Perish the Day by John Farrow is the 3rd book in the Storm Murders Trilogy (available May 23, 2017).
A co-ed is found murdered on campus, her body scarcely touched. The killer paid meticulous attention to the aesthetics of his crime. Coincidentally (or not), a college custodian is also found dead.
While an epic rainstorm assails the Holyoake, New Hampshire campus, overflowing rivers and taking down power lines, a third crime scene is revealed: a professor, formerly a spy, has been shot dead in his home. A mysterious note is found that warned him to run.
Each victim is connected to the Dowbiggin School of International Relations, yet none seems connected to the other. The dead student was a close friend of Sergeant-Detective Émile Cinq-Mars’s niece, so he puts his nose in; when internecine battles between police departments create a rift, he covertly slips into the crevice so he can be involved in the investigation.
Coming up against campus secrets, Émile Cinq-Mars must uncover the links between disparate groups quickly before the next victim is selected for an elaborate initiation into murder.
The clock in its tower. A watchful eye on campus.
He admires the mechanism, how the constant churning of the gears looms over the flawless serenity of his lover’s spent form. That contrast. Its pace not measured by a rudimentary tick-tock, rather by a methodical shhlunka-shhlunka as the big hand cycles through the minutes. In the afterglow of the clock’s exterior light, the young woman appears radiant to him. Her lips parted in anticipation of his farewell kiss. He’s done his best for her. Attended to each exacting detail. Not only is she beautiful now—has she not always been lovely with her alabaster skin, dark tresses, and sultry black eyes?—at long last she lies before him as exquisite and perfectly serene.
That’s the key, the wonder of it all: following their rapture, her serenity.
No time to dawdle. The more difficult task comes next.
The man regrets the vulgarity of this aspect, that he must lug her down the clock-tower stairs. Nothing about the transition will be elegant. Carry her in his arms, her limbs at a dangle, or hoist her over a shoulder like a sack of … But he will not disparage her dignity with that descriptor. He can no longer delay the job. She cannot be left high and dry in the tower, undetected perhaps for weeks before being found in unspeakable condition. An imperative, she must be discovered sooner, not later, that others can be struck by her presentation. If nothing else, her refined beauty is to be displayed as though for the first time. His artistry will be appreciated then, validated, even revered.
Steep, old, and cracked, the wood stairs are best negotiated with one hand on the railing. He chooses to bend his shoulder into her waist and lift her that way, which keeps a hand free to hold on. Her head and neck swing down, her hair gets mussed, and that’s unfortunate, yet this rude aspect will soon be over. Taking up the strain, he comforts her with words.
For the first time he is aware of his own breathing, it’s audible. He grunts as he adjusts her position to secure his balance.
Together, they embark on the treacherous descent.
“Easy does it, my lovely. Gently down.”
One careful step at a time.
He takes it slowly, not wanting to drop her. That would be a calamity. He guards against pitching forward, which might imperil his own life.
The effort is not merely physical. He must also harness his emotions. The force of the intimacy that flows between them arrives as a surprise. The faithful cooperation of her body with his own feels transformative. As though they have become one. His lover snuggles into the crook of his shoulder, her form adjusting to accommodate his heroics, to help make this journey safer and easier for them both. On the demanding descent, the intensity of his emotions revives, as when their passions were conjoined, for is this not the ultimate act of love and expiation, the letting go, the sacrifice inherent in his devotion to her and to her alone for the sake of their ultimate freedom? Never can others understand what they have known, what they have shared. His eyes well up. He staggers, his knees quake, his thighs rebel with the weight and the burden of their travail and his whole body aches with the solemnity of this final rite.
Yet, she is not a burden, he will not think of her that way, for she bears for him the weightlessness of love, of surrender, of intimacy. Seemingly she evaporates off his back and shoulders on the steep stairs. Rather, it is the weight of a pathetic, sordid world that he must lug as he turns at each landing and prodigiously maneuvers to shuffle with care to the next level. Around and around and down they go, not conveniently in a spiral but in tight right-angled twists, each minute marked by the decreasing volume of the clock’s accompaniment above them,
until, at last, they achieve the base of the stairs.
The bottom step of the tower is located seven flights up. From here, an elevator ferries folks to the ground floor. He has no intention of making that descent with her. Here is where they must part. From now on, she’ll require a different consort, and will probably be zipped in a banal body bag, poor thing, to descend farther.
