Work in progress – Eddie Malvern Private Investigator
Rough first draft of Chapter 1
I was bored. There was no denying it, me, Eddie Malvern, was bored. I’d tried to convince myself that despite my current circumstances life still held a deep fascination. That simply wasn’t the case. I was bored. The one good thing to come out of all of this was that I didn’t have any friends left. If I had, then I’d have become the most dreadful liar, telling everyone that I was fine, and being retired at thirty five suited me well. I hated it.
To be honest, I was way beyond the point of watching TV. There were only so many afternoon films a man could watch without yearning for the great outdoors and adventure: to be anywhere except stuck inside four walls all day long. The internet held no pleasure either. With nobody responding I’d given up writing on Facebook, and taken to staring at the wall; it was far more interesting.
Over the months I’d learnt that there were only so many cups of coffee I could drink without having to get up and relieve myself. The physiotherapist had said that moving around would do me good, help ease my leg and speed up recovery, so maybe a daily routine of pacing, or rather hobbling, up and down my living room would ultimately prove beneficial. Maybe I should drink more coffee, but that in itself was a challenge.
Since being discharged from hospital I’d witnessed my flat fall into chaos. At first it bothered me that dirty dishes started stacking up on work-surfaces, then it bothered me that dirty dishes sat in a sink full of cold water, congealed grease floating on the surface, the chore abandoned when pain shot up my leg and right into my spine. Now it didn’t bother me at all, and I washed what I needed, when I needed it. The fridge had become another victim of despair. Food rotted, untouched, my enthusiasm for cooking lost along with my career. I’d manoeuvred around that one by shopping online and packing the freezer full of ready meals I could shove in the oven. An excellent result as it meant I could eat straight from the foil and completely avoid standing at the sink washing up.
It had only taken a matter of days for the so-called friends and colleagues to transformed from human beings into non-existent cyber buddies. Without explanation they’d systematically blocked me, the few emails I’d sent asking which band was playing down at the Shack ignored. I knew why the colleagues had abandoned me, but the so-called friends had no good reason, at least not one that I could remember. Overall their desertion was good, because it meant that I didn’t get any reluctant callers bringing grapes and beer. It also excused any need to tidy up the living room, make an effort to shave or brush my hair. Furthermore, I didn’t need to maintain a pretence that I changed the bed linen at least once a fortnight. No-one else went in there, so what did it matter?
Of course, I could always go out and call on them, try to reconnect. I was pretty certain that by now everyone knew the shrink had said I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it would take time, and that I might experience difficulties adjusting to life again. Fear, suspicion, anxiety, over-reaction, panic attacks, I’d been warned about them all; symptoms I was liable to experience when confronted by a similar situation, or when stressed. Agoraphobia hadn’t been on the list, so I could deny any issue regarding stepping outside my own front door. I chose to stay indoors. Of course I could go out: if I wanted to.
Thinking about it made me gaze out of the window. Being on the first floor didn’t help matters, not with all of those stairs to navigate. Autumn leaves were swirling around on the pavement, and I knew that if I went out there right now that they’d be slippery, and I’d fall. It simply wasn’t worth taking the risk.
Turning back to the room I switched on the TV and muted the sound. It gave me a sense of company and stopped the nightmares creeping in. Flashbacks the shrink had called them, but to me they were more like action replays in slow motion. They always started at the same point, with a glint of something shiny creeping round the end of a black saloon, followed by the crack of gunfire and a flash of red in the dark. I’d always smell the gunpowder first, before sensing something hot drill into my left thigh and something warm wet my trousers. It was only when I gripped my leg that the adrenalin kicked in and icy shock waves flooded my body. It was then that I’d jerk awake to the sound of a voice yelling, ‘Officer down!’ Repeatedly I’d fight back the giddiness and nausea, imagining that the sweat sticking my shirt to my back was blood and that I’d been hit in the spine.
Often I’d thought of consulting a hypnotherapist to see if they could get me to the scene before that glint in the dark, but I’d been warned off by my superior and told to take it easy. I was no use to the police force now, my evidence lost in shock and trauma, muddled by a madness that kept on insisting two shots had been fired and one had struck me somewhere around the sacrum.
“Neither Forensics nor ballistics support your claims,” Superintendent Naish had stated. “Sorry, Eddie. You’re a fine officer, but your time on the Force is over. What’s best now is that you rest and recover.”
From Detective Inspector to nothing in the blink of an eye, one bullet was all it took to change my life forever. Wrong, two bullets. Surely the huge black bruise on my back should have been evidence enough to convince anyone, and everyone, that there had been two shooters. One of which was still roaming free.
Leaning heavily on my crutches I shuffled into the kitchen and started to make a coffee. All that remained of the milk sat in the bottom of a small plastic carton, stinking and solidified where I’d forgotten to put it back in the fridge during my night wanderings. In temper I threw it across the room and the lid flew off, the contents splattering across the wall. Today was supposed to be different, better, less frustrating. Defeated, I sat down on the kitchen stool and stared into space.
