You step out of your car into the hot February sun and immediately wish you could crawl back in and sleep for a few more hours in the cramped, but air-conditioned, backseat. The heatwave has been going on for a few weeks now and you noticed that the weather people had stopped referring to this kind of phenomena as being “unseasonal” years ago. The only bright side to this was that the heatwaves usually preceded another mega-storm,which tended to make the temperature swing back the other way for a time.
Thinking about it for a bit, you realize that isn't much of a bright side
“You from the Main Office?” a voice from down the street calls out to you. You look up and give the uniformed security grunt a nod before taking a look around the neighborhood.
Even back when you were a regular cop, back when there were regular cops, this part of town had been a shithole. The retail-on-the-first-floor, condos-on-the-top boom that dominated the region at the beginning of the century had promised to revitalize and reinvigorate the area. Instead, the thing that commonly follows the word “boom” happened and the neighborhood was left with a bunch of empty storefronts and apartments no one wanted to live in, much less afford. Throw in a couple of earthquakes and more than a couple mega-storms and you were left with this: a cracked and broken landscape that only the most desperate dregs of society could call home.
You don't like being here.
Ever since you signed on as an investigator with SecuraCorp you haven't had to come down to places like this. You live in a corporate condo uptown and your clients mostly employ you to follow cheating spouses or bring back wayward children who have decided to slum it for a season or two down in Mexico. You once spent two days tracking down a runaway cat that an elderly client insisted had been kidnapped. It was menial work, sure, but the fee that the Main Office managed to charge the client paid for a nice Christmas vacation for you.
“Yeah,” You answer, stepping around a pile of concrete and showing the grunt your Securacorp ID. “Why the hell am I down here?”
The grunt, his eyes squinting as he reads the fine print on your identification, looks like every other corporate grunt you've seen; big, bald, and covered with tattoos crafted by epileptic prison artists. The kind of guy you'd never call “grunt” to his face, in other words.
“A client's tracer went dead inside,” he eventually answers. “Normally it's a battery issue, but since he's so far from his estate, the Main Office thinks it's because...
“The client went dead inside,” You interrupt. “Why was I called and not someone from the Medic Division?”
“Beats me,” he says, shrugging. “Probably a problem with his contract."
That makes sense, you think. Contracts with SecuraCorp came in tiers. Lower tier clients were given basic security and bodyguard services. Higher paying clients were given the full treatment; medical, dental, security, the works. If you had the money, there was almost nothing SecuraCorp couldn't fix or arrange for you.
“So where's the client?” You ask, looking over the building. It isn't as bad as the ones on either side of it, but it wouldn't take much to bring the whole thing down. Graffiti, not the commissioned kind from Uptown, covers every inch of the first two floors creating a swirling diorama of penises, illegible names, and vague threats. A broken pipe juts out a third floor window and a thick brown liquid slowly trickles out of it onto the sidewalk below. A sizable puddle of the stuff has formed near the busted front door. “And what's his name?”
“He's on the second floor. According to the alert I got, his name is Silas Mordent. He's some kind of banker or something.”
“Okay. So what am I going to see up there? I assume you went up.”
“I did,” the grunt looks at you sheepishly. “The door to the room he's in was locked so I had to bust it in. I can't tell you what's inside though. Main Office told me to keep quiet so you wouldn't go in with “preconceived notions” or something. Sorry. But I tell you, it is weird in there.”
Your head filled with preconceived notions, you step around the broken door and into the narrow hallway at the front of the building. You shout back to the grunt. “Make sure no one who isn't from the Main Office tries to enter the building. And send my partner up when he gets here.”
“What's he look like?”
“You'll know him when you see him,” You answer.
The building may have looked stable from the outside, but the inside looks like hell. Needles and broken glass pipes litter a stairwell that has had more than a few stairs torn out of it. A hole, roughly the size and shape of the Kool-Aid Man, has been smashed through the wall at the back giving you a commanding view of a vacant lot. Trying not to breathe too deeply, You pick your way delicately over the debris and stand in front of the only intact door on the second floor.
Snapping on a pair of latex gloves, you gently nudge the door open with the toe of your shoe and peer inside.
It is weird in there.
The door swings open to reveal an opulently appointed study. Bookshelves filled with actual leather-bound volumes dominate the far wall. Overstuffed and ancient-looking furniture is arranged stylishly around the room, the legs sinking into a rug that costs more than your annual salary. There's even a goddamn fireplace against the east wall with antiques arranged along its mantle. Framed prints of birds and maps decorate the walls where there are no bookcases and the pissy smell of the hallway seems to be held at bay by the rich smell of paper and fresh paint.
And in the middle of it all sits the dead body of Silas Mordent.
You slowly walk into the room, careful not to touch anything, and look at the body. It has been situated in a chair, which looks to be made with real leather and wood, that in turn has been set in front of a table with a chess set on it. Mordent is dressed in a crushed velvet smoking jacket over striped, silk pajamas. An ivory pipe sits in his left hand. He looks for all the world like someone contemplating his next move while having a relaxing smoke.
The only thing breaking the illusion is the garden trowel sticking out of his chest.
“Aw geez. My, my. Wouldja'....wouldja take a look at this now...”
