So here is the short story I wrote for the Lit Reactor competition earlier this year, which Epictones also did some excellent artwork of recently. Revised and extended, I'll be posting it in two parts, mainly to keep it in two easy to read instalments, though also because a good mystery needs time to breathe. Am I right?
Lisa Cummings and the Case of the Exploding Meat
By Jack Harvey
“Uhhh...” Lisa Cummings trailed off, as she run a hand through her short hair. The room was covered with blood and gristle. Forensics officers dressed in white plastic cleansuits probed for clues. A dark skinned young officer trotted over, trying not to get blood stains on his brand new white trainers that were shockingly at odds with the suit and tie he wore.
“You alright?” asked InspectorAndy Browning.
“AmI alright” Lisa responded in her broad northern accent. “I'm a woman Andy, we're used to copious amounts of blood and gore.” She punched him playfully, though somewhat painfully, in the arm.
Andy laughed, rubbing the bruise. “I was expecting a better menstruation based punchline than that. You sure you're not losing your edge?”
“Just taken aback that’s all,” she said. “I wasn't expecting this anyway.”
“Funny thing about blood, never looks like it does in the films. If it wasn't for the smell you'd be mistaken for thinking someone just went berserk with a tin of gloss paint.”
Lisa ran her hand through her hair again. She buttoned up her polo shirt, the abattoir was characteristically chilly. “So what the fuck happened?”
“Deceased's name is Melvyn Kent. Everyone called him Mel for short. Took to the first carcass on the line this morning and got blown to smithereens. Someone had concealed a bomb inside the pork.”
“Fuck! Hope they get all of his bits bagged up before they resume business.”
“I've hear about worse turning up in a microwavable lasagne,” Andy joked, “Ballistics are looking into the bomb now. Small device, designed for massive damage over a small radius. If Mel wasn't the intended target then someone else certainly was.”
“Could be anyone employed here, but we've narrowed it down to twenty who either finished work late the night before or started early this morning. That's the only time they could have conceivably planted the explosive without anyone noticing.”
“Clean. Only people going in or out are the staff. No movement at all overnight.”
“Hold up,” Lisa said, raising a hand into the air. She pulled a lolly out of her trouser pocket and put it into her mouth. “Why the fuck has Hastings called me in for this?”
“You mean why has the Chief Inspector's favourite twenty-something private detective been invited on as a consultant?”
Lisa gave Andy an icy glare.
“Hey, you brought it up,”said Andy, raising his hands in surrender.
“Hastings fucking hates me. If he's genuinely bringing me onto the case that means there’s something fucking important about it.”
Andy smiled innocently. “Pressure from above. It's the Westbrook meat festival this weekend.”
“Oh yeah!” Lisa snapped her fingers in realisation. “I don't pay much attention to that because lesbians such as myself tend to avoid sausage fests.”
Andy's mouth moved to a grin at the joke. “That's the Cummings I'm used to.” His serious tone returned. “The council are terrified that something like this will spiral into an animal rights debate.”
“Hastings is going to town on this. He wants an arrest by sundown. We know it's a work colleague. The question iswhich one?”
“I take it forensics are just getting started?” Lisa said, pointing at one of the men covered in blood, red and white like a Jam Roly-Poly.
“Come on then,” she indicated the door. “We'll check this Mel's apartment. I presume you do have the address?”
“Yes,” Andy said sharply, taking that last question as a dig at his professionalism. “What are you hoping to find?”
“I don't know, but if you want to find a motive to kill somebody then their dirty laundry is usually the best place to start.”
Mel's apartment was a small affair. Clean, contemporary, and made from a renovated old factory building. Pretty nice. Pretty cheap. Lisa and Andy rifled through the deceased man's possessions, throwing protocol out of the window as they did.
“Wow this guy had quite a collection,” said Lisa as she worked through a heap of vintage video games. “Check it out, a Sega Genesis.”
“Wasn't It called the Sega Megadrive over here?” Andy returned, from beneath a pile of clothes.
“It was. He must have gotten it imported back in the day. Wait until the Bitch Brigade hear about this.”
“I'm not sure you're supposed to be disclosing case information to your online gaming group Cummings.”
Lisa put a stack of cartridges back onto a shelf. “You're just sore because I won't let you join Andy.”
“Yes,” he admitted, frankly. “Five years I've spent trying to find a clan that still plays Unreal Tournament, and when I do they won't let me join.”
“Lesbians and bisexual ladies only I'm afraid,” she said, as she pulled open a drawer beneath the television.
“Can't you make me an honorary lesbian?” Andy joked as he wandered over.
“Only Ellen DeGeneres has the power to grant that.” Lisa paused suddenly, probing further into the back of the drawer.
Silently she withdrew a tube shaped silver object.
“Oh hello!” She popped off the lid to reveal fleshy rubber on the inside.
