The Sum of Zero: Part 3
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"This killed someone?" Adams said, peering at the tiny blade in the petri dish. It was all but obscured in the tiny distortions of the plastic. John Caulder nodded, saying nothing. The Chief would ask him directly when it was needed. Adams set the dish down on his desk and looked back up at John.
"So, what do we have here, John?"
"Good question, Chief. With the telltale burns on the foot matching the others, we have a serial killer in New York. Doctor Sharpe is processing requests to exhume the other bodies, but based on the autopsy reports on them, she's willing to bet that the same projectiles were the cause of death." Caulder set down a thick file folder on his desk. Oscar Adams looked at it for a long moment and turned his deep brown eyes back up towards John.
"John, why is this so important to you?" Caulder recoiled back, taken off guard by the question.
"Don't bullshit me, John. I've seen you work before. This is different, and I want to know why."
"Is it the girl?"
"Alright, that's it. I'm reassigning Struan to the case. You wanna fuck with me, I'll fuck you right back. It is the girl." John looked away. "I know. Looked a lot like Jenny. It's been what, about 2 years since she left?"
"Look, I don't want to tear up your scabs, John. But you can't get personal in this. You know this. I can get Struan on it without any of the bullshit lost face talk that goes with getting reassigned if you want. But I need you frosty if you're going to stay on."
"I can handle this." John said hotly, glaring back at Adams. Oscar met his glare, and held it. He finally broke the tableau with a wave of his hand.
"Alright, John. You get to stay on. But just watch yourself on this, okay? I've watched too many detectives burn themselves out by getting too close on these cases, and you're too good to lose. Now, get the hell out of here." Adams turned back to his paperwork, terminating the interview. Caulder watched him for a moment before leaving.
John sagged against the wall, outside the office. Was he getting too close to this, he thought. Lina Drake had resembled his ex-wife very much. Too much in some ways to see her dead in an alleyway. Maybe that was why he was so determined to bring her killer down. John drove the thoughts from his mind and left for his desk. Nothing good would come of that line of thought.
Piper was at his desk when he arrived, munching a donut and flipping through some sheets of paper. Caulder nodded at him as he arrived, and sank back down in his chair.
"Rough time with the Chief?"
"You might say that. What's up, Piper?"
"Not a lot. Just came up to let you know that the Feds are now in on this."
"The Feds? FBI?"
"Yup. Sent two agents down to 'assist' in the investigation. Frost and Summers."
"The FBI, eh. Whoppie fucking do. That's all I needed today."
"Relax, John. They're supposed to be experts on 'mutant hate crimes' or something."
"I bet the closest that they've ever come to a mutant is the Kelly hearings on television."
"They're waiting downstairs." Piper said, sweat sliding down his face from the heat. John nodded, pulling his shoulder holster back on and picking up his coat.
"You hear anything new, you call me immediately, right?"
"You got it, John."
Scott and Emma said side by side in the dingy waiting room. A steady flow of police with handfcuffed suspects came and went, ignoring the pair in their dark suits and sunglasses. A side door opened and a young man in a beige suit and sandels stepped out of it. He saw the two, obviously government, sitting in the waiting room and approached them.
"You the FBI?"
"Indeed. I'm Agent Frost. This is Agent Summers."
"Frost? Like Frost Industries Frost?"
"She's my cousin. Shall we move this somewhere else?"
"Yeah, sure. This way."
John Caulder led the two of them out of the waiting room and into one of the empty briefing rooms. As they walked, he drew up his own impressions of the pair. The first of them being that neither seemed to like each other much. The one in the queer red sunglasses was a tall guy, slim but with muscles all over. He moved like some of those ex-Marine SWAT team members John knew; deadly and sure. The woman was like ice, that same terrifying sense of self assuredness he knew from people like Sharpe.
"So, Detective Caulder. We've been given a preliminary briefing, but if you could fill us in on any other details, we'd appreciate it." The tall one, Summers, said.
"Ah, well. Um. Well, it's definitely a serial killer. We've identified four victims so far with the same M/O. No connection between the victims that we can determine other then their mutant nature."
"No one has checked if there is a connection in the order or their ages?"
"Those came up blank from the government databases."
Emma and Scott barely held in audible sighs of relief. The identities of the X-Men were still secret to the general databases.
"Cause of death, in each case, has been a tiny projectile, delivered mechanically to the spinal cord. Very skilled and hard to diagnose."
"Interesting." Emma said. "So, where do we go from here?"
"Hit the witnesses from the Café. See if anyone saw her. It'll be difficult, since that FoH explosion wasn't all that far from were she was found."
"Explosion?" Scott said, arms crossed over his chest.
"Mutant Research Centre. They bombed it the same time that the forensic team estimates the girl was killed."
"It happened then?"
"Yup. Now, I think that--" John stopped as his celphone shrilled. "Hello, Caulder. Uh-huh...yeah, alright. I be right there." John snapped the phone closed and turned to his two charges. "They've got another body."
The house was two storied and narrow, the doorway flush against the crumbling, yellow bricks. Three cement steps, edges rotted and flanked by thick patches of weeds, led up to the dark green door. The colour of the door matched the window frames and was exactly the shade of the filing cabinets at the police station.
