Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Beach House: Jimmy Perez trophy winning short crime story

The Shetland Noir book festival held in Lerwick in November 2015 included a short story writing competition. Shetland Noir Writing Competition, the prize being the Jimmy Perez Trophy (with kind sponsorship by Ann Cleeves).

The competition rules stated:

To enter, submit one piece of crime fiction: 500-1000 words

Your piece must contain all of the following ingredients:
At least one corpse, or part thereof
One darkened room
At least one Nordic reference
The misuse of at least one kitchen utensil
A telephone that rings unanswered

THE BEACH HOUSE by Helen Grant, posted here and on Wattpad, was the winning story. The 2nd prize was won by Matthew Wright with AND THE HILLS SANG WITH BLOOD and the 3rd prize by Marina Marinopoulos with JUST DESERTS.

* * * * *


Too damn early. There was a flat bright quality to the early morning light that made his eyes hurt. All the black coffee in the world wasn’t going to help. He’d grabbed a kanelbulle, a cinnamon roll, as breakfast on the hoof, but it was sitting half-eaten in a bag on his lap as he drove. He’d taken one bite and lost interest. It was difficult to get pissed in Sweden with the cost of alcohol, but he’d managed it, and now the early sunshine made him feel as though his cranium were being x-rayed.
Shortly before the Haverdal turning, he tried phoning again; once he got to the crime scene, there’d be no chance. It rang a few times, then went to voicemail again. This time he left a message.
“Christina? It’s me, Alexander. Call me back. Please.” He paused, sighing. “I’m sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have pressurised you. Don’t tell him now, or not ever if you don’t want to. Just call me back. I love you.”
He forced himself to turn his thoughts to the call-out, to prepare himself mentally for what he was going to have to look at. It was incongruous somehow: violent death in such a quiet and affluent place. He drove past opulent villas that posed as simple beach houses with their corrugated walls painted white or blue or red ochre. Robotic lawn mowers moved in silent trajectories across their perfect lawns. 
The house he wanted overlooked the sea. There were other vehicles there already, including an ambulance waiting patiently, siren off. Alexander parked on the street. He put on his protective gear, wincing as he bent to pull on the shoe covers; when he leaned forward the throbbing in his head intensified to an excruciating extent. Then he ducked under the tape and walked up to the front door, which was guarded by a uniformed officer with a grim nauseated expression on his face.
A bad one, then.
Inside the house, hooded and overalled figures were at work, looking strangely out of place amongst the expensive and deliberately understated furnishings. Someone recognised him.
“Inspector Rasmusson.”
Alexander nodded, then followed the woman into a spacious living room. The activity at the other end told him that that was where the body lay. The taste of the black coffee was like ashes in his mouth. He delayed the inevitable viewing for a few moments by asking who had called the incident in.
“Nosy neighbour?” he asked, but the woman shook her head.
“Nothing to see from outside. The blinds were down at both ends of the room. It was dark. Even if someone had been able to peep in, they probably wouldn’t have seen anything.”
“Phone call, apparently. Guy said he’d killed his partner and was going to kill himself. Wouldn’t give any names.”
“Who does the place belong to? Do you know?”
“A couple in Stockholm. It’s not them. The place was being let out to holidaymakers. Someone’s trying to get hold of the agent to find out who.”
Alexander nodded. He didn’t want to think about this, didn’t want to look at the remains. He wanted to check his phone again, see whether Christina had tried to call him back or maybe left a text message. He wanted to tell her he’d been an idiot, and whatever fragment of her life she was prepared to give him, that would be enough. I love you, he wanted to tell her.
There was only one way to do that, though, and that was to get the job over. He went to the other end of the room, where two of those otherworldy-looking suited figures were kneeling by the body.
One look was enough.
Satans helvete,” he swore. So much blood – but that wasn’t the worst of it. The half of the cinnamon bun that he had eaten threatened to come up again. “What the hell did he do to her?”
“Stabbed her with a kitchen knife,” said one of the men, looking up. “The other injuries were probably post mortem.”
“How do you know?” asked Alexander queasily. He’d seen some pretty bad stuff before, but nothing like this.
“Would you lie there and let someone take off your face with a cheese grater?” asked the man.
“That was what he used?”
The man nodded. “And took off the hair with kitchen scissors. It’s like he wanted to obliterate her completely.”
It was a point of honour not to show nausea in front of the crime scene examiners, but as soon as he could get away, Alexander went out for some air. From outside the house, he could see the curve of the beach and the sparkling surface of the sea. It looked idyllic, a bizarre contrast with the bloody horror he had just seen. It made him want more urgently than ever to speak to Christina, to grasp what happiness he could. With shaking fingers he pulled up her number and pressed the green call button.
When he heard her phone begin to ring at the other end of the line, he heard simultaneously a ringing from inside the house. He might not have made anything of this – everyone carried mobiles, after all – except that as Christina’s phone went to Voicemail, the ringing from indoors stopped abruptly.
That was strange, Alexander said to himself, doing his best to disregard the cold churning in the pit of his stomach. He called Christina again. By the time he heard the second answering ring from the house, he was on his way back inside. Voicemail again. He called a third time, stumbling into the living room, barely taking in the faces that turned towards him, open-mouthed as they heard him screaming out a name, over and over. Christina, Christina.
And still the phone rang on unanswered, from the pocket of the body.