The police officer barred her way. “I'm sorry, you can't go in there.”
Helen stood her ground. “That's my house. What's going on?” Everywhere, activity. Uniforms scurrying like ants inside and out; house to house enquiries; cars and vans arriving and departing, synchronising to make the best use of space. Vehicles with blue and red lights flashing, and vehicles with just red lights, all clustered around each other like little chicks seeking safety in numbers.
The officer raised her hand and gestured towards somebody behind her. “Name?”
“Gwandoya. Helen Gwandoya. Are you going to tell me what's going on? My daughter's in there. What's happened? Is she okay?”
Panic rising, gaining momentum. Rationality and reason giving way to dread.
The officer gestured again, this time with more urgency, and there was the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching from behind.
She turned to face a large set male in a cheap suit. “I want my daughter,” she said. “Is she okay?”
“I'm Lieutenant Dimitri, SAPD - “
“Come with me,” the man said. The ants in uniform - those that were within earshot - turned away so that they wouldn't see her face. And in that way, she wouldn't be a real person with real feelings whose life was about to collapse around her; and they willed her out of their thoughts, for empathising with her would make their duties unbearable, and they reminded themselves to stay detached and cold, lest the horror of what they'd seen should overtake them.
° ° °
Helen Gwandoya sat in the interview room and cried and cried until her tears ran out. All the coffee in the station could not help; all the sympathy in the world could not help. Everything was over.
“Here,” said Lieutenant Dimitri. He slid another coffee over the desk; she saw the straw and smiled sadly. “Is there anyone you can call? Maybe stay with you tonight?”
Helen shook her head slowly. “No,” she said. “Only her.” She was all I had.
Lieutenant Dimitri studied her. “Okay. We'll arrange something.”
Helen took a deep breath and steadied herself, knowing she must ask the question, no matter how painful the answer might be.
“Was it quick?”
Dimitri looked down at the desk and opened the buff folder. He was careful not to let Helen see the photographs. Over the course of an hour or more he told her, in as calm and detached manner as he could manage, about her daughter's last moments.
There were signs of a prolonged struggle in her bedroom. Toys smashed, soda spilt on the carpet, bedding soiled and torn. Wallpaper scratches consistent with those of fingernails. Deepest along the wall parallel to the bed, becoming shallower as they reached the door. Smears of blood and black hair near the handle where - forensics guessed - she had been slammed in order to stun her or knock her out.
She was found in the master bedroom. The autopsy report detailed multiple lacerations covering her chest, arms, legs and thighs, all indicative of self defence. Further injuries caused by implements unknown; gouges, slashes, puncture wounds, blunt trauma, crush trauma. Forensics couldn't determine or find any one likely murder weapon. And then the worst parts, the details of which Dimitri tried to protect Helen from as much as he could.
Angela Gwandoya had been raped before being murdered.
Helen felt the world lurch on its axis. Understood that everything had changed forever. She looked up towards Dimitri slowly, with raw wet eyes. “Where was Aidan? He was meant to be looking after her.”
“He's our top priority right now. He wasn't at your home. Dont worry. We've got everyone looking for him.”
“He wouldn't hurt her. I know him, I trust him. You don't understand. He wouldn't -”
“We need to talk to him. If he didn't do this, then he probably knows who did.”
I already know who did this, she thought. And I will make him suffer ten thousand-fold. Except, she wouldn't. She couldn't even get dressed by herself. She was powerless; even now, faced with the worst thing imaginable she could do nothing. The internal anger directed at Harold Maine gave up and died; it could not survive against the overwhelming numbness that was suddenly her single mode of being.
“Can I go home?”
“Sure,” Dimitri said softly. “But only to get some things together. Toiletries, change of clothes. Forensics are finished and the clean-up team - the place is habitable, I guess. But don't stay there tonight. I'll drive you there now, if you're ready. I don't want you to be there on your own.”
Helen nodded. “I want to go now,” she said. “Please.”
° ° °
Having verified the house was secure, Dimitri waited outside as Helen went in. She would call him when she was ready, and he would come in and collect her things and put them into her overnight bag.
Helen walked into the living room. It was quiet without Angela. No cartoons, no music. And even now, she expected to see her head pop up from her play area. But it did not happen. No police, no forensics teams, no ambulance crews, no daughter. Just silence in an empty house that had suddenly become alien and unreal.
She walked into the kitchen. It was familiar and yet wholly unknown to her. All the pans, and the plates, and the food; all of it absolutely mundane, all of it horrifically clinical and uncaring because of that mundanity. The chips in the bag didn't care, the washing up didn't care. Everything sat in place, as if everything were normal. How could the world be so changed and unchanged at the same time?
She stopped, conscious of a background noise that should not have been there. A rustling noise, or wind? She looked back towards the front door in case the Lieutenant had followed her in; but she could still see his shadow, blocky and unmoving, framed outside as he smoked a cigarette.
White noise? A television or radio left on? She moved on. She was not scared, not anymore. As she drew closer, the sound became clearer.
Coming from the bathroom.
The shower was on.
She crept up to the door as quietly as she could and listened. Steady streaming jets, the sound of water glugging down into the faulty plumbing, the shower curtain sighing and whispering as the drips and drops hit it.
And something else, something she didn't understand. Something behind the other noises, quieter and softer but somehow more demanding of her attention. She steeled herself and pushed the door open.
The shower curtain was drawn. She stepped into the room. She could smell bleach; bleach and disinfectant. She was shaking - she was scared, after all. Okay, you piece of shit, let's see you.
She grasped the shower curtain as best she could and pulled it back, not knowing what to expect. “What the fuck?” The background noise immediately became clear; crying.
Aidan Brown looked up balefully from the floor of the shower and his whole disfigured body shook in distress. “I'm sorry,” he said, and the words were almost lost to sobs and snot. “I'm so sorry.”
Helen looked down at the wretched creature that even now rocked itself backwards and forwards in the foetal position, sodden and miserable under the cold spray, claws clacking fitfully, antennules flicking this way and that. “I don't understand,” she said. “You've been here all along?”
“I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go,” he said.
“But you were here in the house when they - when…”
“Yes,” Aidan said. “I was here.”
“Was it Maine? Did he kill my daughter?”
Aidan shook his head and wept. “No,” he said. “No.”
“Then he made someone do it. He made someone come here and torture and kill my little girl. Did you see them?”
Aidan shook his head. “No,” he said. “He didn't send anybody.”
Helen stepped back. “What do you mean?”
Aidan sobbed uncontrollably and gathered his assorted limbs around him.
“Aidan, tell me. If it wasn't Maine, or one of his cronies, who killed my daughter?”
Aidan didn't respond; she regarded him intently.
And then she saw the scratch marks on his face. Little scratch marks like nails. She didn't comprehend, and then suddenly she did. The world lurched again; it was all too much. She sank back against the wall, suddenly feeling faint, unable to take it in. Tears came unbidden and unstoppable. “No,” she said as the realisation hit home. “No, no, no…”
“I'm so sorry,” he sobbed, the words broken and halting as they left his ruined mouth; and Angela Gwandoya's killer wept and wept, and his tears mingled with the shower run-off and flowed down into the rain-parched drains.