Unidentified Human Remains & The True Nature of Love: Part 3

by Amanda Sichter



He stood behind her, his hands resting lightly on the back of her chair. 'So the databases don't give us anything?' he asked.

She nodded. 'There aren't any patterns - everything about the murders varies. There's a couple of slightly odd things - none of the victims are mutants for one, there aren't any witness statements after about an hour before each victim died, but they can be explained. Not enough mutants in general population - no one wanting to get involved. But clues? - nothing.'

'There's got to be something there,' said Pete and she turned to see the frown that creased his forehead. 'There's a couple of things nagging away at me, but I'm not sure whether I'm just being paranoid.' His blue eyes were thoughtful as he said, 'How comprehensive have you made yer databases, Pryde?'

Kitty's tone was just a little offended as she replied, 'As comprehensive as you'll get, Wisdom. Why else would you be paying me?'

He grinned down at her, amused by the tilt of her nose and the tightness of her chin. As if he would ever question her abilities with a computer. 'Do you reckon they can cope with weird?' he asked.

'Weird?' she frowned up at him. 'What do you mean?'

''We're not getting any patterns, right?' he asked and she nodded. 'But there's been at least one difference - the MO on the Daniels' boy where it didn't go through his face. Now, we know why that one was different - but I was wondering if there was anything else where there was - an anomaly. Not a random change - something that doesn't fit. Can you look for anything like that?' His eyes pleaded with Kitty.

She frowned and tilted her head, her lips moving rapidly as she tried to work out a search algorithm that might get Pete what he wanted. Finally she nodded, slowly. 'I can try, Pete,' she said, her voice cautious. 'It may not work but I can give it a try. It'll take some time, though.'

Pete shrugged. 'What else have we got to do?' he asked.

For a moment their eyes locked and Kitty felt as if she had slipped back to another time and found a suggestion for what they could do rising to her lips. She strangled it firmly in her throat. ~Not any more. All that's in the past now. Remember, Pryde, it was you who killed what we had.~ She found herself looking in Pete's grinning face and she flushed slightly. She hoped he hadn't suddenly developed a mutant ability in telepathy.

'You're right,' she said, softly. 'Just stay there and I'll see what I can do.' She turned back to face the screen and began to shape a program to try and do what Pete wanted.

As her fingers danced lightly over the keyboard, her mind danced around something she had wanted to say for some time now. She wondered if saying it was going to be wise, but finally decided that it had to be said.

'Pete?' she said, softly.

'Pryde?' he responded from just behind her.

'I wanted to tell you something,' she said and gathered the raw fabric of her courage tight to her. 'I wanted to tell you something about me - and you - and Rigby Fallon.'

He went silent behind her, and she fought to catch her breath, but it was too important that she said what needed to be said. She plunged onwards.

'It was never you,' she said, very quietly. 'It was nothing that you did. I felt young when I was with Rigby but don't ever think it was because I thought you were old. And it wasn't like he was smarter or more to my taste or made me feel better. It was just inside of me - something that felt like I needed to escape - it wasn't you that I needed to escape from. It was just that Rigby was there and he gave me an excuse and then you went away and I never had a chance to tell you that it wasn't you . . .'

'Pryde,' said Pete, trying to interrupt the flow of her words.

'. . . and it wasn't like he was any better looking than you, because you were always . .'

'Pryde,' repeated Wisdom, somewhat louder.

'. . . handsome in my eyes. It was just that he was there and I was there and there was something and it was . . .'

'Pryde,' shouted Wisdom and Kitty finally shut up.

'Yes?' she said, timidly. She had been babbling and she knew it.

'Pryde,' said Wisdom, and his voice was heavy with exasperation. 'I've done an awful lot of travelling since the last time I saw you and I've learned dictionaries full of new swear-words in a whole range of languages. So unless you want me telling you that your mother is a goat in Yiddish, you're going to shut the hell up about Rigby Fallon. I really don't want to know - it's over, I've forgiven you. So let's just forget the little wanker and not talk about him any more, okay?'

'But I just wanted you to know . . .'

'Shut up, Pryde,' said Pete, but he could barely keep the amusement out of his voice.

'But, Pete . . .'

'Pryde!' he shouted.

Kitty went silent, her fingers tapping at the keys. The silence stretched out over minutes as she mulled over what Wisdom had said to her. Finally, softly, she said, 'Pete?'

'Yes, Kitty?' he said, his voice quietly resigned.

