Inspector Summers was over the moon. She had a murder all her own. She knew that feeling joy about a killing was wrong, on the most basic and obvious of levels; that her very own special corpse would turn out to have people who grieved for the person it used to be; and she knew all too well what the grief of losing family, a loved one, felt like. But right now, driving out of Reykjavik towards the crime scene in Glaumbær, she couldn’t help feeling a pure charge of triumph at finally being allowed to do what she knew, instinctively, she was meant to do with her life.
Not that Buffy believed in destiny – she positively did not buy into mystical crap. Not organized religion, not pre-ordained fate, not monsters in the dark. But she knew what made her happy; she knew when she was at her best; and she knew how to work toward a goal. And she’d worked very hard at her current job in the Reykjavik Police department. She’d issued a plethora of tickets, broken up tourist bar brawls, and saved puppies from storm drains with equal vigor – occasionally, as had been pointed out, a tad too much on the vigor and the breakage, but she was working on that. She just didn’t always recognize how very effective her workouts had become. She’d been promoted ahead of her peers after an impressive smuggling bust, and now: she had been assigned a homicide.
In truth, a homicide outside Reykjavik was unlikely to provide much of an opportunity to showcase her investigative skills. Icelandic murders – well, the people who wrote those grim Nordic detective novels, what with the incest and the serial murdering and the tattoos were, she would say, “stretching it” when it came to Iceland. Of the three homicides that had occurred in the entire country since Buffy had joined the force, one had been called in by the sobbing perpetrator, who’d stayed beside his late wife’s body until the police arrived; the second, by the murderer’s bartender, recipient of a full and steadily more drunken confession, within a few hours of the killing. Buffy had still been a constable and assigned to assist in the investigation of the third, and it remained unsolved. But that was most likely because it was an accidental shooting death, rather than an intentional crime; the person who fired the bullet may not ever have known it hit a woman, killing her in front of her lover almost instantaneously. The bullet was a common type of bullet, most likely fired from a common type of gun; and there’d been no identifiable motive. With so little to go on, the case had been shelved pending further developments.
In any case, Buffy would stop singing quite so happily and insensitively when she reached the crime scene. She had her own murder investigation, and she was wearing new stompy boots she’d sworn she wasn’t going to buy, and it was crisp and early, the call having come in to wake her very early. One night Iceland, and the shoe racks tumble / Not much between two pair and ecstasy… Since it was midwinter in northern Iceland, she’d be lucky if it was light for an hour towards the end of the investigation. The scattered structures along Route 1 reared up out of the dark at her like an erratic series of giant, desolate teeth in a very old jawbone, many of them shuttered for the off-season. They looked like you’d find small animals nesting in the cabinets, bats hanging from the rafters. It was probably snowing in Glaumbær; she could see that the sky, merely night-dark above her, was darker and more curdled by clouds up ahead.
Buffy’s singing slowed as she considered the call that had summoned her. There had clearly been something that Anyanka, the District Medical Officer, didn’t want to say over the radio. And the Medical Officer was generally very upfront about saying exactly what she thought – it was something Buffy admired about her; she was straight-forward to an extreme. In someone less talented, that trait could have been a liability. Anyanka combined it with tremendous practicality, intelligence, and a profound lack of squeamishness that made her perfectly suited to her job. Offhand, Buffy could think of only two kinds of information Anyanka might have been reluctant to broadcast: the murder might involve somebody well-known or well-connected; or something about the crime scene might suggest police corruption.
Buffy’s singing picked up again. Either of those complications would call for the kind of subtlety and nuance that could show her superiors just how able and ready she was for advancement. She was breaking into a happy chorus as she swung off of the two-lane highway onto the unpaved side road that would take her to the crime scene. Trace amounts of snow were beginning to swirl in her headlights, melting as they touched the warmed windshield. When a streak of darkness crossed her beams, she swerved and braked – she’d been going a reasonable speed for a winding road in the snow, but still too fast to avoid a sickening, soft thump.
Buffy put the car in park, and got out. A cat, a black cat, had been thrown a little way off the road, just outside the beam of the headlights. Its eyes were open and still. She crouched and gently closed the cat’s eyes. After a moment, she realized she couldn’t leave the cat – almost certainly a pet – dead on the roadside, even with its eyes closed. It would be fundamentally indecent. In the dark she couldn’t be certain, but she didn’t see blood on the body, just a little at its mouth. In any case, if she got blood on her clothes she’d clean them later. The body would have to go in the trunk; in the cold that would be okay until she could figure out what to do. She gathered the cat in her arms.
Feeling the cat’s weight against her, but with none of the essential poise of a cat, Buffy was abruptly, unpleasantly, reminded of the dream she had been dreaming when the phone rang this morning. It had been vivid, and intense; but not the kind of reality-based dream she would go plumb for hidden meaning with her therapist. This had been … creepy. She’d been standing on a lava field, full of confidence about what she was about to confront: some criminal, some bad person she was going to apprehend. But she could feel that something deep down about the scenario was profane; there was an undercurrent of nothing being at all what it seemed; a mounting, twisting dread beneath the apparent normalcy. Or what dream-Buffy accepted as normalcy.
Up ahead of her, she knew, was her partner; further still, her guide. (Who was her partner? Who was her guide? Dream Buffy didn’t raise her eyes to let non-dream Buffy see.) She was confident they would triumph over what they faced –
And then some switch flipped, and she was a different being, watching herself and her team from behind, through the rocks, and possessed of a strikingly alien intelligence. She almost couldn’t think about it from outside of the dream – her attention kept shifting away from touching on that awareness – anything at all was enough to stop her from thinking like that. And it wasn’t until now, feeling the essential wrongness of the weight of the no-longer-a-cat against her chest, that it came back to her with any clarity. The thing whose dream-mind she’d sunk into, the thing behind her, saw her without anything she could identify as vision; it felt her as a fleck of something, a flaw, a hole in a necessary continuity, marring and blackening and corrupting an essential pattern – something that screamed out for amelioration, for repair, for serious healing.
Buffy screamed when the cat lurched out of her arms, scrabbling away from her with clawed back feet. After a moment she realized the new, fluffier flakes of snow surrounding her were actually tufts of floating goose down bursting from the shredded sleeve of her police parka. The cat glared back at her for a moment, eyes catching the light as balefully as if she’d really killed it, before it padded away, sinuous and deliberate and affirmatively still cat, into the dark.
Buffy realized she was shuddering so hard her teeth hurt. How very grateful she was to be headed to a nice, safe, murdered corpse harboring some sort of unspeakable secret.