Illustration for "The Lazarus Riddle" Copyright (c) 2018 by Tim Soekkha. Used under license.

The Lazarus Riddle


Story by J.A. Prentice

Illustration by Tim Soekkha


 

“There are nutters everywhere,” Tara’s mother used to say. This, perhaps, was why the world gave a collective shrug when Cavan Bishop, former owner of a video rental store and amateur stage performer, declared himself to be both the Messiah and the rightful King of England.

Despite the indifference of the human race at large, Bishop managed to attract a small flock to his meeting hall in London and make a surprising number of DVD sales from a website that appeared lodged in the early 2000s. His reported miracles included vanishing from the stage and bilocation. Still, he was no more than a local curiosity.

It wasn’t until he was shot three times in the chest that any national publication took interest in him. As Bishop lay outside his hall, surrounded by his worshippers and an ever-growing sticky red puddle, he was more famous than he ever was before.

By the time Tara Connor even heard his name, he was already dead. Sergeant Alistair Barnett and Inspector Vincent “Vinnie” Holmes (who had heard every smart remark about his name and was unlikely to respond to any of them with a smile) already had the killer in an interrogation room and dragged Tara in to watch. Holmes said it was a learning opportunity, but Tara suspected it was more likely he’d just grabbed the first woman he could find than that he cared about the career of one particular constable from Belfast.

The killer wasn’t what she’d expected. She was middle-aged, her blonde hair streaked with grey, her face set in a permanent frown, her features so remarkably average it was just as well she didn’t run away because nobody would ever have been able to pick her out of a lineup.

Her name was Rebecca Huxley. She was a former member of Cavan Bishop’s flock – emphasis on the former. Her religious disillusionment was a traumatic one and, unlike most militant atheists, the God who’d disappointed her was within reach and tangible enough to shoot.

They’d found her standing over the body, gun still in her hand. The ballistics on the bullets matched precisely, her neighbors all remarked on the oddities in her behavior lately, and – most damning of all – the whole incident was caught on film. There was not a single doubt that Rebecca Huxley killed her former messiah.

Still, most of the world was disinterested. A murder was exciting, but hardly a subject worthy of international coverage. An autopsy confirmed that he dyed his hair, he was an inch shorter than his license claimed and wore padded shoes to cover it up, and that he was quite dead. None of this interested the press.

It wasn’t until the day after the funeral, when Cavan Bishop rose from the dead, that the world finally paid attention.

— ♦♦♦ —

The resurrection was all anybody in the department was talking about. It was all anybody was talking about. During her commute, Tara noticed the Underground’s population of cardboard-sign holders was tripled. According to black pen and ripped cardboard, Bishop was either the second coming or the Antichrist.

According to Inspector Holmes, he was nothing more than a charlatan and since whether Bishop actually died or not was inexorably linked to his murder, the investigation was theirs.

After days of investigation, they still had no solution. Tara listened through endless repetitions flimsy justifications as to how Bishop survived three bullets to the chest. It usually fell to her to point out the holes in Barnett and Holmes’ theories, which didn’t put them in a good mood.

“Blanks,” Barnett said, perched on the edge of a desk that wasn’t his, twirling a pen between his fingers. “Huxley must have been in on it.”

Holmes gave Barnett an attempt at a withering look. Unfortunately, Holmes didn’t have the face for it. His twice-broken nose and large, bald head tended to make him look more bruiser than detective.

“We’ve got the ballistics,” he said. His accent was unashamedly Cockney. “And the medical examiner’s report. Bullets went into his chest. He was on the slab. Declared dead.”

Barnett frowned. “Still, Huxley has to be in on it. And we have her.”

“For murdering a man who’s currently doing an interview on channel two,” Tara muttered.

Holmes waved a hand. “We can still throw possession of an illegal firearm at her. And attempted murder if we want her to squirm.”

So, Tara found herself back in the interrogation room, listening to Holmes and Barnett trying to wear Huxley down into a confession.

“You realize,” Holmes said, “you’re going down for this. You talk to us, tell us you were in on it, that attempted murder charge goes away.”

Huxley rocked back and forth in her chair.

