Harker: The Murder Club - part 1
Harker knew a violent death when he saw one. Corpses and cornflakes were part of his regular morning routine. He'd have preferred a cooked breakfast, but greasy food was never a good idea before visiting a corpse. He could never be entirely certain he'd be able to keep it down.
Today's example was particularly gruesome: a lone body suspended by the neck from a rope in the centre of a small, darkened room.
It wasn't pretty. Harker didn't want to look at it. The face of the corpse was an unpleasant shade of purple, the swollen flesh tinged with flecks of pale blue. The eyes bulged wide open from their sockets. The mouth was gaping, the tongue black and protruding. The rope around its neck creaked as the hanged man swayed slowly back and forth, a horrific pendulum.
One glance was definitely more than enough for Harker. It was making him feel queasy and he didn't need to see his breakfast again. He was already regretting the smoked kipper. Dead people unnerved him at the best of times and the tongue thing was making matters infinitely worse.
Around the body, Jenny Griffin's white-clad forensics team got on with their work, crammed into every corner of the room. The dangling corpse was photographed from every angle, the cameras flashing again and again, freezing the corpse in time.
A final photoshoot for the family album, Harker thought to himself. Look, here's me stood in front of the caravan in Bognor Regis. And here's me riding the donkey on the beach in Skegness. Oh, and here's me dead. I'm not really at my best in this one.
Harker forced himself to take another quick look, absorbing the details. The dead man was middle aged and heavily set, dressed in a brown pin stripe suit. His collar was snagged on the rope, distorting the fit, but he could see that the lines of the suit were tailored and sharp and the tie was conservative and classy. There was a gold watch on the corpse's wrist.
The clues were easy enough for an experienced copper like Harker to read. The body was a businessman with expensive taste and plenty of money. Underneath the corpse a small stool was laid on its side, discarded where it had fallen. It certainly looked like a suicide, but Harker had learnt never to take things at face value.
The team fussed with relentless efficiency, recording and bagging every last detail. Harker stood in the centre of the room, keeping his gaze well away from the corpse and forming a calm and quiet presence amongst the chaos. A few moments of silence for him to ponder the scene and to take it all in. Complete concentration was everything in this game.
"Want me to have a delve around, guv?"
Briefly startled, Harker turned to DS Critchley behind him and raised an eyebrow irritably. Critchley grinned back, unconcerned. The young sergeant was looking as sharp as ever: his new black suit fitted him far too well, his shoes gleamed, his head was freshly shaven and his goatee was trimmed to perfection. Harker gave his assistant a weary look and sighed, unable to muster a similar enthusiasm. He desperately needed some caffeine.
"Help yourself Critchley. Try not to get in the way." Harker ran his fingers through his own ruffled and tatty hair, feeling tired and crabby. He tugged ineffectually at his own crumpled jacket and yawned. "But don't let them take the body down until every inch of this room has been photographed and catalogued."
Critchley trod carefully around the forensics team, his gaze darting across the room as he took everything in. "Yes, I think they know that, guv."
"I don't care if they know it. Make sure of it anyway. It's what you're here for. Don't let them miss a thing."
Harker loathed early mornings. Even his shoes didn't feel like they fitted properly today. He glanced down at his feet and noticed that the laces of his scruffy old Converse sneakers had come undone again. He slid down to tie his shoelace, popped up again just as quickly hoping that no-one had noticed and took another furtive glance at the corpse. The body stared back at him glassy eyed, as if screaming to be allowed down from the rope. The fingers of the corpse were clawed desperately. Harker shuddered at the sight and quickly turned away. This wasn't helping his mood.
Critchley moved closer to take a better look at the body. He slipped his Blackberry from his pocket, tapped in a few notes and took some photographs for reference. He noticed the corpse staring at them both and gave it a cheeky wink in return. The corpse looked on passively.
"No sense of humour, some people," Critchley quipped. "So do we reckon this was a suicide? I've not seen a hanging before. Do they all look like this?"
"Pretty much. But something about this one doesn't sit right with me." Harker took another look at the face of the corpse and then just as quickly tore his eyes away. Critchley stepped closer to the body to get a better look, ignoring Jenny Griffin's raised eyebrow as she dusted for prints nearby.
"Please be careful," she reminded him, tugging with irritation at her white overalls. "I don't want your feet stepping on anything important."
"Don't worry luv, I know what I'm doing."
Critchley leaned into the corpse. He studied the face, lingered for a few moments and rubbed again at his goatee thoughtfully. "He does look a little startled, I'll give you that. Could it have gone wrong? Maybe he intended to break his own neck as he dropped and it didn't happen. So the rope tightened around his neck and he's stuck there slowly throttling himself to death. It's not like he could practice it first or anything."
"If you're going to hang yourself," said Harker, looking around the room, looking anywhere but at the ghoulish corpse, "well, that's a pretty elaborate way to kill yourself, don't you think? Suicide is something you plan, not something you do on a whim. If you're going to go to all that trouble, I'd say you're pretty damn sure you want to get it right."
"What are you getting at?" Critchley stepped over the fallen stool under the body's feet, noting it's position.
"If you're that determined to be dead then why struggle? Look at his face, Critchley. Look at his clawed hands. This man struggled and fought for his last breath. Why would he do that?"
"Panic? People panic when they can't breathe. It's an automatic reaction."
Harker grumbled dismissively and took another look around the room, scanning and storing it in his memory. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age. I'm going outside for a cigarette. Come and get me when the body's been taken down, I can't bear to look at it any more."
"Will do, guv." Critchley watched as his boss turned and left, and smiled with slight embarrassment towards Griffin. "You know what he's like. He hates getting up this early."
Griffin tutted audibly.
(more next week)