My friend Thom blogs about books, music, films, comics, politics… in fact, the entire cultural smorgasbord. He also writes short stories; stories which, I think, deserve much more attention. So, in the interests of spreading the word, here’s Thom’s latest short story ‘A Fictitious Murder’ – it’s really, really good. Read it.
His blog can be found here.
The hand that slammed down onto my desk did exactly what it was supposed to; my awakening was abrupt and embarrassingly startled. It’s not how I’d rouse someone who habitually carries a gun but Ames, my latest miscast partner, was better at thinking in immediacies and instant gratification. My alarm was clearly enough, his broad broken grin showing a disturbingly deep satisfaction. I growled my annoyance, involuntarily, accidentally offering him the encouragement he’d need to repeat the exercise at some later date. As I leant back in my chair, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and sipping the last bitter dregs of coffee that were inexplicably colder than the room, he dropped a book onto the desk.
“Some fruit author bought it.” The contempt and dislike, for both the author and me, were casually undisguised. I imagine he’d have thought it was directness, rather than ignorance. “I figured that’d be right up your street.” My brain wasn’t quite awake enough to work out if he was calling me gay, an intellectual nebbish, or both.
* * *
Ames drove, pretty much the one thing I trusted him to do even vaguely competently, as I flicked through the book he’d given me. It was one I’d read before, one of my favourites actually, Isaac Whitt playing with a twisted version of his hardboiled best.
“You had a copy of this to hand?” My disbelief was less about the coincidence of him having a Whitt book, more about the idea that he read at all. His snort of derision was enough to further reinforce my low opinion of him.
“Not mine, some guy from downstairs.” He grinned inanely. “I requisitioned it.”
“What have we got?”
“It’s just been called in as a gunshot. Found by his assistant an hour ago. The ME’s meeting us there.”
I turned my attention back to Bad Habits; the author bio told me that Whitt would be coming up for ninety years old, if my math checked out. It seemed to me that took a particular malice to murder an old man, especially one who reputedly spent most of his life drinking and smoking hard enough to do the job himself.
* * *
Standing in Whitt’s study was an odd thrill, genuine excitement mixed with the ever-sobering awareness of why I was there. As Ames blustered around haranguing the officers who’d responded to the call and Whitt’s assistant I moved around the room as lightly as possible. There was a neat pile of papers next to his typewriter, an ancient Remington, with one sheet still half-finished in the machine itself. I stepped around the body and looked more closely. The last line that had been typed finished in an ellipsis. I looked back at Whitt’s still paling face, the corners of his mouth turned slightly up and his eyes closed, almost serene. The usual expression, the one I saw most of, was pained surprise; “what, me?” writ large across someone’s fixed stare. From the look of it Whitt had been shot once, right in the heart, and I doubted he’d have had the time to come to any kind of peace. Ames looked confused as I walked out, shouting instructions over my shoulder.
“Tell the ME to check for powder burns and residue on Whitt’s hands. I’ve got some reading to do.”
* * *
I was about a fifty pages into my second reading of the papers from Whitt’s desk when Ames finally found me a few hours later, clearly intent on bringing me up to speed. I, a little cruelly, decided to deflate his enthusiasm.
“There’s no sign of the gun, the shot was point blank but there was no powder on Whitt’s hands and the bullet was a… forty-five?” I let the note of question creep in at the end in case I was wrong. Ames looked suitably flustered by my new magical powers and the sense of satisfaction I felt was almost perverse. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to keep him in the dark indefinitely. I pushed the papers across the table.
“It’s called The Made Man. It’s about a criminal, a Moriarty-type-” the reference clearly goes over Ames’s head. “Evil Sherlock Holmes, for these purposes, who, having defeated his greatest enemy, grows despondent. Without a challenge to face he goes, well… crazy, but realises he’s a fictional character. So he decides to escape the page and confront his author… Isaac Whitt.”
* * *
“So you don’t think this Doctor Augur..? is the killer?”: This is where we were after ten minutes of me trying to clarify for Ames.
“No… he’s made up, but the book goes right up to the Augur walking up to Whitt’s apartment and knocking the door, gun in hand.”
“Right…” Poor Ames, he’d been correct assuming that this case would interest me, but I think it’d gotten a little too strange for him a little too quickly.
“We need the lab to do a little ink chromatography to see if these pages are from Whitt’s typewriter.” There was a whole novel, too much for someone to have knocked off between Whitt being shot and his body discovered, so it was either his work or brought in with the murderer.
“And to find out if Whitt owned a Remington 1911.” I’ll be damned if Ames hadn’t caught on, at least a little; that was the gun Auger was carrying at the end of The Made Man.
“Alibis, plural, and no physical evidence”
“Well then,” I said with a certain relish, “we need to speak to Whitt’s agent.”
* * *
We pulled Whitt’s agent out of a meeting about new editions of her late client’s works, her office excessively and ostentatiously plush and well-appointed. Whitt’s assistant had, it seemed, called her before calling for the police. Not that the delay made the slightest difference.
“A little macabre…” I noted, referring to their rush to marketing strategies.
“But necessary,” she offered, grim-faced, “and something Isaac and I had discussed.”
“Did Whitt tell you what he was working on?”
“The Made Man? I have the first few chapters and an outline. He was set to deliver it next week.”
“So you knew how it was going to end?”
“The book.” I couldn’t tell if she was closer to rage or sadness. “Only the book.”
“How was his health?” Ames chipped in before I could get a proper read on her last expression.
“About what you’d expect from a man his age who’d lived his life the way he did.” That was said with definite sadness, carefully evasive though it was. Then, as we made to go, she offered us a little more;
“He’d talked about it for years, bringing a character to life. He always said that it would need to be revenge, or love. Something strong, an obsession, to bring them across.”
* * *