There was a long moment of silence before Rowe gave a distorted chuckle. “I’m disappointed there wasn’t something dramatic to emphasise that.”
Despite myself, I laughed too. “We can’t always get what we want. Alright, enough standing around, we should get to work.”
He rolled his shoulders before replying. “I’ve been waiting for you to give the word, figured you wanted to be here for the fun parts. We starting with door-knocking for witnesses?”
I nodded to him. “Doubtful it’ll get us anything, but yes.”
“Excellent,” he replied with obvious relish. He keyed his radio to the local command. “Suit up, we’re going door-knocking. Lamarr, bring down team two. Containment, get ready for runners,” he ordered.
“Lamarr’s commanding? What happened to Eisenhorn?”
“Got busted lifting from the evidence locker two hours ago. Last I heard, they were taking him in for interrogation to find out what else he’s taken.”
I winced. “I thought he was smarter than that.”
Rowe laughed. “Seems not. Lamarr should do fine” he replied, turning and heading for his cruiser.
I tuned my own radio to the Cortex. “Cortex, Detective Chandler. Requesting a meat wagon to Armstrong Square.”
The Cortex replied immediately. “Denied. Two Vultures are available, en route now.”
“Roger,” I replied simply. The name is incredibly evocative – the buzzards circle around death, just waiting for a chance to feed. They’re useful enough for clean-ups, but I’ve always preferred a proper coroner. At least you can have a conversation with them.
In under five minutes, Lamarr had arrived with our reinforcements, and Rowe was geared-up with the other first responders. Rowe returned to me, checking his shotgun. “Ready to go, ma’am. You want to come in with us?”
I shook my head. “I don’t have all my gear. I need to review what the drone’s collected, anyway.”
“You know what to do. Make sure you keep me updated on the comm-net. And make sure Lamarr doesn’t get too carried away.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him.”
I called the evidence drone down with a whistle as Rowe and Lamarr’s team got to work door-knocking. It flew over and landed a couple of metres away, then asked for identification. I approached and pressed my palm to the chip scanner, then gave it a voice-print. “Detective Katherine Chandler.” It beeped twice to acknowledge the identification, and the screen lit up with choices. I tapped the option to bring up the collated data on the screen.
Rowe’s summary had been pretty much complete. The drone estimated the remaining amount of biological material as being consisted with a single source. Mendoza’s ID chip was non-functional; I’d suspected as much given Rowe’s lack of mention. Other traces of metal located, consistent with tempered steel. That fit – Mendoza wasn’t the type to go out for a walk without carrying a weapon. Unlike Rowe the drone lacked the capability to identify the murder weapon, but as he’d stated, it had identified the impact hole. Surveillance cameras were non-functional all around the Square. Not unusual on the ground floor, given the local residents’ habit of plinking cameras for fun. I couldn’t imagine that footage of Mendoza exploding would be good for much more than entertainment anyway. The drone wasn’t able to track the projectile flight-path with enough detail to pinpoint the firing location, so checking the feeds from higher up was useless. I closed the summary, then transferred a copy to the personal computer built into my glove. Another tap, and a second copy was uploaded to the Cortex database.
As it was, I had absolutely shit all evidence to go on.
Questioning the locals was unlikely to turn up even a scrap of useful info. Really, I’d only ordered it to cover our bases. I brought up the area map on my palm display and after a moment it lit up with Rowe’s progress updates. Residences yet to be cleared were grey. Those that had been entered and the residents secured for interview were marked green. Those with infractions discovered were marked in red. Almost every single lit-up residence was red.
It was hardly unusual on the lower levels. Crime was just as rampant upstairs, but people there tended to be more cautious. We had presence up there to stop anything blatant. On the lowest floors, patrols were sparse. It made the perps down here liable to recklessness. And when you’ve got incriminating evidence scattered all over your living room, you aren’t going to be able to get it all cleared away in a hurry. Rowe was working down one side of the Square with Lamarr, so that he could keep an eye on things. Lamarr’s second-in-command was working his way down the other side.
The sound of smashing glass announced Rowe’s entry into the next residence. It was followed by gunfire – a single throaty boom of Rowe’s riot gun. I keyed the radio. “Rowe, report.”
After a few seconds my radio chirped, and Rowe’s voice came through. “Situation under control. We’ve got an interesting one, ma’am.” Automatically, the map display highlighted his position with a flashing dot.
“On my way.”
