Angels and crooks


Bard Bowman and Thranduil Oropherson does still solve crime, and have eased into a new life as a married couple, with all the challenges that brings. Bard and Thran has many crimes to solve, and also challenges which are more private. How are they to balance their call to serve justice with their life as fathers and husbands? Sequel to Beast.

Mystery / Thriller
Age Rating:

Wild horses

Chapter 1: Wild horses….

Rosalind was trying to drag the monster of a vacuum cleaner through the door, it was a bit too wide and had to be sort of twisted around so she could drag it in sideways. The carpet had to be vacuumed today, the boss and his missis were having a party later that evening and God help her if everything wasn’t in perfect order by the time the first guests arrived. She was thanking the holy virgin that she wasn’t the one in charge of the food, it would have been a challenge she wasn’t able to handle at all. In this house everything had to be perfect, at all times. But that was a façade, she had seen through it from day one and she knew that the day her contract ended she would be out of there like a bat out of hell. She had worked for a lot of rich people before but none had been as obnoxious as Mr Masters.

Rosalind was a very professional person, a housekeeper who knew all the tricks and she was used to being treated with respect but Mrs Masters did regard her as some sort of slave and Rosalind was not going to be shocked if the bitch someday came there demanding that Rosalind and the other servants started referring to Mr Masters as “masta” No, it wouldn’t shock her at all. She knew where all the wealth came from, and she hated their guts for nothing had come from hard honest work but from fraud and exploitation of others. There was no deed too foul if it could bring this family more money and the master of the house was acting like some general, laying deliberate plans for how they were to get even more money. They had a team of cut throat lawyers willing to do whatever Mr Masters said as long as they got paid a little extra under the table and it was just terrible business.

They had two kids and Rosalind did pity them, even if they were insufferable brats. The boy was just two years of age and really a cute kid but he was left to the nanny and the mother didn’t really bother with him at all. The girl was eight and a real queen bee who was so spoiled it was hard to believe. She got everything she wanted, except from true love and care from her parents. It was tragic. Rosalind did drag the goddamn machine into the huge living room, the mansion had several and this was the “white” room. Here everything was kept in white and gold and it was beautiful but lacked a soul. Rosalind grunted, Mrs Masters had as usual referred to her as “Rosalynn” when she spoke to the housekeeper and Rosalind had stopped complaining, Mrs Masters was too unintelligent to understand. The woman was the poster child for trophy wives, pretty, dumb and willing to fuck anything as long as it gave her status and wealth.

The housekeeper did finish the carpet in the front area, there was a smaller room adjacent to the living room which was referred to as the “lounge” and she had to take care of the carpet there as well. It was Mr Masters favourite room and it was held in wood white and brown. It did stink of cigar smoke and whiskey and Rosalind did grimace. The carpet would be full of half smoked buds and god alone knew what else, it would be a mess to clean up. Mr Masters had been visited by some friends the day before and it had been a rather fierce party. She turned around to get the vacuum cleaner in between a coffee table and a monster of a couch and then she froze. She saw a pair of legs sticking out from the huge armchair Mr Masters always sat in, it was so big the man disappeared completely into it. Had he fallen asleep there, again?! She saw a glass of scotch on the table by the chair, he had probably started to “repair” from the day before. She bit her lower lip, he hated being interrupted but he couldn’t sit there now, there were preparations to be done. “Mr Masters? It is Rosalind…”

She kept her voice low and respectful and hoped that it would lessen the wrath she was sure she would experience in few seconds. Mr Masters was always extremely cranky when he was hungover. There wasn’t any sign of movement and she cleared her throat. “Mr Masters? Are you awake?”

She took one more step forwards, rounded the table and then she saw. She stared with wide eyes before she let out a scream which was heard all through the house. All she could think was that the Lord did know justice after all.

Bard was busy with some paperwork, they had just finished a very difficult case involving a bank worker who had embezzled money for years and it had been like trying to find your way out of a maze. The man had been extremely clever and had known how to cover up his tracks but at the end Elisa’s hacker friend Erestor had managed to trace the money to an account in a bank located on Iceland of all places. The headquarters had been rebuilt after the whole Shrike incident and Thor was back in charge, things were back to normal but they still missed many of those who had died and they had all been changed, in some way or the other. Bard had to smile, he was newly wedded and more happy than ever before and now the future did look very bright. He had already noticed that he was getting better at seeing the truth, piercing through lies and digging his way into whatever was hidden underneath the veneer most people show the world. The same could be said for Thran and they did work so well together. They had spent a week in Hawaii just after the wedding and it had been a week he never would forget. He had to smile, a small and blissful smile before he returned to the screen. Paperwork was one thing they couldn’t escape, no matter what sort of gifts they had been given.

He was busy trying to organize some files when his phone did buzz, it was a text from Judith and he frowned. It only said two things. “The morgue, now!”

It was odd, there hadn’t been anyone mentioning any new murders now? He raised his head, Thor was working and didn’t seem to be taking any calls and the entire station was very peaceful. It usually was now this early in the year, the cold meant that even the crooks stayed indoors. He got up and walked downstairs to the new morgue, it was larger and more modern than the old one and it wasn’t even a wee bit more cosy. A morgue was a morgue, no matter what. Judith was standing by one of the tables and it was covered with a huge sheet and the shape was odd, what the hell? She saw him and grinned. “Hello. I was thinking of you, I bet you are bored out of your skull and this is the most bizarre thing I have seen in a very long time”

Bard tilted his head. “Bizarre?”

Judith nodded vigorously. “Yeah, you know, being a coroner means that you get to see everything, and I thought I had but nope, this job does still have some shocks left for me. It is truly one of a kind, an accident.”

Bard got closer and Judith did pull the sheet off. The deceased was a middle aged Caucasian male with a slight case of obesity and a somewhat groomed appearance but what created the odd shape was his head. Or rather, the thing attached to his head. It was another head, the stuffed out head of a deer and the antlers were firmly buried in the dead man’s skull. It looked as if the deer and the man was locked in a sort of staring competition. Bard had to gasp. “What in….”

