The tempest stirs, the city trembles, a man dies of unnatural causes.
White knuckles tremble as two fists grasp the thin wooden rod used in traditional combat. Splinters. This weapon had been in use at West University for years and years and years. Seth was a second year student, brimming with charisma and blessed with a youthful complexion. It was he who gripped the rod with a menace and leered playfully across the court.
We're not children anymore. Jesse faced Seth, his rod held loosely by his side. Let's not play with toys.
Seth nodded and let his rod fall to the ground all a clutter.
At West University if someone wants something, they fight for it. No backing out. No shoes or shirts, only the muscles on your back and the fists and feet and teeth you bare like blades. And your splintered rod you wield without mercy. You fight in the courtyard, never without a crowd, always with a referree. The rules are; No killing. No breaking of the bones. If you call truce, a truce must be had, no exceptions. The winner is declared when the loser is incapable of standing of their own accord.
Jesse wanted to fight the way of the academics; No sticks to hide behind, just your wits, and your fists. Seth and Jesse were in the centre of the courtyard, on the fighting platform, and many of the students, and several academics were out in the courtyard to view the spectacle. Sticks lain aside, the two met in the centre of the platform, fists raised, ready to pump, pump, pump away at each other, a regular afternoon brawl. Jesse had a left hook that could bring down a buffalo. Seth was much smaller than a buffalo, and less hairy. Yet he was quick as a gun. The referree called the start of the match with a waver of his hand, and the audience grew nearer. Seth held his arms to his chest. He could feel the pulsing adrenaline rush through his body, and he was out of the reach of Jesse's left cannon almost before he began to pump it forth. He snuck in a quick one, two on the shoulder, mostly harmless, and then set his fists down to catch Jesse's swinging left foot.
Kick, punch, dodge, block. The two kept at their eclectic motions until they were swimming in sweat and buzzing with weariness. Jesse's nose was quite beat and bloodied, and his ribs were most likely heavily bruised. Seth had a nasty gash on the top of his head, bleeding quite excessively and swamping his hair in the thick, sticky consistency. And his knee was quite badly jarred. A truce was called, a moment taken to smear the blood from Seth's face and place a tape over Jesse's nose. To the audience witnessing this fight, it was just a regular afternoon.
I think the axle's warped, huffed Lenny Winters as he pulled his gyrowheel upright and limped heavily out of the bush.
He had been racing Buzz again down along the Mariam Ravine. If he had swerved the other way off his wheel, he would have tumbled over the ravine, and he wouldn't have seen the body down further, at the edge of the marshes.
Hey Buzz, get over here and take a look at this! He wandered further along the ravine, down to where the marshes were visible.
Lenny walked his gyrowheel along the ravine, Buzz motoring genlty beside, craning his neck to see what Lenny was so captivated by.
What is it? What am I looking for? Buzz asked in between his chortling on the throttle.
Down there at the edge of the marshes, it looks like a person's sleeping down there.
With that Buzz hammered the throttle and took his gyrowheel speeding down the ravine's edge, Lenny just pacing along behind with his wheel slightly askew. Even at mild speeds he wouldn't risk a little ride. He saw Buzz slide to a halt with the dust billowing up in his wake. He saw Buzz in the distance, walking up to the body and leaning over it. A moment later he staggered back and climbed back in his wheel, with a loud whine of the motor and another cascade of dust as he raced back up the ravine, back up to Lenny.
He's dead. Buzz said, his face flushed of its colour. We need to get back to the city.
Lenny knew when Buzz was joking, and this time he had no doubts when following him on the long hike back up to the city. The Mariam Ravine ran for kilometres down from the city out arind the valley. Occasionally some joker fell down and was never heard of until months later. Although there was no way of knowing how long the body had been lying near the swamp before Buzz and Lenny spotted him, it was too far down the ravine where the high and the low began to merge into one. It was no accident.
It was around midnight, one o'clock in the morning when the two made their way back along the ravine. Buzz putted along beside Lenny, who just wearily walked his wheel along. Mere minutes before, they'd been revelling in their regular thrills of slamming their wheels down along the ravine as fast as they could go, a regular rat race, dodging and weaving the rocks and thistle bushes that littered the cragged rock as it warped and zagged out over the valley. Upwards of 200 kilometres per hour, nothing made your chest swell quite like it. There was something about the aerodynamic costumes, the round-shouldered posture, the fibreglass helmets and tightly strapped leather goggles, it all just felt so amazing, like you could roar boastful as the shining brass vehicles you sat upon. That was Lenny and Buzz up until the crash in the thistle bush. And with each passing moment came a deep unsettling tension.