“Maybe you really believe in him,” Barnett said, applying all his posh public-school charm, “but why would a real messiah need to fake his resurrection?”

Huxley looked up. Her eyes were the eyes of a fox staring down the barrel of a rifle.

“I didn’t fake it,” she whispered. “I shot him. I shot him.” She looked down at her hands. “Maybe he is God. Maybe I’m Judas.”

Without, Tara thought, even thirty pieces of silver to show for it.

In his office, Holmes snapped his fingers and pointed at Tara, who was standing in the doorway with a mountain of paperwork.

“A double,” he said. “The real Bishop’s still dead and the bloke walking around is a double.”

Although Bishop steadfastly refused to submit to medical examination, there were several issues with this theory. Firstly, after hours of listening to each and every recording of Bishop and comparing them to his new interviews, Tara didn’t find a single irregularity. The man who made the DVDs was the same man walking around.

Secondly, the body was transferred from the morgue directly to the meeting hall, where it remained in an open casket for six hours whilst Bishop’s flock prayed over him. After that, he was taken out to the graveyard, wherein the sight of a large crowd of worshippers and reporters, his coffin was lowered into the earth.

A few hours later, sounds of shouting and hammering brought the caretaker, three of Bishop’s followers, and several passersby running to the grave. They shoveled the earth aside and Bishop was revealed inside the coffin, alive and breathing. There were ten witnesses to his resurrection, most of whom had no prior connection to Bishop. Tara interviewed them over and over again but found no holes in their stories.

There was no way Bishop could have gotten into the coffin besides having been put in it in the first place.

And despite the best efforts of the Metropolitan Police to prove otherwise, Tara’s painstaking research into Bishop’s birth certificate and family history proved that it was nigh-impossible that the man had a convenient twin stashed away.

As days passed and they were no closer to an answer, Holmes and Barnett reluctantly decided it was time to bring in every available resource.

That was when they called in the consultant.

— ♦♦♦ —

Tara never thought she looked like a detective: tall and lanky, pale skin covered in splotches of freckles, red hair cropped short as it could be without being a buzz cut. Barnett looked like one of a hundred pretty white boys public schools seemed to churn out, most of whom ended up in finance or, worse, Parliament. Holmes looked like an aging footballer trapped in a suit he thought made him look sophisticated, but actually only made him look absurd.

The consultant looked like a detective.

She wore black: long black coat, black trousers, black gloves. Not a single long, dark hair was out of place. Though her skin had more color than Tara’s, it seemed oddly pale, and her face made Tara think of an oil painting she’d seen of a woman surrounded by gold and silks and dancing girls.

She stood at the back of the room, behind the rows of desks, watching as Barnett and Holmes ran over the investigation again. They made no mention of her. Not until the very end.

“PC Connor,” Barnett said, “get the consultant caught up.”

“Yes, sir,” Tara replied.

“Right then!” Holmes clapped his hands together. “What are you lot sitting around for? Get to it!”

The room was a flurry of motion as everyone set about their appointed tasks. Tara doubted they’d needed Holmes to remind them, but she supposed he needed to feel useful somehow.

The consultant was standing remarkably still, her gloved fingertips pressed together when Tara reached the back of the room, a file under her arm.

“Victoria Burton?” Tara stuck out a hand. “PC Tara Connor.”

Victoria looked at her and Tara noticed her eyes. They were remarkable: two black holes, pools of unfathomable shadow.

“Belfast. 1995,” Victoria said. “Protestant parents. When you were a teenager, you bleached your hair.” She looked at Tara’s outstretched hand. “I know who you are.”

Then she turned away, heading for the door.

“Where are you going?” Tara called after her.

“To have a conversation.”

“I don’t…” Tara glanced back at Barnett and Holmes. They were arguing, their backs turned. “I’m supposed to be catching you up.”

“Already caught up,” Victoria said.

She opened the door. Barnett and Holmes still didn’t notice.

Tara took a deep breath and followed Victoria Burton out of the room, out of New Scotland Yard, and into the streets of the Victoria Embankment.

