My name is Sam Campbell. At the age of twenty-one, after three years of courses and training as a Probationer, I traded that name for Officer Campbell, and again after another four years for the fun title of Homicide Detective Campbell, to be Detective sergeant after yet another two. That'd be the last title; A decade and a half later I’d be plain Sam Campbell again, and hopefully, with enough therapy and unconditional love, I might live a few more years as him before I put my old service revolver in mouth, and become the deceased Sam Campbell.
The tattoos surfaced the year before my retirement, along with the conviction of Richard Hunting, a prominent athlete, training to run in the next Olympic, though I can’t remember which length. He was running during the incident, only, not fast enough for his lifelong coach, whose name escapes me. His attempts to beat his best time were just under triple digits when he began to pick up speed for the first time since his forty-fifth lap, and at an unprecedented rate. I'm sure the coach was delighted, up until Richard swerved off the track and into him, shoulder first, flattening him against the wall with enough force to burst his liver and one of his lungs open, separate his spine into three segments, and turn his ribcage into shrapnel. It took almost three hours for the doctors to pluck the little bone shards out of the red lumpy paste that were the man's fully functioning vital organs a few hours before..
Richard would have spent the majority of his life in prison if it didn't end barely an hour after his coach’s. At the time his death was recorded as an extreme episode of Supraventricular Tachycardia, which is a ridiculous way of saying his heart was beating too fast, except the vast majority of SVT episodes cause dizziness and mild chest pains at worst, while Richard's brain was found riddled with aneurysms and his heart was estimated to be beating a new world record just before it collapsed in on itself.
That was the first and one of the few publicised cases involving the tattoos. No-one had any idea of the forces at work, so Richard's spontaneous attack and death were put down to a combination of stress-induced madness, resentment of his tyrannical coach, and the poisonous effect of performance enhancing drugs, which the coach was later discovered to be providing to several of his other athletes. They wrote off the little unidentifiable tattoos as some athletic’s good luck gimmick.
"The department doesn’t live in the back of my head Nick" I remembered telling Nicholas, who was playing third fiddle in my fathers business, behind the man himself and my younger brother. " I know about as much as you do".
Nick's an old work friend, old enough for the work to have been carpentry. He worked alongside me for Dad and continued to work for him long after I stopped, until Campbell and son's became just Campbell's and he in turn became my employee, which brought no end of jokes and general cajolery until Nick followed suit barely a year after. Liver disease. Poor Nick had one pint too many. Well, probably far more than one, knowing Nick.
Nick grunted and Shrugged "what's the point of having a Detective for a friend If he can't get you on the level above all the bullshit artists?"
I raise my americano and give it a little shake in response "They make for reliably designated drivers".
Nick grunts again and takes a chug of his own coffee, black and Irish. Back then it was still funny to watch Nick sneak out his flask and drop a taint of jack Daniels into every mug, flask and Styrofoam cup put in front of him. Alcoholism always starts out as a fun quirk.
“I don’t know why you always want to meet here Sam.”
“here’s as good as anywhere else”
“I spend much more time with you I’m gonna start shitting coffee beans, which would actually save me a fiver for this miserable excuse of a brew. You know your always welcome round to mine”
I swallow another mouthful, enjoying the hot liquid slide down my throat before answering “mmm...are you sure about that? Your mum might not be”. Nick grinned in recollection. I didn’t.
The last time I stepped foot in Nick’s home I was bringing him home after a birthday barbecue that got out of hand in the best way. I frog-marched the giggling, stumbling man-child to his bedroom and said my farewells, all under the watchful eye of Nick’s mother. I felt her gaze burn into the back of my head as I made my way back downstairs and to the front door and turn to see this stout little woman I’ve always associated with a certain but formal friendliness, now glaring up at me with unapologetic hatred. She finally speaks when I awkwardly try to say goodbye.
I saw Nick a couple of days after and told him about his mother’s confrontation. He grimaced and quickly explained how she hadn’t been right in the head for a long time. I accepted his apology and promised not to hold it against her, and soon enough his mother’s condition became a running gag. Nick had the unique ability to laugh at his own pain. I laughed some of my hardest laughs in the last few weeks of his life.
“fair ‘nough. I just like being where we know everyone”
“dum, dum-a-dum-a dum dum”
I didn’t get personally involved with the affair until later into the year, when an almost Shakespearean tragedy of a case in a shiny plastic sleeve was dropped on my desk. My tragic hero, Claire Duncan, was a lovely little creature before she left Pennsylvania, a pretty young suburban girl with golden locks perfectly curled down to her shoulders, a youthful complexion that was a delight to look upon and a undeniable love for life. Within five months of living in Birmingham she was described as a miserable introvert with a dirty yellow rat’s nest clumsily cut just above her ears. She’d die that same year in hospital, taken off of her life support, her brain snuffed out long before.
Claire’s sister wasted no time in booking a flight and was on English soil the next night. She called Claire’s neighbour, whom she became vaguely acquainted with her last and only visit a month and a half prior to a collection of grotesque pavement portraits hitting my desk, and agreed on a time for her to come over to collect her key and belongings, and discuss the details of Claire’s flat. She got a call from me soon after.
