I wrote this short story for an advanced creative writing exercise for my university course. The word count for this assignment was 1,500.
© D.E. Kendall
Welcoming the new phase of her career by attempting to push a door labelled pull, splashing lukewarm latte over her brand-new blouse, Karla couldn’t believe her bad luck.
After two years as a uniformed officer, Karla’s first day as a trainee detective with Northfort Police Force had arrived.
‘Morning, Carlisle. Do you need a hand?’
‘No, no thanks Sir, I just have to–’ Karla’s flustered response was interrupted by a fellow recruit rushing into her, causing an explosion of papers.
‘So sorry!’ DC Greene swiftly collected papers strewn across the grey-square carpet, refusing Karla’s help. DCI Warner had already walked away.
‘Thank you,’ Karla’s response, saturated with sarcasm, fell on deaf ears as Greene raced away to continue his task for a senior colleague.
Unable to find which desk was hers, amidst the cluttered chaos of Northfort’s CID headquarters, Karla decided a fresh cup of coffee was essential. Tossing her empty takeaway cup into the overflowing kitchenette bin, Karla was fiddling with an ancient coffee machine when she was startled by a tap on the shoulder.
‘Warner needs you in an interview.’
‘Oh, I think you’re mistaken. It’s my first day and–’
‘You’re DC Carlisle, right?’
‘Well yes, but I–’
Taken aback, Karla paused, confused by the abruptness, but burly DS Kinclade – according to his badge – had already marched halfway across the office. The trainee detective flung her handbag over her shoulder and shuffled across the bustling office to catch up with Kinclade, who’d stopped so abruptly Karla almost tripped into him.
‘Elderly woman, mid to late-seventies. Claims she has information on the Nesbitt murder, but she’ll only talk to a “female” detective. Since DS Hamley’s on maternity leave, you’re up.’
‘But I’ve never interrogated someone before. I mean, other than in training, and–’
‘It’s an interview, not an interrogation. Offer her a coffee, write her statements down, then send her on her way. Nothing to it.’
‘But all I know of the case is from minimal reports on local news. I don’t–’
‘Look, I’ll be straight with you. She’s a little old lady, bit scatty, feels safer talking to a woman. She found Nesbitt dead and was told to contact us if she remembered anything. Now she’s had a few days to imagine stuff, she’s back. Ask open-ended questions, pretend you’re listening, then she’ll leave believing her statement matters.’ Kinclade opened the door to an uninviting interview room, gesturing in a gentlemanly fashion for Karla to enter.
Then, without further consultation, Kinclade shut the door behind Karla, leaving her to deal with the situation alone. Trying her utmost to conceal her nervousness, Karla avoided eye contact with the elderly lady perched on the edge of a chair across the square laminate table, taking up half the colourless, stale interview room.
‘Good morning, Ms, uh–’ Karla almost choked as she realised Kinclade hadn’t briefed her about the witness’ name.
‘Mrs Wyatt, dear,’ Annie Wyatt spoke softly, ‘would you like a toffee? Looks like you need one.’
‘Um, no, thank you, I–’ Karla, who was pretending to search through her handbag for a pen she already had, mustered the courage to turn and face the kindly-looking elderly woman with perfectly permed white-grey hair, wearing a creased, knee-length floral dress, red cardigan – complete with crumpled tissue poking out the sleeve – and laddered tights meandering down her spindly legs into shiny slip-on shoes. Annie was a haunting reminder of Karla’s own grandmother, who’d passed away the previous month.
‘I understand,’ Annie smiled, ‘you can’t accept sweets from strangers.’
‘It’s not that, I–’ Karla paused, taking a deep, calming breath before continuing, ‘I need to consult with a senior colleague. I’ll be back in just a minute.’
‘No problem, dear.’ Annie’s voice echoed as Karla rushed from the room, allowing the door to close slowly behind her.
‘Where’s DCI Warner, please?’ Karla asked the first officer she could find, before hurriedly following the direction pointed out to her.
‘Yes, Carlisle?’ Kinclade stopped Karla short of Warner’s closed office door, like a bouncer denying entry to an exclusive night club.
‘I need some info on the murder case. I can’t interview without–’
‘Info’s in a file on that desk over there.’
‘Oh, okay, thanks.’
Karla hurried back to the interview room, composing herself momentarily before turning the handle and walking through the door, conveying confidence.
