Murder In Retribution 

Chapter 1

Detective Constable Doyle and Detective Chief Inspector Acton crouched on the cement floor of the aqueduct and peered into the conduit that diverted surface waters into the greater London drainage system. Lodged in the conduit–dry at this time of year–was the decomposing body of an adult white male of perhaps fifty years.  Doyle held a paper mask over her face as the odor was making her stomach heave, and they studied the crime scene in silence while the SOCOs—Scene of the Crime Officers–stood by, awaiting instruction. Weak morning sunshine filtered through the trees lining the aqueduct, which ran though a remote wooded area near Epping Forest.

“Less than a week?” suggested Doyle.

“Perhaps,” said Acton. “Difficult to say–it is cool down here, and so we’ll wait for the morgue to come up with something more precise.” He glanced at her. “Ready to pull him over?”

Doyle nodded, unaccountably annoyed that he was being so deferential, and they carefully rolled the corpse over, allowing the Evidence Recovery Unit photographer to step in and take photos as they studied the decedent. It was an unusual wound; the man had been shot in the face with a large caliber weapon. An act of rage, thought Doyle; not your average professional job, which was a bit strange as all other aspects indicated a professional job. The remains of the face were a mess as the maggots had been busy, and between this gruesome sight and the odor of decomposition Doyle made a strangled sound in her throat and wished she were elsewhere.

“Need a moment?” asked Acton quietly, motioning the photographer away.

“No. I am in perfect curl.” She was annoyed, and broadened her Irish accent so that she pronounced it ‘paarfect.’ She knew she was being childish, snapping at him, but couldn’t seem to help it–she was miserable, he knew she was miserable, and he was walking on eggshells which was a sad testament to her supposed role as his helpmeet.  Unconsciously lifting a hand to bite her nails, she was thwarted in this desire by her latex gloves, and so instead fought an almost overwhelming urge to cry. Or throw things; either or.

Acton’s dark eyes rested on her for a moment and then returned to study the body. “It would probably be best to know for certain.”

With a monumental effort, Doyle took hold of her foolish, sorry self. “I do know for certain. I took a pregnancy test this mornin’.”  Best not to mention that she had panicked and thrown the stupid stick out the bathroom window, no easy feat from seven stories up.

He raised his gaze to meet hers.

“I am wretchedly sorry, Michael. I am bein’ such a baby and I can’t seem to help myself.” She sighed so that her mask puffed out and then collapsed again.

He touched her hand and said with quiet emphasis, “I am not sorry; it is wonderful news, Kathleen.”

It was the truth—which came as a complete surprise. Doyle had an innate ability to read people, and she could usually tell when someone was lying. Presumably this ability was inherited from some Irish ancestor–hopefully one who hadn’t been burned at the stake as a result—and it was a mixed blessing; it was no easy thing to constantly aware of the currents of emotions that swirled around her at any given time. Acton guarded his own emotions very closely but she knew on this occasion he was speaking the pure truth. It was a huge relief, all in all.

Fearing she would disgrace herself by being sick during what should be a sentimental milestone in married life, she stood and backed away a step, taking in a deep breath and trying to settle her stomach.  Acton rose to stand alongside her and the SOCO team took this as a cue that the visual inspection by the detective staff had now concluded—although there had been precious little detecting done thus far.  As Acton nodded permission, the examiner moved in to bag the corpse’s hands and conduct preliminary tests for trace evidence before the body itself would be bagged and removed.  After the man moved away, Doyle continued, “And do not pretend this wretched turn of events is not completely my fault.”

“I insist upon taking some credit.”  He cocked his head, trying to tease her out of her sullens.

For whatever reason, his mild reply only succeeded in making her more annoyed and she made a hot retort. “I am well-aware that you have no self control, my friend; mine is the burden of keepin’ you at arm’s length.”

“You failed miserably,” he agreed.

Faith, he was a treasure, and lucky it was; any lesser husband would be giving her the back of his hand.  She had to duck her head to suppress an inappropriate smile; it wouldn’t do at all to be seen giggling while this poor mucker’s mangled body was under examination. Acton was relieved by her reaction, she could feel it, and the tension between them dissipated. Face facts, she thought; what’s done is done and in this case it was your husband who had the doin’ of you. She had been trying all morning not to dwell on the consequences of that fateful night some weeks ago, and what it might mean to the future that she had a hard time picturing to begin with. Due to her intuitive ability, Doyle had managed to carve out a useful position as a detective at the New Scotland Yard CID and she especially loved the field work; interviewing the witnesses and gathering the evidence which would allow her to untangle the latest wreckage of human conflict. Now the future was once again uncertain; her life was going to change dramatically and she couldn’t help but think it may not necessarily be for the better.  As she eyed her new husband she reflected that, in truth, she was not yet fully recovered from the last dramatic change.

“It is not as though we didn’t want children.”

Again, she hid her surprise. The subject had never come up, which was only to be expected as their courtship had not commenced until after they were married; she and Acton were still feeling their way and it was not what anyone would characterize as a normal coupling–they were not your average mister and missus.

