The woman had been flirting with him for over fifteen minutes before he invited her to accompany him to the garden for fresh air. Glancing out the patio doors into the darkness, she smiled. That was precisely what she had been aiming for, and she consented freely to follow him outside.
Upon seeing him for the first time, she couldn't help but notice his well-built physique. Her gaze lingered on his broad shoulders and strong hands, making her mouth water.
She needed a man. It had been some time since a man’s strong hands aroused her. Probably too long if she considered the flutter in her belly.
The man's wealth was more important to her than her physical desire. She found his Armani suit impressive, and it confirmed that he was wealthy enough to meet her taste. She had always had an eye for such things, and it played a decisive role in her attraction towards him.
As she clung to his sturdy arm, they strolled leisurely along the gravel path. He murmured inconsequential things in her ear, and she didn’t bother listening to him.
The power she could feel under her fingers was as exciting as the heavy smell of the roses lining one side of the trail. She smelled romance in the air and smiled.
A few more steps and the roses were replaced by berry bushes. The fragrances transitioned and the summer night's warmth enveloped them in a damp cocoon.
As she walked, the shingle path disappeared beneath her feet and she stumbled on the cracked soil. Despite her slight embarrassment, both she and her companion chuckled. He silently offered her more support, and a giddy feeling bubbled up inside of her.
She giggled softly when he hastened his steps and commented playfully on his haste. He watched the trees, distracted, and didn’t indicate that he had heard her.
As they walked through the garden, she felt a sense of unease, causing her to put a halt to their rapid advancement. Though the situation felt romantic, she knew it was unwise to be alone with a man she had just met and knew nothing about. She couldn't ignore the little voice in her head that warned her to be cautious, so she decided to slow down and take her time.
It was her first time there, and she hadn’t been aware that the garden grounds were so extensive and secluded. Besides, while she had all intentions to flirt with the man, she didn’t intend to succumb to his charms that night.
It's never wise to give in too easily. The woman desired more than a casual fling, which implied that she needed to be a bit unattainable for some time. Men enjoy the thrill of the chase. They find pleasure in pursuing someone they desire and put in the efforts necessary to catch their prey.
The tall man gave her a quick look, his eyes expressing empathy, and he slowed down to match her pace. She was wearing stilettos, and she felt grateful for his consideration. When she put on her high heels that evening for the party, she hadn't anticipated walking on the rough terrain.
When they were about forty meters away from the house and in the shadow of the trees lining that side of the garden, the man grabbed her arm and pulled her to a deserted corner. He put enough strength behind his action, and the brutal move startled her.
As she walked along the dimly lit alley, a sudden shiver coursed through her body, sending a wave of goosebumps along the nape of her neck and along the length of her spine. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as she felt a spine-chilling sensation take over, casting a shadow on her once carefree demeanor. Despite the unsettling feeling, she refused to be pulled along without putting up a fight..
Initially, she attempted to converse with him rationally. She hoped that perhaps his sudden change in demeanor was due to his eagerness to be alone with her. However, her articulate words went unnoticed, and she soon stopped pretending. She began to resist the man with all her might, but it seemed like an effort to impede a river's current.
Despite her pleas for him to stop, he continued to drag her along for a few more meters. She desperately tried to reason with him, but her efforts were in vain. She then decided to fight back and dug her heels into the ground, but the dry soil made it impossible for her to gain traction. As a result, she only managed to stir up a cloud of dust that settled into her pores.
As she walked through the dense trees, her legs began to tremble and weaken, threatening to give out beneath her. A growing sense of unease and fear gnawed at her, making her feel vulnerable and exposed. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong, and with every step, her self-assurance and sense of security dwindled.
Her arms quivered uncontrollably as if they were caught in an electrical current. Fear gripped her heart, and she struggled to hold back the tears that streamed down her cheeks, leaving a trail of burning sensation in their wake. She felt ashamed of her weakness, but the cold fingers of fear kept squeezing her heart in an iron fist, making it harder for her to breathe. Her breaths became ragged, and she fought to regain control of her emotions, but the fear persisted, refusing to loosen its grip on her.
