I fumbled with the latch on the front gate as I burrowed my head into the top of my umbrella. Fat lot of good it was doing with the rain sheeting on an angle. Only my face and the top of my head were dry. Oh, Monday morning, how I loathed thee.

On Friday afternoon, I’d arranged to interview Mr and Mrs Downs after they’d asked if we’d cover their twenty-year anniversary. The actual day had been yesterday, but since I didn’t have to work on the weekend, I didn’t.

I hurried to their front porch, lowered my umbrella, and closed it. I was about to knock on the front door, but it was already ajar. Rather than knock, I called out, “Hello! Avery from the newspaper here. Anybody home?” A gust of wind shot along the porch, and I shivered. Summer my arse. It must’ve been nineteen degrees, windchill factor minus ten. Okay, so maybe I was exaggerating, but still….

A tall, heavy-set man who looked to be in his early forties, who I assumed was Mr Downs, walked into the hallway. He motioned to me. “Come in.” He smiled.

Leaving my umbrella outside, I pushed the door all the way open and stepped in, then closed it behind me. I smiled. “Happy Anniversary for yesterday.”

“Thanks.” His smile fell, and he scratched his head. “You might as well come through.” He turned and walked away, so I followed. It wasn’t the warmest of greetings, especially since he’d invited me here. What had upset him out of nowhere? Maybe his wife was peeved off about something? Did he not get her a good present?

We walked through a living room and into the dining area. My intuition was telling me something wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I stopped just inside the door and stared.

Cripes, not again.

My brow furrowed, and nausea climbed my throat. Mr Downs stood next to the table and gestured to one person on the floor in the foetal position. There were two plates on the table, almost empty, but the remnants of gravy and peas remained. A half-eaten leg of lamb sat on a platter in the middle of the table. 

My eyes widened, and I slammed my hand over my mouth and nose to prevent the acrid stench from burning my nostril hairs. What in Hades? I stared at the man on the floor and cocked my head to the side. I moved my gaze to Mr Downs. Back and forth, back and forth. They were definitely wearing the same clothes. I realised what had been wrong earlier—Mr Downs’s footsteps had made no sound on the timber floor.

A woman walked in from the next room, which appeared to be the kitchen, if the island bench just visible through the doorway was anything to go by. Cat’s bum. This was not good. I jerked my head around to make sure no one else was in the house. I listened intently. Nothing—not from anyone living, anyway. Her high heels were silent on the hard floor.

She looked at me. “Avery, welcome. I’m afraid you’re too late.”

I shook my head. “What happened?” I was talking to the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Downs. I wasn’t sure where her body was, but his was motionless on the floor. This wasn’t the anniversary celebration I’d been expecting. This had to be the worst anniversary of all time.

Mr Downs answered, “We’d finished eating our roast lamb when we both felt sick. I had such bad cramps, that I didn’t make it to the bathroom. I vomited until blood came out, but after that, I blacked out and woke up like this. Melissa tried to make it to the bathroom. I have no idea if she made it.” He looked at her. “I thought it was food poisoning, but looks like it was more than that.”

Mrs Downs turned to her husband. “I’d say it was some kind of poison—I’ve never felt so sick in my life. But it wasn’t me. I promise. I was looking forward to our weekend away, and our world trip next year. I love you, darling. I’m sorry we didn’t get to go.” She placed a gentle hand on his cheek. How sweet. So, love could last into the next life. That was good to know… not that I had anyone I wanted to spend eternity with, but just in case I met the love of my life at eighty, we’d still have lots of quality time together.

“I know, sweetie. It wasn’t me either.” He put his arm around her and pulled her into his side. He pressed his lips together. “We prepaid those trips too.” I blinked. It wasn’t like they’d be missing that money now. “But who would do this to us?”

Who, indeed? If they didn’t kill themselves, or each other, there was a murderer running around out there. Was this personal or a serial killer? Uneasiness roiled in my gut, and I glanced at Mr Downs’s lifeless body. I should probably call the police right now, but this was my chance to get information that might solve the crime quickly. “Who inherits your estate?”

Mr Downs looked at me. “As much as I had nothing to do with my brother, we left a quarter to him, a quarter to my mother, and half to Melissa’s parents.”

Melissa nodded. “I had no siblings, and Tom and I couldn’t have kids.” Sadness radiated from her gaze. “At least we didn’t leave any children behind.”

Mr Downs kissed her forehead. “At least we had each other, and that’s all I ever wanted.”

She smiled up at him and nodded. He pulled her in for a proper hug. Sensing this was a private moment, I looked around. The familiar tingle in my nose had me blinking my eyes so I wouldn’t cry. Two lovely people cut down in their prime. Why? One minute they’re calling me to interview them for a happy occasion, the next….

