Sunlight beamed into Flack's face as he stepped into the bedroom and for a moment all he could see was white. His body temperature briefly soared as the rays bathed him in their warmth and glow. Then it was all over, as quickly as it had come when he stepped further into the private bedroom of Margo Rosterick. All at once the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. There was a stillness about this room. Nothing moved; it was as though this room had been frozen in time, kept unchanged for years and years. He half expected a thick layer of dust to be covering the furniture but there wasn't. In fact everything was brilliantly clean, dazzlingly so in the bright sunlight that filled the room. An overpowering scented, perfumed smell filled his nostrils as he gulped in the static air that existed in the stillness. Small specks of dust, though Flack was now almost surprised to see any at all, danced in the rays as they shone down through the great glass windows that led out onto a balcony. Flack could see a small table and chair out there and an abundance of colourful flowers in various decorative stone planters.
He turned his attention back to the inside of the room. Thick velvet curtains hung down in their masses either side of the windows from high above his head. An elegant dressing table stood off to one side with an ornate gold-framed mirror resting over it. Each item on top of the glass surface was neatly placed and parallel to one another; brush, comb, powder, various other crèmes and lotions that Flack failed to recognise. He wondered if Margo Rosterick had ever even used these things, they looked so very untouched. A settee and two matching armchairs sat in front of a small fireplace, their material matching the thick curtains, and a lurid floral rug lay on the floor between them. Small floral cushions of the same pattern were placed carefully on the settee and for a while Flack simply gazed at his surroundings. Pink. Everything was so brilliantly, powder-puff pale pink. The curtains, chairs, floral rug... even the flowers on the balcony were various shades of pink. It was the most traditional of ladies bedrooms that Flack had ever seen, as if he had stepped back a century on passing through the doorway to this room. Or was it that Margo Rosterick had simply never grown up? Flack wasn't sure, but the colour together with that thought encouraged a sick feeling to start growing in his belly.
Finally he fixed his gaze on what he had come there to see. A grand four poster bed dominated the space of the large room. Reams of chiffon-like material fell down from the top of it and wafted gently back and forth despite the lack of any kind of breeze in the room. A golden bedspread covered the bed over crisp, clean pink sheets and it was there Flack got his first glimpse of her. His breath caught in his throat and he froze in his step. She was beautiful. He blinked. He knew in his heart he had never seen such a stunning woman, and what was more, she was peaceful. She lay perfectly set in the bed, her long golden hair running symmetrically down either side of her head to cover the sheets. He could just see the silk of a pink negligee that she must be wearing under the covers. Her eyes were closed and a faint smile tinged her lips. Her skin was pale, smooth but almost waxy, as if she were really a mannequin rather than a corpse. In fact, she didn't look like a corpse at all, she looked like a strange and heavenly creature that was simply sleeping in her bed and at any moment would wake and cry out for Flack's presence in her room.
That won't happen. She's dead.
Flack was brought back to reality by that mean and tiny voice inside his head. He coughed, suddenly remembering he hadn't taken a breath in a while and all at once his lungs were filled with the overpowering perfumed scent again and he choked. He clasped a hand to his mouth, afraid the sick feeling in his belly was more than a feeling, but it wasn't. He fixed his eyes on the ethereal young woman before him again.
Her arms rested just atop of the covers and he could see there was no ring worn on her wedding finger. He frowned. Why wouldn't she be wearing her wedding ring? Had her marriage really broken down that badly, or was that just rumours spread by the magazines to sell numbers? His detective's eyes quickly scanned over her nightstand but no ring was to be found there. He was just about to step forward to pull open the draws when a noise from behind stopped him and he jumped.
"Ah there you are I... Oh sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Flack turned to look into the concerned face of Sid.
"Sid," he nodded, trying to hide the fact his heart was still jumping wildly inside his chest.
"Flack," Sid returned. "Stella told me to let you know she went to call Mac. She'll join us in a minute."
"Right," Flack nodded, composing himself and bringing out his notepad and pen once more.
"You alright?" Sid frowned, still stopped halfway between the doorway and where Flack stood at the end of the bed.
"Fine," Flack sighed somewhat irritably.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Sid said, half grinning at the thought. He didn't wait for Flack's reply but bustled past him over to the side of the bed.
"Or maybe just a dead body," he chuckled as he looked down at the figure lying on the bed.
Flack didn't reply but pursed his lips. When would they all realise he was fine and stop bothering him with their suffocating looks of pity and boring repetitive questions.
But you're not.
"I once saw a ghost, you know?" Sid was saying as Flack ignored his own thoughts in favour of Sid's definitely more interesting ones.
"Yes, it was back in ninety-three I think... no, no it must have been ninety-two," Sid nodded.
"Where were you?" Flack asked.
"I was staying with family out in the country. We'd hired a cabin and gone up for the week. It was a rather wild and isolated place," Sid replied, his eyes starting to glaze over.
"Ugh," Flack grunted in response, finding the whole idea of cabins in the country unappealing.
"Yes, I woke up one night and decided to go for a stroll down to the nearby lake. I remember coming out of the trees to see a figure standing by the lake. The moon was very bright that night and I could see her quite clearly," Sid nodded.
"Who was she?" Flack asked in interest.
"Well that is just the question. I thought it was my dear old mother, standing there in her night gown. She looked the spitting image," Sid sighed fondly.
"What did you do?"
"I froze," Sid said rather dramatically. "My mother had passed away a good ten years before that so it was impossible for it to be her."
"Unless it was her ghost," Flack nodded as he logically reasoned along with Sid.
"Exactly. Trouble was I didn't really get along with my old mother so I ran back to the cabin and went straight back to bed after a good few glasses of the strong stuff," Sid grinned.
