Monday, 27 July 2009


TKnC bids welcome to Gavin Bell with this short crime story...

Faith’s Reconstruction

Faith finished applying her lipstick, ran her fingers through her horizontal blonde locks and then lingered in front of the full-length mirror for a moment, staring into the chestnut-brown eyes of a dead woman.
“Constable Badder, are you ready yet?” DCI Sinclair’s voice, coupled with his businesslike knock on the door, snapped her out of the trance.
“Two minutes.” Her voice betrayed just a trace of annoyance.
Sinclair paused for a second. “Okay. Ready when you are.”
Faith waited for the sound of Sinclair’s footsteps falling away from the door before turning back to examine the stranger in the looking glass. Clothes may not make the woman, but they sure as hell change her, she thought.
Faith forced her eyes to move slowly up the length of her slight frame, from the cheap knee-high boots, past the impossibly short blue skirt, over the revealing scarlet vest top and to the beat-up leather jacket.
She looked so different. So wrong.
The boots weren’t her, the clothes weren’t her, the arterial-hued lipstick definitely wasn’t her. The only thing recognisable as belonging to Faith was that strawberry blonde hair. Even the hair seemed slightly alien when left unfettered and trailing, rather than bound in a tight ponytail. A strange kind of resurrection, indeed. Unbidden, the voice of Dr Collingsworth, Faith’s criminology professor at the Academy returned to her.
A murderer always returns to the scene of a crime, but why? Because he wants to establish meaning, to get to the truth of his actions. And that is why we must also return to the scene of the crime.
The lecture was cut short by another knock at the door, Sinclair’s voice more insistent this time.
Faith sighed and said, “I’m coming.”


