\ 04:32 "Anything for a Story" | unlimitedi.net
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Outside the DeLuca House - Brooklyn - Friday 5th May, 04:32

“Shit, shit!” Meredith swore beneath her breath as she tore the leg of her skinny track pants on the old chain-link fence. Swinging her left foot over the top, she carefully lowered herself down the other side, dropping the last couple of feet to the ground. The sound was muffled by her sneakers but she still paused, holding her breath and listening in case anyone had heard.

Of course nobody had. Brooklyn was never silent, not even in the presence of a grizzly double murder. Sirens still wailed in the distance, people shouted and cats screeched and knocked over garbage cans. Meredith looked up at the house - a tiny two storey structure with crumbling brickwork and pink petunias growing in window boxes on the lower level. Bars had been screwed over the ground floor windows, but not the ones on the first floor. In fact one window had been propped open, and that was where she was headed.

The story had been broadcast that afternoon, Meredith had watched it on the TV in the campus cafeteria until someone had switched the station to Oprah. A fifteen-year-old girl raped and brutally beaten to death. Sadly, it wasn’t exactly a unique occurrence in this city. But what added to the bizarre nature of the crime was the equally bloody murder of her boyfriend’s mother - gutted and tied to the kitchen table. Meredith had been hooked, and after her last set at the Grindhouse, she’d wasted no time in taking the subway to Brooklyn. The last hour she’d spent at a nearby all-night diner compiling all the details surrounding the tragedy. Understandably the neighbourhood were unnerved by the events. Fear, tinged with a tiny amount of excitement that their mundane lives had been caught up in a real-life horror story.

People liked to talk at times like this, they needed to talk, and Meredith had been happy to offer a sympathetic ear whilst filling most of her notebook with background info on Magdalena DeLuca (the murdered girl) and her missing mother, Freida - a well-respected if not highly strung church going woman who hadn’t been seen since her Tuesday night bible studies group.

She’d learnt a lot. Such as the fact that Magdalena had a boyfriend, an older boy called Carmine Bocelli who worked as a general dogsbody for some big city trader called Balthazar Romano. Carmine wasn’t a clever boy, he was what Mrs Vitale (co-proprietor of Papa Vitale’s 24-Hour Diner) called ‘special’. But everyone had said how nice he was. A real Lennie Small type if ever there was one. Hardly the rapist and murdering sort.

To further add to the mystery, Vitale’s busboy, Joe Perrone, had been outside the house when the ambulance crew brought out the bodies. He’d heard the cops talking with the crime scene guys, something about how the young girl had been killed almost 24 hours before the Bocelli woman. How they’d found extensive blood evidence and tissue samples that didn’t match either of the two victims. Meredith put that together with what she already knew, and came up with at least a dozen different scenarios and a giant question mark. But something had happened in that house… and Meredith was going to find out what it was.

If she could get in there without breaking her neck or getting arrested that was. Still… nobody ever got anywhere without taking a few chances, right?

“Okay… if you’re gonna do this Meri, just do it.” Tightening the straps of her backpack, Meredith pulled the hood of her sweater up over her head and climbed up on the lower window box, clumsily crushing a couple of petunias in the process. Rock climbing had been one of her favourite pastimes in Montana, just being able to get away from everyone else, relying solely on your own strength to survive. This wasn’t much different really, and the crumbling masonry and shoddy drainage made it easy enough to find footholds.

Halfway up, a loose piece of mortar broke free beneath her sneaker. Meredith stifled a yelp and bit into her lower lip, her elbow scraping against the brick wall as she struggled not to lose her grip. Tentatively she groped around with her foot, finally finding an old outlet pipe jutting from the wall. Breathing a sigh of relief, Meredith gently rested her weight on the pipe, the window ledge was within reach if she could just… Her knee gave way. With a gasp of pain and surprise, she made a desperate grab for the window ledge, her feet flailing wildly in midair as she hung on for dear life.