The place was a mess. The perp had upgraded his door to a thick steel model. He’d been too poor or too stupid to upgrade his window as well. He got to lay face-down in a pile of broken glass for his trouble. He’d been stupid enough to try and shoot at Rowe, with an old handgun. Rowe had been faster and removed both the gun and the hand holding it from the equation. He was putting a constrictor band around the stump to keep the perp alive when I came in. “What have we got?”
Rowe laughed as he stood, feeding another shell into his shotgun. “One fucking stupid subversive,” he replied, nodding at a table made from scrap. “Didn’t even bother hiding it.”
I moved over and rifled through the pamphlets. Typical rabble-rousing bullshit. Hollow promises, but that didn’t stop the tunnel rats from buying it. For every one that ignored the propaganda, another swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Then you had suicide bombers outside the closest precinct. These ones seemed dumber than the rest, judging by their pamphlets. I took one, then moved over to the perp and crouched beside him. “You aren’t too bright, are you?” I asked him mildly.
“Too fuckin’ right. You’re a dead man, rat,” Lamarr commented. Even with his voice distorted, I could hear the sneer in his tone.
“Enough, Lamarr” I told him, keeping my voice level. “Do you know who I am?”
The perp grunted, but didn’t speak.
“Lamarr, ease up a little” I ordered. Lamarr removed a bit of pressure from the back of the guy’s neck, but kept him pinned under a boot. “So?”
“Yeah. Chandler. Seen you before,” he spat out. Adrenalin would take a lot of the edge off, but it couldn’t blunt that razor entirely. He’d be going into shock soon.
I gave him my best smile. “That’s right, Detective Chandler. If you know me, then you know that I’m a reasonable person. If you help me now, I’ll smooth the path for you down the line…” I told him. I checked my camera before I continued. All standard helmets had recording built in. Since I didn’t wear one most shifts, I instead carried a shoulder-cam, tucked into the shoulder strap holding my rank. “I’ll remind you that this conversation is being recorded, and is admissible in court. You do not have to speak, though it may harm your defence. You have the right to legal representation, it will be provided if you cannot afford it. Do you understand?”
He remained silent, until Lamarr pressed down harder. He let out a choked “Yes!”, and Lamarr’s boot lingered for a moment before lifting.
“Good. Now, you’re in trouble…” I looked about for his hand, and Rowe offered it to me. I scanned his ID chip with my glove reader. “…David. I’m not going to pretend that you aren’t. Attempted murder of a police officer, possession of materials intended to incite terrorism…”
I gave him a stern frown, trying my best to make it motherly. It was something about bad men – nine times out of ten, they loved their mother. Make them think of her, and they crack. “David, lying doesn’t help your case, here. Having the recommendation of a trusted officer on your side can help. We’re talking the difference between life and death, here.” I tried to sound like his friend. Good cop, trying to save him. I wasn’t lying, I would put in a good word if he co-operated – it was just another question entirely as to whether or not it would help. “I’ve seen you before. You used to run with Rourke, didn’t you?”
“And is he involved in this?”
“Sold me the gun.”
“And the pamphlets?”
“Me. He didn’t know.”
He was fading quick, and I knew it. Pretty soon, he’d be too confused to string together a sentence. I took advantage of it while I could. “Thank you, David. I’ll do my best to make the judge consider your help. Lamarr, get him transported to hospital.”
I shot a look at him. Nothing but a blank white mask and reflective lenses, but it was the thought that counted. “I’ll be asking the hospital what injuries he has on arrival.”
Lamarr grabbed David and hauled him to his feet, cuffing him for transport. No hand to hold the cuff on one side, so he instead connected it to the constrictor band. Too much struggling, and he’d rip it off.
Rowe watched him go, then shook his head. “Hate bastards like him.”
“I thought there’d be plenty in the Marines.”
He shrugged. “There are. But they either learn to do as they’re told, or they don’t last long. Lamarr will wait until you’re not looking, then do it out of spite. Makes me long for the good old days.”
I frowned. “I don’t know how he got to second-in-command in the first place.”
“Didn’t you hear? His uncle’s a big-shot in the penthouse. Can’t have little Lamarr taking orders. He started out higher, but even his uncle couldn’t keep him anywhere with real responsibility.”
My frown just deepened. It figured. Eisenhorn screwed up once, and he’d be lucky to stay out of prison. Lamarr screwed up, and he just got shuffled down. It was alright, though – he didn’t have much further to fall before his uncle wouldn’t be enough. We just had to wait. Some animals don’t learn new tricks.
