An Excerpt: ‘The Murder Victim’
He had been dying for almost an hour, but he was beginning to feel better. The bullet, or knife, or arsenic (he wasn’t sure if he had been shot, stabbed or poisoned) had left him paralysed on the floor, but the tightness in his chest had lessened a degree, and he could breathe now without whimpering. By his left hand, he could see the blueprint for the planned extension to the house where it had fallen. He imagined his body marked as an X in the corner of it, as in the very crime novel he had been reading when he was struck down, a locked room mystery.
Edgar was a pockmarked, thin man in his fifties. The skin on his face was the stretched, angry white of a clenched knuckle. His left arm was noticeably longer than his right; he had been born that way, though now he blamed it on the weight of his wedding ring. His application to the police force had been refused because of it, though he had joked in the Medical it was only the long arm of the law. Instead of a policeman he became a surveyor and as he worked he liked to consider where his clients might be burying their bodies. Edgar thought of himself and others in terms of distinguishing marks. He was often silent, but when he spoke, he used lots of short sentences, like some pulp writer paid by the word.
Moaning, Edgar tried to remember what had happened to him. There had been footsteps in the hall, then a loud noise like a door slamming, and at that he had fallen to the floor. It was getting dark, and he could feel wetness spread from a wound in his thigh. He worried that he would bleed to death, though he was sure he had read in Ellery Queen that such a cut could haemorrhage for hours without proving fatal. Edgar couldn’t see clearly, as if his wife had left fingerprints on his reading glasses again. For a long time he couldn’t hear his heartbeat and fancied it was not there and he was breathing only out of habit, a nostalgic corpse. He lay still and thought of all the people who might want to kill him: his wife; his brother; his business partner; his mistress; even three of his neighbours. It was as though he had lived his life only in order to provide motives.