“Detective you better have some gosh-darn answers for me.” Hubert Maimone’s phone barked at him as he held it away from his ear.
“Yes Chief,” he risked drawing the phone close enough to reply as he walked along the corridor of interview rooms at Didymus District Police Station. The chief was probably in his office a few feet away, and Hubert didn’t want to run into him. Gosh-darn was as firm a curse as the Chief ever used and he had to be in a forehead vein popping fury to do so.
“Don’t you ‘yes chief’ me… I don’t need that kinda sass from you, I got three teenaged daughters at home for that. There have been eight… count em. One two three four five six seven darnit EIGHT… deaths in six days. ALL of them a twin or one of a matched set, nontuplets or whatever. SOME punk on that no-good inter-webs thing has got hold of the story. MY phone’s running hot from every two-bit flat-foot reporter and now the mayor’s calling me. And I hear you got a THEORY?”
“Who told you that, Chief?” Hubert stopped walking. He hadn’t mentioned his theory to anyone other than his twin sister Phee. And even she had scoffed at it.
“Your mother. Now get to work.” He hung up.
Hubert exhaled and fell back against the wall for a moment. He ran his fingers through his hair, frowned and put his knuckle to his top lip. Sharp stubble bit at him.
How many hours have I worked today? And what day is it?
He sighed and entered the interview room. Seated at the table were Sarah Rudderman, who hadn’t aged a day, and Barbara Quinn, a sign language interpreter. Sarah’s flaming red hair wisped around her intense alabaster countenance. Sharp eyes taking everything in. She had upgraded her hearing aid. The loops over her ears were nearly invisible.
Hubert nodded a hello to both women, sat down and switched the recorder on. He leaned forward on closed hands, just the right amount of presence to establish authority without projecting menace.
“Interview commenced May seventeenth two thousand and nineteen at three sixteen a.m. Present are myself, Detective Hubert Maimone,” as he said his name he hid his mouth by rubbing the stubble on his top lip with his knuckle, “Sarah Rudderman who is assisting with inquiries into the death of Stavros Katsis, also known as Nightshade, and Barbara Quinn, registered sign language interpreter.” Barbara translated his words accurately. She looked as tired as he felt.
Hubert made eye contact with each woman as he introduced them to the public record and returned his gaze to Sarah. He hated seeing colleagues ignore a hearing-impaired subject and direct their questions to the interpreter. He saw no recognition in Sarah’s eyes.
“Now Sarah,” he exaggerated his pronunciation but did not raise his voice, “you notified police at nine forty five last night through our social media channel that you held concerns over the welfare of Stavros Katsis, a musician.” She parted her lips and rolled her eyes in silent contention of the description, “You have known Mr Katsis for some time. You were members of a band called Apothecary’s Garden together. Is that true?”
Sarah nodded. Her eyes were on Hubert’s lips. Barbara, translated Hubert’s words, shut her eyes briefly and struggled to open them again.
“Ms Rudderman has nodded.” Hubert stated for the record before continuing. “Acting on your information, officers attended Mr Katsis’ residence, and forced entry after they were unable to raise him. Inside they found Mr Katsis dead and tied to a pole in his bedroom.”
Barbara translated sleepily and sloppily. No reaction from Sarah. Not even a flicker. Stone cold.
“Your concerns were based upon a letter you had received from Mr Katsis. Is that true?” Sarah made a ‘yes-and-no’ gesture as Barbara was still translating. Her lip reading was excellent. Sarah reached into her purse and drew something out wrapped in some sheets of paper. Quiet alarm prickled at Hubert’s neck and he stopped himself from reaching for his firearm.
Sarah smiled at him in that coy cat-like manner of hers as she unwrapped Stavros’ pan pipes. The papers the pipes were wrapped in were a letter. Hubert cleared his throat and stated, “Ms Rudderman has placed a set of pan pipes wrapped in a letter on the table.” He looked directly at Sarah, “Ms Rudderman, do you have any objection to me reading the contents of this letter aloud?”