It made me think of David and his pamphlets. They proclaimed the need to topple the establishment, to bring down the world above. You’d think that the message would get through, sooner or later, but it always seemed to get lost in transmission before it reached them. Their plans just couldn’t work. Simple as that. Only a fool builds a house of cards without expecting it to come crashing down. Collapses had been accounted for in the designs long ago. Even if they could evade the sniffer drones searching for explosives, and even if they could produce enough to bring down even a single building or a section of road, that was it – one. No chain reaction, no mass destruction. Just one building or one section of road needing repair. I’ve never been able to fathom the mindset – the insane dedication to a pointless plan.
Rowe’s voice brought me out of my silent contemplation. “Ma’am? If you’re done, the boys can get rid of this crap.”
I blinked away my thoughts, and nodded. “Alright. Photograph the scene, keep samples of the pamphlets and destroy the rest. My sniffer hasn’t picked up anything, but they should still be careful. I’m going to head back to the precinct to process the witnesses. You’ll be able to take care of the scene?”
“Of course. We’re almost done rounding up the locals. Once the Vultures are done on the clean-up I’ll run another sweep before we get ballistics in. I’ll keep you updated.”
I muttered my thanks to him and left the house, passing the evidence team on the way. Places like that were too cramped for a drone – still room for people with sharp eyes on the force. The Vulture drones were already well on their way to cleaning up the mess. Before too long, Mendoza would be sitting in a vat, waiting for any final testing before disposal. A full transport was about to leave for the station as I emerged. I took a spot on the running board, hanging on with my artificial hand. Better than walking.
I go without a helmet for a reason. Perps get scared when you wear the helmet – that’s the point. The helmets make us faceless monsters. Everywhere and unstoppable. I’d prefer that we didn’t have to work the way we do, but it’s a simple equation. Half a billion people decide that they don’t like the rule of law any more, there’s no way in hell that the police force can stop them, and that’s the truth in any city. There’s too few cops to keep order if everything breaks down. It’s our job to keep that from happening. So we’re the monsters – waiting for them to step outside the boundaries, so that we can take them down.
But you surround a man with monsters, and he clams up. That’s why some detectives like me go bare-faced – because when you’re scared out of your mind, any face is a friendly one. We tend to be female too, for obvious reasons. Women are less intimidated, most men think with their libido. Not that I see myself as particularly attractive. Not with my hair shaved and my face scarred from the crash that took my arm. Self-esteem or not, I can’t deny the facts – it helps. In public areas, any officer in uniform must wear a helmet, with the exception of authorised detectives and the desk sergeant. Behind the scenes we go without – spending all day wearing a full helmet is a special kind of hell, and trying to do paperwork in one is reserved for the worst sinners.
There were plenty of people brought in from around the Square, and I interviewed them all one after another. It went the same way for each and every one of them. I sat opposite a terrified civilian and introduced myself. Tried to reassure them a little. I’d met some of them before, investigating past disturbances. None of them knew a damn thing useful, and I was hardly surprised. Guys like Mendoza were bad news, and whenever they were around, you went inside and pretended you weren’t at home. The only new information was nothing I hadn’t already guessed. A pair of individuals had been seen with the victim, both of them with more tattoos than teeth and no discernible neck. Thugs in other words, the type of thugs that Mendoza kept as bodyguards. It had taken time to set up the containment cordon, and they’d both bolted the second their boss turned into a puddle. Nobody gave a useful description. I had the feeling I wouldn’t need one. Bodyguards in the underworld tend not to last much longer than their employers. After all, a bodyguard that can’t protect his boss is useless. Not to mention the risk they they could have been in on it. If they were smart, they’d try and skip town straight away. My money was on having a couple of burly corpses turn up in the morgue before long.
The interviews took hours for no measurable gain. I hadn’t expected any. At least I was able to let most of the people we’d collared off with just a warning. David was set to lose a lot more than his hand, though, and there were a few more that we couldn’t just set free. A couple of drug labs, one nabbed with possession with intent to kill a police officer. One little box of armour-piercing rounds where we could find it, and that was it. He was looking at a long time behind bars. The kid had started crying when I told him. I learned to keep what I feel off of my face a long time ago.
The case wasn’t even a day old, and it was already turning into a nightmare. No leads, no real witnesses, and a list of suspects as long as just about every criminal in the city. I was drained. I walked the last witness out to the front of the station, giving her a polite farewell. The desk sergeant grabbed my arm to get my attention as I made to walk past.
He quickly finished his phone-call and hung up. “Sorry ’bout that, Chandler. Rowe called in – Vultures have finished the clean-up, the Ballistics guys are there now.”
“Just one more thing. Guy came in askin’ for you by name, refused to give his. I sent him through to your office with Carlson. Figured if he wanted to play the secret game, he could sweat a bit.”
