Stratus Fear

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter Three

When I came to the Terre Celeste entrance a drone guard took my disc pass but had me wait as he processed my information. When he finally felt convinced that I was who I claimed to be, he switched the red sensor light from red to green, meaning I had exactly thirty seconds to pass through the now-you-see-it now-you-don’t gate. The gate came attached to those invisible walls that surrounded the community, all equipped with laser sensors to keep the vermin out and the residents safe. I suppose that if you lived up here you didn’t want regular stone or brick walls to mar the pristine ambiance. Plus the sensor patterns changed daily so that anybody wishing to trespass would have a hard time trying to figure out how to outwit the circuits, a system far more effective than say real towers with armed guards.

Earlier, when I took the thorough-way to the second tier bridge, I waited twenty minutes for the gatekeepers to process my pass. The fact that I had been summoned to investigate a murder up here didn’t seem to faze them, and I had to wait behind as the guards fed my information into their iSO links for approval. Thankfully the traffic remained light, and while I waited I made a note of the residents of Terre Celeste as they passed me by in their shiny, expensive hovers affixed with their special seals to bypass all of us peons. Whether drivers or passengers, the men came spiff and tidy in their suits, the women clad in their chic outfits and glittering jewelry. I could almost smell their designer fragrances, and hear their kind of music through their discreet car stereos, a neo-classical, soft pop fusion with the occasional spiritual and psychological “feel good” message squeezed in between. People paid good money to hear “you are someone special,” “you are worthwhile”, and “you are loved” a dozen times or more until eventually, I assume, you begin to believe in those little, white subliminal lies.

Now when I finally processed through, I revved the cruiser’s engine and started along the main boulevard. Silver plaques with fancy script lettering identified the streets on either side. They all seemed to come with celestial names like Moonbeam, Saturn, Cosmic, Galaxy, and Eclipse. Eventually the streets made several loops around the parameters until they converged and returned to the main gate, but this trip through the privileged kingdom seemed well worth the wait. Somebody up here was missing an opportunity to sell tickets to the masses, a chance to gawk at the elegant and stately residences that populated the blocks, stories upon stories of glass, marble and steel. Some intrepid planner made sure these architectural wonders not only pleased the eye but tickled the rest of the senses as well. And all of the dwellings contained state-of-the-art fixtures and energy saving features, a big selling point at about a hundred million or more per manor house.

The apartment towers came grouped together along a common crescent-shaped drive between Luna Terrace and Serenity Lane. I found a parking space in the underground garage since outside parking lots had been outlawed because they lent no intrinsic value to the overall ambiance and marred the panoramic view. People paid good money to live here in the midst of verdant parks with their plethora of flower beds and trees, the aesthetic sculptures by noted artists, and the cool fountains. Elysian Towers had a large, three-tiered fountain fronting the entrance. Nearby a thirty-foot bronze monolith rose to a trapezoid top, the rays of the sun picking up the verdigris patina of its hammered surface.

The minute I met the manager in the lobby I knew I wouldn’t like the guy. For one, he was a drone with smarmy features and a bad wig in a caramel apple color. He wore a double-breasted maroon coat with flouncy epaulets more apropos for a doorman than the overseer of a hundred-plus apartments. Of course, he blended right in with the regal ambiance, the walls papered in a rich red with gold stripes, the mirrors framed in gilt rococo frames, the settees and chairs made in the sumptuous French regency design, and the tables laden with ornate ceramics and vases of silk flowers.

When he offered his hand I shook it briefly, his skin dry and papery. He joked about having to do body scans on all the tradespeople who came here from down below, but since I represented law enforcement and had the right credentials he’d skip the search. I suppose I should have been grateful, but I found him and his body scans repulsive. Still I tried to be as nice as possible when he told me to call him Morrison, at my service whenever I needed him.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I assured Morrison. “Now if you can tell me how to get to B624, I’d appreciate it.”

“Just take the elevator to the sixth floor and turn left along the B corridor. I believe one of your uniformed officers is standing guard outside Mr. McAllister’s apartment.”

I hung back a moment. “Perhaps you can tell me, Morrison, how long Mr. McAllister has been a resident here.”

“Seven years at least, and he’s been an excellent tenant, doesn’t complain or throw loud parties. Last year he served as president of the tenant association. Oh…” Morrison caught himself. “I should say he was, as in the past tense.” The drone shook his head. “Such a sad affair. I hope you catch whoever did this to him.”

“I hope so too.”