“What's that?” asked Andy with evasive disinterest.
Lisa didn't reply at first, she just gave him a patronising look. “Andy, it's 2014, you're in your twenties, and you have an internet connection. You're not fooling anybody, you know what this is.”
“Fine,” Andy said, throwing up his arms in a mock gesture, “You got me! It's a...” Andy paused, wrestling for the right words. “It's a male masturbatory aid.”
“Ha!” Lisa laughed at his coy response. “Thank you Watson. Yeah, they basically mash a load of silicone into a Pringles tin . Truly we are living in the world of tomorrow.”
“So he was perverted loner, what's your point?”
“A persons masturbatory habits are their own business Andy, I wasn't implying the man had social problems. No, It's just a little heavier than I was expecting.”
Lisa pulled the fleshy silicone lining out of the tube and threw it carelessly over her shoulder. The rubber mass hit Andy in the eye and bounced across the room.
“Hey, watch it!”
“Quiet, I think I’ve got something.”
Lisa tapped the tube gently against the drawer, and slowly she slipped out a cream coloured blob. Underneath, wires and tubes could be seen.
“Is that... another one?” Andy's pitch increased as a little panic crept into his voice.
“I think you'd better get your guys on the phone. It looks pretty safe but I wouldn't want to bet on it.”
Andy began to dial. “So the abattoir wasn't the first attempt?”
“Nope, looks like while Melvyn Kent was killedby a ham shank, he could easily have been killed by having a ham shank!”
“Wheeeeyyyy.” Andy laughed and pointed at Lisa in acknowledgement. “Oh sorry Sir.” he said suddenly, as he realised the phone has been answered. “We've located another device at Kent's apartment. Requesting you send a team over to take care of it asap.”
Lisa took another look around the room. Nothing particularly extraordinary about the place. Heck, it was much like her own. Sega Genesis instead of an X-Box, Thundercats instead of Sailor Moon, A pristine, signed, Santana tour poster instead of Lisa's beaten, folded Spice Girls one.
As Andy endured his verbal scolding, Lisa took a moment to flip through Mel's collection of books.
A diverse bunch by all accounts, all battered like old school textbooks. Neil Gaiman - American Gods, Will Self – The Book of Dave, Germaine Greer - The Female Eunuch, Brendan Keogh – Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line.
“Really. That's interesting,” Andy said down the phone. “Hey Cummings. Take another look a that bomb, does the casing look like it could have come from a 3D printer?”
Lisa wandered back, nearly tripping over a bean bag. “I dunno, I guess so,” she said.
“Friends and colleagues haven't given us any motive but ballistics claim the shell of the bomb was made of a resin much like a 3D printer uses.”
“Who the fuck owns a 3D printer in this town?”
“Exactly!” He pointed at her with a grin on his face. “Far as we can tell there are only four professional businesses that have access to one. We find the right one, we find our perpetrator.”
“And the Westbrook Meat Festival will be saved,” Lisa joked, and they high-fived.
Lisa drove, whist Andy scanned over reports on his phone.
“Anything from the others yet?” she asked.
“Nothing we can really use,” he sighed. “They've questioned friends, colleagues. Nothing really stands out why anyone would want to kill the guy. No spurned lovers or jealous rivals. Apart from being a bit sarcastic now and again nobody had a thing against him.”
“Maybe somebody killed him for something in his will?”
“Mothers still alive. There's nothing really to inherit.”
“I dunno man. Maybe somebody wanted his Sega Genesis,” Lisa replied, half seriously, as she blasted through traffic lights changing from yellow to red. “What about the suspects?”
“Same goes for them. Not a single one with any background in bomb making.”
“Yeah but all you need is an internet connection and the right kit these days. Anarchist’s Cookbook goes for a fiver on Amazon last I checked. What about the big stress toy? Anyone found out who gave it to him?”
“Nothing. We've checked with the staff and their stories seem to conform with each other. The abattoir wasn't the kind of work environment where staff gave birthday presents. Besides, It's not exactly the kind of thing you'd give someone as a present.”
“It could have been done ironically.”
Lisa shook her head. There was something about this case that didn't add up. “I don't know. I think there's something we're missing here. Why a bomb? Why not poison or a faked suicide?”
“Somebody wanted to send a message?”
“Exactly. Whoever planted that bomb wanted attention. They wanted to tell the world that Melvyn Kent was murdered for a reason.”
“But nobody knows what that reason is?”
“And that's what doesn't make sense to me. Nobody had any clue why Mel was murdered. Whatever statement was supposed to have been sent is lost on us. Lost on everyone.”
“Hmmm,” Andy tapped his chin. “Well, lets hope that one of these places can give us some answers.”
