The strident ring of the vidphone rattled around my head like angry wasps, pulling me from deep slumber to blurred awareness in a series of stumbling steps. I squinted towards the screen through the distorted lens of a thick whiskey glass, and realised that I was still clothed and lying on the sofa. As I reached unsteadily for the phone, the bottle of Old Oak Whiskey tumbled to the floor with an empty thud; I really need to watch that drinking habit.
I answered the phone gruffly, perhaps too harshly, because the young police officer at the other end looked a bit surprised; I swear these kids get younger every year. The officer asked me to come into the station, because they thought there was a lead on the gang killings. I asked them what sort of lead, and they told me a young man who they thought had been killed at a crime scene had turned up looking just fine.
I looked at the profile they posted to my screen and saw the face of a young man. He had long hair and soft features, and the shortest rap sheet I'd seen in years. Next to that photo was another, the one taken during processing. The kid had a skin job for a hair do, and the face seemed harder and more determined, a look of purpose that the older photo completely lacked. One thing was for sure, somebody or something had happened to this kid.
After we negotiated my day rate for the case, I made my way downtown to the main precinct. The station was noisy and chaotic as usual, and my friends in the organised crime unit were sitting around the water cooler with paper work piled around them. Pin boards showing the local crime networks were nearby, with one board showing a rash of red moving slowly towards the top. This was one of the Shallows District gangs, and it was slowly being wiped out.
The first killings were where this kid had left most of his blood, in a blood bath the police hadn't seen for years. Limbs and guts had been everywhere, the result of an unknown weapon that had left the pathologists and morgue technicians completely baffled. Picking up the pieces had identified the gang members readily enough, but Joshua Isuza had turned up in the DNA analysis as another potential victim. Now he was sitting on his own refusing to answer questions in the interrogation room and was looking pretty scared.
I smiled at him as best I could and handed him a warm coffee. I told him I wasn't like the regular cops; that I was one of the old timers who helped out on difficult cases. The processing sheet said there was a faint mark in his chest; the sign of what should have been a fatal injury, yet he was looking fit and healthy. Nothing here added up.
I wasn't here to waste time, so I went in with my biggest stick. I put the blurry picture of a veiled woman down on the table in front of him and watched his reaction. I thought he might try and look away, to at least make the pretence that he didn't know her. Instead he stroked the picture, staring at the woman as though he was trying to caress her.
"Who is she kid?"
He just stared back at me with that look I've seen so many times before, his voice only a whisper, "Someone wonderful"
I shook my head sadly. Whenever a guy goes astray like this, there's always a woman involved.
-- Elliot Shannon, Private Investigator, formerly of the Candor City Police.
Source images rendered in Vue 6 Pro Studio using custom cartoon shaders. Final image created in Photoshop and Illustrator CS2.