About Bone Wires
In the wasteland of commercial culture that is future America, police are operated not by government but by private companies. In Seattle, that role is filled by Civil Protection, and Daniel Gray is a detective in Homicide Solutions. What used to be considered an important – even glamorous – department for public police is very different for the corporate species, and Gray finds himself stuck in a dead end job.
That is, until the Spine Thief arrives.
Bone Wires is a dark, brooding cyberpunk noir set in the same dystopian universe as the full-length novel, Shadow of a Dead Star, and is serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Thursday.
There were lots of inappropriate dreams of certain strippers that night. Or, in the esteemed opinion of Gray’s reptilian brain, very very appropriate ones.
The next morning he woke to find the initial forensic report waiting for him in his mailbox. Instead of taking it at the house, Gray drove down to Vercetti’s Diner down in the Waters, a little place wedged like a salesman’s foot in between a Circuit Parade and a Boutique Liminale. Its facade was ancient, wooden, and painted bright red as a perverse sort of fuck-you to the sleek storefronts on either side. Gray rather loved it – but he loved the other two places as well, and he wasn’t certain how one could love the fucker and the fuckee at the same time. The human conflict boiled down to its most basic paradox, he supposed, and then forgot all about it over a breakfast of warm creamed krill spread on an onion bagel with an enormous cup of coffee.
He sat there sipping his coffee, tucked into a corner booth and prodding at his portable computer’s holographic display. He’d sent word last night to Carter about the name that Angie had given him, and he found in his mailbox acknowledgment of that and a note to ‘keep an eye on the bumba’, a term which Gray found annoyed him more and more when applied to her. Carter and his women. Shameful. But then again, this very well could be an artifact of Gray’s own lack of success with the female of the species – up until Angie, of whom he was becoming most definitely territorial. She’d said she wanted him, after all.
The medical examiner’s report was equal parts thorough, efficient, and pretty much unhelpful in terms of producing anything new. It confirmed that the cause of death had been the violent liberation of the man’s spine with a heated blade, which was still believed to be a cattle saw though not exclusively confirmed, with massive trauma causing cardiac arrest. It was still strange to Gray how there had been so very little blood, though he supposed that was the nature of cauterization. He munched on his bagel, fascinated at the M.E.’s description of the chemical burns found all over Askew’s body – though he nearly choked when he read that the crazy bastard had severely damaged his genitalia through his vigorous toxic scrubbing. So that’s one way to ensure you’re not distracted from your work, he thought, as images of the man’s ugly, misshapen member floated beside the data panel. According to the examiner, the cleaner thing must have been going on for years. No tox, but no listing of mental illness in his record either; could he have just been crazy all this time and nobody noticed? Gray remembered the eerie realism of the chrome snake, the forbidding presence of the half-finished work before which Askew had been laid, and shivered slightly. He did not know that he would ever really understand such people, and was glad for it.
The Forensic folks were still going over all the gear they’d found in Askew’s massive workshop, though it seemed all pretty much driven toward his work – happily enough they hadn’t found any secret machines stuffed with embarrassing data. There were no signs of deviance that Gray could find other than his chemical bath and his apparently obsession with his work. Hell, even the man’s bedsheets came away clean of any sexual secretions. So by all signs, the man was a monk – he barely ate, didn’t fuck, and lived only to make art. Well, that didn’t sound entirely out of place for creative types, especially an artist of Askew’s apparent caliber. Better that than cutting off his ear like Van Gogh or his lips and eyelids like Matsumoto, he guessed. The memory of the old Japanese artist’s fleshless leer, the rheumy eyes that stared on into forever, shook him now as much as it had in college art classes. One of those two might well have invited what happened to Askew.
But among the list of items that were cataloged by the Forensic team, a computer was not on the list – at least, nothing that had didn’t have a tasked purpose outside of holography. Data storage devices found on site were all of a specialized, high-fidelity crystal wafer type that was used specifically for the storage of high-resolution holographic data. Gray fired off a message to Forensics asking Megan if her boys had just forgotten to add something or if there truly had not been something missing. That would be very significant.
The tax receipts were in as well, which pleased him to no end. Scanning Askew’s tax records for the last few years showed that he had a busy boy indeed – he’d cleared more money than Gray had seen since graduating college, something that annoyed Gray to no end, and it was all from the sale of a collection of pieces to a gallery on the New City side of the Lake Washington shoreline. A quick round of research showed the place, called the Donner Gallery, to be something of a bohemian workup on the waterfront, housed in a remodeled warehouse as those places tended to be. It was the first real lead of the case, and he was going to jump on that fucker straight away. And so, after polishing off his bagel and getting another dose of coffee to go, Gray piled into the Vectra and was off.
