Our Ghosts Read us Bedtime Stories: the inspector with a knife in the library

Our Ghosts Read us Bedtime Stories

by Rhonda Eikamp


3.) The inspector with a knife in the library

“Another faller, boss,” Kolpinski informed him.

McElroy crouched beside the junior officer examining the corpse, felt the pain in his knees. Like dice banging around in there. Snake-eyes you lose, age calling his number, though he wasn’t that old. Just bone-weary of it all. At least the body in front of Detective McElroy was a worse mess than he was. Head shattered to a purple pulp, the rest of the guy like a rag doll, most of the turquoise robe ripped away during the long fall down the shaft, probably by protruding objects: broken railings, flagpoles, dinosaur bones – hell, who knew what they got up to on the higher levels. McElroy used a handkerchief to tilt what was left of the corpse’s head and saw the crusted black slice along the throat.

“Wake up and smell your morning breath,” he told Kolpinski. “Mushhead here didn’t fall. He was thrown.” McElroy stood and stepped to the borough’s central shaft. “Someone getting rid of the evidence.” He gazed up into the hexagonal dark that yawned like a beast maw above and then peered down into the maelstrom of nothing below and as always it made him dizzy. Not good to contemplate the depths that exist both ways. A guy could lose his breakfast that way, which in McElroy’s case would be no loss – milky coffee and a filter-tip, thank you – but he pulled back before his stomach could make it reality.

“So murder,” Kolpinski mumbled.

No accelerating-at-9.81-m/s² shit, sherlock. McElroy was bored with all these corpses. The bounce factor, he called it. Bodies fell. If you hung around a shaft for an hour, you’d see at least two whistle past. Pure chance was going to throw one now and then against a balcony rail at just the right angle to land it on the level below. Splat. A college professor who’d helped McElroy on a case once had had a theory that if the levels were infinite, then the number of people tossed or offing themselves or just accidentally slipping must be infinite too, so that at some point further down every shaft must accrete into an unmoving bung of corpses. The detritus of death blocking itself up.

McElroy’d understood that. He knew from constipation.

“From how far up you think he come?” Kolpinski asked. From his crouch beside the corpse the junior officer gazed upward with his mouth open. He looked like a primitive from prehistoric times, told the shaft was a god.

McElroy shrugged. “Ever talk to Carson in pathology? He’s got this theory you can tell how far a body’s fallen. Something to do with the nitrogen in the blood.”

So it was boredom sucking the life from him. The city, laid out like a honeycomb, always the same, a logical labyrinth, nine million people – or six or eight, the census always vague on that – in their gray iterations, forever repeating their boring sins. Get that number of people together and you’d think he’d be able to find someone for himself. Her. The her. The woman of his dreams, an idea only, as non-existent as some stuffy professor’s theory. That’s what he needed. McElroy pulled a clementine from his pocket and began to peel it with a lino knife. Someone for everyone, they said, so why not for him. He felt her sometimes at night, when the beast’s maw was close, when he became its tongue, whipped about until he curled into a ball and screamed because the goddam bed was empty.

He was about to put a section in his mouth when Lopez ducked in from a side hall wearing a look.

“I’m busy,” McElroy said.

“Hate to take you away from your first love –” Lopez glanced at the body and rubbed his nose – “but patrol just picked up this nutjob wandering the trash hexes. Almost dead, had nothing but a book with her. Kept going on about some murder. Said she come down through the empty zone. Captain wants you to talk to her.”

McElroy put his knife away. He’d have to take a look at her.
So boring.



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