Pleased to announce Soul Cache has joined the ranks of my audio book offerings.
The seventh of my spec-fiction shorts available for your listening pleasure, the story of an aging homicide detective’s hunt for an elusive serial killer in a sci fi mega city is deftly narrated by Justin Hyler. Coming in just over two hours (normal speed) it’s the perfect way to make your daily commute more interesting or liven up a stretch of drudge work.
Available at Audible/Amazon, you can pick it up here at Audible or from the full list here at Amazon.
If you’re partial to the heft and smell of a paperback, Soul Cache is also available as part of the short story collection, Fits and Orisons.
“A rich and meticulously described setting makes for an undeniably immersive reading experience. Two (augmented) thumbs up.” – Kirkus Review
I paid a lot for those two sentences. I mean, there’s more to the review but that’s the blurb-able bit.
Yes, Kirkus reviews cost money. No, that’s not a guarantee of a good review.
So why spend the cash and wait 2 months? Because after ten years, three novels, four novellas, and five short stories I finally felt like I’d written something worth submitting, worth dropping the coin on.
That’s not to say I consider Soul Cache to be flawless or a short-form superlative example of the genre. Or even that Kirkus – respected as they are – is the definitive appraisal of my writing skill. I just remember finishing the story, after a much longer and more difficult process than I expected, and hearing in the back of my mind: ‘Here is something that could stand in the public market. Can hold its own. It’s actually pretty good.’
Meaning that it struck me I’d created something worthy of professional assessment and I wanted to hear that assessment bad enough to drop the money for a 321-word review.
Money well spent? Will this translate into sales and agents and movie options? Who knows? That’s another thing that is definitely not guaranteed. By life, the writer gods, or Kirkus.
Dumb, vanity move? Did I experience a surge of inspiration and creative confidence as I turn toward my next fiction project? Mmmmmm, not really. Honestly, I read it. breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t horrible, and thought, Well… Time to get back to work, I guess.
Which is what it all comes down to, emotionally exhilarated or not; putting my ass in the chair and chiseling away at the next story, trusting that by forging ahead and doing the work, the next one will be a little better.
Maybe even good enough to warrant another Kirkus Review.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Have an excellent day.
If you’re interested, you can read the full review HERE
Soul Cache. A story from the streets of New Kowloon is available electronically for Kindle at Amazon HERE. Or in print as part of a collection of short stories, HERE.
Kicking off 2022 with the release of Fits and Orisons, a collection of five of my short stories. Previously only available for Kindle, this puts The Stones Remember, Sozo, A Prayerto St. Strelok, Strange Treasure, and the recent, Soul Cache in print. Quick reads all, if you like your mil-sci-fi with a dose of strange, this might scratch that itch. Click HERE for your copy.
I’m also pleased to say the Soul Cache audio book will be available in February. So there’s that too.
Thank you all for your support, particularly these last two years. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2022 filled with good friends, inspired projects, and met deadlines.
This one was two blocks west of Soy Park. Much too close to Loi for my taste. A day manager at a low-rent hotel had checked on a smell complaint and called it in. I dodged the Tech Department and left the station. A patrol car had me downtown ten minutes later.
The Silky Wave Guest House wasn’t even an actual building. More of a giant concrete cubby shelf filled with old shipping containers stacked twelve across, front and back, forty stories high. Each level had a common toilet unit in the middle and each floor was accessed by steel scaffolding epoxied to the cement framework. The grating was so old, the stairs snowed brown rust flakes if you walked too fast. It catered to transients, day-laborers, and hookers, the kind of place you pass a thousand times without really seeing. If you lived there, you either just arrived in New Kowloon – or you were definitely on your way down and out.
Jen Cheung and her partner, Wan, were waiting backside, seventh floor. Cheung looked sharp-eyed, almost eager. Wan still looked twelve. The corner unit door was shut, sealed with a single line of red LNKPD tape.
Cheung scowled when she saw me. “Whoa. You look like a bag of hammered shit.”
“Love you too. Tell me there are security cameras,” I said.
“This fine establishment? Of course.” She pointed to a battered Hikvision module drooping off the wall over the stair well. A thirty year old model with a cracked lens.
I frowned, she laughed. “Oh, it’s not wired up either. That would cost money. But the manager assured me Ever Sunny Properties is deeply concerned for their tenants’ safety. Which is why those were installed as a deterrent.”
“Very effective. Obviously.” She nodded seriously. “Oh, and he also demanded to know how soon we’d get the place cleaned up.”
