Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 2)

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes, Sexual Situations

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip was reeling from the grisly murder of her upstairs neighbor, though her drug-addicted roommate and vacuum-salesman fiance were rather less concerned. Now, sensing that a mystery is afoot, Pip seeks to put together an investigative team to get to the bottom of things. Trigger warning for sexual abuse, though not of a graphic nature.

Ron smelled like bacon. Pip wasn't sure if the odor was attributable to his bathing habits, which were admittedly lax, or if it was the result of a rare medical condition. A brief perusal of WebMD had brought up something called “fish odor syndrome,” but there didn't appear to be any pork-based equivalent. Perhaps the issue was with Pip—a fault in the mucosal lining of her nose, or an unusually specific form of synesthesia. Or maybe she was just crazy. People were always telling her that she was crazy. Especially Ron.

“You're a crazy bitch,” said Ron. It was meant to be affectionate. At least, she assumed it was. Why else would he say it in bed, when the lights were low and he was busy rubbing his bacon smell into her naked flesh?

“Do you like it, crazy?” he demanded. “Do you like it? You must like it; you've gone all quiet. I swear, this is the only way I can get you to shut your mouth for more than five seconds.”

Pip's mouth was indeed shut, as were her eyes. Intercourse was an unparalleled test of endurance: the fewer senses she engaged in the struggle, the easier it was to let the experience wash past her, to let sex happen to her body while her mind was elsewhere. She'd think about books she'd read and movies she'd seen, about the conjugations of German verbs and the feeding habits of Colobus monkeys, spiraling ever further from her physical reality until the creak of the mattress became little more than a background hiss—radio waves left over from the Big Bang.

How many Calories are the in human brain? she wondered.

Creak, creak, creak, went the mattress.

Do birds feel regret?

Creak, creak, creak.

Can thought be faster than light? Which organs can you live without? What happens if you fart in space?

Creak, creak. Groan. Sigh...

When it was over, Pip walked wordlessly to the bathroom and locked herself inside. There was blood this time, but no tears. That, at least, was a modest improvement. Slumping against the wall, she allowed herself to slide to the floor. She sat there for a quarter of an hour, hugging her legs to her chest and exhorting herself to just get over it already.

Just as she finished sulking, she heard her cell phone ring. Scrambling into a bathrobe, she rushed to retrieve the phone from the kitchen counter where she'd set it to charge.
“Hello?” she said.

“Sister!” cried the young man on the other end of the line. “How's it going?”

Despite her recent ordeal, Pip felt a smile tug at the corner of her lip. A phone call from her younger brother was the high point of any day, and certainly of this one. His good-natured, perpetually ironic voice was a buffer against a universe of tribulation. As was his ability to talk about things that weren't mushrooms or vacuum cleaners.

“Duncan, God damn it,” Pip laughed. “How dare you call me. What the hell do you want?”

“Nothing, a-hole. Go die in an abandoned building.”

You die in an abandoned building.” Pip could hear Ron stirring in the bedroom, which meant she had only a few minutes of private conversation time left. She decided to skip the pleasantries and cut to the chase. “How's Charlie?”

“I don't know, probably exactly the same as the last time you asked.” Duncan gave a huff of mock annoyance. His recent rise to the middle echelons of local public radio sound engineering had its down sides, increased exposure to his sister's frightening and unaccountable crush on reporter Charles Shreve chief among them. “He's my boss, not my friend. It's not like we hang out and shoot the shit.”

“Why not? I'd hang out with him, if I was you.”

“If you were me, you'd bang him. Because you're a weird-ass who gets crushes on public radio personalities.”

“He has such an alluring voice.”

“You say 'alluring'; everyone else says 'nasal.'”

“You're just jealous because he has more game than you.”

Duncan snorted. “One of these days, Sis, you're going to meet Charlie, and then you'll understand how ridiculous that sounds.” He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “You free tomorrow evening?”

“Sure.” Pip didn't hesitate, despite being scheduled to work on the evening in question. Begging off work to spend time with her brother was nothing new—indeed, with two jobs and a full class-load, it was a regular necessity. “What are you thinking? Puppies a' Plenty?”

