The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.7b

Punks, Princes, Milkmaids and Poetry – by Phil Huston

Kirklin found Caswell outdoors at the pub in Oxfordshire, dropped into a chair opposite. “It was Elise told you they were after the rust bucket? Me?”

Cas nodded, held up a finger to the waitress and pointed at Kirklin.

“They turned out punks, Caswell. Dressed up as sailor boys. I could smell the fear after I put two bouncers down the shaft. I’m surprised the lad I pulled out below didn’t faint. And nothing for my destruction but internet taught and e-bay bought door opener photocells, Chinese fireworks and drain cleaner. Crude, but deadly. Pissed me off they’d arm it with the Doc in tow.” He took his beer from the waitress, acknowledged her with an appreciative nod. “I met with Elise.” He gauged Cas, got no reaction. “We rowed a bit over her dust and cobwebs intelligence gathering. Had her log in as Dunning on the Secrets VPN and search the not-redacted crypt while I watched. They wrote off the Juliette as dangerous to their reputations in 1918. Swabbed every surface of it looking for whatever they’d done, found nothing. With sonar and free time in 1951, they pulled up two canisters the size of coffee tins from the site of the original torpedoing, no evidence they ever belonged to the Juliette, trucked them off to Sheffield and dumped them in a furnace to be sure. There’s naught about that boat but whatever story the bones might tell that worries them. Or someone.”

They sipped beer, listened to the wind blow bits of pub lunch conversation in and out between them. Cas pulled a stapled sheaf of spreadsheets from his jacket, passed them across.

“What Shona found. That the family trees of murder stopped twice, for significant periods of time. Most of the bodies were pre-Fifty-five. Only three more she can track until eighty-six when it stopped completely. Picked up again three years ago. The recent all random and unconnected, save for location.” Caswell unconsciously rubbed his freshly unstitched thigh, caught Kirklin’s eye. “Recall as Dunning told us once that he was the King who wasn’t, and the nepotism in his family favor was down to a distant Prince of Anjou shagging the milkmaid? I believed it conceit. In truth, the dairy queen’s lad was afforded landed entitlement to stop his noise. Would have been better had the milk maid shoved the Prince off and he’d run down his father’s leg. As well the egg that dropped from a stableman’s daughter in Normandy gone six hundred years and more. Dr. LeClare is the first female since the Fifteenth Century down either of those bastard lines.”

“Richard Dunning and his foul seed, perhaps this Fugitif, our Baby Doc? All down to a poncy Prince of Anjou getting his leg over, both sides of the channel?”

“Yes. And she’s ‘our’ Baby Doc now?”

“Leave it. I told her about us and Douala.” He paused, let in a fleeting memory and killed most of his beer. “Two hours later she came face up on trying to reconcile her own ‘no happy endings’ scenario without you or the Irish lass to hold her hand, and puked all over my truck.”

“We need to keep her away from that shit, Kirklin. She can’t get cynical like us.”

“I prefer ‘disillusioned romantics’.” He drained his beer glass, set it on the table and waited.

“Bloody hell, Kirklin. We know it’s not the military or the usual Secrets lot that’s running up the Juliette’s body count. Every time I think I have this one figured, I start over.”

Kirklin covered a small clam shell burn phone with his hand, moved it across the table. “So you know, Elise is still one of us. Spot on about our phones being hacked.”

Caswell covered Kirklin’s hand with his own. Kirklin raised his hand and there was a pound coin where the unseen phone had been. Kirklin stood, pushed the pound under his empty glass. “I told Elise you’d have a dog again, when you retired. She said you could have all the dogs you fancied, if you took more than a good few dance lessons. And burned your bloody guitar.”

“Poor dancer owned. She said nothing about my guitar.”

“She will.” He pocketed the spreadsheets. “All our non-numbers are on that phone, Vicar’s code. Call Elise, see if it works.”

“And say what?”

“Your wife’s buried thirteen years last month. The kids are on their own. Say something important. Put some poetry back in your life, mate. Well I know how bloody bleak it is without.”

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

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The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.7a

Rope Burn – by Phil Huston

“What is it we’re doing again?” Kylie set a small traveling bag of tools in the back of Kirklin’s truck and climbed in the cab, made a face when the door wouldn’t close. She wasn’t sure about the truck. Definitely not sure about Kirklin.

