Drownings (part six)

Oil painting of river landscape and lock-like structure




(part six)


“Did he live by himself? Could we see the place?”

When McAlley turned to him, Jellison shrugged. One not capable of taking offense, McAlley judged, but preferring a man’s encouragement to a woman’s.

“I don’t object, myself. It’s not exactly for let, but I don’t object.”

He stopped to lock his office door, then led them to a niche between Colburn’s and Fentz’s. Fire stairs. Seemingly no lift. McAlley touched Faia’s hand and pointed with his chin. The figure was in slip-ons, drawstring pants, a loose long-sleeved tee. It had attached itself to them and meant to stay…at a distance. Jellison would be better, anyway, to leave it alone.

“Not tidy,” he apologized, climbing. He appeared to understand that they were investigators, while having no mode other than his business one. “One bath. Pull-out in the living room, kitchenette. Four-seventy by the month.”

An open window. Tambinder’s moldering macaroni and cheese, on an end-table beside the mattress…this with sheets mushed up in the center, suggesting Tambinder had been tidying…added nothing to the room’s smell. Before their eyes a bird, a common sparrow, flew in. It settled, pecked, noticed them, vanished.

“Why is the screen off? Oh, I see…he’s got it torn.” Jellison cranked the window shut.

“If the door fixes itself locked, we’ll have our look and show ourselves out.” Faia handed Jellison Julia’s card. He wavered, found permission from McAlley, went for his office.

“But leave the door open just yet,” McAlley told her. “It wishes to speak.”

Tambinder, first name Victor, as Faia had got from Jellison, had four kinds of cereal in the cabinet, sour milk in the refrigerator, blackened bananas on the countertop, a bucket of dirty mop water on the floor.

In the bathroom, nasal spray, eyedrops, coated aspirin, earplugs, swabs, plasters. In the end-table drawer, home-ripped CDs, pop tunes so far as McAlley could guess. A pen and notepad. He pocketed the notepad. Under the bed, at last, a scattering of catalogues and envelopes.

“Where might he have a picture of himself?”

“On his phone. His phone will be in the river.”

On hands and knees, under a wall air-conditioner limiting his mobility, McAlley missed the entry, but heard Faia say:

“You, now. You’re not Victor?”

It could not tell them, but by signs. McAlley raised his head. The dead one would want them knowing its proper name. “Dustin?”

“Dustin, are you and Victor mates?”

“Victor,” McAlley said, “was worried about the work, at the cooperative. He was miserable, desperate for a way out.”

Dustin’s hands moved in despair.

“Tambinder…?” He felt there was some prejudice in this intuition, yet a rightness too, persuasive. “An engineer on the project. A man you reported to.”

Faia’s angel-sight gave her to say: “In his colleague he saw the doubts, his own. And that difference, Dustin, you had had with Herbertson. Some at the cooperative wouldn’t hear, thought themselves powerless anyway. Be sacked, and the project carry on. So why not? But carrying on no longer seems doable. By leaps and bounds the awfulness is spreading. Everyone is frightened, most still silent. You had said these things to each other, you and Victor.”

Dustin could not weep, but his face was a lamentation.

Her phone signaled a text.





Virtual cover for Short Story collectionDrownings (part seven)















(2021, Stephanie Foster)




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