On The Shores Of A Methane Sea
I knew what he would do because it's what I would do.
I woke up to a notice that my retainer had been cancelled. Either I had been fired from the department, or someone who looked just like me had committed a murder. I called the office and switched on my feed, got the same news at the same time: Laura-686 had been murdered in her unit on the 7th level. Her husband, Paul-189, was the only suspect. The Captain wanted me to come in, said he'd sent a car to pick me up. It arrived before we hung up.
I asked the officer driving me, a Micheal, what he knew. The officer was polite but professional and he wouldn't tell me a thing. The new Prime Minister was a Michael and they had a trend towards haughtiness; with a Michael as PM the whole line would be acting like everyone else worked for them.
The car soared out of the residential towers and headed downspin to the Civil Responsibility building which fought to keep from being smothered by the towering financial and mining company skyscrapers. I ignored the looks and whispers as we descended down to the homicide office: everyone knew why I was there, it was all over the news. As we passed the downtime lounge, the vidwall had a big old file photo of someone else with my face. Paul-189 was older than me and had piercings in his nose and lips. His hair was long on one side and buzzed all the way down on the other. In this mugshot, he had a busted lip and a black eye.
I stopped and stared at the old, loser, punk version of myself. No matter how many times you run into someone on the same line as you, it was always a little weird. It was especially strange to know this version of yourself, this whole person who possessed your DNA and character, had committed a crime. You tell yourself you would never do whatever they had done, but then, you never knew. Maybe this Paul had thought he'd never offend, too. Maybe he'd even been a hunter, like me.
Captain Warren-282 didn't stand when I walked in, he started explaining the case immediately. Warrens were by-the-book and straight to business. They also tended towards substance abuse more easily than the other lines. I knew this because of my training and experience, but everyone knew one or two Warrens who were fun in their teens and twenties and a disgrace in their forties and fifties. Warrens tended to die early of organ failure and in poverty. If he was able to hold onto his Captain's pension, 282 would likely avoid the poverty, but he was pushing fifty and had the red, veiny nose of a drinker.
"We're sure it's this one?" I asked, taking the offered drink and gesturing to the mugshot I'd seen earlier in the lounge, now static on the Captain's wall.
"Neighbours heard them arguing, then a struggle, then a loud bang and this idiot took off right away. Witnesses were a Ryan and a Marni so you know the info is good. He's got a history of violence, especially with other Lauras."
The image changed to a crime scene shot of the body. Laura-686 was on her back next to an overturned table, a lamp crusted in blood was still lit and plugged in next to her head, which leaked blood and tissue like a spilled garbage can. Her legs were off to one side with knees pressed together, arms straight out in a T: she hadn't tried to break her fall and was probably dead before she hit the ground. She was wearing a tacky sweater with ducks on it. I winced: my Laura had loved that sweater too.
"Check the usual spots already?" Pauls loved expensive coffee and cocktails, it was likely this one had a few local haunts.
"Uniforms are in the area but nothing has turned up, otherwise we wouldn't need you." I ignore the jab, disguised as all-business. In a city with a strictly-controlled population, murder is the highest offense, and even people like me who kill for the state are hated.
"We found this in the apartment."
The image changed to the inside of a room but I had to refocus for a moment to work out what I was seeing. The wallpaper was a jumbled and random mess. The flash from the IS tech had flattened the image so it was hard to wrap my head around at first, then it hit me all at once: the wallpaper was actually dozens of charcoal drawings on 8x10 paper, taped to the walls with regular yellow masking. I zoomed in, hoping the resolution would be high enough to make out any details. It was, barely: I could discern a circular motif to each image, faces and eyes and mouths made of concentric circles.
"A regular creative type, our Paul."
Artistic deviancy wasn't illegal, but it would hurt your chances of getting a job outside of entertainment or marketing. Pauls weren't supposed to work in those fields, though it was an open secret that we had artistic inclinations. Society tolerated Pauls who sketched, as long as they did it in their own homes. I myself had a sketchbook, but it was full of line-perfect architectural drawings and anatomical outlines, nothing like the free-form chaos I was seeing on the screen. What I did was an aberration, to be sure, but nothing that set off alarm bells like this. That our suspect Paul was a deviant would make him harder to track, less predictable, and if the media caught on they would blow the case way out of proportion. The Ministers were always looking for ways to reinforce the old laws.
