4168 words (16 minute read)

Prologue

Jacob took a moment before he walked into the room. It's 2070, We can build a resort or a prison on an asteroid, but we can't fix human nature, he thought. Someone is killing the daughters of the biggest tech companies CEO's. It makes no sense. It was never easy dealing with the scene of a murder. Especially when it came to the murder of a young woman, someone who should have had her whole life ahead of her, Phil was already in there talking to the medical examiner when Jacob stepped through the door and the two of them shared a look. “Sorry to interrupt.” He looked around the room, taking everything in, doing his best to learn the crime scene before he walked it. The recorder he always wore was busy recording the scene, so he could have his hands free. “Is it Amy Leland?”

“Security says she came up here alone around about 7pm.” Phil glanced down at his notebook. “At 12am there was an emergency alarm and the security guard came straight up. He says no one else entered. Of course, there is a chance someone might have bribed him to say that. I’ve sent copies of all the security discs back for us to examine.”

“If the security guard was bribed the killer would have thought about the cameras.”

“The androids, as far as I can tell, have had their memories wiped too. I checked a couple of them before Dr. Meadows arrived and neither of them were of any use. I don’t doubt the others are in the same state. The E Geeks will still go over them, Hopefully they will have better luck.”

Nodding, Jacob brushed a hand through his hair. “The killer must have done that first, before killing Miss Leland, otherwise he wouldn’t have had time. How long did it take security to get up here?”

“About a minute, maybe a little more.” Phil shrugged. “It could all have happened at the same time.”

“Possible.” Jacob started slowly walking about the room, recording everything he walked past. “Right now the only thing I know is that we have a serial killer.” He stared at the symbol. “Doc, can you take a sample of the blood in that symbol? I think it’s going to be Miss Leland’s, but I have to double check.”

“How many now?”

“Four, I think. We’re going to have to go through the files of every single one of them and try to work out who’s killing these young women.”

Breathing deeply Phil nodded. “This is your first big case, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Are you willing to take some advice?”

“Sure.”

“Cases like this take time. They always have and they always will. You can’t force them to go at a different pace or you mess things up. Often we’ll find ourselves dealing with far more paperwork than either of us want, but that’s the way things are.”

“Thanks, Phil.” Jacob smiled.

“We will need to go over the old crime scenes and work out if there are any other similarities between them. Serial killers are methodical. They pay attention to all the details. But first we have to finish dealing with this scene. It looks like it’s clean, but there’s always a chance the killer might have left a print or dna somewhere. Finding that evidence could be the difference between us saving the next girl and her dying young, like Miss Leland here.”

“How often does that happen?”

Phil laughed, but there was a bitter edge to it. “Not as often as I would like. This city would be a much safer place if we managed to arrest all the criminals, but they’re far too clever for that.” He looked around the scene. “I'll give the Crime Scene team their directions when they get here. Why don’t you have another chat with the security guard? See if he noticed anything unusual in the days before the attack on Miss Leland.”

“You think he might tell me something he didn’t tell you?”

“You look scarier than I do, Jacob.”

“Thanks.” Jacob shook his head as he made his way down to security, knowing he did look scarier than Phil, but that didn’t mean the security guard would be able to tell him anything more. “I believe you’ve already spoken to my partner.” The guard nodded, looking wary. “He just wanted me to come and confirm the details you already told him. It’s the best thing for us to do.”

“Okay.” The guard said. “What do you want to know?”

Jacob pressed the button on his recorder. “What time did Miss Leland arrive?”

“7pm. I remember, because it was early. Normally she only came in that early if she was expecting visitors, but she didn’t say anything to me about them and no one entered through the front.”

“Is there any other way someone might have been able to get into the penthouse apartment without coming through the front?”

“Not within the building. The only thing I can think the killer might have used is a hover car, to get him to the window, and then she might well have let him in. Miss Leland had a lot of friends, not all of them the sort of people I was comfortable letting in. She’s the boss though. Was the boss.” He shook his head. “It’s hard to believe she’s really dead. I only saw her a little while ago and now she’s gone.”

“Unfortunately things like this happen far more often then you’d realize.”

“What time did you realize something was wrong?”

