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To the Victor…
Chapter 6: The Case of the Snuffed-out Snoop
by Tog
(Part 3 of 4)

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 “He’s dead all right.  I don’t see any injuries.”

“We need to call the police.  And medical help.” Marcus said as he pulled out his phone.

“Medics won’t be able to do anything for him.  He’s already gone.”

“My phone’s dead.  I can’t even turn it on.”

Lista grabbed the one on the desk and listened.  “Same here.  No tone”

“All the phones in this house are cordless.  If there’s no power, they can’t transmit.”

“The others have cell phones.  I’ll be right back.”  With that, Marcus left Lista alone with Mr. Hastings.

“What do you think killed him?” she asked.

“Not a clue, miss.  I know he had a heart condition, but he never seemed concerned about it.  Might have been the lights going out scared him and he had an attack.  Might have been whoever she saw in the window.  Might have just been his time.”

“Did you know him well?”

“Not really, miss.  He was a job like any other.  I knew what I needed to know about him.  A bit of medical, some of his habits, the lay of the house.  I really didn’t think that there was much risk here.  Not like other places I’ve been.”

“Even with this big secret meeting?  Any idea what that was about?”

“None, miss.  He didn’t tell me anything and I was to wait in the hall and keep you lot out.”

Lista sighed and moved around the room.  This room was a stark contrast to the rest of the house.  Everything here was digital and electronic.  The fireplace was fake.  In place of paintings on the walls there were large LCD screens that would probably cycle through different scenes.  Even the baubles and nick-knacks seemed to be little electronic gizmos that appeared to serve no purpose.  A loud clap of thunder shook through the room, followed closely by the sound of falling rain.  It was the lack of lightning that caused her to notice that there wasn’t even a window, just another screen to make it seem like there was.  She guessed the late Mr. Devon spent most of his time in this room and had the rest of the house done to meet the expectations of guests.

Davis appeared as she finished looking around and asked the two of them to come down to the sitting room.  When they had left the room, Davis locked the door behind them and then led them down the stairs by candlelight.

Marcus spoke.  “I’ve spoken to Davis.  He and I are the only ones that know the whole story so far, so it’s time to share with the rest of you.

“As Lisa and Mr. Hastings are already aware, Brian Devon is dead.”  He paused for the gasps and whispers and then continued.  “As of right now it looks like a heart attack or stroke.  At any rate, there was no sign of violence.  We can’t contact the police, because, as the rest of you know, there isn’t a working cell phone in the house.  Davis informs me that the only phones in the house are cordless and that with the power out, the transmitter base units render the phones useless.  We’re cut off.  Add to that the two men Mrs. Wilson saw lurking around outside that we never did find.  More good news.  The power is only off to this house.  The lines coming from the shore are still good.  Again, Davis informs me that the current goes into a computer relay that routes the power to where it’s needed at the time.  It supposedly makes the house a good deal more efficient, but if that relay breaks, the house loses power.  I had a look at the panel and it’s cooked.  All the circuits are dead.  We won’t be getting power, telephones, lights, or anything else for a while.”

“We need to get organized.  I’d like to nominate Mr. Hastings as the obvious choice as leader,” said Lista.

After some discussion it was agreed that Mr. Hastings would be in charge until the police could be contacted.  His first course of action was to designate three groups.  Marcus went with Davis to secure the house and look for anything useful.  Mr. Hastings and Lista moved the body into the freezer and re-secured the upstairs office.  Mr. Abernathy and the Senator kept watch on the ground floor, while the others kept watch out the sitting room windows. 

Marcus came into the room in a halo of light.  “I found some lights.  The ones on the top floor at the far end still work.” He quickly turned it off.  “We’ve also got some more candles, and with the fire here, we should have plenty of light.”

“Good,” said Lista.  “So, what is our situation?  Mr. Hastings?”

“Well, miss.  Devon’s dead, but we don’t know how.  There is an unconfirmed report of men on the island, lurking outside the house when the lights went out.  When the lights went out, we lost pretty much everything electronic, including the mobiles.  We have no way to contact the police, and no way to get off this island until the boat comes back to get us tomorrow about noon.  That sum it up all right for you?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“Are you saying the whole house shorted out?” asked the Senator

“Basically, sir, yes,” answered Mr. Hastings.

“And just would cause that?”

Mr. Abernathy spoke up now.  “An EMP.  Sorry, Electromagnetic Pulse.  Basically it’s a surge of energy that will fry integrated circuits, like computer chips.  It would explain all the cell phones being dead, along with the rechargeable lights.  Pretty much anything with a circuit board or a transistor that wasn’t shielded would be toast.”