Judith almost giggled. “Damn right, this unfortunate fellah was sitting in his favourite chair, sipping some good scotch when the screws holding that monstrosity decided to give way and boom, sixty pounds of deer head fell straight onto his head. I bet he shot that deer too, this could be some sort of post mortem pay back”

Bard had to grin. “Yes, that wouldn’t surprise me.”

Judith threw the blanket back over the body. “Now, let us give this poor animal some dignity back, I just hate trophy hunting”

Bard knew this, Judith loved animals and he did too. “Yes, so who was he, the man I mean, not the poor deer?”

Judith made a grand gesture. “This is the not so honourable Mr Duke Masters, officially a real estate agent but in reality he is among the worst scumbags I have ever come across. He is making a living out of suing the shit out of people, and he has no scruples whatsoever.”

Bard had to frown. “And you are sure it was an accident? It couldn’t have been foul play? Who found him by the way?”

Judith was picking up some tools, staring at them with narrow eyes. “Their housekeeper did find him, tough woman for she wasn’t all that shocked. The wife however lost it, completely hysterical. I think she must have seen all her status fly out of the door there and then.”

Bard had to snicker. “Alright, but it was an accident?”

Judith nodded. “I see no signs of it being anything else no, at least not yet. Murder by stuffed deer, that would indeed be a first.”

Bard stared at the covered body. “Any kids?”

Judith found a pair of bolt cutters. “Two, a two year old boy and an eight year old girl, I saw her when we picked up the body, spoiled piece of shit if you ask me”

She lifted the cutters. “I am so tempted at breaking the skull to remove the antlers, it would be a darn shame to cut something so beautiful.”

Bard had to laugh. “Oh I bet you will come up with some trick, at least the stag did get its vengeance”

Judith did send him a very wry grin. “Yes, and I will have the unfortunate pleasure of cutting this carcass open, with that body I am sure I will find clogged arteries and god alone what else.”

Bard grinned. “Right, have fun then.”

Judith started a power saw, her face the very incarnation of bloodthirst. “Will do!”

Bard walked back upstairs and to his delight he did see that Thran had arrived, the profiler had been visiting the local jail to make an interview and he did look a bit tense. Bard walked over and gave his spouse a swift hug. “You look like shit dear, come, I have just seen the most absurd thing ever!”

Thran smiled and hung his coat on the rack by Bard’s desk, he was always dressed to impress and the tall blonde did normally make just about anyone swoon. “Good, I have just tried to understand the mind of a person who is so scrambled up mentally I don’t even know where to start. Damn it, the guy is both schizophrenic and a bipolar and I bet he is a psychopath on top of it all. “

Bard made Thran sit down, he wanted to kiss him but knew that Thor disapproved of such displays of passion while they were working. There were people visiting the station all the time and some didn’t approve of same sex relationships at all. “Listen, Judith just showed me a dead guy, with a stuffed deer head stuck to his skull. It had fallen off the wall and the antlers had pierced his head.”

Thran had to gape. “Seriously? Now that is Karma for you, if he was the shooter that is”

Bard chuckled. “Bet he was, a piece of work as Judith puts it, real scumbag”

Thran snickered. “Ah, poetic justice in action, always a wonder to behold”

Bard swallowed hard, there was something else which also was a wonder to behold, damnation, still five hours before their shift ended. Thran got up with a sigh. “Right, I have to make a report, have no clue of what I am going to write though. The judge wants a real diagnosis and if I am to write everything down it will be a list as long as a bad year”

Bard shrugged. “Stark raving lunatic, that ought to do it”

Thran had to laugh, a full warm laughter which made Bard feel all fuzzy inside. “And I bet the judge would appreciate such an assessment, the jury would be all over it. No, I need something real, something impressive.”

Bard grinned widely. “Come up with something, call it “Mc Clusky’s syndrome”, or bilateral Triassic brain contortion”

Thran had to gape, then he laughed even louder. “Oh that was precious, yes, the last one ought to impress them, unless there is a geologist or palaeontologist among them!”

Thran gave him a swift hug and walked over to his office and Bard chuckled and dove into the world of economic fraud once more. He was working for about an hour when Thor suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Bard? Sorry to interrupt, but we have gotten ourselves a murder. I want you and Thran on it”

Bard got up. “A murder, now?”

Thor nodded. “I got a call from Judith, the antlered dude, it wasn’t an accident, unless dead deer have started to fire off nine mm bullets.”

Bard frowned. “What?”

Thor nodded slowly. “You heard me, the dead dude, there was a bullet wound in his head and the antlers were jabbed into it, probably to cover it up. If Judith hadn’t decided to do an x ray of the head she would never have discovered it”

Bard swallowed. “Right, so, where do we start?”

Thor sighed and he did look tired. “Listen, this guy had more enemies than Hitler, so the list of possible suspects is longer than the passenger list of Titanic. But I have made a smaller list here, people he has sued for great amounts of money, and gotten sued back with no result. I bet there could be someone among them who feels bitter enough to try to avenge themselves this way.”

Bard was handed over a list and the names didn’t tell him anything. “So, he did sue people, and made a living out of it. What sort of cases are we talking about?”

Thor got a hard expression on his face. “The very worst, he has been targeting small businesses, those who cannot afford good lawyers, and still have some money he can take. Here, this name”

He pointed at a name at the bottom of the list. It said “Mrs Eleanor Bloom, florist” and Bard frowned. “A florist, who the heck sues a florist?”

Thor did look intense. “Someone who is a predator, with no conscience at all. Mrs Masters did visit the shop to buy some roses and on the way out she “slipped” on the doorstep and injured her ankle. They sued the poor woman for a million and she lost, had to close down the business.”

Bard felt a surge of anger. “Oh my Lord, then Mr Masters was a real piece of shit. So, who should we talk to first?”

Thor pointed at another name near the top. “This couple here, they live just two hours out of the city and the rest on the list are placed all over the place. They never targeted people in the same state twice, so you see, they were good at this shit”

Bard knew that if their names had showed up in the files of the state attorney more than once alarm bells would have gone off, it was infernal and smart. “Green meadow farms?”

