Author’s Note: In the interest of completeness (backwards, but still complete) here is an excerpt from the first chapter of The Rubric of All Things, the book which precedes the book from which “Hond’s Interrogation” was taken. I’ve been shopping this book around for a while now and had a few nibbles (two full or partial manuscript requests), but no full-on bites yet. I’m putting it here because, well, it can’t hurt and hopefully can give interested parties some idea of just how far the reader is taken from here to Hond’s non-room. Anyway, hope you enjoy it:
Cal’s heart pulsed in his chest like a diesel engine. The sweat on his face mingled with the cold March rain while his lungs, like a pair of steel-mill bellows, fed oxygen to the fires in his quads and calves. He was going full speed along the Charles river, blazing past casual joggers in an intimidating display of athletic prowess. He was the fighter jet and they were the two-seater prop-planes and ponderous jet-liners. They stayed out of his way.
It was early, and the gray waters of the river shuddered and leapt with each rainy gust of wind.Calfelt good, even considering the miserable weather. He was on pace for a four-and-a-half minute mile, he guessed—not a personal best, but the best he’d done in a while. More than the time, though, was the feeling of getting back into the regimen of his morning run. At this speed his whole body felt like a well-oiled and tuned device, as simple as it was elegant. He wasn’t some messy pile of meat and juice wrapped around a jigsaw puzzle of bone struts—he was a functional, precise thing, like a watch or a bicycle. It meant a lot to him to feel that way. Things had been crazy lately.
Cal’s cell phone broke into the first few bars of Suicide is Painless. It was the kind of sick joke a homicide detective would find funny, particularly one like Cal’s partner, who had selected it. Slowing to a manageable pace,Cal answered. “Lyons here.”
“Morning, Superman!”Cal’s partner, Detective Theodore O’Brien, or ‘OB’, sounded cheery, which was generally a bad thing.
“What’s up? I’m not on duty for another hour.”
OB’s chuckle was mostly static over the phone. “You’re on duty now, buddy. We got us a good one.”
“What is it?”Cal inwardly hoped it wasn’t messy—he and OB had just finished working a murder-suicide where an old woman had strangled her husband, drowned herself in the bathtub, and wasn’t found for two weeks. He had only just gotten the stink out of his jacket, and he had to buy entirely new shoes.
“Well, see, that’s the problem—we haven’t decided what it is, yet.”
Calblinked. “Whaddya mean? Have we got a corpse?”
“He ain’t dancing, if that’s your question. Look, just get your spandex-clad butt over to Charlestown. You’re gonna have to see this for yourself.”
Cal memorized the address.OB hung up with a giggle and a “We’re gonna love this one, Supes.”
* * * * * * * *
Cal sprinted home and changed without showering. Altogether, it took him a little over a half hour to get to the scene. It was on a narrow side-street, where the roads coiled around Bunker Hill like so much discarded rope, and the blank granite face of the obelisk that stood there watched over everything. The freezing rain drifted off the eaves and gutters of the surrounding buildings in misty swirls and umbrella-eviscerating gusts of wind raced down the alleys. When Cal pulled up, there was a cruiser blocking the end of the street and another parked just outside the entrance of a narrow building with worn concrete steps. This second car was parked just outside the tell-tale yellow tape that indicated the perimeter of the crime scene, which ran in a rough triangle in front of the building. Next to the second car, a huddle of uniformed police gathered around a single golf umbrella, which was doing its best to pull a Mary Poppins and sail into space. Cal got out, flashed his badge to the first uniform to challenge him, and then spotted the massive frame of OB chatting it up under the umbrella.
OB saw him coming, and ducked out from under shelter and into the rain. His trenchcoat was sodden and his Red Sox ball cap was looking a shade darker than usual. Still, good humor was evident on his broad, meaty face. He clapped his hands together. “Beautiful morning, ain’t it?”
“I hate this crap.”Cal said, and added, “You interrupted my run.”
OB shrugged. “Get your high like everybody else—drink coffee. Come on.” He led him over to the two other officers under the umbrella. “Boys, you know Detective Lyons.”
Officers Amaral and Lopez nodded. Lopez added. “How’s it going, Superman?”
“Fine, Mike.” Cal resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He liked to think they called him ‘superman’ because of his stellar work at fighting crime, but the fact was that ever since everybody on the Boston Police had gotten wind of his competing in the Ironman triathlon a couple years back, the nickname had become permanently affixed. He tried not to let it irk him—he knew it was done in good humor—but the fact was it simply reminded Cal of how a lot of guys on the force would never accept him as one of their own. The smarty-pants kid from the suburbs turned city cop would always, in their eyes, be analogous to an alien from the planet Krypton.