“Midnight. I heard Miss Leland's emergency alarm and I went straight up to the penthouse.”

“Could the killer have set off the alarm when they entered the penthouse?”

“No, this was the alarm that would only activate if the resident said a special code word notifying the penthouse computer that emergency help is needed.” The guard sighed. “This was one emergency alarm I wished never happened.”

***

Jacob stared down at the file in front of him. Every time he did that Amy Leland was there staring up at him, her body covered in stab wounds that had to have taken longer than the time it took for the security guard to get to the penthouse. Could the killer have known the code word and set off the alarm on purpose? How was that even possible? A hand rested on his shoulder and he knew it was going to be Phil. “You have to take a break. If you spend all your time working the case you’re going to lose it. I’ve seen it happen before, Jacob, and I don’t want it to happen to you.”

“I know, but this…”

“We’re talking to the profiler tomorrow. Hopefully she can give us some more information on who she thinks the killer is. For now the best thing you can do is go home and try to get some rest. Once you’ve had a good nights sleep things will hopefully seem different.”

Nodding, Jacob stood. He wasn’t planning on going to sleep, not when there was a serial killer out there who needed to be caught, but he could work just as well from there. He sent a copy of the case file to his home computer. He knew this was a mistake because he could feel the case already consuming him. It hadn’t stopped him. Finding the killer was the most important thing, preferably before someone else got involved, because all of the families had more than enough money to be able to hire a private detective. When that happened he knew he didn’t have a chance of bringing his first major case to a close. Private detectives don’t have to follow the same rules the Chicago police do. Especially if they don't get caught.

*

The pictures of four young women stared at Jacob. All of them seemed to be accusing him of not doing enough and he wanted to do more for them. He’d tried finding a connection between the four of them, but there wasn’t one, apart from their parents being rich and involved in some sort of technology business. It seemed to be the only link. Normally, though, they’d be kidnapped and ransomed off, not killed. Their deaths didn’t make any sense at all. Brushing a hand through his hair he told himself he should be following Phil’s advice and trying to get some sleep. Maybe he’d be able to sleep through the night without being woken by a nightmare where they were all screaming at him for not solving their murders yet.

Sighing, he dragged himself to his bedroom. Jacob needed to bring an end to it all as soon as possible, otherwise he was going to end up losing it. He’d seen it happen too - detectives getting too involved in their cases and not being able to let go, but he never thought he was going to be one of them. He thought he was going to be able to let go when he got home and he might have been able to if he hadn’t sent himself a copy of the case files to his home computer. As he got ready for bed he thought about them all again, but the one that really held him was Amy Leland. Her eyes… he should have solved it already, even though there wasn’t really anywhere to start. Mentally he looked through the files again.

No forensic evidence was left behind. There was no sign of the murder weapon. Jacob’s only clue was the arrow drawn in blood and that didn’t seem to be getting him anywhere. Shaking his head he climbed into bed, pulling the covers over him, doing his best to push away any thoughts on the case. He didn’t want to be thinking about it when he was about to go to sleep, as he was certain that was part of the reason he was having nightmares.

*

Sweat was trickling down his back. Jacob stared up at the ceiling. He was being haunted by Amy Leland and he knew it was his own fault. As he got out of bed he checked the time. 2am. He shook his head. When he found out who’d killed her he knew he was going to be able to sleep again, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Feeling like she was staring at him from a dark corner he turned the light on before trying to work out what he was going to do next. Maybe he needed to interview the parents again, to find out if there was any connection that way, even though he didn’t think it was going to do any good. When he first interviewed Morgan Leland he had no idea why anyone would have wanted to hurt his baby girl and talked about the possibility of it being one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends. Like a good detective he’d checked into all of them, only to find they all had alibis.

There was some other reason for their death. Jacob knew they weren’t taking drugs, but maybe there was something else the four of them were addicted to. He made his way to his home office, to the files, planning on going through them for the hundredth time, knowing it wasn’t going to do any good. There was something he was missing and he had no idea what it was, although he had a feeling it had something to do with the androids. What could wipe their memories so cleanly in such a short space of time?

