21 - Composite

“My name is Eileen Papadoukis. I run the shop on Halsey Road.”

“Jasper Green. 67 Halsey Road. Date of birth, 10th October 1951.”

“Navinder Chakravarti. N-A-V-I-N-D-E-R C-H-A-K-R-A-V-A-R-T-I.”

Tell me what happened, so the spirit can find justice and there can be peace in the universe. 

“It was about quarter to twelve.”

“It was mid-day.”

“I don’t have a watch.”

Time is relative. Perhaps there is a black hole on the corner of Halsey Road and Rochester Avenue. That would account for the relative time dilation. See here, on the outer arm of the Andromeda Galaxy. It could be just like this. Do you see?

“I saw a man, young man, come walk past the shop. He was staggering, like he was drunk.”

“You could tell that there was something wrong with him, you know?”

“Yeah, I saw him, but he looked OK, far as I could tell.”

This is Terry Hollins. We know him. We know what he looks like. Now his mortal form has died, but his energy lives on in other forms. He’s here with us now, listening. Have a seat, Tel. Tell. Tell us about the other man.

“He bump into someone, just on the way past.”

“I don’t think the boy meant anything by it.”

“He started it, though, calling the guy a… y’know.”

Ah, and the timelines diverge. Reality expands and contracts as Terry Hollins minds his own business and starts some shit all at once.

“Wrong person to pick on, because he don’t take none.”

“The lad just brushed past, but straight away, he’s on him.”

“Chased after him, he did, saying ‘you f-er, what the f’ and all.”

Tell me about him. What did he look like?

“I don’t know. What do they all look like?”

“He was white.”

“Seemed like Turkish or Armenian or something.”

“Or maybe middle eastern.”

“Not Greek. I’ll tell you that.”

The suspect’s face strobes slowly through a range of colours, his features still indistinguishable as the pores of his skin buckle and pulse. The tone of his flesh changes, never settling on a single hue. That’s OK. That will come in time. Need details, other details.

“He was about my height. What? 6 foot 2.”

“I’d say… average. About 5’9”.”

“Who can say? Taller than me, but most people are.”

We’re looking for someone with a concertina for a spine. In addition to the chameleonic skin, this perpetrator is able to vary his height within a range of at least a foot. The boys down in forensics posit that this is probably due to some kind of hollow cartilage that allows him to extend his body, not unlike the ribcage of a mouse.

“Wearing one of those hood things. Black.”

“Blue t-shirt with a logo. No, I don’t know what one.”

“Dark red tracksuit. Adidas one, I think, with the stripes on the arms.”

The flickering hues of the clothes clash with the flurry of his skin. It’s difficult to keep watching, but I must. I have to get to the truth. Even though the details make no sense, they help me to get closer.

“He ran over to the other guy and grabbed him by the arm.”

“Didn’t move, just called after him and told him to come back.”

“Slapped the back of his head, he did.”

He can stand still and run at the same time. I think we might be dealing with an extra-dimensional being. A creature that exists in all aspects of the multiverse, able to cross and merge them at will. Either that, or he has very long arms, like an octopus. Which is more plausible? Multiple arms or multiple universes? I’m not sure which is more terrifying. Oh god, what if both are true?

“The drunk boy didn’t even feel it. He kept walking.”

“When they stood there, face to face, that’s when I thought ‘oh boy, here’s trouble’.”

“He was trying to get away, but the guy wouldn’t let go.”

I’ve read the autopsy report on Terry Hollins several times and nowhere - nowhere - does it say anything about him having two faces. None of his family mentioned it either, not even in a figurative sense. So where does this confusion about which way they were facing come? I’m thinking of putting out a warrant for Janus, the Roman god of transitions. Is he an accomplice. Or is he here in the room with us. He had two faces, not three, but who’s to say how many visages can hide under a hoodie? This is difficult. I can’t get sidetracked by the possibility that Hollins is a Roman god. Focus on the perpetrator. Look at the photofits. See where they match.

Eyes far apart

Flat nose.

High brow.

Beady eyes.

Beard, but a thin one.

Crooked chin.

Pointed nose. 

Clean shaven. Definitely.

