This is the second chapter of a new, full-length online serialised novel. You can find chapter one here. Every week, a new chapter will be posted on the site. It’s a detective story set against the backdrop of a fractured British society. In 2023, a viral epidemic hit the world. In Britain, the wealthy blamed the fast spread of the virus on the rest of the population, citing their inability to afford adequate healthcare. This prompted the country’s richest inhabitants to erect a literal ring of steel, barricading London off from the rest of the populace, forcing out those who couldn’t afford the inflated council tax.
When I got to the station the next afternoon, it was a hive of activity. There were Inspectors and PCs from all three shifts milling about, not exactly running around like headless chickens, but certainly with a degree of urgency. I looked across to Richards’ desk. He was nowhere to be seen, but a mean looking, well-muscled teen was handcuffed to his chair, staring into the ether. I caught the attention of a bobby rifling through a filing cabinet.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked him. He looked up at me, then continued going through files.
“DI Richards broke a big case in the early hours of the morning. The suspects resisted, and it turned into a full-blown gunfight.” My stomach knotted. We were used to violence, but full blown combat was something to be feared.
“Did we lose any?” I asked with trepidation.
“There are four constables in hospital with gunshot injuries, but as of an hour ago they were all stable,” he replied. That was a relief. The worst part of the job was losing colleagues and friends.
“What about Richards?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” came a voice behind me. “I could do with some sleep though.” I turned to see Richards standing behind me, looking pale and bleary eyed. He looked rough, but considering he’d been in a war and not slept for nearly twenty-four hours, he seemed to be doing OK. “The worst thing about this job isn’t the death and misery,” he continued, “It’s the damn paperwork that comes along with it.” He was trying to keep up his good-humoured facade, but he looked troubled.
“Let me know what you want me to do,” I told him. I didn’t particularly enjoy the mundane administration work either, but he definitely needed some rest.
“Oh, don’t worry about us, we’re winding down now. We’ve got three dead suspects processed, four in the hospital, and now I’ve just got to see what I can get from this guy,” he said, indicating the kid chained to the chair by his desk. “Carlson left a message for you, regarding your body from last night. Says he’s got some interesting news for you.” Carlson was one of the pathology techs. That sounded promising, maybe we’d be able to get an identification on the body after all.
“Are you sure?” I asked him, following him to our bank of desks. He actually had some arrests on his case, so I knew I should be concentrating on mine, but he didn’t look like he had much left in the tank.
“No, no, you go have f…” He didn’t get to finish his sentence, as a shout rang out, and a flurry of movement caught our eyes. Richards’ suspect was leaping across the desks, having somehow freed himself from his cuffs. I was startled for mere fractions of a second, and then instinct took over. I stepped onto the desk behind me, and launched myself , shoulder first, at the fleeing suspect.
It caught him by surprise, but as our similar sized frames collided, his momentum sent me rebounding back down to the floor. I managed to catch myself before I fell flat on my back. He nearly lost his footing as he adjusted his run, giving me time to hop up onto the next bank of desks, and launch myself at him again, this time from behind. I hooked one arm around his neck, and the other under his arm, and twisted my body to bring him crashing down onto the desks. Within moments of landing, two PCs had reached us, and secured him in cuffs. As the youth was hauled away to the cells, I picked myself up, and looked back at Richards. He still stood rooted to the spot, eyes wide. I went over to check he was OK.
“C’mon Alan, go home,” I suggested. It took him a few seconds to register my words.
“No”, he insisted. “I’m fine, you go see what’s up with your dead friend.” I was going to argue some more, but the steely resolution in his eyes changed my mind. If I pressed it any further, it was going to end in an argument. We all needed to stay on the same side, or we had no chance. I shrugged, put my coat over the back of my chair, and made my way out to the coroner’s office.
When I got there, Carlson was working on one of the bodies brought in from the morning’s battle. His subject was a kid, not long out of school by the looks of it, assuming he had actually gone to one. He was a bit of a mess, with two visible bullet holes, and several older looking knife scars. A young life wasted, graduating from knives to guns before even being old enough to drink or vote. Carslon was cleaning the body, and I didn’t want to interrupt him in the middle of the job. It seemed somehow disrespectful to the dead boy. It took a few more minutes, and once the hose was finally off, the last of the blood draining away, I caught Carlson’s attention.
