6] A Mole In The Morgue
Ant Detective: Case of the Partially Missing Barber
The dulcet tones of Grenda’s peculiar brand of music chased Kowalski down the hall. At one point the lead screamer chanted, “Each hit, each hit,” at least seven times past its welcome, without the appearance of any attempt to make sense. Then, after what seemed to be an imitation of himself but with a throat infection, he went on to bellow, “And I! And I,” leaving Kowalski thoroughly confused.
Old people today and their music, he thought, with a condescending shake of the head.
At least Grenda had turned out not to want him dead - Kowalski was happy to cross a name off that list for a change. She was even going to get him evidence on Spelter, and all it had cost him was the ability to sleep soundly ever again. Not that he did much of that anyway. So, overall, he put Operation Deathtrap down as a resounding success.
Which might help explain why Kowalski now crept along the corridor with the hyper-alert anxiety of He Who Smelt It. His plans never, ever, worked out the way they were meant to. And for one to work out better? The last time that happened he’d won $60 and been hospitalised until he could keep down solid food. He’d gotten off easier than Jeff, sure, he still had his lips after all, but the point remained that the universe was out to get him and by succeeding like he had he was only asking for trouble.
Thankfully he hadn’t had to resort to his back up plan; running away. His lungs burned just from the thought of it. Kowalski was far from the fittest specimen of ant-hood even when he was diligent on his Stairmaster, which was never, and to top it off it had been an exciting morning so far - his heart just might not be in it if he tried.
Eventually his cautious sidling got him to the end of the corridor. Two more hallways and he was free, probably to have some karmic car crash for all he knew but if nothing else he wouldn’t make it easy for the universe by dying in the morgue. It was all about the little victories. He gathered his courage and, as quietly as he could, he inched around the corner with the precision of a metric ant.
And came face to face with the coroner’s assistant. Or, more accurately, face to what he hoped was a gun in his pocket.
Two thoughts went through his single lane brain at almost the exact same time. The first was this; if the coroner wasn’t dirty, how did Spelter intend to grease Herbert through without an autopsy?
And the second came while staring at a pair of biceps that probably required a concealed carry license to put on a t-shirt; what will the janitor think about having to clean bits of Kowalski’s outtards off of the floor, walls, and ceiling?
Both came back with the same answer: Ick.
The coroner’s assistant.
Spelter wouldn’t take the risk of covering up Herbert’s death unless he had an ant in the morgue, and who was better placed and ready to be manipulated than the mentally forfeit coroner’s assistant? For all Kowalski knew Spelter could be paying him in bottle caps.
And now that he had been seen, he was as good as dead. One phone call to Spelter would see to that.
If Ick didn’t decide to cut out the middleman.
Fortunately, Ick was still thinking. His flabby mouth chewed repeatedly on some word he probably wouldn’t be able to pick out of a line-up, and the two-watt bulb behind his eyes was desperately trying to flicker into stubborn existence. Kowalski watched this happen with the trembling anticipation of, say, someone about to get beaten to death, so it should come as no surprise that when Ick finally twitched with recognition Kowalski was already ten yards gone on his leeward side and gaining.
He may not be much at running away, at least in the literal sense, but being a coward helps cover all kinds of gaps in experience.
Ick had the turning circle of a train in a tunnel, and anyway it took him a few seconds to even realise Kowalski was gone, so by the time he felt-more-than-heard lumbering footsteps behind him he was halfway down the corridor and not looking back. He was too busy keeping an eye on his feet, who were known delinquents when it came to anything above a brisk crawl.
The corner approached as rapidly as his unorthodox style of running would let it, but each and every ground shaking stamp of the giant ant caused his teeth to rattle just that little bit more. With the sound of glass shattering and metal giving way a section of the hallway went dark behind him, something he could only assume had something to do with Ick’s head and a roof light that was too stubborn to get out of the way.
And worse, it didn’t even slow him down.
