Detective Inspector George Lentus looked at the ghost of his sister, sat in the chair exactly opposite him, and breathed out a deeply sad sigh. She'd always had something to say; always had an opinion. Her delicate, young, almost childlike face had always seemed to contradict the wisdom and fierce opinions she hadn’t been scared to vocalise. Even now, it seemed, death wasn’t going to be holding her back when it came to voicing them.
He’d always loved Polly’s spirit, admired how much fight she had in her while he was so socially inept, so unable to comfortably debate, to discuss. To converse, even, at times. He was so shamefully stunted, needing to adopt an invisible mask to get by. She was so full of vitality and life.
Was. Past tense. To be used correctly. He still had to remind himself.
His beautiful and candid dead sister, Polly, spat out the eight fingers and two thumbs that signalled the onslaught of her talking. It was an idiosyncrasy she had developed posthumously, and one that Lentus was sure he would never get used to.
‘Lenny, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. It wasn’t that bad,’ she assured him.
Gravity always took the fingers, the thumbs. Every single time she spoke. Flakes of dried blood drifted once more to the floor, resting by her feet; one bare and one with a shoe still on it. She had been dead now four years, four months, two weeks and a day. So much had happened since that bastard had killed her and left her lying in the waste ground with her mouth full of her cut off fingers and thumbs. Lentus had nearly had him. He often wondered if she would remain after he caught her murderer. He also wondered if he wanted her to. On that conundrum, he was torn.
Of course, she wasn’t actually there. Lentus always told himself that. That was a self-preservation thing. He did it now without realising it. It was nothing more than a mental tic. It was always only his subconscious speaking, he continually reminded himself. A narrative that arguably maintained his sanity, despite the fact that he could neither tell a single person about it or how it evidently twisted the pressure valve of his lunacy just enough to release the steam and keep him out of a straightjacket.
No. It certainly isn’t a ghost. She isn’t a ghost. That just wouldn’t be scientific. It wasn’t linear – and Lentus needed linear. He was fully aware of that. As had Polly been, and still does.
Regardless of whether she was conjured up by his psyche or not, he responded: ‘Polly, come on now, love. It was bloody awful. Let’s not kid ourselves.’
He didn’t even look up from the newspapers when he said this, his stare locked ahead. His eyes blurred as January blustered noisily against the windows outside the apartment, hissing wind bringing rounds of drops of water that ticked on the glass with each new gust. Oblivious to winter’s bitter ululations, Lentus once again focused on the newspapers in front of him, placed with perfect symmetry on his lounge table. He had kept them there for over six weeks to remind himself that he had work to do. Constant work that required resolve that shouldn’t ever be allowed to fade with time passing. His tenacity didn’t need the visual nudge, of course; but they stayed there nonetheless. They were like birch twigs with which to flagellate himself. A scab that he would pick until he had set things right, and only then could the occurrences settle into being a less immediate scar.
Until that time came, he kept himself wound tightly and pushed himself ever harder and harder.
His eyes fell upon the black and white text screaming out from the press once more. He knew what each one said by memory now, but he forced his eyes to take them in anyway. Tighten the torture screw once more. The harbingers of doom were banging two main drums currently, two loud beats for the nation’s sheeple to dance to. The headlines were either instilling fear or dread about the terrorists in our midst; or they were fanning the fires of hysteria about the serial killer. The serial killer that he had let slip through his fingers six weeks ago. It hadn’t officially been confirmed or denied at that time that it was the same man; but the press didn’t care about that. A lack of facts didn’t stop them speculating. In fact, most of the time, a lack of facts allowed free license to inculcate in the public a similar level of terror to what Al Quaida had managed to do with the twin towers mere months ago.
The familiar sound of eight fingers and two thumbs hitting the floor, and then ‘Lenny, don’t worry. They’ll calm down. You’ll find him, too. I know you will. You always see things through.’
Lentus wasn’t so sure. The fingerprint had proven a hugely frustrating dead end. The evil bastard evidently didn’t have any previous convictions, a surprising turn of events for all of the force that had gleaned a glimmer of hope among the remorse of a fallen brother.
When a fellow policeman fell, it hit hard. They were a tight, global network, and any loss of life at the hand of criminals anywhere caused ripples through every nation’s force. It felt like good versus evil on a biblical scale at times. And whilst there were undoubtedly corrupt or cruel cops out there in the world, on the whole, it was a majority group that made it their daily task to fight the bad guys. Lost brothers or sisters in blue boiled the blood. Vengeance was required, yet dead ends wouldn’t allow that vengeance to be served.
It was this that Lentus felt daily, and whilst it was never said nor inferred; he also felt the accusations that were never vocalised. HE had lost Gavin’s murderer. HE was to blame. He MUST bring him to justice.
Gavin had been the 14th victim of his nemesis. He needed him to be the last. The law and all those that served it and honoured it required that he be the last to be slain. They blamed him and they needed results. Even those that didn’t blame him deserved results. Positive ones to redress the balance of his monumental mess.
He had been torturing himself with these silent accusations for six weeks now. Christmas had been and gone, and Lentus had worked through the whole thing bar the short period when he was told to go home by his team. He’d bought a reduced-price turkey crown from a Spar on Christmas Eve and some microwavable vegetables; and it being cooked was the only acknowledgment that it had been Christmas day. That, he had done purely for the memory of Polly, who had loved Christmas and sat with him while he ate it joylessly. Besides that stilted nod to the season, there had been no decorations, no music, and none of the traditionally bad seasonal TV synonymous with the time of year. There were none of the standard things that would have been happening in most average homes across the globe, as they tended to pivot around family. Family was something that he no longer had. Just gloom. Guilt. And the reading and re-reading of the newspapers laid out on the table, scars he bore cut with ink on paper rather than metal on flesh.
In the time that had elapsed since Gavin’s grisly death, he had worked and toiled, paced and pondered, beaten and furrowed his brow. Whether in the office, car or rare moments in his flat; his thoughts were continually analysing every aspect of the cases. His head hurt from the continual thoughts that raced and spun, but he could never turn them off. When he actually managed to grasp a few moments of tortured sleep, he dreamt about it.
He knew he was obsessing. He didn’t care.
He gazed upwards and locked eyes with Polly. She spat, she spoke.
‘You’ll make yourself ill, Lenny. You’ve lost weight, you look like you haven’t slept for weeks. You’ve got dark rings round your eyes. George Lentus, you look really bloody terrible’. She was using his proper name. She meant business. Or rather his subconscious meant business and had him imagine her using his real name. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.
‘You need to sleep, you need to rest. You need to get some clarity’ she admonished after ridding herself of the digits in her mouth.
She was right, of course. But her being right didn’t stop him once again replaying the events that led to the death of Gavin and the resulting scandal the press had launched at him when he had managed to let that bastard slip through his fingers. It was a witch hunt that he understood and took willingly; one that existed with or without them in his own head.
He heard the sound again. Fingers and thumbs. Then, ‘Stop it, Lenny! You’ll send yourself doolally.’
He barked a half laugh, half sob at that. That this ghost of his sister would warn him about his sanity. The irony was not lost on him. He leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands before responding without looking up.
‘I think it’s a bit late for that, love.’
With another sigh, he tapped the table in front of him four times and stood up, carrying the weight of fourteen unsolved murders on his shoulders; then wished his dead sister goodnight before shuffling through to his bedroom, ignoring the sound of eight fingers and two thumbs hitting the floor framing her reply. He wouldn’t sleep, not really; but laying on a bed in the darkness, whilst he should be sleeping was at least tethering him to what little normality he had left in life.