Prompt: Forbidden Places | Word Count: 1800 exactly | Genre: Crime fiction
Warning: Crude language, implied violence
Ruby is dead. The police knock at the door at 7.32 am. Two minutes after my alarm has gone off. I am a creature of habit. My alarm always goes off at the same time, unless I have to be somewhere. I also always make sure my phone is fully charged and the time is accurate.
My first thought is that the pesky Frenchman, one of our flatmates, has forgotten his key again. I never liked him. I remember well the first day I met him. I was the newbie and trying to win people over with my sense of humour. That pesky Frenchman had an accent that was almost comically stereotypical. ‘But, I am Belgian’, he said, every time someone called him a Frenchie. ‘Yea, whatever’, I thought to myself. But being the polite gentleman that I am, I obliged and asked: “Really? Whereabouts in Belgium are you from?” To which he replied [Dear reader, please read this in a French accent]: “I have spent a long time living in Bruges.” “In Bruges?!?” I burst out. I just couldn’t help myself. But Frenchie did not laugh. That is how stuck up he is. Or maybe he just hadn’t seen the movie.
Anyway, as it turns out, it is not old Frenchie at all who knocks on the door. It is the police. Oh, dear reader, I am repeating myself, but I am so upset that Ruby is dead. I cannot think clearly. Ruby had been one of the pleasant surprises when I first moved to this town, to this flat, last winter on my grand tour of the antipodes. She was sitting at the kitchen table eating pumpkin soup, smiling at me. I knew, I loved her then.
“I regret to inform you that Ms Ruby Ackroyd has been found deceased in the vicinity of the town hot pools, in the restricted area.” the plain clothes police inspector says in a tone-deaf voice. No empathy at all that chap. My head starts to spin. I am beginning to tumble backwards, but manage to make it all the way to the kitchen and onto a chair. Ruby’s chair. The one she usually sits on at dinner time, feet tucked under her legs.
The hot pools? I repeatedly told her not to take the shortcut through the park at night. We sometimes joked about the local Maori myth about a taniwha, a legendary water monster for those of you who are not local, who had risen from one of the waterholes there to snatch Kuirau, wife of Tamahika. Ruby has a thing for mythology. Legend has it that the water, had been normal temperature originally, but that the gods heated it up to make the taniwha release the woman. Unfortunately, that had killed the woman. Gods are not known for their subtlety. For some reason the gods left the temperature at 95 degrees. As a warning for all wife snatchers, I guess.
Anyway. This place is tapu. A no-go zone. Taniwha or not. And she knows it. Ruby knows to tread carefully. It is dark. It is lonely. It is treacherous. One false move and you’ll trip and end up in boiling water. Literally.
“She was found face down in the sulphurous pool. The one that is near boiling point”, the inspector continues. “She must have stumbled in the dark. I told her not to go there,” I said in a resigned voice. To which the inspector says: “We also have found some bruising on her face that she suffered prior to her fall. And there was also blunt trauma to her head. We assume from some kind of club, maybe a cricket bat.”
I told her, I told her not to go there at night. It’s not safe, I told her. Especially without me being there to protect her. If my face shows anything at this moment it is desperation.
“We have established that she left her work at the bar at 10 o’clock. Her walk home usually takes about 30 minutes, would you say?”, the inspector asks me. “About that”, I reply thoughtfully. “But sometimes she goes for a quick drink with her workmates. As if working in a bar wasn’t enough.” A bitter burst of laughter escapes my throat. The inspector: “We will check this out.”
I’ve heard rumours about this inspector before. He is supposed to be a grumpy old bastard. But dedicated. Apparently, he drives into work every morning all the way from Raglan, a coastal village two hours away. Well, if that isn’t dedication.
We often talked into the night, Ruby and I. She told me how she loved it here, but often thought back to her home in England. When the homesickness got too much for her, she pictured herself in her favourite place back home, a clearing amid oak trees on a balmy late summer evening, the last rays of sunshine illuminating the leaves showing a first tinge of red.
