Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 19)

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, she'd been forced to apply to her ex-boyfriend for help contacting Eddie. Now, she finds herself the unwitting focus of an inept intervention and learns that sometimes, despite all one's best efforts, one is simply too late. Please note, there's a joke in this one that's really pretty dirty. I apologize.

Pip sat down, less out of deference to Ron than because she was tired as hell. Actually going to class took a lot out of a person. Between her and the assembly sat a coffee table, and on that coffee table sat Ron's cell phone. She gazed at it longingly.

With an imperious nod, Ron gestured to the group. "We're gathered here this evening, Pip, because we're worried about you. You've been spiraling out of control for months. We've all seen it."

"Even Preston, who's met me twice?" said Pip. She knew the quickest way out of this makeshift intervention was through it, yet she couldn't keep her mouth shut.

Preston raised his hands defensively. "Dude, I came for the cat. I don't know anything about your drug problem."

Ron elbowed Preston and whispered something unintelligible.

"What?" said Preston.

"It's not a drug problem," Ron hissed.

"Oh. What is it, then?"

"Mental illness."

Eyes widening, Preston looked at Pip. "You're mentally ill!?" He turned back to Ron. "Why didn't you tell me? Is she dangerous? Are there weapons in the apartment? Tell me there aren't weapons in the apartment!"

Ron sighed. "It's not that kind of mental illness. Pip is incapable of forming attachments, probably as a result of her broken relationship with her father. She's also manipulative, easily bored, and emotionally unstable. She hurts the people she cares about-" He pulled an aggrieved face. "-and the people who care about her."

Everyone was silent as they waited for Pip's reaction. From the tension in the air, it was clear that some of them expected an explosion. Preston looked like he expected to be stabbed.

Pip was determined to defy those expectations. "Please, keep going," she said. "This is really fascinating."

"What did I ever do to you?" Ron cried. He grimaced and wrung his hands and generally emoted like someone angling for an Academy Award. "I've supported you. I've tried to make myself attractive to you. Why do you act like you're dying inside every time I touch you?"

Pip shrugged. "Because I don't want to have sex."

This caused a murmur of consternation. Adam looked especially disturbed. 

"Pip," he said, "you have to understand. To Ron, sex is love."

"What do you know, Adam?" Pip shot back. "To you, an unsolicited hump against a passed-out body is love."

There was more murmuring. After a few moments, Pete's voice rose above the commotion: "I know why she doesn't want sex."

Everyone fell silent and looked at him. Pip huffed disdainfully.

"Why are you getting involved, Pete?" she asked. "Is this because I wouldn't give you a ride the other day?"

"That," said Pete, "plus what you did to my ceiling, and the fact that I know you're getting your kicks with that British guy off the radio."

There were scattered gasps as Pip's guts did an interpretive dance in her abdomen. Pete raised his chin and fixed her with a sanctimonious smirk.

"I didn't say anything before," he explained, "because I needed you to give me rides, and I knew you wouldn't if I ratted you out. But I figure it doesn't matter anymore." He turned to Ron. "She's having an affair with Charles Shreve. I saw then together at a cafe."

Ron's face was steadily going purple. "Charles Shreve?"  he snarled through gritted teeth. "That pretentious little prick from M.P.R.? The one you've been in love with for two years?"

"I'm not in love with him," Pip said. There were other allegations--both explicit and implicit--that she might have addressed, but she found herself too angry to do so. Let them think what they wanted about her and Charles. What did it matter, anyway?

Ron was shaking with rage. "Apparently that hasn't kept you from fucking him." 

Pip cringed at the crassness of his phrasing.

"Just tell me one thing," Ron continued. Pip tried to guess what the question would be.

How long has it been going on? That was a possibility.

How could you do this to me? That was plausible too.

Did you ever love me? A bit melodramatic, but if there was one thing Ron had proven in the past few minutes, it was that he wasn't above melodrama.

Ron, it seemed, was also keen on defying expectations. Never in her most cynical daydreams could Pip have imagined what he said next:

"Did he put it in your ass?"

