A Killer Harvest
The office used to be an old shipping container, its walls scratched and dinged and pitted with rust, now painted gray. These days the only traveling it does is on the back of a truck as it rolls its way up and down the country—a journey it makes once, sometimes twice a year. One of its two long walls has been removed to make way for a door and for a window that over the years has looked out over empty lots as they’ve become apartment complexes and office blocks. Its current view is of a seven-story building. A few of the floors haven’t evolved much beyond steel beams and slabs of concrete, all of it is surrounded by scaffolding stained with dirt and paint and sweat.
The inside of the office has found a way to attract cobwebs, and at the same time repel any warmth, both of these things making Detective Inspector Mitchell Logan shiver as he stands inside it on what so far has been a perfect Christchurch summer morning. The walls have been plastered over, and pinned to them are survey maps and design sketches and blueprints and photographs. There’s a rack holding half a dozen hard hats by the door, with a sticker beneath it that says A HARD HAT A DAY KEEPS THE CONCUSSIONS AWAY. The dust on the window is thick enough to double the thickness of the glass. There’s a desk full of papers, and on the other side of that desk an annoyed-looking foreman by the name of Simon Bower. Bower has slicked-back brown hair and what, up until recently, Mitchell would have called a Unabomber beard, but what his wife has recently pointed out is now called a hipster beard. Bower is a good-looking guy approaching his midthirties, tanned, athletic, and, by the way he keeps looking at his watch, impatient too.
Mitchell glances at his partner—Detective Inspector Ben Kirk—and looks for any sign his friend is cold, but Ben doesn’t show any.
“What kind of questions?” Bower asks, looking at his watch again, as if to make sure it hasn’t been lying to him.
“It’s all fairly routine,” Mitchell says—only it isn’t. None of this is. Mitchell is forty years old, and is fast approaching the date when he will have spent exactly half his life on the force, and in that time he’s learned that the bigger the lie, the bigger the secret. Today the lie is going to be massive. The man they are here to see is going to tell them he was on the other side of the planet visiting his sick mother in hospital. He was on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean rescuing dolphins. He was orbiting the moon. He was anywhere except for the one place they know he had been—Andrea Walsh’s car. And where is Andrea Walsh? They don’t know. But the bloody power saw found near her car suggests she could be discovered in a variety of places—all at the same time. Not only was there blood on the saw, but hair and bone and pieces of flesh, some no bigger than a splinter, others the size of a knuckle, including, what the medical examiner told them, was an actual knuckle. The car was found abandoned two nights ago, pulled up off the motorway, out of petrol. A motorist who had almost run into it reported it. The police had not been able to contact the owner and, the following day, had begun to search the area. The bloody saw was found in a ditch fifty yards off the side of the road with the knuckle lodged under the retractable guard.
It was a mistake for the saw to be dumped so close to the car—but Mitchell is sure whoever dumped it felt it was the better alternative than walking down the motorway with it. The power saw had a serial number. The serial number told them it belonged to a construction company. That is what has led them on a path to this very shipping-container office to talk to this very foreman.
“So why do you need to know who the saw belongs to?” Bower asks. “Somebody steal it?”
“Something like that,” Ben says.
“Don’t you . . . like, you know, don’t you like need a warrant or something?” Bower asks.
“We’d need one, if we were here to search the premises,” Ben says.
“And we’ll get one, if we need to,” Mitchell says.
“Only we know there’s no need,” Ben says, “because we’re not here to look around, we’re here to talk to who uses the power saw that matches that serial number, and you’re going to tell us who that is.”
“All this for a stolen saw?” Bower asks.
“Just give us a name,” Mitchell says.
“Fine, don’t tell me then.” Bower breathes heavily and does his best to sound put out as he moves his coffee cup to the side and slides some papers off his computer keyboard so he can tap at the keys. After a few seconds of typing and clicking, he starts to nod. “Oh,” he says.
“Oh?” Mitchell says.
“The saw belongs to Boris McKenzie,” Bower says.
“And?” Mitchell asks.
“And Boris is . . . well . . . a bit of a hothead. He’s a good guy, a hard worker, but . . . just a suggestion, if you’re here to hassle him for something, you might want to bring reinforcements. He can fire up pretty quick.”
Okay, so it’s not the biggest lie Mitchell has ever heard. It’s not up there with him saying he was busy saving kids from a burning orphanage, but it’s definitely a lie. Mitchell looks at Ben, and Ben gives him a slight nod. It’s what they had expected.
“And where do we find this . . . ?” Mitchell asks.
“Boris McKenzie,” Bower says. “He’s on the fourth floor.”
“What’s it like up there?” Ben asks.
“It’s easy to find.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Bower shrugs. “A mess, I guess. Some half-completed offices, some open planning.”
“A bit of a maze then?” Ben asks.
“I wouldn’t put it like that, but yeah, maybe.”
“How about you show us the way?” Mitchell asks.
“I got a lot of work to do,” Bower says, and proves this by looking again at his watch, and wincing while doing so, as if every passing second is hurting him. “We’re behind schedule as it is, and to be honest, I don’t really want Boris knowing it was me who sent you to him.”
“A place like this, with all these materials and tools and open walls with big heights, it’s better we know exactly who we’re looking for and where we’re going,” Mitchell says.
“Plus, it’s a hazardous area,” Ben says. “Neither of us wants to end up getting electrocuted or having a steel beam dropped on us.”
