|To prevent another Holocaust, a serial killer murders those he blames for the last one.
• time travel
• gay protagonist
• third person POV
• transgressive characters
■ Hollis Etienne "Edison" Álvarez, a tec's assistant on the city police force of a college town in Florida
■ Dmytri Chenko, theoretical physicist and Edison's best friend. When he's killed in a terrorist attack, Edison lies to his boss in order to get assigned to the investigation
■ Misha Chenko, Dmytri's younger brother and a heartthrob Edison worships from afar
■ Héctor Álvarez, Edison's abusive father who pushed him into police work against his will
■ Marta Álvarez, Edison's ineffectual mother who's always failed to protect her nine children from her abusive husband
■ Jonathan Mumford, a bullied eco-warrior from a quiverfull family who believes overpopulation is destroying the environment
■ Rick Jainey, President of the United States and a Christian fundamentalist
■ Mara Jainey, First Lady and mother of the President's seven children
■ Der Reiter, The Rider in German and a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
"Picture this. You're walking down the street looking up at telephone poles. Ordinary poles like you'd see anywhere in the world with wires suspended between them, the kind birds sit on. Only birds don't sit on these wires."
"Nuh uh. Strung between the wires are spider webs—webs thick enough to see from the ground. Every few yards there's another web, and those webs run down the street as far as the eye can see. In every web there's a spider the size of a dinner plate. And these spiders? They live on birds."
"Edison, welcome to 'Nam."
"No way! How long were you there, Yates?"
"Never went. Luckily the party came to an end before I was old enough to get drafted. My older brother went, though. Died in a VC ambush. I still have his letters. Can't tell if he was lying about the spiders, but some of the other stuff he described turned out to be true."
"Must've been horrible."
"You don't know the half of it, kid."
"Excuse me, Det. Álvarez?"
Edison swiveled around in panic as the chief's secretary interrupted them. Assistant Chief, actually, but no one dared call him anything but 'chief'. Not to his face anyway. "Um... y-yes?"
"Dunstan would like to see you in his office. Immediately."
The secretary shook her head as she returned to her desk. Was there anyone in the building who didn't think he was pathetic? Probably not, he figured. Edison climbed from his chair and shuffled down the hall to the boss's office.
No good, no good.
So why did Dunstan want to yell at him today? The dickwad wouldn't want to see him for any other reason. Bet he's going to fire me. What am I going to do if I lose this job? Edison pondered it. The rent on his apartment was due the first of the month and there was no way he could have another position by then, not in this town. Fullsatt wasn't even the big apricot, much less the Big Apple. No employment opportunities here.
They only gave me this job because Pop was a cop. He was a cop pop. I'm a poet and didn't know it.
He'd never get hired anywhere else. Dunstan certainly wouldn't give him a glowing recommendation. Was it Freud or Jung who'd said people position themselves to capitalize on their inclinations? Surely the boss had joined the police force solely to torture people with impunity.
His office was as frightening as he was, and Edison crawled into the club chair near the desk hoping to become invisible. Not difficult, since the chair was slightly shorter than normal and the thick upholstery made him sink into it, feeling small. Pennants plastered the office walls—pennants and vacuum-sealed football jerseys under glass; the bookcase behind the desk sported autographed baseballs and bowling trophies. If you expected motivational posters of serene beaches and tranquil forests, you were in the wrong office. All of it reminded Edison he could never be the kind of über-masculine gumshoe Dunstan respected. What am I doing here? I should've—
"Hollis," the boss interrupted, swiveling his chair around to face Edison, "I have good news and bad. The bad news is I'm reassigning you to a new case. The good news is you might be able to solve this one."
Son of a bitch. He couldn't just lose the snark for once, could he? Grrrrr. Still, so far it was going better this time versus last.
"Hollis, what the hell is wrong with you? You've been working on the SvenskAir case for almost three months now, but these reports are nothing but crackbrained drivel. I only assigned you to the task force because you were one of the few without a connection to any of the victims. But all you've shown me so far is some fucked up government conspiracy theory, and I'm telling you right now, that ain't gonna fly. What's the matter with you?"
There was probably an agency Edison could complain to about Dunstan's conduct; surely it was harassment. But no, the other cops would find out and laugh at him. Freud or whoever it was had nailed it—police work attracted a lot of bullies and sadists.
Edison's normal stutter went into overdrive as he saw the case slipping away from him. "P-please give me another ch—"
"No. No excuses. Don't wanna hear it. The Feds are taking over the investigation, so I'm reassigning my officers."
"Feds?" Why did Dunstan always sound like a character from NCIS?
"Yeah, from now on the FBI is handling the whole investigation, so the local police are out of it. The FBI and the NTSB, that is. We're through with the alphabet soup."
"But the crash happened within city limits, sir."
"Not my problem. If they want to take over, they're welcome to it. We don't have the budget or manpower for it. You've got a new project starting today. Maybe you can handle this one. Some wacko murdered a debt collector—obviously a client. Should be open and shut; just find the disgruntled deadbeat. I don't need to remind you your father served with distinction for over 30 years and I expected you to follow in his footsteps. So far I haven't exactly been blown away. Now get moving. Here's the file." He tossed Edison a thin manila folder containing some scribbled notes, an autopsy report and a few newspaper clippings. "I'll assign a super tomorrow, just as soon as I find someone willing to work with a sorry ass pantywaist like you."
"So what are you waiting for? Get up, get out and get started."
"Y-yes..." Edison jumped out of his seat and returned to his cubicle, where he collapsed into the chair and then stared at his monitor. They'd love to see him get fired, wouldn't they? Raulerson and some of the others, they'd never liked him; hated the fact that his father's influence had landed him this job. Here he was, sitting among them when he hadn't earned it in the school of hard knocks like they had.
Crud, crud, crud.
Dunstan was definitely the worst. Was it his imagination, or did the chief deliberately single him out for persecution? The oppressive boss riding the new guy was such a cliché, but surely it wasn't all in his head. Okay, so the task force had bollixed the SvenskAir case. No, they'd actually made significant progress, but the evidence didn't point in the direction Dunstan wanted, whatever that was. How could Edison help that? They had to follow the clues wherever they led.
Fucktard, prickhead, dickwad.
Unfortunately, Dunstan's deck held one ace his cards couldn't beat:
I should've found tangible proof to back my theory by now. Somehow I need to catch who's really behind the hijacking even if it's not my case anymore.
Speaking of case, it'd be a good idea to feign interest in whatever Dunstan had handed him a moment ago. Edison opened the file, but he couldn't stop obsessing over flight SA3571.
"Good evening. I'm Brian Erichsen and this is NewsUpdate for Monday, January ninth. A SvenskAir jet crashed tonight soon after take off during an alleged hijacking by Islamic terrorists..."
"All 245 passengers and ten flight crew, including the four terrorists, were killed when the Boeing 767 plummeted into a field in Fullsatt, Florida. We'll have more on this story as it develops."
He'd been sleeping on the sofa when he'd heard the news. Fell asleep watching TV. One of the signature attributes linking every spectacular death was the means of discovery—there was no personalized phone call from the authorities informing the bereaved. The widows found out at the same time everyone else did...from TV, radio or Twitter. For Edison it was one of those program interruptions for a breaking news story. "High school debate team killed in crash. Film at eleven." In a stupor, he'd risen from the couch and grabbed the remote on the coffee table, then turned up the volume to—
"Hey, Edison, ain't you going home tonight, buddy?"
"Huh?" Edison looked up to find Yates leaning over a wall of his cubicle.
"Look at the time, kid. It's almost four. The next shift is already coming in. Whatever you're working on can wait until tomorrow."
"Okay, thanks. I'm packing up. See you tomorrow, Bob."