"What's that in the middle of the room?" I ask, focusing on some kind of object on a small plinth.
"No idea, some kind of sculpture, we've got a recreation in the 3d lab if you want to take a look."
I nodded, finished my drink, got up.
"Timeline?" I asked, effectively ending the conversation.
"4 hours. You've got time but watch this one: he worked in the docks and was busted for smuggling many times. Likely he's got a way off-world."
"I'll get him."
"Standard rate plus a bonus for every hour less 48." The image had flipped back to the body of the Laura, his Laura: Laura-686. "This gonna be a problem?"
I stared at her body for a while. Maybe too long.
"No," I said.
The Investigative Services techs had used geometric cameras to make a painstaking 3d model of the sculpture in Paul-686's art room. It floated with weightless artifice in the centre of the circular projection room at the far end of the lab. It was made of discarded metal and bits of garbage, a twisted structure wrapped in wire and something that looked like hair. I found looking at it unpleasant and a few times looked down to write something in my notes to distract my eyes. It told me nothing about Paul-189 other than he was a deviant, a rampant creative, and his Laura had allowed him to explore this side of his personality, either through curiosity or submission or both, which was a trait of the line.
One of the bits of steel was stamped with the logo of a construction company, Moonrise, and I filed that away for later. Maybe my Paul worked there, or knew someone who did, or maybe they had a site near his apartment. On my way out, something about the hair caught my eye. At first I thought it was all black, like mine, but some of the coils were auburn, almost golden. He had used her hair in the sculpture.
Moonrise did have a construction site near their apartment, we flew over it on the way to the rooftop landing pad. I told the Micheal I'd want to check it out later and he nodded but didn't speak. He'd left his sunglasses on the whole trip.
The officer guarding the apartment was a Paul and we talked about baseball for a moment before I entered the unit. It smelled of food waste and vanilla perfume and the nostalgic smell was overwhelming at first. It was exactly the same smell as my old place with my ex-wife. I had experienced this before, with other Pauls and other Lauras, and it was always an unusual feeling. Like a memory that had been unpleasant at the time but still made you smile. Next to the door was a key bowl that only she used, a small mat for boots and shoes caked in mud, and a coat rack with only one coat hanging from it: a yellow woman's windbreaker. I bent down and inspected the mud on the mat. It was gray and gritty when rubbed between my fingers, like clay. I pushed deeper into the apartment and there came three smells piled on top of one another. They hit me in waves: the musty smell of sun-bleached dust, a chemical approximation of cinnamon rolls that brought back memories of weekend afternoons on the couch in our socks and sweaters, and the copper tint of blood.
She was lying in front of the couch, feet coiled beneath her almost like she was at prayer. She had on grey sweatpants and white socks with stains on the bottom, one of the socks was off and I noted a tiny silver ring pinching her baby toe. Hazel eyes, the same colour and with the same specks of brown that every Laura had, everywhere, the same eyes that had peeked at me over the lip of a cocktail list and sparkled in the moonlight, that swelled with tears when she got angry and which made her even angrier, those eyes whose accusatory guilt was burned into me as I walked out for the last time. This pair of hazel eyes stared emptily at the mildewed ceiling and were barely spared from the ruin of the rest of her head, which had been scattered across the cheap rug by a cruel and selfish son of a bitch named Paul, who had finally acted on my darkest, most shameful impulse.
The IS tech, a Carmen, had apparently finished her work and was leaning against the wall nearest the tv when I entered. She straightened up as I came in, giving me the usual mix of recognition, respect, pity, and mild suspicion that I always got at crime scenes. Even though this Carmen knew, as we all know, there was another Carmen out there who would come after her if she committed a capital crime, hunters were always met with that same mix of judgements from those blessed to not be the targets of their twins' investigations.
"Paul-404." I announced as I came in, trying to focus on the scene, my number a formality that would hopefully remind this IS tech I wasn't responsible for this and spare me the check-in.
"From where does the sunlight rise if not from the horizon?" She asked me the code phrase that would prove I was who I said I was, and not the perpetrator come back in a hunter's coat to ambush his own investigator or destroy evidence.