'Meine mamme iz neichet a coze.' [My mother is not a goat]

His laughter felt good in her ears - as if some final tense string in their estrangement had broken and they could start again. ~A new beginning,~ she vowed to her reflection, suddenly pleased. She grinned at herself and then allowed her laughter to twine around Wisdom's and wondered when was the last time she had felt this good.

* * * * *

'So it's got a full skeleton now,' said Kitty, and her voice was grim. When she closed her eyes she could still see the body of the latest victim, killed that morning, found that morning, seen that morning, so the blood was still fresh on the walls of the room and the air still contained the copper-stench of wet blood. Kitty felt as if desecration had slipped inside her bones and would live within her always.

She had forgotten how small a life was.

She had spent so long amongst invulnerable mutants, immortal enemies, magical creatures, people who came back from the dead on a semi-regular basis that she had forgotten how small a human life really was. Fragile, delicate, a tiny glowing light cupped gently within hands - so frail that a strong wind could easily snuff it out.

The murderer was a hurricane.

Kitty felt pain suffuse her being. Who was this murderer that thought it had the right to destroy another, to break someone like a unwanted toy, to rend and shred and tear the flesh until their identity was obliterated as surely as their life? She wished Pete had never her brought her into this. She wished she could pick up the broken pieces of the people she had seen and put them back together again. She wished she could find who was doing this and make them feel her horror. She wished that closing her eyes would make it all go away.

Sympathy washed through Wisdom as he saw the bow of Kitty's head over the keyboard, the desolation in the droop of her body. He knew the feelings that overwhelmed her now, the same feelings he had had the first time he had been able to look on a corpse without nausea taking the pain away. He wished she had never had to see anything like these murders, had hoped once that he could protect her from the horror that circumscribed his life, etched the boundaries of his existence in blood and pain.

Why had he brought her back into his world?

~She brings you hope,~ the thought came, as ardent and compulsive as a lover.

~No.~ He pushed the thought aside firmly. ~I needed information and databases and cross-matching and she's the best I've ever met at this kind of thing. That's why I needed her.~

Wisdom laughed silently at himself. ~There are a dozen other people you know who could work with you and give you what she has given you. A dozen other people who could give you information and databases and cross-matching. But only she gives you hope. You needed hope, Wisdom, you needed her because these murders were making you fall into despair that they would never be solved. She believes in you, she trusts you and that brings you hope. That is why you brought her back into your life.~

Wisdom didn't want to acknowledge the truth of his own thoughts, wished desperately he could believe that his relationship with Kitty could be a professional one only. Unfortunately for him, he knew himself too well.

'Pryde,' he said, softly and she turned her eyes to him and they were full of dumb horror and despair.

He nearly stepped towards her, nearly gathered enough courage to go to her, to hold her in his arms, to comfort her as she wept - as he knew she would at the smallest human gesture. He nearly told her why he needed her.

~She'll leave me,~ he thought. ~She'll help me and then she'll go back to her X-Men and leave me alone again.~

The wounds in his heart were less now - Kitty's apology, her presence, her trust, her explanations had healed many of the wounds that had bled inside him for so long. But some were still raw and the thought of holding her and then losing her again was enough to rupture delicate scars. Wisdom's heart began to bleed again.

So he didn't go to her, didn't say any of the things that tumbled in his mind. His eyes, instead, grew cold and hard and he said only, 'Yes, it's got a full skeleton now. Which means we need to work harder to catch this bastard. How much longer do you think it'll be before we get a query answered?'

He saw the hurt in her eyes but steeled himself against it, until she turned back to her computer to try and answer him. He couldn't allow himself to go to her. He couldn't let himself be hurt that badly again, or he thought he might die.

But still he wished he had the courage to hold her. And, for a moment so fleeting it might never have existed, he wished he could hold her forever.

* * * * *

'So I wasn't being paranoid,' said Pete, looking at the very, very short report Kitty had finally pulled from the databases.

She looked at him, one eyebrow raised, seeking further information. He grinned down at her. 'I told yer I had something nagging me,' he said. 'Two somethings, actually. The spine and the lack of ID on Daniels. And what comes up on yer lovely little exception report?' He smile broadened even further.

'The spine,' said Kitty. 'The spine and Daniels' ID.' She smiled to match Wisdom.

'Sometimes I'm so good I amaze even myself,' said Pete and Kitty snorted.

'Not like that's hard,' she said and poked her tongue out in response to Pete's obscene gesture. The production of something from all their hard work had lightened both their moods considerably.

