Vestal Sins: Chapter One: The First Forty-Eight
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<email@example.com>
Date: 19 June 2009, 3:20 am
Detective Sergeant Eyal Dayan pulled his car to a slow stop in front of the Waverleigh Heights Manor House. Eyal wondered if the owners were being intentionally ironic, or were simply optimistic. Before him lay one of the most dismal tenements he had ever laid eyes upon. His manner of work had brought him to places far worse than this, looming towers of ill-repair and foul odors. Yet this tenement, its bare concrete face set against the craggy mountains of the valley and the slate sky above, made the scene an entirely grey affair, gloomy enough to plunge his spirits to even greater depths.
Eyal turned off his stereo at the conclusion of Tartini's Devil's Trill Sonata, allowing himself at least the pleasure of the final haunting keystroke. He brought the bottle of juice to his lips and finished the last of the sweet liquid, thus concluding, rather early, all his day's planned delights. As he opened the door, the elements greeted him with a particularly chill gust of wind that cut through his coat and gloves like a blade. Almost immediately the tips of his fingers turned to ice. He kicked the door shut and proceeded to the outer stairwell of the dungeon before him.
Contemplating his misery must have had an ill-effect on his concentration. On the second flight he slipped on a patch of ice, slamming his shin hard upon the stair edge above. He clutched his leg in pain and cursed foully. A passing woman asked if he was alright, and he responded with a guttural snarl. She retreated down the stairs as he slowly righted himself. He winced at the incident; he could not bring himself to feel good about it.
On the third floor balcony he saw a pair of Militia officers standing outside one of the many apartment doors. They regarded him coldly as he approached. The Militia were the ex-Marines of the VEF who presently helped the Department maintain law and order in their bloated city. Their primary responsibility was the security of the refugee camps, but their presence was becoming increasingly pervasive in the central districts as well. They often chafed with the local police, and took issue with their ascribed role as a mere buttress to the Department's authority. Having the investigation into the murder of one of their own conducted outside their ranks own must have boiled their blood. He couldn't say that he blamed them, though their hostile stares irked him nonetheless.
Eyal nodded curtly to them as he prepared to enter. One of them held up a hand to stop him. "It ain't pretty in there," he said simply. Eyal could detect nothing the officer's eyes. He continued in, somewhat bemused.
The interior was as bleak as the prison façade. The deceased appeared not to be keen on furniture. A single tattered couch sat before an unpretentious vid screen. An oak desk and a small bookcase were the only other accouterments that populated the room, the rest of the remaining space being empty save for a few free-weights and other pieces of exercise equipment. Eyal suspected a woman—a civilian one, at any rate—had never stepped foot in this apartment. It was a soldier's space, through and through.
His partner emerged from an adjoining room, a look of consternation upon her face. "Eyal," she said. "You're here."
"No need to walk on eggshells, Michelle," he said with a sigh. "I'm here now. Let's just get this the fuck over with."
Eyal could not resist a sense of nostalgia for better days. A few years ago, a crime scene such as this one would have been crawling with detectives, uniforms, and analysts. This long after the discovery of the body, every square centimeter of the room would have already been processed. Still, an entourage of four responders was better than what was accorded to most crime scenes these days. A testament to the stature of the victim.
As he approached he began to detect a certain familiar smell—not quite the putrid stench of human decomposition, but the rather more subtle scent of death. His nose had become very sensitive to the indefinable odor over the years, at least when he was expecting it.
The body was in the bedroom, and the sight of it took him aback. A man was tied to a chair in the center of the room, his arms and legs bound tightly with bloodied twine. His torso was covered in so many gunshot wounds that Eyal could not distinguish their number; a rather easier task for his head, which showed, above the dripping cloth that gagged his mouth, a single hole between the eyes.
"You must be Eyal," said a woman kneeling beside the body.
He raised his eyebrows at her unfamiliar face. "Yes. Hello."
"My name is Dr. Salehi," she said shortly.
"The Department requisitioned her from the hospital," Mantega explained when no further introduction was proffered. "Dr. Jessop was otherwise occupied today, so she'll be the coroner for this case."
"Taken from the sick to tend to the dead," Salehi muttered.
"I'm sorry to waste your time," Eyal responded evenly.
Mantega shook her head slowly, and Eyal relented with a sigh. "So, I presume the deceased has been identified."
"His name is Luis Cordova," Mantega said. "He's a Major in the Massilia Militia Corps. Apparently he's well known to his comrades—our friends outside both knew him personally. He distinguished himself in the war, now he's a mainstay in the Militia. Or was."
"Right. Who called it in?"
Mantega nodded towards the door. "They did. They tell me that Cordova has never yet absented a shift in his three years with the Militia, certainly not without leave. They dispatched a pair of officers in the area to check on him. They found him like this."
