“Detective, can you confirm that this is the work of the Warehouse Massacre killer?”
The reporter thrust a microphone at Carmaggio’s face. How would you like that up your ass? he thought, squinting into the lights. He knew that made him look like an Italian Neanderthal, but pretty wasn’t his long suit.
“We’re investigating all possible leads,” he said politely. The words were polite, at least. “You’ll be informed as soon as we have definite information.”
So you can blab it to the perp and help him get away, he added to himself, cutting through the crowd outside the tenement with an expert shoulder-first motion. Fortunately, the uniforms were keeping civilians and the press out of the actual building, although tenants were already being interviewed in front of the cameras on the sidewalk outside. None of them would know anything, but that wouldn’t stop the Fourth Estate from doing their usual thorough job of misrepresentation, bias, groundless speculation and general farting around.
A detective saw a lot of crime scenes; the trip up the stairs was like a journey down memory lane. At first glance this one looked more like the general run than the warehouse had. Henry Carmaggio ducked through the yellow tape and through the door, hands carefully in his pockets. The slum apartment could have been dozens he’d seen. Even the smell was familiar, and not too bad—the window had been open for the whole ten days or so since the killing, in cold weather. The stale grease was actually worse.
Jesus Rodriguez met him, wearing one of the new eye-videos, mounted on a headband with a recording unit. Toys, Carmaggio thought.
The medical examiner’s people were bagging the body, not Chen herself this time—a singleton didn’t rate it. One of them looked up:
“Kick to the sternum, kick to the back of the head. The heelmarks match with the warehouse.”
Carmaggio nodded. Details follow at 11:00. “Try not to—” he began, then thought better of it. “When the press ask, tell ’em space aliens did it. Or Elvis. Better still, tell ’em space alienspregnant by Elvis did it as a Satanic ritual.”
The examiner grinned as Carmaggio turned away. Jesus took him to the window. It was going dark outside, cold and clear.
The window was an ordinary sash type, with a protective grate of half-inch iron bars, overlooking a four-story drop to an alley, with a flat roof opposite. Two of the bars had been pulled out of their settings; nothing fancy, a simple straight pull. There was blood on the other bars, where somebody had squeezed past; Carmaggio was willing to bet the blood was secondhand. The lock on the window had been snapped, and the window left open. There was a heelprint on the windowsill; one of the Ident crew was photographing it and setting out scraper and plastic baggie.
“Blood?” Carmaggio asked.
“Yep. Mud as well.”
A blood spray and another large irregular stain marked the worn carpet. Carmaggio looked at the location, then back at the window.
“Somebody climbed up the wall, pulled out the bars, and opened the window—breaking the lock in the process. When the owner came over, the perp kicked him in the chest, then in the back of the head while he was lying on the floor. Then moved him, a few minutes later.”
“Yeah, but Lieutenant—I think . . .”
“I think that was just to get him out of the way.”
He nodded, and walked into the tiny bathroom. There was a sludge of dark brown in the bathtub, and marks on the walls and floor.
“Messy. Didn’t use the curtain.” The tests would take a while, but he was morally certain the blood would match with the warehouse samples. Anyone who cut up twenty men was going to be coated with the stuff.
A chalk X marked a spot near the toilet. Rodriguez held up an evidence bag. “Bingo,” he said.
Carmaggio examined it carefully. “Nine-millimeter Talon,” he said. “One gets you ten ballistics show it’s from a posse gun. Looks like it hit a flak vest.”
Rodriguez held up another plastic bag, this one with a pair of cheap nail scissors. “I think this was what the perp used to extract it,” he said. “Quite the surgeon, sí?”
They moved to the kitchen. Papers were spread on the rickety deal table with its red-and-white checked plastic tablecloth, along with empty tins and a milk carton. Plus a scattering of one-hundred dollar bills. Ident squad officers were picking them up with tweezers and dropping them in baggies.
“Then the perp sat and read the newspapers, ate everything in the fridge—everything—tore apart the phone, the TV and the CD player, lifted the fridge around and broke off one of the coils, got rid of the grubby soiled part of the money from the warehouse, and left.”
“And they broke off the key in the lock when they went, too. Left the window open, as well.”
Carmaggio looked over at the windowsill. “No, they had the window open all the time they were here. Maybe it’s an Eskimo.”
