Silk and powdery perfume, who appeared to have sent herself to the drycleaners 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’s leather manager’s chair went over when he jumped back. He 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 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 pieces of it whizzing through the air.

***

Evelyn rocked, slow and stiff, surrounded by nervous orderlies. Her knuckles white, her face blank. Her electric blue-gray eyes bloodshot, took in the scrambled urgency of the day room

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.”

She 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.” She 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-logo-1

The Art of Drowning

By Phil Huston, Ash N Finn and Jac Forsyth

3 writers
1 story
No rules
No destination
What could possibly go wrong?

This series was inspired by a creepy piece of artwork created by Ash.

Previous episodes

Season 1 is available from the sub menu

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6 thoughts on “The Art of Drowning – 2.4 – By Phil Huston

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