***

Dr. Barbara Lewis looked between the two of them. Jacob tried not to show how much he disliked her looking at him the way she was, because he’d already been warned by Phil she was someone who thought all cops were incompetent. “After looking at the limited evidence we have the only connection I can find between the four young women is their families.” She glanced at Jacob. “You talked with Morgan Leland, did you not, Detective?”

“Yes, I did, and he pointed the finger at one of Amy’s boyfriends. I thought it was worth looking into, even though we had the arrow on the wall linking the four, as there was a chance one of the boyfriends had gone out with the other three girls.”

She glanced down at the pictures in front of her. “The frenzied stabbing could suggest someone angry, so that wasn’t a bad thing to check into.” She sounded surprised, but Jacob ignored that. “Every other option has led us to the same problem - there is no way to connect the four murders, except the symbol on the wall, which takes me back to it having something to do with the families. You seem to keep coming to the same conclusion, but you’ve done limited research on them.”

“We were waiting for someone, like you, to back us up, because investigating those sorts of families isn’t an easy thing to do. If we go back to the chief and tell him we have a profiler saying the most likely connection is the families we have a little more freedom.” Jacob smiled at her, knowing it wasn’t going to help. “Your word is something we need in order to dig deep enough to be able to work out who might be the murderer.”

Nodding, Dr. Lewis stood up. “Families in that sort of position are always suspicious of cops. They think you’re looking to pin something on them, even when you’re truly trying to find out what happened to their children.” She shrugged. “I’ll have the report to you by the end of the day. I just want to double check it and make sure you have the leeway you need, because those young women didn’t deserve to die this way.”

*

The chief walked over to the two of them. He didn’t look happy, but then it was very rare for him to look happy about anything. “Dr. Lewis’ report arrived. She believes the only thing we can do now is look into the families and see if we can find some connection that way.”

Jacob nodded. “We’ll be as gentle as we can, Chief, but we’re going to have to ask some questions they aren’t going to like very much.”

“I know. You’re a rookie when it comes to these sorts of cases. Talking to someone like Morgan Leland is easy enough when you’re asking him who he thinks might have killed his daughter, but it’s entirely different when you’re talking to him about issues he might have within his own company. It’s possible the person who’s been killed these young women is a disgruntled employee…”

Phil shook his head. “I wouldn’t have thought the employee would be able to go from one to the other like that. Surely those companies must have spoken to each other.”

“Yes, they would, but when it comes to talent it’s far too easy to see past the issues your competitor might have had with them and put them to work for you, at least until you realize they are going to be a problem for you as well.” The chief shrugged. “Make a list of possible options first and try to work out the best questions to ask. The last thing I need is for these families to complain you’re being less compassionate than you should be.”

*

Finding himself sitting opposite Morgan Leland again was something Jacob expected to happen, but it was still strange. “I’ve looked into all of your daughter’s ex-boyfriends, but they had alibis.”

“I was hoping finding Amy’s killer was going to be a simple thing. Your appearance tells me it’s been nowhere near as simple as I was hoping it would be.”

“Unfortunately not.” Jacob didn’t smile. “I’ve done everything I can to find who it might have been who killed your daughter and now I’m here to ask for permission to look more deeply into your company. We’re beginning to think the link is something to do with the four companies, although that’s not something we’re certain of.”

“Detective, if it helps you find who took the life of my beautiful Amy you can dig as deeply as you want. I can’t think of any reason someone might have targeted her. Personally I have a number of enemies and none I can think of who might have chosen to hurt Amy in order to get at me. I also don’t believe I have the same enemies as the other families involved, but there is a chance you might find some form of link, and it is impossible for me to watch over everyone and everything.”

Jacob scribbled that down. “Thank you, Mr. Leland. Having your help is invaluable.”

“I loved my daughter. I want her killer to be found and I want him to spend the rest of his life rotting in a cage.” Morgan Leland smiled. “I believe you will find him, eventually, Detective, and if I can be of any more help please let me know. I’ll do everything I can do get you the information you need and all my employees will be willing to talk with you about anything you may need to know.”

***

Jacob was beginning to find it impossible to read anything. He knew far more about the companies than he ever wanted to and every word he read seemed to blur into the next one. “Jacob, we have another murder.”