“Whatever. Anything from the neighbors?”
“Nothing. The lady next door called it, she noticed the smell.” Jesus flipped open his notebook. “Maria Sanchez. Victim s name was Antonio Salazar, custodial worker, thirty-eight, single. Minor record, public intox, possession, that stuff—one step up from the steam-grate crowd. Looks like he was here about ten days before anyone noticed.”
“Which would put this about the same time as the warehouse,” the detective said. Nobody notices when a janitor doesn’t show up. They’d assume he was on a bender, or something. Either the perp was very smart, or they’d lucked out in their choice of victim.
“More or less, patrón.”
Carmaggio grunted. Don’t let what you want to be true cover your eyes. Still, the MO was suspiciously alike—and the bizarre aspects were pushing his coincidence button.
“So,” he said. “Twenty posse drug-dealers, and one anonymous janitor. Motive?”
“Dropped in for a wash and a snack,” Rodriguez said, tapping the empty milk carton with his ballpoint.
“I think you may be right—a snack and somewhere to hide for a few hours. The distances are right.”
Carmaggio turned slowly on his heel, looking over the little roach-trap. Shitty place to die. Probably an even shittier place to live, come to that, but that wasn’t his department.
A slow burn of anger started at the back of his throat, unexpected and unfamiliar. Marley Man was no loss; and face it, Antonio Salazar was a complete loser who’d’ve ended up on a slab someday in the not-too-distant future. Probably put there himself with a needle; he was the old-fashioned kind and Dame Horse came with a dark rider these days. It wasn’t even that the killings had been casual, probably motiveless. He saw plenty of those. It was . . . like Uncle Luigi and the rabbits, he realized.
He’d been seven when that happened. Going over to his uncle’s, and the old guy had been killing rabbits. Big hutch full of rabbits, and Luigi standing by it in his undershirt, belly hanging over his pants, suspenders dangling, a burnt-out cigarette hanging off his lower lip. Luigi was a bricklayer, and he had hands like baseball mitts. Big beefy arms, fat but with lots of muscle underneath. The big hand went down into the cage and wham a rabbit came up in it, kicking and squealing and dropping black round pellets of rabbit shit. Eyes bugged out. Then Uncle Luigi sort of wrung it with fingers and thumb—a quick cracking sound, and it kicked and went limp. A toss, and it went onto the table with the others, next to the little curved knife.
Carmaggio had still been screaming when Uncle Luigi got him home. Dad gave him the belt and sent him to his room, but he wouldn’t eat the stew anyway.
The perp here was killing the way Uncle Luigi did the rabbits.
The force of his own rage surprised him; and it was mixed with something else, something much more commonplace.
“We’re going to hear from this fucker again,” he said quietly.
Jesus took the videocam rig off his head and looked own, snapping the cassette out of the machine. “Sí. I’ve got that feeling too.”
# # #
Stephen Fischer woke to the sound of a quiet, burring clicking sound. His bedroom was dark and the air still, smelling of incense and a sexual musk.
Jesus, what a lay! he thought blurrily. What an experience.
He felt too heavy to move anything more than his eyelids, to do anything but breathe. I’d always thought “drained” was a figure of speech, he thought.
Eerie. He’d been sitting quietly with a beer, not even trying for a pickup. Better not to try right after a breakup; girls could sense it if you were too needy. It was late, nobody there, and he hadn’t been in the place for two years, not since he married.
He’d noticed her the minute she came in. Black tracksuits weren’t the usual dress for the after-work crowd on the Street, even at Fernways, which catered to the younger up-and-coming set—although the suit had a sort of shimmery quality to it up close. She’d come in with a draft of cold air . . .
That’s odd. She must have been freezing in that stuff out on the street in January.
. . . come in with a nylon duffel bag in her hand, and given the place a once-over. God, those eyes. Big and green, in the dark aquiline face. Model looks, model walk. And she’d come over tohis booth, just slid right in.
# # #
“Order food,” she said.
And slid a hundred-dollar bill onto the table. The accent had floored him as much as the money. A German trying to sound like Scarlett O’Hara might have sounded that way, but it was thick enough to be barely comprehensible. Voice soft and deep, like velvet.
Fischer blinked at her. This doesn’t happen to guys on the Equities Desk, he thought. In fact, he doubted it happened to anyone outside the movies.
