|Publisher:||Bitter Lemon Press, Ltd|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||15 Years|
About the Author
Peter Bush is an acclaimed translator from Spanish and Catalan, known for his translations of Leonardo Padura, Juan Goytisolo and Josep Pla.
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BLOOD, GUTS AND LOVE
A first note to readers:
Can you imagine living in a house haunted by ghosts with class prejudice? Or being a prehistoric detective on the verge of becoming the first religious charlatan, investigating a triple murder that is threatening blissful cave life? Or running an art gallery where stinking statues decompose on their pedestals? These stories combine absurd humour with noir to paint a satirical portrait of the society in which we live.
Most readers and writers of noir will never commit a crime or be involved in a police investigation, and perhaps that is why we so enjoy reading and writing stories of blood and guts that allow us to enter the criminal minds of murderers and the elaborate mind games and procedures of fictional detectives. But we are all trapped in some way. No matter whether a tormented ghost, a repentant vampire, a nice-as-pie old lady or a gauche mammoth hunter, at some stage in our lives we will be forced to make a choice that will challenge our values and force us to enter the murky unknown.
The First Prehistoric Serial Killer
A number of us woke up this morning when the storm broke, only to find another corpse in the cave. This time it was Athelstan. I almost fainted the second I saw his smashed skull and his brains seeping down his temples into a pool of black blood, but the others slapped me and I came around. I rushed to rouse our chief to ask him to come and take a look and tell us what to do. Ethelred is on the deaf side and sleeps like a log, and though the men shouted, in the end we had to piss on him to get him to stir. Grumbling and bleary-eyed, our chief examined Athelstan's body, cursing our bones for dragging him out of bed at such an early hour. In the meantime, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine.
While Ethelred and the others speculated about what had happened, I studied the bloody rock that lay a few yards from Athelstan's corpse and suggested to Ethelred that the two might be related. Ethelred, a rather laconic troglodyte, looked at me sceptically and warned me not to jump to conclusions.
"Hold your horses," he commented. "I want my breakfast first."
After gobbling down fried ostrich eggs with turtle and herb sausages, Ethelred calmed his men down by insisting it must have been an accident. Then he brushed his teeth on a branch and said he'd like to speak to me in private. We surreptitiously retreated to a recess at the back of the cave so the other males wouldn't hear our conversation, but as our cave has magnificent acoustics and you have to shout at Ethelred to make sure he hears you, everybody eavesdropped. In fact, I didn't see the point of so much secrecy, because he soon called an assembly to inform the men, and, except for Rufus, who's rather nosy, nobody seemed particularly interested.
Ethelred, who isn't as stupid as he seems, asked me to open an investigation because three deaths in fourteen moons are too many and the clan was beginning to feel edgy. The fact that all three had been male and that we'd found them early in the morning with their heads smashed in with a rock was too much of a coincidence. However, cautious Rufus and Ethelred favour the accident hypothesis. For my part, I'm pretty sure something's up in the cave. My problem is I don't know what.
Rufus, Ethelred's right-hand man, immediately protested at the very idea that I should lead the investigation, but Ethelred quickly landed a punch, and knocked a couple of his teeth out: end of argument. It makes a lot of sense that he's chosen me to handle this; I am, by a long chalk, the cleverest troglodyte ever. Of the twenty males that comprise the Hairy Bear tribe (give or take a couple), I'm the only one who doesn't stumble over the same stone every morning when I leave the cave, a phenomenon that intrigues the lot of them. The other point in my favour is that I'm the troglodyte with most free time on his hands because Ethelred has banned me from going hunting. Partly because I'm not very good at it and he prefers me to stay with the females rather than upset the hunting party. Indeed, if I hadn't discovered fire by chance one spring evening when the other males were out shafting and I was bored stiff, they'd have probably put me six feet under and I'd be pushing up daisies in the necropolis or in some animal's craw. After all, thinking with one's head and not one's feet (or that other appendage ...) has its advantage, and I trust that I'll get recognition someday.
Because of my privileged status as the idler in the tribe, I had no choice but to follow Ethelred's orders. He's in charge and, however much we grumble about it, this is no democracy. As the rain had stopped, the men went mammoth hunting and the women snail collecting; in the meantime, I slumped under a fig tree and activated my grey cells to find a lead to help me discover the murderer's identity. Ethelred and Rufus can say what they like, but I am convinced there's skulduggery afoot and we're dealing with three murders, with a capital M.
The first to cop it was Lackland, whose head was also smashed in with a bloody stone that was then left lying next to it. Lackland was a fine fellow but daft as a brush, so we all thought it was self-inflicted and left it at that. A few moons later it was Beowulf's turn, and since he mostly received blows to the right side of his skull, I started to think we were barking up the wrong tree. Everyone in the clan knew Beowulf was left-handed (because his right arm had ended up in some beast's belly), so it could hardly have been suicide or an accident, which had been our theory in Lackland's case. My suspicions were confirmed this morning when we found Athelstan's corpse. At a glance the cause of death seems similar, but as nobody knows how to carry out an autopsy comme il faut, we can't be sure. In the absence of scientific evidence, I must tread the slippery terrain of hypothesis where it's easy to come a cropper. Nonetheless, I think there are three facts I can establish beyond the shadow of a doubt: firstly, all three met a violent death; secondly, someone smashed their skulls in with a rock; thirdly, it happened while they were sleeping, because we found all three on the pile of rotting leaves we call a bed.