Edison shoved the folder into his tattered briefcase and pushed the chair under his desk. Maybe if he solved this debt collection thing, the boss would get off his back. The problem was how to solve a crime when crime itself freaked you out.
Nothing to worry about. Panic attack for nothing. Only 64 cops are killed by felons every year. Only sixty-four. Not a big figure, really. A few more than sixty. What are the odds one of those will be me?
He really should buy a car. Probably could afford one. Maybe a used mini Cooper or a Honda. Or he could try to look like a manly man and get a big SUV like everyone else in the office. An Explorer, a Yukon or a Jeep...or the ultimate symbol of masculinity—a Hummer. There might be an old wreck in a junkyard somewhere that was remotely within his budget.
But having no wheels gave him an excuse to call Misha when he needed a lift, and he liked having a reason to call. Now that Dmytri was dead Misha was his new best friend by default. My last ally. Edison hated to abuse a friendship, so he walked the half dozen blocks to and from work every day.
If only I was a full bull detective. Real detectives got to drive home in department-issued unmarked cruisers or seized autos, but there were only so many vehicles to go around. Entry-level tec assistants had to provide their own wheels, or hoof it like Edison did.
"Hey Justin, look! It's Elmer F-F-Fudd. Bwahahahaha! What a dweeb."
A high school gang sat on the hood of a car across the street and jeered as Edison slogged by. After years of tuning out ridicule, he hadn't noticed them at first. Now his head shot up, making them laugh.
"Bwahahahaha! Look at the four-eyed wuss!"
Just what did kids get out of teasing people? Edison couldn't fathom why others loved being cruel.
"Hey, wetback! Go home!"
Wetback? Edison wasn't Mexican; his parents came from Argentina. Left the country in the seventies. Did he even look Hispanic? He didn't think so. Lots of people had dark hair. Those kids couldn't know his name. Not that he tried to hide what he was. His ethnicity just didn't matter to him, nor did he particularly care about the background of others when it didn't directly impact a case. Why was everyone so full of hate these days?
Even the kids. No good, no good.
Made no sense. Babies were cute and trusting; they'd have to learn vicious behavior as they grew up. But who'd deliberately teach a child to hate? Surely no one became a bully by choice. Evidently only the shitty people were procreating these days. Edison walked faster to get away from them, grateful when they didn't follow. Still, it rattled his nerves and echoed the earlier badgering at the office.
"I'll assign a super tomorrow, just as soon as I find someone willing to work with a sorry ass pantywaist like you."
Who'd made Dunstan such a tyrant? Did he have abusive parents? His verbal battering played back in Edison's head like a MP3 stuck on continuous repeat.
"I don't need to remind you your father served with distinction for over 30 years, and I expected you to follow in his footsteps. So far I haven't exactly been blown away."
The worst part was that even when the browbeating was officially over, it still wasn't over since Edison couldn't delete the memory of it. It would never be over; there'd never be any escape. He bullied himself even more than Dunstan did. Why did his brain cling to trauma, yet he couldn't remember all the good times spent with Dmytri?
I'm the worst friend in history. Just no good at the friendship thing.
Still another few blocks to go. As Edison passed the liquor store on the corner, a terrible idea struck him.
Schlicher's Liquors seemed barren of shoppers. Edison didn't drink; he'd only been drunk once in his life and that was back in college, but tonight he felt like tying one on. If the place hadn't been empty it would mortify him to enter a package store, but apart from the clerk it looked dead. Mr. Schlicher himself beamed a smile from behind the register, glad to have a customer—probably a slow day.
Heh. Mister Schlicher Liquor. You're a poet but you don't know it. With a weak smile, Edison grabbed a hand basket like he would at the supermarket and pretended to know what he was doing here.
So many different kinds of alcohol. How did anyone know what to buy? He couldn't remember what he'd had in college. Not wine or anything straight, but a mixed drink. Something slammed. Slammered? Alabama Slammer, was that it? Unfortunately, he had no idea what went into one or any other cocktail. What exactly did real men drink? In the movies it was always gin or vodka, sometimes whiskey if it was a western. What would Misha drink?
As he wandered down the aisles, Edison couldn't gauge what was in the bottles from the flowery labels, but it occurred to him he was taking too long. A real drinker would know just what he wanted and get it immediately. What if the clerk thought he was only here to case the joint? I'd better bring something to the register soon. Grabbing the first bottle at hand, he placed it in the basket and hurried over to the counter.
It figured that someone had materialized ahead of him. The place had been empty, so where had this fop come from? Looked familiar, too. Someone from work? Edison studied the man a moment before recognizing the local celebrity from down the street, Harold Mumford. If anyone needed a drink, he did. Father of the world's first surviving set of decaplets, and he'd already had a little girl before the other ten were born. How do you raise eleven children without going mad? One baby would be too stressful for Edison. The clerk rang up the deca-dad's order, while Edison daydreamed until Mumford strolled out of the store.
"Liter of Glenfiddich. That'll be $88.95, including tax. Will this be debit or credit?"
"You all right, buddy? You're next. With tax it's $88.95."
"Eighty-eight ninety-five. Yeah, I know. The state tax on liquor is killing business lately. Sometimes I think I ought to go back to selling gas and cigarettes. Heh. You okay, pal?"
"Huh? Yes. Just fine." Edison had no idea liquor was so expensive. How did the homeless afford it? No wonder they had to panhandle. He dug through his wallet for his debit card and handed it over.
"Hey, you never signed this."
"Hm?" Edison retrieved the card and signed the back, embarrassed that he'd never used it before. He always paid with cash.
Let no debt stand except the obligation to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8.
Not that Edison believed in God anymore. No. Safe to say there's no God. He'd never forget certain scriptures, though. His pop liked to pummel others with them, as if a supreme being was a weapon you used against those who disagreed with you.
"Thanks. Just stick it in the machine there, buddy. No, other side down. We can't handle chips yet. Make sure the stripe is—yeah, that's it. Here's your receipt. Have a nice night."
"Th-thanks..." Good thing it was easy to remember the four-letter word he'd chosen for a PIN. Msha. The clerk must've thought he was a moron for not knowing how to swipe a card through a terminal, but if Edison didn't have the cash for something, he usually didn't buy. With shaky hands he grabbed his bottle and left the store believing everyone in Fullsatt was staring at him. I must look like an alcoholic. Few people wandered the streets tonight, but it was embarrassing all the same. Maybe he should've asked for a gift box just to get the bottle home discreetly.
This is too expensive to waste on me. I should save it for company. But when would he ever have company? He could invite Misha over for dinner one night, perhaps. No, that would feel odd; like he was inviting him on a date. Misha was probably used to $90 scotch anyhow and wouldn't be impressed. I could give it away as a Christmas present... Except that he hadn't gotten a gift box. It was ridiculous, but now that Edison had shelled out so much he couldn't bear to drink it.
A minute later he remembered how Dunstan had humiliated him, and he wanted to drink himself blind. Maybe binge drink. Drink so much he couldn't remember who he was anymore. He'd love to be someone else for a day. What he wouldn't give to be Misha just for an hour. Misha probably never got bawled out at the office or taunted by kids. Of course not; he'd never had a job, had he? Why work when you could live off your family's fortune? He was too good-looking anyhow. No one taunted gorgeous, sexy people.
"Nice day for a walk, isn't it, Mr. Álvarez?"
"Huh?" Edison looked up to find his landlady sweeping the front steps of the house. How'd I get here? He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't noticed the familiar landmarks along the route. No matter; he was home now, and what an enormous relief. "Yes, Mrs. Kent. Nice day." He returned her smile and bolted up the steps, only stopping to check his mailbox on his way down the hallway. Thank God there weren't any bills today.
"I love Victorian houses, but this place could really use an elevator."
"Or else you should move downstairs to the first floor, Edison."
