This was written for the Round 3 of the New York Midnight Challenge 2018, where you get 48 hours to write a 1000 word story. Oh… and you have to stick to the hilariously bizaare prompts they give you.
Prompts: Mystery, An Opthalmologist’s Office, A Quiche
After years of working as a senior detective, Malorie Salt thinks she’s seen it all. But a gruesome murder at an eye hospital leaves her blindsided…
Detective Inspector Malorie Salt had just zipped up her suitcase when her phone buzzed. She froze, read the message, then looked up at her husband.
“Let me guess,” he said coldly, “work.”
“I thought you weren’t on call this year.”
“I wasn’t meant to be.”
She nodded again. He sucked the air through his teeth and picked up his suitcase.
“You know Mal, just once I’d like to spend Christmas with my wife.” The bedroom door clicked shut behind him.
Inside St Magdalene’s Hospital, a Christmas staff party had been gatecrashed by police. Elves and santas and his slutty helpers were sobering up quickly by the food table, a woman in a snowman jumper was wailing in the corner. Malorie walked over to the two police officers guarding the corridor and flashed her badge.
“Victim?” she asked.
“58-year-old male. Dr Avin Patel, Senior Ophthalmologist…” Malorie frowned. The name felt familiar. She tried to tune back into the officer’s words; “…he was found by his assistant, around half 9 this evening. His office door was unlocked. We’ve only got security footage of the ground exit. No one came in or out once the party started.”
“So you think our suspect is a guest?”
“Our best guess. Hard to believe though, when you see the body. We’re questioning everyone now. From what we’ve heard, the doc was a good chap.”
“Dead men always are,” Malorie sighed, snapping on plastic gloves.
The body was slumped on the chair behind the desk, head thrown back, mouth slack. Blood had splattered down his white coat and Christmas jumper; a reindeer with a little lightbulb for a nose. It flashed red every few seconds. Malorie stepped closer to Dr Patel. His eyes had been removed.
She stared at the empty sockets. They gaped back at her like two bloody mouths.
“Salt!” Detective Inspector Sally Jenkins stood in the doorway, “What are you doing here?”
“Got roped in. Was meant to be on holiday. Why are you here?”
“I’m the DI on call…”
“Bastards!” Malorie swore. “It’s been nothing but cock ups since they brought in the new recruits.”
Jenkins tutted in sympathy.
“Go home, Salt. You look shattered.”
“So do you! No point leaving now, I’ll have missed my flight anyway. Let’s try to crack this before Christmas, eh?”
Malorie stepped closer and pressed a latexed finger against the doctor’s hand. The skin felt soft; rigor mortis hadn’t set in yet. He’d died less than three hours ago. The wounds were deep and messy; the perpetrator had hacked at the brain tissue. There was no other sign of injury. And no sign of a struggle. Were they dealing with a clumsy crime of passion, or was this a professional? There was nothing else of note, save for a paper plate of sausage rolls and a slice of quiche. Someone must have brought it for him.
“DI Salt?” A junior police officer was outside the door, “the victim’s wife is here.”
“I’m coming,” Malorie paused, then picked up a framed photo of two grinning children. “Cute kids.”
Malorie could hear Mrs Patel before she could see her. She was the same woman in the snowman jumper, who’d been wailing uncontrollably in the waiting room.
“It was that kutti who did this!” She shrieked, “his assistant! He didn’t think I knew about them? Of course I did—”
“Mrs Patel, please, take a breath—”
“She did it! I saw her sneaking off to his office tonight, I know it was her!”
“Can someone find the assistant?” Malorie asked an officer.
“Yes!” Mrs Patel screeched, “Arrest her! If only she knew what pain she has caused me and my poor daughters. Avin would never leave his family, not for some office whore—”
The woman ranted on, but Malorie heard nothing. She slowly walked back to the crime scene, her heart slamming against her ribs.
“You, with me,” she pointed to junior officer.
Sally Jenkins was standing at the desk, holding the framed photo in her hand. She looked up and saw Malorie’s face.
“You weren’t meant to be the DI on this case, Salt.” Jenkins said softly, placing the photo back. Malorie felt the ground tilt.
“Avin Patel…” Malorie whispered, “he was…”
“My daughter’s doctor. Yes.”
Jenkins’ five-year-old daughter, whose tumour had been misdiagnosed by a leading ophthalmologist.
“How long have you planned this?” Malorie said.
“Since I buried my child.”
The junior officer began to speak rapidly into the radio. Both women ignored him.
“It was easy really,” Jenkins continued, “to sneak into the hospital. So many blind spots. Plus I was dressed as a santa, so no one would look twice at a party. Gave him a paralytic. Used a spoon. Got carried away, I guess. Then I just hid on site until I got the call to come in.”
“Sally…” Malorie was at a lost for words. Her eyes flicked to the body. “Why…why so violent?”
“I wanted to create a case that would blindside the team, so to speak.” She shrugged. “And maybe I wanted him to feel just a little pain.”
Police officers pushed Jenkins into the wall to cuff her, but she craned her neck to speak to her old colleague.
“You know you were the only person I’d told about my daughter? That one time, when we were drunk, a decade ago.” She smiled sadly. “But that’s all it took for our Salt. If only you’d gone on holiday. This would have been my case… one I’d vowed never to solve.”
Malorie dragged herself up the stairs, shed her clothes, and sobbed when she saw there was a husband-shaped lump in the bed. She crawled in, and instantly felt his warm limbs wrap around her cold body.
“You didn’t leave,” she whispered.
“Couldn’t spend Christmas without you,” he murmured. “Did you catch the bad guy?”
Malorie opened her eyes, her tears soaking into the pillow. She shook her head slowly. Not this time.
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