Story Excerpt Sunday: from Poisoned Pearls by Leah Cutter

Poisoned PearlsPoisoned Pearls

by Leah Cutter

Kyle still smelled of baby oil and cigarette smoke, though I figured he’d been dead for at least two hours, based on the light dusting of snow that covered his artistically torn jeans and preppy red-and-white-striped button-down. The snow around his body was all smudged with footprints, probably from the cops. He sat propped up against the wall in the alley, dark red bricks supporting him, while some stupid tagger’s name spiked over his head, painted in black, like a post-modern halo. His eyes were still open, shining a weird
blue in the stark light. He’d always been pale and blond, but now he looked perfectly preserved, like a snow-carnival princess carved out of ice.

He’d been found slumped in the alley, next to the entrance to Chinaman Joe’s Good Luck Parlor, the sex & toy shop where I worked. Kyle would have been mortified to learn of his final resting spot. Homeless bums worked the dumpsters just up the alley, digging for thrown-out noodles and rice from Mihn Ho Takeout next door. They frequently used our doorway to shelter themselves from the wind while they peed.

Two yellow cop “Do Not Cross” tape lines had been strung across the alley on either side of Kyle, just like on all the TV shows. A white ambulance sat at one end of the alley, blocking off traffic. The blue strobe cast weird shadows on the remaining snow, as if it were thick enough for snow weasels to be skittering underneath.

The grin Kyle wore freaked me out. He’d never been the happy-go-lucky kind: he’d preferred Sartre to Kant, Bergman films to anything modern and understandable and fun.

The only reason the cops let me near the crime scene was because the bastard had followed through on his threat and listed me as his emergency contact. They’d found his wallet still in his pocket.

That I happened to be working in the building that he’d been found dead outside of was just the kind of coincidence cops loved. They were already looking at me for the murder, I knew. Particularly if his death had been caused by someone choking him or stabbing him or something else physical. I was tall, particularly for a woman, almost six foot with my short, bleached-white hair spiked up as it was. I’d always been zaftig, taking after my Russian grandmother rather than my skinny, uptight Swedish mother. The black leather biker jacket I wore probably didn’t help, or the solid, fourteen-hole Dr. Martens that I’d tucked my leggings into.

But I couldn’t tell what had killed Kyle. His hair still seemed artfully mussed, he wasn’t bleeding anywhere, and I didn’t see any bruises on his neck or face. He could have OD’ed on something, maybe tried some new street drug. However, Kyle generally wasn’t that stupid.

The only thing that appeared wrong, besides the fact that he wasn’t moving, was that his pants were undone and his dick was hanging out.

I looked at it critically. I knew they got bigger and I shouldn’t judge Kyle based on what I was seeing now. I’d seen dicks before—I worked in a sex & toy shop and had reviewed an awful lot of videos—but I’d never been up close and personal with one.

I was a gold star lesbian, never been with a man. And proud of it.

“That’s him,” I told the detective—Ferguson, I think his name was—identifying the body for him. The cop had a face made of slopped-together concrete, all hard planes and bulging brow. Tiny black eyes stared out at me from his pudgy face. He wore a dark blue down jacket. It was too short for him. Someone his size and shape should always wear longer coats—hell, even a parka—or too many references could be made to the Michelin Man.

The detective indicated I should follow him further down the alley, out of the light, closer to the street. He even held up the tape for me to duck under, like some kind of modern gentleman. When we stopped and I glanced back, I saw that the emergency workers were already swooping in.

Going to carry away the body and brush the snow clean. Nothing happening here, folks, nothing to see.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ferguson told me, his voice gruff. Or maybe that was just the arctic wind, coming direct from the North Pole into Minnesota. From what I’d seen on the news earlier, it wasn’t going to be ending anytime soon, not pausing for Christmas next week.

I shrugged, opened my mouth to comment, then closed it again. Kyle and I had been really good friends. Maybe even besties. I was kind of in shock. I remembered one drunken night when he’d tried to teach me dirty dancing, failing spectacularly, both of us laughing our asses off. My hips just didn’t move like that. Plus, though I was just smidge shorter than he was, I had at least fifty pounds on him. Maybe more.

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Leah Cutter currently lives in Seattle–the land of coffee and fog. However, she’s also lived all over the world and held the requisite odd writer jobs, such as doing archeology in England, teaching English in Taiwan, and bartending in Thailand.

She writes fantasy set in exotic times and locations such as Tang dynasty China, WWII Budapest, rural Louisiana, and the Oregon coast.

Her short fiction includes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror, and has been published in magazines as well as anthologies and on the web.

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