Dr. Tarnet sat at the edge of the toilet seat lid stiffly, pondering his choices. One of them was to leave the hotel room and go outside, where an angry mob was waiting to verbally assault him for turning down their demands, and the other was to stay here, inside a bathroom occupied by a corpse. There were several reasons why going outside would be the more reasonable decision, but the prospect of dozens of people - living, breathing, thinking creatures - terrified him. He far preferred enjoying the company of a corpse, someone who couldn't interrupt him from his thoughts.
Dead bodies were almost a daily sight for Dr. Drew Tarnet. He was a detective, not one who usually worked for the police, but one who complied when they sought for his help. The particular case he was on was stubborn in not wanting to be solved and frankly quite puzzling. Dr. Tarnet took a deep breath and remained in his seat. The people outside were severely pressuring him, making him feel as if a dozen rocks were crushing his chest, forcing him to suffocate. Half of them wanted answers to his previous case, which he had purposely left unfinished because he knew that, based on all that he had to go on, it wasn't worth the effort. The other half wanted him to solve the current case as quickly as possible so they could roam the streets freely again without living in fear of a murderer on the loose.
He threw his hands in the air with a cry of despair and buried his face in his hands. The noise level increased outside. Dr. Tarnet firmly told himself to man up and finally got to his feet. He pulled open the shower curtain and gazed inside the bathtub. On the floor lay sprawled the body of a young woman who looked no older than twenty five. She had apparently been on the verge of getting out, for she was wrapped in a snow white towel that only had her half exposed. There was no blood in sight, but she was clearly dead. He was careful not to touch her, but examined the area around her carefully.
Everything else seemed exactly like how it should be. Hotel bathrooms were always clean and sparkly, with the tiled walls and silver faucets. The bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion remained untouched, standing to the side as unknowing witnesses. Except... Dr. Tarnet leaned over closely and frowned upon a speck of what looked like dirt in the drain. He nearly fell into the bathtub as he reached towards the brown substance, dabbing his index finger into it and bringing it up to his nose. A cautious sniff made him wrinkle his nose in distaste and hasten to wash it off in the sink. It was mud. The lady sure needed a lesson on washing.
Dr. Tarnet may have had the honorific of Dr., but he was in no way an actual doctor. Thus, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and proceeded to call the hospital to search for someone who could perform a professional autopsy as soon as possible. Five minutes later, a group of medics appeared at the door. While they got themselves ready, Dr. Tarnet quickly squeezed himself out of the door, anxious to find evidence as to who was the woman's killer.
The hotel room was not clean and organized like he had expected it to be. In fact, it was a mixture of messes, with clothes strewn across the couches, books littering the floor, and uneaten food on the tables. He spent half an hour investigating the dead woman's living quarters, but came up with absolutely nothing. Groaning in exhaustion, Dr. Tarnet left the room and took the elevator down to the lobby.
Police tape surrounded the area around the concierge. Dr. Tarnet frowned and advanced towards the scene, where people were already beginning to gather. He ducked under the tape swiftly and felt his shoe dig into something sticky. Curious, he looked at the ground and saw a series of muddy footprints heading towards the front desk. There was a dull thud in his chest as he hesitantly advanced in the same direction, afraid of what he would see behind the counter. Thankfully, no other dead bodies were found in the vicinity.
"HEY! YOU THERE!" There was a pattering of hurried footsteps as a policewoman appeared in front of his face. "What are you doing?"
Dr. Tarnet pointed below his feet at the trail of muddy footprints. "What have you been doing about this?"
The policewoman ignored his question. "Who are you?" she demanded, tilting her head to the side with her hands on her hips.
Dr. Tarnet blinked. "Oh, I'm Drew Tarnet, the detective your head inspector hired to investigate the crime."
She stared at him, dumbfounded. "What crime?"
Dr. Tarnet was puzzled that the police officers apparently didn't know what was going on. "The crime in the hotel room, of course. The woman who was killed in the shower."
The policewoman gaped at him in shock. Then she abruptly spun on the spot and left, heading towards the elevators.
Dr. Tarnet knew that he had to find a suspect and soon. There was something about the footprints that confused him. Why was there mud on such a bright day as this? What significance did it serve? They were not just there merely by coincidence.