Once it was out there, it was the least surprising thing in the world. Of course that was his main concern. Ron, for whom sex was not only love but also a measurement of masculine self-worth, couldn't handle the thought of someone else broaching territory he'd never been permitted to explore. Pip almost burst out laughing.

"No," she said. "Don't be silly."

For one brief moment, Ron looked relieved.

"He's British," Pip continued. "He put it in my arse."

The assembly cried out in horror as Ron leapt to his feet. "GET OUT!" he roared. "GET OUT AND DON'T COME BACK!

Pip remained seated. "I need a number off your cell phone."

"Well, you're not getting it, you cold-hearted bitch! I don't owe you any favors. I brought you here to try to talk some sense into you, and what do I get in return? A stab in the back! You're unbelievable, Pip!"

Pip glanced at Ron's cell phone, then at Ron. He met her gaze with a forbidding twist of his lips. 

Don't you dare, his expression seemed to say.

Pip dared. Without warning, she surged forward and snatched the phone off the table. Ron shouted and dove for her, but his grasping hands caught only air. She darted backward, twisting toward the front door. As she lunged for the knob, Ron shouted after her:

"Fine! Call Eddie! It won't make any difference!"

Pip's heart stuttered in her chest. Only adrenaline kept her moving forward.

"I know what you're up to!" Ron yelled. "I don't care! I know for a fact you're going to be too late!"

Pip slammed the door shut behind her and sprinted all the way to the bus station. She jumped aboard the first bus she saw, not caring that it would take her halfway across town in the wrong direction. Only when the bus had pulled away from the curb did she find and dial Eddie's number.

"Eddie," she panted when he picked up. "It's Pip. I have something important to ask you."

****

"How did he sound?" Charles asked for the fourth time that morning.

Pip shook her head and undid her seat belt. "Not good. He was barely coherent." She thought for a moment. "I wonder if that's what Ron meant by 'too late.' Maybe Eddie's too far gone to be of any use to us."

"Only one way to find out," Charles said. He undid his own seat belt, and he and Pip climbed out of the car.

It was only 8:30, but the Kerry team pep rally was in full swing. Charles had to give his name to the secretary twice. The first time, his voice was drowned out by rabid hurrahs.

"I'm from M.P.R.," he said. "I'm here to interview Eddie Schulz. I'll only need a few minutes of his time."

The secretary--a tanned twenty-something with red lipstick and a bleach-blonde pompadour--made a face. "Eddie Schulz doesn't work here anymore. Try him at home."

Eddie didn't have a home. He lived at the office. Pip hadn't been able to parse a lot of their last conversation, but she'd managed to glean that much. She nudged Charles in the ribs and muttered out of the side of her mouth: "She's lying."

Charles gave a nearly imperceptible nod. "Do you mind if we talk to some of your other employees?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he strolled out of the waiting room and into the conference room where the pep rally was taking place. Pip followed him.

"Actually we do mind," the secretary hollered, and started after them. "Excuse me. Excuse me!"

Confusion broke out among the rally participants as Charles and Pip strode through the room. Larry Guyde himself was standing in front of the bleachers, and he made a grab for Charles as he walked past.

"What do you think you're doing?" the manager demanded.

"Eddie!" Pip called. "We're here! Where are you?"

There was no reply. At a gesture from Pip, Charles left the conference room and made his way down a corridor, at the end of which was Larry Guyde's office. Pip rushed ahead of Charles and flung the door open.

"Eddie!" she said. "Are you in-"

She halted abruptly, causing Charles to collide with her back. For several moments, she stood in silence, unable to comprehend the scene before her. When the facts finally registered, they filled her stomach with bile and her eyes with tears.

"Oh my God," she whispered.

The sofa upon which she'd last seen Eddie lying was stained brown with drying blood. On the floor in front of it were a mass of equally bloody blankets, a half-full glass of water, and a cell phone. There was no sign of a body--presumably it had been carried away and disposed of. These few soiled items, then, were the only remaining testament to Eddie's existence. 

Ron had been right. They were too late.