A chapter from the next Clar1ty Wars installment. Titled “Under Strange Stars” it’s slated for Q1, 2014 release.
Cooper Lynch and Natesh Sarin pulled up inside the gate and flicked off the blues. Two news vans were already in front of the house, their Network holo-logos trying to out-dazzle each other like a pair of flustered tropical birds. Reporters primped as their camera crews jockeyed for position, the roof dishes like steel flowers, tracking that vital satellite up-link.
“How do they know so fast?” Natesh asked.
Cooper explained the obvious. “You really think patrolmen pay their own bar tab?” He looked over at the younger detective. “Only a matter of time before some Newsie scopes out your favorite restaurant.”
Natesh hesitated. “You do it?” he ventured.
“Sometimes. Not so much anymore.”
“What makes sometime that time now?”
Cooper Lynch shrugged. “Hard to explain. You’ll know when you get there.”
Natesh didn’t respond.
A boxy, tripod-mounted Central Enforcement monitor lensed the car, their police IDs, automatically logging them into the Crime Scene. Two bored uniforms waved them on toward the main house. Dead palm trees lined a long crushed shell driveway.
“Well damn,” rumbled Lynch. “Groundskeeper must have the day off.”
Natesh looked up at each desiccated trunk as they drove forward. “No way. You’ve got to work to kill those.”
Cooper made a noncommittal noise. Their sixth call in seventy-two hours, talk between the veteran and noob had boiled down to the essentials: caffeine fueled sarcasm and raw fact. On their first day, the day of the seven spongers in the warehouse, the office pool was five-to-one “Bambi and Godzilla” wouldn’t last the week, but eleven more bodies had forced the cogs to mesh.
Fact was, all Drop City was on edge; five Senators attacked, a two buildings blown up, street violence red-lining, and junkies dying in waves… Helluva first week. Natesh was swamped, but Cooper, Chief Detective Cooper Lynch, rolled on like a freight train. “Shit,” the big man had said sometime around dawn yesterday. “Things haven’t been this interesting since the Cronies dropped the Soros Towers and they were pulling the Angel murders from the Back Bay.” Each fresh obscenity, each new outrage seemed to bring him to life, hone the edge. So Natesh buckled down and hung on for the ride.
When they reached the front porch, Cooper threw the car in Park and exited without a word. He flashed his Central Enforcement Charm at a third uniform by the front door, cast a suspicious glance over the overgrown lawn, the tangled shrubs, then at the dark woolen cloud cover lowering over head. “I bet a little rain will perk things up in no time.”
Natesh came around with his shiny new silver shield in hand. He took in the peeling paint, the bank of grimy windows, the whiff of mold and neglect, and frowned. “Whole place looks like it should be washed out to sea.”
“Yeah well, be gentle. The Point’s ‘get-up-and-go’ got up and went ten years ago. It’s barely hanging on these days.”
Natesh leaned against the car, waiting as Lynch decided against another cigarette and any more of an explanation, then the two detectives strode through the Police Line holo-tape. A garish pink sign over the dingy double doors identified the mansion as the “Peek-a-Boo Bungalow.”
Like the sign, like the house, Montrose Point had spiraled the drain of chic to shabby to seedy. A peninsula on the southwestern edge of Shumai Island, the ‘Point’ used to be among the most coveted real estate on the planet. With an ocean breeze, a limitless view and breathtaking sunsets, it had been the exclusive playground of indolent millionaires, pop musicians and vid-stars. Anyone who was anyone back then had a villa on the cliffs or a mega-yacht in a slip. The zip code used to be the very definition of mind-numbing debauchery, and for years, the Point was a tabloid gold-mine of juicy sex-scandals, sordid celebrity drama, and lurid endings that defied logic. And sympathy.
A generation of paparazzi made their careers skulking through its wide, palm lined avenues, white sand beaches, and glass-fronted mansions. But like all good things, the catered orgies, the champagne-filled swimming pools, the silver platters heaped with designer drugs, the roar of heli-jets, and the custom sport cars races on the lawn came to an abrupt, but not unexpected, end.
When the Hydro-Energia plant went up on the barrier reef, along with six blocks of low-income worker housing, the view went to hell and so did the marine life for ten kilometers. Most of the rich simply pulled anchor and sailed further out to places like the Ferrari Archipelago and Slim Helu island. Keep the party-music thumping.
Some Point residents weren’t that lucky. Stuck in that hazy twilight cusp, they weren’t quite rich, connected or pretty enough to come along. The party sailed away without them and residents like the owner of the Peek-a-Boo Bungalow were left with nothing but fuzzy memories, stained carpet and a nasty hangover.