And the details just don’t match up. He has more facial features than a Guess Who? board, flipping and flapping the tiles over again and again without any sort of endgame. His face pulls apart and pushes together like a print on elastic, stretching and kneading without ever settling into a defined identity. This, combined with the flickering skin tone and the rapidly changing colour and shape of his clothes make him hard to miss, but impossible to watch. Still, they try their best to relate the actions of this fitful creature and we should be grateful for that.

“And then he spin him round and hit him, woosh, right in the tummy.”

“I thought it was just a punch at first. I didn’t see the knife.”

“I thought the guy was weak, going down so easily.”

“Then I saw the blood and I knew.”

“I heard them screaming at each other, but I stayed in the shop.”

“When he fell to the floor, I realised what had happened.”

“I thought he dropped the knife.”

“I didn’t see any knife.”

“He took it with him.”

We didn’t find a knife. Now that I’m lookiing at our suspect, our terrible, multifaceted thing, I’m wondering if there really was any kind of blade, or if there’s a retractable claw in one of those many arms of his. Is this what the constant state of change is concealing - the true form of the killer, with flailing limbs to distract and then a razor sharp barb that protrudes from his form, into your flesh and then back into the hidden tendrils? I feel water all around me, the brine stinging my eyes and making it even more difficult to see. 

“He ran off towards the station.”

“He shouted something as the boy lay on the floor, then went in the direction of the park.”

“Fucking guy kicked him when he was down. Then he walked towards the estate.”

The current is strong, pulling in different directions at once. The foam crashes over me, but the worst part is the undertow. I can’t keep my head above water. The darkness is too strong. I can feel that flittering, flashing, changing thing in the waster beside me and all I want is something to hold on to, something to keep me above water, but the darkness is everywhere.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“That’s what I saw. Definitely.”

“I’m old, but I’m not stupid, you know?”

Nothing is solid. It’s all liquid. I just want something to hang on to, something to keep me from going under. The salt water is in my mouth and up my nose. I’m not sure my heart is still beating. The darkness is all encompassing, but… I think I hear something… a bell… tolling again and again, in time with the shifting tides. A buoy, rocking back and forth on the water, offers salvation. Swim towards it. You can do this. Just a bit further…

Durban opened his eyes and stared at the coffee table in front of him. He and Carol had chosen it together, but he had never liked it. Nevertheless, it was a real thing. He leant forward and touched it, just to be sure. As his fingers grazed the surface, a chime emanated from his mobile phone. Durban stared at the illuminated screen and even though he had only the faintest notion of how to use his fingers, he answered the call.

“Hello?” he asked cautiously.

“John? It’s Pierson.”

Pierson. That name used to mean something.

“Pierson, we’re looking for an octopus,” Durban said. “He killed Terry Hollins.”

“What was that, John?”

Durban looked around at the debris scattered on the coffee table: the open case file, the glass pipe and the leftover crystals scattered on the table. This wasn’t the first time he had used Dimethyltryptamine as a means of expanding his thinking, but it might be the last time for a while. He was a firm believer in using hallucinogens to expand his thinking, and the DMT was quicker and more direct than other psychedelics, things were getting weird and he wasn’t sure he liked where the compound was taking him.

“Nothing,” Durban said, as he stopped the three dictaphones running on the table. He didn’t want them to start again and for Pierson to hear them. “I fell asleep on the sofa. What’s up? Any developments?”

“Not with Hollins, no,” Pierson said. “Something else. You remember the body in the salt bin a couple of months ago?”

“Of course.”

“Just got a call from CID in Aberdeen. They found another one.”

Durban had the sudden feeling of disassociation and was sure for a moment that he was still tripping.

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yeah. Same thing. Knife wound, body dumped in a salt bin. Don’t know for sure there’s a connection, but…”

“But it would be a hell of a coincidence.”

No such thing as coincidence, a voice from the dark whispered to Durban. Just the tendrils of the squid, moving through the water…

He pushed the voice below.

“What happens now?” Durban asked.

“Nothing, as of yet. We’re sharing information. Just thought you’d want to know.”

“Yeah. I mean, of course.”

“We’ll talk about it more tomorrow, OK.”

“Yeah. Sure thing.”

They hung up without saying goodbye. Durban sat in silence for a while, trying to process what had happened. He stared at the walls, trying to see the patterns that had been so clear to him just moments ago.

But they weren’t there any more.