Fate and Cornflakes – A Short Story By Matt Comras
Two cops, three corpses
The police telephone had been ringing off the hook all morning. The station was always busy around Christmas time – your Toms and Janes tend to go overboard on the eggnog – but this time, it felt different.
Pins, string and post-it notes littered the large map of the local town that hung on the wall. Scrawled on the sticky coloured paper were scary words, like MURDER, SUICIDE and FAJITAS. The sort of words that have you reaching for your bible or your salsa.
“Has anyone seen my shopping list?”called Leslie from across the room. “I’ve totally forgotten what I was going to have for dinner.”
“Shut up Leslie!”the whole office seemed to say.
The phone rang again.
“Yes. Yes? Okay, thanks for calling have a nice day.”
A shakey hand put the phone down.
“Boss? That’s the third accidental death reported today. All on the same street,”squeaked Rocky, the new guy.
Detective D. Marksman, ignored him.
“Detective Marksman? What do you say? Should we head round there?”
Detective D. Marksman flicked some dirt out from under his fingernail with the World War Two bayonet he inexplicably carried about his person.
“I say exactly that, Ricky,”growled Marksmen as though in quite some pain.
“Time we paid these accidental deaths a visit. Pass me my cane, Rhombus, I’ve damn near cut off the end of my finger with this World War Two bayonet. We’ll swing by the hospital before we swing by the crime scene.
The hospital was stark and full of doctors. As a nurse in tight scrubs leaned over to apply gauze and other things that are hard to spell, Detective D. Marksman let out a wistful sigh.
“If they’d had nurses like you during World War Two I would have shot myself in both feet.”exclaimed Marksman, seriously.
“Try to keep your thoughts to yourself please Mr Marksman,”said the nurse, Stewart.
Stewart the disgruntled nurse gave Marksman a clean bill of health and his marching orders.
“Legs up to his arse”muttered Marksman, audibly.
Rocky, who had been lost in the police reports started going off on one as was his way.
“It says here, one choked to death, one accidentally stabbed himself in the stomach and the other one dropped an iron on her head. What’s the link? There must be link.”
“Oh there’ll be a link boy, as sure as my name is Detective Marksman.”
“Do you mean the D in you name stands for Detective, detective?”
“That’s right, Rocky lad. You’re talking to Detective Detective Marksman. A detective so good they named him twice, kind of. A detective so good he’s impossible to promote. A detective with a father so desperate for his son to be a detective he called me…a useless shit potato over and over and over until I agreed to join the force. I still don’t know what a shit potato is, but I sure don’t want to find out. They’ll be a link alright. Now hand me my crutches lad, we’ve got police work to do.
Frank’s Christmas Cornflakes
Frank looked up from his Christmas cornflakes, wondered what was lodged in his throat and quietly choked to death.
What makes cornflakes ‘Christmas cornflakes’? Tinsel, simply tinsel. Frank’s one Christmas decoration, a solitary string of second hand tinsel had dropped from the picture frame where it hung, and fallen into his cornflakes, his Christmas cornflakes. He had thought that particular mouthful of cornflakes had tasted especially tinselly but put that down to old age and the thirteen miniature bottles of vodka he had drunk due to being all out of orange juice.
As he sat there, choking drunkenly and politely to death, Frank recalled where he had first acquired this rogue decoration. He’d saved it from the inconvenience of being sucked down a drain by a torrent of water springing from a nearby leak in the pavement. Thameswater refused to comment.
At the time the tinsel had been more string than shine. If Frank was going to finally have a decoration in his house over the holidays it was going to be a proper one, legit, so he added some tin foil and chicken wire (additions he would later regret) and popped it on top of his picture frame. Beautiful.
The 1983 Vauxhall Corsa, siren blaring, spun onto the driveway. Any bricklayer with balls big enough to smash up someone’s garden path, call it ‘Crazy Paving’ and charge the owner two jimmies and a monkey deserved a medal, thought Marksman as he approached the house.
As they walked through the door, the stench was overpowering. Frank liked a drink. The floor chinked and rattled under their feet. Empty miniature bottles of whiskey, vodka and the odd gin littered the floral patterned carpet. A drunken kaleidoscope.
A brief survey of the flat revealed nothing particularly unusual. Single man, late seventies, lived by himself in relative squalor. Coat hangers in the cupboard, milk in the fridge, grot-mag under the mattress. Everything was where it should be.
There had to be a clue.
“Look at this boss,” said Rocky. “The tinsel must have dropped from that picture.”
“Poor bastard,” muttered Marksman as he grabbed the back of dead Frank’s head, removed it from the unfinished bowl of cornflakes and lay it on the table, milkily. The detective thought the tinsel protruding from Frank’s mouth made it look like a flamboyant squirrel had wriggled down his throat in search of nuts and got stuck.
Marksman cast his eyes up to the picture Rocky had been whining about. It was a black and white framed photo of a young, handsome Frank. Gorgeous Frank in his early-twenties with a beautiful young wife in the obligatory polka dot dress, a small boy in dungarees and brand new baby with a smile so wide you could have flown a Spitfire through it.
“Who are they?”asked Rocky stupidly.