I kept my attention on the crime scene so she wouldn't see my annoyance at being asked to verify. "It rises from us all." I responded dutifully and she, satisfied, took another step toward me and Laura's body.
"Blunt force trauma to the head, obviously, no other relevant wounds. Looks like it was just one quick smack and down she went. Weapon is almost certainly that lamp over there. He didn't bother to unplug it before he went after her: the cord is frayed near the wall."
"Recent wounds?" I asked.
"Bruising on the hips, upper arms, and neck -- common signs of domestic violence. I'll have to take the body in to check for fractures and things. Her medicals have not been run yet but…"
"I'll check for prior complaints." I had made a circuit of the body and now bent over to check the hands for defensive wounds.
"Nothing under the nails but the palms are raw, maybe she slapped him a few times."
"That would definitely have pissed him off." I noted absently and Carmen may have sniffed at that. A flash of a memory, when I got too aggressive one night after some drinks. Pain on my cheek, finding her in the shower later, curled up on the floor of the tub.
"He got an email this morning saying he'd been laid off from the construction site down below, maybe they had a fight about it." She said, gesturing to the computer in the corner.
I'd moved up to her scalp, which was a ruined mess above her hairline, but her face had been left mostly untouched. I tried to think of her like the rubber dummies they used in training, all featureless but still vaguely human-looking. It never worked. I had worked seventeen murders of this line, all committed by my twin -- an abnormally high number of repetitions, the highest of all the lines except for Germaine, who had been mostly discontinued due to his propensity for violence and was now found only in pacification and incarceration units.
As I tried to focus on the details of the crime, the violence, my eyes kept flicking down to Laura's face, memories overlapping of this Laura, before me now, and times when my Laura, my ex-wife, had been lying beneath me, in bed, on the carpet, on the grass. Other crime scenes intruded as well. Laura as brunette, as a redhead, hair short and hair long. A nose piercing, eyebrows done up, lip coloured and not. Memory layering was common in my job, a sort of murder deja vu, details piling up on details until you couldn't see what was really in front of you. I had to focus or they'd pull me off the desk and I'd have to find a new job. Probably working construction like Paul-189, growing resentful and frustrated, his old freedom and power stripped away day by day. Drinking, staying out late, bringing his rage home to his wife and lashing out at her until one day he takes it too far and does this.
He. I meant me. I would do that. Wouldn't I?
"Should I leave you two alone?" Carmen asked, her sardonic tone covering up a hint of suspicion.
It snapped me out of it. I pulled my hand back, too quickly-- I'd been stroking the corpse's hair. "Her hair's been cut."
Carmen leaned over and I could smell something pleasant on her skin. It made me feel guilty.
"Huh, why would he do that?"
"It's for the sculpture."
She shot me another accusatory look, "You mean that abomination in the closet?"
I straightened up. Laura's hair had been hacked away in places, away from the ruin of her skull. I bet if they checked, there would be little leavings in the carpet under her head—because he'd done it after she'd fallen to the floor.
I started for the closet, then hesitated. I didn't want to look in there. I told myself it was because the 3d model at the station could tell me everything I needed to know, but the truth was that I was scared to look in there, like if I did I would be peering into my own dark heart, seeing something I knew was inside me, knew I was capable of but was ashamed of admitting to myself. Funny I didn't feel that way looking at the corpse behind me. That was something else. As awful as it sounds, Laura's muder belong as much to Laura as it does to Paul. It's not on me to take repsonsibility for her murder, only to bring the same fate to the man that had done it. Whatever was in that closet, though, had the potential to be mine as much as it was his.
I went for the computer instead, booted it up.
"Password is…" Carmen began, but I was already typing it in, "Right. Do you need me for anything else, or…?"
"If you're done you can go."
"Right." She said, one last time, and I heard her whispering something to the officer at the door.
His background image was of the Cauncan Mountains, shot from the inside of a tent so it was framed on either side by a yellow zipper. The picture had been taken at dawn, and the dark purple sky was beginning to lighten into the whitish teal of our distant dwarf star. At the bottom of the image were two pairs of feet in wooly grey socks, one larger than the other, entwined in an embrace. I had never been up to the mountains but had always wanted to go. The desire to be away from the city, to take 'difficult' vacations in challenging locations, was one of the things that made Pauls and Lauras compatible. My Laura and I had gone diving in the methane ocean outside the dome, swimming with the strange luminescent rays that lived there in massive herds, the silvery liquid methane brilliant even in the perpetual violet twilight of our sky.