Sarah shook her head. Barbara was almost asleep. Her nods were startling her back to the moment, but sleep would win this fight soon.
“Ms Quinn,” Barbara startled. “Ms Rudderman is familiar with the contents of this letter which I am reading for the benefit of the public record. There is no need to translate.”
“Okay.” Barbara smiled gratefully, closed her eyes and settled her head into the corner of the interview room.
“My darling Sarah,” the words belonging to Stavros came out of his own mouth. Oh how he had longed to say them himself.
“Why are we here? The finest and yet most pointless of all rhetorical questions. It invites those of high self-opinion to seek a quest. It invokes despair in the sensitive breast. It prods us to slake our thirsts on each other’s flesh, to send that question away. Even for just a bit.
“You named me Nightshade. You named George as Mandrake. In our magnificent childhood world of passed notes and snapdragons and secrets. Wonderful secrets.
“You guessed my secret even as I sweated and babbled out denials. I was so stupid to fill your glorious silence with pointless noise. And then when Apothecary’s Garden was born, Nightshade and Mandrake became all noise and no peace.
“Is it better to be infamous than famous? I asked you that once and you wrote about Enola Gay. The crew that changed the shape of the world by dropping two bombs with innocent sounding names, Little Man and Fat Boy. That crew, what were their names? Some one knows but no one remembers. Almost anonymous but forever infamous.
“Why did the satyr come? A question too obvious for rhetoric. The satyr showered us with gold and fame and we black-birded his virgins. And now, oh how deep my remorse runs, my dearest bandmate and shipmate.”
The satyr mentioned in the letter was clearly Hellenic Records CEO Pericles Costanza, currently in a cell in this very building, under arrest for statutory rape and violation of guardianship laws. Someone had leaked the arrest to the media and women were coming forward. The good people of the sexual crime squad down the hall had taken more statements in twenty-four hours than they had all year. Each story that might have been discredited by a sharp suited lawyer was being corroborated by a security guard at Hellenic Records. Sharonda had handed over visitor log-books and told stories of worried mothers begging to speak with their kids who hadn’t been seen in weeks and of semi-conscious teenagers loaded into taxis. Sharonda’s testimony formed the connections that would turn these stories into a strong case against Costanza.
Beasts like him had ruled their personal domains like tyrants, quietly coercing vast numbers of women into sexual slavery. But not Sarah.
It dawned on him that this letter was another damning statement against Costanza and should be logged as evidence. Hubert took a sip of water praying that his hands wouldn’t tremble and then shifted the focus of that prayer to his voice. He returned to the text.
“How foolish I was. We all were. Foolish to trust the satyr, his false flattery, his endless demands and endless supplies.
“As long as we gave sacrifice. George’s honeyed voice sang my words luring more virgins to the woods to dance, placing their feet on the conveyor belt of defilement. There is no sacrifice easier than someone else’s.
“Have you ever pondered the two meanings for the word siren? A lure and a warning. We were the satyr’s sirens. And none of the virgins ever heard the warning.”
Hubert stopped reading for a moment. Barbara had lost her battle against weariness. Her head was propped back, eyes closed and mouth slightly open. It was just him and Sarah in this moment. A single moment after ten long years.
“We never did go in for shallow Christian concepts like forgiveness. I know, that you know, what I have done. You can come or not. Silence is your gift and words are mine.
“It is time I made my own sacrifice. Such a powerful thing it is too. The only sure way to transfer suffering from one party to another.” Hubert slowed his speech as he considered this statement of Stavros’. He had always liked Stavros a bit more than Stavros had liked him.
“The satyr is grossly unworthy of my sacrifice. I will render it unto the goddess. Only you know which one.”
