A doomed fly spun on its back, shitting maggots.
Selwyn Clarke stood at the threshold of a crime scene composing his mind with his mantra.
I serve. I see so others can solve. I find so others can arrest. Facts without prejudice. Investigation without intuition. Conclusion through proof.
He framed the scene with his Nikon D7200 digital SLR camera. He took three shots and widened the frame to take in the entire crime scene for a context establishment shot. A large stainless steel room. Bare except for a rounded Y-shaped conveyor chain suspended from the ceiling. Another Y-shaped chain sat over a steep sided drain on the floor. The mechanism seemed to be a combination of ski lift and car wash.
Selwyn zoomed in on evidence marker one – a control panel to the right of the mechanism. The key is in place.
Marker two – a broken window pane above the control panel through which the fly must have come. Obviously a false point of forced entry. Too small and too high up. If the killer had a key to the control panel it is reasonable to assume that they had a key to the door.
Marker three – an inverted male corpse with no head or hands, dangling from the conveyor chain.
Marker four – a trio of horizontally strung wires crossing the conveyor chain in front of three sets of huge rollers with blunt teeth.
Marker five – a pair of thin blood sprays forming a Y shape in front of the corpse. Probably from arterial punctures.
What savagely brilliant mind designed this? An automated slaughterhouse. A death dealing production line that Hitler would have swooned over.
Selwyn pictured the mechanism in operation. Animals were locked feet first into the upper chain. The entire lower chain slid up or down to fasten and stretch necks and accommodate different sizes of animals. And the whole mechanism would grumble toward the trio of wires flossing back and forth. The heads… and in this case hands… would drop into the steep sided drain in the floor. The waft of burnt blood confirmed Selwyn’s assumption that there was an incineration pit below. The carcasses would proceed through the sets of toothed rollers that would pluck and squeeze the carcasses and accelerate the exsanguination process.
How poetic that a person can be reduced to an animal by sharing the manner of their death.
Selwyn returned his attention to capturing the details of the decedent. The feet were held in adjustable magnet-locked shackles. Relative lack of lividity of the flesh at the ankles put the time of death at about six hours ago. Selwyn’s normal method for working a body was to go feet to head picking a bodily feature such as a mole and ensuring it appeared at the top of one frame and the bottom of the next so that the pictures could be pieced together with an accuracy that defied the sternest of cross-examiners.
But this corpse had no moles or skin blemishes. For a decapitated dead guy missing his hands, he was beautiful.
He’s an artist. The fact arrived in his forebrain unheralded by any supporting evidence. Selwyn was unsettled by the insight. When Selwyn’s colleagues made leaps of conjecture he was quick to criticise them and galled when they were proved right. So-called intuition was just luck and laziness. Selwyn accepted the unsettling sensation as a challenge to lift his own game to appropriately honour this fellow artist through photography. Permanently wedding the two parts of this piece into a magnificent whole.
This will be my finest work so far. The centrepiece of a courtroom drama. The gallery at the centre of a theatre.
Working steadily from feet to knees, Selwyn tuned in to Hubert Maimone interviewing the slaughterhouse foreman.
“What time did you find the body?” Detective Maimone asked.
“I told you that already.” The balding bespectacled foreman whined, “I opened up at five ready for the morning shift to start at six… and excuse me… I gotta call some people and tell them they’re losing a day’s pay because some psycho decided to use the facilities for a little party.”
“I appreciate you keeping your staff away for now Mr Bassingthwaite.”
Maimone’s cloying courtesy made Selwyn’s skin crawl. He looks like an overgrown Labrador, why does he have to act like it too?
Bassingthwaite flicked through his phone made a quick call and hung up on an incoming one with a tsk of annoyance.
Selwyn’s ears pricked and he turned his stance, ostensibly to take pictures from the side of the decedent but actually to cover his interest in the foreman. He zoomed in. Mousy looking guy in his fifties.
Doesn’t look like he would have the strength to hoist a man into the shackles, but never discount the possibility of an accomplice. The foreman’s hand holding his phone had an indent on the ring finger. Recent divorcee. Two quick snaps and back to the decedent. Selwyn worked carefully from the knees to the pelvis.
