Flesh of the Martyr (Part III)

Rise and Shine

Dawn came slowly, first as a pale greying in the east across the mountains, then strengthening by the moment, until the few low clouds banding the sky turned yellow, then orange then fiery red. The sky slowly turned to flame and, beneath it all, the sunlight crept fitfully across the San Bernardino Valley, the first golden fingers probing down the green mountainside and then flooding in a great and glorious wash over the city itself, refracting through the smoky haze, swallowing everything in its syrupy embrace. For just a few minutes, everything blazed brightly, Heaven and Earth in glorious alignment. If vision could be rendered in sound, it would have made a noise like a great bell, ringing in the new day, a harmonious reverberation, resonating across the mountains, calling out with the voice of God.

At least, that was how it appeared to Padre Miguel, who was nothing if not a romantic. He watched from the veranda of the place he had found, little more than an abandoned, dilapidated hut, smelling of rotting wood and farm animals, but it served his purposes well enough. He’d made it comfortable, even set up home after a fashion. Most importantly, it was far outside city limits, up in the foothills and, by some chance, it offered this incredible view of San Bernardino, and much of the Valley itself. It was a wonder it hadn’t been snapped up by developers to build hideous luxury apartments, but Padre Miguel was not a man to dwell upon coincidence. He was someone motivated by a surety that everything in his life was preordained, and that there was a concrete plan for the universe and especially his small corner of it. Everywhere Padre Miguel looked, he saw the hand of God moving. From the light of the breaking dawn, to the complex order of the spider’s web that clung in the rafters just above his head, to the trill of the birds in the trees that hid the winding path leading up to this secret cabin. A place for everything, and all things in their place. It was not mere chance that had brought him here either, he reflected. This city was full of people who craved the absolution only he could offer. He pictured himself remaining here for a long time – perhaps much longer than usual.

As red dawn faded and the sun rose higher, he began to feel a chill. He was getting older, he thought with a small smile playing across his lips, but the season was changing too. This valley had its own microclimate, almost unique in Southern California. West was the blaring chaos of Los Angeles with its beaches and palm fronds. East lay deserts and orange groves, but here the climate was continental, with warm summers but blisteringly cold winters. They would have snow here in a month or two. It didn’t help that he stood on the veranda naked, certain that he would be unseen here in his high eyrie. He was confident about his body, proud that he had remained slim and agile even in his forties. He had been a small, skinny boy growing up, back in Mexico, and that slightness of build had never left him, but now he knew the strong boys he had once watched with lust and envy would be fat, middle-aged men, with fat, middle-aged wives and unbearable children living lives barely different from theirs. His lips drew back in an unconscious sneer as he reflected on generations of blind, pointless tradition. He despised it even as he knew his parasitic lifestyle was dependent upon it.

He turned away from the sunrise, suddenly repulsed by it and stalked back into the shadowy interior of the cabin. Floorboards creaked beneath his bare feet and he was mindful of splinters in the rotting wood. Inside, the musty smell was pervasive, but it was overlaid by something else. The smell of sweat and love. Human smells, physical and primal, and he was suddenly filled with a rush of passion again as he beheld the sleeping boy lying on the blankets spread across the floor. Like Miguel, he was naked, but his body was a monument to youthful vigour. He was a slim boy this… Miguel paused to remember the name he’d been given. Diego. This Diego. Slim and fragile, like a toy, not quite his usual type, but still pleasing to look at in his way. He was firm and tan, almost hairless except around his crotch, a boy indeed. Beside Diego an upturned crate served as a kind of bedside table, and on it rested two glasses and a half-empty bottle of tequila. It was cheap, mass-produced stuff, but that hardly made a difference. After all, the drink was not what had mattered last night.

Miguel crouched over Diego and brushed fingers across his forehand, down his soft cheeks, covered with only a fuzz of pale downy hair, along the line of his curved, pouting lips and then up to his fluttering eyelashes. Experimentally, he pushed open his eyelids and saw that his gaze was still glassy and unfocused. The dose he’d given him, he might not actually recover, not without brain damage anyway, but that didn’t really matter now, of course. Normally he’d have been over and done with all this hours ago, but there had been something so precious about this one that he’d just had to extend it a little further. He’d deal with the rest of the process later today. It wouldn’t be a problem.

