Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 17)

Warning: Mature Themes

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, she'd had a mysterious telephone conversation with Eddie, Kerry's positivity-emissary-turned-informant. Now, she moves into her brother's apartment and gives Charles visions of greener pastures.

Duncan's roommate was less than welcoming. He swept a critical eye over Pip and her backpack.

“I don't approve of the C-word,” he informed Pip.

Pip's eyebrows shot up. “The C-word?”

“Cohabitation,” he clarified.

“Oh,” she said. “That C-word.”

“I'm a man of God. Men of God don't knowingly invite sin into their household.”

“Steve, Duncan is my brother. And you're you. What sort of 'sin' do you imagine we'll get up to?”

“You know...” Steve's eyes shifted from side to side, and he lowered his voice. “Humping.”

“Who's humping?” asked Duncan, sidling into the living room from stage right. He leaned an elbow on Steve's head, a maneuver that annoyed Steve and amused Duncan to no end. The two boys were a study in contrast. While Duncan was tall and dark, Steve was petite and pasty. While Duncan's head was topped with a curly black puff of hair, Steve's was bleach-blonde and balding. While a glance at Duncan might put one in mind of an Olympic high jumper, Steve looked like a bipedal Chihuahua with jaundice. Most importantly, while Duncan's personal philosophy verged on low-level hedonism, Steve was religious.

Really, really religious.

“I'm a man of God,” he repeated. “An unmarried man of God. I can't share a roof with an unmarried woman.”

“Sure you can,” said Duncan. “We'll just lock her in the bathroom.”

“Careful now,” said Pip. “I'm on the rag. You might still be able to smell my vagina.”

“Urrgh!” Steve turned green and rushed out of the room. Pip and Duncan stared after him, giggling when they heard his bedroom door slam.


While Duncan helped her set up the sofa bed, Pip filled him in on the previous six hours: the dinner with Charles, the opening of the vacuum, the smash-up at her apartment, and the enigmatic call from Eddie. Duncan was inclined to chalk Eddie's ramblings up to a diseased mind.

“He's crazy, Pip,” Duncan said. “They're all crazy. Too much corporate bullshit, not enough veggies.”

“He really is dying though, Duncan,” argued Pip. “Larry Guyde says so.”

Duncan was still incredulous. Pip could tell by the sarcastic way he unfolded the sheets.

“Look, I left the recording with Charles,” she said. “You can hear it tomorrow if that's the only thing that will convince you.”

“I doubt even that will do the trick.” Duncan spread the sheets on the sofa and fluffed a threadbare pillow. “Honestly, Pip—it's one thing to say that Kerry is murdering people and that the papers are covering it up. It's another to imply that they're sending our hair and skin to another dimension.”

Pip fell silent. Her mind stuttered and reshuffled its contents as Duncan finished with the sofa.

“That last thing,” she said. “Say that last thing again.”

“Hm?” said Duncan. “The part about sending our hair and skin to another dimension? That's what Eddie was getting at, wasn't it? Why else would he get so hung up on the exact contents of vacuum cleaner bags?”

Pip fell silent a second time. Seconds ticked by. Duncan waved a hand in front of her face.

“Sis,” he said.

“Y-e-sssss,” she said, slowly. “Hair and skin. Genetic material. The original Eddie.” She tapped her chin. “Y-e-sssss.”

“Are you going to tell me what you're yes-ing about, or do I have to lock you in the bathroom for real?”

“N-o-oo.” Pip flopped down on the sofa. “It needs some time to stew. Good night, Duncan.”

Duncan was only momentarily taken aback by her abrupt dismissal. With one final warning (“Steve has the TV programmed to switch on 700 Club automatically at 6:30 in the morning”), he turned off the light and went to bed.

Pip didn't sleep that night.


The next morning, she was forced to take the bus instead of driving. Her recent spotty attendance at work had left her wallet temporarily light, and gas wasn't getting any cheaper. She arrived at the M.P.R. offices even earlier than Duncan.

But not earlier than Charles. The Lead Reporter of Martell Investigates (or MR ASS EATER, as the placard outside his office read) was slumped behind his laptop when Pip burst through the door.

“The manager of Kerry Vacuums is George Luegner's brother-in-law!” she cried.

Charles blinked once. Then he leapt from his seat and rushed toward her. In his excitement, he picked her up and spun her around, showering her with superlatives. In her alarm, she punched him repeatedly in the shoulder. An onlooker would have been hard-pressed to say whether they were celebrating or training for an M.M.A. fight.

“How did you-?” Charles asked, inarticulate with jubilation.

“Eddie called me last night,” she said. “I think he wanted to unburden himself before he died.”

“Right then. Looks like I need to speak with Eddie.”

“But I spoke with him already.”

“I'm talking about a proper interview. Something on-record that I can use to build my case.”

Pip furrowed her brow at that. It was the first time she'd ever heard their efforts referred to as Charles' case.

Mistaking her confusion for disapproval, Charles hastened to add: “I'd give you full credit for your contributions, of course.”

“It's not that,” said Pip. “It's just—you really think we could build a case out of this? Like, a proper investigative report that we could put on the radio and present to the authorities and stuff?”

“Sure. Isn't that the point?”

“I don't know.” Pip shrugged. “I just kind of wanted to solve a mystery.”

Charles gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “We'll do that. But we'll also make public radio history. I'm finally going to give my series the conclusion it deserves.” He grinned. “Who knows? Maybe the bigger affiliates will take notice, and I'll be able to leave this Midwest backwater for greener pastures.”

Something about the phrase Midwest backwater left a bad taste in Pip's mouth. Sure, Martell was a hole—a hole where vacuum companies murdered with impunity, even—but it was the hole she'd grown up in. She didn't know if she'd feel comfortable in a place with a fully functioning infrastructure supporting fully functional residents. That Charles craved such a life made her feel melancholy.

Suddenly, she wanted to be elsewhere.

“I'll try to set something up with Eddie,” she said as she turned to leave. “Bye, Charlie.”

She walked out of the building.