Authors: James R. Benn
ALSO BY THE AUTHOR
The First Wave
Evil for Evil
Rag and Bone
A Mortal Terror
A Blind Goddess
Copyright © 2014 by James R. Benn
All rights reserved.
Published by Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Benn, James R.
The rest is silence : a Billy Boyle World War II mystery / James R. Benn.
1. Boyle, Billy (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. World War, 1939-1945—England—Fiction. 3. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
If music be the food of love, play on …
, Act I, Scene 1
The rest is silence. O, o, o, o.
, 1603 (S
April 23, 1944
I was in trouble when the coroner wheeled in the body, encased in a rubber sack, on a wobbly gurney with one wheel that wanted to go in any direction but straight.
Police surgeon, I should say, instead of coroner, since this is England, not the States. I’m happy to tell you more, if only to put off thinking about that smell. It’s still coating the back of my throat and clinging to my skin, so here you go.
I’d been sent to Kingsbridge, a nice little town by the southwest coast of England. Picturesque, actually, despite the thousands of GIs everywhere, camped in fields, housed in barracks and barns, marching in every direction, whistling at girls, and tossing chewing gum to kids who trailed in their wake. The roar of trucks and tanks tore through the peace and quiet of this seaside town, as it did in plenty of others like it.
Allied forces were here waiting for word to invade occupied Europe. Everyone knew the invasion was around the corner. Not the exact time or place, but with all these soldiers, sailors, and airmen here, the anticipation was building up to a fever pitch. They
to go somewhere, and soon, or else the pressure and the stress of waiting would break even the strongest. Me, I was here because some poor slob got himself washed up on the shore near Slapton, a small seaside town not far from Kingsbridge. It would have passed unnoticed if the beach, Slapton Sands, wasn’t being used to practice amphibious
landings: the kind of landings that would soon be happening across the Channel, in France.
I work for a guy who’s paid to get nervous about stuff like that, who sees conspiracies and danger in every unexplained event. Why did the corpse end up on this particular beach? Was he a German spy, a drunken fisherman, or a downed pilot? How come no one had reported him missing, no civil or military authority? Colonel Samuel Harding is an intelligence officer with Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, and unanswered questions bother him, so here I am in Kingsbridge to fill in the blanks. I work at SHAEF as well. I have the flaming sword patch on my shoulder to prove it, not to mention orders signed by General Eisenhower himself giving me the authority to go anywhere and question anyone as part of this investigation. Helpful, if some senior officer wants to push a mere captain around.
That’s what led me to Dr. Verniquet and his mortuary. The questions and the corpse. The smell was already overpowering, even though the bag was zipped up tight. The antiseptic smell of the tiled basement room, painted bright white, faded under the onslaught of decay. Think of a slab of beef left out in the sun for a couple of days, then add a dash of metallic odor and a tinge of vomit.
“Are you ready, Captain Boyle?” Dr. Verniquet said. He was short, with a shock of white hair sticking out behind his ears, marking the last stand of a receded hairline. He wore a stained white coat, and a lit cigarette dangled from his lips, probably to help mask the odor of decomposition, although in this case it might take an entire pack.
“Sure,” I said, aiming for a nonchalant tone. I’d seen plenty of corpses, even fished a few ripe ones out of Boston Harbor back when I was a cop, before the war, and before my personal count of dead bodies skyrocketed. I’d witnessed a few autopsies as well, and even though I’d retched bile in the hall midway through my first, no one had seen me slip out. I’d managed to keep it together after that. Cops are supposed to always be in control, and that extended to the morgue. It was part of the job, a duty to the dead, and everyone expected you to get it done without putting your last meal on display. Especially my dad. He was a homicide detective, and he’d told me when I was a rookie
not to disgrace myself when I got around to my first autopsy. That was easy. I simply hadn’t eaten a thing that day.
“He’s been in cold storage waiting for you to arrive,” the elderly doctor said. “No one has claimed the body.” He gripped the zipper and glanced at me. I nodded.
As he pulled the zipper open, waves of putrid stench washed over me, each worse than the last. I tried to breathe, but my body revolted at drawing in more of the rancid air. I blinked, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. Dark, bloated flesh, marked by pockets of greyish-white growth on the cheeks and belly. No eyes, no lips. Teeth bared in a hideous grimace.
“Show me the bullet wounds,” I said, unable to focus my watering eyes, trying for quick, shallow breaths.