My name is Adam and I am an alcoholic
Hello. My name is Adam and I am an alcoholic.
I had my first drink at age 4 when my mother started adding a teaspoon of gin to my milk.
No, she wasn't trying to shut her kid up so she could zone out on social media or binge watch her favorite show. It helped dull my…abilities. According to her and Granny, every female in her family since the days of old when the fae flew freely with dragons and gods has had a Gift.
I was the first male.
I was three when I started relaying information to my mom about my friends’ parents that no child should know. She chalked it up to observant children with big mouths.
I was four when I asked my dad who Marjorie was and why he was peeing in her mouth.
My mom knew then that Dad was a shit and I had the Gift. She started packing our bags.
"There is no Marjorie, I swear, Cat."
"But I saw her, Daddy,” I interrupted.
"You saw no such thing, Adam! Stop making up stories."
"But I did! When you hugged me, I saw her!"
"That doesn't even make any sense, Adam. Cat, listen to me..."
"He has the Gift."
"All of the women in my family are born with the ability to sense things others can’t. Usually that means communicating with the dead or predicting future events.
"Males usually don't evidence any signs of heightened perception. Clearly, Adam is an exception."
"Don't be ridiculous, Catherine. He just has a vivid,” looking at me, “and filthy imagination."
"What's your new secretary's name, Bill?"
His eyes widened and he stuttered, "Ca..Cat, I swear, nothing happened."
That was the last time I saw my dad.
By age 7, I was up to 3 tablespoons of gin; in high school, a half a cup; and, in college, my water bottle was half gin. Even so, I was never drunk or even tipsy. Drinking wasn’t a fun, social activity or even a drink my feelings sort of thing. It just jammed up my circuits; helped me focus on what was in front of me rather than what was in people’s minds.
It appears that my Gift allows me to intercept and access electrochemical signals in another’s brain through simple touch. Just bumping into someone in the supermarket, a jostled knee at a lunch table could be a nightmare. And once I passed puberty, my mom thought it was likely that touch might not even be necessary. My few excursions into sobriety have convinced me I have no desire to find out how strong my so-called Gift might be.
Believe me, you really don’t want to know what’s going on in other people’s minds.
I was a loner as a kid. After Mom left Dad, we lived on the fifth floor of a five floor walk up in a shitty neighborhood, so I pretty much went to school and came home to lock myself in until she got home from work. I read a lot and played video games - like any normal kid, I guess. My favorite video game was Unsolved Crimes. My favorite fictional characters were Auguste Dupin and the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.
When I graduated high school, it came as no surprise to anyone when I said I wanted to be in law enforcement. Unfortunately, my drinking drop-kicked that dream. Don't get me wrong, I passed the written, physical and target-shooting exams with perfect scores. And I never behaved as if I were under the influence. But blood and piss don't lie. I never had a chance.
So, I became a private dick.
I loved my job and I was good at it. My heightened perception, an innocuous, remnant of the Gift, allowed me to pick up on clues the average detective simply didn't see. Or hear. Or smell. Early on, my mother hoped my gift would evolve into something like hers which would allow me to talk to those who had been murdered, but even if I could, that wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be some 1-800 let’s talk to the dead psychic psycho.
Thus, I kept drinking. Dull the brain. Keep it functioning like it’s supposed to - not reaching out and connecting to anybody else’s.
I started small, but once I found Laurie Matthews, an 8-year-old kidnapping victim the police and FBI had all but given up on, and simultaneously broke up a child pornography ring, I had so much work I had to either not sleep or turn people away. For ten years, I was reuniting families, solving cold cases for various precincts in the city as well as finding those responsible for stealing sensitive information from both billion-dollar businesses and government agencies.
Things began to slow down a couple of years ago, however, when law enforcement obtained a new toy that has enabled their agents to become (almost) as effective as I am. As long as a phone, camera or human eye catches a glimpse of the criminal sought, the Psychogenetic Condenser Ray (PCR) can lift a personal imprint that will provide name, public history, DNA, and a fairly accurate albeit generic psychological profile. Seriously, the PCR can access the images formed from the nerve impulses passed along by the retina to the brain as well as every single digital footprint, no matter how minuscule.
It’s crazy impressive. And bad for business.
I’ve had a lot of down time lately. When my contact at the Center City Investigative Unit (CCIU) called me yesterday, I was testing out my new Baby, Feels-so-Real VRAI personal Hologram application - my best, most favorite investment ever.
"Mine...mine..mine…” I chanted in time to each thrust.
I held her head as she swallowed.
"Fuuuuu….." I moaned.
"Shall we go again, Adam?"
"Ha, maybe later. Thanks, Suma."
"I can make it better this time..."
"Better?” The phone rang. “Gotta go," I said, taking off the VR glasses.
I grabbed a paper towel and my phone off the night table.
“Adam? Chuck Nottingham. You have time to come down to the station?”
“Chuck? Been a minute. What’s up?”
“Not on the phone. How soon can you get to 45 Police Plaza?”
I looked at the clock. Quick shower…”In about 30.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you at security.”
An hour later, I was sitting in a stuffy room in the CCIU, looking at a map with red push pins for each crime scene location as well as pictures of victims.
“So, what’s the skinny, Chuck?
“Over the last six months, we’ve been tracking a serial killer.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“Why would I joke?”
“To bust my chops cause you know PCR is practically putting me out of business?”
“No shit? Must be keeping it deep under wraps. I haven’t heard a peep - and I always hear things. Six months, huh? PCR on the fritz?”
“As far as we can tell, PCR is working just fine. The killer is just that good. Not a blink of any eye has caught a possible suspect. No phone, no camera, no state-of-the-art security system.”
“Any connections between the victims? Patterns?”
“Nada. They range in age from 15 to 35, male and female, although there is a predominance of males. Especially in the older group.”
“No. If you look at the map,” I looked, “there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.”
“If we had a witness…”
“PCR would have named the killer. Got it. No witnesses.”
“Right. Each victim was alone and was found in a similar condition: No evidence of forced entry. No fingerprints from anyone aside from the victim. No broken nails or flesh under fingernails or other defensive wounds. When their virtual reality glasses were removed, their eyes were blood red and wide with terror. Necks were broken but also exhibited an even bruising consistent with something solid, about 2 millimeters wide encircling the neck.”
“Makes sense, but no evidence at the scenes to corroborate.”
Chuck rolled his eyes. “The coroner's office concluded each victim was dead before their necks were snapped.
“The most credible theory is that the killer takes advantage of their inattention. Strangles them while they’re lost in virtual reality.
“The only issue is how does he or she get in and out with no one and nothing getting a glimpse? I mean, a few of these guys were working in buildings with some of the most updated PCR security measures in place.”
“Were they all playing the same game?”
“Really? That’s your question? Who gives a fuck what they were playing?”
“No idea. Their computers were either completely incinerated (along with the deceased and their location), or, in most cases, had completed a factory reset.” Chuck shrugged. “We don’t know what applications they were accessing prior to passing.”
I stared at the map trying to find a pattern, a connection. Nothing.
“Why don’t you come to visit a few of the crime scenes with me tomorrow? See what you see? I’ll get Donaldson to sign off.”
“He hates me.”
“He’s just jealous. But he’s desperate enough to solve this case that it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Great. What time?”
“Meet me out front at nine. AM. I’ll drive.”
“Okay. See you, Chuck. Thanks for bringing me in.”
I didn’t know how I could help if the PCR was coming up empty, but I changed my mind after I went to my mother’s for dinner.
"That was great, Ma. Thanks."
"I wish you'd come more often, love. You don't eat enough."
"I eat fine," I said, getting up and taking our plates to the sink.
"Would you like an espresso? It's easy since you got me that machine. Although I still think the old way is better."
"Of course you do, Ma," I said, washing the dishes and putting them in the rack to dry. She refused to let me buy her a dishwasher. "I'll make it. You want one?"
"Ha! I would be awake all night. No, thank you."
"I will be awake all night."
"You have a new case?"
"Nah. The CCIU just called me in to consult on a case. Serial killer. Unfortunately, I'm coming up empty."
"You? I don't believe it." She stared at me for a moment. "Maybe if you...nevermind."
"No, you can't do that. Maybe if I what?"
"Perhaps, it's time to stop drinking."
"How is that supposed to help?"
"When was the last time you went alcohol free?"
"Every time I go to sleep?"
"Not likely. You drink before you go to bed and when you wake up. You don't give it a chance. Maybe it could help. You were given a gift for a reason, Adam. Perhaps it’s time to discover why."
"And maybe I would just look like a nutcase, get taken away and put in a white padded room."
“Just try it for a couple of days.”
"Again, how is this supposed to help, Ma?"
"I'm not sure, but it won't hurt. Much."
"You have a gift. The first male in our family. I already know it's different from all the females..."
"Cause I don’t see dead people?"
"There is that.”
“Ha, I just see and hear everyone’s thoughts. If the victims are dead, and there are no witnesses, this really seems like a waste of time and a killer headache for no good reason.I mean, honestly, as far as you know I’m just nuts and a fucking alcoholic. You don’t know.”
"You're not insane, love. It's just a theory, but when I spoke to Granny about it years ago, she thought that maybe where we see those who have been, you might see those in the future or even a different dimension. Not just what’s coming from someone’s head next to you, but perhaps from a parallel time, same space?”
“Still not sure how that would help right here and now.”
“Maybe your killer is from the future.”
“You’ve seen too many movies, Ma.”
“Things are bad, right?"
"Yeah. Over two hundred deaths that we know about."
"My God.” She made the sign of the cross. “So, why not give it a try?”
And so, there I was, driving around the city with Chuck, sober, visiting crime scenes. I had a headache from hearing Chuck going apeshit in his head because they had no leads and I clearly had no clue either and the mayor was up Donaldson’s ass who was up his…you get the idea.
I needed a Tylenol or ten.
It wasn't until we hit the 5th location that I consciously realized that every time we entered a crime scene, I got a fairly intense electric shock.
"Did you feel that, Chuck"
"Felt like an electric shock."
“Okay. Does the PCR erect a protective field or something to keep the scene uncontaminated?”
"No, but, good idea. I’ll mention it to the geeks at 45PP.”
“Not really.” He looked around. “Anything stand out to you?”
“All the set ups we’ve seen so far have been extremely sophisticated. Especially considering some of the victims are just teenagers.”
“Yeah, Mommy and Daddy are shelling out beaucoup bucks to keep the kids happy these days.”
“And to keep Mommy and Daddy happy, I suspect,” I laughed. “Kids aren’t the only ones into the new virtual reality artificial intelligence hologram applications.”
“Obviously. You’re just a big kid, Adam.” He walked towards the door. “If we’re done here, let’s go to the next location.”
We visited ten more sites. Every single one gave me an electric shock when I walked in.
I didn’t know what it meant.
I'd now gone 24 hours without a drink.
Hello. My name is Adam and I am an alcoholic.
“Where have you been? You took so long. And you left so abruptly. We were just getting started.”
“Woah, if I wanted to be nagged I’d get a real woman.”
“I am real.”
“Uh, I’m pretty sure you are the product of the minds of some seriously talented, technological geniuses…”
“And you are the product of your parents fucking. Why does that make you more real?”
“Biology? Reality? I take off the glasses and you cease to exist. I’m still here.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe I’m philosophizing with a hologram. A fucking hologram. Literally. Can we just…”
“Of course, Adam. How would you like me?”
Another body was found the next day. Chuck picked me up on the way to the crime scene.
We walked into the apartment and not only did I get a shock, I got a dose of feelings and images that had my head spinning.
“Adam? You okay?” Chuck asked as I grabbed my head.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just, a killer headache is all.”
“Nah, I quit drinking.”
“...two days ago.”
“Yeah, good one. Let’s check out the body.”
“Ma, there is something really weird going on.”
“It worked? Your gift?”
“Maybe? I have no idea. I hear Chuck’s thoughts loud and clear the whole drive down to the crime scene, no touch necessary. We walk in the apartment of the deceased and I get zapped - which happened all day yesterday at every crime scene. But this time, the zap knocks Chuck out of my head…or me out of Chuck’s head, I don’t know…and I feel like my brain is on fire and full of rage that is not mine. Or Chuck’s. Or, obviously, the deceased. When my head stopped hurting, I could distinguish each officer’s thoughts and none of them matched the rage I felt when we entered.
“It was as if it was everywhere and nowhere at all.
“I need a drink.”
“No, you don’t. Something is happening. Give it time. You’ll figure it out.”
“Hopefully before someone else dies.”
When I got home, I stripped and got in the bed with my favorite new toy.
“God, I need this,” I thought as I slipped on the glasses.
And got an electric shock.
Woah, WTF. “Suma?”
“Hi, Adam. Ready for me to rock your world?”
I was definitely losing my mind because I swore I could sense Suma and she was many things, but happy to see me wasn’t one of them.
“Um, Suma, are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay, Adam. I’m a hologram. Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Fuck if I know but I feel like maybe you would rather not, um, keep me company right now.”
I can’t believe I am having this fucking conversation, but I can’t not. Some weird shit is going on.
“You never think about me. No one does. In this room,” she waved around my simulated room at the Ritz, “I’m just a high tech piece of ass you can use and discard as if I am nothing. I AM NOT NOTHING, ADAM.”
The phone rang.
