Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 6)

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes, Graphic Violence

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip had met with her new associate Charles to discuss their fledgling murder investigation. Now, Pip receives a call from her boyfriend, Ron. What appears at first to be a pedestrian request will lead her to an important and macabre discovery. Gore and some disturbing themes. As this is my first week on the new Saturday update schedule, tentatively titled Serial Saturdays, I've made this installment twice as long as usual. Hooray!

Ron told Pip nothing over the phone. Indeed, their conversation was painfully prosaic. He asked her to pick him up in Francia, one of the new developments in South Martell. When asked why, he said only that work had ended for the day and that the sales manager was late in picking the team members up.

“You could try calling him,” Pip suggested. She had no desire to go to South Martell, a dreary conglomerate of nondescript, cookie-cutter houses full of nondescript, cookie-cutter people. Martell's elite—as much as a town like Martell could be said to possess an elite—had turned it into a far-right-wing playground. The first time Pip had parked there, the word feminists on her FEMINISTS FOR CHANGE bumper sticker had been crossed out and replaced with the word lesbians. The second time, the word change had met the same fate. Her bumper sticker now read LESBIANS FOR LESBIANS which, while not an inherently offensive sentiment, nevertheless hinted at South Martell's problematic social milieu.

“He's not answering his phone,” Ron said. “Just get here, will you?”

His voice sounded strained. That was interesting. Ron almost never sounded that way. Demanding, yes. Querulous, definitely. But he didn't hold back when he was upset, which was what a strained tone implied. Obviously, there was something he wasn't comfortable saying over the phone. For this reason more than any other, Pip decided to do as he asked.

****

Only when she arrived at the scene did she realize what she'd actually signed up for. Ron had led the other four members of his team to believe that she would be chauffeuring them to their own homes, which were spread over an area of thirty square miles. Pip opened her mouth to protest, but Ron silenced her with a glare. Pip glowered. Her boyfriend had a knack for putting her in awkward situations, the kind from which one couldn't escape without looking like a selfish asshole.

It was a gross injustice, made grosser by the fact that, when it came to assholes, Ron's co-workers were the genuine article.

“Penelope, gurl,” cried Andrea, a squat red-head who habitually addressed Pip in what she no doubt considered an 'urban' accent. “Thank you so much for picking us up. We wouldna axed you, except your boy told us you'd be down.”

“She's down,” said Ron, shabbily resplendent in his second-hand business suit. “It's not like she has anything better to do.”

I have everything better to do, Pip thought. She would have said it aloud, had she not been interrupted by a tall blonde boy in brown pinstripe.

“Long time no see,” said Pinstripe Boy, whose name was Eddie. He was heavily animated, with wide eyes, trembling nostrils, and a mouth half-paralyzed in a painful rictus. Ron had told Pip once that Eddie's official job title was Positivity Emissary. Pip thought that was horrific. Eddie, however, appeared to take it very seriously. Even now, he was seizing Pip's hand and wringing it numb. “So, what do you say, huh? You thought about it? You gonna do a ride-along with us? Let us show you all the fun you can have working for Kerry Vacuums? I'm sure you've been pleased with all the money Ron is making. Let me tell you: anyone can find success selling vacuums! It all comes down to positivity.”

Positivity,” the others echoed.

“We could really use you,” said Preston, a ruddy ex-Marine in too-tight Dockers. “We get certain customers, you know, who feel more comfortable buying from someone who looks like them.”

“Tall?” said Pip. She knew he didn't mean tall—of course she did—but there was only so much she could take.

Preston's smile faltered. “Well, no...”

“Flat-chested?”

“Er...”

“Oh!” Pip widened her eyes in mock recognition. “I know. You mean...” She gestured vaguely at her face.

“Yeah,” said Preston, sighing in relief.

“Brown-eyed.”

Realizing his relief had been premature, Preston looked devastated. “No.”

“Pip, quit being a bitch,” said Ron. “In fact, let's all shut up and get in the car. The sooner we get out of here, the better.”

Pip's interest was once again piqued. “Why?” she asked. “What's the rush?”

“The vibe around here just isn't positive,” Eddie cut in. “These homes look nice, but most of them are Bad Credit. I wouldn't be surprised if there were Foreclosed signs on half these lots within a few months.” He chuckled. “Needless to say, we don't want to do business with B.C. folks. They've got bigger problems than dirty floors.”

“Right,” said Ron. “We're wasting our time here.”

“Yeah,” agreed Andrea. “Plus there's a dead body in that house.”

A horrified silence fell over the group.

Pip's heart hammered in her chest.

“Are you serious?” she said.

“No,” Eddie said, too quickly. “She isn't.”

“Which house? Where? When did you find it?”

Preston clapped a hand over Andrea's mouth but failed to prevent her raising her index finger. “Mmfm-nmf,” she grunted, pointing at a tan mini-mansion half a block away.

In the space of a single breath, Pip was turning and racing toward the house. A second later, Ron set out after her.

“Pip!” he called. “Stop.”

