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Inspector Sands

By Sofia Genco-Billington

Inspector Sands is always there. He is sat behind you now, hidden from your view but for a sickly glow that draws your eye away from the judge. The judge with the crumpled mouth, with wrinkles that could hold dust, deep rivulets of folding skin that regard you with what could arguably be eyes as you sweat. Your palms sweat, your neck sweats, the creases of your arms. You hang your head in mock apology, less sorry for what you did, more sorry for what he will do. You can hear Inspector Sands crackle behind you, feel his needling warmth against your left cheek, slicking it. Sweat all you like, the soot stains won't come off, Inspector Sands had said.


Twelve hours ago, you had slumped, C shaped and rain swept into a seat on the Victoria line. You never took that train but were in no state to notice. Even now, weak-kneed in court, you are still convinced you died back there. Died when you saw the blood pool inside the conch shell cavity in his ears as he swam lifeless on the bathroom floor. Died when you kneaded you fingers together in your raincoat pocket, and they slithered over one another, greasy with blood. For some time you debated if the palms in the pockets were your own. The lights in the carriage flickered three times but you did not notice. Immune to the woman’s slight gasp and the man and his husband who patted one another’s arms. One of them doesn’t like the dark. You don’t get that privilege. Places simply do not get dark with Inspector Sands.


He knew you. In fact, he was reading tomorrows paper and you had made the front page. ‘MAN KILLS WORK PARTNER IN HOME’ it read. A dismal portrait of yourself from your eighteenth birthday was on the front. In a few hours they would ask your mother to send in a photo of you and bitterly she will send the worst one she could find. She always did hate your long hair. You watched as the paper charred, grisly confetti celebrating your capture—because you were well and truly caught—how it fluttered and stuck to the red ends of your hair. That man is on fire. Your brain mustered its first full sentence in hours. You searched the passengers’ faces; nothing in them said they cared. Nothing in them said they noticed. The man in question was sat, left leg crossed over right, black shod foot bouncing casually as he read the burning paper, the middle completely aflame. And then his arms caught the cuff-linked sleeves, the white pressed shirt, the thick, woven navy suit and greatcoat accessorized with biting little flames that were marching to his chin. No, he didn’t have a chin. You couldn’t see it even if he did. It was behind all that fire.


He had an old bowler hat, the rim of which was a perfect wheel of flame, seething hell-like and angry, in an upward halo of heat. Inspector Sands was burning just for you.


You know the sound of burning; having done your fair share of it that evening. That fire, the one eatingthat man, it screeched. Like at eight years old, kettle on the stove. Like at twenty-two, hissing water tank in that plumbing apprenticeship. And at twenty-five, melting his shampoo bottles, along with everything else from the bathroom in the back garden. They had all gotten splashed in the proceedings.


Was he laughing? Was he laughing at you? Yes. Your mouth was eight miles open and oh the look in your eyes! You must have never seen a fire smile. You didn’t know they could. It was a wrathful thing to see. An orange, bolder than your eyes could ever process. You rubbed at them with your bloody hands, a violent ache dissipating through your skull. This, you thought, this is death isn’t it? A voice, sleek, bathed in pedantry but comforting nonetheless tells you no, this is not death. Inspector Sands will show you death, in due course.


The carriage stopped and limply, you turned your O mouth to a U, to a smile. For a single moment you put the fire out and observed a man in a navy coat and navy suit and a bowler hat with the correct day’s newspaper drooped in the middle like fine silk in order to look at you. The doors shuddered open and he ignited again. You can’t remember what he looked like unlit, he prefers it that way. Inspector Sands allowed you a haven of self-doubt, a paradise of normality to swaddle yourself in before you followed his blackened footsteps onto the platform and walked with him into the night.


It rained that night but he dismissed it and opened his umbrella, the handle of which wept, bubbled and dripped through his manicured fingers and onto the pavement below. The rain was hot, boiling drops that caught a cheek or a finger and you kept recoiling. You wanted him to look at you. Smile again! You could demand. Show me you’re real. Smile again! But what is there to smile about Daniel? You’ve seen the paper.