Now Miguel’s hand moved down the boy’s body, across his smooth, narrow chest, down his stomach, showing just a hint of musculature, over his crotch and down. Nothing stirred, of course, for the passion of the previous evening was lost forever. That only interested Miguel so much anyway. He felt overwhelmed by it all then as he beheld the lithe adolescent and pressed his body against his. He had to have another taste; had to surrender himself to sin one last time. With a grunt of exertion he rolled the unconscious Diego over and then…

He lost himself to it, to the carnal bestiality of the act. It was over in a few torrid, bloody moments and, as he rolled onto his back, aching but satisfied, he knew he had achieved his final goal. He had obtained a state of grace. Diego’s chest no longer rose and fell in a gentle rhythm and blood dripped between his beautiful lips. Miguel wept tears of mingled grief and joy as he looked again upon the spent youth, and reflected deeply on the nature of sin and redemption. Such glory. Such golden, wondrous martyrdom. He longed for it himself, of course, to find a way to commend his own soul to Christ in such circumstances. That was the focus of all his efforts, that search for perfection. Only by committing the gravest sins could God’s mercy have any meaning. That was the purpose of this sacrifice.

Padre Miguel knelt in the gloom of the cabin and murmured a few snatches of prayer in Latin. He reached over to the pile of clothes he had left neatly folded to one side and retrieved his bag that contained the sacrament. He took communion alone with the light outside filtering through one grimy window, over the dead body of this boy, Diego. He spoke a few words for the lost soul, now awaiting Judgement Day and, with it, certain redemption in the Kingdom of God. He wept again and, finally, stood up and dressed himself.

Outside, in the morning light, he dug a shallow pit into which he put Diego’s clothes and belongings. Digging was tiring work, and he began to think about breakfast. Communion wafers made for poor repast. He decided he would drive down into the city and find something to eat. That would enable him to deal with Diego as well. The simple convergence of his two errands pleased him inordinately, and he began to hum again as he often did, a half-remembered song from his childhood that he had once heard playing in a brightly-lit bar.

Diego he lifted and placed in an ordinary refuse sack. The body was light, but he had to be careful to avoid splashing blood on his clothes. He should have dressed after this. Tutting at his slight oversight, he tied off the sack and then carried it outside to his car. He considered how he would dispose of the body. He was quite specific in his habits. It wouldn’t do to burn or bury the corpse. A martyr must be seen by the people, or how could he serve as an example to others? But doing it during daylight was madness. He would take a trip around the city today, looking for a likely spot to display the holy work, and return under cover of darkness. Before that, he would find breakfast. With Diego safely in the trunk, he drove down the hidden dirt track and out onto the paved road a little way down the mountain. Then he had merely to follow the route down into the suburbs and join the ordinary men and women going about their day in San Bernardino.

He hummed to himself again as he drove, tapping his fingers gently against the wheel. As he reached the city, the traffic grew heavier, and he found himself caught in tailbacks. His good mood began to evaporate by inches and, by the time he reached Downtown, he was almost angry again. He drove around for half an hour looking for a parking space and, in doing so, happened by the park from the night before last. He felt a surge of lust again, almost a Pavlovian response to seeing the site of one of his encounters, but then his blood ran cold as he saw the police tape, the white tent set up by the lake, the police cars parked all around. So. They’d found his little gift. That was no surprise – this was a good-sized city with a fine police force, he was certain. But they would find nothing useful. He was much, much too careful for that. And who would betray him? Even as his name was known, he was just a rumour; a ghost. A folk hero, perhaps. That thought made him smile and he began to feel content again as he carried on a few blocks and then spied a space opposite a small coffee shop. It seemed a nice place and, he saw with a further rush of elation, there was a narrow alley behind it with a rusting dumpster. He parked up and looked both ways. Well, it was quiet enough, and who would suspect a man wearing a priest’s collar? With the police in this town already investigating, he hardly had any time to lose at all. He would give them something new to chew on today.

Miguel moved confidently, which was always the key, taking the sack from the truck and hefting it over his shoulder. As good a shape as he was in, it was still a heavy burden. He struggled to the edge of the sidewalk. Somehow, this had been easier up at the cabin.

“You okay, father?” a voice in accented English asked him.

He turned to see a concerned-looking young man – maybe in his early- or mid-twenties – with an open, honest face and dark eyebrows. “Just a little heavy,” Miguel told him, smiling.

“Here, let me help you.” He took hold of one side of the sack as they negotiated the street together, and then even helped him prop up the lid of the dumpster and drop it in. The sack made a loud noise as it hit the bottom.

