FP337 – Coffin: Masks, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and thirty-seven.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Way of the Buffalo
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his normally tipsy companion, interrogate a ghost about the serial killer who slew him.
Coffin: Masks, Part 3 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
It was Bunny’s first instinct to start yelling till she got some truth, but the lesson of 255 Cypress Crescent was still fresh. So, instead of approaching the murders directly when Marshall Carver answered her summons, she said, “where’d you get the blade?“
Her skin felt dry and too tight. What was she doing knocking on a serial killer’s door? Especially without any Grey Goose in her? Life had grown entirely too weird, and entirely too upright.
“I was told you might come around,” replied Carver.
“By who?” asked Coffin.
“You know I can never tell you.”
His hair, parted to the left, was so precisely trimmed that Bunny thought it might’ve been done by a surgeon, and the crisp combination of khaki pants and lime green polo shirt somehow further gave him the look of a storefront mannequin.
Without waiting, the killer turned and motioned for them to follow.
Bunny shot Coffin a raised brow over her right shoulder, but he only shrugged, so, after a moment’s hesitation, she stepped inside.
They passed the living room first. The leather couches appeared unused, and the golden borders of the three National Geographics arrayed on the low coffee table were perfectly aligned with the surface’s matte black corners. There was a large portrait hanging above the white stone mantle: Carver, a boy who was obviously being raised as his clone, and a woman who seemed to be smiling with her mouth and screaming with her eyes.
“How much have you figured out?” asked their host.
She’d seen enough Law & Order reruns to make this one an easy answer.
“All of it,” she said. “Though, with a name like the Laughing Buddha, I was expecting, I dunno, a signature maniacal cackle, or at least a big bald guy.”
Except for the five neatly aligned wooden blocks on the rosey-marbled countertop, every tool in the kitchen was chromed. While Carver talked Bunny watched reflections shift from appliance-to-appliance. It seemed as if their journey was being paced by funhouse versions of themselves.
“That was exactly the point. I have no interest or connection to Buddhism, reincarnation, or a receding hairline. There are a half-dozen junk shops downtown where I could buy the statues, and I would just slip in and grab one whenever a candidate called for it. I mean – for the ones in Capital City. I used to be a traveling salesman, and different cities call for different flavours.”
“Let’s say, theoretically, that I’m a little less informed than my partner,” said Coffin. “How did you choose these, uh, ‘candidates’?”
In the hallway beyond the kitchen they came to a crescent staircase that descended into the basement.
Stepping onto the hardwood, Carver replied, “oh – so you really know nothing. Which of them gave you my name? Was it Morrison? Was it Woodley? It doesn’t matter, I suppose.
“I was told the dead would give me up, but I’m a rational man. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I hadn’t been shown exactly what the blade could do.
“I picked them on the Internet; depression and suicide forums, mostly. They were all willing you know – volunteers. I provided a service.
“Really, I should say they picked me.
“Suicides, all of them, but they didn’t want to lose the insurance money by doing it themselves. We would meet once, in a public place, and they would pay me. It didn’t really matter how much, I based my fee on what I thought they could afford. Then I’d take their arm, or their neck, or their calf, and I’d give them a taste of the blade, so they were aware of what was coming.
“They wanted it, but they also wanted to make sure their families would still get paid. That was the other point of the Laughing Buddha story – so the insurance people couldn’t use their histories of depression to contest that it was a crime.
”I enjoy a quiet encounter with a stranger on a country road as much as the next guy, but there was a joy in knowing they knew, that they were willing – hoping – that I would come to end them.
“Unlike my other projects, no one screamed at the approach of the Laughing Buddha.”
“####,” said Bunny. “Bunch of teary-eyed one-handed keyboarders on the internet looking for someone to share the misery and the only person who reaches out to them is a serial killer? That’s just ####in’ sad.”
The lighting grew dimmer as they descended, and Bunny’s tongue went dry. It seemed as if it would take a kiddie pool full of Captain Morgan to ever wet it again, but, despite her concerns, the view from the bottom of the stairs seemed normal enough. The entrance Carver ushered them through opened onto more leather couches facing a flat screen, a desk in the corner holding up an aging laptop, and a foosball table.
