Ever Rain: Nine Kings Episode I

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Chapter 8

The next day came sooner than most others had. Kell popped out of bed feeling like she had more purpose in life. She grabbed a waffle and some juice, and settled into Stazia’s recent lead.

“Matthew Edwards of Hunterstown, Pennsylvania.”

Her eyes made quick work of the news article.

“Seventeen. Never left home that day. Found murdered in his bedroom that same night.”

Kell pulled up a map on her cell.

“Not too far away.”

She folded her waffle in half and stabbed it with her fork. “Looks like a little day trip is in order.”

The report gave little else in the line of details to the case. Stazia emphasized in her last lines: Use your federal credentials!

“Hell.” She finished her breakfast and shuffled to her kitchen. “That means I’m going to have to pull the charcoal suit out of retirement.”

Kellerika dropped off her dishes and set to work on looking the part of a cyber crime investigator. The suit in question held residence in the far dark corner of her closet. Her parents had bought it for her around high school graduation so that she would have something nice to interview in at the universities.

“Hope I can still shoehorn into this thing.”

Fifteen pounds had found their way onto her athletic frame, but in the form of solid muscle. Kell pulled it down and set to work ironing out the musty wrinkles. An hour later, she was on the road northbound past Gettysburg. Once on the other side of some picturesque farms and pastures, Kell pulled into a gravel driveway that led to an older two-level farmhouse. She grabbed her fake name badge and pinned it to her right breast pocket. She fished a separate billfold from the Highlander’s center console and flipped it open.

“Hello, there, Agent Sellers.”

A shiny badge shimmered in the mid-morning sun.

“Time to go to work.”

Kellerika hopped out and stuffed the billfold into a hip pocket. A worn middle-aged man met her at the front door. From the look of his soiled tee-shirt and unkempt facial hair, she guessed he’d had a rough couple of days.

He propped the screen door open. “Morning. You from the agency?”

She nodded and went for the billfold. “Good morning. I’m Agent Kelli Sellers, Cyber Crime Division.” She flashed her credentials and pocketed them. “Are you Mr. Edwards?”

He bobbed his salt-and-pepper hair. “I am.” He moved aside. “Please, come on in, Agent Sellers.”

The sensation hit Kellerika like a runaway truck. Loss, sorrow, and emptiness superseded all else. “Mr. Edwards---”

“Call me Jake.”

Kellerika sidestepped to a sitting area just inside the doorway. “Jake. I understand that your son, Matt was pretty serious about his video games?”

One of Jake’s brows raised. “He was. That’s an interesting accent you’ve got there.”

A casual laugh. “Thank you. Finland.” A tall, slender woman hobbled down the last few steps to join them.

“Ah,” Jake scratched his black curls, “my wife, Helen.”

Helen shook her hand. “Welcome, miss?”

“Sellers,” Jake added. “Agent Sellers.”

Helen glanced around her cozy home. “Sorry the place is a mess.”

Kell held out an open hand. “Think nothing of it, Helen. You’ve been through a lot already, I’m sure.”

Jake took the lead while his wife of twenty-four years bowed out in another fit of grief. “We’ve hosted the FBI, Sherriff’s office, the State Police, and now you.”

Kell headed his next question off at the pass. “I’m sure my constituents at the bureau have collected most of what we need. I’m just here to investigate the cyber crime angle.”

Jake tossed out a leg. “You seriously think that my son was involved in some kind of online criminal stuff?”

“No, no.” Kell put her hands in the pockets of her slacks. “Nothing like that. We know that he was gaming at the time of his murder.” Their defenses softened. “I’m looking for any leads that might tie back to his killer.”

“That’s all we want,” Helen said, “justice for Matthew.” She curled a weary hand. “Follow me. I’ll take you up to his room.”

As Kell approached the base of the stairs, a dark form drifted through her field of view in the kitchen area. She stopped and looked around the room. A steaming teapot and a stack of dirty plates next to the sink. Up a set of crooked steps and right at the top. At the first door on the right, Helen led them inside. A set of clear rectangles of different sizes adorned the otherwise empty computer desk.

Helen point to them. “Your friends already took his computer system and games.”

Kellerika scanned the rest of the space. “I know. I’m here to follow up on any other clues that they might have,” she made her way to a stack of gaming magazines on a bookshelf near the desk, “missed.”

Kell rummaged through them. Most offered the run-of-the-mill material. Level highlights, hidden rooms, and the like.

Her hazel eyes stopped in one particular issue. “This mean anything to either of you?” She held up the page. Someone had written BABY-X in its margin in pen.

Helen leaned in for a better look. “It’s Matt’s handwriting, all right.”

Jake squinted at it. “Yup. No idea what it’s for, though. He had friends and games on so many servers and forums on that thing.” The tired father massaged a temple. “There’s no telling what that means.”

Kell set it back on the shelf. “That’s my job, Jake.” She went back over to the desk. “He had a gaming system?”

Jake scoffed. “Oh, yeah. A big one.”

His wife leaned into his embrace. “He loves---loved---to play his games. Day and night.”

Kellerika strode to the window overlooking the detached garage. “No signs of forced entry. No broken frame.”

A sniffle from Helen. “Matt had no enemies. At least that we knew of. He was a warm soul.”

Kell turned to face them. A skinny boy in a black jacket blocked her path. Long black bangs. His sunken eyes bordered on tears.

“Where am I?” Matt’s sighs hit Kell through the laceration in his neck. “What happened?”

Kell held on to her composure by a thread, looking past the phantasm. “What sort of games did he like playing the most?”

Jake pecked his wife on her forehead. “He liked all of them, but he’d gotten a pair of those virtual goggle things this past Christmas. He definitely played that one a lot.”

Matt gave himself a once over. “I was just playing my game. Hey!” He strode through Kell to his desk. “Who the hell stole my system?”

Kellerika gulped. “I hear those are quite the rage these days.”

Matt spun on a heel, nines burned into the whites of his eyes. “I hear the thunder in your heart.” His voice was not his own. “You can’t keep up with me.” Matt dissolved into a swirling black smoke which shrank in on itself in a paranormal vortex. It dissolved to a pinpoint and blinked into oblivion.

Kellerika strode to the doorway and took one last look around the room. “Well, that was all I needed to examine from my end.”

Helen perked up and strode out into the hallway. “Oh. That wasn’t so bad.”

Kell grinned. “Quick and painless.” She shook their hands. “I think that new clue will help a great deal in my investigation.”

Jake started back downstairs. “Well, call us if you need anything else. We’re usually around these days.”

Kell shook their hands again at the front door. “Thank you again for having me in your lovely home.” She stepped out onto the front stoop. “I will help you find some closure on your son.”

Helen cleared her teary face as Kell hopped into her Highlander and made for the highway.

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