Eyal studied the body again and resisted a shudder. "What can you tell me about him, doctor?" he asked.
Salehi, submerging her own hostility beneath her work, plunged quickly into her findings. "Clearly the victim was restrained before he was killed." She lifted the man's hand from the armrest. "His fingers were all broken, and his face also sustained multiple lacerations and breaks."
"He was tortured?"
She nodded. "Undoubtedly. However, there is almost no bruising or swelling around the fractures, so he wasn't tortured for very long before he was killed."
"I see. What else?"
"Time of death was approximately eight hours ago, around 0200 last night. I'd need to perform an autopsy to officially determine cause of death, but excessive bleeding indicates he was killed by the gunshot wounds and not before. It could be exsanguination, but my guess is brain damage brought about by ballistic trauma."
"You think the headshot was the fatal wound?"
"I believe this was an act of pure rage. Likely the assailant wished to torture Mr. Cordova longer than he did, but could not restrain himself any longer, and executed him, face to face. Emptied the clip in fury afterwards."
Eyal could not resist a smirk. "Were you a detective or something, doctor?"
There was no mirth on Salehi's face. "No, but I was a corpsman." Eyal averted his eyes. Salehi continued, "With that in mind, I must comment on the gunshot wounds themselves."
"What about them?" Mantega asked.
"Well, the casings you recovered were from .40 caliber rounds, and there were sixteen in all. Plus, I saw my fair share of GSWs just like this during the war—usually in suicides. You'd have to confirm in your lab, but I'd guess your weapon is a Sai-ngam G6."
"Standard issue VEF sidearm," said Mantega with a nod.
"Standard issue for Militia, too," Eyal murmured. "You're sure he wasn't just killed with his own weapon?"
"His sidearm is stowed away safely with his uniform," said Mantega. "It hasn't been fired recently."
"Alright." He turned to Salehi. "Anything else?"
"No. That's all I can tell you without an autopsy. Speaking of which
"Our CSUs will be here shortly," said Mantega. "They'll collect the body."
"I'll just wait here, then," Salehi said grumpily.
"They'll bring the body to your hospital's morgue later today," Mantega reassured her. "Thank you for your time. You can leave."
The doctor said nothing further, though she appeared gratified. Hastily gathering her effects, she briskly left the apartment.
A cold gust of wind violently shuddered the windows of the bedroom, interrupting the moment of silence between the partners as they awaited the doctor's departure. "Well, don't I just look like an asshole," Eyal muttered, running a hand across his unshaven face.
"You were never any good with people," Mantega said, amused. "I can't blame you, though. You put in more hours than anyone I know. I hated to have to call you in earlier."
"I appreciate that, Michelle." He glanced sidelong at the body in the center of the room, feeling obscene to be having a conversation in its presence. Corpses did not typically bother him—he had seen plenty over the years. But they were usually body-dumps in alleyways, or unlucky victims of drunken brawls. A man who had been tied to a chair, tortured, and executed was a sight unfamiliar to him.
He looked mournfully towards the door. "Have you questioned the neighbors yet?"
She smiled. "I was waiting for you."
"Time to put my people skills to work, then."
They left the apartment in turn, Eyal glad to leave the horrific corpse behind. The lock on the front door was still busted from the officers' initial entry, though he tried to close it as best he could. "No one goes in or out until the CSUs get here," he said to the officer who had spoken to him earlier.
"I know the drill," he returned coldly.
"Alright." He turned to Mantega. "You go left and I'll go right?"
"Sounds good," she said, immediately setting off to her task.
Eyal strolled with purposeful slowness to the apartment door immediately to the right of Cordova's. Only one other part of his job aggravated him more than questioning witnesses, and that was informing people of their loved one's death. The predictable reactions of anger and grief would follow, and he would stand there stolidly, absorbing it but not feeling it, and so made awkward. Questioning witnesses was much the same, only instead of grief there was spluttering confusion, and the anger was often more palpable. All the same, he preferred to bear the brunt of abuse rather than helpless sorrow.
The first apartment was mercifully empty. He marked the number in his notepad in case they had to return.
He was not so lucky with the second. A man promptly came to the door upon his knock. He was middle aged, probably close to fifty. Eyal guessed the man was a veteran: he walked with the sort of artificial gait characteristic of prosthetics. His face, covered in thick stubble, was rough-skinned and marred by several scars that were either too deep or too expensive to be completely covered. He reeked of alcohol, despite the early hour.
"What do you want?" the man asked, his deep-set eyes narrowing at the sight of him.
"Sir, my name is Eyal Dayan. I'm with Massilia Metro Police. Can I ask you your name?"
The man continued to eye him warily. "Get enough of your types 'round here. Well, not really your type though, are they? The Militia, they call themselves. The soldier boys. Only they ain't soldiers anymore. War's over."
Eyal sighed. "Were you here in your residence last night, sir?"