Kowalski took the corner as if he were a learner driver and it a stop sign, and his feet nearly came out from under him. But he’d been watching them, so they made some red-faced excuses and got back to getting him out of there. He made it and for a moment he actually felt relieved, because there was no way Ick could make that turn without hitting the-
An ill-thought-out peek behind him saw an Ick-shaped mosaic of tiles crushed into the wall just inside the corner, as well as an Ick-shaped Ick so close that a well timed fart was rapidly becoming a viable defensive countermeasure. In particular though, the peek was ill-thought-out because it freed Kowalski’s feet from supervision and they immediately cut class. He came tumbling down in a mass of legs and arms and antennae that wasn’t altogether different from how he’d looked while running.
Ick came down too, but with the appearance of the boulder from one of those Indianta Jones movies. And the grace of someone completely certain that nothing in the world can hurt them. He rolled right over Kowalski, which would have left a watery pink smear on the floor had he not grabbed the little ant and hugged him tight like Mother with a freshly jellied baby.
Over and over they rolled. To Ick it was like springtime in a meadow, with songbirds twitting after him as he raced through endless fields of daffodils under the soft smile of the sun.
For Kowalski, well, he couldn’t wait for the ‘dying’ to end and the ‘dead’ to begin.
They stopped at last not far from the side entrance to the morgue. Ick’s misshapen hands clutched painfully around Kowalski’s midsection, and with a grunt he began to squeeze. There was no escape. Kowalski felt like one small ant-shaped sack of razorblades already, so it was with his ears that he witnessed his brutal and not entirely unwarranted demise. His ribs cracked and scraped, and a wet squelching sound heralded his guts dribbling out of somewhere like soup.
He had never died before, so he wasn’t expecting it to be so damn disorientating. His head spun and all the blood rushed from one end of him to another faster than happy hour at one of the classier stripper ant establishments. He’d have thrown up if his stomach hadn’t just been squeezed out of him like a blob of paint on the palette.
Then his feet touched the ground and Ick’s hands carefully unfurled from his waist.
Kowalski immediately fell over, which just caused more pain to shoot through his ruined body. But he could feel it now, the pain. And a cursory brush of his ribs confirmed they were all still inside of his body, seemingly unbroken. His stomach, too, announced it was still where it was meant to be by violently ejecting its contents all over his shirt.
Somehow, he was alive. And mostly unhurt.
The horrifying sounds of his death, he realised with only a moderate lessening of his unease, were in fact the illiterate chuckles and associated wheezes coming out of the coroner’s assistant. The big man-slash-child pointed a knobbly finger at Kowalski and said mockingly, “Good try, but me catch. You lit-tul, you run, me all-way catch. Ick win. Ick all-way catch.”
With his boast delivered, Ick chewed out a rough, “Mudda prov-eyes,” and shambled back into the morgue to most probably forget about Kowalski entirely.
It took Kowalski a few minutes to get to his feet. Or longer maybe, he drifted in and out for a bit there. And to think that he’d initially put Operation Deathtrap down as a success, when where it really belonged was under ‘reason for walking funny’ on the consultation form at the hospital.
He was done speculating on the mole in the morgue - it seemed like doing so only invited someone to hurt him. Anyway, maybe the mole didn’t even exist. Maybe he was giving Spelter too much credit.
If it wasn’t Grenda or Ick, who else could it even be?
At least the universe had finally balanced itself out. One small victory for Kowalski, one near-death experience and possible slipped disc in return. With his karma paid and then some, he wasn’t so worried about what would come next.
Yep, he was in the clear.
He hobbled to the side entrance door and nearly tripped over a fallen mop. The janitor, it appeared, had left his equipment in a corner by the door and snuck out.
Kowalski couldn’t blame him. If he had to spend one more second in this nightmare factory, he’d need a cigarette too.
title: The Mole With his boast delivered, Ick shambled back into the morgue and most probably forgot about Kowalski entirely.