Charlie Jennings, a detective from the East side, was on his hands and knees in the dark, passage just outside the door. A single, low-watt bulb hung from the ceiling, operated by a length of beaded chain. The walls were green, over rough plaster. The floor was covered in a thin brown carpet, worn through in places to show the darkly varnished boards beneath.
"Find anything?" Caulder asked. Jennings grunted and climbed to his feet.
"Nothing but termites and cigarette butts." Jennings was in his mid-thirties, a big man with thinning hair and a long mustache.
"Cats." Emma noted with a sniff. The atmosphere reeked of ammonia.
"FBI." Caulder said by way of explanation to Jennings, who smiled.
"Yeah, take a Fed to figure that one out." He ignored Emma's flat glare and turned back to Caulder. "They belong to the old guy in 2B. The Doc and the Iron Maiden are up in 2A."
"Both of them? Why?"
"I dunno. Something that the Iron Maiden wanted to show him. Go right up." John nodded, and motioned Scott and Emma to follow him.
"Iron Maiden?" Emma asked as they were part way up the stairs.
"Docter Lillian Sharpe. Cold as all hell, but the best set of tits on the force." John looked back at Emma and suddenly flushed, his composure falling.
"I mean, uh, that--"
"Never mind, Detective. I'll do my best to try and justify your appraisal of her when I see her." Emma said, a mischievous smile on her face.
"Uh, right." John was silent the rest of the way to the apartment.
A doorway led down a short passage to a three-step landing. An open door was on the right. The mattress had been stripped of its covers. A small window set high on the wall looked out onto a bare patch of dull sky. The steps took them down into a kitchen area. Sharpe, hands stuffed into the pockets of her white coat, was standing with the Doc beside a white enamel stove.
On top of the refrigerator there was an old alarm clock in a bright yellow plastic case. The only other furniture in the room was a pair of wooden, straight-backed chairs and a square table covered with a drooping sheet of dark blue oilcloth. On the oilcloth there was the naked body of a young man in his midtwenties.
In life, he'd been taller than the table is long. His head hung down over the near edge of the table while his legs hung over the far side. His mouth and eyes were open. Blood had settled into the face, turning it a mottled blue and bulging the eyes. The tongue, fallen back against the hard palate, was almost black. The bulging eyes were brown. He was fair skinned, and had light, corn-silk blond hair, cut long.
"Interesting, don't you think?" said Sharpe, speaking to Caulder. There was no introductions or greetings. Piper would have briefed both of the doctors on the identities of the two FBI agents prior to their arrival.
"No visible cause of death, but we haven't moved the body yet, so it's likely he's got another of those things wedged into his spine." said the Doc. "Never seen anything like it, John. Lillian showed me the little bastard. Just unreal." The Doc was almost on his fortieth year on the force, most of it in Pathology. It was said that anything that could be done to a human body had been seen by the Doc, and that he could identify a supervillian based on his victims. Something new was a rarity indeed.
"Only real question is why didn't he mark this one." Sharpe said. Caulder looked at her.
"No brand. In fact, other then the blade, this body is totally unmarked."
Scott leaned down. The positioning of the limbs was strange. The left arm lay splayed out at a forty-five degree angle relative to the torso, while the right arm had been brought over the hairless chest to lay parallel to the shoulders. He felt something bothering him, tugging at his tactical sense. Ignoring the feeling for a moment, Scott slipped on a pair of gloves and gently lifted the hands, checking the palms.
"Detective, look at this."
"What is that, Agent Summers?"
"His arms. Odd to have fallen that way naturally, isn't it?"
"You're right." Caulder said, looking over the body again. He let his eyes drift around the room, taking in the sight again. Something here was not in place. His gaze stopped on the cheap alarm clock over the fridge. He walked over to it, and peered at it. It had been unplugged, the time stopped at 3:25. Caulder went back to the table, and looked at the body. The limbs matched the position of the clock.
"Our murderer was likely a Boy Scout." Caulder finally said. The shocked looks of the others met his pronouncement. John pointed to the body, and then up to the clock. "Semaphore signals. This one meaning 'X'."
"Good work, John. But why go to such outrageously complex means to display it? The body position could have been changed before someone noticed, and the symbol never discovered."
"No, it wouldn't have. Only someone looking for it would have found it. Meaning that he knows we're on to him." Emma said, arms in her pockets. "This is a message to us. A challenge."
"Who was this man?" Scott said quietly.
"Warren Penchov, the Third."
"Of course it is." Scott said, and his expression deepened into a scowl. "So, what else could have happened to link things?"
"Reminds me, Doc. What are you doing down here? The Ir-- I mean, Doctor Sharpe could have shown you the body in the morgue just as easily."
"Well, we were both in the area in any case."
"The FoH bombed another clinic nearby."
"Tell me something. Would you place his time of death around that of the explosion?" Emma asked. Sharpe looked at her, eyes narrowing.
"I'd say so." Emma nodded and turned back to Caulder.
"Detective, you just found your other link."
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