An air of detachment

by BRK

Special Agent Greg Simmons receives some surprising evidence in the mail in relation to the Berlinger kidnapping case, which he’s not even on yet. Intriguingly, not only is it a piece of the puzzle—it’s also a piece of the victim.

Added: Jul 2021 4,031 words 1,256 views 5.0 stars (1 vote)


It’s no surprise you meet all kinds working law enforcement. I knew that going in. Not from gory tales of mangled mayhem heard while being dandled at my cop grandfather’s knee or anything. Cop families like that do exist; but me, I came from a clan of bakers, and the gruesomest dinner-table anecdotes my sister and I ever got to hear involved frothingly deranged bridezillas, chaotically incompetent apprentices, and the great flourmongers’ strike of 1937.

No, I just had a feeling that being an LEO meant you got to see people at their worst—villains, victims, and bystanders alike. I was pretty sure I could deal with that. To me, even if people were terrible sometimes the order and protection offered by the concepts of society and community were a boon to humanity, and helping that happen was a good thing; plus it was an active job with a mandate to stay fit (unlike baking). I became a patrolman and then a detective, before applying for my current berth in the FBI. I’m only 35 and I’ve already seen a lot of shit, but no case has affected me personally quite as much as the Berlinger kidnapping case—and only I know what really happened.

The case was strange from the get-go. At first the disappearance of 29-year-old Aramis Berlinger IV, eccentric heir to a staggering spirits-distilling fortune, was treated as a bunk: Seattle PD, investigating reports the foundation he ran had suddenly lost contact with him, found no forced entry at his simple-yet-luxurious high-security Windermere chateau, no sign of a struggle, and a conspicuous empty slot in his ten-car garage where his favorite ride, a persimmon-red Bugatti Chiron, should have been, and figured he’d taken off for some kind of private adventure and would surface again with it pleased him. Internal CCTV footage went dark across all cameras thirty minutes after his last contact, a routine text to his foundation’s COO, and the detectives on the case figured this accorded with their theory he was on walkabout.

Then came the ransom demand, three days after the disappearance, for $50 million in some obscure flavor of cryptocurrency by midnight Sunday (it was now late Friday night). How the demand was delivered was the strange part. It was sent to the FBI and to me in particular, despite us not being called in yet or on the case at all; it was packaged mundanely in an ordinary manila-colored mailer and arrived mixed in with the rest of the day’s incoming post. Even weirder: on being emptied out onto my desk the demand proved, much to my amazement, to have been printed in small type on a narrow strip of paper, like a fortune-cookie fortune, and then carefully wrapped around what looked very much like an actual, male human finger—well-tended cuticles, light-blond knuckle-hair and all.

I fell back in my chair, shocked at what I’d just dumped onto my shiny gray desktop like the prize in a box of Frosted Flakes. It was after hours, a day of chasing paperwork downtown having prevented me from getting around to my mail and email until now, and I was, perhaps fortunately given later events, alone, my office-mate and usual partner, a bluff and boyish Texas football jock named Kent, being off helping Joyce and Misha on an art-theft stake-out across town. The finger and I had the place to ourselves, and for a while we just stared at each other, like we were both having trouble coming to grips with this rather unusual introduction.

The more I gaped at the lonely digit, the curled ransom slip having tumbled aside leaving it in full view, the more inexplicable it became. I hadn’t encountered any severed fingers thus-far in my career, thankfully, but I had seen a dead body or two, and this finger conspicuously lacked the customary heebie-jeebie-inducing gray pallor that normally came with cessation of blood flow and a trip through the US Mail. If anything it was pinker and healthier than mine were; if there were a hole in my desk and this finger were poking out of it, I’d’ve been sure the thing was not just alive but vibrant and still attached to someone in the bloom of health.

And… there was something else that was just striking me as obvious. I had a hacked-off finger on my desk—meaning one separated from the hand it had come from, not a blisteringly angry one—but there was no blood anywhere. No blood on the fortune-cookie ransom, no blood on the inside of the padded mailer, no blood on the surface of my gray-laminate desk, and (here was the real noggin-scratcher) not a single drop or smear on the finger itself. The finger was sort of pointing toward me on the desk—ominous, but I was trying to ignore that—so I shifted forward and craned around a bit to see the other end, drawing in a sharp breath when I did so. Where I expected to find red, cloven flesh and bone, I instead beheld a round, smooth end completely sealed over with healthy, unmarked skin, as though it had never been a part of anyone’s body and was born to be existentially and ontologically its own pure and independent being.

I grimaced and shook my head. Someone had sent me a rubber finger, I thought with chagrin, and like a greenhorn I’d fallen for it.