— ♦♦♦ —

About twenty minutes later, Tara found herself at the scene of the crime. Bishop’s church was an unremarkable building, a combination of grey blocks and glass windows. The sign declared it to be “The Church of the Chosen” in a font that might have better suited a dentist office.

“Whatever happened to cathedrals?” Victoria asked, hands shoved deep into her pockets.

“Anne Boleyn?” Tara suggested.

A small smile danced on Victoria’s lips. Then, beckoning for Tara to follow her, she pushed open the doors to the church and stepped inside.

Every surface was veiled in white: white carpets, white sheets, white banners, white cushions on white pews. Overhead lamps blazed as though they wanted to show up the sun. An overwhelming aroma of incense wafted from hundreds of candles. At the far side of the room were a high stage with a podium (again, draped in white) and a wooden throne. On the near side was a foldout table, covered in pamphlets, DVDs, books, CDs, and signed posters of Cavan Bishop’s smiling face.

It was a face better suited for shoddy rom-coms than messianic revelations. Handsome in its own way, Tara supposed, but she wasn’t really one to judge.

A tanned woman whose face was almost entirely smile looked at them from behind the massive pile of discount divine didacticism.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’d like to speak to Cavan Bishop,” Victoria said.

“The Messiah is very busy right now,” the woman replied, “but perhaps if you call again later?”

Victoria gestured to Tara. “She’s police.”

The woman squinted at Tara as if trying to make sure she hadn’t bought her uniform from a costume store, then looked back at Victoria. “And what are you?”

“Worse,” Victoria replied. “Call Mister Bishop.”

At the far side of the hall, beyond the podium, a door swung open.

“That,” Cavan Bishop said, “will not be necessary.”

His voice filled the whole room and his Hollywood perfect smile was white as his robe. As he walked closer, Tara saw that the robe was hanging low and open, revealing his bare chest. Three red welts marked his tanned skin.

The welts, Tara realized, corresponded exactly to where the bullets hit.

But he said unto them,” Victoria quoted, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

“The Gospel of Mark, I believe,” Bishop said.

“John,” Victoria replied. “It’s just as well you’re not claiming infallibility.”

“Only on matters of the divine.” He reached out a hand. Victoria didn’t shake it. “Are you a believer, Miss…”

“Burton,” Victoria replied. She stared past him, her gaze fixed upon an inconspicuous spot on the stage. “And I’m not in the habit of forming beliefs. I deal in facts.”

“Everyone forms beliefs, Miss Burton,” Bishop said.

“And yours is that you’re anointed by God.” Victoria smiled. “Or is that just a performance?”

“See for yourself.” Bishop pulled his robes wider apart. “Thrust your hand in my side.”

Victoria shook her head. “I’m content to look without touching.”

“I’ll pass,” Tara said. She stared at the wounds. They looked real enough – not as bloody and punch-a-hole-straight-through-you as the bullet wounds on the corpse were, but definitely some sort of injury. There was something odd about them, something familiar.

Maybe that’s what a bullet wound looks like once God’s taken a look at it, Tara thought. Or maybe it’s a fake.

“Not fond of the sight of blood? Hardly something I’d expect in your line of work.” He glanced at Victoria’s gloves. “Or is it more than that?”

“I’m asking the questions,” Victoria replied.

“Then ask,” Bishop said, “and you shall receive.”

“How much do you make? From the DVDs, the posters, the voluntary donations?”

Bishop shrugged. “I’m hardly concerned with such worldly matters.”

“Is this relevant?” the woman asked. “I mean, it hardly seems–”

Victoria turned to Tara. “Let’s be going.”

“But you’ve hardly asked any questions,” Tara protested.

“Don’t need to,” Victoria replied, heading for the door. “I have what I need.”

“What you need–” the woman began.

“Is the Word of Bishop?” Victoria shook her head. “I hardly think so. And, being his wife of several years, you’re hardly impartial.”

The woman turned white (or a slightly whiter shade of tan) and began to stammer out a denial. Victoria didn’t wait for her to finish before shoving back out into the street, Tara following close behind.

“How did you know they were married?” Tara asked. “It’s not in his file.”

“I can’t tell everyone how I do things,” Victoria replied. “Or everyone would be a detective.”