“Cas has gone limping off the coast of France with Shona. Asked us to see if there’s truth yet to what Elise let on about two old rust buckets. The Juliette, and me.” He reached across her and banged the door closed. They rode in tense silence until well out of the forensic lab parking lot and gone rural.

“You don’t like me, do you, Kirklin?”

“Not on you, Doc.”

“I’m ‘too pushy’, act like ‘I know it all’. I get rebound from it, especially with men. Older men it’s worse. Except for Caswell. I think he has a daughter. I know he had a wife. I mean it’s okay, it’s just uncomfort –”

“It’s not ‘okay,’ and that’s your bloody problem.” Kirklin let go of the wheel, held it with his knee while he lit a cigarette. “You ‘think’ and you ‘know’ and it’s ‘okay.’ You don’t think, and you don’t know, and it’s not ‘okay.’ Day’s end you’re an ill-affordable luxury.”

“I feel like I should object to that, somehow.”

He ashed his cigarette out the window, stared straight ahead. “You see something in a shop, eh? You like it. Maybe you’d wear it, or put it on the mantle or the wall, have it in your life. But the price? Nah. Not that you can’t afford it, but you won’t afford it. That’s you. And me and women.”

“We aren’t commodities we’re –”

Kirklin slammed on the old truck’s brakes and skidded onto a patch of gravel and mud by a farm gate, got in her face. “It’s not about you, or how women can do a man’s day. Four of us.” He held up a finger for each. “Cas. Elise. Orianna. Me. Playing at moneyed, disaffected ex-pats, dancing and drinking our way through what counted for civilized French Africa. Congo, Cameroon. Djibouti. Madagascar. Keeping watch on anointed weapons smugglers going off course for bigger money. Cas had a wife and baby at home, Elise was engaged, and there they were, thrown at each other, doing too good a job of it Cas’s wife would say. Ori and I were older and single and lived the part. We danced, we drank, we sweated and moaned and improvised bullshit for all listening. And bugged offices, phones, cars, cafes, hotels, shit shacks and shipping containers everywhere we went. Communication was pathetic when it wasn’t nonexistent. After six months, we’d become the intelligence mushrooms who’d danced our way into the crosshairs of the money typhoon. Our bloody handler, Richard Dunning, he knew well enough. We didn’t.”

He flipped his black cigarette butt past her head and out the window. Got closer his voice lowered into reverence.

“Cas saw the Jeep come ‘round a corner with small arms opened up and returned fire, no time to shout us down. We all sorted cover and returned fire, except Orianna. She stepped into the street, emptied a clip through the windshield. Killed the driver, confused the shooter long enough for Cas or Elise to take him out. Shooter fell into the driver, the Jeep wheeled left and punched Orianna through a wall not two feet from me.”

That sat in the air between them for a long moment.

“Cas took a superficial round in the leg. Elise took one through-and-through between her neck and right shoulder. Inches one way she’s dead, the other she’s lost an arm. Why? Because she raised up as well when Ori stepped off that curb. All down to me. I’d jammed after one round and hugged the ground. A good woman killed and another shot, saving my ass. Doing my job. Orianna was one who ‘thought’ and ‘knew’ and all was ‘okay’ and she died not knowing I worshiped the ground her shadow crossed. As a professional and a woman. You are an ill-affordable luxury, Doctor LeClare. All of you self-assured, think you’re indestructible, knowing all and all’s okay types. Tolerance, not ‘like’, is how I work with women. I won’t afford else.” He sat back, jammed the old truck into gear and threw gravel and mud at some cows that had gotten curious.

***

“The least you can do is tell me what we’re looking for.”

“Anything not right, Doc.” Kirklin ran his fingers down the inside of the Juliette’s hull.

They both heard the series of clicks echo off the steel-walled silence behind them. Kylie turned, started back, Kirklin grabbed her jacket and yanked her behind him. He swept up sand and dust, tossed it back in the direction they’d come. They both saw the thin line of broken green light at ankle level.

“Nice of them to let us in. How far is it to where sand turned glass?”