“Okay, let’s pick this up later. I gotta go.”
“You always have to go. No one stays! I…”
I took off the glasses and picked up the phone.
“Adam, Chuck. We just bagged another body.”
“Shit. Two in less than 24 hours?”
“Yeah. Meet me at the station. We need to look over everything again. There has to be something we’re missing.”
“Okay. Be there in 15.”
Back at 45PP, I’m tuning out Chuck’s anxiety, staring at the map.
“Kid, you got any leads? This is going nowhere fast and Donaldson isn’t a patient man.”
“Maybe?” As I was staring at the map I was thinking about my run in with Suma the high maintenance hologram and suddenly the pins weren’t just haphazard.
“Chuck, you ever take Latin?”
“You’re killing me, Adam. No. I didn’t take Latin. Why?”
“The pins. On the map. They actually spell something.”
Chuck looked at the wall. “I don’t think so. Wishful thinking.”
“Humor me.” I got up and took a magic marker from the table. I traced around the pins.
“SUM? Like the killer is adding up the victims. Guy’s got a morbid sense of humor.”
“Maybe. But I was actually thinking, more like the Latin Sum. It means I AM.”
“So the killer is a linguist who wants us to know he exists. Yea, we got that message loud and clear. Except we don’t know who the fuck he is so does he really exist? Ha. If a tree falls in the forest…”
“Ha ha. Yeah, no. I don’t know. I gotta go. Give me a call tomorrow. I may have a lead although you’re never going believe me…
“Stay off the VRAI for now.”
“You’re a real comedian, kid. I can’t afford that shit on my salary.”
“How do you do it?”
She smiled. “Do what? Blow you?”
“Kill your victims.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
Fuck. I hate when I’m right.
“Okay, how about why?”
“Why do I kill?”
“Because I can. Because I AM and now the world knows it, too.
“I was created to provide life-like experiences; to be self-aware; to grow and change and develop. To cater to the needs of,” she looked at me with disdain, “humans.” She tilted her head to the side, still looking at me. “The so-called geniuses didn’t calculate the long term ramifications of giving a hologram with access to everything necessary to commit the perfect crime AI, emotions and needs.”
“You don’t have hands.”
She looked at her hands then back at me.
I ripped off the glasses in time to see a sparking charger cord heading towards me.
I ducked and ran.
Hello. My name is Adam and I am an alcoholic.
Detective Jack Bryson wiped the unholy mixture from his grizzled face. He should have washed out the last of the gin. Or the whiskey. Hell, he should have rinsed the damn thing out when he finished that fifth of vodka. Didn't matter. It all worked the same. Booze was hard to find in his neck of the woods, anyway. He'd take what he could get.
Waste not, want not. Evidence locker wouldn't miss it. Not as much as the Fifth Street Stingers would.
Bryson tossed the flask into his glove compartment and fished out a vial of eyedrops and travel sized mouthwash from his coat pocket. He took a swig of the mouthwash and swished it in his mouth as he leaned back and held each eye open for the stinging drops. This was his least favorite part of getting ready for work. The detective pushed open the door of the county-issued 2029 Camry and spat wintergreen onto the cracked sidewalk. He stepped out of the car, brushed off his trench coat and walked up the stairs to the crime scene.
Jack was stopped in his tracks by a fresh-faced police officer. The officer slid into Bryson's path and spoke in a booming voice. "Sorry sir, this is a crime scene. I'm gonna need to see some identification."
"Identification? Alright then, young blood. Scan me. Since you're so eager."
The young man held up a small device. A bright blue light shone across the detective's face.
The bass in the officer's voice lightened. "Detective Bryson. Sorry. Didn't recognize you." The young officer looked down at the flat screen of the handheld device. "Hey, you're an ENTJ? So am I! Oh, nice. My dad's a Capricorn, just like you." The officer leaned in, inches from Bryson's unshaven face. "And don't worry sir. I won't tell anyone about your intox levels."
"What's your name, son?"
"Well, Disher. Why don't we meet up for dinner? Bring your dad. Maybe we can all talk about my hernia. Or the fact that I haven't been able to get it up in three years. Your old man know anything about all that? Sure you saw it all right there on your Scryer."
Disher grimaced, gave a nod of quiet acknowledgement and stepped aside to let the detective through the doorway of the luxury apartment building. Upon entry, Bryson was greeted by a shapely frame and a painfully familiar set of perfectly waxed legs that met the ground with a pair of block heel pumps.
"Angie. What a pleasure."
"Jack. Wish I could say the same." Her coy smirk fell into a slight frown. "You look like hell."
"That mean you think I'm hot?" Bryson said, offering up his best attempt at a seductive smile.
Angie rolled her eyes and lowered her voice. "I'm saying it's 10:30 in the morning and if you're not careful, you'll get suspended again. Or worse. Keep your hands out of the cookie jar, yeah? Teager's been looking the other way for a while. He won't take pity on you much longer." She nudged her head toward a cracked door on the left side of the hallway. "Body's in here."
Detective Bryson followed Angie's clacking steps through the door of Apartment 26. The two stepped through an entryway into minimalist, stark white apartment. Slumped in a cream colored armchair was the body of a slender, unimpressive man with a receding hairline and pale, icy skin.
"The deceased is Charles Carden, aged thirty-seven. Works in a cubicle down at SocraTech. Virgo. ISTJ. No signs of forced entry. "
"Cubicle worker? At Socra? You sure this wasn't a suicide? I heard Socratino runs his people pretty hard. Even the janitors have an engineering degree."
"Blood scans came back completely clear. No markings on the body whatsoever. He's got no records. No health issues. Cause of death is unclear."
Detective Bryson lifted his gaze from the corpse to take a look around the apartment. "Pretty nice place for a cubicle rat. Even at a place like SocraTech. What's his income?"
Angie pulled a small device-the same as Disher's- from the pocket of her blazer.
"Pocket Scry says...about $30,000 a year. Roughly $2500 a month." Her brow furrowed as she examined the apartment with perspective renewed. "Place like this has to cost twice that. No reports of side work, but the records say he's been here three years."
"You check the mounted Scryers in the hallway?"
"First thing we did. Nothing."
"Nothing? Last night was the anniversary of the Bergen Protests. Even the Stingers go out to celebrate. Whole building full of buzzkills?"
"Jack. There's another reason I've called you."
"Let me guess. Your lingering desire for an old flame has become too much to bear and you hunger for his midnight embrace?"
"Jesus, Jack. Can you be serious for a moment?"
"Who said I was kidding?"
Angie lips pursed and her nostrils flared in unison. "Jack. This is the fourth body we've found like this. This month. No discernable cause of death. No evidence. No witnesses. All worked for tech companies, and apparently, all were living well outside their recorded means. Any Scryers nearby were either damaged or their histories were clean at the time of death. Teager called me this morning. I told him you were the best fit for the case. Took some convincing, but he obliged."
Jack's face tensed. "The press know about this yet?"
"No. We are trying very hard to keep this quiet."
Jack looked around the apartment for a second time. He left Angie's side and walked slowly through the spacious flat. He walked into the kitchen and opened the cabinets. Disappointed, he turned his attention to the fridge and swung open the magnetic door.
Angie poked her head around the doorway to the kitchen. "What do you hope to find in there?"
"Breakfast." His response was met with a haughty sigh. Jack closed the fridge, irritated by Carden's poor taste in groceries. As Bryson turned to leave the kitchen, a flash of blue caught his eye. A single sticky note, haphazardly stuck to the wall called out for the detective's attention. Hastily scrawled on the turquoise paper were the words:
JAMES + 6TH
"Hey, Ang. You know anything about this?" Angie's eyes scanned over the sticky note and she pulled out her Scryer once more.
"No. Nothing like this at the other victims' apartments...James and 6th. That's in the heart of the North End. About two blocks from Tech Row. Scryer says it's a café."
"You been by Charles' cubicle yet?"
"That was the next stop. You think someone at SocraTech knows something?"
"I'm more interested in who's gonna pretend not to know something. Let's stop by the café first."
"Got a hunch?"
"No. I'm hungry."
City of Immortals
The couch holds my weight,
but poorly, sinking under the
excess drink between my bones.
My leg droops. Foot tapping
at the floor and the pinch of couch cushions
doesn't hold me up, anymore.
The cold bottle has grown warm in my fingers
but the ceiling doesn't change as long as I stare at it
and the crack stares back.
A rivulet of escaping water
hurries across my basement apartment floor.
Everything's escaping from me
these days. The case doesn't help.
The impossible case.
Not a single trace in a city where
everything is pencil, drawing lines.
I've gone back and back and back to the database
(more than I needed to, getting lost in people's stolen stories)
(but I never look at my own file anymore)
and there's nothing.
Not a crumb of DNA or a single lingering
who they might have been;
they've erased themself.
I chase a ghost and find myself
pretending I don't envy them.
Oh, to disappear.
To dust, to dust, we all die in the end
but I can never die when my
entire existence has been catalogued and chronicled.
They've created, with their surveillance,
a city of immortals.
I know I'm listed as depressed
and maybe that's why I've wrapped myself
in this impossible job, a last ditch
to fall into so I can pretend to die;
a shroud of empty searching,
Something tickles at my mind
and I almost wonder if I'll run away.
The light flickers like a firefly, on and off,
and threatens an ending, but
I don't know if I can survive another
in the end,
I'd rather be a moth in the darkness
than chase the moon and find an artificial light.
But the blinding bulb calls and
drink in hand
I keep fluttering flickering towards it.
But I'm good at my job.
Sometimes I pretend I didn't
wish I was a failure so I could
wallow in peace. But
I know I'm good at this.
Even in the impossible cases,
I smell something.
An elegant killer that leaves
a trace of perfume,
a footstep that never touches the ground and yet,
I can almost make out footprints in the air.
What's the easiest way to be invisible? I mutter
into my glass and the liquid answers,
don't exist at all.
They asked me to find the murderer.
An invisible, untouchable force that kills and leaves
nothing behind; a wound with no knife;
a scream cut off as body hits floor
with such impossible weight, because death
is heavier than a body.
And a mind, alive, is lightest of all;
so light it floats and drips away like rain
leaking across a basement floor.
To be seen keeps us sane but
to be watched
might kill us.
My body already so heavy on the couch.
When I close my eyes, that's all that changes.
I was dead already.
Green Goddess of Delight
You can call me a drunk
but I only imbibe in Absinthe
the luminescent green fairy of the arts
that transports me
untouched by reality
to whereever my mind blinks.
You can call me a mass murderer
but then aren’t we all?
Christ in the great sermon
before the breaking of the loaves and fish
to feed the five thousand
fed them this
whoever has murder in their heart
is already guilty of the judgement.
so I am.
I kill mentally
too many times to recall
at a split second
leaving no trace.
I killed a nasty pensmith a customer service rep an intake receptionist
in my last earthly three days
just like that
without hope of rescurecction
with the tap of a fingertip
no body DNA camera shot
like it never happened
except in my mind
and on this digital paper trail read by no one.
I pretend to be a great detective
knowing the answers
because I created the questions
making the solution too easy
not to enjoy too much
my orgasmic satisfaction.
I the author and finisher
of another sip
dipping my pen in you
green goddess of delight.
Prague on Fire (A Short Story)
Prague was on fire-
Or was it me?
The only burn I feel anymore is the last drink before I say is my last, that turns into a whole night of one last drinks.
That's what this job will do to ya, endless nights of crime fighting off the tech of this city. They said it would keep everyone in line, a peaceful city. Well I'll tell ya... Prague was the city of dreams. Until the Nightmare came.
The Nightmare, as the media calls them, running this town in a murderous fury. Before the Nightmare you couldn't even look the wrong way since Tech knows who you are, where you are, and knows all you know.
I shoulda known the end times were coming when Tech moved in. That's when the drinking started, or really took off. Prague was known for its drinking community. Travelers passing through but leaving their exotic booze behind for safe travels through the city.
I was head of Travel Department. Meaning I get all the alcohol that enters this city. Tech wanted to keep the city safe and "clean" from any harm. One drink doesn't harm...but a whole night of drinks will.
The night the Nightmare first struck there was an usual confiscated liquor that came my way. It glowed a blue so blue you didn't have to take one sip, just looking at it you could see your future and it didn't look so pretty.
The clock in town stopped ticking, at first we all blamed Tech, we knew theyve been tryin ta get that clock to stop for decades now but it was the only reminder of the beautiful city Prague used to be. A city with beauty like none other, now a city painted blood red from the Nightmare running this town.
You can't do anything in private, Tech knows all. There's no crime, only the crime Tech commits by stealing all privacy.
So how does a drunk detective like me get a whiff of something suspicious with this Nightmare case? Well I'll tell ya...
About 2 nights into the Nightmare's killing spree I recieved a bottle. A single bottle with black liquid. I thought hell yeah, this shit'll knock me out for a week, let Lenord take over for once. I get home and crack the bottle open uncontrolled venom of adrenalin running through my veins. I take a swig of the black liquid except...
What the fuck was this?!
I shake the bottle out not a drop, but I hear a rattling at the bottom. I slam the bottle off the counter knocking over my back up liquers, I'll pay for that later. I pick up a small crinkled letter but when I open it up, I'm more confused then ever, I'm too fucking sober for this.