“I’m moving house,” Miguel explained casually, “old furnishings and things, you know. My trash can outside is overflowing and the city won’t take it away if I leave it on the sidewalk. Where is the sense in that, eh?”

“It’s crazy, father,” the man agreed, dusting his hands off.

“Thank you for your help anyway.” They both walked out of the alley together and turned in the same direction, towards the entrance of the coffee shop. They did an embarrassed little shuffle for a moment as they realised they shared a destination and Miguel laughed to break the tension. “Let me buy you a coffee to say thank you again.”

“Really, father, it’s not necessary…”

“Please, I insist. Who else stopped to help an old man?”

“You’re not so old, I think…”

“Ah, such a polite boy.” He held open the door for him. “My name is Padre Julio.”

“Hector.”

Miguel smiled again as Hector pressed passed him to enter the coffee shop. He was a little older than he would prefer, but sometimes the Holy Father provided sustenance, and it would be rude to refuse such a generous gift.

*

Carter opened her eyes slowly and blinked a few times in the light filtering through her curtains. Her first thought was that it was Saturday and she rolled back over to go to sleep, but then she realised with a start that it wasn’t. Why was it light then? Normally it was dark when she woke up at this time of year. It took her a few more seconds of half-asleep pondering to finally realise that she’d overslept. She groaned and turned over again so she could scrabble around for her phone on the bedside table. When she had it finally, she stared muzzily at the screen and then slumped into the pillow. She was supposed to be at the station in less than fifteen minutes.

“Piece of shit phone,” she said as she dragged herself out of bed and tried to find some clothes. No time for a shower, barely time to clean her teeth. She ran a brush through her hair and splashed some water on her face, more to wake herself up than actually clean it. Deodorant, shirt, pants…wait…back a step. Bra, shirt, pants. She was dashing around the bedroom, trying to grab everything. Her phone started screaming at her. “If that’s the fucking alarm…” Hopping as she fastened her pants, she grabbed it. It was Jones, probably calling to find out where she was. “Fuck off,” she said as she sent it to voicemail with a jab of her thumb, “I’m on the way.”

She went through her kitchen like a whirlwind, grabbing her wallet, badge, keys, tossing it all haphazardly in her bag. Stormed out of the door and to the car. Got in. Got back out to go and lock the house. Came back and then nearly backed out into another car coming down the road. A horn blared at her as she slammed on the brakes and she took a second to calm her breathing. She was going to have an accident at this rate. Carter hated being late for anything. She got frustrated very easily waiting for anyone else too, and she hated not being able to practice what she preached. “There’s only so fast you can get there,” she told herself, “so just relax.”

While her heart rate returned to normal, she took a second to shoot off an apologetic text to Jones, then finally checked her mirrors and backed out. She needed some coffee before picking up her partner or she’d be a complete liability, but the bagel place was too far out of her way. She headed for a coffee shop that was on the way across town, a little place just a couple blocks from the park, oddly enough. She cursed to herself as she saw the last spot on the opposite side of the road was taken, and then mounted the kerb instead. She threw her permit badge on the dash and quickly got out. Traffic roared past, but she dodged across the lanes and then into the coffee shop. It was busy, and she considered – as she always did in moments like this – flashing her badge around. A hangover from those heady first few months of being a cop, and wielding a heretofore unknown amount of power. The line wasn’t too long in the end and she ordered coffee for herself and Jones. It came fast and she didn’t even wait for her change. She was just diving back out of the door when someone stepped right into her path.

“Hey, watch it, asshole!”

“I thought I was a dipshit, actually.”

She looked up into the eyes of Josh, who was smiling goofily at her. “Jeez, one of these days I’m gonna turn around and you’re not gonna be in my way…”

His smile dropped a little bit. “Huh?”

“Sorry,” she said, “I’m kinda in a hurry.” She looked around. “What are you doing here?”

“Um…” he seemed a little hesitant. “Research.”

“Research?”

“Yeah. For the documentary. Scouting locations, stuff like that. You can’t really write about something unless you know a bit about it.”

“Right…okay…”

“Interviewing a cameraman too.”

Carter glanced over his shoulder. Sitting alone at a table was a latino guy, maybe a few years younger than Josh. He was good looking, except for the eyebrows. He looked up with a slightly confused expression and gave them a little wave. “Right, okay.”

“Sorry, you said you were in a hurry?”

“Right yeah…I’m running late.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Um…” she rubbed her head. “Apart from being late, which I fucking hate?”

“How did it go yesterday?”

