TASTES LIKE CHICKEN CHAPTERS 1-3
I became a detective after I ate Miss Marple.
Nobody tells you when you’re a fresh, prepubescent ghoul that you have to be careful about how much you eat. When you spend your twelfth birthday scooping handfuls of brain from the gaping skull of the next door neighbor (Miss Mullens, not Marple, but the effect was much the same) the unpleasant surprise is that your peculiar biochemistry will do its level best to amalgamate what you just fed it. In this case, cupfuls of frontal lobe, corpus callosum and snowflake-unique collections of synapses that led Miss Mullens to curse out loud with words like “poot” and “jiminy” and yet have internal dialogue like a motherfucking Stevedore, as I was to find out to my displeasure when her consciousness exploded into mine as I was lying in the attic replete about four hours later. That’s the thing about being a ghoul, there aren’t any manuals to follow.
She’d dressed me down, up, and sideways, blistering my consciousness with expletives until it felt bruised by the mental pummeling. That was twenty years ago. You’d think she’d let it go by now, but not Ms. Mullens. She livesfor hating me.
We were on page ten of the New York Times, when the homicide call came in. Ms. Mullens insists we read the newspaper from cover to cover every day.
Even the obituaries?
Even the obituaries.
At first, I’d refused. I wanted to get my news from the internet. My resistance didn’t last long once Ms. Mullens discovered she could give me gas by triggering certain spots in my brain. Gas coming from a human can be eye-watering. Imagine what it’s like when your diet consists of fresh and rotting corpses. No amount of Febreze can combat the odor.
The phone rang again. I looked at the number and debated whether to ignore the call. It was my day off. I’d planned to finish reading the paper, then hit the cemetery later for a quick bite. I glanced back at the article. The headline read, ‘Billionaire Lawrence Koffman Makes Miraculous Recovery Thanks to New Swiss Treatment’. I scowled and shut the paper, then retrieved my voicemail.
I wasn’t done reading that article, Ms. Mullens’ disembodied voice said.
“You can finish it later. Time to go to work.”
I had no idea when I walked into the room I’d be staring at a severed ghoul’s hand. Sure, the ghoul could’ve left it behind. It was always possible. But no ghoul worth his salt willingly abandoned a perfectly viable limb, which meant we were looking for a dead ghoul.
Ghoul-on-ghoul violence wasn’t unheard of. It happened on occasion, especially with the fresher turns, but if that were the case here, why leave the hand behind? There was another possibility. We could be dealing with the other kind of ghoul killing—the for profit kind. Either someone was in the black market body part business or we had a Harvester on our hands. Those two things weren’t mutually exclusive. People who can see through a ghoul’s human disguise often become Harvesters.
There seems to be something with the genes. When you have the correct ABAAGGT arrangement to spot a ghoul—it’s like smelling asparagus in urine, or so I’m told—you also have the arrangement that makes you a complete wackjob sociopath asshole that has no compunction in using that ghoul’s body for your own bullshit needs.
Everybody knows the story: Young man meets gorgeous girl at a bar. She takes an unlikely interest in the butt ugly fellow. Buys him a drink. Invites him back to her hotel. Another drink. Next morning, he wakes up in a bath of ice. A sign on the mirror saying “Call 911” and a big scar where one of his kidneys used to be.
Yeah, it actually happens. But youonly hear about it when it’s a mistake—if the guy was anorexic or a heroin user and the Harvester thought he was one of us. They only take one because our kidneys grow back and a good farmer always leaves something behind to harvest next year.
Harvesting has always occurred. Someone figured out that transplanting a ghoul organ into an uninfected person gave the human another twenty years of life—and a very healthy appetite.
True, it tends to lead to a sickly, pallid look. You know when you see some super-rich Wall Street financier and he’s looked the same since the 70’s, just a little more… moist?Trust me: it isn’t from rich food.