The woman stopped in her tracks and stood in front of the man, exhausted by her futile efforts to disentangle herself from him. Despite her persistent tears, she gazed at the man's emotionless face in panic. He didn't even blink, which made her even more uneasy. He stared at her with lifeless eyes, crushing her aspirations. She attempted to speak once more, but her strength failed her. Her throat was unresponsive, and her mouth was as dry as the parched soil beneath her delicate shoes.
She cast a hopeful glance back at the house, her heart pounding with anticipation. However, the towering trees obstructed her view, and disappointment crept in, prematurely extinguishing her excitement. As she stood there, she felt a sudden quiver in her lips, realizing that she was completely alone, and no one could hear her.
The man's face twisted into a satisfied smirk, and she recoiled at the sight of it. She felt a sudden surge of fear as she understood that he held nothing but contempt for her. Despite her escalating anxiety, she tried to make sense of his disdainful look. The shock that followed was like a jolt of electricity, scattering her thoughts and leaving her searching for an explanation.
She always had confidence that men found her attractive and admired her. She knew that they looked at her with interest, but she didn't let it affect her. Her appeal wasn't just physical, but also due to her intelligence and charm. She had a captivating presence that drew people to her. Even though she received attention from men, she remained grounded and didn't let it affect her judgment or sense of self.
She gazed wearily at him, attempting to decode the emotions hidden behind his mask. However, her intuition had gone into hiding and was of no assistance.
His gaze lingered on her, assessing her every move. She could feel the weight of his scrutiny as he stepped closer, his large hand reaching out to grasp the delicate fabric of her silk blouse. The suddenness of his touch jolted her back to the present moment, shattering the illusion of their romantic encounter and revealing the true horror of the situation.
Fear was bubbling near the surface, and as her brain scrambled the signals, she was about to burst into hysterical laughter.
In that frozen moment, that soft blouse, caressing the curve of her breasts, became the most important thing in her world. Proud of that expensive piece of silk, one of the symbols she attached to the life she had built for herself, the woman had turned it into tangible proof that she had exceeded her and other people’s expectations but, more importantly, had escaped her birth circumstances, which confined her to the working class.
That dark and threatening hand on her precious top brought a glimmer of dread to her mind and made her see red before her eyes.
The beefy hand jerked hard, and the flimsy blouse fell apart, rendered to rags. The woman’s dismay and the pressure of her fury at the sight of her prized chemise, ruined ruthlessly, pushed a warlike cry past her quivering lips.
She abandoned any rational thought and jumped the man. Her shoes found soft spots in his shins and made him grunt. Her nails targeted the handsome and ruthless face she had admired just minutes before, leaving blood in their wake.
He fought her back. The slap of his backhand unbalanced her. She stumbled back and cried out again, not only because of the pain.
This cry echoed the terror that had swiftly crept into her bones and fried all her neuronal cells. The man was strong, and she couldn’t defend herself against that brutal show of force.
Her cry died soon, though. Another man grabbed her throat from behind, and his fingers gripped her as a vice and smothered the sound.
She questioned and berated herself. In the heat of the fight, she had failed to hear the other man’s steps. Still, she promised herself to go down swinging.
She tried to claw into his skin, but he didn’t show that he registered any kind of pain. Running on instinct only, she directed her stilettoes to his shins but couldn’t say if she succeeded.
His fingers burrowed harder into her delicate skin, leaving bruises behind marring her epidermis’s flawless whiteness. Her air pipe constricted, and the woman slid slowly into unconsciousness.
Before she blacked out, she had enough time to feel other fingers knotted in her hair. She slipped beyond terror and anxiety. Her impotence overwhelmed the solitary corner of her mind that was still functioning.
The last thought that passed her mind was that she couldn’t buy or fight her way out of that situation. She knew that she had lost the game with life. That was her night.
The slight flicker of life in her body made it interesting for the men. The third man grabbed her hair and threw her on the hard ground in the shadow of a bush pregnant with red drops. Her skirt climbed up her thighs, and the whiteness of the exposed skin of her legs lit the darkness.
