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.
The excitement of the last few days quickly gave way to professional tedium. Homicide again became about pushing the corpse-broom around. Days passed. Paperwork was shuffled around, network passwords and security layers changed. Carter remained at Central, sewing things up over the Anderson case and deflecting the press while Gray drove around waiting for someone else to get shot in the face, which strangely did not happen for several days. He chalked it up to patriotic fever and the fact that the boys in Pacification had made a real example of the protestors down in the city center. Everybody seemed to calm the hell down after the microwave guns and riot cannons came out.
Eventually he got a call to handle a domestic case over in the Redmond sector of the Verge.
Some guy went apeshit about gambling debts, shot his wife in a fight before turning the gun on himself. Very straightforward. Gray had crouched over the body of the murdered woman, stared at her blue eyes looking skyward as if they were made of glass. The victim had been shot through the chest and the blood had blossomed across her white blouse like a flower; she lay on the floor with her arms spread wide, just feet away from the man with whom she had shared their apartment, their life. She looked as if she were welcoming something other than the numbing oblivion that science knew she would find, or at least the peace of termination. Gray had never really looked at a vic like that, not really, and it made him shudder in a way very different from the chill that seeing Anderson’s flayed corpse had.
Gray wrapped up his inspection of the scene and collected the gun and the most obvious pieces of evidence, put them in the trunk, and then started the Vectra back toward Central. He was driving a bit, dictating his report to the Vectra’s onboard computer, when his throat stuck closed like a rusty valve. He tried again; the words just wouldn’t come. His mind became the most traitorous of recording devices, playing back the scene of the dead woman, then Angie’s face overlaid upon hers. They had the same eyes, he realized, or at least similar enough to trigger the horrible, leaden feeling of dread that had begun to coat his stomach.
He regretted telling her that the case had been closed. He regretted giving her a sense of security. Gray had gone along with closing up the case, certainly, but he knew very well that someone was out there that was taking some kind of trophies. Certainly Anderson wouldn’t be the last one. Somehow he knew it, and the lead in his stomach flowed into his guts. It sat there all the way back to Central, all the way back up the elevator from the garage to Evidence. The thought consumed him so that even Miss Merchant’s usual tombstone sniggering was only the merest afterthought.
Maybe you could talk to Carter, his subconscious murmured.
Or maybe you could leak it to the press, said another voice, which Gray immediately ignored.
Maybe you could just keep tabs on her yourself.
And in the end this was what Gray decided to do, driving along through the twisting concrete corridors of the city’s guts, surrounded on all sides by its monstrous towers; he wouldn’t be doing this while on duty, or using any of the company’s resources; they couldn’t accuse him of stealing from the company by doing it, and he wasn’t going to be doing any investigation. He’d just make sure she was okay. He’d just…look out for her, yes. She needed that, didn’t she? ‘You’re a good guy’, she’d said, and he wanted nothing more in that moment than to prove that it was so. He didn’t want to find her dead on a sidewalk. Not ever.
When he arrived at Central most of the paperwork had already been done, thanks to a massive traffic jam that kept him anchored on the way up along Lake Washington. He’d sat there and rattled off his report to the computer, which of course took a dutiful record, so by the time he had taken a seat in his cubicle all he really needed to do was make a few edits to make sure the wording was all right. He was the only one he knew who ran his reports through editing software, but that only pointed to the generally slovenly character of your average Homicide employee. Not him.
At present the desk number rang, routed into his own earbud phone which Gray, absorbed in his edits, answered with a muttered ‘Hello’.
“Where are you?” Carter, his voice sharp.
“In the office?” Gray sat up a bit, bracing himself on the desktop with one arm. “What’s the matter?”
“Get your ass down to White Center,” Carter ordered, in a tone that made the rest of Gray sit up straight. “Got another case there.”
“Jesus,” Gray murmured, “What is it now? Gang shooting?”
“No.” There was a faint pause on Carter’s end before he said, “We have another murder. Looks like our spine thief wasn’t happy with just scavenging.”
