It had been raining again, the fourth day in a row of what was turning out to be a very wet Autumn indeed, when I reached the scene. It was in a fairly rich neighbourhood; you wouldn’t expect movie stars to live there but I wasn’t surprised to learn that most of the people living in this area were bankers or managers or one of the various other kinds of wanker with more money than they had a right to make. You could see the neighbours’ faces pressed against the steamed up glass of their windows as they peered out, eager for a glimpse of something taboo to add colour to their boring lives.
“Creed.” The officer on scene nodded in my direction, wiping the rain off his forehead; I tried to remember his name but my mind came up blank. “The body is in the tent.”
“Thanks.” I replied and walked on through.
The tent had been setup around one of the narrow trees that lines the avenue and I wondered what had happened. Perhaps a stag party gone wrong, a man handcuffed and naked and left to be gutted by some nutjob. I reached the tent, pulled back the flap and nearly lost my lunch.
Inside the tent was a man, hanging from the tree. He hadn’t hanged himself though, rather he was hanging like a coat on a hook, a stubby branch thrust through his eye socket. I could almost feel the sensation in my mind of the branch entering his eye and scraping against the back of his skull as it stirred his brains into soup. Kneeling down by the trunk was a squint, examining the scene. I patted him on the shoulder.
“Talk to me.”
The squint flinched, startled, and stood up, giving me the once over.
“Well, I’ve only done a preliminary analysis, but so far everything points to suicide.”
“You can’t be serious. Who would, who _could_ do this to themselves?”
“No sign of a struggle, no signs that he tripped or was pushed. In fact if you look at the bark on the tree here.” He said, indicating a couple of places with a rubber-gloved hand. “He actually gripped the trunk so hard when he pulled himself onto the branch that he damaged his hands. The patterns on the lacerations follow a motion consistent with him pulling himself towards the tree. Unlikely as it is, it appears to be a suicide. He must have had incredible willpower to be able to do it in such a manner but the evidence is there.”
The officer who greeted me ducked his head into the tent. “Creed, we found someone inside the house.”
“What, a witness?”
“No, a kid, a little girl down in the basement.”
I got up, nodded to the squint to carry on and followed the officer out of the tent. As I walked towards the house, I pulled out my mobile and dialled the station.
“It’s Creed, get someone from child protection down here. Yeah, I know, just do it. Looks like our suicide was a kiddie-fiddler. We found a child.”
Child services were better at this kind of thing, but I couldn’t just hand her over without seeing her first. Talking to her, getting a gauge on her reactions and the way she held herself. All those little pieces of information I needed to build a picture of what happened.
A lot of it wouldn’t really have any use, but I tended to do a lot of my work subconsciously, absorbing all the information I can and letting it filter through my head like a sponge while I’m doing real work. It wasn’t unheard of for me to place a call to the station at some god awful hour of the morning, those slow processes in the back of my brain suddenly finding something and bringing it to my attention, no matter how deeply asleep.
Today though, I was fully concentrating. There’s something about children that sticks like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, something that wont let go when you know something horrible has happened. There wouldn’t be any revelations tonight, so sudden inspiration, I was too focused for that and after seeing this, I’d doubt there’d be much sleep either.
The officer led me out of the damp little basement as quickly as they could and brought back out to the road and nodded towards a patrol car, the first on the scene. I stretched to relieve the tension that had built up over the last twenty minutes and strolled on over as the rain continued to pour on down.
I circled around the car to the passenger seat and nodded to the officer there that he could go. He nodded and trundled off and I couldn’t help but notice that he did so with slightly too much eagerness. The uncomfortableness that comes from hanging around victims being all too apparent. I couldn’t see the girl’s face through the rain pouring down the passenger side window so I opened the door, leaning in to shield her from the rain and give my head a brief respite from the constant pummelling of rain drops.
The thing I’ll never forget were those eyes. Red-ringed, children eyes, puffy and bloated from crying but worse than that was what lay behind them. She was dead inside, numb, the bastard had killed the child in her with more thoroughness than he had managed on even himself and I knew in that moment that this child would never recover, would never be the same again. The times of innocence and trust had passed for this little girl and she would never know what it would be like to love any other without the inky black tendrils of fear and distrust clawing at her throat. The suicide had done more than just abuse her, he’d murdered in ways that even the worst psychopath could only dream of. I felt a buzzing in my head like a million hornets attacking an intruder and then silence. As I looked into the girls eyes, I felt calm, my anger subsided. I swallowed hard and forced a smile.
“Hello there, I’m Detective Creed, but you can call me Gabriel if you like.”
A small twist of a smile flickered in the corner of her mouth, something between amusement and disgust and then disappeared just as quickly as it had come. She nodded.
She was pale, deathly pale and no wonder. How long had she been in that basement, away from the sun? Her friends? Her parents?
“Do you have a name?”
She nodded and hugged her doll tighter.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but when you’re ready you can whisper it in my ear if you like.” I smiled.
She nodded again and leaned closer as I turned my ear towards her. Her breath felt cold and damp in my ear, like the bottom of a well.
“Well Ariel, we’re going to do our very best to find your mummy and daddy. Can you tel-”
“My mummy and daddy went away.”
“They went away?”
“They died and went to heaven.”
I swallowed again and turned back out to face the rain. The coolness of it felt good on my face. Jesus Christ, what had this girl gone through? I looked back at her and she continued to stare at the rain running down the windscreen, clutching her dolly. Her long blonde hair seemed to glow in the darkness of the police car, the grime of her imprisonment having no effect on her beauty. Her tattered, black and purple dress hung just over her knees but she didn’t shiver at all despite the cold. She was a tough one, this girl, and these events had hardened her even more. To lose her parents and then to speak of it so matter-of-factly, she was brave. I had to protect her, I couldn’t let her end up in some awful place, not again.
“Don’t let them take me away, Gabriel.” She whispered quietly, starring out into the rain. “Don’t let them take me away.”
As i stared up into the rain, I knew I wouldn’t. No-one would take her away again.