Paul didn’t need to walk into the room to know what his reception was going to be. The police hated him, because they believed he had links to the criminal underworld, and the criminal underworld mostly hated him, because they knew he had links to the cops and other crime agencies. It was something he’d lived with for a long time. He knew how to do his job well, so he wasn’t going to walk away from it. Not even when he was being glared at by two detectives, who viewed him as little more than an insect they’d like to crush under their shoe. “Good evening, gentlemen.” He studied the two of them, almost amused by how easy it was for him to annoy them more by speaking. “I’m sorry to have crashed your party, but Sir Eddington wants me to look into the murder of his precious daughter and I’m not going to say no to the money he’s willing to pay me.”
“Do you really think you’re going to find the murderer?” The detective was bald and seemed to be trying to not appear annoyed, which wasn’t working anywhere near as well as he probably hoped it was. “We’ve been working on this case for weeks now and haven’t found anything useful.”
“I have a different way of looking at things, so I might be able to uncover something you’ve missed.” Paul shrugged. “I might also find myself trapped in the same position you are. It really does all depend on luck a lot of the time. Either you find the clues you need or you don’t.”
“Would you like me to walk you around the crime scene?”
Even though it had been phrased as a question Paul knew he couldn’t say no. “I’d appreciate that, thank you, Detective…?”
“Callaghan, Jacob Callaghan.” He held a hand out for Paul to shake. “My partner is Phil Reynolds.”
“I believe we’ve met before, Detective Reynolds.” He didn’t hold a hand out or smile. “You remember me.”
“How could anyone forget you, Mr. Renfield?”
Obviously Paul had done something to annoy Detective Reynolds at some point, which really wasn’t a surprise. Paul was pretty certain he’d annoyed all the cops in the city, apart from, it seemed, Detective Callaghan. “Shall we get this over and done with as quickly as possible? I don’t want to be here and it’s obvious neither of you want me here either.”
“Finding out Sir Eddington had called you before we’d even started our investigation was a little irritating.”
“He knows about the other four murders and believes his daughter’s is connected, so, as you haven’t yet caught the killer, he made the decision he wanted someone else to look into the case.”
Nodding, Detective Callaghan walked slowly through the crime scene, with Paul just behind him. “I can understand that. If this was my daughter, I think I would have got someone else involved too. Why did he choose you, though?”
“I have no idea. Maybe he’s heard about me.” Paul hadn’t stopped to ask the question. He heard how much he’d be paid and accepted the job straight away. “Maybe he simply searched for private detectives. My name is one of the first that comes up.”
They finished the walk around the crime scene in silence. “Are you willing to tell me if there are any links between the crimes?”
“Sorry, Mr. Renfield, but giving out information on an ongoing investigation isn’t something I’m willing to do, even though I know you’ve been hired to look into this case.” Detective Callaghan smiled. “You can call the Chief, if you wish, and see if he’ll give you anything more, but I really doubt that will happen.”
“I understand.” It wasn’t like Paul hadn’t hacked into their servers before. “In that case I wish you luck, Detectives.”
As he walked off he felt their eyes on him, as though they wanted to make sure he was really gone before they started talking, and it was something he found more amusing than anything. There was a time when he’d be uncomfortable in that sort of situation, because he knew Jacob Callaghan’s politeness was fake. The longer he worked as a private detective the easier it was for him to deal with people who hated him.
Going to his favorite bar was always the next step for Paul. The Dripping Dagger almost felt like a second home. No chance any of the police would be there and no one would bother him as he started putting together his plans for the investigation. When he sat down he didn’t even need to ask for a drink. It was nice, because he knew he was welcome. As he sipped it, he started building a digital replica of the crime scene using the information he’d taken with the recorder he always used, much like the one he was certain one of the detectives had. However his was better, because he could check the smallest details, so he spent some time hunting to see if there was anything he might be able to use.