The three of them were still looming over her. They stared at her fallen body for a few seconds.
One of the attackers smirked with satisfaction, his eyes going from her body to the red berries. The ugliness in his sneer proved that he knew well that the beauty of the red fruit went hand in hand with their poison, and he found it befitting the situation.
The woman was about to get what she deserved. Poison deserved poison.
Axel woke up with a jerk, and his half-lidded eyes perused the bedroom. The moon’s light reflected in the glass panels of the south wall and filled the room with shadows in the corners.
His heart pounded in his chest. For one brief but agonizing moment, he had feared that he was stuck there with those men, who were still staring at the woman’s body, which was lying prostrated in the shadow of that bush.
Now wide awake, he breathed deeply and closed his eyes in relief. He was still in his house.
Axel’s relief was short-lived, though. He had scarcely closed his eyes when he had another vision of the woman’s broken body, still resting on that hard, dry ground, which he had seen in his dream. Now, a monotonous rain whipped her mercilessly and washed the pattern in gore painted on her body, feeding the blood to the dehydrated soil.
The vision was so in-depth that Axel could see the raindrops clinging to the woman’s eyelashes. The light in her eyes had dimmed at first and then vanished. The lines on her forehead had deepened and marked her passing years on her face.
A few hours earlier, that face had been flawless. It was marred with an X high on her left cheekbone, and her features showed weariness, pain, and despair.
Axel flexed his fingers and wiped his damp palms off on his thighs. Axel’s visions weren’t always so detailed, but there were exceptions, such as the one he had had that night.
When the image finally blurred, Axel exhaled in a whoosh and breathed deeply. He wiped his forehead and noticed his fingers weren’t as steady as he knew them.
Axel shook his head and got off his bed. He tried to stand but had to lean on the night table for a few seconds before trying his wobbly legs again.
In the usual course of events, the man wouldn’t have needed help finding his bearings. Axel knew his lair as well as the back of his hand and could find his way through his rooms even if he hadn’t pulled the curtains aside to have the condo bathed in the light of the moon. Still, that night, he needed the support of the walls to reach the bathroom.
The man leaned on the lavabo and stared at his reflection in the mirror, but staring didn’t help. He turned on the tap and filled his fists with cold water, which he liberally splashed over his face.
When the trepidation had slowly left his body, Axel drank a mouthful. His mouth had been dry, his tongue almost stuck to the roof of his mouth.
That wasn’t enough. Axel brushed his teeth, before leaving the bathroom. He started towards his terrace but hesitated. He was restive and needed something more than just listening to the owls in the night and the sounds of the lake.
With a shrug, he turned around and left his bedroom. He needed a glass of his best whiskey to wash away the metallic taste of death, which still lingered in his mouth. His toothpaste hadn’t succeeded in chasing it away. Besides, he also needed to make a decision.
Axel didn’t know the people in his dream but knew the house. He had seen that garden before. The man had strolled around those grounds many times. He knew exactly where to find that pregnant bush, which was now guarding the woman’s lifeless body.
Now, he had to decide what to say to the police and how. He didn’t want to reveal how he knew about the crime, but they would ask, and he needed to plot a strategy.
Klavdiya was born on the shore of a small lake in Russia forty years ago. The information on Leah’s iPad didn’t show it, but it was raining the day Klavdiya entered the world.
The woman got married in spring when the cherry trees were in blossom. She was eighteen at the time. She divorced in autumn when the harsh rains washed the soil and the fallen leaves. She was only twenty-three and had a young boy attached to her skirt.
The young woman migrated to Canada the following summer, where she had already found a job in a childhood friend’s company.
She raised her son to stand on his own two feet, and when he left home to follow his path, she started looking around, ready for the hunt. Finally, it was her time, and she wanted a man and the money that came with him.
She wouldn’t give any man the time of the day unless he met her expectations. He had to be well-dressed, well-behaved, and with a rich portfolio.
Klavdiya died on the shore of another lake and on another continent. Her life had completed a full circle. The woman had come into the world restless and with a thirst to exceed the limitations of the world she had been born to, and she died without finding her peace.
