The Killing of John Smith (Short Story)

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Niamh Busby’s first short story for The Gown.

Niamh Busby, Contributor.

I.

He finds the book half wedged between a crumpled Kerouac and a water-swollen Christie in the 25¢ box. Pulling it into his hands, he traces an absent finger over the dog-eared cover. The Killing of John Smith. Dark ominous eyes stare back at him, the glint of a knife in someone’s hand is reflected in one eye and a swinging rope in the other. It seals it for him, already imagining sitting on his little dusty mattress, reading it by streetlight as Stevie Nicks’ voices croons in the background. He turns it over to read the synopsis and instantly frowns upon seeing the whole back cover smeared with dark red paint. He drags a nail across it, it hardly scratches through.

“A mystery then,” he mutters, slowly rising from his crouched position over the orange crate of books.

He makes his way into Leon’s, making a beeline for the counter. He dings the bell that sits there gently, eyes still locked with his prize. It’s musty inside and Bowie bursts from the high-fi playing in the back storeroom. He thinks he can now see the shadow of a needle in one of the pupils on the cover, but he can’t be sure. He looks up at the familiar sound of beads rattling together and gives Leon a smile as he approaches. Shoving his hand in the pocket of his corduroy trousers, he quickly fishing out the required coins to drop into Leon’s large and hairy awaiting hand. Leon eyes the book and he almost clutches it closer to himself, protective.

“I don’t remember seeing that one coming in.” Leon muses.

He shrugs slightly and places the book safely in his shoulder bag.

“Be careful, Eugene,” Leon warns, his wrinkled face serious. It looks strange set against his flower-embroidered waist-coat. “Murder books can make your brain go funny,”

Eugene nods, hand placed over the bulge of the book in his bag. It almost feels like its burning in there, burning to be read. He gives Leon a wide departing smile as he shrugs, “My brain’s already funny.”

II.

In one of the tiny apartments of Dorset House, Eugene devours the first couple of chapters. He was instantly absorbed in the story of John Smith just from the opening lines of the book.

John Smith had been successful, wealthy and powerful. A CEO of one of the biggest companies in America and yet everything that he had worked for was destroyed overnight. He was destroyed overnight. Found dead in his New York loft, everyone had a theory on what happened, who done it and how. In this book we together will explore each theory, examine the crime scene and the suspects. But in this book, you will also find the truth. The full truth of who and what killed John Smith.”

It’s awful, he knows, to be fascinated by the accounts of true crime and serial killers. He can remember watching the news of the Tate murders, had sat beside his sister when they first saw Charles Manson enter the court room, both unable to deny the strange hold that Manson was able to compel even through a TV screen. He can still remember the late-night phone call he had with his sister in the lobby, his knees pulled up to his chest as they discussed the latest Zodiac letter and their respective theories. Eugene didn’t know what it was about them. He doesn’t idolise them or anything like that, more attracted to the stories out of morbid curiosity more than anything. Maybe it’s the fact that it shows the worst of humanity, how far a person could go, how twisted a mind can be. It terrifies him.

After finishing the first three theories he stops, his watch tells him that it’s 8 o’clock and almost time for him to go to work. After getting dressed, he shoves the paperback into his back pocket as his other hand tries to tame his nest of hair. As he stumbles down eight flights of stairs, he thinks about John Smith. How he had been found dead with a knife wound in his chest, several needles scattered around his unmade bed and rope burn on his neck. The needles and blood where the only evidence found in the room. No rope, no knife. He thinks about how they had to complete five coroners consult on Smith’s autopsy, each suggesting a different cause of death. Suicide through overdose, murder by fatal stabbing, death by strangulation, suicide by hanging, and finally death by inconclusive foul-play.