Thor nodded. “Yes, horse breeders, if you go now you will be back by the evening”

Bard felt a sting of excitement. He didn’t care that much about horses but Thran did and he was an expert too. He would love this. He ran over to Thran’s office and his husband was suddenly very eager when he heard of the case and where they were heading. Before long they were in Thran’s car and on their way southwest. It did in fact feel good to be out of the city, even if it was for just some hours.

The drive did take some time, the roads were good but there was work being done in two places and the traffic did seep by slowly as a snail. The weather was rather dark when they reached the farm, it was a very nice place with several stables and paddocks and it did look very well maintained. They parked and left the car, there was a sort of office there and they headed that way, the place did smell of horse and they saw several very nice specimens in the paddocks. Bard had checked the papers, the owners were Mr and Mrs Holt and they had to be somewhere in their sixties. The office was empty, the door was locked and Bard scratched his head, it didn’t seem as if the owners were at home for the main building was dark too and there weren’t any cars in the garage. Thran made a grimace. “I hope we haven’t come all this way for nothing?”

Bard was about to say something apologetic sounding when they heard a voice. “Hello? Are you looking for the boss?”

A woman was peeking out of a stable door and Bard saw that she was wearing overalls and a cap. She did look like a stable worker and she seemed to be the type of a person who isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. “Ah, yes, they aren’t at home?”

The woman shook her head and closed the door, walked over with the relaxed ease of a person who is well used to physical work. She was of medium height and her body stocky with obvious strength and the face was round and a bit red and she seemed like a genuinely friendly person. “No, they went upstate earlier today, a horse show. You haven’t made an appointment?”

Bard shook his head. “No, I am sorry ma’am, we haven’t.”

He held up his badge and the woman frowned. “The police?! What is this about?”

Bard cleared his throat. “A certain Mr Masters who I believe that Mr and Mrs Holt did come to blows with last year?”

The woman gaped, then her face turned into a mask of hopeful joy. “Oh damn it, don’t tell me he is dead?!”

Bard nodded. “Uh, yes, he is dead?”

She jumped up and down, laughing. “Oh wonderful, what a day! I will celebrate for sure. I do hope the son of a bitch suffered?”

Thran stared at the woman, he did look shocked. “You don’t appear to be shocked?”

The woman shook her head, some locks of long auburn hair did escape from the cap. “That is because I am not, was he murdered?”

Bard had to nod and she let out a small squeal of joy. “Praised be every God there is, finally! I want to shake the hand of the murderer, that person has done mankind a huge favour”

Thran had to swallow hard. “Ah, ma’am, you are aware of how this makes you look? This is a murder investigation”

She laughed. “Oh I understand, don’t worry. I didn’t kill the bastard but by every deity, I wish I did.”

Thran frowned. “I think you’d better explain this, first of all, who are you?”

The woman smiled, she was very charming when she smiled, and her green eyes were sparkling. “I am Nerdanel Wood, I have worked here as the stable manager for the Holts for thirty years.”

Bard shivered a little, it was cold there and she saw and waved her hand. “You are freezing, follow me, we can talk in my office, it is warm”

She walked ahead and they had to follow, they rounded a stable and entered a door and the office was rather large with a lot of tall closets and a table and some chairs. There were pictures of horses and prizes everywhere. She sat down and grasped some cups, a coffee machine was bubbling loudly in a corner. “Want some coffee? I have only two types, black and blacker”

Thran had to grin. “Black is fine with me”

Bard nodded. “Me too”

She poured and gave them a generous dose each and took a huge cup herself. There was a sort of screen in the corner and Bard leaned over and looked at it. It was a feed from a box and a horse was wandering around in it, in obvious distress. Nerdanel nodded at the screen. “Our birthing box, that mare is going to give birth anytime now, I was checking in on her when you arrived. I cannot leave here until it is over with. Princess is a very valuable mare and the foal will be even more valuable, last foal to be born fathered by old Infernal.”

Thran did look puzzled. “Infernal?”

Nerdanel nodded and sipped her coffee. “Yes, Infernal mystery, one of the best studs there has ever been, he died two years ago and Princess was inseminated with the last dose of semen from that stallion. The foal better be good or we will be very disappointed”

Bard knew a little about horse breeding because of Jean and his late wife Sophia, he knew how valuable a foal like that could be. “So, the fact that you hate Mr Masters?”

Nerdanel lifted a leg and put it over the other one. “Oh yes, that!”

She leaned forwards. “When that bastard did sue Mr and Mrs Holt he ruined their livelihood, in the horse society your reputation means everything! Nobody wants to deal with someone who has tried to trick someone with a sale.”

Thran tried not to cringe, the coffee was warm but way too old, he guessed that it had been re-heated several times. “So a sale was at the bottom of this conflict?”

She nodded and leaned into the chair. “Listen, this dude did this trick of his many times, there are scores of people dying to strangle him to death with their own hands. I have done some investigation myself and he used every method in the book and then some. He was all over the place, and used many names too. Mr and Mrs Holt are such nice people, they couldn’t harm a fly! But that creep did break their hearts and caused them to lose so much money there was a chance of them losing the ranch for a while. They had to sell some of their very best brood mares to make it.”

Thran tilted his head. “We have understood that Mr Masters was a very cunning fraud artist yes”

She scoffed. “Yes, and so much more, try psychopath. An abuser of animals, of people’s trust and of the law. Those lawyers of his are more vicious than a swarm of piranhas.”

Bard was getting curious. “So, what did he really do here? Why did he sue Mr and Mrs Holt? And why are you so angry at him?”

Nerdanel crossed her arms over her chest, she was a formidable woman, the arms were muscular and Bard bet that neither of them would have been able to subdue her. Someone used to handle a ton of horse is not someone you should pick a fight with. “I am angry because he did spread doubt about my skills and integrity as well, and I do not accept it when someone makes me look like a goddamn liar.”