Far be it from me to seem melodramatic, but considering that the modus operandi seems to be the same in each case, I'm beginning to think we are dealing with the first prehistoric serial killer ever. The fellow who did it has bumped off three men and we've yet to find him, so I deduce he must be a cold, calculating male, and brainy into the bargain.
Mid-morning the hunters returned with a couple of mammoths. There were no casualties on this occasion. After clearing it with Ethelred, I started my interrogations and spoke to every member of the tribe to see if anyone was without an alibi. Unfortunately, they all had one, because they swore to a man they were snoozing in the cave. As I'd spent the night at the necropolis reflecting on the question of existence, I realized I was the only one without a rock-solid alibi. But I'd swear I didn't kill Athelstan. I'm almost absolutely sure on that front.
Given that everyone has an alibi, I concluded we were perhaps looking in the wrong place. Not far from our cave there's a small hamlet of stone houses we call Canterbury because the inhabitants love cant. It's more than likely the murderer doesn't belong to our tribe and has come from outside. If the murderer is an outsider, the Canters are top of my list; as far as we know, they are the only prehistoric community round here. After I informed Ethelred of my conclusions, our chief decided to send out a fact-finding mission.
Ethelred, Rufus, Alfred and yours truly went to Canterbury. Initially, we were on tenterhooks, given that the Canters are practising cannibals (endocannibals is the term they use) and we were afraid they'd gobble us up before we could explain why we'd come. In the end, our fears were unfounded. The Canterbury Neanderthals are amazingly hospitable and gave us a first-rate welcome, all things being equal. They even invited us to wash in a green bath of aromatic herbs, a form of ritual ablution, but as water is not our favourite element we politely refused the bath, claiming our beliefs forbade us to wash and we were there on business. After the typical exchange of presents – an oval stone for a round one, a trefoil for an ammonite – we told Penda, their chief, what had happened in our cave and of our suspicions. He was adamant in his response.
"How on earth could the murderer be a Canter if, as you say, nobody tucked into the corpses? You know we are cannibals!" he grimaced, visibly annoyed.
"Yes, but you always reckon you practise endocannibalism, I mean you only eat your own ..." I retaliated.
"In fact, we like a little bit of this and a little bit of that ..." Penda confessed rather reluctantly. "However, we use more sophisticated tools and don't go around killing people with rocks, like you do. For God's sake, if it had been one of us, he'd have used an axe, not a boulder!"
"True enough," I acquiesced.
"Right, let's be off then!" roared Ethelred, springing to his feet. "That's all cleared up, Penda, we won't bother you any more. Do forgive us for burdening you with all our woes. Some individuals," he added, giving me a withering look, "think they are real bloody sapiens sapiens ..."
"Don't worry," said Penda knowingly. "Weeds prosper wherever."
We walked back in silence, our tails between our legs (not merely metaphorically in Alfred's case). Back in our cave, I got a tongue-lashing and savaging I couldn't dodge. Ethelred and Rufus were livid and shouted at me in front of the women.
"We were made to look like complete fools!" Rufus spat in my face. "I don't know what the fucking use such a brainbox is if you never get it right!"
"To err is only human," I answered meekly.
"Come on, Mycroft, stop being such a Sherlock and get cracking. See if you can invent the axe!" added Ethelred. "We were made to look like a bunch of yokels!"
"All right, I'll see what I can do in the morning," I agreed.
I had no choice but to discount the outsider theory and concentrate on the inhabitants of our cave, because if the Canters are innocent, the guilty party must be one of us. After ruminating a while, waiting for the women to serve tea, I thought I'd better concentrate on discovering what the three victims, namely Athelstan, Beowulf and Lackland, had had in common, and I reached the following conclusions: a) all three were male; b) all three were hunters; c) none was immortal. Apart from that I drew a blank and couldn't establish a motive, because the deceased were all beautiful people. Strictly in terms of their characters, I mean.
After tea, while getting ready for my nap, I thought it would be worth my while to create a psychological profile of the murderer and see if I could eliminate any suspects. The results were disappointing: the only conclusion I drew was that the guilty man is someone who can wield a rock. I could discount the children and Offa, who's armless because a bear ate his arms one day while he was taking a siesta under a pile of branches by the cave. Not counting the three who have already passed away, there remain some fifty-three suspects, because I wouldn't want to leave the women out or they'd be furious and accuse me of being a male chauvinist pig. Fifty-three suspects are a lot, but it's better than nothing.