“Jesus Fuc- Bastard…” Meredith swore between gritted teeth, sucking in a lungful of air and grunting against the pain in her knee as her sneakers scuffed against the wall in an attempt to find some purchase. The window was open, propped up with a couple of high school text books, and somehow she managed to half scramble, half pull herself inside.

Gasping for breath, Meredith rested with her back against the wall. That was when the smell hit her.

“Oh… my God…” she cursed under her breath, covering her nose and mouth with the sleeve of her sweater. She’d never smelled a dead… anything before. But she already knew this wasn’t a scent she’d ever forget. It was like rotting meat and faecal matter. Sour and sickly at the same time with a thick bitter tang that tainted the mucus in the back of her throat. The mere thought of breathing it into her lungs made Meredith want to retch and she could feel the muscles in her neck contract and the acrid taste of bile rising in the back of her mouth.

Fumbling for her pen torch, Meredith switched it on and a small, narrow beam of light highlighted the horror she’d so recklessly thrown herself into the middle of. Obviously there hadn’t been time for a clean-up crew yet. Blood spatter seemed to cover everywhere like the set of some slasher flick. The floor was still slick with gore, dotted with various yellow CSI markers and sporadic foot prints. The bright pink walls were decorated with several sprays of crimson as well as blood splattered posters of boy bands and one picture of two kittens in a watering can. The blood soaked teddy bear laying discarded on the bed was a bleak reminder of how young this girl had been.

Meredith batted away several flies that buzzed around the room relentlessly, and resisted the urge to sigh. The smell was repulsive, like some kind of insidious warning. She wanted to leave, to just get the hell out of here. But she had a job to do. Holding the torch between her teeth, she quickly pulled on her gloves and set to work. A diary would be a good start, something that mentioned the boyfriend - Carmine Bocelli. Someone at the diner had mentioned that he was in a gang, so maybe the girl had wrote about it. Meredith quickly looked in the girl’s underwear drawer, nothing. Then at the back of the wardrobe, nothing. Under the mattress? Nothing. She sighed, looking around when her foot creaked on a loose floorboard. Holding her breath, she looked down, the board wasn’t just loose, it had come free.

Meredith crouched low and lifted it away. There was a small hiding space underneath. Inside was a tidy bundle of cash - no more than eighty bucks but a lot for a young girl, some cheap make-up and several photos of a girl and an older boy. Meredith held one up to her torch, the guy looked… well, kinda goofy, but sweet and quite plainly smitten with the pretty girl at his side who had long dark hair and a sunny smile. Meredith felt a pang of sadness tear through her chest. She quickly sorted through a bundle of other papers until she found it, the holy grail - a small lockable diary. Shoving it into her backpack with a couple of the photos, she put the rest of the stuff back in its hiding place.

“Okay,” Meredith said softly to herself. She had to get out of here, now. The smell was oppressive, like something thick and evil pressing down on her. Or maybe that was the guilt of rummaging through a dead girl’s belongings? Meredith pushed it away, if it meant she exposed the murdering bastard who’d done this then it would be worth it. At least that’s what she told herself.

That’s when she saw it. Tiny, but it sparkled brightly even in the poor light. A ruby it looked like, though why a kid would have something like that she didn’t know. Meredith picked it up, holding it in her gloved hand. Maybe it was glass? But no, it was cut too well, and it glittered… really shimmered, better than any ruby Meredith had ever seen in any jewellery store.

She was still gazing at the tiny red stone when she heard a noise.

*Oh shit!*

Meredith slipped the stone into her back pocket, eyes fixed on the door as she slowly retreated back to the window. Her heart pounded hard in her chest, and she didn’t dare breathe. What if someone had seen her come in and called the cops? Meredith squeezed her eyes shut tight and forced herself to breathe. Whatever the sound was, she wasn’t about to stick around and find out. Carefully, Meredith climbed out the window. Down was always easier than up and in less than two minutes she was scrambling her way back over the chain-link fence. She took one last look up at the window, then ran.

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