Read DARK CITY a gripping detective mystery Online


DARK CITY a gripping detective mystery (2 page)

BOOK: DARK CITY a gripping detective mystery
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Chapter 3

A Devilish Scene


Old houses tell stories, every chip of paint revealing another layer of life someone saw fit to paint over in an effort to pretend that starting over is possible. Colors pile atop colors as people come and go, and all the while life marches on with the same steadfast resolution. Buildings are vessels in which we pass the time, walls we adorn with the ornaments of hope and faith that prevent the air from leaking out and puncturing the images of reality we manufacture for ourselves.

Detective Knox took a deep breath as the warmth of the house washed over him. Sometimes he felt that he was more comfortable in the company of death than he was among the living. He realized the insanity of such a thought, but he also knew sanity was overrated. Something was off-putting about preferring to talk to the dead, but it was something he could easily explain. The great thing about the dead, he thought, is that they don't talk back.

Yet bodies did talk, and so too did evidence. They weren't verbalized, but sometimes they revealed as much as any words. In his years on the job, Knox had seen countless bodies, and piles of evidence. What they all had in common was that they were pieces of puzzles, waiting for someone to come along and figure out the pattern of the jigsaw.

Knox didn't believe he had any special talent, only the presence of mind to take the time to think about the meaning of every single clue. These days, technology had taken the place of thought. No one had the patience to conceptualize a problem, to visualize how the pieces fit together. If a computer couldn't spit out the answer straight away, then people would think the problem was at fault, not them.

Knox thought about the world of the mystery novels he grew up devouring. Those detectives didn't have technology to assist them; they had to make use of their guts and their minds. They involved more than a reasonable amount of junk psychology, he knew, but back then there was an art to being a detective. It was a craft you had to hone, and to be good, you had to put in the leg-work. Nowadays, he told himself, anyone with two working fingers to type thinks they can do the job. They believe critical thinking is like the movie reviews they read in the paper. “Rank amateurs,” he muttered to himself, under his breath.

Houses like this were built for murder. Their thick walls and dark recesses were invitations to evil to come out and play. If an inanimate object could be maudlin, it would be a place similar to where Knox stood, a tesseract constructed around a grain of human misery.

Knox noted the flailing limbs beckoning him towards the body, the hallway a lengthy prelude to whatever devilish scene he would soon be witness to. The walls of the house were plain, unadorned with trinkets or family photos, the only art was the stains of age seeping through the layers of paint. He always wondered why people insisted on painting their surroundings white, as if inviting the grime and filth of life to come paint upon their canvases for all the world to see. Maybe white walls were a sign of optimism, he thought, but it made no sense to him.

“Knox, hurry up and get a look at this.”

What Detective Knox hated most about his position was the necessity of a partner. He was suited to working alone, to having the time and space to sort through his thoughts and work on cases without constant interruption. There is seldom a way to put thoughts into words, and Knox detested trying to do the impossible, to communicate how he thought in spatial images. Humoring his partner in such a way was not part of his job description.

As far as partners went, Detective Jon Lane was almost bearable. He was trying to prove his worth, and asked as few questions as possible. Even when he didn't know the answers, or how Knox arrived at them, he readily accepted the challenge of reverse-engineering them, trying to figure out for himself how Knox solved the puzzle. In time he might become a good detective, but they had little time to spare.

“What's so special that you think I haven't already seen it?

“Trust me, you're going to want to see this for yourself.”

Knox didn't like the concept of trust, because he wasn't sure it could exist. Knowing what he did about the nature of humanity, about what people were capable of, putting that kind of faith in anyone else was an alien concept. He knew Detective Lane, or anyone else who used the phrase, didn't mean to delve so deep into the philosophical, but he couldn't help himself. Thinking was his job, and he couldn't turn it off, even when he wanted to.

The room was quiet, clean, not a place befitting a murder. Shelves were lined with books in perfect order, their spines crisp, unbroken, and set along a straight edge. The walls were again empty, revealing nothing about the disposition or tastes of the man who had called this place home. A carved desk sat opposite the bookshelves, an ornate anachronism in such a simple setting. It all resembled a stage set rather than a home.

George Hobbes' body lay stretched across the center of the floor, just askew enough from center to look out of place, and to make it immediately apparent it had not been ritually placed there. A deep red stain began in his chest, growing fainter as it spread outward. Blood pooled around the body, dyeing an abstract pattern into the carpet.

“I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking at here. I see a body in a room, and not a whole lot more.”

Detective Lane smiled.

“Yeah, but what else do you see? What's out of place?”