In any case, I needed to shorten my list. I retraced my steps, recalling how I'd established, quite reasonably, that the murderer must be a cold, calculating, intelligent fellow. Naturally, that led me automatically to eliminate women and children from my enquiry. I reviewed the list of males in the tribe and was basically unable to identify a single one worthy of the epithet of "intelligent". Once more, the finger of suspicion points at me: I don't have an alibi and am the only Neanderthal in the group whose neurons function at all. Moreover, I'm a cold customer and the only one able to calculate within a reasonably small margin of error how many tribal males are left now three have bitten the dust. I plucked up my courage and accepted the evidence: no doubt about it, I'm the murderer.
"I've solved the case," I told Ethelred, who was busy carving up a mammoth. "After examining the facts, I've reached the conclusion that I did it."
"What do you mean?" reacted Ethelred, putting the mammoth to one side and glowering at me.
"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" I declared. "Ethelred, I am the murderer."
"Mycroft, cut the crap!" thundered Ethelred, punching a rock and breaking a couple of bones in his left hand.
"How the hell could you have killed them if you faint at the sight of a drop of blood ...?"
"True enough. I'd forgotten."
"So, get on with it. If you don't solve this case, none of us will get any shut-eye and you're up for immolation.
You do know that, don't you?"
"No, I didn't. It's news to me."
"Well, I had the idea a while back. We voted on the motion and it was passed nem. con. Sorry, I forgot to pass the news on."
I have the impression I'm miscuing this investigation. From the start I've focused on who, but perhaps if I concentrate on why the answer will come just like that. Why were Rufus, Beowulf and Athelstan in particular picked for the chop? What's the motive lurking behind their deaths? Who stands to gain?
There's one aspect that Lackland highlighted, and it may be worth consideration. All the males of the tribe are stressed out by the murders but the women, on the contrary, are as cool as cucumbers, as if the serial killer thing doesn't affect them. Not even Matilda, the matriarch of the group, seems the least worried by the fact we have a head-smashing psychopath in the cave. This makes me wonder. What can't I see? What am I missing?
We all know women have a secret: what they do to get pregnant. Do they swallow on the sly a magic root we know nothing about? Do they hoard their farts, inflate their bellies and thus create a child inside themselves? All us males are obsessed with procreation, because however much we bluster on our weekend binges, the females sit in the driving seat. If we could crack the secret behind pregnancy, the power they exert over us would evaporate. Can't you tidy the cave? You've pissed up the wrong tree! The meat was tough again! They treat us like dummies, and on the pretext that they have to suckle their babes they dispatch us to get rid of the rubbish and hunt wild animals, which means we often return to the cave missing a companion or short of a limb. But there's no way we can find out how the buggers do it.
The day before his head was smashed in, Lackland announced he'd found out their big secret: females get pregnant thanks to our white wee-wee. Of course, this is pure idiocy, and apart from Athelstan and Rufus, who are the most credulous of men, none of us gave it a second thought. I mean, if male wee-wee is what gets women pregnant ... the goats and hens in the corral would also be bringing kids into the world! Those poor chaps are so simple-minded!
Even though I don't think the women's secret is connected to the homicides, I decided to have a word with Matilda because all this is making me feel uneasy. I told her my doubts and she immediately reassured me.
"Mycroft, don't get your knickers in a twist, I beg you."
"It's just that you don't seem scared of the psychopath in the cave. At the very least, it's a little odd ..."
"So you want to be the next to appear one morning with his head smashed in, do you?" she asked, picking up a rock.
"Of course I don't ... But if I don't find the guilty party, they're going to immolate me at the crack of dawn. You know how pernickety old Ethelred is ..."
"Sit down and listen to me, then," she said with a sigh. "This is what you must tell Ethelred and his band of rogues."
As Matilda isn't short of spunk and is more than able to send an adult male flying from one end of the cave to another, I sat obediently by her side and listened to her most rational explanations. Given her excellent aim when sling-hunting bats, I found her arguments entirely persuasive. I immediately went to see Ethelred to tell him a second time that I'd solved the case.
"Beowulf, Lackland and Athelstan were punished by the gods because they discovered something they weren't supposed to know," I affirmed smugly.
"And what might that be?" asked Ethelred offhandedly.
"The women's secret. The child thing ..."
"Oh ...!" Ethelred scratched his private parts with his nails and out jumped a couple of fleas. "And who the fuck might these gods be?"
"Gods are superior beings who rule the universe," I answered, making it up as I went along. "They are eternal, almighty and immortal. From up in the sky where they live, they see all and know all."
"How do you know?" he enquired, looking at me like a dead fish.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The First Prehistorical Serial Killer and Other Stories"
Copyright © 2018 Teresa Solana.
Excerpted by permission of Bitter Lemon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Blood, Guts and Love
The First Prehistoric Serial Killer 9
The Son-in-Law 21
Still Life No. 41 39
Happy Families 53
I'm a Vampire 74
Flesh-Coloured People 93
The Second Mrs Appleton 105
Paradise Gained 117
Mansion with Sea Views 136
I Detest Mozart 149
Birds of a Feather 165
Barcelona, Mon Amour 179
But There Was Another Solution 197