The Art of Drowning – Episode 5

The Dead Have Their Needs – by Phil Huston

Caswell set his guitar on the sofa beside him, picked up the vibrating phone.

“Cas –”

“You sent a women’s world ginger looker with a sassed-up mouth up the elevator this time, Caswell. I have whining from six directions.”

“She came on her own.”

“She knows your name well enough. Special Investigations lets you pick them now?”

“Yes, but she picked me for this one. And she’s three times as smart as she is good looking. Who’d she piss off?”

“A scrupulous, rule bound and higher ground young ladder climber a few flights down. He wants her disciplined. Something about a donkey?”

Caswell laughed, out loud. “You’ve pulled her file?”

“That’s why I’m calling. She makes too much noise we’re all miserable. How does a pushy Irish lass get a hand signed thank you from HRM?”

“She figured Henry’s headless wives magically piling up in the shadow of the Queen’s front gate, and nothing on CCTV. Why did you call me?”

“We need to talk.”

“You and Shona need to talk. She knocked, not me.”

“You think –”

“I think being a lady copper smarter than the lot of us is a shit job. She needs to know you respect her, not me or the letter. Be a gent. Call, meet her in a village pub somewhere away from the cameras, give her what you have. And you and I never spoke.”


“Then that mouthy ginger looker and I will make whatever is still an embarrassment to the Crown’s alphabet of ministries, after lo these many years, go away. Quietly wrapped in a whack job murderer.”

“What if there’s more to it?”

“Job security, mate.”


Shona sat back the half mile from the rusting hulk of the Juliette Simone with her binoculars on the dashboard of the complete piece of shit pinkish metallic 2001 Vauxhall Corsa they’d given her from undercover’s garage, simply because she didn’t have time to flirt with them, and read over maritime records and tables from October 1918. In French. Looking for some record of the ship in front her that had been flying a French flag, with no registry to be found. She glanced up in time to see Kylie and her unobtrusive belt pack full of swabs and vials and dental picks sideways herself into a fissure in Juliette’s hull.

She pulled her sunglasses down when a tall, thin, youngish man in wrinkled slacks, shirt tail in the breeze and Jesus sandals, who’d lost his razor a good few days ago, exited the BMW that parked twenty yards from her. He carried a rolled-up blanket under one arm and an oversized phone in his other hand. And he was headed straight for the Juliette. Shit. She texted Kylie to kill her torch, get back up into tourist land inside the hulk. She let out the breath she was holding when “OK” came up on her phone.

Wrinkled was navigating the sand and rock in the direction of the hulk when a man and a red setter appeared from behind the shallow cliff to her right. She picked up the binoculars.

Dammit. Kirklin? What the hell was he doing? He was retired from doing things for the government the government didn’t know about, and there he was with a frisbee and an Irish Setter on a collision course with Wrinkled? A frisbee toss that looked errant, but was perfect, sailed close enough to Wrinkled’s head to make him duck. There were smiles, a frisbee hand off, a brief conversation. Wrinkled patted the dog, walked off talking on his phone until a yellow VW parked next to his car. A woman ill dressed for the beach climbed out, took two steps before she leaned on the car and set her high heels on top. Wedding ring. Sensible suit. She took off jogging as well as she could in the suit and sand toward Wrinkled. Kirklin and the dog stayed by the Juliette, played a lazy toss and fetch game of frisbee.

Shona tapped out “False alarm. Back to work” on her phone


“Binkie beach shag. With the other”



Shona and Kiley clapped politely, whistled lightly when Caswell’s band of oldies playing even older oldies mixed with blues called an end to their early set in the Frog and Peacock.

Shona breathed “Thank God” through her smile.

“I liked them. It’s fresh their way and the one looks like an old hospital mop can still sing. Too loud by half, but they’re old and deaf and probably have no idea there’s technology can do it without the volume.”

“He knows. He won’t.”

“You’re a pair, then. Old ways, hard work, results are all.”

Caswell pulled a chair, dropped into it.

“Cas? Kiley. She’s –”

“The singing forensics. Kylie? Seriously?” He hit his beer, set it down. “I know exactly how old your mum is. You, too.”