“I can’t really talk about it, Josh. But, yeah, about as well as you’d expect.”

He looked sympathetic, then noticed she was carrying coffee and pointed. “Hey, I thought I was buying your next one.”

“Ah well, you’re a little late I guess.”

“Later then.”

“Huh?”

“After work? Your work I mean. Makes no difference to me.”

“Are you in the station today?”

“No. More scouting.”

“Okay, well, yeah. Okay, sure. Later. Say…six?”

“Sounds good. Here?”

“Yeah, why not?”

They stood around awkwardly for a second, and then he moved out of her way. She tried to wave goodbye, but it was hard holding two coffees, and just settled for a goofy sort of nod. Then she hurried back across the road to her car, aware again that he was probably watching her. “Six,” she said to herself as she got in the car. “Coffee at six. That’s not weird, is it?”

A few minutes later, Jones was grumbling at her as she swerved out of his drive and headed back downtown. “This ain’t from the usual place,”

“Yeah, well, I had to stop by somewhere different.”

“What happened to your alarm?”

“I dunno. Stupid phone’s junk.” She slid it from her pocket and waved it at him. “You figure it out.”

“I can’t work the fuckin’ things.”

“Then how do you get up in the mornings?”

“I wait until I hear you outside.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“I’m not disgusting.” He held out the Styrofoam cup with its little cardboard sleeve. “This coffee is what’s disgusting. And where’s my fuckin’ bagel, huh?”

“God, how are you still married?”

“Janice and I got a beautiful relationship. What the hell would you know about it anyway?”

“Hey, I’ve had relationships,” she said, a little defensively, “I was with Mark for, like, three years.”

“That asshole computer nerd?”

“He wasn’t…okay, yeah, he was both those things.”

“You got a type, I’ll say that.”

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?” She pulled out of an intersection and had to keep her eyes on the road as traffic zoomed past in the other lane. “Huh?”

“You know.”

“I don’t know shit. C’mon, tell me.”

“Nothing. Just keep driving or Colburn’ll have both our asses.”

When they finally got into the office, the morning briefing was already underway. Embarrassed, Carter slunk into the meeting room as quietly as she could, only for Jones to stomp in afterwards and blow her cover. All eyes turned to them. “Uh…sorry,” she said, “traffic, you know?”

Colburn looked at her levelly and folded her arms. “Well you’re here just in time, detective. Do you have an update for us on the Eduardo Garcia case?”

“Oh right, yeah.” She scratched at her head again. Her hair felt gross. She’d planned to wash it this morning. And she was supposed to be going out on a date later? Wait, when had she started thinking of it as a date?

“Carter?”

“Sorry, right. Um. Yeah, so I don’t know what the lab came up with…” She glanced at Mortimer, who just shrugged. “Nothing yet, obviously. But we spoke to the family yesterday. As you can imagine, they’re taking it all pretty badly. Eduardo – Eddie – was one of five boys, the eldest. Kind of a loner, by the sounds of things. We have pretty good reasons for thinking he was gay, but understandably it was a little hard to get any of his family to confirm that. We might ask around the neighbourhood, but it sounds like he didn’t have too many friends and I’m guessing this isn’t something anyone’s gonna want to talk about. Big, traditional Hispanic community down there.”

“Right,” Colburn nodded, “and this is all consistent with his injuries, right?”

“Well…” She looked at Mortimer again.

The big man straightened. Carter knew he was actually a little nervous talking in front of people, despite his appearance. “Yeah, so, that’s what we thought at first. But we examined the body and there was no trace of any semen or anything. Now, I guess whoever did it coulda used protection but…you know…why do that if you’re gonna kill the guy?”

“It could’ve been an accident,” Beauchamp suggested.

“Or,” Colburn said, pointing, “whoever did this knew what he was doing and didn’t want to leave evidence.”

Carter frowned. “Like…he’s done it before? I mean, it’s possible…”

“Keep on it,” she said, “and get the report finished up ASAP, Mort. If there’s anything to find, we need to find it.”

“Sure thing.”

“Okay, moving on…”

“Uh, ma’am?” Carter interrupted. “There was something else, actually. From talking to his family.”

“We’re all ears, detective.”

“Vitim’s father. Eduardo Senior. He seemed to know a little more than the mother. He said something about sending him to see someone called ‘Padre Miguel’.”

Blank looks all round. “A priest?” Colburn prompted.

“Sort of. He seems to be one of these…uh…you know, the guys who say they can ‘cure’ gay people?”