Maimone returned to his line of questioning. Bassingthwaite replied slowly, confirming Selwyn’s observations so far. Manacles all adjusted together at the control panel. The key in the control panel is the spare. Kept in the first aid box. The drain leads to an incineration pit. The incinerator was turned off when the swing shift left at midnight. But it takes a few hours to cool completely. Plenty of residual heat to destroy the decedent’s head and hands.
Selwyn moved on from pelvis to shoulders. No identifying marks of any kind.
Well, that used to be a problem before DNA. They would identify this man eventually. Perhaps through an arrested cousin. Bringing a small piece of order to this whirling chaotic cosmic machine.
“Are all the access passes accounted for?” asked Maimone.
“Not yet. I’ve got one. The three other foremen have one each. There’s a spare in a key-coded box outside.”
“May I see yours?”
An awkward pause. Selwyn risked a slight raise of his head to take a picture of the foreman at that moment. Sweat on bald brow and crown, lips firmly set in a narrow line, closed body stance. All the classic hallmarks of guilt. A little gift to the prosecution.
“I can’t find it…”
“How long has it been missing?” pressed Maimone.
“Since yesterday,” countered Bassingthwaite.
“How did you get in this morning?”
“The spare in the box at the gate.”
Something in his peripheral vision caught Selwyn’s attention. He straddled the drain and trained his lens along it feeling the pleasant waft of warmth from the incineration pit along his legs and groin. He upped his flash to max and took the shot, attracting the attention of Maimone.
“Clarke, what you got there?” Selwyn took his eye from the view finder and switched to the display enlarging the shot. The tip of a thin rod jutted up from the drain.
“Hey,” Maimone called over to Bassingthwaite who had returned to his phone. “Is it safe to put a hand down here?”
“Be my guest,” was the flat reply.
Maimone rolled up his sleeve, fetched a glove from his pocket and put it on. He knelt and gently reached down into the dark drain.
“Ow.” His face contorted, more in disappointment than pain. He withdrew his hand holding a thorny deadheaded rose. Maimone had foolishly cut his finger on a thorn risking crime scene contamination. He stripped off the glove and put it in his other pocket taking the blood with it and put the cut in his mouth. Maimone left, probably in search of the first aid box and a loud rumble came through the broken window.
Selwyn smelled dust and diesel and animal fear. The first load of the day had arrived.
Oh you poor animals have no idea how lucky you are. This crime had given them a reprieve. Selwyn felt his brow furrow as he looked over at the gaping neck wound where the decedent’s head once was.
Was that part of the plan?
Selwyn laid the sixth evidence marker and an extendable ruler next to the rose stem and continued his work. What colour is the missing rose? Red for love, white for sympathy, yellow for apology?
He widened the frame of the shot and took in evidence marker five. A grain of rice lay next to it. Which moved. A child of the doomed fly seeking the nearest succour, the thin blood stain on the floor.
Selwyn stood and felt his brow furrow deepen. Another intuition tickled its way forward from the back of his mind. Instead of shying away from it as he normally would, Selwyn allowed the thought maggot to crawl closer.
He looked from the rose stem to the Y shaped blood stain on the floor, up to the Y shaped conveyor chain and along to the dangling decedent.
The thought arrived, fully formed and wrapped in a painful childhood memory. A trip to England when he had been nine and his parents were still married. They had stopped at a faux-Tudor pub after a long day’s sight-seeing. His father had said to young Selwyn with forced cheer “Ye Olde Swine and Swan. Good enough for you Selly?”
Young Selwyn had meant no harm when he corrected his father, “Dad, it’s pronounced The Old Swine and Swan. The Y is an ancient English letter called a Thorn. Pronounced as TH.” The slap had permanently reduced his father in Selwyn’s esteem.
An exasperated sigh came from the foreman. He answered a call. “Hello Gloria… no I haven’t seen Thorne… not for a few weeks now… well did you ask Ash?… Lord Gloria if his own twin brother doesn’t know where he is how the heck do you expect…” He listened intently for a moment.
“What do you mean you found a note? Goddamn little drama queen. What’s he gone and done this time?… Alright, I’ll check if he’s at my place… no I can’t go now… I’m in the middle of something here… look I just can’t talk. Bye.”
A clank. A creak. A heavy scrape came from outside the broken window. The bellows of frightened cattle amplified.
“Hey!” someone outside shouted.
Snorts heralded an avalanche of trampling hooves and joyous cattle cries. Someone has set the cattle free.
Selwyn smiled at the delicious irony. Their reprieve had become a pardon.