Authors: CHRISTOPHER M. COLAVITO
Remnants Of Evil
Detective Lane was waiting for his partner to return from the bowels of the building. He didn't lack the disposition necessary to frequent the autopsy room, but felt he was of better use in other places. His focus would wane the longer he stood surrounded by dead bodies, experience told him. Pictures would tell him as much as an actual body, maybe more. This was the wonderful thing about the advancement of technology; one could see things the naked eye could not discern. Lane embraced this shift to modernity, whereas Detective Knox was more resistant to giving up on tradition.
To Knox, experience was everything. Without seeing, hearing, or feeling evidence for himself, he struggled to believe it was real. It was a philosophical point of contention, but one he clung to desperately. Information did not exist for him if it were in numbers and words, it needed to be more tangible than a sheet of paper. Depth was lost when it was reduced to two dimensions, and while other people may be comfortable working with the remainder, Detective Knox needed to have everything in front of him.
“That was another dead end.”
“That's becoming a refrain.”
“Did I ever tell you I hate music?”
Lane wanted to pause the conversation and explore that point. He couldn't comprehend how someone could live without a fundamental piece of the human experience. Detective Knox's admission was almost a confession that he wasn't quite human. Lane needed to say something, but knew it would have to wait for a more opportune time.
“No, I would have remembered something that crazy.”
“I lose track of these things.”
“So what about the body? You said it was a dead end.”
“Doc says there wasn't a shred of evidence to be found. No prints, no DNA, no nothing. He can't even tell what sort of knife was used.”
“Sounds like I didn't miss anything by not joining you down there.”
“Maybe not, but that's not an excuse. What were you doing?”
“I was starting to look into the victim’s background, see if there was anything about him that might point to who would most want him dead.”
Detective Knox didn't enjoy putting pressure on his partner, but saw it as a vital part of his job. Without someone pushing Lane he would never progress as a detective. It was only when his back was against the wall that he would push through his limits, and that kind of situation happened all too infrequently. Though he would come across as insensitive and boorish, Knox was doing what he thought was in Lane's best interest.
“That's a good idea. Have you come up with anything?”
“I'm not sure. I don't see anything suspicious in the financial records, but that doesn't mean money wasn't the motive. And there are some emails I can't get access to yet that we'll need to send to the tech guys. But from what I've seen, it's not going to be anything salacious.”
“That's what I figured. We're not going to catch a break anytime soon.”
“It doesn't seem like it. So what's our next move?”
Knox wanted to admit the truth, that they didn't have a next move, that giving up and admitting defeat would be the most prudent move. Every hero has a nemesis who gets the better of them, and this case might be the one they were destined not to solve. It was not weakness or cowardice to admit failure; it was a necessary step in assessing their own abilities.
Despite this, Knox was unwilling to bow to the forces of evil, because he knew all too well the soul-crushing feeling that resulted from a file being put in the pile of cold cases. Lane had yet to go through this rite of passage, and though Knox was certain it would happen one day, he was determined not to be the one leading the suicide charge.
“We head back to the scene and see if we missed anything. Maybe something will look different in light of what we've garnered from the family.”
“Good thinking. Besides, we could use a little fresh air.”
* * *
Sunlight gave the scene a new appearance, purifying it of the horror they felt the last time they set foot within the walls. The golden aura hanging above them shone down with a hopeful warmth, in stark contrast to the harsh lines and cold shadows they were used to. This time, they could see the scene not as a container storing the remnants of evil, but as a place a family might consider home. The sunlight filtered through the windows, cut into prisms, filling every inch of the building with life. This new light made the recollection of what had happened all the more tragic.
Detective Lane peeled away from his partner, who was headed straight for the murder scene. Lane preferred to get a sense of the bigger picture, looking all around to soak up as much of the atmosphere as he could. Every picture revealed something about the people who lived there, and the few photographs strategically placed around the house gave small glimpses into a family the two of them had yet to understand.
What Lane could see in those pictures was the lack of love between the people who called themselves family. In none of them could he read affection on their faces; their body language was stiff to the point where he could not tell if the picture had captured only a second in time. Everything he saw defied expectations, and brought to mind more questions. He felt as though he was standing in a doll house, a facsimile built to describe what life must be like.