The wind shifted. The burnt peanut stench of bio-diesel off the roads was replaced by a spicier, slightly cleaner one from Soy Park. There were security masts among the food stalls. Maybe there’d be something on them. A long shot but we were overdue for some good luck. I snapped on gloves. “You call Forensics?”
Cheung gave me a thin smile. “Just now. Figured you’d want first peek at it.”
Wan was at the railing, gazing down and doing a good job not puking. Murder scenes are a shitty thing to get acclimated to.
I leaned toward Jen. “You ID the victim?”
She nodded. “Tiffany Sui.” A pause. I raised an eyebrow. “Viral marketer for WeChat,” she finished. “And yes, she’s been rearranged.”
“Shit.” I moved past here toward the door. “How long ‘til the CSI van?”
“Fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty with traffic.”
I broke the tape, cracked the door for a moment to let some fresher air in. The hinges screeched and the sound was a needle in my eye. I winced. “Keep ‘em out until I’m done?”
Jen Cheung peered at me again, concerned. “You sure you okay to go in there?”
I shrugged. “I have a choice?”
She spit, punched me on the shoulder. “Alright then. I’ll knock when they show up. Go work your detective magic, Zek.”
I yanked the door wide and entered, feeling every inch the fraud. Detective magic? No tricks up my sleeve, Sergeant. Just a pocket full of career-ending black market gear, and good odds on a mental breakdown.
Inside was what I expected and less: a long metal box with peeling paint, bad lumen strips, and a half a dozen pieces of grimy plastic furniture. The heaviest thing was the smell. I shut the door behind me and cranked the handle. The noise sounded hollow in the low, narrow space.
Tiffany Sui was very dead, dismembered and arranged on the floor at the rear of the room by a stained foam mattress. Her limbs had been set at right angles in opposite upper and lower corners to imply a frame. Her torso and head were in the middle of the ‘box’, offset to each other, one high, the other low. Her head face up. Eyes and mouth daubed in blood on her breasts and belly for the second face.
The WeChat icon. Screaming obvious to anyone with a matching pair of brain cells. My gut told me the killer was flaunting their anti-corp grudge. Shoving it in our face with a conspicuous display.
I knelt for a closer look and caught the acrid tang of cleanser on top of the blood and meat odor. Ms. Sui had been wiped down like the others. I flicked my eyes to ultraviolet and scanned for bio-traces, just in case. First thing I noticed was that aside from the body painting, there was far less blood than there should have been, which meant unless the killer was also a vampire, the room wasn’t the murder scene. That thought threw me until I spied bruises on her forearms, a cut on one hand.
That was a first.
My skin goose-fleshed. There could be skin under her nails. Blood. Even a single hair would give us some double helix bread crumbs that could lead straight to the killer’s doorstep. That would be good – and I was overdue a break.
My head was still rattled from Lau and I have to admit part of me seized on that train of thought like a junkie, while another part, the rational, career-minded adult, joined in and insisted I step back and to wait for Forensics. This could be the killer’s first mistake. A legitimate clue, it said. Leave that pouch in your pocket.
I could go back to the station and make nice with Captain Lee. Get my Turd Copter and run this case down above board all the way. Squeeze another five years out of my job. Polish my reputation and my retirement benefits. No need to dive into Ms. Sui’s Chip, ‘ware her soul and rummage through the last intimate, spastic minutes of her life like some panty sniffing, grave robber.
A short walk to Loi’s shop, I could return the Soul Fisher and my felonious necromancy would be over and forgotten.
But what if –
What if there was no trace under her nails? Or worse, a muddy partial that could be any of a thousand suspects and the bodies kept coming while we interviewed a dozen a day and they alibied out one by one until we narrowed it down to a top ten list?
Tiffany Sui’s hands declared she did not go gentle into this bad death. What would she want? Would she say, ‘No pressure. I can wait.’ ?
Loi had told me a Chip’s buffer data degraded after death, decayed with the body. That smell in the air, that was my case. Those were clues cloying up this ratty, cut-price tomb, dissipating every second I knelt here hoping for a lucky break.
The question wasn’t what would she say to me; it was what could she say to me?
I stood and set up the Soul Fisher. Deep down, I think I’d intended to use it the instant I showed up at the Silky Wave Guest House anyway. Hard work makes lucky breaks.
I turned on the extender, watched it cycle: secure connection, PIP for T. Sui, the buffer file… I took a deep breath and linked.