Colburn slowly lifted an eyebrow. If there was one thing that was likely to make the lieutenant forget her professionalism, it was this kind of topic. “Go on.”

“Yeah, Eduardo Senior was pretty vague about it all. He’s not part of any local diocese or anything. He might even be new in the area, but obviously word’s gotten around somehow that he can help boys like this. This Padre Miguel character, I mean. That’s where Eddie was going last night, ma’am. To meet this guy. But even his dad didn’t seem to know where exactly he was supposed to find him.”

“All right. Sounds like a solid lead. You and Jones check it out, dig up everything you can about this Padre whatever. It looks like he’s our main person of interest as of right now.”

“We’ll look into it, ma’am,” Carter said.

The meeting broke up a short while later and they filtered back to their desks. Carter sat down heavily. She was still feeling knocked sideways by her mad dash this morning. She hadn’t had time to sit down, enjoy a coffee, check her e-mails. She shook her head at her blank computer screen and then caught sight of what a mess she was in the blurred reflection. “Oh jeez, look at me.”

“Huh?” Jones hovered up over his own screen, and the piles of files, boxes and food containers that littered his desk.

“I didn’t even have time to put makeup on this morning. I look about forty.”

“You are about forty…”

“Fuck you, I’m thirty-four.” She booted up the computer and sighed as she rested her chin on her hand. “You got any idea about this Padre Miguel thing?”

“Nope.”

“You know any Catholic priests by that name in the city?”

“I’m Presbyterian.”

“You are?”

“Sure. Why?”

“I dunno. Just…figured you weren’t really anything. Like me.”

“What? You an atheist?”

“No. I’m…nothing. My folks weren’t religious.”

“Agnostic then.”

“How the fuck should I know?” she snapped, allowing a little of her frustration to creep into her voice. “I don’t give a shit about religion. It’s all a bunch of bullshit, and now we got a dead kid because of it. Let’s just find this prick.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard. There’s gotta be a couple priests in the city named Miguel.”

She logged into the system and thought about it. “Yeah, but I don’t think they’ll be who we’re looking for.”

*

Carter and Jones headed back to Southside to ask around, but they didn’t get very far. After the latest group of kids shook their heads dumbly at Carter, she walked back to Jones who, predictably, was eating again.

“You should try some of this,” he said, holding out a soggy taco.

“What? Come on, man.”

“It’s real authentic shit. None of that chain restaurant garbage.”

She eyed the chilli oozing over the wrapping, spiced so strongly it made her eyes water. “Oh I can believe it’s authentic shit, Ray. Fucking smells like it too.”

He laughed at that. “Any luck?”

“What do you think? They know I’m a cop too, and they probably ought to be in school, so they don’t give me anything. I try to ask about Padre Miguel and they go even quieter. It’s like…a secret everyone’s in on or something.”

Jones took a bite of his taco, then spoke through crunches. “Maybe he ain’t even real.”

“Huh?”

“You know. Maybe he’s like a euphemism or something. Like ‘friend of Dorothy’, know what I mean?”

“What, like Spanish families with gay sons ‘send them to Padre Miguel’?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

She shook her head and leant on the wall beside him. They were in a run-down neighbourhood, by some old basketball courts that were rusting to pieces almost before their eyes. People watched them warily – a black girl and a white guy, in an entirely Hispanic part of the city. It had been hard enough even finding some kids who’d speak to them in English. Here, it marked you as an outsider. “Eduardo Senior got pretty emotional last night, Ray. He was in tears. Big, tough guy like that. No way did he mean what he said as some kind of metaphor. As far as he was concerned, he sent his kid to see this guy, and then he wound up dead the next morning.”

“So how do we find this Miguel?”

“I’m gonna ask around at the station,” she said, straightening up and heading back towards where they’d parked the car, “speak to a few of the latinos down there. Someone’s gotta know something.”

“Yeah, but they might not talk.” He finished off his taco as he walked beside her and then noisily slurped the chilli sauce off his fingers.

“It’s an investigation.”

“Yeah, but this is community. This is…you know…la raza or whatever.”

“You’re saying a cop’s gonna have more loyalty to this dump than the force?”

“Family’s a big deal here, Hannah,” Jones said, sounding more serious than usual. They’d reached the car, parked up by the side of the road near the courts. “And faith, you know?”