He nods and raises a hand in greeting at Jasper at the front desk as he strolls through the lobby, who, eyes half-closed in sleep, waves back. Eugene jogs down the three blocks to work, the golden sign of the Havana growing closer in his eye-line. He realises that it was probably on a night like this that Smith had walked home after a business meeting over dinner instead of taking a cab, not realising that either someone was following him home or lying in wait in the darkness of his loft. Or did he take the walk home because he knew it would be his last?

As several businessmen stride passed him on the street, Eugene lets himself visualise them as Smith. Their suits are worth more than he earns in a month and their wrists glint with expensive watches. Maybe they were going home or maybe their night was only just getting started. He slows as he reaches the front door of Havana and feels a little sick as he ends up following a businessman inside. He squints through the haze and the low red light of the seated area and makes his way through to the bar.

“Hey, Gene.” Johnny greets him as he ducks under the side of the bar.

“How’s it going, Johnny?” Eugene asks as he shakes his jacket off and folds it away under the counter, he pulls the book out of his pocket and tucks it safely away in the folds of his jacket. When business is slow he can sometimes get a bit of reading done, half listening to the sound of Johnny’s pencil as he scribbles another poem in his small notebook. You wouldn’t know it looking at him though, Johnny exudes the whole John Wayne-Marlon Brando-Paul Newman look with his broad shoulders, square jaw and bright eyes. Eugene’s never read any of his work, but he knows it’s good, knows that Johnny is known by lot of people in the art scene.

“Busy for a Tuesday.” Is all the reply Eugene gets before a customer is waving a hand in his direction, shouting an order at him.

About three hours later when he’s struggling to pour four different drink orders at one time, a swarm of bodies pressed against the bar impatiently that he hears the familiar screech of “Genie! Genie! Genie!” He rolls his eyes and swears when he nearly pours Jack Daniels into a colourful cocktail rather than the awaiting glass of ice.

“Not now, Gigi. Can’t you see I’m a little busy?” He shoots back in her direction, quickly pushing drinks into customers hands in exchange for money. Every time his knee brushes his jacket under the counter he can swear that he can feel the book humming there. He almost wishes that the bar would quiet down, and he could get some more reading done but when he thinks of the tips he’s been getting all night he quickly dismisses the thought.

“Genie! Gene! Don’t you dare ignore me, Eugene!” He sees a golden-brown arm extend towards him through the mass of people out of the corner of his eye. Johnny gives a deep laugh beside him. They both know what Gigi wants.

As he begins to make some complicated cocktail that he hates making and that the regular that orders it knows he hates making, Gigi appears to take matters into her own hands and crouches her way under the entrance to the bar, the edge of her flared trousers catching on a nail as she straightens.

“Gigi.” Johnny warns, an unlit cigarette between his lips, a silent sign to Eugene that he’s going to take his break soon.

“You know you’re not allowed back here.” Eugene moves to the other end of the bar to retrieve a carton of cranberry juice.

“Genie, please!” Gigi begs dramatically following him, nail-painted hands clasped in front of her. “It’s just one song!”

“There’s no point fightin’ her, man.” Johnny laughs as Eugene attempts to make his way back but is barred by her. She raises a perfectly drawn eyebrow at him. He sighs, half-tempted to squeeze the carton at her threateningly but thinks better of it, knowing that he would never hear the end of it. He just wants to go home and read his book.

“Fine.” He gives in. “The usual?”

Gigi practically squeals with delight, bouncing on the balls of her platformed feet.

“Close your eyes, you know the drill.” He watches her place her hands over her with flourish before turning and hoking around for the box of cassettes they hide from her, knowing every time she peeks. He fishes out one of the more worn out tapes and gives it to her with a stern look. “You know I hate this song.”

“And it’s absolute crime, darling.” Treasure clutched in glittering hand, she gives him a beaming smile before he ushers her back out from behind the bar.

“You’re such a queen.” He laughs, the nightly routine finally complete.

“It’s my job, honey.” And with a wiggle of fingers in his direction she’s gone. Soon he hears the beginning of ‘Waterloo’ blaring through the room. A mixture of both groans and cheers erupt from the rest of the occupants.