She pulled out a drawer and picked out a photo, handed it over to Thran. “See, this is what the whole debacle is about”

Thran stared at the photo, showed it to Bard. It was a horse, a very beautiful filly who stared into the camera with huge trustful eyes. “That is a beauty”

She cocked her head. “You know horses Mr?”

Thran smiled. “Oropherson, Yes, I do own a few”

She smiled widely. “Great, then you can understand this. That is Velvet Peach, the best filly this farm has ever produced.”

Thran stared at the photo again, the filly was a gorgeous palomino and the confirmation and shape of the horse was perfection made flesh and bone. “She is gorgeous”

Nerdanel sighed. “Yes, she was perfection. “

Thran frowned. “Was?”

She nodded slowly. “It is a terrible story really, but Mr and Mrs Holt loved that filly. She was going to be a champion show horse for sure, and they waited until she was three before they put her out for sale. We do sell horses, that is how we make a living but they didn’t really want to sell her, she was precious to them”

Bard leaned forwards. “Mr Masters bought her?”

Nerdanel had a very sarcastic grin on her face. “Yes, there was another couple here too bidding for her but they were probably there just to push the prize up. “

Bard did feel a bit confused. “Press the prize up?”

She nodded. “That is the core of the whole damn thing you see, she was untried, a three years old quarter horse filly. Even with her perfect pedigree and looks you couldn’t ask for all that much”

Thran sighed “I think I see the picture”

Nerdanel nodded “Any horse lover will yes. They said they wanted a horse for their daughter, she was like six at the time? Way too young for a full size horse and absolutely not one who had just been through basic training but they did want Velvet and offered so much money for her that Mr and Mrs Holt gave in. “

Thran was a bit tense around his mouth. “They were fooled then?”

Nerdanel nodded solemnly. “Indeed they were. The Masters took Velvet and we didn’t hear anything more for five months, then we received a call from a lawyer, telling us that we were being sued for having sold a useless horse”

Bard swallowed hard. “Useless?”

Nerdanel nodded. “Blind Mr Bowman, but it was a huge fat lie.”

Thran was making notes. “Explain please”

Nerdanel made a gesture. “You see, they wanted Velvet for a specific reason, we do have other horses here way better suited for their kid and horses who were more expensive too, but Velvet’s grandsire was a stallion who was the carrier of a rare genetic disorder. Some of his offspring and grandchildren have been born with it”

Thran was frowning. “They claimed that Velvet had the disease?”

Nerdanel nodded and her eyes were dark, anger seething in them. “Yes, you see, the disease can be held at bay using medication, he claimed that we had medicated Velvet so the disease was invisible when they bought her.”

Bard started to understand her anger. “And that can be traced I bet?”

She nodded. “He had a vet working for him, the guy is corrupted and an idiot, claimed that he had found traces of medication in Velvet’s blood. It was a fat lie”

She grasped the photo. “I have been working with horses my entire life and a foal born with that condition will suffer from several symptoms from birth. One is that it is unable to suckle on its own. Velvet was on her feet suckling within half an hour, she was so healthy and I know the symptoms and the disease well. He claimed that I was just an ignorant fool and knew naught about medicine”

Thran did look as if he had tasted something which tasted bad. “I see”

She put the photo back into the drawer. “They said that Velvet went blind just weeks after they bought her, that she was nervous and skittish and dangerous to be around. It was also bullshit, I had ridden her with a blindfold several times to make her trust my signals and she was as calm as they come.”

Bard frowned. “So they sued your employers because of this?”

She nodded. “Yes, and ruined their reputation with it. That goddamn crook of a vet had been bought and told a lot of lies. Mr and Mrs Holt offered to buy the mare back but was told that she had been destroyed already, since she was dangerous to be around”

Bard gasped. “That is very…bad”

Nerdanel sighed. “No shit, only evidence was that vet and some photo’s he had taken. Mrs Holt was so heartbroken I was afraid she would die here, she loved that filly. There wasn’t a mean bone in Velvet, not one!”

Thran was tense. “How much did Mr Masters get?”

Nerdanel sneered. “Two million dollars, heard anything like that? The lawyers were screaming loudly about emotional damage to the kid who lost “Her best friend” and how the “entire family” was mourning and so on and so forth. Worst lies ever if you ask me. Bastard!”

Thran was blinking. “Two mill? Oh God, that is…a lot!”

Nerdanel grinned, a very sardonic grin. “Wanna know what’s worse? They did trick the insurance company too, that is why the mare had to be more expensive for the more you pay for a horse the more you can get from the insurance.”

Bard was feeling a bit faint. “The amount of money he got?”

Nerdanel grinned again, she did look like she was trying to bite into a sour lemon. “One point six mill, for a horse they bought for a hundred grand. Call that the catch of the century ha?”

Thran looked at Bard, his eyes were shooting lightening. “If Mr Masters did this to more people there is no wonder why he got killed”

Nerdanel smiled again and there was shadows in her eyes. “The story could have ended here but I think fate sometimes plays a strange game. You see, a dead horse cannot just be buried, it has to be delivered to a factory where they do transform biological waste into everything from biofuel to soap”

Thran nodded. “Yes, the new laws against pollution of the ground water.”

Nerdanel nodded and folded her arms again. “There was this one guy working at the plant, he had worked for Mr and Mrs Holt one summer, painting fences and he did recognize the brand on the dead filly. He suspected foul play and took some photos of his own, and also some more before he called me.”

She grasped some other photos from a drawer. “See. What do you see?”

Bard tilted his head. “A horses eye, with cataracts?”

Nerdanel nodded. “Yes, apparently, to a layman that would be rather obvious. They said that the cataracts came the moment Velvet no longer was being medicated and that the disease had been well known from the moment she was born, that Mr and Mrs Holt had sold a sick horse deliberately.”

She got up and opened a fridge in the corner, took something out of it, it was a box which normally contains ice cream. She opened it and Bard gasped, it was two horse eyes, covered with frost and looking very peculiar. “See? He took the eyes out of her before he sent the body to be cremated. This isn’t cataracts, for cataracts come from within the eye, if you look closely you will see that it is the top layer of the eye which has been burned off with acid”

Thran cringed and swore and Bard had to cough “Burned off?”