Twenty to eleven the next morning, I’m standing opposite Claire’s door. By all rights it should have poured in memoriam, but the weather has no such sympathies, so the early summer heat had me in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, two buttons undone and tie in the glove compartment. I was almost queasy with self-loathing as I waited in ambush, barely giving the woman twenty-four hours to digest the loss of her sister, but I couldn’t get the name or location of the hotel she was staying at, nor did I even know whether she was in Birmingham yet, and I doubted I’d have the time to find out. The parents refused to step foot in the country that reduced their youngest daughter to a barely functioning shell of flesh and bone tucked snug into a hospital bed, and it would be reasonable to assume their surviving daughter shares the sentiment. If she just wanted to lay her baby sister to rest and go home to mourn alongside family and friends, no one could hold it against her.
I arrived twenty minutes early to mull over my approach, listing questions in my head that’d extract the maximum amount of information in the minimum amount of time and ergo remove a nosy, insensitive flatfoot from the poor woman’s life, but eleven came and went without a sign of her. In hindsight, I should have already known she’d be late. Yesterday she was driving past American homesteads and familiar faces, now it’s a filthy maze of council estates and warehouses.
I pop a hard strawberry sweet in my mouth, swirling it around my tongue and clacking it against my teeth while my fingers drumming against the strained skin of my belly. I force my hands still as soon as I’m conscious of it's movement. Fidgeting is a bad habit for someone communicating with people on official terms. It shows disinterest in their petty problems, or discomfort at the prospect of your potential involvement, which is even worse. I check my watch a third time before crunching down on my sweet and pressing the sharp shards against the roof of my mouth till they dissolve to patches of sweetness on my tongue.
Eventually the fast, echoed smacks of cheap rubber soles against the hard plastic floor preluded a seven year old boy in a Power Rangers t-shirt and swimming shorts with a cardboard box under each arm and another over his head appearing from the stairway at the opposite end of the corridor and charge down towards me, until his helmet tumbles off and he pivots to crouch and fumble with the renegade box, trying and failing to grip the edge between his thumb and finger while cradling the other boxes under his armpits. His mother, a bloated middle aged woman with her grotesque distended belly hanging out of her polyester blouse, bouncing, waddled past, alongisde Emily Duncan.
Emily Duncan. If Claire had never left her country and instead spent another six and a half years working the frontline of estate for her father, she’d look the spitting image of her older sister. A Duncan girl, dragged from their secure and comfortable world to my world just to lose someone they should have spent the rest of their life loving. History repeats itself.
Emily wore, among jeans and a buttoned up cardigan, all the standard issue battle armour of the modern career woman; an self-assured stride, an ironclad composure and a disciplined application of make-up. Fairly common sites for my colleagues burdened with the wrong-doings of the spoilt, self entitled and white collared, but not for those working in the often traumatic and arguably cathartic field of Homicide, a crime of red mist and regret.
She carried a couple of stacked boxes under each armpit as they both approached me. Any conversation I might've heard died at the sight of me. The Mother’s venomous glare reminded me of Nick’s own mother, but Emily was doing her best to avoid my gaze, Fidgeting with the boxes under her arms.
I hear the door click closed behind me as I lead the way into Claire’s home. It looked as if it’s owner had died within a week of purchasing it, not half a year. A charming deep green wallpaper with a kaleidoscopic pattern was wrapped around half the living room, the rest of the wall left bare and ugly. The shag carpeting was spoiled, dusted with detritus carried from the outside corridor and spotted with various spillages. A small plasma TV was tucked into the corner on a bedside table, perched precariously on an outdated DVD player and an even more so Video player. Beside were two stacked plastic storage boxes covered in stickers of various care bears, superheroes and Scooby doo characters.
A purple bean-bag ripped near to rags sagged mournfully in the opposite corner, beside a shade-less porcelain lamp left on the floor and a fold out bed, pulled out and covered by a quilt decorated with clockwork orange cover art. I plant myself left of the corridor entrance, limiting my intrusion as much as I could.
Ironically the incompetent homicide detective is in far greater danger whiles he’s in the proximity of the victim’s friends and family than he is while in the proximity of the murderer, at least in my experience. If you are ever murdered in a first world country, you will more than likely know the killer. Love and hate have barely a thread’s width of a threshold, and an overly sensitive lover will barely have time to pry that cleaver out of your scalp before bursting into tears; a savvy arresting officer keeps a pack of tissues on hand beside his handcuffs. The remaining social circle on the other hand can understandably be very hellfire and brimstone towards the individual, and a particularly tactless officer’s good intentions can be lost in translation, leaving him at best with a lack of information and at worst a lack of teeth.
Crossed arms is rarely an option; too forceful, too dominating, best left for kids and cookie jars. Hands behind your back is similarly Ill-advised. An officer that spends his time berating people with his hands behind his backs doesn’t belong outside of a cartoon. Arms in front, one hand held in the other, is only acceptable with the most dramatically solemn of mourners, otherwise it’s just mocking, or awkward at the very least. I find the best option is to hold a little pocket notebook and write down little notes every so often while your listening, even if they don’t say anything of value. I have a shoebox at home filled with the things. I occasionally rifle through them whenever I feel a little nostalgic, though I rarely have the stomach to read through the last few pages. My nephews on the other hand love to dig them up and ask me about evil tattoos, comatosed girls and cannibalistic magic. My brother and I are always quick to change the subject.
“I’ve brought too many boxes”
She had. Her sister’s belongings barely warranted a bin bag.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, B.NobleWrite a Review