|Stories # - L | M - Z | Authors
Review this story
* * *
The following morning, Angela met the others at the train
“Really?” Epim sounded shocked. “We find a reporter for the newspaper killed by electricity in a water control office infested with Vahz, with a code-like list in his pocket, and it’s not significant?”
“He wasn’t a reporter. He worked on the games page. You know, the crossword puzzles, scrambled words, chess hints, bridge strategies, horoscope, all that stuff? He was one of the people that checked the submissions for accuracy before they could be published. It looks like he may have just been there visiting someone. He sure never worked on a real story. But yeah, he told me that it was most likely just a puzzle he was putting into the paper and to move on.”
Tog spoke up while Epim seemed lost in thought. “That still doesn’t explain why he was killed with electricity.”
Tonix looked at Lista for the first time that day, “Wow, rough night? You look beat.”
“Not rough enough. Hey, I was thinking about this last night, since nothing I was doing was worth paying attention to. Ep, you have any idea how long that guy had been dead? I mean was it longer than the others, or about the same?”
“About the same. What are you thinking?”
“How can you tell a live zombie from a dead one? Don’t look at me like that! I mean, we saw one person had electrical burns, then checked the others, but we didn’t check the other zombies. What’s to say that that guy wasn’t killed about the same time the Vahz showed up. Whoever killed him may have taken a few of them out too, then the Morts fixed them up, or they were already down in the room when we took out the rest. Anyone take a head count before and after each fight? I know I didn’t.”
“Good thinking there Lis.”
“So,” started Tog. “Does that put this in the follow it up pile or the get something new pile?”
All agreed that it should be followed up with a return visit to the office. Epim went to the coroner’s office to get a look at the other bodies, and hopefully some of the Vahz minions that were brought in.
Over the next three hours, the group in the office found nothing of interest. There were scorch marks in a few places, but they looked to be mostly from fire, not electricity. Epim on the other hand got a nasty surprise at the coroner’s office. Someone had gone through all of the personal effects just after the body had arrived. The coroner was at a loss. There was no sign of a break in and none of the surveillance cameras showed anything, but the clothing had obviously been searched. The hospital was conducting an internal investigation and she was not permitted to examine anything herself. All of the reanimated bodies were cremated. From there, she tried to talk to some of the Mortificators and Reapers that were being held in jail awaiting transfer to the Zig. That didn’t work out well either. They were unwilling to even meet with her. From there, she decided to head over to the home of the man that started all of this.
Peter Patterson’s home was near the tram in Skyway. That was good. This was still a pretty dangerous area for her. She knew that the police would have stopped by already, she just hoped that whoever was home would be willing to talk.
She found the door to the apartment slightly ajar, and knocked softly. When no answer came, she knocked on the door across the hall. The woman who answered said that Peter had lived alone and that she hadn’t seen him in a few days. When she saw the police there yesterday she assumed the worst. The door was closed when the police were there. She was sure of that. Epim thanked her and told her that she was going to go in and look around.
Inside, the apartment showed signs of having been searched; from the looks of things, by more than one person. Books from the bookcase were both under, and on top of a sofa cushion. Drawers were pulled out and dumped on the desk, the cereal boxes were all dumped out, even the carpet had been cut up in several places. An uneasy feeling settled over her, and she called the others to meet her at the apartment.
It seemed like hours before she heard them in the hallway. She showed them in and had them look over the room. Mourning came to the same conclusion about several people conducting the search at once. She also noticed something that the others had missed.
“They didn’t stop searching.”
Several faces turned at her in unison.
“I mean the search ended, but they didn’t stop until there was nothing left to search. Let’s say there were two of them, one on each side of the room. At some point they will either find what they’re after and stop, or they will search the entire room. They didn’t stop, so I don’t think they found what they were after. This guy’s job was to check puzzles, he’s going to know how the average person thinks, so if he’s going to hide something, the odds are good that it will be hidden in a place most people would never think to look for it.”
“So you’re saying he left clues to lead someone to it? asked Jyn”
“No. That would be silly. He’d have no way of knowing who might find the clues. My guess is that he would have either mailed it to himself, mailed it to a friend, put it in a safe deposit box or something similar. But then…”
“But we don’t know what it is.” Jyn looked slightly annoyed.
“We can guess that it’s a sheet of paper, maybe the list we found.”
