“Johnson.” Detective Barnes put his hand on the rookie’s shoulder. “Let me give you some advice before you go down there.”
“It’s okay, sir. They told me what to expect.”
“Hearing about it is one thing. Experiencing it is something else.”
The young officer shrugged. “Abernathy said it’s a cloying sweetness. Like fermenting, rotting fruit. Said if I’ve ever been to an orchard in the fall, I’ll have the general idea.”
Barnes looked past the rookie to his partner. “That what you told him, Officer?”
Abernathy’s lips quirked. A quick grin appeared before he managed to compose his face into an expressionless mask. “More or less.”
Officer Johnson brushed past the detective and half-strode, half-slid down the hill, the damp, moldering leaves a slick groundcover that even seasoned hikers might slip on.
Barnes hurried after him. “Johnson, wait! Before you—”
Johnson was about twenty yards ahead of Barnes when he lost his balance in the fallen foliage. He rolled the rest of the way down the hill. His momentum stopped when he landed—face first—on the rotting corpse they were there to investigate.
Abernathy’s laughter echoed through the woods, punctuated by the sounds of Johnson’s violent retching.
“Damn it, Abernathy.” Barnes made it to the bottom of the hill. “You could have prepared the guy. He’s your partner. You’re supposed to have his back.”
“Rite of passage, Detective.” His voice was muffled. He spoke into the bend of his elbow, using his arm to block the stench.
Barnes walked into a thick, odiferous wall of decomposition. There was nothing remotely sickeningly-sweet about the stench. The rank odor of rotting flesh combined with the fetor of old, expelled human excrement choked the detective.
No matter how many times he investigated a murder, the smell made his eyes water. It was a powerful, potent funk he could taste—would taste—and smell for hours after he left the scene.
He approached the corpse. Officer Johnson still lay there, covered in his own vomit. The stink of fresh bile a foul vapor over the oppressive decomp. He shook his head and turned to Abernathy. “And now, because of your little joke, we’ve got a contaminated crime scene. Happy now?”
“What’s that noise?” Abernathy asked.
“The buzzing? Probably the flies feasting on the putrefying tissue. Unless you mean that squelching sound. That’s the maggots—”
Abernathy turned, ran off the path, and threw up behind a bush.
“Guess it’s not so funny now, huh?” Barnes said.
This post inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Fragrance.