“She won’t like that, you being a bit of a heathen who might tell shag in a lay-by stories on her.”

“Not her. Her older sister is a different tale told.” He pulled the new manila envelope out from under Shona’s elbows. “Any the wiser, are we?”

“I ran into a cheeky, by the book, aromatic, stiff hair and creases wall in London. Two days later I had a ring from the Tower of Secrets. What do you know about that?”

“I’ll call that a fatherly lie. Kirklin out of the fog with his dog, probably his Walther, on the off-chance of weaker sex copper mischief?”


“That’s another.” She flattened a few folded papers. “As nothing’s are on the table, there’s nothing about our once floating catacomb. French flag, French papers that lead back to nowhere and a supposedly ‘oops, murdered by frightened farmers’ British crew.”

“Supposedly British or supposedly farmers?”


“Expendable crew, order bound soldier assassins told the mutinying enemy was afoot, no documents we can see. What did your friend in the tower have to say?”

“Gas.” She used her fingers for quotation marks. “Possibly”

“Nerve gas?”

“He insinuated that it was more than nerve gas. Something they had refined to not make victims twitch and spaz like a backline dancer on Madonna’s Your Nasty Grandmother tour while their skin melted. ‘Madness’ is what he said. Timothy Leary gone full on, ‘if I could put that up in my young brain.’ I told him Leary was after the last big war and he said that LSD was a weak, housebound half-sister to whatever this was, if it ever existed at all, which again he wouldn’t confirm.”


“From what I could pull through the black ink, it appeared to be chemically targeted to create almost instantaneous, short circuited brain failure. Every channel on every satellite, every song on every iPod letting go all at once in your head. Your childhood, your dreams, your fears. Your monsters under the bed and your realities and yesterday and right now all swirling around behind your eyes. The brain we use is a forty-watt bulb in a thousand-watt socket. Crank the voltage –” She popped her thumb out of the top of her water bottle. “Something has to give. When it does, everything shuts down. Drop to your knees death. By brain freeze. If it was fast acting and atomized or broke down quickly, when the bodies were discovered there’d be no trace of a chemical attack. The only curiosity being death masks of unimaginable fear.” She rolled the water bottle in her hand and sang, softly, “If you leave me now, you take away the better part of me…”

“Chicago? Fine, but not the ballad slop.”

“Ballads have their place.” They both shot him a look across the table.

“Right. Journey’s next, then. We have acid’s pumped up twin riding the sand storm of evil. Bottom line, Shona?”

“The test subjects mightn’t have all died. The Tower of Secrets is thinking if any didn’t, they might never.” Their little table became the center of a quiet universe for a few beats.

“Ab fab, Dahlings. I put in a word, Kylie’s DNA scrapings are rising to the top with nary hindrance or question.” He nodded toward the small stage. “The boys want another short go.” He held out his hand. “Kylie?”

She went beet red, held up both of her hands like shields.

“Like that, eh?” He stood, tugged on his belt loops and adjusted the baggy corduroys. “When the next victim of the evil sand storm turns up we’ll have you back for a go with a proper reggae ‘Down On the Sloop John B’.”

“‘Pirate’s Bride’ would be nice.”

“Sting is it now?”

“I told you, ballads have their place.” She looked almost fretful. “I sing to them because…Well…”

“Ballads are solace for the living, Kylie.”

She looked him straight in the eye. “The dead have their needs as well, DCI.”

“Cas. Caswell. Old bastard. We’re a team, not titles.” Caswell reached across the table with both hands, squeezed their outside shoulders.

“I knew she was the one for this bit, Shona. Good work, both. Requests?”

They glanced at each other. Shona offered, “Unplug, call it a night?”

He finished his beer, winked. “Don’t know that one. Put Kylie on it, she’s nothing to do until the sand storm of all that’s ill calls another sailor to the Juliette Simone.”

Kylie rested her elbow on top of her car, looked across it while Shona unlocked her rolling embarrassment. “What if we disagree with him, Shown, or come up with alternatives? His team bit covers that?

“I’ve called him a stupid, buggered old fool more than once.”

“Did he set you straight, stern and proper?”