True to Carmen's word was a layoff notice at the top of his inbox. He'd read it only once. He must have been expecting something like this. The reason for termination was 'lack of jobs' but I suspected that was a lie. From here, I could hear the sounds of a bustling job site, overlapping machinery and distant voices. It was something to ask about once I went down there.
The rest of his email wasn't especially illuminating. He was good at keeping things clean, most of his messages had been not just archived but deleted. He didn't seem to use his computer much at all, in fact, and I wondered if Laura had access to it as well. I'd have to get IS to break in for me, Lauras tended to be privacy hounds and her password was probably some random string that she'd had generated for her and memorised.
I should have logged off then. I was supposed to--laws allowed hunters to look at recent correspondence and that's all. I needed special permission to go deeper, it wasn't hard to get but I had to provide a justification. I couldn't really justify looking at his photos, not this early in the investigation, but something in my guts tugged at me. I checked over my shoulder to confirm the Carmen was gone and dove into his albums.
Landscapes, food, a few selfies with his Laura. Lots of shots of the docks, the methane ocean glittering beyond the pressure doors. Fleeting glimpses of the moons shot through the girders of the dome. Many pictures of the mountains, the weird fungal cactuses, one of him, naked, shot from a great distance, leaning against a thin tree while azure ribbons swayed in the sky. His nakedness made me blush, oddly, and brought goosebumps to my arms. There was something on his back: a dark spot on his shoulder blade, probably a tattoo. I tried to zoom in but he was too far and the light was too low. I zoomed out and back to the tile pattern of the album. At the bottom of the list, peeking out from the top of the task bar, was the unmistakable colour of naked flesh under low light, a whole row of them from weeks back.
I felt heat in my cheeks and a rising in my chest. I checked the door again, then scrolled down. Dozens of pictures of the deepest intimacy, all from the same night, far more than all the other days combined, at least so far. There she was, Laura, our Laura, the hidden exhibitionist, who loved to be photographed and filmed. I felt a strange and intoxicating mix of shame and excitement. I had seen these before, not exactly, but in similar poses and positions. Paul-186 and my's sexual proclivities seemed to be on a similar level. I kept scrolling, moving backwards through the evening, as she stripped in reverse and ended up back in her simple cotton dress, a glass of wine in her hand, looking down the barrel of the lens with a mix of amusement, annoyance, and lust. I blew that one up to full screen and zoomed right into her eyes. I had seen that look so many times before. I may not ever see it again, except frozen, like this.
I felt a prickling in my back and turned. Laura's corpse was there, of course it was, lying where she had been killed on the frayed and tacky carpet. Her hazel eyes were staring straight up, watching me.
"What am I doing?" I said in a breathless whisper and closed the photo. I had come to the bottom of the pictures of that night and beneath them were images of some kind of party, a work party maybe, big group shots slightly out of focus but some faces had been cleaned up with a photo enhancer. They were all photos of other Pauls. I dug deeper, there were lots of shots like this, shots of groups from park benches around the city. All had the faces enhanced. I checked the file structure on one photo and found a list of folders organised by location. One said "Police Station." I opened it. It was full of ID photos, blank faced Pauls working in all departments, circled by a holographic ring that proved their authenticity. I found mine easily.
I turned the computer off and stood up. I knew where I had to go next. The closet, the weird wallpaper, I knew now that the drawings hadn't been from imagination, but from reference.
Inside, the room was cold and smelled like stone and concrete. There was a drain in the middle of the floor, under the sculpture, and one bare bulb that swung freely when I pulled the cord. The pictures were there, scrawled in black charcoal on rough paper. I looked closer and the sheets of paper were all documents: shipping manifests, bills of lading, inventories, power tool manuals -- things he had taken from his various jobs. I had been right before, the drawings were all close ups of faces, mostly eyes, and they were all mine. They were all drawings of our eyes, the eyes of all the Pauls he had found on public sites and enhanced in crowds. The pictures weren't just stuck to the wall, though, they were piled up on top of each other, layers and layers, like flyers on a power pole, four or five layers deep in some places, so parts of the room seemed smaller and tighter than they really were. As I moved around the room, my face pressed close to the wall, I bumped into the sculpture and gave it a quick glance. I got an idea and walked out of the closet, leaving the door open. I stepped over Laura's body and got as far from the closet door as I could. The sculpture was starting to take shape. I sat on the couch and was finally able to see it for what it was.