Knox did not appreciate challenges issued by people he deemed to be beneath him. He looked around the room again, taking in as many details as he could. He saw nothing amiss in the rigid lines and perfect order. He went through a mental checklist of the most common sightings at crime scenes, but was unable to come up with anything. Finally, after scanning every inch of the room, he felt something under his foot.

“There are splinters on the floor right here.”

Lane smile grew wider.


“Do you want to tell me why you're smiling like an idiot?”

“Because those splinters are from when the officers had to break the door down to get in. It was locked.”

Knox didn't like the glint in Lane's eye, a telltale sign disaster was about to rain down upon him. He had seen it before, and every time it wound up making him miserable. Lane's idea of a good time was not what Knox had in mind.

“So what you're trying to say is . . .”

“We have one of those old-fashioned locked room mysteries.”

Hell was about to rain down on him.

Chapter 4

A Necessary Evil


Anna slammed the door with all the force she could muster, still barely enough to shake the floor with the intended authority. Her bile was not reverberating throughout the apartment, instead she glanced back at the entry with narrow eyes, the intransigence giving no help in calming her. She held her breath, trying to keep herself from screaming, from admitting she had no ability to bend life to her will.

“What the hell did you tell him all that about the old man for?”

Craig was taken aback by the outburst, uncomprehending. Instinctively, he took a step back, not wanting to be within range should she have developed the ability to spit fire. Safety, he realized, was found in distance.

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

Anna didn't suffer fools gladly, and was especially intolerant of stupidity in one of the few people she let into her life. People bored or infuriated her, and few were deemed worthy of her attention. Their ability to disappoint her was not depressing because of what it said about them, but because if she granted them access to her valuable time and energy, and then turned out to be less than she had believed, it was a black mark on herself. Clearly, she knew, it meant she was not the judge of people's lack of character that she thought herself to be.

“You know exactly what I'm talking about. You went ahead and told that detective you were half expecting him to be murdered. Why did you get involved?”

“When something bad happens and I can help, isn't that what I'm supposed to do?”

The question was genuine, but Craig was not sure he wanted to hear the answer. Anna was not normal, he had long since found out, but he could live with that as long as she maintained a basic sense of human compassion. Giving her the opportunity to dispel such an old-fashioned notion was not optimal.

“No, it's not what you're supposed to do,” she said, emphasizing the last syllables to wring out every ounce of disgust in her voice. “What you're supposed to do is not get involved.”

“I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't see why getting involved is a bad thing.”

“Of course you don't, because you never think ahead. Now that you've talked to them once and given them a crumb, they're going to keep coming back to us over and over again looking for more. You've gone and tethered us to this until they figure out exactly what happened.”

Anna's words did not wipe away the doubt in his mind, did not reveal a new source of clarity. He registered what she was saying, but could not understand how she could say such things with a straight face. A piece of her must be missing, he thought, otherwise she would understand the absurdity of her words.

“So what if they call and ask to talk to us again? It's worth a little bit of an inconvenience if it can help them figure out who killed the old man.”

“Sure, it sounds good when you say it that way, but what happens if they can't figure it out, and every word that we say becomes the basis for their entire case. I don't know about you, but I don't want to have to live with the pressure of knowing that my words might be used to put someone in jail.”

“You're overreacting. Our words won’t be enough to solve the case. Trust me.”

Anna had attempted trust before, a practice that no matter how often she tried to ingrain it would not become natural. She was a solitary creature, and though she knew other people were necessary in order to make it through life without losing what threads of sanity she had left, they were still more a burden than a blessing. Even the best of them did little to move her.

“You don't realize how ridiculous you sound.”

“How am I ridiculous?”

“You live in this little bubble where you believe people are good, that justice always prevails, and that we don't live in a salacious hell-hole. Have you even read the news lately? There's a vigilante killer on the loose leaving bodies scattered around town like breadcrumbs. Excuse me, but I don't want to have my name attached to anything that could give someone like that a reason to know I exist.”

“Now you're being paranoid.”

Anna thought about that word, what it meant. Comics had made a living mining the thesaurus of paranoia, and while she sympathized with those who regarded it as something more than a dysfunction, the time was not appropriate for a bit of dark humor.

“No, I'm not being paranoid, I'm just not wearing rose-colored glasses.”

“There's nothing to worry about. They're probably never going to call us, there is no vigilante killer coming to get you, and nothing terrible is going to happen to us. We did what little we could to help. We did our civic duty.”

“That's not going to win me over.”

“There has to be something more to this than you're letting on. Come on, just tell me.”

There were countless things she had yet to tell, innumerable cards still pinned inside her sleeve. To Anna, keeping secrets was a satisfaction. There was power in the knowledge that she was the only person in the world who possessed a piece of information. That was true power, and to Anna, it meant everything.

