the Pandora Dilemma. Chapter 2 – unedited
The smell of vomit was the first thing that came at him. It’s something you can’t get used to. Mainly that’s because it’s never the same smell. Today it was garlic and carrots and maybe a hint of a pesto. Somebody went to Maciano’s. What moron would go to an italian place in mid-shift? What moron cop would go eat when they walk the homicide beat?
Finley grimaced as he watched his footfalls. A cold deli sandwich washed down with some pepto. If you can eat at all, that’s it or at least it should be. Come on, boys. What do they teach you in the academy these days?
There was something else though. Something meaty and thick. It didn’t feel like it belonged with the other smells. It felt foreign and somehow alive as if all the others were stale by comparison.
“Detective Thomas, take a look at this.”
He looked up. That’s all it took, a momentary lapse in focus. He felt the slippery squish as he stepped right onto what very well could have been a meatball, a few hours digested.
He didn’t say a word. He didn’t react to it. He was called and he had to answer. He kept walking, hoping he wasn’t leaving any stains behind. The carpet in the front room was immaculate. So clean that he couldn’t imagine anything having happened. He had a hard time figuring out what could have been so unsettling that someone coated the floor in spaghetti sauce.
Experience told him that he was going to find the answer.
It was just down the hall and to the left.
It was in the bathroom.
“Hey, Grant. What do I have to do, huh? It’s been a couple months. The name’s Finley, Finley. Call me Fin, Finny, anything but… Detective… ”
When he saw the bathroom he knew there was no reason to worry about leaving stains. It wasn’t stained, it was drenched; drenched and red.
“Alright, Fin. I’ll be sure not to call you Detective Fuck.”
Grant Meston was a young old man of 30 and had just been crapped out of the academy on a late whim of life-altering choices. He was new to the precinct. He’d come up the ranks thanks to his age; when you’re a young cop it takes longer. It’s not because people don’t pay you the favors. It’s because you’re stupid. At least more stupid than you will be. Grant here flew up to Detective at an ungodly speed so he still had some green left on him. Most of the guys were comfortable enough to make jokes and shoot the shit. Grant usually wasn’t. If he made you laugh you were likely in a dark situation. He did it to clear the air. Maybe it was a nervous tick, maybe his way of bringing some lightness and levity. Either way it was often just annoying or, even worse, alarming. Last time Grant made a joke there were about a couple hundred .357 rounds whizzing above their heads. That didn’t set such a great precedent.
Finley’s mouth closed. He was trying to gather some kind of moisture in the newly barren desert of his throat. How could there be that much blood?
Was that even blood?
Grant waved him in. A singularly inconsiderate motion because there was no place to be without disturbing something. The whole place was dripping with someone. Someone he could only assume had placed the frantic, screeching emergency call.
“It wasn’t a bomb, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Grant lifted his eyes and gave a sly smile. Finley knew it wasn’t a bomb. No signs of combustion anywhere; no black carbon marks. The damn windows and mirror were still intact. They had a scarlet tint but they were intact.
Besides, there wouldn’t be as much of her left had there been any kind of explosion. Explosions had heat transfer. Most of the liquid would vaporize. He’d learned that when he was a kid. Poor Bosco.
That didn’t help anything here. Explosion or not, she was dead. There was no coming back from being, well… everywhere.
“Why don’t you leave the conjecture for the Scene Investigators, alright? Stick with what you know. What’s her name?”
“From what we can tell, it’s the lady of the house. A Ms. Laperty. We’ve got a pink robe and a bottle of her prescription in the person puddle so it was her at least.
“Finley, I haven’t seen this much blood with just a single body. Ever.”
“Well, I can’t actually say that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look around. Can you see a friggin body?”
He was right. What was falling off the faucet and the mirrors and, oh god, the ceiling looked like ground sirloin soaked in beet juice.
That’s when it hit him. Or, at least, that’s when he let himself notice. That thick meaty smell that had been masked under the puke outside. It wafted up and slammed his face like a sucker punch from an Angelduster.
“That… that smell.”
“Yeah. Either puke or shut up cause you’re not going to get used to it.”
He lurched. Not an expressly graceful move for such a tall guy. He thought it made him look like a big baby, teetering on new legs.