That’s where the normalcy ended, however.
The rear wall was a massive inbuilt glass case filled with an array of knives, none longer than a foot. The expansive cloth-backed display allowed for two floor-to-ceiling radial blade designs, with the smallest weapons nearly touching tips at their centers, and the weapons circling, handles out, at the perimeters.
“Holy ####. Interior design by Chuck Manson?” asked Bunny.
Carver’s hand reached for a pearl-handled straight razor hung near the heart of the right-most loop, and he flipped it open with a practice flourish. The blade was missing.
“Simply a matter of having a tool for every occasion,” he said in the flat tones of a bored clergyman. He pointed to a detail on the armature. “The instrument in question, though, was special. I lost it on a sad one. You can see where they tried to attach it firmly to the spine here, but I think whatever kept it sharp eventually just cut the edge free.
“It was a father whose son was running around with the wrong sort of crowd, getting involved in meth dealing and selling stolen WalMart electronics. I guess the old man was hoping his death would shake the delinquent from his lifestyle and give him a bankroll to start over.
“I’d watched the place for a while, and it should have been empty, but the boy came home earlier than expected. When they’re wild like that, you never can tell when they’ll show up. I had to duck through the window, and I didn’t even realize I’d left part of myself behind.”
Bunny had been thinking that it explained why the dead guy in the shower was wearing a suit – knowing it was coming, he’d been the sort of person to dress formally in preparation for his own murder. It was while examining this thought, however, that she’d placed a single finger on a nearby cleaver she’d noted in the assortment.
It was also when Carver had wheeled, revealing the eight inch Portugese faca in his free hand.
His face was perfectly composed as he made a low swing at the Black Sabbath t-shirt exposed by her open jacket, and, if Coffin hadn’t stepped in, the practiced butcher would have succeeded in his attempt to bury the point in her sternum.
The problem was that Bunny was no longer in the drop-ceilinged basement: She was no longer looking at the foosball table, with its players all carefully upright, nor could she smell the odd metallic taint to the air that the slash across her stomach had lent the room.
She was in her old apartment’s kitchen. She was standing, barefoot, on the white linoleum. The radio was on, and the end of “Heart of Glass” was unspooling into the warm afternoon. She’d been dancing, she remembered, but Tim had turned it down. Her thigh ached from where her ex-husband had planted his steel toed boot.
Below her panic there was a nagging feeling that she’d been somewhere else. That she hadn’t been herself a moment ago. There was no time to figure it out, though – Tim was right there, with that ####ing fish fillet knife. He wouldn’t stop at her belly, he wouldn’t stop at her arms. Not now. Not since she’d picked up the cleaver.
Now he had to demonstrate that he had the bigger balls.
This Tim wasn’t laughing through his anger, though; this Tim wasn’t calling her names – but this Tim did have a knife.
Closing her eyes, she thought “sober seventy-two hours and now I’m dead. What a waste of three ####ing days,” and it was the very fact of her lack of liquor that pulled her mind back.
Too much of her courage had been in the bottle to have faced Tim otherwise.
She wasn’t in the kitchen.
This wasn’t Tim.
She did have a cleaver though.
Her eyes opened, and there was Will, holding off a homicidal Old Navy dad like it was the exciting conclusion to a MacGyver episode.
The momentum of her memories had brought up her hand, but the sight of her friends’ struggle, and the frustration of a hundred Heart of Glass filled sleepless nights, brought it down.
“Try to kill me? TRY TO KILL ME?” she said, “You aren’t even a proper ###damn psycho, you’ve just wanked to Rambo too many times, you ####ing manipulative misery guzzler!”
It wasn’t the first time she’d seen a head split open, and, unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last.
Still, her mind immediately went to the chain in Coffin’s pocket.
“Prepare yourself for an afterlife full of watching me break in here and ####ting on this carpet, you ####ing steel fetishist,” she shouted at the corpse.
She tried to clear her throat, but found it wouldn’t stop clenching.
Her voice was wavering as she told Will, “I’m going for a drink. Come if you want.”
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