"Of course I was. Where else would I be?" He frowned. "What kind of question is that?"
"Did you hear anything last night? Any strange noises?"
"This damn building, it creaks and moans something awful. Rickety old place, this. And it catches all the drafts coming off the mountains."
"I mean something more particular. Loud noises, like an altercation, perhaps."
"No." The man scratched his head. "What is this about?"
Eyal pointed down the walkway. "A man was killed last night, two doors down from you. He was a Militia officer."
The man's eyes opened wide, his face suddenly animated. "Killed? How?"
"He was shot to death," Eyal said, his patience waning.
"Shot, eh? No, I didn't hear any shots. I would have, too, you know. I wake up at every little thing. Haven't gotten a proper sleep in years, years." The man rubbed his nettled chin and clucked his tongue as Eyal shoved his notepad away. "Shot. Unbelievable!"
"What's that sir?" Eyal asked tiredly.
"Well, Christ, boy, you remember before the end of the war, surely! A lawman, murdered in his own home? Such things just didn't happen! I'll bet it was another of those Goddamn fugees, escaped from their wretched camps. It's not enough they suck us dry, take everything from us. But they lash out, kill, steal, rape! We bled for them on their lands, and they repay us by pillaging everything we have. We are more miserable in victory than we were in defeat!"
"Thank you for your time, sir," Eyal said, trying to depart. But the man persisted.
"I follow the news, you know. Not much else to do, these days. They say that Lansing fellow is going to win. I don't understand it! He promises more of the same or worse, and they cheer him for it. We must save ourselves, first."
"Get some rest, sir," Eyal said as he walked away.
"Catch him!" the man shouted after him. "Put a bullet in him! No more room for vagrants!" He shuffled back inside, still muttering to himself.
Eyal stood in front of the next door for a moment, breathing the cold air deeply. He tried to prepare himself for the next encounter. Just as he was about to knock, however, the door opened of its own accord. Below him stood a young girl, no more than six, dressed in a plain but clean pink frock. Her face was too thin, her bright blue eyes appearing sunken and over-large. Her wispy blonde hair was tied back in a carefully prepared pony-tail.
"Hello," she said kindly.
"Good morning," he said, careful not to bend down and so appear condescending. "My name is Eyal. I'm a police officer. Do you have a parent home?"
"My mom's in the shower," she replied, gesturing behind her. "What are you here for?"
Eyal hesitated, wondering what he should reveal. "Did you hear anything strange last night?" he asked at length.
The girl thought for a moment. "No, I didn't hear anything strange. I did see something strange, though."
"What do you mean?"
"I saw a man pass by our room last night. He didn't belong." She leaned closer and whispered, "I think he was a monster."
Eyal felt his heart quicken. "Where did you see him? What time was it?"
"It was really late last night, I don't remember when exactly. I was sitting right there." She pointed to a small chair situated next to the front window that overlooked the walkway.
"Did you get a good look at the man?" he asked.
She nodded slowly. "Yes. He looked right at me—I think he saw me." Her eyes widened in remembrance. "His face was really hairy and his clothes were all ripped up. When he looked at me, his expression was wild, like a dog's. I think
" she paused in thought. "I think he was a werewolf."
At that moment, a woman in a bathrobe emerged from the bedroom. Her hair, still damp, was blonde as well, but like her face, it was much fuller than her daughter's. She walked quickly to the girl and put her hands protectively across her shoulders, withdrawing her a few steps from Eyal. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Why are you talking to my daughter?"
He pulled out his badge and held it out for her. "I'm Detective Dayan, with Metro," he said.
She frowned as she scanned the badge, but was apparently satisfied by it. "Why are you here, Detective?"
"Ma'am, a man was murdered on your floor last night. A Militia officer, no less."
She appeared startled at the news, though not half so much as her daughter. The little girl's eyes opened wide, and her mouth dropped open. She edged closer to her mother's robe.
"My God," the mother breathed. "He was killed? Here?"
"Yes, ma'am. He was shot to death in his room. And I believe your daughter saw the murderer."
"What?" This did rather more to unsettle her. She looked down at her daughter, directing her face upwards with her hand. "Who did you see, Lauren?"
The girl's eyes opened even wider, as Eyal had scarcely thought possible, but her voice did not tremble. "He scared me, mama," she said.
"Who did?" Eyal asked. "The bearded man?"
"No," she shook her head, returning her frightened gaze to him. "The army man. He had mean eyes."
Eyal paused at this. "What about the bearded man?"
"He looked scared, too," she said. "He looked at me, into my eyes. And then he ran away, that way." She pointed down the walkway in the opposite direction of Cordova's room.
He nodded slowly. "Thank you Lauren. You've been a big help."
"Go to your room, sweetheart," her mother said. She let her gaze rest on Eyal once her daughter was gone, coldly regarding him in silence.
