The Celiac Killer by Samuel Azzopardi
Rufus Cayce looked over the corpse of the thirty-year old hotel receptionist. He could already imagine the headlines printed in large black lettering on the city’s newspaper front-pages: Serial Killer Strikes Again – Police at a Loss.
This was now the sixth murder perpetrated in the same grim way in as many weeks – fatal blow at the back of the head, post-mortal deep slash starting over the stomach and brought down to just above the groin area. Except for the cause and timing of death – Thursday morning at around one – he had uncovered no connection between the victims that could help him get any closer to the identity of the killer: twin University students on their way back from the bars, a lone jogger on the Meadows, a streetsweeper and a police officer patrolling around Dean’s Village. All rather young but still otherwise unrelated. True, the cuts were almost expertly done but he could hardly bring in every single butcher in Edinburgh for interrogation. He simply had to be missing something.
His buzzing phone cut his errant musings short.
If convenient come to my office. If inconvenient, come anyway. L.
Inspector Learton had been promoted to his new position just before the first murder in this series and he was understandably eager to see it brought to a conclusion and prove himself worthy of his superior’s trust. He liked to dot his correspondences with references to old detective stories. They didn’t really help with communication but they seemed to keep him and everyone else in good spirits, which is always welcome in as gloomy a division as homicide investigation.
‘So, there’s been another one, after all. I suppose we should have expected it. Any new leads?’
‘None, Sir. But we’re all doing our best.’
‘No doubt, detective, no doubt. But now even the First Minister is on my case. To be expected. This is the last thing Scotland needs. And Scotland Yard is now threatening to come in and support…bloody English.’ The inspector went quiet, seemingly lost in thought of English invasions and Scottish insurgency, and Rufus had almost turned to leave when the inspector broke the silence.
‘Can we solve this, detective? What if this is just some insane psychopath, killing indiscriminately?’
‘If it had been, the murderer wouldn’t have struck at the same time and the same way every time. There has to be a solution to this problem.’
The inspector picked at the reports on his desk. ‘Yes, I suppose you’re right.’ And then, with just the hint of a smile, ‘After all, Watson, it’s never twins.’ The reference didn’t quite fit but Rufus just nodded and excused himself.
Back home, Rufus investigated his kitchen cupboards as meticulously as he did a crime-scene. The contents of his stock had been carefully divided into two groups, making it easier and quicker for him to cook with peace of mind. There was a time when he would have glared at any piece of pastry or pasta and refused it entry into his domain, but now he simply reacted to his husband’s pizza-wielding taunts with a smirk and the occasional middle-finger. The TV was on, as always, to distract him from his own persistent thoughts as he tried to understand the step-by-step recipes before him, but in spite of the insistent shouts of a neo-Nazi protestor on the screen he simply couldn’t stop thinking about that week’s murder and imagining the next one that was probably going to occur two days later.
His mind raced over images of the corpses, what little information their friends and family could give them, and then around the houses and flats they had investigated in a desperate search for clues. All of them – except for the twins who lived with two other students – lived alone. His excellent memory allowed him to reimagine the residences’ locations, the doors, the corridor, the bedroom, toilet, kitchen…
Then he stopped; and thought; and trying to keep himself from jumping to conclusions, forced himself to review what he had just realised.
Having found out that he was celiac at the age of 21, Rufus had launched himself into an investigation of basically every product of every supermarket within a two-mile radius of his home. While his mother was comparing prices, he was reading ingredients and within a month he had built up a mental database of what he could eat and what he could not. After that, he continued to test his memory by scanning the contents of his friends’ cupboards as quickly as possible anytime they opened them and picking out one thing which he could have used. Now, going over the contents of the victim’s larders in his mind, he realised that he hadn’t seen a single packet of glutinous pasta or flour. Within an hour, he had had it confirmed: all the victims were celiac.
‘I just don’t understand why. Why would anyone purposefully target celiac people?’
James picked at a slightly overcooked gluten-free pie. ‘Maybe it’s some kind of eugenics-obsessed killer. Or maybe it’s some kind of displaced aggression.’
‘What do you mean?’ Rufus could feel that this was exactly what James wanted: the opportunity to show off the importance of psychology in his partner’s field.
‘You know how sometimes you miss the bus and arrive late at work so you blame the bus service for it even though you’re the one who forgot to time the alarm? Same thing. It could explain why someone is targeting celiacs and vindictively slashing their stomachs and intestines. Maybe they had a very tough celiac boss. Or, ’ he buried his knife in the pie’s upper crust and glared jokingly at Rufus, ‘they married a celiac who just can’t cook.’
After dinner, Rufus opened up his laptop and googled anything he could think of: celiac death, celiac bad, … evil, society, die, kill, problem, fired.
Newtown Chef Fired and Sued. Chef Boccini had been fired a year before for, apparently intentionally, giving celiac customers glutenous pasta, in line with his professed beliefs that difficult customers should simply stop making his life difficult. The restaurant had promptly fired the Chef and later sued him for libel for a scathing article he had written on his personal blog; The Writer Chef Review. Rufus scrolled through the blog, the guy certainly had no special place in his heart reserved for anyone with any food allergies. Rufus looked up the guy’s name – three reports of abusive behaviour at work and a restraining order by his ex-wife – the man was no stranger to violence either.
It was a longshot, but it was all they had.
At nine in the evening on Wednesday night, Rufus was in a parked car with two armed constables in disguise, waiting outside Boccini’s apartment. At the other end of the road he could just make out the inspector standing right at the corner, cigarette in hand. The Newington area had a certain charm during the day, but once the sun had set and everyone was either in or away, an eerie silence settled over the out-of-the-way streets like the one they were in. Suddenly, the lights in Boccini’s apartment went out. It was still eleven at night. Rufus held his breath as he waited for the chef to come out of the building. A minute passed, and there was no movement. Rufus reddened as he imagined having to call off the whole thing when Boccini stumbled out of the door and into the cold autumn air and walked off in Learton’s direction before disappearing round the bend. A few seconds later, Learton sucked convincingly at his unlit cigarette, threw it on the ground and stomped it. That was their cue. Rufus and the constables got out of the car and shuffled down the street in pursuit. They followed Boccini north towards the Meadows and then right into Lutton Place. Boccini stopped at a door, fiddled at the lock and pushed in.
The constables broke into a sprint and into a house. At some point, they heard a woman scream. Rufus burst into a bedroom just as Boccini was about to strike and tackled the Chef to the floor. There was a loud thump and his head hurt. A constable was shouting somewhere right and then a shot. Everything went black.
The next morning, Rufus woke to find James hunched over and sleeping in a blue hospital chair. It seemed that when he tackled the chef he had also managed to upset a brass bedside lamp which then avenged itself by hitting him squarely over his right ear and knocking him out. The chef had been shot in the arm as he tried to lunge at the second policeman and was now being treated a couple of wards down.
‘Maybe now that this mystery is solved you can finally focus on your cooking.’