She nodded. “Yes, with acid. I did take some tests before I put them in the freezer. The vet must have done it and then taken the pictures before the damage became too great to look convincing.”

She put the pictures down and closed the ice box again. “I wanted to drag him to court myself, for animal cruelty and for slandering my name. But I don’t have the money, nor have I the influence. All I could do was to wait for fate to catch up with that abomination of a man. I am so glad it finally has”

Thran swallowed visibly. “Poor horse, acid! It must have been terrible, such agony”

Nerdanel nodded. “Yes, but I have friends everywhere, we horse people do stand together when we need to and I told everyone I knew to keep their ears and eyes open. I found a lot of shit, yes, a whole barrel of it”

She opened another drawer and pulled out a lot of papers. “Here, at least ten similar cases. All involving horses. He used the same corrupt vet each time, the guy has a gambling problem and when Mr Master’s did pay him to do something less than legal he would wag his tail and be an obedient little bitch”

Thran frowned. “How can that vet still have a licence?”

Nerdanel smiled. “Because Mr Masters knows who to bribe and who to blackmail. The man was a beast”

Thran nodded silently to Bard, she was telling the truth, with his new gifts he did sense that rather well and Bard agreed. This woman hadn’t murdered Mr Masters but she did have a reason to hate him for sure. “So, these are all cases where Mr Masters have used the same technique?”

She grinned, a very narrow and ugly grin. “Yes, it is all in there. Never twice in the same state, never the same insurance company and never the same method.”

Thran grumbled. “He is being thorough then, preparing well.”

She crossed her arms. “He made it his livelihood to ruin others. There are people on this list who have lost everything, one man did commit suicide. Imagine that?”

Bard felt his throat go dry, he was reading through the list and it was terrifying. “This case here, the stallion with a fractured leg? An accident?”

Nerdanel scoffed. “No, deliberate! They bought that one horse because the bloodline is infamous for brittle bones. He was checked tough, seemingly healthy. I bet they hit him over the leg with an iron pipe, or something like that.”

Thran was a bit wild eyed. “Well, I am starting to be feel very glad that Mr Masters no longer is around, he comes across as a true creep”

Nerdanel nodded. “I hope you don’t suspect Mr and Mrs Holt of this? They are not capable of harming anyone and this whole case has brought them such misery and pain, I would hate it if you were to rub even more salt into their wounds.”

Thran sent her a swift smile. “I don’t think that anyone here will be on the list of suspects no, but can you think of anyone who would be desperate enough to actually kill Mr Masters?”

Nerdanel let out a short snort. “Yeah? Like half the people on the list, but the main suspect would in my eyes be Ms Geraldine Proudfoot. “

She pointed at the list and Bard read the details. “The Masters did buy a pony from her and the animal died from some sort of colic three weeks later? Colic does happen to horses quite often doesn’t it?”

Nerdanel smiled. “Yes, but this particular type is chronic and caused by changes in the gut. They said the pony had suffered from it since it was a foal. A lie of course, the vet even brought the diseased guts to the court. But I know a person who was there and he said that the guts presented came from a much larger animal than the pony.”

Bard got up. “I see, I think we will go and visit this lady then. So she was angrier than most she was being sued?”

Nerdanel cocked her head. “Try furious, absolutely raging. She did say she wanted to kill Mr Masters though, and I think she meant it too. That woman is infamous for having a flaring temper, she is amazing with the horses but she did punch a guy who insulted her once and she has a restraining order against her ex. She tried to rape him with a broomstick, for having grasped some other woman’s butt. “

Thran cringed. “Oh my, well, then she is capable of attacking someone for sure”

Nerdanel did look nervous. “Listen. I hope she didn’t do it. She is a very decent person and I know her rather well, but if she did kill Mr Masters I cannot say that I hold it against her at all. He has ruined the lives of so many people I hope they have a very special place for him in hell”

Thran too got up. “So do we, thank you for your time Ma’am. It was most enlightening”

Nerdanel did shake their hands. “I am glad I could be of help, do call me if you need an expert ha? Now I have got to check on Princess once more, she is getting close I think”

The screen showed that the mare had laid down now and Bard smiled. “Do that, we’d better get going”

Thran took a deep breath when they got outside, heading for the car. “I bet that someone in the horse community is behind this, that list is long, and nasty!”

Bard got inside and fastened his seat belt. “Indeed, but we have to get back to the station before we go anywhere else. We need to spread this information, we cannot check everyone on the list, we won’t be done until next year!”

Thran started the car, his eyes were dark. “Yes, but know what? That guy deserved it, I cannot say anything else for then I would be lying”

They were silent as they drove back to the city, Thran hadn’t even turned on the radio and Bard did know him very well now, it meant that he was angry and shaken and Bard wished that he could have done something to soothe his husband’s distress. They arrived at the station just before their shift ended and had time to delegate some tasks to the evening shift. Bard wanted as much as possible done before the morrow, he suspected that the next day would be busy for sure.

When they got back home Sigrid was waiting for them in the doorway, she was grinning from one ear to the other holding a letter. She had finished her exam with top scores and Bard was very proud of her. Bain and Legolas were visiting some friends of Bain and would stay there until the next day and Tilda was watching TV and tormenting Jean with constant questions about everything she saw. Jean had opened the restaurant just a month earlier and it was still in its early stages so the workload was monumental. The woman didn’t mind that at all, it was a dream come true and she had gotten some very good stable workers for her horses so she didn’t have to do all the dirty work anymore.

Bard did hug Tilda too and was glad Thran had been able to help her overcome her old trauma, she was doing better now and Thran was sure she would become completely normal before long. Jean had already eaten dinner with the kids but there was two huge portions left for the two men and Bard and Thran did sit down to eat. The rule was that they never brought their work with them back home but this time it was hard shoving it away. Jean was after all a horse breeder and she probably knew a lot of the people on the list. As they ate Bard shot of a question. “Say, you shouldn’t happen to know a lady by the name of Geraldine Proudfoot?”