“Of course Puppies a' Plenty. I want to see if that Husky is still there.”

“Dad doesn't want you to buy him.”

“Dad thinks Satan put fossils in the ground to deceive us. I don't care what Dad wants.”

The bedroom door opened. Pip whirled around to see Ron stumble into the kitchen, a sheet wrapped around his waist, the scent of breakfast meat radiating from his exposed flesh in voluptuous waves.

“Duncan,” she said, “I have to go. Call you tomorrow after class?”

“You God damn better.”

Pip hung up.


Though they were often mistaken for twins, Pip and Duncan had been born thirteen months apart. As a child, Pip had teased her brother about being an “accident,” a notion predicated on the idea that no sane woman would intentionally conceive again four months after giving birth. Fed up with the taunts and tears, their mother had gleefully informed her offspring that they were both “accidents,” and that was the end of that.

Pip and Duncan shared the same black hair, medium brown skin and willowy height. Their facial features were similar enough that Pip might have been Duncan in drag or vice versa. More striking than the physical resemblance, however, was the verisimilitude of temperament. Both brother and sister were easy-going and irreverent, with a tendency to say exactly what came to mind at exactly the moment it came. (If Pip was a little more nervous and Duncan a little more socially adept, it was a function of differing societal pressures, not differing genetics.) Most importantly of all, they had the same sense of humor.

Which was why they both laughed when the three-month-old Husky headbutted Duncan in the face.

“God damn it,” Duncan said, massaging his battered nose. “This guy's hyper.”

“Who's a hyper little shit?” Pip cooed. She batted at the dog's flanks, working it steadily into a yipping, snorting frenzy. “You're a hyper little shit. Yes you are.”

A pet shop employee in a red polo shirt with dog bones printed on it glared. There are children here, her look seemed to say.

Why are you back so soon? it continued. You look like college students—don't you have something better to do on weekday evenings than troll a pet shop?

Come to think of it, it added, don't I have something better to do? Why am I working a minimum-wage job in a suburban strip mall? I was supposed to use that architecture degree. I was supposed to be somebody!

Pip was in no mood for unspoken existential angst. Turning to Duncan, she said: “A lady was murdered in my apartment building.”

Duncan gasped, which Pip thought was an appropriate reaction, until she realized he wasn't gasping at the news she'd relayed. The Husky had just headbutted him in the crotch.

“God damn it,” Duncan groaned. “Little turd nutted me.”

“Did you hear what I said?” Pip asked.

“Yeah, I heard you. That's messed up. Did they catch the guy who did it?”

“I don't think so. I haven't heard anything about it, anyway.” Pip's face brightened. “I think we should investigate.”

Duncan furrowed his brow. “Investigate? Where? How? We're not exactly equipped for a murder investigation.”

“No, but-”

“What, you want us to track down the killer ourselves?”


“Using your skills as an amateur artist and my skills as a guy who edits radio programs on a laptop?”

“I guess-”

“Not one of your better ideas.”

“Fair enough,” Pip sighed, but already she was piecing together a plan. “Say, Duncan. You want a ride to work tomorrow?”

“A ride to work?” He frowned at her while attempting to pry the Husky's mouth off his knee. “I take the bus.”

“My car is better. It's cleaner and it's got fewer meth heads.”

“True...” He eyed her suspiciously. “I can't help feeling there's an ulterior motive to this.”

Pip assured him that there was no such thing, that she was simply a loving older sister with a desire to ease her baby brother's passage through life. And if, in the course of said easing, she happened to bump into a certain nasal-voiced radio host, well, that was sheer coincidence and wholly tangential to the performance of a good deed.

And if, she thought to herself, said radio host—who's been cited in the past for excellence in local investigative reporting—happens to present me with a starting block from which to launch my own investigation, then wouldn't that be a lovely surprise?

They played with the puppy for twenty more minutes before Pip insisted they head home. She had a scheme to weave.