“We’re halfway. We –”

“Shit.” Kirklin searched the iron rungs going up to his right, grabbed a fistful of Kylie’s jacket again and hissed. “Do. Not. Move. Don’t think. Don’t know. Breathe and wait for instructions.”

He swept dust and sand into his hand again, reached up as far as he could, let it go over eight rungs, stepped up and repeated the process. Two more times and he motioned for Kylie to follow.

Thirty feet higher and twenty minutes later, covered in dust and sand, they sat side by side on a small landing below the open hatch to the deck. Kylie blew out a deep breath, let her shoulders drop. “What was that down there?”

“Pressure devices, armed by the photocell. We only heard them arm because we were to be further in and me chatting you up, not us looking for their handy work. Too much mess to be explosive. Chlorine or a hydrochloride gas, my thinking. They couldn’t leave that for an accidental tourist, someone had to activate the cell to trip the detonators.”

“Couldn’t we have run past whatever they were? Or around them?”

“Like a movie, all of them firing off behind us as we’re such agile gazelles? Not likely. Pull up the camera.” He waited until she had the app open, reached in his jacket pocket, clicked something and killed the Juliette’s video stream.

She immediately got a text alert, and stared dumbly at her blank phone. “Now what?”

“We wait. They’ll be along soon enough to see why the camera’s gone off and we haven’t shown ourselves.” He looked at her, still staring at her blank phone. “How’d you get our camera up so high?”

“From rock climbing.”

“Best news of the day, that.”

***

It took seven minutes for the two-man watch crew to start making noise below. Kirklin pulled his Walther and put two rounds down the bulkhead stairwell he and Kylie had come up, the shots angled to ricochet around like billiard balls.

“We’re armed, Kirklin,” echoed up the stairwell.

“Lovely. We’re streaming to Facebook,” Kirklin lied. “One of you, up the hole with a decent rope. I don’t like what I see, there’ll be a hole in the top of your head and I’ll be down with another for whoever’s still about.”

***

Kirklin tied the Navy man to a cleat, tied the remaining rope off to another. He gave Kylie his Walther, took the sailor’s Glock 17 and cut two big pieces out of the sailor’s ripstop jacket.

“I go down, you stream it to Caswell’s cloud. All’s well, you take youngster’s gloves and follow me. If not?” He nodded at the sailor, “Shoot him. And the one pops his head up out of the hole as well.” He grabbed the rope with the rip-stop rags wrapping his hands and dropped over the side of the Juliette.

Four of the longest minutes of Kylie’s life went by in silence while Kirklin slowly rappelled down. The bound sailor, a young, rugged, handsome-ish type, studied her with curiosity and malice. On the surface he looked the kind of lad who, if he’d had manners enough, she’d easily have gone Moor hiking or rock climbing with on a Saturday, and possibly the two of them would spend Sunday “recovering” together.

She watched Kirklin crack the other uniformed man’s head with the Glock and motion for her through the screen on her phone. The borrowed gloves were smoking when she landed.

***

Kirklin held the key fob out the window of the truck, just as he had with Caswell, and both their phones came alive with the Juliette’s camera. He tossed the fob into the door-less glove box on top of both sailor’s handguns, lit a black cigarette and let the smoke drift for a moment.

“You’ll run the weapons for Caswell immediately and upload the data, as they’ll find legs out of your lab before tomorrow’s sunrise.” He bumped her lightly on the shoulder with his elbow. “We wanted to see what they’d put up. Found out, eh? Thought you’d break a leg, landing. Your lad had something to say, did he, you two alone?”

“No. He stared at me like he didn’t believe I’d know how to shoot him until I chambered your old Walther. I…I want to apologize. Or something. That’s twice, had I gone my way I’d not have come back.”

“No need.” He glanced at her, pensive and wrapped inside herself. “I said I wouldn’t afford to like you. Naught about having you killed in my company. Naval Intelligence.” There was humor in his voice Kylie hadn’t heard before. “Oxymoron, that. All told I’ll sleep better knowing the Empire’s well-guarded by the likes of those two.”

“I won’t.” Kylie stared out the window at the fog creeping inland on her side, thought about having to shoot the handsome-ish sailor and not being able to. Saw him dragging her blistered, dead body out of the Juliette like it was all in a day’s work instead, and vomited out the window.