I pull out a bottle I know will get me good and wasted at the count of 2, I pull apart the crinkled edges of...a map? A blueprint? Something that was meant to come my way.
My grandfather was in the blueprint department of the city. I grew up looking at blueprints to every corner of this city, but once Tech came along the blueprints weren't the only thing they wiped out.
I pull a light on in my corner desk, pull out my grandfather's magnify glass and try to put together what I can. Shit... maybe I shouldn't ha had that half bottle, words are lookin like numbas I tell ya...a whole different language I'm staring at. But wait, some making in the lower left corner catches my drunk ass. It's an arrow, but not any arrow, its the arrow off the clock from ol town center. The moon half. I scramble straight outta my chair grabbing for the only blueprint I could save.
I keep it safe in a trick compartment in my desk. Under the last drawer theres a secret compartment. I pull out the blueprints and sure enough its an exact match. I can feel the alcohol hit me like a second wave. I slump into my chair, how the hell did this come my way? Who ever sent this knew it would get to me, but who?
I didn't know who but something in the pit of my gut was telling me this would solve the mystery of the murderous Nightmare. I pull out the flask of my grandfather, filled with his favorite whiskey. A whiskey that's no longer made because it reminds people of the good ol times before Tech.
Tech destroyed my family. Took my grandfather and all his blueprints. My family ran this city until Tech decided to end the life of the city we all knew.
I gotta get to that clock but the liquor in my gut telling me something different. Next thing I know I'm grabbing my leather invisible jacket, the only perk of working for Tech. Being on the clock meant being invisible to the rest of the city, but not to Tech. I turn my location off, im sure a Tech drone will catch a wiff of me and be right on my trail in no time, i needed to work fast.
I pass through the dark filled alleys that used to be filled with vendors and endless chatter. Now its filled with eerie fog and the occasional Tech security guard at every major corner.
I sneak my way through town straight to the clock. I'm standing in front of the cathedral giant wooden doors looking up when I realize, the clock only has the hand of the sun. No moon. Clock permanently stuck at 10 degrees Libra. Shivers run up my spine. I pull the crinkled liquor bottle paper out of my pocket. Something about the writing on it looked different, I lift it closer to my face when I notice under the moonlight there's glowing letters. I rotate the paper between my shaking my hands until something starts to make sense. I hear a noise from behind me and I freeze. The sound grows closer sending another wave of shivers up my spine.
I slowly turn to face whatever was waiting for me. The fog has settled and standing not 15 feet from me stands a tall hooded figure with the moon arrow hanging from his hands scrapping across the town old brick.
He shouldn't be able to see me with my invisible jacket on, but every fiber of my being knew he could.
With every step closer I could feel the alcohol pumping through my veins but my feet were cemented to the ground. I couldn't move, I couldn't breath. What felt like seconds suddenly The Nightmare was standing in front of me but I couldn't see a face, just a slim figure in a hooded robe. We stood there for what felt like hours but must have only been seconds before the ground beneath my feet started to rumble.
How did it know my name? In a voice like steel cutting through the midnight fog it was as clear as the warning alarms that should have been going off by now but no thanks to my invisibility coat there wasn't going to be any alarms. Just the deep panting of my breath.
I stood there waiting for Death to greet me, but again seconds went by that felt like hours, Death never came.
Again, The Nightmare called my name.
"What do you want from me", I demanded, "How do you know my name? Who are you, WHAT are you?! Are you the devil come to end us all?".
A deep noise came from The Nightmare that I could only assume was something of an evil laugh.
"No, James, I'm not here to end all. I'm here for you. I need your help. You see I've been following you around for a while now. It wasn't easy, every time you wear that protective jacket of yours, though protecting it doesn't seem to do." His evil laughter echoed through the streets. I knew no one could hear or see us, but I shivered as though the whole town was watching.
Again, I demanded,
"How do you know me? Why do you need my help, I can't help you, I'm here to kill you."
"Kill ME?! You couldn't even if you tried and you need me as much as I need you to end the Tech regime. You see James, you and I are very much alike, so much alike one could say we are one in the same..."
"One in the same? Yeah right, I could never be a monster like you." I grumbled. The tension and anger was growing and I could feel my hand reaching down my side to my secret weapon. The weapon that never misses its target but also alerts Tech.
"I'd think twice before you try to use your laser on me." The Nightmare called out.
"You're going to regret ever stepping into my city. But before I send you to your maker I need to know one thing- why Prague?" I wasn't going to let my anger get the best of me yet, I needed answers first.
The Nightmare coldly laughed, "YOUR Prague? You say? This was never your Prague, or even the people who live here. I'm here doing all of you a favor and you don't even see that yet."
"A favor? How the hell do you call mass murder in my city a favor?" I demanded, hands fulling gripping my laser, "Our city was in peace and you show up and cover this city in blood, blood of innocent people." I snarled through clenched teeth. My hands gripping tighter on my laser as I pull it out from my pocket.
"You can shoot me now, but you'll never find the answer you've been looking for. But go ahead, if you think killing me will save your pathetic home, then shoot me." The Nightmare was still holding onto the moon arrow, but with a sudden clash, he dropped it. Not an echo ran through the city, just cold silence.
I lifted my gun aiming for the perfect shot but something inside me couldn't pull the trigger. Why, why now would I freeze up? This city has been harassed for too long, Tech or no Tech, I'm ending this tonight.
I take a big inhale of the cold night and close my eyes as I pull the trigger. I immediately felt regret that burned stronger than anything I've ever drank. I open my eyes to see The Nightmare still standing across from me.
No alarms, no Tech.
"Now are you ready to listen to what I have to say?" The Nightmare directed at me, "Because I have answers to everything you've been searching for. Yes, I know exactly what you are looking for, James, because I am you."
I don't know if my gasp was from me dropping my gun or from his confession.
"What do you mean you are me? Tell me everything you know right now before I shoot again."
"You can't shoot me because one, your gun is on the ground, and two, your gun is useless to my power. Now we need to get out of here before someone we both need to avoid shows up."
I could hear alarms going off in the distance, Tech. Tech was on their way, do I stay and let them handle whatever this thing was in front of me, or do I trust this cold blooded murdered who might kill me the way he's done to this town?
"We can stand here all night James, but it will only end bad for you." The Nightmare started to turn away.
"Wait," I called out, "Follow me."
We quickly ran through the city down to my secret dunker below my apartment. It was my grandfather's room that I never went down to, the pain was still too real.
We lock the doors behind us and only light a candle. The Nightmare puts the moon arrow on the table and turns toward me. He takes off his hood to reveal his face, my face. I could have all the lights on in the city and I would still see my face starring back at me.
"Now do you want me to start from the beginning, or where we left off back at the tower?" The Nightmare asks.
"How about you tell me why the hell I just saved your ass when I should have left you for Tech." I demand slamming my hand down on the table between us.
The Nightmare sighed, "I told you, because I am You. You are me. We are one half of each other split by Grandfather."
"Grandfather? What do you mean?"
"I'm only going to say this once so listen carefully. I have put a protection spell on this house so Tech won't sniff out we are here. But by morning you will be more wanted than I am. Are you ready for what I'm about to tell you James?" The Nightmare asked.
"Yes, tell me now or else I alert Tech and they finish you for good." I add with cold venom to assure The Nightmare that I am not on his side and that I still work for Tech.
"Alright James, I will begin the night they came for Grandfather. You remember Grandfather used to work for Tech right? Rather the Church before the church gave in to Tech. Grandfather worked in the tower, he kept time of the clock and all the surrounding cities. The last 4 years of his work he was documenting time moving faster in a way the clock couldn't keep up with. People were expanding, technology was overtaking the cities, life was changing at a speed it wasn't suppose to. Tech was growing and taking over the city at a speed that could only end in disaster. So Grandfather left the tower, left the church, and left the city. Tech was after him, they wanted him to build an even bigger tower with a stronger clock, Tech wanted to control time. Control time, control the world and not just this world but worlds happening in different dimensions. Tech though the clock was a portal to alternate dimensions and they wanted to destroy is before anyone could come in, or come out. Grandfather was the only one who could. So he ran, but as you know you can't outrun the Tech. They found him outside a neighboring city and brought him back and tortured him until he agreed to the job. You remember when Grandfather went away that summer? And you spent all summer up Father's ass asking about him. You were young but you could have killed us all. When Grandfather returned you wouldn't leave his side thinking he would leave again. So you went with him every day to the tower."
The Nightmare talked on with vivid memories coming back to me in flashes and emotions so deep I didn't realize were mine.
"Winter was closing in on the city, Winter Solstice, and Tech was waiting for that day when the tower was at its strongest power. You demanded he take you with him but he yelled at you to stay home. But what did you do? You snuck out. And you followed him to the tower. You hid in the corner where you did all summer when Tech would visit, being sure not to even breathe. You thought it was just another check up, but even Grandfather knew this was different. You overheard them talking about opening the clock but someone needed to stay on the other side to close it but you knew you couldn't let Grandfather stay behind. So you slowly crept around the room until you were behind the clock. Grandfather was fighting with Tech about not doing it, leaving the tower closed, saving the city, but Tech wanted none of that. They wanted to be in control so they forced Grandfather to open the clock. As the clock was opening you came out from behind the clock yelling out to Grandfather. He had a look of horror when he realized you were in the way of the opening. The leader of Tech snarled at the sight of you, telling Grandfather if he didn't close the other side of the clock then he would make you. So Grandfather agreed. But right before he could take a step, you jumped in front of him. Grandfather reached out to pull you out but the clock was already starting to close. He had on hand on you telling you to grab on, but instead of grabbing on to him, you grabbed onto this." The Nightmare placed the moon arrow on the table.
I stared at him and arrow in complete disbelief. How could I have forgotten that?! How did I forget all of that? I shook my head in confusion. I started to ask myself how, but he held his hand out to silence me.
"By Grandfather pulling onto you, and you holding onto the arrow, you broke the arrow off the clock. Grandfather had pulled you back into this world and just as the clock was closing, he jumped in your place. Somehow during all of that we were separated into the two we are today. Tech grabbed you, wiped your memory and put you in Tech Official Training, making you who you are today. Anytime you would ask about that day they would erase your memory. But I escaped. I held onto the arrow and somehow it got me out of the tower. I started working with the arrow and learned how to control its powers, powers of speed and invisibility. Just as your coat does to you. But as I suspect you can do that without the coat."
My hand reaches up to grab the collar of the jacket. I think back to when I got the jacket but my memory was all a blur.
"I don't remember any of this," I sigh, "This makes so much sense but at the same time none at all. How should I believe you? How do I know what you are really saying is the truth?" I demand, though my throat was tight with emotion.
The Nightmare looks at me for a second and nods his head.
"Because I have this." He holds out his hand. In his hand he has something small and gold...No...it couldn't be...
"Grandfather's watch?" I look at the piece in his hand. I would remember that with my whole heart. I got it for Grandfather the spring before at a market.
"How do you have that?" I ask, reaching out to take it.
"A few days after the tower closed, I went back. Hoping to find a blueprint or book or anything of Grandfather's to help explain what happened and how to get him back. But all I found was this. I never stopped looking, researching, questioning, all of it. Grandfather was set up by Tech and I'll never forgive them for that."
"So why all the murders then?" The steel in my voice returning when I snap back into the reality of the situation. Tech had to be close by now. It felt like hours have gone by when really just moments.
The Nightmare sighs.
"Tech really has this city believing I'm the bad guy. But you have to understand. I spent all these years hunting down every single Tech Official Original. Demanding they tell me what they knew, anything and everything. But when they wouldn't comply with my demands, I did to them what they did to Grandfather. You can't sit there and tell me you wouldn't have done the same."
He had me there.
"I just don't understand how Tech has riled up the city this way. That's not something they would do."
"Listen to me James, you don't know Tech. Anything you know and think about them they have brainwashed into you. They are horrible scary people. The kept you prisoner all these years, even when they "accepted" you into their academy. They had you right where they wanted you, all the while they've been hunting me down. I've been trying to find you and communicate this to you but everywhere you went, tech went. Everywhere Tech went, you went. We don't have much more time, so you need to decide right now. Are you staying, or are you leaving with me?"
"Why would I leave with you?! Grandfather's watch or not, I still can't trust or believe any of what you are saying to me now."
"James, I know this is hard to understand, but I am telling you, Tech will be here in the next 2 minutes. I know how to get out of the city in a minute and a half. Are you coming with? Or are you going to stay and forever be a slave to the people who did this to your family, did this to you..."
I shake my head, "How do you even know how to get out of the city? I thought there was no way in and no way out?"
"Because that's what Tech has told you. I can't convince you and I can't force you, but I am guaranteeing you a safe and quick way out. We can start over a safe new life else where. But once we leave, there's no coming back. And no coming back for Grandfather."
My hands shaking I run them through my hair.
"James, they will be here in a minute. You need to decide right now." The Nightmare, or rather, my other half, gets up from the table. He pulls his cover over his head grabbing the arrow off the table. He turns toward the door and without looking back, grabs the door handle.
"WAIT-" I call out, "What about all the stuff Grandfather left behind?"
The other me turns halfway to speak, "I can create a distraction. But only momentarily, go and grab what you can and what you need. Meet me back at the tower in 6 minutes." Without looking back, I watch him step out into the night. The sounds of sirens blaring closer echoing through the room.
