Murder by Art
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by Biff Mitchell
Description: It's 2060. In Backstreet Records, a brooding audiophile thinks murder. Upstairs at Studio4Ward where skulls, dreams and beer cans are the stuff of art, 300 pounds of human sculpture dangles dead from the wall. It's time to call in the notorious super sleuth Boston Jonson to smoke out the murderer with insults and Zen.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2008 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [60 KB]
Reading time: 33-47 min.
Boston Jonson in Murder by Art
"True art is immune to the viewer," she said. Her name was WhiteFeather. Just WhiteFeather. She was an artist, a fiber artist to be precise, who used an unusual combination of fibers in her art--bones, animal skulls, human hair, menstrual blood, souls of found objects, unusual stuff. The three hundred pound corpse nailed to the wall was also an artist. He painted beer cans, but that wasn't his real art. WhiteFeather looked disgustedly at the big man hanging on the wall. "He'd get drunk and go on and on about his life itself being a work of art in progress." She shook her head. "Well, thank God he finally finished it."
She walked back to her studio, ducking under a snakeskin chandelier, real snakeskin. Boston couldn't help noticing that she had a nice ass. After all, it was his job to notice things. She also had a wide mouth lit up with the brightest red lipstick he'd ever seen, but it suited her dark hair and eyes. He was tempted to tell her that she was a fine work of art, but he was here on business. He had a referral to make, and it looked like he was going to be up to his neck in shit again, but that was his choice. This was just the kind of referral he loved--weird, like him. Like, how often did you get a referral for a three hundred pound work of human art hanging on the wall of the most notorious art studio in the city, infamous for wild parties and wilder artists. Juicy.
"More like somebody finished it for him," said Boston. The dead guy's name was Art Cranbury. He owned the century and half old building that housed Studio4Ward, a former dance hall, now broken into four open studios shared by three hot stuff comers in the art world and one cold stiff that was soon to be hot stuff in the webloids. Apparently, the stiff had been a pain in the ass. "How long has he owned the building?"
WhiteFeather looked up from a leather moccasin from which she was extracting metal staples with a pair of pliers. "For the last six months. We thought it would be cool at first, having the building owner in here as one of us." She tugged a particularly stubborn staple. It came out with a small tearing sound. "As one of us, maybe he'd lower the rent, put in air conditioning." She pointed up to the ceiling at a circular opening about eight feet in diameter with ornate wooden struts radiating from the center. There was one in each corner of the studio. "Those fans just push the hot air around. On a hot day, this place is a furnace." She pulled out another stubborn piece of metal with a loud chunk sound. "Who the hell makes moccasins with staples?" she asked herself angrily.
"But having him here didn't work out?"
"The opposite." She rested the pliers and moccasin in her lap and looked up at Boston. "He lied about being an artist. That's his studio over there." She pointed to a corner with a heavy duty beach chair surrounded by beer cans, empty pizza boxes, and stains that looked like dried barf. An easel holding a child-like painting of a beer can faced out from his studio. All of Studio4Ward was cluttered, but Cranbury's corner was filthy. "He was here almost every night, getting drunk, belching, farting, leering. The other two artists are women. We made a point of never being alone when he was here, and he was here most of the time. He passed out in his chair a lot, and stayed the night. He did that for over a week once. Went downstairs once or twice a day for beer and pizza deliveries. We had to plant air fresheners all over the place because the smell of him was sickening."
"Karma," said Boston.
"Beg your pardon?" She looked puzzled. After thinking a moment, she looked at Boson irritably. "Even if we'd told him he couldn't move in ... he owned the building. He could have moved in without our permission, or raised the rent, or just make life miserable for us in other ways." She went back to pulling staples, but now with strong, angry tugs.
Boston turned back to the man on the wall. Art Cranbury was massive. He was nailed up Christ-like, hands open and nailed pretty much where Boston assumed the nails in Christ's hands would have been. His head was propped by another nail, more accurately, a spike. Same for his feet--crossed at the ankles and spiked together. The only difference between Cranbury and Christ--besides size and sainthood--was that Art Cranbury had been nailed up backwards. And he was naked. Two enormous mounds of ass fat drooped from the center of his body, which had been painted with red and white stripes, barber pole style.
It was time to get into the vibes of this place. Boston had a theory about vibrations. They were at the core of all being, the building blocks of Creation. Come into contact with the vibrations of a place and your imprint would be left on them like aftershave in a breezeless hall, which meant that Art Cranbury's last minutes on Earth lurked in the vibrations in this room. Boston closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, taking the air deep into his tan dien--the area behind his belly button that served as a powerhouse of spiritual and psychic energy--expelling it slowly, evenly. He dropped his shoulders and let his awareness sink into his belly button. He cleared his mind of clutter and entered the void. A deep low hum originating in his throat moved up into his sinus cavity, emanated from his nostrils. He stood by the body, ignoring its stench, and searched the stuff of Creation for clues.
As usual, nothing happened.
