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Death In Seventeen Syllables
About the Author: Sherryl Clark has been writing crime fiction for more than twenty years. Her first publications were short stories. Her first novel "Trust Me, I'm Dead" was shortlisted in the CWA Debut Dagger and published by Verve Books, and then went on to be longlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood. The sequel, "Dead and Gone", was published in 2020, and a third is forthcoming.

I stared down at the three short lines written on the piece of paper in Detective Constable Miller’s gloved hand. I’d hated poetry at high school. Well, not the poetry so much as the teacher. Mr Dangerfield. The instant image I had of his beaky face made me shudder.

‘It’s a what?’ I said.

‘A haiku, boss.’ Miller stood and held it out. The paper was damp from being in the murder victim’s mouth and the ink had run slightly, but I could still read the words.

Wisteria blossoms

Trickle from the lean fence

Purple waterfall

‘Yes, very nice,’ I said, ‘but why was it in her mouth?’

Miller shrugged. ‘Not enough paper to choke her. Anyway, the back of her head was bashed in.’

I looked around. We were in a large park, well-looked after by the council, with plenty of native shrubs and mowed grass. The victim, an elderly woman with blunt-cut white hair, lay between two large grevilleas that bloomed with red and pink flowers—her blue eyes seemed to be focused on the honeyeater bird that was perched in the top branches. Back of the head—someone had turned her over, probably to push the paper into her mouth.

‘Who found her?’

‘A dog walker, as usual. Mr Cecil Jones. Says he didn’t touch her.’ Miller pointed to an elderly man who was sitting on a park bench several metres away, his back to the crime scene. Even from here he looked pretty shaky, and his little white-and-brown mutt sat next to him, giving him anxious looks. Another small dog, a Jack Russell, sat closer to us, watching everything the crime scene techs were doing.

‘Whose dog is that?’ I asked.

‘Mr Jones’s?’

‘I don’t think so. I think it’s hers. Do we know who she is yet?’

‘Valerie Lederov, according to the credit card tucked in the side pocket of her handbag.’ Miller gestured at the fountain where a concrete cherub was spitting water out in a sad arc. ‘It had been thrown in there.’

Lederov. Why did that name seem familiar? ‘All right,’ I said, ‘take a photo of that poem thing and we’d better go and find her husband or family.’

‘Husband, boss,’ Miller said with a grimace. ‘He’s Judge Lederov, and he won’t be happy.’

I bit back the words I was going to snap out. Nobody’s husband was happy about being told their wife had been murdered, for God’s sake. Unless they’d done it themselves. But Judge Lederov was notorious for making everyone’s experience in his courtroom a nightmare. I’d suffered it once, harangued for not wearing a skirt in his presence.

As we stood on his palatial front door step, surrounded by lion’s heads and black marble pots, I tried not to push Miller in front of me. I was the senior officer here, so I had to bear the brunt of it. And I was wearing jeans. When he opened the door, I jumped in first. ‘Detective Sergeant Vicky Wright,’ I said, ‘and Detective Constable Miller. I’m afraid we’re here about your wife, sir.’

He led us into his study, then sat behind his desk, listening silently as we informed him his wife had been found deceased. After a short pause, he put his head in his hands, palms against his eyelids as if holding back the tears. ‘Thank you for notifying me. Not an easy job.’

I swallowed hard. I hadn’t got to the murder part yet. ‘I’m sorry, sir, but there’s more.’

‘Huh?’ He stared at me, horror filling his face. ‘You mean it wasn’t …’

‘Not natural causes, sir, no. Did Mrs Lederov often walk through that park?’

‘Twice a day, every day of the year.’ He sat back, his face crumpled. ‘A mugging? Not a …’

‘We aren’t sure, sir.’ Mrs Lederov’s cardigan and tweedy pants had looked tidy and all in place. ‘We haven’t found her wallet and phone yet. But it seems deliberate. Perhaps … Have you received any threats lately?’

‘I believe so, but you would have to ask my assistant.’ He huffed out a breath. ‘I don’t look at that rubbish. I get at least one a month. She sends anything really troubling to the police.’

‘So you wouldn’t know if any threats have mentioned your family?’

‘No. As I said, if there had been any that seemed serious, I’m sure they would have told me.’ He stood and came around the desk, shook my hand and said, ‘I have a report to write, so thank you again.’

This story appears in our APR 2022 Issue
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