“I don’t know what I’m looking at here.”
The detective hunkered down, pen and notebook in his hands, a frown on his brow.
“Well,” the medical examiner snapped back her latex gloves, “it’s a bite. And it’s what killed him, I’m sure of it.” She prodded the corpse. “Of course, I’ll need to conduct a proper examination, but I’m confident my answer won’t change.”
The detective remained silent for a moment. Overhead flew an aeroplane, contrails left in its wake, the steel autumn sky sliced in half. “But what kind of bite mark is it?” He lifted a scrap of the body’s clothing — what remained, anyway — and grimaced. “Musta been one hell of a dog.“
Dr Porter shook her head, blonde hair swayed. “It’s not a dog bite. Trust me. I know what those look like. It’s too big for a canine.”
The detective nodded. “Hmm.” Glad to hear it — the absent chunk stretched from the man’s armpit to his hip. He shuddered to think of what kind of pooch could do such a thing. Detective Stuart Caldwell glanced up. “You’re not going to tell me this is a human bite, are you?” He didn’t think a person could have done it, but he needed to double-check. Part of the job description
The examiner laughed. “God no! Christ, he’d have to open his jaw wider than physically possible.” Dr Porter grinned. “It’d be like one of those old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Y’know, when Shaggy and Scoob make a sandwich taller than their torsos?” She made an imagined oversized snack in her hands and took an oversized bite. “Whomp!”
Stuart smiled back. His proximity to a ravaged corpse hindered his sense of humour. “So, care to share your speculations on what this could have been?”
Dr Porter scrunched her nose up. “Not a dog. But that’s the only animal in the vicinity big enough to kill a human.” She stood up and winced, hands at the base of her back. The examiner stretched with a groan and a sigh. “Nope. No idea. I’ll make some calls, ask an animal expert friend of mine. I’ll give you a call once we have something concrete.”
Stuart nodded. “Thanks, Luce.”
“Don’t mention it. Oh, and Detective?”
“Hm? Maybe check with neighbours who’ve got pools?”
Detective Caldwell looked at the body. An overweight man — although he’d recently lost a good chunk — with grey hair and a gut that hung over his swim shorts. “Was already going to, Luce.” He clicked his pen.
“See ya, Doctor.”
“And when was this party?
“Uh-huh.” Stuart scribbled some notes. “And the address?” He scribbled some more. “Perfect. Thanks for your cooperation. We’ll be in touch.”
Caldwell hung up and stood in silence in the shadows of his office. He glanced at the phone in its cradle as he chewed his lip.
He shrugged, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
Dr Porter would have some answers by the time he got back.
“What kind of party was it?”
“Hm?” The man didn’t make eye contact. His tone of voice indicated disinterest.
Stuart pointed with his pen around the house. “I don’t see any balloons or anything for someone’s birthday. What was the party in celebration of?”
He hesitated. “An… acquisition.”
“You could say that.”
“And was Jeremy Lawson invited to this party?”
“Never met the guy.” He shrugged and pulled a face that seemed to say, I-don’t-give-a-damn.
“Are you sure?” Caldwell used an infliction to imply he knew he had more to tell, and that it’d be in his best interests to share.
Mr Hubbard sniffed. “Positive.”
Stuart sighed and glanced around the room. A fancy house. Fancier than his humble home. Glass walls from floor to ceiling. Real wood floors. Suede sofa. When he walked in, the glimpse he’d gotten of the kitchen revealed lots of marble.
“Then why have I been told that he was here on the night he died? At the party hosted by you, no less? A pool party?”
The colour drained from the man’s face.
“I-I don’t—” he shook his head.
“You’re a bad liar, Mr Hubbard.”
To his credit, he didn’t try to continue to spin his yarn. He folded and buried his face in his hands. “Oh, God!”
Stuart clicked his pen. “Tell me everything, Mr Hubbard.”
He sobbed. “Such a fool!” He spoke downwards, into his hands. It muffled his words.
“Him or you?”
Mr Hubbard raised his face, eyes red and watery. “Him.” The word dripped with hate. “I didn’t even invite him, not directly. He’s—”
“—was a friend of a friend.”
Stuart frowned. “I don’t understand. You killed him because he came uninvited?”
Mr Hubbard lifted his head and laughed. An ugly sound. “You misunderstand, Detective. I didn’t kill him.” His eyes darkened. “She did.”
Stuart pointed to the other room. “Your wife?”
Mr Hubbard shook his head. He got to his feet.
“It’s probably best if I show you.”
The sun had begun to set.
Its colours bled through the clouds — red, pink and orange.
Stuart stared at the water, the surface several feet below the edge. Dark, murky, somehow viscous. It might as well have been black. The sight of it sent a ripple of ice through his core. He suppressed a shudder.
“I don’t know what I’m looking at here,” he said, aware of the symmetry of the statement.
“I like to buy exotic animals,” came Mr Hubbard’s voice from behind him. Cold, emotionless. “I was rather proud of my latest purchase, hence the party.”
Detective Caldwell hunkered down for the last time in his life. He could see nothing in the pool. “And what purchase would that be, Mr Hubbard?”
The answer arrived a split second before the shove.