Lane's musings were interrupted as a heavy groan filled the air, echoing off the empty walls. His first thought was not to rush towards the sound to see what was happening, it was to note that he found himself in what he might well consider the worst place possible to commit a violent murder. The thought came and went in a flash, and Lane, once again clear-headed, took off in pursuit.
An eerie sense of deja vu struck Lane as he turned into the room. Detective Knox lay on the floor, in the same spot where George Hobbes had lain the previous night. It was as though he had stepped back in time, and he stood, frozen in the moment, until Knox's voice rose above the silence.
“Get over here and help me up.”
Lane did as he was told, raising his partner like a sunken ship from the floor. The effort involved in both tasks seemed monumental, Lane thought, as he struggled to lift Knox.
“I found something under the desk, and when I got down to take a look at what it was, my back went out.”
“Oh, that's all.”
“What do you mean that's all?”
“I wasn't going to say anything, but when I walked in, I thought I was looking at another dead body.”
“Very funny. Trust me, if I were dead, I would have taken someone with me. Probably you.”
“So what did you find?”
Knox opened his hand, revealing a small sliver of black plastic. They both knew this could be the key they had been searching for.
“This was hidden so well, there has to be something useful on it.”
“How did we miss it before?”
“There was a hidden panel built into the bottom of the desk. Just looking at it, you'd never know it was there. I felt an edge when I ran my hand across it. It was dumb luck.”
“The best kind.”
“Yeah. Let's see what we've got.”
The detectives were happy to leave once again, not merely to escape the specter of death that hung in the air, but because they could feel hope growing inside them for the first time. Every puzzle has a solution, Knox would frequently say, and they may have just stumbled upon theirs.
Lane kept a computer in the car, part of his pressing need to be over-prepared for any emergency. Knox would give him a hard time about it, but was glad to have a partner who at least tried to carry his own weight. Plus, Knox thought, it saved him the trouble of having to plan for every occasion by himself, freeing his mind for more important matters.
Lane took the drive and inserted it. They waited, breath held, for the flashing lights to reveal their splendor to them. The screen shifted, but instead of taking them on the first step towards solving the case, it provided yet another obstacle. Given what he had experienced in his brief encounters with the Hobbes family, Knox couldn't blame George for encrypting whatever information the drive possessed. He wouldn't have trusted those people with anything of value either.
“That's just our rotten luck.”
“Relax, kid. We'll send it over to the tech guys, and I'm sure they'll be able to break the encryption in no time.”
“But that means more waiting.”
“I know it's frustrating, but at least now we're waiting for a clue to be deciphered, not to magically fall from the sky.”
“It's not a whole lot better.”
“It's something, and it means we might finally get a little momentum moving in the right direction.”
The furious buzz had left the precinct, the drones circling around the desks having returned to their natural state. It was understandable that, in a setting that saw so much death and depravity, normalcy would return in short order. Veterans of the trade would not be moved to a frenzy for long before their regulators kicked in, lowering them to the base standard on which they operated. It was better for them, in the long run, to divorce themselves as much as possible from their work. If they didn't, over time, it would eat away at them cell by cell, until they were walking shells waiting to be filled by the evil of the day.
Detective Knox preferred the quiet. High-profile cases brought too much attention, and with it came unwanted glances over his shoulder. The last thing he wanted was to miss a connection because he was busy brushing someone aside. He found comfort in the apathy his coworkers offered on a daily basis, how he only felt noticed when someone needed his help. The relationships were somewhat parasitic, but they beat having genuine human connections with too many people at once, or so Knox thought.
“Do you want me to go with you?”
Knox heard Lane's voice, and wondered whether the question was rhetorical. No, he didn't want the company, but his partner had been clinging onto his every move, and may have thought an invitation had been extended. He had, Knox thought, become imprinted on him like a freshly hatched duckling. His mood had been improving, until this thought tied an anchor around him.
“It doesn't take two of us to drop off a drive to the tech guys, unless you think I can't walk all the way down the hall without needing you to hold my hand.”
“I was just asking.”
“And I was just teaching you that the old saying is wrong, and there are stupid questions. That was one of them.”
“Fine. I'll stay here and try to be productive.”
“You do that.”
Knox headed off, shaking his head at the damage evolution had caused in the span of a single generation. Detective Lane had a good heart, but Knox didn't believe he possessed the fortitude needed for a lifetime of laughing in the face of death. Knox didn't buy into the old stereotypes of masculinity, but there were places where the ability not to need, not to feel, were necessary. They lived in one of those worlds, and he was thankful to have had his softer tendencies driven out of him a lifetime ago.
