nauseous. The mess, however, was just as bad. The tiled surface of the floor and the marble-effect work surfaces were covered with a mixture of substances the detectives could only guess at by the empty containers that had been strewn about in haphazard confusion. The pattern on the floor was barely visible through the profusion of tea leaves, coffee, sugar, flour, breakfast cereals, herbs, spices and other dry goods. Elsewhere, the kitchensink and the drainer alongside it contained an array of bottles and jars, all empty. From vinegar to beetroot, sauces, milk, lemonade and a considerable collection of pickles, all had been tipped into the bowl, judging by the mound of solids still remaining there, unable to bypass the drain. Across the room, the fridge-freezer had been emptied, the contents lying on the adjacent table in a puddle of mildly offensive-smelling liquid. This was nowhere near bad enough to have attracted anyone’s attention, though. Nash pointed to the floor, near to the lounge door. Clara could see several multi-coloured smudges, blurred footprints by the look of them, leading out of the kitchen. She nodded as they turned and headed for the next room.
This proved to be the bathroom, which had received similar, though less damaging treatment, probably because there was little in there to create such a mess. They retreated, and as they crossed the lounge, Nash pointed to the oatmeal twist carpet. There were several small stains, dark brown in colour, close to the next door they were about to open. As they paused outside, their nostrils told them this was likely to be where they would find a body. Mironova saw her boss take a deep breath before he opened the door.
They both recoiled from the stench released by the slight draught of air, and by the sudden movement of what seemed like hundreds of flies. Big, fat, obscene bluebottles.
There was more movement across on the bed, and as she looked, Clara felt her stomach heave. Maggots. Nash looked inside the room, wished he hadn’t, then looked away hurriedly before bracing himself to look again. Alongside him, Mironova was fighting to keep from being sick. ‘Oh, God!’ she muttered. ‘What is this?’
‘Charnel house, or a scene from hell; take your pick,’ Nash’s reply came from between clenched teeth. ‘Let’s go get some protective clothing from the car.’
They retraced their steps, following the same route across the lounge as on their way in. When they reached the outer door of the flat Mironova wanted to leave it open. ‘Better not,’ Nash advised. ‘I’d rather not take the chance of anything contaminating the crime scene. All we need is for a cat to wander in, attracted by the smell, and we’d be in real trouble. Whilst you’re getting the suits and othergear, I’ll ring Mexican Pete and SOCO. Better let the lady downstairs know the bad news. Ask her if there’s anyone she can go and stay with for a day or so. In fact, suggest it!’
When Mironova returned to Nash, he was pacing up and down, his expression one of frustration. Clara was glad to be outside breathing in the clean air. Nobody would want to rush back into that house of horrors. Following her brief conversation with the old lady, who’d taken the news very badly, Clara was surprised Nash wasn’t still on the phone.
‘SOCO are on their way,’ he announced. Something in his tone told her he wasn’t happy. Had what they’d just seen upset him so much? She could hardly blame him if that was the case, but she knew he’d attended many terrible crime scenes, some far worse than this. Or, was it something else?
‘What about Mexican Pete?’
Nash shrugged his shoulders. ‘He isn’t answering his phone. I got through to a snooty secretary. She told me Professor Ramirez was too busy to take any phone calls. She didn’t know when he would be available. She did ask if she could help.’
Mironova repressed a smile. ‘And what did you say?’
‘I told her she could, if