A Crown of Holly

by Jane Davitt

The killer's left a wreath of holly around his victim's neck, the bright berries streaked with blood. It's important forensic evidence, but all Jim can think as he watches it get carefully bagged and tagged, is that it's a twin to the wreath hanging on the loft door. Same woven twigs under the sharp green leaves, same twist of copper wire at the back to hang it with, same sprayed on, throat-clogging scent of cloves.

Jim's too fond of Mrs. Spencer to refuse her gift, but he holds his breath every time he opens the door.

Cloves…and a cut throat. There's a wild malice here, a manic cruelty, and though the season shouldn't make it worse -- like killers care it's Christmas -- it does. The man lying sprawled in his own blood had family, children, hell, two kittens, mewing plaintively behind a closed door.

Jim sighs.

He'll solve this one. Find out where the wreaths come from; track down each customer -- do the legwork and patient sifting through data that makes up most of his days. It's not all car chases and gun fights.

Yeah, he'll nail this son of a bitch.

But first, he'll have to upset a sweet old lady, because there's no way in hell that wreath's staying on his door.

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