The smell hit him first, a thick, cloying blend of expensive perfume and corrupt, metallic fruit.
He saw Nick, hunched against a far wall, body shaking with silent grief, eyes closed.
Then he took in the rest.
An all-white bedroom—glamorous and totally impractical, designed like something from a magazine, so that every dot of color looked shocking. A painted wooden desk stood by the window, holding a silver laptop; the signature, light-green-blue of a Tiffany box; a stack of envelopes tied with a red cord; five little, glass, medical bottles lined up, with matching purple bars on their labels. A familiar light-blue dress lay draped over the arm of a padded armchair, a tiny tangle of lacy pink underwear on top.
White walls, furniture, carpet, bedding. Everything was absurdly neat and clean, save the most demanding splash of color—the huge stain which covered the fluffy duvet like crimson dye. A palette of shades of red, in fact, as if the pool had dried gradually from the outside, into the dark and clotted center.
Catriona lay on her side on top of it, in the middle of the wide bed, facing the doorway. She was naked but utterly sexless, her skin like bleached ash against the wet, red cloth. Her beautiful, blank profile, eyes decently shut at least, rested on the purity of her pillow.
Tom saw the guilty kitchen knife lying on the blood-pool beside the upturned palm of her right hand; the mangled, meaty churn of her inner wrists. Then, the dark hole, visible through black-blood-clotted ash-blonde hair, where her ear had been. The shockingly recognizable auricle resting near her fingertips.
One of the paramedics called sharply, “Hey! You shouldn’t be in here, mate!” just as the uniformed police constable materialized behind Tom, to pull him, unresisting, back into the hallway and then, down the stairs. At the bottom, Tom slurred out his name and address, and the reason he was there. He didn’t sound like himself at all, he thought distantly, but the officer noted it all down.
Finally, she left him to perch on the pristine linen sofa in Catriona’s airy sitting room. And he found himself stupidly anxious not to crease the fabric or mark its snowy perfection.
He’d never been in this room before. In fact, he’d never been inside the house.
The door into the hallway lay wide open, allowing Tom to see the bustle of comings and goings in the hallway, as the procedures surrounding an unexpected death snapped into place. All things he’d heard recounted before, but never—actually—witnessed.
The first-response officer, out of his eyeline, was speaking to her radio. Someone—a man—shouted instructions from upstairs as one of the paramedics barreled past the open door and out of Tom’s vision, as if his urgency still had some point.
Movement, back and fore. Voices outside. Inside. Tom forced desperate focus — made himself identify what was happening. Who was who, as they passed.
First onto Tom’s little stage — a man he suspected to be the divisional pathologist, followed by a group of SOCO officers, silent and eerie in hooded white suits, ready to pick over the scene for evidence of anything that might turn out to be suspicious.
Then, less than a minute after they disappeared, two men, clearly plain-clothed police officers. They stood in front of the open sitting room doorway, pulling on those same white forensic suits and overshoes, and Tom was almost certain they’d be the advance Homicide Assessment Team, from whichever murder investigation unit happened to be on call. Tom didn’t recognize either of them—a dull, distant relief.
Part of him was riveted, because after having heard it described so often, casually and not, it felt unreal seeing everything actually happen, like a dramatic performance put on, specially for him. But as the two HAT officers moved out of Tom’s vision, another white-clad figure came in behind them, and as he passed the open sitting room door, he glanced in and caught sight of Tom.
The man stopped and blinked.
For a moment, Tom felt an audience’s shock at having been acknowledged, and he shifted self-consciously under the man’s startled stare. Then, as that stare turned to wide-eyed disbelief, Tom felt suddenly, horribly aware of how incongruous he must look. His golden tan, his glossy, pale-blond shoulder-length hair; his long body, clad in an on-trend brown suede shirt and perfectly-cut jeans; his obsessively precise grooming. A peacock, sitting at the edge of a tragedy.
It took whole seconds for Tom to understand that the man’s reaction wasn’t puzzlement; it was recognition. And finally, even under that disorientating, tightly drawn white hood, Tom recognized him in turn.
Each man stared at the other as if a monstrous apparition had manifested in front of them.
Des fucking Salt.
Through surging panic, Tom took in the man’s once-familiar, sharp features; his densely freckled skin, almost as white as the forensic hood concealing his wiry red hair. How the fuck hadn’t he recognized him? Was it just the oddness of that hood, framing Salt’s narrow face like a nun’s coif?