A couple of times Paul had managed to find tiny pieces of evidence. This time there was nothing, but, if the reports he’d borrowed were correct that wasn’t a surprise. The killer, so far, hadn’t left much forensic evidence behind at all, and they seemed to be using the same knife for each killing. He looked back at the symbol on the wall. The detectives thought it was an arrow. He was certain they were wrong. Instead he was actually staring at a shovel, a design taken from the Mesopotamian era. As he looked into it in more depth he found it was the symbol of the god of magic and judgment Marduk. It was an interesting connection, one that could lead Paul in a number of directions, and he found himself looking into the god, wanting to learn as much as possible. When he finished his first drink another one was placed in front of him. He sipped it slowly, trying to work out who might have used that symbol.
The other clue was the androids. Of course the police hadn’t noticed how lost the androids seemed. They were programmed to know exactly what they were doing at all times, so the fact they didn’t meant something had been done to them. Paul flicked back to the reports, abandoning Marduk for a moment. All the androids at all the murders had been affected by something. He grabbed some peanuts out of the bowl in front of him. It was possible they’d been sitting there for a week, but that didn’t bother him. The beer would destroy anything that might make him sick. According to the report from Amy Leland’s murder they’d all had their memories wiped and it seemed like it had to have been done to them all at the same time.
However, as far as he could tell, there was no connection between the five murders. It was easy for Paul to understand why the detectives had started looking into the families, because that did seem like the only option remaining, although it was also possible someone else might be using the symbol for Marduk. Maybe to show they were judging the young women for the choices they’d made. It seemed unlikely, but something worth looking into because the police hadn’t, and they wouldn’t unless they realized they weren’t looking at an arrow - and he didn’t think that was likely. Once the police made their decision they often stuck with it, believing one thing for far longer than they should. Private detectives were far more open minded. Sighing, he nibbled his lip. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to do everything alone. The one person he could call was someone he didn’t want to talk to and he focused instead on going through everything the detectives had.
One of the things Paul liked most about himself was the way he didn’t leave any stone unturned. That was why he’d become a private detective in the first place. Slowly the job had changed him into someone he never thought he’d become. Instead of taking on the jobs he thought needed justice the most, he took on the ones that paid the most, because he needed to earn a living more than he needed to right wrongs. He wasn’t a superhero. Sometimes he wished he was. At least then maybe everything wouldn’t be quite so difficult, although he doubted it, as he’d still have to deal with idiots like the police - idiots who viewed him with suspicion because of little more than rumors.
Did he work with the criminal element in the city? Paul sometimes did, if he thought they had information he might need, but that didn’t make him anything other the an opportunist. Occasionally they’d give him information in return for him helping them out in the future. He did what he had to do. It was as simple as that. Did that make him a bad person? Maybe to them it did. He didn’t think he was a bad person. He’d put too many people in prison to be a bad person and that was what he was going to do whoever hurt those girls. Slowly he went through the recordings of each of the crime scenes, putting off the moment when he was going to have to make the call, even though it would probably be much better to just get it over and done with.
Jessica Callaghan was the first young woman to lose her life. Paul shook his head. If he’d been called in there might not have been any other girls. If they’d trusted him for five minutes, instead of assuming he was one of the bad guys, there was a chance it would all be sorted out. Instead Sydney Eddington was another victim, the same way Amy Leland, Naomi Grey, and Lisa O’Connor had been. Five lives lost. There was going to be another victim if he didn’t find out who it was committing the murders… or if he didn’t work out who it might be next. If he did… he glanced at his phone again. He needed to make the call. Putting it off meant he was putting another young woman in danger of being the next victim.
