by J(ae)D Brames
Silver-sequined assistants fastened the hands and feet of Le Gerdemain with brass chains, cobalt-blue cuffs, and glittered nylon under the scrutiny of three swishing spotlights and a capacity crowd. The black-hole surface of stage right was cloaked with a red carpet fringed with runway LED’s.
“Police and fire crews are on hand, should something go wrong.”
Le Gerdemain’s showman smile vanished under a silk hood. He stood center stage, shackled, yet too wild for shackles; the audience murmured nerves and reverence, unsettled by this spangled Kong.
“This trick has never before been performed successfully.”
A rumble could be perceived. The orchestra met it with heavy bass. The audience gasped at the dump truck reversing along the red carpet, hauling city sounds inside, the warning blares and humming hydraulics... the backend an acute angle, the contents shifting...
Dirt, tons of clean brown dirt poured over the shackled magician, took his place, eradicated him. A hillock of soil sat in the center of a pristine stage, spotlighted and imposing and immobile. Not a single arm appeared, not one airhole. No sign of the magnificent master. The audience, like the nerves in a great gut cluster, began to flutter.
A jumpsuited worker climbed out of the high truck cab and sauntered on back with a shovel. The worker’s blue cap hid him from the spotlights. He began to dig. He dug and dug. He sheared off the head of the hillock and never reached the magician. Finally, the worker spun around, balletic and sinuous, and swept the cap off his head. Le Gerdemain! The audience inhaled flung specks of dirt and applauded with gusto.
“Stop! Stop clapping!” shouted a tuxedoed non-gentleman, climbing onto the stage and holding his hands up and apart, as though demonstrating the polarity of palms he demanded. “I am The Amazing Debunker! The man who calls himself Le Gerdemain is a fraud!”
Yellow ABPD tape cordoned off half of the parking spaces in the east lot of the Jupiter Hotel and Casino. The left side of the formal-wearing body was sunk in a misplaced mound of topsoil, like an archeological find half exhumed. Its eyes and mouth and its case were open.
CSI Mantcor knelt beside the victim, seeing through falcon eyes, listening with bat ears, sniffing with a dog nose. He turned to CSI Black. “I need a pun,” he said.
CSI Black pondered this. He reached into the man’s right-rear pocket and extracted the tanned skin of a murdered bovine. He dug in with latex fingers. “ID says Gordon Ranure. You’ve got a rhyme there, but barring sample analysis I’m guessing this is pure topsoil.”
Mantcore clucked his hen tongue. “No tire tracks away from the scene. No one claims to have witnessed anything. This is the wrong place for a dust storm.”
Black was thoughtful. “My instinct rules out suicide, otherwise you could say he soiled himself.” He produced a slice of dismembered tree from the wallet. “Found a business card. ‘The Amazing Debunker’.”
CSI Damzl came strutting across the parking lot, drawing attention to her bosom. “Mantcor, got a witness, here, says she’s our DB’s girlfriend but I recognize her as one of the local prostitutes. According to her, three hours ago the vic was heckling an illusionist by the name of Le Gerdemain. The trick he disputed? Escaping from a large pile of soil.”
Mantcore’s cat eyes caught a speck in the darkness of the dead man’s throat. Insectile tweezers extracted a wadded note that bloomed into the Ace of Spades.
“Ah,” he said. “Dirty tricks.”
“Who are you?” asked Le Gerdemain, his blouse sparkling under the pallid glare of fluorescents in the interrogation room. His fingers fluttered over the table as he seemed to teleport a silver dollar from palm to palm.
“I’m CSI Frank Imperasist.” The words emerged from the lowest orifice of the cranium across from the magician. CSI Imperasist gazed over the tops of square-rimmed glasses. “And you must be Gerald Herring, alias ‘Red’, alias ‘Le Gerdemain’. Tell me, Mr. Herring, why did we find your nemesis dead in the pile of dirt used in your show?”
“I don’t know nothin’,” said Le Gerdemain, and the coin vanished from his left hand.