“All right,” said Gray, now very alert indeed, “Do you want me to wait for you, or shall I start processing the scene?”
“Wait for me?” The tone in Carter’s voice bore surprise and a hint of what Gray took to be resentment. “No, Dan, this is your case. Admin has me still working with Legal and playing Dutch boy with the press. Just keep in mind that your budget for this is low – this is a Verge case, the victim looks to be a slop. You got three days to close it up.”
“All right, then.” Gray really tried to make it sound nonchalant, but the mixture of dread, excitement and vindication that was quickly bubbling in the cauldron of his heart strained to be heard. “I’ll…talk to you later then.”
“Sure.” Carter hung up, leaving Gray staring at the soft blue glow of the terminal display. So here it was, the universe proving him right after all. He had another case, very possibly a serial murderer, and an excuse to stick around for Angie without raising any eyebrows.
The Vectra purred along as he drove out toward White Center once again. It was interesting, really, the way the city just sort of dropped off as you approached the Verge – it was like a time machine, ultramodern structures forming a cordon up to the edge of the New City, and then afterward generations of structures aging and crumbling by the decade until the abandoned ruin of the Old City stretched beyond. He wondered sometimes when the Verge would eventually be rebuilt, when the heathens and poors that lived out that way would be either dispatched, imprisoned or otherwise dealt with in the name of civilization. He was driving backward through history as he made his way along, back toward the dawn of barbarism.
But before he got there, he’d stop at White Center – and though that part of the Verge wasn’t the savage land, you sure as hell could see it from there.
The crime scene was up in a run-down tenement in the south part of town, perilously close to the security cordon. It was a lonely building, standing intact with a collapsed bodega on one side and a vacant lot on the other; the lightbars of the two patrol cars threw their red glow across its facade, so that it looked like a monument of Hell. Gray met up with the uniform out front, who had his submachine gun out and braced against his hip. New kid, you could tell. Pacifiers are always twitchy when they start, especially this close to the Old City. Always ready to drill the first thing that doesn’t approach carrying a badge or civil ID.
Gray had his Blue Shield out before he got out of the Vectra, holding it before him like a holy badge. “Evening, Officer,” he said, hoping to distract the kid with pleasantries. “Detective Gray, Homicide Solutions.”
“Uh, hello,” the kid started. His visor had been tilted back, showing the warm brown of his eyes as they looked at gray with uncertainty. His features were young, smooth. Asian. He was a handsome kid. “Hello sir, I mean.”
The acrid tang of vomit hit Gray’s nostrils as he drew near. “You got a name, Officer?”
The kid blinked. “Oh,” he replied. “I’m sorry. Eddie Park, uh, Pacification Services.”
Gray nodded. “You local?”
Park nodded in return. “It’s how we were able to get in,” he said, and the words started to come out in a gush. “Me and Axel – that is, Officer Manson – we were driving by on patrol when a lady came running out screaming. Axel didn’t know what she was saying; I think…I think he hit her.” A flash of guilt flickered in those dark eyes before he quickly amended himself. “I mean, he shook her. To calm her down. He didn’t speak Korean, so…”
“So you translated.” Gray looked upward toward the upper floors of the building; just a few lights winked from the windows, indicating that either people didn’t live there, weren’t home, or were just hiding from the Company. Given the way Pacifiers were down here, he figured it was probably the latter. “All right well, Officer, what do we have?” Gray reached out and gently pushed the muzzle of Park’s gun down as he said it, not wanting him to get excited should someone else pop up behind them.
Park flinched and slung his weapon, looking embarrassed now as well as green around the gills. “The lady over there,” He nodded toward one of the squad cars, where Gray could see the sad silhouette of an older woman sitting in the back seat. “She’s the super here. The vic’s a tenant, uh…” Park paused, fumbling with a pouch on his web gear and producing a palm computer, which he rezzed up and consulted in a few seconds’ time. “…Martin Askew. Holographic sculptor. Had the whole sixth floor to himself.”