“Christ,” Johnny says. “I can’t fuckin’ stand ABBA. I’m takin’ my break.”

He claps Eugene on the back as he leaves, already lighting his cigarette. When he’s finished making the despised drink, the chorus comes on and the whole bar erupts. Eugene has to agree with Johnny.

He fucking hates ABBA.

III.

Finally, after around midnight, there’s a lull. It’s just him at the bar while Johnny collects empty glasses from tables, so he pulls the book out and opens it where he left off. The author, Alex Mausen, describes how the majority of the public believe that Smith died from the use of a rope though none can agree whether by someone strangling him or by him hanging himself. Mausen reveals that it wasn’t until 2 years after his death that the police revealed that there was no rope actually found in Smith’s loft. This automatically rules out suicide and yet one of the five coroners ruled it as his cause of death. Why would they do that?

Bribery, Mausen declares.

“If you keep frowning like that you’re going to get premature wrinkles.” Gigi pipes up, gracefully sliding into a seat at the bar. “What are you reading this time?”

He tilts the book up to show her the cover, watches as her kohl rimmed eyes scan it and frown. Eugene tries to decipher the look, how she clenches her jaw and averts her eyes to the gaudy rings on her fingers. She was always a terrible poker player.

“You’ve heard of John Smith before, haven’t you?” It’s more of a statement than a question and he watches, surprised, as a dark look passes over her face when she raises her eyes up to meet his. He’s known Gigi long enough now to be able to identify many of the physical manifestations of her emotions, from her bigger-than-life screaming excitement to her sobbing her heart out to him in the alley beside the bar. He knows how she saw drag as her only way to dress how she wanted to, in the clothes she identified as, not as a divine vocation or profession. He’s rode the tide of her many emotions, good and bad, and yet he’s never seen her like this. It’s almost the same look his father would give him when he’s about to overstep his boundaries, a hard look before a hard punch.

“Always sounded like a fake name to me,” She starts slowly, she points at bottle behind him and he takes a hint and grabs both it and a glass. “He’s whispered like a camp-fire ghost story around on the streets among the queens and workers. I know he hated people like us. But I also know some people he paid for company.”

Eugene looks at her surprised. The book had never mentioned anything like that or anything about Smith’s personal life for that matter. However, Eugene considers, he must have had some enemies if he was murdered. It hasn’t even been a day and he can already feel the book seeping into every part of his life, gaining a physical presence of its own, moulding with his shadow.

“Kinky,” Gigi swallows hard as she tries to smile, clearly still unnerved as she stares down at his book. Startled out of his thoughts by her statement, Eugene quickly snaps his eyes down to where she’s looking and realises it’s splayed open on a picture of the rope burn marks on Smith’s neck. She knocks back her drink, eyes never leaving the page.

“I always kinda hoped that it was one of us that did it,” She admits, her face strikingly emotionless for once. “To get revenge for all the horrible things he did to us.”

He knows he’s overstepping but he has to ask, so Eugene tries to do it gently, “What kind of things?”

“Unrepeatable things. I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Eugene,” She moves to stand. Gigi never calls him Eugene when it’s not in jest and he finds he doesn’t like it. It rubs something in him the wrong way and he almost physically recoils from it. The rest of the bar is winding down around them, the last dregs of the customers leaving, and Gigi takes that as her cue. “Can you promise me something?”

She’s not looking at him but away from him, glittering eyes focused on something very far away in her mind. He gives her a nod anyway. Gigi knows that he can never deny her things anyway. He watches as she tightens her thick pink coat around her sapling-thin body and thinks of how, when she exits the doors of the bar, that she’ll walk six blocks in the blistering cold to the corner where most of her friends and roommates stand, hustling. She never takes part, or to his knowledge she doesn’t, but is there to stand witness, to ensure that each of them return before they can finally head home to their apartment. Eugene feels the urge to ask her to spend the night at his where it’s warm and there’s food. She’ll joke and ask if he’s a proper gentleman but in this dark mood he’s cast on her he knows that he can’t ask her.