First ten chapters/fifty pages of current WIP now available as a PDF.
A Cyberpunk Crime Thriller, Soul Cache is a sliver of technoir set in fictional, future New Kowloon. A desperate homicide detective resorts to dangerous and illegal software to stop a serial killer. Can he catch the murderer before he loses his mind?
murder in new kowloon. technoir short story in progress.
8. MORGUE LIFE
I walked in the morgue just after ten that night and found Sonia still working.
Sonia Lam had been the district’s head medical examiner forever, a fixture seemingly as permanent as the building she worked in. Two ice blue cyber eyes, neon-green dreadlocks, and a creased brown face like dried ginseng root, she’d been ancient when I’d joined the force thirty years prior. And she hadn’t aged a day since.
Rumor had it she streamed Swedish death metal via her Chip when she worked and had smart ink tattoo on one wrist that read ‘Morgue Life’ in gothic script. In her orange jump suit and slick black gown and gloves, she looked every inch the cyberpunk crone, leaning over a gleaming stainless steel table.
She was peering into the exposed cranium of heavily borged male. She didn’t look up when I came in. “Not open. Come back in the morning.”
“Good evening to you too, Ms. Lam.” I lifted a take-out bag, shook it slightly. “Brought you a milk tea and rickshaw noodles. Real beef.”
She paused. “Pemburu…” She set a metal probe on the table with a ‘click’ and looked up at me. Then at the bag. “What do you want?”
“Can’t I say hello to an old friend?”
“Ha.” She wrinkled her nose. “You definitely want something.”
I held out the bag. She straightened and took it, unfolding it the top carefully. She leaned in and smelled the flavors wafting up. Her eyes closed and a faint smile crossed her lips. “Real beef you say?”
I nodded. “Doggie Noodle. Block 18. Soy Park’s best.”
She gave it back. “That’ll get you twenty minutes. Hold this while I wash up.”
Sonia left the exam table, went to a sink and stripped off her gloves. She hummed the refrain from an ancient television show as she washed her hands. She did that every time. “Old habit,” she said whenever asked about it.
It had been a stray comment of hers after an autopsy that had led me the Stonecutter’s Island three years earlier. She, more than anyone else, had been the one who helped me track down that killer. In the back of my mind I was hoping for a repeat with this one, but even she grudgingly admitted this latest string of deaths were unusually sterile.
I made conversation to fill up the time. I pointed to the body. “What’s this one?”
“Brain pop.” Her lips pursed in mild disapproval. “This dumb melon over-clocked his nervous system but forgot to boost his arteries. Got into a fight, tried to amp his reaction time and blew an ACA. Dropped like a sack of laundry.” She addressed at the corpse. “Won’t do that again, will you?
I tutted and shook my head. She grabbed the bag from me and started in on the noodles. “So…?”
Straight to business. “So I need to see Henry Lau’s body.”
She slurped a mouthful of noodles. “Why? I’ve been over it. Twice. “
“And it’s the same as the others. Clean. Blood showed food, alcohol, a little snapcoke, and… wait for it, chloral hydrate. No surprise there.”
She paused, picked a beef strip out of the container and examined it carefully before popping it in her mouth. She chewed, savoring the flavor. “It is real. Nice. Oh and there were heavy traces of biocides in the armpits and groin, indicative of a disinfectant.”
“Someone’s wiping down the bodies? “
She sipped her tea, nodded.
“Can you determine the type of disinfectant?”
“Nope. Could be any of a dozen over the counter brands. Tens of thousands of liters of the stuff are sold every month. Good luck chasing that down.”
This was going nowhere. Time to visit Mr. Lau. “What room is he in?”
“Seven. Drawer Four C. I’ll turn on the light.”
I thanked her, started toward the hall.
“I’ve got plenty of work as it is. Catch this one already, will you? After all, aren’t you –“
“The guy who stopped the Stonecutters Island Killer? Yes. Everyone’s reminding me and it’s starting to piss me off. I remember; I was there. This isn’t Stonecutters Island though.”
She raised her hand. “Someone’s feeling the pressure, eh? Sorry.“ A pause. “This is different,” she admitted, chopsticks diving back into the noodles. “A new kind of shit sandwich altogether.”
She went back to the sink and put her tea and noodles on the counter. “Back to it then. Room Seven, drawer 4C,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ll let you know if I anything comes up.”
“Good luck, Detective Pemburu.”