“I get it, Ray. I do. Family and church and tradition. All that stuff. Growing up gay in this place is no fun. Hell, it’s probably no fun anywhere, people being people. But someone used that prejudice as a way to get to this kid.” She jabbed her finger down hard on the roof of the car for emphasis. “No way la raza or anything else is more important than that. That’s family. Better your kid’s gay than dead, right?”

Jones looked at her intently. “You sure everyone feels that way, Hannah?” She had no answer to that, so they just got back in the car in silence.

The rest of the day was similarly frustrating. All attempts to locate the enigmatic Padre Miguel proved futile. It was as if he was a ghost or, as Jones had suggested, some sort of euphemistic figurehead. At the very least, the Hispanic colleagues Carter talked to about it seemed genuinely clueless. She’d been worried she was poking at the edges of some kind of conspiracy, something that her cops’ instincts naturally bristled at. As a rule, she didn’t believe in conspiracies, since her experience of people was that they tended to get less honest and trustworthy in large groups, not more. By the time she was sitting at her desk, yawning, they had nothing but a big fat question mark over the whole concept of Padre Miguel. They were just going to have to wait for the lab report.

“Tomorrow’s another day,” Jones told her as he stuffed his wallet into his pocket and got up from his desk.

“Yeah, I know.” She waved her half-empty handbag. “Maybe I’ll wake up properly for that one.”

“You know, I don’t trust you without makeup.”

“Why not?”

“It’s like you’re being too honest.”

“No such thing.” She glanced at the clock and suddenly remembered she had somewhere to be. “Oh shit!”

“What?”

“Uh…nothing. I’ll be right back.”

Vanity wasn’t a trait Carter enjoyed cultivating, but she was human after all, and she stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, inspecting her face. Jones was right about her being more honest without the war paint, but she could have used a little subterfuge right then. She had dark rings under her eyes and a pimple just starting to erupt on her cheek. Her hair was a greasy mess. She bared her teeth at her reflection. Nothing stuck there. Well, that was something. It wasn’t that she cared, not about Josh. He was a nice enough guy though, and kind of intriguing. A film maker and, what did he say yesterday? A writer? She didn’t meet a lot of guys like that in her job. And he was obviously interested in her. She hadn’t dated for what felt like a long time. Although, maybe she was misinterpreting his intentions. She was a detective – it was her job to understand motives, although usually criminal ones, granted. She sighed.

A toilet flushed in a stall behind her and she stopped preening for a second and started running the faucet. The door opened and Lieutenant Colburn walked out. “Carter,” she said.

“Ma’am.” She smiled as she ran her hands under the tap and her superior did likewise. Colburn – Gloria – had been a great source of support for her over the last few months, but she’d never quite shaken her instinctive deference to the chain of command.

“Going somewhere tonight?”

“Huh?”

Colburn smiled at her in the mirror. “I can see the way you’re checking yourself. Ran out of time this morning?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“No makeup. A girl notices these things.”

“Just coffee.”

“Yeah? Who’s the lucky guy?”

She grimaced slightly. “Uh…Josh. That director guy, you know?”

“I do know.” She shut off her faucet and turned to her. “Seriously? That guy?”

“What? You don’t like him?” Carter shook the water off her hands.

“I like him fine. Just didn’t think he was your type.”

“Maybe he isn’t. I dunno. He asked.”

“Well I say go for it. Get back in the game.”

Carter watched in the mirror as Colburn walked to the hand dryer. They said nothing for a while as the sound of rushing air filled the bathroom. “It’s just coffee,” Carter said again when she could hear herself speak.

Colburn’s voice was gentle. “I’m glad you’re feeling yourself again.”

“Feeling myself?” She turned to the lieutenant and leant against the sink block.

“After what happened with Hammersmith. When you found that body, after what it looked like someone had done to it…you know…”

“Everyone seems to think that,” Carter said, “but I’m fine. It’s fine. I’m over it.”

“The psychologist cleared you to come back.”

“Exactly.”

“That’s not the same thing as being over it. You said you didn’t want to see the counsellor.”

“And I don’t.”

“Even if you feel like you don’t, Hannah, it might help you to talk through what happened with someone, now that you’re a bit more removed from it. Help you put a cap on things, you know?”

She frowned. Josh had said almost the exact same thing. What was this obsession with closure everyone seemed to have? But she knew Colburn was looking out for her. She wasn’t going to throw it back in her face. “You might have a point. I’ll think about it.”

“All right.” She headed for the door. “Enjoy your date, Hannah.”