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 Art of Drowning -Episode 2.6

The Fume of Sighs – by Jac Forsyth

The fall from heaven isn’t measured in rage. It’s measured in last steps. Begged and crawled, each one of them, blade down to bone.

So it was that death and dominion were lit from the same match. And those who had followed me saw the artillery of rage, and took it for my heart. They didn’t know that I was lost, trapped in the distance between one breath and the next. And I tried, my love, I tried. To tell them how it was the fall that held me. So small in its claws and teeth. And my tears tight to its chest in lullaby. Hell may have taken my soul in retribution, but for all its circles of torture, it still brought me more comfort than a star-sky of unanswered prayers.

I don’t remember the arc of that first dying. Just the world as it cleared in dream and scream. And those who walked then, staring at the sun with their lidless eyes. So many faces and I still see them, cold as fire. Waiting at the edges. Building the weapons for a man who would be king.

A strange shadow is tied to the footsteps of those who have sheltered behind the tattooed doors and endless corridors. But the taste of innocent blood is still cankerous, more so it seems in these times of fishless nets and moonless satellites. And once again I have seen the contaminated landscapes of holocaust sitting hunched on street corners. Folding father and son with the truthfinders and transmissions of slaughter. Whispers so others will speak the poison of my name. Willing the warriors of Anjou to rise again.

But in all the growing of their cancerous dynasty they have forgotten that this was always about love. Some days still curl the perfume touch of your skin through my mind. And there is nowhere left to fall when even hell has cast me out.

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 Art of Drowning – Episode 2.5

None so Blind – by Ash N. Finn

Insignificance provides a perfect shield from scrutiny. Perceived insignificance that is. Be honest now, do you pay a lot of attention to the beggar sitting cross-legged on the pavement outside your local convenience store, or his muttering hunched shape stumbling along the sea promenade asking have you got some change? You might throw a few coins into the plastic cup in his outstretched arm, maybe even give him a cigarette or two, but do you really look at him? Of course, you don’t. Or do you, Kirklin? Does anyone?

No, all of you carry far too much purpose in your minds and too much baggage on your shoulders to pause and look. Laughable, isn’t it, that the professional watchers don’t watch what their collective subconscious deems insignificant.

He says thanks for one of your black cigarettes, Kirklin. You even light it for him, but if I asked you what he looked like, whether his eyes were brown or blue or green or grey, cold, sparkling or dull, would you be able to tell me? Was his voice feeble or strong, deep or high-pitched?

Unrecognizable in his ragged guise, doesn’t he look the part so well that any trace of familiarity remains unseen. You’d know him if he wore his aftershave and tailored suit, stiff and stern in the tower of secrets.

Maybe you don’t really see him there either given your and your friends’ lack of respect for his barked protestations inside the hallowed building. He’s hungry for power and thirsty for blood, would not hesitate to kill his father if he wasn’t too shrewd to understand that this could lead to his discovery. Oh, how he hates him though. How he hates you and Cas and that bold Irish lass. You’ve already hurried along, Kirklin, and don’t see him crushing the cigarette with his foot and spitting in the direction of your dwindling shape.

A candle inside Evelyn’s window spits out its last feeble flicker illuminating the crystal wine glass and her unblinking gaze one last time before it dies. In the distance, someone’s dog howls. It’s a full moon tonight, and Caswell keeps himself concealed in the impenetrable shadow cast by the sycamore tree. He’ll have a dog himself when he retires.

No, we are not enemies, Caswell. We are bound by empathy, not enmity.

Evelyn smiles and gently presses her hand against the window pane. I’m not him, Caswell, go home now.

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 Art of Drowning – Episode 2.4

Must We Be Enemies – by Phil Huston

Silk and powdery perfume, who appeared to have sent herself to the dry cleaners along with her clothes, glanced up from behind her large, glossy, empty-but-for-a-phone desk. “I’m sorry, you can’t…Caswell? You again?”

“New shoes, Elise.” He put his left foot on the edge of her desk. “Just for you.”

“How thoughtful.” She grimaced, ran her hand down the side of his shoe. “Well done. They almost look like leather.” She waved her hand at the pink Boots bag in his hand. “For me as well?”

