Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 1)

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes, Graphic Violence

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! Pip is a minimally motivated, socially maladjusted college student with a 'shroom-addicted roommate and a callous fiance. When her upstairs neighbor is murdered, Pip decides to investigate, drafting her younger brother and a local public radio host into service as her assistants. What they discover will forever change their views on space, time, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen.

Pip knew she was in for a long day when her roommate entered the kitchen covered from head to toe in blood. She knew she was in for a surreal one when he completely failed to acknowledge it.

“Erm, Pete,” she said.

“Hm?” Pete lowered the can of Red Bull he'd been nursing. He was a petite man with a mop of brown hair, a scraggly goatee, and armpits that smelled like week-old feta bread. He looked like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, if Shaggy had just arrived home from a particularly moist Satanic orgy.

“You've got a little bit...” Pip said, gesturing vaguely at her own face.

Daintily, Pete wiped the corner of his mouth with the tip of his little finger. “Better?” he asked.

“Not really.” She gestured less-vaguely at her entire body.

Pete looked down. “Huh,” he said. And then, as his neurons completed their delayed connections: “Huh?”

“Yeah,” Pip said.

With a shriek, Pete came alive. He twisted and thrashed, palpating every square inch of his body in an effort to locate the source of the bleeding. His convulsions painted the surrounding furniture with speckles of crimson, which the cat proceeded to lap up with her tongue. After several tense moments, during which he failed to locate any obvious wounds, Pete stilled and blinked his cloudy eyes at Pip.

“Must be the mushrooms,” he said.

“Mushrooms,” she repeated. She'd known he was using again—of course she had. No sober person wakes his roommate up at three in the morning to ask what justice smells like.

“Yeah,” said Pete. “'Shrooms make me see all kinds of things. One time Travis brought over this box of I.B.C. Root Beer, and it looked like it was made of chrome.”

“I see the blood too, though,” Pip pointed out.

Pete seemed unconcerned. He shuffled out of the room with a shrug. “I'm going to take a shower.”

***

A brief investigation revealed the culprit: a puddle of red on the ceiling of Pete's room, spreading slowly across the spackle and dripping onto Pete's bed. Just as Pip fished her phone out of her pocket, a siren squawked outside. The authorities, it seemed, were already there.

***

“Did someone die?” Pip asked the police officers, displaying the tragic deficiency of tact that was one of her defining features.

The officers—two of them, one a heavy-set man with dark skin and the other a blonde woman with an overbite—were reticent.

“There's been an accident,” the man said, after exchanging a series of meaningful glances with his partner.

“What kind of accident?” Pip said. She craned her neck as a paramedic emerged from the apartment building with a rolling gurney. Atop the gurney was a suggestive shape swaddled in a white cotton sheet. “God! She really did die, huh? How'd it happen? Was she killed? Did she get stabbed?”

“We'll have to ask you to move along, ma'am,” the policewoman said. “This is an active crime scene.”

“Okay.” Shuddering, Pip turned to leave. Then she paused. “Hey, um. Is someone going to clean up my apartment? There's lots of blood and stuff on the ceiling.”

The officers exchanged another glance.

“No,” said the policeman.

“Shit,” said Pip.

***

“Ron called,” Pete announced the moment Pip re-entered the apartment. “They're going to pack it in for the day. He needs you to pick him up.”

“Shit,” Pip said again. She had homework to do, and laundry to finish, and a ceiling to exsanguinate. As often as she told herself it wasn't his fault, her fiance's failure to obtain a driver's license continued to irk her.

“I need a ride to work, too,” said Pete.

“All right. But I'm not taking you like that.”

Pete looked down at his body, which was completely nude. “Oh. Heh. Right.”

“You could at least wear pants when I'm around.”

“I don't like pants. They always brag about stuff.”

Frowning, Pip leaned forward and examined her roommate's pupils. They were the size of overinflated basketballs. “You're really high,” she said.

“And you're really judgey,” Pete spat. Huffing irritably, he rose from the sofa and stormed off to dress himself.

***

“The lady upstairs died,” Pip told Ron half an hour later.

He didn't hear her at first, occupied as he was with high-fiving his co-workers through the rolled down passenger-side window and exhorting them to “stay positive.” He'd been hung up on positivity ever since he started selling vacuums door-to-door. There was something eerily corporate about it. Pip wondered who had sold this new-found cheeriness to him, and what it was meant to compensate for.

“Sold two vacuums today,” Ron announced as Pip rolled up the window and pulled away from the curb. His broad face was split by a crooked grin, and his blue eyes twinkled merrily beneath his shelf of a brow. “The one buyer, he was B.C. for sure, but the other didn't even try to haggle. I had to give her the scholarship story, of course, which I know you're uncomfortable with, but it's not a lie so much as a negotiation tactic. Anyway, the company could theoretically put me through college, considering the kind of money they pay me.”

“Did you hear what I said?” Pip asked. “The lady upstairs died.”

Ron furrowed his brow. “What?”

“She got hacked apart or something. I don't know. There's blood, and our building has been officially declared a crime scene.”

There was a deep and uncharacteristic sadness in Ron's eyes. For one dizzying moment, Pip thought he might actually say something compassionate. Instead, he fretted: “That lady had one of my vacuums.”

Pip sighed. “I think the vacuum will struggle through its period of mourning just fine.”

“No, but she still had a year's worth of payments to make on it. That's money the company won't recoup, which means they'll take it out of my paycheck. Damn it.” Ron ran a hand through his course brown hair, then pounded his fist on the dashboard. “What a crappy situation.”

Pip wished she could be shocked at his callousness, but in truth it was nothing out of the ordinary. Her fiance had the emotional sensitivity of an uncastrated bull in the midst of a steroid binge. His was a nature that clove instinctively to any means of self-aggrandizement, be it money or body-building or selling door-to-door, and filtered out everything else. These days, Pip felt like she spent half her life reminding him that not everything was about vacuums.

Of course, in the case of the neighbor lady's untimely demise, it really was about vacuums. Pip simply didn't know it yet.