Kirkhill Public Park first opened its ornate wrought-iron gates in the late Victorian era. At the time, its meandering brooks, open grass areas and tennis courts attracted people from throughout the social strata. Over the ensuing century, the park’s target demographic had narrowed somewhat; its overgrown flora and derelict buildings now best met the needs of amorous teenagers and junkies.
The park was busier than one would normally expect for a bitterly cold Tuesday morning in January. Three different television news teams, a dozen or so police officers, and more than a handful of gawkers were gathered around the bandstand. Kirkhill was an average-sized town for the West of Scotland, but it was still small enough for a vicious homicide to be something of an event.
Faith sat alone on a graffiti-daubed wooden bench and rubbed her hands together while Sinclair talked to a reporter. He was explaining that given the viciousness of the attack the killer would have been covered in blood, and as the murder occurred in daylight, somebody would most likely have seen something.
Sinclair had handed Faith her final accessory in the car: a faux-emerald pendant shaped like a loveheart. It didn’t even go with the vest. She toyed with the dead girl’s pendant as she took in the scene, rubbing her thumb across its smooth surface absently. As a veteran of dozens of crime scenes, Faith was used to the media crews attracting all the attention from bystanders. That wasn’t the case this time; she could sense that any stray glances from the assembled throng were directed exclusively at her. Most were subtle about it, but a group of three teenage boys standing just outside the police tape were staring at her quite openly, with no coyness in their gaze.
And why should there be? For this morning, she was public property. Idly, Faith wondered if they were staring at her because of the revealing clothes, or because of a morbid fascination with what she represented. She decided that it was probably both in equal measure. An older man, thirtyish, wearing a red lumberjack shirt and a concerned expression, nodded at her. Faith managed to assemble what she hoped was a brave smile.
The TV reporter was winding up her interview with Sinclair. Faith stood up and moved into position at the top of the short flight of steps at the side of the band-stand as the reporter, a stick-thin redhead in her early twenties, closed with a flirtatious smile at Sinclair and turned back to the camera for her summation. Then all cameras pointed towards Faith.
From out of nowhere, Sinclair was beside her. “Holding up?”
“I’ll survive. The end result is what’s important, Mike. What you or I have to do to get there isn’t the issue, those are just details. If this… pantomime will help, I’ll gladly do it.”
Sinclair patted her on the back as he said: “Time to walk.”
Faith walked.
The route she would take from the bandstand to Lover’s Walk was clear as a DVD playback in her mind. She’d made a couple of dry-runs the previous day so that she could devote her full concentration to the show. Faith had done some acting in high school - a few supporting roles, even Snow White, once - and as performances went, this one wasn’t too demanding. There were no lines to learn, no complex dance steps to memorise, no Prince Charming to kiss. All she had to do was walk. Walk from the bandstand, across the football fields, past the duck pond, across the bridge, and down Lover’s Walk, exactly as her character had done last Tuesday morning sometime between seven thirty and eight o’clock.
Her character. Who was she?
Faith knew her name, of course. Elizabeth McBride. Lizzie. Physically, they weren’t so different. This was no coincidence of course, as the role had been cast to type. Both women were in their early thirties (Faith, at thirty-three, was actually two years older than her character, although the lined and care-worn face of McBride’s corpse had suggested a woman on the wrong side of forty). Both were five-seven, eight stone, both had strawberry blonde hair.
Earlier, Sinclair had told Faith she didn’t have to do this. He’d been wrong. No one else at the station would have been able to fit into the cheap Jimmy Choo knockoffs.
The reconstruction might actually help, too. In the absence of any concrete leads, recreating the victim’s last movements to jog the memories of potential witnesses is a proven method of shaking loose vital new information. Like Sinclair said, somebody had to have seen something. Perhaps, in Collingsworth’s words, they could reach the truth through this return to the scene.
Onlookers lined the path as Faith reached the duck pond. She couldn’t help but resent their fascinated stares, reminding herself with grim repetition that the high turnout was a good thing. She turned her attention away from them to look at the pond. Faith remembered there being ducks when she used to play here as a kid.
Had a young Lizzie McBride played here, in the park? It was likely, she was a Kirkhill girl. Faith had been present when they interviewed her mother. A nice lady. A lot like Faith’s own mum, in fact. Faith wondered what could have happened in her character’s life to set her down such a different career path.
The audience looked on as Faith began to cross the bridge. A little boy in a red shirt pointed a chubby finger at her. His mother quickly pushed his arm down and scolded him in hushed tones. The bridge was coated in flaking green paint and spanned a drop of around twenty feet to the burn below. Part of the railing was missing on one side; the park had gone to seed in the quarter century since Faith had played hide and seek here. In some ways the whole town had. Sure, murder was still rare enough to draw a crowd, but there was a multitude of lesser social evils, from graffiti all the way up to heroin dealing, that no longer raised an eyebrow.
Faith was nearing the end of the walk. In another couple of minutes, she’d reach the primary crime scene, pause for effect, then duck under the yellow police tape and accept a warm coat and, with any luck, a hot cup of coffee from one of the other officers. Her thoughts gravitated inexorably back towards Lizzie McBride, and she felt a pang of something that a psychologist might have described as survivor’s guilt. Lizzie didn’t get to go home with a hot drink.
Was it normal for an actor to identify so closely with a character? Faith supposed it was the inescapable similarities that did it. Two girls, roughly the same age, brought up in the same town. So similar in beginnings, so different in endings. Details. Sometimes the details do make a difference. Faith was a successful police officer, with an eye on promotion and a boyfriend who might soon become a husband. Lizzie had been a prostitute and a junkie, and had died in a pool of her own blood on an overgrown stretch of Lover’s Walk, butchered by an ice-veined psychopath with a serrated seven-inch hunting knife.
Of course, there were those who would say that Lizzie’s lifestyle made her demise her own fault, and going by some of the tight-lipped expressions among the crowd, a few of them were in attendance today. But Faith was not one of them. She knew murders like this weren’t about judgement, they were about sex and blood and insanity and blonde hair. Lizzie’s killer had to be found, and not just to serve justice. Justice was becoming an increasingly abstract notion to Faith as her career in law enforcement progressed. No, he had to be caught for the coldly practical reason that if he remained free, he would do it again. He would do the same terrible things to some other poor girl like Lizzie, and in exactly the same bloody way. These maniacs always kept a consistent M.O., to the point of banality. That was one reason they were always caught. Over 95% of murders in Scotland were solved last year. Faith allowed herself a smile, finding some satisfaction in this statistical comfort-blanket.
Almost there now. The narrow point in the path was straight ahead; flanked by the overgrown bushes where the bastard had concealed himself (they knew this from the whittled twigs he’d toyed with while he waited). Faith could see dark, caked blood registering as black on the bright evergreen leaves. The crowd had thickened, but the chatter had dropped in inverse proportion, dying away to a reverent hush, as the victim reached her goal.
Almost done, Faith thought, then I can get out of these clothes, take a shower, and get to work on nailing this guy.
A glint of light from some trees up on the hill a quarter of a mile away sparkled on the edge of her peripheral vision. Another onlooker? she wondered. Someone with binoculars, maybe? Why so shy?
That was Faith’s last thought before the .270 calibre bullet shattered the fake emerald loveheart on its way into her chest. She collapsed between the overgrown bushes on Lover’s Walk, dying among leaves slick with her own blood and still tacky with the blood of Lizzie McBride.


A quarter of a mile away, the killer carefully retrieved the spent shell casing and placed it in the breast pocket of his red lumberjack shirt, then slipped the Browning Hunter rifle back into the green canvas bag and hefted it over his shoulder. He walked away briskly, but not rushing. As he walked, he smiled with the satisfaction of a job well done, and thought about the kill, how it had been neater, but somehow less satisfying than the last one, where he had used the knife.
Variety is the spice of life, he mused, as he wondered how he would take care of the next one. After all, it wasn’t the method that was important, it was the end result. Whatever you did to get there was just details.


Gavin was born in Glasgow in 1979. He has worked as a petrol station attendant, taxman, salesman, research manager and pizza boy. His story ‘A Living’ was shortlisted for the 2007 Get Britain Reading prize, and published in the Sun Book of Short Stories, and his other stories have been published in Scribble magazine and First Edition.
He currently lives in Hamilton with a wife, a daughter and a growing pack of bunnies, and is at work on his first novel, a thriller entitled Halfway to Hell.


  1. Nice piece, welcome to TKnC.

  2. Yeah, good one Gavin. The ending got me, wasn't expecting the twist. Fine, solid writing too.

  3. Welcome, Gavin.

    Very well written this. The scene setting and descriptions are excellent, as are the subtle comparisons between the two victims leading to a twist that always lingered, but not in the way you presented it.
    Look forward to the sequel!


  4. Thanks for the nice feedback!

    This is a bit of a strange story for me, as I like it, but hate the ending since the lead character had grown on me. A bit ironic considering that the ending was the initial idea for the story!