Instinct wasn’t what forced Walter to pull Maika’s door back as hard as the hinges would allow. It wasn’t the great sense of trepidation he felt in the back of his sternum, or the ice cold touch which spread from the handle to his hand, right up through his shoulder. It was a stench unlike anything that had ever burnt past his nostrils. It clawed at every sense in his body; a stink which could’ve been inhuman in origin, if such a thing could exist.
That was wishful thinking, Walter supposed. Maika Poisson hadn’t been abducted, nor had she snuck away in order to flee the city with her new lover. She had been murdered, and left in her apartment to stew for weeks. Why had nobody thought to check for her here in the first place? Walter didn’t know how Maika conducted herself or her business but she surely didn’t deserve this treatment, nobody did.
Several moments must’ve passed before he got a hold of his train of thought because Poppy’s voice trickled down his ear canal like trapped water, asking for a report on the situation.
“That certainly sounds like the solution, albeit not the one I had predicted,” she said, upon hearing his hypothesis. “Walter, I need you to enter that room and confirm our suspicions.”|
“I dunno if I can.” Water was still holding his nostrils tightly together but all it seemed to do was trap the rotten particles which clung to the tangled hairs inside. “I dunno if I can stand the sight of a corpse. This might’ve been a bad idea, Poppy.”
“It is far too late for you to turn back now, Walter. If your nose is correct, we have an actual killer on our hands and, by backing out now, you will be directly contributing to their future actions. Trust me, you do not want to feel that on your back.”
Walter let go of his nose, filling them back up with the sour air which managed to still slither through the closed door as though a seal had been broken upon impact. “Is that the expression?” he muttered as his hand once again gripped the icy steel of the cylindrical handle. “You’re very persuasive.”
“I can’t see you,” she said, “but I can only assume that you are opening the door right now, and not wasting my time?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Shut up, Walter.”
He pushed the door outwards, following it was he went, and almost ducking at the first sense of danger. The pungent odour only amplified as he attempted to avoid its gnarly embrace. Upon entering, Walter was greeted by a lavish collection of Maika’s personal possessions, mostly packed into towering cardboard boxes and dotted throughout her living room, and the spotless conjoined kitchen. Each one of these boxes had been assigned a label and a scribble; adorable childish drawings of books and smiling crockery. It didn’t match the striking image that Walter had imagined of the no-nonsense private investigator but they definitely did not have a child.
The living room gave way to three additional rooms behind closed doors; two to the left and one to the right, next to the open-plan kitchen. Despite his best wishes, Walter’s body began to rely on his sense of smell and used to scope out his next destination or, at the very least, make some kind of attempt. The smell of death was wafting from every direction as though it was specifically being fanned towards him to put him off his mission.
No, wait. That wasn’t it, was it?
There was a draught coming from behind him: the open door! Walter grabbed it by the handle and tossed it shut, remembering the sound which had caught his attention earlier. What had fallen from the opposite side of the door?
“Poppy? You there?” he asked, crouching towards his discovery. Walter had not become overwhelmed by disgust as he had expected but instead, a sense of morbid curiosity pumped through his veins. It bothered him, but the detective was half-tempted to prod it.
“What have you found?”
“It was an arm that was holding onto the door from the inside. The killer was expecting somebody to break in here.”
“What does it look like? I need all the details, so pick it up if you have to.”
Walter unbuttoned his sleeve and pulled his arm through it, using the white polyester as a makeshift glove to examine the evidence. Just touching it left a yellowed stain on his shirt. “It’s fresh, I think.”
“It looks like the arm was hacked off a smidge before the elbow, but the blood around it is dry. It looks like a regular right arm though,” he said as he tipped the limb around for a better look. “Like, it’s not rotten or anyth—.”
“Walter, are you all right?”
“Hold on,” he said, having noticed his claim was somewhat incorrect. “The arm is right, right?”
“But the ring finger is missing and, in its place, another one has been sewn on at the knuckle.”
“How unusual,” she mused. “Is there anything different about it?”
