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love the culture of victimhood

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Her name is Tallulah, Tallu-lah, Tallu-lah-lay. The plastic card in her wallet says she's thirty, wears contacts, is underweight and of the patchy dyed hair. She's heartless and cold, but only because her heart was torn out postmortem and though the examiner isn't here yet, you'll bet your last pay cheque that her blood isn't pumping any longer.

Murder is normal and part of your bread and butter, but. This murder isn't to be feasted upon like carrion lifting a bank balance up on high, a time-sheet filled, your metaphorical kids sent to a better school than the last one.

This murder has all the marks of taking up your night and soaking through your shoes.

"Beaten to death," Reggie says. He's not even looking at her, he's messing with his lighter in this downpour. "You see the concave on her head?"

One side of her head is flat as the Euclidean manifold, yes you see the concave, does he take you for an idiot?

"Only sometimes, man." Dunhill gold lighter, back in the pocket. Time for a drag of Lucky Strikes, milky smoke mixing with the rain like misty oil and misty water.

The victim was found by a jogger. Some health nut devoted to keeping fit even in inclement weather. Why they were jogging down an alley between two apartment towers is a bit of information that you aren't aware of yet.

Sixth and Jonson Avenue is a middle class dump that falls under Detective Inspector Roget's jurisdiction, but she's on vacation so you and Reggie with ten rookies for backup got called in instead.

Reggie spits onto the pavement and smacks his lighter on his open palm. You watch the gob swirl on the water and go down a drain set down in the asphalt two feet to the left of you. Your shoes are ruined, but to look on the bright side, so are Reggie's. And his cost more.

Tabitha rolls up in an old Yugo that used to belong to her parents. She tried to sell it to you once; you refused on grounds of petrol costs to run the damn thing.

She runs around to the left front door to remove her tackle box of equipment before she comes over to survey the scene. You step to the side so she can have a good look once she gets there. The cavity where the heart once was has filled with water, the runoff is tinged pink.

"Christ," Tabitha says.

. . .

Tallu-lah-lay was a singer at a night club. Tallu-lah worked Fridays and Mondays at a Sexual Health Clinic as a volunteer. Tallulah had a single bedroom flat with nothing in it except two moldering takeout containers in the sink, an old silver butter knife tinged green with tarnish, and a blanket in the corner of the front room.

"So where did she live?" Your boss asks. She's got green eyes today, like a cat. Your boss is otherwise in professional dress, but those eyes, man. Those eyes. "No one can live in those conditions, track her down."

Reggie makes a face as you both leave. Mutters, "Track her down. What does she think we are, rookies?"

You and he brought her an incomplete report, you point out. And it wasn't your idea.

Reggie gives you that gimlet glare of his. Bookies and carjackers get it too.

You both come to a stop before the lift. You stare at the bulletin board, he stares at the side of your head.

"Whatever, yeah," he says, finally, and the lift doors slide open.

Procedure dictates all evidence filed with Forensics, all leads entered into system, and no use of lackeys except when handling more than five cases at once. It's inefficient as a system, but the tax payers won't pay for more.

Reggie's the one with the car, but you drive while he makes calls to 411 for the addresses of her workplaces. It's an old hunk of junk and you hate it, but you get the both of you to Forensics with no issues.

Hardly anyone is out driving in this rain anyway. And it doesn't look to be stopping any time soon.

Forensics shares a building with Medical Examiners, a Funeral Parlour, and the offices of some Senator who hides out on the top two storeys. It's three blocks South from the Station, and normally you have to park elsewhere but today there's a space right on the street in front.

Down is the basement where the corpses are kept. So is evidence. Reggie says hello to two passing cops, you ignore all of them and walk right up to the receiving window that's cordoned off with steel fencing material, only a small slot about waist-height for shoving clipboards with papers to sign through.

Forensics Guy is manning the desk today. He's not happy to see you, never is. But today he looks scared.

"Ah, yes. We got some video tapes." He swallows.

You watch his throat bob up and down, then look him in the eye. He's watching you watch him, and he looks terrified.

. . .

"My song is a sad one," the woman on the videotape sings, "but what do you expect in a world where it never gets any better or any worse, just always stays the same?"

A green film creeps over the screen and washes her out. Her mouth gapes open, the tea candles set around her on the stage flicker, and the tape switches to static, no more video to show.

Maybe she was living in that flat, you wonder. Maybe she was just weird.

. . .

Her boss at the nightclub is unhelpful at best, outright mulish at worst.

"She work here, yeah," he says. His name is Edgar, he polishes the same glass over and over again, and his eyes are flat in this light.

You ask if she had any enemies, any friends.

"She didn' stick round much."

You reach out and take the glass from him. The same smears remain on the inside that were there when you came up to him, he's not doing a very good job.

He stares at the bar now, holds the rag in one hand and lets his other freeze there in midair.

