Inspector Andrew Daniels was drunk when he got the call. Billionaire entrepreneur, William Ames, had been horrifically murdered that evening and the entire police force was stumped as to how it happened. Andrew had dressed hurriedly with a heightened sense of anticipation, reciting the key details like a mantra.
"Poisoned, no blood, chopped up body."
This case would prove most challenging, even for someone of his own, prodigious skill.
Being in no condition to drive he'd taken a taxi to the location, an old country manor, miles away from any town or city. After a tussle with security he'd finally been allowed through a set of large iron gates onto the lavish property. A long driveway meandered towards the house, which sat upon a steep hill. The pathway was lined with towering tall lampposts which shone eerily in the darkness. Still slightly tipsy he'd hurried up the grassy slope, slipping on a patch of particularly wet grass and into a small, muddy ditch.
"Corridor beneath the main staircase, down the stairs about half way along and the laundry room is on the right," said the policeman at the door, stifling his laughter. Grumbling, Andrew stomped towards the front door. Before he could even think about the murder his jacket needed cleaning. Unlike William Ames, Andrew did not have a disposable income.
The late William's estate itself was testament to his worth. Andrew stepped into a large entrance hall, brightly lit by an elaborate, diamond chandelier. Stunning, ornate furniture was placed intricately at the edges of the room and large, expensive looking paintings covered most of the walls. A narrow, winding, staircase snaked towards the upper floors. He located the corridor under the staircase and made his way along.
About half way he spotted the gap in the wall revealing a set of old stone steps. A large, brown, wooden door sat at the bottom. Andrew turned the handle and pushed, but it wouldn't budge. He pushed harder but it still wouldn't open.
"You'll need to lift the door and turn at the same time," came a voice from the top of the stairs.
Andrew turned and behind him saw a woman step into view. He recognised her immediately from the pictures he had seen of her standing alongside her now deceased husband. He stared at her unashamedly, drinking in her perfect features.
Her pale white skin sparkled like freshly fallen snow on a frosty cold morning. Straight, shiny, golden blonde hair fell to just above her shoulders. She wore a tight, strapless red dress that accentuated her curves. The dress stopped to just above her knees, revealing a pair of long, toned legs.
The pictures did not do her justice, Andrew thought to himself though that may have been the alcohol talking. He hesitated for a few moments before greeting her.
"Mrs Ames," he said bowing his head. "I'm inspector Andrew Daniels."
She stepped forwards, her black heels echoing on the stone steps, her eyes passing over his muddy attire.
"Please, call me Carolina," she said, her face relaxing into a smile. As she brushed past Andrew to get to the door, her gorgeous rose scent filled his nostrils. He watched as she took hold of the handle, bent her knees slightly revealing a bit more of her thigh and lifted the door turning the handle and pushing it open effortlessly.
"Thank you," Andrew said as she stepped out of the way, flicking the light switch on as she did so.
"My pleasure," Carolina said. "It's not too difficult once you get the hang of it. Plus I'm good with my hands," she said flirtatiously, looking into the inspectors eyes.
Andrew laughed awkwardly. His rugged good looks had often got him into trouble. He had a thin face and a prominent chin, covered in two day stubble. His brown hair was flecked with strands of silver. It was his eyes, however, that were his most attractive feature; a cloudy, mystical grey. They stared at each other for a few moments before the inspector broke the silence.
"May I offer my deepest condolences at the death of your husband," he said.
"Thank you," she replied. "How was he murdered? Nobody will say."
"He was poisoned then mutilated. You seem undisturbed by this," he added when she did not flinch.
"With that much money he had a long list of enemies," she said shrugging her shoulders. "We didn't get on particularly well either," she added.
"I suppose his death leaves you with quite a bit of money," Andrew said.
"I would have got it anyway through the divorce," Carolina said.
"Divorce," Andrew asked, puzzled.
"Yes," said Carolina. "The paperwork came through a week before this unfortunate incident."
"You would have got half then I think," he said carefully.