Still, I mused as leaned in to get a closer look, it did look very real. Though pads-down at the moment it even seemed like it might have fingerprints—and that would be significant regardless of whose they were. Wanting to flip it over to confirm this, and too impatient to find a pen (or check the mailer envelope for chopsticks), I slid the nail of my index finger under the middle part between the knuckles and nudged upward, just enough to roll the finger over.

Instead, the finger flinched—and then, in a flash, it had pillbugged itself around my fingertip and clamped itself there like a drowning man clinging to a log.

With what felt like superhuman effort I resisted the sudden and violent urge to fling the thing off me in horror. It’s evidence, I coached myself, trying to calm my suddenly galloping pulse. And anomalous. And warm. Alive, somehow. Fling it, it might get damaged, and that would be bad. I’d known that instinctively, but the initial “get it off me!” vibe was powerful and visceral.

Stay focused, Simmons.

After drawing a couple of deep breaths I lifted my finger off the desk and tried gently shaking my hand, hoping it might fall off of its own accord and harmlessly drop the couple of inches to my desktop. No go—if anything it clutched my fingertip even harder, like it was desperate to hold on. It had quite a grip, too, using its length and leverage with a will. A whole hand of fingers like these would be formidable indeed, I thought bemusedly. As the idea flicked through my head I remembered the profile on our alleged victim. Aramis Berlinger, driven and outgoing, the kind of trust-fund heir who used his wealth and leisure to climb mountains and master mixed martial arts, whose social media was followed as much for the shirtless selfies showing off his perfectly smooth, deliciously ripped long-’n’-lanky physique and his loose, shoulder-length flaxen hair catching the wind as for the exotic and picturesque locales he liked posing in front of on a regular basis.

Something to think about once I was done dealing with a stray finger clamped onto me like a rottweiler humping its favorite leg.

Hmm. Was it the finger itself clinging to me, or was it getting its orders remotely? If so, from whom? Was it Berlinger—or someone else?

Okay. Another question for later. How to detach it from me was the more pressing concern. I took another deep breath and tried to approach the problem rationally. I needed to handle this carefully. This finger was a clue—potentially a more useful clue in its current state than what you’d normally expect to get in such cases. Either the finger was sentient (now, there was a phrase I’d never thought I’d formulate), or it was an extension of some other consciousness; either way, though, connecting somehow with the psyche in question might be my best bet for getting to the bottom of whatever the hell was going on. I needed to get the finger on my side (another novel sentence).

That meant using my other hand to yank it off me was out. The behavior that was causing a problem—its tenacious death-grip on me—was rooted in fear. Whatever it was, the thing showed every sign of having experienced the trauma of separation, isolation, and a bumpy ride through the mail. It was latching onto me as the first human it had encountered. My mission, therefore, was to calm this strange, tiny beast and seek its friendship.

I smiled as I thought of another strange, tiny beast—the miniature version of the ill-tempered Hungarian Horntail Harry’d pulled out of the sorting bag before the first task of the Triwizard Tournament. Harry hadn’t had to tame the little dragon, though—he’d had to defeat the big one. Then I remembered something else that had gone for Harry’s fingers in an earlier book—the ferocious and bitey Monster Book of Monsters. And how do you calm the Monster Book of Monsters? “You stroke the spine, o’ course!”

Resting my fingertip back on the surface of my desk, I reached up with my other hand and, using my index finger, lightly caressed the back of the finger. I started just between the knuckles, then moved on to taking in the whole length with slow, calming strokes. “It’s okay, buddy,” I found myself cooing, like it really was a frightened beast. “No one’s going to hurt you.” I snorted as I continued caressing. “If you really are Berlinger’s, you might be safer here than wherever he is.”

I have to admit that it was only as I said these words that my training kicked in and rather rudely reminded me that, while the finger was “real,” not rubber, and unexpectedly alive, it still might be a ruse or even a trap. I couldn’t assume that a “finger in the mail” gag like this should be taken at face value. Maybe “they” (whoever “they” were) had cut off Berlinger’s finger for real and sent in a real ransom threat with all the consequences a severed digit implied, and the thing remaining living and mobile was an unanticipated and possibly irrelevant sideshow. Or maybe something else was going on. Berlinger might be faking the whole thing, in which case this might be some kind of Trojan Finger with an objective that required being inside the Bureau. Or there might really be a bad guy, an enemy of Berlinger’s with similar abilities perhaps, with the supposed kidnapping a smokescreen to hide the contest between them. Or maybe some guy had a bunch of living fingers lying around and decided to mail one to us as a joke in when he heard about Berlinger’s abduction. The involvement of a third party outside the case might help explain the assumed involvement of the FBI despite us not having been called in yet.