Biting hard on his lip Paul picked it up. He still remembered the number. There was no chance of him being able to forget it. For a long time the phone rang and he was certain he wasn’t going to get an answer. Maybe she recognized his number and didn’t want to talk to him. It wouldn’t be a surprise. All that meant was he needed to be patient. Eventually she’d realize the call was important and she’d answer it, even if she didn't want to. He knew he was lucky she’d never believed in voice mail, otherwise he’d be leaving a message in the hope she’d get back to him, knowing she probably wouldn’t, which would leave him in a difficult position - he needed her. He wasn’t going to be able to solve the case alone and all he could do was hope that he could convince her he really needed her help.
“I was hoping you’d give up.”
Paul smiled. “I thought you were. I need your help with a case.”
“Listen to me before you make a decision. I…” He tried to work out the best way of wording what he wanted to say, because he knew he needed to get things right. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent murders.” Of course she had. She made certain to know about everything. “The father of the most recent victim, who you may not know about, has asked me to look into the case. I couldn’t say no. Not when…” He shook his head. “It’s bad, Sarah. This is… there are a number of things I’m seeing that make me uncomfortable and I can’t help thinking this is the beginning of something much bigger.”
“Start at the beginning. Tell me what you know.”
“Five young women have been murdered. Their families all have a lot of money, so they’re the sort of people it would be easier to imagine being kidnapped, but they aren’t. When the police went over the scenes they couldn’t find any forensic evidence at all and the murder weapon hasn’t been found, which makes me think the murderer still has it. There was one thing that really caught my attention and that’s a symbol the police think is an arrow. It’s not. It’s a Mesopotamian shovel, connected with Marduk, the god of judgment and magic. I believe, in these cases, we’re looking more at judgment than magic, but I know better than to limit my investigation so soon. The other thing I noticed when I was at the latest crime scene was the androids. They were acting weird.”
“Weird? How were they acting weird?”
“They were lost. They didn’t have any idea what they were meant to be doing. Whenever I’ve been in a place with androids they’re always so certain of what they’re doing. These ones just look lost.” Paul shook his head. “It’s so hard to describe, but I think it happened to all the androids. At Amy Leland’s murder all the androids had their memory wiped. The security guard didn’t think whoever it was would have time to do that, so it must have happened in less than a second.”
Sarah was silent for a long time. “You’re as certain as you can be this was the problem?”
“I have the case files right in front of me and access to any updates.” Paul glanced down at them. “I need to go through them all in detail to see if the same thing happened at all the scenes, but I believe it must have. Androids are a criminal’s greatest worry. If they get seen… and in places like those they’re all over the place.”
“Yeah, they are.” Sarah sighed. “You’re probably looking at a localized EMP. It’s not going to be something one of the small fry will own, so you’re definitely looking at someone who has higher access.” He could imagine what she was doing. “You said you want my help?”
“I think I am going to need some help with all dealing with all this data. I know the answers are either in these case files or located somewhere on the servers of their parents companies.” He looked down at the case files again. “Five young women who had their whole lives in front of them have been murdered and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
“When did you decide you cared?”
“This may come as a surprise to you, Sarah, but I’ve always cared.” He shook his head. “I just make it seem like I don’t because everything’s easier that way.”
“Easier?” She laughed. “Yeah, whatever. I don’t believe you, Paul.”
“No, you wouldn’t, but that’s not important. I need to know if you’re willing to help me with this. If you’re not I need to work out some other way of getting to the bottom of all this.”
“Don’t think this is going to happen again, Paul. The only reason I’m helping is that localized EMP. I don’t want anyone out there with one of them, because who knows what else they might plan to do with it.”
“I never doubted that for a minute.” He bit his lip. “We need to get to work on this as soon as possible. Can I bring the case files to you tonight?”
“Meet me at Orpheus Station. I’m going to be heading home in about twenty minutes.”
“You shouldn’t still be working.”
“We’re long over, I know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still worry about you.” He shook his head. “You…”
“I’m not getting into this. I will meet you to discuss the case and for no other reason. I don’t care how you feel about me. I’ve moved on, the same way you should, so please drop it.”
