Malice Aforethought: A Mystery Crime Thriller (A Detective Ravi Singh Mystery Book 1), page 1
A foreboding chill lingered in the air as I walked briskly uphill towards the 1920s Victorian mansion, secluded in a private gated community. The mansion appeared picturesque as amber sun rays fell behind its tall glass windows. Perfectly placed at the top of a hill, the mansion was surrounded by an air of wealth and luxury, the likes of which I have never experienced. Tall gothic style gates stood open at the entrance, revealing a winding driveway covered with red and yellow autumn leaves which moved ever so slightly in the gentle breeze.
As I stood spellbound before the imposing gateway, I shivered and quickly buttoned my wool pea coat, securing myself in its warmth. This was my first time in Lempster, a small town in New Hampshire. The town seemed desolate, eerily quiet. What kind of name is Lempster, anyway? I thought to myself.
The rattle of my cell phone drew my attention.
“Officer Jim Mills” I said.
“Where the hell are you, Jim? I called you in twenty minutes ago. Get over here now!” It was the gritty voice of my commanding officer, Captain John Deventi.
“I’m here Cap, walking over now.”
I paused to survey the scene. Police officers hurried about, directed by the captain barking orders, I dipped under the caution tape which twisted around the perfectly sculpted architecture, the yellow tape a stark contrast to the pearl-white mansion. I quickly entered the staging area and threw on two pairs of latex gloves and boots, then followed my superior as he waved me into the house.
“Jim, we have a triple homicide. Looks like the entire family was killed.”
“Has forensics completed documenting physical evidence?” I asked, bracing myself for any residual acts of violence that might follow as I started to inspect the mansion.
A quick scan of the first floor showed obvious signs of breaking and entering: broken appliances and household items were in a disarray throughout the lobby of the house. At the base of a winding marble staircase, forensic analysts wearing Tyvek suits were surveying for ballistics, blood spatter, and DNA evidence. I noticed the team taking samples of a pool of blood close to the stairs. The blood splatter pattern immediately looked a little strange, isolated in one area with apparent signs of pooling yet no trail.
The captain shook his head and barked at a nearby officer. “You!” he yelled. “What is your name, officer, and why are you compromising the integrity of my crime scene?”
“Officer Edward Hunt, sir!” the man said. His eyes flashed of anger and annoyance as he left.
“Forensics will need at least another two hours to make sure they don’t miss anything,” the captain said, pointing toward the empty hallway at the top of the stairs.
I nodded and said, “Captain, try to see if we can get the video feed on the security cams they have on the ceiling.”
The cameras were well hidden, embedded into the structure rather than protruding outward. As I walked in the direction the officer had pointed to, and most likely where the homicide was committed, time seemed to gradually slow down. The hallway was lined with family photographs, a mother and her daughter. I quickly assessed their progressive ages along the hallway, figuring the child to be around eight or nine years old presently. The husband was absent in these photographs, and I wondered if he had passed away.
Suddenly, my heart felt like it dropped to my gut as I witnessed the horrible sight. A mother lying prone with her child curled beside her; their bodies were pale and starting to take on a darker hue. As I stood there, I tried to stay objective and analyze the scene, separating my emotions from the job; yet I couldn’t help but feel the pit of my stomach churn at the sight. I don’t think I will ever get used to the bloody sight of a murder crime scene. Even after various such encounters, this scene was by far the most brutal.
As I glanced near the mother’s body, I noticed a book lying close by, as if it had been placed there knowingly. The books leather exterior appeared worn and creased.
“Strange, isn’t it?” said a shadowy figure in the corner of the room. Startled, I jumped and looked over quickly. A tall bearded man, in white dress shirt and dark blazer, came lumbering over and flashed his badge. “Detective Ravi Singh, Special Teams Division,” he said as he reached for my hand.
I shook his hand and introduced myself, immediately recollecting the captain speaking of such a man, with a reputation as the state’s most esteemed detective. The captain had described the detective as a larger-than-life character. He had graduated at the top of his class in India, and served in the Indian Special Forces, called Force One, overseas, before moving to the States and settling down with his family, working as a police officer for many years. The district attorney’s office brought him in as a consultant on various homicide cases, which led to his notoriety within the force. Less than three years ago he was promoted to detective and gained notoriety for capturing a serial killer with the alias “Poseidon.” The police force revered the detective for having been the only one on the force to crack the killer’s patterns and apprehend him, which he did alone. I also remember hearing from the captain that Detective Singh had tragically lost his own family in an accident. Now seeing Detective Singh face to face, I thought it unfathomable how he could continue his work in the homicide division after experiencing a loss like that. What struck me about Detective Singh was his calm demeanor and the intense focus in his eyes. He seemed to be unfazed by the vile crime scene.
Detective Singh towered over both the captain and me as he explained his observation. “To have a hardcover book placed directly between murder victims. That is strange,” he said almost as if to himself. “The novel's title is Aequitas, a book by a renowned author in the early 1940s,” he shared.
