Julie knew that everything was about to turn pear-shaped the morning of the murder. She’d slept through her alarm and missed a crucial delivery, woke to a barrage of angry voicemails and order cancellations, and found herself the target of an horrendous and disparaging social media campaign instigated by her ex-husband that had somehow gone viral. The temptation to crawl back under the covers and retreat from the world was strong, but she somehow found the energy to drag herself to the shower, pull on a comfortable pair of leggings and large knitted sweater, and make her way downstairs to brew the obligatory morning coffee.
As she waited for the espresso machine to do its thing, she stared out at the small courtyard with its patch of green lawn, and watched as a robin hopped along the branches of the hedge that separated her flat from the road, pondering the strange distance between the extraordinary and spectacular implosion of her life online and the quiet calm of this otherwise very ordinary Thursday morning. A ray of sunlight glinted off the tear-drop crystal hanging in front of the kitchen window as she reached for her usual mug and added a spoonful of demerara sugar, but the moment of calm was ruined by a sudden and loud knock on the front door.
Julie sighed and made her way down the hall. Wary of possible media harassment, she checked the peephole and frowned as she caught sight of one of the cops who frequented her small village bakery. She unhooked the chain and opened the door as she tried to remember the man’s name. She’d always thought of him as Mr. Black and Three Sugars. ‘Yes?’ she asked.
‘Morning Ms. Stewart. Would it be alright if I came in for a word?’
‘Uh, alright.’ She stepped back to let him past, concerned at his serious expression and the formality of his greeting. She shut the door and awkwardly slipped past him to lead the way down the narrow hallway. ‘What can I do for you, uh, Rob?’ she asked, gesturing toward a chair. and breathing a sigh of relief when he didn’t correct the name.
But he ignored the invitation to sit and instead looked around the room, walked over and glanced out the bay window before turning to face her. ‘You didn’t open the shop this morning,’ he said at last.
Julie frowned. ‘Yes, I’ve had a rather horrendous morning-‘
He nodded, cut her off before she could continue. ‘And the last time you were there?”
‘Last night. Look, what is this? I slept in, okay. God, I didn’t think you lot would be that desperate for a coffee and muffin.’
The corner of his mouth lifted, but the amusement was quickly tamped down. ‘Yes, quite. I’m afraid this is rather more serious. When was the last time you saw your husband?’
‘Ex husband. And not for a few months, although the b-‘ she caught herself and took a breath. ‘Although this morning I found out he’s reached a new low and begun targeting me on social media. Is that what this is about?’
‘Perhaps you’d like to sit down Ms. Stewart.’
‘It’s Julie, please, and what is going on? You’re worrying me Sergeant-‘
‘Hargrave … Rob. Ms. Stewart, Julie-are you sure you don’t want to take a seat?’
She shook her head, noticing for the first time that he too seemed uncomfortable. He glanced at his watch and out the window again. ‘My colleague seems to be late.,’ he said before stepping forward. ‘I’m afraid we had a call early this morning. There was a break-in at your shop.’
‘Oh God, just what I need. How bad is it?’
He shook his head. ‘There’s more. We found your husband in the back room. The-‘ he broke off as she stared at him, suddenly comprehending the enormity of what he was telling her. She felt him take her elbow and steer her toward the chair.
‘Please, take a seat. The shock…’
She sat back in the armchair and stared up at him. ‘You’re here so I’m guessing-‘
His expression remained inscrutable, but he nodded. ‘Yes. We’re treating the death as suspicious and we’ll need a record of your movements during the past forty-eight hours.’