“Is that right?” Gray looked up toward the top of the tower again. “How did she find the victim?”
“His last rent payment was short,” Park replied. Now that he had something to stare at, duty started to flush the ick out of his system. “Went to go see him, and when he didn’t answer the door let herself in where she found the body. I took her statement. Did you want to talk to her?”
“In a little bit.” Gray pursed his lips, gave the sixth floor a final look before taking a step past Park toward the door. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said, then paused to give the younger man’s shoulder a squeeze.
“Hey,” Gray said, his voice pitched in what he hoped was a brotherly sort of voice. “Don’t worry about it. This is gonna be my second time seeing it, and I doubt it’s gonna be any better for me.” Park gave him a thin, halfhearted smile, ducked his head, and Gray passed him on to enter the aging building. He braced himself as he walked through the mouldering lobby toward the stairs, not trusting the elevator - besides, he thought to himself, I’ll have time to prepare.
It was so strange to him that he had seen two corpses just that morning, and was generally fine; now he was facing a third and dreading it. As he climbed the stairs, Gray wondered what it was that spooked him so much about these two killings – though, of course, he never liked seeing anyone dead. Well, he’d figure it out later. By the third floor he’d put it out of his mind, by the fifth he’d used his palm computer to run up the dossier of the officer in charge, Manson, and by the time he’d reached the sixth he’d put on enough professional distance that he could walk onto the scene like his usual glacial self.
Martin Askew didn’t have an apartment so much as a mad inventor’s workshop, converted from all the rooms that had once belonged to the sixth. It lay beyond a small foyer which abutted the elevator, separated by a door barred with an evidence cordon to which snarling dragons made of gold and crimson light, whose detail and resolution Gray found rather remarkable, clung and glowered balefully at potential visitors. One of the holographic beasts took an ineffectual swipe at him as he stepped past the glowing cordon and through the open doorway.
Gray found himself entering a veritable menagerie. The space beyond Askew’s door was filled with projectors and diagnostic equipment, holographic tanks and tables upon which bizarre sculptures and pedestals were in the midst of construction. Amidst the physical morass creatures made of light flickered and gleamed, creatures who were out of nature and Askew’s imagination. A boa constrictor with chrome scales hung from a sculpture that looked like a bronze tree near the doorway, staring at Gray with smouldering eyes. A tiny unicorn danced and capered around a porcelain sugar bowl on a nearby workbench. A thing like a clockwork spider rattled along in a circle, in one corner of the room, still unfinished, its projection loop making it crackle and sputter in and out of existence as if it walked dimensions. Their projectors were all nearby, of course, or built into the very objects with which they interacted – still, Askew’s skill was obvious, and it lent them a life that made Gray feel as if he’d stepped into the laboratory of some strange wizard from another age.
But alas, wizards were mortal. Rounding a stack of fiber-optic coil, he came upon where what had been the talented artist now lay. It was at the feet of a thing that was half human anatomy, half smooth geometric shapes – an unfinished creation, it looked like some bizarre monochrome god of smooth polygonal order before which Askew had been laid as a sacrifice. Dark-skinned, now grayed from death, Askew sat crouched in the same pose that Anderson had been found with his arms reaching out toward his unfinished creation. He wore a pair of gray athletic pants and no shirt; his back, flayed open, possessed all the traces of thermal trauma that Anderson’s had. The spine was gone, of course, and the smell of ozone and cooked meat hung heavily in the air.
“Pretty nasty stuff, huh?” A voice came from beyond and left, a man’s. Another Pacification officer appeared, his helmet slung on his web belt, a square, sneering face that Gray knew from his stairway reading.
“Officer Manson.” Behind the lean Pacifier were two other fellows, no doubt the crew from the other patrol car; the bulky one was Cramden, his leaner but still muscular fellow was Flint. “I see that you, Flint and Cramden have secured the scene.”