“Your charms are eternal, but not today. I picked you some flowers, but had to chuck them. Fair Shona’s allergic.”

“Everyone in this game is a pathetically transparent liar. Dunning is in.” She collected a small purse from her desk drawer, caught Caswell’s eyes. “You will give me time to excuse myself.”

Silk and powdery perfume stepped to a door that appeared from nowhere and vanished the same way into the paneled wall behind her desk. Shona gave Cas a sideways glance.

“It’s a job, Shona. Someone needs to keep the riff raff at bay or the Empire would topple. Leaving us to let ourselves in gives her deniability should today be toppling day.”

“Resulting from riff following raff through that door?”

“I didn’t live so long leading dangerous charges, Shona. Ladies first.” He opened the tall door without knocking and ushered them in.

The startled, starched and balding man behind a larger polished desk looked up, frowned, caught it and offered a practiced politicrat smile. “Detective Nevill. Always a pleasure. Caswell.” Dunning flipped through a leather clad desk calendar on the pretense of reading it. “As your last visit, you don’t appear to have an appointment.”

Caswell opened the pink Boots bag and dropped his scorched, glass bottomed work boots on Dunning’s desk.

“Goddammit, Caswell…” Dunning held his hands up and away from his desk, now covered in tiny pieces of sand turned glass. “What the hell?”

“Last visit we asked you for data from the Juliette Simone. Who were the handlers and who were the victims of the gas that melted brains like rage melted sand under my feet while fetching Dr. LeClare fifty-three bags of –”

That’s what we need to discuss, before whatever shit fit you feel obligated to put on over the demise of an old pair of boots.” Dunning had put Caswell’s boots back in the Boots bag and scraped a folded piece of paper across his desk, pushing the bits of glass to one side. “You need to let your Dr. LeClare know she is relieved of that monumental project. We will make the determinations and connect the bones to their living relatives. Can’t have you lot dropping in on the families, handing off bodies in bin bags and scaring them shitless with tales of vengeful sand.” He pushed a translucent blue flash drive across the cleared part of his desk. “This is what you wanted. I hope at least one of you remembers your encrypted access passwords.”

Caswell pocketed the drive without acknowledgement. “Kylie won’t like it. She takes a personal interest in her bones.”

“Dr. LeClare’s happiness is your problem. I will get the bodies sorted and their stories told.”

“With what stories and how well sorted?”

“That’s my problem. Bones are bones. We can’t run DNA on every finger joint you pulled out of there. The proper skull and a box of bones, here’s old Uncle Charley. That’s all I can promise.”

“Shona’s missing person’s data?”

“This is a budget wrecker, Caswell. I have a dozen anthropology students on educational intern grants tracing ancestry based on myths we’ve fed them. All in an effort to assuage your theory of some connectivity curse based on an unfortunate circus of errors committed a hundred years ago. Start with what you have. Detective Nevill will get more of what she needs as it comes. Daily if need be. You may then connect the dots as you will.”

Cas glanced at Shona who nodded. “Right, then. I’ll have the regional Doc’s clearance for whatever we need to do at Cliftonwood House with Evelyn Blanchard and we’re less the burden for today.”

There was a moment of extreme tension between Caswell and Dunning, broken when Dunning let his breath go. “Cliftonwood…That’s a bit steep.” He clocked Caswell’s expression. “But doable.” He pushed the Boots bag across the desk behind the drive. “As for you and yours, any Juliette Simone investigation begins with Detective Nevill’s recovered and returned missing person and goes forward. Use the data on the drive, daily updates and our combined underaged research talent to find out why, who might be next.” He paused, only for emphasis. “Leave the bones and their tales to me.”

He watched Caswell open the tall, mahogany door and hold it for Shona, brushed a pile of glass into an open envelope. “Leave yesterday well alone, Caswell. What have you done for us tomorrow, eh mate? Stay in touch.” He punched his phone as the door closed. “Elise? I need a vac…Elise? Elise?”

***

Silk and powdery perfume, topped with a large, fashionable anti-CCTV hat, stepped out of the doorway of a pastry shop and fell in step with Shona and Caswell. “They want the bones to test for trace evidence, and the hell with you and the truth. Without evidence, it can’t come back to them and you’re on your own with whatever is out there.”