"Did you hear or see anything, ma'am?" he asked.
"No. Will that be all?"
"Did he scare you, too? Cordova, I mean—the officer."
She shrugged. "He never bothered me."
"That's not what I asked." When she remained silent, he continued, "One more thing, ma'am. Your daughter—how did she see this man? Our pathologist indicated he was killed around two o'clock last night. I just ask to determine her reliability."
"If Lauren said that she saw something, she saw it."
"I mean to ask..."
"I know what you meant," she said sharply, cutting him off. "Lauren has leukemia. They don't have enough beds at the hospital for her unless her condition worsens. Her medication keeps her up at night. She says watching the cars pass by in the dark helps her fall asleep sometimes."
Eyal lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Is that all?" she asked brusquely.
"Don't come back here." She closed the door.
Eyal slowly walked away from the door. He tried to shake the encounter away, casting the memory of the little girl's eyes from his mind. He strode past the remaining apartments on the floor, heading instead for the far edge of the balcony: retracing the steps of the murderer. He gripped the balustrade tightly and surveyed his surroundings.
Waverleigh was a residential district situated in the northern end of the Ravenna River Valley, a sorry crop of grey tenements and squat warehouses bounded by the impenetrable escarpment of the mountains above. Far away from the city center, the district was at least well-serviced by the Massilia subway network. Across the street below was one such station. Eyal dialled the Department.
"Lee. It's Eyal."
"Ah." He sounded harassed. "How goes the investigation?"
"I spoke to a witness who I think might have seen the murderer. I don't think our man has a car. Probably doesn't have much of anything at all."
"What are you thinking? A fugee?"
"Maybe. I don't know yet. Anyway, I need you to pull the security footage for the subway station at Waverleigh Heights Manor. Mantega and I are finishing up here, we'll be back within the hour."
"I'll have it ready for you," said Lee, promptly ending the call.
Eyal turned sharply to retrieve his partner. He was done here. God willing, he would make this a short day.
The station was chaos. It always was.
Eyal could remember the usual scene in the station before the end of the war. The floor would be filled with desk sergeants quietly filing their paperwork and tending to the various administrative duties the Department demanded. Tired officers would be coming off their shifts, grabbing some coffee before they left and mingling with the officers just arriving. Detectives would cluster around a desk or in a corner to discuss a case, at times passionately or urgently, but more often than not in the even tones of routine. Maybe a few pick-ups would be hanging around the peripheries, usually troubled teens or desultory prostitutes, those veterans of arrest who were bored by the well-practiced system.
No longer. About the same number of people did three times the work. The same desk sergeants, the older officers who had once anticipated a comfortable retirement, frantically tried to file paperwork that was never entirely finished. Haggard officers stopped only to retreat from their double shifts, or to deliver pick-ups for processing before heading back out. The pick-ups themselves were no longer the familiar faces of the street, but only those dangerous enough to warrant the time and effort. Addicts and hookers were turned loose with only a warning and a fine they would never pay. Uniforms were too scarce to waste their time on such pedestrian crimes.
Eyal and Mantega rushed past the bustling throng towards the rear of the station. They entered the records room, which was uncharacteristically quiet. Lee sat before the monitors, scribbling something on a piece of paper. Amrita Singh, the captain, stood with her arms crossed, staring at them intently as they entered.
"You're back," she said.
"Indeed," Eyal returned with a nod.
"I'm sorry I had to call you in, but there was no one else."
"I've been apologized to enough, today, captain. I'm over it."
She sighed, rubbing her haggard face. Eyal could summon no anger against her. Singh was seemingly omnipresent at the station, like a fixture on the wall. The ragged couch in her office sometimes had a blanket tucked beneath its uneven cushions; he suspected she had spent many nights without seeing home.
"Good," she said. "Now that I have you, listen up. I can't stress this enough: this case is priority one. We have less than forty-eight hours to tie this one off before we have to hand it over to the Militia. As you can imagine, our friends are chomping at the bit to get a piece of this guy, and the city council has given us a strict deadline before they relent. We all know the Militia have been muscling in on our jurisdiction. Murder one is still a firmly Metro responsibility. Let's keep it that way."
They both nodded. "I think I have an actionable lead," Eyal said.
"So I've heard. Lee has pulled the footage you asked for."
Eyal leaned over Lee's shoulder to stare at the screen, knowing it irked the analyst. "This is the entrance cam for the Waverleigh station last night," he said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Alright. Narrow it to between two and three in the a.m."
"Do you know exactly what you're looking for?" Singh asked.
"I have an idea." He watched the screen intently as Lee sped the feed to double speed. There were very few passengers entering the station so late—picking out a man of the child's description would not be too difficult.
"Who was the witness, anyway?" Mantega asked.
Eyal thought back to the little girl. "A woman on Cordova's floor," he lied. "A few doors down."