Manson ducked his head. He had a shock of blonde hair which had been handsome at some point, but had been marred on one side by the presence of a nasty scar running from his temple and vanishing around the back of his head. Gray figured he liked to play the badass; he had multiple dark spots on his record from physically harassing suspects. A lean smirk had conjured itself on his lips as he looked back at his fellows. “Well, thanks,” he said. “And you are?”
“Gray, Homicide Solutions.” He held up his Shield, which he had not yet put away. “I’ve talked to Officer Park already – you were the first on the scene, I understand?”
Manson stared at Gray for a moment, his eyes unreadable, before replying. “Yeah,” he said, arms crossing over his armored chest. “We were coming down the street when a woman came running out at us, told us that she’d found a body. They’re all squatters or legacy residents down here, so we almost didn’t bother with her – except I remembered hearing about what happened the other day, so we came up.”
Gray stared back at Manson. He was sure that the man had already sized him up and made his decision; Gray had made his own about Manson before he’d even come upstairs. “I see,” he said thinly. “And what did you find?”
“Pretty much what you see here,” said Manson with a jerk of his head toward the body. “No signs of forced entry, no signs of injury other than the worst back adjustment in fuckin’ history.” From behind him, Cramden sniggered.
“I see.” Gray looked between the three men. “I have the witness’s statement here; she says she pounded on the door for at least an hour before she came in. Is there anyone else in the building that can corroborate the noise?”
“Nobody else lives in the building except for the super, her son and his family, and a couple of other people.” Manson started ticking people off his fingers. “The son and his family are visiting down in San Angeles, and everyone else is out.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. “So you’re telling me that this woman is the only person who was in the building with him,” he said, another dose of lead starting to congeal in his guts. “For hours.”
“Rigor’s barely set in, too,” said Manson, whose smile turned a little sharkish. “Hey, who’s to say she didn’t get pissed off and decided to fuck him up herself?”
“Who indeed?” A lance of something barbed and fiery shot up Gray’s torso. This was typical Pacification bullshit, to find someone to blame before an investigation had even gotten started. Gray would have none of that. Manson’s file indicated he had problems with Koreans, as well; it made no sense that Park had been partnered with him, but HR wasn’t always known for its intelligence. It was pretty interesting; a hundred years ago, Manson – who had just recently married his longtime boyfriend – would’ve gotten drummed out of the police just for being homosexual. That kind of prejudice was long since dead, however, but he was free to carry on the great human tradition of hating something other than yourself in a more traditional, racist way. Fucking Cro-Magnon. Gray resolved to raise the matter with them when he got back. First, however, there was something very important for him to do. “Officer Manson,” he said, gesturing for Manson to follow him back toward one of the workspace’s many windows, “A word, please.”
Manson followed him. His brows were lifted as he did so, which made the scar down the side of his head writhe like a pink snake. When Gray stopped by the window, he said, “All right, Detective. What’s going on?”
Gray gave Manson a flat look and leaned in. “Now listen to me, Officer,” he said, his words quiet and measured for effect, “I don’t care why you got it in for some of the people who live around here – yes, I’ve read your file – and frankly I could give a shit. But you work for a company, and this shield of mine means that I make sure things go in its best interest. You lay a hand on someone outside necessity in the line of duty again, Officer, and I’ll make sure your husband knows what you’re up to. No, scratch that. I’ll make sure the only way you can suck his sweet little dick is through a straw, and then you can tell him why.”
Leaving Manson sputtering in place, Gray walked past him toward where Askew’s body lay. “Cramden,” he bellowed, “Get downstairs and make sure Park doesn’t drill anybody for stepping the wrong way. And you, Flint.”
“Yeah?” Flint peered at him through the smoked plastic of his visor.
“I want you to help me go over this place. Officer Manson is going to report in to Central and let them know I’m on the scene.” Manson, who was roused from his sputtering fit by the mention of his name, turned red-faced and shot a look of pure hatred at Gray before turning and joining Cramden in exiting the scene.
Gray, of course, had not one single fuck to give. “Get your helmet off, Flint,” he said cheerfully. “We’ve got some work to do.”