The booth was dim, only a single candle burning on it. The underlight brought out the sculpted angles of her face; model looks, but not the neowaif type. She was dark enough to be a Latina, but the eyes were bright green and the mahogany red of her hair looked genuine.
“Ah, I’m Stephen Fischer,” he said.
There seemed to be a lump in his throat, making it a little difficult to talk. That wasn’t the only lump, either. He wavered between annoyance—he’d been out of his teens for a decade and a half—and delight. There’d been nothing since the divorce and not much for the year before it.
“Gwendolyn Ingolfsson,” she said. For a moment she stared at his extended hand and then took it. That was another surprise; her hand was hard, like smooth articulated wood. A jock’s hand. The nails were trimmed very close.
“Would you like to join me for dinner?” he said.
Silence fell for a moment. A waiter came over with another place-setting and a menu; her head tracked him smoothly, then turned back to Fischer.
“What would you like?” he went on, trying not to burble and feeling sweat break out under his collar. And I’m goddamned nervous too. Events were out of control, and normally he didn’t like that. To hell with control.
“I’m hungry. Several dishes.”
The green eyes bored into his. He called the waiter over, ran down the menu; Fernways had a small selection, but it was all good. Food arrived; the woman—Gwendolyn, odd name—began to eat, neatly but enormously. His eyes widened. She was not gaunt, but the figure under the loose fabric was obviously the product of heavy exercise club investment, real sweat equity. How could she eat like this?
She looked up from finishing off her twelve-ounce porterhouse. “Tell me about yourself,” she said; the accent seemed a little less notable.
Fischer loosened his tie and talked; through the dinner, through dessert—she had two—through coffee and brandy. Somehow he never got around to asking the questions, beyond “New in town?” and “Where are you from?” Clipped answers: “Yes” and “Born in Italy.”
“So,” he said at last, trying desperately not to squeak. “Would you like a nightcap? At, ah, at my place?”
She smiled, showing very white teeth. “Yes.”
# # #
Christ, I may never move again. She’d taken his hand the minute they walked into the little studio apartment and led him straight to the bed. Naked she didn’t look like a model; more like an Olympic pentathlete, if they’d come in a non-flat-chested variety. His memory blurred into impossibilities.
I couldn’t have done all that.
She wasn’t in the bed. He could tell it by the feel, even before he saw the light of his computer monitor on. That was the clicking sound, the keyboard.
It was a moment before what he was watching made any sense. Gwen was sitting, eyes glued to the screen; it was logged on to the Internet. Text was scrolling by at far above reading speed through his 28.8 modem. Her hands poised over the keys; every few seconds they would strike in a blur of speed, too fast for him to see individual keystrokes at all. And not loudly, a precise controlled tapping giving exactly as much force as needed. There was an encyclopedia open on the desk beside the machine. When the high-speed modem was exchanging data, she flipped through the pages. No, stared at each page for about three seconds, then flipped it over.
She’s reading. The conviction hit him like cold water, and he gasped. Her head turned slightly. He gasped again when she rose and turned to face him.
“You’ve been watching me, Stephen,” she said . . . sadly?
The accent was much less noticeable now. She walked over to the bed, barely visible in the faint blue glow of the monitor.
“I’m sorry you did that.”
“What. . . look, what the hell were you doing with my computer?”
“Stephen, when do you expect someone to call?”
He blinked in bewilderment. His stomach lurched.
“Call you here.”
“Maybe nobody this weekend. Come off it, I want some answers.”
She put out a hand—
# # #
Gwen finished flushing the soiled sheet down the toilet in pieces of suitable size, then looked thoughtfully at the body hanging by its heels from the shower head, draining.
No, it wouldn’t fit—even butchered. And the spirit of chaos alone knew what would happen if she blocked the drains. She walked out into the kitchenette and took a quick look inside the refrigerator.
Yes. If she put all the food on the counter, then disarticulated the limbs, the whole body should fit nicely, with the head in the freezer. At maximum refrigeration, it would be some time before the smell became obvious to humans. Let’s see, skull, torso, each limb in two sections, she decided, and went to work with a regretful sigh.
“I’ll have to be more subtle,” she reproached herself, as she finished packing the refrigerator. “I can’t go on leaving a trail like this.”