Technology was of no interest to Detective Knox. As long as he knew how to read the results the experts gave him, he didn't care how or why any of it worked. To him, it seemed as if information was pulled out of the air, seemingly from nowhere, and the biggest sin of all would have been to reveal the secrets behind the trick. He preferred to stay in the dark, so that he would never be put in a position where he might be locked in an office with the machines, away from where the real work was done.
The technicians running the lab preferred Knox to anyone else in the building, because they knew this about him, and were relieved he had no interest in hanging around to learn how the illusion was cast. Like Knox, they preferred to work in solitude, without people questioning their every movement. Neither side would ever admit it, but they were more alike than they would care to admit.
Knox walked in, tossing the bag containing the drive onto the table, turning around before he heard it click on the glass surface. He would have left without saying a word, had he not been called back.
“You're the expert, shouldn't you know?”
“Good one. What case, and what's the issue?”
“It's for the Hobbes murder. You know, the one everyone's calling the locked room mystery.”
“Oh, that one.”
“Yeah. I found this at the scene, but it's encrypted. Can you get into it?”
“Of course I can. It might take a little while, depending on how sophisticated it is, but we'll get whatever is on there.”
“Great. Don't bother me until then.”
“Why would I want to?”
Knox turned on his heel, grinding the familiar wear pattern further into the sole. It was not a conscious choice, but it was one he thought he would make if it were. There was something alluring about the fluidity of the movement that didn't seem to mesh with the realities of life. He saw beauty in the dichotomy, and though it was a small detail, it made him smile.
* * *
Detective Lane was not waiting for him, hands folded. This caught Knox by surprise, not that he had given any thought to what his partner was up to in his absence. Perhaps, he thought, there was hope for him after all.
Lane sat behind a pile of beige folders, each stuffed with coffee-stained pages. They were familiar, but something Knox wouldn’t mind being overtaken by technology. It was far more efficient for him to ignore a computer screen than a piece of paper someone placed in his hands. His eyes could pretend the screen was a mirage, but the paper was all too real.
“What on earth are you doing?”
Lane looked up from the file he was reading, noting for the first time Knox's return. He held up one finger, pushing off the conversation for a moment, until he could finish absorbing whatever information he was looking at. Knox would have been impressed, if he knew Lane wasn't wasting his time.
“I thought I would be productive, so I went back and started looking through cold cases.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because we don't have any better leads right now, and you never know, there might be something in these files that could spark an idea.”
“Has there been?”
“Well, I haven't seen any other cases that look like this one. There haven't been any other novels come to life lately.”
“I didn't think there were.”
“But I did find something interesting.”
“There was a case a couple of months back that bears a bit of resemblance. Like ours, there was no physical evidence of any kind, and the best suspect had a rock solid alibi.”
“So why didn't we know about this before?”
“Because it wasn't a murder. It was an attempted murder, or at least that was the claim.”
“The alleged victim had mental health issues, and the officers who looked into it didn't put much credence in his claims. They thought he made the whole thing up.”
“But you're thinking he didn't.”
“I don't know, but I wouldn't be too hasty to write it off.”
Knox was pained to admit it, but Lane may have found a new lead. His ego hit him hard; excitement of finding new information weighed against the jealousy of not being the one to unearth it. Knox was not normally so crass or shallow, but he was not comfortable being shown up by his own partner. Solving the case should have been the most important thing, regardless of how it happened, but Knox found himself unable to praise his colleague.
“We should keep looking into the past until the tech guys are able to break into that drive. Maybe going backwards is the best way to move forward.”
“So you're not going to say it?”
“That I may have found something. That I did good.”
“You did your job. You don't get a medal for doing that.”
“Well, actually . . .”
Detective Knox shot Lane a look, one that warned him that any goodwill earned would be forfeited if he insisted on traversing that road. Lane understood, and let the words fall apart, ceding authority back to Knox.
“There will be plenty of credit to go around when we solve this thing, but until then, we need to keep our egos in check and get the work done. Believe me, there's danger in letting yourself get ahead of the evidence.”
“You sound like you know this from experience.”
“Didn't I ever tell you the story . . .?”