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Chapter One

Another day, another crime scene.

I flash the badge hanging around my neck at the familiar faces guarding the yellow police tape and they usher me through. Guarding the perimeter of a crime scene can be a particularly thankless job. You have to stand there for hours at a time continually informing passers-by that there is nothing to see, that they need to move on. Naturally, once someone hears that the officer’s word automatically becomes unreliable and they need to confirm it for themselves with their own two eyes. If you are unlucky enough to pull guard duty for a high-profile case, then you also have the bright flashing cameras to contend with; strobe lighting effects incessantly dazzling you and not to mention the microphones repeatedly shoved in your face. Come rain or shine, it’s your job to stand there and take the questions, the abuse, the insults and everything they can throw at you, to be as unmovable as the stone beneath your feet and unyielding in the face of a crowd that outnumbers you six to one.

Thankfully my days of crowd control are far behind me.

My name is Ryan Jax and I am a Detective for the New Haven Police Department. New Haven is the city that never sleeps, even though it could probably do with catching its forty winks every now and then. There is always something happening morning, noon and night and thankfully not all of it requires police attention. Speaking of attention, there seemed to be a general lack of onlookers, which as mentioned, usually company such events. Either the story was yet to break or it already had and no one cared.

Despite a cold winter wind, I take up a position by a set of steps leading up to a tall, five story brownstone. On the outside it didn’t look like anything special; three floors up and two down, brown in colour (hence the name), the windows were covered up with old newspapers but all in all it was just one of the many lost in the rank and file that runs up and down this street. Nothing that makes it stand out from the norm.

Nothing, except for the front door barely hanging from its hinges.

From what I can make out the door looked to have been smashed open with great force. The top of the door slanted away from its natural position within the frame, the semi-circular sectioned glass panel broken into sharp gagged teeth.

It was a fight, but I managed to curb my curiosity long enough for my partner to arrive.

“Look at you waiting patiently for once.” Said a deep but joyful voice. Turning to my right I see a man of average height ducking under the yellow police tape. His dark skin and roguish looks were the weakness of many ladies; added with his charming yet jovial nature and he practically had them eating out of his hands. Wearing faded blue denim jeans and a red and white plaid shirt under a black leather jacket, the man comes walking up to me, handing me a medium sized coffee.

“Now Jason, you know I can only do my best detective work after my morning coffee.” I reply accepting the hot drink.

Jason Riley has been my partner for about fiv4e years now. Going through training you hear the horror stories of cops being forced together, to work out their differences until they either rise up or crash and burn. Sadly there is some truth to the stories; trainees can get assigned to grizzly old veterans who are too stuck in how it worked in the ‘good old days’ and are as crooked as they come. Such behaviour is far and few between nowadays but you will always have a few bad apples. I lucked out when I was partnered up with Jason, the only thing he cared about at the start was whether I put milk in my coffee or not. I told him no and it has been smooth sailing ever since. Sometimes it can be the simplest of things that bind us, and the state of one’s coffee is such a thing. Jason has been with the department for ten years now, most of which has been in Homicide, but every scene he still arrives with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.

Whatever he is on, make mine a double.

“You’re more chipper than usual this morning?” I say before taking a sip of my coffee.
“And why shouldn’t I be?” He replies. “The sun is shining, I’m amongst friends…”

“What was her name?” I ask interrupting him.

“Good sir I have no idea what you could be referring too.” I raise a sceptical eyebrow. “Jolene,” he admits. “Twenty-seven, works for the One Chance casino. Was out celebrating with friends about some big promotion she got.”

“Let me guess, you helped make her night one to remember?” I add sarcastically.

“Jealousy is not your prettiest colour my friend. You’ve just talked yourself out of seeing the pictures.”

I laugh and nearly spit my coffee out onto the floor. “Thank God for me and my mouth.”

We continue to talk whilst we finish our coffee. It’s not very professional to possibly taint a crime scene bringing a cup of coffee with you while you look around. As we finish a uniformed officer with tanned skin and short dark hair, wearing dark blue bomber jacket with a radio hanging from a front pocket, a utility belt complete with steel flashlight and handgun, exits the house and makes his way down the stairs towards us.

“Detectives, glad you could drop by.” The officer says, a mild Hispanic accent lacing his words.

“Officer Perez,” I reply. “What have you got for us?”

“Well I hope you haven’t had any breakfast yet.” He says waving us up the stairs to join him. “This one is all kinds of messed up.”

