“I found this behind the bar.” Setzer handed Natasha a thumb-sized glass vial. It was empty, but lined with a distinct maroon residue. “They must have been poisoned.”
“Yes,” said Jade, “There was something wrong with the taste.”
For the first time since the inn had been built, there was more than one person in its attic. Three of those seven were dead.
Setzer didn’t like the involvement of Jade Sing. He disliked her for a lot of reasons. Jade was an unusual foreigner, and worse, she was a cannibal. Natasha didn’t seem to be interested in arresting Jade, despite Setzer’s suspicions. Every time he’d investigated one of Jade’s catches, she had come away innocent. Did she eat people? Yes. But did she kill them? Not according to the evidence. Cannibalism wasn’t technically illegal, and so it appeared that Jade simply took advantage of other people’s murders. She was a clever opportunist. Jade had broken into the inn attracted by the scent. She had found the bodies and apparently sampled them. Then she had alerted the nearest guard, Sergeant Alice; a small, jumpy woman built like a brick wall. Alice told Natasha, the towering, stoic, guard Captain, and they had both arrived along with Constable Setzer, a short, often cross young man with long black hair, pale skin, and dark eyes.
To Setzer’s chagrin, it seemed he was again going to prove Jade’s innocence. He surveyed the corpses. Each was missing part of its calf, and one’s face was so bludgeoned that it was unrecognisable.
“Easy to draw a conclusion based on this,” he said. “First, based on the vial and the… taste, we can assume that these people were poisoned. Second, Dhesmond Machina owns and runs this inn. He could easily spike his alcohol and claim that the victim passed out. Finally, the inn didn’t open today, and,” he handed Natasha a copied document, “yesterday’s travel ledger shows he skipped town and hasn’t returned!”
“Wonderful!” Alice clapped.
Natasha studied the list and felt her neck tighten.
“Good job, but this is not enough.”
“Okay…” Setzer said, “what else do I need?”
She looked at him calmly, “Who are these people? Where did the poison come from?”
Setzer wasn’t happy, but orders were orders. “Fine, we’ll identify the bodies first.”
“Good.” Natasha’s face was stern, “After you two are finished, meet me at the Ph.Ch. lab. Alice, I would like you to visit the undertaker for this area and get them to identify the body, whether you identify it or not. If the district mortician can identify it quickly, bring us a note, otherwise, come without it.”
“Sure,” Alice nodded
Setzer sighed. “Alice, do you know who usually comes here?”
“I know almost just about all the people from around here.” Alice’s grasp of syntax faltered when she was excited.
Natasha left them and exited the building, studying the ledger. She surveyed the cobbled streets, and then headed northwest to speak to one of the city’s construction foreman.
Setzer and Alice sat at a table in the bar and drew up a list of all the patrons. Alice identified the two who were dead, and they crossed them off. Then Setzer went out into the city and sought out the rest of the list. Jade stayed behind, tasked with keeping people out of the bar. After much frustration, he had bargained her into promising that she would “try not to eat anything,” and “definitely not touch the mysterious body.” He hoped he wouldn’t have to answer to families again.
It took until noon to find everyone on Alice’s list. Most of them wondered why the bar was closed. One person mentioned that Dhesmond had become too touchy. Most of the other patrons agreed that, in the past month or so, he had seemed more stressed than usual. Setzer and Alice thanked each person for their time, and soon the list was empty, except for one name.
Alice looked, and shook her head, “Reighleigh Straker. We only checked his house, remember? He’s maybe at work.”
It dawned on Setzer why the Captain wanted them to meet her at the lab. “Does he work at the Ph.Ch. lab?”
“Natasha must have known all along… Now we just have to confirm that he isn’t there and our bases will be covered.” Setzer nodded to himself.
Alice just shrugged, “We’ll meet there after I go to the cemetery.”
“I doubt we’ll need it, but orders are orders, I guess.”
To his surprise, Setzer arrived first and had to wait a few minutes. Natasha arrived with the slight sheen of a person who just walked halfway across a city and back.
“Where did you go?” asked Setzer.
“I went to where they are extending the wall.”
“Did you find the identity of the third body?”
“Reighleigh Straker. Not sure why Dhesmond would beat him up like that though.”
The Captain shook her head.
“You will see when we go inside the Philosophy of Chemia Laboratory,” She returned the vial he’d found at the inn. “Search his desk.”
Natasha knocked on the door. It was answered by a woman who looked like her, except she was younger, smaller, wore a white coat, and had more hair.
“Natasha?” She asked.
“Chloe,” she nodded. “We are here as part of an investigation.”
