a sample from TITANIC PANIC
Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5, entitled “Two Weeks Ago.” There are two major points of view in the story, one follows the heiress of an American Peanut Butter Empire and the highly-connected British aristocrat who seeks her hand in marriage. The other plot is concerned with the assistant to an eccentric scientist, who desperately wants to find a “cure” for aging. To do that he needs to experiment on the recently deceased…
A man named Grommel died of natural causes one night ago. He ran a barbershop in the heart of Southampton and by all accounts was a kind and considerate man. Those who knew him mourned him but it’s not like he was the most famous man in Hampshire or anything.
He was past seventy, only a handful of people frequented his shop, he had just a single son who was already making his way back to Sussex, and his wife had died three years earlier.
He was the perfect target.
“Let’s not call him that.” Sam thought to himself. He settled on the word Recipient instead, though he curled his lip at it a moment later, as it felt like the kind of justifying language that Dr. Namet would use.
The spade was still hidden under a bush near the towering spire of the Hollyrood church building. The church looked like a weathered old Rook from a chessboard; it disoriented Sam to gaze up at it. The clock read ten-thirty in the evening. Four hours to go, he thought as he curled up behind the bush, turning his overcoat inside-out to better sell the look of a transient.
Hunger pangs roused him a little after midnight and spent the next half-hour watching smatterings of people walk here and there. His view from the ground only showed him feet: Some worse polished black shoes and others that were duller and more well-worn.
Occasionally the thick boots of a police offer would stomp by, though none ever bothered to peak behind the shrubbery growing in front of the old church building. Eventually he fell back asleep.
Gentle hands pressed into his shoulder, startling him. He sat upright, rustling the bushes behind him. It was the only sound to be heard. “What time is it?!” he asked groggily.
“It is nearly three in the morning, child.”
“I’m not a child.” he replied, rubbing his eyes. “I just fell asleep.” a woman stood in front of him, holding a wooden ruler like a cricket bat. “Who are you? Why are you here?” he asked.
“I should ask you that. I saw the bushes rustling from the window and came to investigate.”
“Oh…I’ve been sleeping.”
“Clearly.” Her thin eyebrows raised over her large eyes. “Do I need to send for the police?”
“Is it a crime to sleep outside a church?”
“It is to steal from one.”
“What?” For a moment he forget that he hadn’t yet stolen the body. The blood left his head and a chill washed over him. “No…”
“That is our spade, is it not.” she said, inclining her heart-shaped head toward the small shovel lying next to him.
“Sp—oh, no. No that’s mine.”
“It’s your spade.” she said, eyebrows furrowing. “You carry it around with you? Sleep with it?”
“Well…I am homeless.” he replied, thinking fast.
“Go on then. Find somewhere else to sleep.” she demanded, turning back toward the church.
“What time did you say it was?” he asked, suddenly panicked.
She smirked, turning back at him: “If the clock should chime it would three times.” she replied in a sing-song sort of way.
“Three?! I have to go…” he mumbled as he hopped to his feet.
She scoffed at that. “Do all his majesty’s homeless conduct urgent business at three in the morning or just you?”
He offered no answer as he ran down the block alongside the church. He turned a corner and began a long sprint next to the cemetery. Rows of tombstones stretched behind the church, and the large field was filled with beech trees to, hopefully, he thought, conceal his work.
Hiding the spade was a calculated risk but it needed to be done. He certainly couldn’t be seen running around the streets at night brandishing a shovel. He hadn’t anticipated the nun, but that couldn’t be helped. He put her out of his mind, satisfied that he’d seen the last of her, and set to work searching by moonlight for the freshly-made grave.
I’m half-an-hour behind, he knew as he scoured the area, only half an hour; still time before Namet arrives…ah. He found the grave, a still-plump mound of brown rising against the dark green landscape. It was laid in front of a large tree; blocks the church’s view of me, he thought in relief as he drove the pointed end of his spade into the soft dirt.