'You'd better watch yourself, Pryde,' said Pete. 'Remember where you're sleeping and remember I always go to sleep after you. Revenge is but a bucket of cold water away. And speaking of spines,' said Pete, effortlessly breaking into his own train of thought. 'That reminds me, they should be finished . . .' He trailed off and turned away from Kitty. For a moment she thought she was going to have to chase after him to find out what thought had struck, but he stopped next to the phone and, picking up the receiver, dialled a number.

Someone answered quickly, because a broad smile lit Wisdom's face and he said happily, 'Laura, love, have you decided if you'll dump that no-good husband of yours and run off with me yet?'

Shock ran through Kitty's veins like the threatened bucket of cold water. Who the hell was Laura and what the hell was Pete talking to her like that for?

Pete didn't even appear to notice the startled gasp from behind him. His voice was slightly petulant as he said, 'What do you mean my bad habits? I don't have any bad habits.' There was a silence as he listened and then he laughed. 'Okay, okay, you've got me with that one. Anyway, what's the news?' He barely spoke again, trailing off into a series of grunts and uh-huh's that gave Kitty no clue about the topic of conversation.

That gave her the opportunity to work herself into a really good hissy fit.


~Laura,~ she thought. ~Laura! Who the hell is Laura? What are you doing proposing to her, Wisdom? What does she mean to you? Who is she? Bet she's blonde. Not that I'm jealous, mind, not like I've got any say in what you do with your life, not like my feelings matter at all to you, oh no, Wisdom. Of course you can go around proposing to other women. Ha, as if I care. I don't care. No way. Not jealous. Not at all. Nup. But - if I find the bitch I'm going to rip her hair out. And yours. Both of you. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, witch, which witch is Laura, pretty Laura, ooh, don't even think about touching him, you cow. . .~

Kitty's vengeful thoughts were interrupted by Pete saying, 'Okay, Laura, and thanks. I owe you a pint for that one.' He hung up and turned to find Kitty staring at him.

Kitty's soul was seething with jealousy, but she denied to herself quite firmly that that was what she was feeling and she certainly didn't let it show on her face. She plastered on, instead, a look of cool, polite interest and said, 'So who's Laura?' Her brown eyes were almost mild, but she couldn't quite unclench her teeth.

Wisdom had always been able to read Kitty's body language and now he laughed suddenly. 'Never knew you cared, Pryde,' he said, a mocking smile on his face.

'I don't care,' replied Kitty, her voice sounding unnatural even to herself. 'I just wanted to know, that's all.'

Pete laughed again as he looked down at her. 'Laura is the forensics doctor whose done all of the autopsies in this case. She's blonde, beautiful and a chain-smoker. My perfect woman, in other words. Shame she's happily married.' Pete grinned at Kitty, revelling shamelessly in her scowling expression.

'What did she say?' asked Kitty, keeping a tight rein. ~You will not react,~ she scolded herself. ~He's just teasing you and you won't react. Not until you get a chance to phase him out of his clothes the next time he's walking down the street.~ Shameless thoughts of revenge and mayhem brightened Kitty considerably, disconcerting Pete, who could see the gleam in her eyes and knew it promised disaster for him.

But he was all professionalism when he responded. 'She's done a bunch of tests of the spine they found at the Merrion house,' he said. 'Now you and I thought it was weird that the spine was left and so did Laura, cause she's done the autopsies on them all. So she cross-checked the spine with the Merrion woman and it couldn't have been hers. So Laura cross-checked the DNA with the Daniels case because he'd had his spine ripped out as well. Guess what?' He gave Kitty a wry, twisted little grin.

Her face was utterly shocked as she looked at him, jealousy forgotten, and it took her a moment to find her voice. 'You mean,' she said, 'that the murderer took Daniels' spine to his next murder site?'

'Bingo,' said Pete.

She looked at him in utter disgust and then said, 'Eeewwwwwww!'

The look he gave her was startled. 'Ew?' he asked. 'Ew? I've never heard you say Ew before.'

'No-one's ever told me someone's carting bodily parts around London to murder scenes before,' replied Kitty. 'Do you know how gross that is, Wisdom? What's it doing - carrying the bits round in shopping bags or something? Oh, that is just too disgusting to even think about. Aaaargh, and after it had killed Merrion, what did it do - put her spine in the bag and chuck out Daniels'? Oh, that's just grotesque!'

Pete looked at her for a moment and then began to laugh, weakly, helplessly. He waved his hand at Kitty to forestall her comments and managed to drag himself back under control. 'Sorry, Pryde,' he said, gruffly. 'I just never thought you were the valley-girl type. Threw me for a moment, there. Anyway,' he shook himself mentally, 'it looks like that's exactly what the bastard did. Laura ran medical tests on Daniels' spine and said he had the beginnings of osteo-arthritis. So the theory she has was that it took the spine from Merrion because it needed a replacement for the imperfect one. Once it had hers, it didn't need his, so it just discarded it.'