“Ah, sure. I’ll get someone who actually works here.” She turned and called, “Straker?”
Setzer glanced at Natasha. If Reighleigh was here, alive, then his investigation was worthless. A moment passed, and she called out again, but for someone else.
“Finch? Yes, ah, the guard is here.”
Chloe let them into the lab. It was brightly lit, with large wooden desks. Some were capped with thick layers of metal, but all of them were covered with instruments and lined with drawers. In the far corner was a small room sealed with a heavy door.
Finch approached them. He was a short man with pale skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He wore a white lab coat and held a mess of papers.
“Oh, Captain Rhye,” he looked from Natasha to Chloe, “Here to talk to your sister?”
“No. We speak when we are not working.”
Setzer said, “Is Reighleigh here? I need to—” see if he’s alive, is what he thought. “I need to search his desk.”
“He’s in the supply locker right now.” Finch pointed, “It’s heavily barred to prevent theft. Some of that stuff is dangerous.”
There was a loud metallic creak and Setzer’s stomach churned. According to his deduction, the man who stood before them was dead, his body stashed in Dhesmond’s inn. He took a deep breath. He hadn’t earned the rank of Constable through faltering. He defaulted to his orders.
“We are here to search your desk.”
Reighleigh gave him a deep frown.
After a pause, Finch pointed to one of the counters, “It’s that one.”
Setzer strode to it and began opening drawers until he found one filled with thumb-sized test tubes, and a labelled jar of distinct red liquid. He took out the vial from the inn. Its size and shape matched, and the colour was the same.
Natasha stood with Reighleigh and Finch on one side and Chloe on the other. She looked sidelong at the doctor. He seemed to be stifling his nerves. She watched his hands and saw that his knuckles were blue.
Setzer read the label on the jar, Hyperthermic Coronary Accelerator and then looked up and nodded to Natasha. She nodded back. They’d found the poison supply.
Then Alice flung the front door open, and jumped inside.
“I got it!—Oh, hi Finch—anyway, I got it!” She waved the mortician’s note in front of her, “The last dead person is not Reigh even for sure now, it’s Dhesmond Machina!”
Reighleigh’s face hardened. He sprinted to the door. Alice smiled and repositioned slightly. Reighleigh tried to tackle her, but unfortunately for him, Sergeant Alice was nearly twice his weight in muscle; a capable guard in the occupational sense well as the literal one. She easily restrained him.
“You’re under detainment for killing three people using this poison!” Setzer ran to the man and seized his hands. he began winding a cord around Reighleigh’s wrists.
The man retorted, “How could I have murdered someone who isn’t even in town!”
“You—” Setzer had no idea.
Natasha finally spoke, “You followed him, but not through the gate. You went through the part of the wall that is under construction.”
Setzer and Alice looked at each other across the man who stood between them. Reighleigh remained silent.
Finch was unsure what to think.
Chloe called out, “go on!”
Natasha strode to the nearest desk and sat down.
She faced Reighliegh, “Jade confirmed for us that all three of the victims were poisoned. The liquid and vial found at the inn match with the poison and containers found here. Likely they were killed under your instruction, using your chemical.”
Setzer had finished, so he presented the items Natasha mentioned.
“Shortly before we came here, I confirmed that, on the same day that Dhesmond left, the foreman saw him return through her construction site, along with someone else; you. I assume you exited before the workday started and managed to convince the poor back. Then you poisoned him like you did everyone else; except he would have known his fate when you handed it to him.
“You threw Dhesmond’s body with the rest. But,” Natasha pointed to his bruised hands, “you beat the recognition off his face first.”
She took the ledger, and dropped it beside her. “You left Dhesmond’s closet full of skeletons, with his name on a document proving that he left town. You framed a dead man. It would have been the perfect crime—if there was no one who could identify a dead body. But what is the job of a coroner if not identification?”
Natasha stood, and said, “Dead men do not sneak into cities or poison and brutalize themselves.”
This is the second draft of “Decay.” There are a lot of differences, to the point where I can comfortably call them different stories, so feel free to check it out.
This was written as an exam for my Detective Fiction course, 01-26-202-01. I got a decent mark in the end, so maybe that’s indicative of the quality of this piece.
I know I’ve been talking about The Solune Prince A LOT and not actually posting about it. Fear not, it isn’t “stuck” or something I’m just talking about, without actually working on. I have around forty notebook pages full.
Mostly, I’m just adjusting to my new job and whatnot. If I don’t have anything started, I’ll publish a backstory or something.
… Or I’ll publish more stuff I wrote for class …