“When you finish that book,” Gigi places a crumbled $1 on the bar that he’ll end up sneaking back into her coat next time her sees her and she finally looks him in the eye. “Will you tell me how it ends?”

“Of course.” He vows.

There’s no departing wiggle of fingers this time, but before she reaches the door Eugene calls to her, “Stay safe, Gigi.”

She doesn’t halt her strides, “All a girl can do is try.”

IV.

This can’t be the last page.

He tells himself this over and over again as he flipped anxiously back and forth between the pages. This can’t be the last page. Eugene grips the book tighter, eyes scanning the page as if it can reveal answers as to why the book stops mid-sentence.

“This can’t be the last page.” He announces to his empty apartment.

It just stopped. He’d thought as he had got closer to the end that he had yet to read the section about what had really happened to Smith. But there was nothing, no more. His face was creased harshly in a frown, his heart beating franticly when he noticed. He bent the back cover so that it was flush against the front and instantly revealing what had happened. He traced his fingers over the exposed choppy bumps nestled beside the last page and the back cover. The last perhaps more than 50 pages has been ripped out, torn from its roots. Why would someone do that? Eugene felt anger spark up within him. He needed to know how it ended, he needed to know the truth. His head is a messy tangle of autopsies, gruesome crime scene photos and conspiracy theories. He struggles to untangle them to just think clearly, but his brain is one big knot that he twists and pulls each way in an attempt to unravel it. But he knows its futile. Only by reading the actual ending will he finally satisfied and finally able to put the story behind him. He’s barely even had the book 24 hours and yet it’s been able to sink its talons into him so deep, he’s surprised there’s no seeping blood stains on the breast pockets of his shirt.

He has to talk to Gigi, she’ll know what to do. She’ll be able to clear his mind enough to figure out how to find the answers he desperately needs. Eugene remembers instantly how her face contorted from teasing to some unknowable dark emotion, almost like a curtain had been cast between them. It makes him stumble. It might be wrong of him to ask this from her. She said she wanted to know how it ends, a voice whispers to him in his head, she’ll help you find the truth.

V.

“Alright, I’ve marked down every bookshop apart from Leon’s because I already checked there, and he doesn’t have another copy.” Gigi says as she unrolls a large map on the floor beside his mattress. She pins the corners down with his shoes and two dirty mugs.

Eugene still can’t believe that she agreed to this so quickly. He had barely explained the situation before she assured him that she’ll be at his in an hour. Clearly, she used the hour to gather resources. “Do we split the number between us or?”

She attempts to push her hair out of her face, her curls stubbornly refusing to move. She looks different, her hair isn’t pinned back and she only has eye-makeup on. “You can take the ones south of Battery and we can meet back in the middle?”

He frowns at the map, there’s not a lot of red ‘X’s on the map but it would be quicker to split up. “I could meet you at Battery at 3 o’clock?”

Gigi nods and rips the map in two, handing him the bottom half. She lets him pull her to her feet, laughing suddenly when she stands up straight, “The first mystery case of Genie and Gigi. We could definitely give Starsky and Hutch a run for their money.”

He rolls his eyes and looks down at his half of the map. He feels like he’s on the edge of something, staring into the abyss of the unknown. Does he really want to know the truth?

“Don’t worry, Genie,” She slings an arm around him and leads him out of his apartment. “We’ll find it.”

VI.

Eugene didn’t find it.

He wonders around Battery Park with his hands tucked into his arm pits, his breath clouding in front of him as he anxiously waits for Gigi. He should have brought a hat; his ears are beginning to ache from the cold and he feels so frustrated he could cry. Most of the bookshops had never even heard of the book or of any writer by the name Mausen. It’s almost as if the book had never existed. It still sits in his back pocket, he had pulled it out to show a couple of the employees like some photograph of a missing person but they all shook their heads.