"Half is more than enough to keep me going. He was a billionaire after all." she said slowly. A faint crease appeared on her forehead. "I hope you're not insinuating what I think you are Inspector."
"Absolutely not Carolina," Andrew said quickly. "Forgive me, I am just overly curious sometimes. Comes with the territory."
"I understand," Carolina replied.
A few more awkward moments passed.
"Carolina I wonder if you could help me?" Andrew asked.
"Certainly," she said.
"Are you able to gather the family members in the dining room in around twenty minutes? I just need to clean up."
"No problem at all Inspector. You should be able to find everything you need in there. I would help but I am completely useless when it comes to cleaning. Only the maid knows where everything is but she's been away for a couple of days."
"Not to worry I should be able to manage thank you," he said. "Interesting place for a laundry room. It looks a bit out of place in a beautiful house like this."
"Yes it does," she smiled. "When William bought the place he remodelled everything from the ground up. This is the only room in the house that hasn't changed. The foundations are strong and the drainage system make this the perfect place for washing."
"I'm sure it serves its purpose," Andrew smiled.
"I'll be off then Inspector," she said. "I shall see you in twenty minutes."
Her face relaxed again into a smile and she turned and retreated up the steps, her hips moving side to side as she walked. Andrew watched for a moment, mesmerised, then turned into the laundry room.
His nostrils were instantly hit with the powerful smell of pine fresh floor cleaner causing his eyes to water. Slightly surprised he blinked the tears out of his eyes and glanced around. The room was small, narrow and dark. The walls were built of heavy looking stone blocks and the floors of huge grey slabs with thin gaps between them.
A bright silver basin glistened on the other side of the room, above a small set of tattered cupboards. Andrew walked over and located some washing up liquid. His hands shook as his fingers closed around the thin bottle. A drink was needed before he could continue. He reached into the insides of his jacket and pulled out a tattered grey hip flask. He unscrewed the top and took a massive swig, wiping his face using a clean part of his jacket.
"That's better," he said to himself, watching his hands steady.
Smiling, he proceeded to place the flask on a clear space next to the sink. He removed his jacket and poured some of the washing up liquid onto the muddy parts and began to scrub. The stains were proving difficult to remove so he scrubbed harder, his arms moving faster and faster. As he worked his elbow came back and knocked into the hip flask. It fell to the ground with a clatter, landing on its side. Amber liquid seeped slowly from the mouth onto the tiled floor.
Andrew knelt down and watched as the liquid disappeared slowly down through the thin gaps in the floor.
He watched it for a few moments, a disgusted look on his face.
"What a waste of good scotch."
Twenty minutes later Andrew was sitting at the head of a twelve seater table in the Ames' stunning dining room. A large crystal dining table sat in front of a wall of magnificent windows, the height of the room. On the other side of the glass was a large swimming pool. Mist was rising from the surface as the cold air outside infused with the warm water. It glowed a bright blue which illuminated the windows and the surrounding area. Beyond the pool the gardens extended a few hundred metres further. Tall trees surrounded the smooth lawn which was perfectly trimmed, and the exact same shade of green all the way through.
Including Andrew's, five of the seats around the table were occupied. He looked down at his report on the family and put names to faces.
Immediately next to him sat the recently widowed Carolina Ames, still in her red dress. She wore a vacant expression, her eyes looking at nothing in particular.
Sitting opposite Carolina was a young girl, petite and pale skinned with auburn hair. She sniffled into a handkerchief as her brown eyes glistened with tears. This was Regina Ames, daughter to William and stepdaughter to Carolina.
Opposite her was a scrawny young man dressed in an expensive looking suit. He wore a haughty and angry expression on his pale face as though there were a million other places he would rather be than here. This had to be Michael Ames, the son of the recently deceased William Ames and the stepson of Carolina Ames.
This left Russel Smith, the boyfriend of Regina. Andrew had met him on his way down to the dining room. Russel was a good looking young man, his wavy brown hair styled so it looked windswept. He had his arm around Regina, comforting her as she sobbed silently.