Jason and I walk up the steps to join Perez and I get to confirm my initial thoughts about the door. The one thing I didn’t see from street level is that the door is missing its handle and the section surrounding it. The edges were singed and blackened and the scent of burnt wood just about registered with my sense of smell. Members of the Forensic Analysis Unit, wearing white puffy onesies, goggles and latex gloves, examine the door closely, scraping burnt wood chips into an evidence bag for later testing. Passing them leads to us to a hallway in various stages of decay; the walls on either side are a collage of peeling wallpaper, chipped paint and cracked drywall. Scattered across floor near the entrance is a pile of unopened envelopes, most of which have an ‘Overdue’ or ‘Debt Notice’ warning stamped in bright red ink on the front. Evidently, whoever had once lived here cleared out long ago, trying to run and hide from one too many bad financial decisions.

“Street Patrol officers responsible for checking these buildings for squatters called it in. They were pretty freaked out when we got here and I can’t say I blame them.”

Perez leads us to the first room on the right and the first thing that hits us is the smell; the fruity stench of human death and no matter how times you smell it, it always hits you in the stomach. It’s a distinct chemical cocktail released by dead human bodies that smells like berries and apples; it has something to do with the enzymes that start breaking down the cells in our body when we die. That is about as much as I know and I only know that because I’m friends with one of the district’s Medical Examiners.

What used to be the buildings lounge was now just a rotting husk of its previous life; a decaying couch rests against a wall to the right of the doorway while two dilapidated arms chairs take up positions against the wall opposite. Bookshelves made of rotten wood fill the rest of the wall space, long since deprived of whatever books they once held. Old newspaper prints cover the windows, blocking all but the smallest cracks of light. The stripped remains of a light fixture, with its wires exposed, hangs limply from a cracked and flaky ceiling.

Lying in the middle of the floor, at the centre of all this decay, is the reason why we are here.

The body of a man lays spread out on the floor, his head and limbs all positioned carefully in line with the five points of a pentagram which had been painted in what I hope is red paint, but the investigator in me realises that the shade is too dark. The circle encasing the symbol shows distinctive streaks in the ‘ink’, as if it had been painted, quite literally, by hand. Examining the image painted on the ground is just a stalling tactic, trying to delay looking at the inevitable horror staring up at the ceiling with dead eyes. A man in his mid to late forties wearing, what was at one time, a finely pressed grey suit. Now however it was tattered and dirty with holes here and there where the rats have eaten away. His once crisp white shirt was now ripped and stained in dry crimson, his chest a bloody mess of torn flesh and broken bone. The troubling thing though is that the wound isn’t the worst part; it’s the constant look of sheer terror on his dead face, like someone had frozen him in mid scream.

Whatever happened, this man died in fear.

The strangest thing about this is that I swear I’ve met this guy before. I have the vaguest image of someone running down a corridor. No not running, being chased, he’s continually looking back over his shoulder. The image is there for the briefest of moments but is gone again as quickly as it appeared, fading away to the back of my mind and out of sight. I feel a slight pressure behind my eyes begin to build, threatening to form itself into a headache. I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a small bottle of painkillers. Popping the cap, I take two pills and dry swallow, doing my best to ignore it and instead focus on what is in front of me.

“You ok partner?” Jason asks with a slight tremor of concern in his voice.

“Yeah. Just having the creepiest sense of déjà vu.” I answer.

“Right, cause we see this type of thing all the time.” He responds sceptically.

I choose to ignore Jason’s comment as I didn’t really have a good reply for him. Some things are just too hard to explain.

Crouching next to the victim, a woman wearing white plastic overalls with black hair tide back into a ponytail, exposing her exotic facial features, examines the body. She sees us approaching and rises to her feet to greet us.

“Hey Jessie you have we got?” I ask.

Jessica Parks is one of my closest friends; we have known each other since we were teenagers in high school, kept in touch through college, using our friendship as excuse to visit each other and party. She went on to become a doctor, a pretty good one too by all accounts, but then the worst thing happened. She lost a patient because they didn’t have the medicine they needed on hand. Jessie did the best she could with what they had but in the end, it wasn’t enough. That loss hit her hard. She had lost people before but this boiled down to a simple clerical error; someone had lost their life under her care because someone had failed to check stock levels. As the weeks went by word got around that several other doctors had lost patients due to a lack of medicine. Jessie found out her bosses were skimming medical supplies so they could sell them off to the rich and shameless. She reported them and it became this huge scandal, all eyes were on her as this whistle blower and it all just became too much for her. The directors, instead of dealing with the situation, just tried sweep the whole thing under the rug and ignore it because her bosses brought in a lot of money to the hospital. After that, she decided to leave and join the Medical Examiner’s office where she wouldn’t have to look at their faces again.

