A Lifetime Between Daylights

For two long, glorious weeks in New Zealand David Brown lives without thinking. He hikes, he fishes, he marvels at so much beauty in such a small space. He avoids newspapers, radios, televisions, computers, phones, anything that would connect him to the world, to other people. He can’t quite avoid everyone, but he keeps his interactions to the absolute minimum. When he says something, people are surprised at his accent. It’s all very soothing. He’s sleeping more, almost four hours a night; it feels sinful, indulgent. An orgy of sleep.

Of course it can’t last. He’s hiking through the mountains feeling almost human again when he comes across the body, soaking wet from the spray of a waterfall. He knows it’s dead as soon as he sees it, right in his gut, doesn’t need to roll it over and look for what killed it, though he does, anyway, because what else can he do? He writes down everything he can for the police in Wellington.

He doesn’t get any sleep that night. In the susurrus of the city he hears a waterfall; the summer sweat on his face feels like so much spray on the face of a young woman dying in the mountains.

Undisturbed Pools

Insomnia was an ongoing problem. Brown got, maybe, on a good night, two or three hours of sleep. By long-standing arrangement he had access to the pool at all hours of the night. Floating there and listening to the 3 AM traffic soothed him. For hours he could stay like that, his mind a white and restful blank. On Friday there was another floater in the pool, down where the shadows gather over the deep end. No matter, as long as they were quiet.

The rising sun took him out of the pool. With the light filling the room, he could see the other person was floating facedown. “Hell, not again,” he sighed, and went to get the hotel detective.

“Best guess is he died about ten, eleven o’clock at night, after the pool’d closed. He was dead the entire time you were down here?” The police were dredging the pool, and skeptical. “And you didn’t notice?”

“Just glad he was quiet.” All the long vees of his face grew longer. He was hoping.

The detective grunted. “Well, early tox reports say he’s got a high concentration of barbiturates and alcohol in his blood. Don’t leave town, and stay where we can reach you, but it looks like suicide. We’ll know for sure after the autopsy.”

He kept himself quiet until after they’d gone, and told himself that this time he’d just stay in his room, catch up on his reading. During the midday movie he fugued. When he resurfaced, his hand was holding the phone to his ear.

“Hello?” said the voice on the other end. “Homicide.”

The Humility that Flesh Inherits

More or less for Stephen

He was a thin, beaky man, with a long hooked nose and heavy-lidded, fleshless eyes that he kept hidden behind a pair of reflective peepers. The light, dim and uncertain as it was in the plane, hurt his eyes. He had hair like a bottle-brush, black and wiry and thinning at the temples. He ran his hands through it and sighed.

“Can’t sleep either?” said the man sitting next to him. He was wearing a bright purple t-shirt with the name of a college in white across the chest.


“I said, can’t you sleep? I can never sleep on planes. Makes these overnight flights awful, I know. Nothing seems to help, not pills, not booze, not anything. Hey, I don’t suppose you have any cards, do you? We could play couple of hands of something.”

“No, sorry.”

“Oh, too bad. What’s your name? Mine’s Sextus, Tertullian Sextus. Kind of a strange name, I know.”

“David Brown.”

“Have you been to Europe before?” Sextus said Europe like it was all one place.

“No, this was my first time.”

“Yeah, mine too. You go with anybody? A tour group or anything? I didn’t. I mean, they say it’s better if you don’t, and I thought, well, I’ve never really wanted to listen to other people tell me about history, I’d rather just wander around and find things for myself, anyway. You miss a lot of things that way, but you see a lot of things you wouldn’t see if you were stuck with a bunch of other Americans. Why were you there, if… if it’s not impolite?”

“It’s all right. For my health. I was trying to… recuperate.”

“Doesn’t look like it did you much good. No offense, but you look pretty strung out.”

“No. Things were… less restful than I’d hoped.” Mountain air, peaks against the sky like calligraphy, blood on the snow. “It ended up being too much of a working vacation.” The small cabin at the top of the hill, Dr. Sarsefield’s gun, talking, talking, talking, trying to buy time…

“That’s too bad. What do you do? I’m in college, but you probably guessed that.”

He smiled wanly. “I’m a police detective. Homicide.”

“No shit, really? Oh, sorry. So you were doing paperwork or…?” So tactful in the big things, so clumsy in the little things.

“No. There… No.” When Sextus opened his mouth, he raised a limp hand to forestall the flood of talk. “Excuse me. I get tired so easily. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll try to sleep.”

“Oh! Sure, sure. Sorry, I shouldn’t have kept you awake. Take her easy, mister.”

Brown turned his face to the window but behind the glasses he kept seeing the murder play out as he’d figured it must have. When the doctor lay bleeding out into the snow he’d give an internal little cough and the scene would play over again. Sordid dreams of money, high above the Atlantic.