Edition 5: CSS by Warren Goodwin
Detective Pol Broadleaf is stuck with the baffling case of a slippery serial killer. When the murderer is as skillful as a chameleon, Pol cannot get a grip on him. The danger is closer to home than Pol knows, and he may already be too late. Set on a space station, Warren Goodwin’s story is gritty and gives us all idea of what it means to work a tough beat. We look forward to seeing more of Warren’s work, as his debut novel is slated for publication in winter 2012/3. SY
Detective Pol Broadleaf stepped through the holographic police barrier and nodded at the patrolman on the other side. The young officer started to say something, then changed his mind. Probably ‘good morning’, which it decidedly is not. Especially for the vic. The door to C-8-14 was open and a female patrol officer stood there. Good. The forensics team hasn’t arrived. Better yet, neither has the press.
“Detective.” The woman was shaken, but only another cop would spot it. “It’s messy.”
“Who found the body?”
“Neighbor. He works the same shift, and noticed the open door.”
Pol nodded as he sprayed his hands with InstaGloves and stepped into the main room. He’d seen some brutal homicides when he was a dirt-side cop in the city of New Anjoda, but this was the worst ever. Blood spatter covered the walls, and a crimson pool surrounded the body. The woman on the floor had been beaten and slashed so badly that she was unrecognizable. Coffee-colored skin identified her ethnicity as Alarfan, but that was about all Pol could tell. “Who was she?”
“Unit was rented to a Verena Gaion, twenty-one, a cargo handler in Dock Six.”
Pol plucked his handheld from a side pocket and keyed it on. “Search: Gaion, Verena.” A holographic image appeared of an attractive woman with very white teeth: her Station ID. A pleasant synthetic voice came from his handheld that informed him of her address, age and lack of a criminal record. She was employed by Xing Transport, which held the lease on Docks Four through Seven.
“Coral Station, D-Ring, Corridor 16, Unit 16; until two point seven standard years ago.”
Wonderful. She was a local, born and raised here on the Station. That means… “Relatives?”
“Mother, Tareen Gaion, forty-four, D-16-16, employed by Flower Legal Services at A-2-3.”
“Sublawyer.” Mom’s a sublawyer for an A-Ring firm and daughter’s a cargo handler? Pol would ask after he informed the woman of her loss. He hated this kind of visit and the fact that he had to question the bereaved.
The forensic team arrived and politely asked him to leave. They would inform him of their findings A.S.A.P. and call. Pol scratched off his InstaGloves as he passed back through the opaque holobarrier. He came face to face with two reporters, one from each of the news agencies that serviced Coral Station.
“There’s been a homicide,” Pol said flatly. “There will be no details until I’ve spoken to the vic’s relatives. Be in my office in two hours, and I’ll have a briefing ready. Deal?”
They both nodded. Pol was quick to slap interference fines on reporters who tried to get the story out before he was ready. He’d even jailed one aggressive newsman last year. They stayed on scene to get footage of the bodytube, but neither would dare release that footage without Pol’s say-so. The cop snorted and headed for the central shaft. He believed firmly in freedom of the press, but he also believed in press restraint.
The visit with the victim’s mother was as painful as he’d expected. The elder Gaion was nearly inconsolable. Pol learned that the victim insisted on paying her own way, and that included her education. She had completed fifty creds toward a degree in nanotech engineering. The victim had no boyfriend, and her last relationship had ended amicably when the young man entered the military. He’d left the station three standard months ago. The victim spent her off-time at a trendy B-Ring club with several friends. Pol now had a list of people to question. Only twenty-one: Such a waste!
He stopped to get coffee and a doughnut on his way back to the office. And damn all the jokes about cops and doughnuts! I didn’t eat yet today. He just made it through the door to his cramped and messy office when his handheld beeped at him.
A holoimage of the forensic team leader appeared. “T.O.D. was five A.M.,” she said without preamble, “after several hours of sexual assault and the worst beating I’ve ever seen. Killer had a lot of rage: Six ribs broken, cheekbone, right ulna and radius, nose, jaw and he knocked out five teeth. Didn’t start playing with knives until an hour before death. We have the weapons: paring knife and a bread knife taken from the vic’s kitchen. No DNA evidence. Perp was careful about leaving no clues other than what he wanted us to see. Pretty sure we’ll have more of these: all the marks of a serial.”