“Hey, did anyone ever tell you that you look like Bruce Springsteen from behind?”

He startles and turns around, relaxing when he finds Gigi standing there with a teasing smile, her boots glinting. “It’s the hair isn’t it?”

She shakes her head at him fondly, “Find anything?”

Eugene just shakes his head, too disappointed in himself to form the words. They begin to walk through the darkening park towards home, the grey sky deepening ominously in colour. There’s a rustling as Gigi plunges her arm elbow-deep into her bag.

“One of the guys I talked to turned kinda pale when I asked about the book. They didn’t have any in stock, but he did give me an address.” She makes an elated hum when she finally retrieves a piece of paper from the depths of her bag. “Strangely, he only gave it to me when I happened to name drop a couple of friends that I work with.”

He takes the piece of paper from her, “You think the only reason he gave you this is because of your job?”

“I mean, maybe?” She rubs a hand across her forehead, considering. “I guess we’re a close community. Y’know, we look out for each other.”

Eugene hums in thought as he unfolds the paper. He halts when he reads the address scrawled there. “Did you read this when he gave it to you?”

Gigi looks at him concerned, a hand reaching up to grip his arm, “No, I just put it in my bag. Why, sweetie, what’s wrong?”

His heart thunders in his chest. This book is really going to end up giving him a heart attack. He looks up at her only to quickly look back down at the paper, dumbfounded.

“It’s the address for my building.”

VII.

Room 505 is located directly above his own apartment.

He’s still freaking out about it so it’s up to Gigi to knock the door. He can hear his sister’s voice telling him that this is how people end up getting killed, stupid. His hands are shaking so bad that Gigi grips the one closest to her with her own as the door opens. His heart thunders in his chest.

“Yes?” A woman in her late twenties stands before them, her dark hair hangs over her shoulder in a long plait while the toes of her bare feet curl and uncurl. There are premature wrinkles around her eyes and between her brows. She’s holding the door open in a way that looks almost friendly, but Eugene has a feeling that she’s got her other arm planted against the other side of the door, prepped to use full force and shut the door in their faces.

“Alexandra?” Gigi asks, holding out the piece of paper that has the woman’s name and address on it.

“Yes, what do you want?”

Gigi struggles to explain, her mouth opening and closing. She looks at Eugene and he fumbles as he reaches into his back pocket and holds the book out silently in Alexandra’s direction.

Her eyes widen and her feet take a step back, “Where did you get that?”

She begins to draw the door closed slightly. The thought of the truth slipping through his fingers when he’s so close spurs Eugene into action. “Please, we’re just looking for answers. Someone ripped out the end of the book, we just want to know if you know how it ends.”

Alexandra scoffs, “Of course I know how it ends, I wrote it.”

He and Gigi freeze. Gigi’s body is so taunt beside him that he’s scared of gripping her hand in case she breaks into a million pieces. He can’t do this without her.

“You’re Alex Mausen?” He asks, he can’t quite comprehend it. Eugene feels like his world’s tilted out of its axis. This whole time the author was living in the apartment above him.

Yes,” Mausen rolls her eyes, obviously frustrated with the conversation. “I guess you better come in.”

The apartment is dark, piles of newspapers crowd the door and empty food containers litter the small kitchenette. Thick curtains are drawn across the windows and the only source of light comes from the bare lightbulb hanging in the middle of the room. She leads them to a couch pressed up against one of the walls, the only other seat a sad-looking mattress. “Sit, sit.”

They do, watching her all the while. Gigi’s nails are digging into the back of his hand. Mausen sits on the mattress, shuffling the stray papers that are littered around her into a neat pile.

“What would like to know?”