“Mr. Herring, are you aware that when a person is hiding something, his nostrils flutter approximately thirty-eight times per minute?”
“I don’t know nothin’,” said Le Gerdemain, and the coin reappeared in his right hand.
The giant scalp loomed. “Are you aware also that your epithelials, drops of your blood, and no less than one gill of your semen were found at the crime scene?”
Le Gerdemain gulped, and the silver dollar rolled out of his scintillating shirtsleeve and across the table, where Imperasist squashed it flat.
“I want my lawyer,” said the exposed magician.
CSI Black popped his head into the room and beckoned Imperasist, who joined Black in the hall.
“My gut tells me this is our guy,” Black said. “But we can’t arrest him.”
“Why not? Has the autopsy come back already? It takes two-point-four-three hours to perform a thorough autopsy on a male of Mr. Ranure’s height and weight.”
“That’s just it, Chief. We can’t do an autopsy if we don’t have a body.”
Mantcor’s lupine snout prodded a lump of red-brown on the sluiced table.
“Liver,” he said.
“The ME was removing it when the body disappeared,” Damzl said. She leaned over the organ, affording Mantcor a bird’s-eye view down her low-cut top. “How is that poss... hang on.” She knelt, pulled a capped cotton swab from the pocket of her tight jeans. “A footprint.”
She uncapped the swab and dabbed at a spatulate stamp of red and white bloodcells suspended in plasma. The blood was running a system of zigzag veins and arteries around a Nike-swoosh heart. Damzl tried to recall all the labrats who strapped on that particular brand of spurge-tree exsanguination. “If we find these shoes, we find our killer.”
“He or she has probably changed his or her shoes by now,” Mantcor said.
Damzl shook her head. “They never change their shoes.”
Black found Imperasist in the hall, under low light.
“Chief, we got a print-”
Imperasist held up a hand. It floated like a satellite in the gravity of his skull. “Twelve seconds of small talk, or six seconds per interlocutor, is customary between acquaintances. So how are you?”
“Good, good. Uh... hey, how’s that problem you’ve been having?”
“Cleared up. Your addiction to pain meds?”
Imperasist checked his wristwatch. “There we go. You were saying?”
Black held up a bit of angiospermous homicide, ritually inked postmortem. “Print match from the morgue. She’s in the system. Ranure’s streetwalking girlfriend. My instincts tell me we should bring her in.”
The detective emerged from the interrogation room, shaking his head. Damzl stopped applying bunny-maiming cosmetic paste to her lips to ask for an update.
“She’s lawyered up,” the detective said, “and he won’t let her talk.”
“Let me see what I can do.”
“But you investigate crime scenes and interpret evidence. Suspect interrogations aren’t really your job.”
“Listen, detective, I have sass. Have you got any sass?”
The detective made a show of checking his pockets. “No.”
“Well, then let me have a crack at her,” Damzl said, and she stormed into the interrogation room, where Vendett sat beside a prim, sphincter-lipped attorney-at-law.
“Vendett, where did you take the body?” Damzl demanded.
“As your lawyer, I am advising you not to answer that.”
“Lie,” said Vendett.
Damzl slapped her hands down and glared across the table. “Stop lying,” she said.
“As your lawyer, I am advising you not to respond to that.”
“Lie to cover up the first lie,” said Vendett.
“We’ll book you. You’ll do time.”
“As your lawyer-”
“Fine, I’ll talk,” said Vendett. “I’m scared, that’s all. It’s embarrassing.”
Damzl sat back, smirking, and pushed her chest out. “Isn’t it true that you are in fact the wife of Le Gerdemain, and that your real name is Martha ‘Red’ Herring?”
“I love my husband, I swear. This is where I rationalize cheating on him with Gordy, or ‘The Amazing Debunker’, as he called himself. He was amazing in a lot of ways, Detective, or whatever you are. For example, he was great at exposing secrets. Secrets of all kinds. Secrets of magic, secrets of Hollywood... and secret affairs. He was going to tell my husband everything. We had a huge fight about it — but I swear, I never laid a finger on him! I loved him as much asmmmphmbwuhhh...”