The footprints stopped right at the front desk. Their end didn't seem planned, for it looked as though the person had skidded to a sudden halt. Only one person sat behind the desk, wearing the red hotel uniform and gnawing on his fingernails nervously. Dr. Tarnet went up to interrogate him as kindly as possible.
"Hello..." he leaned over slightly to glance at his name tag. "...Jake. My name is Dr. Drew Tarnet. I'm a detective. I was wondering, since you've been sitting here all day, if you had seen anything suspicious?"
Jake shook his head wildly, his eyes fearful. With a closer look, Dr. Tarnet realized that he wasn't as old as he had first thought. In fact, he looked barely twenty and had probably just come out of college. Dr. Tarnet changed his tactic.
"I'm Drew, and I'm 35 years old. How old are you?" He asked, making light conversation.
"Sixteen," Jake muttered almost inaudibly.
Drew raised an eyebrow, surprised at how young he was. He then decided to leave him be, because he was probably in terrifying enough circumstances without being questioned by an intimidating stranger. Instead, he made just one more request.
"Could you lift up your foot please?"
Jake hesitated, then nodded curtly. He straightened his foot in the direction of Drew, who bent down and examined the bottom of his shoe. There was no mud to be found. Politely asking him to switch to his other foot, Drew examined that as well, and with faint disappointment, told Jake that he could put his feet down. He was certain now that he was just an innocent bystander.
After a brief, awkward exchange of farewells, Dr. Tarnet ducked back under the police tape to go out. He noticed a number of people loitering around the lobby, chatting with friends and family. They were oblivious to the concerning matters at hand. Any one of them could be the murderer. However, Dr. Tarnet had a gut feeling - and his gut feelings were usually right - that the suspect would not be found on the ground floor. As he turned to leave, another set of muddy footprints caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. These led directly to the elevators. A strange sense of foreboding fell upon him. Those footprints had not been there when he had first left the elevator.
Dr. Tarnet stopped in his tracks on the huge, brown carpet that took up most of the lobby. He was about to go outside for a fresh breath of air, but this new sight motivated him to continue his course of investigation. With an exhausted sigh, he turned around and walked back in the direction he came from, feeling a sense of dread with every step.
The elevator arrived at the ground floor and the doors opened, unoccupied, but revealing another set of muddy footprints. Frustration and anger welled up in Dr. Tarnet, who stepped into the elevator and proceeded to smash his fist into the mirror. A crack appeared in the glass, distorting his image. His reflection was split into small triangles of two, then four, then six. He was a broken man. There was a sudden searing pain in his head and he clutched his head with a cry of pain. A dozen scenes flashed through his brain at once.
Drew was eight years old and riding his first bicycle. He had just finished training and had finally learned how to ride a two wheeled bike on his own. The bike suddenly rolled over a bump and started spiraling out of control. Drew felt a wave of panic rush over him as he lost complete control of his bike. It tipped forward and launched him headlong into the trunk of a tree, landing him with a sickening thud. He was numb with pain and tasted blood everywhere as blood ran down his forehead and blood trickled down his cheeks and all he could see, hear, and feel was blood. Then he lost consciousness.
The image changed to a white room containing a bed covered by curtains. Drew had just gotten stitches on his forehead. The doctors whispered urgently about how the traumatizing incident might possibly trigger some nerves that would negatively impact his mental state in the future. Drew pretended to be asleep but he absorbed all of this information without a word.
This time, the scene fast forwarded to ten years later. Drew was eighteen years old. The teacher was screaming at him for pouring dangerous chemicals on classmate Kelly Brine, causing her to be sent to the hospital for treatment for the boils all over her face and arms. But Drew had no recollection of doing anything like that. How could he be accused of such an offense when he didn't even remember doing it? But how could there have been so many trustworthy witnesses who told a different tale? It wasn't his fault...
Drew was 24 years old, but he looked far older than he actually was. Years of stress and accusations had weakened his body, giving him early wrinkles and whitening hair. He opened the bedroom door and gave a sudden jolt as his eyes fell upon the dead body of a little boy. The only color he saw was red. Backing away in horror, he looked down at his own hands and noticed the blood staining his palms. No... No... It couldn't be... He didn't know...?