The entire case was lost to me. Forcing myself to remember never produced a result. My last memory was of an hysterical woman, and a prowler, and a wooden house built in a tree – and that was it.
I sank my head into my hands. In a minute I would take myself back to bed, yes, in a minute I would do that.
By 8 pm I was hiding under the table. Clenching my fists, I refused to cry. If the first volley of fireworks hadn’t been so loud and cracked like gunfire, then I’d never have got into this stupid state. I’d convinced myself of that an hour ago. With my left leg hurting so damned much I couldn’t bring both legs up, draw them to my chest and rock like a baby. Folded arms barely did the trick: it wasn’t enough comfort by half. Face your demons, my shrink had said, confront the enemy. Instead I shook and perspired, and stared across at the bright lights exploding outside my window. I should get up and go and stand on the balcony, watch the fireworks and sniff the gunpowder in the air, connect with reality. Stand in the sniper’s sights. Don’t be daft, he might be out there.
I was just about coping when a rocket exploded so close to the windows that the glass shook and pink rain fell all around. Emitting a cry I drew my arms up to cover my face, cowered in the corner shaking and sweating. Only a few more hours, just a few more hours.
Into my torment came a pretty tune that I hadn’t heard for so long I barely recognised its significance. Tears pricked my eyes. The tune hit a nerve, making me recall that when it played all day and night I was useful and needed. A boom and an ‘aaaah’ killed the tune, and for a few moments I believed I’d imagined it.
A lull in the cracks, whizzes and bangs gave me the courage to shuffle out from under the table and go in search of a glass of water. Christ, my throat was parched. Halfway through sipping I imagined that tune again. With one hand bearing my weight on the table, I listened. A tiny flame of desire leapt, an urge to respond to the tune. Where the hell was it coming from? Over there? Intrigued, I hobbled across the room and peered down behind the sofa. Reaching out I felt a plug in the socket, caught the wire attached to it and fished up the weight on its end. Now, who on earth would be calling the old mobile I’d only used for police work?
I’d completely forgotten that I still had it, and couldn’t remember leaving it on charge; but these days there were a lot of things I couldn’t remember. The screen displayed the number that had called, but there was no name associated with it. Most likely a wrong number. I was about to switch it off when it rang again. Hypnotised by the blue light flashing I pressed the receive button and lifted it to my lips.
“Detective Inspector Malvern?” A woman’s voice, shrill and shaking. “It’s Rachael Harris. You have to help me.”
Who? “I’m sorry, I can’t -”
“It’s Rachael Harris, you came to my home, about a year ago.”
“I’m not on the Force anymore,” I said, killed the call and slumped on the sofa. I stared obliquely at the phone, wishing it would spontaneously combust and leave me alone.
It rang again and this time I spoke first. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” I heard my anger and bitterness careering down the line at her.
“Please, you have to. I don’t know who to turn to. My little boy’s been murdered – William. He was only nine!” She gasped back a heaving sob, controlled it to a stream of tears and sputtered her words through a rush of emotion. “My husband won’t talk to me, the police have accused me, questioned me, Charlie’s father -” She broke down.
I listened to the blubbering, marvelled at how the desperate sound twisted a knot in my gut.
“I’m not an acting officer anymore,” I said apologetically. “I’m sorry.” I paused, aware that she was still there by the tortured sound of her trying to breathe. I imagined her face contorted with anguish, her brow furrowed and tears wetting her lipstick. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t picture what she looked like. Against my better judgement, I said, “Who’s Charlie? You mentioned Charlie’s father.”
“William’s best friend.” She wailed so loudly that I held the phone away from my ear until she’d calmed down.
“They killed him too – up in the tree house, on Halloween.”
Closing my eyes, I cupped my brow in my hand. “I can’t help you,” I said softly. “I’m sorry. I’m not on the Force any more. Other officers will find out who did it for you.”
“But they won’t!” she screamed. “They think I did it.”
“No!” She hung up.
Shocked to be wound up and then dismissed, I called her back.
“Why me?” I demanded. “Why did you phone me?”
“I didn’t kill my son!” she shouted. “There was a prowler -”
Yeah, yeah, there always was.
“You came out last year to investigate. I reported a prowler. You found some evidence. A footprint.” Her words splintered amidst a stream of sobs. “You’re the only one who took me seriously,” she managed to say. “Nobody else believes me.”
Good grief, she was talking about that prowler. “I can’t do anything. If there’s an ongoing investigation I can’t get involved.”
“Why not?” she demanded.
“I’m not a policeman anymore. I can’t go upsetting a police investigation, especially not murder.”
“Why not?” she repeated.
“For one thing I won’t have the same information as them. Forensics, crime scene reports, witness statements, autopsy reports, DNA -”
“Well, what the bloody hell did policeman do before these things?”
“Sherlock Holmes never failed.”
For the first time in months my lips started curling into a smile. “I’m not a private investigator.”
“Then become one,” she snapped. “Or are you too afraid of failure, Mister Malvern?”