When I made it to the appropriate floor I found said officer standing guard outside the McAllister apartment. He seemed quite young, probably fresh out of the academy, tall and well-built. He hadn’t lost his boyish look, but it worked on him somehow, along with the dimples, spray of freckles and a stubborn cowlick that marred his otherwise perfectly styled hair.

As soon as I arrived he offered a rigid salute and his name, Officer Creed Wendell at my service. I simply nodded as he programmed the display panel and opened the front entrance sliding door for me. “The woman is in there,” Officer Wendell informed me. “She’s the one who found the body.”

“And she resides here, correct?”

“Yes, sir…I mean detective.”

I tempered a smile. “Just call me Parrish and we’ll get along fine, Wendell.”

“Yes, sir…Parrish, ma’am.” The poor kid didn’t know when to let down his officious guard and drop the courtly attitude. But he’d learn soon enough. No one in the ranks lasted long if he or she couldn’t muster a sense of humor or overlook a lot of things that went down.

“She worked as Mr. McAllister’s assistant,” Wendell offered.

“Ah, huh,” I replied as I strolled on by and entered the apartment. The term “assistant” could mean many things, and I had a feeling that Mr. McAllister employed the woman not as an office au pair but as his mistress.

Now I gently parted the curtain of glass rings and entered the living area. Mr. McAllister enjoyed the modern linear design, uncluttered, functional and soothing in colors of tea green and slate blue. I found the woman called Arianna Ravel sitting on the modular sofa, wrapped in a lovely silk robe, her bare legs and feet tucked along the cushions. When she spotted me she tried a faint smile of acknowledgement.

When I came around to face her I introduced myself as the secondary officer assigned to Mr. McAllister’s case, Detective Parrish, from the L.A. precinct down below. Ms. Ravel nodded, her eyes wide and shiny, if not a bit puffy and red from a recent crying jag.

“The officer from our district,” she informed me in soft voice, “is still in the bedroom. He can fill you in on the details. And I will be here when you want to ask me questions.”

“Thank you, Ms. Ravel. I won’t be long.” I hoped my tone offered strength and stability. I never cared for the gruff, bullying behavior that some cops liked to emulate, and over the years I found that empathy and efficiency went much farther than boorishness.

Now as I walked into the bedroom I found the responding detective gazing at the bed with a pensive look, his right elbow resting on his crossed left arm, his index finger tapping his chin as he pondered the situation. Had I met him in other circumstances I would have pegged him for a successful business man with his camel jacket and soft leather loafers. His round face, slightly fleshy features, and hooded eyes bespoke a quiet, sedate life; his marital status confirmed by his gold wedding band. He probably had children, too, the requisite boy and girl. No doubt he and his wife worked professional jobs, although his seemed more of a token position than a real career. Oh, well. If the community fathers wanted to pay the man a seven-figure salary for essentially doing nothing, it was their business, not mine. Too bad.

When he finally noticed me, he dropped his arms to his side and offered a slim smile. “Hello, you must be the officer sent to assist. I’m Harrison Sebring, the detective in charge of this case.”

I showed him my badge. “Parrish, L.A. district, homicide. What can you tell me?”

I had been avoiding the bed with its trail of blood stains leading down to the shag rug. Now I’m not squeamish as a rule, but this much blood screwed around with my normally strong-willed composure. Of course, the medics had already removed the murdered man, but Sebring offered a replay with a click of his holocam. Now I had to take a look at the vivid image of Mr. McAllister in death. Naked, he had been lying on his stomach and across the bed, his head hanging partially over the edge. Blood stained his white hair and dripped steadily down the side of the mattress. Despite his age, his body looked lean and muscular, and he had a tan, another perk of being rich.

“What about the murder weapon?” I asked, averting my gaze from the man’s tight ass.

“From the sharp marks on the deceased’s head and the depth of the wound it appears to be some kind of metal instrument with a sharp hook at one end. My men have canvassed this apartment, the building and the surrounding area, but haven’t found anything like it yet.”

I frowned in thought. Sebring’s description of the murder weapon did not conjure up an immediate image for me. “How did he enter the apartment?”

Sebring turned his gaze towards the open doors that presumably led to the wrap-around balcony. “It looks like he climbed up the side of the building and then came inside. We took samples of the wall itself, but this fellow seemed to know what he was doing.”

“Almost like he planned this ahead of time.”

“Yeah, something like that,” the detective murmured and finally turned off the holocam, making the image of the dead man disappear. Unfortunately, the blood remained.

