Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats. The muffled bassline grew louder as Selwyn Clarke descended the steps to Agape Xerxes’ dance studio. As much as he despised the very concept of intuition, he knew that something was wrong.
On the last step something sticky sucked at his boot sole. The concrete moat embracing Agape’s basement studio was crowded with planters filled with barely contained belligerent looking tendrils. An overfull trash can stood to the left of the studio door. The door trembled against the force of the music that thumped inside.
Selwyn knocked loudly. “Agape? Are you there?” His voice crashed into the night around him. The bassline was the only sound in this usually bustling neighbourhood.
He hushed himself, she’s blind, not deaf.
“Agape? We had a session booked.” He fidgeted with his camera and rocked from foot to foot. A cat bolted from behind the trash can. Selwyn jumped back letting go of his camera. It twisted on its strap around his neck, suddenly very heavy. Weighted with images too bizarre to make sense of.
Images from his investigations into a spate of weird deaths. All in the last week. A sort of eighties New York level of crazy had hit the streets of Didymus. A medium sized city with very few claims to fame other than the highest birth rate of twins in the country. Selwyn straightened his stance and slowed his breathing.
There must be connecting threads between at least a few of the deaths. But no matter how hard he looked Selwyn could not see them.
The images scrolled along in his mind. Eight identical naked Greek women around the base of an industrial chimney. Its inner walls inscribed with poems from the Hellenic age. Their ninth dead sister inside, impaled on spikes and food for ravens.
Thorne Bassingthwaite, efficiently killed and dismembered in an automated slaughterhouse.
Rey Guapo and Vincente Lobos; drug lord and chief enforcer. Their dismembered limbs laid out like shipped mannequin pieces ready for assembly. A performance appraisal gone wrong? Or the work of a vigilante Banksy fanboy? Or was it the work of Banksy himself? Or possibly them-self? This morning Detective Hubert Maimone had found a pair of dead identical men at the Asclepius Hospice, asylum to the rich and famous. Placed like a sacrifice at the foot of an instant mural of extraordinary artistic execution.
Was there a connection to the last night’s deaths of twin brothers George and Stavros Katsis, founding members of that awful Hellenic revival rock band Apothecary’s Garden?
The images of these crime scenes swirled in his agitated mind. They stretched thin like spider silk and clumped, twined and knotted around each other in defiance of his efforts to comb them straight. Any one of them might light up and lead him to the invisible source that connected them all.
So many weird deaths in less than a week. But the quantity and time proximity did not necessarily indicate causality. Violent crime goes in waves, why not weird crime?
Perhaps I should talk it through with Agape. A blind woman might be able to perceive the invisible, simply because from her perspective, everything is invisible.
Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats.
The bassline throbbed through him, like an external heartbeat. Quelling a sense of dread, Selwyn called out again, “Agape?” A note of hopelessness had entered his voice.
A rare flash of optimism suggested that Agape had gone out and left her music on. But Selwyn paid it no mind. Agape was one of the finest dancers in the world. She had achieved international acclaim through hard work. Not slobbish habits. Her reverence for music was as deep as his own for photography. Her portrait today would form the centrepiece of his new exhibition. Enablement through art. A series of portraits of artist who were not held back by disability, but fuelled by it. Some created art in defiance of their hardship, and some created art to reduce their disability’s impact upon them. Elevating their lives through mastery of their respective disciplines. Poetry, art, music, and dance. The gifts of the muses themselves. Detective Maimone’s sister Phee had offered him space in her gallery in three weeks.
Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats. The bassline had a ritualistic quality. A summoning in potentia.
An urge toward heroism gripped him. If Hubert Maimone was here he would kick down that door and sweep in to save Agape from whatever had happened.
Selwyn pushed it aside. Like the experienced first responders he worked with, Selwyn had let go of hope. He watched the sanity of the new recruits wear thin by having their hopes repeatedly raised and dashed. Sullenly leaving a crime scene as he arrived to document whatever was left and assist the machinery of justice to punish and hopefully reform those chaos agents who formed an endless parade through the courtroom docks.
Selwyn prepared himself for a possible crime scene by reciting his mantra. I serve. I see so others can solve. I find so others can arrest. Facts without prejudice. Investigation without intuition. Conclusion with proof.
Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats.
He pondered the legal obstacle posed by the door. A single closed casement window was the only other option for entry. But he was a civilian working for the Didymus Police Department and was bound by rules of probity. Rules, that if not followed to the letter, would let the guilty walk free.
Probable cause, he thought. Not answering the door is not probable cause. But I’ve got to get in.