“Frank, we know. The others are now known as exhibit A, B and C.”
Rocky let out a sigh of admiration.
“Fancy a drink tonight boss?”
Bernard breathed a warm sigh of relief, stared at the blood trickling down the handle of the knife sticking out of his belly and checked his watch. Time stood still as Bernard waited for his life to flash before his eyes. Nothing happened, so he checked his watch again.
Frank had been due round at eight. Not eight exactly but eight or thereabouts. Bernard hadn’t wondered where Frank was until about nine. Nine or thereabouts. Of course there had been that one year Frank had gone AWOL, only to be found outside Dixons dressed as a Japanese prisoner of war, demanding free sushi from alarmed passers-by. But Frank hadn’t been due round that year. Frank was a miserable old fuck.
It was that drawer. It was always stuck. It was either stuck fast or working perfectly. In hindsight, thought Bernard, a booby-trapped drawer was definitely not the place to keep the sharp knives. Tonight the drawer had been working in a perfect harmony of stubborn resistance and greased lightning. So it was that after a quick yank, trip and a thunk, Bernard had clattered over with his favourite knife, his good knife, teaching him a lesson in the only way it knew how. Right in the belly.
He checked his watch. Time was ticking slowly now and finally a bit of his life limped lazily before his eyes. It was that bit where you’re young and at a party, you run up and hug the leg of your dad but it isn’t your dad, it’s a strange man and you’re embarrassed. Only it was Bernard’s dad, but he was still embarrassed. Where was Frank? Miserable Frank. Ah well, thought a relieved Bernard, at least he wouldn’t have to see another Christmas.
The siren had never really worked. It flashed well enough but the noise came from a combination of honks and well-timed shouts. Nee-honk, nee-honk, nee-honk, screech. The Corsa had arrived at Bernard’s.
As they walked through the door the stench was overpowering. Bernard had never been one for a spring clean, no matter the season. Unwashed plates and pans covered every surface in the kitchen, quite a few surfaces in the living room and even one in the bathroom. Marksman took out his notebook and wrote:
Idea for a good time: spaghetti in the bath.
‘Why would one man own so many plates?’wondered Rocky misleadingly before approaching the body on the floor to do some actual police work.
“Okay, Rocky, what have we got?”questioned Marksman.
“Male – sixtyish by the look of things – jabbed himself in the stomach with his own knife. Seems this guy really didn’t fancy doing the washing up.”
“Was that a joke?”
“I make the jokes round here, boy.”Detective Marksman, paused for long time. “It seems this guy really didn’t fancy doing…forget it. Check the drawers and cupboards, lad.”
Rocky began systematically opening and closing kitchen drawers and cupboards, noting the contents (cinnamon!) until he found a drawer that wouldn’t open. Suspicious. With two hands on the handle and one foot against the counter, Rocky pulled with everything he had.
Knives flew out of the open drawer and headed straight for the young police officer. Rocky, frozen with fear, awaited his demise but with a few thunks and a bit of quivering the danger had passed. Seven sharp knives formed a Rocky-shaped silhouette in the wall behind.
“Seems we’ve found our cause of death,”observed the detective.
“Boss! One of them grazed my face!”
After a long pause Marksman said, “Looks like you’ve had a close shave.”
Detective Marksman opened his notebook and wrote:
Rocky – 1, Detective Marksman – 1
In the filthy, drab apartment something caught Marksman’s greedy eye. Bernard’s gold watch shone like metal to a magpie. The detective bent down surreptitiously, slid the watch off Bernard’s stiff wrist and was about the slip it into his pocket when he noticed the inscription.
“Read this out Rocky boy.”
“God you’re good sir. Let’s see. It says: To my dear Bernard, Love Frank.”
“Well, it seems we’ve found our link”
“Oh, haha, very good sir.”
“I beg your pardon?”said Marksman.
“Link. As is the link of a watch and the link between the deaths?”
Marksman’s notebook reappeared.
Rocky -1, Detective Marksman – 2
“Do you think they were together Detective? You know, lovers?”asked Rocky.
“Two men in a relationship? My you’ve an imagination.”
Somewhat forlornly, Rocky answered, “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Detective Marksman shifted uncomfortably, wiped his hands on a tea towel that had the words ‘Kiss the Cook’printed in large red letters then fixed his eyes on his new subordinate.
“Give me my stick boy, I wager the next house will hold the answer.”
As she started to black out, Agatha felt the newly acquired satsuma-sized bump on her head, wondered why she kept her iron on such a high shelf then shuffled dutifully out of existence.
It had been a quiet afternoon. Ivy’s dogs had stopped shitting on the porch, Peter had hardly thrown a stone into her crippled greenhouse (perhaps due to the lack of fresh glass panels, he liked them fresh) and Ned from next door had kept the loud wanking to a minimum, which was thoughtful of him.
Bernard had popped round earlier with a gift. A box that wasn’t to be opened until Christmas. They’d had a nice cup of tea, an old piece of cake and a quick bonk on the settee. Bernard was all excited you see as Frank was coming round that evening and Bernard was going to kill him.
“I’ll jab him in the eye with the sharp end of a spoon”said Bernard.
