This brief epilogue, which was deleted from the finished version of The Library Murders, features DCI Claire Metcalfe, the detective in charge of the hunt for the killer, and was designed to tie up a couple of loose ends and provide some insight into Metcalfe's home life. My beta readers ultimately convinced me that it wasn't necessary, but I reckon it might still be of interest -- particularly if, like me, you developed a fondness for the put-upon DCI Metcalfe, trying to do her best for the investigation and ultimately made into a scapegoat by her superiors.
Claire Metcalfe eased her VW Golf into the driveway and turned the key in the ignition. She paused for a few seconds to take a deep breath, cleansing her mind of the day’s tribulations, then got out of the car and made her way up the footpath to the front door of the narrow detached house.
As she stepped across the threshold, a blast of warm air greeted her, along with the aroma of something juicy and flavoursome marinating in the oven. As she hung up her coat, Douglas emerged from the kitchen, a pair of oven gloves slung over his shoulder. Smiling, he gathered her into his arms, wrapping her in his firm but gentle embrace and planting a kiss on the side of her face. The good side – the one with all the nerves intact, so she could feel it properly.
‘How was your day?’
For the briefest of moments, she considered telling him the truth, then decided not to burden him. ‘It was all right. Same old, same old.’ She freed herself from his embrace and sniffed the air appreciatively. ‘That beef casserole I smell?’
‘Close. It’s my world-famous venison stew.’
She wrinkled her nose. ‘If it’s so famous, how come I’ve never heard of it?’
Douglas grinned. ‘Probably cos I just made it up.’
‘Well, in that case—’
She was interrupted by the pounding of small feet. She turned as her youngest, Melanie, came tearing along the corridor towards her, proudly clutching a large, crumpled piece of paper.
‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, look what I made in playgroup!’
Claire bent down and took the paper from her elated daughter, unfolding it to reveal a picture drawn in felt-tip pen and coloured with splatters of paint. It was one of those traditional ‘me and my family’-type scenes, featuring the four of them: her, complete with truncheon and custodian helmet; Douglas, wearing an apron and clutching what looked like a giant crab; and their two girls – Riley, about half the size of the grown-ups, and Melanie, half as small again. Everyone sported huge, beaming smiles, the names of each member of the family helpfully floating above their heads, written in the painstaking scrawl of a four-year-old.
‘Mmm,’ Claire nodded appreciatively, ‘this is wonderful. You’ve captured our likenesses perfectly.’ She looked around. ‘Where’s your sister?’
‘Through there,’ said Melanie, pointing a finger back the way she’d come. ‘We’re watching a film.’
‘Well,’ said Claire, handing the painting to Douglas and scooping Melanie up into her arms, ‘if she’s not going to come and find us, I guess we’re just going to have to go and find her, aren’t we?’
As she set off down the corridor, Douglas called after her, ‘Dinner in five minutes. I want everyone at the table by the time I’m ready to serve, hands washed and faces scrubbed!’
Claire flashed Melanie a mock-guilty look, like an errant schoolgirl who’d just been reprimanded by a teacher, eliciting a chorus of delighted giggles from her daughter.
The flicker of the TV greeted them as they entered the living room. Riley was seated on the sofa, utterly engrossed in the images on the screen. Hearing approaching footsteps, she craned her neck to look up. ‘Hi, Mum,’ she said, then returned her attention to the TV.
Claire deposited Melanie on the opposite side of the sofa, then set herself between the pair of them, putting her arms round each of them and drawing them closer to her as she sank deeper into the folds of the sofa. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the smells of Douglas’s stew and of the pine air freshener and of her girls, her eyes drifting to the movie on the TV. It was one of the Toy Story films. She wasn’t sure which. The girls watched them over and over, and she wasn’t good at differentiating them – probably because she never saw one from beginning to end. She only ever caught short extracts, during brief, snatched moments of intimacy like this one. She focused on the screen, mimicking the girls’ concentrated expressions, trying to pick up the thread of the story. Woody was arguing with the other toys. They all, it seemed, wanted to pursue the same course of action except him. Of course, he was adamant that his way, and only his way, was the correct one. He was a self-centred jerk, Woody, but his heart was ultimately in the right place, and he always came good in the end.
As she sat there, losing herself in the bright colours and voices, snuggling with her girls, her mind briefly turned to the case she was currently working on – to how little progress was being made and to the back-biting from her colleagues, who, much like the press, seemed to have decided she was personally responsible for the failings of the investigation into the shootings in Thornhill Library. The atmosphere at work had changed markedly since the fall-out over the summer. While she’d always been something of an outsider, a pariah, it now felt as if her presence was actively resented rather than merely tolerated. On top of that, she knew she no longer had the favour of the Chief Super. No longer her green-eyed girl, the one she relied on to get results. And tomorrow morning, she was going to have to put on her big girl boots and deal with it all over again.
But that could wait. For now, she was content just to enjoy this interlude of calm amid the eternally churning sea that was her job. In these brief but cherished moments, it was enough merely to exist. To be.