Blistering wind shoots through the gigantic oak trees overlooking the cliffs on the edge of Portsmouth, like the air itself wants nothing more than to flee the vicinity. It’s late afternoon, but dark clouds hovering over the sun demand we call it twilight. As I trudge up the long walkway to the mansion, from under my umbrella I survey the residence. Hidden on a hill in the outskirts of town, the vast property is old money, judging from how the heavy trees are part and parcel of the landscaping.
Old money and old-men values usually end in cases like this. Still, no name, property, or money can protect a family from a young person’s suicide.
Death scenes are my job. Steeling your humanity against what your eyes see. Viewing the separation of soul from body as an abstraction instead of as the end of life, family, and choices that it really is. It’s not a glamorous job, and it wakes me at night—even after all these years.
I barely approach the gold-gilded door when a burst of wind pushes me back, knifing itself into my overcoat, and shooting its icy blade down my spine. I twist the scarf tighter around my throat and raise my hand to knock. Then I hear, or think — and I can’t tell which — a woman’s voice: You shouldn’t have come.
I catch my breath and my entire soul cringes.
Being in the business of death doesn’t make it any easier to face it when the kid is yours and lying in a hospital room. When her mom is gone and you’re all the kid has. When guilt haunts you like a spectre. But I’m called here to old money, hospitals require a paycheck, and my rank makes it my job to work today. So I shake away the warning and rap on the door.
A man in a grey and white butler uniform opens the front door. A whiff of sulfur hits me as I cross the threshold. I wipe my feet on the mat, then hand my umbrella to him as I slip out of my drenched overcoat. He points the way to a room at the right of the front door. “Mr. Black is waiting for you in the library.”
Drawing in a breath, I step over to the open library door. About twenty people stop their soft discussions and most stand when I get to the door. The library isn’t the crime scene. I examine the menagerie of people assembled in a room smelling of decades-old paper mixed with fresh sweat. A quick head count tells me seventeen people, plus the parents. Judging from the uniforms, most here are workers. Some, I’m not sure.
A brown-bearded man in a crimson bathrobe rushes over and takes my hand. Red eyes wet with tears tell me he’s broken about this.
“Detective Reynolds.” I stick out my hand.
He shakes my hand. “William Black.” The owner. He sniffs, and his eyes dart across the entryway to a closed door.
I follow his gaze. “Is that where it happened?”
His face morphs into a father’s grief and he nods his head. “Yes.”
His woman puts her hand on his shoulder. His wife. Curly blond hair, with a knee length dress and heels. Her puffy eyes aren’t enough to hide her striking beauty. She’s introduced as Brooke.
“Poor Noah.” She looks into my face as if I can fix anything, or make it undone. “I can’t believe he’d do this.”
Death is always too early. My six-year-old Sophie has to confront it alone right now, so I am determined to solve this quickly and get back to her.
“Has anyone been in the room since you discovered the body?”
“Nobody leave,” I say to the crowd. They settle back into their seats.
“I already told them,” Black says. “I brought everyone here immediately.”
It takes three steps to cross the hall, and I brace myself before stepping in. I hold up my hand for the parents to stay in the entry hall, then I push the door open.
The hair on my arm and the back of my neck stands on end. Whoa. I rub my neck to chase away the feeling. The lights are off, so I flick the switch with my elbow.
A young man’s body lies back to the door, reaching out toward the center of the room, eyes and mouth open. If my armhairs hadn’t already stood to attention, his expression would have made them do exactly that. Something evil took place in this room, but as a detective I’m not supposed to think in those terms. I shrug off the sensation and cross my arms.
“He’s quite young.”
“He was twenty.” His mother’s soft voice enters the room, whisping over the young man like a death shroud.
The room has a piano, two comfy chairs in front of the window, a tall bookcase and a fireplace.
“History of depression or anything?”
“No, sir.” The father’s strained voice breaks. “He was such a wonderful young man.” Tears fill his eyes again.
I squat down by the victim. The Medical Examiner will say for sure, but his eyes look unusual. I stoop closer. Pupils dilated. “Who found him?”
“I did,” his father says. “I got out of the shower. Came looking for him and discovered him sprawled out like this.”
I study the father, questions already listing themselves in my head. “Why do you think it’s suicide?”
“Because the door was bolted from the inside.”
I turn toward the door and make a mental note. That knob is going to have too many prints on it now.
“Why? Does he look like someone killed him?”
Brooke gasps at her husband’s question. “William! Why would anyone kill Noah?”
The window is shut along with the heavy drapes. I kick the drapes as a precaution. No other place to hide.
A crowd of voices at the front door draw my attention. Crime Scene Investigators are here.
Before I leave the room, I jot some things down in my notebook, then step aside for the scientists to do their job. Hopefully we’ll discover a lot of evidence to wade through. At least the labs will confirm suicide or not.
I take them back into the library. “Is everyone in the house accounted for?” I ask.
Black points to the crowd in the library. “Yes. They’ve been in here since we called the police.”
I need to interview everyone, but I also should survey the rest of the mansion before anyone leaves the library.
NEXT: Chapter 1 scene 2
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek