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    Ten of Swords (1966 words)

    Discussion in '10th Anniversary Contest' started by BruceA, Jun 25, 2016.

    The man lay face down in the grass, his thick blood pooled around him. Ten upright swords protruded from his back, all the way from his neck down to his thighs.

    “Well, I guess we can rule out suicide,” Ilya said, kneeling down to get a better look at the card, lying next to the body.

    “Hmmmmm,” I said, pulling a plastic bag from my pocket. I sniffed it, and shook out the last few remaining crumbs of the tuna sandwiches, I’d eaten on the way to work. I didn’t have any gloves and it would double up as an evidence bag. ‘Be prepared’, my Scout Leader used to say, but I prefered my old grandma’s advice: ‘Make do and mend’.

    The plastic bag around my hand I picked the card up.

    “What do you think it means?” Ilya said.

    “Presumably, the killer really wanted to make sure this guy was dead,” I said. Ilya looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. The twenty-year old student writer was here to learn from me, the master investigator. She was researching for a thesis, a novel, or something equally highbrow, intellectual and pointless. What seemed blindingly obvious to me, would be easy to miss for those without my skills and talents. “The ten swords,” I said, in my best schoolmasterly voice, pointing at the body. “One or two might not have done the trick. Especially, those two,” I gestured at the swords protruding from the dead man’s buttocks. “A right pain in the ass, but probably not fatal.”

    Ilya didn’t laugh at what I thought was a pretty good one-liner. Instead her face was a kaleidoscope of confusion, frustration and annoyance.

    “No,” she said. “The fact there is a murdered judge - the ninth person to be killed in the last ten days, with a connection to you - lying on the front lawn of your house. What do you think that might mean?”

    “Hmmmmm,” I said again. “Could be coincidence. Sorry about the state of the front yard, by the way,” I said, kicking at the broken fence, dislodging a post that narrowly missed falling on the corpse. My house was isolated, surrounded by woods, so there were no neighbours to complain about my lack of effort in the horticulture department. “The garden usually looks much nicer, at this time of year. I really did mean to fix this fence at the weekend. And of course, it isn’t normally littered with murder victims.” I wondered if the blood would act as a fertiliser and cause the grass to grow. Perhaps I would always have a deeper shade of green murder-victim-outline.

    “What does it say?”

    I looked through the plastic bag at the business card. Like the others the words “He had it coming” were scrawled on the back. I knew, before I turned it over that the number “10” would be the only thing marking the other side. I was wrong. The number was there, but something else was attached just underneath the number. I peered at it: it was an escapee tuna flake from my sandwich.

    “The same as the others,” I said. The Ten Card Trick Killer, as the press had nicknamed the person behind these series of murders, had been picking off social workers, policemen and lawyers, one by one, over the last few weeks. And now, Judge Walker lay dead in front of my house.

    “What do you think it means?” Ilya said, again.

    The sound of an approaching siren, and then the inevitable screech of brakes prevented me from delivering my insightful opinion.

    “Detective Lancaster, I see you are, once again, standing next to a corpse,” Harris slammed the car door and stared at me, for a full five seconds before turning his attention to Ilya. “Ms Dixans, I thought I told you it was no longer appropriate for you to be shadowing this case.”

    “We have just come from a final meeting at the coffee shop,” I explained. “I invited Ms Dixans back for a, err, coffee.”

    Harris glared at me. Then at the body. “Ten of swords,” he said.

    “Sorry sir?”

    “Tarot, Lancaster. This is depicting a scene on the tarot card ‘Ten of Swords’. Often misconstrued as a card of terrible misfortune it can represent troubles that are more over the top than real.”

    Ilya was looking at Harris with an expression bordering on respect, nodding at his words.

    “Not being funny, sir, I think you’ll find the judge’s troubles and misfortunes turned out to be pretty damn real,” I said. “After all, he”s been murdered.”

    “Shut up, Lancaster. Hold on, didn’t you had a case involving a tarot reader some years ago? By my recollection Judge Walker was involved too.”

    Ilya’s cough sounded a little like the words “at last”.

    Harris looked at her, then at me, and at the bag in my hand. “Not removing evidence from a crime scene, I hope, Lancaster?”

    “Not at all,” I said, handing over the bag, containing the card.

    “Hmmmmm,” he said, looking at it. “It’s all a bit fishy, if you ask me.”

    “That’ll be the tuna sandwiches, sir,” I said.

    His face darkened, and his meaty hands formed tight fists. “I suppose you have an alibi for the last few hours,” Harris said.

    “Well, yes, I was with Ilya, sir.”

    Ilya coughed. “Not strictly true,” she said. “You left me waiting in the coffee shop for an hour and a half.”

    She was right. Again, I had been left with no alibi for a murder - yet another killing linked to me. The anonymous phone call promising to “help” me, but only if I came “alone”. And then, the mysterious “informant” with the “important information” failed to “show up”. I knew two things: firstly, someone was setting me up; secondly, I used too many “quotation marks” when thinking.

    “You leave me no choice, Lancaster,” Harris said, holding out his hands. “I’ll need your badge and your gun. I’m taking you in, for questioning.”

    In custody, I would have no chance of solving these murders. If I didn’t use my noodle I was toast. My goose would be well and truly cooked. My stomach rumbled. I wished I’d saved a sandwich, the idioms were making me hungry.

    I took out my badge and removed my gun from it’s holster. As I handed them over to Harris, Ilya picked up the broken fence post, and smacked him over the head with it.

    “Run,” she shouted. “It’s your only chance!”

    For a moment I stood transfixed. But, she was right - I had to be free to solve the case. Ilya picked up my gun shouting at me to leave. I saw Harris struggling to sit up, his nose bloodied, his hand twitching for his gun. I made my decision: I ran. Above my pounding heart I heard Ilya’s footsteps not far behind me.

    A gunshot rang out. From the decibel level, it sounded close. I zigzaged towards the woods at the back of the property.

    We crashed through the bushes that bordered the woods. There were no further shots. I ran towards the big oak tree in the centre of the woods. It was my thinking place, my sanctuary.

    We both slumped against its trunk, breathing hard. Neither of us spoke for a while. Ilya held my gun.

    “Did you get my badge” I said.

    “No,” Ilya said. “I left that next to his body.”

    His body?! I help my hand out for the gun. My fingertips touched the barrel and I pulled them away quickly. It was hot. It had been fired, recently.

    “I think, I’ll keep hold of that,” Ilya said, pointing the gun at me.

    “Ah,” I said.

    “Yes,” she said. “Ah.”

    “It was you who left the message. It was you who left all the messages. You lured me away each time, so I wouldn’t have alibis for the murders.”

    “And finally, the great detective works it out. Shame it’s too late.”

    “You knew the man on the lawn was a judge, you recognised him before I did, because you knew who it was, because you killed him” I said. “But why, Ilya? Why all these people? Why me?”

    “You really don’t remember? Ten years ago, my mother was the tenth victim of The Carnival Killer. A man you and the judge failed to put away, when you had the chance, years before. Through laziness and incompetence!”

    That seemed a little bit harsh. My recollection was that he had some very good lawyers. Although, I did seem to recall there was some evidence I had misplaced...

    “And what about the misplaced evidence?” Ilya said. “My mother died unnecessarily, because you are a bad cop!”

    Again, a little bit harsh. But the waving gun persuaded me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to contradict her.

    “I’ve left you enough clues this time,” she said. “Each murder should’ve led you straight to me, but you overlooked the evidence each time. Even my name is a bloody clue! ‘Il y a dix ans’ means ‘ten years ago’ in French.”

    “Your mother was the French fortune teller from the carnival: Devine Bien.”

    She nodded. “You remembered her name!”

    “Good guess. I remember you, though. What were you, eleven years old?”

    “I was ten. I was put into care, after she died. And everyone who used me, abused me or let me down has paid. They are all dead. Well, almost everyone. It’s your turn now.”

    “You shot Harris,” I said. “It wasn’t him shooting at us. You shot him, with my gun, leaving my badge behind. What's the plan, Ily-” I stopped and searched my memory for her real name. “What’s the plan, Matilde? Suicide? The guilty cop, goes on a killing spree then blows his brains out in a forest?”

    “Not quite as stupid as you look, are you?” she said. “Goodbye and good riddance: you’ve got it coming.”

    She flicked a card towards me and pulled the trigger. Click.

    “Ah,” I said. “It seems I’m definitely not quite as stupid as I look.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my mobile phone. “Did you get that, sir?”

    “Certainly did, Lancaster,” Harris answered. “Sending the troops in.”

    The woods around us erupted with the sounds of boots crushing the living crap out of flora and fauna, as large armed officers surrounded us, shouting ‘Police! Put your weapon down and DO NOT MOVE!”

    I waited for the cuffs to be placed on Matilde’s wrists, before speaking again.

    “I am sorry I missed things, mislaid things and wasn’t as good a cop as I should have been,” I said. “But this time I got you. Yes,” I admitted. “I may have been a little slow on the uptake, and perhaps could have saved a few more lives. But when the anonymous message was left I assumed you were planning to take me out. Killing the judge was a surprise, no doubt to him, more than anyone else. But this time we were ready for you. We put a blank in my gun, and removed all other bullets. And we got you bang to rights. Take her away, boys.”

    Harris joined me, his nose still oozing blood.

    “Well, all’s well that ends well,” I said.

    “I wouldn’t say that, Lancaster. Nine people dead is not a good result.”

    “Well, at least no one was hurt today.”

    “You’re forgetting the judge,” Harris said. “And my broken nose.”

    “Well, we got the Ten Card Trick Killer, sir. And at least she didn’t kill number ten.”

    “Yes. Well, as long as you are safe, that’s all that matters, isn’t it Lancaster.”

    “It did get all a bit TEN-se for a minute, though, sir,” I said, and winked at him.

    “You’re suspended, Lancaster.”
     
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