“I thought those only came from nuclear blasts.”

“No, Senator.  They can be generated by lightning, or by special EMP generators.  The military has a large EMP test facility where they check systems on ships.  My company has even started work on EMP grenades.  They are about the size of a large coffee can right now, with a range of about 20 feet, but we’ve made a lot of progress so far in upping that range and reducing the size.  One day, it may be possible for a soldier or police officer to fire an EMPG into a target and cook all the electronics to help end the fight with a reduced loss of life.”

“Very noble indeed,” said Ms. Forsythe, “but we’re still screwed.”

Again the room fell silent.  When Mrs. Wilson spoke, her tone was direct, and slightly accusatory.

“Lisa, you certainly don’t seem to shy away from the morbid and grotesque.”

“You mean Marcus?  He’s not so bad once you get past the bald thing.”

“No, dear.  I mean the way you so casually treat Mr. Devon’s death.  You do understand that he’s dead, don’t you?”

“Yes.  Yes, I do.  The fact that it doesn’t bother me may seem odd to you, but I live in Paragon City, and have for at least 9 months.  Are you familiar with Paragon City?  It’s Friday night and not quite 9 PM and I’ve only seen one dead body so far this whole week.  Back home we have packs of reanimated dead roaming the streets taking limbs off of the living for some quack madman to experiment on.  We have scores of these little robot things that gather up all the metal they can find, even if they have to kill you to get it.  There are at least 8 street gangs that can be seen mugging uniformed police officers in broad daylight.  I do feel bad that he’s dead, but the simple fact is that I’ve still never actually met him.  I didn’t know him.  I had no emotional investment in his wellbeing.  That lack of emotion allows me to see things from a much more detached point of view.  In a few hours, he’ll start to smell bad.  Bugs will come, and the medical examiner may have a more difficult time dealing with what he gets.  In the freezer, working or not, the body will be protected from the bugs, and decomposition will be slowed.  We know the time of death was between about 8:03, when you screamed, and about 8:15, when we returned to the study and found the body, so the medical examiner will already have a solid timeline to work from.  Getting back to the point, if we could.  If an EMP is the best guess for the house going out, could it have killed him?”

Mr. Abernathy glanced over at Mrs. Wilson before answering.  She was obviously angry, but not willing to engage Lisa any further.  “Well, no.  Not really.  I mean, that’s what makes an EMP such a useful weapon.  It will short out a vehicle but not do any damage to the occupants.”

“What if he had a pacemaker?”

“I suppose, if the pacemaker had a microchip in it.”

Davis, did, Mr. Devon have a pacemaker for his heart?”

“I’m not sure, miss.  He did have a number of pills that he took quite often, but he never confided detailed medical information to me.”

Lista turned back to Mr. Abernathy.  “So you build computers and stuff right?  Out of stuff you found in the trash?  Any way you might be able to make a working radio, or get a cell phone working from the stuff around here?”

“I’ll see, but frankly the odds are against it.  We would need a working circuit board and so far, all the ones I’ve seen are cooked.”

“Damn.  Okay, are we going to call this an EMP for now?”

“Based on what we’ve seen, I think it the best choice.”

“Okay, what can we tell about it?  Where did it come from?”

“I guess it could have come from the lightning, but I think we would have heard the thunder if one hit that close.  Also, since there was a working flashlight in the far bathroom, then I think we can say that the area of effect was either pretty small, or we were right on the edge of a bigger one.  My instinct says it was a small one though.  You’d have to be close to burn out an LED and that seems to be the problem with most of these lights.”

“So if it wasn’t lightning, and it was an EMP, then the best guess would be that it was a device like the kind you mentioned earlier?”

“I’m afraid so.  The difference is that we haven’t got one that would affect a house this size.  Even if it were placed in the exact middle, it would only do about ¼ of it.”

“Okay, let’s run with this idea.  If you were going to attack this house with an EMP device, where would you put it?”

“Outside, were the power comes in.  I’d probably know about the control unit, and I wouldn’t have to lug the thing inside.  But that would only take out that panel.  It would be really unlikely to affect the flashlights on the second floor.”

“Why would you do it?  Anyone?”

Shrugs and mumbles greeted the question for a moment; then the Senator spoke up.  “To stop our meeting?  That much seems obvious.  He was going to pass on something to us tonight.  Something he thought was very sensitive.  Something that he thought the four of us would be interested in.  With his reputation, it would stand to reason that he’d have it stored electronically.  Someone could have sent those two guys here to set off a pulse and wipe the data.  Does that work?”