“It’s not…yeah, thanks…”

*

Perhaps subconsciously overcompensating for that morning, Carter was early for her…whatever this was…with Josh. She sat by herself at a small table, sipping delicately on a cappuccino. Since it had been such a shitty day, she wanted to treat herself. That’s how depressing her life had become – an overpriced foamy beverage was her definition of a treat. She drank slowly just to stretch it out. The clock said six-oh-five. She felt a stab of irritation. Lateness. What was the point? Of course, after this morning that made her a complete hypocrite. But then…

He walked through the door and looked around for her. In contrast to the dirty jeans and scruffy shirt that was all she’d seen him wearing before, he was now dressed quite smartly in a jacket and chinos with a clean shirt on and hair tied back neatly. He’d even shaved his beard a little. Part of her hoped he was on his way somewhere else after this.

“Hey,” he said, joining her at the table.

“Hey.”

“Let me get a drink. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“What?”

He grinned. “The whole point was for me to buy you a coffee…”

“You could always just reimburse me for this one?”

“Sure, I’ll write a check.” He went to the counter and came back with a latte. They sat there together awkwardly for a second, both sipping their drinks in silence. “So, hey,” Josh said, “how was your day?”

“Um…kinda crappy I guess.”

“Yeah?”

“Obviously I can’t say too much.”

“I guess that’s the problem with being a cop, huh? You can’t talk to your friends about your job.”

“Actually, I guess all my friends are cops too.” She hadn’t ever really thought about that before, but it was true. The only real socialising she did was the occasional drink with Jones after work, or sometimes someone got it into their heads to organise something that involved a few more of them. The job, by its nature, didn’t leave much room for anything else.

“I guess that makes things easy.”

“I guess so.” She put her coffee down. “So how about you? How was the scouting?”

“Yeah, good. Really good.”

“Was this for locations for the documentary?”

“Um…well, yeah, but not exclusively.”

She gave him an arch look. “Not exclusively? What does that mean?”

“I’m not just working on that right now.”

“No?”

He actually looked a little embarrassed. “I’m also working on a screenplay. I want to film it around here too.”

“Right, you said something about being a writer too.”

“Uh huh. That’s my calling, really.”

“What kind of stuff do you write?”

More embarrassed shuffling in his seat. “I guess all kinds. I’m…uh…kind of prolific.”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want to go into it. It sounds sort of stupid. But I write a lot. Like, a lot.”

“Well that’s good. It’s good to have something like that.”

“Sure.”

“So what’s this screenplay? Is it like for a movie?”

“Yeah, or I guess a TV show.” He smiled bashfully. “Some sort of HBO thing. Not some trashy cable thing.”

“Right right,” she said, “because you’re not some cable director, yeah?”

He flashed a wide smile now. “Hey, you remembered.”

“So what’s it about?”

“It’s a detective story, I guess.”

“Okay…”

“Yeah. But, I mean, I’m trying to do something clever with it. Focusing on the characters, weaving in some metafictional elements.”

“Metafictional?”

“You ever see the movie ‘Adaptation’?”

She thought about it. “Oh yeah, with Nic Cage? Where he’s also his brother?”

“That’s the one. Kinda like that.”

“So like a headfuck?”

He laughed. “Exactly, exactly. Like a headfuck. Perfect description.”

“Sounds cool.”

“I hope it will be.” He took a long sip. “I’m pretty interested in the detective genre. Murder-mystery, stuff like that.”

“Not me,” she said firmly, “I get enough of that shit at work.”

“I always thought cops were really into that kind of thing.”

“Maybe some of them. Not me.”

“I love it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He leant forward, and his tone changed, becoming earnest, enthusiastic. “I think it’s sort of one of the purest forms of storytelling. You know about conservation of detail, right?”

“Um…I guess.”

“Like Chekov’s Gun?”

“The guy from Star Trek…?” She felt dumb as a rock for asking that.

“No,” he said with a grin, “the guy from Russian theatre. It’s like this,” he explained, “the principle Chekov outlined was that, if you see a gun hanging on the wall in the first act of a play, you sure as shit better have someone fire it by act three, right?”

“Okay, yeah, that makes sense.”

“Conservation of detail, right? You don’t bring in a plot element without purpose. Otherwise it’s just padding.”

“Uh huh. I get it. So what’s that got to do with detective fiction?”

“Well, in detective novels, there’s no wasted space. Because it’s like a game.”

“Right, a whodunit, yeah? You have to guess who the murderer is.”