Kitty stared at him in horror. 'So,' she finally said, softly. 'It isn't just building itself a body . . .'

'It's building itself a perfect body,' finished Pete. 'Taking the bits it needs and discarding the rest.'

'That's just . . .' Kitty groped for a word. 'Horrible,' she settled on.

Pete sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. 'It's evil, Kitty. Purest, simplest, blackest evil. I've never seen anything that comes so close to pure evil.'

'Pure evil,' Kitty echoed. 'What's evil, Pete? What's the true nature of evil?' she asked, trying to reach for anything at all that could explain to her why this was happening.

She was surprised when he laughed, a bitter laugh. 'That's an easy one, Pryde,' he responded. 'The true nature of evil is thinking that nothing and no-one has any value except in relation to you - and what you can get out of them. Evil is easy, Kitty.'

She grinned suddenly at him, a mocking grin. 'So how about a harder one, O Oracle,' she said. 'How about - what is the true nature of love?'

He glowered at her. 'I'm not touching that one with a forty-foot bloody barge-pole, Pryde, and you know it.'

'Chicken,' she said, softly and then smiled angelically at him. 'Back to the topic at hand,' she said, 'have you got any ideas about the lack of ID on Daniels? Seeing we seem to have this spine thing sorted.'

Pete sat back down on the couch opposite her and made himself comfortable - a task which always seemed to Kitty to involve making the biggest mess possible. Files, clothes, cushions and even a shoe which had mysteriously appeared on the couch were pushed aside until Pete could settle himself into the most rumpled heap imaginable. Kitty thought he looked like a badly mistreated scare-crow. But, in the midst of the collapsed pile of clothing and body, two shrewd blue eyes looked out at her and she knew that behind them was one of the sharpest minds she had ever known.

'I've been thinking about Daniels,' said Wisdom. 'He's the only victim that didn't have ID - so that says our murderer's normal MO doesn't include robbery. So there's only a couple of options.'

'Either there's a copy-cat killer,' interrupted Kitty, whose mind was rapidly turning over the possibilities. 'A copy-cat who didn't know that robbery wasn't included.'

'Or a robber trying to conceal his crime by pretending it was a murder,' replied Pete. 'Or else Daniels had some reason why he didn't want to be carrying a wallet that night.'

'Or he'd had his wallet stolen by someone else and happened to be murdered -' said Kitty.

'While he made his way home,' finished Pete.

'So what do you reckon?' said Kitty, her mind working at fever-pitch. 'A copy-cat -'

'Isn't likely,' said Pete. 'There hasn't been anywhere near enough information about the murders released for anyone to be able to replicate them so precisely. Or with the same lack of forensic evidence. Or with the strength to be able to rip out body-parts. We can rule out someone trying to conceal a mugging for the same reason.'

'Is there any reason he wouldn't be carrying his wallet?' asked Kitty.

Pete shook his head. 'Not that we know of,' he replied. 'Daniels was going home from University same as usual. Friday night, couple of beers at the pub, then home to mum. He wasn't the type to stay out late - he was into athletics, had an early training session on Saturdays, so he didn't have big Friday nights. So all the usual reasons for lack of ID - visiting prostitutes, gambling problems, left behind while pissed don't seem as if they'd apply.'

'So he was almost certainly mugged,' said Kitty, softly. 'Can we work out where he was mugged? Maybe we could get some idea of his last movements.'

'Hang on, Kitty,' replied Pete, and reached down and pulled up a file off the floor. One of the things that had always astounded Kitty was that, no matter how messy he made his environment, Pete always knew where everything was. He opened up the Daniels' file and sorted through it.

'Okay,' he said. 'We've got interview transcripts with his mother and his best friend from Uni and a map of the University and surrounding areas up to his house. You take his friend, I'll read his mother.'

They were both speed-readers, trained from years of combat in how to glean information quickly from a report. So Kitty lifted her eyes from the transcript at the same time as Pete's.

'He normally took a bus,' she said.

'Except Friday nights,' continued Pete. 'Because the service ran on a weekend timetable after eight, so if he went for a drink after his last lecture -'

'He took a cab,' said Kitty. She pulled the map from Wisdom's lap and spread it out on the floor. She pointed at a spot on the map. 'From that rank,' she said.