‘My apologies Mrs Wyatt,’ Karla sat on a chair across the table from the elderly witness and noted it was wobbly.
‘It’s alright, dear.’
‘I need to familiarise myself with the documents, if you could bear with me for a–’
‘I need to tell you what I know.’ Annie slid a pair of round spectacles back up her nose, revealing a fearful, eager expression.
Fortunately, Karla was an avid reader, so she sped through the first page of case documentation. The documents revealed that wealthy business owner, Ted Nesbitt, had been found dead by Mrs Wyatt when she entered the headquarters of successful watch manufacturer Compass Co. to complete her part-time cleaning round, as she had done religiously for almost three decades. There was no murder weapon discovered, no viable DNA evidence, and no CCTV footage due to an electrical fault. Although Mrs Wyatt’s DNA had been discovered on the victim’s body, it was disregarded, as the cleaner had allegedly attempted to revive her employer upon the discovery that he’d been shot within minutes of her arrival.
‘I know who did it,’ Annie was so enthusiastic she nearly choked on a toffee. ‘I know who killed Mr Nesbitt, rest his soul.’
Karla scrabbled to find a notebook as Annie reeled off her recollection of an argument Ted had with his son the week before his murder. According to Annie, Ted warned his son he’d cut him out of his will. Before responding, Karla flicked through the case notes.
‘Mr Henry Nesbitt has a solid alibi, Mrs Wyatt,’ Karla tried to speak gently without patronising the murder witness. ‘There are several eyewitnesses who can attest to his whereabouts at the time of his father’s murder.’
‘I know it was him, Detective,’ Annie seemed agitated. ‘And I’m afraid he knows I know. I asked for a female detective as Henry has “friends” in this station.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Between you and me, Detective,’ Annie leaned over the table as if sharing a secret, ‘Henry had a police officer boyfriend. I think his father found out and couldn’t handle it, so Henry got angry and shot him.’
‘Is there anyone who can corroborate your accusation?’ Karla didn’t know why she was bothering to take notes, the witness was clearly confused – Henry Nesbitt’s romantic endeavours were well documented on social media, and his father was an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
‘Could you get me a drink, dear?’ Annie asked sweetly. ‘I’m parched.’
‘Of course, Mrs Wyatt,’ Karla smiled in response, ‘I’ll just be a moment.’
As Karla left the interview room, she had a flashback to her own grandmother and thought it odd that Annie hadn’t said “please” – Karla’s Gran would never have forgotten her manners, no-matter how stressful a situation. Pushing that thought to the back of her mind, since thinking of her Gran still made Karla tearful, the trainee detective wrestled with the coffee machine and conjured a cup of brown sludge. Realising she’d forgotten to ask whether Annie wanted milk or sugar, Karla weaved her way through the office back to the interview room, to find both the witness and case files missing.
Panicked, Karla rushed back out of the room and found Warner talking to an elderly lady dressed similarly to Annie.
‘Of course, Mrs Wyatt.’ Warner’s tall frame almost stooped as he shook the lady’s skeletal hand. ‘Ah, DC Carlisle, I’d like you to meet Mrs Wyatt. She’s going to be helping you and DS Hamley in the Nesbitt murder case.’
Dumbfounded by the surreal introduction, Karla robotically shook hands with the witness before blurting out, ‘I thought Hamley was on maternity leave?’
‘Good grief, no,’ Warner gave a condescending snort-laugh. ‘I should think it’s been about thirty years since then. Her daughter, Carris, works in our forensics team. Who told you that? Was it DS Spencer? She’s the office joker.’
Warner’s attempts to lighten the mood only heightened Karla’s worry, as colour drained from her once flushed face.
‘Are you alright, love?’ Annie placed a comforting hand on Karla’s arm.
‘Kinclade!’ Karla almost shouted. ‘It was DS Kinclade who–’
‘There isn’t a “Kinclade” here.’ Warner announced.
Karla’s legs buckled.
‘Let’s get you sat down,’ Warner helped Karla to a chair.
‘Sir, I need to speak to you in private.’
‘Could you bear with us a moment?’ Warner politely addressed the real Annie Wyatt.
‘No problem, love.’
Warner showed Karla into his office, where the truth unravelled.
Ending her first day as a trainee detective, pulling the door labelled push and spilling the contents of her handbag, Karla couldn’t believe her bad luck.