It was an eyeball. It was Paul's eye, my eye, with Laura's hair twisted around it to form the brown of the iris. Sitting on the couch, above the corpse of a woman who looked like everyone I had ever loved, I stared at myself and begged him to see.
Moonrise construction was busy, full of noise and light, the harsh beams of the work lights and the falling sparks of welding. They had started to erect the concrete pillars of the first floor and I felt like I was walking through the mouth of a huge shark, rows upon rows of teeth lined up for the meal.
The foreman was a Warren who didn't bother containing his drinking problem like my captain did. He had the obvious bulge of a flask in the back pocket of his thick work pants that he pulled from often. The office was a rectangular storage container with wooden stairs bolted on and a makeshift door carved into the broadside. The inside reeked of cigarettes and ozone and dirt. The same gritty clay I had found on the shoe mat in the apartment was everywhere, in foot and handprints and splashed on the clothes of everyone who worked the site.
"I fired him yesterday." Warren said, sitting in a ruined old armchair behind a desk that was just a piece of plywood on top of two barrels. There wasn't anywhere for me to sit so I stood.
"I saw the notice. Do you have a copy?"
"Of course. We do things right here, never had an accident." He was nodding when he said that, though he wouldn't look at me. Warrens tended to exaggerate their successes and had difficulty accepting blame.
"I'm not here to inspect your record." I said, pretending to look at the blueprints taped to the walls but actually gauging how far I could push this one.
A big part of our training was in learning how to deal with each line. Cops, psychiatrists, teachers, and Ministers are the only citizens who get access to the original social programming files. Everyone else has to make do on anecdote and experience. With Micheals, you appealed to their pride. Ryans wanted to be in on the secret. Carmens thought they were better than everyone and needed to be placated and played up to. Lauras were afraid of getting in trouble and would bend if you threatened them. Pauls always thought they were right.
Warrens had an inferiority complex. They made great middle managers and rarely rose above the responsibility of a dozen or so people. For this Warren to be running such a big operation meant he was either more capable than usual, or very lucky. It also probably meant that, deep down, he didn't really think he deserved the job. I could use that.
"How long did 186 work for you?" Depersonalized the offender, let Warren think you respect him.
"Only a few months. All his references were from the docks, easy stuff, load lifting. He had a welding degree from our school, that's how he got referred to me."
"It wasn't your choice to hire him?" Remind him he's not in charge.
He bristled. "Sure it was. Everyone who works on that site goes through me, and I have a nose for good workers."
"Just not good people." Direct, focused jab. I had my back to him when I said that, still pretending to be interested in the papers on the walls. I did get something useful out of being dismissive: the tape used on the wall was the same yellow masking 186 had used in his art room.
"He was never a problem." He's getting defensive. Good.
"So why'd you let him go?"
"On a site this size? All of a sudden? There was enough work a few months ago."
He hesitated. I played a hunch, striding back to the desk in three steps and looming over him, my hands in my pockets, casual as can be.
"I don't care that you're cutting corners by mixing your concrete with clay- I don't work for your boss and I don't care that you're pocketing the bonus you get for being under budget. I'm a murder police, a hunter, and your employee killed his wife the same night you laid him off."
His face went white at the mention of cutting the concrete, then whiter still at the bonus situation, and when I allude that he could be complicit in a murder, ludicrous though that was, he looked like he might puke right there. My hands stayed in my pockets and my collar was up; with the light behind me, I must have looked ten feet tall, like a judge at the bench. I knew what I was doing.
"He was stealing…"
"Wire and steel beams," I cut him off, "I know that already. What was he doing to the site?" Pause for emphasis, "You know what I mean."
He had to haul himself up to get at the flask that was still in his back pocket. He took a drink from it and leaned forward so his forearms rested on his desk. He stared off into space and took a deep, sour smelling breath.