WhiteFeather watched him, still tugging staples. Her expression said it all: she'd rather be extracting wisdom teeth from his jaws.
He had that effect on people. After all, he was Boston Jonson, Crème de la Crop of the CI fold--a Consultative Investigator, society's filter between crime and the cops. His job was to be first in, check it out, and make a referral for anything from a full scale murder investigation to no further action required, or somewhere in between, like bring in the social workers and shamans or let the media handle this one. They sent him to snoop and refer--something he rarely did, being notorious for outstaying his welcome and acting the proverbial shit stirrer. But the webloids loved him--with eye-catching shoulder length tangerine hair, aqua eyes, square movie star jaw and a penchant for colorful Hawaiian hula-hula shirts, he looked just offbeat enough to capture the public's imagination.
He stood on his toes and craned his neck around the dead man's head. Having never met anyone weirder than himself, Boston was seldom shaken by anything he saw on the job, but what he saw now raised his eyebrows. The dead man's eyes were wide open, but not with horror. The zany smile on his face suggested joy, happiness, bliss--like he'd died getting his jollies off. This was getting weirder by the minute. He loved it.
Boston's wallet buzzed. It was Laurel from Central CI. He snapped his wallet open and saw the familiar woman's head on the tiny screen. "Boston," she said. "They want quick and dirtless on this one. The skinny is, Arthur Cranbury was an asshole, but a very rich asshole. Old money. Old family. He was the black sheep. The family would like his memory to just pass away with him. These people are powerful, Boston."
"They're always powerful," said Boston into his wallet.
The face in the wallet looked annoyed. "Who's always powerful, Boston?"
"Old moneyed families."
"That has nothing to do with anything except you need to just make your referral and get the hell out of there. Even the police are going to cooperate on this one--maybe call it suicide."
"Laurel," said Boston, staring at the body on the wall. "He was nailed face-first to a wall with spikes and nails in his hands, head, and ankles. Then he was painted like a candy cane."
"Some people like to get creative with their suicides. Make your referral."
"Just a couple of things I have to check out."
"I'll get back to you." He snapped his wallet shut, cutting off a loud "Bost...!" and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. It buzzed immediately, but he ignored it. He noticed several dolls on the wall behind WhiteFeather. The heads appeared to be skulls of small animals and the hair flowing down from their heads looked human. "Into the death thing?" he asked, pointing at the dolls.
WhiteFeather glared at him. "Into the life thing. The dolls are reminders of the cycle of life. It includes death. Shouldn't you just be following orders like the woman in your wallet said, and make your referral so that we can all just go back to normal?"
He ignored her question. "Did he have enemies?"
She cocked her head in the question mark pose, eyes and mouth wide, but instead of saying 'duh' she said, "Haven't you heard anything anybody's told you? The woman on the phone said his entire family wants him forgotten. She called him an asshole. I told you what he's been doing to the artists here. Everybody in the building wants him gone!"
Boston raised an eyebrow. "Everybody in the building?"
She pushed out a loud sigh. "See that stereo system behind his chair?" Boston looked where she was pointing and saw an old pre-2020 nano-enhanced mini-system. The get-up would fit into your cupped hands, but it blasted out a thousand watts of ear splitting sound. "He cranked it so loud that everybody in the building could hear, and all he ever played was Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. He played it over and over and over. Eric threatened to kill him once." She stopped short. "But he didn't really mean it. It was just rhetorical."
"What did he say?"
"Keep it up and I'll kill you."
"Hmm," mused Boston. "Rhetorical."
"Eric can be gruff at times," said WhiteFeather, picking up the pliers and moccasin again. "But he's not a murderer. He would never kill anybody."
"And just who is Eric?" said Boston nonchalantly, but feeling like a bloodhound catching a whiff of prey. Could it be this easy?
"Just because you say you're going to kill somebody, doesn't mean that you mean it," she said, snapping a staple angrily.
"Then he'll be OK. Who is he?"
"Eric Hill. He owns a music store downstairs." She pointed the pliers in a direction through the floor and off to Boston's left. "Backstreet records. He sells plastic records to audiophiles." She let go of the moccasin and pliers, clasped her hands and let them settle in her lap. "He's had to come up here over and over to tell Art to turn the music down. I mean, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Eric's customers are serious audiophiles. They come in and hear that garbage blasting down the stairs, and they turn around and leave. Eric said that Art was driving his customers away, putting him out of business."
"So why didn't he just leave? Set up business somewhere else?"
"This building is special," said WhiteFeather. "We all love this place. There isn't anything like it anywhere else in the city. To get in here, we all had to sign five-year leases, and we have two more years to go. If we move out before then, we lose our deposits."
"How much are the deposits?"
"Five thousand dollars."
Boston whistled. "Big deposits."
"They let us pay on them over the first two years."
"Is Hill in now?"
"He's always in," said WhiteFeather, picking up her work again. "He practically lives in his shop. It's down the stairs, to your right. Oh, and from now on..." She closed the pliers on a staple tightly and twisted it out of the moccasin almost violently. "...keep your eyes off my ass."