"But you did see the ghost of your mother?" Flack encouraged.
"Well," Sid smiled as his eyes refocused on Flack. "Not really. I mean, I thought I had but the next day when I mentioned it to the rest of the family, it turned out my sister had taken a midnight stroll down to the lake as well that night."
Flack felt his heart sink at Sid's words.
"So it was your sister you saw?" he murmured.
"Yes. And believe you me when I say she wasn't happy to be confused with our mother. Did I get it in the neck for that one," Sid chuckled.
"I bet," Flack half-heartedly responded.
Sid scratched at his head and then turned to don a pair of white gloves.
Flack paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts, and then said, "So you don't believe in ghosts then?"
Sid looked up, a small frown on his face, clearly mulling over the question.
"That, I'm afraid," he replied, "Is the unanswerable question. What happens to us when we die?"
"What do you think?"Flack asked.
"There are too many possibilities," Sid mused. "But having spent the majority of my life around death and the dead, I can say one thing for sure; no life ever remains with the body."
"So you don't believe then," Flack answered.
"I didn't say that," Sid answered back. "The human spirit gets far too attached to this beautiful planet that we inhabit. Mankind has created every luxury that we could possibly think of. Therefore what would posses anyone to leave?"
"So you do?" Flack frowned, puzzled by his colleague's cryptic answer.
"I didn't say that either," Sid replied. "My answer is I don't know."
"Oh," Flack said, somewhat disappointed.
There was a pause in the room and a silence disturbed only by the sound of Sid snapping on his gloves.
"However I hope," the doctor suddenly said, and glanced meaningfully at Flack as he spoke.
Flack stared back at him, feeling that he should know what Sid was trying to say, knowing that in his heart he did understand his colleague's words, accepting in his head that the M.E was wrong, that he couldn't possibly know a thing about how Flack was feeling.
"Anyway, back to the business at hand," Sid said, nodding to the body before him.
"Yes," Flack coughed, looking back again at Margo Rosterick.
He once again found his breath catching in his throat as he stared at her. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was something about her. It was as if she hadn't ever really belonged to this world, such a beautiful and different creature she was. That she had now returned to some other place from whence she came, hence the small smile on her lips.
"Cause of death?" Flack muttered, his professionalism overriding any other feeling that might have been flowing through his body.
"Ah," Sid replied as he gently touched his fingers to her head and tilted it to one side, brushing her hair out of the way as he did so.
Flack stared in horror as the fatal wound was finally revealed to him. The side of her head was stained with a trickle of blood emanating from a small hole in her temple.
"Gunshot," Flack choked softly as he scribbled it down. The nauseous feeling inside him was growing. How could anyone have shot such an innocent young woman? Especially when she lay unaware and sleeping in her bed.
"Indeed. At least it was quick, she probably never felt a thing," Sid replied as he examined the wound.
"Her husband Antony Strange was found with a revolver this morning," Flack worked out, anger briefly flickering through him.
"A revolver didn't do this," Sid said, subconsciously shaking his head. "No, a revolver would have caused much more damage. It was a very small gun that caused this wound."
"I'll inform the boys to search the house for a weapon of that sort," Flack nodded. "And I'll check with first on scene."
"I've not seen a gun in this room," Sid replied helpfully. "At least, not on view anyway."
"Either way it's been removed by somebody after the event," Flack growled.
"Stella mentioned that it was actually the butler who discovered the body, before the police officers arrived up here," Sid informed him.
Flack made a mental note to ask Plenty if he'd removed anything from the room at all, and also to question him closely about his whereabouts and actions leading up to and after his discovery of the body.
"It seems so sad, a pretty young thing like this," Sid sighed, pulling the sheets back so he could examine the rest of the body.
"Hmm," Flack agreed as he watched Sid at work. It seemed almost sacrilege to even touch the body, let alone move her.
"She was the world's sweetheart," Sid continued sadly.
Flack silently agreed wondering how it had all ended up like this for the poor girl. He hadn't spoken to Antony Strange himself and yet he found himself already hating the man. He had caused her life to be full of misery, for her to be separated from the rest of the world and left in the huge mansion, away from family and friends to live alone. What man could ever do that to the woman he loved? Flack clenched his notepad hard in his hand. How he hated Antony Strange.
But you're just like him, aren't you?
Flack froze, a shiver running down his spine as his tiny voiced companion started up in his head again.
You didn't look after the woman you loved either.
A tear suddenly burnt in the corner of his eye as he was sucked into his own little world of thoughts and emotions.
Now they're both dead.
Flack's breathing got audibly louder and he suddenly noticed that Sid was no longer looking at the body but was staring at him.
"Time of death?" Flack stammered, hands shaking once more.
"Sometime last night. Approximately between midnight and two am," Sid replied, never blinking once as he stared at Flack.
"Good," Flack nodded, ignoring the fiery racing of emotions through his body. It burnt him and he felt slightly faint. It was getting hot in the room and he needed to get out.
"Are you alright, Flack?" Sid asked, now looking rather more alarmed than concerned.
"Fine. I just need some air. It's so hot in here, isn't it? I just..." Flack stammered, pushing his notepad and pen roughly into his pocket.
He coughed and pulled at his shirt collar which was loose anyway. He stared at the corpse in the bed, the sleeping angel that didn't belong there. He gulped in the sickly-sweet perfumed air that made him nauseous. He stomach turned and once again Flack clasped a hand over his mouth, afraid he might vomit.
"I just... I need to get out of here," he choked from behind his hand.
And so it was that for the first time in his life, Detective Flack ran from a crimescene.