Thorpe was not hungry. He was seated in a restaurant. It was
well past lunchtime. He had not had breakfast.
Most probably, the reason he wasn’t hungry was that he was sharing table five with two corpses. His guests had been dead for almost a week and constantly gave off a sickeningly sweet smell. They had once been what the media would call caucasian, but over the last few days, Brad had seen their skin go from pale white to yellow. Their hair—the man with short brown, and the woman with long blonde—and nails had grown significantly, and their clothes were now ragged and dirty. The woman's neck had been snapped, and as such, her head always looked to be leaning just a little too far to the left. The man had a gunshot wound surrounded by dried blood just under his left breast.
None of this cut into their appetite. The cadaver known as John Doe was nearly done his mashed potatoes. His rice dish he’d already eaten, but his steamed beans were, as yet, untouched. Meanwhile, the woman, who had been positively IDed as Renée Trebeau, was taking a sip of her cauliflower soup. She seemed to take particular interest in crumbling crackers up and dropping them in; much more interest than she’d had for her House salad, which she claimed was too soggy.
Had Renée been Brad's date, he would have been quite upset. Not only had Renée not been one for conversation, but her salad had cost $14.95 and she hadn’t much more than picked at it. Fortunately, though, the Hutton Police Department was footing the bill. Of course, Renée could not have been Brad's date, because she was quite deceased, and that sort of thing is illegal. Brad was, in fact, an upholder of the law. Of sorts.
Brad Thorpe had been one of the most important police officers on the force. His job had been to sit behind his desk and fill out any forms that the better police officers were too busy, lazy, or stupid to fill out. Despite constant commendations, Brad had wanted a change.
His superior's name was Sergeant Sound, although he was Owen to his friends: a group which did not include Brad. When Brad approached him about a promotion, Sgt. Sound said that he had just the thing. Brad would get to work side-by-side with the Homicide department. Sure, it sounded good, but Brad had to ask the Sergeant exactly what kind of job works with the Homicide Department, but not therein. Before Sound could finish his hesitation and explain that that wasn't really important, Brad had guessed it. He was being re-assigned to Stiff Patrol.
Stiff Patrolling is actually a delicate science. Unfortunately, the art of it was lost years ago, and now officers in Stiff Patrol bumble around until they get either shot or retired. The basic essence of Stiff Patrol is this: when there is a murder, the homicide department rushes in, makes chalk outlines, dusts for fingerprints, collects suspects and motives and clues. More often than not, they find the killer, send him or her to prison for life, and then the killer is released six years later for good behaviour.
Stiff Patrol, however, is in charge of interrogating the victims. It is the duty of officers such as Brad Thorpe to question the deceased as to who killed them and try to get them to testify. Of course, with the victim being a prime witness to the murder, they often become much sought-after targets, which is why Stiff Patrol doubles as a dead person's witness protection agency. Often a killer, afraid that the victim will spill its guts (figuratively speaking, of course), will attempt to shoot the body before it can testify. Once, Brad asked Lt. Fern, the Stiff Patrol chief, just what could be achieved from shooting a dead body, to which Fern replied: 'Well, nothing, actually, but it's not for lack of trying.'
Brad's first assignment in Stiff Patrol had been the Trebeau case. The murder had happened one night as the Central Hutton Library was reaching closing time. No one was exactly sure of how what happened, but there had been a crash of glass, followed by a gun shot. When librarians appeared on the scene, they found John Doe lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the hardcover mystery section, just down an aisle or two from a gaping hole where a window had once been. Looking down through the twilight, they saw that Renée Trebeau, later identified by her library card, had been pushed through the window of the library, down a three storey drop. John Doe's name was never found out. He had not brought along his library card, and current theories are to the effect that he had only been looking through the encyclopedias anyway. Both Renée and John died within seconds of their respective attacks. John had been shot in the lung, and Renée had met the ground with the unluckiest part of her neck. The homicide department had no real clues as to the murderer, as no one noticed any bad guys entering or leaving the library.
The commanding officer on the scene was one Lt. Penelope Meyers, and after the chalk outlines had been drawn, Meyers gently ordered the bodies into an ambulance. Renée and John Doe had only grudgingly obliged. After they had been to the hospital so that the coroners could confirm and ensure their deaths, the two were sent to police headquarters. This was a good two days after the murders, and Brad had just been transferred to Stiff Patrol. In fact, his last act before his transferral was to write up a report for Lt. Meyers, one of the officers better than Brad. Brad fancied that that last report was the reason that Sgt. Sound had said a transferral to Stiff Patrol was just the thing for Brad. Actually, it was probably just a coincidence: Sgt. Sound liked to make decisions based entirely on his own whim.
Brad's face was now pale, almost green. He was not sure if the smell giving him the headache was Renée or her uneaten salad, but he noticed that both Renée and John were finished. Brad started to stand, getting ready for the drive back down to headquarters, when the waiter came, and Renée asked to see the dessert menu. Brad gave a large sigh and returned to a seated position. While waiting for an apple pie à la mode and a chocolate mousse, Brad decided that there was no reason he couldn't interrogate the two of them right here.
