It was almost eleven pm when it happened.
Flynn Meadow stumbled out of The Swan and Cloud, giggling as he staggered down the pavement. He rested his left palm on the cold brick wall for support, grinned stupidly to himself, and continued to make his way unsteadily along the street.
The black suit that had been neat and well presented less than two hours earlier was now a mess: a stain ran down Flynn's formerly crisp white shirt from where he'd spilt beer on himself, the trousers he'd taken care to iron earlier in the day were now creased beyond redemption, and, Flynn noticed as he looked down at himself, he'd lost his tie at some point in the evening.
As he started to walk again, Flynn heard a second set of footsteps behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw the distant silhouette of a male figure striding in his direction. He watched it for a while, and then stopped, leaning against a wall and pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Flynn fumbled with a cigarette for a while, struggling to hold it properly, and then held a lighter up to the end, burning his fingers in the process.
He took a few long puffs, watching the smoke curl up into the air, and felt immediately relaxed. The yellow glow from the lampposts glistened in the puddles scattered across the pavement, making the water look almost fiery. Flynn sighed happily, put the cigarette to his lips a final time before tossing it on the ground and putting it out with his foot.
He was considering phoning a taxi when he heard the footsteps again, only this time much closer. Flynn turned around to see if it was someone he knew, and then gasped as he felt the cold blade of a knife tear through his skin. He clutched his stomach, horrified to feel the warm trickle of blood run through the gaps between his fingers, and looked up at his attacker, trembling. Flynn's eyes widened as he saw who it was. "You," he whispered.
Then he felt a second sharp stab of pain in his chest, and collapsed.
Zander approached the growing crowd of people as quickly as he could without breaking into a jog, gently pushing past civilians and muttering "Excuse me," every few seconds. Sirens screamed in the distance, the darkness only broken by the blue flashing lights of the police cars behind and a few torches that some of the officers were holding.
Ducking under the yellow tape that sealed off the crime scene, Zander approached his fellow officers who were standing around the body.
Despite having worked as a police officer for over three years, Zander found looking at this corpse as terrifying as it had been when he'd worked on his first murder case. The man looked young, no older than twenty five, was slim, had pale blue eyes and dark hair. The victim looked terrified, his mouth open slightly, his eyes still wide.
Zander turned away: he couldn't bear to look at the body for any longer. Instead, he distracted himself by ordering the crowd to back away, asking if anyone had seen anything relating to the crime. People were pushing each other, craning their necks to get a better look at the crime scene.
"Alexander!" a voice called behind him. It was Brian Elsen, the police detective that Zander had worked with on several cases. Zander strode over to him obediently. "Yes, sir?"
"Does anyone know what happened? Who this man is?"
"One man saw him in the pub earlier, said he left at about half ten, but no other information."
Elsen nodded slowly as an ambulance pulled over. "Okay. Miller, you got his wallet?"
A female police officer walked over to them, holding a leather wallet in a gloved hand.
"Yes sir," she replied, carefully opening the wallet. "No money's been taken as far as I can see, so my guess is that this wasn't a mugging." Miller pulled out a driver's licence, reading the name out loud: "Flynn Meadow."
Elsen ran his fingers through his thinning hair, clearly in thought. After a few seconds he spoke to a group of policemen, asking two of them to locate the family of Flynn Meadow and inform them of his death. Another policewoman Zander didn't know the name of began taking photos from different angles, of the stab wounds, the position of the body, the knife that lay discarded on the floor.
Zander watched as the body- now covered with a sheet- was lifted into the ambulance. He felt a cool drop of water run down his cheek, and within a minute, it was pouring with rain.
The next day many suspicions were confirmed. There were no prints on the wallet or body, the knife had been wiped clean, and the post-mortem showed that there were alcohol levels in Flynn's blood high enough to make him at least tipsy. People who had been at The Swan and Cloud the previous night were questioned: none of them knew Flynn well, only that he came into the pub every other week or so.
Zander was sitting at his desk, sipping a mug of black coffee and flicking through the book of photos that showed the crime scene.
Zander looked up sleepily. Nick, one of his colleagues, was standing next to him, smiling. "How's the case?"
Zander groaned in reply, resting his head on the book of photos. "Not good. There's barely any evidence- except for the knife, and that's been wiped clean. And so far, there don't seem to be any reasons why someone would have wanted to kill him."
"Hmm." Nick sat down next to Zander, looking at the photos. "Do we know anything else about him?"
Zander paused, taking a gulp of coffee that burned his throat. "His mother told us he had a girlfriend- Sonya- who died in a car crash a couple of years ago when he was driving. That was what turned him into a drinker, apparently. Oh, and his dad left him and his mother when he was little, but I don't see how that could relate to the case."
Nick frowned. "Doesn't sound hopeful," he admitted, handing some files to Zander. "I'll leave you to it."
Zander spent the next couple of hours searching the web; he found some pictures of Flynn- with his mother, with his girlfriend, at some party. He printed out the photos in case they were of some use and added them to his book.
When it was close to the end of his shift, Zander picked up the files Nick had lent him and walked over to Nick's desk, weaving between office cubicles.
"Nick?" he called. He tried again, but there was no response. The filing drawer the files belonged in was locked, and Zander needed to put the files in there, since they contained classified information.
In the corner of his eye, Zander saw Miller walk past.
"Miller," he said, grabbing her arm. "Do you have a spare key to the filing cabinet? I need to put some files back."
Miller rolled her eyes, but took the key off the chain and handed it to him.
"Thanks," he said as she disappeared round the corner.
Zander opened the filing cabinet and was about to put the files in when something caught his eye. Poking out of Nick's folder was a small square photo. He looked behind him to check that no one was looking, and took the piece of paper.
He gasped, staring at the picture.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing?" Nick shouted.
Zander jumped, turning around to face Nick.
"What are you doing in my office? Get out!" Nick yelled, suddenly angry. Zander was walking out of the door when Nick noticed the picture in Zander's hand.
"Give me that!" he screeched, swiping at the photo. Zander sprinted out of the office, back to his own cubicle, and flipped open his book of pictures. There was no doubt.
Nick was standing in the doorway, breathing heavily. "Give. Me. The picture," he ordered between breaths.
The small square photo that Zander had got from Nick's folder showed a woman of about twenty, and a slightly older man, both smiling at the camera.
Zander gestured to the photo. "This is a picture of Flynn's girlfriend. The one who died in a car crash."
Nick stared at him, his eyes darting between him and the photo.
"And that's you in the photo, isn't it?" asked Zander, holding up the small picture for Nick to see. Nick said nothing.
"You did it." Zander stated.
"What? Nonsense," Nick replied, smirking.
"You clearly knew Flynn's girlfriend."
"That doesn't make me a murderer!"
"Maybe not- but you had a motive. Flynn was driving when the car crashed, when your friend was killed. Surely that upset you?"
"I told you, I didn't do it."
"Okay. Then you won't mind if I tell Elsen what I know?"
Nick glared at him. "Fine. I did it. I always hated Flynn. Sure it hurt when Sonya started dating him. But I was okay. I got over it."
He clenched his fists suddenly. "But then Flynn went and got Sonya killed. He took everything I cared about, but he barely knew my name."
While Zander was taking in Nick's confession, Nick snatched the photo, took Zander's lighter from his desk and set the picture on fire. He sneered at Zander as the only evidence he had was destroyed.
"There. Now you have no evidence, and I'll leave this place. You'll never be able to prove it was me."
"No," said Zander, pressing the stop button on his tape recorder. "I guess not."