We became an item relatively quickly. She was a bit reluctant at first, but she soon fell for my charm and good looks. Much to the indignation of old Frenchie. He too, had an eye on my dear Ruby. But I know for a fact that he crept the hell out of her. Always gallivanting around her. Her Lord Protector. I even caught him peeping through the keyhole in the bathroom door one time, when Ruby was having a shower. He is a creep alright with his hipster beard and his fancy pants accent. Although, he denied having been anywhere near the bathroom door. For sure. I mean, who would you believe, dear reader, a devilishly handsome man like me or dirty old Frenchie, or Belgie or whatever? And then there is his obsession with pumpkins. He grows them in the garden and makes soup from them. I can’t stand pumpkin soup. I’m not even sure what he does for a job. I think it is some kind of legal consultancy work.
All in all, we all get along well in our flat. It is a rather large house with six flatmates, most of them seasonal workers or backpackers like me. We have the occasional game of backyard cricket. I’m quite a good batsman, they say. Left handed, which makes my moves hard to predict.
The inspector asks my alibi for last night. I look at him in disbelief. My poor Ruby is dead. Can’t he see my grief?
I light a cigarette. Since I have to go into town anyway, I take the inspector to the tattoo studio, where I spent yesterday evening. Rog, the tattooist is there already. Does this man never sleep? He is the type that has to earn your trust first. Frazzled, but obscenely good at his job. He has been working on my tattoo for a couple of weeks now. Many a late night.
The inspector asks Rog, what time I had left the tattoo studio last night. “It was quite late, wasn’t it, bro? Much later than I thought. But time flies, when you’re having fun, eh Bro? My phone had run out of juice again, I’m terrible at charging it. Ain’t I bro?” I nodded in agreement. “Anyway. I remember asking you what time it was, as … you know … my phone … no juice. And you showed me your phone and it was 11 o’clock. Man, I didn’t think it was that late. But, as I said, time flies … . So we called it a night and I went home and straight to bed. Out like a light.” Rog can go on and on. Luckily, his hand is a lot steadier than his mind.
Ruby was so excited about me getting a tattoo. But I did not tell her what it would be a tattoo of. In the early stages it was hard to tell and I wanted it to be a surprise. Ruby and I were made for one another. But sometimes we both needed reminding. Sure, we had our differences. But in the end, I always forgave her. I had great plans for our future. I would take her back to Europe and live with her happily ever after. Who knows, I may have even taken her back to that fancy oak clearing she had been on about.
Nothing makes sense anymore now that I have lost Ruby. In a way, I am convinced that Frenchie has done her in. I saw them put their heads together like they had a secret. As soon as I alerted them to my presence, they rushed apart and Ruby had a look of guilt on her face. Once, I even heard him whisper to her [Read this in a terrible French accent, dear reader]: “It will all be well, dearest Ruby. Don’t you worry. I’ll make sure of it”. Talk about creepy. It made me mad. He knew perfectly well that she was mine.
But no, Frenchie had to barge in. I tried to talk sense into Ruby, but it was so hard to make her listen to me. I only wanted the best for her. And the best thing for her was to be by my side. Now Ruby is dead and he is going to pay for it.
I also tell the inspector about my suspicions regarding crooked Frenchie on his way out. He says he has to follow up on a few lines of inquiry today but promises me to have a good chat with Hercule, I mean Frenchie, tomorrow. That puts my mind at ease. It gives me the opportunity to think things through.
I head to the shed. The rat poison is on the highest shelf, behind the pumpkin fertiliser. Rat poison for a rat. Frenchie always leaves his laptop lying around. No password. The stupid twat. I put on the rubber gloves we use to wash the dishes and start typing. ‘Confession … Blah blah … Unrequited love … Blah blah … Oh, Ruby … Cannot live like this anymore. Cannot stand the thought of a world without you in it. Had to make it right … Blah blah … I am so sorry. Goodbye cruel world. … etc … File under Last Will and Testament. Save! Put laptop back where it belongs.
And now to tamper with some pumpkin soup. With pumpkin season being so long ago, the soup will naturally be tasting foul by now. Easy peasy.
Tomorrow I am relocating down south. It’s apple picking season and I will be one seasonal worker among many. The anonymity will do me good. But tonight, I am going to see Rog for the last time. The tattoo is so close to completion. It is my own design. A taniwha that runs down my left arm, my batting arm. In its claw a red jewel.
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