I knew it was probably not legal, or acceptable because who would take pictures of dead bodies, but I wanted to see if I could figure this out. I had a feeling taking photos would help me later. Sometimes the smallest clue was the killer’s undoing. Maybe I would see something the police missed? And there was no doubt that as soon as the police showed up, that would be the end of my involvement and information. 

I slid my phone out of my bag, walked further into the room, and took photos. I would never get another chance to be at the scene of a murder before the police…. Okay, so this was the second time in a month, but surely this was the last time. I was creeped out, but because I could talk to their ghosts, it took the edge off the horror. Strange but true.

I just had to be careful not to touch anything. I took photos from all angles. “I hope you don’t mind, Mr and Mrs Downs. I’ll write a story on this later.” I didn’t want to offend them, but I needed answers. “Were you two fighting about anything lately?”

They both shook their heads. Mrs Downs said, “We were getting along rather well, actually.”

“Do you have any enemies?”

They glanced at each other. Mr Downs looked at me, a wary expression on his face. “A couple. My brother is a crazy drug addict. I cut him off financially about a year ago, and he was forever sending me threatening texts until I blocked him. There’s also a business associate who I’ve fallen out with.”

“What was his name?”

“Henry Russo.”

I pulled out my notebook and pen and wrote it all down. “And why did you guys have a falling out?”

Mrs Downs gasped. She grabbed her husband’s arm. “Do you see that?” She stared past me, into the distance.

He blinked. “Yes.” He quickly looked at me. “Can you make sure the police don’t stop until they discover who killed us, for my mother’s sake, and for my wife’s parents? They’ll be devastated. I know the police will try, but make sure they follow through.”

“Of course.” Why he was asking me, I didn’t know—maybe it was because I was the only one here, and the request was important to him?

“Come on, darling. Let’s go.” Mrs Downs was still staring at whatever it was over my shoulder. I turned. Nope, nothing. When I turned back to them, they were smiling at each other. Then they focussed on the thing that only they could see—which I was going to assume was the famous come-hither light everyone talked about—and started walking. With every step, they faded, until by the time they reached the wall, they disappeared.

Poop. They were gone, and I had more questions to ask. Might as well get as much info as I could before I called the police. I also wanted to find Mrs Downs’s body.

I hurried into the kitchen, which was a mess. They obviously weren’t cook and clean-as-you-go people. Oil from cooking the lamb was left in the pan, and a couple of roast potatoes. Dessert might have been in the fridge, but I wasn’t putting my fingerprints on anything to check. There was a brown paper bag on the counter near the sink, which had Manesbury Meaty Morsels stamped on the front—they would be worth paying a visit to. A quick scan of the bench didn’t offer up the receipt. Hopefully they bought it on Saturday or yesterday and the butcher remembered. 

After that, I took some photos. There was no sign of a struggle that I could see, but I wasn’t exactly an expert. I needed to find Mrs Downs’s body as well.

A door went out to a back patio from the kitchen, but it looked to be locked. Nothing seemed out of place. I wandered the house, and nothing appeared untoward until I reached their bedroom. The timber sleigh bed was neatly made. A hundred useless throw pillows were stacked near the headboard. A scattering of crimson roses covered the bed—how romantic—and a folded sheet of pink paper sat on top of the top pillow. A suicide note maybe? That wasn’t quite so romantic.

I stepped close and looked down. It had “to whoever finds this” scrawled on it. I took a couple of photos of the room and note, but I didn’t want to spend time reading it right now. Two mobile phones lay on the floor next to the bedside table, between the window and the bed, and a couple of novels and a lamp sat on the bedside table, but nothing else. There was no sign of Mrs Down’s body. The most likely place would be the bathroom, so I wandered into their en suite.

Everything was in its place—towels on the towel rack, cosmetics neatly stacked on the vanity, hand towel folded on the vanity top—except the vomit on the floor and Mrs Down’s body, which was facedown and in the clothes I’d seen her ghost wearing. Well, she had made it to the toilet, but toilets didn’t save lives. 

I breathed through my mouth to avoid the stink and took a couple of photos. Maybe I should make it a habit to carry cotton wool in my bag so I could shove it up my nose when I encountered dead bodies—it seemed to be becoming a habit.

I blew a breath out. It was time to call the police. My appointment had been for nine in the morning, and time was ticking. I could say I was a bit late, but if anyone had seen me arrive, I could be in trouble. Best call the police now and not risk it. Not that I’d done anything wrong, but they might frown at the prospect I’d contaminated evidence or taken any.

I called emergency rather than Bellamy direct. “Hello, this is Avery Winters. I’d like to report a murder.”