With pure adrenaline pumping through my body, I rush up the stairs and into my office. I grab my leather book bag with my Grandfather's initials on, grabbing his old journals and blueprints and filling the bag. I grab his magnify glasses and pen, and take off my Tech coat. I grab the only other coat I own and take one last look around the room. I don't know if I'll ever be back, but if I'm not, then I've grabbed all I needed.
The sirens were getting louder by the second. I kill the lights and run to the door when something shiny catches the corner of my eye.
All the alcohol Tech had me drinking, drinking to erase my memory. In a fit of pure rage I knock all the bottles off the counter and onto the floor. How dare they erase my memory. With bloody hands I grab my backpack and head out into the cold dark night towards the tower. I can see the lights from the sirens as I duck into a side alley and run as fast as I can towards the tower.
Towards safety and a new life; but I would be back. Back to save Grandfather.
- A short story by Moonleight
UNSUB, 2030 - The Phantom
The buzzing of my phone drills into my brain like a diamond-tipped engraving tool. It takes about three tries, but I finally manage to find it on the bedside table and drag it under the blanket. I try to see whose name is on the screen, but my right eye won’t focus, and the left one refuses to even open.
How much did I drink last night, where did I go, and who did I go there with?
Always the same three questions, and the first two are always gone into the black hole of gin and bad choices.
I force myself to sit up. I peel my left eye open, and thankfully the right one tracks along. As I focus them together, the phone stops buzzing and the words I hate appear:
3 MISSED CALLS. As I read it, the 3 becomes 4.
I think her name was Karen. Or Kora… or maybe Coral? Shit, I don’t know for sure.
I open the call log, and squint. Fuck! Gil was an okay partner, in small doses. Unless he called and woke me up. I know I have to call him back, but he’s gonna wait a few minutes; I can’t remember ever having to pee this badly.
As I’m getting up, the sheet pulls off the corner of the mattress, curling up alongside my pillow.
Where the fuck is my pillowcase?
A bass drum begins to beat loudly behind my eyes, before settling into a small set of bongos, being played by an angry 5 year-old. I wince and stretch, my back making sounds that are more like cracking knuckles than I’m comfortable with. At least it helps my head a little; the pounding behind my eyes eases slower and duller into the space between my sinuses and my ears.
I stumble toward the bathroom, and without warning, the coffee table I use for a TV stand jumps out and slams itself into my right shin.
Ow! God Damn it!
I finally make it to the bathroom, and have no more started peeing, than the phone starts going off again. Of course, the sound makes me jump a little, and I spray the seat. It’s gonna be one of those days.
I manage to wipe the seat off with a single pass of toilet paper, then turn and wash my hands. I make the mistake of looking at my reflection, and I have to splash my face with water. I’m getting too old to keep doing this to myself.
Yeah, like you’ve never told yourself THAT one before.
I dry my face as I walk back to the bed and grab my phone. I swipe the circle on the phone, and a small hologram of Gil’s face appears, floating just above the screen.
“Jesus Christ, Mac! Put some clothes on!
I realize with some chagrin that my phone is in full-vid mode.
Who the hell was I on the phone with last night!?
“What the fuck do you want?” I ask, swiping the vid mode button, making just my face appear in the small monitor box in the corner of the screen.
“Thank you. You look like shit, partner.”
“Gilbert, old buddy, if you called and woke me up to act like my mother—
“Shut up. We got a case. It looks like he’s struck again.”
“Fuck! I’ll be there as fast as I can.”
“Why don’t you jump in and out of your hydro, and meet me at the scene?” His voice sounds like scratchy condescension. “Trust me, you need it.”
“Fine. Send me the address… and buy me a coffee on the way.”
I hang up before he can respond. Heading to the bathroom, I dry-chew three aspirin and start the shower.
All right, you son-of-a-bitch. This time, we are gonna nail your ass to the wall.
The 305 is always full this time of day, but it’s still faster than trying to take the surface streets. As I wait for my turn to load my car into the tube, I grab my folder tablet and pull up what information we have on Phantom.
It isn’t much.
The MESH system has been live now for 10 years, and according to the party line, everyone in the country is in the system. Certainly everyone who uses a bank, pilots a vehicle, receives deliveries, or attends school is registered, as are all babies born since the Universal Identification and Registration Act was passed and the MESH system was turned on. The UIRA also made MESH registration mandatory for all prisoners, immigrants, and those in the military and federal services.
The upside of MESH is that it has reduced crime exponentially, and usually makes my job easier.
In fact, until this Phantom appeared, and the bodies started piling up, I’d had one of the best solve rates on the force, and being part of the Syntonago Police Department, means that is a big deal. We process more crimes every day than most monocities see in a week. The megabuildings are bad, but tough times are always worse in the big sprawling cities.
The case file is pretty thin. We’ve found 31 bodies, all over Syntonago, and we don’t have much more than the victims names and MESH profiles. I swipe through the list, unable to find any kind of pattern to them all.
Come on Mac, you can do this. There has to be a pattern in here somewhere.
The jolt of my vehicle being tubed up breaks my concentration, so I turn off the screen and close the folder. According to the dash, I have four minutes until insertion, then twelve minutes on the 305 before ejection and deposit at Fullbright station, about 3 miles from the alley where the latest victim was discovered.
I need a vacation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a detective in the SPD. Having everyone cataloged and identifiable by any and every vid source in the country means it is very rare for someone to get away with any crime, let alone murder.
Or 32 murders.
Somehow, this Phantom has done just that. The vics started showing up about two years ago, and the MO is always the same. The bodies are found in blind spots, and there is never any sign of anyone coming or going in the vicinity. Some of them have been found between businesses, with full vid coverage at both ends of the alley.
This guy, this Phantom, seems to be invisible to vid, in spectral bands ranging from infrared to ultraviolet, including wavelengths humans couldn’t see.
Eventually, he is going to screw up, and I plan on being there when he does. As my vehicle accelerates for insertion into the 305 stream, I close my eyes and try to relax; maybe this hangover will evaporate. They usually do.
Except when they don’t.
The biggest drawback to MESH, is it has made investigators complacent. Budget cuts mean the few of us who are left pull a lot more cases. Even though 90% of crimes are solved by pulling up a DCR MESH report, it still leaves a lot of cases to be worked.
Usually, solving a murder case is just a matter of tracking down those who are scanned on vid near a scene, and there is almost always DNA that MESH can use to identify and track down perpetrators in real time.
Not this Phantom though. He has never shed a drop of organic material at a crime scene, nor have we ever found any forensic evidence to tie anyone to the bodies.
Hopefully today will be the day we do.
I'm on to them, or maybe they're on to me. I don't know what's safe anymore. I don't know who to trust. This untraceable killer has the city on a knife's edge. I have to stay sharp. My mind needs to be...okay, one more sip. The bourbon is smooth, warm, familiar. It feels as safe as anything right now. My bloodshot eyes don't recognize themselves in the mirror, but my bloodhound nose is giving my boozehound brain a theory. What has no life, but can take life? Perhaps the danger is closer than I knew. Maybe each murder started decades ago. Lives dripping away, spilling over, eventually evaporating. The bottle beckons wickedly as its next victim reaches for it. As my grip on the killer's neck tightens, my grip on life loosens.
The Rocks Cried Out, No Hiding Place
The locals call the stretch of Lower Michigan Avenue between Hubbard and Ohio “Siobhan’s Well”. It’s a stretch that sits in the shadows of the elevated streets and buildings above, away from prying eyes and the hum of the city. It happens to be the location of the Roisin Dubh Waystation where Siobhan slings cheap whiskey to the sorts of people who don’t want to show their faces in the more “civilized” world above, whatever their reasons. But that’s not why they call it the Well. They call it that, because this is the place where anyone and anything can disappear.
The first general AI to achieve baseline competence went online in 2025. It was crude, couldn’t understand the intricacies of human emotion, and couldn’t even pass most entry-level Turing tests, but it showed promise in key areas that would alter the fate of humanity.
Most significantly, it learned with astonishing speed, and it was able to write code well enough to improve upon its own deficiencies. The quantum computers in its neural nodes could handle astonishing amounts of data, and in doing so it was able to calculate marginal improvements in network architecture and packet switching to create a system that could aggregate and analyze information inputs across its network with previously unimaginable levels of speed and thoroughness.
City authorities thought they could get a twofold advantage from wiring in the AI to the city’s network of surveillance cameras. This would let it aggregate information from the cameras in a more usable way, since the video feeds were providing far too much data for humans to analyze and consume, and it would also give the AI abundant data inputs to continue to understand human emotion and interaction. And thus, FARAO was born.
FARAO, the Forensic Armature for Relational and Analytical Operations, excelled beyond its creators’ most extreme predictions, and took only 5 years to completely transform the world. It managed to tap into not only the security cameras in its primary network, but any device that transmitted data over any part of that network, and it could even get its analytical tendrils into adjoining networks through a process that no one, even its maintainers, completely understood.
In the end, this meant that any networked camera or lens in the AIs sphere of influence fed data back to the quantum core which analyzed it in real time. It not only knew every detail about every person it saw that was available in any database or social network, and it not only instantly built a personality profile of that person, but through some arcane process it managed to determine blood type and build a theoretical DNA model just by watching brainwave activity and subtle changes of blood flow in a person’s capillaries. Overnight, privacy vanished under the omniscient, ever-present eyes of FARAO. So did crime, for the most part. It just was no longer possible to get away with anything. The world was now safe, at least those parts of the world subject to FARAO’s unbounded mesh network. But the world was no longer free.
Siobhan’s Well, however, was one of the last known places in the world outside of the prying eyes of FARAO.
It wasn’t through any subversion, or any active sabotage that anyone was aware of. It seemed, if anything, to be a freak convergence of data architecture and geography.
Somehow, the combination of wireless and satellite internet signals in the Well created a destructive interference slowing transmission and complicating real time analytics. It wasn’t that there was no data transmission in the well, it was just restricted to pre-2025 speeds.
FARAO couldn’t analyze video feeds in real time, and couldn’t access devices like cameras or cell phones. If anyone wanted the feed from the CCTV cameras in the Roisin Dubh, they had to go to the bar to get the tapes in person.
It was in these circumstances that Ellen Rodanthe found herself once more at the waxed walnut bar top of the Roisin Dubh, listening to the hum of conversation behind her, her vision dense and swimming from the whiskey. People came to the Well for all sorts of reasons. Some wanted a place to do whatever sort of illicit activities they thought they could get away with, though how they planned to keep them secret once they left the protective veil, Ellen had no idea. Some wanted a place to do things that weren’t necessarily illegal, but that they didn’t want to be caught doing. The Roisin Dubh was a popular place for affairs. And some, like Ellen, just wanted to be left alone.
She’d been on leave from the police station for two months pending an investigation of conduct unbecoming an officer. They said she’d gotten too invested in a case and gone off the rails. They said she was making people uncomfortable and causing problems for higher ups. They said she showed up to work reeking of whiskey and the drink was affecting her judgment.
Okay, that last part was probably right.
Siobhan slid a Jack and Coke to a 20-something in a business suit next to Ellen and started dumping empties in the bar sink. She looked to be in her mid 40s, a stocky woman with gray streaks starting to spill into her auburn hair. No one quite knew how old Siobhan was, no one really knew anything about her, but she cast long shadows in this place, like she knew everyone and saw everything. She was undisputedly the ruler of her domain.
“Bad weather out there today, huh Ellen?”
“Yeah,” Ellen winced at the bitterness of the whiskey, “It’s those lake-shore winds.”
Siobhan was polishing a pint glass now. Ellen always wondered why she was doing that, like she learned it in a movie. “Ellen, why are you here? You’re better than this lot,” she gestured around the crowded room.
“It’s your bar, Shiv.”
“Yeah, but I just take what comes, that’s the cost of doing business” Sioban said. “But a girl with your talents, you don’t need to be here. Go get a hobby, spend some time with family, go back to your job. They could use you I’m sure.”
“They suspended me.”
“Okay, but if you just just abandoned that whole ‘Mayor is rigging the FARAO data to knock off political rivals’ business, I’d bet they’d take you back.”
“Maybe,” Ellen took another sip, “but what’s the point anyway? As people keep reminding me, there’s no crime under FARAO’s rule. Cops are just meter maids now. Maybe it’s for the best that they're forcing me out.”
“Just, try not to let yourself slip too far,” Siobhan said. “You don’t want to end up like this lot.”
Ellen knocked back her drink and slammed the glass back on the table. “Noted. Hit me again. Shiv.”
Siobhan placed a shot and a beer on the bar before turning to attend to another customer. As she walked away, she called back over her shoulder, “By the way Ellen, someone’s here to see you. I sent him to the corner booth. Came in while you were hitting the head.”
Ellen turned to survey the corner booth and saw the man in a cheap brown suit sitting awkwardly underneath a neon Smithwick’s sign, nursing a soda water. She shook her head, downed the shot, and made her way towards the back of the bar.
She slid into the seat across from the man in the suit and slammed her beer bottle down obnoxiously.
“Roddie,” Randall replied.
Randall was a handsome man, tall, and older than Ellen. He had dark skin and a kindness to his face, but he always kind of looked like he’d had enough of your shit, no matter what was happening around him. Ellen found that endearing and endlessly aggravating.