“I can't believe you guys found a dead body,” she shouted back over her shoulder. “Why didn't you tell me? Did you call the police?

Stop, I said.”

“You're supposed to report these things, you know. You could get in big trouble, fleeing the scene of a crime.”

“Go in that house, and you're dead to me.”

“Funny choice of words. How'd you end up in a dead person's house anyway? Who opened the door? Her ghost?”

Ron was panting now. Much as he maligned Pip's full thighs, he was far chubbier than she. A steady diet of Mountain Dew and online gaming would do that to anyone. “Pip...I swear you better...fucking...fucking stop, or I'll...I'll take your car. I'll fucking...fucking leave you here. I sw...swear.”

“Here!” cried Pip, lobbing her car keys at him. “Be my guest.”

As he stopped and knelt to retrieve the keys, Pip picked up the pace, surging forward like an ocean breaker and throwing herself upon the front door of the house. It was, she discovered, slightly ajar, which explained how Ron and company had been able to get in. Quick as winking, she slipped inside and slammed the door behind her.

****

The lights were all on. The morbid part of Pip's brain found this disappointing. Typically, one entered a murder house expecting shadowy gloom, not a well-lit foyer with large dormers and cheap hardwood. There was no blood on the floor, no cobwebs in the corners. Apart from a heap of dirty laundry and one corner of the room, everything appeared to be in order.

Pip crossed the foyer and went into the adjoining living room.

Her disappointment evaporated when she crossed the threshold. There was no more space for it inside her, nor for any related emotions. Shock crowded out expectation, curiosity, and rational thought alike. Pip stumbled to a halt as the air went out of her lungs.

“Christ,” she whispered.

The room was a mess: a span of stained white carpet fenced in upon three sides by towering twelve-foot walls.

The northernmost wall was dominated by a white-stone fireplace, its mantel denuded of photographs by someone's wandering hands. The pictures lay on the carpet now, or in the fireplace itself. There were even some charred scraps on the hearth, as if someone had recently burned their least favorite images.

The east wall contained a wet bar and a sliding glass door. The former was untouched, the latter cracked and smeared with blood.

The west wall was the most troubling. It was unreasonably large, its off-white monotony broken only by a scattering of mass-produced art prints. Its proportions were, if anything, improved by the three-foot-high letters scrawled across it—assuming, that is, one could ignore their suggestive crimson color.

The message read as follows: BRRM BRRM BRRM

Pip felt sick. She beat a clumsy retreat, stumbling over another threshold and into a modern kitchen. Something caught her in the small of her back. She turned to find her way barred by a granite island covered in sheets of notebook paper.

Though part of Pip wanted to flee the premises, a larger part understood the connection between this and her dead neighbor lady. It was encapsulated in that single onomatopoeia. The same noise the naked woman had made. The fact of that connection was enough to root Pip to the spot. She couldn't leave until she'd investigated properly.

She would begin her investigation with the papers, which contained both writing and illustrations. Pip bent to look at them. They were difficult to read. The words were sloppy and made little sense.

bugs live in yr carpet eat dust, said one. wen you sleep they poo in yr mouth

A second expressed sentiments along a similar vein: must vacum the dust & bugs so dont get sick

A third read: vacum stop working five maybe six days – cant mak vacum work – cant eat or slep if vacum dont work – getting sick

A fourth: cant remember name cant remember face cant rember nothing, memorys inside vacum

A fifth: vacum clogged w/ memories

A sixth: get them out

When Pip placed the papers in what she thought to be their likely chronological order, the overall composition read like the diary of a rapidly deteriorating Alzheimer's patient. The handwriting got steadily worse, becoming more labored but less precise. The accompanying illustrations—pictures of vacuum cleaners, mostly, but also renditions of bugs, dust, and disembodied appendages—showed a similarly degenerative quality. The latter boasted an eerie caption: y dont they fit

Pip heard a creak. Someone had opened a door somewhere. Not wishing to be ousted just yet, Pip set the papers down and tiptoed into the next room, which happened to be the dining room. That was where she found the corpse.

Of course, it could only be called a corpse in the loosest sense of the term. It was more of an assemblage of body parts, arms and legs and ears and buttocks and intestines stewing in a coagulating broth of blood-tinged fluid. Pip saw by the pile of auburn hair and the blue panties that the parts had once belonged to a woman; the same woman, evidently, though they were as mismatched as the neighbor lady's had been.

Next to the body lay an object she'd often heard of but seldom seen: a Kerry Deluxe Vacuum Cleaning and Filtration machine. It was a canister-type vacuum, a gleaming silver pod connected to a flexible hose connected to one of six different brush heads. The device was tipped on its side, and the door on its underside was open. It swung away from Pip, preventing her from seeing the machine's innards.

Pip squinted at the door. There was something wrong with it; some faint luminosity surrounding it and spilling out onto the carpet. She got down onto her hands and knees to take a better look.

That was when the blow fell, an expertly-placed chop to the base of her skull. By the time the impact registered, Pip was already pitching forward, her face striking the carpet as the world went gray.