Kristi Rose is an outrageously Northern writer currently living in the deep south (i.e. Manchester). She is working on Sans Corpus, a literary suspense novel which examines the grisly death of one man, and the motives of the seven women who each may or may not have murdered him. The novel is set in the North-East and spans the latter half of the 20th century. When not writing Kristi enjoys making tapestries of rude words, as well as doing her bit to further the Gay Agenda™; going door to door spreading the good word of our lord and saviour, Elton John.
The following is the opening sequence from Sans Corpus, a suspense novel.
Murder hung in the air. A small congregation of women encircled the man in the dead-centre of the room. Still beautiful, one of them thought, crossing herself as she sank to her knees and began to pray. His dirty blonde hair was folded into a bun at the base of his skull, with handfuls pulled out and matted, like he’d been dragged by it. His long, blunt nose had been broken once or twice, but not recently, and high cheekbones jutted from his thin face. He had a short beard and the blood that had burst from his mouth hours before had dripped down over his chin and dried to almost black. His full, stained lips were slack, as if a sigh of sour, nighttime breath might escape them at any moment. Two slivers of silver iris were just visible beneath heavy lids, dark circles stamped beneath them like footnotes of exhaustion. Long eyelashes clumped together as if he’d cried. The thick, frayed skin of his neck rested on a tarnished silver platter, atop a pillar of bibles. The rest of him was missing.
They were in an old top-floor suite in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of the city, probably once one of the best rooms in the building, but now half-forgotten and used for storage. Cigarette-smoke stained wallpaper peeled from damp walls, and shadowy carcasses of broken furniture cluttered the bare floorboards. A mattress slumped drunkenly in a corner. A few cardboard boxes of old junk, maybe lost property, were disintegrating under the room’s only window, beside a heap of individually-wrapped mini soaps and shampoo bottles, all stamped with The Townley Inn. There were two white-washed doors leading from the room – one to the dingy corridor outside and one to a mouldering en-suite.
The seven women had arrived one by one about an hour before, each walking past the uninterested front desk clerk with a smile and a nod like they were supposed to be there, and made their way up the stairs and down a series of increasingly dilapidated hallways until they found room 672. The door was unlocked, and each woman had walked into the room quietly and taken a seat, until there were seven. The last to arrive locked the door behind her.
As the women sat in almost-silence, the pale sun sank behind the crumbling warehouses opposite the hotel and the room grew dark. One of the women lurched from her seat and barely made it into the en-suite before a retch and a splatter of vomit on tiles echoed through the room. A young, pregnant blonde sobbed into her hands, and the warm breath of the praying women crystallised into cloudy wisps as she whispered fervently in Spanish. There was a smoky fizz as someone sucked the last fumes from a hand-rolled cigarette before she dropped it to the bare floorboards and stamped out the glowing end with the toe of her boot.
‘Are we just going to sit here in the dark then?’ she asked. No one answered. She stood up, and crossed the room to the door, touching the walls at shoulder height until her fingers found a cold plastic light switch. She flicked it a couple of times but nothing happened. She sighed. ‘Anyone hiding a lamp in their knickers?’
‘I brought candles,’ said the woman closest to the window, pulling a handful from the handbag at her feet.
The cigarette-smoking woman took them with a nod, and climbed back onto the barstool she’d been sitting on. She fumbled in her pocket for a second before producing a match, and then opened one side of the oversized leather jacket she was wearing and swiped it up a strip of worn sandpaper sewn to the interior. She lit the candles and passed them around the women so that the room was filled with flickering light. Each candle cast a shadow of him, and his blurred silhouettes filled the room, shivering on the walls.
‘This is a murder scene, not a seance,’ said a woman on the other side of the room sourly, though she held a candle. She was an angular woman in her mid-forties. Her dark but greying hair was short, cut close at her neck and a little longer on top. She smoothed it and pushed it behind her ears every few minutes with bony, unpolished fingers.
‘What’s your point?’ the woman next to her asked.
‘My point,’ the angular woman replied, snapping her head around to look at the women in the room, ‘is that we’re all sitting around looking at this decapitated gentleman, lighting candles as if we’re in a bloody coven. What next? Shall we recite a spell?’
‘What’s your name, love?’
‘I don’t think I feel comfortable telling you that.’
‘Oh, god. Make one up then.’
‘Fine. Call me… call me Popeye.’
‘Yes! Is that good enough for you?’
‘She has a point,’ said the woman who had thrown up, leaning back in her armchair and crossing her legs. ‘I don’t trust any of you, the last thing I’m going to tell you is my name.’
A couple of the other women nodded.
‘Alright, let’s all use aliases,’ said the woman who had been praying, pushing herself back up and onto her chair. She had dark, curly hair and a long, ragged scar that ran from the corner of her left eye to her jawbone.
‘Fair enough,’ said the cigarette-smoking woman, who was lighting a new cigarette with the candle she was holding. She held the smoke in her lungs for a few seconds and then blew it towards the ceiling. She pointed at the young pregnant woman. ‘Obviously, you’re Baby.’
‘Posh, Ginger, Scary,’ she said, pointing to the praying woman, a woman with long, red hair, and then the woman who had thrown up in turn.
‘Racist, but whatever,’ said Scary, raising one eyebrow and folding her arms.
‘Not because you’re-’
‘Let’s just choose our own names, shall we?’ said the red-haired woman quickly, ‘I’m Strings.’
‘Fine,’ said the cigarette-smoking woman, rolling her eyes. ‘I’ll be Pigro. ’
‘Lupé,’ said the praying woman.
‘Flash,’ said the woman who had thrown up.
‘I’m Meg,’ said the woman who had brought the candles.
‘Baby’s fine,’ said Baby quietly.
‘Rather than sitting around making up silly nicknames, does anyone else think it’s about time that we rang the police?’ said Popeye, jutting her chin out defiantly and glancing around the women. She gripped her candle with both hands, and the light flickered across her pointed features. Her pale blue eyes were stretched wide and the light cast twitching spider-leg shadows from her short, spiky eyelashes up over her pencilled-on eyebrows. A silky whisper drifted around the room at the word police. Pigro scoffed as she exhaled and started to cough.
‘If you were going to ring the police, you’d have done it an hour ago when you walked in. You’re as deep in this as we all are.’
‘What are you implying?’
‘Well since you’re here, I assume you got the same note that I did.’
End of extract.
Kristi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org