“What in the hell is it?”
Finley leaned over, looking at the miraculously clean carpet in the hallway. Some invisible force keeping the creeping crimson from spilling out. That same inexplicable field was somehow stopping his own insides from singing ‘Hello! Ma Baby’ and dancing out of the room. He breathed once or twice and then returned to his business.
Grant noticed but didn’t joke. He’d done pretty much the same thing when he came in. Only difference is that he’d hurled. He shouldn’t have had Italian.
There was a shuffling in the hallway. Some tiny little creature was shuffling down the corridor with too many things in his arms and not enough help.
“That’s rotting flesh with a side of magnesium and sulfur. Why’d someone bomb the – holy shit!”
The voice was small and came from under Finley’s arm. CSI Terrance Howler. An alright guy from all points except one. He was a know-it-all, of course, that was in the job description.
“It was a lady, Howler, not holy –
Finley put his finger out. The jokes were done. He continued where Grant was forced to leave off.
“No bomb, Terry. Not that we can see, at least. Poor girl just fell apart.”
Terrance was staring at the ceiling, dodging the drips and drops of pieces and parts. He pushed his glasses back onto his face. How they could have fallen when they were being held on by the gravitational pull working against those nine pound lenses eluded Fin. Howler was the essence of geek, right down to the pocket protector.
The essence of geek, right down to always being right.
Grant rose, looking like a cat stuck in an ice flow; not wanting to get wet but sure as hell wanting to get the hell out of there. He made a couple faux steps but nothing caught his fancy. Terrance couldn’t help but to snicker. He went ahead and answered my question when he saw my impatience.
“You heard me. ‘Bomb’ is written all over this thing. A lot of low powered explosives, I’m guessing. Oh wow! Look at this!”
Terrance had turned towards the only semisolid mass in the room. It had rolled or landed or dropped under the sink and seemed partially stuck on the wall. From the door, Finley thought it bore a striking resemblance to a brain.
“But we haven’t found any evidence that would suggest…”
“Eh, you wouldn’t. That’s not your job.”
Finley couldn’t argue there. Being a detective wasn’t like the old stories. There were no huge deductions or great wing chairs and a large pipe. Sherlock wasn’t really the detective, not by today’s standards. Nowadays a detective is the grunt worker, the one who goes out before and comes back after the real thinkers. That’s what Watson was. Fat old Watson.
And here they stood, two fat old Watsons watching Mr. Holme’s hand collect the evidence and put it in the little bags. That’s what Howler was, the hand and the eyes. He saw and grabbed. The lab upstate was Holmes; no pipe, no hat, no ridiculously innocent coke addiction; just the deduction, gigahertz of it.
Finley motioned for Grant to get out of the hand’s way. They walked back into the front room. A couple lazy beat cops jumped off the covered couches in their wake. A nap on the clock? Normally he’d throw some shit-fit. Today, anyone who’d been back there and saw the incredible exploding lady deserves some kind of rest though. God knows he sure did.
He was a breath away from plopping down on the cushions himself until some pimply faced academia nut rushed through the door.
“err. We got a prollum.”
By god, they had a ‘prollum’ alright.
Some old bat in a red robe running around the street. She was screaming to high heaven and waving some contraption in the air.
Finley and Grant met the other young officers on the sidewalk. They’d been in the group in charge of canvasing the neighborhood, asking if there’d been any evidence of foul play; the usual question of “Did you see anything?”. Most were still out but at least three of them were trying to talk the crazy down. One was nursing a bloody wound. So many foul words were spewing out his mouth it might as well have been connected to a sewer line.
“Ok, what’s this about?”
Finley’s voice never had enough authority. His eyes were where he kept the coldness and the power but unless you were looking right at him it was a little hard to feel intimidated. The young guys were all so startled right then, though. They answered straight away in some kind of random unison, all saying something different. None of it sounding intelligent. He just picked the one closest, the one with the gash on his face, and gripped his shoulder.
“What happened, son?”
“Dunno, Fin. Damn bitch came down and asked what’s goin on in the house. When I told her she just bowl over and start hack’in somethin up on the road! I tried ta help her, ya know, ta see what was wrong. She just start swingin at me, man! I don’t even know what she hit me with!”