Henry Lau lay on a sliding tray in a morgue drawer. Someone had arranged him how he was supposed to be, more or less; a pale puzzle person rimed with freezer burn. All the pieces were present, just cold. And very disconnected.
I blinked up my Chip menu, turned off all my location and monitoring apps, then locked the door behind me. Pulling out the faraday pouch, I slotted the flash stick in the WiFi extender, turned it on, and set it on the tray next to Lau’s head. The LED screen lit up. Another light winked on in my mind, like a warning light on a dashboard telling me to stop.
I ignored it.
A minute later a secure local network labeled Sanzu-no-kawa appeared in my visuals. Japanese for ‘The River of Three Crossings’; the mythical boundary between the living and the dead.
Great. Hang a lantern on it, why don’t you?
The hair stood on the back of my neck all the same. I had the nasty sense I was standing at the bank of that river or at least the top of the dark basement stairs in some horror movie. Part of me was shouting I could go insane, go to prison, go to hell.
My feeble prayer came to mind, the candlelit crucifix at the church altar, Henry Lau’s head on the garage floor. It occurred to me the faces had the same expression.
I bit down on my reluctance and logged in. A single connection popped up, a long alphanumeric: Henry Lau’s PIP ID.
A chill swept up my spine.
Part of me had expected it not to work. Wanted the Chip to be drained, the file to not be there. To be empty or corrupted beyond retrieval. But no.
I entered the decrypt pass code and searched until I found [local_buffer_ overflow:hidden/hl9aj*7729938vdf]
The soul cache.
There it was. Active. Not empty.
I opened it
and fell in a pool of viscous shadow.
It coated in my body like writhing eels, slithered into my eyes and ears, my nose and mouth – choked – soaked through my skin into my veins, my marrow until the throb of music and brittle hilarity, the gin vapor on the tongue, the synthetic coke burn at the back of Henry’s throat was mine, and our teeth tingled with adrenalized lust and cheap cologne.
Cool night air and there’s a sting at our neck. A lurch like a train switching tracks and I/Henry am suddenly shiver sick with booze. The floor becomes hard and every joint aches. Cold iron terror clamps around my limbs, my brain. I am paralyzed and blind. Migrained at the bright light that pulses through our closed eyelids, fills our cells with the rich stink of molten copper syrup spreading sticky under our body.
I feel the squelch and tug tear of meat, twitch as nerves jangle electric. The voice murmurs over us. The voice sawing at our bones. We want to get up, to run, to vomit, to shout, to breath. But we can’t. Can’t move.
Can’t move away from the pain, pain, pain and the thick, angry voice. That yelling that smells of blood and shit, and sweet earth grit on our lips.
At last we spit scream ragged, a raw sound stopped by the taste of rubber gloves and the slicing line of ice on our neck that flares white hot in our brain until we are separated.
Separate heartbeats. Heartbeat, heartbeat, hear–
Here above our body, we are blind and floating. Rising like sparks from a fire into the sky beyond sky where an ancient immensity waits, a black door in a wall of night. It is closing but we pass through before it slams shut —
It slams and I am thrown back, a taut wire snapped, exhaled like a breath held too long from drowning.
I bob to the surface in a thin light and cold ceramic tile against my check. Above me gleams the underside of a stainless steel morgue tray. The tiny LED screen is winking [connection lost. connection lost. connection lost] and the taste of someone else’s death in my mouth is grief and sugar and burnt wood.
Captain Lee intercepted me the moment I walked into the station the next morning.
His bright yellow icon blinked in my peripheral vision, pecking at my attention. The text read [my office. now]
Didn’t take a detective to know what that was about.
Captain Jian Lee had risen to command the Shìchǎng District NKPD station through a breathtaking combination of connections, flattery, and blame-shifting. Nicknamed ‘Teflon Lee’ because shit just didn’t stick to him, he excelled at two things: department politics and reducing complicated real-life situations into facile, irrelevant components. He was a prime example of who you know, not what you know, and my immediate superior.
I knocked on his door and entered in time to find him berating a pair of our department tech-support desk jockeys. Apparently there was some hitch in a portion of the A.I. protocol coding for the new drones. I doubted the Captain knew anything about the topic beyond the sales-speak in the manufacturer’s infomercial, but rank hath its privileges. I also noticed he still had all his fingers and a large breakfast on his desk. Guess the clinic doctor paid his fees.
I made a note to swing by the clinic that night to get a feel for the place. At least see if my C.I., Hunu, had been right about its wares.
