A Fire of Righteousness 

The headline jumped off the screen when Hilde Dijkhuizen logged onto her email at the start of the shift. All business, as usual, she’d switched on the PC before she even put her bag down, and she was still peeling off her sensible navy blue raincoat-it was a wet summer, even for Amsterdam-when the email alert caught her attention.

“Billionaire philanthropist amongst victims of London mansion blaze.”

She knew right away it was Dennis Foster. She hadn’t thought of the Goodman murder in days, immersed, almost drowning, in a child murder case she still had to file paper on. She’d set up a Google alert at the height of the case and forgotten about it.

She clicked the link as she sat down and pulled herself closer to the desk. The busy office disappeared, all her attention captured by the story. Dennis Foster, initially a suspect in Beth Goodman’s murder, had died, along with his son and a family friend, in a fire that had all but destroyed his Dulwich mansion home. His wife Joanna Foster and friend-Hilde mentally applied quote marks to the term-‘friend’ Graeme Rickard had survived the blaze, the cause of which was as yet unknown. They were, as the saying goes, helping police with enquiries.

There was a grainy image, probably from a video, showing a medic tending to the widow, ethereal against the backdrop of the burning mansion, even wrapped in a shiny emergency blanket. Most interesting to Hilde, there was also Graeme Rickard, unmistakeable with his mop of short dreads, close by, protective.

“Well, well, well,” she tutted softly.

The last time she’d seen them, Mrs Foster was fleeing Mr Rickard’s south London home, apparently shocked at learning that her friends were members of sex clubs, and that the police had been called to intervene in their domestic disputes several times.

Hilde had uncovered their sordid secrets through dogged investigative work. It had burned her gut to release Rickard, she was certain he’d killed his wife, so she dug deep, and it paid off: she was approved travel to London to re-interview him. When Joanna had turned up in the middle of the interview, it had at first confirmed Hilde’s original case theory, that Beth Goodman’s murder was some sort of love triangle amongst sexual perverts.

Hilde Dijkhuizen had little but contempt for the people that came to her city to take drugs and experiment sexually. She supported the Netherlands’ progressive laws but she abhorred the tourists-especially British tourists-who thought it gave them free reign to express a depravity they kept locked up at home. The ones that stayed in hotels and frequented exclusive sex clubs were no better than the ones who stayed in hostels and vomited in the doorways of the Red Light District. To Hilde, the Goodman case seemed straightforward. The two couples had come to Amsterdam to get high and have sex. Something had gone wrong and Beth had ended up dead. The violence done to her body only reinforced the theory, more evidence of their perversion.

Joanna’s strong reaction to the revelations about Graeme and Beth had made the seasoned detective wonder if she’d got it wrong. Seeing Foster and Rickard together, close, at the scene of her husband’s sudden death, made her wonder anew.

As her analytic mind went to work on the new data, she clicked on the video embedded in the story. It started close up on the inferno, the screen filled with flames and black smoke. It zoomed out to reveal that one wing of the house was all but destroyed. Fire crews laboured, desperately battling to halt the destruction. The camera lit on the figure of the medic, helping first Graeme, then Joanna to their feet. Graeme put his arm around Joanna and helped her to the ambulance.

Hilde sat back, leaving the video to run. It made no sense that Joanna would destroy her home to be with Graeme-unless it was a ploy to get money? Maybe there was a pre-nuptial? That was it, she decided. To be with Graeme, Joanna Foster needed her husband out of the way, and the price was the mansion. And the son? The friend? Collateral damage? A picture of Joanna Foster as a beautiful but cold-hearted femme fatale formed in Inspector’s mind. She almost gasped at it: stone cold. Joanna Foster had not come from money. Now she had it, she didn’t want to let it go.

Hilde marched into the Chief Inspector’s office,a few steps across the practical, unadorned office. It was still raining outside, and she could see ducks swimming in the canal.

“I need to go back to London,” she said. He looked up from what he was doing and she laid it out for him. He was a good cop, her boss, and she didn’t expect any quarrel. When she finished, he stared at her for a long moment, then hit some keys on his keyboard. A few seconds later a sheet of paper slid from the printer behind him. He handed it to her.

“The Goodman case is closed.”

She took the paper, perplexed. it was an order from the Chief Commissioner.

“But that’s ridiculous,” she started, her clipped enunciation making the esses hiss. He held up his hand.

“There’s no point, Hilde.”

She was prepared for a fight, but his use of the familiar gave her pause. She scanned his face and saw something she couldn’t read. She jumped to a conclusion: corruption. But where? Who? Why?

“Then I need some personal leave,” she said, jutting her chin defiantly and pulling herself up to her full six foot height. Her commander shook his head.

“You won’t stop me, Frederik” she said, aping his familiar tone. She walked out before he could respond. She had a fire in her belly, a fire of righteousness that burned as hot as the Foster’s mansion. Graeme Rickard had killed his wife Beth in her city, perhaps with the help of Joanna Foster. And now Joanna Foster had killed three others. And she, Hilde Dijkhuizen, could prove it, she was sure.

Despite all her experience, she was wrong; about just about everything. Dangerously wrong. As she shrugged herself back into her still-wet raincoat, a shiver ran through her, a sense of foreboding and doom. Being the sensible woman that she prided herself on being, Hilde Dijkhuizen ignored it, and went home to pack a bag.


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