The book is still in Eugene’s other hand, he opens it at the last page and hands it to her. “I never got to find out the truth about Smith’s death, the book ends on the section just before.”

Mausen flips between some of the pages absently, “You know, this is probably one of the only copies left in existence?”

Eugene frowns, “I don’t understand, why would someone rip out the last pages?”

“I’ll tell you why.” Mausen looks up at them, her eyes train for a moment on Gigi who tilts her chin defiantly despite gripping his hand harder. The sun is setting quickly outside, and it makes his stomach clench with uneasiness. He hears Gigi’s breath shudder beside him, her legs have started to tremble beside him. He presses his knee into hers.

“Because I did it.” She announces calmly, a strange smile on her face. “I killed John Smith because he single-handedly destroyed my whole world in one night. I killed him so that he couldn’t hurt anyone else.”

Eugene feels his chest rip in two with panic. Gigi fists her other hand in the side of his shirt. The room seems to shrink around them, suffocating them. They shouldn’t have come. He shouldn’t have dragged Gigi into this.

“Don’t worry, it didn’t make me run mad with bloodlust, I’m no serial-killer and I’m not some Manson girl. He deserved what he got.”

“Why weren’t you arrested?” Eugene finally croaks out. “You wrote a book about it, surely the police would have seen that as an admission of guilt?”

“That’s the best part about the whole thing.” Mausen smiles viciously. “I never got caught. They all thought Alex Mausen was a man. It’s not their fault, I had constructed the image way before the book hit the shelves. I made actor friends go to meetings with editors and publishers, set up bank accounts and then withdraw the book’s profits. For each location, I had a different friend go so that all the people who claimed that they could positively identify Mausen would have differing profiles. Tall, short. Blonde haired, black haired. Blue eyed, brown eyed. In their twenties, in their thirties. They were so frustrated that they recalled the books, banned them and probably destroyed them on the basis of being about immoral activities and unsavoury people.

“I knew my father was gay since I was quite young. My mother remarried and started another family, so I lived with my father and his partner, David. Our apartment was always filled with an array of colourful people, a beautiful mix of artists, actors, and writers, so we were never lonely. We probably laughed more than any normal American family. I didn’t care what people thought or that we had to hide the information from our employers. David was practically my mother, he accepted me, and I accepted him wholeheartedly. He was my first reader and my self-proclaimed biggest fan.”

Eugene watches as her face darkens suddenly in the exact same way as Gigi’s had at the bar. “They met Smith at a bar and being the generation of sexual liberation, they agreed to go back to his place, a hotel room he had paid for. They pitied him because they assumed that he was severely closeted and so tried to give him some peace of mind if even for one night. Smith clearly had other plans. There had been whispers going around for a while about some cruiser who had done some pretty dark stuff to some of the people in the communities, a few of which died. No one really took it to heart. He was a ghost, what did it matter?”

Gigi’s voice wobbles as she asks, “What did he do?”

Mausen’s face hardens, “That night he murdered my father in some cheap hotel bathroom with a piece of rope that was used to tie the curtains back. His windpipe was practically crushed. Smith hadn’t realised that David had woken up and because the bathroom door was open had seen everything. Smith hadn’t planned for this. He was going to wake David up later and tell him that my father had already left, letting him live. But now David was a witness. He had never assaulted two people in one night before. So, he wrestled David to the ground and injected him with some weird concoction of drugs that took the doctors weeks to decipher. I don’t know if it was better or worse that he didn’t die that night but 16 hours later with me at his side. That’s how I know what happened, he described everything to me in brutal detail. He tasked me with stopping Smith, whose identity we didn’t even know at the time. The only thing I had to go on was a description of him and a tattoo of a blue bird on his wrist with the word MORI written around it.