“I am a detective.” Tara paused. “Well, I will be. And if was me, it would have been the pale spot on her ring finger that gave it away. She has it off during the job but wore it on vacation.”

There was a glint in Victoria’s dark eyes. “Perhaps you are a detective.”

“But ‘of several years?’”

“Scratches on the joint. Her finger’s larger than when she got the ring.”

“Clever.”

“There was something…” Victoria muttered. “Something off.” She glanced at Tara. “What did you think?”

Tara shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Cavan Bishop. What surprised you about him?”

“He was… Um.” She frowned. “He felt taller than I’d expected. I know he’s wearing those padded shoes, but–”

“Padded shoes!” Victoria frowned. “The shooting wasn’t right. I need to watch it again.”

She closed her eyes. At first, Tara thought she was going into a trance. Then she realized Victoria was doing exactly what she’d said she was going to do. She was watching the shooting again, playing it back inside her head.

“I knew it.” Victoria opened her eyes. “It was wrong.”

“What was wrong?” Tara asked. “The gun?”

“The way he fell,” Victoria replied. “I need to see Bishop’s financial records. And his church’s.” She paused. “Oh, and drag up any missing person reports from the last week or so.”

“Can I ask why?”

Victoria shook her head. “I don’t explain. Not until I can see the whole picture.”

“Because you need to be dramatic?”

“Because I might be wrong,” Victoria replied. “And that would be embarrassing.”

— ♦♦♦ —

It took a few hours for Tara to get Victoria what she needed and less than a minute for Victoria to find what she was looking for. Victoria spent the wait searching through classifieds on Gumtree on her phone. Either that was a vital part of the investigation, thought Tara, or else she was so confident in her investigation she was already looking for another case.

“We’re going for a trip,” Victoria announced. “To Cornwall.”

“Cornwall?” Tara asked, but Victoria didn’t explain.

Tara drove. Victoria sat next to her, deadly silent. Headlights reflected in her night-dark eyes. Rain pattered loudly against the road, puddles capturing rippled stars. In the rain-drenched night, the motorway became a black river, the cars like ferries drifting along to Hades.

The radio crackled static, a pop song reduced to hisses and pops. Tara turned into a curve and the wheels squeaked. Victoria’s nails dug into the seat leather. She closed her eyes and her breath hissed slow and ragged between clenched teeth.

“What’s wrong?” Tara asked.

“Pull over,” Victoria said.

“Are you sick? Do you–”

“Pull over!”

Tara pulled into the shoulder, fast as she could. A passing car’s honk became a shriek as the headlights strobed over them. Victoria threw open the door and rushed into the night. The rain ran down over her hair, her face, and she stood there, just breathing.

“Are you OK?” Tara asked softly.

“I’m…” Victoria shook her head. “It’s just… It’s loud, sometimes.”

“What? The car?”

“Everything.” Victoria drew in a deep breath. “I can… I see every detail. Hear every sound. And it… I can’t turn it off. It’s just there. All the time. Noise. The air alive with a hundred thousand things and I can hear every one of them. The crackle of the radio. The squeak your boat makes against the accelerator. The empty can rattling in the back seats. Sometimes…”

“It gets too much.”

Victoria said nothing.

“It’s OK,” Tara said. She sat on the roadside barrier, watching the cars go past. “We can just wait here for a minute. If that’s easier.”

Victoria nodded. She stood, her eyes closed, face towards the roll of hills and clouds.

A few minutes later, Victoria sat next to Tara. Her breathing was normal, her hands still.

“Thank you,” she said.

“It’s fine,” Tara said. She paused. “Back at the station… All those things you said about me. How did you know them?”

Victoria shrugged. “I just saw them. Or heard them.”

“Belfast, I get,” Tara said. “The accent. And the year–”

“A longer shot, but I’m good with ages.”

“Protestant parents?”

“Loyalists tent to be Protestants,” Victoria said. “And I couldn’t imagine a Republican would be eager to join the Met.”

“And the bleached hair?”

“It leaves traces,” Victoria replied. “Irregularities in the texture of the strands.”

“Clever.”

“I just see things,” Victoria said. “Why don’t you give it a go?”

