Another Locked Room Mystery

by Brian Ellair

The sharp WHACK and rustle as a plastic swatter slaps down on a loose stack of paper fills the detective’s office. Once again he has failed to end the life of his tiny black interloper. With a grumble he flails the air without coming closer to the fly.

“When did you last see your wife?” His attention isn’t really on the man seated across his overflowing desk, instead he can’t’ stop wondering how flies are getting in a sealed environmentally secure modern office.

“Last Monday, before I left for my trip to Georgia.”

“She didn’t give any indication of going out of town or to visit friends for a few days?”

“No, and I’m really tired of answering the same questions from five different people. Are you going to look for her, or do I have to hire a private investigator?” Exasperation and exhaustion were combining to shorten the man’s temper and raise the volume of his voice.

The middle aged cop looked at the youngish man in the cracked plastic and metal chair. He didn’t say a word he just locked his gaze on the others eyes until the younger man looked away. The small battle was interrupted by a slight movement on the desk. A quiet snap ended the insect’s life in the jaws of a Venus Fly trap the detective’s seven year old daughter had given him. Both men watched as it tried to escape becoming the plant’s meal.

“Just so I understand your statement. You came home Friday evening to an empty apartment. Your wife was not there, but her car keys, phone and purse were all in their usual spot on a table by the door. The place was not worked over, and everything was just as you left it except for some of her clothes on the floor in the bedroom. Is that about it?”

“Yeah, but like I told the cop at the scene, the building security system didn’t record her leaving, or anyone but her all week. According to the video she didn’t even go to work Friday morning. My dog is gone too.”

After another hour of cop blandishments and cautions not to leave town, Mathew went home to an empty apartment with no more hope than when he left. Throwing his keys next to his wife’s handbag he kicked off his shoes and sat down on the couch. With forearms resting on his knees, he hung his head down looking at the floor. The new biocarpet the landlord has talked him into installing is the same white as when he left last week. Tweaking the controls that sent nutrients through the mesh of tubes just beneath the surface could change the color to anything the owner desired. It did look good, and the way it carried dirt or anything not organic dropped on it to a special corner of the room by a kind of cilia that extended out when the debris was detected was pretty amazing. The feature that really sold them was the promise of breaking down any “accidents” from the dog quickly and efficiently.

It was way past time to take a shower and get the feel of the police station off his skin. With a heavy sigh he walked through the bedroom to the master bathroom. He passed the apartment control console and on a whim decided to change the carpet to a more somber grey. He told it to start the change which takes about 45 minutes.
Undressing and tossing his clothes on the bed, trying not to look in the corner where the bundle of his wife’s things lay. Something shining mixed into the pile caught his attention. Reaching down he pulled his dog’s collar and tags from the heap. Why would anyone take the collar off the dog? He didn’t want to think about why his wife had changed clothes and left the old ones on the floor. If she was forced, why take the time to remove the dog’s tags? He still couldn’t believe her disappearance was voluntary. This apartment had been her dream. She had been so excited to move into the newest building in town with all the bells and whistles. An automated security system, the living decorations and even an entertainment AI, kept him from grumbling too much at the beginning of every month when the rent came out of the bank account. A stab of grief overcame Matt as he entered the hot spray, making him grab at the wall to keep his balance. He remembered her face on the day they moved in, all smiles and giggles as they brought in their belongings and started dreaming about the new beginning in this place. Standing in the steam he let his mind go blank. He didn’t know how long was in the shower, but wrinkled skin and a room totally obscured by fog told him it was probably more than an hour.
Stepping out he grabbed a towel and dried off before putting on a long robe and going out into the kitchen to get something to eat. As he opened the cupboard he spied a bottle of whiskey he had not thought about since serving drinks at the housewarming party. Forgetting about the food, he grabbed a juice glass and took the bottle into the living room. The first shot burned his throat, but the second took away the pain. The next took away more pain. Looking down again, he noticed the floor was the same color it had been before he went in the bathroom. He idly thought it was time to call maintenance, but that could wait. More whiskey brought an end to the bottle and a temporary end to his thoughts.

Sometime later Matt woke feeling rather warm. He didn’t remember getting a blanket from the bedroom. It was rather heavy and uncomfortable, so he tried to shrug it off. He found that it seemed to be tightly wrapped around his whole body up to his head. He opened his eyes to see the blanket was white, the same color as the carpet. An intense itching began at his feet and soon became a searing pain over his entire body. The whiteness began to creep over his eyes but the seal over his mouth muffled his scream.

##

“So you can see that the apartment has everything you could need for a busy lifestyle,” the leasing agent exclaimed. The young couple looked around the bare space for a moment.

“I see on the control console that there’s a living carpet included.

“Yes, and it’s brand new, the original one died a few days after the last tenants moved out. The techs sent out from the factory found that the nutrient flow was blocked so the poor thing starved to death.”

“We’ll take it,” the young man decided.

With one last look around the empty room the agent stifled a satisfied grin as he locked the door behind them.

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