'But if he'd got there and got mugged, so he didn't have any money, then he would have walked home,' said Pete and his finger traced the route that Daniels would have taken. 'A walk home that would have taken him -'

'To the spot where he was killed,' breathed Kitty as Pete's finger stopped on the red mark that indicated where the body had been found. 'This is all starting to make sense, Wisdom.'

'I know, I know,' groaned Pete. 'But we need to find the mugger - if there is a mugger. We're just making assumptions here, Pryde, don't forget. And finding any mugger can take forever - let alone one who thinks he might end up on a murder charge.'

'But the cab-rank is on University grounds,' said Kitty, and her eyes were shining.

'So?' asked Pete, puzzled.

'So all the University ranks have security cameras,' replied Kitty. 'Look, Wisdom, on the map, you can see them marked.' Her finger touched the symbols lightly.

Pete stared at it for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip. 'Yes, but there's something . . .' he trailed off and then shuffled rapidly through the file on his lap. He pulled out an interview transcript and waved it at Kitty. 'They interviewed the guard who monitored the security cameras that night from all over the campus and he said he hadn't seen anything on the tapes.'

They looked at each other - and the thought struck them simultaneously. It was nothing someone who wasn't acquainted with generally insane happenings would have thought of. Both of them, however, were used to dealing in the regions of the totally bizarre.

'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' asked Kitty, her voice low and tinged with something that might have been awe.

Pete nodded. 'I'm thinking - I wonder if anyone on the investigation -'

'Has actually looked at the security tapes?' finished Kitty.

* * * * *

'I don't remember.'

DS Martin leaned forward in her chair until she was right in Huston's face. 'C'mon, Dale,' she said, softly. 'We've got the security camera footage with you on it. With you on it, mugging Jeremy Daniels, threatening him with a knife, right before he was killed and dismembered. We've found his wallet in your bedroom - we've got witnesses that have seen you hanging around the taxi rank in the past. And you want us to believe you don't remember mugging Daniels?'

The man in the chair looked at her, his face pale and sweating. 'I don't remember,' he said, and his voice was hoarse.

'What do you remember about that night?' asked Martin. 'And think very carefully about what you say, Dale.'

He shook his head slowly, terrified. 'I don't remember Daniels,' he said, repeating the statement he had been making since he was arrested.

'She didn't ask that,' put in DI Jenkins. 'DS Martin asked what you do remember about that night. Come on, Huston, tell us.'

'I remember leaving my house,' he said. 'I remember I was going to go and get myself some money. I remember being at home again. That's it. I don't remember anything else. Honest.'

They looked at him, their eyes half-closed, contempt written across both faces. Martin pulled a file towards her and fished out some photos. She lay one before Huston and said, 'So you don't remember doing that? Or that? Or that?' The photos made small slaps as she put them down.

Huston looked down at them and his face went an alarming shade of green. 'That's Daniels?' he asked, and his voice was faint.

'That's Daniels,' confirmed Jenkins. 'After you mugged him, after he was murdered.'

'You don't think - I did that - you can't think - there's no way - I couldn't - I never,' Huston was babbling now, trying hard not to look at the photos, unable to tear his eyes away.

'C'mon, Dale,' said Martin, softly. 'You had a knife. What exactly don't you remember doing on that night?'

Kitty and Pete, safe behind the one-way mirror, winced simultaneously. 'He's gonna,' started Kitty, but was interrupted as Huston was suddenly, flamboyantly, sick. 'Throw up,' she finished, lamely.

They watched silently for several moments at the shouting and general disgust going on in the interview room. DI Jenkins left the room and a few minutes later poked his head into where Kitty and Pete were sitting.

'Hey, Pete, Miss Pryde,' he said. 'What do you reckon, Wisdom?'

Pete looked at Kitty, who nodded slightly. He turned back to Jenkins. 'He's telling the truth,' he said of Huston. 'He can't remember what happened - but he's not the murderer - not even in a psychotic trance.'

'That's what we figured,' replied Jenkins. 'Dale's a petty crim, nothing more. Always has been, probably won't be after this. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes up religion after seeing those photos. Anyway, Emma confirmed it.'

'Emma?' Kitty raised an eyebrow at the DI.

'DS Martin,' he said. 'Em's a low-level telempath - she can tell when someone's lying. Dale isn't lying. Oh, he's responsible for a whole bunch of muggings we can clear up now - thank you both kindly. But he's not our murderer.'

'Which leaves only the one question,' said Pete.

'Which is?' asked Jenkins.

Kitty articulated the thought for Wisdom, her voice soft. 'The question is - why can't Dale remember?'

Part 4

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