Whatever its provenance, the long, tanned finger did indeed visibly calm as I went about soothing it. After a few moments it began relaxing its hold. As it let go I kept up my ministrations, letting it know I wasn’t tricking it into being abandoned or anything. “There you go,” I hummed. “There’s a good beast.”

Finally I pulled back my other hand, resting it on the desk while I smoothed my original finger along the side. I sighed in relief.

It struck me that all this finger-nuzzling would normally constitute fairly intimate contact. If Berlinger was at the other end of this, was he feeling me feeling up his missing digit? I didn’t stop, though. The more receptive this thing was, the more likely it would lead me to the next clue in the case. Plus, I really did want to be nice to it, though fuck me if I knew why. “There you go,” I continued murmuring as I stroked, working my low baritone the way I often had to with jittery criminals and hysterical witnesses alike. I was getting quite practiced at it. “You’re going to help me figure this case out, aren’t you?”

Noises in the outer office. Obeying an impulse I didn’t fully understand, I swept the finger off the desk and into my lap, placing my left hand over it to keep it from falling or wandering off. A second later, Kent appeared in my doorway in a white shirt with his blue tie askew, looking like he’d just come from a GQ after-hours shoot and not three hours in a car with the A/C off. “Still here, Greg?” my partner teased with a grin. “You gotta go home sometime.” Then he noticed the opened mailer and the curled ransom slip next to my laptop on my otherwise empty desk (which only stayed empty, unlike the desk of certain office-mates I could name, because I stacked my case files on the table by the door and did all the paperwork I could electronically). “What’s that?” he asked, nodding toward the stuff with his chin.

The finger squirmed against my palm, but I didn’t think it was in distress. Rather, it seemed to have figured out that the soft lump it had landed on, and was currently being pressed into, was, in fact, my penis. Worse yet, the finger’s wiggling was getting a reaction out of my easily-provoked and very responsive dick, and the thin fabric of my suit trousers was not helping. “Uh, evidence for the Berlinger kidnapping,” I told Kent, putting on the face of someone who didn’t have a disembodied finger in his lap making friends with his junk.

Kent’s brows drew together, and he stepped further into our office. “Are we on that?” he asked, looking at the mailer with interest. I’d tossed it down face up after rolling the finger out of it, so the preprinted label on the front was plainly visible. “Why is it addressed to you?” he added, giving me a curious look.

“No idea,” I said honestly. “Maybe they heard about the Winslow dognapping case last year and assumed I must have graduated to people by now.”

Kent smiled, stretching his dark, late-night stubble. “Any day now, I’m sure. Return address mean anything to you?”

I grunted. “Unfortunately, yes,” I admitted. “It’s my ex-husband.” Thoughts of my grease-monkey ex inevitably made me think of his big dick, which was easily his best asset—some might say his only asset. My own prick, already half chubbed thanks to the wiggling and increasingly appreciative visiting digit I had mashed against it, swelled a little further at the reminder of its old playmate, and I tried to force down the softcore porn in my head that was gradually building from late-night cable levels toward something others would have to pay fourteen ninety-nine a month to see.

Kent raised an expressive eyebrow. “Any chance he’s involved?”

Only with himself, I thought—but I quickly pushed that little porno out of my head as well. “To my knowledge Cam’s never willingly left Chicago,” I said, remembering his horror at the very idea of traveling beyond a ten-mile radius of Fuller Park. I’d been more than happy to when the FBI job in Seattle had come up during our divorce, but that was more about getting away from my dick of an ex (and his big dick) than any particular animus toward the city. “I’m sure SPD will want to check into it anyway. I was just about to bag this stuff as evidence and walk it down there.”

It wasn’t lost on me that whoever the “they” were in the case not only knew who I was but had information about my life, including the fact that my ex and I were on good enough terms I was likely to open a package from him without a second thought. I could see the same thoughts were now occurring to Kent, but all he said was, “You want I should come with?”

I feigned surprise. “What, you suddenly enjoy sitting around for hours during other people’s debriefings?”

Kent smiled, genially owning up to his reputation for having a short attention span. “Well, when you put it that way…”

I nodded toward the door. “Go home. I’ll text you if anything happens. How’d the stake-out go, by the way?”

Kent smiled wide. “Nailed all three of ’em,” he said. “Joyce and Misha are downstairs processing ’em now. Fuckers came home still wearing the same plaid flannel shirts they were wearing in the CCTV!”

“I love it when they’re idiots,” I said, trying not to grit my teeth as the finger started actively rubbing itself along my half-hard wang through my suit pants.

“Absolutely.” Kent was already back the door, but he turned and grinned, lingering long enough to indicate the evidence on my desk and say, “Let me know if you need me.”

I nodded, and he disappeared.

I relaxed a little and let out a breath. Lifting my hand out of my lap, I turned it palm up to check on my little beastly visitor—and froze.

