Write a murder mystery with an amateur sleuth who must navigate a fantastical world in a quest to discover the truth.
Snip, snap, zip.
Just like that: dead.
He believed, as a hired contractual specialist, in sealing his kills in a bag, helped keep loose body parts from falling off as he hauled them away, no sense in littering, too; he was all for a green planet. Also ran a recycling shop: selling used body parts: heads, hands, elbows, ears, the whole shebang. More on that some other time.
He dragged the body under a willow tree, a little befuddled over the girth of this one, and lay it next to a large rock. He leaned against the willow trunk with a cigarillo pressed between lips. Took a good long drag, enjoying the moment after a job well done.
“Hey, got an extra?” said a voice at his feet.
He looked down at the bulky bag, one of a set of twelve he ordered on Amazon a few weeks back. No holes or stretch marks in the clear neo-preen fabric, silver zippers offering a tight, scent-free fit. Money well spent.
“Dude, you’re dead. What do you want?”
“Not too late for final requests, is it?” said a voice from inside the bag. “Didn’t get to fill out my Will. What about last rights, eh? What’ll my loved ones do? Certainly I’ve got rights.”
He snubbed out the cigarillo against the tree trunk. Gave the bag a tap with the toe of his boot and unzipped it about eight inches, revealing a head: pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, cheek bruised a fancy Mary-Kay-cosmetic purple. Looked to be in dire need of a cup of coffee and a protein shake.
“You went zombie on me. Really? Now?” He looked to his watchless wrist. “Don’t have time for this.”
The face in the bag blinked, offered a lopsided grin under raised, and well-groomed, eyebrows.
On the other side of the planet, London Dark sat behind the wheel of a pickup truck, a sun-yellow Ram 2500 with a watermelon-sized dent in the door. Thunder belched off in the distance. London wiped the foggy windshield with the back of his hand, pumped the clutch, dropped it into gear, and rumbled in the direction of the stormy skies. He had never driven this truck before and was a little surprised to find himself in it.
How did he get here? He was clueless and bit at a loss. And being a death detective, ever since he was a teenager, made him a master of his surroundings; so being lost and confused was unfamiliar to him, and recalling his own name led from discovering his badge inside his jacket pocket:
Junior Varsity Death Detective
Visionary Ghosting Specialist
He could sleuth out most scenes. Finding clues came naturally. So stumbling with memory loss was odd for Dark. Odd indeed.
His iPhone, strapped to his thigh with a strip of nylon-corded Velcro, chirped.
Incoming text: Dude, where the frick are you? Told you to meet me at the Morgue. We’ve got another stolen cadaver case. A weird one You’ve been requested. Money offered in advance.
“They all should be this way,” he muttered.
London pulled to a stop. No traffic in either direction. Tall trees swaying back and forth beneath a dusty sky of dusk. Another rumbling in the distance.
Someone tapped on the windshield.
A woman waved to him. Her eyes were golden-bronze with snake-slit pupils. Attractive, in a farmer-in-love-with-a-bean-stalk sort of way. Tall. Angular face. Slim.
“Lenore,” he heard himself say aloud.
He unlocked the door and she climbed in. He did not recognize her, at all, but he said her name with such ease. It came out instantaneously. Was that really her name?
The woman he called Lenore wore a hooded sweatshirt with a large snub-nosed revolver holstered to her hip.
“What’s with the gun, Texas girl? You know those things are trouble, and I don’t want to have to dig you out the grave again.”
Why was he speaking to her as if he knew her? Images of him solving cases flashed through his mind: A newspaper article from the front page of Rekindled Free Press, a digital press: HIGH PRAISE FOR LONDON DARK FROM GRAVEYARD GARDENS.
She smiled, gave him a peck on his bewhiskered cheek, sending warm shivers down his back. Either she’s very forward with men or he did in fact know her.
“Where’ve you been? Missed you. Good to see you, too. Get my messages? Was worried about you.” She gave him a shove in the arm.