You look over at the familiar voice of your partner as he looks around the door frame.
“Good morning, C0lumb0t,” You say, backing away from the body to inspect the bookshelves. “You got here quick.”
“I was in the neighborhood,” C0lumb0t says as it walks into the room. You can hear the metal and plastic hip joints of the aging robot creak under its tan raincoat. “Boy, this is sure is a fancy looking place you found here.”
You move out of C0lumb0t's way so that it can scan the body. Every investigator that works for SecuraCorp is assigned a robot partner and for some reason the Tech Division decided to program each one with the personality of a different fictional detective. You got stuck with Columbo, who tended to be a tad eccentric. But you know it could be worse. One poor bastard who worked on the East Side got stuck with a Jessica Fletcher model who spent most of her time trying to set up elaborate sting operations to get the suspect to confess. So far, each of that guy's cases has been thrown out of court.
While C0lumb0t continues to “Aw, geez” and tut-tut over the body, you take closer look at the room and start noticing some inconsistencies. For one thing, though the furniture and rug are certainly pricey, the rest of the set up starts to look like stage dressing upon closer inspection. You notice that the prints on the walls look to be torn out of old books and the frames holding them are dinged up and damaged in spots, most likely scavenged or purchased from a cheap second hand shop. The books along the shelves are all from broken sets, missing key volumes and seemingly shelved at random. The fireplace is paper mache.
Taking a few books off the shelves, you notice each one has the same bookmark inside indicating that the sets were purchased from an online wholesaler. Taking out your phone, you walk near the window to see if you can get an internet signal.
“What do we know about Silas Mordent,” You ask C0lumb0t.
“We know he's had better days,” C0lumb0t's says; its programmed New York accent seems especially thick today. “And he's a banker. Or he was...”
“What do you mean?”
“He was fired six months ago. According to his file he'd been delinquent in his duties for some time.”
“That explains why he dropped a few tiers in his coverage with us,” You say, looking down at your phone. It looks like the bookseller is still in business and, wonder of wonders, has an actual physical shop just a few miles from where you are. “What's he been up to the last six months, though?”
“Divorcing his wife, for one thing,” C0lumb0t answers. “It looks like an ugly one, too. Big fight over how to divide up their estate. She's an interior designer. Works for a company called Inner Illuminations on 3rd and Broadburn.”
“Interior designer, eh?” You mumble as you send a text to the Main Office requesting a clean up crew. “That has promise.”
“He's also called Security out to his house almost a dozen times this year complaining about his neighbor.”
“What's his neighbor done?” You ask the robot.
“According to the reports,” C0lumb0t says, bending over to look under the chair Simon Mordent's body is sitting on. “Everything from trespassing to stalking to illegal digging.”
“Illegal digging? What the hell is that about?”
“Beats me. You're the smart one here, boss. But look at this now....”
The robot straightens back up to its normal hunched pose, a piece of folded paper in its claw. Walking over to you, its photo-receptor eyes looking in two different directions, it hands the paper over to you.
“Anarchists United,” You read aloud, turning the pamphlet over. The paper is grainy and thick, probably made in someone's sink out of materials that would certainly not include a tree. You've seen thousands of pamphlets like these from hundreds of organizations over the years. Most of them were from peaceful groups who demanded reforms to this or that facet of modern society. A few were of a more violent ilk. For the most part, these organizations seemed content to fight among each other than for the causes they championed. “Looks like these guys have a beef with everyone in general, but have a particular hatred for banks. Seems convenient we found this here, to be honest.”
“Did you notice their logo, there?” C0lumb0t asks
You take a look. It's a play on the Chaos symbol of an eight pointed star, only instead of arrows it consists of workman's tools like hammers and pickaxes. The southern point is a garden trowel.
“All right,” You say, noticing that the organization has listed a downtown address for the reader to visit if they want more information. Slipping the pamphlet into your pocket, you look over the room one more time. The clean up crew will be here any minute and will take a digital scan of the room and the body. If you need to later, you know you can visit the Main Office and examine a virtual simulation of everything in the room. “I want you to go downstairs and tell that grunt to keep an eye on the place until the cleanup crew gets here.”
“You got it, boss,” C0lumb0t says, moving toward the door. You've worked with the robot for a few years now, so you just wait for a moment. Sure enough, as soon as it reaches the door it turns back and fixes one of it's eyes on you. “Just one more thing, if you don't mind....”
“What is it?”
“What do you want me to do after I'm done talking to the guard?” it asks.
What should C0lumb0t do?
- Visit the bookstore and see if they have a record of who purchased the books. 40%
- Inquire at Inner Illuminations, see if Mordent's ex has anything to say. 30%
- Go to Mordent's house and talk to his neighbor. 30%
- Talk to the Anarchists. 10%
And then, what are you going to do
- Visit Bookstore 10%
- Call on the ex-wife 40%
- Talk to Anarchists 20%
- Go to Mordent's estate 30%
So you can vote for the outcome you desire by clicking on the polls in the upper right corner over there. Voting is open until Thursday May, 8th and the next chapter will post Monday May, 12th. If you are viewing this on smartphone and the polls don't appear, you can list your choices in the comments and I'll count them. Good luck.