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Vignette #15 - Carnelian

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avatar Chiaroscuro
Level 53 : Grandmaster Ladybug
177
This is my entry for An Intelligent Moron's Themed Contest. Warning: this story deals with themes of suicide and violence, and contains graphic depictions of physical injuries. Reader discretion is advised.

The ringing of my work phone awoke me from a fitful sleep. My heart pounded in my chest from the rude blaring of the alarm tones, threatening to burst out like an enraged animal pounding at the walls of its enclosure. With something in between a grumble and a scream, I reached over and turned on the lamp on my nightstand.

I checked the clock. 6:38 AM. This was no time for anyone to be calling me.

I put on the most professional voice I could muster this early—I was no coffee drinker, but still of comparable grouchiness early in the morning ‘before I’d had my coffee’—and answered the phone, waiting until the last ring to signal my unhappiness like a petulant child made to check in with their parents at a slumber party.

“Hello, Detective Wu speaking.”

“Detective, we’ve got a 10-56 at Pike Row, you’ll want to come and check this one out.”

I raised my eyebrow in a mixture of disdain and surprise. I didn’t usually receive 10-56 calls. I’d made my name as a homicide detective, after all, not a suicide detective. Nevertheless, a call was a call and I didn’t have the luxury of turning cases down. “I’ll be there as soon as possible,” I replied, then hung up. I laid in the comfort of my sheets for only a few seconds longer, soaking in what little warmth and bittersweet bliss I could, before willing myself to throw my legs off the side of the bed and half-stumbling out of the room.

The apartment was a limbo between a cozy sanctuary and complete disarray. Between the painstakingly aligned furniture and against the bare walls sat boxes of various sizes, books and photos and crumpled clothes peeking from their interiors with a certain shyness, as if to hide from wandering eyes probing for some clue as to their place in all this. Although it’d been a good month since I’d moved in, work was busy and so my limited time at home was better spent relaxing and decompressing than hurriedly unpacking all of my non-essential items.

Pouring myself a bowl of cereal, my eyes alighted upon a slender plant gently teetering from its pot on a small table. I smiled. In a time in my life where movement was constant and I found myself often without a true sense of place, that plant was the one thing that anchored me down. Through all these years and against all odds, I’d managed to keep that little runt of a plant alive. Perhaps, amidst the chaos of the city and the mental stresses of the job, that was my small ray of hope in all this.

Nevertheless, now was yet not another time to be sulking about my apartment, wondering when I would finally find the opportunity to truly settle in. Gulping down the remainder of my meager breakfast, I shoved the bowl in the sink to wash later. I had a case on my hands.


It was one of those October days when the sun’s rays lack effort and the wind blows a chilly tune; when one really begins to believe that winter is soon upon us. As I glided through the streets in a car that had seen better days, not even the heater on full blast could seem to shake the chills I was feeling.

Pike Row was a curious place to have discovered a suicide victim, admittedly. It was one of the wealthiest residential areas of the city, within walking distance of the city center and sitting atop its own shopping district that fell only just short of the glitz and glam of Beverly Hills. Only the wealthiest could ever afford to even set foot in the area.

Thus, the officer had, however much I disliked to admit it, been right to call me. Perhaps he shared the suspicion that was brewing in my own head. Anyway, I shouldn’t be making assumptions before seeing the scene for myself. I took a deep breath to clear my head.

The police had already created a barrier around the area when I arrived there. Flashing lights reflected off the glass walls of the shops, giving the whole street a strange twinkling effect like a highly-polished diamond under the bright light of its display case. I pulled my car up near the edge of the taped-off area and made sure I had everything I needed on me before disembarking. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my badge, readying it for the officers guarding the way in.

“Good to see you, Detective,” one of the officers remarked as he stepped aside to let me past. I didn’t recognize him—perhaps he’d been the one to call me earlier. Nevertheless, with a curt nod, I passed through the barrier and began striding quickly toward the growing gaggle of officers forming around the sidewalk.

As I approached, one of the people in the crowd stepped out to intercept me. “I’m glad that you’re here, Detective,” she said with an affirmatory grimace on her face.

“Tell me what’s up,” I replied.

“Seems like a usual case of someone who jumped from the roof of an apartment. Happened sometime in the middle of the night. Some poor guy discovered the body this morning while heading off to work, said he thought she was unconscious and tried to help her before finding out that she was dead.”

I nodded. This was typical of the cases I’d heard about in briefings. “So what’s the catch?” I asked, looking to confirm my suspicions.

“Well, you see, we’re thinking that maybe…”

“…it wasn’t actually a suicide,” the two of us said in unison. The other officer nodded.

“Have you hashed out the other options?” I asked.

She nodded. “Well, for a start, it could be a case of mental health issues, which obviously could affect anyone at any time.” She stopped to think. “Oh, and also it could be an accidental death from attempting to climb over the barrier, et cetera, et cetera…”

Truth be told, I hadn’t considered these options, which was perhaps why I was better suited to homicide cases. Yet, still I seemed to have a gut feeling that something wasn’t right about this case. Having been trained to think critically about only the pieces of evidence I have available, I had ignored my gut feelings throughout my career. Yet, here of all times, I felt that something was truly out of sorts.