“OK, thanks—” and Pol was talking to empty air. She’d clicked off right after he’d said ‘OK’. He brushed powdered sugar from his chin and called up surveillance records for C-18. At 02:43 the vic and a male entered Unit 14. Next he called up the images of all the men from the mother’s list of known friends. This guy was new.
“ID male with Verena Gaion.”
“No match found.” Not a resident, then. Pol sighed. Why won’t the damn thing–“Match to visitors on-station.”
“No match found.”
“OK, cross reference all males on-station of this height and weight or less.”
“Three thousand eight hundred seven residents of adult size, forty-eight percent of whom are male.” And there were over three hundred visitors that matched the criteria.
Pol looked up to see the two reporters from the crime scene and sighed. Just when I get started…“Come on in, gentlemen.”
It wasn’t as unproductive as he’d feared. After he’d given the press what he had, they gave him more info on the victim’s last night. She’d been at her favorite club with friends and met an interesting stranger. She’d left with him, and the friends were sure it would lead to a new relationship. None of the friends had any significant details about the guy, other than a description. They had kept their distance out of respect for the privacy of the moment. He was an Alarfan man, young, fit and well-dressed, with a slight accent. The description matched the footage Pol had. An accent could be faked, but he would focus his investigation on visitors. He called the Station Overseer to request a lockdown of all ships in dock.
“Forty-eight hours max, Detective.” Overseer Arficus wore that expression that would not take discord. “Every hour I hold them, they lose money. They lose money, the Station loses money.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Pol had a greasy sandwich and flat beer in an F-Ring dive before calling it a day. The story of the murder was on the fuzzy holodisplay over the bar. It was depressing. He slumped back to his dingy Unit on E-Ring and collapsed on the bed. His handheld beeped just after 04:00. He fumbled it up from the floor and bleared at the image.
It was Detective Zhou Fin, who worked overnight. “Sorry, Pol. Patrol got a loud music complaint and called me when they found the resident. I’m in B-10-04. Same MO as your vic yesterday.”
Cursing sulfurously, Pol dressed quickly and jammed a three day old half cup of coffee in the InstaPrep. He didn’t bother to shave and took the disposable cup with him. Pol took one of the zero-grav quicktubes up to B-Ring and was at the scene within ten minutes. He nodded at the reporters as he went by them. They would know by his presence at this hour that there was a connection between the two murders.
Zhou met him at the door. “Samana Delfor, twenty-nine. She was an emerdoc.”
Pol winced. “I know her.” She’d fixed a broken leg for him his second day on-Station, after he’d fallen trying to make his way from the Central Shaft to one of the Rings. Landmass gravity generators made ‘down’ whatever direction was convenient, and the Shaft was ninety degrees off from the Rings. Planet-born, Pol was used to ‘down’ being only in one possible direction. He stepped in. Dr Delfor was no longer recognizable as the abrupt woman with an unexpectedly sweet smile.
This time, surveillance showed a man of average height and build of Encasteran descent: red haired and pale skinned. Zhou had all the info Pol did. “A master of disguise.”
“Yeah, and there won’t be any DNA here, either. Weps?”
“Breadknife and a paring knife.”
“What’s he gonna do when his next vic doesn’t cook for herself?”
“Let’s hope we don’t find out.”
Pol stepped out to brief the reporters.
The next night, there was another victim. A newsman dubbed it the work of the ‘Coral Station Slasher’, and they all ran with it. The press feeding frenzy irritated Pol, but women under thirty stopped going anywhere alone and no one brought home strange men of any description.
It didn’t matter. Surveillance from before the next murder showed a strange woman with the vic. Pol marveled at the skill of the perp. Pelvic to shoulder width ratio was correct—even the gait was decidedly feminine.
Coral Station went into panic mode. The Overseer put them under Quarantine: no ships in or out. Shippers screamed, importers closed their doors, and exporters couldn’t get their products from the planet below, nor ship out what was stored. The value of Station bonds plummeted.
Five more nights, five more gruesome homicides. Somehow the Slasher got into Units at will. There was no evidence of forced entry or hacked access codes. Every victim was found due to a noise complaint or door left open.
The scumbag’s playing games, Pol thought, as he entered his home corridor the next night. The only classic serial killer move he’s missed is a letter or vid to a news agency taunting the police for not catching him yet. But then, who knew what would be in the morning report?