Besides, Stephen had been . . . yes, sweet. Killing him had been almost as unpleasant as putting down a servus. She hadn’t taken pleasure from a human since her youth, back when they’d been common, before the modified type completely superseded them. Interesting. Stephen might have been very useful, too, if she hadn’t been careless. Too risky once he’d become suspicious, though. Wild humans were very difficult to condition properly; it would take weeks of work before she could be sure of one. A servus’s emotions could be played like a violin, and of course they were raised to accept the Draka. Humans varied wildly, and at best their susceptibility to pheromonal controls was spotty.
The problem was that she was simply not used to pretense. Unlearning habits as ingrained as hers wasn’t going to be easy, even with survival at stake. She’d have to understand the humans here, not just their nature but their culture.
Gwen fixed herself a snack of raw vegetables and cold cuts and took the plate back into the bedroom. She would eat the perishables first, then the canned goods; that ought to last her for a few days. Throttling back on her metabolism was possible, but it made her sluggish and couldn’t be reversed immediately in an emergency when she needed burst speed and strength. Nothing came free; her system was packed with extra capacities and they all required fuel. There was always the dead human, of course . . . But no. Granted that it wasn’t exactly cannibalism, she’d still have to be considerably more rushed before thinking seriously about that. There were plenty of food vendors about, if she was cautious.
Stephen Fischer had kept very complete records of his life on the little perscomp. Between that and the print books and the CD-ROMs, and what she could access from this net, the weekend should be far from wasted. By its end she should know better how to judge when someone would show up to investigate, in plenty of time to move along. With luck, she might be able to stay here a week or so.
A permanent nest would be more difficult. I’m going to need a front, she knew. Subtle. Be more subtle next time.
# # #
Dr. Mary Chen clipped the X rays to the lighted background glass. For comparison, she had a normal arm’s prints next to them, and a shot of a gorilla’s she’d gotten from the primatology people over at the University.
The woman beside her bent close to the film, whistling silently. “Oh, now this is really, really interesting,” she said, adjusting her glasses.
The professor used a pen from her blouse pocket—she wore a plastic protector—to trace the lines of the bones.
“Look at the ratio of the radius and ulna to the upper arm,” she said. “Definitely nonhuman, far too long, but it’s not exactly like any of the other higher primates. And this gap here, not pongoid at all. Hmmm.”
She pushed up the glasses again and peered at the film with her nose almost touching it. “From the wrist and hand, this isn’t a knuckle-walker. Palm, more probably. The hand is extremely human in structure, except that the bones are more robust, but the wrist isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. It’s almost as if it’s been structurally reenforced.”
“There’s heavy callus on the palm,” the doctor confirmed.
Pure technical interest, Chen thought. She didn’t seem to see the implications, which had been keeping the Medical Examiner awake every night for the past three. She sipped at the cold tea in its paper cup and grimaced. Caffeine wasn’t working anymore. She yawned.
“I’d say it was probably some sort of baboon,” the primatologist said. “Though the thumb structure is wrong, more like a hominid. And it’s far too large; the size is more gorilloid. But it’s more like a baboon than anything else I can think of.”
She beamed at Chen. “Dr. Chen, do you realize what this means?”
She nodded jerkily.
“An entirely new species! Fascinating. And”—her voice dropped conspiratorially—“first publication.”
“No publication until I give explicit, written authorization,” she said sharply. This woman is a complete space cadet. “And I’ll want a written release to that effect.”
The academic’s face dropped a little. “It’ll take months even for a preliminary report anyway,” she said. “Oh, all right. And you’ll get full credit.”
Chen nodded and turned to the cooler. The room was dark except for the lights behind the display panel; it was well after normal hours. She turned on the overheads and pulled out the long tray, unsealing the plastic wrap around the arm.
“Oh, wonderful.” The scientist bent over it, pulling on surgical gloves, and clicked on a recorder. “Specimen is—”
Scary as hell, she thought, as the other woman kept on talking into the little machine. Scary as hell. And not just because it was so weird. There were implants in it. Something in the bonelike embedded fibers, fibers that dulled her best bone saw; they’d had to use a metal-cutting saw, and change to a new blade every few seconds.
She waited until the preliminary examination was complete. “The next step would be genetic analysis, I’d say.”
