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The Hanging Tree

The Science of Deduction

Like shavings from a block of the dirtiest of ice, a soft docile flurry of fat snowflakes fell from the swirling black clouds that hung heavy over the black bay below, giving all within its gaze the darkest of blue tints. The monster surge of the untamed ocean viciously crashed and overflowed without abandon on the submerged shores of old docks and piers. The violent surge washed away the corroded and abandoned market places and little shops that had once been there. Neptune remained unchallenged and unchecked as his domain stretched through the shadowy buildings and infested alleyways of the old districts, claiming the heavy corroded beams and rafters of rusted and muscle infested suspension bridges that lumbered back out into the open sea to join the floating junkyard of debris.

The roar of the never ending surf echoed elementally throughout the dilapidated and grimy streets, ever threatening to make a new water level. But they were all empty boasts to an old building at the top of an ancient cliff face thumbing its nose at the terrifying vastness of the violent sea from its frosted and dusty stain glass windows that faced the bay. The ocean’s mighty wave’s foamed and frothed like an agitated mad dog, selecting the frozen perspiration on the swirling frigid breeze.

The soft glow of a lamp tossed its dim light throughout an expansive room casting a cascade of shadows from the snowfall on the canvas of the Tudor walls of the main office. Joined amongst the odd phenomenon was a tall shadow that stood within the heart of the illusion. His active hands held a bow and violin as he played an old melancholy air to the lonesome tomes of his surroundings and state of mind on this very night.

The aged office absorbed the tragically sorrowful music with the zeal of an old grandfather that longed for the better days of youth, first love, and his young children. Within these halls, Legends that had stridden through history books like giants had once made this place their home. Amongst all their greater glories, victories, losses, and sorrows, shared in yellowed and fading framed newspaper articles and priceless trophies of adventures long past, it was the specter of a great love that had been left behind living on only in each tragic scrape and sorrowful lilt of a violin.

The man played for all that was missing, for all that should never have been, for all the joyful yesterdays that seemed only a fading dream in this lonesome forgotten place of a long dead age of heroism. Even as he played he did not do so with himself in mind, never himself. Those who have lost and survived to never let go often do small things. An empty plate for an empty chair at the family dinner table, a shot of alcohol placed in front of a picture of a friend long gone, and a toast by patrons in memoriam on the appointed day. But for the fiddle player, he played every song as if it were a duet. His notes and cues with the utmost superiority of a lifetime of practice, but when it came time for the accompaniment, he played background … even when there was no one there to join him ever again. Every time he picked up the instrument, those who could hear the echoing notes on a quiet night of the same lonesome street would always know something wasn’t right with the beautiful melodies the silhouette played in the dark of the old building. The music never seemed complete, forever missing a part of a whole that could never be replaced.

As the song reached the finale he put all of his heart and soul in the way he made the old violin sound with the high pitch of an emotional wail before he gently came to the end of his song. He could almost hear the other player with him as they finished. When it was over, he paused hopefully as so many times before when he opened his eyes to look around the empty office of the only home he had ever known. With an old familiar pain he looked to the dusty table under the saucer lamplight almost anticipating the look of annoyance on hard green eyes as they were going over maps, but no one was there. He turned to the well-worn leather sofa in the nook of the office surrounded by framed newspaper articles. He waited for the sleepy glossy black haired beauty to turn on him in loving annoyance and announce a scolding of “There are three thousand miles of nothing out there, and yet, you decide you need to do that here?” But the couch was empty, with only a threadbare throw blanket hung off the back where her scent still lingered. He finally turned to the lounge chair made of matching leather near the other nook where large filing cabinets stood. It hit him the hardest most of all to see her abandoned harp leaning against the wall next to the empty chair. It was a reminder that no matter how long he waited, there would be no congratulatory smirk from a dark haired beauty of a duet well done.

Slowly he lowered his instrument and bow to his sides and was greeted only by a tragic silence that fell over the empty building still vibrating with his music. It shouldn’t hurt so much after all the years, but the muscle instinct of memories and habits remained unbroken. The build-up only caused more pain to the climax, and the remorse of the closing when he always found himself alone.

