Cooking with Arsenic: Chapter Two: The Second Coming

Chapter 2

The Second Coming

The second coming was a trick Hartley had worked out during his career as a solo investigator. The operation of the second coming could be extremely complex, fortunately, Hartley was unmarried, and relatively unknown, Hollywood actors rarely paying their respects to private investigators. At 9:00 that night, Hartley would be seen leaving a party in a high-rent part of Hollywood. The primary witness of this would be the party’s private bartender, who would mark the sudden decline in the disappearance of Gin.

At 9:15, on his way to Apple street, the respected Mr. Hartley, private investigator, would drop to the ground, blood flowing out of his body. Fortunately, there would be an ambulance nearby, and no one would notice the relative youth of the ambulance’s operators. The right high school students are both indistinguishable from the college-aged ambulance drivers of the day, and extraordinarily discreet. Mr. Hartley would be delivered directly to a police station, and directly to the head of that particular police morgue and autopsy, Reginald Emminson, a first-generation American, from England, sent over just before the first word war. He had an unquestionably morbid sense of humor, and was only too happy to send a friend’s paperwork in all the necessary directions. This caused a murder investigation in the department, which was usually handed to a relatively inexperienced, and notably lazy investigator. The hospital received “body received” paperwork, which listed the doctor who declared Hartley dead as an indistinguishable name, halfway between two of the more absentee and forgetful doctors at the given hospital of choice. Of course, it need not be the same hospital every time.

Hartley had died several times any hullaballoo. The obituaries page in most newspapers is run as a stopping point between copy boy and other assignment, and in some papers is run as a punishment post more than anything. As such, and given the relatively nomadic nature of journalists, chances that anyone would notice two identical obituaries were close to zero. Given the nature of the post, most newspapers were more than happy to accept the family and friend’s offers in obituaries. This, Mrs. Tummley did in the morning, from letters already prepared, ranging from the suspiciously polite, to the mind-numbingly praise-filled.

According to this plan, Jim Miller left the office at 9:30 the morning after the supposed murder, and traveled down to the police station, where he was met by Reginald Emminson. Reginald saw it as a necessity that the role be played up somewhat. As anyone who knew McAven, Hartley and Miller would know, Jim Miller had been close to the esteemed Mr. Hartley since his childhood. When Miller arrived at the morgue, he was met with a brief and sufficiently awkward hug, entirely outside the character of the still very English Reginald Emminson. He was then lead into the silence and solitude of the police morgue. The solitude of the morgue is a wholly strange solitude, a strangeness Emminson loved, and to which Miller had never entirely adjusted. In the morgues of the late twenty first century, bodies are will be stored in cabinets, ensuring that any friends or family to visit the morgue will see only a single body. This, however, offers no consolation to Jim Miller, who must wander among the cracked marble slabs, half-sheeted white. In a police morgue work of a more immediate nature than that of the undertaker is constantly underway. In this old sort of morgue, bodies are constantly in view. The effect is like that of entering a room filled with sleeping people – a brightly lit room filled with the sleeping. These eyes, however, have often lolled or been pushed open, despite the absence of any comprehensible consciousness. The faces are white, and the absence of breathing is marked. Surely it is in morgues where men first dreamed of vampires and zombies – the undead, who, though they appear to be living, still leave anyone in contact with them with the horrible taint of the simacrula of life that is the carcass.

“Lost another partner, eh Jim?” Reginald says. He speaks partly through his nose, an oddity for morticians, whose sense of smell sometimes even deteriorates from being so often half abused, half neglected.

“Yea. They drop like flies.”

“It’s a risky business.”

McAven, Hartley, and Miller had lost people before- though never partners. More often than not, those killed in the strange non-duty of private investigation had been those with a more than tasteful connection to the crime, one deeper than the investigation went, only on the payroll because Hartley knew the value of information. Sometimes, in the strange human cannibalism of finances and lusts, they were killed by their families. Though the most uncouth of tribes will shy away from family meat, the family of many men will gladly devour his finances, properties, and ambitions, for the right end, and should they think themselves invisible to the law.

