Thursday, June 30, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: The Case of the Missing Corpse

Another Friday, another Wendig Challenge. He gave us five "story seeds." I picked one, and ended up with something that feels more like a start than a story, but it's been a long week. Maybe I'll keep going with this one. Chuck gave us 1500 words, but I don't have time to edit that many (though 500 more might have let me tie it up better).

The Case of the Missing Corpse

It should have been an easy job. The body was found down on Water Street, where the bums hung out. If he wasn't a bum himself, Inspector Blank figured, then he'd been in the wrong place and gotten himself rolled, and either way they’d just round up the usual suspects.

The trouble was, Blank couldn't tell which sort it was, because by the time he got there, there was no body. Nor had Dispatch gotten much from the caller who'd reported it. The man had reported a body under the bridge on Water Street, and hung up.

Again, under normal circumstances Blank could have concluded it had all been a hoax and gone off to his dinner without a worry. But there was the pool of blood. Something had certainly died there.

"Maybe it ain't human blood," suggested Officer Engle, without much hope. That would only prove true if they desperately needed a corpse. Since they didn't, this would be human blood and they were short one dead man. They thought.

The anonymous caller hadn't been 100% clear but had referred to the stiff as "he." As in "he's dead as a door nail and you fellows ought to do something about it."

Blank sighed. He really wanted his dinner, not a pool of blood where there was supposed to be a dead man. "Sara, get the scene photos. We'd better treat this seriously." At least until they found out who was missing, Blank thought. It wouldn't turn out well if they blew this off and it turned out to be someone important. 

Ten years ago, Blank would have felt guilty for that cynicism. A decade of reality had cured him of that. A dead rich man carried more complications than a dead bum.

"Think the body went in the river?" Engle asked. He and Blank both turned and contemplated the deep dark water. Its smooth surface could hide a lot, but the swift current carried everything away.

"No drag marks," the photog called to them from where she worked with her camera. "However he went, he had help from someone who could lift him."

That didn't let out the river of course. Where else would a body go?

It was Engle who found a single mark by the water, a smeared shoe-print in the shore-line muck. Sara turned her powerful photographic lights on the area and found what might have been a drop of blood, though from the evidence they might have expected a lot more blood. The body had stayed put for a while. Inspector Blank did his cursing under his breath. No more chance of getting on with dinner.

Back at HQ Blank began making phone calls. He hoped he’d never have to do this one again. Something about being asked, “Have you found a body in the river this evening?” brought out the humorist in every officer. Unfortunately, not only was, “Why, are you missing one?” not really that funny, it had to be answered in the affirmative. They had lost one.

“Though I don’t see that it was ever really ours,” Blank grumbled to Engle, before sending him home. No reason his sergeant and the photographer should lose a night’s sleep. “We never laid eyes on it.”

Inspector Blank was dozing at his desk when the call came back from Centerville. “We may have your floater. Been in the river for several hours, at least, which is about enough time to come down from there. Middle age, male, running a bit to fat. That sound about right?”

Damn. Blank didn’t want to admit the answer to that, which was that he had no idea. “How’s he dressed?” Not that the answer would help.

“He isn’t.”

That didn’t help, but it did make the corpse more interesting. “Naked?”

“As the day he was born. Whoever rolled this one took everything, even the socks and skivvies.”

“If he had any,” Blank said.

“Vagrant, then?” The sergeant didn’t really care, though he wouldn’t mind a good story.

Blank made a non-committal noise. It was dawning on him that if he refused to ID the stiff, he’d be off the hook. Let the annoyingly cheerful sergeant from Centerville handle it. A body could have gone into the river anywhere.

“Probably not mine,” Blank said. “But I’ll let you know.” He hung up with a shrug. He might have to take the body back, but it would keep. He was going home.

Blank had almost made it to the door when the chief called him back. With a sigh he went into the chief’s office and closed the door, then sank into a chair, rolling his shoulders to ease the tension.

“We’ve got a missing person.”

“Naw. We’ve got a missing corpse. But I think Centerville has it now. Let them work it out.”

“We’re missing Charles Dupont. Richest man in town.” Not that Blank needed to be told. “And they’ve traced that anonymous tip about your stiff.”

“Yeah?”

“A pay phone at Third and Main.”

There was a pay phone downtown? And it worked? Blank hid his surprise. “That’s a long way from the river.”

“It is. But it’s just across the street from Dupont’s office. Maybe we got told before the man died.”

“More likely after the body went in the river. Dupont fiftyish and running a bit to fat?”

In answer, the chief shoved a photo across his desk. Blank nodded. “Talk to Sergeant Jones in Centerville. He’s probably got your man.” He stood up. “I’m headed home. They won’t pay me any more overtime.”

“I’ll put someone else on it.”

If that was meant to sting, it didn’t. “Oh, one thing Dupont’s family might not like.”

“Yeah?”

“Buck naked.”

The chief scowled, but Blank grinned as he walked away. “It’s going to be hard to explain that away as a stumble and fall into the river. Have a nice day.”

This was one corpse that should have stayed missing.

###

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Final weekend for the summer mystery sale! (Watch this space for the next great bargain).


2 comments:

  1. I think that was just right. I was trying to work out any significance in the cop's name of Blank. But it's a good one. Maybe there's a whole family of characters out there called Blank lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The truth about the name is that I started writing this on my phone (!) while waiting for something, and couldn't think of a name. So I just wrote "Blank" meaning to fill it in later. Later, it seemed like a perfectly good name :)

      Delete

We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.