“Yes. He said, ‘Prove me wrong’.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts


The Roommate

From ‘The Hot Girl’ Part Three

England was cold. A deep, set in cold. Not a big snowfall cold, just a background damp gets-in-your-bones cold. It was thirty-seven degrees, it had rained almost every day for the first two weeks she’d been there and tonight was no different.

“Come on. Goddammit, open.” The cold drip from the useless, narrow awning over the door was going straight between her collar and her neck. “If you don’t –” She bumped the stubborn door with her hip when she twisted the key and the solid wood door with a thousand coats of pain banged open, dropped her into the flat on her hands and knees. She crawled inside, shook off the rain like a wet Golden Retriever. A quick glance told her Merriam had a fire going, that was rare, and really nice. And music. A soft, folky kind of — “NOOOOOOO! NO NO NO! MERRIAM STOP!! I MEAN IT, DON’T. OH MY GOD. OH – MY – GOD!!” Deanna was about to bite a hole in her right index finger.

“Deanna? Lass? A ghost is it?”

“Just don’t, okay? Put it down, okay? Just…Don’t. Okay?”

“Don’t what okay?”

All Deanna could see was the straight razor in Merriam’s right hand and a guy’s rapidly failing erection in her left. He was stretched out on the nap mat in front of the fire, shirt and sweater still on, nothing below the waist. He’d rolled his head to the side to stare at her. Merriam was on the far side fully dressed, leaning on her hip, legs stretched out, working the now half-staff erection with her fingernails. There was a bottle of scotch sitting on the floor beside the guy on Deanna’s side, two short water glasses beside it. The big soap cup with JOHNSON on it that was usually on the sink in the bathroom that Deanna thought was weird but okay, if that’s how Merriam shaved her legs, was sitting on the left side of the guy’s abdomen. Kind of in the way of Deanna being able to see exactly what Merriam was doing.

The guy turned his head back to Merriam. “I’ll be seeing a knock down then, her having a look?”

“No, love, your money’s well spent. This is our American lass I told you as might be about. She’s not much for a drink or a shag or even a naughty bit of chat. Early days, though. He’s coming back, your lad. Never mind her. Sure as the sun rises she’s seen a todge or two and yours is naught to set in the record books.” She scratched his chest like a dog and giggled.

“True told but it pleasures me well enough. And thinking of her helps him along. A stunner of a drowned cat.” They both snort laughed. He raised his head more, sipped from one of the glasses.

“Lay back, love, I’ve Johnny’s full attention again.” Merriam dunked the beaver bristle brush in a bowl of water, spun it around in the JOHNSON soap cup and lathered up the floor guy’s fully recovered manhood while she held it from the tip, her fingers like a claw. She picked up the razor again, moved in with it.

Deanna screamed, banged into the end of the couch, spun off it into her room and slammed the door.


Twenty minutes later Merriam knocked lightly. “Deanna? All’s done.”

“I don’t want to see. I don’t want to know. I don’t.”

“Nothing to see, lass. He’s off down the pub.”

“Really? Gone? Did you clean up the blood? Oh, God. Am I in trouble just for being here?”

Merriam pushed the door open and sat on the bed next to her completely freaked out flat mate. “There was no blood. I’m a professional, lass. I’ll have an Italian peach shaved into a nectarine if I choose. Come out. The fire’s back up and your hands are ice.”

Deanna wrapped herself in a hunting scene throw from the back of Cat’s couch, sat cross legged off to the side of the fire and sipped warm, slightly scotch infused tea while she watched Merriam wipe the nap mat down with alcohol and a paper towel.

“So you just shave them? You don’t, you know, I thought you were going to, well…” she blushed. “You know, whack it off. Not like that, but…”

“A shave is all, and as some feel it they may ‘let go.’ I’ve no trouble with that unless it’s been too long and too much or they have the power of a fire hose. She held out her hands, mimicked holding a high pressure hose pulling them around. “That’s a mess as I’ve seen and cleaned and I’ll not wish for another.”

“God, Merriam, that’s disgusting.”

“The mess? It can be, but twenty quid, some double that for a shoulder or leg massage, all for a half hour spent. Nothing depraved in a shave, Cat’s ill thinking tossed. That’s my advert and that’s what I do. If they choose to bring their spunk to the mat that’s their doing, not mine.”

