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          “I’d sunk within his embrace, desperate to take what I’d been aching after, with little regard for tomorrow’s consequences.”

Salain’s Character Interview

He hung back, his eyes narrowed as he glanced around my office. Suspicion sat etched into his very being, his thin frame rife with it. Yet his hands remained steady, carefully placed against his knees as he took a seat on the bench. So he was skeptical, but not nervous.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” I started.

“Is this going to take long?” he asked. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“Not long. I’ve only a few questions.” And since he seemed ready to leave if I didn’t get on with it, I quickly continued, “So, what is your name?”

“Don’t you have it already?” he nodded toward my notes. “You’re the one who asked me here.”

“Yes, I just…”

He sighed. “It’s all right,” he said in a tone that said it wasn’t exactly all that right. “I’m used to having to repeat myself. Salain Dusari. I’m a medical examiner at Wasterli Station. Do a lot of lab work as well. Wouldn’t trust most of the officers to know what they’re doing.”

“And do you like your job?”

His lips twisted before he gave me a wry grin. “Did the chief ask you to ask that? Tell him that I do. I love my job. No, use the word passionate. I’m passionate about my job.”

“Uh, right. I haven’t actually spoken to your chief. This is for… Well, never mind what it’s for. How long have you been working at Wasterli?”

Salain shrugged. “A couple years. I like the place better than my last station. Less drama.”

“And you don’t like drama?”

He slanted me an exasperated look. “Who does?”

“You’d be surprised.” I leaned forward, thinking to seem conspiratorial, but Salain leaned away from me with a disturbed expression as I went on, “Some people who claim to dislike drama are actually the source of it all. Did you know that?”

“I, uh…” He suddenly seemed uncomfortable, shifting and blinking rapidly as though trying to remove some unpleasant memory from his mind. “Sure. Can we get this over with? Like I said, I’ve got…” He waved one hand as if to indicate something more important.

I paused, unsure what I might have said to upset him. “You’re busy, of course. Next question. You mentioned your last station. Where was that?”

“Hangbody,” he murmured.

When he wasn’t more forthcoming, I asked, “And the reason for you being transferred to Wasterli?”

Salain grimaced. “That’s not something I like to discuss.”

“Oh. Okay then. Why don’t we talk about your family then? Maybe you could tell me what your life was like growing up?”

The grimace didn’t go away. If anything, Salain’s eyes widened marginally. “That’s really personal. I don’t even know you.”

“True. I just thought—”

“What kind of interview is this? I thought I was going to be talking about my job.”

I let my pencil fall to the desk with a quiet clatter, turned my chair further toward him and crossed my legs. “You’re not being interrogated here. I’m just trying to get to know you, but if you want to talk about your job, let’s talk about your job. What exactly made you go into your line of work?”

That seemed to settle him somewhat though he continued to stare at me suspiciously. “I like the dead. They don’t ask me questions.” He paused and for a moment we sat facing one another without speaking. When I rose my eyebrows expectantly, he relented. “The dead are like mysteries that have to be cracked open. They don’t ask questions. They are questions.  I don’t much care about the capture of who might be responsible in the case of homicide, but I love discovering the how of it.

“Like there was this one case where a man had his arm removed. Whole thing just gone from the middle of his upper arm on down. Bone and all.” Salain made an open gesture with both hands to show that the arm had vanished into thin air. “First instinct is to think it was a animal, right? Eaten part of the man, but no. Nothing at the scene to indicate any creature had been there. No teeth marks either. Just a cauterized slice. Yet, no weapon, and no one else at the scene as he’d been removed from civilization, found in some cavern within the redrock to the west of the city. Couldn’t find evidence of a fire either and there certainly wasn’t enough fuel in the area to get a good, hot one going, not with all the sand and redrock. However, we found a small knife with the man’s blood on it—too small and dull to have been used to cut through his arm though—and remnants of his last meal on a flat slab of rock in the back end of the cavern.”

“That’s weird.”

Salain nodded in agreement, most of the suspicion fading from his manner. “It was. Ended up finding undigested parts of the man’s arm tissue in his own stomach. Gross, but it was strange and fascinating. How does something like that even happen? And where did his bones go? Plus, he died of a brain aneurysm which meant that whatever he’d done to his arm was irrelevant to his death despite it happening so recently. Was strange…” He trailed off and stared above my head somewhere.

“So…how did something like that happen?” I asked.

Salain refocused on me, blinking as if he’d forgotten I was there. Then he shrugged nonchalantly. “Who knows? We never did figure out why he did that. No drugs in his system and no evidence of anyone else being at the scene. He’d been in perfect physical health so he didn’t have the excuse of starving. In my report I suggested some sort of mental disorder could have been at fault. Either that or some mind-reader got a hold of him and ordered him to do something that crazy to himself.” He shook his head. “That’s the best I could come up with. Detectives didn’t fare much better. The bones really had us stumped. I heard they dug up half the cavern floor and all over outside the opening trying to find where he might have buried them, but always came up empty.”

“Maybe he threw it?” I suggested, finding myself intrigued, possibly more from Salain’s interest than my own.

“Maybe,” hedged Salain. “And if it was only the ulna and radius I’d say yeah, but every one was missing, including all the smallest finger bones. Seemed weird to not find evidence of at least one of them. I’d really been hoping to nab the other side of his humerus to see if I could figure out what caused that slice, but no blazing luck on that.”

“Hmm.” I cocked my head and decided I wanted a change of subject. “So what do you do for fun?”

A mix of confusion and annoyance flitted across his face. “I just told you. Doesn’t anyone listen to me?”

“What? I—Okay, let’s move on.” I picked up the pencil again and tapped the end against the desk in an absentminded way as I tried to think of how to steer the conversation to actually get some sort of personal information out of Salain. “Do you have any cases that follow you home? Things that stick with you?”

“I write about them in my journals,” he offered. “But if you mean in some sort of haunting way, then no. I try not to get too close to any of the cases like the detectives sometimes do. Having the dead follow me home, even in just a figurative sense, would make working with them less peaceful. And it’s the peace I like.”

“So the dead don’t bother you anymore?”

Salain fell quiet and some of the suspicion from earlier returned. Finally, he said, “The dead have never bothered me. There’s nothing to fear from the dead.”

“Just the living?”

He nodded.

I stilled the pencil, the eraser pressing against the wood grain of the desk as I studied Salain. “Doesn’t that get…lonely?”

He snorted and stood with a wry twist to his lips again. “I guess.” He shrugged as he made his way to the door. “Better lonely than the alternatives.” Then he ducked out of my office. “Got to get back to work. Here, I’ll shut this for you…”

“Wait, what alternatives?” I started to get up, but the door closed loudly and I heard Salain’s footsteps hurrying away as if he couldn’t wait to get back to his lab and his question-less corpses.

Salain Dusari is the main character in my upcoming novel, Murder in Color. The novel’s genre is murder mystery/gay romance and set in a fantasy world.

As you could see, Salain isn’t exactly a people person, but that actually made him more fun to write than I thought it would since many of his relationships are based on respect rather than straight likability.

I don’t have the cover yet for Murder in Color so Next up Tomorrow: A Short History of Topoyi

Murder in Color will be published Feb. 21st, 2017.