"Why didn't you bring her in?" Singh asked.
He shrugged. "She was heading off to work and didn't want to be detained. She gave me a pretty good description. Wait!" He pointed to the screen as Lee stopped the footage. He studied the still form on the screen, the figure in the middle of a rapid descent down the station's steps. The timestamp was 02:21. "He matches the description."
The others crowded around the screen, carefully examining the man. "He looks like a vagrant," Mantega said.
"Looks like a fugee," Lee murmured.
Singh remained silent for a moment, still looking at the figure. "You think that's the killer?" she asked earnestly.
"Time matches, description matches," Eyal confirmed with a nod. "And he looks to be in a mighty rush."
"Play the footage, Lee," Mantega ordered.
They followed the man's hurried progress across the surveillance network. He squeezed onto a near-empty train just as its doors were closing. "Looks like the forty-two," Lee said. "Southbound."
"Follow the train's stops," Mantega said. "See where he gets off."
After seeing the dismal interiors of more than a dozen subway stations, Eyal finally saw their quarry emerge into one particularly scarred stop. "There he is."
"That's the Sackville station on Sofia and fourth," Lee said.
"What's the surveillance system like in the Sackville area?" Mantega asked as they watched the man leaving the station.
"Same as it is in all those shitty neighborhoods," Lee grunted as he twisted his chair around. "City never bothered to put many cameras up in the first place, and the locals always seem to find them and bust them."
"They do like their privacy," Mantega sighed.
Eyal scratched his chin, still watching as the man climbed the final steps to the surface. "This guy did get the drop on a Militia officer, but I don't think he's a master criminal. My witness said he seemed panicked, and he certainly looks like it on the cameras, too. My guess is that if he got off at that station, he's living or squatting within walking distance of it." He turned to face Mantega and Singh. "I'll bet he's still there."
Mantega smirked. "What are we still waiting for?"
Singh nodded slowly. "Okay then. I'll put an APB on this guy and get our own uniforms to double up in the Sackville area. And I'll get our Militia friends to stand by in the area, just in case." She clasped her hands together in satisfaction. "Now you two: do your jobs. Find this guy. Today."
Neither the day's progression nor distance from the mountains could do anything to warm the air. The wind was still frigid and biting, freezing the ubiquitous mounds of snow into solid blocks of ice. The poor weather did not, however, dampen the energy of the day. The streets of Sackville were clogged with people and cars.
It was a blessing, Eyal knew, that Vesta had responded to the crisis with such verve, even if it occasionally took a bitter turn. Other colonies, like Corsini, had simply collapsed under the sheer weight of humanity; many others still were now but names for history. Yet the crowds and traffic that followed him everywhere forever violated his pretentions to privacy and space that his upbringing had imbibed in him, and more than once drove him to thoughts of a quiet retreat.
"Where in Christ are we going to start?" Mantega asked above the general din.
It was a good question. The man's appearance suggested that they ought to start with the local tramps, but getting information out of them was usually an exercise in futility, and they had little time to waste. Yet asking passersby or locals in the current environment would likely prove equally unsuccessful.
"We need a local business that a poor man would frequent," said Eyal after some thought. "A grocery store, maybe. Or a bar."
Mantega nudged him and pointed across the street. At the corner of the far block was an Ithaca Post, a privately run organization that tried to reunite native Vestals or acclimated refugees with family members in the camps. "He did look like a fugee," Mantega said. "Maybe he was looking for someone he left behind."
"It's worth checking," he agreed. They crossed the street at a rare break in traffic and entered the building.
Considering its purpose, the interior was surprisingly clean and well-kept, but the small space was unbearably crowded. A long, twisting queue led to a counter where three harassed clerks sat behind row of computers and tall stacks of paper. Along the walls were dozens more distraught people, desperately checking all the latest postings or the arrival times of the incoming transport ships.
At length, Eyal and Mantega were able to elbow their way towards the front. One of the clerks eyed them warily as they approached, and a security guard behind the counter took a step forward. "Excuse me, sir," Eyal said to the clerk, "we need to ask you a few questions."
"Are you kidding me?" the man snapped, turning his attention from the woman he was attending to. "Do you see all these people?"
"We're in a hurry," said Eyal, pulling out his badge.
The man glanced angrily at the offending article. "You know, you cops are in here every week, waving your badges around, treating refugees like the bogeyman."
"Hey," Mantega said sharply before Eyal could respond. "We just need a moment."
After casting the woman a quick apologetic glance, he turned to face them. "What do you want?"
Mantega showed him a still capture of the man in the subway. "Do you recognize this man?" she asked.
The clerk gave it a quick scan. "No. I've never seen him before." He looked back up, his tired eyes full of anger. "Is that it?"
