by Debbie Manning (Runner-up in the short story category)
I have watched all the superhero films and they say one thing. When you have a superpower you must use it for the greater good. Defend those who cannot defend themselves. I have yet to determine if such a power was transferred to me by accident or with deliberation but however bizarre this story will seem to you the fact remains that the day I received my power was the day I should have died.
It was like any other day – I woke up and went out for my routine swim in the local bay of Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife. The day as always was promising to be a sunny day and off I went from coast to seawall ensuring to avoid the small fishing boats and the hooks and lines of the local fisher folk. My mood was cheerful and it was one of those days where one feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude that it is good to be alive.
As I was doing my u turn and swimming in the choppier section where one seawall is sweeping behind me from the right and another to my left, something attached itself to my left ankle, at first I assumed it to be an abandoned piece of fishing net and I shook my leg to free whatever it was that bound it. But then in that same moment, something gripped my right ankle and before I knew it, I was being pulled down beneath the surface of the water. I had no time to take a deep breath and in my panic I swallowed mouthfuls of salty sea water. Whatever creature had pulled me down into the depths of the sea was now wrapping itself around my entire body and what I had assumed to be a mass of air bubbles were in fact circular blue-ringed suckers and my last rational thought was that somebody on the Muelle would have seen my plight and would by now be calling for help.
When I woke up, it was on the pebbly shore and it was night time. Nobody had seen my plight and when I looked around me it was to find that I was alone. I was in my bikini and my body ached like hell… but I was alive? I rushed home and was filled with relief that nobody had seen me because as I stared at my reflection I realised that I might have defied death but I had became something else entirely.
DS Morgan listened to the Pathologist with open irritation. The woman had been talking for well over thirty minutes and every time she tried to interject with an opinion of her own, the Pathologist would hold her hand up in the way that people do when indicating they have not finished talking. DS Morgan rubbed at her tired and gritty eyes and groaned inwardly when the Pathologist repeated, “It really is quite extraordinary. All four victims were killed by the fatal venom of the blue-ringed octopus and yet there is no evidence of water in their_”
“I’m a homicide detective from London supposedly on a well earned holiday,” DS Morgan snapped, her irritation finally boiling over into sarcasm. “From what I’ve ascertained so far is that this man along with three other unfortunate victims went for a swim and were killed by an Octopus. Shouldn’t you be talking to the local police… and get some divers_”
“Weren’t you briefed about the case?”
“Have you closed the beaches?” DS Morgan asked rather than answering the question that would admit that ‘no’ she had not read the case file her boss had e-mailed to her from Scotland Yard.
“It isn’t necessary to close down the beaches because they weren’t killed directly by the sea creatures.” The Pathologist said.
Morgan frowned with confusion. “You stated that they were?” and her irritation again boiled over into sarcasm, “don’t tell me you’ve interviewed the octopus and it’s come up with an alibi?”
The pathologist raised an eyebrow. “I was hoping that London would have sent somebody with more experience than a Detective Sergeant.”
“More experience on what,” Morgan answered irritably, “Investigating octopuses,” and shrugging her shoulders she turned to leave. “If you don’t mind I’ll continue on with my holiday.”
“The blue ringed octopus,” the Pathologist continued, “is found from Japan to Australia in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. If these victims had been stung by these sea creatures there would be evidence of drowning and yet I found no water in their lungs.”
Morgan stopped in her tracks, “Damn,” she muttered and made her way back towards the autopsy table.
“Look at the victim’s neck,” the Pathologist instructed DS Morgan while handing to her a small magnifying glass. She peered at the tiniest of puncture wounds on the man’s neck, “So,” she asked, “this man is the fourth victim? Were they all murdered at the same location?”
“No. The first victim was found in La Paz… up from Puerto de la Cruz but all four victims were found in restaurants.”
“Please don’t tell me that they were eating octopus,” joked DS Morgan, “and we have a vigilante taking revenge for these creatures.” When the Pathologist remained silent she added with seriousness, “Okay so clearly there is somebody going around injecting people with octopus venom… but I still don’t understand why this isn’t being investigated locally?”