A stout, red-faced beat cop named Karnel met Natesh and Cooper in the living room. A hundred pounds and a couple years past his freshness date, Karnel was angling for that last benefit tier in the CE pension package. Gadowski, his latest partner was rummaging around upstairs. A stick-thin kid with radar dish ears and a beak made for snatching up migrating salmon, Officer G. looked like he belonged more in secondary school jacket than a C.E. uniform.
Karnel nodded to Cooper, ignored Natesh.
Behind the patrolman’s rounded shoulders, a step-down side room was taped off. Cooper spied two bare feet with candy apple red toenails, and the black-edged slate of a high-end Bose wallscreen.”What do we got?”
“Celebrity brain-pop,” Karnel smirked. “Classic case of Rapid Cerebral Hemorrhaging.”
Karnal’s grin widened to shit-eating proportions. “Remember Candi Moore?”
Cooper edged forward to a better look. “You sure?”
“I shit you not. It’s her – what’s left of her anyway. And ‘cept for being older… ” Karnel giggled. “She’s just like she always was: stark fucking naked.”
“And dead,” Cooper added.
“Yeah, that too,” the patrolman conceded.
The big detective shook his head. “Been waiting to say that, haven’t you?”
Natesh looked at Cooper, curious.
“Miss Candi Moore, porn queen. Before your time,” he explained.
“Big time porn queen,” Karnel interjected. “Huge.” Meaty hands perched out in front of his chest.
Cooper continued. “She made a ton of holos back in the day. Had her own studio. Used the money she made to pioneer Sexperia.”
Natesh was genuinely puzzled now.
“‘Sexperia – Sexperience the difference’,” Kernel scoffed. “Sex-net?” Then to Cooper. “What is he, Mennonite?”
Cooper Lynch raised an eyebrow. “Nah, he’s just one of them kids that paid attention in school – instead of jerking off between class.”
The old patrolman gave Natesh a once-over with watery, hound-dog eyes. “You don’t know what you missed.”
“Can we go in?” Cooper asked.
Karnel stepped aside, his grin back. “Be my guest. Not like ol’ Candi couldn’t handle a couple guys at once. Just say the word if you want a little private time,” he snickered.
Natesh pulled out a pair of blue latex gloves from his pocket, handed them to Cooper. “Sex-Net… biomodded with sensory modules to capture tactile input? Like for training sims?”
Cooper nodded. “Industry standard for everything now, but porn started it. Hell, Candi Moore practically invented it. She was the first gal to get plugged and make feature-length vids.”
“Oh, she got plugged alright. Anything stiff,” Karnel called from behind them. “Remember that one with the guy with the two—”
“We gotta focus here,” Cooper cut in. “OK?”
The officer’s hands went up. “Sheesh. OK. Not like you haven’t seen her in the buff. Half the fucking planet seen her. Except for junior here.”
Cooper and Natesh slowly circled the room, drawing closer to the body with each pass. Cooper had insisted the younger man do it this way. The victim wasn’t going anywhere, he’d said. The crime scene would change however. Starting at the perimeter, slightly, subtly, every new cop, technician, investigator would tread, touch or tweak something as a person’s private tragedy drifted to a matter of public record.
“You have to get there when it’s raw, untouched,” Cooper had explained. “Evidence gets lost. Can’t help it. Pain in the ass, but it’s true. They teach you ‘the more the merrier’, but really every new person muddies the water. Then that one thing that was out of place, that tiny clue that could put a bow on it, is gone. And you never realized it was there.
Five minutes of silence brought Natesh and Cooper to the body.
Miss Candi Moore was indeed very naked and very dead. Curled on the floor beside a leather recliner, her body was a patchwork of tan lines, taut implants, and nip and tuck microscars. A cheap, life-size silicone doll of her younger self.
Her knees were together, bent slightly, and one arm angled behind her head. Her back was arched, thrusting her breasts up and apart. Dark red blood matted her blonde hair to the threadbare dhurrie in a sticky halo. A frosted-pink grimace, mascara streaked cheeks, eyes shut tight …If was as if she had tried to strike one last pose in mid-convulsion. Natesh soured on the notion pain climaxed like passion.
Two dead shih tzus nestled against her abdomen, tiny, faux-diamond barrettes in their coifed fur. Her ‘babies’ expired, lapping her poisoned blood.
Natesh cut off his reaction, concentrated on taking in the scene without judgment or opinion like Cooper had told him. “Who found her?” he asked.