‘Okay, guys,’ Brad started, hoping that a friendly, casual manner would encourage them to talk, ‘why don't you tell me exactly what happened on the eleventh?’ There was silence for a minute, then John laughed aloud.
After a pause, Renée began, her voice raspy because of her broken neck. ‘Well...Nothing much happened, really.’
‘“Nothing much”?’ Brad responded. ‘That's the night you guys were killed. How can you say that “nothing much” happened?’
‘Yeah, well,’ Renée continued, ‘that sort of thing happens all the time.’
‘Okay,’ Brad nodded, ‘but—and correct me if I’m wrong—this is the first time it’s happened to either of you. Shouldn’t that give this instance some sort of special significance?’
John laughed again. Brad ground his teeth.
Renée shrugged. ‘It was bound to happen anyway,’ she argued. ‘Surely you don't think you're going to live for ever?’
‘Of course not. But I want as long a life as possible, settle down, raise a family, a wife who loves me, a job I love, a summer home...’ Brad stopped. He shook his head angrily. He drilled them again. ‘Did you know your murderer?’
Renée answered for both of them: ‘No.’
‘Could you describe him for me?’
Suddenly, Brad was excited. He got out his pencil and notepad, and sat ready, anxious to hear the description. There was only silence. Brad's smile dropped as he realised what she had meant. He sighed and tried the million-dollar question:
‘Would you describe him for me?’
‘What?! Why?! Tell me what the guy looks like, he'll be put behind bars! It's that simple! Don't you want him in jail?!’
‘Don't you?’ Brad asked again, in a weak voice.
‘What did the poor slob do that was so horrible that he should be punished like that?’ asked Renée.
Brad explained in his least calm and rational voice that he had killed two people, stolen a book, and ruined everyone's quiet reading.
The bodies had no answer to that. They were not defeated, it was just that Brad was losing control, and all three of them knew it. Brad started again, pleading with them, imploring them to help him, if not for their sakes, then to prevent another murder.
‘If you don't do anything,’ Brad begged, ‘someone else could die.’
‘I could live with that,’ John said.
Brad's eyes widened, then rolled.
‘You don't understand,’ Renée tried. ‘We're dead. Before long, we will rot and go to a better place. We bear our killer no ill will, and we do not want his life ruined for our sakes.'
‘What it comes down to,’ John said wryly, ‘is that being dead completely changes your whole outlook on life.’
‘And as for you, “Mr. Doe”,’ Brad said. ‘Who are you? What's your real name?!’
John was silent, but betrayed a little smirk.
‘Don't you want your families to be notified?’ asked Brad, now turning to the both of them. ‘We'll withhold funerals and burials until you guys start talking.’
‘Being deceased,’ Renée said softly, ‘we have lost all of our earthly worries. Concepts such as family, burial, revenge, life, and death no longer matter to us.’
‘Well look who’s so smart, eh? Forgive my feeble mortal mind, please, I’m not quite as advanced as the two of you.’ Brad sighed. He would have to hand these guys over to Lt. Fern: Brad had quite simply no idea how to proceed.
John laughed again. Just then, the waiter returned, wondering who had ordered the Butterscotch Sundae. Brad turned to ask the bodies, but found John laughing, and Renée just shaking her head. Brad turned back to find the tray on the table, and a gun in the waiter’s hand. The waiter raised the gun to John. John could have moved, pushed the gun away, ducked under the table. He didn't. He let the barrel stand right beside his head, and a bullet blew his jaw off. Brad moved to dive for the gun, but the killer saw that coming, turned the gun and shot him point blank. Brad was not sure if he had been hit in the chest or the gut, but his entire body was filled with pain. The killer turned his gun to Renée, who sat motionless, waiting to be shot. Brad used all of his waning energy to look at the killer's face. To learn it, so that if he survived, he would be able to help bring the killer to justice. Renée's neck may have once been beautiful, but now the broken thing caught two bullets. The killer turned. Another bullet went into John. Brad lost consciousness.
Brad awoke to blackness. He knew where he was. He slid out of the cold, metal drawer and got up. He was naked, of course, and had a bullet hole in the centre of his chest, but he didn't care. He walked out of the morgue and left the police station unnoticed. He hadn't tried to be inconspicuous; he had just lucked out that no one noticed the six foot naked dead guy with a gun wound walk right out the front doors. He sat down on a bench on the lawn in front of the Hutton Police Department. A seagull landed on his leg. Brad did not want to disturb it, so remained motionless, which is easier to do once dead. The seagull nipped at Brad's stomach, took a few juicy pieces of meat, and flew off. The sun felt good on Brad's face, and he chose not to notice the crowd that had grown about him.
Soon, Lt. Fern and a few other officers were clearing the area. Lt. Fern sat down with Brad.
‘So,’ he said. ‘You're dead, now, Thorpe.’
Brad smiled. He wondered if he had stated the obvious when talking to Renée and Phil, but he only nodded in answer to Lt. Fern's statement.
‘Could you describe your killer,’ Fern asked.
Brad nodded again
After a pause, ‘Would you describe your killer?’
Brad only laughed.
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