The rain fell fast and unrelenting. A neverending deluge that drummed the roofs of the ghettos in the lower city and pelted the windows of the skyscrapers that touched the bruised clouds, comfortably sitting above the city and overlooking the houses and industrial district that belched out smog even at this ungodly hour. Zach Fletcher took a drag of his cigarette and blew out the smoke in a thick plume. The night sky was heavy and dark, as it always was.
Gendra was a city that seemed predisposed to being rained on: it was starved for a decent colour palette and nothing but grays and blues stretched on for miles. A raindrop hung on the end of Fletcher’s nose before dripping down into the cobbles, a forgotten relic from what this city used to be.
Now it was an industrial jungle, twisted and malformed and forced to grow up to the modern age and beyond. Some of the houses, particularly the low income ones, had struggled to adapt. Humans like Fletcher had come here and brought industry to Gendra and all the other cities on the Lower Continent. Many centuries ago, before the skyscrapers, when horses were the most reliable transport.
Fletcher took another drag from his cigarette under the bus stop and watched a young woman bundled up under a raincoat shuffle past. In the limited visibility, it was hard to tell what species she was, but to Fletcher it never really mattered, as long as they weren’t sabotaging a crime scene or holding someone hostage. Every citizen was innocent until proven guilty to him. He threw the cigarette onto the floor and trampled it before setting off into the night.
His phone buzzed from his slacks, and he knew with a pit in his stomach it would be the station. There was only one reason why he would get called at this hour.
Harry Braun was sitting in his domain when Fletcher opened the door to his office. The typical blues and grays that the entire city was painted in had bled to the interiors too: Braun’s desk was gray, Braun’s walls were gray, and Braun’s face was gray. Fletcher sat on the gray chair opposite his boss.
“I know it’s late, but we’ve had calls of an incident. Forensics are there now.”
Fletcher shifted in his chair. “Robbery, GBH?”
“Murder. In Lower Kaella.”
“Human or MS?”
The pit in Fletcher’s stomach seemed to add another weight to itself. A human murdered in a Magical Species ghetto was only going to add fuel onto an already tenuous heap of smoldering coals. Relationships between the magic community and humans were, putting it lightly, pretty hostile, and a murder would no doubt be blown up by the papers. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger to soothe the upcoming migraine he knew would be bubbling up in his brain.
“It’s worse. It was Helen Prepper.”
Fletcher’s stomach went into freefall. “Prepper?! The darling daughter of John and Louise Prepper?” Her pitch perfect image flooded his head: A well bred woman of high wealth and status with long blonde tresses, the kindest of smiles and heavily involved in numerous charity projects helping the most destitute of the Magical Community. Her murder was huge and potentially completely devastating to both communities.
“Are we sure it is indeed Ms. Prepper?” A final grab at a reality that wasn’t this one. Fletcher didn’t need a verbal confirmation from Braun, his face said everything. “Of all the people…”
“I know, Fletcher, but this is what it is. Unfortunately it’s a very gruesome scene. Forensics have wired some photos over.” He swivelled his monitor so Fletcher could see.
Deep, jagged cuts decorated her body. Her clothes had been ripped but Fletcher didn’t see any concrete evidence of sexual assault - not that the photos were much of an indicator - and her organs were on the floor beside her gaping abdomen in a grisly tableaux. Fletcher had seen many crime scenes and was utterly indifferent to blood and guts, but now, faced with this very particular set of guts, he felt more than a little nauseous.
“Field crew thought the wounds looked Feline in origin.”
The Felines were some of the most uncooperative species among the Magic Community, and at their mere mention Fletcher groaned and recrossed his legs. “You’re absolutely positive it’s Feline?”
“Kaella is almost exclusively a Feline ghetto, and going by the wounds, it doesn’t matter what evidence we find, you know what people are going to think.” Braun stood up. “They’ll be bringing the body in soon to the morgue. What time is it?”
“Goddamn, well, fire up the coffee, you ain’t going home tonight, and neither am I.”
Her skin should have been flawless, perfect, not ripped and half hanging off her bones. Even resting on the relative stability of the gurney, her body simply refused to look peaceful.
Fletcher was long past nausea or even disgust. Years and years of working with stiffs had granted him that. The dead were quiet by nature, and thus a generous helping of gallows humor had done its best to fill the empty space usually reserved for white noise.
The coroner, in his most unappealing and disinterested voice, gave his assessment: Helen Prepper had died of blunt force trauma to the head, evident by the ugly depression embedded by her temple. The skin around the wound had crusted and dried, with bruises already bloomed and promptly stunted with her abrupt death. Thick, viscous streams of blood had congealed at the corners of her mouth and nose and one eye had popped and leaked down her cheek. Finally, across her abdomen, claw marks very obviously Feline in origin had torn at her stomach, exposing its innards and making the smell of her stiffening body ever more pungent.
“Mr and Mrs. Prepper have already been informed and the body has indeed been identified.” The coroner nodded like it was some huge revelation. Fletcher could only roll his eyes as Braun tilted down the girl’s chin with a gloved hand.
“Poor girl,” he mumbled, “her body is in a real state too. Bob, can you confirm those lacerations are from Feline claws?”
“I’d bet my supper on it. Feline claws as opposed to Canine or a knife have a distinct serrated edge, like a fingerprint or a key. You can see a pattern along the torn skin.”
If this was a murder, it had been done by either someone who didn’t know they were leaving incriminating lesions all over the corpse, done in haste done very deliberately by someone with access to Feline claws in order to frame one. All paths seemed equally plausible and equally ridiculous to him. “So, stupid question,” he asked the coroner, “but do we know who did it?”
“Nothing on file, I’m afraid.”
“Old fashioned tactics this time, Fletcher. Don’t worry, I’ll sort you out a translator for your enquiries.”