You could have run, physically. Lost this man in the London evening, gone and taken your dying bones someplace else. Diminished in a nondescript alleyway. Not one thing was said aloud. But Inspector Sands didn’t need to speak to you, you were his flame now.


He was calm when you sat at his desk. He asked you questions, nicely, and drummed his fingers against the metal tabletop. You could hear it whine under his heat, see the amber-black craters he left after each tap. When you first spoke, he took off his hat, placed it down on the desk. It left a ring of black soot.


You felt battered with the heat of a thousand suns. Couldn’t tell if the burning smell was him, or you. Your insides warmed, the red on your hands diluted with sweat. In the two-way mirror’s reflection sat a man in a suit with close cut brown hair and a sharp chin. In your eyes it was a suit, ablaze. You couldn’t tell if he spoke at you, used breath and tongue and teeth to form sounds, or if his voice just echoed above your head. A rich man does not go to heaven, the voice told you. Really Daniel, you are nothing if not greedy.


“Is this purgatory?” You exclaimed. Where this Catholic rhetoric came from alluded you, an unshakeable force gripped your thoughts and insisted this was hell, and that even if it wasn’t, it insisted it was where you were going.


This is not purgatory, just London. If I grab his arm will it set me alight?  At that he moved his chair back with a horrific scrape and began pacing the room. He then produced a plastic cup of water for you. It was malleable between your teeth as you clamped it, lock-jawed for your life. It was steaming miserably, simmering, a flimsy kettle of its own design.


“Can I touch you?” You begged.






What is fair about avoidance?


“Wipe me out!” You cried at last. “An eye for an eye? Is that not just?  What is fair about not starting new? Get it over with, you can. I’ll suffer for what it was I have done anyway-”


The voice came loud and pinched at your eardrums. I am paying you respect, it scolded, for justice, for true justice you must live and continue to do so, that is my fairness to you. Say I ignite you now, the flame turned to you and its arms spat, flashed and sparked, what is fair about it?


Whatever direction he moved in, the flames did not falter. No rain had quenched them, nor could air lick at them or force them to move any place but up, up ,up. Like a cloak, like a crown, like an angel. There it was again.


“Are you an angel?” You sobbed


It was wishful thinking.


Not an angel, a judge, it told you. There was bitterness in him at the insinuation of the divine. In spite of that polite demeanor, you sensed a desire, innate and ingrained, for Inspector Sands to exist as an inversion.


You now grip the railing, milk knuckled, insides curdling. You had once asked Inspector Sands what was to become of you. The voice was not heard again and no answer came.

It was a gray suit they put you in. It wasn’t yours. Nothing had made you feel more ill than buttoning it up, that sweltering pulse still thrumming an inch beneath your skin. You haven’t felt the cold since he left you, since he slid out of the door and your water cup had dribbled the rest of its innards in a toxic melt that was hot to the touch and stuck fast to the table. You know you are not dead. These are your hands, your soot mark that sits on your own left cheek. Inspector Sands is not an angel. In fact, you are none the wiser to what he is.


There you stand, pallid in the gray court of oak. Gray in the black court of fire. The jury, all fly faced and tired eyed, don’t know your Inspector Sands is there. They see a man in a knife, pressed suit with brown hair and a sharp chin, maybe, you can’t quite recall. Was that what he had looked like? Or was that what he looked like. He who had lay on his bathroom floor with you stooped over him, glazed in red. Now that you think of it, they both look rather alike.


The lawyer, the blonde women in the suit who had spent years in school to defend you, looks down. She pats her forehead with her hand. She pulls at her shirt collar. She fans her splotchy cheeks, blooming with red as they develop a sweat-slicked sheen. The crackle behind you intensifies.


Inspector Sands is justice. And he only burns for the guiltiest of eyes.

Markus Lüpertz, Mann im Anzug - dithyrambisch II [Man in suit - dithyrambic II], 1976. Distemper on canvas. 250 x 187 cm.


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