I pointed out that the book may have lost its place on the bookshelf and could have possibly fallen beside the victims.
“Have you heard or read the book, Jimmy?” Detective Singh asked.
I shook my head, my brow furrowing with annoyance at his ignoring my point and at the nickname he decided to bestow on me.
“The story recounts the legend of a vigilante in search of vengeance for his kidnapped lover, or as he put it, his jewel,” the detective said. “The story ends with the vigilante finding his own retribution on those that stole her. You see, Aequitas translates to justice in Latin; that’s the part I never understood. Although he defined his own justice, justice was whatever he wanted it to be.” Singh pulled a pen from behind his ear. “Captain, this crime scene is without a doubt staged. Isn’t it odd that there is no sign of struggle here on the second floor as opposed to the first?” he asked.
The detective simultaneously was perusing through what looked to be the case file, scanning the documents with his finger and quickly finding the victim’s name.
The captain nodded his head while he continued to survey the crime scene.
“Captain, who called it in?” he detective inquired, as it was a missing piece in his personal notes.
“The maid—her name is Maria Santos—called it in. She apparently had been sleeping in the adjacent private home and came in to do some household cleaning.”
The detective paused over the mother and gently turned her to her side, closely inspecting for any contusions. That’s when I saw it, I noticed the words “Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings” tattooed in script on the detective’s forearm. It was step seven of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I wondered how long he had been sober and what had led him down th
“I’d like to speak with her personally,” the detective asked.
“Do you think the book was placed there on purpose, Detective Singh?” I asked, as the positioning of the woman and child did not seem natural.
“Please, don’t be so formal, call me Ravi. Nothing is ever by chance, Jimmy, everything has a rhyme or reason. And yes, I think all of it was staged; this is not only a crime of passion but also precision,” said Singh with intensity. “Also notice, Jimmy, the victim lies in a prone position with no obvious signs of trauma. The fingertips and fingernails have been burned, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dental records were questionable. Take a look at this bookshelf, wiped clean and spotless. I doubt splatter analysts will be able to find any conclusive forensic evidence. We are dealing with a professional. Also, Jimmy, notice these marks on their wrists indicating they were bound and brought here to be executed. If you look closely at the victim's shoulder, there’s a puncture mark which may indicate they were tranquilized.”
As he turned the mother on her side, I noticed this wasn’t the woman in the pictures in the hallway and pointed this out to the detective, and asked, “Why stage photographs and scene in this home—what is the connection? Where is the original family that lives here?”
Singh looked over and said “That’s what I intend to find out, Jimmy. We are trying to reach the tenants who reside in this home, but the precinct hasn’t been able to get a hold of them.”
The captain said, “Jim, I want you to work with Ravi on this case. From today he is your partner on this.”
“With all due respect, Captain, I work alone,” said the detective in a deep bellowing voice.
The captain immediately raised his voice to match the other’s annoyance. “This case is in my jurisdiction. I know your reputation precedes you, Detective, but I want one of my own with Special Teams.”
The detective’s expression remained unfazed as he paused to think; he then nodded and swiftly walked out of the room. I glanced at my superior for approval and quickly followed suit, trying to catch up with the detective’s long strides.
“Ravi, what do you make of the crime scene? What’s our next move?”
He took his time responding as we walked outside the large mansion, and he proceeded to light a cigarette. “Now, Officer Mill, we move on to a bar for drinks.”
The detective unlocked the door to a sleek, gunmetal 1967 Ford Mustang on the winding driveway of the mansion. Its burgundy leather seats stood in stark contrast to its grey exterior. The vehicle appeared in mint condition.
“Come in, Jimmy. Let’s go down a few blocks to Salem’s Pub, and we’ll discuss further there.”
As I joined him in the steel coupe, the Mustang’s powerful engine turned over and roared to life. The detective threw his jacket into the back seat and the vehicle took off past the gate towards Salem, the town’smost notorious pub. Detective Singh and I pulled into the narrow lot adjacent to Salem, where jazz music could be heard as patrons casually strolled in and out of the pub.
“Ravi, this is my third homicide case since being on the force.” I mentioned this to highlight my experience.
Singh nodded as he stepped out of the vehicle. “It’s not for the weak of heart, Jimmy. Come in and let's talk about it some more,” he said, smoking his cigarette vehemently as he walked towards the bar.
“Why are we here, Detective?” I asked, frustrated to be taking a break. “A family has been murdered in cold blood and here we are ignoring it, spending time drinking in a bar. And aren’t you a recovering alcoholic?”
Singh calmly responded, “Balance, Jimmy. This is more than just playing cops and robbers. If we don’t establish balance in our day-to-day routine, we fall into a darker path, one that I’m all too familiar with.” His voice trailed off as if distracted by his own words. He then looked back at me with a twinkle in his eyes. “It may seem strange, but I won’t have a sip of alcohol. I consider it a personal victory every time I step into a bar and conquer myself.” Without another a word he strolled into the bar.