“Not bad, Senator.”  It was Marcus’ turn.  “The only real flaw I see with it is that he’s a tech nerd, but he’s a good one.  He’d have a back up of that data on a CD or someplace that’s not going to be that easy to get to it.  Hell, he was going to give out hard copies just before the lights went out.  Then there is the matter of him being able to just write it all up again.”

“Except that he’s dead,” said Ms. Forsythe.  “If the device was set off to wipe out the information, and the man that had that information is found dead at about the same time, it smacks of murder.”

“Very true.” said the Senator.  So that brings us back to the question of whether or not he had a pacemaker; and if he did, could an EMP be relied upon to kill him with it?”

“Too much ‘if’’ said Lista.  “I mean there is too much room there for something to go wrong.  It would need to have someone in the house to kill him in case the EMP failed.  You said he had printouts of whatever he was going to tell you?  Did you see them?”

“No, but I see no reason we can’t go look at them now.”

“Wait!” said Mr. Hastings.  “If he was killed it was right under my nose.  That means I messed up.  I’ll not mess up again.  There is the potential for each of you to have reason to want those documents hidden.  I think I should be the one to fetch them.”

This prompted a short argument, as it was suddenly very clear that no one really trusted the others.  Finally, it was decided that Davis would get the papers, accompanied by Lista and Mr. Hastings.  Only Davis would enter the room while the others watched from the other side of the door.  The room was once again locked.

When everyone had returned to the sitting room, Lista was given a copy of the file to read out loud to the room.

“Regarding the activities of Mr. Ronald Abernathy, the following has been uncovered:

1.      His company is seeking to expand not only into the computer software market, but into real estate, print, television, film, food service, sports teams, transportation, manufacturing, and other industries as well.

2.      In order to accomplish this, certain laws will need to be changed.  Plans seem to be under way to bribe key members of congress to assure this will happen.

3.      Last year’s earnings were reported to be $4.7 billion.  Actual earnings were nearly $6 billion.  There is strong evidence that this unaccounted for $1.25 billion was used for bribes.

4.      Reported earnings so far this year compared to actual earnings show an even higher portion going unreported.

It is suggested that a unified front from key members of just some of these industries could prevent such a monopoly of resources.

“And the rest of the pages are the times and dates you’ve met with different people as well as the documents on the financial dealings.”

Mr. Abernathy looked stunned.  Mr. Hastings was the first to speak.  “Is there anyone mentioned by name on those other papers that might be here in this room?”

“No.  Not that I’ve seen.”

When Mr. Abernathy found his voice it was pinched and cracking.  “Th-that’s a pack of lies.  I’ve never met any of those people.  I’ve never under reported earnings.  I have no idea what’s even on TV, why would I want to own it?  This is just nuts!  I think he was trying to set me up for something.”

“You do realize that this makes you look pretty bad, don’t you dear?” said Mrs. Forsythe with a slight grin.  I mean, leaders of various industries are here.  It would seem the house was attacked with a device you practically bragged about making.  And now, the man who was about to expose all of this is dead.”

“But it’s all a lie!  I could easily defend against any of those allegations in the press or in court.  Then I’d file a suit against him for damages and might just end up with his company.”

“First step to global domination there, Ronnie?” jibed Marcus.

“Oh, shut up!”

Everyone did.  There was only the sound of the fire burning for a short time while everyone pondered this new development.  When it was time to break the silence, the Senator did so.

“So now what do we do?  I mean, we have a body, a motive, and a suspect, do we arrest him, or tie him up or anything?”

“Don’t even try it!” screamed Misti, leaping to her feet.  This is all a set up by one of you!  It has to be.  My Ronnie wouldn’t do something like this.  We can’t get off of the island until tomorrow, so we may as well wait ‘til then to get the police out here. And then let them, the real law, deal with it.”

Everyone agreed, and the big clock in the foyer chimed 10 PM.  Mr. Hastings stepped up.  “Right.  Listen up.  I’ll put the papers in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer, then lock it up tight.  Then, I think we should all go to bed.  I’ll stay up and keep watch for a while, but would welcome a volunteer to relieve me about 2 AM or so.  Does that work for every one?”

“I’ll take the watch at 2,” said Misti excitedly.  “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep much anyway.”

“Actually,” began Mr. Hastings, “I was hoping to impose upon Miss Monet.”

“Why me?”

“Because there are a couple of things about you that make you the best choice.  The first is that you are not one of the key people, and you don’t seem to have any real ties to Mr. Gauthier.  The second, and this is nothing against Mrs. Abernathy or Mr. Davis, is that you have, so far, been willing to ‘get dirty’ if the situation called for it.  If there are people on the island, I would think that you would do your best to alert the rest of us, and possibly give a quite good accounting of yourself should they get too close.”