"Heh. Mrs. Kent lives on the first floor, Dmytri. When her husband died she decided to rent out the rooms upstairs to make some money."
"So who lives on the second floor?"
"No one at the moment. The couple moved out a while back."
"Did they take the air conditioner with them? This room is like an oven."
"Yeah, I know. The central air conditioner's broken and Mrs. Kent can't get a building permit to fix it. I guess that's why she rents so cheap for this area. I couldn't afford any other place around here. This is a nice neighborhood."
"What's so hard about getting a building permit?"
"I dunno. I didn't want to press it, or she might've refused to let the apartment to me. Imagine me, Hollis Álvarez, living in an upscale neighborhood! That's one up on my pop."
Funny, he worried that he'd forget Dmytri but in fact he couldn't get him out of his mind. It was just that these weren't the memories he wanted at the moment. Can't forget his upturned nose and hammer toes. Where were the comforting thoughts of how he'd get along okay without his best friend? These memories were like a skewer through his temple, reminding him of ordinary fun that could never happen again. Never have another laugh, ever. Why did his brain have to torture him? It's punishment for not solving the case. Dmytri's tormenting me from the grave.
Edison's cat greeted him as he entered the apartment, nearly tripping him as she rubbed against his legs. "How ya doing, Waffles? Been better myself." He set down the bottle, then petted the cat until she grew tired of it and wandered away. Now that he was safely home he could finally inspect the Glenfiddich label, but Waffles knocked something off the kitchen counter and spoiled his concentration.
"Klutzy kitty." Edison went to the kitchen to investigate the damage, and discovered it was a coffee mug Dmytri had given him for Christmas, a birthday, or some other celebration long ago. He couldn't remember, and hadn't really given it much thought until now. A silly little gift he'd foolishly left near the sink suddenly became priceless now that Dmytri could never give him another one. Maybe he should pack away everything Dmytri had given him; hide all his treasures in a closet.
Bury Dmytri completely.
Maybe it would stop all these triggers. No more random memories at unexpected moments.
Make him good and dead.
No, he couldn't do that. Not now. Not yet.
There were too many other things to worry about to bother with packing. For instance, what was Misha doing right now? Probably getting ready to go out with friends. Has tons of friends. Maybe he'll drive them to the best nightclubs in his Lamborghini. Must be nice to be rich and attractive and popular. Edison pictured them cruising around town, then grabbed a glass from the cupboard and returned to the living room. On second thought, perhaps it wasn't such a waste to drink this bottle all by himself. He'd just have to cut back on a few luxury items for the next few weeks. Like groceries.
He poured some Glenfiddich into a glass meant for orange juice and caught a whiff of the alcohol, then remembered why he didn't drink—it just tasted so bad. There might be something in the fridge he could mix with it to improve the flavor or something he could use as a chaser, but that would mean drinking twice as much. No, it might be better to treat it like cough syrup. Holding his nose, he forced down a mouthful and nearly gagged. Dunstan would've yawped something like "Holy crap!" right about now. No, Dunstan would love this stuff. There was a reason it took a real man to drink it straight. It burned his throat and then his whole gastrointestinal tract on the way down, but Edison stubbornly resolved to finish the glass. He certainly couldn't afford to waste it at this price.
What would Dunstan say if he could see Edison drinking $90 scotch right now? Something about getting paid too much if he could afford 15-year-old scotch. The boss would surely never spend more than $30 on alcohol, the extremum for a case of microbrewed beer.
The scotch was going down a little easier with each swig and Edison wafted into dizziness. Doubtless the boss never got drunk on a single glass of liquor, but—wait a minute. Who cares about Dunstan? He's a turd and a fucktard. Heh. A fuckturd.
Edison would never forget the looks the boss gave him the day he got hired. Obviously he hadn't been Dunstan's first choice, but the chief had been outvoted since the frontrunner had even less experience. Probably wanted someone with more gum on his shoes. Then there was Edison's father, a patrol officer for over 30 years. Although that shouldn't have affected policy, somehow it did, and Dunstan had resented him for it ever since.
A fuckturd, a pricktard and a dickwad.
He didn't treat any of the other employees like dirt. Was it the stutter? His looks? His age? The español? No, Dunstan had evidently liked his old man, so it couldn't be a race thing. Or a xenophobe thing. Or whatever. Could it? Edison forced down some more Glenfiddich.
I'm not manly enough for him. Probably thinks I'm gay and fantasizing about his fat, ugly ass. Edison wasn't homosexual. When he thought about Misha and Dmytri, he merely wished to be them, not be with them. At least, not be with them in that way. What would his parents say if he were gay? It'd simply kill them. Dunstan was a dickwad for bullying him over something he wasn't.
"You should feel sorry for him, Edison."
"I'm serious. No one is evil for the sake of being evil. They're evil because of circumstances or genetics, but in either case you should pity those whose situation drives them to be cruel."
Dmytri had said that... when? Several months ago at least, back when Edison had complained about a chewing out for some other offense. Dmytri had been more generous than he. To Edison the atmosphere in the office was stressful beyond tolerance, and he'd never excuse Dunstan for creating all the drama.
They're evil because of circumstances or genetics...
So what had driven Dunstan to become such a tyrant? Was he aping his parents? Edison knew what it was like to be persecuted by a domineering father. He hadn't become a bully himself, though. Why had Dunstan?
I never noticed all the colors in this room before. Red and blue and gold and green. How many colors has grief? I think I've seen them all now. Maybe a little more scotch... just to get rid of the colors.
The glass was almost empty. He drank a little more and then picked up the folder the boss had given him.
Poor debt collector. Murdered the day before yesterday. This time Monday her killer was doing... what? Surfing through channels, trying to find the story on the news? Down at the local bar celebrating a job well done? Maybe tearing up his payment coupons. As if they'd forgive his debt if he killed an agent. I'd try it myself if it did.
Just like the other case, Edison had an unfortunate connection to this one. Dunstan likely had no idea Edison had a ton of student loan debt, but there'd been no way to put himself through college without a barrage of loans. Perhaps the killer intended to strike again? What if he planned to take them all out—every employee at the agency? He could be out buying guns while Edison was sitting here drinking. What if he went postal and killed them all in a rampage tomorrow morning before Edison even discovered who he was? Or she...
No good. How could I handle a spree killer?
Thumbing through the folder, he convinced himself it couldn't be a female murderer. How could any woman kill another woman like this? Silly thought; of course she could. The victim was slain with a single slash of the throat. No particular strength needed if the killer had the element of surprise. But how did the slasher get into the apartment in the first place? Break in or invited in? Edison would have to get a statement from her landlord and neighbors, maybe from everyone who worked at Arrears Recovery Management, Inc.
But I'm no good at interviewing people. The FBI handled all the interrogation on the SvenskAir case.
He had to pull himself together somehow and do it anyway. He owed it to the deceased. Poor woman. Murdered in her own home while getting ready for work. Had she ever dreamed of something more for herself than this literally dead-end job? Surely no one planned to become a debt collector. Not really even a debt collector, more like a cubicle worker. Like me. The telephoner who makes harassing calls on behalf of the debt collector—was there a name for that employee? What a pathetic existence.
Pitiful to think this woman's life capsulized down to this—just a folder of reports, photos of her body in situ, some handwritten notes about the crime scene and a few newspaper clippings. The main substance in the folder was the coroner's report. Single mother of three, each from a different father. She was visibly pregnant with number four at the time of death. The children had been at school during the murder, but it must have traumatized them when they returned home and found her dead body on the living room floor.
What was going to happen to those kids now? It was doubtful their fathers could be found or she'd have secured payments from them long ago. Surely no one receiving child support from three or four different men would live in an area like that. Who'd willingly live in such a crappy neighborhood if they had any money? Probably wouldn't work for a debt collection agency either. Maybe that's why she went into that line of work in the first place. Trying to collect from deadbeat dads. Sad. He'd have to do what she couldn't and find those deadbeats.