They all sat patiently as Andrew leaned back in his chair, taking a sip from a newly refilled glass of whisky. It was a strong drink that had come from William's private store, a small safe below the desk in his home office. Whilst it was a very nice Scotch he hadn't been allowed to drink from William's favourite bottle.
"That's William's whiskey," Carolina had said sternly.
Not wanting to disrespect the widow he had accepted the drink which was welcome given he had spilt his earlier. Taking another long sip he stood up suddenly, feeling much more business-like.
"Now as you all know William Ames was murdered here tonight," Andrew began, looking at each of them as he spoke. "Traces of poison were found on his severed tongue, his body was drained of all blood, and chopped into pieces. The parts were found buried on the edge of this estate by the neighbour's dog."
"Why drain the blood," Carolina asked, looking confused.
"It makes the body impossible to identify," Andrew said. "The killer made one mistake though."
"What's that," Russel asked.
"They forgot to burn the fingerprints on the severed hand," Andrew said grimly.
There was a collective shudder.
After a few moments Andrew continued.
"Does anyone have anything they can tell me about his final few days? Anything suspicious. Anything out of the ordinary?"
"There was nothing odd," Carolina said slowly. "He did what he always did. He worked, he came home, drank whisky and relaxed."
"You'll have to give me more than that," said Andrew coolly. When nobody spoke he betrayed a hint of frustration.
"Look you are all suspects as far as I am concerned."
"How does that work," Michael asked angrily. "You've got no proof of anything."
"His body was found on this property," Andrew said. "Nobody has access to this property and, as I just experienced, security is tight. Now I'll ask again. Does anyone have anything to share?"
After a few moments silence Michael piped up.
"Regina, is there anything you want to say," he said harshly.
Regina burst into tears and Russel yelled, "Leave her alone. That was nothing alright."
"Does someone care to explain," said Andrew.
"Dad caught Russel sneaking around the house last week," said Michael. "He was trying to sneak into Regina's room. She's not allowed visitors after dark. It's Russel's fault though. He ended up lost. Dad ran into him wandering outside his and Carolina's room," Michael finished with a glaring smile at them both.
"Had you been to the house before," Andrew asked Russel.
"Yes," he spat. "But it was dark and I got a little lost."
Michael laughed scornfully but Andrew held up a hand to silence him.
"What happened when you were found," said Andrew calmly.
"Dad came to my room dragging Russel with him," Regina sobbed. "Screamed the house down. Shouting about how I was irresponsible and how Russel wasn't good for me."
"And what did you say," said Michael. Regina cried even harder. Carolina and Russel were looking at her uncomfortably.
"Say it," said Michael harshly.
"I SAID I WISHED HE WAS DEAD", she screamed. The look on her face was horrible. Dark makeup smudged around her eyes as black tears dripped onto her cheeks. She looked slightly unhinged. Michael smiled triumphantly. It was clear to Andrew that the two of them didn't get on.
"But what about you Michael? Didn't I hear some raised voices coming from William's study yesterday morning?" said Russel slowly.
Michael's face went, if possible, paler.
"I thought you were banned from the house?" Andrew asked.
"I came to check on Regina," Russel said quickly. "I hadn't seen her since last week so I came by during the day when I thought it would be safe."
Andrew nodded. He then turned to Michael.
"What happened?" he asked. Michael said nothing and crossed his arms.
"Michael either you tell me or I detain you for not providing information," said Andrew sternly.
"Fine! Dad and I were working on a deal that would have made the company millions." He breathed slowly. "Dad didn't think that the deal was the right idea. I disagreed. We argued. That was it."
"Really," said Russel slyly. "That was it? Didn't I hear something else? A phone call afterwards? Something about when he died you'd be able to make the decisions around here."
Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"That doesn't mean I killed him," he said nervously.
There was more silence. Everyone was looking down at their knees, avoiding each other's gaze. Andrew watched them all interestedly.