“You and me both. Where the flip are we?”
The confusion of trying to clear up this black smudge on his memory had him frustrated; yet, he did not want to admit any of this to her.
She gave him a long silky stare. Pointy ears poked through her long cola-colored hair, a row of opals studded along her lobe.
“Where do you think we are?”
“On a dirt road. In a truck.” He strangled the steering wheel, yearning for his head to clear.
She placed her warm hand on his; the tension in his hands, quite suddenly, softened.
“Your memories been tangled. Those blasted faeries must’ve cast a smudge spell.”
Faeries? Smudge spell?
Something clicked in his mind. Then he looked to see the clicking sound was Lenore loading gold bullets into her revolver and spinning the cylinder.
“What’s with the gun?”
“For killing dead people. Something you’re good at. You just don’t remember, love.” She wiped the foggy window with an elbow and peered out.
Love? What was that all about? Did she really love him? Or was that just an expression? Her eyes, flecked in green, glistened, and something in her voice and the smell of lavender and honey in her hair was, both, memorable and welcoming.
“Are we, you know, a thing?”
“You mean dating?”
No. Are you the Swamp Thing?
He gently shook his head at her, staring into her soft eyes.
“Something like that. We got married. Just to keep appearances up on Earth Too. You know, keep that charade going.”
“So we’re on Earth then?”
“That’s what I said,” London said.
“No. Earth too. We’re in the fourth dimension, a clustered galaxy that mirrors a selection of planets from the third dimension.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the neck and nibbled at his ear. “Oh honey, seeing you reinforces how much I missed you.”
London’s hear-rate quickened as he struggled with the blank slate that was his brain. Any time he tried to remember her, his mind felt like a pickle in a jar filled with formaldehyde. Not that he was complaining about all the attention from this lovely woman.
“We’re on-assignment, together.” She ran a finger down his arm, sending chills up and down his spine.
There she went again, using that “love” word. She sure smelled nice. He wondered when the last time he’d showered. Something didn’t smell right, and he hoped it was not his body.
She reached into a pouch belted to her slim waist and handed him a small tin. “Take one. Lozenge’ll clear your memory, inspector. We’ve got work to do.”
After sucking on the lozenge for a minute—tasted like raspberry and lemon dipped in motor oil—his head cleared. “I am London Dark, death detective. Sector five.”
“And a few other planets, too, love. Namely Earth Too.”
They arrived at Bradbury City after a thirty-minute drive and parked next to a tall dark building that looked vacant. Weather-worn acorn-colored wood siding with several slates leaning crookedly from rusty nails.
Lenore said, “This’s my first tip. Murder occurred two nights ago, in Bradbury City. A dog kennel was ransacked. Proprietor missing.”
London reached for his Sherlocking for Dummies comic book, pages wrinkled and dog-ear-marked.
“Put that down.” She swatted at his hand. “Thought you got rid of all that stuff. You’re a licensed death detective, on contract. You don’t need.”
“Of course I am. I’m London Dark; solved dozens of cases.” He hoped that much was true. Wasn’t really sure.
“So, where’s the body?”
“No remains of the deceased found,” she said. “But one Samuel Four, proprietor of Doggie Due, was reported missing from his apartment, didn’t show up for work all last week. Hasn’t missed a day’s work in two years.”
“What’s Doggie Due?”
She sighed. “A kennel for housing undead pets.”
“Oh yes, ghost dogs.” He was surprised, and pleased to feel his memory slowly reawakening. Hearing “Doggie due” seemed to jog his memory. “And you’re sure this missing person’s dead?”
Scenes and thoughts began to fill his mind. A vision appeared in his thoughts: Boot prints and a thick line marring the soil, as if something was being dragged marked a wooded trail bordered by tall mossy trees. The scene in his mind began playing in slow-motion, in reverse: a shadowy figure dragging a large bag under a tree. The sound of a car door slamming.
He wanted to tell Lenore about this vision but decided now was not the time.
“My guess is: he was killed twice,” said London.