“No, all of it is disgusting. You played with it! Those nails of yours, I saw that. You can’t say you have nothing to do with it when he was, well, you know, all big and everything from you doing that stuff.”

“So I have a bit of play. And truth told that’s my fun in it. I rate myself a first in todger gardening without shame as I like to see a Johnny rise and bloom. There’s something for me in knowing that, and all stays free of romance or another sweaty hump and gone, mess in the bed shag. A bit of a chat and a stroke. I’m in control and I have my fun. They leave as a polished billiard’s cue and pair with a load off, and I’ve had mine.”

“But the police. What about the police, and you just sort of, well, you know doing that and everything?”

“I’ve never! I shave, I do.” She winked. “And that’s all. I’ve had a copper or two as well. One on his own and another to see as I was up to. The mug stays out and the lather goes on and it’s a shave. As told, they bring what they will, I bring a razor and cup. You truly believed me to be relieving him of his bits of man bother altogether?”

“Yes. Sorry. I just saw the razor, and him and, and…Yes.”

“Your worry was for the mess and the after, or for him?”

“No, not him. I was worried about your new rug and the blood and everything. You can cut them all off if you want, I don’t care.”

“The lad in the frame on your chest as well?”

“Especially him. Only maybe you could save it in a jar in the freezer or something and I can get it put back on him when I go home.”

Nice to Meet You

“You’re Paula, huh? Nice earrings. Nicer crib. Double wide?”

“Yes.” She kept looking at some photos on her light desk with a magnifying glass. “Ms. Whittier to vendors, please and thank you. I had them knock out a wall for me because I work big. And I have a massive can under my desk marked ‘shit’ specifically for jive-ass salesmen’s compliments.” She switched off her light table and spun towards the door. “I…Whoa. Who let you in? I heard heaven starts on nineteen.”

“You kissed a frog once. Here I am.”

“Permission to vomit. I was six. Prince?”

“Jackson. That’s it, either way. Story or you can leave it.”

“Studley! You’re not just a voice on the phone! Um…They told me this one. Yvonne. Paula Yvonne when my mom was mad. Your name game? Yawn. Something this side of disco?”

“Ow. Folding under trendsetter pressure. Paula and Yvonne, that’s extra Fifties. Bobby sox, girl bands, bad TV, worse movies. Mom made out by the jukebox with greasers, married penny loafers?”

“Smart and decent arm candy.”

“Same to you but way more of it.”

“Uh-oh, swoon attack. Marry me?”

“Sure. Lunch first?”

“You are a God.”

“First miracle. Cleavage Trace, on your blue Batgirl phone. Today.”

“Not in this dimension. Tell me another one ‘cause they’re so pretty?”

“Straight up. Ringing before lunch farts rumble.”

“Very wrong. Ethics forbid a blowjob, even if true.”

“Forbidden fruit is sweetest, but on legal authority? Blow is a figure of speech.”

“Not a Puffer fan?”

“Sick can’t be unseen. For real, Trace needs help. Concept, cover, merchandise. Work him.”

“’For real’ is so stale. Say it’s true. What should I wear to his party?”

“You is perfect. Listen, jam, take it where it needs to go. Spool it, print it, call a courier.”

“Talk the talk, bad boy. He’ll love me just the way I are?”

“Don’t go shavin’. I heard wedding bells and lunch. I do requests at the top of every hour.”

“Extreme burgers and onion rings I’ve never seen. Elmore’s? In a dark booth.”

“Whoa, demanding with a touch of bitch. Same-side dark booth romantic?”

“Down boy. Elbow room required. Fact on bitch, I own it.”

“Dreams do come true. I’m cab bait. You’re driving.”

“I’m not locally grown. Homes of the Rich and Famous tour?”

“Jesus. What have you done for me tomorrow?”

“My stereo is brain damage. ‘Manilow’s Greatest Live,’ Ecuador bootleg.”

“An all day repeater. Up for a trade? Various Artists, Pan Flute Christmas.”

“All over it. No ‘Sleigh Bells’ equals deal breaker.”

“Track three.” He opened the PR office door, held it for her. “Ladies first.”