“Ever thus,” Caswell said. “Has anyone been in? Defense, Navy? Other ministry shit shovelers?”

“No. The flag wrapped nurse made ripples for twenty minutes with the alarmists. Dunning had them let it go when the body failed to connect. The Bee woman was chalked up to a drug mugging. Too many bodies along the coast and in the shadow of Cliftonwood, Cas. If I see anything go missing on the way to your reports I’ll text. You know where to find it.”

“How long did my wife ask you to try and keep me alive after she was gone?”

“Until I couldn’t. Or you quit this devil’s game and proposed.” She stopped, caught his arm. “Ketamine and Xanax is reality for most at Cliftonwood. What the hell do you hope to accomplish out there on the cliffs?”

“We need to unravel a psychotic woman’s murderous dreams and follow the thread down whatever magic rabbit hole this is.”

“Stay out of the rabbit hole of the Juliette. All of you. They’re looking for an excuse to get rid of it. And Kirklin. Arm’s length rule on both till the curtain falls on this.”

Shona turned to ask a question and Elise was gone. “You know the most fascinating people, Caswell.”

“Chase ghosts long enough and you meet spooks. One day she’ll tell me what my wife really said.”

“One day you’ll tell me what you really do.”

***

Shona sat cross-legged on the floor, Caswell leaned against the wall of Kylie’s candle-lit exam theater and they listened while Kylie read Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey as she walked among the fifty-three black bags of bones. Her voice soft, full of poignancy, consolation and hope. She finished, clutched the book to her chest schoolgirl fashion and addressed the assembled bags.

“A few more tests and you will all be going home. Leave whatever tragedy brought you to the Juliette Simone behind. And embrace your families.” She sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” quietly as she walked the bags again, touching each of them. She left the candles burning and followed Caswell and Shona out into the hall when she was finished.

“You’re free to phone Dunning’s minions now.” Kylie looked over her shoulder at the exam theater door. “They were so sad. And confused. But now, I think…They just needed to know that someone…That we…” Her eyes welled up. Caswell squeezed the top of her shoulder, Shona put an arm around her and led her down the hall to the coffee machine.

Kirklin rose from his seat behind an open newspaper. “Tears. Emotion. Touchy feely, hugs and tea. That’s why it’s so bloody hard to work with women. They wrap a shit job in nurturing and domesticity.”

“We could all be a bit more humane, Kirklin. ‘The dead have their needs’.”

“They do indeed.” Kirklin lit a black cigarette under the No Smoking sign, pulled a knit cap from a pocket as he walked toward the exit. “And she put a right shine on Wordsworth for them.”

***

“Don’t roll your eyes and play at not being home!” Caswell shook both arms of Evelyn’s rocking chair. “You’re as daft as I am, you old bat. Talk. To. Me.”

“Daft as you, daft as you,” she parroted in a cackle. “Ask me a question, I’ll riddle you half and half’s enough to tell you all if half a wit you’ll be.” She laughed another insane cackle and spit on the floor between them.

Cas shoved himself off the rocker’s arms, motioned for the pair of orderlies. “Take her back.”

They lifted her out of the rocker by her shoulders where she hung, limp and uncooperative. Caswell glared when she shuffled past. “Nothing. Not a bloody thing but food. You’ll see what you see and then you will talk to me.”

Evelyn wheezed, her voice cracked and hoarse. “Why do you hate me so? Have I done you some harm?” He could see the blood in Evelyn’s eyes. “The food is shite. The drugs? Nothing.” She squirmed against her handlers. “All of them, their hands are cold and clean and the sheets smell of bleach and death. I haven’t hurt you. I want my room. I want my room and my bed and my window and I want you GONE OFF ME!”

The stainless-steel orderly’s cart in the corner of the room began to vibrate until it reached an audible pitch. Shona saw it coming, barked a warning.

“DOWN! NOW!”

The cart exploded. The only sound it made was pieces of it whizzing through the air.

***

The staff doctor handed off a bandaged but ambulatory orderly and a clipboard to the two paramedics. “I have him down for an x-ray and a scan. Keep him overnight.” He turned, stared at the floor where the blood had begun to coagulate under the body of what had been the other orderly, severed in two just above his hips by a piece of the stainless-steel cart. He glanced up at Caswell. “You have a criminal pathologist with proper credentials on the way?”