OB pointed at Amaral. “Steve found the guy this morning on a call from one of the local residents. Mike was in the area, so he helped him secure the scene.”
Amaral nodded. “Nobody’s touched anything since we got here. There were a couple bystanders, but it’s still early and the weather sucks, so…”
“…so what happened?”Calcut him off. “What have we got? Accident? Murder? What?”
The three of them exchanged glances and then turned around and looked. Cal followed their gaze. Just past the tape and dead center in front of the building’s steps was a telephone pole adorned with a skirt of bright yellow police ponchos affixed at waist height. This perplexed Cal at first, but his initial confusion melted away as soon as he noticed that around the base of the pole was a puddle that was much too red to be pure rainwater.
Cal looked at OB, who took a deep breath, reached forward, and tore back the ponchos. Then all Cal could do was stare.
The corpse was a white man in his mid-sixties, wearing a cardigan sweater, tweed jacket, and half-moon spectacles. His lips were pulled back into a grimace, as though he had just stubbed his toe. He had not. He was, rather, impaled through the exact center of his torso by the telephone pole and was suspended three feet above the ground. A human ka-bob.
Cal said nothing. Everything—the rain, the wind, the cold—seemed to fall away from his notice. It was just himself and the spectacle of the corpse. He scanned the telephone pole from top to bottom—no cuts, wires still intact at the top. The body was not mutilated; the man’s clothes didn’t even look mussed. It was as though he had simply materialized inside the telephone pole, realized his error, and died instantly.
Vaguely, he heard Amaral talking. “…him this morning. No witnesses—nobody was walking around in this crap. Called the coroner, but we couldn’t figure out how to get him out, so we called public works, too. Then we were waiting on you guys.”
Cal pulled on a rubber glove, never taking his eyes from the bizarre body. “ID?”
Lopez pointed. “We think that’s his wallet on the stairs, but we didn’t move it.”
OB, gloves on, retrieved the sodden leather wallet while Cal gently prodded the dead man’s ribs. Amaral asked, “How do you think it happened?”
“I have no idea.”Cal answered as he walked around the pole, looking at the corpse from every angle. “Can you guys knock on some doors and ask if anybody’s power or phone service or anything went out?”
As the officers dispersed, he looked up at the top of the pole, twenty feet up. “Maybe somebody disconnected the wires, stuffed our man down the pole, and then re-connected them. Whaddya think?”
OB snorted. “Gimmie a break, Cal—what’d they do, rent a goddamned telephone truck? There isn’t even any blood on the damn thing above his body.”
Cal threw up his hands. “You got another theory? Did they show up with a giant robot, lift the freaking pole out of the sidewalk, and stuff him up through it?”
OB shook his head, still staring at the telephone pole. “Jesus. Could this be an accident or something?”
“Yeah, sure. Telephone poles sprout up through people’s guts all the time.”Cal snatched the wallet fromOB’s hands. “Gimmie that.”
“Easy there, big guy. Don’t have to get mad at me.” OB chided.
“I hate when things don’t make sense.”Cal snarled.
OB chuckled. “Cal, we’re in homicide. When does anything make sense?”
The wallet contained a variety of paper currency from five countries, a smooth blue stone, a collection of business cards following no obvious pattern, and an expired license. It read ‘Aldous Hambury,’ and sported a picture of the dead man wearing a blue bow-tie and smiling wider than anyone in the DMV had a right to. Cal handed it back to OB, who looked himself.
“Aldous? What kind of name is that?”
“British, I think. Notice anything weird about that license?”
OB held it up to the pale light. “No hologram—it’s a fake. Why would you fake an expired license?”
“Why would somebody stuff an old man through a telephone pole?”
OB snorted. “Screw that, Cal—how do you stuff an old man through a telephone pole?”
Cal crouched down to get a better look at the underside of ‘Aldous Hambury.’ He was looking for…well, heck, he had no idea what he was looking for. Blood, guts, a calling card—some kind of explanation written in physical clues. What he found was that the telephone pole seemed to have neatly punctured through Hambury’s jacket, as well as his body. He shook his head. “This isn’t possible.”
OB stepped forward and prodded Hambury’s side with a gloved finger. “Well, he’s here, ain’t he?”
“The goddamned pole has to go through his spine, OB. The spine holds the body together. If he hasn’t got one then…” Cal trailed off, circled the body twice more, and wound up standing next to OB and staring down at Hambury’s strange grimace.
OB nodded. “Fifteen years, Cal, and they just keep getting weirder.” He pulled off a glove and produced a small plastic box that rattled as he shook it. “Tic-tac?”