Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 4)

Warning: Mature Themes

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip had spent some time reflecting on her neighbor's grotesque fate. Now, she's going to blow the whole case wide open. She just needs to get her celebrity crush on board first. Warning for a slight bit of cheekiness halfway through. You'll know it when you read it.

“Are you sure this is it?” Pip asked, eying the office door.

“Read the sign,” Duncan said, and recited: “'CHARLES P SHREVE, HOST & LEAD REPORTER—MARTELL INVESTIGATES.'”

CHARLIE THE POOP MAN.” Pip read what was actually printed on the changeable placard.

For a moment, Duncan looked taken aback. Then he snickered.

“Oh, yeah. Forgot I did that. Hang on.” Nudging his sister aside, he busied himself rearranging the letters. “There. That's better.”

CHAS HAS ALL THE STD'S,” Pip read. She pondered this for a moment. “You're going to get fired, you know.”

Duncan scoffed. “What, a Wunderkind like me? I'd like to see them find another sound tech who knows how to flip a comma upside down to make an apostrophe. Anyway, I never get fired.”

This was frighteningly accurate. Duncan possessed the preternatural ability to land and hold down any job on which he set his sights, despite his lack of qualifications, irreverent attitude, and penchant for casual dickery. Maybe it was self-confidence that kept Duncan on any given payroll, or maybe—as Pip suspected in her darker moments—it was having a penis. No one short of God Herself was really qualified to speculate.

Duncan checked his watch. “I've got to get going. Are you really going to talk to my boss?”

“I really am,” said Pip. Then, with a lecherous hand gesture, she added: “Though we won't do much talking, if all goes according to plan.”

She giggled as Duncan did a spot-on impression of someone vomiting up a spleen.

“Do me a solid and spare me the details,” he said, and he left.

***

Pip stood in the empty hallway for several minutes, trying to work up her nerve. In her dreams, she'd pictured this encounter a thousand times.

Sometimes she would strut into the office in a power suit and four-inch heels. Surveying the office and its occupant with a proprietary air, she would clear her throat and announce: “I have a story for you, Mr. Shreve. Assuming you're man enough to report it.”

Other times, she would play up her youthful charm, cavorting through the door in a flouncy sundress. “Is this a bad time?” she would ask breathlessly. “Only, I'm in a terrible pickle, and I don't know where else to turn.”

Then there were her favorite times, the scenarios she'd picture when it was two o'clock in the morning and she couldn't sleep and the sight of Ron shagged out beside her began to rankle, and what was the harm, after all? Ron got to climax all the time, and Pip almost never—well, not never, but certainly never when Ron was involved—and hell, she was already halfway there in any case, and it wasn't cheating, was it, because it was only an index finger...

On these occasions, she would kick the door down, and Charles would rise to meet her. Clothing was cast aside in a hot rush of hands and mouths. A good deal of investigating ensued, but none of it was fit to report.

“Jeez,” Pip said aloud, running a hand over her damp forehead. This would never do.

If she was going to convince this man and utilize his services-

(Services, her mind whispered, teasing out the double entendre with hedonistic abandon. Pip shook her head to clear it.)

-if she was to have any prayer of recruiting him, she needed to be realistic. She'd never met Charles Shreve before, and anyway, he was twelve years her senior. This was a professional transaction and nothing more. Pip was reasonable enough to grasp that fact.

That didn't stop her heart from catapulting itself into her throat as she knocked on the door.

***

The word disappointment comes to us from the Middle French word desappointer, meaning “to remove from office.” The word in its modern sense, meaning “something which frustrates expectations,” was first employed by a novice monk in the year 1597.

This particular monk—Greggory, by name—was dismayed to learn that chastity was abstinence from sexual relations and not, in fact, one of those bugs that curls into a little ball when you poke it with a stick.

“Gosh,” said Gregory when one of his brothers explained it to him. “That's kind of a disappointment.”

Had Gregory been in Pip's position—nursed the same expectations, dreamed the same dreams, endured the same burden of an unspoken and unaccountable tendresse—had he done all that, and then walked into that office on that October morning and seen Charles Shreve standing there—then, and only then, would he have understood disappointment in all its devastating nuance.

He was smaller than she'd imagined, for one thing. The Charles of Pip's fantasies stood a strapping six-foot-two and could crush cantaloupes between his pectorals. The Charles of reality, meanwhile, was five-foot-eight and underfed, his meager body fat consolidating itself into an incipient pot belly. It was, Pip thought, the saddest little stomach she'd ever seen.

And the rest of him was even sadder.

Fingers like twigs. Legs like straws. Eyes squinting myopically behind a pair of black-framed reading glasses. And his hair—Pip fought the urge to avert her eyes and forced herself to look upon it—his hair was actually receding. The baldness was slight, certainly no worse than that afflicting any other thirty-four-year-old in a high-stress occupation. To Pip, though, it came as a terrible blow.

All right, Penelope, that's enough, her mother's voice scolded her. I didn't raise my children to be judgmental.

But he wasn't supposed to be like this! The realization that she'd nearly spoken the words aloud sent a jolt of shame down Pip's neck. Reeling in her runaway emotions, she reasoned with herself: she was no pin-up either. Her appearance, as Ron was always pleased to inform her, was a specialized taste, one few people would bother acquiring. Her hair was frizzy. Her teeth were crooked. Her jawline was dotted with acne. The overall impression conveyed by her features was one of overgrown pre-adolesence. She looked like a child who had reached the age of eleven and decided to stay there, spreading hips and budding breasts be damned.

There. Perspective. That was what she needed.

She looked at Charles again. This time, she mustered a smile.

“Hi, Mr. Shreve,” she said, and then stopped. For all he failed to live up to her night-time fantasies, he still made her feel shy.

Charles blinked at her. “Hello.”

There was a long pause.

“Can I help you with something?” asked Charles, and there it was. That trace of an English accent, almost undetectable under eighteen years of Martell drawl. That was what had first set Pip's heart aflame.

Pip found, to her consternation, that the last embers of that infatuation had yet to burn out. She blushed in spite of herself. “This is going to sound strange,” she said, “but-”

She stopped again. Why was this so hard? She'd never had this much trouble talking to Ron.

Another painfully long pause slipped by. Pip stared at Charles. Charles stared at Pip.

“Um,” said Charles.

“Someone killed the patchwork lady who lives upstairs!” Pip blurted out. Then she cringed. “Sorry. I told you it would sound strange.”

Charles pursed his lips. He removed his glasses, wiped them on his sweater, and popped them back onto his nose.

“Um,” he said again. “Well, then. This is going to sound even stranger.” He seemed to search for the correct turn of phrase. “I knew that you'd do this—er, that you'd say that—I mean, that you'd come here and talk. About murder. I knew you'd say something about murder.”

Now it was Pip's turn to indulge in some confused blinking. “Sorry?” she said.

“Right. Yeah. That was confusing. The thing is...” Charles hesitated. Then he looked her square in the eye and dropped a verbal bombshell. “I think I dreamed about you.”