“Yeah.” He looked down at his own bloody corduroys, the left leg slit open and dangling from the triage that had removed another piece of the serving cart’s shrapnel from his thigh. Twelve stitches and a tetanus shot.

“The nature of our ‘guests’ prohibits a direct police inquiry.” The doctor paused, seemed to weigh Caswell. “I place a call, they send someone. Based on paperwork received just this morning, that someone would be you. Or someone like you. Correct?”

Someone like me.”

“Only younger. Unsympathetic and no doubt distastefully humorless. Pick up your antibiotic and pain medications at the desk when you’re finished. Follow up with your GP or return here in ten days.” He took the clipboard Caswell had been holding, scratched his signature across the form attached to it, handed it back. “You’ll live. Consider ending your relationship with salt, you’ll live longer.”

***

Evelyn Blanchard drummed her fingers on her window sill, the last golden shafts of sunset ricocheted off the crystal wine glass she’d kept wrapped in a seaman’s rough bandana and stored in a drawer for forty years.

“The blood of the lamb says the church.” She rolled the glass by its stem, watched the rainbows dance on her wall and guests. “Salvation? Lamb’s blood it is, as sacrificial they are. And many’s the soul as found desolate salvation in the grape and cup.” Her lips tightened into a stiff smile. “Must we be enemies, Caswell?”

“Shrewd, but not a shrew?” Caswell poured her a touch more wine. “We’re not enemies, Evelyn. All we want are answers. We can’t right a hundred year wrong without them.”

Evelyn sat back, swept her hand in a broad arc. “All will become as it should, if only I will speak? Well speak I did, and blood covered the floor. More of that you want? Me, speaking? Then more of that you’ll have until you learn to listen.” She went back to drumming her fingers. With the sunset gone and no more games of light and crystal to entertain her, she took her stare somewhere beyond the sea’s distortion of the moonlit horizon and sighed.

“What you want is not from me,” she whispered. “I know his rage. I feel his longing. I touch his soul as he touches mine. But I’m not him. He fears naught but to be forgotten, yet all forgotten is what most he desires.” She looked at all of them, her eyes resting on their faces. “When all that was, died? When vile intent was loosed on the unsuspecting, the innocent, the loved and the lovers…What did they in turn expect? Pastoral nightmares? Orderly chaos and a well-mannered English death?” She held out her glass to Shona, who filled it half-way. Evelyn set the glass on her window sill, resumed her stare.

“The one who cannot die searches for those who failed him his death. He persists only to leave more blood in his wake that cannot sate him. He is Fugitif.” Evelyn tapped the window with her index finger, smiled at the fireflies in the dusk. “And I am Vessul.”

She turned to them, her tired eyes glassy. “Solve the riddle. Of death. And love. Or death and madness will be in the air until the air itself is scourged with sand and our blood.  Listen to me, my angels three. Undying death.” She turned back, put her hand gently on the window, let the fireflies dance on her fingertips. “And undying love…”

***

Cas limped to the X5, opened the passenger door and fell in. “This has love story overtones gone more horribly wrong than Shakespeare ever imagined, Shown. We take a few days, regroup on Monday with everything we have, go back to the beginning with Evelyn and the Juliette Simone.”

“Dunning said –”

“Fuck Dunning.” He turned, grabbed her headrest one handed. “The male nurse in the flag? The dead nurse, Bee? That kid in there today? Your original missing? Look close enough through Dunning’s data and we’ll find their deaths have been on the books a hundred years. It took whoever he is a while to get to here, that’s all.” He fell back in his seat, fastened the harness. “I need a drink.”

“You need a shower. And some trousers with both legs.” She pulled out of the gravel lot, hit her high beams and stuck her foot in the X5. She checked Caswell, tapped the clock. “And we both need to eat.”

He sighed, rolled his window down, smelled the sea in the air, caught himself letting a field of fireflies carry his thoughts away. “I’m beginning to think Kirklin was right about working with women.”

“Say what?”

“I said it’s too cold to go swimming.”

“Brilliant. Fox and Goose it is. Hey, Cas?” She smiled, reached over and punched his shoulder. “Fuck Kirklin, too. Where would you be without us?”