“Which means you’re coming with us,” Mitchell says.
“I really have to—”
“What?” Ben asks. “Impede an investigation? Or be a good citizen and do your best for the community?”
Bower exhales loudly again, then moves around the desk and grabs a hard hat. He hands one each to Mitchell and Ben. “You go where I go,” he says. “And you do what I say. It’s a danger zone up there if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Exactly why you’re coming with us,” Ben reminds him.
They follow him outside. The warmth of the morning masked by the office comes back. They cover the twenty yards to the building, passing electricians’ vans and plumbers’ vans and glaziers’ vans. There’s the beep-beep of a cement truck backing onto the site. There’s activity from every direction as things are measured and cut and poured and connected. They reach the elevators, which, Bower tells them, were installed four weeks ago. “Otherwise right now we’d be climbing a hell of a lot of ladders,” he says.
Mitchell thinks the constant sound of power tools firing up and winding down would make him go crazy. Workers are yelling and arguing and laughing and Mitchell keeps waiting for somebody to shout look out as something heavy falls towards him. It’s a relief to get inside the elevator, where there is no elevator music and no elevator small talk as they take the ride. The doors open. The building is as much a
shell inside as it is out. There are internal walls with cables hanging out of them. Cables hang from the ceiling too. Nothing has been painted. No flooring has been put down—there’s just concrete sprawling out in front of them, covered in sawdust and metal filings and the occasional nail. There are some windows, but there are also areas where windows haven’t been put in yet, those gaps covered by polythene that flaps in the slight breeze.
“Watch your step,” Bower says.
“How many people are on this floor?” Ben asks.
“Only Boris. And now us. Most of the crew are putting in big efforts on the ground floor today, but Boris is replacing some drywall that got damaged.”
“I can still hear other people,” Ben says.
“Once the windows and insulation are all in you won’t hear a thing outside of this floor,” Bower says.
Ben reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a gun. He points it at the floor.
“Bloody hell, is that necessary?” Bower asks.
“It is if Boris is as big a hothead as you suggest.”
“This isn’t just about a stolen power saw, is it?” Bower says.
“I think it’s best we separate,” Ben says.
“I agree,” Mitchell says, pulling out his own gun.
“Maybe I should go,” Bower says.
“Just stay behind us,” Mitchell says. “You want left or right?” he asks Ben.
“You’re with me,” Mitchell says, glancing back at Bower.
Ben goes left. Mitchell and the foreman go right. A sparrow flies down the corridor towards them, looking for an exit, and a moment later another one follows it. Mitchell can smell plaster. He keeps his gun pointing at the floor. Bower never strays any farther than a few footsteps. They reach the end of the corridor, where one of the windows has been installed, a six-foot-square view looking out over the
office below. The glass dulls the sound from outside. Mitchell can see a truck dropping off more supplies and the cement truck still backing into position.
The next corridor isn’t much different from the one they step out of. Drywall that’s been plastered but still needs painting. Cables everywhere. Hand tools and sawhorses and two- and three-gallon pails of paint stacked along the walls, lengths of architrave next to boxes of nails and screws and soon-to-be-installed light switches, a nail gun and a tile cutter and bags of grout. Mitchell checks the rooms they pass and sees more of the same, some with windows, some with polythene. At the end is a six-foot window identical to that in the previous corridor, only this time instead of glass, a thick piece of polythene covers it. It’s clear enough that he can make out the mounds of dirt and a few vehicles below, but not in any detail. All in all, not much of a view.
He turns back to check on Bower. “We should—”
He stops talking. Bower has picked up the nail gun they passed earlier and is now pointing it at him.
“Wait,” Mitchell says.
Bower doesn’t wait. He squeezes the trigger. Detective Mitchell feels no pain, just a tugging at his body, a tightness in his arm, then his chest, like his muscles are being squeezed. He tries to raise his gun, but his arm won’t move. The nail gun makes a popping sound, another and another. There are four, five, now six nails in his chest. The gun falls out of his hand. He raises his other hand to pull at the nails, but before he can manage it one punctures his palm and goes right through it, sticking his hand to his shoulder. Still there is no pain, only numb pressure points across his body, acupuncture on a giant scale. There is a thud as a nail skims off the side of his hard hat.
“You’ve ruined everything,” Bower says.
“Don’t,” he says, but he knows that isn’t going to stop Bower. This is the moment when his nightmares come true. He can see the police visiting his wife. He can see her collapsing at the news. He can see the police looking into his past and uncovering all the bad shit he’s been
doing for the last five years, bad shit he wanted to take to his grave—which he guesses is what’s about to happen. He drops to his knees. The smell of plaster is weaker. The concrete mixer isn’t as noisy. He can no longer hear the cement truck backing up. He can taste blood. There are more popping sounds. Pressure in his neck. In the side of his face. Bower moves in closer. He places his foot against Mitchell’s chest and there’s nothing he can do to stay balanced as the foreman pushes him backwards.
The polythene separating the inside world from the outside holds his weight for a second, and then another. Then it stretches. It sags in the middle, then stretches some more.
Then it tears.
Mitchell looks up at the building as he falls. He slams into the outer railing of the scaffolding and instead of bouncing inwards, he bounces out, and he thinks, Just typical as he passes the third floor, the second floor, the first floor, gaining speed as he drops.
He doesn’t hear his bones shatter when he hits the ground.
Doesn’t feel his spine or his neck snap.
He doesn’t feel anything.