“Fine, I’ll see you at 2.”

Davis stepped forward, hands raised.  “Ladies, Gentlemen.  Excuse me.  Breakfast will be at 9 AM.  The menu is quite open since I won’t know for sure what will have made it through the night.  It may be quite modest.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to clear the fireplace and relight it.  With no power, this house will get quite cold tonight.”

Everyone acknowledged Davis’ statement then set about going to bed.  The office and master bedroom were to the right side of the main stairs, while the guest rooms were on the left.  Each was furnished in a similar manner, with a single bed, and a small private bathroom.  There was also a vanity and writing table.  Mr. Hastings had the first room on the right, since it provided an almost straight shot down the stairs.  Davis was across the hall, in the most centrally located room on the floor.  Next to Mr. Hastings was the room of Marcus and Lista.  Across from that were Senator and Mrs. Wilson.  Finally, there were the rooms occupied by Ms. Forsythe, and the Abernathy’s, just before the small spiral staircase that goes down to the kitchen.  As each door closed, the locks made an audible click that echoed throughout the still house.

“So,” said Marcus, “Who’s on either side of us?”

“Hastings and Forsythe.”

“We know Hastings will be up, wanna see if we can keep the old bat awake?”

“I have to be up for guard duty in a few hours.  So just once.  Make it good.”

 

As the clock struck two, Lista slipped out of the room and walked to the top of the stairs.  The rain had finally let up and there was a damp chill in the air.  Mr. Hastings appeared at the bottom of the stairs, and she went down to join him.

“When did the rain stop?”

“About midnight.  Did you get enough sleep?”

“Plenty.  I don’t usually sleep much.”

“So I gathered.  It’s all been pretty quiet here.  No one even left their rooms.  If you need me, give a yell.”

“Will do.”

With that, the former major set off to bed.  Lista noticed that he left his door open a crack.  She assumed it was to better hear her should she yell for him.  She walked the first floor and checked the doors and windows.  Once she was satisfied that all was secure, she went back up the stairs, and over to a window on the second floor hallway. The sky had cleared for the most part, and a nearly full moon lit up the woods behind the house.  “Enough light to search the grounds now” she thought, and slid the widow open. 

Stepping out into the night air, she closed the window behind her and swooped down to the ground, stopping just inches above it.  This storm had been a hard one.  Even in the bright moonlight, it was nearly impossible to find the tracks she knew they had made on their earlier search of the grounds.  She moved over to the kitchen to examine the ground there and found tracks.  Two sets of them.  From the looks of them they were wearing combat boots of some sort.  Even more unusual was the fact that each set seemed to be offset from the direction of travel.  One set seemed to have both feet pointing to the right, and the other to the left.  She made a note to ask Hastings about it.  That brought up a second question though.  If the … .

“Lisa!  What the hell?” came a whispered shout.  The voice was that of Marcus.  He was leaning out the window, his mouth open and his eyes focused on her hovering face first about an inch above the ground.

She flew up to the window and motioned for him to step aside so she could climb in.  Once inside, she looked him the eye for a moment, then looked down at the floor and said, “I guess we need to talk, huh?”

Marcus’ mind went through a number of different thoughts in rapid order.  Shock, confusion, and anger topped the list, but in the end he simply nodded absently.

“We should go to the sitting room.  Come on, we’ll talk as we go.  First of all, my name probably isn’t Lisa Monet.  I mean it might be, but the odds are really against it.  I don’t really know what my name is.  That story I told at dinner is true.  I woke up in a motel room about 9 months ago.  From what I could tell I hadn’t been alone, and I had no memory at all.  I talked to the guy that checked us in and he said I was the one that got the room and that I sure didn’t seem to be putting up a fight about it.  I thought there was a good chance that I was a prostitute, so I took the name, Lisa Monet.  Or if you do it backwards, Monet, Lisa, like Mona Lisa.  It’s a painted lady joke, see?  Screw you, it was funny to me.”

They arrived in the sitting room where she took a seat on the hearth and poked randomly at the fire with a poker while continuing her tale.