There’d been a huge influx of technicians in and around the station the past two months. The entire Lower City was in the throes of yet another Strategic Policing Initiative, this one designed to reduce violent crime by deploying even more surveillance technology and glossing it with a coat of old-fashioned community policing. According to the plan, every district constable would work their sector paired with a small, semi-autonomous drone that would be fully synced with both the LNK and NKPD database, record every encounter, and provide reconnaissance and non-lethal support.
The Howa-Colt Industries prospectus claimed this combination would create a police force that merged ‘robotic, security-oriented assistance with instant data-access and organic interpersonal bonding to establish a genuine, informed connection with the civilian populace.’ Which had to be one of the more obscure and sterile descriptions of the police officer’s call to protect and serve I’d heard in thirty plus years on the force.
But because Shìchǎng was dark, it was poor, and because it was poor, its officials were far more open to the financial incentives offered by Howa-Colt Industries. That was why our station was one of five testing grounds for the new IRAs, or Integrated Robotic Assistants. Small aerial drones, the prototypes were bulbous, brown with yellow markings, with twin rotors on either side.
After the initial demonstration, it had taken all of three minutes for them to be dubbed, ‘Flying Shit Cakes’ and ‘Turd-Copters’. Real hearts and minds stuff.
The HCI Rep and Captain Lee both assured us the new technology would not only keep us safer, but would help us understand and embrace solutions to the root causes of crime. I wondered how our serial killer would react to a hug.
The tirade ended and the techs left with barely disguised exasperation on their faces, one of the more common reactions from visitors to Captain Lee’s domain. I put on a soft smile as they slid past me.
The office door shut and Captain Lee immediately brought up a news feed on his desk monitor. He swiped it angrily and a grainy loop of aerial drone feed played on the wall display. Flashing lights. The alley outside the garage. Forensics van. A stretcher with a lumpy body bag. They’d kept the animal sounds.
“They’re calling him the Butcher,” the captain snapped.
I held my tongue about preconceptions and sexist remarks.
He glared at me. “Why haven’t you apprehended this maniac?”
“I’ve got the lab analyzing the scene from last night, sir. Top priority.”
I saw red creeping up his collar onto his face. “A District One resident was murdered. Five members of the City Council call me this morning. Five. And the Mayor.” He waved up images from the repair bay and pointed. “Do you have any idea how bad this makes us look? What will we do if a rumor starts that Shìchǎng is no longer safe, eh? What then? People will flock to the markets in Ma Tau Chung, that’s what.”
Jen Cheung’s comment about this murder being a real crime popped into my head. Henry Lau was the eighth victim. I guessed the other seven don’t count because they lived here and hadn’t been shoppers.
Captain Lee pointed at a photo of Henry Lau’s head. “This is not acceptable.”
I was sure Mr. Lau’s family would agree.
Lee waved the images off in disgust and turned to me. “Some lunatic has killed and dismembered a visitor to our district – and this makes it look like we’re sitting on our hands. Where are you with the investigation?”
“I’m pursuing new avenues of inquiry that I’m confident will yield evidence.” Which was technically true.
Lee nodded, not listening. I could see scenarios playing out behind his eyes: angry conference calls from the Council, press conferences going bad, career plans derailed. He entered a series of commands at his desk station then looked straight at me.
“You’re still on the force because you’re supposed to be good at your job. Exemplary, in fact. You single-handedly apprehended the Stonecutter’s Island killer, correct?”
Technically I shot him five times before he fell off a cliff into the ocean. But we did retrieve his body, so that counts as ‘apprehended’.
Captain Lee furrowed his brow, straightened and went into speech mode, so much so I wondered if he was recording this in case he needed proof of his oversight and determination later. “And that is why I have the utmost confidence in your abilities, Detective Pemburu. I made you lead in this case because you’re the best man we have. ‘Serving New Kowloon with Honour, Duty and Loyalty’ isn’t just our motto, it’s our heartbeat. I know you understand that. Which is why I need you to redouble your efforts and stop this killer before they strike again.”
He stretched out his hand to shake mine. “The citizens of this entire district are counting on you, Detective. For their sake, work hard and work fast.”
I gripped his hand and maybe squeezed a bit harder than I should. The Captain kept his composure. “Of course, sir.”
I let go. He motioned toward the door and sat, turning toward his unfinished breakfast.
I had nearly escaped when he spoke again. “All the resources of the department at your disposal, Detective. Which is why I’m assigning you one of the new IRA drones.”