It was a heartrending story from beginning to end and he emptied the glass in another swallow, forgetting how much he hated the taste. By now Edison was well-buzzed, but poured another anyhow. Had the kids said 'I love you, Mommy!' that day before heading to school? Did they wish they had now? Had Misha told his brother he loved him before Dmytri got on that plane?
There was something painfully reminiscent of the SvenskAir case in this investigation, or maybe it was the same in every investigation. Somebody who should've come home that day didn't, and someone at home was left hurting. Those kids had fully expected to see their mother after school, but they'd been screwed over in the worst way imaginable. What would Edison do if Misha died tomorrow? Would he die knowing how much Edison valued his friendship?
I should tell him. That's it, I'll tell him.
He fumbled for the phone and tried to find Misha's number on speed dial, but his eyes couldn't focus. How did it get so blurry in here? No matter; it was the second from the top, wasn't it? He still hadn't removed Dmytri's number. Edison felt around until he found the button, and was rewarded with the familiar recording on Misha's answering machine.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not in at the moment. If you leave your name and number, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
"M-Misha? This is Edison. I want... um... I want to tell you something. I'm sorry about Dmytri. Should've figured out why anyone would hijack that plane by now, but something about the case threw me. Three years on the force and never got anywhere. Never got anywhere, and now they've taken it away. Oh my god, I have nothing. I've got nothing; I am nothing. Probably won't find this killer, either. All those children and no mommy. No daddy, no mommy, no money; all gone. Spent it all on Glenfinish. Totally Glenfinished. Dunstan's gonna fire me. What will my dad say? Maybe I should give him the Glenfinish, but he'll say I wasted my paycheck and shouldn't spend it on spirits 'cause I don't earn that much and—"
"Yeah, it's me. Are you all right? You sound funny. Have you been drinking?"
"Um...a bit. Just a glass or two. Real men can drink a glass or two. Do you think I'm a real man? Dmytri was a real man. I'm sorry I couldn't—"
"Idiot, you're slurring. Speak slowly. Now what happened today? Did you get fired?"
"Yes. No. Took me off Dmytri's case and gave me another. Wants me to fail, I just know it. All those orphans. No more mommy, and if I don't find them I'll lose my job."
"Huh? Oh. The killer. All those kids and no mommy. You don't think the kids did it, do you?"
"Edison, you're not making sense. Don't go anywhere. I'm on my way over, okay? See you in a few."
"Mm-kay. Won't go anywhere. Nowhere to go. No friends. Not like you, Misha. No lammergini. No life. Nowhere to go. Maybe the kitchen, but there's a big mess out there. Don't want to forget his hammer toes and upturned nose."
Edison rambled on but Misha had already hung up. Why did he always feel so nervous talking to Misha, even when drunk? Why shouldn't I? He's gorgeous and popular and smart and rich and...
"She broke a mug today, did I tell you? Your brother's mug. But she's a good cat. The best cat. So gorgeous and popular and smart and rich and she loves everyone. Loves you. And... and... Misha? Drive safely 'cause if anything happened I'd really mish you, Misha. Like I mish your brother. I'm so sorry I couldn't save him and his hammer toes but they've taken the case away from me."
Edison dropped the phone, but no one other than Waffles could hear him anyhow. "Took the case from me. Dunstan took my case away." Waffles mewed pitifully for attention, but Edison curled up on the couch and hugged a throw pillow.
Took my case away...
Edison loved the Lamborghini convertible, loved how Misha wasn't afraid to push it to its limits even when it was dangerous, loved how the car had trouble living up to its owner rather than the other way around. It intimidated Edison just to sit in the passenger seat; he could never sit behind the wheel of a flashy car without looking completely out of place, but Misha was like a part of the machine. Or maybe the machine was a part of him, an extension of his endless cool quotient. Edison would give a kidney to be gorgeous, popular and chic, but he was just Edison—ordinary and dull.
Dmytri had given his little brother the car for his birthday, or so Edison recalled. Misha's 18th, about six months after his high school graduation. What had he given him for his 22nd, when Misha was a college grad? That was less than four months ago, but Edison couldn't remember now. Dmytri's death had sapped his memory of anything frivolous, and he was condemned to obsess about that death to the exclusion of everything else.
Misha drove them to the terminal with little time to spare. Only that wasn't how it had actually happened. In real life Dmytri had driven them to the airport in his own car, and Misha had driven Edison home in Dmytri's car. In his dreams, however, Edison always pictured the Lamborghini convertible.
Dmytri waved goodbye, turned away with a sad smile, then departed through the metal detector to await his flight at the gate. It would be another hour before he could embark, but airline security wouldn't let anyone enter the terminal without a boarding pass. Edison and Misha remained at the entrance until they couldn't see him anymore, then retrieved the car from the valet.
On the drive home Edison fidgeted nervously in his seat, tapping his fingers against the door in poor time with the radio. Dmytri was his best friend, but he'd always felt awkward around Misha. Like a loser. Misha was three years younger but infinitely more attractive, more talented and better educated than Edison. He was a Lamborghini, and Edison was a Volkswagen.
No, even a Volkswagen was out of his reach. The cheapest new Beetle cost more than a year's salary. "I feel so sorry for you," Edison said out of the blue.
"Because you can't see yourself. I mean, you can't look at yourself all day, while I can. Not without a mirror."
"You idiot." Misha ground the engine until the wheels left the earth with a screaming roar, and Edison found himself seated by a window on flight SA3571, while Dmytri sat in the aisle seat and Misha sat between them. For an instant Edison wished he was in the middle, but Dunstan interrupted his thoughts when he announced over the intercom that terrorists had invaded the cockpit and that the plane was going down. Edison looked out the window, but saw only clouds.
"Edison? Where are you?"
Huh? "I'm right here, Misha. Where's Dmytri?"
"He went to the men's room. I'll get him."
No, wait. Don't leave me. Something unsettling here. What a time to go to the men's room. "How can he protect me if he's not here?" Wait, that wasn't right. "I mean, how can I protect him if he isn't here?"
"Hey, look! It's Elmer F-F-Fudd. Bwahahaha! What a dweeb."
Edison peered around at the other passengers, but they all looked like terrorists. Terrorists, thugs and bullies. Were they? They were just people; no special clothing or gear to distinguish them from the hundreds of ordinary citizens he passed on the street every day. But it was ordinary people who created terrorists, wasn't it? It was ordinary people who created the murderers and criminals. It was ordinary people who bullied others, and harassed strangers on the internet; it was ordinary people who tortured the geeks, the nerds and the losers in school. It was ordinary people who determined just who was a loser, wasn't it?
"Bwahahaha! Look at the four-eyed wuss!"
Where was Dmytri? Had something happened? He and Misha sure were taking a long time.
"Edison, are you asleep? Wake up. Can you hear me?" Edison's father pushed a beverage cart down the aisle and then handed him a folder. With trembling fingers Edison opened it and a stack of bloodstained papers slid out, otherwise completely blank.
"W-we have to get out of here," Edison whispered, but wherever Misha and Dmytri were they couldn't hear him. Was he going to lose everyone he cared about? Dmytri had always protected him from the terrorists back in high school, but now that it was Edison's chance to return the favor, he was failing miserably. The plane lurched into a dive and they were going to crash.
"Hey, wetback! Go home!"
If only he could save Dmytri and Misha. Maybe then they wouldn't think he was such a loser. Clutching the armrests, he tried to think of a strategy. There had to be a tactical maneuver for overpowering terrorists if he could just devise a plan, but he couldn't focus with the passengers mocking him and the pilot tyrannizing him over the loudspeaker.