We rode an elevator down to the foundations where the only light was from the work lamps powered by yellow and orange cables that snaked through the cold concrete like veins. Warren shooed a crew out of a square room and waited until we heard the elevator door shut and the car rise back up to the surface. Warren led me to a concrete wall that looked fitted and bare at first glance.
"Down there." He said when he saw my confusion, he grinned and popped a cinder block quartet out of the wall, making a hole big enough to climb through.
"There's where we found it." He said, pointing.
I got down on my knees, the clay staining my coat too, and crawled into the hole. It was a risk, turning my back on him: Warrens who offend tend to commit crimes to cover up other crimes, and if he really thought I was going to ring him in as an accessory he might take the opportunity to knock me out and stuff me into the foundation. I made it all the way into the hole, no trauma. It was pitch dark and I stood slowly to not bang my head. I popped on a flashlight and was faced with a blinding flash that screwed up my eyes. I squinted until they cleared and could make out what I was seeing: the wall facing me wasn't concrete at all but made up of many steel beams, like the ones in the sculpture, arrayed vertically against the wall. They had been burnished and polished so bright they burned my flashlight beam back at me. I stood in the corner so I could shine the light from an angle to better make out the details.
It was Laura's face, scraped into the steel by hand, likely by some kind of metal tool. It was the same abstraction as the drawings in the apartment, the eyes too big but also irregularly shaped, the nose bent at an angle, the mouth a thin line with lips too full. I moved laterally from one corner to the next, keeping the beam on the image, and the face shifted as I did. There were multiple reproductions of her face scratched into the steel over top of one another, each viewable from a different angle, different Lauras with different exaggerations like he had been experimenting with form on every one. As I stepped from the left side of the room to the right, the faces shifted through different Lauras like a lenticular hologram: smiling, laughing, exaggerated frowning, looking away, brushing her hair, getting serious, narrowing her eyes, grimacing, scowling. Her features changed, too, the cheekbones sharpening, the eyebrows lowering, the chin narrowing. At the far end of the room, I realized the image wasn't Laura anymore. It was me. Or him. Somehow he had created, carved and brushed into the steel, a shifting portrait that changed based on the angle it was viewed from. That went from Laura, through all her permutations, to me--to us--his own face blended forever with his wife and victim. The left eye was darker than the other, didn't reflect my flashlight beam as brightly. I reached for the iris and felt something silky beneath my fingertips. More hair.
I felt sick, and cold, and the darkness of the concrete cube became terribly oppressive. I reached back for the wall behind me but felt nothing and stumbled. I bent over to catch my breath but could feel that matched pair of eyes, our eyes, locked on me. I tried hard to keep my gaze away from it but it was addictive, a voyeuristic impulse that I had to follow. I looked again and realised the rendering of the Paul face was exact, perfect, almost medically detailed, like the self portraits I had hidden away in my workroom. It was also missing the nose rings and hipster haircut of Paul-186. It was clean shaven, and coiffed, and matched exactly the image of my ID card on the police website.
He knew that I would be coming here, that I would see this. He created an image of me that overlaid and contrasted perfectly with the cubist abstraction of his--our--wives. One dead, the other gone from my life forever. His dual obsessions blended together into one colossal image, his shame hidden away in the foundation of a building that would house countless other families, other couples, and probably dozens of other Pauls and Lauras.
I crawled out back into the harsh and sickly light of the construction site. Warren was sitting on a bucket of mortar, picking at his fingernails,
"Listen, if anyone finds out about that…"
"Cover that up and seal it." I said, standing, trying to recover that image of totemic power I had projected in his office but failing. I felt like throwing up and I must have looked it.
"...we'll both be fucked." He finished, with a hint of a cruel smile. Say one thing about Warrens, their self-preservation was on point.
The site had gotten me nothing except an existential headache. I wasn't sure what I had been expecting. Maybe something that would explain why Paul-186 would leave his job, head upstairs, and murder his wife. I knew better than that. I had to admit to myself that what I had gone looking for on the site was exactly what I had found: proof of the depth of his deviancy. A reassurance that the little anatomical drawings hidden away in my apartment weren't so bad after all. That I wasn't as far gone as I feared I was.
I passed through the gate to the construction site. My chauffeur was talking on his phone and leaning against the hood of his car.
