A short story by Harriet Young

AI generated artwork for Sweet Vengeance

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A crime of passion, that was what they were calling it. A woman scorned. And on the face of it, that was what it seemed to be. All of the evidence pointed to it – the messages to the other woman, the reports of furious rows, the neighbourly gossip about what a nice man he had been, what a difficult woman she had been, who could blame him. This was more than corroborated by the wife herself, who had been deeply unpleasant to everyone who had been unlucky enough to be in contact with her.

But something still didn’t sit right.

Flo eased the key into the lock, glancing left and right down the dark street. There was silence, in the way there can only be at 3am. Inside, darkness. Flo tried the light switch – nothing. They must have cut the electricity. She took her torch from a coat pocket, the thin ray of light illuminating the room.

No one had been inside for months and everything had been cleared out, but the scent hung in the air. A sickly sweet smell of royal icing, sugar roses, vanilla sponge. A memory of the first time she had been in the shop rose unbidden to her mind’s eye. The beautiful display of wedding cakes with their tiers and flowers and golden sashes defaced by the angry blood splatters, Ray Hammond lying face up on the floor with his eyes frozen in horror, his throat a mess of slick crimson. 

Now, the surfaces were clean and empty. There was nothing to suggest it had been a wedding cake shop at all. Nothing apart from that lingering smell.

Flo moved over to the spot where the body had been found. Another flash of a memory hit her; Ray, splayed, the blood. She shook it away. There was nothing to be seen now apart from a very well scrubbed patch of floor.

Flo crouched, knelt back on her heels and took out her phone. She located the file she’d emailed to herself, opened the attachment and began to flick through the photos. There was the evidence, every bit of it pointing at Ray’s wife, Jean. The paring knife usually used for trimming icing but most recently used for slicing a jugular, the fingerprints – everywhere, though that wasn’t surprising in her shop, the sweet daisy earring found just beside Ray’s body. So why was it that Flo had this nagging feeling?

 She zoomed in on the photo of the paring knife, examining every millimetre. As she stared at the incomplete (and unreadable) fingerprint on the tip, her phone began to ring, the sound shocking in the tight silence. She fumbled to answer it.

“Hello?”

“Hello? Ma’am? It’s D. C. Wideacre. Sorry to wake you, but there’s been a development in the work permit case.”

Shit.

“Go on, John.”

“You’ll want to be here for this. We’ve got someone under caution, interviewing in the next half hour. Can I tell the captain you’ll be here?”

The very last thing she needed. Her mind wanted to be here, poring over the crime scene, not in a dingy interview room talking about work permits. She sighed.

“Yes, but I’ll be a little while. Send me everything you’ve got and keep me up to date with the questioning.”

“Sure thing. See you soon.”

Almost immediately, her phone alerted her to a new email. It looked like they had arrested a woman with a false work permit. The electronic work permit itself was attached – she opened it and immediately saw the problem. It had been granted on the basis of her English spouse, and his name was Grant Owen. This must be the twentieth work permit that had turned up in this small town with a spouse named Grant Owen. It was suspicious, sure, but Flo was too distracted by the Ray Hammond case.

She decided to give herself fifteen minutes before heading to the station. She brought up the video of the first interview with Jean and listened to her chillingly calm voice admitting to murder, a heart-shaped smudge of blood still sitting on her left cheekbone. It looked so cut and dry. But why did something feel off?

Flo ran her fingers over the counter where the till once was, pacing back and forth across the room. Nothing new came to her and, reluctantly, she accepted it was time to leave.

Almost as soon as she had begun her drive to the station, her phone – connected to the car’s handsfree system – rang again.

“John? I’m on my way. Is there a development?”

“Yes, ma’am. There is.” He sounded defeated somehow, his energy sapped.

“Go ahead.”

“It’s bigger than we thought. This Grant Owen, or whatever his real name is, he’s a genuine person. He married them somehow. They paid him, the women, and not only that.” He paused.

“What else?” Flo prompted.

“He made sure the marriages were consummated. Even if the women didn’t want to.” He sounded disgusted, and Flo mirrored his feelings. She felt a renewed interest in the case, a drive to catch this man.

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Flo parked up and half ran through the dark station to Interview Room A. Wideacre was waiting outside, looking morose behind his round glasses.

“There you are ma’am. Selina’s in the room. That’s her name. She knows you’re coming. She’s upset, but I think she’ll give us more. Anything to catch this bastard, right?”

“Right.”

Flo gritted her teeth, took a deep breath and walked into the interview room.

“Selina? I’m Flo. Good to meet you.” Flo extended her hand to the woman sitting across the table. A petite, dark-haired woman with a tattoo snaking up the left side of her face. Piercings in her nose, lip and several in her ears. She wore two pairs of hooped earrings and an extra stud in her left auricle. A small stud. Shaped like a daisy. A sweet daisy.

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