The entrance was decorated with Mason jars dimly lit with candles hanging taut with strings. As we walked further into the bar with its open loft concept, we saw wooden benches, and steps leading to a burly bartender passing drinks with ease. A tall tattooed hipster stood by the bar. Four pool tables were situated in the opposite corner. Suddenly a burly drunk accidentally bumped into Singh as he was stumbling towards the door.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, Obama!” said the man, his slurred speech accompanied by a strong stench of liquor. Quickly he was restrained by his friends.
Singh apologized, stepping away from the man in a calm manner.
I stood by Singh, confused by the drunken man's insult and looking back at the men as they quickly dispersed from the bar. Shaking my head, I moved forward towards the bar.
I couldn’t believe how busy the place was for a Thursday evening. The bartender had plenty of craft beers on tap, and especially popular were those local to New Hampshire.
Singh found his way to the bartender. “Let me have a water,” he said; then he looked over at me. “Also a Maker’s, neat,” he requested on my behalf, as he leaned against the bar table. Singh then started to ask me a few questions. “You mentioned this was your third case. I could see the truth in your face back at the crime scene. You looked like you wanted to vomit. What motivates you to continue doing what you do?”
He was right, I thought to myself. Back there in that moment at the mansion, I wanted to leave as quickly as I walked in. The scene was violent and difficult to bear, yet I never thought to quit and I never would. I recalled the earliest memory I had of my father when I was ten years old—his donning a police uniform, slow and deliberate with his movements as he got dressed. I would wait by the door holding his badge, eager to make him proud. “Dad, why don’t you stay home today?” I asked, smiling. My father’s laugh was resounding. He would place his palms on my face, looking in my eyes. “God is just; his justice cannot sleep forever,” he whispered to me before leaving the house. A fleeting memory of my father, one that I tried hard to retain since my father passed away shortly after. Only when I was much older did I realize that his words were from the late Thomas Jefferson. My father had always been my hero; it had always been that influence that motivated me to be in the force.
“This was a dream of mine, to work in the same division as my father,” I said as I sipped on the drink before me.
“Where are you from originally?” inquired Singh.
“From New York, in an area called Rockland County. A smaller, quieter area than what most expect from the bustling city. It’s where my family is from.”
The detective nodded and explained bits of his own story, describing his move from India to the States and the massive change that was for him. “I was always curious as to where I should settle down and was very indecisive. My wife on the other hand would say she wanted to live in Hollywood.” The detective chuckled to himself. “She was always my better half and that was my main motivation, settling in a place that would give her a chance to live her dreams,” he explained. Taking a sip of the water, he paused to look around the bar and continued. “My wife passed away close to five years back. She was murdered.” Detective Singh intentionally spoke slowly, as though the words could not be repeated.
My jaw dropped with shock. The captain had not explained in detail what had happened to Singh. “I’m sorry,” I said. “What happened? Did the precinct find the killer?”
The detective took his time to respond. Then he went on to explain his obsession with the serial killer who had coined himself as “Poseidon,” whose real name was Nathan Dillashaw. “The killer,” Singh explained, “exhibited sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies. He was regarded at the time as America’s most wanted criminal. I had classified him as a highly volatile, dangerous man, a class four criminal.”
I thought back to what I remembered about Poseidon. The man was known f
As Singh continued to explain, he had encountered the serial killer personally while investigating an active crime scene. This particular victim was a young woman living with her elderly father who suffered from dementia. Poseidon had posed as a caretaker from a neighboring nursing home, and forced his way into the home. Singh recounted the gut feeling he had as he surveyed the pale woman lying dead near the foot of the pool. On that day Detective Singh’s instinct served him well. He assumed that due to the narcissistic and prideful nature of the killer, there was a chance he would linger near the home after committing the murder. It may have brought him satisfaction to witness the failed attempt by law enforcement to find him. Singh listened to his instinct and, as he started to explore the half-mile radius from the victim’s home, he noticed a man spying with binoculars from a distance. Quickly he pursued on foot to question the man, who unfortunately escaped down a hill. Shortly after, Singh called in the details of the chase to his superior and went on with his day. What he didn’t know was that the killer, filled with rage, trailed Singh and started to stalk him and his family over a period of seven days. The detective explained that the following week he found a letter addressed to him at the precinct—the killer had made a claim for his life. He quickly raced home, calling in backup to meet him in his home, but as fate would have it, he was too late. That which was most precious to him was ripped from him.
“I have replayed the events of that time a million times over, and I have no one to blame but myself.” His voice was filled to the brim with remorse. “You can never be too cautious when dealing with criminals of this caliber, Jimmy.” Singh’s voice slowly rose to an even more serious tone. “Without proper training and skillsets for what it is you do, you shouldn’t be putting yourself in harm’s way. Promise me, Jimmy, that you will follow my lead if we find this criminal.”