"Come on, man," Eyal said, leaning closer to him. "Give us a break. We don't know if this guy is a refugee, a local, or a Goddamn ghost. That's why we're asking you. And the sooner you give us an honest answer, the sooner we'll leave."
The man sighed deeply, giving the picture a closer study. "No," he said, more evenly this time. "I get a lot who look like that, but not him."
"You're sure?" Mantega asked.
"Look," he began quietly, edging closer so that the woman he was attending to could not hear. "We get the same people in here every week. They always come back, stand in the same line for hours, get the same soul-crushing news. I've seen a lot of faces, but I've never seen that one. And I'm here all the time."
Eyal looked into the man's tired eyes, saw the week's growth of stubble on his face: he believed him. "So probably not a refugee, then."
"Who can say," he answered with a shrug. "All I can tell you is that if he is a refugee, he doesn't live around here."
"Thank you," Mantega said in parting.
They emerged into the cold, standing together for a moment just outside the door. A few passing pedestrians cast them irritated glances. "Probably looking for a native," Eyal said slowly. "Not a refugee."
Mantega said nothing for a moment, just rubbing her hands together for warmth. "Or he's smarter than we thought," she said at length. "Knew we'd be watching him on the vids. Gave us the slip."
"No." Eyal shook his head confidently. "No, he lives here, I'm sure of it. Let's keep going."
A few more stops offered equally fruitless results. They tried varied businesses—a bank; a convenience store; a laundromat. None had anyone who recognized the man, or at any rate were willing to say as much to the police.
"This must have been easier back in the day," Mantega said in frustration as they left a local vendor. "When they could actually commit more than two damn officers."
Eyal's face darkened at this. Mantega winced and opened her mouth to say something—he willed her not to. She must have understood, and simply averted her eyes.
"That fits the bill," Mantega announced instead after another block of silence. She pointed to a prominent café ahead, with the words "North Star Coffee" emblazoned in Mandarin on the awning overhead. Its snow-covered patio tables lay abandoned and overturned in testament to the season and the neighborhood, but beyond the frosted windows lay bare a veritable crowd within.
"Let's do it," Eyal said.
The café was indeed as busy as it looked. The tough times over the past three years had been the death knell for many businesses, both large and small. Yet in these days, when lawyers were building ships and accountants were plowing the earth, homey neighborhood cafes like the North Star were thriving. Such businesses flourished as gathering spots for the mass of workers with little money or no access, enlivened by passionate discussion or even public displays of artistic talent. Some were even suggesting that the current troubles had saved humanity from the permanent isolation wrought upon modern man by technological delights. Or so Eyal had read. He did not partake of the social pleasures so described.
One man at the counter was idly cleaning the machines while the baristas struggled to keep up with the orders. Eyal and Mantega headed straight for him.
"Can I help you, officers?" the man asked without looking up from his work.
Eyal chuckled. "With just your peripherals," he said, impressed. "Good eye."
He looked up with a faint smile on his own lips. "This is Sackville. We get plenty of your types coming in here. Now what can I do for you?"
"We're looking for a man we think might live around here." Eyal showed him the picture.
The man looked at the still for a moment; he blinked. Quickly he snapped his head back up, and held Eyal's gaze steadily. "Never seen him." He slid the photo back to him.
Mantega slid it back. "Take another look," she growled.
"I've never seen him before," he repeated stolidly.
"Look," Mantega began, holding the photo in place on the countertop, "this guy isn't wanted for jaywalking. He killed a Militia officer—a Major, no less. He tied him up, tortured him, and executed him." The man's face remained emotionless, but Eyal could detect a flicker in his eye; of nerves or just surprise Eyal could not quite tell. "Now Metro has forty-eight hours to bring this guy in, or else the case is being handed off to the Militia. And then they're gonna come here, and use their own particular methods to find the man who killed one of their own."
For a moment the man retained his mask, before frowning and grumbling a harsh obscenity. "I know the man," he sighed, before holding up a hand and casting Mantega a severe look. "Not that well, though."
"You don't say?"
He returned to his frown. "He comes in here a lot, usually after five. Said his name was Isaac Gables."
Mantega cast Eyal a sidelong look. It was a lucky break. Eyal brought out his notepad. "Tell me about Isaac, Mr
"Jiang. Proprietor," he added before continuing. "I've owned this place for thirty-three years, back when the Covenant didn't mean anything outside the Bible. I've seen more faces pass through here than I could ever count, but I remember them all pretty well. Isaac started coming in here about twenty years ago, been a regular ever since. Comes in here a couple times a week, usually after five—always orders the same thing: coffee, cream, no sugar, and a blueberry muffin. Always tries to sit right over there," he pointed to a corner table by a window.
"What can you tell me about him, Mr. Jiang?"
"Nothing profound. He didn't talk much. At least not to anyone here." He squinted his eyes in remembrance. "Back when he first started coming here, though, he caused a bit of a disturbance. See, he sits alone in his corner, and talks to himself sometimes
sometimes pretty loud, too."