"Anything?" He asked as I approached after dodging traffic.
"No." I looked up and down the streets, trying to spy a likely candidate for Paul-186's local hangout. "You can head on back to the office, if you want, I'm gonna stay on foot for a bit, get the lay of the neighborhood."
Michael arched an eyebrow. For one irritating second I was worried he would suddenly remember he was a cop and ask me questions, or worse insist on following me. I gave up pretending I wasn't watching for his reaction and returned his gaze, keeping my eyes low and tired to give him a feeling of superiority.
"Sure, great." He stood off the hood and headed for the driver side door. He called over the roof: "Call me if you want a pick-up."
"Will do." I answered with a superficial smile. Thanks for the offer, I thought dryly.
I was already heading up the street when the car purged and rose soundlessly into the air, the backblast blowing my coat around my legs. The area my Paul had lived in was gentrifying fast. He wouldn't have been able to afford his apartment much longer, especially once the condos he had been building went up across the street. I let myself indulge in cynicism for a minute by imagining this was all a play to get out of a bad housing situation: a bullet to the head is rent free, all you have to do is kill your wife.
I was thirsty and knew what I was looking for. Although my Paul was down on his luck and working a menial job, we weren't the kind of guys satisfied with cheap beer. 186 would have had a local coffee shop that had good espresso and made a decent latte, plus someplace he could get a halfway competent Old Fashioned. It didn't take long to find.
The place didn't have a name, just a neon pineapple over the door, and had probably jumped the gun on opening. It seemed a little too hip for a neighborhood full of low-income residential towers, hardware stores, and convenience markets. The door was open but the lights were on full, probably they wouldn't be expecting customers until later that night and were open for inventory. The woman behind the bar had a clipboard in her hand and seemed to be counting the bottles of spirits over her head.
"Be with you in a sec." She said as I sat at the bar.
"I'm surprised you're open." I said and she turned her head immediately, too quick, her eyes betraying her shock until she recognised the differences.
"Oh. How can I help you?" She asked, putting the clipboard down.
"Where is he?" I asked, laying my badge face-up on the bar.
"Haven't seen him since yesterday." She was a Linda, her eyes were tired and her voice harsh.
Lindas were hard workers who made bad decisions, usually ended up shacking up with Micheals and Ryans who treated them poorly. Pauls tended to the sympathetic. She lit a cigarette.
"Is it true what they're saying?" Blowing out the smoke.
"Head on up and take a look, tell the guy at the door you're a friend." I put my badge back in my coat pocket. "You know the way."
"We were friends. We are friends. He comes in here a lot."
"Yeah. The guys he works with aren't exactly cocktail people."
The place was nice. Copper bar and wallpaper in an oversized floral pattern. Good stuff on the bar and decent hooch on the rail. I'd sure like it here, maybe I'd come by sometime.
"Always alone." I said, knowing the answer but prompting.
"I saw her with him a few times. When he came alone he'd always sit at the bar, right where you are, but with her they'd take a booth at the back. He would apologise to me the next time he came in." She smiled at that, just a little, in the corner of her mouth.
"You ever meet outside of work?"
She crossed her arms,
"I went up to his place a few times, when she was out. We'd get high and listen to music." She tilted her head a bit to emphasize: "Nothing happened."
I nodded. I believed her. I'd almost had an affair with a Linda a few years back. Paul and Linda compatibility was based on shared unhappiness, not attraction to each other. Things must have not been bad enough on either end for them to make a mistake.
"He ever exhibit any deviant behaviour?
"I never had to cut him off or anything."
"You know what I mean."
I stared her down. She broke eye contact. I laid off.
"Mind if I check out that booth?"
"It's the one…"
"I know." Third from the door, not all the way at the back or too close to the stairs down. Facing the entrance.
The table was covered in writing. Different coloured markers. This wasn't quite deviancy but it was close, a way for the place to show how edgy it was but still compliant. I saw the Linda watching how I would react but I wasn't interested in making them lose their licence. I sat where he would have sat, looking at where his wife would have been facing him, sipping her cucumber fizz and pretending to enjoy herself. Nervous of the crowds, annoyed at how low the lighting was, not recognising the music. I felt myself getting irritated that she wasn't perfect, wasn't appreciating what I was trying to share with her. Tried to pretend this was fine, we didn't have to agree on everything, trying to make conversation. Ultimately, she'd go to the bathroom just for the walk and I'd…
I'd been running my thumb over a particular spot on the edge of the table. I looked down, and there was a quick, simple drawing of a woman's face. Not Laura. I looked up at the Linda behind the bar and the resemblance, though crude, was obvious. I ordered a drink.