"Hollis, you're incompetent. Turn in your badge immediately!"
Edison patted down his pockets, but didn't have it with him. One more failure. The passengers gasped in unison as the plane pitched and rolled through a patch of turbulence and then spiraled downward. If he could find his badge, would it save them?
No, wait. There it was near his feet. Edison unbuckled his seatbelt and scooped it up from the floor, but when he opened the badge wallet it read HUMINT instead of Fullsatt Police Department, and his father tore it out of his hands before wheeling the cart down the aisle. What the fuck?
If it wasn't for Dmytri and Misha he'd wish the whole damn plane would blow up so he could escape this humiliation, but the point of tension never ended. They were trapped in perpetual free fall, never to hit ground or regain altitude. He could hear his name grumbled among the doomed passengers, and all he wanted was to disappear. Maybe he'd succeeded, for somewhere in the background Misha called out, unable to find him.
"Edison? Where are you?"
"Edison, are you asleep? Wake up. Can you hear me?"
It was here that Edison awoke from the dream and found Misha in his apartment.
"Misha? Is that you?"
"Yeah, I let myself in. Dmytri had a spare key."
Ah. Another failure. He'd wanted to save Misha, but now Misha had saved him. "I'm sorry I failed you, Misha. So sorry..."
"Failed me? Don't be an idiot, Edison. You've never failed me."
But I did fail. I failed to save you from the terrorists.
He must be seriously upset about something if he got wasted; in fact, Misha couldn't remember seeing him drunk before. Hard to imagine a shrinking violet like Edison bar hopping, which begged the question: who'd he gone out with tonight? Or had he gotten trashed completely alone? Seemed more likely. Did Edison even have any friends? Perhaps he'd found an old Christmas bottle lying around the apartment.
Whatever the story, his caller ID said he was home now. Misha checked the clock on the dash; it crept towards nine. He parked on the street in front of the Victorian house and used his own key to enter, then took the stairs to the third floor. Once upon a time Edison had asked Dmytri to watch the cat and gave him a spare key. He'd never returned it, and Misha used it now to unlock the door.
"Edison? Where are you?" he called out as he stepped into the small foyer. Edison must've fallen asleep before sundown and hadn't turned on the lights. Fumbling around for the switch, Misha inadvertently spooked the cat and Waffles darted into the living room. Where the hell was Edison?
With hesitation Misha followed the cat into the gloomy living room, almost expecting to find a dead body instead of the stuttering gumshoe. The silhouette of a bulky lampshade stretched toward him from the shadows; Misha faltered over to it and flicked on the light.
"W-w-avta geh tow tufere."
So there was the super sleuth, curled up on the couch dreaming, and speaking gibberish. "Edison, are you asleep? Wake up. Can you hear me?"
It was here that Edison awoke from the dream and found Misha in his apartment.
"Misha? Is that you?"
"Yeah, I let myself in. Dmytri had a spare key."
"I'm sorry I failed you, Misha. So sorry..."
"Failed me? Don't be an idiot, Edison. You've never failed me." What had the clod been drinking? Must be hammered, but at least he was conscious. "What happened today?"
Misha climbed over the sofa back and slid down onto the seat cushions, landing neatly in a lotus position—something Edison found outrageously cool. He stared as if Misha had performed a magic trick, then slowly groped and clawed his way to an upright posture.
"Today? Um...I was taken off the case. The Feds are taking over, I think he said. Dunstan gave me another assignment. This one." Edison foundered toward the coffee table and clumsily handed Misha the folder. It was definitely not kosher for a civilian to look at the paperwork of an active police investigation, but while Edison clambered to his feet—evidently with a view toward hitting the bathroom—Misha skimmed the file.
Tanesha Williams, 32, single, 17425 King Street, Apt. #314. Cause of death: severance of the carotid artery, with resultant arterial hemorrhage. Throat slit from behind by right-handed assailant. Windpipe and esophagus severed to the spinal cord by an incision extending from ear to ear, beginning about one inch below the jaw. Circular bruising along the jaw line, possibly caused by finger pressure. No evidence of sexual assault.
Graphic photographs and crude diagrams showed where injuries were sustained, but Misha had seen enough. More than enough. How did Edison deal with this kind of crap every day? He stuffed the autopsy report back into the folder but some clippings fell out, so he retrieved them from the floor.
"M-Misha? You're not going to leave me, are you?" Edison shouted from the bathroom over the splash of running water. "I'm sorry I couldn't solve the case. But I'm going to keep working on it somehow..."
A 32-year-old debt collector and mother of three was knifed in her home Monday morning soon after the children left for school, said police spokesperson Olivia Lipham. "There's no evidence that anything was stolen from the apartment, but it's possible the assailant was interrupted during the assault and fled the scene early."
"I promise I'll get to the bottom of it. Someday. I'd do it now if I didn't feel so woozy. Must be coming down with something. Surveillance video at the airport showed four men in keffiyehs. Of course, their families in Yemen insist they weren't terrorists. Personally, I find it odd that they'd dress the part and then not take credit for the attack and draw attention to their cause. You know? Why make a political statement no one can understand? You know what I mean? But maybe that's just what they'd expect us to think, and... Misha? Are you listening? Ow; dropped the soap..."
Scores of complaints involving scavenger debt collectors have prompted officials to review current collection laws during the coming session of the legislature. Illegal harassment methods routinely used by Arrears Recovery Management, Inc. are believed to have motivated the recent murder of a debt collector slain in her home Monday morning.
Monday morning; the day before yesterday. "Hn..."
"Huh?" Edison returned from the bathroom and staggered over to the sofa, plopping down on the folder. "I feel funny. Kinda dizzy. What do you suppose it is?"
"Heh...you're drunk?" Misha tugged the folder out from under Edison, stuffed the clippings inside and placed it on the table. "Edison, what more is there to discover about the crash? Without the black box, they don't even know if it was a hijacking. Just a bombing. Maybe there wasn't even a bomb. Maybe an engine blew up from poor maintenance or something. It could be just a coincidence those four Yemenis were on board. They might have been ordinary tourists like their families claim. Why torture yourself trying to find out exactly what happened? It won't change anything anyhow. If they were terrorists, they were killed in the crash with everyone else so I couldn't even get the satisfaction of revenge."
"Um, well... I know. I just think there's more to it than meets the eye. Maybe a government conspiracy."
"Government conspiracy? What makes you think that? And if it is, you'll only get yourself killed the more you go poking around."
"I have enough on my plate without grieving over you, too. And how can you work on two cases at the same time?"
"Well, I guess I..." Edison aimed all his brain power at the answer until it hit him—it would be impossible. Restricted information wouldn't be shared with an unassigned officer; in fact, Edison suspected they weren't sharing everything with him before. Now that he was off the case, they definitely wouldn't. "Well, um... that is..."
For that matter, how could he work on one case? He was only a junior officer, subordinate to a senior detective with years of experience. They'd never let him work on a case alone. He was lucky to get assigned at all. Maybe he should just resign and spare Dunstan the trouble of firing him. "What am I doing? I'm no crime fighter. I'm not even a decent file clerk. I only went to the police academy because of my pop. He even took me to the interview. There are no other jobs in town, and he always wanted one of us to follow in his footsteps. What else could I do?"
"Take it easy, Edison. This isn't the Green River killer, and you're one of the smartest people I know. My brother wouldn't hang out with an idiot. You can solve any crime if you're given enough room to think. You just need to take it one step at a time. Relax and think it through logically, wherever the evidence leads."
Huh? One of the smartest people...? Edison liquidized inside, even though Misha was likely lying.
"You just need to unwind and relax first, but drinking's not the way to do it. You should talk to my therapist, Dr. Gretchen Kruger. She's amazing. I wonder if she could take on a new patient."