I turned around. “Sir, there’s no need to–”
He brushed my concern away. “No need to worry. I’ve personally looked into the programming issues and have been assured the wrinkles will be ironed out before the end of the day. I’m sure it will be an invaluable tool to you. And an invaluable opportunity for the department. What better way to demonstrate the initiative’s viability than with a successful arrest of a violent killer by our newest technology and our most senior detective. Don’t you agree, Zeki?”
I didn’t. “Of course, Captain,” I said.
“Excellent. I’ll notify Tech right now. Shut the door on your way out, please.”
They say unintended irony is the best kind, but I was in deep enough shit that the thought of a Turd-Copter following me everywhere struck me as cosmic poke in the eye. Neural chips were bad enough. At least they could be turned off by the user. An IRA drone would be a short leash. With a choke collar. Having command authorization and demanding results, Captain Lee would be looking over my shoulder – literally – every second. Micromanagement cubed.
Given my new ‘avenue of inquiry’ into the killer’s identity, I couldn’t have that. At all.
I had forty-eight, maybe seventy-two hours before I’d have to report to the Tech Department. With a shred of luck, the AI issues wouldn’t be sorted yet, or all the drones would be assigned to other officers. After that, I’d have to go back to Loi for a work around.
I was already breaking a dozen laws with the Neural Chip Decryption ware; what was a little thing like sabotaging a multi-million eYuan contract between the NKPD and the largest robotics manufacturer in the hemisphere going to add?
In for a penny…
I left the station without stopping by my desk. No way was I risking having to get my drone today – not with my upcoming visit to the morgue that night.
Murder scenes are lots of things: their circumstances sometimes obvious, other times mysterious or downright bizarre. Usually bloody. Always tragic.
See enough of them they become routine in a sad kind of way. Terrible to admit but there it is. It’s the job.
They’d always struck me as intrusive too; as if the act itself wasn’t violation enough to then have a horde of technicians descend upon your body. Complete strangers in Tyvek one pieces, masks, and gloves mincing around your floodlit corpse, photographing it from every angle, sampling, poking, prodding, scraping away at the minutia of your final moments. A state of ultimate vulnerability clinically analyzed for every last awful secret.
All murder scenes are terrible in their own way. The howling made this one worse.
The victim had been found in a motorcycle repair shop, a single grungy bay tucked behind a D-Grade cloning bank for exotic pets. The scent of blood thick in the air, dozens of copies of copies of copies of puppies and parrots and miniature jungle cats were barking, whining, screeching, yowling as the soundtrack to some poor bastard’s end credits.
I knew the officer at the holo-tape. Jen Cheung. Sergeant. Good head on her shoulders. Two cyber-arms. Helluva right hook.
“What? You’re not inside?” I asked as I approached. “Your delicate female sensitivities acting up?”
She deadpanned. “That sounded like a sexist remark, Detective. I see a Sensitivity refresher course in your future.”
“Long overdue,” I agreed, and stopped beside her. “How bad is it?”
She spit, nodded. “Very.”
“Is it the same as the other seven?”
She squinted at me. “Sure looks like it, Zek. But what do I know? That’s your job isn’t it?”
I waved a hand at the surrounding buildings. “Anyone see anything?” Unlikely, but I had to ask.
Sergeant Cheung shook her head. “We got called for the noise. Wan found the body.” She jerked a thumb at a young constable seated in the back of a NKPD HiAce van. He looked lost, pale. I’d have sworn he was no more than twelve.
Shit, I sound like an old cop.
I was an old cop and he was deep in conversation with a Forensics bot so I let him be.
“Garage owner been contacted?”
Cheung nodded. “Already at the station.”
“ID on the victim?”
Cheung blinked as she connected. “Henry Lau. Systems Manager for WayGo, the self-driving transport company. Address is 1397 Hab C3. Hung Hom. District One.”
I let out a low whistle. “District One.”
She nodded, spit again. “Yup. Now it’s a real crime; a rich person’s been killed.”
Funny/not funny. And true. Lau had been an Edger. Not Upper City, but as close as we got down here. Maybe added pressure would make Captain Lee devote more resources now. Other than ramp up his indignation and yell louder each time another body was found, like they were being dumped in his district for the sole purpose of making him look bad.
Captain Lees were part of the job too.
Time to see the body. “You taking the test soon?” I asked as I passed through the tape.
“Why, you finally looking for a new partner?” she snorted.
I avoided that question. That memory. “LNK needs good detectives.”