“If you had read the case notes you would have known that as of this morning, Scotland Yard were able to confirm that all four were on the UK’s most wanted criminal list so the killer knew of their true identities and indeed of their crimes… so we are working on the basis that someone is seeking justice and that someone is a British citizen.”
“So we do have a vigilante,” commented DS Morgan, “and in my experience poisonous substances are often the modus operandi used by women. When did the first victim die?”
“Four days ago. The second was murdered the day after that in a local restaurant in Puerto de la Cruz, near to the Muelle. And yes I found traces of Pulpo in all four.”
“You’re kidding,” exclaimed DS Morgan.
DS Morgan frowned and then asked, “Why take so long in contacting us?”
“The first two deaths were suspected Myocardial Infarction and at the time their paperwork seemed in order and so at first it was assumed that they were two British tourists over here on holiday. Their bodies were transported to the local morgue and the police were in the process of contacting family members to confirm their identities.”
“Did anybody come forward?
“No the police had trouble contacting anybody. It was when the third victim was found two days ago that the deaths became suspicious. She was found in the central bar of Plaza Charco_”
“Crikey,” remarked Morgan, “My apartment looks over the Plaza and I swim in the Muelle most mornings when I’m here on holiday.”
“As I was explaining,” the Pathologist continued, “when the third victim was discovered in Plaza Charco it was the same officer on the scene that had also dealt with the victim at the Muelle and he noted that the same time of 15.15 had been displayed on both of the victim’s watches. Looking at the personal effects of the first victim confirmed that his watch had also stopped at 15.15. That raised suspicions and it was then that they called me in to investigate all three corpses. I then discovered the puncture marks on their necks and ordered a Tox to be done. In the meantime, the police here liaised with Scotland Yard and Europol and it was then that it became apparent that all four had been using false identities and papers.”
DS Morgan looked at her watch and read, 12.20, “so there is a killer on Tenerife killing one person per day.”
“Yes. So far they have targeted those hiding out in the North of Tenerife. This man was found yesterday afternoon in a restaurant in La Laguna. Tox results again confirmed the poison to be that of the venom from an Octopoda and I managed to narrow the strain down to that of the blue-ringed octopus.”
“Quick results,” remarked Morgan and peering down at the corpse she added. “I didn’t realise octopuses were venomous,” and frowning she then asked. “Are we on their food chain?”
“No,” answered the Pathologist, “Their favourite food is cangrejo,” she paused, adding, “crab. Octopuses sting when threatened but they are harmless. Only the blue-ringed is the deadliest to a human. Its venom is so lethal one sting can kill twenty-five humans.”
“So,” commented DS Morgan, “the person we’re looking for not only has extensive knowledge on the location of wanted criminals but also on Octopuses? There has to be a link between the two? How easy is it to capture these creatures and extract their venom?”
The Pathologist walked over to the rinsing table. “We don’t get many suspicious deaths here on Tenerife and this being a holiday island we needed to act quickly. As I’ve already said, it’s all in your case file. We’ve been sent a list of known UK criminals on the ‘wanted list’ and it seems that you have rather a lot.”
“Our Island is bigger than yours,” remarked Morgan.
The Pathologist laughed. “Well I’ve got work to do,” she said, “as do you,” and without further ado she walked out of the autopsy room.
Morgan stared after feeling somewhat foolish. Sighing aloud she then dialled her boss in Scotland Yard to brief him on the certainty that there would be another victim found today at 15.15 before walking out of the autopsy room.
It was late morning the next day and DS Morgan went for her daily swim from coast line to the sea wall in the Muelle. There had been another death yesterday but the victim had been found in a restaurant in Lanzarote; a German man listed on Europol’s ‘wanted list’ in Germany. The remainder of her yesterday and this morning had been spent trawling through CCTV footage and she was to return to London first thing tomorrow to brief a team that would include police officers from all over Europe. The case was now officially known as Operation Octopus.