He gave a grim smirk of melancholy and bowed his head as he let himself remember and relive each pain till he returned to speed. When he had, he gently walked to the lounge chair and dropped his violin and bow on the cushion. Bent over the chair, he spotted the dusty harp, whose golden paint was starting to fade and green in age and disuse. A prize once scavenged from an abandoned concert hall in Boston that had been collecting two decade’s worth of soot. Now it seemed its morose life had yet come full circle as it once more collected dust in the loss of its owner. He reached for the instrument in a moment of nostalgia, but stopped … as he always did. His hand lingered just at the fingertips of the untuned strings. For a moment he was standing at the edge of an aircraft carrier deck again. The single unbroken search light reflected in her silken bridal corset. And as he cradled her bloody body in his arms, her blank eyes looking back at him, but not in annoyance, not in love, not like anything … not ever again. He left her harp untouched and found no comfort of a floating fortress of nightmares being at the bottom of its watery grave, forever to haunt him.

They say you learn to live with it, that it doesn’t hurt so badly after a while. But when you have to pick and choose which hurt to ignore and which to live with, every day, it never gets old, and it never ends. You keep your head down, pick your battles and you only immerge victorious when you awake the next morning alive without having eaten your own gun.

The shadow sat in a broad leather office chair meant for a man much bigger than him. The old rolling chair creaked as he slouched broodingly. In front of him sat a heavy oak desk, discolored after decades of use. On its right was a computer station with three blank plasma screens and key board gathering dust. In front of him on the main work area was a picture frame. The photo was of a teenage girl in a form fitting black dress. She was standing in front of a familiar bathroom mirror as if getting ready for a dinner party. She smiled a perfect white smile, but even then there was a strange blankness in her golden eyes. The ballerina, while exuding a purity of innocence that appealed to the better nature of one’s humanity, there was still something cold and deadly in her stalwart figure that was visible to the clairvoyant eye.

For a long moment he stared at her picture as he had been known to do from time to time. But tonight, for the first time in many years, she was the focus of his thoughts, of his motivations, anger, and ruthlessness of the evening. After all the lingering questions of the case that stood before him, how could he not think of her? On top of the desk sat a worn leather photo album that was opened to a specific page held in place with a copper wedding ring, taken from a dead man’s palm.

There was a designed collection of digital photographs taken at a wedding many years ago. Two or three pictures around the collage were of people that seemed almost forgotten in his mind. A round table of men in tuxedo shirts and rolled up sleeves. James Ellison sitting with Martin Bedell in his West Point dress uniform, Lauren Fields in an elegant purple bride’s maid gown sitting on her husband’s lap as they all toasted the photographer. He could never imagine them so young and carefree. It was like a window to another world, a better world. There was an eerie photo of a pretty little flower girl with fiery red hair and blue dress. She smiled big for the camera as she hugged to a woman with deathly pale skin and a grey skin tight gown. She looked like a shark on the prowl without a hint of remorse after she ripped out your inners.

But once again faced with the center picture that had prompted him to take up the violin the first time, he simply reached out and touched it as if wanting to touch them, touch her. It was a photo of two people alone on the dance floor. A teenage ballerina, the same as in the black dress, but this time she wore a silky strapless wedding dress. The bride’s hair was a curtain of gloss chocolate running down the bare back of her wedding gown. She looked transported, completely divorced from the real world in the arms of a handsomely rugged youth in a traditional tuxedo. She was captured in his emerald eyes as if nothing in the world mattered but the two of them. As if they were each other’s life and only purpose. This moment had been their happy ever after, the pinnacle of all that they had longed for after all the years of doubt. They had reached the edge of the world that day and found that there was nothing left to conquer, and wept from joy. It was a once in a lifetime, once in a century love, never to be seen again, forever to be whispered about, rumored of around campfires.

The man took the ring in hand thoughtfully looking over the pictures of a frozen memory in time of happiness long passed. Yet, it provided little help in relevance to the case, other than bringing the man a momentary comfort, before a deep sadness and pain took him. All he could do now was solve the case in honor of them.