Tara laughed. “What, I play detective?”

“Why not? You’ve spent a day with me. I only had a few minutes.”

“All right.” She paused. “Definitely university. Oxford. And I’m guessing you’re part Japanese. Upper-class parents.”

“Impressive.”

Tara smiled.

“All wrong, of course,” Victoria continued. “But bits of it were very nearly right.”

“I suppose that’s why you’re the detective.” Tara got up and walked over to the car. “You really have solved this thing, haven’t you?”

“When you get down to it,” Victoria said, “it’s really just a matter of double-booking gone horribly wrong.”

Tara stared. Victoria stood up, brushed herself off, and smiled.

“Well,” she said, “what are we waiting for?”

— ♦♦♦ —

They ended up at a hotel by the seaside. Not the best hotel in the world, but not half-bad, Tara thought. Rooms were probably nicer than hers.

Gulls cawed, circling over pebbles, sand, and waves. Mist swirled around Victoria’s coat as she walked across the parking lot, Tara in tow. She looked entirely in her element as if moon, mist, and stars were all put there for her benefit.

There was a young man, barely more than a teenager, at the front desk. He looked at them with the dead-eyed, screaming-inside look common to anybody working long hours for low wages while being berated by belligerent middle-aged mothers.

“Welcome to Sunny Shores Hotel,” he said, with an impressive amount of enthusiasm for someone so visibly close to a full emotional breakdown. “We have several rooms available for–”

“Victoria Burton,” Victoria interrupted. “Detective.”

The young man blinked. “Really?”

“Really. Were you working Friday night?”

“I work every night.”

“My condolences.” Victoria held up a pair of photographs. “Do you recognize these people?”

He nodded. “They had a room.”

“And they were there all day?”

“Yeah.” He paused. “No. They left in the middle of the night. Were here all-day Thursday, though.”

“Was it sunny?”

“What?”

“Sunny.”

The young man screwed up his brow. “Yeah. I think so.”

Victoria smiled. “Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”

On the way back to the car, she said, “Well, that explains everything. Almost everything.”

Tara was even more confused, but she had no intention of admitting as much to Victoria. “Why almost?”

“The wounds,” Victoria said. “They were real. Bruises and blood. I’ve never seen anything like them.”

Then Tara realized what was nagging at the back of her mind in the meeting hall. She had seen something like them before.

She told Victoria and Victoria laughed.

“One more stop, then,” she said. “And then back to London. Hopefully, we won’t be too late.”

“Too late for what?” Tara asked.

“After the Resurrection,” Victoria said, “comes the Ascension. And we don’t have an extradition treaty with Heaven.”

— ♦♦♦ —

A week after his Resurrection, Cavan Bishop preached for a packed house. His church was crammed full. Barnett, standing at the back, muttered over the radio that it was like a tin of sardines. Tara thought that it was like a tin of sardines if whoever was in charge of putting sardines into tins got overzealous and packed them until the lid needed to be taped in place. Holmes told Barnett that the radio was for important police work, not his running commentary.

“Brothers, sisters,” Cavan said, a hand over his heart. “I was delighted to have these days with you. And I tell you now, as I told you before, that the End is indeed coming, and we must all be ready. These are the last days. But.” He paused. “But this is not cause for sorrow. For you lucky chosen shall shortly ascend, to join me in Paradise.”

He held out his arms and closed his eyes.

“Oh, Father!” he cried. “Be with them! Be with them always!”

And then, with a blaze of light, he vanished.

His last words would no doubt have touched the hearts of his flock, staying with them always, guiding them into their new world, if they weren’t immediately followed by muffled swearing and the hard thud of a well-thrown punch.

A platform rose slowly from under the stage. Cavan Bishop lay on top as Tara leaned over to handcuff him.

The congregation stared. There wasn’t really much else for them to do. Mrs. Bishop, standing by her merchandise, decided it was time to leave, preferably as quickly as possible.

Tara recognized that she shouldn’t waste her rare opportunity.

“I’m afraid,” she said, “that he’s not the Messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy.”

By the door, a dark figure sighed. “How original.”

Then she stuck out a foot.

