Red: Part IV

vaultsInspector Fox stood beneath the vaulted arches of the City morgue, his shoulders hunched against the chill, and listened to the echoes as Dr. Sang dropped his instruments into the chipped enamel tray. The surgeon worked in silence, pursing his lips and giving an almost imperceptible shake of his head whenever impatience wrung a question from the Inspector. Around them, empty stone slabs stood like forgotten altars. It’s a slow day in the City, Fox mused, and felt the familiar depression settle on him. It seemed to him futile to enforce the laws of this place, arbitrary as they often were. The dead girl on Sang’s table fixed her cloudy eyes on him in hopeless appeal, and he turned away to light a cigar against the stench of cold stone and blood.

The morgue was part of a shadowy city beneath the City, a honeycomb of dank prison cells and funerary rooms, its many secret staircases ascending to the streets above in every district. Here, beneath the sweet apple trees of University Row, roots thrust between the stones of the ceiling and dangled their damp fingers above those who had, in the vernacular, gone on to the next place. Inspector Fox had only a vague grasp of the cosmology of the City, where death had many definitions. He held to one, that of a final darkness. Murder was the ultimate evil, the snuffing of a precious and tremulous flame. It sickened him that here, in this decadent place, it was held to so little account.

Sang turned from the corpse and plunged his hands into a basin of icy water. “Animal attack, Inspector. The marks of teeth and claws are plain.”

“Impossible. There were human footprints in the bloody snow all about her.”

Sang’s long white face remained expressionless. “There is no mark of a weapon on her, Inspector. There are no handprints about her throat. She is rudely slashed and torn in a manner that suggests predation by a wolf. There are wolves aplenty in the Wild.”

“You won’t report this as a murder?” Fox’s voice was quiet, his eyes furious. “You will sweep away this girl’s life under the veneer of a wolf attack?”

“You are new here, Inspector,” Sang said. “You will come to understand that the ways of the Wild are not like those of the City. There is a wall between us for good reason, and you should not wish to go beyond it. I’m doing you a favor.”

The surgeon gestured and two dark-robed acolytes of the Necropolis materialized from the shadows. They lifted the dead girl onto a litter and carried her away down a dim corridor. Fox shouted after them, but they paid no heed. He whirled on Dr. Sang.

“You have no authority -”

“But I do,” Sang interrupted. “We will send a message to her people, to find if they want her back. If not, we will inter her in the Necropolis. She will be looked after, Inspector.” The surgeon looked as if he had more assurances with which to placate Fox, but instead his pale eyebrows shot to the edge of his bald scalp and his jaw dropped open on a surprised exhalation. “My lord deputy,” he wheezed. “It is an honor.”

Fox spun to find Gideon Crowe descending the wide, shallow steps to the morgue theater. The deputy looked flushed and merry, and Fox detected the clean scent of snow and pines about him. Crowe ignored Dr. Sang, and dealt Fox a comradely blow on the shoulder that staggered the Inspector.

“Get your cold weather gear, Fox,” he boomed. “There’s another corpse awaits you beyond the wall, and it’s snowing again. This time, we’ll be going hunting.”

“What? Who?” The Inspector sputtered and shook his head. “Who’s been killed?”

Crowe tipped him a wink that chilled Fox’s blood, it was so like the darkly humorous wink of a raven. “None other than good Constable Moon. Brought down like the bull he was, and freezing to the ground in his own juices while we stand here jawing.” He turned and started back up the stairs. “You’ll want a good rifle, Inspector,” he tossed over his shoulder. “And the courage to fire it.”

to be continued…