Jean lifted her head, looked puzzled. “As a matter of fact I do, how come?”

Barn shrugged. “Oh, I just came across the name during an investigation, it was unusual and I saw she is a horse breeder too?”

Jean nodded. “Yes, she breeds ponies. Very good at it. But she has had some bad luck lately, fell down a flight of stairs and broke her pelvis a month ago, apparently she won’t be able to ride again for at least a year. Poor woman”

Thran bit his lower lip and shook his head, Geraldine was out of the question then, the one who had killed Mr Masters had to be a healthy strong person. They finished the dinner in silence and watched some TV before they went to bed. Now they shared a massive bedroom in the new house and it had an adjacent and very luxurious bathroom and Bard enjoyed a good soak before he joined his husband in bed. Thran was very quiet and Bard leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek. “You are being bothered by this case aren’t you?”

Thran sighed and kissed him back, with some hunger. He would often use the passion they shared as a shield between himself and the dark realities of their work and Bard didn’t complain. “Yes, that man was…I don’t know whether he was truly evil or just incredibly stupid!”

Bard felt that Thran tensed up, and knew what to do to ease him. “Call it both then”

He snaked his way down underneath the covers and Thran gasped and arched, surrendered to Bard’s touch completely. Before long they were lost in each other and the world outside of their little lovers nest completely forgotten.

The next morning Thor met them the moment they arrived at work, he was a bit tired and his eyes were distant. “I had the evening and night shift go through everyone on the list, they had alibies, most of the rock solid too. One person was in hospital, and another one died a week ago.”

Bard frowned. “Someone could have paid someone else to do the job?”

Thor nodded. “We have checked that too, Erestor has been all over the finances of the suspects, nothing which indicates any payments out of the ordinary. I think we are looking at this from the wrong angle”

Thran tilted his head, he had braided his hair and it did make him look very regal. “What do you mean?”

Thor sort of grimaced. “I have worked within the police for decades, and I think we need to broaden our horizon”

Bard nodded. “You don’t think it had anything to do with Mr Masters lifestyle?”

Thor shrugged. “Call me a weird old man but my gut tells me we are missing something here.”

Bard had to ponder this for a moment. “You are right, damn it. We should have seen it, the murder wasn’t premeditated, it was perhaps done in desperation”

Thran closed his eyes. “Yes, it was a desperate move, the antlers in the head, it was done by someone who was scared, shocked and probably not anticipating any trouble”

Bard lifted his cell phone. “I need to make a swift call”

He dialled Judith’s number and she answered right away. “Yes?”

Bard cleared his voice. “Judith, how much force do you need to achieve what was done to Mr Masters? I mean, a skull is hard yes?”

Judith’s voice got a bit distant. “A lot, there was one bullet wound but the antler on the other side was just as deeply embedded in the head, heck, all the points were in there. It was done with great force”

Bard nodded. “Then we aren’t looking for a woman but a rather strong man right?”

She answered. “Most definitely. A tall man, capable of tearing that deerhead off the wall in one go”

Bard thanked her and hung up, Thor did look rather pessimistic. “Mr Masters had a lot of associates, and he did also have many so called friends. It will take forever going through them all, I bet he had made enemies also outside of his rather doubtful suing business.”

Thran grunted. “Indeed. Where do we start?”

Bard was about to answer when they saw a woman approaching the entrance, she was of Mexican origin and very pretty but above her youth. Thor frowned. “Who is that?”

Bard shrugged. “I don’t know?”

The woman saw them and walked over, she carried a basket over her arm and she did appear to have some self-confidence for she carried her head high. “I am looking for the ones who is investigation the murder of Mr Masters? I am Rosalind, Mr Masters housekeeper”

Thor smiled with a polite bow. “You are looking at them ma’am.”

Rosalind stared at the two very handsome men and she smiled, a swift almost shy smile. “I was interviewed yesterday, but there was something I discovered this very morning, something odd”

Thor tilted his head. “Yes?”

Rosalind swallowed. “Mr Masters did buy a small hand carved table four days ago, it was shaped like a bear, with a glass plate on top of it, as if the animal was carrying the plate see?”

Bard nodded. “Yes, and ?”

She took a deep breath. “He used it to place his booze somewhere classy, there were drawers in the bear, almost invisible. But this morning I did notice that the table was gone, and the door to the patio wasn’t locked”

Thran tensed up. “The table, was it very valuable?”

Rosalind shook her head. “No, but he bought it from a private person, not an antiquity shop. He saw a picture of it online and wanted it, he was a bit proud of it for the bear was very realistic and would fit his lounge perfectly”

Bard stared at Thran. “And now it is gone? Know what? It has to mean something!”

Thor smiled at Rosalind. “You shouldn’t happen to know who he bought that table from?”

Rosalind grasped a note from her basket. “Here, I did notice the name you see, it is unusual”

Bard stared. “Mr Festus Underhill, 345 Raven hill road”

She nodded. “Yes, apparently a wood artist of some sorts”

Thran smiled and he did look like a dog who has caught a fresh scent. “I think we ought to pay a visit to Mr Underhill”

Thor nodded . “Go, the table has to mean something.”

Thran ran into his office and got his gun and Bard frowned. “You don’t like guns?”

Thran nodded. “I don’t but I feel as if we may need it this time”

They ran to the car and took off and the address was just twenty minutes away so they arrived there fast. The house was a large one with a huge yard in front of it and it was filled with wood in all shapes and sizes. Several tables filled with tools were placed there and Bard frowned, the placement was a bit odd? The tables were low and so were the power tools and machinery they saw and he had to gape. A half finished table stood that the end of the yard and it was shaped like four leaping trout standing on their tails and they would hold the table top balanced on top of their slightly bowed heads when it was over. The work was exquisite and so lifelike it was almost scary.

Thran was staring at the table and Bard had a strong suspicion that this table or one like it would decorate their living room rather fast unless the carver was the guilty one. They admired the work when they heard a sound and turned around. A man sitting in a wheelchair did enter the yard, he had lost his legs and a huge scar decorated the face from beneath the left eye to below the jawline. “Can I help you?”