An hour of digging followed, with no sounds other than the occasional hoot of an owl, and the steady crunch of metal into dirt, followed by the low thud of dirt being dropped onto the ground next to him. One more hour until sunrise, he knew.
The spade went down into the dirt once more, this time producing a wooden *thunk.* Relief gave way to adrenaline as he hurried to finish the work. The echo of distant voices forced him to stop. He peered out of the re-dug grave and saw, far on the other side of the cemetery, a pair of gravediggers hanging a lantern and beginning their own work.
They’re louder than I am, he told himself, and pressed on to completion. After half an hour he had the casket exposed and the lid pried open. Namet should be waiting by now, he thought as he dragged the body out of the hole. They collapsed together onto the ground. The area was quiet again. They’re listening, he knew. They heard something and are waiting to hear it again.
There was no time to be cautious. When the sun comes up the early-morning workers will come out. He had to move. A long black bag was tucked into his jacket pocket; he slid it out and slid the body inside. His hands fumbled nervously with the rope as he tried to tie it shut; a mixture of anxiety and exhaustion consuming him.
Namet was supposed to be waiting for him with the car near the church. There were, of course, multiple places he could park the car that would be considered “near” the church, but as they didn’t know where exactly the body was buried they couldn’t coordinate exactly where to meet.
He dragged the bag to the edge of the cemetery, leaning for a moment against the small fence that surrounded the area, and saw with thankfulness that their car was a block down the road. Just a few more steps he told himself.
“Hey!” a voice behind him shouted. He dared a peek and saw an orange light hovering over the now-vacant grave. The diggers. He cursed. It was still dark. He could see their light but he had no light. Had they seen me or were they—
“Get over here!” the man shouted.
“What is it?!” another called in reply. The one with the light was a few feet from the grave, unmoving, staring at the pile of dirt next to the hole.
Carefully Sam climbed over the fence and began slowly pulling the body-bag under. It would be a tight squeeze and he couldn’t move too hastily. He listened as the gravediggers conversed, and not quietly.
“Didn’t we already dig this?”
“Yeah. Three days back if I recall.”
He had the head and shoulders free of the fence. Just a little more.
“Well what? Funeral’s later today, idn’t it?”
The torso was cleared. Just the legs.
“Is it? I thought it was yesterday.”
The feet was through. Yes!
“I think this one was stolen.”
He froze. Namet’s car was blocked by a police wagon. The officer was talking to the Doctor and though things seemed cordial, they wouldn’t be if he happened to glance to his right.
“There was that body stolen at St. Mary’s cemetery. I didn’t dig that one, but I heard—“”
“I heard it too. Happened a month or so back, yeah. Think we better get the word out?”
They’re shaking hands. Sam sighed in relief and then froze in terror as he watched the officer step back away from Namet’s car and move toward his own. He could only see his silhouette but he knew the man had stopped and was staring in his direction.
He can’t see me. There’s no lights over here. He can’t see me…
“Let’s finish up and let the church know tomorrow. Could be the funeral was delayed.”
But he can see them.
He acted out the whole scenario in his head, visualizing exactly what would happen, and what would happen next. There was no alternative. He released the bag and hurried across the street.
In an alley he watched the officer step warily toward the orange glow of the gravedigger’s lantern. They were out of earshot but he could imagine exactly how their conversation would go. Sure enough, after a moment the lantern headed back toward the exhumed grave, to the obviously pried-open casket, and to—.
“The spade.” he remembered. The thought chilled him.
He left it. Ordinarily it would not be a critical mistake, but they would surely talk to the church, and the nun would surely remember the transient she met with a shovel on the night of the crime. It was too late to undo the mistake.
He hurried out of the alley, down the block and back over the street to Namet’s car. “What kept you?” the doctor said, frustrated but unconcerned. “Where’s the body?”
“No time. We have to go.”
“You didn’t dig up the body?!”
“Yes, but I had to leave it. Go!”
“Go back and get it!”
Sam looked back and saw the lantern light moving around the area. “He’s looking around. He’s going to find it.”