Taking a deep lungful of air she continued to swim beneath the water until she finally reached the shore line. Then, having navigated the rocky terrain she finally stepped onto the pebbly beach and was wrapping a towel around her body when she heard somebody saying, “Buenos dias, DS Morgan.”
“Oh… hello,” she answered, startled to see the Pathologist.
“Do you always wear a full wet suit?”
“Um…” DS Morgan paused. “Yes… I feel the cold more than most.”
“You’ve an impressive capacity to hold your breath under water,” the Pathologist continued. “I watched you go under and then I timed you. Ten minutes is rather a rare skill for a human and somewhat of a useful one.”
“I’m a rather unusual human,” joked DS Morgan. “So,” she then said. “The killer managed to make their way to Lanzarote and kill a fifth victim, a German man.”
“How the killer managed to pass through customs and travel to another island carrying the venom of an octopus is a mystery isn’t it?” The Pathologist asked, adding, “Unless of course he or she was able to swim to the island undetected.”
“You don’t think that I’m involved just because I can hold my breath longer than the norm,” DS Morgan said with annoyance.
“I found out that you arrived on our island five days ago. The day before the murders.”
“That proves nothing and to know the exact location of a criminal is near on impossible especially if said criminal is going by an alias. In fact the only person who would know of their identities would be the one who forged their passports and papers.” DS Morgan picked up her bottle of water and taking a glug she quietly observed the Pathologist. “Besides,” she then said. “I’ve no knowledge on octopuses only in as much as they go very nicely with chips.”
The Pathologist held her hands up by way of an apology in the manner that DS Morgan had witnessed more times than she could count. “Good day to you…” but then she paused when seeing for the first time the intricate pattern of blue ringed tattoos on the palms of the Pathologist’s hands. “Interesting tattoos you have there,” she remarked.
“I don’t have any tattoos.”
“Of course you do,” DS Morgan replied. “There… on the palms of your hands.”
“No I don’t,” the Pathologist answered while showing DS Morgan her hands and sure enough there wasn’t a mark on them.
“Sorry… I really thought I saw tattoos.”
The Pathologist then pointed toward the restaurant situated on the sea wall. “As it is your last day let me buy you lunch over at the place that we at work call the Office.”
“That really isn’t necessary,” DS Morgan frowned.
“They serve excellent Pulpo with chips.”
DS Morgan crossed her arms defensively. She was becoming uncomfortable around the Pathologist, something did not seem right. Glancing again to the woman’s hands and seeing no tattoos she frowned and then she considered two things: One – that she, DS Morgan, was going dolally or Two – the Pathologist was playing tricks on her and if so why? “I’ll meet you over there,” she answered. “Give me ten minutes,” and she dashed off of the beach and into her apartment.
Ten minutes later, DS Morgan was seated opposite the Pathologist who had her back to the sea. DS Morgan glanced at the view of the small coastal bay and then up at the restaurant where the second victim was found four days ago and she could just make out the remnants of torn police tape flickering in the warm sea breeze. The waitress then came over and she placed her order of the local Pulpo dish and a small beer.
“You might catch your killer today?” The Pathologist said while nodding toward the waitress.
DS Morgan instinctively looked at her watch and noting the time to be two o’clock she looked around the vicinity of the restaurant making a mental note of every customer seated in the place. It was possible that the killer would attack here today at this restaurant – a network of people working all over Europe.
“But then,” the Pathologist said, “how would such a person be able to kill somebody in Tenerife and then in Lanzarote and then again today in Tenerife. That takes some skill doesn’t it? To pass through customs carrying octopus venom the first time unchecked is perhaps forgivable but a second time? That would make a fool out of the police wouldn’t it?”
“If that’s the killer’s intention then yes,” DS Morgan answered tersely. “We could be looking at more than one killer because that takes away the problem of travelling through customs with octopus venom…” she paused. “Who knows how many there are. But the one big clue of course is the octopus venom and there has to be a paper trail.”
“One theory I guess.”
“You never answered my question yesterday?” DS Morgan said. “How easy would it be to capture these creatures and extract their venom?”