He placed the ring under the glass lamp shade and observed it carefully. It was coded from the inside with a brown crust, but it was hard to make out. So he opened a drawer in the desk and withdrew from the top a chrome handled magnifying glass. He cleaned the Zeiss lens with his navy blue t-shirt before using it to get a closer look at the thick brown ring. It couldn’t be dirt when it was that packed in, nor was it mud that close to the desert. But there was a possibility …

Reaching over, he clicked the lamp light off, bathing the detective offices in a blue hued darkness as he fished around in the old desk. He extracted from the utility drawer a penlight that he clicked on and off several times watching it emit a blue light. He placed the ring back on the desk, using the magnifying glass to watch in one hand, while he shined the blue penlight on the ring. His enhanced vision was alight with an off white neon glow that bathed the inside of the ring. It was as he expected …

The rust was dried blood.

He took the ring in hand and swiveled the chair to face the window thoughtfully, sitting in the blue hued darkness around him watching the violent sea surge with primal power. After a beat he pushed out the chair and paced out of the office. He gripped the handle of an old wooden door with a frosted glass pain that was labeled by the names of two consulting detectives in black paint. He twisted the knob which rattled with an audible click and squealed as he opened it into the building’s lobby.

It was a large space of ivory marble tile that was beginning to crack in age. It had no windows but for the impossibly thick bullet proof glass at the bolted front doors to the building. Next to the office was a spiraling metal staircase that led to a loft above where a family had struggled to stay together. Though, still occupied, it would never be the same now that there was only one of them left.

The extended foyer was filled with an assortment of glass cases that one might find in a museum. They ranged from tall rectangular glass filled with clothing, to cubed exhibits on wooden stands lined with red velvet on the bottom. Trophies and souvenirs from a lost violent era of a city’s past that many had once called a “More civilized time” in human history. A maroon desert robe and full faced turban of Bedouin clothing. In well-spaced grids cubed exhibits decorated the lobby. In one sat a prototype plasma rifle and an ice stained fedora hat. While the man walked by them, his steps were accompanied by the thud of crystal flood lights switching on in motion detection underneath the trophy cases.

The shadowy figure paused at a large ashy desk that still had an assistant’s name plate upon it. Though faded from many years the word “Fields” could still be made out. Behind the desk was a rickety and dust covered toddler’s playpen. Pinned to the aged wood was a stiff weather worn piece of office paper, with the words “Daycare” written in time faded ink. Mounted on the desk was a cluttered chemistry set with a Bunsen burner on the left of a looping and swirling clear plastic distilling tube that was hung suspended above. Behind, and in front of the set, were an assortment of forensic tools such as a high powered microscope that was joined by a seemingly unorganized collection of empty beakers and colorful vials in wooden racks.

Without missing a beat, the man moved behind the desk and opened a door below. To the sound of jangling and clinking, he began by pulling out an elongated glass jar scorched at the bottom that held a deep blue liquid. Next, masons jar of red. And finally, a wine bottle of green. Gently, he began depositing each chemical with a clank on the desk, while muttering to himself as he searched. Finally when he was done gathering materials, he reached into the playpen and retrieved an empty beaker and placed it with the rest of the formulas.

He began the set up for the scientific test by taking the pear shaped bottle of blue and placed it on the Bunsen burner pad. Pulling down the distillery tube, He began screwing the hose into the elongated top of the glass jar. Before moving on, the shadowy figure turned on the heat to the burner, letting the blue liquid begin to bubble and froth. After, he reached into his pocket and dropped the wedding ring into the empty beaker and began unscrewing the top of the Mason jar. The ring began to slowly float to the top as he poured the red liquid into the beaker, carefully. When it was filled halfway he stopped and screwed the lid back on. He began holding his breath as he uncorked the wine bottle.

“Careful.” He hissed like a deflating balloon as he squinched an eye shut.

He adjusted the wine bottle as if behind a sniper rifle. Slowly tipping, he cautiously moved the neck till it was positioned in the right angle. Green formula drizzled gently, landing in the center of the ring. Almost immediately the man pulled back on the bottle and quickly corked it again. He only let the rest of his breath out after it was safely inside the desk.