“Oh, certainly, Dr. Chen,” the professor agreed. “With a comparative analysis, we can pinpoint the evolutionary divergence.” She shook her head. “Where could a species like this have hidden itself? It must be quite large—” she stepped back and considered “—I’d say in the four- to five-hundred-pound range. Even a relict population in some out-of-the-way area . . . fascinating! Where did you say you acquired it?”
“I didn’t,” Chen said.
Very out of the way, she thought. Wherever it comes from, twenty people died when it arrived. She remembered the warehouse, its floor awash with blood. Mary Chen had never limited her training in observation and deduction strictly to her work. What followed was obvious. Something had come from somewhere, along with this arm. Something with human-sized heels, that used a knife sharper than a laser scalpel. And if one can . . . come . . . here, then others can.
The primatologist was speaking into her hand-held recorder again. Chen wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.
# # #
“You’re not going to enjoy this,” Chen’s voice said. “I thought I’d give you some warning.”
Carmaggio shifted his feet to the corner of his desk and looked with displeasure at the pound or so of skin hanging over his belt under the shirt. I don’t enjoy looking at that, either, he thought, cradling the receiver, the cinnamon danish and the coffee mug simultaneously. Sure, he was past the middle forties, but that didn’t mean he had to let everything go. On the other hand, regular hours were a joke in police work; and the number of donuts and greasy deli sandwiches he’d shoveled into his face made him queasy when he thought about it. He prodded at the roll with a finger. Not too bad. And he’d stopped smoking, after all. He tried to convince himself he’d done it for his health, and failed. It was just too much of a hassle, with all the nonsmoking areas.
I ought to spend more time in the gym. God knew it could scarcely cut into his social life.
“All right, break my heart,” he said. “Start with the arm.”
A long moment of silence. “I didn’t have the facilities for that, so I called in a favor over at NYU.”
“What do they say?”
“They don’t say anything; they run in circles and throw their hands in the air and shout.” Flatly: “Okay, basically it is a baboon. Only it’s not.” Unwillingly: “The DNA is congruent with Gelada baboons—mostly. Ethiopian mountain baboon, fairly rare. About fifty percent matchup. The remainder’s . . . mixed. Leopard. Canine. And, ah . . . human.”
Carmaggio took his feet down from the desk and sighed, rubbing his forehead and dredging up things he’d seen on nature documentaries and old copies of Popular Science. “Something escaped from a lab?”
“You’ve been watching too many bad movies. Putting a firefly gene in a tomato or correcting cystic fibrosis is one thing. Playing Frankenstein is something else. We’ll do things like . . . that . . . someday, but not for a long time. Hell, the human genome project isn’t finished yet.”
“What about the arm, then?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
He’d always wanted to have Chen-the-omniscient admit that. Somehow it wasn’t very satisfying. “All right, let’s look at this from a cop point of view. The fucking arm is academic, we’ll leave it with the academic types. We’re cops, let’s do the cop things.”
“Nothing mysterious about cause-of-death for most of the Jamaicans. It’s all in the autopsy stuff I’m sending up. Loss of blood from radical wounding, consistent with a knife about eighteen inches long. Or blunt injury trauma; in plain English, crushed skulls, frontal bone driven into the brain, two cases of massive perforation of the heart and lungs by rib fragments. Several injured postmortem by a very powerful kick to back of the head—more crushed skulls, and crushed and severed upper spinals. Whoever did it was making extremely sure.”
“That’s the basics. You want to hear my opinion?”
He waited. Chen continued. “The tissue damage from the knife is as weird as the rest of it. It was sharp. Razor sharp, scalpel sharp. There are cut hairs on those bodies; it didn’t haggle or chop, it just sliced through hair and skin and clothing, plus the odd gold chain. And it stayed that sharp while it went slamming through major bones, sharp and completely rigid. A thin blade, Henry, not a tanto knife or a machete. From the marks on the bones, about as wide as a fingernail at maximum.”
“Hmmm.” A real knife-fighter didn’t put a razor edge on his weapon. That made it too likely to turn on bone or even gristle. Really thin blades were too whippy for use. “Keep it coming.”
“The blunt injuries? It’s impossible, but whoever did that stuff did it barehanded. Kicking and punching and . . . slapping. They slapped people on the side of the head and knocked their skulls in. A couple of those dreadlockers shot each other, but they didn’t hit whoever was doing them enough to slow him down. We’re not talking Kung Foolishness here. What with the arm, I checked up. A gorilla’s about fifteen times as strong as a human being. Whoever did this is about halfway to that level. Freak strong.”