"Hold on a second. Nobody's questioning her," said Michael suddenly, pointing at Carolina.
Carolina looked shocked.
"I have spoken to the inspector already," she said quietly.
"No doubt using your charm, were you?" said Regina, finally getting control of her tears. She wore a look of the deepest loathing.
"She was merely opening the door to the laundry for me," said Andrew quickly.
Tears had begun streaming down Carolina's face. Andrew patted her on the hand sympathetically.
"I'll bring her some tea," said Russel. "Anyone else want anything? Top up on your drink inspector?"
Andrew shook his head. Russel left for the kitchen, returning momentarily with a cup and a saucer. He placed it in front of Carolina, whose hands started to shake. Russel took the milk from her, poured it in and proceeded to pour exactly one and a quarter teaspoons of sugar in his tea. Andrew watched him intently as he stirred the cup a few times.
"Very precise," he said. Russel nodded and sat down beside Regina. She touched him on the arm and leant on his shoulder.
"Well," said Andrew. "I think I've got enough from you all for now. I need to head back to the office. I'll be in touch." He downed his whiskey in one and left.
Andrew arrived back home in the early hours of the morning. The fireplace crackled as he threw a few logs onto the golden flames. Sitting back down, he flicked open the arm of his armchair revealing a small compartment. Inside was a small bottle of whiskey - his own private stash. Twisting off the lid he took a sip from the glass bottle and leant back, placing the cool material against his throbbing forehead. He replayed the conversation at the Ames Estate in his head again.
Everyone at that table had motive, but he was no closer to understanding who it was that had committed such a horrific crime. The killer had covered their tracks well. How had William Ames been poisoned? It must have been someone close to him.
The characters at the dining table had intrigued him. Regina and Michael had been at each other's throats for most of it, trying to play the blame game. Carolina had been calm and steady up until she had been accused by Michael. Was she breaking under the pressure? Russel had been quiet throughout. He seemed a good boy. Helpful but a bit dopey as his late night escapades had proved.
Andrew took another sip from the bottle. His hands started to shake again and for the second time that day he dropped his drink.
The glass shattered everywhere and Andrew swore loudly. He dropped down next to the bottle, half expecting to see the liquid seep away and disappear as the whiskey had done but it didn't. It just formed an odd shaped puddle on the polished surface of the wooden floor.
He stood up and his legs shook violently. He laughed to himself as he stumbled towards the kitchen. He was drunk again and needed a cup of tea to help sober himself up.
Arriving at the kitchen door he struggled to open it for a second but managed eventually. Good job it wasn't the laundry room door otherwise he'd need Carolina here, which wouldn't have been such a bad thing he thought to himself with a smile.
He fumbled around the cupboards, finally managing to boil the kettle and pour the scalding hot water into the mug. A couple of drops fell from the kettle onto his skin. He laughed again, wiping the scalding liquid off, leaving an angry red mark on his hands. That would leave a scar, no matter how hard he tried to wash it away. He added a few drops of milk, then poured in a spoonful of sugar, stirring the mug gently.
He took a sip of the sweet tea, willing his mind to think.
"Come on," he said, rapping his knuckles on his forehead. Suddenly something in his brain clicked.
He started fumbling around in his pockets, looking for his phone, punching in numbers and holding the phone up to his ears.
"Sir. Yes it's Andrew. No sir I'm not drunk again. OK I might be a little but I've got something sir. Yes, I know exactly what happened to William Ames. No I don't know who killed him but I can get the murderer to confess. How? That's the easy part sir."
That next morning Andrew stood outside of the laundry room with Carolina, Michael, Regina and Russel. He looked at them all carefully. One of them was the killer and he was about to find out who. He had long object in his left hand that was wrapped in newspaper, and a bottle of green liquid in his right. His right hand was also bandaged up, concealing the injuries from the night before.
"What happened to your hand," Carolina asked, rubbing his arm as she spoke to him.