The relief Tom had felt just minutes before sneered at him now. Because…yes, Tom had known there was a small chance they’d be involved—of course he had—but how unlucky did he have to be?
His face felt scalding hot, his guts skittering with a kind of death-row anticipation. And, inevitably his gaze shot to the hallway behind Salt.
Because always, with DC Des Salt, came DI Will Foster.
Tom’s eyes fixed on that empty space like a mouse in front of a stoat. But nothing happened.
He snapped his attention back to Salt, but Salt had turned away and walked out of Tom’s field of vision. But he could hear hushed voices, as Salt presumably asked the uniformed PC by thr staircase what the fuck Tom was doing there.
When Salt appeared again in the doorway, his expression had fixed into professional neutrality. He extracted a notebook from inside the opening of his forensic suit, pulled down his hood and walked in the room,
“Mr. Gray,” he said. It was stupidly shocking to hear his voice. Perhaps Tom had hoped it was all a lurid dream.
Then he registered, Mr. Gray. They were going to pretend they didn’t know each other, then. Fine by him. But he couldn’t help looking compulsively again toward the open doorway before he focused again on Salt.
“I’m DS Salt with Southwark and Peckham Murder Investigation Team.”
Southwark and Peckham. That was new at least. And so was the rank. He’d made Sergeant. Salt’s Northern Irish accent sounded as strong as it ever had, but Tom unwillingly noted tiny changes in him. New, fine lines between his ginger brows. His unfortunate moustache had gone, as had that shy, awkward niceness he’d exuded once, so out of place on a policeman.
“Don’t be alarmed, sir,” Salt went on blandly. “This is all routine procedure in a case like this.”
Of course it was. With all that blood.
Tom involuntarily squeezed closed his eyes, and the image was starkly there, like a high-res photograph dropping in behind his lids. He thought he would never stop seeing it.
His eyes sprang open.
That was what mattered. What lay upstairs. Not some soap opera from his past.
Sick with himself, he forced his attention back to Salt.
“I know,” he said.
Salt raised an eyebrow. “You told the officer that you’re here because Mr. Haining—Mr. Dominic Haining—requested you come to support him. When he found the body of his wife. Catriona Haining.”
Tom nodded, then said, “Yes.” Aloud, as if he were being recorded.
“And, what’s your relationship to Mr. and Mrs. Haining?” There was no one here to witness any recognition between them, but still, Salt’s tone remained that of a stranger.
“I—Mr…and Mrs. Haining own one of the modeling agencies I work with. Echo…it’s called.”
“This is Mrs. Haining’s home. Mr. Haining no longer lives here, is that correct?”
Tom tightened his jaw. “Yes.”
“You must be a…close friend as well as a client?” Salt began to write in his notebook. “For Mr. Haining to have called you here at a time like this.”
Tom’s mind darted around the question of how much total honesty could complicate things for Nick, but in the end all he said was, “Yes.”
Salt glanced up, brown eyes narrowed. And Tom was sure Salt must be making those damning connections in his head.
Tom and Nick Haining. Nick and Tom.
Nick—whose wife had just killed herself. Of all people to judge him, it had to be Des.
“Tom Gray is one of the world’s top models – an effortless object of desire. Self-contained, elusive and always in control, he’s accustomed to living life entirely on his own terms. But when Tom is implicated in the circumstances surrounding the gory death of his lover’s ex-wife, his world begins to spiral into chaos. Someone’s framing him. Someone’s stalking him. Will Foster is the only man Tom trusts to help him. But Tom brutally burned all bridges between them two years before, and Will paid a bitter price. As shocking secrets come to light, and more people begin to die, Tom desperately seeks answers among old crimes. But he finds his adversary always one step ahead. Somehow, Tom must persuade Will to help him find out who’s invading his life. Before all he values is taken from him.”
5-Year Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense – Anniversary Giveaway:
Author Dal MacLean has graciously offered to provide one of our members a FREE, e-book in your choice of either: mobi, pub or pdf!
To enter the FREE drawing, please leave at least a one-word comment via Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Facebook group via the Excerpt link for Object of Desire.
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Learn more about author Dal MacLean, and check out her interview below.
Twitter: @MacleanDal – Dal Maclean
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