Vendett’s lips seized, as though undergoing rigor mortis. Her eyes shot open, and her cheeks became bloodless, and her fingernails and hair follicles kept growing.
Imperasist’s neck strained to keep his head hovering above the open chest cavity of Vendett. “Did you know,” he told Mantcor, “hair and fingernails don’t actually keep growing after death?”
“I didn’t know you were a medical examiner, Chief,” Mantcor grunted like a gorilla.
Imperasist prodded around the area of the heart. “As the death process continues, the walls of the left ventricle change flavors.” He licked the blood off his finger and then hoisted his head up to face Mantcore. “Hm. Concord grape. This woman has been deceased for over three days.”
“But... that’s impossible. I just saw her-”
Black burst into the morgue. “Chief, we got the results on that hair. It’s not human.”
“You mean it’s animal fur?” Mantcor said. His talons prodded the exposed brain of Vendett.
Black shook his head. “DNA matches no known species. In fact, it seems to carry amino acids we’ve never seen before. And that’s not all. Tox came back on our first vic, Ranure. His blood was apparently made of maple syrup. Chief, my gut tells me we’re being sabotaged.”
“Then it must be an inside job,” Mantcor said. He narrowly avoided Imperasist’s dome as it drifted unstoppably by.
Damzl burst into the morgue, her shirt halfway unbuttoned. “We have a second match for the bloody prints. Danny Bonaduce! Chief, I’m scared. I don’t know what to do.”
“Have you tried firing a bullet into ballistics gel?” asked Mantcor.
“I’ve tried everything!”
Imperasist held up his hands. “I think” — he tilted topheavily, but Black steadied him — “I think I can clear up this entire mess. The answer is quite simple.”
“What is it?” Damzl asked, shooting her hips to one side. “Who’s responsible, Chief?”
“I am,” Imperasist said.
They gathered in the interrogation room. Damzl leaned over the beaten table. Mantcor stood upright, arms crossed, silent as a totem. Black sat across from Imperasist, in the shadow of the chief’s planetoid pate.
Imperasist gazed over the polymerized dinosaur remains on his face. “Now I have to tell you how I did it, and why.”
“Don’t you want a lawyer you can interrupt?” Black asked. “My instinct tells me you should have a lawyer.”
“Le Gerdemain is innocent,” Imperasist said. “He’s all flash and illusion. Real magic is far more austere.”
“Real magic?” asked Damzl.
“You want a satisfying conclusion?” Imperasist asked her. “You want logic and facts? The world is made up of one percent logic and ninety-nine percent mana and alchemy. Fingerprints are protean, bodies may be reanimated, and matter may teleport from anywhere to anywhere.”
“But that’s impossible,” Black said. “My instinct tells me we can only depend on the evidence.”
Imperasist snapped his fingers. CSI Black was swallowed by a pile of instant dirt.
“You’ve killed him!” Damzl shouted, digging fruitlessly with her manicured fingernails. “Mantcor, arrest this man!”
“He will do no such thing,” Imperasist said. Mantcor didn’t move. “He’s not even human. He is a collection of animals I enchanted to appear human.”
He snapped his fingers again, and Mantcor crumbled into a crawling, slithering, quadrupedaling collection of critters, which scurried into the corner and began to flow over each other, apes and felines, snakes and birds, as though in an effort to reconstitute.
Damzl’s lined and shadowed eyes opened wide, her lipsticked mouth gaped. “But... but if all this is possible, then we’re...”
“Correct,” Imperasist said. “Our job is useless. You figured that out fully three-point-oh seconds faster than I had assumed you would.”
“Did you have to kill three people to prove it?” she asked, bending over at the waist to lift a thick snake to her chest.
“Because,” he said, “we have no life or importance outside of the crime. Without victims to process, we are utterly shallow and boring.”
Copyright © 2008 by J(ae)D Brames