They didn't speak again until the ravine turned into the barren strip of land that ran to the city's South. Lenny sat back onto his gyrowheel and gently rode it up the strip back into the city. The faint glowing aura of Berwick's South suburbs growing nearer on the horizon.
The street lamps stuttered in the night time, casting broken light upon the twisted streets of the outer suburbs. The two young men walked their machines down the road, knowing full well that their night will grow ever more longer and ever more exhausting. They were headed for the police station, but they planned on dropping their gyrowheels by Lenny's autoshop on the way. It was a bit of a detour, but they'd be able to drive to the police in an auto from there. Almost anything would be better than lugging those bulky wheels through town. So they locked the wheels in the shed at the back of Lenny's and went into the garage to get the auto running. The tank was only filled half, so they linked the hose up to the hand pump to top it off. And then Lenny stoked the ignition, flicked on the headlamps, revved out the accelerator and then they were on the road. Five minutes down the road and they were at the police station trying their best to recall what the lifeless human shape looked like in the darkness.
One thirty in the morning is not the best time to receive phone calls. It was offiver Raymond Somerville again with yet another 'emergency'. Detective Casper Bernstein slipped on his evening shoes reluctantly and headed downstairs to make himself a coffee. No matter how urgent the emergency, the wake-up routine was still elementary. A well prepared mind a few moments late is always better than a fatigued mind on time, as Casper so frequently says. It was in fifteen minutes that he found himself in full uniform down at the station, taking the statements of two young midnight joyriders. He stifled a yawn in between sips of his second cup of morning juice. He held a pen loosely in his hand and watched the two, Buzz and Lenny, sitting at the small table in a room that smelled of fear.
Lenny spoke first. He told Casper about the race down the Mariam Ravine, about the crash, about the sleeping man down by the marshes. He said how Buzz went down there, came back and said the guy was dead.
Did you touch the body? Casper asked Buzz.
No. Why would I want to do that?
Curiosity. It happens. You see a guy, you might think he's sleeping. You poke him with a stick. You roll him over and you see half his intestines hanging out his front. Your bloody stick is bagged, tagged and put into evidence. You didn't touch him, all you got is your footprints and your tyre tracks and your words. What did you see?
Well, it was dark, but after Lenny fell, I slowed down. He rolled out of the thistles no more hurt than usual, and he's seen this guy sleeping, just like he said. So him having the busted wheel no good, I went down there ahead of him. He was gonna come down and see for himself, but when I got there, I didn't want him to see it. This was like no one could mistake him for a sleeping guy up close. I don't even want to tell you what I saw.
Try, please. It's important.
Okay. Well, first I notice, he is dead. He's been bleeding from a hole in the neck for a long time, I think. It was all dried like, and there was a lot of dark patches in the dirt and weed. Then I see there's something moving, crawling over him, and I think, maggots. He's been here so long, they've been eating at him and if I waited much longer, there wouldn't be much left of him. That's what I thought, but when I saw something crawling on him I just grabbed my wheel and got out of there real quick. Then I told Lenny he was dead and we came here.
We stopped by my autoshop to drop the wheels off and get the auto, Lenny said.
Is that everything? Casper asked.
Buzz and Lenny both responded with a curt nod.
Well, thank you for your time. I'll stay in contact if we need to go over anything again. Have a safe trip home.
He got to his feet and invited his interviewees out the door. And then the real business began.
Detective Casper Bernstein had been in his position for some fifteen years now, after serving loyally to the Berwick Police Academy for another ten years prior. His stature was all that dwelt within dreams of the officers fresh out of training, the Raymond Somervilles of the world. Yet it was often enough that Casper would find himself beneath mountains of assignments too sensitive for other men to touch. He was the pride of the academy, and with the pride came the duty. So he opened a file on this mystery death down near the marshes, and he stored the Butterworth/Winters interview therein. It was two o'clock when Casper drove down to the ravine to unpack the crime scene, with the officer on duty, Ray, standing in as his number two guy.