There’s a trail, but it’s made of vomit and leads from the dead woman’s lips to the bathroom floor. Can Peak figure out who, and what, killed her?

A Future Noir Murder Mystery

THE VOMIT TRAIL
By Lydia Trethewey

For the LEMONADE CARBONADE award

A thin line of pink vomit trails from the woman’s lips to the edge of the stall. Her body, draped over the white bowl of the toilet, shows no signs of trauma. Glassy eyes stare emptily, dark skin cold to the touch.

Detective Peak surveys the body with quiet restlessness.

‘Found her like this,’ says the bar manager. ‘Had to break the damn lock to get the door open.’

Peak notes the splintered wood around the mechanical lock, the metal hanging like a loose tooth. It rattles as an airplane punches into the sky above them, the roar of engines drowning out the bar radio. The sonorous boom spews tonnes of carbon into the already heavy air, heralding a new fashion built around white surgeon’s masks.

‘Ever seen her before?’ Peak asks.

The manager flicks his lizard eyes to the dead woman. He chews his lip.

‘No. But all sorts of come in from the airport. She came asking after a port to charge her phone. Disappeared into the bathroom, and, well…’

‘Thank you. If you don’t mind, I need to do some tests.’

The manager shrugs, idles for a moment and disappears back to the bar.

From his coat pocket Peak draws a small metal tripod, sets it up on the tiles. The device emits a rhythmic pulse of light, altering its speed to match any hidden cameras, blinding them. Peak waits a few seconds, and bends towards the body.

She has a name, which is stamped across the passport in her handbag. Alyssa Riley. A ticket stub reads the same, though the little photographs bear only passing resemblance to the corpse. Peak slides his fingers into goat-skin gloves and rubs gently at her fingertips. A double set of prints, probably 3D-printed with real skin, peel away. He scoops them up.

The phone is there too, fallen behind the cistern. The last outgoing call was to an unknown number the night before.

He presses re-dial.

‘Hello. This is the Lemonade Stand. Oliver speaking.’

***

‘Password?’

The entrance to the Lemonade Stand is in a greasy alley near the docks. From a horizontal slot in the door two luminous eyes stare out. Gold implants in the irises.

‘Burning chrome,’ Peak says.

‘That’s last night’s password.’

The doorman slides the hole shut.

‘This is detective Peak. Open up.’

‘Having a bit of trouble?’ says a voice behind him.

Peak turns to find officer Brody, NYPD, with whom he once worked a case.

‘These places,’ Brody says ‘modelled on 1930s speakeasies. Everyone had something to hide. Even the name…well, you know the story, alcohol in the lemonade.’

Brody saunters up and knocks sharply.

‘Spook country,’ he says.

The inside is dark and loud. Peak and Brody slide onto bar stools.

‘What brings you here?’ Brody asks, signalling for a drink.

‘I’m after a girl.’

‘Oho, so that thing with Anthony, a rumour?’

‘She’s dead.’

Brody sips his lemonade.

‘Figures.’

A large man with a smooth head and fiery gold eyes comes up to the bar. His features are chiselled like the Easter Island statues. The bartender scurries to get his order.

‘Her body’s in a little piss-hole near the airport,’ Peak says.

The golden-eyed man notices Brody, nods. Brody smiles.

‘Who’s that?’ Peak asks.

‘Dealer. Name’s Samson. He doesn’t give us trouble, we don’t give it him.’

Samson takes his drink and leaves.

‘Everyone knows this stuff is the worst anyway,’ Brody says, lifting his glass.

‘Oh? Yet it’s legal.’

Brody shrugs.

‘White middle-class people drink it. Can’t go making it illegal.’

He laughs emptily. The alcohol unwinds in his system.

Something in Brody’s vacant eyes, his loose words, sparks in Peak’s head.

‘Sorry?’

‘I was saying, we’re decades behind Europe. They make it all legal, hand-outs at pharmacies. Fucking whole continent’s constantly high. And we’re over here chasing our tails.’

Peak looks over at Samson. The dealer is laughing, deep and mournful.

***

Peak and Anthony stand on the pier, watching gulls wheel overhead.

‘A theory,’ Peak says ‘a condom full of something bursting in her stomach, wriggling into her brain and overclocking it.’

‘Know who’s behind it?’

Anthony looks at Peak, who traces the arc of a crane through the sky.

‘Doesn’t matter. The guy who made the stuff. The guy who tied up the condom and put her on the plane, the one waiting at the other end. The cop who laughed at it over a glass of the legal stuff. In the end there’s no way to make a difference.’

‘But that’s why we’re here.’

Peak shrugs.

‘It’s never so simple. You track down a killer, and when you get him he doesn’t look the way you want him too. Always smaller, or sadder. There’s no way to win.’

The two men stand in silence, watching ships roll in.