"Burnt myself making tea," he said turning towards her and smiling.
"What are we doing here?" asked Russel nervously.
"A re-enactment," said Andrew excitedly. "A small roleplay which hopefully will unveil a clue as to who killed Mr Ames."
He walked to the front of the laundry room tried to open the door but again it wouldn't budge. Immediately Russel came over, leaned against it, lifted and pushed it open.
"Thank you Russel," Andrew said with a smile, stepping into the room with a spring in his step. This was a game for him now. A game to expose the true killer for who they were. He needed to do it properly however, to coax the true murderer out from the shadows. Like a surgeon he needed to be precise. To peel back the layers of skin and unveil the true source of the problem.
"What's that?" asked Michael, pointing to the bottle of green liquid.
"A bottle of liquid marker."
"And what's that?" said Regina, pointing at the long object wrapped in newspaper.
"A crowbar," said Andrew happily.
"What do you have a crowbar for?" said Carolina shakily.
"All will be revealed," Andrew replied. He stepped to the middle of the room to face four, nervous looking faces. When he spoke it was in a voice of pure confidence.
"Now after extensive research and questioning I still do not know who killed William Ames. I do however know exactly how. Here are my musings."
He began to pace up and down the room.
"A lot of thought has clearly gone into this murder. To poison someone, to chop up a body and to drain someone's blood is not the work of a random maniac. This murder required careful planning. It is the perfect. Completely untraceable to any human being. Now the killer would have known Mr Ames' movements and habits. My guess is they poisoned him, brought his body down into this room, drained it of all blood, chopped it up into little pieces and buried them in the grounds."
"What makes you think it was in here?" Carolina asked. "There isn't as much as a speck of blood in here."
"Two words," Andrew said calmly. "Pine Fresh. Considering the maid hasn't been here for a couple of days I must admit I was surprised to catch the smell of a freshly cleaned floor. Either someone has been very kind and picked up cleaning duties or someone has something to hide."
A chill went around the room. Andrew continued.
"Now how they poisoned Mr Ames I do not know. But the other parts of the murder are easy enough to deduce. But first, a question. Does anyone know how much blood the average human body holds?"
They all shook their heads.
"Approximately one and a half gallons."
"What does this have to do with anything," Michael asked.
"Your father's body was drained all of all blood," said Andrew. "Aren't you curious as to where it went?"
Michael didn't answer. Andrew walked over to the basin.
"Yesterday night when I was drinking in my house my hand slipped and the bottle smashed creating a puddle on the floor. Now yesterday, when I was drinking my whiskey in this room I dropped my hip flask and the liquid hit the ground. What do you think happened next?"
Everyone remained silent.
He opened the bottle of the green liquid. He tipped it slowly and the bright green liquid fell to the ground like a waterfall. It spattered and oozed into a pool of thick green gunk. It lay still for a moment then, very slowly, it trickled across the slab and seeped down through the crack. Andrew stood up and looked at them.
Carolina looked queasy.
"Now whilst the killer was cleaning the room some of the blood, like this green liquid, may have dripped through the cracks in the ground." he said.
He unwrapped the crowbar and identified one of the concrete slabs. The edge protruded slightly more from the ground than the others. He knelt down, wedged the crowbar in the crack, lifting it slowly. The base of the slab was drenched in a crimson liquid.
"The blood of William Ames," Andrew said.
There was silence for a moment, then an almighty scream. Russel had broken down. He fell to his knees, and dropped his face into his hands. He began sobbing uncontrollably, his whole body shaking as it hit the ground.
"OK, OK it was me," he said sobbing. The others looked at him horrified, Regina's hands clasped over her mouth. Andrew however remained calm. He replaced the slab back where it was, and stood in silence as he watched Regina fall to her knees beside Russel.
"Oh Russel, why?" sobbed Regina. She was hitting him hard with her hands, not able to hit his face so attacking any part of his body she could. Nobody stopped her. Russel couldn't respond. He was too distraught.