“You can say that again, the bang up job you’re doing with this mess.” She grinned to take the edge off it. “And to answer your question: yes, next month.”
I smiled back at her. “Good luck, then. Let me know after and we’ll drink to celebrate.”
I went toward the open bay door.
“Hey,” she called after.
“Catch this guy already, will you? You’re the famous ‘Stonecutters Island Detective.’ You have a reputation to uphold.”
I gave her a look of mock indignation. “Guy? Now who’s being sexist? Never make detective like that, Sergeant. Clinging to preconceptions and stereotypes.”
“Just get whoever this is.”
I felt the weight of the faraday pouch in my jacket pocket. “Working on it.”
Turning back to the garage, I made a mental note to mention Cheung’s name to a couple friends higher up the chain of command. I had no doubt she’d crush the exam, and Lower New Kowloon really was in desperate need of good police. Compared to Captain Lee, Sergeant Cheung was Joan of Arc.
The tiny repair bay was bright with dozens of LED strips that brought every dingy corner into stark relief. The regular oil and rust smells were overpowered by the reek of blood and offal, while the Forensics team had their formaldehyde undertone of sanitizer and sterile gear. An old friend, Ed Cho, was kneeling by the body, pecking away with a bio-scanner.
“Tell me you have something,” I said. A desperate hope.
He looked up at me, shrugged once and went back to scanning.
I surveyed the body: naked, male. Mid-thirties. Looked ethnic Chinese. Mr. Lau had been chopped into pieces, his blood congealing under jointed body parts that had been carefully arranged in a bizarre pattern – a different pattern each time.
Seven patterns, now eight.
“Time of death?”
Cho had a soft, raspy voice. How I’d expect a chain smoking toddler to sound. “Twelve hours. A hair less, maybe.”
“He drugged same as others?”
“Too early to tell. Hundred eYuan says the blood shows traces of chloral hydrate though.”
I wasn’t going to take that bet. I nodded at the forensics kit on the floor by his boots. “You must have found a sliver of evidence this time. Give me something. Anything.”
“Blood samples say our victim had been drinking. Judging by the food particles on his lips and cheeks, he ate recently too. Anything more, you need to wait for the lab report. ”
“Other than him?”
Cho shook his head. “Older fingerprints, samples of biodiesel, poly lubes, cleansers. More food scraps, smears of chili paste and peanut oil from those takeout containers.” He jerked his head at an overflowing trash barrel next to an ancient 3D metal powder printer. Soy Park stalls did serious business with the mechanics here.
Ed Cho then aimed his scanner at one of the white-suited techs on the perimeter of the scene. “I can tell you the door was forced recently. Julie found fresh hits on the jamb and threshold. Best guess is someone broke in, saw the body and bolted.”
“How old? Any chance whoever that was saw the murder?”
“Very recent, a couple hours ago. So definitely post-mortem.”
I remembered Fat Quan’s comment and considered chatting him up again. Show up as ‘Detective Pemburu’ for sure. Bring Sergeant Cheung and maybe borrow the Special Duties Unit from Captain Lee for something more resembling real police work.
“Still, they might have seen something.” I blinked and linked to the NKPD Net. “The door sample have an ID match?”
Another shake of the head. “Unregistered. Homeless or a recent ‘fugee scrounging for something to pawn.”
I nodded at Cho’s DNA sniffer. “Anyone else?”
“I’ve been over the whole place. Database matches the garage owner, two mechanics, and some unknowns who are probably clients. Except for the door knocker and Mr. Lau here, it’s all forty-eight hours old or more.” He shrugged. “Lab might have more later, but…”
“So we’ve got nothing really. Again.”
Exactly what I didn’t want to hear. Exactly why I’d visited Loi. Exactly why I was carrying disgrace, summary dismissal, and a prison term in my jacket pocket.
Henry Lau’s head lay at the bottom of his severed left leg like the period to an exclamation point. His right hand was cupped behind his left ear as if listening. His hair was slick and sticky, his face blood speckled, the eyes rolled back. A half-opened mouth revealed perfect teeth shining bright blue-white in the harsh light.
A weird little part of me imagined an augur in mid-vision ecstasy uttering mysteries. The rest of me saw the twisted handiwork of a serial killer.
Not half an hour past, I’d been willing to peer inside that head for clues. Listen to those revelations. Now, looking at what had become of Mr. Lau, I touched the lump of the faraday pouch through my jacket.
I didn’t know if I wanted to whip it out and use it right then, or if I was warding off evil spirits.