Internally, I cursed. “How long has he been waiting?”
“’Bout an hour.”
“Alright, thanks,” I replied. God only knew what this guy wanted. With luck, it’d be related to the case. Odds were, it was something completely different. I just hoped that it wouldn’t take long. My bed was calling to me with its sweet siren song.
My partner and I share an office near the front of the precinct. Makes it easier to bring people in for a more friendly chat without showing them too much behind the curtain. Samuels was on annual leave getting some sun, and that left me to unravel this mess. I opened the door and stepped into my office.
It was almost dead silent, save for the humming of my idling computer and the thump-thump-thump of Carlson drumming his fingers on the stock of his rifle. I’d wager that he hadn’t said a single word in the entire time he’d been waiting. Carlson had a gift for watching in silence, like a gargoyle on a rooftop. I’d seen suspects crack after twenty minutes of failing to prompt a reaction, any reaction at all from him – well, apart from an impression of barely contained violence. The guy that had come to see me didn’t seem to be having any problems dealing with it. I dismissed Carlson and stood aside for him to leave, then looked over my visitor.
If jaw-lines could kill, he’d be public enemy number one. What looked like a few days’ worth of stubble just accentuated it. He was wearing a dark suit, but it was crumpled and wrinkled from a day’s wear. His jacket was off, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to show muscular, tanned forearms. I knew before he even opened his mouth that his voice would be a thing of beauty. He didn’t disappoint. It was soft, deep, just a hint of gravel – equally at home whispering romance or filth.
“Detective Chandler, thank you for meeting with me. If you could close the door, please, that would be ideal. I’d like my testimony to remain private,” he told me as I entered.
It wasn’t an unreasonable request, so I did as he asked. He stood up as I approached, holding his hand out to shake. He was polite, too – another bonus. His hands were broad, strong – his grip made the force-feedback sensors in my hand hum. I tried to keep my tone purely professional. “No trouble at all, I’m always willing to assist a citizen in need. What can I do for you, Mr…?”
He shook his head. “My name isn’t important.”
I sat down at my desk and smoothed my uniform out with a hand before responding, trying to sound as light and friendly as I could. “I’m sorry sir, but it’s regulations. I need a name to log into the system for our meeting.”
He chuckled, a soft, warm sound. “Alright, wouldn’t want you breaking regulations. You can call me Eli.”
I met his eyes before I logged it in the system. His eyes…those were something else. Everything else was handsome and charming, but his eyes were a cold icy-blue. Hard. I saw those eyes all the time – on perps collared for murder. There was more to him than met the eye. “And what can I help you with, Eli?”
“I’m here about the Armstrong Square incident.”
My heart rate ticked up another notch, and that time it wasn’t from hearing him speak. “Do you have any information that can assist my investigation?” I asked him. I’m sure that I failed to keep the excitement out of my voice. I needed a lead, any lead.
“I’m here to inform you that we aren’t responsible.”
He twitched his fingers, performing some complex pattern of inputs on subcutaneous pressure sensors implanted into his palm. I couldn’t catch the combination. Then he extended his hand and showed me his palm. The little part at the back of my mind imagining how his hand would feel wrapped around my wrist immediately reversed gears. I may have cursed.
“Calm down, Detective. You aren’t in any trouble” he told me with another warm chuckle. He twitched his finger and killed the charge, and the tattoo identifying him as an Agent immediately faded from sight.
“With all due respect sir, that isn’t very reassuring.”
I tried not to look intimidated as I leaned back in my chair. “Well…that’s something, at least. Do you have any more information for me at this time? Am I…allowed to continue my investigation?”
“Of course you’re allowed to continue. As I said, we weren’t responsible. As for any more information…” he trailed off, and I could almost see the wheels in his head turning. Working out what scraps he could throw down to someone on my pay grade. Eventually he gave a little nod to himself. “Just one thing, and not really information, yet. If you find anything unusual about Mendoza, don’t tell anybody. Don’t log it in the evidence registry. You’ll know what it is when you see it. When you do, you can call me…” he took a scrap of paper from my desk, and scribbled on it. “…on this number. Something amusing, Detective?”
I hadn’t even realised that the nervous laugh had slipped out. I clamped my hand to my mouth to regain my composure. “Sorry, sir.”
He raised his eyebrow at me. “You know, I’m not a monster. What’s the joke?”
“It was nothing. I just thought that they’d be able to afford giving you business cards.”
He just gave me a charming wink, and another one of those warm chuckles of his. “They could, but it would be rather counter-productive, for a spy. We’ll be in touch. And please, Katherine – call me Eli,” he replied. He stood up and placed his phone number on my desk, then left.