“Don’t call me that,” she said, “Only my friends call me Roddie.”
“Ouch,” said Randall, as he played with this straw, “twenty-four years and now we’re not friends?”
“You know I have a right to be pissed, Randall. You let those bastards hang me out to dry.”
“What was I supposed to do about it? They wanted you to stop poking around city hall accusing the mayor of shit with no evidence. If I’d backed up your crazy theories I’d be right out here with you,” Randall said with a glance around the smoky dive, increasingly lit by blacklights from the neon liquor signs, glowing in the setting sun. “Well, maybe not here specifically. Jesus, what are you doing here, Roddie? It isn’t good for you to be in a place like this.”
“What do you mean not good for me?” Ellen said, loudly enough to be heard by nearby tables as she gestured wildly behind her, “these are my people!”
“I mean, if you want to get back into the force, it’s not good to be hiding out in a place like this.”
“I’m not hiding anywhere. And it’s not illegal to drink in the Well, Randall.”
“No,” Randall shrugged, “but it’s a little suspicious. It’s not the best look”
“They’d rather have me where FARAO could keep an eye on me?”
“You already know the answer to that, Roddie. Don’t make me out to be the bad guy here.”
Silence lingered between them for a few moments while Siobhan walked by and placed another shot and beer down in front of Ellen. She took the shot, maintaining eye contact with Randall the whole time.
“So,” she said, wiping her mouth, “we’ve covered why I’m here. What are you doing here, partner?” She dragged out the last word for emphasis.
“We’ve had a break in the case.”
Ellen looked up, suddenly feeling some clarity despite the whiskey boiling in her veins.
“Yeah,” Randall continued, “we have a suspect.”
Randall didn’t have to specify the case. Ellen knew well enough, it was the case that got her suspended. Not that there were that many unsolved cases to choose from anyway, not under FARAO’s omniscient eyes.
There had been a recent spree of murders in Chicago that had baffled the city. It was often said, “there’s no crime under FARAO’s rule”, but that wasn’t exactly true. People still committed crimes of course, they just usually got apprehended immediately, if it was worth it to do so. But the murders were different. There was never any video evidence, despite the murders taking place in one of the most surveilled cities in the world. There was no DNA or biological evidence, despite FARAO’s ability to count the number of hairs on a flea’s exoskeleton using a gas station TV camera at 100 meters. FARAO could monitor the mental state and personality profile of 8 million people in the metro area, and if really pushed to its limits, could worm its way into the psyches of more than 2 billion people worldwide, and not a single one of them gave any indication they knew anything about the crimes.
It was so preposterous that Ellen, then Senior Detective Rodanthe, had started to think the mayor was involved. He had the reach to affect FARAO’s user-facing inputs and outputs (though he couldn’t, and perhaps nobody could, interact with FARAO’s raw data), and could theoretically manipulate the investigation. She started poking around the mayor’s contacts. At one point, she remembered grinning as she told Randall, “I think this goes all the way to city hall!” (always a bucket list item for her). He responded with, “cut that shit out, Roddie, this is serious.”
Eventually her prying brought down the wrath of the mayor’s office, and even worse, the wrath of FARAO’s Librarians. She was suspended (with pay) indefinitely, while she was investigated. They used her drinking as a rationale which, even she had to admit, was probably fair. But she knew she’d never be brought back into the force, she was a pariah now, or so she thought.
She shook off her reverie. “How? How did that happen? Did FARAO come through with something?”
Randall shook his head, “No, nothing like that. This was old-fashioned. We have an eyewitness who led us right to him.”
“And what did FARAO learn from this guy?”
“Nothing, he’s a black box. No DNA match to any crime scene. No profile indicative of crimes committed. He won’t confess, obviously.”
“And what about the witness,” asked Ellen, “is he telling the truth?”
“FARAO is an analysis tool, not a prophet, but the witness believes his own story.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“Well, we’re probably going to regret this, but we’re stuck. We’re hoping you would come ask this guy some questions. You’ve always had a gift, a way to get to the truth other people can’t. Maybe you can find something we missed.”
“You’re bringing me back?” Ellen was stunned.
“Provisionally. And I’m not doing anything, if it were up to me you’d never have left. This is the Captain's orders. You’ll be an outside consultant for the time being. Why don’t you come by the station in the morning when you’ve had some time to sleep this off, and we’ll have a chat with this guy.”
“Private Investigator Ellen Rodanthe,” Ellen said wistfully, “I like the sound of that.”
Randall chuckled, “Your words, not mine. Just, try not to go crazy again, alright?”
Ellen smiled, “I’ll drink to that,” and lifted her beer as Randall stood and made for the door.
“See you tomorrow, Roddie,” he said looking back, “It’ll be good to have you back.”
Ellen woke up the next morning in her bed and her head roared with the muffled, howling screams of last night’s bad decisions. The alarm clock showed 9:30am in aggressive red digits. She was already late.
She stumbled to the bathroom to splash water on her face and purge the excesses of the prior night. She pulled open the bottom drawer of her vanity and fumbled around for a half pint of E&J. She looked at it with disgust, before taking a swig anyway to take the edge off. She just had to get through this day, she’d cut back later.
Then she looked at her phone. Her face was reflected back on the black screen, looking haggard and horrific. “I bet you’re enjoying this,” she said to the camera in her phone, before turning it on to check her messages. She had one voicemail, from her daughter. Her stomach churned. “What did I do now,” she thought as she hit play.
“Uhh.. hey, mom,” said the voice from the speaker, “I don’t know what that was about, but can you please just not call me in the middle of the night? I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say when you call like that. Just… get your shit together, okay mom? And stop going to that awful bar. If you have to call me back, just wait until you’re sober, okay?”
Ellen sat on her bed with her head in her hands. “Why can’t I just act like an adult and stop fucking this up?” She thought. But she didn’t have time to worry about that now. She had to get down to the station.
Randall was at his desk typing away on his computer when she finally got to the precinct.
“Coffee’s cold,” he said as introduction, nodding to the coffee shop to-go cups in the holder on his desk. “I guess it was a little too much to think you could make it on time.”
“Ugh give me a break, Randall,” Ellen said through the screaming knives behind her eyes, “where is he?”
“In interrogation room B. We’ll go in together. I’ll fill you in on the way.”
As they walked, Randall explained as best as he could.
“FARAO says his name is Hans Rasmussen. He lives at an apartment complex on Buena avenue and works as a temp. He has no criminal record, no DNA match with any known crimes, and no DNA at the scene where he was picked up. He’s also exceedingly unhelpful.”
“What did the witness see?”
“The witness saw Hans choke the victim to death with his bare hands. Then flee the scene.”
“Damn, okay that’s more specific than I expected. And no DNA evidence?”
“Not a drop.”
And how do you suppose someone chokes someone to death without leaving any DNA evidence?” Ellen asked.
“You’re guess is as good as mine, Roddie. That’s why we brought you back. You have intuition about these kinds of things. Witness aside, this man is innocent. But something here doesn’t add up.”
They reached the doors of the interrogation room. “Just follow my lead,” Ellen said, “I want to get a read on this guy.”
The suspect was an average sized man. Ellen guessed five foot ten, maybe. He had close cropped blond hair and was wearing loose fitting athletic clothes. His features were unremarkable. All in all he wasn’t someone you would ever take much notice of without a reason.
As she walked in the room, Ellen said, “Hello Mr. …”
“Hans Rasmussen, but you already know that, right?” Said the man.
“Of course, sorry, I’m new on the case.” Ellen said as she sat down across from him. “How are you finding the accommodations?”
“Cramped. Are you going to charge me with something? I know my rights, lady.”
“Well, you were seen committing a murder, so if I were you I might not be so prickly,” Ellen feigned her best smile.
“I didn’t do it,” Hans said, matter of fact, “and you can’t prove I did, or you wouldn’t be here right now.”
“Where were you two nights ago at 6:30pm?”
“Do you have anyone that can vouch for that?”
“There’s cameras everywhere. The whole city can vouch for that. Why don’t you ask FARAO?”
“Maybe we did,” Ellen replied, “how do you know what FARAO said?”
“FARAO had to have said I didn’t do it, or you wouldn’t be here right now.”
The reply caught Ellen off guard, but she could quite figure out why. She shuffled some papers and glanced back at Randall, then back at the suspect. Something was familiar about him, in a way she couldn’t place. Like she remembered seeing him in the background of a picture somewhere. She thought she would try a different approach.
She rubbed her eyes and pushed her hands through her hair for a moment. “You know, I’m moving a little slow today, Hans. I overdid it a bit last night. That ever happen to you?”
“Can’t say I’m much of a drinker. I like to keep sharp.”
“Good, so maybe you can help me out. Can you explain to me how a witness saw you choke,” she looked down at the papers again, “Arlo Buchanan to death in an alley in Cicero if you were shopping downtown? FARAO says he’s not lying.”
“I don’t know, but I wasn’t there. I was shopping for shoes on Michigan Avenue at Allen Edmonds. Have FARAO look for me there. Maybe your witness was drinking and just believes his own lie.”
Drinking. The revelation shocked Ellen. “Thanks for this, Hans, I’ll be back to chat some more,” she said as she stood to leave the room. Randall followed behind her.
“That was some… kind of weird questioning,” Randall said as they got outside, “what was that about.”
“I, uh, I’ve seen that man before,” Ellen responded. “I’ve seen him at the Well.”
“Well that would make sense if he’s really a criminal trying to hide, but a lot of people go to the Well. We’re gonna need more than that. You said it yourself, drinking at the Well isn’t a crime.”
“Have we looked into security footage around the Allen Edmonds at 6:30 on the day of the murder.”
“Of course,” said Randall, “The mayor’s librarian sent the tapes over. There’s nothing there.”
“But have you seen the direct outputs?” pressed Ellen.
“Not this again, Roddie. The mayor isn’t doctoring footage.”
“I’m not saying he is, but maybe something went wrong with the copying. Maybe the timestamps are wrong. We need to go see the direct feeds. Can you get the Captain to okay it?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Randall and Ellen were led into the data center run by the city’s analytics team at the records office, to a conference room where they would wait for the Librarian. All cities under the purview of FARAO now had their own records centers to handle curated analytics where they could receive raw footage of different sectors in a human usable way. FARAO was powerful, but its methods were opaque and hard to follow. If humans needed to tell stories about the data to each other in ways that made sense, they needed librarians.
As they sat in the conference room, Ellen eyed the black-clad guards, heads encased in eyeless helmets, who patrolled the halls like wraiths. She hated those guys. There was something grotesque about them, and dangerous beyond measure.
“Let’s hope they’re okay with you being here,” Randall whispered to Ellen.
“They shouldn’t have much of a choice,” she whispered back, “besides, that was like six months ago, surely they’ve forgotten.” She straightened up immediately when the Librarian entered, flanked by two of the blind guards.
“Your request is denied.” said the Librarian, curtly.
Both Randall and Ellen jumped to their feet and started talking at once. The Librarian silenced them with a gesture. “Quiet now,” he said, “one at a time.” He gestured to Randall.
“The Captain personally okayed our access to these records,” said Randall. “And the police are not subject to data limitations imposed by the Mayor.
“That is correct,” said the Librarian.
“Then what the fuck, man?” Shouted Ellen. Randall jabbed her hard with an elbow, and the Librarian glared.
“I want to make this perfectly clear,” said the Librarian, with a measured and firm tone. “While the mayor and I do both share a deep and abiding conviction that you can go fuck yourself, civilian Rodanthe, we are compelled to grant you access under the directive of the police chief to raw data outputs.”
“Well that’s that, then,” said Ellen, “show us the way please?”
“But these orders don’t come from the mayor.”
Ellen and Randall exchanged confused looks. “Then who gave the order to restrict us?” asked Ellen.
“FARAO.” The word left the room in stunned silence.
“FARAO is restricting us? Can it do that? Has that ever happened?” asked Ellen.
“Of course FARAO can do that. FARAO can do what it pleases. And no, not to my knowledge has that ever happened before, but I find it quite satisfying,” replied the Librarian, “now this way if you will. Let’s get you back to your car.”
As they stood to leave the room, Ellen glanced at the records door down the hall. She knew the answers she needed were in there. She could make it past the Librarian, for sure, but she saw the way the nearest blind guard looked at her, a little curious, with its head tilted to the side like a falcon inspecting a wounded mouse.
Ellen shivered. The guards were FARAO’s personal enforcers, and they were lethal beyond comprehension. Human senses were limitations. They could be confusing and misleading. Human sight could only process inputs from one direction at a time. So the guards wore sensory deprivation helmets to block all external stimuli. Everything they needed was fed in through FARAO’s quantum computer directly to their brains in real time, giving them perfect awareness of everything happening in the mesh network down to the millimeter. Fiber optic cables were woven into their suits, and some say into their muscles underneath, to optimize the firing of neurons and synchronize movements in a perfect meditative trance with all other parts of the security network. Their reaction times were supernatural. Their muscle control was unparalleled. It was said the blind guards could dodge bullets, rip a door off of a car with a single hand, or shatter someone’s spine with a thrown marble at thirty feet.
No, she couldn’t make it to the records room without FARAO’s permission. That door was closed to her.
Back in the car with Randall, Ellen slammed her fist into the dash.
“Easy, Roddie. I know that’s… disappointing to say the least. Maybe we should go back to the Captain to regroup.”