Henry made an affirmative noise and nodded, taking another bite of the danish. The posses were about as bad as they thought they were. If somebody, or even a dozen somebodies, had killed twenty of them, he didn’t want to meet the ones who’d done it. Not without a lot of backup.
“The one with his head blown off?”
“That’s got me completely baffled. The entry wound in the forehead is cauterized, as if someone had burned through with a welding torch. Then the brain was cooked—flash cooked, the explosion was steam. There’s a bit of very finely divided metallic copper there too, God knows why.”
Chen paused. “Now, what about the skin from under Marley Man’s nails?” she asked. A forensics question; police business, not the Medical Examiner’s.
“We sent it over to Quantico.” The FBI lab there did favors for local police departments. “They ran a microsatellite DNA analysis. Caucasian—Northwest European—and female. The hair’s natural dark red. No DNA matches in any of the databases, but that just means she hasn’t served in the armed forces or been sent to jail since the early nineties.”
Carmaggio sighed. It had been the first honest—well, honestly bizarre—evidence to turn up so far. Except.
“They did a full comparative DNA run. It—I quote: ‘Nonhuman. About a ninety-four percent correspondence. That’s less like us than a chimp. A mammal, a primate, but not human, strictly speaking. Whatever it was, it couldn’t interbreed with us; gross differences in the number of chromosomes.’ ”
“Different? Different how?”
“I asked. They told me that we don’t know what most of our own genes do.” After a moment: “Then they told me not to send them any more practical jokes. I think the Fed was scared, Chen.”
“What’s going in the report?”
He took a deep breath. “We’re going to tell our esteemed Chief of Detectives that a drug deal went sour and all Marley Man’s posse got wasted, knife and club and gunshot wounds. Some animal remains were found at the site. We’ve got the DNA make on a person who might or might not have been at the crime site at the time of the murders. We’re questioning all the usual suspects; if you lined up all the people who wanted Marley Man dead, it’d stretch to Jersey. Send me your stuff, I’ll edit it that way, and attach it to my report.”
“You’re going to hush this up?”
“No, I’m going to keep my credibility and yours,” he said. “Hell, it’s an official report, not the. Bible.”
Back in Nam once, he’d been on a patrol that went into some bad bush right after an artillery fire mission. A lot of craters, a lot of busted-up trees, and one arm—still in its black pajamas—by the side of the trail. The loot had reported it in as a stepped-on kill, confirmed, and three probables. Which was fair enough, since Charlie did try to carry away as many of his dead as he could. Only he’d learned from a radioman back at the firebase that about six more patrols had reported the same arm; so that one unfortunate Vietcong had turned into about a platoon’s worth of casualties. And the sucker might not have died in the first place.
Ever since then, he’d thought of definite-sounding official reports as being sort of elastic. Not necessarily completely divorced from reality, but not necessarily having any close relationship to it, either.
“Henry, we can’t hush this up. Think of what it means. There could be—”
“Look, shut up, will you? The problem with unbelievable evidence is that nobody will believe it. And if we push it on people, they won’t believe us about anything. That’s twenty years of experience talking, and you will listen. I’m betting that whoever . . . hell, whatever . . . did this number on Marley Man’s boys is going to do something else. And I’m going to find them.”
# # #
Gwen sighed and leaned back in the lounger. She remembered more than four centuries past . . .
The fountain. It was old, Renaissance work. Much older than the plantation in the hills of Tuscany. It played in a little courtyard flagged with black and white stones, surrounded by arches borne on pillars. The central part of it was a statue of a maiden pouring the water from an amphora over one shoulder, all in age-green bronze. It fell into a round bowl of stone, the edge carved with a time-worn design of vines.
The sun warm on her bare skin, and the slick surface of the marble under her left hand. Her right—a three-year-old’s hand, still slightly chubby—dived into the cool water. The fingers flicked, a touch of scales, and a goldfish soared into the air. Gwen giggled and moved her hand. Flick, flick; more goldfish soared upwards. The fish tumbled back into the water with little plashing sounds, darting away to the other side of the pool.
“Missy Gwen, stop that.”