“Ahh, Taylor, good!” he said, with a wry grin. He knew the morgue creeped me out, and enjoyed playing on my discomfort. He made his way through to another room, doing his creepy beckoning gesture with his hand. I wasn’t sure if he got a sort of perverse pleasure from freaking everyone out, or if it just amused him to save it for me. I followed him into the next room, where he was standing beside another, larger body. My body.
“How’s it upstairs?” he asked me.
“Chaos,” I replied, which didn’t surprise him. “A suspect got loose, bit more excitement than I like for the start of a shift, but he’s secure now. Sounds like it was quite a fight this morning.” Carlson nodded.
“I’ve got three corpses with eight bullet holes between them. More danger removed from the streets, though there will be more to replace them, no doubt,” he replied gravely. “We got lucky by all accounts.” It was my turn to nod.
“Richards said you’ve got some interesting things to tell me about?” A grin formed across Carlson’s face.
“Indeed, yes. Bullet holes are so mundane nowadays, but you’ve brought me something a little more elegant. No entry wounds, no obvious signs of trauma, and toxicology was pretty clean.”
“Pretty clean?” I asked. This was presumably where the interesting part was going to be.
“Traces of a muscle relaxant, which obviously isn’t fatal, and hardly unusual,” he began. “It wasn’t a big enough dose to cause complications, but it had been in his system a little while before death occurred, so it’s impossible to effectively estimate volumes.” He was slow-rolling me, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of desperate pleas to get to the point. “It would, however, have been enough to reduce his ability to fight off an attack,” he went on. “There are signs of tightening in his throat, but no bruising on the outside. He died from lack of oxygen, but there’s nothing to suggest strangulation, and no evidence of blockage on the inside of his throat. He was suffocated.” he advised me.
“What do you think, then, smothered with a pillow or something?” I asked.
“No bruising around the face, which usually occurs with that kind of smothering. More likely to be a plastic sheet over the face. The same amount of pressure is applied uniformly in such a case, therefore leaving little evidence. Along with the muscle relaxant in his system, this suggests it was pre-planned, and designed to leave as little mess as possible. As I said, unusually elegant. Nice to have a bit of a puzzle to work on.” Carlson might enjoy a puzzle, but It made my job harder. With no physical evidence to work off of, it would be very difficult for me to link any suspects to the murder. With no ID on the body either, this case was a no-hoper.
“Did you find anything else?” I asked hopefully. I wasn’t optimistic. He grinned again.
“As a matter of fact…” he began, and it was obvious he was enjoying himself. He pulled across a stand with a square lens atop it. He positioned it over the left hip of the body, close to the belly button. He gestured for me to look. I did, but could see nothing.
“I don’t get it?” I said, starting to get a little frustrated at the show. Carlson held a finger up, and then pushed a button on the stand. The light shining on the body changed hue, and I could suddenly see a microscopically thin line, about three inches long, running next to the stomach.
“What is that?” I asked, peering closely at it.
“It’s an appendix scar,” he said triumphantly. “Looks to be only a couple of years old.” He looked very pleased with himself, and i was impressed he’d spotted it.
“Still doesn’t give me much to go on,” I pointed out. “It’s very good work though.” I didn’t know much about surgical techniques, but I remembered the huge scar on my Dad’s chest from his first heart operation.
“I’ve never seen work like it,” Carlson informed me. “Tiny incision, and the scar is not visible to the naked eye. The appendix would have been detached, and cut up inside the body to allow it to be removed from such a small hole. Even the best lasers used in conventional surgery wouldn’t have been able to seal up the cut with such little scarring.”
“What does that mean?” I asked him, confused now.
“It was done using a cutting edge green laser,” he revealed. He said it with an edge of significance, but it meant nothing to me.
“Any idea where he might have had it done?”
“There’s only one place in this country where they have this kind of equipment,” he told me.
“Where?!” I asked, tired of the game, and desperate for an answer.
“Inside, of course!” he replied.