“So then why do you think it wasn’t a suicide?” I asked.

“Well, our analysis of the area and the clues surrounding the death just don’t seem to add up. I can explain more once we’re back at the station putting together the file for this case. You should probably take a look at the scene just to cover all of our bases,” she said.

I nodded. “Let me see what’s going on,” I said with the barest hint of hesitation. The officer simply nodded and stepped aside, leaving me to push through the throng of people notetaking and examining the scene.

A girl’s body lay sprawled on the ground, limbs contorted at unnatural and sickening angles. Her golden-blonde locks of hair swirled around her head in a grotesque vortex, the bright highlights along her head fading into a ruddy brick where they met the slickness of the ground. Her left hand was little more than a twisted mass of half-exposed muscle, viciously lacerated from what I assumed was being the first point of the contact on the ground.

Being a homicide detective, I’d seen my fair share of broken bodies; that didn’t mean that each new one, especially one as shocking as this one, I didn’t have to take a few breaths to compose myself. Yet, despite that, there was a sort of morbid curiosity to the whole thing, almost as if there was a snapshot in time where this one single moment was captured and printed for infinity; an insignificant marker on the train of time that, although it stopped for nobody, stopped her here for the rest of its journey.

As quickly as the world had stopped, it started again. Here, there was noise and commotion around me as everyone seemed to take a step back. Not knowing the reason, I joined.

Slowly coming back to reality, I finally registered that I was being spoken to.

“Detective?”

I turned my head quizzically. “Did you want to turn over the body?” the officer whom I’d spoken to earlier was handing me a pair of latex gloves, an oddly cheery baby blue against this grungy, soiled backdrop.

I took the gloves wordlessly, not finding whatever words I wanted inside of me. With a practiced snap, the gloves were on and I found myself astride the body, hands on either shoulder. A small heave and the body seemed more so to unstick itself from the ground than lift up from it, the girl’s arms drooping forward as if reaching for the comfort of the pavement that had before killed her. A quick movement and I found myself face to face with nothing less than death itself.


There are certain trying times in this strange and incomprehensible road trip that we call life in which you think that the whole world is one giant practical joke, and yet all signs point to that the butt of said is joke is no one but yourself.

Consider, for example, the vastness of our existence; how throughout our lives we meet hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people and even beyond that we pass by thousands more without giving them a single thought. Consider also that we live in cities of sometimes millions of people, each of them with their own separate ways of living and feelings and thoughts and memories and unique characteristics, a giant cornucopia of every single point on the huge spectrum of what it means to be human. Consider, once more, the goings and leavings of this myriad crowd, interleaving and interspersing within one another and creating vast, complex networks of movement, trade, social interactions.

Consider all this; then consider our own insignificance within this giant existence, how for all of the people in this bountiful world there is only but a tiny subset in and around us, an infinitesimally small sliver of all of the lives that happen at every moment along this massive highway that begins and ends only with time and then you might see how it should not, cannot be the barely recognizable face of my own friend Ari Boettcher staring blankly back at me.

And yet.

At this intersection where the rail crosses the road the train of time stops for no one yet it stops for everyone at some moment and this is my moment where the barriers go down not for my beaten, battered car but for the unyielding locomotive that cannot stop yet must stop and so there must be a collision but who should be the victor of this confrontation but the strongest, the aged, limping car or the shiny, pristine train, the aged yet ship-shape car or the rusting, dated train, the massive, hulking car or the tiny toy train and so it must stop but it cannot be destroyed and in this one moment I must gather my thoughts and return everything to the way it should be, the only way it can be to stop.

Stop.

Calm.

Gather your thoughts.

Words.

Words came to my ears.

My ears.

“Are you alright?”

Am I?

I don’t know. I should be. I must be.

…Right?


I’d known Ari Boettcher since we were roommates in college. It was a difficult time in my life, going through all the transitions that came with a cross-country move and finding my new place in what was seeming at the time an impossibly difficult and complex world. In the middle of the raging thunderstorm that was threatening to consume my tiny little lifeboat, Ari emerged, a ray of sunlight breaking the clouds, a rescue ship for my stranded soul.

After college, as I entered the police force, Ari moved westward to pursue further opportunities while I stayed firmly rooted in the place that, by that time, had begun to feel more and more like a permanent home. Yet, it was not to be, as I transferred from place to place looking for security, assurance, a feeling of completeness that I’d not felt since I left my childhood home many years ago.

Yet, through all those changes and the stressful moves, Ari was there for me. We’d kept up after we moved away from each other, though with the stresses of the job and our divergent paths in life, the frequency of our messages had slowed down over time. It was strange to me, then, that Ari should end up here out of all places without having told me. She would’ve known that I was living here; my social media feed made that fact abundantly clear.