That was her tantie-ma, Marya. Gwen turned toward her and ran, leaping up to wrap arms and legs around her. Marya braced herself against the solid impact and hugged her back. The child nestled against her, taking in the familiar comforting scent.
“Here, punkin,” her mother said.
Marya handed her down, and she cuddled against the sleek warmth of her mother’s side in the recliner, yawning and shifting until she was comfortable and drifted into sleep . . .
Maybe that’s why I remember, Gwen thought. The scents. Her mother Yolande had smelled human—had been human, the last generation of human Draka.
That scent was heavy all about her, in Stephen Fischer’s little apartment. A flash of memory: Yolande older, in uniform, the high-collared black tunic of ceremony. Standing at the top of a stairway under a dome on Mars . . .
She shook her head. Back to work. She frowned and made another note on the pad. It wasn’t strictly necessary, of course; she had eidetic memory, and the transducer for backup. Just an old, old habit to help her see the shape of a sequential problem. Perhaps that was why she’d gone into reverie. Her mother had done that too, made notes.
She’d need, let’s see, a birth certificate, and then documentation from there. False documents could probably be arranged with stolen money. She made a sub-heading: American or other?
2: Base of operations.
She looked around Stephen Fischer’s cramped little apartment. It was much cleaner and better furnished than the one she’d used in her first flight from the warehouse, but not all that much bigger. Something better than this. Fischer had evidently made a fairly high salary, but equally evidently it didn’t go far here. Like most Draka, she could put up with cramped quarters at need, but didn’t like it.
3: Legitimize the money.
That ought to be reasonably easy. Even in her own history, the Americans had been sloppy-careless about security matters right up to the end—otherwise they might not have lost the Final War. These Americans hadn’t had the long struggle with the Domination to keep them on their toes, and to judge from what she’d read, they had a crime problem like nothing her world had ever seen in any major country. With a huge criminal class, there had to be ways of transferring profits to noncriminal organizations.
In a way, if this had to happen to someone, it was as well it was her. She could remember what a market economy with a non-notional currency was like; the Domination had had something like that back before the War, and she’d studied the American version in know-the-enemy lectures. Very long ago, but the data was still there. The freewheeling anarchy outside wasn’t all that much like what she remembered from either case, but there were useful hints. The younger generation knew valuata as something exchanged over the Web, and rather theoretical in any case.
Legate Tamirindus, for example, would have been completely lost for a good long while.
4: Establish organization.
She chewed meditatively on a carrot. Obviously, if she was ever going to contact home again she’d need huge resources; here, that meant money. She had a lot to sell, four and a half centuries’ worth of technology, only the simplest of which would be applicable at all. The problem would be to do it without attracting too much attention. That meant disguising it as commercial activity.
5: Do physics.
That would be difficult. She’d never been a pure scientist. Few Draka were. Fighters, rulers, explorers, the arts, applied science—but basic research was servus work, mostly. It would be hands-on for her now. Nobody here would know much physics beyond the witch-doctor level.
On the other hand she had the training, and her arrival here indicated several lines to look into. Moleholes obviously retained a quantum-indeterminate quality. With an anchor at both ends, though . . . She’d have to make the tools to make the tools, with several regressions before that, even for some sort of crude signaling device. Either it would be possible, or not; time to worry about that when it came to it.
6: Call home.
She finished the carrots and smiled. Establish a bridgehead. Bring through a couple of orbital battle stations and launchers, she thought, modified for planetary bombardment. The specs were still on file. It had been a while since the Race had an opportunity for conquest. Then the locals would be . . . what was that expression she’d read? Ah. Toast.
# # #
Jennifer Feinberg cried into the pad of wadded Kleenex, threw it into the deskside wastebasket, and reached for more.
Carmaggio helpfully pushed the box under her groping hand. He looked around; a tiny cubicle of an office on the 27th floor, computer, book racks with bound tables and trade periodicals, an African violet, and a cup of cold chamomile tea on the cluttered desk beside the picture of a man in a doctor’s white coat. His professional eye classified Ms. Feinberg effortlessly: early thirties, Jewish, five-five, a hundred and thirty-five pounds—she probably dieted and exercised ferociously to keep it there—economics degree from NYU. Eight years with the same securities firm, fairly rapid promotion. Father a doctor . . . A pleasant face, black hair and big brown eyes, conservative business suit, pearl earrings. Attractive in a wholesome way, if you weren’t put off by brains.