The severed finger I’d received in the mail wasn’t severed any longer. The wayward digit, though longer and tanner than my own fingers, had apparently decided to join them and had somehow fused itself into the meat of the upper palm just under the middle finger. I couldn’t feel it or move it, it was still someone else’s finger—and it was now a part of me.

My stomach twisted as I beheld my own left hand with its double complement of middle fingers, one of them in front of the other and a slightly different color, too, as if to highlight its alienness to me. Nothing happened for a moment. Then the extra finger ticked back and forth, left, the right. Jesus, I thought. Is it—is it waving at me?

“Uh-h-h-h,” I stammered. This could not be happening. I glanced sharply up at the door to our office, half-expecting Kent to be standing there watching, round-eyed and aghast. But the doorway, and the outer workstations beyond it, were all empty. I was still alone, though I knew Joyce and Misha would be back any minute to file preliminary reports.

I frowned at the extra finger. Was this its plan—to infiltrate the FBI through unsolicited tissue merger? Would it impinge on my will? Force me to kill with my augmented hand, strangling the finger’s enemies or shooting Emperor Palpatine lightning-bolts at those who’d betrayed it? Or was I the target? Was it even now injecting toxins or hallucinogens into my very bloodstream?

Okay, none of Uncle Clay’s conspiracy theories. And the hallucinogens probably needed to come before the self-possessed body parts started dancing on my desk.

Impulsively, I wrapped my other hand around the finger. It wiggled warmly in my grasp. Reminding myself to be gentle, I exerted a steady pull on the finger away from the hand it was attached to. I had no reason to think this would work—the original severing might have been done with a knife in the usual way only for the mangled end to heal over, and the joining process might not have been designed to be reversible—so it was with some astonishment that I saw a pink crease appear around the bottom of the extra digit, like the first sign of a separation. I increased my pressure a bit and then, thinking about wine corks I think, I added a slow counterclockwise twist. It seemed to be working, though the feeling of connection in my hand to this foreign finger seemed actually to intensify. My heart faltered as I imagined pulling the finger free only to yank all sorts of ligaments and muscle shreds out of my palm—but no, pull and twist did the job, and the long, tanned, cock-loving finger I’d gotten in the mail came away with both my palm and its own joining end as smooth and unblemished as ever.

Wow. That was amazing. And was it imagination, or had the separation actually felt… nice, like a tiny rush of pleasure? That was unexpected.

You know, I thought, surprising myself, if I’m going to be carrying the thing around, I’ll be much better off knowing exactly where it is and that it hasn’t wandered off, or fallen into a storm drain or something…

I looked at the finger I was still gripping in my right hand. Hardly believing what I was doing, I watched as I brought the base of the finger back toward my palm and pressed it against the flesh just below the middle finger. Nothing happened at first, but I kept pressing, and after several loud heartbeats the skin of my palm merged with the slightly darker flesh of the wayward digit I was pressing into it. At the same time, some kind of connection seeped into my awareness. I couldn’t control it, but I could feel it joined to me, and—there it was, that little wash of pleasure, like a reward, or a thank you.

Gradually I unwrapped my other hand and pulled it away, leaving me as I had been a few moments before—hosting someone else’s finger in the middle of my left hand.

It twitched left and right again, then leaned back and snuggled against my own middle finger. Almost without thinking I snuggled back, rubbing the pad and sides of my finger against its newest friend. Why wasn’t I freaked out at this? I’d been horrified the first time, and then a minute later I’d done it myself, deliberately—what the fuck was wrong with me? And why the hell was my dick chubbing at the thought of carrying this thing around with me?

Noises and animated conversation drifted in from the outer office. Joyce and Misha, I guessed. Quickly I grabbed a couple of large evidence bags from my stash and carefully sealed up the mailer and ransom note, sliding the two bags and my laptop into my open satchel next to my desk. I got up and retrieved my suit jacket from the hook by the door. I pulled the jacket on self-consciously, oddly aware of the foreign finger being made to slide through the silkily-lined sleeves, and I made sure to nuzzle it reassuringly with my thumb as I did so. It happily reciprocated, continuing to do so as the hand emerged again.

I gazed at my altered left hand dumbly for a moment. My life is officially weird, I thought.

Joyce and Misha were settling in at their desks in the next office over, gleefully discussing their art theft bust. I snatched up my satchel in my right hand and headed out. As I passed their office I smiled in at them, remembering not to wave, and called out my congratulations.

“Hey, Greg, where you going?” Joyce called after me. They probably wanted to talk through the whole sting with me. Part of the process, on any other night.

But I was already halfway to the elevators. It was late, and I was on a mission. I had to find the rest of the person this finger belonged to.

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