The door opened and two policemen came in and took him outside. They could hear the wails continuing, echoing down the stone passageway as they led him back up the house.
"How stupid is he?" Michael said shortly. "Why didn't he just stay quiet? All you proved was that was the blood - it didn't prove it was him."
"You make a very good point Michael," Andrew said. "But remember we are dealing with murder. To kill another human being is the most horrific thing you can ever do. You remember the tale of Macbeth? Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No matter how much he washed his hands he could not rid himself of the blood of the man he murdered. The same thing happened with Russel and with any man who murders. That is why I wanted you all here. I knew if the killer saw the blood they would break down the minute they saw it."
They all stood in silence.
"Well I guess that's that," Carolina said, breaking the silence. Her face had relaxed into a smile.
"I guess so," said Andrew, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his hip flask. "Damn it's empty. Carolina would you mind?"
"You do have real problems you know," she said. "Same as yesterday," she added.
"Oh no can I have the good stuff," he said.
"I told you yesterday inspector, that was Williams," she said her warm air disappearing and being replaced with a cold, distant tone.
"Oh I know, but seeing as he's dead and I've found his murderer I'm sure he wouldn't begrudge me a sip of his whiskey," he smiled. The door opened again and a policeman brought in the bottle and a glass filled with the amber liquid. Andrew took the glass and held it up, inspecting it in the light.
"Should I take a sip?" he said calmly, looking at Carolina.
Carolina said nothing but watched him closely, her eyes suddenly fearful.
"Should I," Andrew repeated. "Or will I end up poisoned like your husband?"
Carolina's face fell into a smile.
"How did you know," she said calmly.
"I'm afraid Russel hasn't been as faithful to you as you think he has," said Andrew nodding his head at Regina.
"What do you mean," Regina asked.
"A few things gave both Carolina and Russel away," said Andrew calmly. "I find it strange that Russel would get lost in a house where he's obviously been several times before. He was skulking around Carolina's room. I don't think he came to see Regina. I think he came to see you," he said directly to Carolina.
Carolina said nothing, standing there quietly. Regina was started sobbing into Michaels shoulder as they listened to the mystery being unravelled.
"Second, the tea yesterday. How did he know to pour exactly one and a quarter spoons of sugar? That's a very precise amount, almost as though he had made you tea previously?"
"What's strange about that," said Carolina.
"Given there is a maid in the house what kind of guest makes tea?" he said simply. "It is unheard of. Just like someone making the effort to mop a laundry room floor when nobody can open the door. And speaking of the door," he added. "What confirmed it for me was the door this morning. Russel opened it exactly the way Carolina did. A lift and a push."
"Why," said Michael to Carolina.
Carolina gave him an ugly look.
"I wanted it all," she said. "To punish him for mistreating me all the years we were together. He loved his job and his money more than me. He was a cruel man and he didn't deserve to live."
"And Russel," Regina asked.
"He was a young boy easy to manipulate," she said. "I could tell from the moment he looked at me he was infatuated. I did a few things for him and he disposed of my dear husband for me."
The door opened and a policemen took Carolina away. She did not scream. She simply obeyed and followed, her hips swinging side to side as she walked. Andrew watched the door close.
"There's something that doesn't quite make sense though," Michael said shortly.
"What's that," said Andrew, taking a swig from his hip flask.
"The blood," he said slowly. "Shouldn't it have dripped through without staining the base of the slab?"
Andrew walked over to the cleaning cupboard and picked up a bottle and walked towards the door, the label clearly showing. Two words were plastered on the front - Tomato Juice.
"So let me get this straight," Andrew's boss said an hour later as they sat in his office, enjoying a mug of steaming hot tea. "You coaxed the boy into confessing by pretending tomato juice was William Ames' blood."
"You got the wife to confess by threatening to drink the poisoned scotch."
"And you figured out the entire case while you were severely intoxicated?"
"You bet," Andrew said as he leaned back in his chair and poured the contents of his flask into his tea.