Mrs. Bishop tumbled to the ground, perfect white teeth smacking against the tile.

“Don’t leave yet,” Victoria said. “We still need you to tell us exactly where the body is.”

— ♦♦♦ —

It was tucked away in a small, locked cupboard, leaning against some mops. Tara wrinkled her nose. Corpses rarely smelled nice. Week-old corpses smelt worse.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Mrs. Bishop protested as Victoria’s grip tightened on her shoulder. “It’s not like we killed him.”

“You’ve done plenty wrong,” Tara said. She looked at the corpse and tried not to gag. “And a great deal of it very unsanitary.”

Mrs. Bishop looked like she was about to burst into tears.

“Come on,” Victoria said. “We can talk it through back at the station. I’m sure PC Connor would appreciate hearing the whole story.”

— ♦♦♦ —

“I must thank you,” Victoria said. “So often my work is about investigating why somebody is dead. It was novel to investigate why somebody wasn’t.”

They were all gathered in the office: Holmes, Barnett, the Bishops, Victoria, and Tara. The only people who weren’t invited were Rebecca Huxley, who was still in her cell, and the corpse, who was still dead.

“Bilocation,” Victoria said.

Holmes blinked the blink of a chicken who’d just been told about evolutionary theory.

“Bilocation,” Victoria explained, “is the ability to be in two places at the same time. It’s a gift sometimes attributed to Saints. And a gift recently attributed to you, Mr. Bishop.”

Bishop just looked sullen.

“It was,” Victoria continued, “your wife’s idea to hire a double, wasn’t it? A clever party trick commonly employed by magicians. Get a man who looks almost exactly like you, give him the same clothes, same hair, same mannerisms–”

“That’s why his hair was dyed,” Barnett interrupted. “The dead man, I mean. Because he wasn’t really Bishop, he was…” Barnett frowned. “Who the devil was he?”

“Clay Baxter.” Victoria pulled out a headshot and stuck it to a board. The resemblance was uncanny – though Baxter had brown hair and Bishop had blond. “Reported missing a few days ago by his landlady. Out of work actor, eagerly responding to an anonymous advertisement that promised a few hundred pounds.”

“Hardly enough money to die for,” Holmes said.

“But enough money to walk around pretending to be somebody else,” Tara said. “He didn’t know he was going to get shot, did he?”

“That’s the tricky part,” Victoria said. “Nobody did. Baxter was hired for some bilocation, to throw another miracle on Bishop’s scanty résumé. That would have been it if it weren’t for the double booking.”

Barnett and Holmes looked delightfully perplexed.

“What was it?” Victoria asked. “Birthday?”

“Our anniversary,” Mrs. Bishop spat. “Our anniversary and he forgot.”

“What do you do,” Victoria continued, “if you’ve booked a few days away with your significant other on the coast, only to discover you’ve also scheduled a meeting of your cult on the same day? If you’re a normal person, you reschedule. But normal people don’t tend to run cults, do they?” She tapped on the photo of Clay Baxter. “Mrs. Bishop remembered Mr. Baxter. So, she called him up and asked if he wouldn’t mind making an appearance. All he needed to do was dye his hair, put on some of Cavan Bishop’s clothes, and strut around on stage, proclaiming the end of days and all that nonsense, while you headed off to the seaside.”

“And that,” Tara said, “was when Rebecca Huxley screwed up their plans by killing Baxter.”

“Quite right,” Victoria said. “And you two panicked. You raced out of your hotel in the middle of the night, trying to find a way out of your problem that didn’t involve telling your flock the truth and losing all those lucrative DVD sales.” She looked at them. “I’ll give you this. It was very clever. Although the welts…” She shook her head. “I contend I was stumped for a while. Obviously not bullet wounds, but no makeup either. It was Tara that recognized them.”

“They were made by a rifle,” Tara said. “A paintball rifle, which you bought from a sporting goods shop.” She slapped a black-and-white photo onto the board. “We have the footage of you buying it and the transaction record. The shopkeeper was very cooperative.”

Cavan Bishop glared at his wife. “I told you,” he muttered. “I said it wouldn’t work!”