“We can guess that?” Tog sounded unsure.
“Yes, look what was searched. CD cases were opened. Books were flipped through. Whatever it was must be small and flat enough to be able to be hidden in them. The carpet was cut up. Again, it had to be something flat enough to hide under a rug.”
“Why would he even take it home?”
“I don’t think he would have. That’s what I was about to say. We found him with a list of symbols on him. Something he felt okay to just carry around. He didn’t seem to feel it was going to place him in danger.”
Jyn let out a sigh, “I’m lost. Are we thinking that the people that searched the room here are the same ones that killed him?”
“Yes. For now I think we have to.”
“Well, then, why didn’t they take the paper off of him at the office?”
“The Vahz ran him off,” said Lista.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Mourning. “The idea about the Vahz showing up and scaring him off only works if other people in the office had been electrocuted too. They weren’t. The killer was able to take out this guy and then get away without anyone else in the office being aware of it. If the killer didn’t have a chance to search him there, and the paper wasn’t on him at the hospital, then it stands to reason that either we have it, or he didn’t take it with him. They probably feel pretty good about it not being here so they will probably assume we have it.”
Ent spoke from her position guarding the doorway. It was an odd mix of clicking and buzzing from her natural voice, and the electronic transmitter she used to speak to humans. “Why one paper? Man keep one. Man hide one. Two paper”
Angela had to agree that this was a valid point. As she gave it more thought, the second object, if there was one, didn’t have to be a paper at all. There was little doubt that the room was searched for a paper of some sort, but that could have been the one they found on him. She was struck with a thought.
“Did he have any other family in the area? Siblings? Parents? Ex-wives?”
“A sister about 3 hours away”, said Epim. “I should probably be the one to talk to her. Should I ask about anything in particular?”
“Pretty much just the obvious stuff. Had he been acting strange? Was there anything mailed to her from him recently? Just run with whatever you get out of her after that.”
“You know,” began Epim. “This is interesting to me from a professional standpoint. Here we are assuming that this guy was killed and his home ransacked for this paper that he was carrying around in his pocket. We know the bad guys think it’s important, and it seems that we can assume that the dead guy didn’t. What if the bad guys just assumed the dead guy wouldn’t be so foolish as to carry it around with him? It seems pretty obvious that the two sides put a much different level of importance on this list.”
“Actually,” began Mourning. “We don’t really know that that’s what they were after. It’s the most likely thing, but we’re just guessing.”
Jyn asked, “Okay, explain this to me. How can you be so sure that they were after this paper?”
“Okay. Let’s say you know the guy has something on him that you don’t want him to have. You arrange to have him killed, knowing that he will end up at the morgue, where you have people standing by to search him. You don’t need to search him at the office. Then, you get a report from the assassin that the Vahz have come into the place. You can’t risk them taking the body away, but you can’t get involved. You call a Hero contact who then sends a hero in to stop the Vahz and keep the bodies from vanishing. When the paper isn’t on the body, you think maybe he’s got it at home, so you go search it. Nothing turns up, so what’s your next move?”
“Either we have it, or he hid it someplace else?”
“Right. Now, if they went after his sister, she’s probably already dead. If they didn’t go after her, then they probably assume we have it. Either way, Ep probably won’t run into anything bad, but be really careful anyway.”
Epim headed for the train while the others continued in the room. When it was clear there was nothing more to be found, they went back to the diner to wait for Epim’s call.
“Okay, so here’s what I found out. His sister was his twin. They used to play all sorts of puzzle games leaving secret codes all over the house. One they used to use a lot was to rearrange books or CDs on the shelf in a way that worked like Morse code. Each upside down book was a dash and the rest were dots. This means there could have been a message in that room that was destroyed when they ransacked it. All of his life he’s looked for codes. He may not have even been aware that he did it, so when whatever he saw caught his eye, it was obvious to him. Pretty cool really, except is leaves us pretty much no where to go.”
“It does tell us a bit more about him than we knew before though,” said Mourning.
“Lista here, Ep. We do have a lead of sorts. I stopped by his office to talk with some of his coworkers. It turns out that he did spot something in the paper and he’d been tracking it for a while. No one knew what it was though. Maybe we should get some back issues of the paper for those dates.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Epim hung up and the others found a copy of most of the newspapers listed on the dates column of the list.