They had gone through two establishments with no luck so far. Rodgers and Davies Technology Limited was their third port of call. They were a small IT firm who had picked up the 3D printer out in the hope of attracting the curious, though even the enthusiasts were wary of it's costly use.
“Hey I remember this place,” Lisa said, stopping herself for a second.
“We used to play computer games on a local network back when I first moved here. Great times. Then one day without warning they took all the games off. Said they were 'prioritising training courses instead'. The dicks!”
Andy and Lisa entered. The room smelled unusually fragrant. Office fans buzzed in several corners of the room. Only two of the bank of ten computers were occupied. The man at the nearest one leaned round to look at them, his head mostly obscured by a blue hoodie. He nodded in cryptic solidarity. They nodded back.
A bearded middle aged man with a prominent gut waited at the counter with seeming disinterest. Oddly though, he tapped the desk with impatience.
“Mr Richard Davies?” Andy asked, and the man nodded. “Inspector Andy Browning, CID, and ...” he looked impotently at Lisa for a moment. Their professional relationship was not yet at the point where he could confidently introduce her.
“Lisa Cummings,” she stepped in, “specialist consultant.”
“Yes.” Andy followed on, “We were wondering if we could ask you a few questions?”
“Not in trouble I hope?” the man laughed. A hint of nerves.
“Nothing to do with you sir, but one of your possible customers.”
Before Andy could continue Lisa leaned closer to the counter. “Huh, Santana, again?” A collection of signed posters stood proud behind the shop desk. “Seems like the band is haunting us.”
“Oh yes!” Richard Davies said enthusiastically, letting his tongue linger on the 's'. “I'm an enormous fan. Been to see them live more times than I can remember. First time I think was 1994. Switzerland at the Patinoire du Littoral.”
“Jesus Christ, here we go again!” groaned the hooded figure at the computer, making no attempt to disguise his irritation. “He never fucking shuts up about the 'Patinoire du Littoral'”.
“I'm only saying!”
“You only say to every fucking person that comes in here!”
“You know what Chris? If you don't like it you can fuck off.”
“I'm the only one keeping you in business man. If it wasn't for me you'd have shut up shop a long time ago,” he said, not taking his eyes away from the computer.
“Yes, I had noticed that,” said Andy, glancing to the left. In the corner was a luminous green sign painted with 'Closing Down Sale' on it.
“Not necessary anymore. Managed to re-evaluate my finances,” The man looked to Andy with confusion. “I'm sorry, what were you here for again?”
“We come to understand you provide the services of a 3D printer.”
“Waste of money,” he said honestly. “My old partner's idea, before he fucked off. 'Everyone will be using one in a years time',” he waved his arms around in a mock gesture. “After the initial novelty wore off It got one or two customers a month, if that. The resin is expensive so I have to charge through the nose for it, and not a lot of people really know what to use it for.” Uncharacteristically, he smiled a salesman smile, and pointed to them with both hands. “I can make a pretty badass pair of mini replicas of you if you want to get scanned in?”
Lisa's face lit up and she tugged on Andy's sleeve like an annoying child.
“Andy we could make replicas of each other! That's awesome! Andy, can we?”
“Cummings, shut up!” he said, without looking at her puppy dog eyes. Maintaining his professionalism, Andy carried on where he left off. “We don't have time I'm afraid Mr Davies. Is it possible that you can recall who has used your 3D printer over the last couple of months?”
“It's possible. Only a hand full of people at most.”
Andy ran through the suspects on his phone. Everyone who could have had access to the carcass. Nothing. Understandable, most people didn't know what a 3D printer was.
“Okay,” Andy said finally, flipping though another group of files on his phone. “One last person then. Do you happen to know this guy?” Andy lay down the phone, displaying a picture of the deceased, Melvyn Kent.
Richard Davies face scrunched with recognition. “Yeah I know this guy. He'd been round a few times. Some issues with his computer at first but If I recall right he'd used the 3D printer.”
Lisa and Andy looked at each other. It was only coincidence, for now.
“Do you keep a record of what the printer puts out?” Lisa jumped in.
“Should be able to pull something up. Can you give me five minutes?”
“Sure, sure,” Andy said eagerly.
The two didn’t say anything during the wait. A tension hung in the air, that familiar feeling you get on a case where you don't know if you've gotten a lead or just caught a red herring. Shortly, Mr Davies returned with several printed sheets.
“I'm not sure how much help this is going to be, it all looks like nonsense to me.”
He put down four or five sheets showing what had been input to the device via digital design software.
“Well fuck me,” Lisa was the first to speak. “Do you think this means...?”
The prints undeniably matched at least some of the components of the bombs. It was still up to ballistics to analyse the prints, but the signs seemed undeniable.
“We've been looking at this all wrong Cummings. Melvyn Kent wasn't the target” said Andy, “he was the perpetrator.”
Copyright Jack Harvey 2014