Unable to believe what he’d heard Jacob looked over at Phil. “Who is it?”

“Sydney Eddington.”

Nodding, Jacob stood, making sure he had everything he needed, and followed Phil out into the hallway. “Do we know anything about what happened?”

“When Sir Eddington couldn’t get hold of his daughter, after trying every possible way to contact her, he got someone to check on her. I don’t know how long she’s been dead, but Sir Eddington said it must have been five hours ago when he first tried to call her.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. She could have been ignoring him, because I don’t know many young women who’d want their father to spoil their fun when they’re in the middle of something, so we need to wait until we talk to the M.E. before we make any decisions about time of death.”

“I thought the same thing.” They got into the car together. “Don’t beat yourself up about this. She might not have anything to do with the other murders.”

Laughing, Jacob shook his head. “We both know she does. It’s far too much of a coincidence.”

“True.” Phil sighed. “Okay, we check out the crime scene and then we add Sir Eddington’s company to the ones we’re already looking into.” He started the car. “Have you found anything that might link the four we’ve already looked into together.”

“Not yet. When you told me about this I was looking into their financial records, seeing if they were paying the same person, but so far nothing. It seems like there isn’t a connection between them, even though I know there has to be. It’s not logical for five young women from families involved in technology to be murdered for different reasons when there’s that symbol connecting them all. As it’s not something that was in the news, it’s not possible for it to be a copy cat.” Jacob bit his lip. “I’m not certain adding another family to the mix is going to help at all.”

“Honestly it’s probably not, but this is what we have to do if we’re going to find who killed these young women. I can’t understand why anyone would.”

“Neither do I and we probably never will. Whoever it is has their own reasons and I’m certain their reasons aren’t going to be ones I understand.”

*

As they stepped into the crime scene, Jacob’s camera doing what it always did, he saw the one thing he didn’t want to see. The symbol that meant Sydney was another one of the serial killer’s victims. It meant they weren’t quick enough finding him, whoever he was, and he’d killed another young woman who had her whole life ahead of her. Fortunately, the medical examiner was already taking a sample of it, so they’d soon find out if it belonged to Sydney. Slowly he made his way around the scene, letting his recorder do its job, knowing already that there wasn’t going to be any useable forensic evidence - unless the killer was sloppy, which seemed unlikely as he hadn’t been before.

Phil’s communicator chimed and, to Jacob’s surprise, he answered it. “Yes, Chief.” Why was the Chief calling? Phil was silent for a long time, doing nothing more than nod, and Jacob was too far away to overhear what the chief was saying. “Okay, Chief, thank you for letting me know.”

Breathing deeply Phil looked over at Jacob and it was easy to see how angry he was. “Sir Eddington would like his private detective to have a look around the scene before we touch anything.”

“Why? We haven't even had a chance to start our investigation.”

Shrugging, Phil looked around the room. “Keep recording the scene. That’s pretty much all we can do for the moment and then we’ll finish up once the private detective’s done whatever it is he needs to do. Remember we have a head start and we are going to be able to bring the killer to justice.”

Jacob pushed aside everything he was feeling, because he needed to focus on the job. “I know we are.” He smiled at Phil, even though it was hard to make it seem natural. “Once I’m done with the recording I’ll start looked into Sir Eddington’s company. That’s the best thing I can do with the time we have.” Leaving the scene was something he didn’t want to do, in case they missed something that was time sensitive, but there was nothing he could do about that. “Do you know which private detective we’re going to be dealing with?”

“Paul Renfield.”

“Oh, great.” Jacob shook his head. “I really was hoping I’d never have to see him again.”

“Yeah, well, all we can do is our jobs. He might be happy to go around breaking laws and working with criminals, but I’m not. I know you’re not either.”

“No, I’m not.” Jacob pushed away all the emotions he felt. “The best thing we can do is be polite and courteous when he arrives, so he doesn’t go complaining to Sir Eddington about the way we treated him.”

“Fortunately Renfield isn’t the sort of person to go complaining to anyone, but you’re right - we need to show him that we’re better than he is and that’s why we’re cops, while he’s nothing.”

Next Chapter: Chapter One