Ghouls tend to view being harvested as a minor inconvenience. That would change if the news spread that Harvesters had started hulling ghouls, raiding their bodies for every salvageable part, leaving only the skin husk behind.
Humans have bogeymen. Ghouls have Harvesters.
I scanned the crime scene again, doing my best to ignore the vomit of color. From the outside, the three-story, red-brick row house had looked like all the others on the quiet Upper West Side block until you stepped inside.
The purple shag carpet-covered living room had faux wood paneling and furniture that could only have been found from dumpster diving. The carpet had squished beneath my booty-covered shoes as I followed the sound of voices coming from a nearby room. Turned out to be the kitchen or what was left of it.
The kitchen was one of those 1970’s olive green nightmares with orange accents and a yellow Formica table thrown in to insult the senses. I blinked as my eyes tried to adjust to the contrasting colors. The table had been smashed down the center. Chairs were strewn about the room in various stages of dismemberment. The green doors to the cupboards were hanging from twisted hinges as if someone had tried to rip them off and failed. Glasses and plates littered the area, leaving no discernable trail through the debris.
I hadn’t noticed the hand on the white linoleum floor at first. The explosion of color had blocked it from view. Gray and slightly shriveled with dark blue veins that ran from wrist to knuckle, the limb’s long fingers appeared to be in working order.
My mouth watered as I looked at the hand and wondered what the forensic guys would do with it once they were done examining it. They’d assume the limb came from a corpse. And they’d be right...now, since ghouls don’t survive with outer parts missing for long. But it hadn’t been a ‘dead’ corpse when the limb came off. I could tell by the scent. Ghouls have better olfactory senses than a bloodhound.
I stared longingly at the limb. Could always use an extra hand. Never knew when one might need replacing or when hunger would circumvent my better judgment. My fingers twitched as I fought the urge to pick the limb up and shove it into my pocket.
Detective Cory Harris saved me from acting on the impulse, when he walked in to the room. He hunched down and touched the hand with a gloved finger. A paperclip of a man, Cory finished examining the hand, then looked at me. “What are you doing here, Max? I thought it was your day off.”
I shrugged. It had been my day off and I hadn’t asked for overtime. With all the budget cuts, we barely got paid for the hours we put in. I didn’t know why I’d been assigned to this case. “Captain called me. Told me to take point.”
Cory’s gray eyes narrowed, pinching his face into an angry exclamation point. Blond hair frisked his pointy ears, but never reached his neck. His over-sized brown suit sat forlornly on his narrow shoulders, making him always appear as if he were playing dress up in his father’s clothes. He was too cheap to get a custom job or maybe he was just self-conscious about his lanky body. I never asked which it was. Didn’t really care. He’d disliked me from the get go. And I was okay with that. It’s not like I’d taken this job to make friends.
The only reason you have this job is because of me,Ms. Mullens said. Without me, you’d be living in some run down cemetery, digging for scraps.
“Shut it,” I said.
“Excuse me?” Cory asked.
“Nothing.” I waved my hand to dismiss the comment. “Where’s the body?”
“It’s up here,” he said. “But I have to warn you, it’s been here a while. A month at least if the level of decomp is any indication. You’re never going to believe where we found it.” His voice rose with excitement as he led me up the stairs to the first bedroom on the right.
A bed sans frame had been shoved against the far wall away from the lone window in the room. Rumpled clothes lay on the floor and in overflowing baskets, but none hung in the closet. A massive grandfather clock had been wedged into the corner. The forensic team stood around it, along with a few uniforms that’d arrived on scene first after the neighbors complained about the smell. The uniforms couldn’t seem to control their snickering. I pushed past Cory and the men in blue to take a closer look.
Someone had folded the body in half and shoved it into the clock. The pendulum had somehow skewered the man’s right eye in the process. My gaze landed on the victim’s face and I froze. The forensic guys thought the body had been here for a month.
I knew better.
I was talking to it four nights ago.
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