A mysterious death in a quarantined town plagued by constant sandstorms triggers a series of unexpected events.
Adams looked very dead indeed. His small room above the garage was spartanly decorated with a mattress by the window, an old oriental tapestry on the wall and a plate with a few sticks of incense. The added pool of blood on the floor, matched the red splashes on the walls and window panes.
“His head is almost cut off from…” started Faulkner. “We need to check everywhere to see if anyone breached the quarantine.”
“Faulkner, no one breached the quarantine. This is a cesspool. Who would want to come here and get contaminated?” Everyone turned to Beck. He was right.
Palmer laughed. “We have a murderer in town! This sounds like fun! Now, who did it, huh? Was it you and your pet axe?” And he pointed at the bus driver. “Or was it you?” And he pointed at the pilot, who frowned. “Or perhaps our dear intellectual downstairs, who is acting all upset and shocked, huh? What do you think?”
“I think we need to burry Mr. Adams,” said Sarah in a raspy voice.
“Yes, Sarah, you do that.” Carver grinned, and turned to walk back to his café while Beck, Faulkner, Palmer and Sarah took a step back. They all carried a gun and they would not hesitate to use it if that meant staying alive and not ending up like Adams.
The burial proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Palmer offered to take care of it by himself, but everyone wanted to make sure Adams was indeed buried and not chopped in pieces and burnt. The gravedigger had recently taken to a bit of carving and churning when he decided the ground got too hard and dry for him to dig a hole. Disturbingly enough, he seemed to enjoy it.
“We all know that Beck had a quarrel with Adams for a long time,” started Andrews.
“That’s ridiculous,” replied Beck. “We are here to bury the man.”
“Yes, but perhaps we can have two burials instead of one,” mumbled Palmer licking his lips and rotating the ring in his finger.
“Shut up, gravedigger,” snapped Beck. “This is not the time.”
“When is the time? This is the perfect time. We are gathered here to bury this man, may God have mercy on James Adams’s soul and all that,” continued Palmer.
The pilot, the theater manager, the cook and Sarah stood in silence by the grave struggling to keep the sandy cold wind from their eyes.
“Great, now everyone thinks I killed Adams. Why would I kill him? We have to live here, in this forsaken place. Do you think I wouldn’t have chosen to leave? I wasn’t given that chance. I had the virus, just like all of you. I had to stay. I couldn’t care less about Adams and his overpricing. It’s not like we are in great need of fixing buses now, is it?” Beck looked from one to the other in a desperate attempt to determine who his allies were. “And if it’s because of something as trivial as having an axe, well, Faulkner also has an axe.”
“No, I don’t,” replied the pilot looking affronted. “You’re free to check my place, if you like.”
“Yes, you do. You have it hidden in the control booth by the manhole, not at the heliport.”
This could be a big problem, thought Sarah.
A heavy silence over rid the swooshing of the wind.
“Accusations won’t help us now,” said Sarah.
“Yes, accusations won’t help us now, but they can be fun,” threw the gravedigger.
“Don’t be pathetic, Palmer,” said Andrews growing more and more agitated.
And that put an end to the joyous event.
Around lunch time the next day, Faulkner trotted up the hillside calling for Sarah. Beck hadn’t shown up and they were organizing a search. Why they called her was a mystery to Sarah. She wasn’t particularly skilful or athletic. She wasn’t particularly friendly either.
“Mr. Beck probably decided to take some time off and is hiding in the mine or in one of the caves.”
She was at least half the age of these men and she had known them all her life. Each one of them had come to town to make money, even Andrews who saw the opportunity of managing a theater as a promotion from being a run-down unsuccessful actor.
All of them, at one point or another had taken a keen interest in Sarah’s mother, Mathilda Fairchild. Mathilda was a beautiful woman who traded the big city and a good job, for a small post as an engineer in a fast-growing town. She believed she could make a difference; she believed that what they were mining would revolutionize the world’s energy supplies.
They searched for the bus driver the whole day, even in the lighthouse which would be an odd place for him to hide considering he suffered from vertigo. As the day reached an end and night prepared to take over, Carver, leaning against the side of the bus and cleaning his nails with a long sharp knife, pointed at the road.
A short trail of blood, barely visible, was seeping into the manhole.