“Shut up!” she snapped. “We’re in enough trouble already.”

“That, of course, was the least of your mistakes,” Victoria continued. “The tans were the worst. In the video, you didn’t have it. Unless there’s a tanning salon in Heaven, you were clearly somewhere other than London – which was its usual grey when the shooting happened. That caused me to give your accounts a look, which showed you’d bought the rooms several months back – and also showed the withdrawals for Baxter’s payments.”

Neither Bishop said anything.

“And the height,” Victoria said. “Baxter was an inch shorter than you.”

“He wasn’t,” Mrs. Bishop protested. “He said on his CV.”

“It’s acting,” Tara said. “Everyone lies on their CV.”

“He wore padded shoes to cover it,” Victoria said. “But there’s a difference between a man with padded shoes and a man who’s an inch taller. The bullets hit a different point on his chest than they would have on yours. The big question was how you managed to go into the coffin a corpse and be dug up alive. The answer, of course, was that you didn’t.

“You were put into the coffin asleep. The coffin, with Baxter’s corpse in it, was put on the stage in the exact position of the lift you use for your disappearing tricks. I noticed a slight change in the carpet pattern. When everyone else left the room, Mrs. Bishop lowered the coffin beneath the stage, pulled the body out, and put you in. No doubt you’d taken a strong sedative to make sure you wouldn’t awkwardly scratch your nose and give the game away too soon. You were buried alive. The discovery was pre-arranged – with more than enough time to spare before you ran out of oxygen. After that, the only concern was hiding Baxter’s body.”

“The incense,” Tara said. “It kept anyone from noticing the smell.”

“Top marks, Tara,” Victoria replied. “Yes, the church was the best place to hide it. After the disappearance, of course, the body would be found – only further baffling the police and causing the believers to think that Bishop was indeed briefly resurrected before returning to the great Beyond. You, of course, would be off to another country, living nicely off those increased DVD and pamphlet sales.” She looked at the Bishops. “Well?”

“It’s not as if we’re murderers or anything,” Mrs. Bishop said. “Huxley killed Baxter, not us. All we did was–”

“Hide a corpse, conceal a man’s identity, and interfere with a police investigation,” Holmes said. He glowered the particular glower he reserved for criminals and people who looked at him funny in the pub. “Hardly a laughing matter.”

Barnett led them away. Holmes gave Tara and Victoria the closest he could muster to an approving look.

“Nice work,” he said.

“See that I’m kept out of the papers,” Victoria said.

Holmes nodded. “Always.”

Then he was gone. Probably, Tara thought, to organize a press conference about how he’d single-handedly solved the case.

“It’s better like this,” Victoria said. “A detective works best in the shadows. Easier to get answers with a whisper than a shout.” She smiled. “Besides, I’ll have my cheque either way.”

“How many other cases have you solved for them?” Tara asked.

Victoria shrugged. “I don’t like to brag. But I come when they call, provided the puzzle is interesting enough.”

“So, where to now?” Tara asked. “Back to Baker Street?”

“My job is done,” Victoria replied. “All that’s left is the paperwork and I’d rather leave that to all of you.”

Tara nodded and started to turn away. Then she looked back.

“The others… we usually go to the pub after we close a case,” Tara said. “And I was wondering if… You could come too. If you wanted to.”

Victoria looked puzzled, which was a first. Then she shook her head. “Pubs… aren’t really my thing. A little too…” She shrugged. “Everything.”

Tara nodded. “I get it.” She paused. “I know a good café. Much quieter.”

Victoria hesitated.

“I’ll pay,” Tara said.

“In that case,” Victoria replied, “lead on.”

They walked out into the rain-grey London night and all the puddles seemed full of stars.

 

END

— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: 

Thumbnail illustration for "The Consultant" Copyright (c) 2018 by LA Spooner.  Used under license.The Consultant.  By Tony Deans, Art by L.A. Spooner

Jackie was semi-retired.  You might say that he established himself in a new career after leaving the Force.  After someone used his son to get to him, Jackie handled the situation and then turned in his badge.  He gave up the badge and decided that you can’t stop the seedy underbelly of the city. All you can do is try to contain it.

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