the Pandora Dilemma. Chapter 5 – unedited

Mrs. Hubert. That was her name.

That had been her name from birth to death.

And what a death it was.

Finley Thomas couldn’t help but to do it. It was weak and cliche and overly dramatic but, for god’s sake, it had been a long day.

He found himself hunched over his desk with his head in his hands. His aching, horribly pounding head. He’d taken the usual pain-killers and was close-to-tempted to raiding the evidence locker for something a little stronger.

She exploded.

She fucking exploded.

There’s not much more a person can think about once they see an old woman’s insides become her outsides.

He’d seen a lot. He was on homicide. It was his job to stick his nose in the rotting corpses and bloating floaters to sniff out the ones responsible. It was his job to smell those smells and see those sights. It was up to him to create a rapport with corpses. He had history with skulls and bones and pieces of skin.

This wasn’t like that. He hadn’t just seen her die. She wasn’t stabbed or shot or strangled. Her body bubbled out and, holy sweet lord, let out steam. It was like everything she was rebelled and self destructed in a single moment.

He’d spent a good forty minutes scrubbing himself in the precinct shower before his senses returned and he saw the skin he was peeling from his arms and face had been his own. He took a look in the mirror, almost afraid of seeing himself expand like that old lady had. He saw his body, red and raw from the scalding water. He couldn’t imagine the pain she’d been in. He didn’t want to.

But then, sitting at that desk, staring at the placemat carved with transfer signatures from countless piles of paperwork, he felt he was close to exploding anyway.

Where is Dustin?

Maybe he’d been a little too urgent when he told him to come down to the station. Looking back on it, Fin thought he may have led him on and caused some undue worry.

Dustin had been there. He could have seen something. He could know something and not even realize it. Then again, that was Dusty’s strong suit.

Fin spent a few minutes in his pitiful position. There was something primitive about curling up in a ball, something fetal and secure. It harkened back to the days when every human ran on instinct alone. Whatever it was, if you have a migraine or just can’t deal with the world, try it for a few minutes. As soon as the blood flow settled and he calmed down it was time to become a member of society once again.

He leaned back in his chair, letting his weight fall cautiously against the old leather and plastic brace. The familiar crack of the worn ABS pieces sounded out, telling him the decrepit thing was at it’s limit.

Finley let himself get lost in the memories of the chair. His history with it. That was the trick to his work. When things got to rough, he’d find some solace in an inanimate object. He’d idolize or exalt some plaque or stupid little model car he could place on his desk. He’d invest in them during the happiest times so he’d have something to remember or hope for when things became dark.

It’d been a gift from his wife.

She was his ex-wife now.

Well, so much for finding solace…

“Hey, Fin. Got a minute?”

With the jolt of hearing Grant’s voice, Finley jerked and the chair finally broke. Not so much that he took a tumble backwards. No, then they could have had a small chuckle about it. Tension broken. Of course, Fin was never so lucky. It broke just enough to piss him off.

“Yeah. What is it?”

“We’ve got some info back from the Fortune Drive case.”

“That was quick.”

“That’s what I said. Dunno why but they’ve got a fire lit under their butts.”

Grant leaned against his before Fin ushered him to a seat with the wave of a hand.

“Alright, alright, come on. Tell me what you need to tell me.”

Grant walked with that ‘I know something you don’t know’ gait that little boys have when their parents gave them the ‘talk’ and they want to share it with their friends. Fin saw it. He knew what it meant. It meant this was going to get even weirder. Either that or everything was going to be explained in a simple, concise way.

The smile on this little boy, full of newly gained anatomical knowledge, told Fin that the latter wasn’t an option.

“You’re not going to believe this.”

What? Why even start something with that? It’s either true or it’s not. It has nothing to do with belief.


“The docs can’t find any bone.”

“Docs? More than one?”

“Well, that’s the thing. The first coroner took a look and sifted through everything,” They both paused in relevant silence as their stomachs turned and then righted again. Sifting wasn’t such a great word. They had sifted at the scene. “Anyway… When he couldn’t find any bone he sent another in to look at it. Seems almost everyone and the janitor’s had their hand in this, no pun intended, and they can’t find jack shit.”

Grant seemed to be expecting some response. He had to be, judging by the slack-jawed expression on his face and the mannequin-like pose he had taken. He held it for a few seconds before realizing what he must have looked like.

They both relaxed into an awkward silence.

Fin was famous for this – as famous as someone could be in a small town. Some thought it was his superb mind working overtime. Some thought the exact opposite, that he was a moron with a hamster wheel churning away in his head. Grant was one of the few that knew both were true. Finley always came to his own conclusion within moments of knowing the details of a situation. The only thing that kept him from acting was his seemingly arbitrary self-doubt.

It would come and go.

Grant tapped on the desk. Fin’s eyes sparkled again, coming back from the dead of his internal conflict. He breathed out in a slow, low, nearly ragged sigh.