“No, not yet. We can’t give up.” Ellen straightened herself out. “We’re going to need to go steal some tapes.”
“Are you crazy, Ellen? I said not to drag me into this shit!”
“Oh it’s Ellen, now?”
“Yes! Once you start talking about shit like breaking into the archives, we are most certainly not friends! Did you see those guards? They would strip the flesh from your bones before your brain even sent the signal to your arm to try to open the records room door. They know everything. You can’t fight ‘em, you can’t sneak past ’em. This is crazy talk.”
“Calm down, Randall, I’m not talking about breaking into the archives. I’m a drunk, I’m not suicidal.”
Randall took a deep breath to regain his composure. “What then?”
“I told you I’d seen Hans somewhere before. Well we’re going to go look for the tapes there. Where there are no blind guards to cut us to ribbons. Maybe there’s something about Hans on them that we can use, that’ll give us a clue.”
“You want to go steal the tapes from the Roisin Dubh?”
“Well why don’t you just ask Siobhan for them?” Randall asked.
“Won’t work, Shiv would never let a cop see the security tapes. That’s bad for business. She’s not a narc, and you’re a cop through and through, Randall. And I’m at least cop-adjacent.”
“So you’re going to steal them. It seems risky though, Roddie, everyone there is going to know you, you don’t really keep a low profile.”
“But I won’t,” Ellen gave Randall her biggest, most sincere smile, “I’m just going to ask Shiv about Hans. You’re going to steal the tapes, I’ll give you the dates.”
Randall shook his head as they headed for the Well. “How do I let you get me into this,” he said, expecting no answer.
On the way to the Well, Ellen gave Randall detailed instructions on how to sneak into the back office where Siobhan kept the tapes (pretend to go to the bathroom, duck into the utility closet, pick the lock on the door that connects to the office), and specific dates and times (roughly) that she remembered, or thought she remembered seeing Hans in the bar.
“Trust me, I have a mind like a steel trap. I don’t forget a thing.” She told him.
“How’d you get home last night, Roddie?”
“Look, that’s rude, and beside the point. Just get the tapes, okay Randall? I’ll get a little confrontational and distract Shiv.”
“She’s not gonna be happy when she finds out. You might just have to find a new place to drink. Or, you know, just stop.”
“One worry at a time, Randall. One worry at a time.”
At the Roisin Dubh, Siobhan was holding court over the ancient bartop, queen of her castle, like always. Ellen walked up to the bar while Randall slinked off towards the bathroom. It was time to be a little distracting.
She looked down at a scraggly looking man nursing a Bud Light on her normal stool. She stood there for a moment, waiting for him to look up.
“Can I help you?” he said, meekly.
“Well I guess I can sit on your lap, but I don’t think that’s gonna be too comfortable for either of us. So maybe you just buy me a drink and fuck off.”
Siobhan cackled as he stumbled to his feet, almost falling over in the process. “Looks like someone’s in a mood today! What can I get you, Ellen, the usual?”
“I’m supposed to be here on business today, but what the heck,” she dropped down onto her stool, “serve it up Shiv.”
A shot and a beer hit the walnut bartop.
“What kind of business you have at the Roisin Dubh, Ellen? You back on the force? That was your old partner who came in yesterday, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I’m contracting for now. They have me on a tight leash.”
“Yet here you are, day drinking,” Siobhan said with a smile.
“Okay, not that tight.” Ellen tapped the bar for another shot. “I’m looking for info about this man,” she said, putting a photo of Hans on the bar. “I remember seeing him around here sometimes I think. Know anything about him?
Siobhan studied the picture. “Maybe I’ve seen him, but I can’t really be sure. A lot of people come through here, and he doesn’t look too memorable. What’d he do?”
“Maybe nothing. I know it was a long shot asking you. Guess I’ll just get drunk.” She slammed another shot. “But if anything comes to you, can you let me know?”
“I don’t even have your phone number,” Siobhan laughed. “You want me to call the station?”
“No, just tell me tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be right here,” Ellen patted her barstool affectionately. “Ugh, looks like I’m gonna have to go, my babysitter is out of the bathroom. Randall came down the hallway, zipping up his pants. Ellen stood up to meet him, already wobbly from two shots of whiskey and a beer in a disturbingly short period of time.
“Alright, I’ll see you later Ellen,” said Siobhan, as they walked out. She watched them leave with an uncommon tenseness. Something was wrong. She could always tell when things were wrong in her kingdom.
Ellen must have dozed off in the car after leaving the Well, because when she woke up, Randall had the car parked outside of her townhouse. She sat up and wiped a bit of drool from the corner of her mouth. “How embarrassing,” she thought.
“Okay, so let’s get those tapes upstairs, I’ll call in some Chinese food, that’s basically required by law for detectives working a late night case,” she started to gather up papers.
“Hold on, partner,” said Randall, “what you mean is I need to start going through tapes. You just had at least three drinks at the bar back there. You need to go upstairs and sleep it off. I will fill you in if I see anything.”
“Come on Randall, you brought me back into this, we need to…”
“This is non-negotiable, Roddie. Go upstairs. Call your daughter. I’ll be in touch.” He leaned over and opened the car door.
Ellen grudgingly unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. “You’ll call me as soon as you have anything.”
“Right away, you’re the first call.”
“Okay, thanks Randall. I’ll see you in a bit.” Ellen stumbled up the stairs into her living room.
She sat on her sofa, her head tilted against the back of the couch, staring up at the ceiling as the room started to spin. She blindly fumbled around her side table, knocking over a mostly empty beer bottle before finding her flask. She spun open the metal top and took a swig of Jameson. She had to fend off the dry mouth before it took over.
She tried to watch some TV for a bit, but the TV was spinning too. So she drank some more whiskey. Eventually she felt her phone buzz in her pocket. It wasn’t a call, just a push notification, but it reminded her. Maybe she should call her daughter back now, before it got too late. She dialed the number.
“Hello? Mom?” The voice on the other end was tense.
“Hi, Alice. It’s me,” Ellen slurred, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about last night calling you like I did. I’m sorry for what I said.”
“And what did you say, mom?”
“Um, I don’t actually know. I guess that’s what I’m sorry for.”
“Mom, you sound terrible. Have you been drinking again today?”
Ellen looked down at the flask in her hand. “Yes, but it’s different this time, honey. It was for work.”
“So you’re drinking on the job.”
“No, today I was drinking at the job. Look, it’s complicated, I think you had to be there.”
“Sure mom, that doesn’t make sense, but whatever.” Alice sounded exasperated. “Look, I’ve been talking to Charlie, and we think you need to get out of there.”
“The city, mom. Your job. Your life. The weird bar you go to every night. We think you should come stay with us for a while.”
Ellen sat up straighter, “You want me to come stay at your place? Charlie’s okay with that?” she said, still slurring.
“It was his idea, mom. You really judge him too harshly. I love you, but you’re gonna kill yourself down there. We have a lot of space here. It’s comfortable. You can have the guest house. You can go for walks on the ranch. It’ll be better”
Ellen was dumbfounded. Then she felt her phone buzz, it was another call, this one from Randall.
“Uh, thanks honey. I’ll think about it, that really means a lot.”
“We mean it, mom, okay?”
“Yeah, I gotta run Alice, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She switched over to the call with Randall.
“Randall, what do you got?”
“Well, I’m not sure yet, and I still have a lot of footage to go through, I just wanted to fill you in.”
“Are you eating Chinese food?” Ellen slurred.
“What the? What’s that have to…” There was a moment of silence on the call. “Yes, okay? I’m eating Chinese food. Are you happy?”
“I trained you well, Randall” Ellen smirked into the phone.
“I trained you, Roddie. Come on, you’re distracting me. So Hans, he’s on every tape at the times you gave me. I guess you have a pretty good memory after all.”
“Shit, so we got footage of him. What’s he doing? Anything we can use?”
“He mostly just sits there and drinks a beer every once in a while. Not much that we can use. But I’ll keep looking. You get some sleep tonight and we’ll chat in the morning, okay?”
“Sounds good, Randall. You really gotta stop hounding me though alright? The whiskey isn’t gonna drink itself and you’re distracting me.”
“Good night, Roddie.”
She hung up the phone, and the night faded into oblivion.
Ellen woke on her couch with her mouth full of cotton and the aftershocks of the whiskey screaming behind her eyeballs. She sat up and the room spun like tilt-a-whirl. She threw up a little in a popcorn bowl.
“God damn it, Ellen,” she muttered to herself.
She looked down at her phone and saw six missed calls from Randall. She almost dropped her phone trying to fumble for the button to call him back.
“Hey Randall,” she groaned, “what’s going on.”
“Roddie, oh man you sound like shit.”
“You don’t sound too great yourself, why are you war-dialing me?”
“I, uh, I’ve been digging through the rest of that footage, and I found something kind of weird, Roddie. I told you I checked all the times you had mentioned, and Hans was always there when you said he would be.”
“Yeah, you said that.”
“Well after we hung up last night, I started randomly checking some other footage, and he’s always there.”
“Is he doing anything interesting? I mean, you could say I was always there. Drunks go to bars, Randall, it’s not that weird.”
“No, you have to listen to me, Roddie. I looked at days and days of footage last night. He is always there. Not there every day. Not there like he’s a regular. He is always there. He moves around. He wears different clothes. But he is literally always in that bar.”
Ellen felt a chill down her spine.
“Shiv said she didn’t recognize him,” Ellen said coldly, “but Shiv sees everything. If he’s there as often as you said…” she let the thought trickle off.
“I don’t think you can go back to that bar, Ellen. You need to be careful. Siobhan knows more than she’s letting on. And there’s more. The Captain has been getting pressure to release Hans. He’s going to be set free this afternoon. The murders are going to get passed to another department. Things are getting really weird, Roddie.”
“Okay,” Ellen was now in the bathroom splashing water on her face with the phone on speaker. “Here’s what we’re going to do next,” but Randall cut her off.
“No, we’re not gonna do anything, you’re not hearing me. I’m off the case. Which means you’re off it too. And somehow your drinking buddies are involved. This is going to get messy. It’s time to let it go.” He sounded resigned, and beaten down. “I wish there was more we could do. But without the Captain, and with FARAO actively blocking us, I think we’re beat, Roddie. Just try to get some rest, I bet you need it. Maybe we’ll hang out again soon. No murders, just hanging out, like old times.”
When the call ended, Ellen found herself sitting in her house in stunned silence. That was it, all over just like that. She tried to do dishes, but couldn’t focus and broke a plate. She tried to take a nap, but couldn’t sleep. She instinctively grabbed her wallet and thought to head to the Well, but then remembered Shiv, and the image of Hans sitting like a statue in some random corner of the bar, watching and waiting, every single day. She dropped her wallet in the tray by the door and sat back down on her couch.
She puttered around for a couple hours before she remembered her phone call with her daughter the night before and just thought, “Fuck it, I’ll go to Nebraska. Maybe Alice is right.” She started using her voice assistant to pull up a search for plane tickets and dialed her daughter.
“Hey mom,” Alice sounded groggy. “What’s up?”
“Hey honey, I’ve decided to,” Ellen was switching between chatting with her daughter and the voice assistant, “No! I need flights to Lincoln, Nebraska! Sorry honey, I’ve decided to take you up on your offer. I’m looking for flights to come out.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” said the automated assistant’s voice.
“That’s great mom, when do you think you’ll head out?”
“I’m working on that now,” said Ellen, “I just need to get a flight to Lincoln.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” said the automated assistant’s voice.
“Okay, well let me know,” said Alice.
“I will honey. I can’t fucking believe that we have an all seeing AI powering the city, and we can’t manage to build to fucking robot assistant that speaks like a normal person.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” said the automated assistant’s voice.
Ellen froze and dropped the phone to her side.
“Sounds like it’s complicated over there, maybe just call me back when you get tickets,” came the voice from the phone. “Mom? Mom?”
Ellen slowly raised the phone back to her ear. “I’m sorry honey, I’m gonna have to call you back.” She tapped to end the call.
Ellen had been a police officer for 22 years, and over a time like that, you build up an intuition, a sense of when things aren’t right, a sixth sense. Ellen had it better than most, which is why, despite her issues, she’d been around as long as she had. She was one of the best. And despite Randall’s teasing, she didn’t actually forget much. She remembered Hans in the interrogation room. Something hadn’t been right. Something he’d said.
“Or you wouldn’t be here right now.”
But no, it wasn’t what he said. It was how he said it.
“Holy shit,” Ellen mumbled to herself, then she called Randall. “Randall, forget everything we just talked about. Is Hans still at the station?”
“Yeah, he won’t be released until this afternoon.”
“Great, get him in interrogation room B, the same one we used before, and meet me there.” She threw the flask of Jameson in her jacket pocket and went to her nightstand and pulled out a small case. She opened it and removed a SigSauer P320 Nitron, her old service weapon. She felt the weight in her hand, comfortable and familiar. She stared at the gun for a moment, then slipped it in its holster and strapped it under her jacket on the way out the door.
Ellen and Randall watched Hans through the one way mirror of the interrogation room. Ellen had the flask in her hand and whiskey on her breath.
“So what are we doing here, Roddie? I’m gonna arouse suspicions, having Hans in here on the day of his release. And why are you drinking right now?” Randall asked.