"What does he say?" Mantega asked.
"Nothing. Just gibberish, as far as I can tell. Asks for his mother sometimes, and someone named Claire." He shook his head. "Anyway, some of the customers started complaining about him when he first came here. I thought he was just another crazy off the street. So I went over to kick him out, and ended up talking with him for about an hour. One of the nicest guys I've ever met. Now everyone's used to him, and they mostly just leave him alone. He has a few screws loose, no doubt about it. But he's harmless." He shook his head again. "He's just not capable of doing what you say."
"Was he a war vet?" Mantega ventured, remembering Dr. Salehi's suggestion.
"I don't know. I never did ask. I do get a lot of 'em in here, though—veterans, that is. Usually they came in two kinds: hollow or angry. Isaac struck me as the type born the way he was."
Eyal prompted Jiang to return his gaze to him. "Do you know where we could find Mr. Gables?"
"No. Honestly, no," he repeated, after Eyal narrowed his eyes. "As I said, I don't know him very well. He's just a customer."
"Thank you, Mr. Jiang," Mantega said. "We may be contacting you later."
"I understand," Jiang said, turning quickly back to his half-hearted cleaning.
"You believe him?" Eyal asked as they exited the cafe.
"I think everything he told us about our suspect was true," she said. "He might be lying about not knowing where he lives. But if he got off the subway in this neighborhood, and frequents this place, he's gotta be nearby."
Eyal glanced up and down the busy street, scanning the second story windows of the long rows of buildings. "How do you want to do this? Stake out here, see if he comes back?"
Mantega frowned. "Jiang said he only comes in a couple times a week. We're on a timeline here—we don't have the luxury to fuck about. And even if he isn't a criminal mastermind, he might be spooked, getting set to run."
"Let's close the net, then," Eyal said, reaching for his phone. He dialed Lee.
"Eyal," Lee's voice greeted after many rings. "Tell me you're getting somewhere. The Captain's in a state. I'm pretty sure she's gonna give herself a heart attack."
"You'll be glad to help, then," he remarked grimly. "I need you to check if there are any registered residents by the name of Isaac Gables within ten blocks of my current location."
A pause. "Sorry, Eyal. No luck."
"Try just first name Isaac."
"Yep," Lee confirmed. "Two. I'm sending their addresses to you now. Anything else?"
"Not for now. Thanks Lee." He turned to Mantega. "Two possible locations."
"How convenient," she said with a grin.
"We'll get our friends to standby at both locations. And we'll get this son of a bitch." He returned her grin. "You go left and I'll go right?"
Sackville was populated with drab but serviceable buildings. Their walls were marred by the occasional spray-paint tag or smashed window, but they were not generally the deathtraps that they were sometimes thought to be by those fortunate enough to live elsewhere. The apartment which Lee had directed him to, however, epitomized the stereotype of urban decay that plagued the neighborhood. From without, the tenement loomed high and crooked, as if it were tired and had to lean on the adjacent building to keep from collapsing under its exhaustion. Inside, the lobby was bereft of heat, though the cold could do nothing to suppress the foul odor that seemed to waft from the cracks in the walls. As he so often did, Eyal wondered whether disreputable types were naturally drawn to such places, or if such places effected such hopeless anger that they begot disreputable behavior.
Eyal walked right in, for the lock on the door was broken and looked as if it had been so for quite some time. Beyond a row of mostly broken postal boxes was an elevator. He opted for the stairwell instead, despite the rather demanding climb.
A lot of graffiti lined the walls along the stairs, mostly amateur scrawlings of little or only personal meaning. A few, however, were more sinister and recognizable. He picked out a few local gang emblems, simpler and more precise than the inexpert attempts at art that surrounded them. He even saw a handful of symbols of the Black Hand, the southern political terrorists who, after the Civil War gave way to the Covenant War, reinvented themselves as street thugs and extortionists. These tags were old and faded, faintly peering out from the walls like specters of Vesta's violent past.
He reached the sixth floor slightly out of breath, taking a moment to scan both ends of the long corridor he found himself in. The hallway was poorly lit and littered with heaps of garbage and loose papers. He was startled as one such refuse pile writhed on the floor next to him, and almost went for his gun. Looking closer, he saw a man's face in the midst of the trash, a squatter sleeping under newspapers and a filthy rag. He smelled like an open sewer.
He proceeded down the corridor towards the apartment number Lee had pulled up. Towards the end he saw a man approaching cradling a bag of groceries in his arms. The bag obscured his face, which to Eyal looked little different from the squatter he just passed, and very nearly he did not recognize him. Yet something in the way the man slowed as Eyal approached compelled him to a closer study, and he saw among the bristling hair the eyes of which the little girl had spoken.