The voice was gruff and yet the man did look very friendly, there was sawdust all over him so he was the artist for sure. Bard showed him the badge and the man frowned. “Coppers? Here?”

Bard nodded. “Uh, we are here because of a table, one you sold to Mr Masters some days ago?”

The man lightened up. “Oh yes, the bear! It was a heck of a lot of work, but the table was perfect. Has anything happened to it?”

Thran sort of shrugged. “Well, Mr Masters was killed yesterday, and the table vanished last night”

Mr Underhill stared at them, his eyes got wide. “Oh fuck, now that is…bad! I didn’t like the dude for he was way too eager to pick the table up, I didn’t have time to finish the job before he came for it”

Thran frowned. “Really?”

The man nodded vigorously. “Yes, I had one layer of lacquer left, the wood wouldn’t get its perfect shine without it, but he wanted it for a party and couldn’t wait. I got paid full price but I don’t like sending off something which isn’t complete.”

Thran and Bard stared at each other and felt confused. Bard tried to think. “Say, there wasn’t anyone else bidding for the table?”

Mr Underhill shook his head. “No, I put it online for sale the same day Mr Masters contacted me, nobody else had any time to bid for it. But there was one thing though…”

Thran took a deep breath. “Yes?”

Mr Underhill stared at them. “I have this guy working here, he cleans stuff, sharpens my tools and keeps things in order. I cannot do much without legs ha ha ha”

Bard swallowed. “Veteran?”

Mr Underhill nodded. “Yep, Afghanistan, ten years ago, fucking anti-tank mine, killed five good marines and took my legs and half of my face with them. I have been lucky though, I have my art, many others have nothing, except bitterness and booze”

Thran swallowed. “It is good to see that you have found a new meaning, but the man you mentioned?”

Mr Underhill nodded. “Mog yes, we just call him that here, he blew a fuse when I told him the table was sold and already picked up. I don’t know why though, he just cussed and left, I haven’t seen him afterwards”

Bard’s eyes got narrow. “Aha, there are drawers in the table?”

Mr Underhill nodded. “Yes, some hidden ones too”

Thran sighed. “I think Mog must have hidden something in the table, it is the only logical explanation”

Mr Underhill cussed. “Son of a…ahem, pardon my French gentlemen. He is an ex-convict, served ten years for drugs”

Bard looked down. “And there we have it, fuck! Where does this Mog live?”

Mr Underhill turned the wheelchair around. “A minute, I have the address here”

He disappeared into a shed and returned with surprising speed. He handed them a note and Thran stared at it. “Thank you Sir, you shouldn’t happen to know if this person is armed?”

Mr Underhill sighed. “If I was you I would be wearing a flak vest, he is capable of just about anything I fear. Did his job well but he wasn’t the most sociable of guys. “

Bard nodded. “Alright, we better get going, thanks again”

Mr Underhill did make a swift salute. “My pleasure”

Thran grinned. “Are you online by the way, that gorgeous table over there would look great in our living room”

Mr Underhill laughed. “Just google me, that table will be expensive though, the balance is a son of a bitch, I have some hard work ahead of me. “

Thran just snickered. “Money won’t be problem. Have a good day, you will hear from me”

Mr Underhill nodded and they walked out of the yard. Bard grasped the car radio the moment they were inside of it and checked the name against the database. “Dispatch, send reinforcements to Smaug avenue 67, fifth floor, apartment 34. The suspect is a Gothmog Dale, age 41, white Caucasian male, six foot two with short dark hair and a tattoo of an eagle across his chest”

They heard that dispatch answered and then they took off, Thran was looking nervous. “If there are drugs involved we could come up against just about anything.”

Bard nodded. “Yes, we have wests in the trunk, and helmets too”

They careened into a parking place near the address and found the gear and put it on. Bard was feeling insecure. “Maybe we ought to wait for the swat team?!”

Thran shrugged. “Yes, but we can enter the building right? I don’t like leaving the entrance unguarded”

They walked towards the entrance when two police cars arrived, sirens blazing and four officers jumped out. Bard rolled his eyes, the entire block would have heard that. No way they would be able to take the guy by surprise. Thran took his hand, squeezed it swiftly. “It is alright, we won’t take any chances.”

The four officers also wore wests and guns and they entered the building tactically. Thran stayed behind since he wasn’t trained for this and they ran up the stairs. They were entering the right floor when they heard a godawful racket coming from up ahead, someone was screaming and Bard cussed and kicked up the door to the corridor. They saw a woman laying on the floor and a kid stood by her side, bawling with fear. The woman was just knocked out but she had a nasty blue bruising forming around her right eye and Thran grasped his radio. “Dispatch, an ambulance to before mentioned address. One female, head trauma”

The woman groaned. “Son of a bitch, he kicked me down!”

Bard shook her gently. “Ma’am, where did he go? Was it Mog?”

The woman nodded, her eyes blurred with pain. “Yes, the goddamn bastard, he ran down that way”

She pointed down the corridor and Bard was already running, he could hear someone heading down the second set of stairs and he ran as fast as he could. He suddenly had to stop though when several bullets flew by him and hit the concrete wall, releasing clouds of dust. He backed off and the suspect disappeared into a door which did lead into the second floor of the building. The two police officers were already right behind Bard and he wondered where Thran was. The corridor was dark, the lights were out and Bard swore under his breath, they couldn’t just run into the dark like that, unprotected. The culprit did carry a gun, possibly more than one and although the vests were good they couldn’t stop bullets from hitting the head or the neck or legs. The two police officers were panting. “Fuck, he is fast isn’t he?”

Bard nodded. “Yes, and desperate, firing at an officer of the law is usually the last thing you wish to do, unless you plan on staying behind bars for a very long time.”

They moved forth slowly, holding their flashlights tight and checking every corner, the corridor was long and it had a turn too. This building used to be a hotel years ago and there were doors everywhere. Bard was in front now and he was trying to determine whether or not they should just stop and wait when a door next to him opened abruptly and he was grasped in a headlock and dragged into the room. He lost the gun and felt steel pressing towards his body, it was Mog and he was obviously freaked out. “Stay back, or this cop gets it!”

