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Skulduggery Pleasant ([personal profile] skeletonenigma) wrote2015-05-16 01:42 pm

Sherlockian Skeleton

This is a spoiler-free excerpt from the ninth book of the Skulduggery Pleasant series Dying of the Light, in which Skulduggery proves once and for all his observational genius.


CHAPTER 12: THE CAULDRON

Skulduggery tilted his head at the empty bar stool. "Waiting for someone?"

Axle stiffened again. "Yeah," he said. "A friend of mine."

"Is he late?"

"He is, yeah. He'll be here, though."

"Is this a regular thing? Going for a drink after work?"

Axle nodded. "End of a long day, yeah, it's good to relax. That a crime?"

"No, it isn't," said Skulduggery. "Murder is, however."

Valkyrie raised an eyebrow, but left the question for Axle to ask.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Skulduggery took a pair of light handcuffs from his jacket and laid them on the bar. "What started the argument? Was it about work? Was the pressure getting to you?"

Axle gave a sharp, dry laugh. "What murder? Who's dead?"

"Your friend."

"You're talking nonsense. He's not dead. He's just late."

"What's his name?"

"There! See? That's how ridiculous this is! You don't even know who he is and you're saying he's dead!"

"What's your friend's name, Mr Axle?"

Axle stared at Skulduggery. "Brock."

"You're incredulous, and yet you're keeping your voice down. You're scared of meeting the barman's gaze, but you don't want to take your eyes off him. You're worried that he might have seen something last night - maybe he overheard your argument with Brock. You're scared he'll mention something about it in front of us."

"This is ridiculous. I don't have to sit here and listen to - "

He went to slide off his stool, but Valkyrie stepped up close to him, blocking his way. Skulduggery leaned in from the other side.

"You have muddy water dried into the left leg and the right knee of your trousers. Also the left side of your jacket. It wasn't raining last night, but it was the night before, and there are still puddles out the back of this pub, aren't there? You had too much to drink, you got out there, the argument turned physical. You hit him. That's when you cut your knuckles. He went down and you went down with him. You started strangling him. He managed to turn you over, and you fell on to your left side, into a puddle. But you pushed back, got on top, straddled him, hence the stain on your other knee. He clawed at your hands, leaving those scratches. And you choked him until he died."

Axle shook his head quickly.

"You're having trouble sitting up straight," Skulduggery continued. "Did you do something to your back? Maybe as you were carrying his body through the back streets and alleys? You couldn't have supported his weight for too long, not in your inebriated state, but you would have needed to take him somewhere you knew well, and somewhere you knew would be deserted. The construction site you're working on isn't too far away from here, is it? That's where you dumped his body - probably in a pit scheduled to be filled in this morning.

"But you couldn't leave - you couldn't risk someone coming in early and discovering your crime. So you stayed. When your co-workers arrived, you poured in the concrete yourself - hastily, by the state of your boots. After that, you had to act as if nothing was wrong, so you put in a day's work. A sloppy day's work, judging by the more recent cuts on your hands. You had to stick to your routine, so you rushed home to shave, not bothering to change clothes, and then came here."

Valkyrie frowned. "Why did he shave?"

"From what I can see, Brock was an Elemental. He tried to shove a handful of fire into Mr Axle's face. He only barely missed, too. See how the skin is slightly paler around the cheeks and chin? You had a beard up until a few hours ago, didn't you, Mr Axle? But you shaved it off. Nicked yourself a few times, but that didn't matter. What mattered was getting rid of the singed beard. You even had to cut your own hair in a few places. You missed your left eyebrow, though."

"You don't know what you're - "

"I'm arresting you for murder, Mr Axle. Please stand up and put your hands behind your back."

"I didn't do anything," Axle said, but stood just the same.

"We'll let the Sensitives take a peek inside your mind. Maybe they'll see something that'll get you a reduced sentence."

"No," said Axle, backing away, "please. I'll help you. I'll tell you everything I know. That's worth something, isn't it? I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to kill him. It was a stupid argument. I didn't know what I was doing."

"We'll see you're treated fairly," Skulduggery said, reaching for him.

"No!" Axle shouted, snapping his palms out. The air rippled and Valkyrie flew backwards, getting tangled up with Skulduggery. Tables and chairs scattered and people cursed and cried out, and she glimpsed Axle running out.

Skulduggery hauled her to her feet. "Outside," he said. "I'll lead him to you."

And then he was off in pursuit.