“Oh, for God’s sake, why didn’t we see this before?” asked Andrews alarmed. “The torch.”
Palmer stuck the torch in the entrance of the manhole, and there he was. “Oh, shit…”
“This is getting weird. Two deaths in two days,” said Andrews, his voice trembled as nervously as his hands. “What the hell is going on here?”
He didn’t seem so composed and intellectual now, thought Sarah.
Palmer was used to dealing with the dead, so, he jumped in and pushed Beck’s body out of the manhole, and then he did the same with his head. “Another axe,” grunted the gravedigger. “No knife could do this.”
“We better get some facts straight,” said Sarah.
Carver grinned. “Yes, Sarah, we better. I think Edward Beck would appreciate that.”
After the burial, they gathered at the café. The street lights had long been off at night and an eerie feeling crept down Sarah’s back. At this time, she was usually tucked in her secret crevice up on the hillside slope where no one could find her. It took her months to dig that hole and if anyone tried to get to her while she was sleeping, she would hear the cracking of the wooden floor in her hut. She kept a mattress, a table, a chair and a few items out in the hut to make it look lived-in.
“Tell me, Faulkner, what did you and Beck see in the road,” asked Palmer. “Yeah, because I am close to the road too and I didn’t see anything strange.”
“Forget about that. Beck was a nut. He always dropped by the heliport and rummaged through my stuff looking for booze.” When the pilot tested positive for the virus and the heliport was deactivated, he refused to live elsewhere but in the small office that was once the control room with nothing but a cot, a table and a furnace. “Besides, what we saw was probably the result of energy residue being blow off from the mine.”
“It’s sealed,” retorted Palmer.
“No, it’s not. I have hidden a few things in there. You can crawl in through the boulders.”
“Well, well, haven’t we been exploring,” said Carver. He grabbed one of his butchering knives and stabbed the table by the record-player with it.
“That’s not important now, Mr. Carver. In both deaths an axe was used. I agree with Mr. Palmer. I don’t think a knife would be able to do that amount of damage. The cuts would’ve been a lot blunter.”
Carver sneered. “Adams had an axe, but I think we can exclude him from the list of suspects now.”
Andrews nodded, defeated. The cook chuckled.
“Mr. Faulkner also has an axe, don’t you?” Sarah asked, motioning everyone to look at the pilot.
“I… that axe is not mine.”
“In that case, you might want to explain how you chop the wood for your furnace. You’re not getting it from the forest of trees since there is no forest and there are no trees,” snapped Carver ironically.
“No, I am getting it from the mine supplies.”
“Exactly. They don’t come chopped in smaller pieces, Mr. Faulkner.”
“You are all crazy,” said the pilot, looking around the room.
“Who would want to kill Beck? Why?” Andrews joined in animated by the comforting prospect of having a culprit clearly identified.
“I couldn’t care less about Beck,” protested Faulkner.
“You said it yourself, he rummaged through your things,” murmured Sarah. “It seems pretty obvious to me. Revenge.”
“Revenge? Sarah, you have known me all your life. Have I ever stricken you as a revengeful type of guy? All I care for is to enjoy life. Live and let live.”
Sarah was staring down, dragging the tip of her boot through the dust on the floor. The scratchy sound slowly drew a semi circle. Enjoy life, yes. She knew that all too well.
“Where are we going to lock him up?” asked Palmer rubbing his hands in anticipation. He was visibly enjoying this whole commotion.
“What? No one is going to lock me up!”
“Shut up, Faulkner. Let me think.” The cook paced back and forth behind the counter. “We should lock him up in the mine.”
Palmer chuckled. “Yeah, tomorrow he’ll glow.” The others chuckled as well, not Sarah and Faulkner.
“No, we don’t have the machines to close the mine,” whispered Sarah.
“In the manhole then. That’s where he stuck Beck. It seems fitting,” suggested Andrews triggering a wave of surprise. The peaceful theater manager had a mean streak in him after all.
There was no stopping them. Faulkner got dragged out into the road, past the cemetery, the bus and his heliport. The manhole was closed and barred with a colossal boulder that only Palmer was able to roll down all the way from the edge of the mine.
The pilot would never be able to escape the manhole or the cold in it, but no one seemed to be bothered by that. They would sleep in peace this night, finally.