Detective Inspector Irving Cousins knew it was going to be a bad day when he got a call at 7 a.m. - half an hour before his alarm was due to go off, and half an hour after he had finally gone to sleep after a particularly energetic night with his wife, who had recently started on an experimental, high-dosage HRT course. Feeling like a deflated balloon dredged out of the bottom of the pale, stinking backwaters of an industrial sump, he dragged himself into the shower, where he alternated the jet between hot and cold until he felt awake enough to negotiate the new, slippery hardwood staircase that they had recently had installed.
Homicide. A particularly nasty, disturbing, bizarre and tricky homicide, Detective Peter Kissing had informed him over the phone; not, Cousins reflected grimly as he brewed strong coffee, without a certain tone of relish in his voice. Kissing had gone out of his way to inconvenience Cousins ever since the internal affairs investigation two years ago that had gotten him demoted and Cousins promoted.
He sipped his coffee and grimaced out of habit at the first bitter taste. Being Irish by descent, he had a genetic preference for tea, but coffee was the only thing strong enough for mornings like these.
Forty minutes drive brought him to a North London suburb, where he quickly found the address he had been given over the phone. Once he found the street it was quite clear which house he was looking for - police vehicles parked outside, neighbours all standing around in their dressing gowns or overcoats, peering over their walls, trying to see inside the house to catch a glimpse of something. What, Cousins could never figure out. Did they want to see the perpetrator, the body, or something else entirely? And would they feel happy if they saw it? The names and faces always changed, but the people did not. Cousins was fond of saying "A person is unique, but people are all the same."
"Nasty," said a young officer called Dickson when Cousins got out of his car. They had known each other for a year or two now, and Dickson's wife had even baked a cake for Cousins on his birthday, which had been delivered by courier to his house and had been placed in neat sections on the birdtable by his wife, who didn't believe in consuming the cookery of other people in one's own home.
"They're all nasty," said Cousins.
"Yes sir, but this one's nasty, sir, got to warn you, sir."
"I've seen it all, Dickson. Been on the force for thirty-four years and I've seen...oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph."
They had passed the threshold together and there was the victim, spreadeagled on the floor between the stairwell and the living room door, naked, covered with blood and shit and what looked like several dozen stab wounds, and with his genitals missing. The smell was overpowering and the unexpected sensory overload made Cousins retch twice, almost losing his coffee and croissant and the banana he had bolted on the way to the car. He put his hand to his mouth and stood still for a moment while he regained his composure. With annoyance he noticed Detective Kissing standing in the kitchen doorway with an amused expression on his face.
"Told you you'd like this one, Cousins. Wake you up in the morning, eh?"
Kissing imitated Cousins' slight Irish accent for the last sentence. The man was insufferable, Cousins thought, but he put aside his personal feelings and concentrated on his job, an ability that had brought him both career success and a stable, if somewhat unexciting, marriage.
"Indeed. 'I think we can rule out natural causes' as they say in the movies. Has anyone...my god, what is that fucking noise?"
Cousins rarely swore, but his nerves were already frayed this morning, and he had just become aware of a strange, repetitive noise, like a dog barking, but not quite, coming from within the living room.
"That's Mrs Barker. I mean Baker, sorry sir," said Dickson. "The suspect."
"Indeed. This, I presume then, is Mr Baker?"
"Nancy and Nathan Baker," Kissing cut in. "Forty-something professional couple. No history of anything except the timely payment of bills and debts. Well liked by their neighbours."
"Any children?" Cousins asked automatically.
"What do you think, Detective Inspector? Take another look at our victim."
Cousins peered at the mutilated, soiled body once again, trying to ignore the intermittent human yapping sound. There was no sign of trauma at the genital area, and a neat surgical scar where the man's penis and testicles should have been. He stood up straight again.
"So the man had his genitals removed. An accident?"
"Twelve years ago," said Kissing. "Bit of an outdoor sports enthusiast. Got his bits caught between two ropes on a yacht, the wind caught the sail and turned the boat around and shoomp." Kissing made a snipping gesture with his fingers, and an involuntary wince passed over Cousins' face, his mind working all the while in the way it had been trained to all his life.
"Alright," he said. "No normal sex life. So we're looking at fetishes."
"Secret fetishes," agreed Kissing. "Or, secret until this morning, it seems. Can you guess?"
