Font of Wisdom – by Phil Huston
Shona Nevill watched Caswell’s expression change with the air as he got closer. Half a mile away where they’d both parked it was almost twenty degrees warmer. And a lot drier. The cold, wet air howled off the sea and up the shallow cliffs then somehow lost its push over that short distance. Like it went straight up and abused everything in the first thirty yards of the coastline with it’s angry fallout and died, leaving nothing but it’s damp, cold breath behind.
He handed her a coffee, the cardboard cup still warm. “How’d you get the call on this bloody desolate bit of business?”
She let go of a short snort. “I was researching a missing persons. One thing led to another, here we are. I asked for you. I think I need someone who can see straight. This has gothic overtones.”
“Ghosts and goblins and Henry’s headless wives again?”
“Maybe.” She fought the wind and a large manila envelope, pulled out a handful of papers.
“Home office? War office? It’s a distorted rust bucket, Shona. And why the hell is it this far in and not in the water?”
“It’s in there.”
“Please. Redacted to fish wrap. You had to squeeze a story from this or I’d be at my guitar lesson.”
“My ass. You’d be playing hillbilly rubbish with that lot at your local.”
“That’s my guitar lesson.” He offered her the papers back.
“Okay. According to this it took a torpedo not far from shore. Torpedo didn’t go off and plugged its own hole. Not completely, they took on water, but made it past the breakwater and beached it. Home security watchers didn’t know who they were and killed them all when they walked up the beach. Farmers and shotguns and fear.”
“That explains some of the redactions, not how it got to here.”
“War time. Reclamation of salvageable material. They winched it to where it sits. No one paid any thought to the torpedo stuck in its side and when they went to re-lash the winch line it went off and killed nine men and a cow. The war ended, the country went Mrs. Dalloway and ye olde England faded away.”
“That was a hundred years ago. What were they carrying the home office is afraid of after all that time?”
“I can’t get that story. Yet. Just yeah, we know about it, here it is, a hundred-year old steel carcass.”
“The torpedo explains the look of it. Still doesn’t explain you and me in the frozen fog.”
“A woman I met on the missing persons sent me here.”
“She said go to this rusty old boat, it’s a font of wisdom?”
“No, she said evil rides the sands borne on a desert wind and the dead go down with the dead of the sea. Mentioned this place in a moment of lucidity. She said the visions and the winds had stopped for a while, but they were back.”
“How long has she been in the institution?”
“Forty years, give or take. The shrinks said she was doing better until she saw my case’s face flash on the television. She went off, I got the call, decided to go see her.”
“We’re here because a bat shit crazy old woman who sees evil in a sandstorm took a dislike to your missing’s face? Shit, Shona.”
“I didn’t have anything else. You bring that torch that shames the sun?”
Caswell broadened the beam to take in a four-foot circle after it landed on the first skull, Shona grabbed his forearm for a second, let go. “This is a fricking catacomb, Cas. Holy…damn.” She followed his beam across an eight-foot expanse, counted twenty skulls. Two high, ten across. Bones thrown like driftwood into iron footlockers, a fifty-gallon steel drum that had been cut in half, lying scattered on the sand covered floor. “Uh oh.” She shined her own beam on a much more recent carcass. “Money on that being my missing.” The body had been slowly mummifying. Decomposing, shriveling into a salted human ham in the sea air.
Caswell barked “Leave it” when she reached for the body. “Leave it all.”
“What the hell, Cas? This is a crime scene.”
“This is a hundred-year killing field. Back out. Fill that envelope with dry sand if you have to walk to find some, come back in the tracks you made coming in.”
He had Shona put her hands on his hips and back out with him while he sifted the sand over their tracks. He watched it blow as the wind drifted in and sifted the sand around on its own until he was satisfied and they were out.
“Get forensics down here for DNA. One forensics. Someone who’s not a Labrador in Gran’s crystal. The girl who sings while she rolls dead bodies around would be good. DNA from the skulls and your missing, somewhere it won’t be noticed. Don’t make a bloody scene out here. No lantern cars, no work lights, no tape, no hazmat suits. Tourists don’t go down as far as we did and force a door that shouldn’t have opened and hardly squeaked. It needs to keep looking that way.” He pulled his latex gloves, threw them in the front seat of his car, unzipped his jacket. “Why do you call me for the creepy ones, anyway?”
“The same reason you make me do all the detail work. We’re a team.”
“Ab fab, Dahling. I’m off to my guitar lesson.”
“Off for a pint and the Honey Drippers. More?”
“The forensics girl who sings. She’s the one.”
“You’re too old and not her type.”
“I know, but she’s a lovely voice, she’s smart and takes orders if they’re explained. We’re going to need her, Shona. This one is creepy.”
“You said that.”
“I said it again. And not for the last time.”
The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery
3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?