Hubert had been told about the scene where they found Stavros. Naked and kneeling with his hand tied behind his back around a floor to ceiling pole in his bedroom. No drugs in the lavish apartment but plenty of drug residue. The theory was that Stavros had been there three days after dying of respiratory failure in an old school detox gone wrong.
The manner of death was very similar to that of Stavros’ twin brother George the night before.
If it was a suicide pact, who tied Stavros up?
After Apothecary’s Garden broke up, Stavros had discovered the writing credits of their songs were listed in George’s name only. George had denied doing it, but wouldn’t undo it. The case went to court and failed. For the last few years, Stavros had lived as a privileged hermit while his brother continued to write songs, feeding pulp to the Hellenic Records pop production line.
Hubert shook his head and returned to the letter.
“Do you remember my dear Sarah, that golden summer, our last as children before the adulteration of adulthood came upon us? All of us together? Our merry little gang. Our band of intrepid adventurers looking for a quest?
“Do you remember when I read the Odyssey to you? Day after day, we sat on our haunches. Your breath shallow with fear at the fate of men long dead. Or did they ever live anywhere other than in Homer’s songs and pressed together between pages? Your eyes on my lips as I read and my eyes stealing glimpses of your lips, still and shut.”
Hubert flicked his own eyes up to Sarah’s lips. That parted as she breathed in. Hello Hubert. She signed.
He was rumbled. When did you recognise me? he signed back. She gave a smile in reply and her childhood face shone through.
Of course she recognised me. She just didn’t notice me. As always.
He placed the letter flat on the table next to Stavros’ pan pipes. Hubert swallowed hard and continued to read aloud.
“Reading the Odyssey was the first I heard of the Sirens. Do you remember when Odysseus and his men had to pass their island?”
When did you receive this? He signed.
Sarah made no reply. Hubert could hardly fight the draw of her eyes. If someone reported to their far-seeing chief that he knew her, a suspect in a suspicious death, he might lose the case. Or worse.
George is dead. He signed. Sarah gave a shallow sigh. No shock. No surprise.
He continued to read. “Odysseus stoppered up his men’s ears with wax after ordering them to tie him to the mast. And so they rowed safely through the storm with his most trusted man on the rudder. They were safe from the irresistible Siren song while Odysseus gloried and wept, bound to the mast. Tasting the forbidden fruit without swallowing sin.
“Was he counting coup? Exposing himself to danger in sight of his men to increase his fame. Or his infamy?
“No. He revelled in the same wild glory that he denied to his men. Greedy fucker.”
Hubert caught his tongue too late and shared a grin with Sarah. Her warm brown eyes held a hint of her hardness. She did not grieve for Stavros or George, but neither did she glory in their passing.
“If Odysseus was pure. If he was a truly heroic man of action, he would have lashed himself to the mast of a small ship and trusted to the storm as I have done. But I am not heroic. And I am certainly not wise.
“Here is the lesson, the final one I take from this life. Every Odysseus needs a deaf Rudderman.” The final pun or insult took a moment to settle in.
Stavros had sent his pan pipes and this letter to Sarah Rudderman as a deadman’s switch. Trusting her to come and save him or to stall and let him die, thus absolving himself from the responsibility of his own death.
He sat back with a sigh, feeling the empty space stretch out on the tape. There was a case here for third degree manslaughter. Hubert knew it but couldn’t do it. Not to Sarah. Cold though she had always been, she was pure. And true. And now they were reunited.
I’m going to visit your sister. Will you come?
No. She signed back, with a glance at Barbara to check she was still asleep. I’m out. And you should get out too.
I can’t, Hubert signed back.
The tape ticked on and Sarah held his eyes. The master of every interrogation, the winner of every argument, with silence as both her shield and spear.
Why did they do it? Hubert signed.
Sophrosyne. Sarah signed back. A hole opened under Hubert’s feet and things became clear.
“Interview terminated at three twenty nine am.”
Hubert folded the letter, put it in his pocket and took the tape.