Something was wrong with her. Finley didn’t have to have some hunch or strange feeling. It was written all over her face. It was dripping all over her face.
It was streaming from her nose more than anything but even her ears were stained. She was leaking. That, more or less, was the only way Finley could put it in the report. The old woman was leaking.
“Ma’am, please calm down. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Grant had stepped up. Not like him but it was days like that day that could either change people or make them show the real person underneath.
“Ma’am. Put the…”
Something in the lady’s head bubbled. It just dented outwards for a moment and then settled back. She didn’t seem to notice. She just went on screaming at the pavement.
“Izt AIRING PART!”
Grant looked confused. Finley looked confused. It was damn confusing.
“Mah HAAAD! IGNOARKS!”
New streams of blood burst from her eyes. Torrents of the sticky red liquid flushed out of her mouth with every nonsensical word. Finley hadn’t noticed before but she was almost rhyming. She was some horror story written by Doctor Seuss.
Finley grabbed his cell. The ambulance that had been called in had left more than an hour ago. They hadn’t been needed. Ambulances are for people, not pools.
“This is Detective Finley Thomas. We’re going to need an ambulance on the corner of…”
He turned and craned his neck to see the street sign. Fortune and Luck. They were on the goddamn corner of Fortune drive and Luck avenue. He shot a gaze up to the gibbering, mumbling woman swinging her blender in the street and caught her just in time to duck the appliance. He had no time for irony.
She had flung it right at his face, there was no mistaking. Her eyes widened with madness as she saw him dodge. She let out a piercing scream that rattled Finley’s teeth.
“Ambulance on the corner of Fortune drive and Luck Avenue. NOW!”
The woman ran to the sidewalk to her left. She grabbed some kid’s discarded bike and threw it right at Fin. He ducked behind a car. In the ruckus he could still hear the muffled voice of the emergency dispatcher. He’d left his phone open on the ground and she was, of course, confused. She had so many other useless questions to ask him from her script. Finley didn’t know if she was new but he could guess.
“Does anyone know her name?”
“No, Fin. She just came out of the house down the street. 3143, I think.”
A nameless crazy bitch tossing shit at a detective while she squirts blood from her face; if that’s not your definition of fun then you’re probably sane. Finley was sane, he knew that because he wasn’t enjoying any of it. But Grant… Grant had this half smile on his face like there was going to be a punchline. Grant was right. The punchline was coming.
“Listen, lady, we’re the cops. We’re here to help you out but we can’t do that if you keep throwing fuck-all at us!”
Now it was a tire iron. The ends twirled themselves right into the windshield of a cruiser. Guns came out, pointing right on crazy bitch. A tire iron turned out to be the exact amount of ‘too much’.
“NO! STAND DOWN!”
Fin stood up, his gun in his hand but it’s barrel had a lovely view of some grass stains and oil spills on the road. This had past ridiculous into something beyond the realms of apeshit and Fin was done with it. He grabbed the arm of the gashed cop.
“On three, we’ve got to rush her. Be as gentle as you can, but take her down!”
She stood, watching, waiting. Her eyes were red. Fin could practically feel the hate radiating from her.
The men walked forward. Her arms extended and she lashed out. Grant went down, blood flowing from the side of his head. Dear lord, this bitch was in for some legal hell.
Fin grabbed her middle and pulled. She screamed. It wasn’t from anger or despair. She was screaming bloody murder as if he was stabbing her. That’s when he felt it. The heat. She was burning up. She was steaming! The daylight had hidden it from view but, this close, there was no mistaking. She was boiling.
She toppled over, three guys pinning her to the ground and still they had trouble.
Down the road, a few other officers came running. They were waving their arms frantically.
good, Fin though, they can help us keep her down until the ambulance gets here.
The screams that had at least had some semblance of verbiage were now just roars and shrieks. They were coming faster too.
Grant stood up, holding his ripped ear. He turned and came to help just as that punchline arrived. He’d seemed like he had been waiting for it so it only seemed fitting that he got the bulk of it in the face.
That poor old blender wielding banshee.
She gave one last wrenching scream.
And then she popped.