September Stories (9/14)
So continues my September Stories project! If you missed any of them, you can find the full list here.
Justice by Danielle Davis
Matthew raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. This case and all its witnesses could go to hell for all he cared. He scanned his badge over the console on his desk to log in to his computer station. But while he'd intended to revisit the last testimony of the victim's brother, he found himself somehow logging into the Ministry of Preservation's site and entering his grandfather's ID number. It was a pastime he'd been doing more and more lately, as the difficulty with this damned case grew.
Subconsciously, he was sure that visiting his grandfather's memories--via the Virtual M.E. file that had been uploaded after his death--was more self-flagellation than anything else. But he told himself it was encouraging, that visiting the brain of one of the greatest policemen in the U.S. was sure to rub off some good-mojo on his own policing skills. His grandfather, Officer Basil Montgomery Palmer III, had not only been the highest-decorated officer back in 3024, but he also had the highest number of solved cases in the precinct.
He knew his Sergeant expected more of him as the grandson of the great Basil Palmer. Matthew's own performance in law enforcement had been slightly above average, he supposed, and he had a passion for it that outweighed most of his counterparts. But it wasn't stellar, like his Grandfather Basil's had been. Which meant that he could be as above average all his life, but he would never come close to measuring up as "good enough" for someone of Basil Palmer's line.
Despite the pressure it put on his career to measure up to his grandfather's legacy, Matthew was proud to be his grandson. He'd always had a unique connection with his grandfather, something his brother Bill never quite understood. When Grandpa Basil would start in on some glory day case or another, Bill always found some reason to leave the room, but Matthew was enraptured. His grandfather had a way of making him feel like he was right there, both as the policeman and the criminal, and he loved the thrill it always gave him.
His Grandpa Basil was the reason he joined the force five years ago. The day they attached his mind scanner--the hard drive chip inside his brain that acted as a personal camera recording his thoughts, memories, and interactions—his Grandpa Basil had cried. It was one of the proudest days of his life, for his grandson to follow in the same footsteps.
Matthew knew this because he'd seen it in his grandfather's own memories. They were located on the Ministry's site along with the other thousands of Virtual M.E. files scanned from deceased federal employees. Had he been a civilian, he wouldn't have had unfettered access—he'd have had to request specific memories under the Revised Freedom of Information Act—but as a cop, he only had to know his grandfather's badge ID to access the whole .VME file and everything it contained. All the heartache, the joys, the memories.
Naturally he favored revisiting the memories where he'd been interacting with his grandfather. But lately he'd been wandering farther back, looking through the memory files related to his grandfather's old cases.
Maybe if he looked at enough of them, his grandfather's brilliance would unlock something in his own brain that would help him crack this case.
It had started as a simple murder. It was almost certainly the boyfriend who'd done it, as it usually was, though the boyfriend had a fairly strong alibi for the night. Then they'd uncovered forensic evidence that linked him definitively, alibi or not, to the murder site. And that's when the whole thing went sideways.
Witnesses began crawling out of the walls all describing the same looking man, someone almost the physical opposite of the suspected boyfriend. But despite the damning forensics, the witnesses had no connection to the boyfriend. More bodies began appearing with similar details—women with the same physical characteristics, murdered and mutilated in the same way, the murder locations all set up with similar themes.
Other forensics began trickling in, all dead ends, in a pattern that was almost teasing in their coyness. One site would have nothing, be damn near sterile in its perfection, then the next would be all-over covered in prints, hair fibers, tissue samples. But none of them fit—there might be twenty different prints around, but none of them could be matched or identified. Blood splatters would be thrown about that didn't belong to the victim, or none of the victim's would appear anywhere within the scene.
It was baffling.
He plucked his way past old memories that predated his birth. Predated his brother's. All the way back to his father's birth. 3014—the year of the case that had made his grandfather famous. The details were well-known, even for someone who hadn't known Officer Basil Palmer well—they'd been all over the media. A serial killer who'd been attacking young college co-eds around the city. It had taken his Grandpa Basil a decade to catch the bastard.
He hadn't been able to wrap up everything, but he'd taken the killer down, which was really all that mattered. Though there was a strong suspicion that the killer had had a partner—another set of shoeprints at some of the sites, an odd hair or tissue sample that didn't belong to the killer or the victim—the idea was shut down pretty quickly. The killings stopped as soon as the guy was arrested and forensics did place him at every one of the murder sites. Grandpa Basil's Sergeant had declared the case closed and his grandpa had become a hero. The hero that had taken down a terrible serial killer, one whose career splattered an entire decade with blood.
Matthew's eyes scanned over the pictures of the victims. They were all brunettes, too, just like with the case he was working. His gaze crawled over the mutilated bodies, the close-ups of their slack, beautiful faces, noting the details he'd seen countless times before. What had his grandfather seen that had helped him crack the case?
This case was one they cited when training young officers, so even without his Grandpa Basil's memories, Matthew was familiar with the details of the case. Everyone was.
Matthew tried to put himself in his Grandpa Basil's shoes.
Then a flash of silver caught his attention. He scrolled back through the photos and stared hard at the one that had stood out, trying to figure out what had caught his eye. He'd seen these photos countless times before. He knew all the details.
So why was it he couldn't remember ever having seen that necklace before?
His stomach turned uneasily. He never remembered seeing that necklace in any of the case photos before. In fact, that had been one of the misleading parts, since all the women's jewelry had been removed before they'd been killed. At first, the police thought they were robberies gone wrong, until more women died and the pattern became obvious.