Good point, I thought. They were stacking up against me fast, those points.
“Which, like I also said, is why this…” she hissed as she nudged the pouch, “is restricted by international law. God Almighty, Zek. We barely process our own thoughts correctly, let alone someone else’s. When a corporate wire head first discovered the neural buffer overflow, researchers thought they could read minds. Eighty percent of the first accessors snapped. The other twenty percent were so fucking scrambled, it took weeks for them to recover a stable identity. We’re talking about deep diving into the weird liminal space between meat and machine. You can lose your shit touching another person’s mind like this. Lose yourself.”
“Touch their soul, you mean?” I asked softly.
“I mean invade it on their worst day. Hell, their last day.”
The silver pouch sat between us radiating ugly endings like an exposed nuclear core.
I ignored it, pushed through. “Seven victims, Loi. Seven. Each one sliced , chopped, and arranged like a meat bouquet.”
“And the ever-vigilant NKPD has no leads. Nothing?”
“Would I be asking you for that if there was?”
“So no DNA?” she scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.”
“They’ve lifted a metric shitload of ambient, traces but nothing substantial around the bodies. I told you whoever is doing this is extremely careful.”
“What about video?” She countered. “We live in a surveillance state, for God’s sake. Big Brother and Big Sister are watching. Between the state security net and social media, the whole world’s gone Panopticon.”
“The future is here, it’s still not evenly distributed, Loi. You know that. That’s why you’re still down here. Go two blocks off Shao-Bei Street, public security is spotty at best. This is a dark district. Thirty-plus thousand people per square kilometer, ninety percent day laborers, bottom rung service workers, and their families. Hell, a quarter of them aren’t even Chipped. Extending the public security net for a bunch of immigrants and refugees isn’t high on the Council’s budget. So long as the Shao-Bei shoppers are unmolested, the city only cares if there’s a goddamn riot.”
She looked away at that. I caught myself, suddenly grateful for what she didn’t point out.
She cleared her throat. The awkwardness dissolved. I took a deep breath and continued. “Look… the bodies were all found in dead zones. This is someone who knows this district, knows how and where to hide. A predator. I have to stop them or more people are going to get carved into anatomy displays. To do that, I need to step outside the lines.”
I nodded at the pouch. “Show me how this works. Please.”
Loi clenched her teeth. Stared at the pouch. Then at me. “If you die, don’t come crying to me,” she said finally.
She tipped the silvery sack and slid its contents on the counter; a small, gray box with a stubby antenna and an LED display, and a crimson flash stick. Both had ‘Fishing Gear’ written on them in Chinese.
Loi picked up the box. “WiFi extender. Very short range. Turn it on and you have an ultra-secure wireless network within a 3 meter radius.” The flash stick. “Go-to-prison-for-the-rest-of your-life splice-ware. Slot it in the extender’s USB and let it run. You need the target’s PIP, but Personal Internet Protocols are synced to the individual and heavily encrypted for a reason. This will cut through that for a limited time. PIP encryption changes at random intervals as part of the security, so whatever you’re doing, you need to do fast.”
She set the flash stick down with a snap and scowled at me. “And don’t lose your mind or have a hemorrhagic stroke while you’re at it.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“You’re light years away from your best, messing with this.”
I couldn’t disagree.
I put the box and flash stick back in the pouch, put the pouch in my jacket pocket. “What else? There’s always something else.”
Concern flitted across her face like the shadow of a sparrow in flight. She tamped down on it and turned back to the prosthetic hand. “Neural chips run off bio-electricity. The circuitry starts to fragment and degrade once a person dies. I have no idea what you’re going to find or what condition it’ll be in when you do. If you’re lucky, there will be nothing left and you can apply your idiocy to regular police work.”
“Thanks,” I said.
She sucked her teeth, yanked the cloth off the hand and went back to work. “Just bring that back to me when you’re done, understand?”
She waved one hand again without looking my way. The lights brightened and the door unlocked. “You better, Zek.”
I walked outside. It was nearly two a.m. The smell of street food sat heavy on the cool night air. The shift-change crowds were gone and the traffic noise was subdued. If I looked up and squinted, the warning lights winking on the underside of the Terrace could almost pass for stars.
Late as it was, pouch weighing in my jacket pocket, I felt lighter somehow. Something I hadn’t felt in weeks. Like hope.
My stomach rumbled and I made a beeline for the nearest food stall.
I was halfway there when a NKPD alert bloomed in my mind: another body. Dissected. Arranged.