“Fine. Did you ever stop to think about what it would mean if you were wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

“Everything you said is an assumption. We don't really know what those people are like. We hear whatever comes through the walls and the windows, but impressions can be deceptive.”

“Like how anyone listening to us now would think that you hate me.”

The look on Anna's face said more than any words. Craig read the expression immediately, and regretted the words even before they left his tongue. Perhaps, he thought, she was baiting him into proving her point.

“Just because we hear yelling doesn't mean they hated him, nor does it mean that any of them wanted to kill him. We assume those sorts of things because it's amusing to make up little scenarios, but this is real, it’s no longer a game. The minute you spoke, it suddenly became very real. Now, because of us, they're all going to be looked at to see if they have murder in their eyes. Because of what you said, all those people are now under suspicion.”

“I didn't think about it like that.”

“Of course you didn't.”

“But what do you think the odds are of us making any difference to the case? There has to be all sorts of evidence that will make us irrelevant.”

“I'm not a gambling woman, so I'm not betting on it.”

“I still say we'll be fine. Trust me.”

“We'll see.”

Anna walked into the next room. She nudged the door artfully with her hip, letting it slowly click into place. That sarcastic gesture was more of a statement than a slamming door would ever be

Chapter 5

The Myth Of Safety


Detective Knox preferred the corners of rooms, a vantage point that allowed him to survey his surroundings without being subjected to unwanted prying eyes. From a corner, he could exercise control over a situation, a futile attempt on his part to fight the forces of fate. He knew it made no difference what protestations he made, but the ashes of the dormant fire that remained inside him would not let him succumb without daring a challenge.

The words loomed in his head, an aural ghost staking its claim to his consciousness. This case would be the death of him, he thought, if he didn't think death would be a preferable alternative to living out the pressure of the chase.

“We have one of those old-fashioned locked room mysteries.”

The words loomed in his mind.

Detective Lane had said the words with a twinkle in his eye. Being trapped inside an unsolvable puzzle was not a cause for celebration, it was a millstone to be worn around their necks. But that twinkle was misplaced. For, as long as the case remained unsolved, they were no longer just detectives searching for the truth; they were responsible for giving hope to the hopeless. They were the only thing standing between the city and complete anarchy.

Letting the case go unsolved was not an option, not in a city as familiar and as comfortable with death as the one they lived in. If evil knew it was so easy to get away with murder, there would be no end to the bloodshed that bathed the streets and gave a demonic glow to the endless stretches of asphalt. Center stage would beckon them, the spotlights would converge at their feet, and it would be up to them to prove they could withstand melting under the heat of a ravenous audience.

“You're being awfully quiet. What are you thinking?”

Detective Lane asked the question, unsure if Knox was even listening to him. He was used to being ignored by his partner, for he hadn’t yet proven himself to his elder. Time may have been able to prove any doubts wrong, but time moved too slowly for his liking. Not an unintelligent man, Lane knew that he would make little progress as a detective if he couldn't convince the man he spent all his time standing beside that he was worthy of his place.

To Detective Knox, his partner was nothing but a babysitter who, imposed on him, offered little in the way of support. Knox worked alone, his mind sifting the pieces until their jagged edges began to align. It was solitary work, and not the sort any partner could assist in. He held no grudge against Lane, nor did he think him incompetent. The problem was Knox himself, and the way his methods didn't fit the neat little box the department insisted he sit within.

“I'm thinking that we're screwed.”

Lane was unable to find the proper reaction to this. Detective Knox seldom agreed with his perceptions, but surely on this occasion he would have to concede that his partner was correct.

“What do you mean?”

“I see that look in your eye. You think we've just hit the jackpot, and we're about to become famous for taking on a real life novel. Let me tell you from experience, things aren’t so simple. Once this gets out in the press, everyone in this city is going to be watching our every move, they're going to question every decision we make, and they're going to be calling for our heads until we solve this thing. Every armchair detective who's ever read a story and figured out the ending is going to think they can do a better job than us, and it's going to leave us with a never-ending stream of lunatics calling in to give us the answer. I'm telling you, this is a no-win situation.”

“You're exaggerating. It won't be that bad.”

Knox did not appreciate being told how things were going to be by someone who had seen only a fraction as much as he had. Lane was still naïve about how far the depths of depravity extended, and how little respect men in their positions commanded. The police in the city were no heroes; they were a bunch of liars, peddling the myth of safety. Those who were paying attention saw through the lies, and much to Knox's dismay, the number grew with each passing sunrise.