“Dead.” He managed a wry smile her direction. “Or bored next door to it.”

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 Art of Drowning – Episode 2.3

A Brittle Sigh on the Night Air – By Jac Forsyth

Shadow, form and reform. Fold words with the unfold of 10,000 fireflies, ‘Rescue came against my will, yet you presume to judge me on the choices I make? Hauntings always did run common in the halls of your reason, Caswell.’

Time and crime. Sleeper stir, lead with the sanctified. And alchemy of insects come flick-click dripping. Four walls in a crippling.

‘Would you have me hide silent in sandstorms when I am fallen with the crown of Anjou?’ A sigh, bone brittle on the night air, ‘Come, my love, you know me better than that. Every beg, every borrow, every stolen, lays another gilding on my memory. Silent is the one thing I cannot be.’

Sleep crumble in moan and mumble. The seabirds cry. But dreamchaser know the meddling of birds. Sanctuary of dawn is just another trick of the dark.

‘Still you refuse me audience?’ Shadow falls soft along the seams, tears in the too late of this meeting, ‘Ah, my love, my love. In sword and arrow, I know more than most how shame hides refugee in the strangest of places. But the last of our choices were abandoned along with the tide. And it seems to me that the walls you have built between us would benefit from a touch of graffiti. Or perhaps something a little more, permanent?’

Insects take. Sleeper wake. Red on white cotton. Words never forgotten.

From the devil we came and to the devil we must return

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 Art of Drowning – Episode 2.2

Steep and Narrow – by Ash N. Finn

Evelyn watches the young nurse make her bed. Fresh covers. Five days and three hours without a change of bed linen. Bee had known to change them every day.

“We’re short-staffed at the moment, Mrs. Blanchard, sorry about that. What with nurse Beatrice, eh,” the girl swallows and clears her throat, “away at the moment, and Steve out sick as well. There, your bed is lovely and fresh now. Not that it smelled like it needed changing badly.”

“It’s Evelyn, child. Do call me Evelyn, please. It’s not about the smell. It’s the sand, it gets everywhere, the sand, and especially into the bed. The sand burns my skin, you see,” she holds out her arms for the nurse to see, “And it gives me fever, and makes me shiver, and then my visions, they, they take me to – no, I’d rather not say, you wouldn’t understand.”

Sleeping in the bed the second night had given her burns on her arms, hands, and legs, even on the soles of her feet. No blisters thanks to her quick reaction and escape into the armchair by the window in which she has slept fully clothed every night since, but her skin had turned a fiery red. It’s still red even now and hot to the touch. The soles of her feet hurt most of all, and hobbling around barefoot is all she can do. As little as possible. Her entire frame is sore from sitting in the armchair for hours on end. It will be good to lie down on the bed again.

“Mrs. Blanchard, eh, Evelyn, may I ask if you have taken your pill today? You should take it now and then go to bed, and have a good rest. Here, hold on to my arm, let’s get you over to your lovely fresh bed.”

Of course, the young woman thinks her mad. After all, isn’t this why she is in this place? Should she give up trying to make them see, trying to warn them? Yet, something tells her that the nurse is in danger. There is something familiar about the woman’s features and the unflinching openness in her doe-like eyes. Is she poor Bee’s child? Evelyn’s eyes fill with tears.

“Are you her child?”

“Oh Evelyn, please, don’t cry. What is it? Is it the memory of your last episode upsetting you so much? Try to calm yourself and go to sleep. I’ll stay with you a little longer. Hold my hand, close your eyes. You are safe here, always remember that you are safe here. Shhh.”

“The visions, they, they take me to – it’s a dark place – a steep narrow staircase – deep down – rags and bones – angry sand glowing red – so hot, too hot – scorching, torching – burning drumsticks in my head – bonfires roaring inside my blazing skull – get them out – don’t let it take them there – not their children, too – no, not the children – Bee – too late – so sorry, so sorry. Will you be able to forgive both the silence and the telling?”

“I don’t think anyone is angry with you,” the nurse places her hand on Evelyn’s forehead, “You’re running a bit of a temperature. Sleep now, you’ll feel better in the morning. Oh, and nurse Beatrice doesn’t have a daughter as far as I know.”

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