Leah sat on her haunches and looked at the battered and broken body lying at her feet in the shadow of the bush. She thought that was a suitable epitaph for that woman, after all.
She knew she was harsh in her judgment, but what the detective sensed when she touched the lifeless body made her remember a friend’s words, ‘Some people are just walking calls for trouble. Most of the time, trouble eventually answers their call.’
Leah shook her head and scolded herself. No one would ever ask for what that woman got.
She stood up and turned off the iPad in her hand. Then, she glanced at the coroner, who meticulously discarded the surgical gloves and cleaned his hands with disinfectant.
Why he would do that was beyond her comprehension. Yet, she had watched Dr. Connelly perform the same ritual every time he was called to the scene of a fatal event.
The detective had known the coroner for several years, and the doctor’s little quirks never ceased to astound her. Right from the beginning of their acquaintance, he had stirred her curiosity, but he had also pulled at her heart.
Leah’s empathic skills were highly triggered whenever she looked at that gloomy old man.
She had found out eventually that the doctor wasn’t a day over sixty, yet whenever she thought of him, she felt that she would smell an old piece of parchment. That was why she got into the habit of thinking of him as an old man.
“Any word, doc?” she asked the doctor nimbly.
Leah always asked that question. She supposed it was the force of habit. The detective was compelled to inquire even though she knew he wouldn’t answer her. Doctor Connelly was the only coroner in the squad who never hazarded giving the COD before completing the post-mortem.
Leah turned to him just in time to catch his scowl, and a small smile lifted the right corner of her mouth. Leah knew his reactions by heart now and could predict them with accuracy. She actually took joy in every one of them and even found a perverse delight in yanking his chain. His answers would always make her day.
“Detective, when I have a COD, you’ll be the first informed,” he sternly replied, his hawk-like eyes trained on her.
His displeasure was evident in the tight curve of his mouth. His tone might have been stern, but he also had a way of dragging his words, which made the interlocutor aware of the sarcasm that dripped off his words like molasses in the water.
Yet, Leah felt warmth beneath the clipped words and bestowed him with a catlike smile. Her blue-green irises intensified the effect of her smile and made her seem eerie. The doctor shuddered and brusquely turned and left the scene after barking an order to the two men waiting on the side to take the body away.
Leah glanced at Klavdiya one last time. Now, no sensation came from the body. As the last drop of warmth had left the corpse, the lingering feelings and occasional thoughts from the victim also vanished.
Leah pictured the victim’s body in her mind as a shell, and it wasn’t for her to take care of that shell. Her role was to vindicate the victim and bring balance back into the world.
One thing was sure about Leah. She had an extreme sense of responsibility and never shrunk her duties. Her innate sense of justice had pushed her on that difficult road, to her family’s dismay.
Leah came from a long line of empaths. Some had more potent abilities than others, but all could sense something and read people based on those readings.
Her family members numbered several psychologists and counsellors for four generations, and she had been expected to follow in their steps. Tradition was essential for her kin. They had hoped until the last moment and didn’t resign until she had taken her oath as a policewoman.
Leah was aware that she had been a disappointment of sorts for her folks, and yet, she knew that she would do the same thing all over again if she had to choose once more.
She had chosen to become a detective and to keep her skills hidden. The police work was chaotic enough, and she didn’t need to add more suspicion and stress to her colleagues’ lives.
People wouldn’t have reacted favourably if they had heard that she knew how and sometimes why they felt the way they did. People needed to take comfort in the knowledge that they could count on the privacy of their thoughts and feelings.
Leah might have disappointed her family in the beginning, but they had passed over their displeasure fast enough. She knew that now, they felt a measure of contentment because, at best, she hadn’t chosen another line of work.
There have been cases in their clan when some members embraced a life of deceit and cunning. They had the necessary skills and could easily pull the wool over people’s eyes. It wasn’t a challenging career for them to pursue, as all the cards were up their sleeves.
After the first three years of her career, her parents came to terms with her profession and relented in their efforts to make her change her job. They also felt that Leah was meant to bring a balance into the world, and they were satisfied to see that she had a deep respect for the responsibilities they had to uphold.
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