“So, I recruited all those who had occupied our little apartment on this vendetta mission, tracing each little breadcrumb of detail littered around the city. It seemed like the more information we gathered the more he escaped our grasp – no one knew his real identity or where we could find him. Then one day, a man strolled into my work, an antique shop. I had been suffering from terrible nightmares for weeks of a faceless man with bloody hands sitting in our apartment, just waiting for me. This caused me to be irritable and jumpy in work. Something about this man had struct me, the way he walked and carried himself, like he was untouchable. He was handsome and dressed impeccably, like some 1950s movie star. It wasn’t until he was handing cash to me for a musty snuff box that I saw it. It was like everything slowed down. His sleeve caught on his forearm, exposing that goddamn tattoo.

“I can’t explain to you the precise feeling of shock and horror I felt when I realised that I was face to face with the man from my nightmares. The man that had practically tore me in two with grief. I couldn’t let him suspect anything, this was the closest I could ever come to finding him. I quickly made up an excuse that my employer liked to have the contact information of our customers in case the value of the object increased, and we could let them know if anyone was interested in buying it off them. He seemed to enjoy this idea very much and signed his details without protest. His name and office number. He gave me one last handsome smile as he left, and it had struck me right at that very moment that I would kill him.”

The room falls silent. He feels Gigi shaking beside him, her cheeks glistening with tears in the corner of his eye. He couldn’t imagine what Mausen had to go through, how she had to deal with being given this horrible mission. He swallows thickly as he tries to take in everything Mausen has handed to him. Suddenly the whole picture begins to click together.

“The rope burns on Smith’s neck are from a curtain rope right, like your father’s were?” Eugene guesses, everything becoming perfectly clear.

Mausen smiled broadly, “Yes.”

“They never found a rope in the room, but it was there all along.” He rubs a hand across his mouth, moving until he on the edge of his seat. “You just put it back where you found it – around his bedroom curtain.”

This sparks something in Gigi who wipes at her cheeks, “The needles were just for show, weren’t they, because that’s how he killed David?”

“A friend of a friend worked in the hotel where his penthouse was, and they let me in. I laid it all out on the bed for him to find. The needles, the rope. It was a perfect tableau of what he had done to them.” She sounds almost proud despite the wobble in her voice at the end. “He hated homosexuals, prostitutes, hustlers and drag queens so he thought that he would be the one to purge them, murder and abuse them. So, as I pressed that knife into his chest I told him each and every name of the people we had discovered that he had hurt or killed. I told him that this was for them as I watched his eyes go lifeless.”

The dark image it conjures makes Eugene’s stomach clench. There’s still something he doesn’t understand. “But the autopsies. They all had different theories.”

Mausen laughs and suddenly she looks the age she’s supposed to, “We’ve all got friends in high places. Mine just happened to have access to medical files.”

He and Gigi fall silent, partly stunned by everything Mausen has revealed to them, laid out before them like some kind of offering. Eugene feels something settle in his stomach. Mausen leaves them to their thoughts as she gets up to make them some coffee. It’s so oddly normal that Eugene leans back on the couch, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes as a strangled laugh escapes his throat.

“What?” Gigi asks, though he can hear that she’s starting to laugh too.

“If my sister could see where I am now.” He whispers back, shaking his head. He’s about to have coffee with a murderer. A justified murderer but a murderer none the less. He’s pretty sure his sister would have a heart-attack.

Gigi’s lips twitch and after they’ve finished their coffees, they say an awkward goodbye to Mausen. They promise never to bother her again or repeat anything that was said and Mausen just nods curtly and closes the door. The sound of a series of heavy locks clicking in place echoes up the hall.

VIII.

Later, when his apartment is flooded in moonlight, he burns the book with Gigi at his side. Its hold over him finally gone as he watches it curl and smoulder.

A success for inspectors Genie and Gigi, she says but he can tell her heart’s not really in it. He thinks of Mausen in the apartment above them, alone with her ghosts and he wraps his arms tightly around Gigi, praying that they never experience the same.

If anyone ever asked him who killed John Smith, he would tell them the truth.

“Himself.”

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