Mundane Madness – by Phil Huston
Caswell reached over Kylie’s shoulder, tapped the mouse, dragged the playback bar backwards under the video. He let it play for a few seconds and tapped it again.
“There. That frame. Clean it up. Get it out to the two closest coastal territorials. If nothing drops, expand. North and south, not inland.”
“He came in from the water side.” She wasn’t sure if she should feel insulted or ordered about. “He could have come from anywhere.”
“Look at him, Kylie. He’s bloody Aqualung, having a hell of time dragging the body. Whatever he floated in on, it can’t be much. He doesn’t have a car or access to a barrow or a dolly or a friend to help. Our ‘evil wind’ put a tenner in his hand and told him where to take the body. The locals know him. Find him for us.” He could feel the room continue to tighten. “Please.” He paused a proper beat. “The camera is brilliant.” Unasked and possibly dangerous, but he left those on the shelf.
Kylie made a half turn in her chair, her eyes wide. “They’re amazing, aren’t they? They work like cellphones and they’re smaller than the rubber on my pencil.” She practically stuck the pencil in his nose to make her point. “I can zoom it in and out with my phone.” She held up her iPhone like he’d never seen one. “And I used the Juliette herself for an antenna. With a fine wire to the hull?” Maybe he understood. “I signed the req form and when I told the woman that I was working with you and Shona it showed up in two days. Two days! I never get…But, um, are you sure? About Aqualung being local?”
“Until you tell me different.”
“I’m more of a doctor. And a scientist. Than a, um, policewoman, Detect, Cas. Caswell.”
“All to say you’re a first order problem solver with the broadened perspective the heart of a singer brings. Some problems are mundane, like where did our Aqualung come from. He takes us up the ladder to where mundane stops and the puzzle begins. You’ll have your plate full of doctoring and science-ing soon enough. Send a FAX or email through the system, and wait. But not long. Let me know if you don’t get prompt and courteous responses, even if they have nil. When Shona calls, text me. I’m gone fishing.”
She wanted to ask him if they were running, or seasonal, fresh or salt water and what kind of bait, but…Most men, especially the older ones, were humorless sods. The DCI seemed different. Still, times like this she wished she’d had a father.
“It’s not new, but bloody hell, Shona.” Caswell let out a soft whistle, ran his hand along the fender of the dark blue BMW X5.
“The garage had a note. Four-wheel drive, no bullshit. You’ll just deny it, so I won’t ask. I will ask about four-wheel drive.”
“We need to travel close to the water. Low tide at just gone half past.”
“Where Kylie’s Aqualung could have beached his boat at high tide. I checked the charts against his arrival time. He didn’t want to drag the body far.”
“You did research work?”
“Kylie was wounded. Scientists and doctors doing boredom. Couldn’t load her up with more and you were busy getting England’s daily missing sorted for us.”
“You backed up on her?”
“She’s a sensitive lass, Shona, and so in love with her toys.” His voice was on the border of humor and sarcasm, and he followed it with a tight smile across the hood of the BMW. “More to it, like you she’s the defensive that being young and bright brings, and not used to me.”
“You’ve had more Ladies First diversity training?”
“No. Dear old Mum’s manners well preached. Good people are hard to find. Harder to keep. Especially when they’re female.”
“Caswell’s compliments and candy, eh? That’s why I’m driving the beach in a drug runner’s wet dream and you’re on goggles duty. In future, if you’ve flowers on your mind? I’m allergic.”
“All the more reason, then.” He shot the tight smile again, opened the passenger door.
“He stays in a stone shed on the cliffs off the end of Barnes Farm point.” No one had thanked her for finding the Aqualung suspect, which she was starting to think was an unkind nickname, and Shown was driving like a wild woman. “He scavenges at night.” She had to close her eyes. “He picks up what he can afford at the off license, but no one sees him drink, or drunk. Do you think he –” The blue SUV skidded sideways, Kylie knew they were over the cliff. Caswell was out before it stopped moving, banged the door of the stone shed open.
“Gone. Dammit.” He twisted either way in a hurried survey of their location, swore again under his breath. “Kylie. The quick look now, or with us?”
“Um, I –”
The door slammed, Kylie was thrown against the back seat and Shona was grinding grass and dirt up fifteen feet high behind them. They could hear Kylie singing under her breath, her fingertips on the window as she watched the shed fade away… “and you snatch your rattling last breaths, With deep-sea diver sounds…And the flowers bloom like Madness in the spring…”*
Shona killed the lights almost a mile away and idled up on the grassy rise before it turned to sand, the same half mile point as always from the Juliette Simone. They hoped the half-moon between clouds would be enough and settled in to wait. In such deep silence they could hear each other breathe.
“There.” Shona hissed, pointed at a spot halfway between them and the Juliette, thirty yards to the right off straight line.
She adjusted her night vision binoculars. “That’s him.”
Shona and Caswell were out of the car, running. She jumped out behind them and was surprised at how quickly they had closed on Aqualung. He was ten yards away when it started.
The screech was deafening. Feedback meets giant steel grating on steel. And the wind. It was all they could do to stand, much less move against it. It started to swirl, picked up speed and sand, spinning faster and faster until vision blurred and the wind became part of the screech from hell. They held up their forearms to protect their eyes, their faces sandblasted.
Kylie’s “No, no, no, nooooo….” was picked up by the wind and amplified a thousand times. Figures who could have been made of cellophane stood around the Juliette, watching, arms folded, immune to the screeching, screams and sand.
Kylie screamed “No, no, no, no, NO!” again, and Aqualung exploded into a fine, red mist that blended with the spinning sand. Sand and blood, the rags he wore and bits of bone. They could barely breathe. Shona flashed on a holiday in Brighton when she was seven, knew she was drowning. The ocean found her a skinny, unworthy sacrifice and spit her back on the beach, choking, coughing up her watery insides in giant heaves.
Kylie’s soft voice blended with the raucous agony of the wind, sand and blood, rags and bone. And it began to abate. The softer she sang, the quieter it became. The all-enveloping, self-contained twenty-yard wide hurricane dropped from somewhere over their heads, down to their waists, on down to their ankles like a dying hula hoop, eddying around their feet until it was no more.
When the song had faded from her throat, Kylie dropped to her knees and fell sideways into Caswell’s leg. He picked her up in both arms, held her like a rag doll while he and Shona stared at the spot where the fisherman they’d nicknamed Aqualung had been. A spot scoured clean by the wind and sand as if nothing had happened.
“A French lullaby you said?” He tossed the t-shirt they’d all used to clean their faces over the back seat and waited for Kylie to finish chugging a bottle of water. All three looked like shell shocked, blood covered sun and sand burned tourists.
“Yes. From my Gran. I don’t know why…” Kylie twisted the cap off her third bottle of water, opened another, handed it to Shona, who stuck her little finger in it and tried to get sand out of her ears and nose. Caswell blew his nose on a gas receipt, held it up for the beach breeze to carry away, poured his remaining water over his head. He bent, shook his head like a retriever before he straightened.
“No lasting harm?” He got a nod from Shona. Kylie beamed a smile, grabbed his forearm and scooted from the back of the X5. “I was wondering, working with you two, when the weirdness was going to start.” She looked into her partners’ worried, red faces, shook Caswell’s arm. “If whatever that was didn’t jam the camera? We can watch it on my phone! So much for mundane, huh?”
The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery
3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?
- From Aqualung, copyright Ian Anderson.