Delafield

Delafield tells herself she’s one of the good ones. By the book, keeps her nose clean, stays on the right side of the code. “It’s important to have a code,” she says. “I’ve seen what happens to cops who start to put their own beliefs, their own desires for justice, ahead of the sure working of the process. Trust to the process, I say.”

The murder suspect she’s currently knuckle deep inside of sighs happily, and clutches at her shoulders. “Oh, Kate,” she murmurs.

“It’s just—” Delafield starts at the suspect’s collarbone and works her way slowly down, over curve of breast and swoop of belly, enjoying the flex of muscle beneath her. “—once you step off that path, you’re lost, and it always always comes back to bite you.” She nibbles delicately at one soft thigh, and the suspect inhales sharply. “You understand. You’ve got your own code.”

The crowd had left the lecture hall twenty minutes ago, and the only sound in the vast cavern of the auditorium is the hum of the lights and the soft sound of their breathing. “Come home with me,” says the suspect, and Delafield draws back, affronted.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she snaps. “I have a wife.

Who Trusts Himself Trusts A Fool

Buzz opens the door to the study without knocking, one of a half-hundred things he does that infuriates the old doctor. “Doc?” he sings out. “You in here?”

“Well, who the hell else were you expecting,” growls Dr. Philips.

“Now don’t be like that, old man, you know it’s bad for your heart.” Buzz settles himself lazily into a recliner and helps himself to some of the brandy. “Mind if I bend your ear for a second?” The doctor glowers at him, but he sails on, unabashed. “You see, I seem to have stolen some of the bank’s money, and I—”

Thump of glass hitting carpet as Dr. Philips drops his snifter. “You did what?

“Stolen, ah, some of the bank’s money, do keep up—”

“How much?”

“Oh, rather all of it, I suppose. Most of it in dribs and drabs, but with the audit coming up, I knew the balloon was going to pop sooner rather than later, so I cleaned out the rest of the vault today. Hrm, maybe three, three and a half million?” He grins happily. “Now, take it easy, take it easy, remember your heart!”

“By god, I won’t stand for this,” the old man manages, as he reaches for the phone. “If you think I’ll sit here and listen to you—”

“Oh, well, if that’s the way you feel, dear heart, you go right ahead, but I’d have thought you cared more for your daughter than that.”

Long, dangerous pause with his finger on the dial. “What does Sylvia have to do with this?”

Buzz laughs delightedly. “Why, nothing directly, but my goodness, what a scandal! To have her name dragged all through the papers like that? ‘Husband of Society Heiress on Trial for Embezzlement’? Why, she’d never live it down, you know she wouldn’t.” He swallows brandy, eyes cold and still above the rim. “No, better to hush it all up quietly, don’t you think? Now, if you give me the three and a half million, I can put it back in the vault with no one the wiser, and surely that’s cheap for peace of mind, don’t you think? Your heart, old man!”

Procedural Generation

Up to her wrists in soapy water and dirty dishes, Agatha contemplates murder.

All the many poisons, arsenic, cyanide, curare, or the simpler, easier poisons from a household garden: pink rhododendron pollen in the honey, wild white hemlock in the pickle jar, delicate indigo wolfsbane. She rejects the too common, the too easily traced, but also the truly obscure, the impossible to prove. There must be a thread between the corpse and the killer, some tangible clew trailing through the labyrinth.

Guns, too: widely available, notionally controlled but easy to circumvent. Stolen from a friend, a lover, an enemy, the victim itself; borrowed from an acquaintance for self-protection; removed from the back seat of a cop car or the bathroom of a Baptist church. Bullets can be traced, so that’s fair; the gun itself can be found or hidden, thrown into a river, a lake, the sea, buried in some dumpster, tossed in a sewer or hidden under a pillow. The chrism of gunpowder on hands and chest, propellant and primer.

She figures the moment of opportunity, the tempting cliff edge, the convenient stairs, the car accident, the passing train. The unseen witness, the passerby with a memory for faces, the gas station attendant, the paperboy driving by at 3 in the morning, yawning deep in her chest, the flash of headlights on a shocked and bloodless face.

Bootleg

The Client
Someone close, but not too close. Someone the Great Detective knows well — an old friend, a forgotten lover, a favorite tradesperson, a former coworker — needs help. Not an innocent; they stepped outside the bounds of society out of greed or need or love and now they’re caught with their foot in the trap. Of course he’ll take the case.

The Mystery
Violence and the threat of violence hang in the air. The Great Detective is discomfited; this hits closer to home. Heavy footfalls echo off the walls of the alleyways he turns down; a sleek black car hops the curb and brushes against the hem of his coat. His Archnemesis is playing for keeps this time; the game has grown suddenly serious. The client is killed or kidnapped or beaten into a coma; something horrific that takes them out of the story and raises the stakes.

The Solution
Too late for the client, but the Great Detective has put the pieces together, pulled back the lid on the city’s seamy underbelly, revealing an elaborate network of crime operating with the implied blessing of the police, the courts, the wealthy; so long as they limit their depredations to the poorer sort, it’s not worth interfering. The Great Detective calls in his Lestrade to bring down the crime ring.

The Escalation
The leaders of the crime ring all die in their cells. Suicide is a plague in the prisons, say the cops, and cough mockingly into their sleeves. A check arrives by mail; for services rendered says the memo.

The Resolution
The Great Detective keeps pushing; Lestrade takes a leave of absence. He holds His Archnemesis at gunpoint, I know it was you. His Archnemesis laughs; you think I could do this all on my own? Give me a name, says the Great Detective. A shot rings out; the window shatters; the smell of gas in the apartment.

When he wakes, there are flowers by his hospital bed, signed by the richest man in town. Best wishes, they say, for services rendered.

The Cook

The Great Detective sleeps on the third floor, and the Other Detective on the second, and the Cook sleeps in the basement. A quiet man, it suits him; the windows are high against the ceiling and the light is filtered through the murmur of the city streets. He goes up to the third floor every morning, carrying breakfast to the Great Detective on a tray, but he has not been to the fourth floor in years. He knows what lives up there, in careful, tidy rows, in rooms cool and moderate and torrid; there was a time he marinated in that glory, but not now. There was a time too when he burned like a bachelor’s souffle for the Great Detective, but not for years, and not now.

The Other Detective he sees most days, partners in commiseration, brother wives in a house where music seldom plays, in the kitchen or the office; not infrequently in his basement rooms that, like every other, are soundproofed and discreet. Old friends, they are casual with each other, with their names and their loves and their bodies. The cook does not cloister himself within the house — he is not eccentric in his genius — but nevertheless his mind has risen with the yeast of years to fit its shape.

He does not like crime, and will not talk about it. There is always another body, another rule broken, another flurry of activity to come, but such moments can only be measured against the quiet, unbroken, remorseless tender of his craft.