When he returned the green and red chemicals were mixing together. The crusted stains inside the ring were now falling away, mulching into an inky dark cloud that consumed the entire container. With easier breaths, the detective picked up the plastic glass and swirled the contents against the light of the nearest trophy case. Satisfied with the mixture of blood to chemical, he moved his microscope and placed the beaker under the hanging nozzle of the distillery hose. On the other side of the chemistry set the sky blue foam of the heated chemical obscured the vision of any liquid within the pear shaped bottle on the burner.

Slipping on a welder’s glove, the tall man began to gently open the tube ways with the twist of a screw on the hose. The lobby of the building echoed with an obnoxious sucking sound as a squirt of superheated liquid, which glowed in the dark, was shot through the roller coaster ride of clear tubing. He closed the channel quickly, shutting off the burner, while watching the glowing blue chemical glide gracefully through the line, almost entrancing and hypnotizing in its drawn out journey to its destination. When the liquid finally squeezed out of the nozzle in a fat, lighted droplet, it hit the dark cloudy liquid with a drip. There was a sudden sizzle, like meat on the grill, as vapors erupted from the now glowing beaker. The lobby whiffed of a strong iron smell as the reaction ran its course. When the light faded the elixir was now a distracting shade of violet. Making sure to take the chemistry tool within the hand of the welder’s glove, the man observed the contents grimly as a film of frost began covering the beaker.

“What does violet mean?”

The shadow of a tall imposing figure appeared from behind a case filled with an old Jihadi’s black desert robe and full faced turban, from long ago, across the marble. The large, muscular, figure was white haired and wrinkled. He wore a shined skin tight shirt of the darkest grey, with black jeans. It was a sentry figure from a time long past that still haunted the old halls, barely speaking a word as it patrolled the old building and bunker as directed many years ago. Even when artificial flesh had aged, hair greying, and original master long dead, the rudimentary infiltrator still carried on, collecting dust like all the other trophies and memories in the old lair. The Detective didn’t blink at the aging T-800’s appearance. He did not even turn to acknowledge the old guardian’s presence as he placed the beaker back on the desk.

“What color is Human blood, when exposed to oxygen?” He asked while picking up a pair of tweezers.

“Red.”

The man nodded as he fished out the wedding ring floating at the top of the icy liquid. “Why is this, violet?” He asked absently while holding the ring up to find the copper band shining as if it had been washed clean of age.

The T-800 walked forward. “Because the blood you were testing wasn’t human.” It answered stonily with a thick Austrian accent. There was nothing in the voice of the tall figure. Its appearance, its voice, and the crow’s feet on his lower lip brought on the greatest sense of bleakness to the greyed surroundings than any ruin outside could.

“Because the blood I’m testing isn’t human.” The Detective confirmed distractedly.

With a tiny bottle of salient solution he began cleaning the chemical residue off the ring. “Cyborg blood, your blood, it isn’t really blood. It’s a compound made up of nanites that act as cells to deluded O negative, and a host of synthetic oxygen carriers that don’t need to be pumped through a Cardio Vascular system. When deoxygenized and exposed to a high concentration of chemicals the “blood” turns violet, instead of dark red, because of the synthetics.” He explained ripping off the glove from his hand and tossing it on the desk.

“Why was it relevant to test the blood?”

The silhouette picked out the wedding ring and looked grim as he stared at it in the reflection of lights. “Because it proved that she was there, when they killed him.” He replied clutching the ring in a tight fist like the way he had found it in the murdered farmer’s hand. “There was no trace of her, but the ring was in his hand.” The Detective paced away from the desk and his companion to one of the cubed exhibits. He stopped in front of a display of a sleek, but very bulky and large gun. The first plasma rifle shared the case with a frost damaged blue fedora, with a nine millimeter round through the top, and at its stock on the other end a pair of bunny ears belonging to a sexy waitress uniform from long ago. Leaning back against it he crossed his arms and closed his eyes. In his vision he could see how it all went down as if it were a movie, a horrible atrocity that had already happened.

“I don’t understand.” The T-800 replied stiffly.

“It’s simple, Pops, I was wrong …”

“About what, sir?”

“This was done by thieves.”

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