Before that indignity is inflicted upon her, the man arranges her positioning for her to look her best when next revealed. The chic white dress is an inspired selection. The blue ribbon—synthetic, which is regrettable, yet silky to the touch—hangs from her waist as a sash, a subtle yet illuminating accessory, youthful and free, very laissez-faire. A devil-may-care attitude, yet elegant. Her white blouse and business attire, so unbecoming, has already been removed from the tower, exchanged for what suits her best. The blue of the sash repeated in her hair with a touch of lace. Her makeup redone. She’s pleased, he’s certain. Much care is taken with her clothing and look. The nylon stockings are from another era, true, but seriously, how much longer can a man apologize for that? Even though she gives him a hard time about it, he knows that she’s secretly happy to play these dress-up games.
The demure bodice is enticing for its saucy reveal.
Silly girl, she likes it that way.
The blush created by a powder upon the shock of her white skin casts a glow.
What is left for him now remains vital. He needs to frame her properly, brush her hair again, arrange petals amid the strands and on the steps around her to permit her beauty to fully shine. His kit bag awaits by the exit door at the base of the stairs and he begins to execute these critical touches to her portraiture. He has rescued her from harm and vowed to sanctify her in this way. In the art and sweetness of death she will be revered, her beauty unblemished and now inextinguishable.
Let coarse people snap their photographs. Forensic scientists will sully her form with insensitive probes. Nothing is to be done about any of that except to disregard their primitive reactions, their pedestrian procedures. Despite their abundant ignorance, the fools will be unable to resist being impressed. They’ll know soon enough what it is to stand in the presence of luminous art.
She is his finest creation. The embodiment of his life’s work.
She deserves his best, he’s certain.
He owes her that much, so gives his all.
His cunning, of course, will also be recognized as brilliant. Yet for the moment, somewhat to his surprise, it is of no special interest to him. Only his transcendental artistry counts now.
At the base of the tower the young woman is arranged in a pose, one hand by her hip, another adjusted above her head. Every gesture exhibits a proper attitude, one of lassitude and superiority, of ease and entitlement, of largesse and indulgence. She is positioned. None too soon. She is beginning to stiffen. The flowers are precisely posited around her and upon her, the results tested repeatedly from various angles. He fusses and tries again until everything is just so, then places a printed invitation to a cocktail party between the fingertips of her upper left hand to further confound the imbeciles. To entice them as well. To draw them into his sphere, then to revel in their defeat. He imparts one last holy farewell kiss upon the woman’s lips, which lingers awhile.
The man breathes the empty cavity of her body and blows his own air into her lungs.
He must admit, then, to an error and apologize. He must not indulge himself again. He has a duty to remain above the emotional slurry, although it arrives more acutely than anticipated. Having smudged her lips, he must now repair and paint them more perfectly than before. The man wipes his own mouth clean, and sits upon the floor below her to gaze upward to best admire the view, as though she performs upon a stage and he has become her audience.
One final touch, now that all is done. A lasting grace. The ultimate gift to transport her through time and space, to commemorate the sanctity of their union—she has been his only perfect lover—that she might be carried upon angelic wings. He removes a felt cloth from the pocket of his kit bag which he unwraps to reveal a necklace, a shining, spiritual talisman. Bold, precise, the gemstones have been arranged in a manner to keep her alive, perhaps, even in death, or possibly through death into a next world. A nether life. Her vitality and her hope is embedded in the selection of stones, although one set curries favor for a request of his own. A petition for his own good health, a message for her to carry into the beyond.
Lovely for her to sacrifice herself this way.
He adjusts the necklace around her neck.
And now? Has the time come?
Not to go. Not to leave her. Not just yet.
Has the time come to switch off the light?
He will await the morning, when people flood the library seven floors below, where he will effect a disguise for the cameras and for his exit. He will await the morning, the crucial hour of her discovery.
The man sits in the light from a bare bulb, alone in the dead girl’s company, content to honor the sanctity of her memory and slowly turn his gaze away. The deep, still stare of her dark eyes bores into him one last time. So absolute. So final. This moment. He shuts his own eyes, and summons to mind again the young woman in the throes of their mutual rapture.
She was glad, back then, that he had come to rescue her from debasement and oblivion, from the fury of this world.
Glad now that he comforts her in the next.
He does what he must do. He reaches up and turns off the light.
Shhlunka-shhlunka utters the clock in its tower. As though her heart still beats with a sacred rhapsody, with life’s secret thrum. More faint down here, yet it beats on, rapturous in the dark, within their stillness.
Whispering, minute by minute, as the darkness takes hold.
She’s surely at rest now, and if all goes well, at peace.
Copyright © 2017 John Farrow.
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John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson, a literary legend in his native Canada. He has written over a dozen novels and several plays, all to extraordinary acclaim, and was named Canada’s best novelist in both Books in Canada and the Toronto Star. He makes regular visits to the U.S. to attend conferences like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest. He is the author of The Storm Murders and Seven Days Dead, the previous books in his Storm Murders series.