His Wife’s Body

(a mystery short)


Mrs Billingham was taken to the station at about 04:05 PM, having been declared dead by a doctor checking his pocket watch 5 minutes earlier. She had, it appeared, heavily made herself up and curled her hair in the hours preceding her death, before which she'd taken a large number of barbiturates that had been in a bottle on her nightstand. The death reminded Inspector Mitchell of articles he'd read in the tabloids over a decade ago, about Marilyn Monroe. Monroe had been 36, old by Hollywood standards. Mrs Billingham was 54, young by current British standards.  
'She's got a sales bag's worth of stocking on her Scotch Eggs' he observed, helping to heft her body onto the mortician's slab. 'Half the job'll be cutting those off.' Mitchell looked down at her legs, thick cylinders of nylon. He recalled her note: 'I just didn't feel real without him.' Referring to Mr Billingham, a veteran of the last war who'd never been the same since his time in a POW camp. The note was written on the back of a photograph dated 1939, two weeks before the five young men depicted were shipped out, and five to six years before all but one would be either declared or presumed dead. 'Tell me when you've examined her' said Mitchell to the mortician, 'though I doubt she holds much secret.'  
Returning to his office, Mitchell examined the photograph again. The lads were gathered around a table in their uniforms, drinking beer from tankards and smoking cigarettes that smouldered in an ashtray. Behind them, a fishing scene was framed and hung. The Sailor's Rest. Mitchell recognised the pub and had drunk there several times, though it wasn't his local. The painting, he recalled, still hung there.  
But it wasn't that which drew his eyes to the photograph and held them there. He gazed for a few moments at the late Mr Billingham, a monobrowed and snaggle-toothed youth. To his left was another such boy, slightly more handsome but also still a product of a pre-war working-class diet of tripe, ale, and work. To his right, however, was a freckled redhead with what Mitchell's mother would have called a "weak and sensual mouth". He was smiling shyly, eyes downcast. Billingham's arm was around him.  
The squat black phone on Mitchell's shattered the silence. The inspector heaved a sigh and answered it. 'Good god, man' he said, 'do you really need me to come down there? I'd just gotten comfortable. Why can't you just say it over the phone?' The mortician demurred, and so Mitchell found himself a few minutes later in the station's basement morgue again. 'Well?' he said. Behind the mortician, he could see the lady herself, presumably, under a white blanket.  
'I finished the examination' said the mortician, 'and she did indeed die of barbiturate poisoning. But there's still something that I think you ought to see...' He went to the table and lifted a bottom corner of the sheet. Inspector Mitchell's eyes grew too big for his head as the latter processed what he was seeing. 'You knew him, didn't you?'  
'Who?' said Mitchell, disoriented.  
'Mr Billingham, the husband.'  
'I played darts with him on occasion' Mitchell replied, steadying himself against the wall. 'He didn't have many friends. I thought they'd all died in the war, the ones he was really close to.' Thinking about Mr Billingham, and looking down at his wife's body, the photograph came back to him. The man with the weak and sensual mouth. He had a feeling that if he investigated those five men, that particular one would have an AWOL notice attached to his name. One of the many working-class soldiers who fell through the cracks.  
He remembered asking Billingham once about his wife, how it had been a joke among the team that she was the only one who never came to watch him play darts. 'She's using the time to have her affairs!'  
Billingham had only smiled, and said: 'I'm the only bloke who'd look twice at her.'  
Mitchell looked at a steel tray to one side of the room, in which the mortician had carefully and reverently lain a black wig. To the inside of the wig clung a few red hairs.
Written by Casted_Runes (Mr Karswell)
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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