“That’s not going to kill him. Anyway, which end’s the sharp end of a spoon?”asked Agatha.
“You know the bit with the…okay a knife then. Happy?”
“No, not at all, I rather like Frank.”
“Right, maybe I’ll just strangle him then. Got any rope?”
Bernard left with a spring in his step, the rattling remnants of a full pack of Viagra in his pocket and a length of rope over his shoulder. Agatha had climbed her little stepladder to put Bernard’s box on the high shelf with her iron, slipped, fell and snuffed it.
Agatha’s house was a large family home that, while carrying a certain charm, had seen better days. Neighbours peeked through net curtains as the strange sounding police car pulled up outside.
As they walked through the door, the stench was overpowering. Potpourri only has one setting: overly fragrant. Agatha lay on the floor with a grotesque lump on the side of her head, the offending iron by her side and the step ladder still in position.
“This is an easy one. An iron fell on her head.” Rocky concluded.
“Try again lad. Go through the motions. There’s something else here.”
Rocky stalked round the house like a spaniel searching for the scent. He found Agatha’s latest crochet effort (a horse!), a new Christmas blouse with a snowflake pattern and a weirdly big dildo. The young policeman presented these items to the detective.
“She was definitely up to something, but what?” asked Rocky.
Marksman, who was picking his teeth with the World War Two bayonet, looked at these objects, then looked to the sky then crashed his cane against the small metal stepladder.
“The ladder you idiot,” roared Marksman, “why is the ladder out?”
“Maybe she was using it?”
“Maybe she was using it,” repeated Marksman despairingly. “Get up there and see what she was doing.”
Dust cascaded down from the high shelf as Rocky, standing atop the stepladder, searched for a clue. Marksman waited patiently with an old newspaper on his head so as not to get dust on his good hat. The dust shower ended and the detective watched as a visibly excited Rocky carefully descend the ladder with a small blue box in his hand.
“Boss. I think I’ve found something.”
The box held all the answers, along with some actual stuff.
Marksman leafed through the papers that were inside and picked out an old family photo, the very same that had hung above poor dead Frank. There was one of just the children only slightly older. Then another family photo but this time the mother was nowhere to be seen and Frank looked, well, drunk.
With the photographs was a note. It was from Bernard.
I’ve found out the most horrible thing. I’m going to tell you and remember that I love you. Frank’s been talking in his miserable sleep. Well, mumbling when he’s drunk anyway. I never liked him much as you know but I always felt I had to let him in, I don’t know why.
He started telling me he’s my dad. Even gave me a watch. It was all a bit weird. I haven’t seen my mum or dad since I was a baby but I didn’t believe him, not Frank. That was until he started showing me photos. Photos of me as a boy with my mum and dad. And it is me in those photos. And it is Frank.
Turns out my mum – Martha apparently – died in a terrible accident so Frank started drinking and never stopped. Social services took me away and that was the last I saw any of my family. Except for one thing. The little girl in those photos. It’s you. You’re my sister.
I can’t live with myself knowing what we’ve done. All those times. All those places (the loft!). It’s not right. It’s all Frank’s fault.
By the time you read this, I’ll be dead. And so will Frank, for doing this to us.
I love you.
p.s. The neighbours know.
Detective Marksmen dropped the note to the floor and took off his hat.
“Were they ‘doing it’ sir?”
“I imagine so. Like dirty rabbits, probably.” Marksman drifted off for second. “Impound that note Rocky. This case is all sewn up. Hand me my leaning pole lad, let’s see if Leslie has kept us a bit of turkey from the station Christmas dinner.”
“But there’s one thing I don’t get,” said Rocky, “Bernard was planning on killing Frank and then himself but the deaths were accidental. What are the chances?”
Marksman leant forward, his full weight on the leaning pole. “Let me tell you a little something about fate Rocky. Fate’s a wonderful lady. She sees you coming a mile off, winks, trips you up and steals your shoes. Fate moves with the wind, waits for an opportunity then takes you out to dinner only everything on the menu contains anchovies. YOU HATE ANCHOVIES. Fate tucks you in at night and just as you’re comfortable she invites all your friends round, rips the duvet off and you’ve pissed the bed. Don’t question fate boy,” warned Marksman as his speech drew to a close, “or she’ll have you.”
Rocky, open-mouthed, started slow-clapping in awe of his mentor. But Marksman was nowhere to be seen, because he was in the car, looking forward to his turkey.
Martha had never broken a bone before and to have them all broken at once seemed to her a bit extreme. And really painful.
The piano was a beautiful thing and Frank could really tickle a tune out of it. Auld Lang Syne was his favourite, simple enough but powerful in its own way. With only a couple of weeks to go to the big event, Martha had noticed one of the peddles was wobbly. She couldn’t have that, not with Auld Lang Syne around the corner.
She was so keen to see the smiles on little Bernie and baby Agatha’s faces but, in retrospect, propping the half tonne piano up with an a wobbly old chair and sliding under like a carefree mechanic with no clue how to conduct piano repair was a mistake.
The pain relented now as shock finally took over proceedings. Before she passed out for the last time Martha thought: what a nuisance this should happen at Christmas.