The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack may have come to a close, but I still have the rest of the year… holy heck, is that only eleven more weeks? We can do this! We’re so close!
Anyway, I have still got weekly prompt challenges to respond to. Maybe not with another novel (no, not in eleven weeks) but I think this one isn’t quite complete as-is. Also, it’s weird to write something non-Soldagh.
There was something sad and horrible about a pair of shoes in the middle of the road. Black sneakers. Soles toward her as she stood in the lane facing the direction of traffic, right first, ten feet further down: the left. Dark houses with blind windows to either side. Glistening pool on the asphalt between the shoes. It was too cold to smell the coppery metal of blood and the taint of shit, but she knew it was there.
A hand on her shoulder jolted her out of her reverie.
“Go home, Detective Carroll.” Johns said. “You’re on vacation as of…” He consulted his watch ostentatiously. “Seven minutes ago. I can handle this one.”
Shelby hesitated, looking at the scene in front of her. Something about this one bothered her, and she was trying to figure out what it was.
Johns made a frame in midair with his hands. “Picture this: next Tuesday. You, toes in the sand. It’s November of your 30th year. Fleetwood Mac is playing in the background, and you’re enjoying the fine ocean spray.” He dropped his hands and looked at her. “Seriously, kid, get out of here.”
Shelby looked back at him. “First of all, I’m not particularly fond of Fleetwood Mac.”
He made a mock astonished face. “But they are classic! so mellow!”
She shot back, “more like mel… ancholy. Secondly, why are you so eager to get rid of me?”
Johns laughed. “Look, if you stick around, I’m giving you all the paperwork.”
Shelby shook her head, turning around and away from the scene. “Now there’s an incentive to skedaddle. My least favorite part.”
Johns walked with her back toward their cars. “The crime scene boys haven’t got here yet. It’s going to be hours on overtime and you’re on vacation.”
When she’d been called out for the hit-and-run she’d still been on shift, but a half-hour drive to the scene meant she was now off. They didn’t get much action out here in the ‘burbs. In the city, thirty minutes away? There was a whole department of people like her and Johns. Here, it was just the four of them. Her, her partner, and another pair of investigators that was just coming on shift, as she was going off. He was off, too.
“Who’s going to take this, then? You?” She stopped and put her hands on her hips, looking at him.
“Look,” Johns said, “it’s a hit-and-run that has been taken to the hospital. These houses probably have cameras, at least half of ‘em. It’s not like it has to be any big deal.”
Shelby nodded. He wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t as sanguine as he was about finding somebody who’d hit a jogger in the wee hours of the morning but it was going to be more boring watching video surveillance than the kind of investigation that lit her fire. Which didn’t mean she was going to slough it off.
A flicker of movement caught Shelby’s eye. She turned her head away from Johns to look past him at the edge of the road, and the white rabbit sitting in the gutter. It flicked its ears and scampered up the road for a few feet before it ducked into the storm drain.
Johns asked, “What is it, Shelby?” His quiet, serious tone told her that he’d read her face as something more serious than it was.
“There’s a white rabbit over there.” She walked away from him, toward the drain against the curb. She could hear him chuckle behind her.
“Really.” She pulled out her penlight and flicked it on, directing the beam between the thick metal bars of the drain grate. A pair of red eyes gleamed up at herr, and then the rabbit was gone again, a flash of white vanishing out of her sightline. “There’s something else down here. You said this was called in as a hit-and-run?”
He walked up behind her and looked down at what she was spotlighting in the narrow flashlight beam.
“Nobody said anything about gunshots.”
“That’s definitely a gun.”
“Who knows how long it’s down there.”
“Why else would you throw a gun in a drain if you hadn’t committed a crime?”
“Dammit.” Johns said.
It took a couple of hours to get the Department of Sanitation guys out to open up the storm drain. Shelby got ready to wriggle down into it. They offered, which was nice of them, and she told them that while stripping out of her vest.
“I’ve got to get it. We suspect it was used in a crime, so that’s my job. You guys moved the heavy metal, much appreciated.” She set her vest down with her jacket and shivered in the night chill.
“It opens up a bit down there, Ma’am.” One of them, a burly fellow with an impressive beard, assured her.