Eyal's hand dropped to his hip as the man came to a complete stop. "Isaac Gables?" he queried.
For a brief moment, Eyal and Gables stood still, facing each other, staring the other down. Then, in a flash of movement, Gables flung the bag at Eyal, missing him but forcing a startled lurch. Gables was already half-way down the hall before he started to pursue, gun in hand.
"Stop!" Eyal screamed, almost incoherently.
Gables ran to a window at the rear wall, slowing a little to wrench it open. Eyal almost thought he could catch him, but he slipped through just beyond his reach. Gables vaulted onto the rusted platform of an unsteady fire-escape. Eyal followed without hesitation.
"I have the suspect," he panted into his radio as he chased Gables down the narrow steps. "He is proceeding down the east fire-escape on ninth."
Gables was putting distance between them, racing down the treacherous steps with reckless abandon. On the bottom platform he simply vaulted over the rail, landing hard on the pavement almost twenty feet below. He stumbled, but hardly slowed, and continued running.
Eyal grabbed his radio in frustration. "Suspect is proceeding north up the rear alley," he grunted.
He lowered himself rather more cautiously from the bottom ladder and resumed his chase. Ahead he could see a couple of Militia Warthogs blocking the exit to the street. Their flashing lights bathed the dark alley in an alternate red and blue glow. Gables lay on the ground before three Militia officers, curled up in a protective ball with his hands covering his face. Eyal arrived just as a brutal kick was delivered to Gables' side.
"Stop," was all Eyal could manage, his breath robbed by his exertions and his nerves.
They cast him a fleeting glance before they resumed their beating. Gables did not scream, but only grunted and curled up into a tighter ball.
"Hey, stop!" Eyal commanded, catching his breath. "He's ours."
One of the officers stopped to turn and face Eyal. He was not especially tall, but he had the broad shoulders and thick jowls of a boxer, and even at an appreciable distance Eyal could see the intensity with which the officer's eyes bore into him. "He didn't kill one of yours," he growled, quietly but dangerously. "He's ours. Now fuck off." The officer punctuated his command by bringing a heavily booted foot upon Gable's clenched fingers, eliciting his first agonized scream.
"Stop right now!" Eyal shouted. For the second time in the last few minutes, his hand drifted towards his holster. The Militiamen all clutched their weapons a little tighter, and turned at last to face him seriously.
The lead Militia stared at him furiously. "Are you serious?" he hissed. "You'd draw on us over this piece of shit?"
Eyal was not serious—even a flick of his hand would almost certainly invite his death. He hoped only, perhaps in vain, that his show of insanity would oblige their cooperation. Yet they seemed intent on keeping Gables, and dealing with him as they wished.
He was not sure how much further the confrontation would have progressed were it not for the arrival of a fourth man appearing from behind one of the Warthogs.
"That's enough, Grantmyre," the officer commanded.
"But sir," the other said, grinding his teeth.
"You will safety your weapons, men!" the interjecting officer shouted as he entered their midst. "Sergeant Grantmyre, get the 'hogs ready. We gotta get right back to it."
"Yes, sir," he scowled, leaving with his men.
The fourth officer studied Gables as he lay writhing in pain upon the pavement. "This is him, then, eh?" he said. "Not much to look at, is he, Detective
"Dayan. Eyal Dayan."
"Colonel Dai," he said, introducing himself in turn. "I apologize for my men. They get a bit tetchy when one of us falls to a civvie."
"Can't say that I blame them."
"Me neither. Still, though, it was unacceptable behavior. Your Department has the Militia's full cooperation."
Eyal nodded his gratitude. "Thank you, sir." He bent down to pull Gables to his feet, and Dai stooped to assist. Gables moaned in protest, but did not resist. Eyal gingerly put the handcuffs on him, careful not to touch his twisted fingers.
"Need any help getting him back?" Dai offered.
"I appreciate it, Colonel, but my partner should be here shortly. We'll take him in."
Dai smirked. "I understand. We'll be on our way then." As he started to walk away, he suddenly turned and called, "Oh, and Detective?"
"Get him good."
Eyal just nodded, and the Colonel continued towards his Warthogs.
"Can you walk?" he asked the bloodied Gables.
"Go fuck yourself," the prisoner breathed between agonized gasps.
"Alright then." He led Gables down to the far end of the alley.
As he neared the street, Mantega's patrol car pulled up. She quickly sprang from the vehicle and ran towards them. "You got him?" she said, almost surprised. She frowned at Gables' battered face. "Christ. What happened to him?"
"He took a nasty spill of the fire escape," Eyal said nonchalantly.
Mantega peered down the alley just as the Warthogs drove off. "I see," she murmured with a slow nod.
Eyal hauled Gables towards the car, inducing a sharp groan. "Let's get this piece of work processed. Maybe I can at least go home early."