He pointed at her. “Exactly! You gotta play fair with the audience. What’s the point in saying the butler did it if you never meet the damn guy? So, stories like that, they always have a limited cast of characters. People the protagonist keeps bumping into or whatever, or they’re all in a cabin somewhere or a country house in England or whatever, you know?”

“Right. It’s all laid out beforehand.”

“Yeah, that’s it exactly.” He gulped down a mouthful of latte. “You sure you don’t know all this stuff already? You’re not humouring me?”

“Not at all. I told you, I don’t read crime novels. In fact, I haven’t read a book since…uh…” She thought about it, and realised something horrible. “I guess…um…one of Hammersmith’s, actually. When I was working on the case.”

“Oh. Shit, sorry. I never thought…”

“It’s okay. It is, really. I’m over it.”

“You wanna talk about something else?”

“No, carry on, please. I’d rather we talked about you than me. My life is my work, and I can’t even tell you much about that.”

“Well, Hammersmith’s a good example then, I guess.”

“He is?” That surprised her, since Josh seemed to know his shit, but having read some of Hammersmith’s horrendous ‘Red Knight’ novels while trying to figure the bastard out, she knew his stuff was airport-quality trash.

“I mean, he was awful. And since it turns out the whole thing was just him almost literally masturbating over his own sick crimes…uh…sorry, if this is weird…”

“Just keep talking,” she said. “Honestly.”

“Well yeah. They sucked. But they were the perfect distillation of all the tropes and clichés.” He gestured out of the window. The sky was turning purple over the dark mountains. “It’s about limiting the geography. Hemming people in. Even the greats did it. Sherlock Holmes used to go to some estate, or else it all happened in London. All those English murder-mysteries are the same. ‘Country house murder’ they call it. Everyone locked up in a mansion for the weekend. No cops in sight. Just the amateur sleuth.”

“Like Clue. You know, the board game?”

He snapped his fingers. “Yeah. Yeah! And even the hard-boiled stuff. You ever read any Raymond Chandler?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, take ‘The Big Sleep’. All set in Los Angeles County. That’s Marlowe’s patch see. With cops it’s even easier.”

“Right, because we have jurisdictions.”

“Yeah. So, for the game to work, you have to have these limits. I find it really fascinating.”

Carter drained the last of her cappuccino. “Shame it doesn’t work that way in real life. I see what you were saying about that database of murderers yesterday. Believe me, most of the time the guilty party is some drifter no one ever heard of. He doesn’t get introduced in the first act like that guy’s gun.”

“No. I guess not.” He finished off his latte too. “You think that’s the case with the guy killing these kids?”

“Huh?”

“The body from yesterday. You think it’s just some drifter?”

“No, I mean, you said ‘kids’. We only have one victim.”

“What? Did I say that?” He waved a hand. “Slip of the tongue. Guess I’ve been reading too much crime fiction recently. It’s always a serial killer.”

“I guess. But, yeah, probably that’s it. Some creep. Like I said, I can’t talk about it much.”

“Sure. I understand.” He looked down at their empty cups. “Hey, do you wanna get a real drink?”

“I’m driving,” she said apologetically.

“Just one.”

“Well…” She thought about it. It’d been kind of a strange conversation, but she’d found it interesting, and she found his enthusiasm infectious and weirdly charming. He was, she had to admit, a lot like Mark, her last serious boyfriend. But that was fine. “Sure,” she said suddenly, “one drink.”

“Cool.” He started to pocket his wallet and keys.

“Um…let me just go freshen up first.”

“Sure.”

She headed to the bathroom at the back of the coffee shop. Back in front of the mirror again, she fretted over her appearance. The effort Josh had made threw his own disarray into sharp contrast. She picked at her hair and tutted. It was no good. Well, fuck him. No, not fuck him…but she didn’t have to pander to him. She didn’t owe him pretty. And she wasn’t even sure she liked him like that yet. But still.

Her handbag vibrated on the edge of the basin. She looked at it, and realised it must be her cell. She pulled it out. It was work. A crime scene. A body. She wasn’t on duty, but she opened the message to check the address anyway out of a general sense of obligation. A coffee shop Downtown. She blinked. Shining through the small window high in the wall above her head which opened out to the alley at the side of the building, she could see flashing red and blue lights.

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This entry was posted in Contemporary, Crime, Novella, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Flesh of the Martyr (Part III)

  1. Selena says:

    Wow….this is really good. Looking forward to mroe.

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