You can understand, then, why it was so much of a shock to find her of all people to be the victim caught in this tangle of lies and deception that this crime was quickly making itself out to be. There are some who say that the only two emotions necessary for human existence is anger and confusion, and at this moment that was strangely prescient.

Rather quickly, I excused myself from the picture-taking and evidence-gathering, citing emotional connection. In all my years and cases, I’d never experienced anything quite like this. You always see in movies those baddies who are so cruel that they attack the families or friends of those tasked with catching them, holding them hostage or even killing them to send a message. Often, this serves to motivate the hero further, creating a determined, hellbent automaton that will stop at nothing.

But this simply wasn’t the case in real life. Even most of the homicides that I’d investigated were crimes of passion, someone manifesting their anger at another person in a violent and deadly way, hardly having anything to do with the police force. Even well-known cases of serial killings rarely involved the police’s loved ones, even if the police themselves were targeted.

The immediate doubts came to my mind. First, what if this wasn’t a homicide at all, that the other officers were wrong and it was just a strange coincidence? Or second, what if it hadn’t been a targeted attack at all, and that it was my friend was, once again, a strange coincidence?

I had time to mull these thoughts over on the way back to the station, where we had agreed to regroup and the other officers were to give me the rundown on all the details that I’d missed.

And that was where I found myself, still internally reeling from the day’s events. If my training had taught me anything, though, it was maintaining a steely and cold exterior in the face of almost anything. And so in the office I sat, across from my colleague Meg Ngoye. The gentleness of her face calmed me greatly, as it had ever since we’d worked together. Perhaps they knew that this might affect me so.

Nevertheless, in short order, I was briefed on many of the details that I’d seen or heard already. However, those were not the questions that I was most concerned about.

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said as Meg was beginning to describe an arm injury, “but we can see these in the autopsy room after this. I’m more curious about why you think this was a purposeful homicide rather than something like maybe an accidental suicide.”

Meg paused. “Well, first, the file says that no form of identification was found on the person, and search of the apartment from which she fell showed nothing either. Everything was completely spotless and meticulously cleaned, almost as if after the incident the whole place had been completely wiped.”
“Which apartment did she fall from?” I asked, curious.

“It wasn’t hers, it belonged to a man of unknown name,” she responded.

“Was the name not in the apartment records?” I asked.

Meg nodded. “It wasn’t, the data was ‘corrupted,’ it said.”

“So how were you able to identify the victim?” I asked.

“Only because you knew her. We did a search of her social media records and found that everything matched, including all of her location tags and ad data.”
I nodded but stayed silent.

After a long pause, Meg stood up from her chair. “Any more questions?” she asked with a gentle tone. I shook my head. “Then why don’t we go see what the forensics people have found in the autopsy room?” she finished.


On the highway of life there are few sights outside the heavy metal shelter of the vehicle that truly threaten to curtail the journey. Though in your aging years the destination looms hazily on the horizon, inevitable, inexorable, you know that despite everything the world can conjure, the road goes on and the destination lies ahead.

Yet, there among the oddities along the road there are a select few times in which you wonder whether the journey really never was about some supposed ideal destination, but rather about the experiences along the way. Consider a stretch of road, the section of the famous Route 66 running from Kingman to Peach Springs. The expansive blue skies frame a desert landscape, complete with small, hardy scrubs and the occasional creek providing much-desired greenery in a landscape overtoned with reds, yellows, and browns. Then, at the edge of the road, where no one else traverses, a small wooden cross. A small marker to remember some unfortunate incident here, untouched by the train of time. And as quickly as it appeared, it disappears behind the crest of the hill, left in stasis waiting for another unsuspecting passerby.

That is to say, there is nothing that reminds one more of one’s own mortality than to confront a body stripped bare, cleaned and processed on the autopsy table. Despite the supposed cheeriness of the forensic team at their discoveries, it’s impossible to not be at least a little shaken every time I’m confronted in this way.

Yet, this time was different.

As the forensic team launched into their explanation of the injuries and all other manner of evidence that they’d collected, I wasn’t paying attention.

Instead, my eyes had fallen on a tattoo that reached gently from just below the victim’s hip upward along her side. A thin, fragile twig, elongated and rising in a delicate manner, splitting into even thinner and more fragile branches, punctuated occasionally by the tiniest fronds of leaves, green, rounded, almost impossibly small as if just a single breath would cause the entire plant to crumble and the leaves to flutter off in some unfelt wind.

In this crime, I wanted to find something that I could latch onto, something familiar that I could run with until the inevitable conclusion. And in this plant, I found my anchor, my keystone.

“Hold on,” I said, interrupting the forensics team mid-sentence.

“This isn’t Ari.”


Author's Notes
CreditAn Intelligent Moron for their contest.
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1 reply

1
07/15/2019 12:53 pm
Level 36 : Artisan Pixel Puncher
Nitgo
I only red the first 10 lines, then I fell a sleep on the keyboard, then I dreamed about plants. Your blog is interesting!

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