Hanna dug amongst the foliage and deep leaf litter, looking for insects that might be the answer to the burning question that the police required. Beetles would be the best indicator of time of death now that the blowflies were on their second or third cycle. She collected a few different species from the corpse and surrounding area, including a bone beetle, suggesting a couple of weeks since death.
“Any clues?” asked the detective.
“Well, I would say at least a couple of weeks old,” she said, holding up the vial containing the little black beetle.
Hanna loved her role in the laboratory attached to the Coroner’s Court. She had trained as a pathologist progressing through bloods and diseases, until specialising in Forensics. Much more varied than only peering down a microscope at blood and examining body cells every day.
She had the freedom of a varied work experience from visiting crime scenes, discussions with police departments and even giving evidence at murder trials. The downside, was night visits like this one to remote sites in woods and moorlands, at the most inconvenient times and weathers.
She tried not to think about the identity of the body, thankful that it wasn’t the one she feared. She divorced her mind from the affect its discovery would have on the family and friends of the victim, her job was the collection of evidence and her mind could cope with that.
A few days later they were reviewing the case of the body in the woods.
“Will you be nailing the father?”
“He has been charged with her murder,” said Mark, the detective. “The samples and insects you recovered showed that his daughter had disappeared a couple of days earlier than he reported, blowing his alibi out of the water. The fibres you found linking him to the site were the final straw.”
“Now about this evening,” said Mark. “Are you still ready for an interesting night out. You know you don’t need to come with us.”
They were planning to get to know a local playboy, who was known for his extravagant parties. They suspected he was using the parties as a front to pick up lonely women, who later disappeared. He typically started at the high-end venue by inviting a few singles and couples around to his place, after the club closed, offering free drinks, food and great music.
“Of course,” said Hanna. “I’ll be ready at nine.”
“Yes, I’ll pick up Tamsyn and Michael on the way.”
Their companions were a most glamourous pair, ideal for their purposes. Tamsyn was a very attractive detective from another division and Michael, a hunky constable from a local force, perfect for their subterfuge.
They arrived at the club and seeing their target showed that their informant had been correct. They had settled down at one booth with their drinks and acted out their plan of being a playful group with quite a bit of kissing and cuddling, which to be honest, Hanna quite enjoyed. Sometime later, they were approached by the handsome man, impeccably dressed in smart ‘party’ shirt and dark blue, tailored chinos.
“Hi, I’m Raphael. You guys seem to be having fun,” he said, sitting down next to Tamsyn.
“We always do, I’m Tamsyn,”
“Raphael. Can I get you some drinks?” he asked, after they had introduced themselves.
“Sure,” said Mark.
Raphael waved the waitress over and they ordered drinks and before long assumed their chatter.
“Do I know you?” asked Raphael.
“I shouldn’t think so,” replied Hanna, fluttering her false eyelashes at him. “But then there are so many beautiful people in here and in the dark we probably all look the same.”
“Maybe that’s it,” replied Raphael. “Look, would you guys like to come to my place for an after party.”
“We’d love to,” said Hanna.
He passed her a card, his fingers lingering on her hand as he did so. “I’ll see you later, about 1 OK.”
“See you there.”
When they finally arrived at the party, it was in full swing, a select group of more ‘beautiful people’ dancing to a professional DJ. Hanna looked around, taking in the large entertainment room, more like an extension to the club they had just left. By the front door there was a bright red axe enclosed in a glass cabinet.
Raphael greeted them and guided them to the bar. They selected their drinks but only planned to drink the mixers, wary of any GBH drugs, and moved to one of the loungers.
“So, what’s with the axe Raphael?” asked Hanna.
“I always wanted to be a fireman,” he answered.
Hanna would love to be able to rip it off the wall and perform her forensics on that one. “Very funny.”
He went off to tend to some other guests and Hanna turned to Mark. “So why do you suspect him Mark?”
“He was asked about the disappearances,” said Mark. “He’s always too glib, always got an answer for everything.”
“Fascinating coffee table,” said Tamsyn.
Hanna examined the glass topped coffee table. Under the glass were three perfectly carved red roses. “What are they carved out of, do you think?”
But Hanna noticed something slightly suspicious under the carvings, tiny protuberances hidden beneath. “Pity it’s so dark in here, I can’t quite make out what they are?”