Finley rose quickly and walked down the row of desks. He grabbed his coat from the rack hit the door open with his elbow.


“You’re not supposed to be in here, Thomas.”

“Come on, Rob, tell me what’s up. Give me some idea here.”

“I didn’t even do the autopsy, I gave it to Richards.”

Robert Maccullum, what a bastard.

Finley watched him crunch on some whole-grain, sun-ripened, advertising-laden excuses for potato chips. He saw the two half eaten sandwiches and the big gulp on the desk next to the toppled stack of failed or forgotten paperwork.

“You know that doesn’t matter. Let me take a look at the sheet.”

Robert made some noise like a gas-pipe being exhausted.

“From what I heard, it was more like playing in human mud than autopsying a body anyway.”

Now, Fin wasn’t an insulting man. He didn’t have a single prejudice in his mind. He saw people for people without notice of color or shape or size…

But Maccullum was a fat, ugly fuck.

To look at him, you wouldn’t consider him morbidly obese, or exceptionally assaulting to the eyes. That’s not what Finley was basing it on.

Robert was lazy. He was the absolute example of the comedically obese man; sitting in his chair, leaned back, breathing heavily through his mouth and sweating profusely. To add to it, this guy was the biggest asshole Fin had even met.

“Where’s the sheet, Rob. I’m the guy running the investigation.”

Finley was done pleading with Robert Maccullum, perfectly healthy and attractive man.

“And I’m the only Medical Examiner currently on duty, Mr. Detective. I do the paperwork. You’ll get it when I say you get it and not a second before.”

Robert Maccullum, what a fat, ugly fuck.

He sat up and rubbed his hand laxly over the sea of pathetic sheets half filled with necessary findings. How many bodies were represented here? Was it any wonder why the county had so many complaints from families?

He cleared his throat of crumbs, sending them into the air.

“Fact of the matter is, we’re not even sure if it’s a ‘body’ per se. There were no bones, no major organs… hell, half of the estimated body weight wasn’t even represented.” Robert chuckled and somehow found a way to make a supposedly joyful sound turn dark. “Besides, I think I lost it anyway.”


Finley’s hand began aching on the drive back to the station.

He’d wanted to barrel his knuckles right into Maccullum’s face. He wanted to send his fist so far into his skull that it’d jar some kind of humanity loose out of that goddamn apathetic brain of his.

As it turns out, a wooden crate outside the morgue wasn’t such a great substitute. This was due to a few reasons; the main being that it didn’t make that great noise of surprise people blurt out when socked in the jaw, but mostly because it hurt like a son of a bitch.

The five minutes he spent picking splinters out of his skin was made even more awkward by the delivery boy who had just come back for the crate.

An argument, apology and twenty dollars later, Fin turned down the road and cranked the radio.

A little music can go a long way but some good old rock n’ roll isn’t like soap, the more the better.

The DJ’s voice echoed and stupid little sound effects added to the supposed but horribly failing attempt at being interesting. It eventually faded into the music though. Bon Jovi, this is ‘old’ rock n’ roll? Fin couldn’t help but to remember turning on this same station when he was a kid and hearing some geezer say a few words and get on with playing Chuck Berry and Lloyd Prince. Those were oldies.

Fin bit his tongue as his thoughts made him feel even older than the station was. At least he wasn’t using the word ‘confounded’ to describe something. And thank god he’d never said ‘whippersnapper’.

The ring from his phone cut through the music. He’d set his ringtone to something resembling a siren you’d hear in a cable tv war movie produced by Tom Hanks. He had always meant to change it to something less ridiculously annoying but that wish was usually only in his head when the sound was pounding his ears.

“Goddammit… Hang on, hang on.”

The traffic had picked up, so at least he wasn’t barreling down the highway doing fifty but pulling his cell while driving always made unpleasant areas itch.

“This is Detective Finley Thomas.”

Fin never checked his caller id. He never screened calls, detectives can’t really afford to. Since he was going to answer them all anyway, what’s the use of knowing who’s calling a few moments before you hear them?

“Fin, we’ve got a situation downtown. There’s some crazy down there. He’s shot a cop. All other cars are too far away.”

That was a lot to take in but he now knew why he was stuck in traffic, he knew why it was so bad. He opened his door and stepped out. It was a standstill, no one even honked their horn at him. No one yelled for him to get back in his car.

Hell, some people actually joined him. Though, that was because they heard the shots.

Finley started running in their direction, pulling his gun with one hand.

“I’m right there. What other info can you give me?”


About Aaron Shively

I have been working as a freelance writer and artist for the last decade. In that time, I've done everything from ghostwriting to toy design and everything in between. I am currently working on a novel series called 'Myth' which has held my attention for the past sixteen years. I have spent my time developing the world, character and story and am now ready to funnel all the preliminary material into the manuscript of the first installment, 'of Men and Monsters' Bookmark & Share

Posted on 03/14/2011, in Excerpts, the Pandora Dilemma and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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