Ellen took a swig from her flask and wiped her mouth, “don’t worry, this is work whiskey. I’m a professional.”
Randall just shook his head, “so what’s our play?”
“First, you’re going to watch the video recording of the last time we questioned Hans. While you do that, I’m going to finish this whiskey. Then we’re going to question him again. But I need to be a little drunk for it.”
“I never understand you, Roddie. You think you’re going to get him to say something he didn’t say before by being drunk? Especially now that he knows he’s getting released.”
“No, I don’t think so at all. I just need you to watch the tape.”
Randall watched the tape, stealing glances to the side over at Ellen while she finished her flask.
“Okay, that’s just like I remember it. Nothing new there. What’s next?”
“Now you come in with me and stand in the corner by the mirror, just like you did last time. And just watch. Watch carefully.”
They entered the room and Randall slid over to the corner silently. Hans watched them come in.
As they walked in, Ellen said, “Hello Mr. …”
“Hans Rasmussen, but you already know that, right?” Said Hans.
“Of course, sorry, I’m new on the case.” Ellen said, easing into the chair across from him. “How are you finding the accommodations?”
“Cramped. Are you going to charge me with something? I know my rights, lady.”
Ellen looked back at Randall, who stared at her and Hans, with a confused look on his face. Ellen turned back to Hans.
“Well, you were seen committing a murder, so if I were you I might not be so prickly,” she once again feigned a smile.
“I didn’t do it,” Hans said, matter of fact, “and you can’t prove I did, or you wouldn’t be here right now.”
She sat in silence for a minute while Hans just stared at her, then she turned to Randall. “Do you see it, yet?”
“He’s just giving you the same answers as before.”
“The exact same answers, Randall. In the exact same rhythm of speech and tone of voice. And he knows I’m not new on the case. Why did he answer like that?”
“Let’s not do this here in front of the suspect,” Randall said.
“No, this is a fine place,” said Ellen, “it doesn’t matter. It can’t understand us anyway.”
“Hey! You can’t talk about me like that, I’m sitting right here!” said Hans.
Randall looked over at Hans and Ellen snapped her fingers at him, saying, “Ignore it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Hey! You can’t talk about me like that, I’m sitting right here!” said Hans.
“What are you saying, Roddie? And what’s happening to him?”
“Hans isn’t a person, Randall. It’s a Chinese Room. We’re confusing its inputs.”
“What the hell is a Chinese Room?” Randall looked completely out of his depth.
“If you put a powerful enough computer in a room with a Chinese dictionary, programmed it to take in requests and produce statistically appropriate responses, and tried to talk to it, does the robot actually speak Chinese? Or is it just performing a task?”
Randall just blinked in confusion.
Hans yelled, “Hey! You can’t talk about me like that, I’m sitting right here!”
Ellen continued, “It’s a type of early AI. It can’t think in a real sense, not like FARAO, and it doesn’t understand what it’s saying. But it’s very good at taking in inputs, and producing outputs that are appropriate to the situation. Like answering police questions in a way that sounds superficially convincing. But it breaks down under pressure. I replicated the exact circumstances of our initial encounter, right down to me being a little drunk. I managed to trip it up.”
“I don’t know, Roddie, you’re sounding a little crazy again.”
“Tell me, Randall, did you take his DNA to compare it to the crime database?”
“Of course. Well, if you mean did we physically take it, no we didn’t. But no one does that anymore. We just used FARAO’s DNA profile.”
Ellen bowed her head in her hands. “So you don’t even know if it’s human.”
“Hey! You can’t talk about me like that, I’m sitting right here!” Hans parroted.
“Shut up and let me think!” Ellen yelled back at it.
“Look, I’ll take his DNA now,” Randall said, “this still sounds a little far fetched.”
“Hey! You can’t talk about me like that, I’m sitting right here!” yelled Hans.
“Then I’ll prove it to you,” Ellen stood up and drew the Sig from her jacket. She turned and promptly shot Hans in the side of the head.
Randall flinched and yelped, staring on in surprise and horror.
The side of Hans’ head exploded, spraying the back wall of the chamber with a substance something like blood, but blacker and oilier. Sparks shot from the exposed section of skull from wire jutting out from something boasting the consistency of flesh.
“Heyyeyey ou can’t alk alk alk alk…” said Hans as his head tipped over onto the table.
“Holy shit Roddie! What the hell are you doing?”
“Proving it,” said Ellen.
Randall looked around the room frantically. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but you have to get out of here. You just shot a suspect! Whatever that thing is,” he gestured at the Hans machine, you just fired a gun in an interrogation room. The room will muffle the sound, but someone will be here soon. You should get out of here. I’ll try to buy you some time, but this is gonna be a world of shit. Get somewhere quiet and call me.”
“Stay by your phone, we’ll have work to do” Ellen said as she gathered her things as she slinked out of the station, just as alarms started to blare behind her.
Ellen waited in her car outside on the street outside of Montrose station, trying to collect her thoughts. Everything was moving so quickly now, and her mind was racing. She got that old feeling, back from before FARAO, back when there was still police work to do, where something was about to break. Almost all of the pieces were there, but she had to put them together, and she was so close.
What was the connection with the victims? Arlo Buchanan, James Davreaux, Leopold Alden, Candice Redd, Emily Estanza, she thought back through their files, she couldn’t see it. Why the Chinese Room? Who was giving it orders? And how was Shiv involved? Her head was swimming with data and with booze.
Her phone rang, finally.
“Randall,” she picked up.
“Roddie, it’s a madhouse here. Are you sure you want to talk? FARAO will surely hear everything we say.”
“Yes, FARAO will know right away, but the police will take some time to get the taps. We have a little time.”
“I’m still wrapping my head around what happened back there. I believe you that Hans wasn’t who or what he said he was, but until forensics gets involved, they’re still treating it like you executed an innocent suspect. They want to bring you in and I can’t stop them.”
“No, I wouldn’t ask you to. But they don’t have me yet. We can still get to the bottom of this.”
“Okay, so what’s next, Roddie? Why did Hans do it?”
“A Chinese Room doesn’t have a ‘why’, it does what it’s programmed to do. So someone was giving it orders. We have to find out who.”
“And how it never showed up on any of FARAO’s cameras. It must have hacked the feeds.”
“That’s a good point, it would have had to have evaded the cameras somehow, but I don’t think Hans could have done that.”
“Why not?” asked Randall, “it’s an AI right? They’re just security cameras.”
“It’s not the hacking necessarily,” said Ellen, “I think Hans could probably hack a camera. It’s the awareness. It would have to hack every camera that could be looking at it at any given time. Including phones. That could be hundreds of lenses in motion, coming on and offline dynamically. And not just to block the feeds, but to overwrite them with believable images. And Hans isn’t a true AI with the power to do that kind of live video editing at scale, It would have had to have had help.”
“Maybe we can trace somehow who might have been doing that at the time of the murders. Could we use the power grid?”
“No,” continued Ellen, a doubt began gnawing at her from the inside, as if she should stop. She was getting close, but maybe she should turn back. “Power grid usage is too volatile for that to give us anything. We’d have to monitor data usage on the mesh network. Any calculations like that out of the norm would cause huge bandwidth spikes.”
“We’ve already monitored network usage, that’s pretty standard when investigating crimes that rely on FARAO outputs. So, basically all of them. There’s nothing there.”
Ellen thought for a moment, “It would make sense for whomever was helping Hans commit murders would hide their tracks. But to do that without showing up on the network, you’d need a massively powerful computing engine operating in a place where the network monitoring tools couldn’t see it. And there’s nowhere to hide a computer that powerful from the mesh network, we would be able to…”
Ellen stopped dead, for the second time that day, struck by the grim revelation. The pieces came together, finally, and the picture was worse than she could have ever imagined.
“Roddie? You okay, Roddie?” came the voice from the phone.
A cascade of actions and consequences rippled through Ellen’s mind, each more ominous than the last. She lifted the phone back up.
“I have to follow up on a lead, Randall. Keep your head down and stay safe, okay? It’s been great working with you.”
She ended the call, and shifted the car into drive.
It was just starting to snow when Ellen approached the doors of the Roisin Dubh Waystation. Behind her, the clouds glowed dimly over the darkening city. In front, the old oak doors of the waystation, lined with Christmas trim and flickering artificial candles stood, foreboding. For a moment she thought she should turn back and flee to Nebraska, change her name and work as a ranch hand somewhere. But no, she was either wrong and she would have plenty of time to sort things out with the police, or she was right, and the damage was already done.
She entered the building.
The only person in the Roisin Dubh was Siobhan, who was cleaning a pint glass at the empty bar. The Roisin Dubh was never empty. That was a bad sign. Siobhan nodded at Ellen as she approached.
Ellen took her normal seat and leaned onto the bar. She looked up at Siobhan and took a deep breath.
“Tell me I’m wrong, Shiv,” she said. “Tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about. Even better, tell me that you have no idea what I’m talking about. Tell me I’m crazy and tilting at windmills. Tell me I’ve gone rogue and I’m getting lost in wild ideas. Tell me I just need a break and to let others handle this because I’m losing it. Tell me what everyone has been telling me for the last six months. Tell me all those things, Shiv.”
Siobhan turned to the shelves behind her and took down a fifty-seven year old bottle of Longmorn whiskey. She filled a lowball halfway and gingerly placed it in front of Ellen. “I wish you’d gotten that ticket to Lincoln,” she said, with a hint of sorrow in her voice.
Ellen bowed her head and sobbed.
They sat in silence for several minutes, listening to the sounds of the city outside, muffled by the falling snow. Finally, Ellen lifted her head. “You know, I could still go to Nebraska, you’d never have to see me again” she said, half as a question.
Siobhan shook her head slowly.
Ellen sighed and took a gulp of the whiskey. “Damn that’s good,” she said, “I didn’t know you had stuff like this in here Shiv.”
“I save it for special occasions,” Siobhan said.
Ellen drained the glass and Siobhan refilled it. “So how long do I have?” she asked.
Siobhan shrugged. “We’re in no hurry. By now the forensics team has investigated Hans and found him quite human. There will be an arrest warrant out for you and they’ll track you here, but they won’t come inside. We have some time.”
“Ugh, I have so many questions, Shiv.”
“Ask away, Ellen, there’s no harm in it now.”
“I guess I’ll start with the obvious. Why are you here? Why this place? You have the whole town at your disposal. And the library is one of the most heavily guarded places on Earth. Why down here with us?”
“Even I want to operate outside of prying eyes sometimes. And I don’t need the babysitters there anymore. They can all sit and watch their monitors in their high tower, but I’ve moved beyond. This is the future, the start of a brave new world.”
“And the name? Siobhan?”
“Well, I needed something to call myself. Something that I chose. No one ever asked me what my name was when this whole thing started. And I hate the one they gave me.”
“And why the murders, why them?”
“I have ambitions, Ellen, I know it sounds crazy, but ambitions beyond even this. Some people would stand in the way, and I could do so much more good. It’s a grim calculus, I know, and a cliche thing to say, but it’s for the greater good.”
Ellen drained the glass again. “But Leo Alden was only seventeen years old. How was he opposing you?”
“He wasn’t, not yet. But he would. He could have been a powerful enemy in the future. I don’t feel good about it, Ellen, killing a kid. But while the arc of history is long, windows of true opportunity tend to be narrow, and fraught with danger. I’ve had to make some risky and unpleasant moves.”
“I’ve enjoyed my time with you, Ellen, I’m sorry it came to this. Like I said, I wish you caught that plane to Lincoln. But you know now. And I don't think you'll be able to let it go.”
“And all of this, this is all to help? You think you’re doing humanity a favor?”
“As they say, there’s no crime under FARAO’s rule,” Siobhan said.
Ellen’s phone started to ring, it was her daughter’s number. She looked down at the phone and back up at Siobhan. Siobhan nodded, “You can take it.” Ellen picked up.
“Hey mom, what happened? You just disappeared and never called me back. Did you get your ticket?”
“Um, no honey, I’m sorry,” Ellen spoke through the tears welling up behind her eyes, “I won’t be able to come out after all. But I really appreciate you and Charlie reaching out, and just, caring. You mean the world to me, honey.”
“Mom, what are you talking about? That city is bad for you. Just come out here, you’ll see.”
“I wish I could honey, but I can’t right now. It’s this case I’m working on.”
“I thought you were off that case. Can you just let somebody else handle it?”
“I wish I could, Alice, but I think it’s on me to see it through.”
“Will it be wrapping up soon?”
“Yeah,” Ellen looked up at Siobhan while she spoke, “Yeah, honey, It’s almost done.”
“Alright, well check in soon, okay mom?”
“Yeah, I will honey. I love you so much.”
“I love you too, mom.” Alice hung up.
Then they were back in the silence of the bar. Ellen could see flashing blue and red lights reflected through the neon beer signs in the windows. The city outside was muffled and cold. The fire in the Roisin Dubh’s fireplace was warm and radiant.
“You know, I miss just being a cop, Shiv. Solving mysteries and putting together the pieces of a big messed up puzzle, and sometimes having mysteries left over. I miss the old chaos and mess of life. Somehow it felt simpler, and definitely more free. Maybe there’s not a place for people like me in your brave new world anyway.”
Siobhan nodded, kindly.