"You... you're seeing a therapist?" Edison blinked in disbelief. Misha was perfect. Why would he need a shrink?
"Yeah, I started seeing her right after Dmytri died. Just couldn't get past his death. There are times when I can't cope, and... well, she helps me. As she says, I wasn't grieving properly and she's helping me get through the mourning process a little easier. She prescribed antidepressants too, but the counseling really helps. Very cathartic."
Incredible. Edison didn't know what to say. The last person he'd ever picture on a psychiatrist's couch was Misha. If something's flawless, why fix it?
"If you need a ride there, I can take you any day except this Thursday. I'm meeting an old friend for lunch. Haven't seen her since graduation. Maybe you remember Gio d'Este?"
Gio d'Este? Sounded familiar. You don't forget a name like that. Italian. Giovanna, maybe? Edison thought back. Yeah, come to think of it, he remembered. Five feet nine and long, dark hair; umber eyes; fashion model appearance. Of course. Member of the homecoming court, wasn't she? Someone who'd look perfect sitting in a Lamborghini. Who else would be worthy of Adonis?
Grrrrrrr. Misha never asked Edison out for lunch. Or dinner, breakfast or just coffee. More proof of my inferiority. No one would invite him anywhere anymore. Dmytri was dead, and no one would ever hang out with him again. Sinking against the couch, he curled back into a ball just as Misha had first found him. "Okay," he stammered, "I'll talk to your therapist."
"Who can tell me who the Luddites were? Anyone? How about you, Stephen?"
"Huh? Um... well, the Luddites were laborers in the 19th century who went around smashing looms and stuff 'cause they didn't want machinery taking their jobs away."
"All right, that's good for a start, but it's a little more interesting than that. After all, their numbers eventually grew so vast that they battled with the military, and many were executed. Deborah, why don't you pick it up from there. Just who were these Luddites, and what did they hope to achieve?"
Egadz. Western History with Professor Lowell was the biggest waste of time in the universe. Jonathan Mumford could barely keep his eyes open, but luckily the prof tended to ignore anyone seated beyond the third row. What was the point of this class? Jon couldn't fathom it. College was supposed to prepare him to earn a living in the dog-eat-dog world. Just when in his life would he ever need to know about the fricking Luddites?
When I'm sailing around the world on a Greenpeace vessel, I hope to hell we'll have better things to talk about than the Luddites.
Like, they could talk about what a fucked-up family he had. "Well, I can't complain, fellas, 'cause it's entirely my own fault, really, as I was the head of the whole damn family myself. Except for my dummkopf brother Harold, seven years older than me. Can you believe he's only 25 but has eleven kids already? Getting back to me, my parents were so busy crapping out womb pollution that they didn't have time to raise us, so Harold raised me; I raised Justine; Justine raised Everett and Griffin; and so on. We all came by the insanity honestly then, passing it down the line. Poor little Lorraine was born with Down's syndrome because my mother was too stupid to know her eggs had gotten moldy. And Henry's cursed with autism because, yanno, on a dangerously overpopulated planet it's a really good idea to shit out kids whose primary attributes are extreme selfishness and lack of empathy. I don't blame my dad for staying on the road. He's a truck driver and doesn't come home most nights. My mother... well, I wish she wouldn't come home, but God seeks to curse us in every way He can. She's a religious nut who thinks The Almighty told her to breed like a pig in His name, but just why God wants anyone breeding like a rabbit when His own perfect Son died childless, no one's ever bothered to explain to me."
Houston, we have a problem...
Thing is, his classes wouldn't be so bad if they didn't perpetuate the memory of a childhood spent getting bullied and tortured by other students.
"Herr Mumford, vee haff vays of teaching you a lesson. You hast flubbed der ball too many times in der football, und now vee haff to end your life in der showers."
"Ha! Oh my god that's a fuckin' scream, Ahhnold! I mean, mein Fuhrer! Mwahahaha! Ja, vee must sentence you to der showers, herr Mumford. Like all der filthy Jehovah's Vitnesses. Let me take der first sving."
Idiots. He wasn't a JW and even if he was, the Nazis hadn't sent them to the showers. They'd arrested and tortured them until they recanted their faith. The ones they executed were killed by beheading or something. He'd read it in a book. He could show them a thing or two about Nazis.
The Nazis blamed bankers, money lenders and debt collectors for the war. Like your old man, ass wipe. How can parents today be so damn stupid? I mean, didn't Dr. Phil or somebody do a show about what makes a serial killer? Bullying and abuse, that's what. Why don't they teach their kids, "Hey, don't ever bully anyone! If you do, they might grow up to be dictators and killers who murder you later!"
"So just what is the Luddite fallacy?"
Stupid damn parents. And these are the ones shitting babies out of their asses to everyone's congratulations. Incredible.
Hmmm? Jon looked around to find the class continuing without his input or consent. Why didn't things wait for him, and why did the outside world always intrude on his thoughts?
"Oh... the Luddite fallacy is... uh... the belief that technology puts people out of work?"
"Very good, Deborah. Let me give you an example. In the 1700's lawns were mowed by teams of gardeners wielding scythes and grass whips, but when the lawn mower was patented in 1830, all those scythe swingers found themselves unemployed, as a single man could now mow a whole yard with a machine. But those grass whippers weren't really unemployed, for they could now find work in the lawn mower factory. Technology creates new jobs at the same rate that it makes old ones obsolete. It's a win-win situation for everyone. The landowner saves money thanks to fewer workers needed to cut his grass, and the workers themselves get high-paying jobs in the factory. Everyone benefits from rising technology."
Yeah, that worked out just fine, Professor, until someone invented the automated assembly line. Then it was machines building machines in those factories, and human workers became redundant. But the babyshitters continued spewing out more womb pollution, resulting in two world wars and the Holocaust.
"Jonathan? You have your hand raised?"
"Yes, sir. You said that technology creates new jobs at the same rate that it makes old ones obsolete. But if the Luddites were wrong, then why did an unprecedented twenty million immigrants swarm to the U.S. from Europe during the industrial revolution? Why come here if there was so much work back home? The wage scale here was no better than in Europe."
"Would anyone like to answer Mr. Mumford? How about you, Ryan?"
"Why bother? Jon's just being the same argumentative dork he was back in high school."
Dork? Oh, good. That was a name he'd forgotten. While he relived all the teasing he'd endured in high school, he might as well get a refresher on just how many insults they'd slung at him through the years.
Dweeb, dork, nerd, geek, twit, twat, wimp, wuss, fairy, loser...
"Master Ryan, I'd appreciate it if you'd kindly refrain from indulging in derisive behavior. There's a good lad. I'm sure Jonathan is perfectly capable of understanding you if you just explained the intricacies of history in a civil tone."
"Yeah, fine. It was religious persecution that drove them out, Mumford. All those immigrants were Jews."
Jon snorted. "Seriously? There were twenty million Jews? Ha! They must've been the largest population in the world, then."
"Fathead. If you're such a history buff, Jon, you may recall that emigration in and of itself became an industry during the Victorian era. Remember the steerage passengers on the Titanic? A lot of shipping companies started building ships just for émigrés, and they capitalized on the exodus. Those ships needed crews, so there was even more employment as shipbuilders, draftsmen, architects, pursers, navigators, etc."
"I know that. So how come the immigrants kept coming? And why didn't the standard of living rise for the people back home? As the number of workers went down, the wage scale should have risen as employers scrambled to hire the remainder. So how come Europe was still overpopulated and everyone there was still poor?"
"Not everyone was poor."
"Charles Dickens and Jack London would beg to differ with you."
"And what would Jacob Astor say?"
"Hehe! I know, Ryan! He'd say, "Blub, blub, blub." Bwahaha!"
"Ha! Good one, Matt."
