I knew what he would do because it’s what I would do.
I woke up to a notice that my retainer had been cancelled. Either I had been fired from the department, or someone who looked just like me had committed a murder. I called the office and switched on my feed, got the same news at the same time: Laura-686 had been murdered in her unit on the 7th level. Her husband, Paul-189, was the only suspect. The Captain wanted me to come in, said he’d sent a car to pick me up. It arrived before we hung up.
I asked the officer driving me, a Micheal, what he knew. He was polite but professional and wouldn’t tell me a thing. The new Prime Minister was a Michael and they had a trend towards haughtiness--the whole line would be acting like everyone else worked for them for the next four years.
The car soared out of the residential towers and headed downspin to the Civil Responsibility building, which fought to keep from being smothered by the towering financial and mining company skyscrapers. I ignored the looks and whispers as we descended down to the homicide office. Everyone knew why I was there; it was all over the news. As we passed the down-time lounge, the vidwall had a big old file photo of someone else with my face.
I stopped and stared at the old, loser, punk rock version of myself. Paul-189 was older than me and had piercings in his nose and lips. His hair was long on one side and buzzed all the way down on the other. In this mugshot, he had a busted lip and a black eye.
No matter how many times you ran into someone on the same line as you, it was always a little weird. It was especially strange to know this version of yourself, this whole person who possessed your DNA and bits of your character, had committed a crime. You tell yourself you would never do whatever they had done, but then, you never really knew. Maybe this Paul had thought he’d never offend, too. Maybe he’d even been a pursuer, like me.
Captain Warren-282 didn’t stand when I walked in, he started explaining the case immediately. Warrens were by-the-book and straight to business. They also tended towards substance abuse more easily than the other lines. I knew this because of my training and experience, but everyone knew one or two Warrens who were fun in their teens and twenties and a disgrace in their forties and fifties. Warrens tended to die early of organ failure, and in poverty. If he was able to hold onto his Captain’s pension -282 would likely avoid the poverty, but he was pushing fifty and had the red, veiny nose of a drinker.
“We’re sure it’s him?” I asked, pouring myself a cup of coffee from the stale pot in the corner of the office. The mugshot I’d seen earlier in the lounge dominated the Captain’s video wall.
“Neighbours heard them arguing, then a struggle, then a loud bang. This idiot was seen leaving the apartment right after the bang. Witnesses were a Ryan and a Marni so you know the info is good. He’s got a history of violence, especially with other Lauras.”
I was stirring sugar into my coffe. The image changed to a crime scene shot of the body. Laura-686, her ID card had been added to the image, was on her back next to an overturned table. A lamp crusted in blood was still lit and plugged in next to her head. There was a spray of blood and tissue like a spilled garbage can. Her legs were off to one side with knees pressed together, arms straight out in a T: looked like a deadfall. She hadn’t tried to break her fall, was probably dead before she hit the ground. She was wearing a tacky sweater with ducks on it. I winced: my Laura had loved that sweater too. I covered up my reaction by pouring some cream.
“Check the usual spots already?” Pauls loved expensive coffee and cocktails, it was likely this one had a few local haunts. I carried to little cup of coffee closer to the vidwall.
“Uniforms are in the area but nothing has turned up, otherwise we wouldn’t need you.” I ignore the jab, disguised as all-business. In a city with a strictly-controlled population, murder is the highest offense, and even people like me who kill for the state are hated.
“We found this in the apartment.”
The image changed to the inside of a room but I couldn’t work out what I was seeing until I backed up a few steps. The wallpaper was a jumbled and random mess. The flash from the IS tech’s camera had flattened the image so it was hard to wrap my head around. It hit me all at once: the wallpaper was actually dozens of charcoal drawings on 8x10 paper, taped to the walls with regular yellow masking. I gestured to zoom in, hoping the resolution would be high enough to make out any details. It was, barely: I could discern a circular motif to each image, faces and eyes and mouths made of overlapping concentric circles.
“Shit.” I said, and meant it.
“A regular creative type, our Paul.”
Artistic deviancy wasn’t technically illegal, but it would hurt your chances of getting a job outside of entertainment or marketing. Pauls weren’t supposed to work in those fields, though it was an open secret that we had artistic inclinations. Society tolerated Pauls who sketched--as long as they did it in their own homes. I myself had a sketchbook but it was full of line-perfect architectural drawings and anatomical outlines, nothing like the free-form chaos I was seeing on the screen. What I did was an aberration, to be sure, but nothing that set off alarm bells like this. That our suspect Paul was a deviant would make him harder to track, less predictable, and if the media caught on they would blow the case way out of proportion. The Ministers were always looking for ways to reinforce the old laws.
“What’s that in the middle of the room?” I ask, focusing on some kind of object on a small plinth. The flatness of the image helped it blend into the chaos of the background.
“No idea, some kind of sculpture, we’ve got a recreation in the 3d lab if you want to take a look.”
“Timeline?” I asked, turning back to Warren.
“4 hours. You’ve got time but watch this one: he worked in the docks and was busted for smuggling many times. Likely he’s got a way off-world.”
“I’ll get him.”
“Standard rate plus a bonus for every hour less 48.” The image on the wall had flipped back to the body of the Laura, his Laura: Laura-686. “This gonna be a problem?” Warren asked.
I took a sip of my coffee. It was cold.
“No.” I said.