You put the glass on the bartop and leave.

Reggie is outside smoking, huddled under the canopy of the front door. Rain is just pouring down, the splashback on the pavement has soaked him through despite the shelter of the overhang.

He's useless as a partner because he can't go inside anywhere. He's banned. Or about to be banned and he doesn't want to chance it. Or they've never heard of him, but as soon as they catch sight of him they modify their opinion.

"Her banks records show nothing else but rent subtractions and work deposits," he tells you. He stares at the pavement and sucks on the fag's filter. "Either she got a different line of income that we can't find, or she'd stayed somewhere else for free."

You look up at the churning grey clouds that are dumping water on your collective heads. You don't say anything to Reggie because you're not surprised and neither is he.

"Forensics Guy called," Reggie says, after a bit.

Oh?

"Tabitha found scales rubbed under her fingernails. Like she fought off a fish before she died."

. . .

Sex Clinic at Fourth and Fremont, near the old docks. It's not far from the Station, she could've walked by on her way to the metro some days, if she took mass transit sometimes. You haven't found any evidence of a car, but you haven't found an oyster card or used ticket stubs either.

You have a barrage of questions to ask. Did she eat sushi here? Did she ever get visitors not entering as patients? Did she ever make friends?

Another question: Did she ever make enemies?

The replacement clerk is dull-eyed and not helpful. He's staring at the wall behind you. You follow his gaze and see that he's watching Reggie pace in front of the glass doors. Banned here too, so he waits outside.

Can you see one of the clinic doctors who work here, you ask.

"Dr. Franks works here every Monday," the clerk says, slowly. His eyes drift closed, then drift open again. Like the tide.

You say you'll wait and take a seat next to a shivering young woman with lips tinged blue.

The waiting room empties out before you're called back to speak to Dr. Franks. He receives you in one of the examining rooms, stirrup holsters dangling from the ceiling. He's just as dull-eyed as the clerk, and just as helpful.

"We didn't talk much," he tells you as he thumbs through a file folder with three sheets of paper in it. He gives each paper a cursory glance and flips to the next one, then when he reaches the last, goes back to the first and starts all over again.

You ask to see her workstation, her locker.

He shrugs. Says, "Lockers down the hall. She worked the front desk."

You leave the examination room and find a locker with a TALLULAH written in calligraphic font on a sticky note stuck to the door. Nothing is inside it but pamphlets for some ancient language course held for free at the University last year.

You pocket it and go back to reception. The clerk is still sitting there. He's straightening a row of ten pencils on the desk in front of him.

Did she leave anything up here?

The clerk shakes his head, slow like a trickle of molasses down a cold brick. "No personal effects where the patients can see."

You thank him and leave.

Rain's still going strong. Reminds you of the Monsoon season in Latin America. You were only down there for one cycle, and you never want to go back.

"I'm almost out of fags," Reggie slurs around the half-gone one he's wedged in the corner of his mouth. "We gotta stop on the way back."

. . .

"Oh my lonesome shadow," she's speaking in staccato poetry now, different tape but same setup, spitting the words and sparking her eyelids, "won't you leave that lover of a sun behind and come back to me?"

"Boss approved the parking," Reggie says from the door. He's got his coat on, he's leaving for the night.

You sit in the dark long after shift to watch these videos, and he doesn't approve.

You say goodbye; something like see you tomorrow.

He leaves; you don't take your eyes off the screen.

. . .

The City University has an extensive records section, but you have to have a clerk willing to traverse it. They don't let laypeople touch it, just in case said plebeians were to crash it to smithereens.

The clerk you get is helpful, at least. First person this entire week who's fine with talking to a cop about a murder.

"There's a lecture held on that date, yeah, but no one showed up." She wrinkles her nose. Her nametag says "Mandy" and she's got a bubblegum pink shirt on. "The lecturer, the RSVPs, no one. How weird.

Is there contact information, you ask. A number on record, anything?

Mandy types something, then nods.

"One number on file, but there isn't a name." She prints it for you, hands the warm paper across her desk with a bit of life in her eyes.

You fold the paper in half once and slide it into the inside pocket of your coat before you leave.

The rain's worse than when you came in, so you run through the rain back to the car park. Second storey, up against the railing. Reggie's car is backed into the space and Reggie himself is sitting on the hood. "Forensics Guy called and said the scales were Codfish," he says, doesn't look at you.

He inhales, exhales, raises an eyebrow at you as you head to the left of him, to the driver's side door.

"With a PH you get from the New England area in the states," he continues.

Those were over-fished, you say. Your hand rests on the door handle to the car door, you stare at your reflection in the window. No one can eat them anymore because the population's still unstable.

Reggie's fag is half gone. He gives you a side-eye as he scuttles to the passenger door. "How you know that?"

You don't know, you just do. You shrug at him and open the door to get into the car.

. . .