Those who died in the course of investigation were always offered a pleasant funeral by McAven, Hartley, and Miller. Often, their families could not or would not pay for the funeral. They were not, however, offered the use of Mr. Hartley’s yacht, where he planned to spending the next week or two finishing a number of books, and several bottles of Gin, and fishing. If duty compelled him, he may even read up on a case or two, or track the doings of Hollywood superstars, his most lucrative perspective clients. Now and again, his sail might wink above the horizon of some actor’s seaside castle, long-range telescope and camera trained upon the suspicious beds. This was dangerous - both because these seaside castles can be surprisingly hard to tell apart, and because Mr. Hartley would have no way of knowing how the investigation progressed. In times of peace, information could be snuck to the ship through Morse code on little-used channels. In full-blown war in the Pacific, the Navy watched every channel, and such activities were foolhardy at best, illegal at worst.

Mr. Hartley’s body was one of the few covered with a sheet, and when Miller lifted it, it was to his surprise that he saw the slightly pale face of Mr. Hartley.

“Fool” he muttered. He thought he saw the crack of a grin, which confirmed his suspicions. Some people took necessary risks, and Mr. Hartley was not one of them. Necessary risks were not so much taken as ignored in pursuit of the more interesting risks. Miller laid the sheet back down over the dear deceased. The white cloth felt like the weight of sailcloth more than a bedsheet. Miller wondered if this was Emminson’s precaution against the detection of breathing. He doubted the Englishman had the wisdom, foresight, or sense of diligence to think of it. He concluded it was best just to think of it as a normal sheet, and noted to himself not to imagine the sheets in a morgue rustling in the wind anymore, at least, not in anything short of a hurricane. Of course, as soon as he identified the body, it would be zipped into a bag, a new addition, and wheeled out, theoretically to be cooled and preserved during the investigation, but in fact, it would be “accidentally” delivered to the docks, where Mr. Hartley would leave port, an assumed name on the shipping register.

“That’s him.” Miller muttered, smelling gin still on Hartley’s breath.

There were plans in effect, in case something unexpected took place. If the detective on the case showed an unnatural amount of interest in seeing the body (usually, a coroner’s report would suffice) Emminson would be more than happy to get in a row with one of the younger attendants, one who was failing anyway, and, if necessary, produce a false corpse. To especially bar this necessity, the detective on the case would be informed that a private investigator, one Mr. Miller, was already investigating the murder, and had inspected the body, and would be more than happy to share any further information he uncovered. Jim Miller wondered if it wouldn’t be wise to feed a couple of useless and moronic tidbits through Mrs. Tummley – exactly the sort of drivel a cynical policeman would expect to come from a young private investigator with no experience in murder cases, but would give the policeman one more excuse to visit the donut shop. Still, the thought of breath rustling the sheets brought again to mind the sheer audacity of such a plan of fake death, the audacity of many of Hartley’s plans. Often, of course, the audacity was a calculated one. Hollywood stars and celebrities are rather fond of both drama and audacity, the businessmen that run the celebrity sideshow even more so, and elaborate plots, and tricky capers attracted high-paying business, extra bonuses, and often, the sympathy and consequent confession of the guilty party. Often, the stars who were on the receiving end of the trick or plot, even if it was uncovered before being fully successful, would confess. A memory of Mr. Hartley, purely vocal, hummed in Miller’s mind. “Stars, celebrities, and the businessmen who manage them.” Hartley once said, between sips of a Gin Rickey, “Are inherently dramatic, and gluttonous for attention. When they feel they’ve been upstaged, they will, almost always, try to return the attention to them by dramatic means, and there is nothing so dramatic as a confession, and the most dramatic confession, the most final confession, is confession of the truth. In this twisted town, people will likely go to jail for the truth, but will only tell the truth for the sake of drama.” As much as Miller did doubt the effectiveness of this amateur psychology, he had seen it work. He was worried about this case, however. He wondered if Hartley recognized the strange commentary he was making on the military by treating them as similar to Hollywood stars. He wondered if too much time dealing with those twisted people in the Hollywood hills had finally twisted Mr. Hartley. Most of all, he wondered if there were people, other people, who would mess it all up. He didn’t know whether or not Hartley’s parents were alive. Brothers, sisters, cousins, they were all possible, and anyone who would be interested in Hartley’s death was a potential danger.

All these things on his mind, Jim began his long trek back to the office. Conveniently, his way back to the office, he met a short redhead with whom he shared a short and early lunch. She did not intrude upon his quiet, but rather danced conversationally around the edges of his life, tying off frayed strands on the edges of his spirit.

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