The Donner Gallery turned out to be exactly what Gray had envisioned: a cavernous industrial space, skeletal beams bracing the slightly domed ceiling with simple walls of steel and white plastic forming the gallery’s actual ‘rooms’ in which the pieces were shown. Gray never understood why people couldn’t just, you know, get an actual building; but then again the real estate was fairly cheap, even in the New City, and people seemed to think it was exciting to go down to the waterfront. Given the state that Lake Union was in these days, however, he could imagine that it might seem something of an adventure. You didn’t stray to the Verge side for fear of catching something, like maybe a bullet.
Gray arrived in his usual glacial manner, putting on the face of the company as he strode through the gallery’s heavy steel door. His hands were in his pockets, and he wore the mirrored ribbon of Barolo sunglasses over his blue eyes. The ceiling arched above, strung with lights that threw a harsh white glow down upon the partitioned ‘room’ that served as the gallery’s lobby. The concrete had been polished to a mirror sheen, and a large and elegant chrome ‘U’ served as the reception desk. The walls were mostly bare, save for the rear one. The arch which presumably led into the rest of the gallery was surrounded by a monstrous neo-deco holographic sculpture, a luminous thing of neon lines and supposed metals that had been polished to an unnatural sheen. Swimming beneath the surfaces of the thing were what appeared to be spectral faces.
Behind the desk, a pretty Asian girl with a complex nest of black braids arranged in a fan-shaped ridge upon her head sat smiling at him as he entered. Her eyes were made up to look like she had a pair of raccoon bruises, and her lips were slightly beestung as if freshly struck – a strange mixture of styles, it made her look like performance art in her own right. Perhaps she was an exhibit on her own. She smiled at Gray as he approached.
“Welcome to the Donner Gallery, sir,” she said, in a soft soprano voice that made Gray instantly think of satin pillows. “How may I help you?”
“I’m here to see the owner of the gallery,” he replied. “Or the manager on hand.”
She didn’t blink. “Are you an artist, client, or member of the press?”
“Neither,” he replied, and produced his shield. “Detective Daniel Gray, Civil Protection.”
“…Ah.” The receptionist didn’t necessarily deflate, but she did stiffen a bit. “Just a moment, please,” she said, and rose to vanish beneath the bizarre holographic maw into the gallery. Gray took the opportunity to get a better look at the holographic sculpture. It was strange, really, looking at the thing – the faces swam and shifted beneath the arch’s illusory surface, crisp and sharply defined. Eyeless and hairless, however, the features looked little more than masks. And yet, there was something familiar about them…
Presently someone came through the archway, distracting Gray considerably from his examination. A man appeared, thin and tall, and dressed in a suit which Gray could not identify; its lines were simple and its fabric a plum color so dark as to be almost black. He wore a silk ascot above this secured with a simple golden pin. He had a shock of dark hair that hung over a pale, pointed face and very thin lips that curved up slightly at the corners, so that he appeared to be in a constant state of dry amusement.
However, none of these features served as a distraction. It was his eyes which had shocked Gray so, or rather the lack of them. A pair of hemispheral lenses replaced them entirely. Tinted blue and well polished, the visual appliances were gilded heavily with gold around their edges, making them look like a kind of bizarre mask from a Victorian writer’s fevered mind. Behind the jewel-like lenses, Gray could make out the slightest signs of motion; it made their appearance all the more strange, as if something wriggled behind them that sought to get out.
“Good morning, Detective,” said the man, whose hands laced together at chest level like a praying mantis. His voice was very soft, very gentle. “I am Alexis Donner. This gallery belongs to me.”
Gray stared at him for a moment, his lips pursed. He was grateful that his eyes were hidden behind their mirrored shield, but less so that his reflection was being thrown back at him by those strange lenses. The vaguest sense of vertigo began to take up residence inside his head. “Good morning,” he finally said, and was pleased that he maintained his professional tone. “I’d like to speak with you concerning Martin Askew.”
“Ah, Martin.” Donner’s lips curled a bit more into a semblance of a smile. Something deep inside of Gray, something small and vestigial and herd-related, quailed at the sight of it. “I hope that he hasn’t gotten himself into some sort of trouble.”
“I’m afraid he has,” replied Gray, forcing himself not to stare at Donner’s horrible eyes. “I’m from Homicide Solutions, sir. Mr. Askew’s body was found last night at his home.”
Donner’s brows lifted slightly at that, an expression of what would otherwise be great surprise muted heavily by the lenses. “That’s shocking,” he said, but tone didn’t change at all. “I suppose he was murdered? Or was he attempting to murder someone else?”
Gray canted his head a bit. “Is this something which you might think possible?”
“Of course,” Donner replied breezily. “The man was always talking about research – he’d been talking about doing a new work for the gallery concerning the forms of death. Well, of course I wouldn’t accept a work that might have been made from the blood of someone else, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of taking his research…home with him.” That horrible smile spread slightly. “He wasn’t well, poor Martin.”
You should have reported him if he weren’t, you fucker, Gray thought darkly to himself. “So we are given to understand,” he said instead. “Do you have any reason to suspect he might have done this…research?”