So why did his grandfather's memory contain a detail that none of the actual case photos did?
Matthew scrolled through the photos, scrutinizing each one more closely. Victim #3, Sofia Marsh, found in the hospital morgue. In his grandfather's memory, she wore a pair of emerald stud earrings. More photos. Victim #5, Adriana Colvig, found in a rental cottage on an abandoned hiking trail. Wearing a small gold cross and a wedding band. The details in the .VME file were so startlingly clear it was like looking through a mirror.
How did his grandfather have memories of the bodies that were not officially recorded?
Then his fingers tapped one last picture, the last in the memory file, and he nearly threw up. There was Victim #8, Brynn Caselotti. She was naked, except for a magenta scarf binding her hands together, and staring into a mirror. The surface was dirty and cracked in the upper corner, like that of a crappy motel mirror. A hand was wrapped around her throat from behind, the man holding her standing very close. The hand gripped her throat but not hard enough to hurt. The gesture looked intimate, possessive.
If it wasn't for the look of stark terror in the woman's expression, Matthew would have believed it to be the stance of a lover.
Instead, he saw the way the woman looked into the mirror, into the eyes of the man grinning over her shoulder. Both stared into the mirror, each looking into each other's eyes in the filthy surface. The man's grin was predatory, lecherous. Obviously enjoying the woman's terror.
It was a look Matthew had never seen on his grandfather's face. Before now.
"No, it can't be," he murmured. He realized he was repeating nononono over and over like it was a prayer.
This was not a photo that had appeared in any case file. And there was certainly no reason for his Grandpa Basil to be in contact with any of the victims. Unless...
"The accomplice," Matthew breathed. And, now that he thought about it, now that the connection was right in front of him, didn't he actually remember seeing Victim #3's necklace before? The pretty silver bird flying on its square chain, the kind with the lobster claw clasp? A lark for my Lark, isn't that what she'd said he told her? When his Grandpa Basil had presented his Grandma Lark the present on her forty-ninth birthday?
Matthew's stomach heaved and he clumsily dove for the trashcan next to his desk. He barely made it. While he gasped and groaned through the loss of his dinner, his mind kept repeating the same image: the lascivious smile on his grandfather's face in the mirror. His hand clasped so possessively around the woman's throat.
Those women had suffered a long time before they'd been killed. It was one of the more gruesome cases he'd ever studied. The man his Grandpa Basil arrested and who later went to the chair for his crimes had been creative in his cruelty.
Almost as creative as arresting your partner for murders you helped commit, so as to cover up your own involvement and become a decorated hero.
Matthew's head spun as he dug his fingers into the metal rim of the trashcan. So many awards. Such empassioned acceptance speeches. He pictured his Grandpa Basil's hands, firm and calloused as they helped him to his feet as a boy. Twining through the thick strands of a dead woman's hair. Smearing pie filling on Matthew's small nose as they baked a pie on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Smearing a streak of blood down a thrashing woman's thigh. His wide, white dentures shining through a wide, laughing grin. Those lips spread into an evil promise as they smiled at a woman in a dingy mirror.
Dimly, his mind circled back to Sofia Marsh. Victim #3. Found in a hospital morgue. Something about that seemed important, but he was too busy trying to make sense of his horrifying discovery. His thoughts felt like leaves in a whirlwind, flying all directions, sweeping by just close enough for him to see but unable to catch.
Why did it have to be him? And how? The man that Matthew had idolized, had grown up hearing his tales of heroics and justice, a serial killer? Grandpa's stories always made him feel like he was right there... The assisted mutilator of fifteen different women, tortured in the most gruesome ways possible? Both the policeman and the criminal...
Sofia Marsh. Victim #3. Hospital morgue.
Soft as a sigh, the detail clicked into place. Of course, the morgue. He sat back on his heels and gazed with a confused, dazed frown at the case file that laid open on his desktop. The case that had seemed like the boyfriend, except for all those other witnesses...and the random tissue and hair samples...
They'd been dead ends because they'd come from dead bodies to begin with. He recalled the list of the boyfriend's acquaintances, the drinking buddy he'd known since high school, the one that worked at a funeral parlor a few blocks from where the guy's girlfriend, the first victim, had been found.
He thought he'd just solved the case. He should have been proud.
But all he wanted to do was crawl under the covers of his bed at home and sleep. For a month. It was the only reaction he could think of compared to the horror that was coming once he made the .VME file known. Those memories of the case that had made his grandfather's career were about to damn his entire life. And probably Matthew's as well.
He couldn't imagine what he'd say to his father. His brother. His grandmother, who lived with his parents because her hips were too bad for her to get around easily on her own. He'd have to report it to his Sergeant immediately.
With trembling fingers, he tapped a command on the console keyboard.
The next step was obvious. He wondered if his Sergeant was even still awake at this time of night.
A confirmation message popped up on the screen. Delete record? This will remove all memory files contained within.
He thought of how his grandmother's face lit up when she first showed off her birthday necklace, how her long fingers had stroked the outstretched wings of the bird.
A click of the mouse. Yes.
It was done.
A sigh heaved itself out of his mouth. His shoulders sagged. He hadn't had a drink in months, but he sure as hell wanted one now.
However his hand didn't shake as it reached for the telephone and dialed the phone number.
"Sarge? It's Matthew. I think I figured out what we were missing in the Ramsey case..."
Now he'd have stories of his own. Stories that would make his future kids feel like they were there. Policeman and criminal. The thrill of justice.
Total Writing Time: 2 hr., 23 min.