“You’d have to find the creatures first and considering that they are the smallest of all octopuses that’s no easy task. These creatures are small and deadly and they are incredibly hard to hunt down.”
“What I don’t understand is why the victim’s watches stop at 15.15. I went through the CCTV footage yesterday and nobody comes near or by the victims, only the waiters and they’ve been questioned.”
“The killer doesn’t stop their watches,” the Pathologist answered.
“Not only do they all receive a lethal dose of venom but they also receive a lethal dose of electricity. It’s the electricity that stops their watches well actually it kills the battery and that stops time.”
“You sound impressed,” commented DS Morgan and with annoyance added. “You never mentioned this yesterday,” but the food then arrived and DS Morgan watched as a plate of what looked like Shellfish was set before the woman followed by a glass of wine. “Crab meat is my favourite,” the Pathologist shared while sucking out the meat from an orangey claw.
DS Morgan ate a few mouthfuls of her Pulpo and looking up she was about to ask the Pathologist again why she hadn’t shared the information about the electricity but a blinding flash of light hit her eyes. “What the_” and assuming it to be the glare from the afternoon sun she put on her sun glasses. But then when she looked toward the Pathologist she could not see her – and then she could? She was sitting where she had been sitting. “Oh… I thought you had gone somewhere_” but DS Morgan stopping talking when she noticed the Pathologist’s arms and she stared at them in somewhat of awe, fear and confusion. Tiny sparks of electricity was bouncing off of her skin. “I think something is happening to you_”
“I’m alright,” the Pathologist interrupted and nodding toward DS Morgan’s plate she added. “I’ve an affinity with the octopus. I find them remarkable. Their DNA is like no other creature on this Earth… quite alien. For this reason I cannot bring myself to eat them.”
“Oh right,” DS Morgan answered somewhat peevishly. “But sucking out crabmeat like lemon sherbet dip is okay for your conscious is it?”
“I know not of this… sherbet?”
DS Morgan ignored the Pathologist’s statement because she was remembering what the Pathologist had said yesterday about crabmeat being the favourite food source for the octopus. “Are you playing some sick joke?” She said with anger. “All of the victims are being killed in the same way they would as if by an octopus? You think this is funny? Five people dead.”
“Five criminals are dead,” answered the Pathologist. “I read of their crimes and it makes not for easy reading.”
“Do you know how to extract venom from an octopus?” DS Morgan asked suspiciously.
“Yes but I don’t need to.”
“What does that mean?”
“The world is changing DS Morgan and if you have skills they must be used to defend those who cannot defend themselves.” The Pathologist stood up and then she jumped down onto the seawall. “Oh… and don’t eat the Pulpo, it causes me great pain.”
“Wait just one minute,” DS Morgan shouted but just as she made to run after the Pathologist a woman’s voice shouted out, “Este hombre! Muerte!” and looking into the restaurant she spotted a man slumped over the table. Checking for a pulse and finding none she read the man’s watch, 15.15, “Damn,” she muttered and then she frowned at the sight of an inky blue slimy substance around the man’s chair. She frowned again at the pattern that they made; intricate blue-ringed circles similar to those she had seen on the palms of the Pathologist’s hands.
DS Morgan barricaded the dead man within a circle of chairs and ordered everybody out of the restaurant before ringing the murder through to the investigating police officer in Puerto. While waiting for the team of officers she investigated the area. She found more of the blue-ringed circles around the chair where the Pathologist had been sitting. “Who are you?” she said aloud and as she followed the trail that went off into the sea she muttered. “What are you?”
Hearing the police sirens in the distance, DS Morgan was trying to fathom out how she was going to explain this one to her boss and looking toward her half-eaten plate of Pulpo the words, ‘Don’t eat the Pulpo it causes me great pain,’ from the Pathologist came into DS Morgan’s mind and she realised that the woman had revealed to DS Morgan one of her weaknesses. She made to turn away but then she sighted a white calling card tucked beneath the plate of empty crab claws.
Two words were typed in black italics: Octopus Woman.
Debbie Manning – firstname.lastname@example.org