Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Running Blind in A House of Mirrors

Continued from An Air of Evanescence

Grant thumbed through each file, stared endlessly at each corpse. Every one either holding or having a final note pinned to their bodies.  Three of the notes indistinguishable thanks to blood stains, the remaining notes, all with a simple apology. The coincidence was too much. The handwriting almost deliberately skewed yet suspiciously each mirrored the other, he was sure the victims hadn't written the notes themselves. His team had interviewed friends, family, neighbours and found nothing. No   malicious motives.

As he flipped through Josh Logan's file, he examined the coroner's photograph again and again, staring deeply at every corner. The image was of Josh's bedroom, a rough noose had been constructed out of bedsheets and hung empty and loose from the ceiling fan. The bed was tousled, dirty clothes piled at its foot. The wardrobe door open. A simple chest of drawers donned a baseball cap, an upturned photograph, car keys and a handful of pocket change. He stared deeper into the frame. How could he have been so blind? How could he have missed it, he must have gazed at it a million times - The photograph? Who was in the photograph?

The Logans had moved after Josh's death, the ghost in the room too much for his family to bare. Grant caught up with them in Sydney's fashionable North West; a new city, new state, new life. Caroline Logan was less than welcoming when he knocked on her door.

"Detective Grant? You're a long way from home?"

"Mrs Logan, I'm not convinced your son's death was a suicide."

The woman's face drops and she cups her cheeks in her hands, familiar tears welling in her eyes.

"We've been over this. It's a painful thing to remember. It was 2 years ago now. We're trying to remember Josh as he was, not how we last saw him. It was suicide. The Coroner said so. Everyone said so. I wish you'd just drop it and let us get on with our lives."

"Just one thing..." Grant is gently persistent and withdraws the coroner's photograph of Josh's room from a plain white envelope. "I'm sorry to do this but, what was in the photograph on the tall boy here?"

Caroline takes the picture with one hand and wipes her tears on her shirt with the other before focusing.

"Um. I think it might have been a girl. I never met her but he had a photo that she gave him a week or two before..."

"You don't happen to still have it do you?" Since Josh's death had been deemed a suicide, no evidence box was created, his belongings moved with the Logans. Grant could only hope that Caroline had held onto the items on the dresser for sentimental reasons.

"I'm not sure. I've got a few of his things packed away. Come in. I'll dig them out."

Caroline retrieved a large gift box and hesitantly lifted the lid. The sadness of her loss evident as she gently thumbed through her son's belongings. She removed the baseball cap, and retrieved a small, wrought iron frame. "Here...this is it."

Grant, takes a handkerchief from his pocket and grabs the delicate filigree frame so as to avoid leaving fingerprints. He removes the backing and examines the picture of an attractive girl, late teens/ early 20's, olive skin. He flips the photograph, it's inscribed in neat handwriting. "I love you. Leisl."

It's a stretch but it's a name. Grant looks long and hard at the other suicide files. Only 2 deaths take place indoors. One in a garage, the other Josh's. No photographs, no reference to anyone called Leisl. His deadline's looming and he's sure there's a connection. His team are put on double shifts, each assigned a victim. 

"Check out their rooms, their computers, Facebook/Myspace/Twitter friends, their pockets, wallets, anything that might render a similar photograph or a reference to Liesl. I'll go through the roll again and see what comes up."

Within days, there are references to Leisl Stensl on mobile phones, computer chat rooms, Facebook accounts. She'd been there all the time, they just hadn't been looking, hadn't made the connection.


Wolf's stupor was coming to an end. It had been years since Daniela left him. The kids had been wonderful. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of things while his misery distracted him. He'd been in a mechanical dream of waking, working, drinking and sleeping. He'd neglected his friends, his family. Time to take an interest in the world again and rise from the ashes. He was comforted by the fact that his children were so close, still at home, and such good support for each other. It was a little odd that Leisl had decided to holiday without her brother in tow. They usually did everything together. Carl had been particularly bad tempered lately and he wondered if there'd been a falling out between them.

