The scene at the front door was seared into Khlid’s mind: a child, hanging by a chain from the second-story window, his swollen, bloody face confronting her as she approached the manor. Protocol was to leave the location of a crime untainted for as long as possible. Khlid had nonetheless ordered a beat cop to remove the horrid sight—the boy, no older than ten, deserved his dignity—but the chain was thick and the officer was still sawing away.
Now Khlid stood before the servants of the manor, assembled in stunned silence. “We won’t rest until the truth comes to light. God bless.”
“God bless,” the staff echoed, some through tears.
Khlid turned to Rollins, standing behind her, reached into her coat pocket, and pulled out her notebook. “Have we counted the dead?”
“At least six, ma'am. Still checking all the rooms,” Rollins said. The reed-like sergeant was the best the Seventh Precinct had to offer. His age had slowed him down, but he still managed a crime scene better than most. “We are checking the surrounding grounds for anything out of the ordinary. Inspector Chapman is already inside the house making his analysis.”
Chapman gets first look. Fucking great.
The next question hurt to ask: “Did we find what was missing of the boy?”
Rollins inhaled slowly before responding. “No, ma’am.”
Khlid walked to the house, her head down in thought. Rollins followed close behind. The morning air was wet and cold. The downpour from the night before had evaporated; now all that remained was the mud and fog. Khlid’s feet squished along the ground. Considering the manor’s distance from the city, Khlid expected to hear morning birdsong, or country hounds barking to protest their disturbed routine. Instead, the land itself seemed to hold its breath, as if haunted by the events from the night before. Against the silent backdrop, the rumble of carriage wheels announced the arrival of more officers to protect the scene.
“How much information do we have on the family?” she asked Rollins, averting her gaze from the front door.
The sergeant pulled out a notepad. “What do you already know, ma’am?”
Khlid thought back to the report she had read in the carriage ride over. “Pruit family. Loyalist to their core. Perfect record on paper. The head of the family, Charl, made his money in manufacturing. Mostly providing for the war effort.”
Rollins coughed. Khlid realized she was taking a drag from a cigarette she did not remember lighting. The damn things had become as natural as walking. Rollins had made it well known he hated their acrid smell.
“Completely right, ma’am.” Rollins turned a page. “One daughter and one—umm…” He glanced at the house. “One son. The matriarch, Muri Pruit, oversaw the import of countless cultural goods to the capital city from across the Empire. Of note, she was recently responsible for acquiring the Royal Stones of Jurridia.”
“Fascinating,” Khlid said with mock interest. The southern nation of Jurridia had come under Imperial rule about five years ago. Many of their royal artifacts had been taken to be displayed in the Museum of Kingdoms. “Were they socialites?”
Rollins lifted his gaze from his notes. “Ma’am?”
“How often did they go to those royal parties in the city? You know, the shit rich people live for.”
“We don’t know that yet, ma’am.”
Khlid snatched the notebook from Rollins’ hand. She wrote down three addresses, then handed it back. “Find their address book. If any of those are in there, let me know.”
Khlid indicated her cigarette. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded and headed for a side entrance to the manor. Khlid noticed a workman's shed, roughly fifty meters from the manor. Something that had been bothering her suddenly came into focus.
She walked halfway over to the shed. There was a medium-sized window on each side—but only one reflected the foggy morning light; the other was a dark maw. “It poured rain all last night,” she muttered to herself. “What are the chances a family this rich has a staff too sloppy to close a shed window during a storm?”
Khlid tossed her half-smoked cigarette to the ground.
Nasty habit. Really must stop.
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