The following morning they met at the library and divided up the newspapers. Only Angela was absent. In a short time an advertisement was found that had most of the symbols on the list hidden in the artwork. That same ad was found in all of the other papers they had as well. The ad was the same, but the background art was different in each one.
“Did we find it?” asked Tonix. “Is this the code?”
“Sure looks that way, babe.”
Mourning entered the room with an apology and a hint of excitement in her voice. “I had a thought last night and followed it up first thing this morning. It really bothers me that this guy could be killed with electricity in an office and no one saw it happen, I tried to come up with ways to make it work, and I came up with one.”
The others looked on in silence as she continued. “Okay, Peter just happens to pop by for a visit with a friend. He gets killed, then the Vahz show up and kill off four more people in the office. I got in touch with the boss in there and he told me that there are normally twenty three people on staff. I showed him the four that died, and he identified them. Then we went over those that survived, and came up one short. As it turns out, the man peter came to see was named David Bertz. David was one of three people to have a personal secretary there, only his quit a few weeks ago. The new girl was there the day of the attack, but she’s not among the dead or the survivors.”
“You think they took her?” asked Tonix.
“No. I think she’s the killer. She claimed to have some medical training, and the offices are equipped with those portable defibrillators. I think our killer might just have electrical powers. She uses a little charge to zap Peter into thinking he’s having a heart attack. David runs off, and she zaps Peter hard. When they come back, she’s working on the Defib paddles, but in reality, she zapping him repeatedly with her own blasts. She doesn’t need to search the body, because she had at least one accomplice working at the hospital when he came in.”
“It all fits,” said Epim. “But it’s really only a hypothesis. We need to investigate it more.”
“Oh, I agree. So I did. The
missing woman is named Shelly Jones. Her address is a vacant lot
in Kings Row, her Social Security number comes back to a boy from
Lista let out a low whistle. “So where does that leave us?”
Mourning had a plan. “Well, there are two ways to go about it. One is to break the cipher and see what it says, the other would be to contact the paper, see who’s placing the ads, and then track down the person doing the artwork.”
“I nominate Mourning to start on the cipher, and probably Lista to go back and talk to the paper,” said Tog. “Anyone else have any ideas?”
None did, so each set off on their task. While Lista was gone, and Mourning was working, the others started talking about finding a place to meet and hang out. Maybe even form an official group. The more they talked about it, the more possible it sounded, then a call broke the silence.
“... sta here. Need hel … st! Amb …”
Four of the six hurried to her location, Jyn and Tonix headed for the hospital in case the others were too late. There was still a chance that whoever searched the body in the morgue might be waiting at the transporters to catch her unaware. When Tog and the others arrived they saw Lista backed into a corner and bordering on exhaustion. Tog leapt in front of her and pulled the axe from the harness on his back. Epim fired off a pair of rapid healing spells, while Mourning and Ent went to work on the group from behind. When it was all over, they got Lista’s story.
“No one at the paper claimed to know anything about the ads. When I got the number for the ad company, they passed me off to the actual artist. He told me to meet him in his office and he’d have all the contracts ready for me to look at. It didn’t seem like a big deal, so I went in. The place was empty. When I came out, there were about a dozen Outcasts waiting for me. We need to find that artist and hurt him. We need to hurt him really, really bad.”
Tog put a hand on her shoulder and said, “We will. The problem is that by now he’s probably gone.”
Tracking him down was easy enough. He wasn’t gone. He was dead. Electrocuted, just like the guy from the office. This time there was no search of his home. There were no family or friends that could be found. It was a dead end. The advertising company was gone too. Not a trace of it could be found anyplace.
* * *
In a dimly lit room with an impressive view of some part of the city sat a large chair with a bank of monitors in front of it.
“So the paper’s done then?” came a voice from the chair.
“Yes, it was discovered. We had no choice,” answered one of the monitors.
“And the leak?”
“Yes, but it was sloppy. We had to terminate the art project at the source in order to protect the overall plan.”
“So now we turn to television?”
“Yes. This was planned for, it just came a bit sooner than we thought. By this time next year, we will have a much better system in place. Until then, there are the fallback options of television and film already in place. This really changes nothing.”
“One last thing. Tell our operatives in Paragon that should a hero report anything strange to them, to ask for guidance from now on, rather than just telling them it doesn’t matter.”