Imbeciles. Why did Jon even bother? He stared at the giggling morons around him and pictured them freezing to death in the North Atlantic without lifeboats. Or maybe getting eaten by polar sharks. Why were people such tards? One of these days he seriously needed to buy a gun and wipe out a multitude of these fuckers at once.
"All right, class. Settle down. Aagh, there goes the bell. Don't forget to read the chapter on the Franco-Prussian War by next Thursday. Okay, you're dismissed. "
But just how would one carry concealed weapons around a school? He'd have to check it out online sometime. The shitbags. They'd be sorry. As sorry as Tanesha Williams.
Yeah, he'd show them a thing or two about Nazis. He'd just have to step up his game.
"Good morning, Fullsatt! If you're just tuning in, this is Morning Glory with Glory Peterson, your wake-up call in the Fullsatt area. Our guest today is Roger Buckley, who heads a citizens' advocacy group that's challenging current debt collection practices. Roger, before the break you were telling us that many debt collection agencies use illegal methods to garner outstanding debts, like Arrears Recovery, who employed the agent murdered last Monday. Can you describe for us what a typical day for these agents is like?"
"Sure, Glory. Tanesha Williams was like a telemarketer. She sat in a cubicle and answered the phone. Now, the way these companies work, a recorded message is mechanically placed to every member on the client list, who are urged to call such-and-such number to avoid legal proceedings. These harassing phone calls sometimes happen two or three times a day, starting early in the morning. The client hears these threats and frantically calls the agency, then talks to someone like Tanesha, who works from a script and gets them to verbally agree to pay off the debt. The call is always monitored, and a verbal agreement to pay is technically an admission of 'guilt' that restarts the statute of limitations in the eyes of the law. So it's essentially a sting operation. What the client may not know is that the debt was written off by the lender long ago. Arrears Recovery is what we call a scavenger debt collector. They buy up old loans that are long past the statute of limitations and often forgotten by the borrower. Usually they're for piddling amounts, yet the interest on a 20-year-old debt would be Brobdingnagian. Sometimes the debt never existed at all. A practice becoming more common is the phantom debt, where an agency acquires the address or phone number of a credit card owner and harrasses him over a fictitious debt, hoping the so-called debtor won't realize the debt never occurred. We all engage in so many financial transactions in a lifetime it's hard to remember them all. These agencies trade on that fact and intimidate the borrower into paying off a debt that never existed, in clear violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act."
"I see. Okay, so would there be a lot of malice directed at these agencies? That is, do you believe that people who work for such places might be stalked by unstable clients, and is it likely that one of them murdered Tanesha Williams?"
"Oh, it's certainly a possibility."
Edison's throbbing head hammered the point home good and loud as he struggled up the stairs to the Williams apartment. The paper wasn't lying about her living in a squalid area. Figured it'd have to be on the top floor. No elevator, either. His luck held steady.
Fortunately the place was quiet, as the evidence gathering had ended more than sixty hours ago. Where were the children living now? Probably with a grandparent. Edison waited for the landlord to unlock the door and then stepped cautiously into the room, creeped out by the knowledge of what had happened there. As the landlord returned to his own apartment, Edison wished there was someone here with him. Thank God he didn't have to come here at night. Something putrid hung in the air, like the smell of raw chicken parts a few days after throwing them in the trash. For some reason it reminded him of the weird fetid odor that old things expel in museums. Only this is the Black Museum. Something important had happened here, but not the signing of a declaration or a famous person's birth. No, this was where an ordinary citizen became extraordinary by getting slain. Sad that these were her only 15 minutes of fame and she wasn't here to enjoy them.
This was what he hated most—knowing what had happened in a place, then having to comb it for clues. The only mercy was that he hadn't known this victim. Searching the plane wreckage for any sign of Dmytri had given him nightmares. Edison probed the apartment for items of interest, particularly any sign of a break-in. One of the singular riddles noted in the report was the point of exit, or lack thereof. The front door had been deadbolted from inside, none of the windows were jimmied, but somehow the perpetrator had gotten out of the apartment. Presumably the victim had invited him/her in and then locked the door. No evidence of sexual assault; no evidence of robbery, either. Must've been someone she knew. Old flame? Ex-husband? Whoever it was harbored some serious rage to cut her throat clear back to the spine.
Odd to seek evidence of death in a place abounding with reminders of life—scattered toys, unopened jars of peanut butter and marshmallow crème, school books and rumpled newspapers. "Mommy, when's dinner? I'm hungry!" Probably a soccer mom. Or a football mom. Sorry, kid; no supper tonight.
At least the apartment had air conditioning, which was more than Edison could say for his own place. Sure wish someone else was here, though. Kinda spooky casing this all by myself. What would Dunstan say if he found out Edison was afraid to work a crime scene alone? Must know it already. My dad came to the job interview. Who brings a parent to an interview except the world's biggest wuss?
But like so much in his life back then, Edison hadn't had a choice.
Wasn't my idea. I wouldn't invite Pop to my funeral.
No, the old man had insisted on coming against Edison's wishes. Didn't want his worthless son to mess things up. It had worked; Edison got the job—a position he was ill-suited for. Hadn't deserved it, and it was unlikely he'd ever rise in rank. A tec trainee for life. No promotions, and he'd never make more than $25k a year. Still, it beat patrolling. Anything was better than handling traffic accidents.
Blood on the carpet. That's what smells.
If only Dmytri were here. Dmytri would never be afraid of an apartment, even if someone had died there. "Let's take it one step at a time," he'd say, "Scientifically. By the book. What does the book say to do first, Edison?"
The book? Um...um...
"Take it easy, Edison. This isn't the Green River killer, and you're one of the smartest people I know. My brother wouldn't hang out with an idiot."
"You can solve any crime if you're given enough room to think."
Okay, he could do this. For Dmytri.
"You just need to take it one step at a time. Relax and think it through logically, wherever the evidence leads."
And Misha. Couldn't let Misha know his faith in Edison was misplaced. All right, we'll take it from the beginning. The living room. Or the dying room.
Shoe prints covered the rug now; at least a dozen cops had trudged over this beat up old carpet. But what about when the first officer had entered the scene? The report didn't say. There was nothing more frustrating than the half-assed way the department handled crime scenes, but what could he do about that? They should've taken photos, but if they had, those images would either sit in the manila folder on Edison's desk or appear in the computer record of the case, or preferably both. If the killer turned out to be a celebrity, his dream team attorneys would likely use this as proof of inept police procedures. Dunstan would use it as justification that his department needed more money in the budget.
Within weeks or even days, the landlord would have this apartment emptied, scrubbed and re-let; the carpet and all the evidence would be gone. What if the landlord was the murderer? Someone should have interrogated him by now, but if they had there was nothing in the file indicating it. Edison needed to question him soon if only to clear him as a suspect. Whoever committed such a vicious act must have either known the victim or despised her type, whatever her type was. Was it her occupation? Race? Religion? Political party? Just because the media had determined the causam actio didn't mean they had it right.
The knife is an intimate weapon. Silent and stealthy, but forces an assailant to get up close and personal.
Time to get organized. The department required him to carry a digital voice recorder, but he hated speaking out loud, and it spent most of its life in his pocket. Instead, he whipped out a notepad and jotted down some objectives:
■ he needed the forensic reports
■ he needed to speak to everyone Tanesha knew well: her kids, her parents, her friends, her coworkers
■ he needed to interview her neighbors and landlord to see if they saw or heard anything
■ he needed to find out her schedule, and who knew it
■ he needed to videotape the crime scene as he walked through it, but he didn't have a camera and Dunstan was notoriously difficult to talk to. Maybe Misha could lend him his smartphone?
■ he wanted still photos of the apartment, but for now he'd have to scribble some rough sketches of the scene.
