A/N - Swearwords used, including F-word.
The drive had been long and arduous for Flack. He didn't mind the long waits in traffic, the numbing mindlessness of endless straight roads with never an end in sight; he could even withstand the repetitive tunes whirling round on the play cycle of the radio station. However what he really couldn't abide was the small, narrower roads once one had left the city; the claustrophobic space of tarmac only as wide as his car was suffocating. He'd thought they were the stuff of legend, the stuff of tales from foreign countries, oh how he'd had no idea that they now existed almost on his own doorstep.
This place wasn't in his jurisdiction anyway...
He twisted the steering wheel sharply as a small animal suddenly darted from a hedgerow and disappeared into the opposing greenery.
He swore in his head as he slammed down the brake pedal and the car screeched to a halt in the middle of the track. The engine cut out immediately. Flack stared at his sweaty hands, shaking against the wheel they were gripped around.
What's wrong with you? Get a grip.
He ordered himself in his head. A grip... that was funny. His hands couldn't have been gripping the wheel any tighter if he had tried. His eyes darted up to the mirror. His face was pale, beads of sweat ran down his forehead and yet he felt cold... he felt sick. He didn't want to do this, he couldn't be here... it was too much, all too much.
This place wasn't in his jurisdiction anyway...
"Shut up," he said aloud and then jumped, the sound of his own voice shocking him.
Suddenly he ripped his hands from the wheel and ran them through his damp hair, it stood on end as he brought them down and willed them to stop in their trembling. He closed his eyes and gulped in a few breaths. He was going to be late now; they'd all be waiting for him. A flash of something disturbed his vision and his eyes shot open. There was nothing there. Nothing except him, his car and the narrow road. Carefully he turned on the ignition, cursing himself for his stupidity as he did so, and started off down the road again.
This land was all hers...
He'd guessed as much a while back when he'd driven past two stone pillars set high on either side of the road, now covered in gorse and bracken. It had only been from that point onward that the roads had turned into a maze-like warren of single lane tracks. They had been created this way on purpose. Created to change the entire landscape into something it was not. Into a home.
Flack felt worse as he drove on. The very thought of this case making his skin ache, his lip sweaty, his vision bleary.
It's too soon for this...you should go home.
Flack wondered if his companion might have a point. Was it too soon? And yet it was all in his own head. The countless times in recent memory he had argued with the tiny voice in his mind before swiftly ignoring it for the worse were too many. And once again he chose to ignore it as he drove on between two more high, stone pillars. All at once the hedgerow started to subside and after driving through huge, wrought iron, black gates he caught his first glimpse of the place he had come to visit.
This was hers...
Flack gazed out of the windscreen at the neatly kept lawn as he drove past it towards the edifice before him. The large, grey-stone manor was set back from the lawn, the gravel driveway leading right up to its front door. A few squadcars were parked out the front and a black Avalanche joined them, meaning the CSIs had beaten him there. He'd be in for some trouble now.
Please be Stella...
He couldn't bear to have Mac's piercing eyes bearing into him, judgement strewn across them when it was none of his damn business.
Flack reached the house and pulled his car to a rough halt. This place was big, much bigger than it had seemed during the time it had taken for him to drive from the gates to the front door. It's long, darkened windows bore down upon him like big, black eyes; hollow and empty as if they'd swallow him up. As he exited his car he noticed the sky was bright and yet there was no colour to it. It wasn't blue, neither grey and yet his eyes watered with the brightness of the day. He blinked and then turned his attention to the front door. A figure in a dark suit was coming down the steps towards him.
"Stella," Flack managed in greeting, adding a slight nod.
"You're late," she snapped.
"Traffic," Flack snorted, adding a pitiful sorry almost under his breath.
"Never mind," Stella replied curtly. "She's up here. I take it you've been informed."
"Fully briefed back at the station," he replied.
"Did you talk to the suspect?" she asked, cutting him a sidewards glance.
"They packed me off up here before I had the chance," Flack grunted.
"I see," she nodded.
She turned and walked back the way she'd come. Flack followed a few steps behind, the gravel crunching under his shoes. In the distance he heard an uproar of squawking and then a flock of birds took flight out of the trees near the lawn edge. It looked very much like they were attacking each other but he couldn't be sure. Normal birds didn't behave that way anyway. Flack shook his head and climbed the few steps towards the entrance.
The two detectives entered into the gloom and Flack found he couldn't help the audible gasp he let out as his eyes adjusted to the light of the hall. It was magnificent. The size alone was enough to make anyone turn green and Flack knew immediately that his own apartment would have fit inside four times over, if not more. A curved staircase led up from the middle of the room and large double doors were set into the walls on the right and left sides. A circular table with a vase of flowers was set in the centre of the room before the stairs, surviving despite the gloominess of this grand room. Ornate panelling covered the walls and a sparkling chandelier hung down from somewhere far above Flack's head.
"Different, isn't it?" Stella smirked at him.
Flack nodded, mouth still slightly agape. He had never seen a room like this in his entire life.
Suddenly a noise off to the left diverted his attention and he turned to see a rather tall man striding efficiently towards them.
"Detective, I did request for your officers to be tidy and respectful as they complete their investigation, but really, I simply cannot allow them to go through the Mistress' private desk," he ordered.
"I'm afraid that's exactly what they're going to search through," Stella snapped back irritably.
Flack eyed the man up and down as she continued to argue back with the stranger. He was slightly taller than Flack was himself and his black, shiny hair was neatly parted at the side. He seemed to be somewhere in his late forties with a large nose, bright white teeth and small eyes. When he paused in conversation his lips were a thin line and fell into almost a mean look on his face. He was smartly dressed, and although Flack had only seen them in the movies, he guessed this man was the butler. If anything his English accent gave him away.