“Aye, it’s much older than the arm itself. It’s definitely not from the same victim.”
“How much older is it?”
“If I blew on it, it’d snap.”
“Don’t do that.”
“I won’t.” Walter put the arm back down where he found it, catching the reflection of the ceiling lamps on the skin as he did it. “I think this arm has been shaven recently.”
“Yes. I believe that sometimes both women and men do that. It’s not unusual either way, but nice catch.”
“You don’t think it’s cause for concern?”
“There are bigger mysteries to uncover,” said Poppy. “My current theory is that our victim is one of two who have been mutilated over the course of a week, perhaps, and sewn together for effect. The culprit has a personal grudge against Anthony Todd, revenge is the primary motive. By using two victims, they can offer twice the emotional blackmail. How does this match up with your theory, Walter?”
“You’ve put it better than I could,” he said. “Tony was supposed to find the body first though, right?”
“Yes, we arrived sooner than him. It appears the culprit underestimated Todd’s desire to remain disconnected from the case.”
“I’d better keep looking around, do you want to call the police?”
“No, not at the moment. I’m working something out,” Poppy’s radio clicked off again, signalling that Walter’s voice was distracting her from her thought process. The fresh detective couldn’t pull his eyes away from the bare skin of the severed arm: there was something so ‘off’ about the patterns in the skin where the razor had been pressed too hard, where it nicked the skin and drove its presence into the flesh. It wasn’t like a wound, more like that pattern you get on rugby pitches in the Summer, after the grass has been mowed.
Walter pressed on, passing the piles of possessions stacked neatly atop each other. If the shelves weren’t bare, navigation would be like rummaging through a hoarder’s collection. Considering that the boxes with the dancing bedsheets and sleeping sweaters kept themselves to the right-hand side piles, Walter figured the lone door near the kitchen would be the bedroom, and the best place to start. He was now, unforgettably, in a very dangerous situation which could go south rather quickly.
The killer could’ve been awaiting Tony in any of those rooms, ready to jump out and exact whatever misconceived revenge plot they’d been taping together. There was no way that he’d be able to fight off murderous intent with his fists alone, but he did not trusty himself to grab a knife from the kitchen. That sort of decision required actual training; what if a victim jumped out at him, hoping for a safe pair of arms? A rush of instinct would take over, Walter didn’t have quick enough reactions to stop himself from making that mistake.
In fact, her couldn’t stop himself from visualising the fictional moment, over and over. He had to physically shake the feeling away and push open the bedroom door. As before, just cracking open the door revealed it as the source of the scene. The scene of the crime; a large figure sat lifeless in an office chair, surrounded by a mess of notebooks and loose-leaf pages.
Slumped back and tied to the chair — almost like it was sleeping — the body was missing its right arm. A pool of sticky, half-dried blood stained an oval into the beige carpet.
It wasn’t Maika, it was Tony.
“You’re wrong,” said Walter. “Tony arrived before us, that arm was his.”
"That half-explains the shaving,” she replied. “Damn it, I knew it couldn’t have been that easy. It leaves too many questions unanswered.” Through the microphone, Walter could hear scuffling and standing as Poppy rearranged herself in a rush.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about those noises, Pops.”
The noises stopped, and Poppy came as close to the microphone as she could. “Do not shorten my name.”
The fumbling continued, “that arm was some kind of red herring. I believe it might’ve been a trap for the police, you’re in a dangerous situation.”
“What should I be doing?”
“Grab some kind of weapon and stay put, just in case. I’m on my way, but can you confirm that you’re looking at the corpse of Anthony Todd?”
With his hand still in the sleeve of his shirt, Walter rotated the office chair towards himself. Tony’s face was contorted, holding a vile shade of blue. His mouth had been pried open and locked in place, stuffed to bursting with an off-white sludge. Scrunched paper had been forced into his mouth, nose, and ears. The pages decorated his shirt and filled his pockets; they were ransom notes.
There was no mistaking the victim’s identity.
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