Probably has a studio apartment on the Upper West Side, he thought, and checked his notebook. Yup. And a cat, and went to the opera fairly often, and read books Carmaggio’d never heard of. The only thing not on the to-be-expected list was the other picture on her desk; a young man in baggy olive-green BDU’s, smiling, an Army-issue drab towel around his neck and a helmet under one arm. Brother, probably. Thin beaky face, and glasses. Not worth checking on.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just—I saw him every day, and we did lunch, and then this happens to him . . .”
apartment horror, he read from the Post on her desk. WAREHOUSE VIGILLANTES STRIKE AGAIN.
Fucking media ghouls, he thought. The anger was so old it was reflexive. The national networks had picked it up for a couple of days, which meant still more pressure on him. A couple of local bottom-feeders had tried to make it a racial incident too, since the first twenty-one victims were all black or Hispanic. Stephen Fischer had quieted that, at least.
Although he had to admit there was more to sensationalize than usual. It wasn’t every day that a perp chopped up the body, stuffed it in the fridge, and then lived in the victim’s apartment for a week, ordering in Chinese food on the victim’s credit card.
Plus fucking the victim before she killed him, he reminded himself—they’d found reddish pubic hairs mixed with Fischer’s, traces of his semen.
This is a bad one, he thought. Even without the space cadet parts, it was a very bad one. We definitely haven’t heard the last of Ms. Machete. He ignored the impossible aspects. There were bodies, there was a suspect, time to wonder about that stuff when he made the collar.
“How long did you know Mr. Fischer?” he asked, when the sobs subsided.
“About two years. I didn’t really know him. He . . . well, he was on the Equities desk, you know, and I’m in Analysis. I passed him every day coming in, talked a little, we went to lunch with some mutual friends occasionally.”
“Did you know his ex-wife?”
“We met at the office Hanukkah party once. She was a lawyer—that’s why they split up.”
Carmaggio raised his eyebrows.
“Well, they both had seventy-hour weeks or worse,” Jennifer went on. “We all do, but she was with Mikaels, Sung, Lawson & Finkelstein. She got involved with someone at her firm. Said she’d at least see him sometimes.”
“Mr. Fischer wasn’t, mmm, involved with anyone here? Anyone that you knew of?”
“Steve?’ She blew her nose. “No, he wasn’t the type. I think.”
“No business problems that you knew of, enemies?”
She looked at him, surprise in her red-rimmed eyes. “In Equities? God, no, they don’t deal with the public.”
“Nothing special. His people over in Equities—”
“—would know more, yes.”
“It has to be some awful psychopath, like that Dahmer or whatever his name was.” She burst into fresh tears. “In the fridge, God.”
Carmaggio sighed; for once he more or less agreed with the amateur’s take on it. This was going nowhere, although you had to cover all the bases. It was a good thing that the office here didn’t have all the details, or they’d be even more hysterical.
“Thank you again, Ms. Feinberg,” he said. “Here’s my number. If anything occurs to you, anything at all . . .”
She nodded, wiping her nose and taking the card. Carmaggio shrugged into his overcoat and left.
“De nada,” Jesus said in the corridor, holding up his notebook. Carmaggio nodded. They were working their way steadily through everyone who’d known the victim, and accomplishing squat.
“This isn’t an ex-girlfriend or the guy he beat out for the promotion,” he said quietly. “Stephen Fischer just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“At least we’ve got a make.”
“Tall redhead in a black pantsuit, carrying a duffel bag, no positive ID on race—hell, it could be a fucking transie.”
Not according to the DNA, but that had gone crazy anyhow, and he found it even more difficult to believe in a woman doing what this perp had done. And he didn’t believe a man could have done it, in the first place.
He looked out the window at the driving snow, falling gray-white into the canyons of New York. Out there in his city was someone who pulled machinery apart to see how it worked, and sat at a computer running up Panix.com bills and eating egg foo yung while a body slowly rotted in the refrigerator.
Someone who killed human beings with the casual precision of a leopard in a flock of sheep.
She’d kill again, and again, until she was stopped. Henry Carmaggio hunched his shoulders and thrust his hands into the pockets of his overcoat.
“Let’s get going.”