■ he wanted to talk to the first officers on the scene and find out what changes had happened to the crime scene since their arrival, such as turning lights on and off, etc. Did the responding officer notice the smell of tobacco, alcohol, perfume or anything else?
■ he wanted to know whether any visual records were made of the exterior perimeter—specifically photographs or videos of spectators hanging around, as perpetrators often returned to the crime scene just to see what the police were up to
■ he needed to see if there were any messages on Tanesha's answering machine, and get it processed to determine whether any had been erased within the window of the murder
Edison padded over to the tape outline of the body, noting that the putrid smell wafting through the apartment radiated from here. The blood was now more than 72 hours old. But at least there's air conditioning. At my place it would stink even worse. He could remember back when summer didn't set in until June, but it'd hit 88° F—31° C—in March this year. Stupid global warming.
"Yo, gumshoe." Gabe Raulerson burst into the room, and Edison all but jumped out of his underwear.
"Yeah, glad to see me, I can tell. That'll teach you to stand with your back to the door. Now what have we got here?"
Grrrrrrrr. It was just an inquiry, a request for updates, but the way Gabe phrased it rankled him, and reminded Edison of his childhood—years spent performing on command like a trained chimp whenever his old man went on a power trip.
"What's seven times fifteen?"
"Huh? I d-don't have a calculator with m-me..."
"You don't need a damn calculator. Just work it out in your head."
"Because I said so, and while you're living under my roof you'll do as I say. Now what's seven times fifteen?"
Damn his memory. Why did he have to hold on to these things? And damn any god—if any existed—who'd torment humans by making their brains little more than repositories for trauma. Memory is the cruelest form of torture. Most of all, damn his father. The bastard. He and Gabe were two of a kind, weren't they?
"W-well, Raulerson, it seems to be—"
"Yeah, yeah. Crime passionnel. Heh."
"I didn't say that."
Raulerson walked around the apartment, giving the room a cursory examination, then returned to Edison. "Maybe a case of erotophonophilia interruptus. Heh. So what did Yates say about it?"
Huh...? Erophonic what? "Yates?"
Seriously, what the hell was that? He'd have to look it up when he got back to the office. Galling to think there were words Gabe knew that he didn't.
"Yeah. This case was originally assigned to him, you know. At least temporarily, until someone else had a free hand to take it. He's retiring. Did he leave any notes in the file?"
"Erm...no." Edison was fairly certain there was no note from Yates, but he could tell from Raulerson's smug yap that Gabe not only knew he was lying, but also knew this was the first he'd heard that Yates was leaving the department. So Yates was leaving, and his only friend in the office would be gone? Crud buckets.
Raulerson lowered himself to one knee to examine the blood in the carpet. "I'll talk to the landlord and round up the shirker sires. You go to Arrears and see what you can drag out of her co-workers. Maybe the culprit is someone she knows." He rose and headed for the door. "See ya, gumshoe."
"Uh, o-okay..." Yes, sir. Thank you for stopping by. I'll do my best, sir. So sorry I don't have the crime solved already. Will work on it immediately so you can take all the credit for my efforts, sir.
Raulerson opened the door, and Edison pretended to jot something down in his notebook as he hung back, both grateful the bastard was leaving and scared to be left here alone. Maybe he was being a little unfair. Gabe had never taken credit for his work before.
"And Álvarez, try not to screw up. Just go by the book, and report to me as soon as you find anything."
Raulerson departed, somehow leaving his superior aura lingering behind, and Edison loitered in the living room to give him time to start his car and drive off.
How am I ever going to work with this conceited dick? Even if I solved the crime entirely myself and Gabe assured Dunstan I was the hero, the chief would still think it was all Raulerson's doing. Grrrrrr. Edison was working without any reward other than his measly paycheck. "Am I a bad person? I ought to be glad to get a killer off the street so no one else is slain. Why can't I just be happy with that?"
The only response was the stillness of an empty home filled with abandoned toys.
He wasn't much of a tec, but he hadn't been much of a cop, either. A defective detective. Damn his old man and his egotistic need for his children to vindicate his life choices. Edison had the right to take his own road, wherever that led. His father thought otherwise.
"Toughen him up, that's what he needs. Maybe boot camp would help him grow a pair. He should stand in my shoes for a day. Then he'd know what a real man is."
Héctor had enrolled him in the university during Edison's junior year of high school, and informed him over dinner one night that he was going to attend the police academy.
"You can't wait until the last minute; they only have so many available spaces each year. That's why so many students get rejected. Not because of their grades."
Edison didn't know what he wanted to do after high school, yet his future was all decided.
"B-but Pop, I don't think I'd like—"
"Never mind what you'd like. While you're living under my roof, you'll do what I say. You've never had a job; you don't have any money for college. You expect me to pay for it while you pursue some sissy art degree? Or maybe you'd like to major in knitting and sewing? Perhaps homemaking or basket weaving? Fuck that. No son of mine is gonna be a wuss. While I'm paying for it, you'll do what a real man does."
Except Héctor didn't pay for it. He filled out applications for student loans, scholarships, fellowships, federal grants and anything else he could think of to get someone else to foot the bill. Edison got a financial aid package that put 90% of the burden on him. Héctor contributed a pittance but made all the decisions.
His father was right; Edison did need to grow a pair and tell his old man to stick it, but he hadn't the guts. He eventually got his degree in criminal investigation and started working for the Fullsatt Gestapo.
It wasn't all bad. He liked puzzles, and deducing who'd committed a crime engaged him. And it felt heroic to rid the town of criminals, if only in theory.
The downside was the people he worked with, particularly Dunstan and Raulerson. On the other hand there was Yates, whom he'd consider a friend if it were possible to allow office colleagues into his personal universe, but Edison preferred to compartmentalize his relationships. If he hung out with Yates at home, how could he ever deal with it if Bob and Misha became best friends?
Most of his co-workers were the kind he'd rather avoid in or out of the office, especially Raulerson and the boss. The chief had never liked him, but Gabe hadn't hated him until the Baker incident.
According to his neighbors, Colton Baker beat his wife Beth at least once a week, and severely enough on one occasion to send her to the ER. For some reason, however, she wouldn't divorce him or even press charges. The only time she went to the police was the night she died, but to her horror she discovered the district office had closed at 6:00 pm, and she banged on their front door in vain. Colton, who'd chased her from their trailer park to the nearby station, beat her some more and then blew out her brains with a shotgun, all of which was captured on surveillance camera.
In those days, both Gabe and Edison worked in the district office, and by chance both arrived at the station roughly the same time the next morning. Dmytri drove Edison to the front entrance, then remarked, "Is that a homeless person over there? What a place to sleep—in front of a police station!" Edison climbed out of the car and tried to wake the homeless person, then threw up after sighting the exploded skull. This person wasn't sleeping; this person was dead. Long dead, at least several hours dead. It just figured Gabe would arrive at that moment to point and laugh at him.
"Heh, got the vapors? Maybe you should go lie down," he'd suggested. "In the ladies' room."
What a card. Sure, Gabe had never been weak. Gabe had never been wrong. Gabe had never had doubts or felt out of his depth, or buckled under stress and pressure. Gabe had always been perfect. The only flawed officer on the force was Edison. What was he still doing there?
There's nowhere else to go.
Would there ever be anything to show for his life when it was all said and done? Edison tried to recall a single thing he'd accomplished after all the hours chained to his desk. Oh yes, there was something. His need for $90 liquor and a good therapist. There was his stutter, his fear and his paranoia. There was his sweltering apartment, his frayed nerves, broken spirit and apathy for life. There was his loneliness and his desolation.
The only positive in his life had been Dymtri's friendship, and that was gone now.
Why Edison obsessed about this as he left Tanesha's apartment he didn't know, but one phrase stuck in his mind like a mantra: My god, I have nothing left. Nothing. I have nothing, and I am nothing.
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