Trina’s cat sat patiently outside her door.
Pol’s cop instincts went to full alert. Trina lived across the corridor alone. She was twenty-seven. Her cat never left the unit. He had her access code—they were both lonely and single. Sometimes they spent the night together. Pol hit the panic button on his handheld and drew his weapon. He’d seen too many holovids where the hero charged in immediately and got trapped because he failed to wait for back-up. Every cop on the Ring or either of the nearest Rings was required to respond to the panic button.
E-Ring was a low-rent area, so there was more security in proximity. Soon there were a half dozen patrol officers and a sub-detective on scene. Pol motioned them to silence as they arrived and sent text instructions. Once they’d acknowledged, he keyed the door open normally.
“Welcome, Broadleaf,” a cultured voice said. “I wanted you to see that you can’t even protect your neighbors.” A canister of soporific gas popped off and the door closed, uncommanded. A cloud of mist filled the room, and Pol fell to the floor. Trina lay naked and unconscious just a meter away. She’d been beaten, but not as severely as the others. The bastard hadn’t started with the knives yet. Pol looked up through the cloud, moving only his eyes. A mirror image of himself, complete with stubble, stood over Trina. The double wore no pants and was very aroused. The voice continued in that oh-so-superior tone: “When you wake up, I’ll have completed my work, and surveillance will show that only you have entered this place.”
Dumbass. Surv will show me entering twice, without leaving in between, Pol thought.
The killer reached for Pol’s weapon.
But Pol had known that gas was the best way for the perp to take down an armed and suspicious cop without putting himself at risk or making noise. That’s why he was wearing his nearly invisible riot mask. He almost didn’t have to aim to hit the son of a bitch, center of mass. The killer went down, twitching and convulsing.
The door slid open and a neutragas can flew in, followed by all the other cops in full riot gear, but there was nothing left for them to do.
Pol moved to Trina and began to assess her injuries. She was going to be OK. The killer stopped twitching and lost consciousness. His body fuzzed out and became a small naked man with a weak chin and receding hairline. The patrolmen took charge of him, and Pol went with Trina to the MedClin.
“I knew it wasn’t you,” Trina said when she awoke. “Didn’t talk like you and he reached for me with his right hand.” Pol was left-handed.
He gently caressed the unbruised cheek and kissed her on the forehead. “Rest now. We can talk again later. I’m not moving from this chair until you wake up again. Deal?”
She tried to smile, but that put new tension on the bruises. “Thanks,” she whispered.
Pol’s handheld beeped. It was the forensic chief.
“Perp has a holoprojector chip implanted directly in his brain. Projects over his body—that’s how he managed the disguises. We downloaded the records and came up with the images of all the suspects. Not only that, the bastard has a visual recall chip, so he can replay his ‘games’. Downloaded those records and we have every single vic.” She looked away, briefly. “Wish I’d never seen them.” She turned her attention back and brightened noticeably. “This’ll be a speared fish!”
“Thanks,” Pol said to empty air. ‘Speared fish’ was cop slang for an ironclad case. There would be no appeal possible. The handheld beeped again.
“Fine work, Detective!” The Overseer was delighted enough to actually smile. “Turns out this…animal was an undocumented guest of Xing Transport’s local operations chief. I’ve ordered his arrest as an accomplice. Once he’s in custody, I can lift Quarantine. Would you like a promotion, a medal or a long vacation at Station expense?”
“Just doing my job, sir. But a vacation sounds nice.”
The Overseer smiled again. “I was yanking on your air hose about your choices: you’re actually getting all three. Ceremony is tomorrow at 09:30. Once again, fine work.”
Pol was dazed. He’d only found the Slasher by accident. No, that wasn’t true: The Slasher meant to pin the crime on him. Still…
“Trina, how’d you like to see real snow?”
The battered woman squeezed his hand. “Deal.”
Warren has assembled crab traps, been a short-order cook, driven forklift, taxi and limo, worked retail, landscaping and auto detailing. He’s been a sailor and a soldier. Warren has lived in Korea, the middle east and all over the US. He was educated at Rutgers, but makes his living as an aircraft mechanic. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His novel ‘The Buxacan Spicerunner’, a pirate fantasy, is coming soon from IFWG Publishing.