Almost as soon as the door shut behind him I let my composure slip completely. I let out a long-suffering groan and dropped my head down onto my desk, letting out the stress of the meeting with a rather bitter laugh. I couldn’t believe that I’d lost it like that. Fatigue, most likely.
The door opened a moment later, and Samuels came in with a steaming cup of coffee in each hand. She looked good – suntanned and smiling. Not that the latter was ever much of an issue for her. “Oh, dear. If I had to guess, I’d say that meeting didn’t go very well. What are you still doing awake?” she asked. Her voice was unbelievably light and cheerful. I couldn’t decide whether it improved my mood, or made it worse.
I held out my hand for a coffee and took a sip before it had even cooled down. “Long nights happen, Megan. Aren’t you supposed to be on leave?”
“Supposed to be. Rowe called and told me about the case. I thought you’d appreciate my help. I only had two days left anyway, so it wasn’t much of a loss. You shouldn’t be complaining, I stopped by your apartment to get your medication and give Khan some food. He asked me to pass on a message to you: ‘Meow’” she told me with a grin. She retrieved my meds from her pocket and placed the bottle on my desk, then leaned forward. “So?”
“Who was that?”
I shook my head, running my real fingers through my hair. “Don’t get too excited.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What, you’ve got something going? Or just hoping to?…” she picked up the slip of paper with his number on it. “…ho-ho! You got his number!”
“Put that down. He wasn’t a date, he was an informant. And an Agent.”
She couldn’t have thrown down the paper faster if had suddenly turned into a snake. “Him? An Agent? What did they do, go recruiting male models?”
I groaned again. “I know, right? Just my luck. A guy finally walks through my door that looks like that and isn’t afraid of me…and he’s an Agent.”
Her cheery smile had faded a bit. “Well, I can say that I’m starting to think coming back early was a bad idea. Maybe you should fill me in.”
Filling her in on the details didn’t take very long. After all, there weren’t many details to be had. We at least had a single clue, though – that there was something going on with Mendoza strange enough for an Agent to get interested. By the time I finished my summary, she was looking thoughtful.
“Do you know what I’m thinking?”
“At the moment, I’m surprised that I know my own name,” I replied. I made to take another sip of my coffee, but she plucked it from my hand.
“I’m thinking…that this is some kind of weird test.”
“…Clearly, your mind is still on vacation.”
She set down the coffee so that she could wave her hands for emphasis. “Think about it, Kathy! We get this case, and ‘Eli’, if that’s his real name, is clearly involved. I mean, he already expects us to find something. And if they didn’t want you investigating it, then they’d just end the case. If they didn’t know what was going on, then they’d investigate it themselves. And you’ve done well for yourself lately…”
“Lately, I’ve been working eighteen-hour days on the ground floor,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, with a spectacular clearance rate! Why wouldn’t they want to recruit you?”
“Because I don’t murder people in cold blood, perhaps?”
“Well, yes. But that wouldn’t stop them from offering. Just think about it at least?”
I gave a non-committal grunt.
“Now…no more coffee for you, because it seems there’s no work to be done until results start coming in. Get a bit of rest. I’ll handle anything that comes in.”
I didn’t even remember acknowledging her, or making the conscious decision to fall asleep. So far as I was concerned I went from talking to Samuels, to waking up to a ringing phone for the second time in less than a day. I reached for it with my right hand, only for a dagger of pain to remind me that my medication had worn off hours ago. On the upside, it made me jolt into wakefulness that much faster. I answered the phone as I fumbled for my medication. “Chandler.”
“Detective Chandler, it’s Analyst Petersen down in Forensics. We…ah…” he trailed off.
I finally got the damn lid off and washed down a couple of pills with my cold coffee, immediately taking the edge off the fire burning in my stump. “What is it?” I snapped, impatient from the pain and my disturbed rest.
“It’s the samples from the Armstrong Square case, ma’am, we processed them ahead of the queue. I’ve tested them repeatedly to verify, and it keeps on coming up the same. Calibrated the machine, checked the computers, everything. The sample that you recovered isn’t Mendoza.”
“Yes, it is. We positively identified the victim using his jaw implant. Witnesses identified him as Mendoza. Who are the tests turning up?” Whoever it was, he’d be in the records. The database was universal. Only way to not be in there was if the blood samples from birth hadn’t been processed by the hospital, and that was a delay of a fortnight at most. I doubted that it’d been an infant spray-painting Armstrong. The analyst was silent, so I prompted him again. “Petersen. Who is the test showing?”
“Nobody. No match in the system.”