Feeling considerably relieved–now that the dreaded moment of revelation was behind her–Doyle made an effort to right her ship.  As they were no longer on a level with the corpse, her stomach seemed less inclined to rebel and she seemed less inclined as well—grow up, Doyle. “It’s just that the timin’ couldn’t be worse, Michael.”

“Do you not want this baby?” he asked gently, his tone neutral.

The shocking words helped re-align the world that had recently gone off-kilter. Faith, what on earth ailed her? And wasn’t she a complete knocker, to be acting like a spoiled child; he’ll be regretting this whole adventure in marriage if she kept this up.  “Whist, man; don’t be daft.” She met his eyes with what she hoped was a message of reassurance. “Of course I do. I’m havin’ a fit of the dismals, is all. And I’m not used to feelin’ ill—I’m just that frustrated, Michael, and I beg your pardon fastin’.”

She managed to convey a smile at him through the mask and rested her hand on his arm. He covered it with his own for a moment and she could sense his relief. You should be ashamed of yourself, to worry him so, she scolded; but it was such a crackin’ shame that this child was conceived on such a night. Nearly a month ago she had confronted a killer who had lured her to Acton’s flat, and by a miraculous turn of events had managed to kill the killer and save the day.  It had not been an unmitigated success, however, since in the process she had shot herself in the leg, and whilst awaiting the doctor’s arrival she had demanded that Acton make love to her amidst the carnage.  It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and while she may not have been entirely rational she had definitely been fertile.  Although they were already secretly married at the time, this prompt pregnancy would only add fuel to the bonfire of speculation as to why Lord Acton, celebrated Chief Inspector at the CID, had married a first-year Detective Constable by way of Dublin in such a skimble-skamble fashion. Please, baby, she pleaded mentally; don’t come early.

Silently, they stood side-by-side and watched the photographers take the final photos before the body was bagged and transported from the scene.  Now the more tedious task of helping the examiners scour the area for clues would commence, and it would no doubt be a hard slog, considering the untamed vegetation on either side of the aqueduct.  If this crime scene was anything like the others, there would be precious little to show for such a dogged search and Doyle sighed yet again;  she was not one formeticulous by-the-bookings when there were better uses for her talents.

Acton glanced at her, assessing. “Would you like to go home?”

“No; truly, Michael, I am all right–I am sorry I snapped at you.”  Mainly, she was very sensitive to her new status as Acton’s wife, and did not want to give the impression to the other staff that she felt entitled, and didn’t have to earn her way.

Before he could respond, his mobile phone rang, and he checked the ID and took the call. He listened, said, “Right; I’m coming,” and disconnected. “Another one–Newmarket.”

“Saints; we’ll be runnin’ out of crime scene tape at this rate.”  There had been a rash of underworld murders in the past few weeks, and rumors of a vicious turf war seemed to have merit, as the body count kept climbing between the two warring factions. “They’re callin’ your fine self because they think it’s connected?” Normally Acton’s territory did not include Newmarket, but if the first responders thought it was part of a pending investigation, they would contact the presiding DCI.

He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the scene before him. “Presumably; we shall see. There is always the chance that a killer is taking the opportunity to use the other murders as a cover.”

“As was the case the first murder we worked together.” She smiled up at him, mistily sentimental about their first bloated corpse—what a fine day that was; she had been terrified of him, of course, but it had all worked out. Or worked in, more like, which had in turn brought her to her current sorry state.

“I’ll not soon forget.”   He returned her smile, which was as sentimental as he was like to get; he was not one for pretty compliments—nor was she one to expect them.

With a gleam, she teased, “There’s a bright side; if all the villains are to be killin’ each other off, more time for us to be paintin’ the nursery.”  She had the satisfaction of seeing a flicker of relief in his dark eyes; shame on her for fretting him so.

His gaze moved to the wooded banks on each side of the aqueduct, assessing the task ahead. “I will have Williams come to help you finish here.”

Doyle was instantly cross again. “I don’t need Williams to help me.”

“Yes, you do.”  He found the programmed number on his mobile and rested his eyes upon her while he waited.

Quirking her mouth, she observed, “It is a rare wonder, husband, that you put up with me as you do.”

He met her eye as he spoke to Williams and Doyle had to duck her head to control another inappropriate giggle–Acton had little choice but to put up with her. A brilliant and eccentric man, he was suffering from some sort of obsessive neurosis and the object of his fixation was her own fair self.  He had interrupted a murder investigation to confess his status as a Section Seven—a stalker—and with no further ado had bundled her off into marriage; not that she had put up much of a resistance.  She was not certain how long his condition had been in existence or how long it would last; she only knew that she was right for him, and he for her.  It had been six weeks now and thus far, she had no regrets—well, she was bitterly regretting that she had hysterically demanded sex after her first kill, but that wasn’t really his fault; men were not known for standing firm in such a situation.

Acton finished his conversation with Williams and disengaged. “He will be here shortly. If you would allow him to be of service, I would appreciate it.”

He was teasing her in his dry way; she was professionally jealous of Williams and tended to be territorial. “Be off, my friend,” Doyle replied with as much lightness as she could muster. “We will see you later.”  Smiling at her use of the pronoun, he squeezed her arm gently and then left for Newmarket.