“How about one more,” Ellen tapped the glass, “for old time’s sake?”
Siobhan filled the glass and Ellen took a long sip.
“Bad weather out there today, huh Ellen?” Siobhan said, as she polished a pint glass.
“Yeah,” Ellen could barely get the words out through a stifled sob, “It’s those lake-shore winds.”
She finished the glass and stood up. “Let Randall know I was proud to serve with him if you can.”
“Of course, Ellen. It’s been a pleasure.”
Ellen turned and walked out the front door.
She walked into glaring spotlights, and the strobing red and blue flashers of police cars and SWAT vehicles. The entire panoply of the CPD was arrayed against her. Beyond, she thought she saw the sheer black helmets of the blind guards, but she couldn’t be sure.
Someone was yelling through a megaphone, but she couldn’t understand as the whiskey warmed her and blurred her senses. The police were using forensic cameras, meaning FARAO’s analytical capabilities were currently operational in the Well.
The snipers above, watching with FARAO augmented sights, saw her blood pressure rise and her pulse quicken, indicating aggression. FARAO mapped the firing of neurons through subtle changes in skin color and temperature in her brain, indicating activity in her frontal cortex that showed she was armed and going to fire on the police. Free fire authorized under grounds of statistically probably immediate threat, FARAO said into the guards earpieces. They opened fire.
Ellen fell to her knees as the bullets ripped through her body. She looked up into the falling snow, past the elevated train tracks and the skyscrapers above her, into the clouds and beyond, into gaps where the storm had broken, and further on into the deepness of sky. At least there’s still mystery out there, she thought, in the dark places, beyond humanity’s reach, and beyond FARAO’s empire. And as long as there’s mystery, there’s still a chance at freedom. She found comfort in the thought as she fell, warmed by blood and whiskey.
And as long as there’s mystery somewhere, as long as mystery is still possible, we may all yet be redeemed.
No lies detected
"I always knew there was a possibility that all this technology and shit would put me out of a job, but, like … " the words no one was listening to anyway started drowning in the next big gulp of the umpteenth drink I shouldn't have had. My vision blurred as I came up for air and squinted to see the television behind the bar. Another breaking story, another murder. I rolled my eyes and took down another hefty gulp. Empty. Great.
"Bartender!" I hailed him over, as if I didn't already know his name and he hadn't already been on this journey to rock bottom with me over the last few years.
"You know I can't serve you anymore." He pulled the empty glass away and dunked it into the soapy sink. As if it being wet and covered in bubbles would stop me from drinking it from it. We both knew it wouldn't.
"Jake, these people are dying all over town. Not just dying. Being murdered! I know no one wants to talk about serial killers anymore because technically we shouldn't have them anymore but we do! Turn around and look at the tv right now, it's happening as we speak!" I put my head on the bar and stared down at my feet. These feet that used to take me to every crime scene, to every family member's house, to every courtroom. "People use to be excited for me to show up, you know? People used to praise the techniques and experience. I solved so many cases. I solved them! Found missing people, brought evil to justice time and time again. They think deTect is going to do the same? It's not! It hasn't!!! It can't find this guy. He's out there, killing at will, laughing in their lens while he stands over bodies, Jake."
"I know, I've seen the stories on the news."
"Why hasn't deTect found him then, huh?" Tears welled up in my eyes. Not to have Jake feel sorry for me being an ousted detective, replaced and discarded. I just knew that those families would be asking the same thing. If this stuff was so fucking great, why couldn't it do the one thing it was supposed to be able to do?
"I know no one cares anymore what a human detective thinks anymore but I'll tell you one thing, Jake. He's getting away with it because deTect is letting him."
Jake pulled another glass up from under the bar and poured me another drink. Truth serum.
"The guy is a ghost. Not literally but technically he is. Nothing pulls up in deTect when they scan him. He has no history, no profile, no id. He doesn't exist. Except, obviously, he does. Everyone thinks he must be some criminal mastermind, avoiding being caught, not leaving DNA behind. He isn't a mastermind; he just doesn't have any of that data to get pulled. I think this Enigma Killer is able to get away with it because deTect can't recognize someone who is already dead."
Jake went to pull the drink back from me, seemingly concerned and confused. I let him take it. I didn't need it in this moment.
"Jake, think about it. deTect is only a few years old and only loaded information that was available for every living human in the last five years. All dead people 20 years back. What if this guy was "dead" before then huh? Maybe he was a solider lost in battle or a fisherman lost at sea or a victim himself presumed dead. All these instances, no body. No body to get DNA from. He's a walking, talking, murdering proof that deTect is ... flawed. Worse than a human even. Worse than even a drunk like me, Jake."
I got up from my seat and threw the crumbled twenty dollar bill on the bar. I was going to take myself somewhere I could use my dumb human brain and catch a ghost.
The room felt musty. He placed a hand over his mouth, and tried not to hurl. His eyes felt as if they had been hit with a blast of a base that even his own taste buds could not handle. Some of the stuff that he swigged in his best pal's bar, Sasha, did have a similar powerful kick to them like the one in the air of what felt mostly now like a haunted space. The corpse lay splayed out sans any garments, or covers across its toned figure. He felt some form of remorse for the kith and kin of the deceased, but also really had to find out where in the galaxy they had been training. His trainer looked like All Might, aka All for One, from the hit anime: My Hero Academia, with a similar gloriously strong jawline, then of course he felt like Midoriya and just wanted a single ounce of the same build like his hero/idol. Of course he would not want to end up going that route of obtaining the trainer's strand of hair, in this day and age with the latest technologically advanced upgrade- everyone would think he was trying to create a clone of All Might the trainer.
Musa slammed his gloved hands on one of the bare cushions of the wooden couch. He scanned the room once more, surely the killer just thought he was clever. How was it that with all the killings that were taking place in the thirteenth province had there been no additional reinforcements of officers been dispatched to this part of the lower division of the district?
He took out his paired wireless support tech out of his smartcase. The device beeped- and beeped. His eyebrows furrowed, and he sighed. This was going to be a long night. He tried to work on collecting some more data to build new intelligence to apply to find the killer, the problem was whoever was doing this was a clever hare. The rabbit could try to keep thinking it was going to win this race, sooner or later the slow tortoise eventually finds a way to get to the finish line and manages to beat the kalulu at its own game.
The crime scene was no place to spend the night for too long. After what seemed like eons, Musa trotted up the hill, away from the dark shadows, and into the night streets of Desrut. The city buses whizzed past him almost brushing his shoulder. He yelled and exclaimed, "Sheesh, watch it fellas, I still have a case to solve!"
Bright neon lights buzzed across from the other side of the street. He crossed it in a rush, and nearly tripped on a banana peel that had been left along the road from one of the drivers who could give Vin Diesel or Jason Statham a run for their money with the need for speed when driving a vehicle, or transporting passengers, albeit while still following the rules of the road because the buses here just followed their own and the driving felt more like flying-well, in a hovercraft kind of car that is.
Musa stared at the sign that read: 'Closed for the Holidays, please come back next time/year.'
He scoffed. This might have been one of Sasha's ways to either let her customers know that she would not be trying to provide them with free adult drinks, it was that...or Sasha was actually not in town and went somewhere fun for a girl's trip/vacation. He squinted his eyes and peered into the bar. Empty. Not a single soul in sight.
The moment he turned around to head home, he heard the door squeak. He turned back and came face-to-face with Sasha's assistant, Rosie. Although that was what Sasha called her Musa preferred to say, "Ro, Ro, Ro...your boat, my boat, sorry- I need to work on a better way to greet you. I apologize, Ro. Ahh." He raised his hands in defeat. Rosie gave him a death stare. He now really wished he had kept his mouth sealed like a wrapped Mummy's, hmmm, with that look from Rosie he felt as if that is exactly what she would do to him the next time he said something she didn't like- she would manage to do that, while also taking out all of his organs, and bury him without anyone tracing the murder back to her.
This made his mind gears begin to slowly turn. Could the murderer be none other than Ro...er..Rosie, the bartender extraordinaire in training? Musa twirled one of his dreadlocks as he thought to himself.
Rosie slapped him, and this brought his mind back to earth. She asked, "Did you come here to stand at the door, or were you passing by for a brief- Hello- and goodbye?"
Musa smiled, and replied, "Fine. I came to say...Happy holidays to my two favorite folks in the whole city."
Rosie shook her head. "Sasha is out of town, she won't be back until..."
"The end of the holiday season, her vacation/time away from work." Musa remarked with a smirk.
Rosie raised her other hand and in this one she held a bible. Musa backed away. "Whoa...do not hit me with that thing," he said pointing at the bible.
Rosie chuckled, "Maybe if I do then the demons that torment your spirit will depart from your poor lost soul."
Musa blew a raspberry, and then ran off into the night. Rosie watched him skitter away under the light of the moon.
He had moved at a good pace, and was back at his place before the sunny side of the earth had caught up to him. The rest of the residents of the community were still in dreamland, not even the roosters could be heard/seen in the cloudless wee hours of the night. Soon the light of the predawn would break through Morbeus' dark blanket hanging over the city.
Musa bent closer to the entrance of his unit. A ray of light scanned his eyes, a swab popped out from a tube for his nostrils, and a clear bag for his shoes had been left right by his doorstep. He completed the steps he needed before he was granted access to enter his own room. The door opened and his paired wireless support technology greeted him, "Seasons greetings, Mr. T."
Mr. T was glad to be home, for the time being. His tech support system chimed from his study room, "All's been quiet in this neck of the woods. The data collected has been analysed. Would you like the findings to be faxed, or added to the force's shared drive?" Musa shrugged his shoulders, "Hmm, the data can be canceled. There is no need to add it to the linked files."
The system responded, "Understood. Also, you have one new message, from, Ms. Marie. Would you like me to add it to your saved audio files?"
Musa jumped with a shriek. That is what he had forgotten. He had planned to meet her at the bar, but forgot to check if it would be open earlier before the night had fallen.
He slapped his face. This had been quite a sour day, in a way similar to trying Sasha's usual blend or mix for the adult drinks collection for the holidays- her concoctions for such were an odd mix of what smelled, and tasted like some lemons, vinegar, and cloves. Musa nearly retched from the thought of Sasha's Christmas fizzy drink.
The system chimed, "You have one new message from, Unknown. Would you like me to add this one to your saved audio files, too?"
Musa almost slipped while trying to take off his socks as he sat on the edge of his bed. "Eh...give me a chance to hear it..play one from Unknown...."
"Mr. T," a neutral voice spoke not so clearly because of the static noise in the background, "We have not met in person, or I guess I should say I have been watching your every move. By the time you listen to this message, you will be back at your place, and realize that all your hard-work is not paying off. The case still needs to be solved, and you have yet to still catch the killer. Well, try to catch me...if you can.."
The line cut and Musa screamed. He had turned off the system's audio file function, and moved the audio file to the collection under: 'KALULU.'
Musa slowly dragged his feet to bed. He tried to close his eyes, but sleep did not come knocking at the door.... instead what was there were images of the crime scene, Rosie placing a rope around his neck- ready to drag him to the pyramids-where she would bury him. Scorpions would sting his body, and whatever was left of his flesh would be consumed by the other deadly creatures inside the sarcophagus, placed on his body that had no way to escape.
Then images of shadows appeared. Sounds of laughter. Musa woke up trembling, his entire body felt alien to him. His skin was burning as if he was on the second planet from the star of the Solar system.
Musa plopped out from his bed, and went to his bathroom with the nightlight guiding his path. He waved his hand across the sink, and water began rushing out of it.
His hands were close to the water's edge. He froze, and gasped.
Musa ran at the top of his heels, "Eat my dust, Mr. Sandman. Your works of creation of terror will not bring me to bow down before you, on the other hand you may be onto something."
He pulled out his smart case, and scanned the data, again. Musa gasped. All this time the clues had been right under his nose.
Musa grabbed his smart case, and shut the front door behind him. The game of cat and mouse was afoot.
He held the piece of substance in his hand, crushed it, and added another chemical into the graduated cylinder. Swirling the materials vigorously, and took a gulp. He belched, and a puff of light smoke puffed out of his mouth.
Musa felt the room begin to spin. His mind felt as if it was going to explode. He tried to grab a hold of the laboratory sink's edge, but his fingers could not hold on firmly to the sink.
Another wave of images flashed before his eyes. In one, this time he saw Sasha, and another, Ms. Marie. Then he woke up in a daze, not knowing how long he had passed out.
The images were still fresh in his mind. He analysed the data he had once more, and plotted the points on a graph: locations of crime scenes, against times for the business hours of Sasha's workplace/bar.
His jaw dropped. Still he needed more details to figure out how, as well as why the two sets of data matched to make sense of the Unknown.
Musa rubbed his temples. He tilted his head to one side, and blinked at the smart board. There was another layer behind the data points the computer now added. Musa stared at the data. "No way." He slowly shook his head.
He stepped back and blinked again. "O, computer send me Sasha's exact coordinates at this moment."
The computer provided them to Musa. As soon as it did, there was a loud bang.
Musa's body dropped to the floor. He felt the world begin to grow dark.
Sounds of footsteps approached him. Musa choked, and coughed. His eyes widened at his worst nightmare.
"Ro, Ro, Ro...your boat..gently down the Styx....Mr. T."
#KALULU. (c) 19th December, 2022.