Cousins realized that Kissing already had this case all worked out, and that there seemed to be very little reason for him to have been woken up and brought in other than Kissing's desire to put him out and catch him in some human expression of emotion or shock. He felt angry and tired and unable to deal with the constant dribble of mild hostility that he had to cope with in the course of his working life with Detective Kissing, and for a moment he considered walking straight out of the house, away from that disgusting, stinking corpse and the unseen woman in the next room who seemed to be, literally, barking mad. He squared his shoulders and breathed deeply, or as deeply as he was able.
"Coprophilia," he said. "He smears himself with the stuff, she finds him and goes insane and stabs him to death. Right?"
"Mostly right," said Kissing. "She didn't just go mad all of a sudden. You know the deal. Accumulation of little stresses, no sex life, depression and schizophrenia running in her mother's family. No one notices anything, career is a nice distraction, normal enough life, but then comes the trigger event and bang, it all comes out and somebody's dead."
"You've got it all sussed out, Detective," said Cousins, and Kissing smiled coldly.
"Just my own theory, Detective Inspector," he said with malice in his eyes. "I am sure you will be able to correct me on some of the finer points."
Cousins sighed, and without replying, entered the living room to speak to Nancy Baker.
She was sitting quite still on the sofa in her nightgown with a blanket around her shoulders and a female police officer sitting beside her. She was staring at the floor, and she seemed to be smeared with much of the same blood and fecal matter that covered the body of Nathan Baker, her husband. Her expression was of a kind that Cousins had come to be familiar with in the course of his career - utterly shocked and detached, the expression of someone who has at least temporarily entered a dream world because they are unable to face the real one any more. He sat beside her, and without warning she yelped and shrieked in a high-pitched, hoarse voice that sounded like a dog in pain, before settling down again to stare at the same spot on the floor.
He didn't know where to begin. He nodded for the policewoman to leave, and then reached out to touch Nancy Baker's hand. He wanted to feel compassionate, but he didn't. He felt frayed and angry and tired, and that he had seen to much blood and insanity and inhumanity in his life. He wanted to see Nancy as a person, a real human person that he could reach out to and help, as they do in the movies, but instead he saw a collection of pathologies, explanatory events and stresses, a murderer who was as much a victim as the murdered, and whose life was just as over. In her eyes he saw the hopelessness of his own job: cataloguing and investigating and explaining the terminal dramas of long, mostly unknown processes, and helping to consign each actor in the drama to their proper place: victim to morgue, perpetrator to prison, bystanders back to their own little dramas.
Nancy barked again, her head thrown back, and then turned her head to look at him as if she sensed some of his thoughts. Her eyes, though wide and seemingly making contact with his, contained no real awareness. A lock of dark hair, slick with blood, was flattened against her forehead; Cousins fought the urge to smooth it back.
"It was all over him, all over him, he was rolling in it, rolling in it. God knows where he got it all, god knows. I don't know what happened, I don't know."
She rocked back and forth a little, and just as Cousins was about to ask her something, she barked again, a short, hyena-like screech that made his heart lurch. He felt a spasm of anger in himself again, and pushed it down.
"Mrs Baker...Nancy..." he began, but she interrupted him.
"Who am I now? What am I? What happens a person when this happens? I never thought, never thought anything like this could ever happen. This is movie madness. What happens? What am I?"
There was awareness in her eyes now, but he could see that the madness would return quickly, and that it would take her over completely. He had seen it before. She wouldn't go to jail; she would go to a high-security mental institution, be drugged up and treated and another personality constructed for her, but the old person - Nancy Barker - Baker, he corrected himself mentally - would never exist again. She was having her last moments here in this room, with the body of her husband in the hallway outside and her hands streaked with shit and blood and her awareness reciding under the urge to sleep, to go into dreams of a better life.
"What am I?" she asked again, and something in Cousins cracked. Perhaps on a different day he would have been kinder, or tried to make things easier for her; perhaps if he was feeling less bitter or exhausted, or if he thought there was some hope for her, he would have kept his thoughts to himself. He didn't want to be this angry, cynical person, but here he was, alone in a room with an insane murderer who would soon be gone from society, probably forever, and he couldn't hold himself back from trying to communicate her situation to her directly, one last time before her gentle darkness would descend.
"Nancy, you barker. You are what happens when eunuchs make love with shite."
This is original work.