"I am in charge of this house here whilst the Master and Mistress are away...are...I mean..."
The man stumbled over his words, coughed and then looked slightly awkward.
"Your name?" Flack said gruffly, taking advantage of the pause.
"Pardon me?" the man turned to look at Flack, taking him in with a long stare.
"I said, you name?" Flack repeated as he took out his notebook and pen.
"Edward. Edward Plenty. I am Butler here and incharge of the..."
"Yeah, I heard," Flack interrupted bluntly.
Plenty sneered at him with distaste.
"I'll be needing to talk to you after I've seen the crimescene, Mr Plenty. Don't go anywhere," Flack ordered as he turned back to Stella for her to show him the way.
"As if I would leave my post during such a time," came the cold reply and then Plenty turned and strode away in the direction he had appeared from.
"Touchy," snarked Flack after him.
"It's upstairs," Stella remarked, turning the subject back to business as she started up the stairs.
Flack nodded to himself and then followed on behind her. He guessed she was still pissed at him for being late. He couldn't blame her, it was bad practice for him to turn up after the CSI's had started processing. But it was true, the traffic out of the city had been bad, and the journey a last minute order from upstairs. Flack found himself lost in thought as they journeyed up to the first floor. Something about this case didn't sit right with him.
It had all started when a call had come in from a jogger going for an early morning run in his local park. A man had been found sitting quietly by the lakeside, the morning sun glowing on his face. He was calm, almost sedate in expression, numbed by whatever horror had occurred in the hours leading up to that time. His thin cotton shirt blew gently in the breeze, as did his golden blond hair and he appeared to be barefoot, dew sodden grass clinging to his soles. In his left hand he held a revolver, a very old fashioned kind, but it hadn't been that which had drawn the attention of the jogger. The man's hands and shirt had been covered in sticky, red blood.
He'd been brought to Flack's precinct for questioning and that was when his Captain had told him. The man was Antony Strange, the multi millionaire and all American charmer. Flack recalled staring at him through the interrogation room window. He was young, and incredibly handsome with his boyish good looks and floppy hair. His reputation preceded him though and Flack knew from the papers that Antony Strange was more famed for his Lothario-like antics than anything else he'd ever achieved in his life. The curious thing was that he'd married only a few years back. The young and beautiful English heiress and aristocrat, Margaret Rosterick had become the envy of every girl in the world when she'd married Antony Strange.
'The woman who would tame the wild beast' they'd called her in the magazines, even though she'd only been nineteen at the time. Flack grimaced at that fact. Pushed into it by the parents, he'd thought. After the wedding they'd travelled the world together, snapshots of them appearing on every news site in the world. Margo had become a fashion icon, women flocking in their millions to buy or recreate her image, the press obsessed with her beauty. For she really was beautiful, a slight creature with an ethereal like quality to her aura. She gave the impression of being fragile and yet whether she was, the world did not know. She was a great lover of nature and of animals, another quality that made the world fall in love Margo Rosterick.
The couple had eventually settled in England, somewhere near the south coast, and for a while it seemed things had worked out. However, everything changed when, within a few months, Strange had dragged his young wife across the sea to America, a place she'd immediately felt homesick in. So Strange had devised a plan, had created this quintessential English Manor for her to live in, added the winding country roads and butler, everything to try and make her happy. But it wasn't enough. She eventually became a recluse, hiding from the limelight and never being seen in public. Strange was another matter though, he continued on with his pre-marital lifestyle of lavish parties and dinners without his wife. In the end Margo was forgotten and quickly replaced with a new icon for the women to fawn over, and no-one ever asked, 'Whatever happened to Margo Rosterick?'
"Flack, you with me?"
Flack jumped as Stella's sharp voice cut into his thoughts.
"Yeh," he replied gruffly.
He noted his hands had started to shake again.
"It's just down here," Stella directed as she turned left down the landing.
Flack clenched his fists tightly and trailed along behind her. Passing a mirror he noticed his hair was still on end and quickly released his hands to pat it down. He looked considerably worse than when he'd left the precinct a few hours ago, but then again, he'd had that long drive to mull over the details of the case. Officers had driven to the home of Antony Strange as soon as he'd been taken into custody and it was they who had found the gruesome discovery that had led to Flack being ordered out to the house. And the more Flack had thought about it on the drive, the worse he'd felt.
"How bad is it?" Flack suddenly asked as he followed Stella along a wide landing.
Wider than the bloody roads.
"They're all bad," Stella replied over her shoulder.
Flack shivered and grimaced. Somewhere deep inside him he understood why this case was affecting him so badly, even if he didn't want to admit it. He paused briefly, taking a deep breath and then willed his hands to stop moving. It seemed that his brain wasn't connecting to his extremities that day. He looked up to see Stella pausing outside a room. This was it. In a moment he was expected to go through the door and see... and see God knows what. He swallowed, his throat was dry and it was a painful action. He couldn't do this. It was too much. That poor girl. He'd remembered Sam showing him pictures of the wedding, it had been all anyone – the magazines – all they'd talked about for weeks. That had been three years ago... Margo Rosterick was now only twenty-two...barely an adult... Flack swallowed again and cursed himself for doing so. The girl was still a child really. Snatched from her family and brought to a place she never wanted to live with an absent husband who favoured drinking and drugs over marital duty.
"Flack, are you coming?" Stella asked impatiently.
Flack knew he was shaking as he approached the door, knew Stella was watching him, noticing his trembling. Was she aware it was fear? He didn't know. Carefully, and breathing loudly, he stepped over the threshold into the room before him. Into the room where the body of Margo Rosterick lay.