At the pre-planned time their pagers went off. Hanna went over to Raphael. “I’m sorry but we are paramedics and there’s an emergency. We’ll have to go.”
“So soon, we were just getting warmed up.”
“Not much we can do about it. Maybe another time. Thanks for the drinks.”
As he showed them out, she noticed a greeting card in a frame on the wall “My heart is yours forever.”
“Yes, something from my wife who passed away, I couldn’t resist keeping it.”
The team got in a taxi to get back to their offices. “So, what do we think.”
“Firstly, I think he twigged onto us.”
“I agree,” said Mark. “He probably set it up with our ‘informant’.”
“Did you keep the shorts?”
“Da, da,” said Hanna, showing them the whisky bottle in a plastic bag. “I’ll test it in the morning.”
“What do you think the whole heart thing signifies?”
“The card on the wall is creepy,” said Tamsyn.
“I think the roses in the coffee table could well be cut from hearts,” said Hanna.
“No, I’m sure I saw parts of the valves poking out from under the rose shapes,” said Hanna “But I would need to open the table up to be sure.”
“So are you telling me he carved roses into the hearts of his victims.”
“Or faked the valves under the rose knowing we might notice.”
“He’s certainly playing us for fools,” said Tamsyn.
“Do we have enough evidence for a search warrant?”
“Sadly not, merely suspicions,” said Mark. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on him to see if he makes a mistake. We’ll catch up in the morning.”
Hanna made her way to her car for the short drive home, wary of the dark spaces behind the pillars. She opened the car, got in and locked the doors. Looking over to Mark’s car she saw his thumbs up sign. She drove out of the car park.
Once home she had a relax in a scented bath, remembering and analysing what she had seen at Raphael’s glamorous home. It was clear he was a playboy who had all the opportunity to meet and single out women who wouldn’t be missed for enough time for him to cover his tracks, but without evidence the CPS would never get a conviction.
She woke early, when her phone pinged, heralding a text message.
‘If you want to find out what happened to your sister come alone. If not alone, all your precious evidence will be destroyed. R.’
R? That must be Raphael. How did he get her number?
Looking at where the message came from, her heart sank and she shook with rage and fear as she realised that the number was actually her twin sister’s old mobile phone.
If Raphael had this, he must have been responsible for her sister’s disappearance and he must not only know who she was, but also what she did. No doubt old texts on her sister’s phone had given the game away.
Time for revenge then she thought, although that might not be easy. She dressed in her steampunk outfit, which allowed her to don her steel capped boots, tough jeans and jacket.
Hanna prepared her visit as much as she could, before arriving at his door and ringing the bell. The door swung open revealing an empty house and she cautiously entered the room, as the door swung silently closed behind her and closed with a loud clunk. She whispered into her shoulder. “Get that?”
“Welcome,” said Raphael’s voice from a ceiling speaker.
“Where are you?”
“Down the stairs.”
She went over to the lift and surreptitiously, jammed the door open.
“What are you doing?”
“Going down the stairs.” She said, cautiously holding the hand rail as she descended into the monstrous cellar, waiting for the inevitable attack.
“Sit down, or you won’t see your sister again.”
There was only one place to sit, which was a wheelchair in front of a flat wall.
“Press the buttons on the arms.”
But she was reluctant to do this in case her arms were trapped.
“If you don’t do that, I will merely leave you down here until you die of starvation.”
She stood up to escape but, unnoticed, a grill had closed off the stairs.
“Now sit down and press the buttons.”
Hanna did as she had been ordered and immediately three panels in the opposite wall started to rise, momentarily hypnotised by the sight of three delicate pairs of feet, stripped of flesh to reveal bones, cartilage and muscles, as they gradually appeared.
Caught unawares for a second, large straps sprung from the arms of the wheelchair to trap her arms. The horror of what she was seeing as the full bodies were revealed, overrode her predicament. Three full bodies appeared, in what Dr. Hagen would have called Art, each in a different pose. One apparently dancing around a pole, another holding a tray of drinks and the third on a chair, mobile phone in her hand.
Raphael opened the grill to the stairs, “Ah settled in, are we?”
“What are these?”
“What you mean is, who are these?”
“Yes. Is one of them my sister?”
“Too many questions,” he said, coming up behind the wheelchair and quickly wrapping a gag around her head and pulling it tight. “We wouldn’t want you screaming, now would we?”