The elevator doors opened to the 27th floor and Dr. Tarnet collapsed onto the floor, clutching his chest as he gasped for breath. The searing pain in the scar on his forehead slowly began to fade away. He quickly stuck out his leg to prevent the doors from closing on him, and they dutifully opened upon contact with his skin. The world did not seem real anymore. What he had just seen were things he never knew existed, and the fact that so many of these painful memories were stored in the back of his head, waiting to be extracted on a day like this, was incredibly damaging to his mind. Dr. Tarnet unwillingly got to his feet and dragged himself out as the elevator doors clanged shut.
Suddenly, everything seemed to be piecing together, and he didn't like that at all. To prove his suspicions, he had to take one last look at the crime scene. Dr. Tarnet looked at the ground and, sure enough, saw muddy footprints heading towards the dead woman's flat. The door hung ajar, and the policewoman who spoke to him earlier hung around in the opening.
"Janet," she introduced herself, nodding curtly in his direction.
Dr. Tarnet hesitated for the fraction of a second, and then asked if she could lift up her shoes. She raised an eyebrow curiously but agreed. He bent down but was not surprised to see that her shoes were sparkling clean. There was no speck of mud in sight.
"Have you seen the mud footprints downstairs at the lobby?" Dr. Tarnet asked, after confirming that he was finished. He fidgeted with his shirt nervously and tried to avoid her gaze.
Janet looked at him solemnly. "Yes. I have no idea how they got there. But I'm sure it's somehow connected to this murder. Come in, the results of the autopsy are just coming out."
She stepped to the side to let him enter. Dr. Tarnet walked in cautiously and immediately headed towards the bathroom, where a group of medics were heading out.
"Choked to death," one of them informed him. "It's a strange case, this. The murderer apparently tried to force feed her mud from the pig sty. We found this under her body."
The medic used his gloves to extract a bag seeping with mud from the huge garbage bag they were lugging out. Dr. Tarnet felt himself grow sick with nausea. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Janet with her mouth wide open, gaping in shock. Brushing past them hurriedly, he burst through the bathroom door and knelt in front of the bathtub. Sure enough, muddy footprints that he had not noticed before also covered the floor. The dead woman, who had originally looked quite peaceful, was now an image of disgust. Dr. Tarnet heard Janet give a shuddering gasp. It was time.
"I killed her."
He was met by a moment of silence.
"I killed this woman. Not knowingly, but I did."
Dr. Tarnet launched into a detailed description of his medical history, and how he had suddenly realized he was mentally unstable. With every word he said, he felt Janet shrinking further and further within herself. Earlier that morning, he was worrying about the mob of people outside who were waiting to verbally assault him. How did he not realize that when he had left the room, nobody had grabbed onto him? There was nobody there in the first place. Nobody had known about the murder because he was the first one in there.
The mud... It came from himself. The footprints were his. He had throttled the woman with the mud, and had accidentally trodden in some of it himself with the mess he was making. As he walked out of the room, the footprints followed him. They followed him all the way to the elevators and down to the lobby. The police tape was never there. If it was, would there really have been no police officers around, or a completely uninterested crowd of people? Nobody had gathered around to observe the scene. By stepping onto the carpet, he had wiped away most of his mud, but the previous evidence still remained.
Dr. Tarnet finished speaking and wouldn't dare to glance at Janet. Then a sudden thought struck him. If nobody had known about the murder, why was Janet, a policewoman, at the hotel anyway? A terrible sense of dread fell upon him. He lifted his gaze towards where he knew she was standing and fell completely short. Nobody was there. He glanced around frantically. There was nobody there except for the dead body. He was back where he was at the beginning, alone in a bathroom with a corpse.
At this moment, Dr. Drew Tarnet was once again left pondering his only two choices. He no longer knew what was real and what was imaginary, because his own brain had failed him. There were only two ways he could go now. One was to forget anything had happened, quit his job, and escape to live a secluded life. The other was, of course, to turn himself in to the police with a full explanation and attempt to redeem himself. In many ways, the first choice was preferable, but he knew that he had to do the right thing. And so, with a heavy heart, he opened the door and stepped outside, finally heading in the right direction.