Johns started to chuckle and shook his head. She looked at him in irritation. She really should have walked away when he gave her the chance.
“I’m gonna start calling you Alice.” He said. “Alice down the rabbit hole.”
She sat on the edge and put her legs down. “I start falling, you come in after me, right?”
He grinned, all his teeth shining white in the portable lights they had set up for the scene. Pointed away from their area, they cast an eerie light where the drain was located. “Just call me the Cheshire Cat.”
Shelby crouched next to the gun, ankle-deep in dead leaves, sticks, and mud consisting of stuff she didn’t care to think about. There wasn’t a lot of room down here. The tunnel was round, not square, and she shone her light down it before she bagged the pistol.
“Hey, Johns?” She tipped her head back and shouted upward.
“Yo.” His head appeared in the opening. He was lit only from the side by the lights.
“There’s a skull…” Shelby informed him, pointing with a gloved hand.
The profound disgust in his voice made her crack up.
He glared down at her. “It’s not human, is it?”
“Nah.” Shelby subsided. “Critter. But I got you!”
“Just get the gun. Leave the skull.” He disappeared again.
Shelby did as she was told. Nothing else at the bottom of the drain looked like it was significant. The white rabbit did not make another appearance.
Once she was out of the hole and taking a deep breath of fresh pre-dawn air, she told Johns, “it hadn’t been down there long.”
“The skull?” He was countersigning the evidence collection form.
“No, jackass. The gun. No mud in the barrel.” Shelby handed the bag over to him. “Can I go now?”
“Quitting on me now? Still gonna catch your flight?”
She looked at her watch. “ I even have time to go home and pack.”
Shelby Carroll stepped off the plane the next morning, and walked across the tarmac into the tiny airport. She stopped just inside and looked around her with interest. Security here was nothing like the big airport in the US.
She’d been planning and budgeting for this trip for years. It had been her solemn promise to herself to spend her 30th birthday on a tiny Caribbean island. Here she was… the phone vibrated, and she pulled it out of her pocket and looked down at it. The vibrating kept going as text after text came in. She had left it on airplane mode since they had taken off the night before and now she was wondering if maybe she should’ve just left it on airplane mode until she was headed for home again.
She opened her messenger app. There had been some messages from both her mother and from John… she stopped dead in the middle of the lobby of the airport. Why would John be texting? Her mother, she understood. She scrolled back to the top of the text string from John.
::Been some interesting aspects on the case.::
::Not going to tell about it.::
We will talk when you get home, she read through his characteristic choppy texts, but he said that ‘she shouldn’t worry’ and she should have a good time and listen to more Fleetwood Mac. Shelby shook her head. It was characteristic of her partner to have been texting her that he was trying to reassure her. Since the texts from her mother opened with ‘your idiot brother,’ Shelby slid the phone back in her pocket. Alan wasn’t going to help her relax and enjoy herself and she was thought she might like to be at her hotel and have a nice fruity drink in her hand before she read the rest of the text string from her mother.
Shelby wriggled her toes deeper into the warm sand. Her phone chimed, and for a moment she debated shutting it off. Again. With a long sigh, she picked it up to check. It wasn’t her mom, this time. It was John, picking up after a couple of days of radio silence. Curious, she thumbed the app open.
::Hit and run. No gunshots.:: she read.
She tapped back. ::So… sumdood dumped it?::
::Yeah, or the rabbit did it::
Shelby snorted and put the phone back on the table. She was thousands of miles from work and had a week of nothing to do. Nothing at all. She stared out over the cay and the eerily beautiful aqua water. Where had the rabbit come from? And why had it dived out of sight into a four-foot-deep drain hole?
One thing about her job, Shelby mused. You rarely got the answers. Not all of them. And you never got the rest of the story.
I was prompted by Anne Guglik with “It was November of my 30th year. Fleetwood Mac was playing in the background, and I was enjoying the fine ocean spray.”
I prompted Fiona Grey with “The kitten arched and hissed at the empty corner.”
You can read all the prompt challenges and responses, and even take part yourself, over at More Odds Than Ends. Join us! You don’t have to have been in since the start of the year to get your mental juices flowing with Odd Prompts!