You sit at your desk and use your official desk phone to call the number. It's a voicemail box, a perky female voice on the recording.

It's the victim, Tallulah. She sounds bubbly, happy even, not at all like on the videos. You hang up before the message finishes, asking you to leave something for her to go on and she'll track you down later, ha ha ha.

Reggie stands over your desk as you replace the receiver in the cradle. He's got his coat on and an unlit fag in his mouth.

"You want me to hand it over to Forensics? I gotta go collect on a pizza bet before I go home anyway."

You hand him the piece of paper the University Lady handed you. He folds it in half and puts it in his pocket.

"You got a copy, right?"

It's your only copy, but you have your call history too. Not like you can't hit redial, for christsakes.

He snorts and you wave him out. The lift dings with his departure and the Boss comes out of her office holding a file folder and a ball point biro.

"What's the progress?" she asks.

You don't have anything to tell, so you shrug.

Her eyes narrow and her mouth gets stiff so she's obviously not happy, but she doesn't say anything. She just stares at you for a bit and then does an about face, returns to her office.

The door clicks shut loud as a gunshot in the mostly empty room, and you wonder how you missed everyone going home already.

. . .

"Tremble neath my skin, give me what I want," she whispers. She's not singing, she's whispering. She holds a butter knife in her left hand, the same knife you saw in her flat the day after her body was found. It glitters, untarnished, in the candlelight around her. "How's it gonna go in one year, in ten?

"How's it gonna stop, how's it gonna end?"

She cuts a slice through the air with the butter knife. She tosses her head and her eyes roll back.

"When's this gonna leave me be, let me be, stop trying to save me?"

. . .

The office is staffed sparingly in the morning. You hear murmurs where the break room is, must be an impromptu pow-wow. The Boss's office door is open and she's not in, so she must be heading up the entire thing.

Reggie would never show his face in a group setting like that, but he isn't at his desk waiting for you either.

You pull out your antiquated mobile, the one declared by an ex-girlfriend to be an artifact stolen from a museum. You press speed dial one and wait for the rings to carry you through.

Reggie doesn't answer. No one else does, either.

It only takes two seconds of consideration, then you're back out the door. The rain's no worse, you can walk the three blocks.

You arrive soaked, dripping water all over the lobby carpet. The lift is waiting for you, drops you in the basement in thirty seconds.

There's no one in the hall. You veer left, to Evidence, and actually feel relief to see Forensics guy behind the fencing. His eyes go wide, look like glossy black pools with no bottom to reach.

You ask for an ETA on the number trace, and if you know of any restaurants that serve Cod from New England. Fish oil's supposed to be good for the heart, you joke. Just a little joke, just an attempt. Pity her murderer never got the memo before he ripped out her heart.

Forensics Guy's face contorts in confusion. "The fuck you're talking about? Heart ripped out? Fish oil? She had a stroke on Rohypnol, what are you on? Sex crimes has this now."

There was a cavity where her heart had been, she couldn't have stroked. And besides, he called with the information.

You ask for Tabitha, she saw the body.

"She's not here," Forensics guy says. His eyes are dull and glassy, despite his mouth being all twisted. "What calls? What's going on?"

You back out of the office slowly. At the threshold to the door he calls after you. "Hey, Reggie? What's going on?"

You get out of there, don't answer, just get out.

The glass walls showing the street outside are fogged and useless. You prop open the door and lean against it, light up a fag still standing in the building proper. On one inhale the shaking of your hands is quelled.

Outside, the street is devoid of life. No wonder, the rain is coming down like the End of Days.

You leave Forensics and walk down the street that runs parallel to the Station. It's a long one, empties out at the old pier. There's no one out in this weather, so you're by yourself. Plodding in the rain. Head down, smoke curling in your lungs, damp sticking to your skin and sluicing off your hair into your eyes.

The Sex Clinic is closed even though it's Wednesday. The lights are all out, the door is firmly shut.

Waves rise up high, but don't quite make it over the pier. Some spray, maybe. The wood that makes up the major outlay is soaked through, rotting in places. Rather than repair it the city decided to make one out of burnished steel further down the coast where the cliffs aren't so prominent when the tides suck the level down.

You stand on land but stare down the pier. It's not safe to walk out on it, but for some reason, you want to. Stand at the edge and peer down into the swirling depths. See if that black hole is staring back yet.

Then you open your eyes.

You're still outside the Forensics building, but your fag's been soaked out and your ankles are submerged in water and to your left, past the Station and at the pier, is a hulking shape of black and swirling mists that grows from the ground up.

You can hear chanting in that direction. Iyah, iyah, iyah.

You discard your fag, drop it in the water. Turn up your collar against the rain.

The shape is taller than the buildings now and a rumble is making the water suck towards it, tides and overflow and a vacuum into an abyss all in one.

The abyss part interests you. You decide to go greet it.