There was the softest sound from Donner’s lenses as whatever was inside moved a bit. Gray was beginning to equate it with blinking. “There is always a danger, I suppose,” he said, “But no, I don’t believe so. He was still in the middle of creating the Prince of Order.”
“The Prince of Order,” Gray repeated. “That’s his newest work?”
Donner nodded. “Quite,” he replied. “It’s a reworking of Rodin, you see, a holographic depiction of Man as the primary agent of Order and Reason in the universe. A bit like the Thinker himself, only of course far superior.” You could almost hear the capital letters come out. Donner smiled a bit more widely, showing a slice of white beneath. Gray saw that all of Donner’s teeth seemed to be entirely alike, which disturbed him in a way he could not begin to explain.
“I see,” he said, his brows arching very faintly. “Well. What else can you tell me about him?”
The ghoul that was Donner turned and walked back under the arch, gesturing with one long hand for Gray to follow him. “Brilliant,” Donner began. “Oh, quite unquestionably brilliant – his work is as inventive and strange as it is high-resolution. He wrote most of the rendering software that he uses to create his work, you know. I imagine he could have made a great deal of money just doing that, but no, Martin preferred to create. Very admirable in these oversaturated, commercialist times. Wouldn’t you say, Detective?”
“Ah, yes,” Gray said, frowning faintly. He walked with Donner into the next room, which was fairly large on its own; on the walls were all manner of strange holographic sculptures, many of which were knotworks of light that shuddered and played within themselves. A few others were gory things, structures made of ‘living’ flesh or glistening, animate intestine – the wet pink of the former was so realistic that Gray’s stomach lurched a bit. “It’s very good work,” he said, turning his eyes to bore through the back of Donner’s head. “Were they all, ah, made by Mr. Askew?” He wanted to try and get a purchase on his victim’s psychology. Nothing that he saw back at Askew’s workshop made him think that the man was capable of murdering someone.
“Oh my, no!” Donner let out a titter, gesturing about. “This is a Thomas Murzen, and these by Miss Ingrid Santiago. These were all done by a New York artist by the name of Lindzer Yates.” Gray was dismayed to find that the horrible anatomical sculptures had been made by Yates. “Martin’s work is more…cerebral. You cannot know its horror until you know the man himself, do you see?” Donner turned to look at Gray, his lenses staring Gray straight in the eye – almost as if he could see through other man’s mirrored lenses, his flesh, straight into the brains which commanded it. Again that tiny herd-thing deep in Gray’s mind sought shelter from that horrible gaze, and again Gray pushed it back.
“I suppose I would have had to know the man,” Gray said. “But I think I understand a bit better.” You always knew a man by the company he kept, and if Donner was any indication of Askew’s circle of friends no doubt he had been stone bugfuck. Gray wondered if Donner had any corpses in his closet, and vowed right then and there that he’d be digging into the man’s records to make sure. “What else can you tell me about him?”
“Are you asking me if I would know anyone who would want to murder him?” Donner shrugged. “No, though I suppose if I were inclined I might wish to at this moment – his death means no small amount of inconvenience to me. I had a buyer arranged for Prince of Order, you see. But as it stands, all of his work goes to the gallery for sale should he expire so I rather win out in the end.”
Gray looked at Donner for a long moment. Did he just put things so baldly as that? “One could say that you’ve just made yourself a suspect, Mr. Donner,” he said. “Considering what his work has sold for up to this point, that’s motive enough for many.”
“Quite so.” Donner’s head bowed very faintly. “And very astutely put, Detective. But I have been in Paris for the last week attempting to procure a few more pieces, and if you’re visiting me now I assume that you’ve found his body no later than in the last few days.”
“Indeed,” Gray replied, impassive now. “Might I ask, when was the last time you spoke with Mr. Askew?”
Donner’s brows arched a bit more. “Don’t be silly,” he replied, sounding rather amused now. “I haven’t spoken with Martin outside of network mail in three weeks. If you’re looking for a suspect, Detective, I’m afraid that you’re going to have to look elsewhere.”
They stood there a moment, Gray looking at Donner, his eyes hidden from the gallery owner’s own and yet not – silence stretched between them like an invisible tether, a tether which then broke as Gray finally spoke. “I will take my leave, then,” he said, giving the other man the very slightest of nods. “I may call again later.”
“I will be here,” said Donner, who after nodding in return began to drift back into the bowels of the gallery. “I’m always here, after all, unless I’m not…” Gray was left alone with the sculptures, silent horrors and glittering lights, and after heaving a sigh made his exit.
He used to like art. He was rather good at painting with oils. Once he even thought that he might have tried his hand at being an artist. Now he was very glad he was a detective. He only had to deal with mutants like Donner in the smallest of doses, Donner and his weirdly placid receptionist who he now would not be surprised to find was involved in whatever deviance he got on with behind the scenes. Gray got back into the Vectra thinking that he’d just survived something…and for that he was very grateful.
A homicide investigation was like overturning stones, and every man beneath was a monster.