She watches him approach with a pointed dagger, threatening a painful death. She writhed in the chair but her arms were too tightly strapped to move and the gag strangled her screams. Focus she thought, as the point of the knife touched her skin.
“You’ll be used to blood of course.” He said, as the point entered her flesh and drew drops of blood from the tip. “But maybe not the pain as it drains from your body and starves your brain.”
He removed the knife and licked the blood off the tip. “I don’t need a DNA test, your blood tastes exactly like your sisters.”
His words and actions fuelled the built-up rage she felt and determined not to die at his hand, she readied her body and tensed her leg ready to strike. He leant forward and again put the blade to her wrist. Ignoring the pain and avoiding the sight of blood welling up around the open wound, she lashes out with her foot, using all her strength. A perfect aim as she gets right between his legs. She might as well inflict a bit of pain before she goes.
Raphael swore as he doubled up with pain and then keeled over crouching on the floor. He is too far away from her to get another kick in, stupid hateful man who didn’t think a girl couldn’t fight back.
Realising she has the opportunity to finish him off, she takes a second kick at his head but is too far away. She shuffled the wheel chair around and propelled it backwards and turned around to get closer to him for some more kicking glad that she was wearing hard boots that she favoured.
Her foot reverberated as she connected with his head, hopeful that this would keep him out of action for a few more minutes. She heard so thunderous bangs from upstairs as the police team finally made their entry and three combat ready police raced into the basement room and grabbed Raphael and cuffed him.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I kicked him in the crotch.”
“So, how did you stab him,” said one of the policemen. “He’s bled out.”
“Lovely, he must have fallen on his own weapon,” said Hanna. “Can you get me free I need to sort out my wrist, otherwise I’ll be joining him.”
A medic arrived and examined her wrist and taped it up. “Thankfully it hasn’t reached your artery.”
Mark joined them, “Are you OK? Next time, stick to the plan,”
“Next time? I hope not,” said Hanna. “I think he has some sort of self-destruct mechanism, which he would trigger if we had arrived mob handed.”
“We’ll check that out in the meantime we need to gather all the evidence,” said Mark, handing Hanna her evidence bag.
Hanna suited up to examine some of the artefacts and sift through the evidence.
Hanna started upstairs and went to the box by the door and eased out the red axe, carefully taking finger prints off the handle and swabbing the blade and the joint where the shaft met the head. Next, she examined the picture on the wall, taking it down and placing it on a cover on the floor. She unscrewed the frame and took out the ‘My Heart Belongs to you Forever’ card. Signed on the inside ‘your loving wife’ but handwritten on the back, were the words, in red, ‘You are so right’.
“Mark, I think this might refer to his first wife.”
“Do you think she’s one of the ‘statues’ downstairs.”
“Now let me check out the coffee table with the Roses.” She gently eased the edges of the frame until the glass top was released. Lifting the glass, which although showing no fingerprints on the top, had several partial prints underneath. She touched one of the roses with a wooden tool, to find it slightly spongey, pulling the edge back and her suspicions were confirmed.
“Mark, I think you’ll find these are human hearts, carved into the roses.”
Hanna removed a piece of paper, finding a short poem.
‘Roses are Red,
Not given to me when alive
now you are dead.’
“This guy was seriously weird,” said Mark.
“How many people do we think he has murdered?”
“More than three certainly.”
“Let’s check the bodies.”
Back in the basement one of the officers had opened the glass doors to allow access to the bodies, each of which contained some sort of trophy. Carefully Hanna removed the mobile phone from the seated body.
“Sadly, this is belonged to my sister,” said Hanna, turning on the phone and checking the number.
She sat down as the truth of her twin’s demise was finally confirmed. She struggled to keep down the wave of nausea coming from her stomach.
Once they had finished collating all the data from the house of horrors, her heart was flipped once more as she poured over the results of the autopsies. None of the bodies belonged to her sister.
The fingerprints on the glass coffee table were disconcerting, however as they did belong to her sister, Alexa. Hanna had always known that she had been an artist, frustrated by her lack of success and recognition. Hanna’s rise in the scientific world had been even more galling, especially as their parents heaped praise on Hanna.
Hanna stood in the darkened room watching her sister being interviewed by Mark.
“People will always remember me now,” said Alexa, looking straight at the camera. “What did you think of my art, Hanna?”