“Anyway, I went out and found a job.  It turned out that it was really easy, because people tend to help me all the time.  I think it’s something I give off, like an aura or something.  I think that’s why people tend to trust me more than they should, too.  Anyway, I get hired by this ad agency because as long I do the suggesting, people like the ideas a little better.  Then one day, the boss decides it was slow enough to go to this team building, positive mental attitude, seminar thing.  Something clicked in my head while I was there.  We all went out drinking after that, and while I was at the bar, my ‘smoldering gaze’ started a fire and burned up three of the booths.  No one else knew it was me, but it freaked me out in a big way.  I started working on a way to control it and after a while I found I could shoot ice.  I looked into the hero thing, and the hours seemed to suit me, so I registered.  I’m known as ‘Lista’ when I’m in costume.  It’s Spanish for ‘ready’ which another little painted lady joke you probably won’t think is funny.”

She looked at him for a moment as he stood in the firelight.  He seemed stunned and speechless as he stared into the fire.

“Hey, do you need to yell or anything?”

“Actually, no.  Odd as it sounds, I think it’s sort of cool.  It also explains a lot.  I guess I really don’t need to worry about you running around by yourself then?”

“Not here.”

“Wait!  Stop!  Look there, in the fire!”

She looked down and saw some burnt bits of paper that had been hidden by the logs until she started poking them.  Without a word, she blew a cone of frosty breath into the fireplace.  As the heat melted the frost, the wood became damp and the fire was quenched.  Once it was safe, she began sorting through the ashes for other scraps of paper.

“What is it,” asked Marcus.

“Honestly, I’m not sure.  I can only make out a few words, and none of them seem to make any sense alone.  Wait, here’s something.  It’s a report of some kind.  I think this says ‘wire taps’.  Here’s one with yesterday’s date on it.”

“Is it possible that that’s the report you read earlier?”

“Maybe.  Crap!  Kitchen.”  She hurried off across the house, gliding silently through the air across the entryway to the dining room and into the kitchen.

She arrived to find the freezer still locked and everything in order.

“Hey, are you still any good at breaking into things?” she asked.

“You mean can I pick the lock?  No.  I was never the lock picking type.  Now, if we had a soda can and some scissors, I could make a shim that could be used to open the padlock.”

“What would that look like?” she asked as she reached into the trash.

“Basically a little fold of aluminum with a curved part in the middle.  You slip it down beside the round part on the… lock.”  His words tapered as he saw that she was holding up a used example of the exact thing he’d just described.

“Like this?”

“Exactly like that.”

“It looks like there’s blood on it.”

“Probably.  It only takes about a minute to make one with a little practice, but cuts are really common.”

“Search the drawers for a sandwich bag, will ya?”

Marcus found some plastic bags, and she slid the little metal object into it and sealed it shut.  “So, what’s the plan?”

“Pop the lock.  We need to see if anything has been moved since we put him in there.”

Marcus found a soda can and began working on the shim.  He wasn’t fast, but he was very precise and careful.  After a few minutes he said he was ready, and slipped the little metal object into the body of the lock.  After wiggling and sliding it around a few times, the lock popped open.  He stood outside the freezer to watch the door while Lista went inside to look around.

The body was very much as she remembered it, but more interestingly, the files were still there as well.  All of them.

“They’re all still here.  I can’t see anything that’s been changed.  Wait.  Nope.  YES!”

“Found something then?”

“He was rolled recently.  Onto his side.  His hip is damp.”

“It should be, shouldn’t it?  He’s a freezer with no power.  Stuff’s bout to melt.”

Yeah, but it’s only one side, and there’s not that much water to absorb right here.  We actually put him on some scraps of cardboard.  He’s been rolled over to his right side.  Probably far enough to reach both back pockets.  His wallet’s still here.  HA!  It’s been searched.  There’s a blood smear on it.  I wonder they were after.”

“Or if they even found it.”

“True.  I’m guessing they did though.  It doesn’t look like his sweater was pulled up to search his shirt pocket, so whoever it was stopped searching.”

“You didn’t expect to still find them at it, did you?”

“Huh, no.  Never mind.  It’s something a friend said once.”

“And our next move would be?”

“Beats me.  This is where we need Mourning.”

“It’s only a couple of hours off.”

“No, Mourning Angel.  With a ‘u’.  She’s a friend and another hero.  She’s got this whole Sherlock Holmes thing going on in her head all the time.  I think all she did as a kid was to play with fire and read.  She’d be a huge help now.  She’d probably even know who searched him.”

“Mind if I have a crack at it then?  I say we go back to sleep, well I do.  Then we bring this whole thing to light in the morning at breakfast.”

“Good enough, I guess.”

With that, Lista watched Marcus climb the stairs, and then returned to the sitting room to relight the fire with a few waves of her hand.  She spent the next few hours thinking about what the night had handed her.

*     *    *

TO CHAPTER 6.4 >





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