Mog was heading towards the window, there were fire stairs outside and he opened the window and hauled Bard out, using him as a shield. The man was cussing and talking the whole time but nothing he said made any sense at all. It sounded like gibberish. He was obviously as high as a kite! Bard didn’t resist but he made himself heavy and hard to handle and Mog did drag him forth for a few meters and had to change his grip. That was when Bard heard a single gunshot and Mog let go of him, grasping his left shoulder. Bard saw Thran on the fire stairs, just a few meters ahead and Mog did what every mad possible killer does in such a situation, he dove over the rail as if he believed that he was some sort of superman. The man fell several meters, hit a garbage container and didn’t listen to Thran yelling that he had to stop or get shot again. Bard ran down the stairs and Thran was at his heels and they reached the ground just as Mog jumped out of the container with the elegance of a pregnant walrus.

The man could run, in spite of having been shot and being high he would have given any athlete a run for the money but suddenly two squad cars did enter the street with lights on and the man turned on a dime and saw a possible escape. They were close to the great park and there were cabs there, the old horse drawn type. A few were parked along the street where it was shade and Mog ran desperately towards the first one. The two police cars had stopped, one was a K9 unit and the officer was releasing his dog, a massive German shepherd who looked very eager and more than ready to sink his teeth into some human flesh.

Bard groaned, the fleeing man couldn’t possibly believe that he could escape using a cab? He didn’t listen to the shouts and rushed towards the first cab, a gig drawn by a very large grey horse which stood there with his head hanging low. The horse was tethered to a fire hydrant and the man grasped the tethers to free the horse and reached for the reins. Bard didn’t want to think of the damage this could cause, a wild man trying to escape the law in a carriage? And the poor horse, it would be in jeopardy too now. But Mog did make one crucial mistake, he probably assumed that all horses are kind and docile creatures and that they can be handled by just about anyone. He had never been more wrong in his life.

The moment Mog laid a hand on the reins to drag them with him into the cab the huge horse turned his massive head around with his ears flat back and he grasped the man with his long yellow front teeth, by the already injured shoulder. Bard and Thran could only look in a mixture of horror and disbelief as the horse lifted the man off his feet and shook him violently. Now the dog reached Mog too and grasped a hold of his inner left thigh and for a moment the two animals were part of a tug o war with the man as the rope. The dog won, the horse just let go of the man and shook its head up and down a few times, as if he was laughing. The dog was snarling and Mog was screaming like an air raid siren, the sound could be heard from blocks away.

The K9 officer reached the man and told the dog to back off and before two seconds were gone Mog was cuffed and now he was wailing in pain and trying to come up with excuses. Bard and Thran walked over, rather casually. Mog wasn’t going anywhere now and the man was staring at the dog as if it was satan himself. The owner petted the huge male rather lovingly. “Good boy Huan, very good boy”

Bard sat down onto his haunches and he was smiling, he had gotten shot at and been hauled off like a packet and he didn’t like it, at all. “Listen up Mog, here is the deal. You tell me all about the table and Mr Masters and I promise that Huan here won’t have your balls for dinner today, now, how does that sound?”

Mog was writhing. “Fuck, morphine man, I need morphine, the nag, it bit me!”

Thran nodded. “Yes, and if you don’t start talking I am sure I can convince the cab driver of the necessity of letting us borrow his horse for a few moments more, he looks like he wants another taste, just like Huan”

Mog whimpered. “It wasn’t my fault ya, it was Mr Underhill. He shouldn’t have sold that goddamn table, I hid my stash in it man, all I had. So I had to go and get it back, but that fat fucker caught me and I had to end him, he saw me!”

Bard sent Thran a tight smile. “And you hid it with the deer head, that was very clever Mog, but you returned now didn’t you?”

The man nodded, sulking. “I didn’t get to find the table, it was in another room and there were someone in the hallway. I disengaged the alarms and came back yeah, found the table and my stash”

Thran gestured towards one of the officers. “Put him in a car, under surveillance. He may need a doctor”

Bard and Thran ran back upstairs and found Mog’s apartment and lo and behold, the table was there. It was very heavy so it was really a wonder that the man had managed to transport it without being seen by anyone but the table did in fact have some small wheels which could be pulled up when it was supposed to be stationary and it rolled fairly easily. On top of the table was several bags and Thran stared at them. “If I am not very wrong that is enough drugs to make an entire army high, Mog cannot expect anyone to believe that he keeps all this shit just to feed his own addiction”

Bard shook his head. “Nope, but the mystery is solved, the culprit is apprehended and justice will be served.”

Thran had to laugh. “Yes, Mr Masters did make a living on horses and now his killer got caught by one, that is pretty ironic wouldn’t you say? “

Bard chuckled too. “Yes, I think I will have a word with the boss of the state prison, I know they have this program where the inmates are to tame wild horses, I bet Mog will be thrilled to be a part of that”

Thran gave Bard a friendly punch to the shoulder. “Oh love, that would be cruel, think of the poor animals”

When they returned to the station Thor was in a very good mood, the case had been solved in record speed and the murderer was behind bars already. He was even humming as he gave the two men the rest of the day off. Bard and Thran couldn’t believe their own luck and immediately went to eat dinner at a very expensive restaurant. Mog got life in jail, he wouldn’t return to the outside world ever and good riddance. Thran did buy the fish table from Mr Underhill and it did look marvellous when it was finished, it fitted their living room perfectly. The only one not very happy was Mrs Masters when she discovered that there was something written with very small letters in the marriage contract and now she was on bare ground without anything at all of her husband’s money. A very skilled lawyer had managed to convince the state judge of the wisdom in granting everyone Mr Masters had sued a fat compensation and thus there was very little left. So the suing days were over, Mrs Masters did find herself a new sugar daddy after just a month and was promptly dumped two weeks later when said sugar daddy found a very pretty twenty year old with fake boobs and an ever more fake smile. Sometimes fate does walk in mysterious ways.

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