His fidgeting hands had touched the shutter of his camera. An idea formed. He dragged the filthy trash can under the casement window. Recoiling at thoughts of pathogens proliferating in this tall corrugated petri dish, he climbed up and held his camera up to the window. Three quick flashes and he jumped down again.
He registered a rumour of movement from inside the studio, or possibly a tiny interruption of a soundwave.
Flicking his camera from capture to display, his last portrait of Agape leapt up. Magnificent, barefoot and in a studied carefree pose silhouetted by a strong light behind her. Selwyn had captured the tiny erect hairs on her body, like a personal forest of miniature antennae. Agape knew the position of her body in the room by passage through echoes, invisible to the sighted, but tangible to her.
She was so well named… Agape. The Greek word for joy.
He flicked past her image to the pictures he had just taken. His back prickled and he became keenly aware that the light from the display cast up onto his face would paint him as a target for a patient watching murderer.
The centre of the shot was the inner cube corner of the studio. The walls bare except for one large picture; a band on a stage with seven members. And on the floor, a curved trail of red footprints. Probable cause.
Selwyn looked around for something to break the casement window with. A watering can was placed on a brick next to the planter boxes. He grabbed the brick. A tiny clink. A key.
His eyes rolled at the twin frustrations of such an obvious location for a spare key and the fact that he never thought to look for it. Steadying his trembling hands, he put the key in the lock and turned it with a quiet click. He crouched low beside the door frame, took up the brick, and threw the door open.
BOOTS AND CATS AND BOOTS AND CATS AND BOOTS AND CATS.
The music, released like a genie from a bottle boomed out into the night, unsettling a flock of birds roosting in a tree. Selwyn counted to five.
He dialled the flash up to max and stuck his camera around the door, closed his eyes and took a shot. Using the burst of light as cover he rolled in a crouch around the door frame and along the inner wall. He dropped the brick and it tumbled into the room.
He opened his eyes.
Agape lay, outside a pentacle inscribed in the floor with bloodied footprints. Kneeling inside the pentacle was Phee. Her wrists, raised to guard her eyes from the flash, were shackled to the floor.
“Phee!” Selwyn shouted over the music. She looked up at him with the most serene of smiles. The brick had almost hit her.
“Selwyn.” Her lips embraced his name but he could not hear her over the music. Her beautiful face held no relief, no surprise, no distress at all.
Flustered, Selwyn went to Agape. She lay on her side in loose foetal position. Her feet torn and bloodied. Her beautiful green eyes were wide open and lacked the bright spark of life.
On auto-pilot, his higher mind absorbed the details of the room. The star of the pentacle around Phee was traced in layers and layers of Agape’s small bloodied footprints. Agape must have been dancing for hours. The outer circle of the pentacle was also traced in bloodied footprints. These were larger and led straight out the door. Someone else had been here as part of this peculiar rite.
What were they doing to poor Phee? But Phee looked calm. Even though she was on her knees and shackled in the middle of a pentacle traced in blood.
Selwyn stood up and stepped back from Agape. He flicked the switch on the wall for the sound system replacing boots and cats with sudden shocking silence. His eardrums bulged in painful compensation. He gripped his head, bent forward and when the pain eased, he straightened. On the wall behind Phee hung the picture Selwyn had captured through the casement window.
It was set in a white frame with ivy vine motif. “Apothecary’s Garden” read the band motto on the bass drum. The drummer was a beautiful young woman tossing her long red hair, captured in a moment of musical ecstasy. What Selwyn initially took as elaborate earrings were in fact brightly coloured hearing aids. A guitar player in long flowing robes was her identical twin sister. Agape herself frozen mid twirl was half way across the stage.
The lead singer held onto a microphone on a stand as though it was the only thing supporting his slender frame from total collapse. The effort of releasing a song into the microphone consumed him. His identical brother was on pan pipes, similarly in thrall; George and Stavros Katsis. Both dead. Only last night.
Apothecary’s Garden had been built on a cute schtick; all the members were twins.
To Selwyn’s surprise and dawning panic he recognised the last two band members. The other guitarist was Phee Maimone and on the piano was her twin brother Hubert, now a detective on the Didymus Police Force.
The bundled strands of each crime scene unfurled and twanged taught into a web. Selwyn felt the tremor of a coming spider.
He turned to Phee kneeling silent and patient. “Phee, what’s happening here?”
“Unshackle me Selwyn. The key is under the sound system.” Selwyn nodded. The key was where she said it was.
“Who did this Phee? Who else was here? Who did this to you?”
“Unshackle me Selwyn and I’ll tell you everything.” Phee’s wrists were warm under his trembling hands. Selwyn steadied his hands enough to turn the key and pop open the manacles.
Phee rubbed her wrists, picked up the brick and hit him across the head.