Being in the M.E’s office isn’t where Jessie pictured her life leading to but she’s one of the best the city has and truth be told she’s helped me solve some really tough cases. We’re lucky to have her.

“I put time of death to be somewhere between ten and midnight last night.” Jessie replies. “I’ll have a more definite answer for you after the autopsy.”

“Is cause of death as apparent as it looks?” Jason asks with a grimace.

“Well it’s as good a guess as any at this point,” she answers. “But I won’t know more until I’ve got him on the table. What I can tell you however is that he wasn’t killed here. A wound that size would have bled heavily; with exception to the ritualistic symbol painted on the floor, there are no other traces of blood around the body.”

Jason looks over to Officer Perez. “Do we have an ID yet?”

“Oh yeah,” he replies, an unimpressed chuckle escaping his lips whilst handing me a black leather wallet. “And you are going to love this. This poor bastard is Daniel Lowfield. And he’s Fay.”

“What?” I reply in shock.

“Oh shit.” Jason swears shaking his head.

Fay is what we mere mortals call those who have the honour of living the good life in the high society district of Faydrian. We are talking the rich and wealthy, the movers and shakers of this world. In short the over privileged, money grabbing, fame seeking aristocrats who consider themselves better than anyone else simply because they have money and power. However, annoyingly with the money and power comes connections and influence, meaning there is going to be a lot more eyes on this case very soon.

“What the hell is a Fay doing here in New Haven?” Jason asks.

“Maybe it was on a dare from his high class friends. Isn’t that what they do for fun? Hopping the borders?” Perez comments.

“If it was a dare, then it’s one he most definitely lost.” I add before turning to face Jessie. “Jessie I need to you get the body bagged up and out of here before people start taking an interest in what we’re doing.”

“Will do.” She replies. “As soon as I have any more information I’ll let you know.” And with that she gestures to her assistant and the pair get to work moving the victim. Meanwhile I turn back to Jason who looks over the scene, formulating theories in his mind.

“So our victim was killed someplace else and then brought here where the killer poses the body hoping someone will find it?” Jason summarises.

“Well you wouldn’t go to this much trouble unless you wanted the body found.” I confirm. “Otherwise why leave it somewhere where the local Street Patrol is actively watching.”

“Maybe what brought him to New Haven is what got him killed?”

“Either way we’ll need to retrace our victim’s movements. Hopefully it’ll lead us to an answer for both of those questions.”

Jason signals to Perez, who is helping Jessie secure the body for moving. “Perez, make sure you get everything here locked down. No one speaks to anyone who’s not authorised to be here and keep the Raz and their cameras as far away as you can.”

“Yes sir.” He responds and sets off towards the exit.

Jason and I follow leaving Jessie to her work. As we leave the building we are greeted by an entirely different scene than when we arrived. Several news vans had set up shop whilst we were inside; some were already broadcasting, the reporters trying to make the most out of their limited screen time. Circling around them is a growing wave of flashing lights from cameras, the bulbs going off on a steady strobe effect. The Raz are out in full force it seems. Like vultures spiralling towards a fresh corpse.

Sadly it’s the same no matter which of the eight districts you’re in.

New Haven and Faydrian are just two of the eight districts that make up the state of Novia. It was established nearly five hundred years after something the history books refer to as the Great Cataclysm. There are lots of theories and conspiracies out there about what happened but truth be told no one really knows. If you believe what the Royal Families tell you it was something that nearly destroyed the world and if it wasn’t for the bravery of five warriors everything would have been lost. Of course, the Families believe themselves to be descendants of the warriors so naturally they would want people to take that legend as gospel. All people really know is that anything from before this time, anything written or recorded Pre-CG was lost to history.

It also left the world outside nearly uninhabitable. Only the Novian military is allowed beyond the state borders, anyone else caught wondering around out there is shot on sight.

But meanwhile in New Haven the wheel continues to turn and life goes on. At least for some of us. Guess it’s time to get to work.

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