“Did he take anything, do you know?” While I spoke, I idly scanned the rest of the bedroom but found nothing of real interest, the place neat and tidy accept for some clothes laid on a chair. Deep closets probably lay behind the triad of full-length mirrors, positioned just right to grasp the view of the bed and what went on between the soft sheets, the bed linen actually made of real silk, its color gold before it became mottled in rust-red.

Sebring tapped his chin again. “Not that Ms. Ravel could see. Of course, I ruled out a burglary right away.”

“Looks that way to me, too. The murder itself had to be a planned job, not some spur of the moment thing where our perpetrator got nervous or was caught unaware by the victim. He knew exactly what to do, go in, attack, and then leave.”

The detective let out a little sigh, like a vocal surrender to go with his differential look. “Okay, so I’ll have the schematics available once I return to my office. That should help a great deal. And with the detailed photos of the wound, our tech can estimate size, weight and appearance of the tool used, which will give us much more to work with.”

“I’d appreciate it if you would send me the info,” I requested in a rather polite tone. “This way I can work from my end and you from yours. Then we can compare notes.”

“Okay, if that’s the way you want to work it.” As he spoke, Sebring gave me something close to a grumble and a dismissive look from beneath those sagging eyelids.

“Yeah, that’s the way I want to work it.” I hate it when male cops question my decisions and methods. To go strictly by standard procedural practices meant I could be ignoring or missing some vital pieces of evidence.

In a rare case of cooperation, the detective actually deferred to my authority. “All right. We have McAllister at the hospital morgue. If you want to take a look at the body I’ll get you a hospital pass.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I countered. “You’ll have the holograms available and they usually present a very accurate picture of the deceased.”

A creepy feeling began to work its way up my spine, more like a cold tingling that made me shiver slightly. With all the technology available to us I never had to view a real dead body. The coroner or pathologist did all the work and I used his information and vids. I could get the 3-D image of Gavin McAllister’s head from all angles, the reenactment of the deed itself, plus all the forensic information I needed to complete a picture of the death scene.

I walked over to the window, open half way, the sheer curtains blowing slightly in the fresh breeze. “I take it this is where the assailant came in.” Bending over, I made a closer examination of the window ledge and the jamb, both clean and unmarked.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Sebring confirmed. “We already scanned for prints, but our guy wore gloves, of course. He was no dummy, no amateur.”

Straightening, I turned back to the detective. “I wonder if he resides here or works for one of the trade businesses down below.”

“Given the time of day it’s possible that he had a pass to come up here to do some sort of handiwork. We’re checking the records now.”

“I’d like a copy of that, too.” Not that I thought it would yield much. If the killer of Gavin McAllister had been thorough enough to leave no traces behind, then he wouldn’t have slacked off in the ID department either. Somehow he slipped into Terre Celeste unobserved and unrecorded, although it still wouldn’t hurt to run down the list of tradespeople and look up the businesses that had contract work up here.

When I started to open drawers in the built-in dresser, Sebring mentioned that his colleagues had made an inventory of the bedroom proper as well as the adjoining bathroom. “I have that list,” he informed me. “The closets and dressers hold mostly clothes and clothing accessories, male and female, the bathroom the usual stuff.”

I bet McAllister hadn’t settled for anything less than real soap and toiletries, probably all scented. And fluffy, soft towels, too, for use after a long, hot shower with multiple jet sprays—decadent but wonderful. My gaze lingered on the drawer I had opened, filled with folded silk and lace night gowns in such colors as lavender and pale yellow. No doubt they belonged to Arianna unless McAllister enjoyed a delicious cross-dressing session now and then. I could ask her if she and Gavin ever traded places in order to spice up their sex life, but such a personal question seemed inappropriate at this stage.

“Please include that inventory as well,” I requested of the detective.

“All right.” Sebring glanced at the display on his communications link. “I’m headed back to my office. Do you have our number?”

I nodded. Earlier I had added his precinct number to my comlink, and now he did the same by inserting my business info key into his telecom. The officer probably wanted to finish up his report and then head on home to the wife and kids. I couldn’t blame him. This murder probably upset his schedule and now he had to compensate for the irregular hours, although the time display on McAllister’s bedside clock registered only ten minutes to eight. I had someone to go home to as well, but Rogue understood my erratic schedule and never questioned my absence for long stretches of time.

Almost eight o’clock. As if on cue my stomach began to rumble, but I had no time to secure a meal or even a snack at the moment. Murder never politely waited for the living to sate their appetites.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.