigarettes and didn’t begin to get warm until I arrived at the crime scene.
At this time of night the city was a dystopic wilderness. Pulsing bass lines and shrieking laughter floated over from the main strip, but over here, they mingled with the crashes and night howls of the underworld.
Broken windows stared blindly as I made my way towards the alley, a river of reeking matter trailing me, oozing its way along the gutter. Here the paving slabs are treacherous and uneven, and rats like dogs watch you from the shadows.
The cars and police tape had drawn a crowd and the darkness was filled with people craning to get a glimpse of the grisly scene. Men with newspaper tied around their feet, with sores at their mouths and filthy sleeping bags around their shoulders; women in dressing gowns with cigarettes and yellow skin and hollow eyes jostled for position.
I ducked under the tape.
“Where is it?”
“Over here, ma’am.” It was Jess, my DI. She was managing everything with her usual calm competence. She walked me over “it’s -”
But I saw for myself what it was and understood why she hesitated. Behind one of the police cars was a large, old-fashioned safe, the kind with wheels you have to turn to open. How it had come to be in this godforsaken alley was a mystery in itself.
The door was unlocked and inside was the body; a broken, misshapen mess that had been forced into the cramped space and now spilled out onto the damp, dirty floor. Its face was spattered with blood, eyes open, a mouth full of broken teeth gaping at me.
“Cause of death?”
“We’re not sure yet, ma’am. We didn’t want to move the body until you’d seen it.”
I nodded once, wrapped my coat around me and squatted to look more closely. The body had been forced inside the safe - Maybe to conceal it? Unlikely - you couldn’t keep a secret like this long around here. Or was it to make a statement? My blood chilled at the thought and I stood up without taking my eyes from the corpse.
“A strange one” I said.
“Yes, - a real mystery. I look forward to working on it with you, detective chief inspector…”
But the voice wasn’t Jess’s. It was a soft, deep man’s voice, with the faintest trace of a lisp.The anonymous tipper? I whirled around to face him, but he was gone, melted into the darkness and the press of dead-eyed onlookers that surrounded us.