“Dropped.” He did his best not to notice how the nails of his free hand were digging into his palm. Paul had never been good with his emotions, and probably never would be, especially when it came to Sarah. “I’ll see you at the Orpheus Station in about an hour.”
“Don’t be late. I’m not going to wait around for you.”
“I won’t be.”
She hung up on him and Paul gestured for another drink. If he was going to be meeting Sarah he at least needed to be able to pretend he was feeling calm. One more drink would hopefully help, because the last thing he needed was to show her how much he did still care. She’d found someone else, someone who was a far better partner than he would ever be, and he was going to do his best to be happy for her. After everything the two of them had been through she deserved some happiness. As he sipped his beer he read through all the case files, so he could be certain the androids had all been EMPed. It would mean he’d have something to talk with her about.
Of course she was late. Paul stared at yet another skybus leaving the station without her on it and wondered if she’d stood him up. Anything was possible. He thought about calling her again, even though he knew it wasn’t going to do any good. If she hadn’t left the office, thanks to something coming up, she wasn’t going to be pleased with him ‘nagging’ her. Sighing, he shook his head. Maybe he should leave. As Sarah had threatened to leave if he wasn’t on time it would make more sense than sitting here, but he needed her more than she’d ever needed him, and that was why he was still there, still waiting, still wishing for another drink. Eventually she would turn up. He knew that. She’d be there… eventually.
That was part of the reason they’d split up in the first place. As much as he loved her it was hard to be with someone who was married to their work. Paul looked back at the research he was doing, ready to wait another fifteen minutes for the next skybus. Waiting was never something he’d been particularly good at, but having work to do made it much easier, even though it would have been better if he was able to talk with Sarah about how they were going to find out who the next victim was going to be. He was certain the connection was the families. It just wasn’t for the reason the police thought it was - although they had at least done a lot of the hard work for him. He looked through the finances of the company belonging to Morgan Leland, he could see where someone had highlighted different amounts going in, and out, to see whether those people had anything to do with what happened.
Paul was tempted to call someone to let them know about the arrow they’d been completely ignoring, but he didn’t think it would help. They’d just dismiss him. Obviously he wouldn’t be doing anything to help their investigation. He shook his head. Maybe they’d work it out. Maybe they wouldn’t. In the end it was up to them what they looked into and what they didn’t. As he turned his attention back to the finances he did notice a couple of names that were the same between the companies, so they were going to be people the police would be investigating, and he added their names to a list he was creating. He didn’t think they had anything to do with it, but, as he said to Sarah, he knew better than to put any limits on his investigation until he was certain the path he was going down was the right one. Being wrong wasn’t impossible. It was more likely than he wanted it to admit and he had been wrong before.
Employees with a grudge was something else the police were looking into. Paul smiled. They were doing a thorough job. It really did make his job so much easier. As they were tracing down these leads he wouldn't have to do it. Instead he could watch them doing it, find out what they found out, while he found the person who had killed those young women. He brought their pictures up again. If he was the sort of person he had been when he was younger he might have found himself haunted by them. Time had changed him in ways he wasn’t certain he liked, but there was nothing he could do about that. It was simply the way life was.
He glanced over at where the skybus would be coming from. There was no sign of it. Paul sighed. He’d wait until the next one arrived and then he’d go home. It would be much easier to work there than it was here at the station. He’d call her when he got in. Sarah didn't yet understand the real danger these murders represented. She hadn’t been to one of the crime scenes, seen one of the lives snuffed out far too early, and he knew it was going to be for no good reason. He shook his head. None of the women had a chance to try to protect themselves and he hated that more than anything.
Finally he heard the sound of the skybus coming closer. When Sarah finally stepped off the skybus, pushing her glasses up her nose, he couldn’t help smiling. Even though he didn’t want her to be, she was still as beautiful as she had been when the two of them were together. She wouldn’t listen to him when he said that about her. She wouldn’t believe she was beautiful, or that he was in love with her, or that the two of them could make things work out, if they put some effort into it together.