This kid has no idea what he's talking about, Knox thought. He knew they were going to have to solve this case while hanging from a cross, and his clueless partner stood next to him with a smile on his face.

Detective Knox thought of him as a dog who doesn't realize he's being taken to get fixed, and wondered how he had been saddled with such a burden.

Knox swallowed his thoughts before they could become words, well aware that people always say they appreciate honesty right up until the minute the truth hits them in the face. Then, when reality can't be denied, they fall back into the bubbles of ignorance they prefer. Knox couldn't blame them; he wished at times he was able to do the same.

“I've learned a few things over the years. Chief among them is that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse. I'm not trying to be a pessimist, I'm just accepting reality.”

“I deny your reality, and substitute my own.”

“Very funny. You have no idea what's about to happen.”

“Maybe not, but I have something you don't. I have faith. I have faith that we're going to solve the case, I have faith people are going to appreciate the work we do, and I have faith that there's going to be a bonus waiting for us on the other side of all this. It's going to be the best thing to ever happen to us.”

“The best thing that could ever happen to me is being pulled off this case.”

“But you always say how much you love the mystery, the puzzle. You finally get the big one, and all of a sudden you're walking away, afraid to take on the challenge.”

This show of fortitude made Knox smile. Perhaps, he thought, there was a fire inside Lane after all. The trouble was, that drive would push him towards failure and not away from it. They may have been standing at the beginning of the end of their careers, but Lane was not put off by the risks. Respect was beginning to emerge in Knox, a strange brew he was uncomfortable accepting.

“You know what? You're right. I do like puzzles, and I do like mysteries. What I don't like is having my future tied to one, but if you don't care that this could kneecap you before you even learn to walk, I might as well strap myself in and go along for the ride.”

“That's the spirit . . . I guess.”

“Cheer up, kid. We've got a genuine mystery to solve.”

“You're right. Do you have any initial insights?”

“It's a bit early for me to have much of an opinion. I need some time to sit down and go through my thoughts.”

“Oh, I see.”

Knox could feel Lane deflating, his interest waning as he was sidelined. Wasting time before one could assess the merit of each piece of information was not something Knox was comfortable with, but if Lane was going to be kept afloat, until they were dragged to the bottom together, such accommodations would have to be made.

“What about you? What's your initial take on all of this?”

As quickly as the air that seeped through the cracks, Lane reinflated, back to life. He had been waiting for the opportunity to prove himself to Knox. This was the first time his input had been solicited, and he considered it a major turning point in their relationship.

“People don't just get killed in locked rooms, so it seems to me that there's only two logical explanations. Either we've missed a key piece of evidence in our initial sweep, or that room wasn't locked at the time of the murder.”

“That could be, but how would someone go about locking it from the outside? It was a deadbolt keyed from the inside.”

“I didn't say I know how it was done. There has to be a way, and we're going to have to figure it out.”

“What's that thing they always say about the simplest explanation?”

“That it's always right.”

“Yeah, forget about that. It's not true at all. Murder is a complicated affair.”

“Maybe so, but engineering isn't. A lock is a lock, whether someone is murdered behind it or not. There has to be a way to get in and out without making it look like it. Magic isn't real.”

Knox appreciated the doggedness Lane was showing towards logic. He reminded Knox of himself as a younger man, unable and unwilling to admit the world didn't behave according to the rules. It was possible Lane was right, that there was a simple explanation for the problem that confronted them, but he was not counting on it. Knox knew problems grew more twisted, tangled, and complicated the deeper you searched, not the other way around.

“You're not being much of a detective. Don't write off any possibility until you absolutely have to.”

“So you're saying magic is our best bet?”

“I'm saying that by the time we’re done here, it might be the only explanation we have.”

Detective Lane could sense from the tone in Knox's voice that he needed to give his partner space to let the case percolate through his mind. Knox appreciated not having to forcefully shove Lane aside.

Detective Knox wondered what kind of parasite had gotten inside his partner, eating away everything but his optimism. Optimism was for characters in books, not something that should be believed in by flesh and blood people. Everything is easier when the ending has already been written, and is merely waiting for someone to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. Real life is a different beast, however. The answer may appear one day, it might fall right out of the sky, but counting on it is a fool's errand. Detective Knox thought optimism would have been bred out through evolution long before, but there did not appear to be much intelligence guiding the process.

BOOK: DARK CITY a gripping detective mystery
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Double Blind by D. P. Lyle
My New American Life by Francine Prose
Evanescent by Carlyle Labuschagne
The Headsman by James Neal Harvey
Broken: A Plague Journal by Hughes, Paul
Missing by Sharon Sala
Sacrificial Magic by Stacia Kane
Halifax by Leigh Dunlap