Karnel sucked his teeth, waved up the police log and displayed it mid-air for them to see. “Her Charm squirted a death-gram less than forty minutes ago. Medi-Care cc’d Dispatch who sent us to check the premises. Gadowski and me were first on scene. Forensics and Morgue are on the way.”
“Been a busy past couple days,” Cooper nodded. “You check the house security?”
Karnel chuckled. “Old ‘mouth-watering Candi’ here has fallen on hard times. Ain’t banging ’em like she used to. All this place’s got is perimeter alarms. No video.”
“Any sign of forced entry?”
Karnel barked a nasty laugh.
Cooper turned and stared. “Yes or no?”
Natesh studied the body, looked around the room. “No signs of a struggle, no bruises, defensive wounds. She was all alone?”
Kanel looked at Cooper. “Got yourself a genu-wine de-tect-ive, here.”
The big man shifted on his feet, leaned closer to her head. “What was she watching?” he murmured.
Natesh stared, raised his eyebrows. “What?”
Cooper reached over, plucked a stylus from his partner’s shirt pocket and lifted a clump of wet hair. A thin lime green cable snaked through the aspic to disappear behind her right ear.
Natesh looked from the cable to the huge flatscreen, then back to the cable. The Experia player beside the recliner was blinking green. “Was the player on when you arrived?” he asked the patrolman.
“Wha–?” Karnel started. The pudgy officer had ambled from the hall over to a shelf piled with jewel cases and music discs. Something slim flashed in his hand.
“Outtakes from ‘Candi-land, Ho’. You think this is worth anything?”
“Why are you touching anything?” Cooper growled.
“So long as he isn’t touching himself,” Natesh muttered.
Cooper’s eyes narrowed but he stifled a smile. “Officer Karnel, are you fleecing my crime scene for souvenirs?”
“What? No.” Karnel blushed. “I mean, yes.” He slid the vid-disc back on the shelf.
“Yes, what?” Cooper growled.
“Yeah, the Bose was on. Gadowski and I came through the door to moaning. First thought was her medi-chip malf-ed in the middle of some serious frolicking.”
“So the set was on. And?”
Karnel’s face broadened in another dopey grin. “You’re never gonna believe it.”
Cooper sighed, unconsciously felt for his cigarettes. “Just tell us.”
“The underwater one: ‘Candi on Cousteau Reef.'”
“What?” Natesh asked.
“She was watching herself, numb-nuts. She archied watching one of her own vids.” The patrolman gave the body a once-over, tutted softly. “Candi always said she was dying to stay young.”
Natesh shook his head, uncomprehending. “Wait… She was all alone, jacked in, watching… feeling herself getting– erm, having intercourse?”
Karnel beamed like he was delivering the punch line of the best joke he’d heard in weeks. “Got it on one, junior. What a way to go, huh?”
The patrolman paused, seemingly lost in thought. Natesh figured it was unfamiliar territory. “Wonder what part she popped at?” Karnel mused. “Piece of fucking trivia, right there, eh?”
Cooper was studying the floor around the body, under the recliner. He nudged a shih tzu with the stylus. “You see a vial? A Clar1ty vial?”
Karnel smirked, fished something out of his vest pocket. “Of course.” He held up an evidence baggie with a tiny blood-smeared glass cylinder in the corner.
Cooper stood, three strides took him to the patrolman. Karnel blinked twice as the detective snatched the baggie out of his hand. “Not an hour and you’ve bollixed the place,” Cooper said in a low voice.
Karnel swallowed, took half a step back. “Hey, I didn’t mean nothing. There’s a carton of ’em in the freezer.”
Natesh was on his feet. “Take me there.”
Two minutes later Natesh was back in the living room. “Six vials, still sealed. Pfizer-Teva.”
Karnel sniffed. “Some hot-shit po-lice work that is; fucking stamp’s on top of the carton.”
Natesh ignored him. “Think your pal in Forensics could take a look at them?” he asked his partner.
“He’ll do it,” Cooper said. “We got Spongers dropping like fruit flies last seventy-two hours. Any question of tainted brain-juice gets bumped up the priority scale.”
“Wanna bet it’s the same batch as the waterfront?”
Cooper reached for a cigarette, turned to the front door. “Nope.”
Natesh’s smile was short lived. His CE Charm pinged three seconds later: Code 10. Emergency Alert.
Officer Gadowski lurched into view. “Holy shit. We have to roll. Dispatch says a huge bomb just went off in Government Square.”
© Patrick Todoroff – 2013