– Morning, constable. Fancy seeing you here.
– Morning, ma’am. Yeah, I do seem to be pulling duty on most of these, don’t I?
– You think he’s another one, then?
– Yes, ma’am.
– And what brings you to this conclusion, Feathers? Fancy yourself one of those chaps on that show, with the miserable looking bird, and the old stripper…?
– Um, no ma’am. I’m afraid it seems obvious, once you see his face.
– Hm. Okay, I guess I had better have a look, eh? Carry on.
Feathers led her over to the spot where the body had been discovered. She hadn’t had any breakfast yet, and was dimly aware of a light gurgling in her stomach – generally, if she was forewarned that she would be seeing a corpse, she tended to avoid eating anything.
However, if the young officer was right, she needn’t have bothered with caution – her irritable bowel kicked up at, among other things, the proximity of blood or distress, and so far this case hadn’t left any evidence of either.
– So no-one has moved him?
Feathers shook his head, a concise movement. Bless ‘im, she thought, he’s trying to impress me. Every time. She preferred to think that it was her looks that did it, but truthfully, she knew that it was all her reputation.
She circled the body tentatively. A man, caucasian, dressed casually and dead on his stomach – difficult to tell from this angle, but probably somewhere in his thirties – his hair was thin and brown, lots of grey, but the skin on his fingers and neck looked too smooth for him to be all that old. His legs splayed out behind him goofily. One arm stretched out in front of him, palm down, settled on an arcing bed of rocks – probably put there by some overpaid landscape gardener trying to give an impression of wilderness in the city centre park – and the other was apparently concealed underneath his chest somewhere. His head rested on his right cheek, raised ever so slightly by a bump in the still dewey dirt.
Expecting carnage, she had arrived on the scene of what looked like an overreaction to an ordinary mishap – he could almost be mistaken for someone who had stumbled over while trying to catch a ball, and had found himself so comfortable that he’d decided to take a nap. For all that, the man was most definitely dead – she had known it from the second that she saw him.
It was something about the stillness of him. She had failed to explain this to anyone who hadn’t seen death before – to say that the lack of movement was so utterly obvious always sounded somehow daft. But it was the one thing that you could be certain of, when you couldn’t be certain of god, love, money nor power – life moved. It was the one thing that truly defined it, and she had found nothing else in all her years that was more definitively true.
Life was movement. Even an unconscious body carried an obvious vibration. Being human meant being instinctively able to recognise that vibration from birth, and the absence of it was a palpable thing.
So then, to the face.
And yes, she was pretty sure that Feathers was right. This was the same killer.
– So, intrepid young officer… it would seem, on first impressions, that you may be right.
– Hm. Yes ma’am.
– I’m assuming that you have been following this case.
– Yes, ma’am. To be honest, all of us have been. There isn’t ever a lot going on in Southerton. Even when you don’t consider the… peculiarities of the case.
– Yes… Uh… like the lack of an apparent cause of death. And the way that the killer has managed to remove the victims’ finger and toe prints, and their scars, without any obvious trace of solvents or other chemicals.
– Well, then, an expert. How about a test. What can you tell me about the victim… not him now. Him… before? Before this dreadful deed was done to them.
– Well, ma’am…
The young man shuffled on his feet, suddenly uncertain. Aaand there’s the discomfort, she recognised, hot on the heels of the awe. She wanted to believe that it was the corpse that caused the shift in his reaction, but really she knew that it was all her personality.
– Go on.
– … Well, he’s probably going to turn out to be… troubled. One way or another, all of them have been.
– Yes. Either a lost wife, or a dead child. Insurmountable business or money problems… Health?
– Correct. So far, each of our eight victims has, I think it is fair to say, been emotionally in the shit. A bit depressed. In the doldrums. It has, in fact, been the only thing we’ve found to connect them. Women, children, pensioners… Upper class tosspots, underclass scumbags. Some in counselling, others simply drunks, or an emotional drain on friends and family.
– It’s okay, Feathers… They are still, of course, all equals under the law. Every one of them a beautiful, individual, dirty snowflake. What I’m saying, though, is that each was probably about a day or two shy of being a suicide instead of a homicide.
– Yes ma’am, I suppose.
– You suppose? So you don’t feel that whoever did whatever it was that they did to this poor unfortunate, it wasn’t practically a kindness?
– Well… It probably was, yes.
– But you don’t look like that sits very well with you, constable?
– No, ma’am. I suppose not. I believe that however hard life gets, death is supposed to be harder.
– I agree. Every death we deal with, from accident to murder to misadventure, you can see it on their faces… no matter how much someone thinks that they want to die, they almost always go fighting death kicking and screaming. This –
She indicated the face of the man on the floor, and they both considered it closely.
– This is too easy. Everyone has the right to want to keep living, even if they can’t, don’t they?
– Yes, ma’am.
Feathers’ radio came alive with a burst of static, and he excused himself to respond to it, leaving her alone with the DB. She looked down at the man, and sighed. Well, then, you poor bastard, I wonder what your story is, and why you needed to die so badly.
She knew that everything that she and Feathers had said bore a lot of truth, but it was hard not to doubt yourself when you looked at that face, just like all the others.
Most people never get to smile like that, she thought, so content and happy.
It was hard to see the bad in it.
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