Leisl too, had been secretive about her planned Queensland break when he'd quizzed her about it.

"Oh, I just have a friend in Brisbane who invited me up for a while. Thought I'd go grab some sunshine!"

"A friend? In Brisbane? Who?" Wolf's questions were unanswered.

"Dad, don't be so nosy. I'm a grown-up. Just a friend, I'll leave an address and I have my mobile with me if you need anything. Oh, Carl won't be here either, he's got some body-building thing in Sunshine so you'll have the place to yourself."

He'd miss her. She'd been a comfort to him many times. Her smile lit up the place. Wolf gazed around the aging kitchen and it's corners of peeling and discoloured paint.

"You know what? I think I might decorate while you're both away. Give the place a bit of a spruce up. Keep me busy and out of trouble."

She hugged him, "Good idea. I'll let you know when I'll be back. Just don't paint my room pink!"

It had been ages since he'd ventured into the kids' bedrooms. They were adults now and left to their own devices when it came to their personal sanctuaries. Both rooms were large, mirror images of each other with built in wardrobes, double beds and bedside tables. They'd inherited their tidiness from their mother he was sure, and it saddened him a little to think that she was out of their lives.  Leisl's room smelled sweet, the lingering fragrance of her permeated her linen. Three pairs of shoes were lined neatly at the foot of her bed, posters of metal bands adorned her walls. He never knew what she saw in that stuff, it just didn't seem like her at all. He gently removed and carefully rolled each poster and deposited them in her wardrobe along with the errant shoes then covered her furniture with a plastic dust sheet in preparation for painting.

Carl's room, less tidy and enriched by the smell of youth, had barbells in the corner and an assortment of weights neatly stacked against the wall. Body-building posters adorned his walls. A stack of magazines, languished in a lazy pile beside his bed. Wolf opened the wardrobe door and caught something pushed to the back of its top shelf, a small galvanized box. He pulled it forward with a view to relocating it to make room for the magazines. Curiosity got the better of  him and he set the box on the bed and lifted it's lid. The horror on his face reflected in the mirrored door of the wardrobe.

The box was full of photographs. All of  Leisl. Some, selfies with her and Carl, some with her alone neatly dressed and smiling, many of her clearly taken without her knowledge. Shaving her legs and body, showering, dressing, sunbathing topples, pleasuring herself. Shocking photographs of his beautiful little girl in filthy and compromising positions with men, six different men that he could count. His horror was punctuated only by a loud rap on the front door.

"Mr Stensl?" Grant knew who the man was, just seemed the right thing to say before introducing a rather difficult topic. "Could we have a word please?"

Wolf's heart sank, immediately thinking the badge-flashing detective had bad news.

"Leisl? She's alright isn't she?"

"Leisl? I hope so, it's her we'd like to speak with if possible."

Wolf explains her absence as Grant asks about a number of boys and splays their photographs across the dining table.

"Was your daughter seeing any of these boys?"

Their faces were newly familiar, each depicted on the filth found in Carl's galvanised box. Each taking advantage of his little girl. Wolf hadn't ever met any of her boyfriends, they never lasted long enough for introductions. In his mental absence, Leisl had confided in Carl about her love life, not her bereft father. He denies knowing any of them. Grant sweeps the photos aside and neatly lays out six A4 photographs from the varying suicide scenes. Wolf covers his mouth and coughs uncomfortably.

"These boys are all dead. We think that  Leisl knew them. Each had a photograph of her in their possession. We need to talk to her."

"I've never seen these kids before." Wolf is adamant in his response, twitchy in his mannerisms.

Grant however, has seen enough liars to recognise the signs. A hand covering a mouth, tiny frown lines, lack of eye contact. As he shakes Wolf's hand and thanks him for his cooperation, he knows there's reason to return with a search warrant. Within hours, the house is teaming with police, drawers being upturned, wardrobes raided.  The galvanised box and it's suspect photographs retrieved.

"Mr Stensl? Where's your son right now?"

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No 5

Continued in Renaissance