“Good show. I made the same notation.” She flashed him an open booklet with a page filled with hand-written notes, and a few sketches. “What’s our next move?” She smiled, looking pleased as a dog peeing on a tree.
They stood in front of an old gray building. London stared at this frail, weather-battered structure, looked ready to tumble to the ground if a strong wind made an appearance.
They stood in the grass near the front deck; rotting planks in the floorboards had weeds growing out through cracks in the wounded wood.
The floorboards creaked.
London made a verbal notation in his iPhone and was about to take a step onto the deck when Lenore grabbed him by the arm. When he looked over his shoulder, Lenore was not there. No one was. But who was holding him by the arm? His eyes scanned the area. Lenore was nowhere to be seen.
He tugged his arm free and wiggled his fingers wonderingly.
Someone started up his truck, engine roaring to life, and off it drove. He could not tell who was driving.
“I did, you junior varsity detective,” said a voice from inside the house.
London held up his badge: bronze star shining on a leather placard.
“Name’s Dark. London Dark. Death detective. What’re you doing on the premises?”
“I should be asking you the same questions,” said a voice from an open window.
“I’m investigating the case of a missing person.”
“That’d be me.”
London remained pensive, unable to see who was speaking.
The name “Hannah Samson,” was whispered in his thoughts followed by the image of a dark-haired woman with olive complexion. Looked to be in her twenties. Dressed in a fade denim Levi’s jean jacket over a white silk blouse; plaid miniskirt.
The front door opened revealing a thin man, mostly bone under wrinkled saggy flesh.
“Come in, come in. You must be the famous London Dark.”
When he got an introduction like that, how could he dismiss it?
“The one and only.” He hoped.
“I was murdered ‘bout a week ago. Dragged under a willow. Buried out in the East rim of Forest Farms.”
None of this surprised London. He remained stoic, composed as the ghost of Beethoven.
“Do you know a Hannah Samson?”
The old man placed hands on hips and his expression stiffened a bit. “My sister. Why?”
“I’m just clarifying your family history.”
“She’s not dead. I am, Mr. Dark.”
London knew half of that was correct. “You, my good man, are under arrest. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a cemetery court of law. You are—”
“Me? I’m the victim here,” he pleaded, placing a wrinkled hand over his heart. “And….my sister killed me. She’s the vagrant. You need to hunt her down.”
“The authorities are on their way, Mr. Samson.”
A gunshot erupted the air and Samson stumbled backwards and fell to ground in a heap, blood spattering on the walls and pooling on his shirt.
London spun down into a crouch and dove through the open door.
London checked the old man’s pulse. “Blasted fool’s dead again,” muttered London. He sighed, mostly because he knew off all the additional paperwork that went along with double-kill ghost cases.
A shadow appeared in the doorway. London, down on one knee next to Samson, looked up to see Lenore holding her revolver, smoke pouring out its end.
“Why’d you shoot him?”
She aimed the revolver at him.
His expression stiffened, eyes narrowing.
He raised his hands.
“Stand up. Slowly,” she said, squinting through one eye, taking aim at his third-eye.
Just as London was about to reach for his single-shot pistol sheathed to his wrist, she holstered her revolver and wrapped him up in a hug, kissing him, square on the lips.
“We solved the first part of the case. Now we just need to…”
“Why’d you shoot him? I had him. Dead to rights.”
“Dead to rights?”
“Yeah. Now I gotta chase down the ghost of Harry Samson. You know how much more work is in front of us.”
“Had to kill him, a second time. Just as you predicted.”
He started off and then something clicked in his mind.
He eyed her as she was busy putting herbal lip balm on her lips.
He then realized the reasoning behind this second kill. “Harry Samson’ll lead us to his sister. We just need to follow her. Now we’ve got two ghost felons to hunt.”
Lenore wrapped her arms around him. “And your uncanny memory’ll lead us right to them both. We’ll arrest these ghosts. Together. As a team, love. What fun it’ll be.”
(to be continued)