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Nightshift in Strange Rain
About the Author: Zandra Renwick is the author of over a hundred short stories under various pen names, including "The Dead Man's Dog," shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award. Her fiction has been translated, podcast, perfomed on stage, and developed for television. More info at, or in online haunts under @ZandraRenwick.

Detective Kessler stepped to avoid the green rivulets pooling near his wingtips. Nightshifts were wearing on him, Colony City’s after-dark cycle of dank oily rain that turned everything to slush and mush. Kessler couldn’t remember when he’d last seen the thin green watery light that counted as sunshine from the local star. All he got these days was raindrops like ink, colorless when dry but misting like crushed black crystal, thick and glittering—that, and dead guys with green goo instead of blood running from the various openings of a human face. The stiff seeping green ichor at his feet was his third this week.

Deputy Stipples ducked under police tape and splashed across the black puddles. “Colony Coroner for you, Detective,” he said, offering Kessler a phone. “Says you’ll take her call.”

Kessler liked this new boy, fresh off a colony boat to replace the deputy he’d lost last month who’d given up rough frontier life for the easy way out. This kid had some cheek in him. Kessler liked that. Found it promising.

He gave Stipples a hard stare, but the kid had weathered his stares before and seemed to be developing an immunity. The deputy grinned, dark raindrops dripping off hair plastered across his forehead. “Should I tell her you’re busy, sir?”

“Give me that.” Kessler grabbed the phone, waving Stipples back the direction he’d come and hunching into his collar for some small protection against the wet glimmering mist. “Madame Coroner?” The pause over the line stretched long enough, he thought she might’ve hung up. “Rachel … you there?”

Her voice rose from the device at his ear like a purr. “Aren’t I always?”

Kessler couldn’t help smiling. “Maybe not tonight. The weather’s rubbish, like every night but worse. You don’t want to be out in this stuff.”

“So you’re not going to let me in?”

Kessler glanced around. The body lay in the street, open eyes more vulnerable and empty staring up into wet night than they might’ve seemed someplace where such a thing as dryness existed after dark. Flashing red lights reflected off slick polymer asphalt and the big black beetle backs of nightshift cops in standard issue rain gear. And there was Rachel Melton near flapping yellow ribbon tape, slim and tall, red hair above pale belted raincoat glowing like flame over a lit match.

“Rachel,” he said, softer than he intended. Pocketing the phone, he waved for the uniformed officers to let her pass. Watching her walk toward him made Kessler warm everyplace a few minutes earlier had been night-damp chilled. Her coat flapped open to show leg when she walked. His stomach tightened as she neared. …

She walked past without stopping and crouched by the body, and with a small vial scooped oozing green from the stiff’s ear.

“You’re getting wet,” he told her.

She stood to face him, dark droplets glinting like black rhinestones on her long red hair, her smile a perfect vermilion curve. “The wet likes me.”

Gods help him, it did. She could’ve been Botticelli’s Venus risen from the waves, if you replaced Earth’s little blue marble with a cold dark green one, and its boundless oceans with endless rain.

She nodded at the body. “This makes three bodies like this, with the green.”

Business, then. Kessler could do that. “Five, Madame Coroner,” he said, matching the switch to formality in her tone. “Two last week, three this week means you should have five at Colony Morgue.”

She shook her head, damp hair spilling down her raincoat like blood—the human kind, not green ichor like from the stiff at their feet. “Someone higher up’s intervening, officially rerouting these particular bodies before they reach me, but I can’t find who or where to.”

“You ask Commissioner Melton?”

A look of frustration creased her smooth features. “Lately the Commissioner has been … uncommunicative.”

“So you’re here to gather some crime-scene evidence for yourself.”

If these deaths involve a crime.

This story appears in our FEB 2021 Issue
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