The Smell of Death
by Sylvia Mulder
Detective Daniel Metz could feel the fabric of his cheap H&M suit start to melt in the old sofa. The smell of mothballs disguised by a few misplaced bowls of pot pouri was overwhelming, as he carefully glanced around the living room. A crumpled black and white photograph of a handsome young man in a military uniform hung on the wall above the 1980s style telly, the mount so old the corners had turned yellow. The sounds of a hanging clock ticking as he looked at the woman sitting in front of him on an awkward wooden chair. The woman stared at him, eyes as stern as that of a school headmaster, her lips in a straight line. After about 10 seconds of silence, Detective Dan cleared his throat. He’s seen a lot in his 13 years as an investigator, but this woman thoroughly freaked him out.
“I have to be honest, Mrs Lockheart. I am confused as to why I am here,” he finally spoke.
“Yes, I gathered that,” she said, though not attempting to clarify the situation further.
This morning Detective Dan received a phone call. He was still in bed, half dressed with one shoe on and nursing a rather heavy hangover, when chief of police Garrison called. Could he please make his way to Bedford Avenue, a tip came in on the hotline. It’s about the missing teenager the squat had been looking for the past six weeks. This could be the break they so desperately needed. “And Metz,” Garrison told him, appearing to smell the booze on his breath through the phone. “At least have a wash and a change of clothes, please. The tipster specifically asked to speak with you. This is something you need to get right – no fuck up.”
Now Detective Dan was sitting here, his brain felt like it was being cut by a thousand little razorblades and frankly, he had better things to do than be caught in a stare-off with this stranger.
“Mrs Lockheart, you do realise you are wasting valuable police time?” he tried to sound stern and detective-like. “I suggest you cut to the chase. Now what is it you wanted to tell me?”
The woman snickered when he mentioned the words ‘valuable police time’. Clearly, his bad cop routine still needed some work.
“Alright, detective. I only called you because my mother had requested me to do so,” the woman said. “You see, she is dying, my mother. Upstairs. Cancer. The last few days she has been having terrible nightmares, and this morning she woke up demanding to speak to Detective Metz. She would not settle down or take her medicine before I promised to call you, so I did. I’m afraid I know of nothing more. It’s best you speak with her yourself.”
“Fine,” Detective Dan said. This was getting stranger by the minute. He almost wished he was back doing the awkward stare-off, instead of having to speak with a dying old woman. “Take me to her then.”
Three minutes later, he was in the lady’s bedroom that, quite literally, smelled of death. The shades were drawn, letting in only a small ray of sunlight that showed the worrying amount of dust floating around the room. On the nightstand a vase of old roses, that also didn’t survive the overpowering sense of death that hung in the room. He sat next to the lady, who immediately opened her eyes and as soon as he sat down, grabbed his wrist with her long and veiny fingers. Detective Dan felt like vomiting. The smell was too much for him. It reminded him of something all too familiar, something that belonged only to him.
“Detective Metz. Yes, it’s you. I recognize you,” the woman greeted him.
“I’m sorry, have we met before?”
“No. But I have been following you for a long time,” the old woman stared at him, showing him where her daughter got the stern look from.
Being in this room with this woman and the dead flowers and dust was making Detective Dan extremely uncomfortable, and her mysterious behaviour was too much to bear. He lost his patience. “Listen, Ma’m,” he cleared his throat. “I’m here because your daughter called our hotline and said you have valuable information that could help us in the investigation of the missing schoolgirl, Georgia Sutherland. I’m not sure why you specifically requested me and to be honest, I don’t care. I don’t think either of us have much time to discuss this in detail, so let’s have it. What do you know?”
The woman’s facial expressions changed from curious mystery to overwhelmingly angry in a split second. Her blue hands grasped detective Dan’s wrist harder, putting her long nails into his skin until it started to bleed.
“Listen up chap, you can’t fool me with your fake cop attitude. I know what you did. I saw you. Seven years ago. Yes, I was there. And I can guess where you were six weeks ago.”
Detective Dan started to feel the alcohol from last night come up through his nose. The panic in his belly and the throbbing in head all proved too much for him. He covered his mouth with his hands and ran out the door, off the stairs and into the Savannah heat.
Once home, he went straight to the basement. The girl started to scream.