"Come on in." I put my keys in the bowl by the door and hung my coat up.
Linda hung back, her purse in her hands, one foot behind the other, her toe tapping on the metal spacer in the doorway. I went to the back to get a bottle and some glasses. When I came back, she was sitting on the couch and chewing on her lip.
"Whisky okay?" I asked, placing the two tumblers down on a cheap coffee table I ordered online, and poured.
"Sure." She said over a bit of a laugh, "Thanks."
We drank and stared ahead. Warped and fuzzy blobs of us in the darkened tv screen.
"Nice place." She said, desperate for conversation.
"It's okay. The department puts me up. Right in the middle of the spokes, so I can get anywhere fast."
"Lots of cops around here?"
"I don't know."
She brought her glass to her lips and laughed into the scotch.
"This is so weird," She said, but she was smiling, "Your furniture is different but it's like, in the exact same spots."
"Oh yeah?" I looked around, seeing my own apartment for the first time.
She had drained her drink. She started to get up.
"Can I show you something?" I asked, getting up before she could.
She sat back and shrugged. She kept her glass in front of her face.
I walked over to the small, thin door tucked away off to the side of my apartment, next to a bookcase full of novels I'd never read. I used a wiry key to unlock my art studio. I turned on the light and stepped to the side so she could see from the couch, but she'd gotten up and followed me there and stood in the doorway with me. Inside were all my drawings of arms and legs and buildings and cars, taped to the walls, as perfect as I could make them. A small drafting table was in the centre of the room lit by a table lamp. A short bookcase housed reference materials and Learn To Draw workbooks.
She pushed past me and I let her, nervous: I had never let anyone in here before but this Linda just walked right in. Laura had never even glanced at the room. Our shared secret, like an affair. Linda browsed the drawings like she was in a gallery, bending over to inspect those near the floor and standing on tiptoes to get a closer look at the ones tucked up near the ceiling.
My heart was pounding. Not only had I brought a witness home and poured her a drink, but I was showing her my deviancy. I knew Pauls who had been arrested for this, let alone cops, let alone hunters. Instead of asking her to leave, I leaned into the doorway and watched her, aware that I hadn't had a woman in here since Laura left. Linda smelled of berries and bleach. Her denim jacket rode up when she crouched and exposed a pale lower back. White socks peaked out of torn up skate shoes and she brushed a lock a fried blonde hair behind a pierced ear. I took a drink.
"They're really good." She said as she stood and faced me. Before I could answer, she kissed me in the doorway and pushed me back into the living room. I tripped back onto the couch and she climbed onto my lap. My eyes were closed but I could see. I could see eyes scratched onto metal. I could see my eyes reflected in Laura's dead pupils. I could see her eye made in scraps from the yard wrapped with auburn hair. I opened my eyes and looked over Linda's shoulder into my drawing room and focused on a sketch of a man, naked and viewed from behind, every muscle perfect, a small, dark blurry tattoo over his right shoulder blade. He turned, his eye swollen black and lip busted open, hair short on one side and long on the other, a bloody wad of flesh leaking strands of hair in one hand, my gun in the other. He winked.
Linda's mouth was hovering an inch from mine. We breathed together and she slipped off my lap onto the couch next to me. We sat in silence for a minute, then she got up and left. I sat alone for a bit, then stood and walked to the art room and closed the door.
The docks. Before Moonrise, he'd worked at the docks. Captain Warren had said he'd probably have a way off-world there. The docks stretch across the vapour waves of the methane sea that roll azure and teal beneath an aubergine sky. The city grows underneath clusters of clear pressure domes, that are built ahead of time, then fill with urban sprawl like the fluid in blisters, but the docks are different. They crawl outside the dome in the noxious air of the asteroid--civilization scabbing over a toxic ocean.
Loading cranes slide up and down the length of the scab, pushing and pulling and lifting and dropping cargo containers the size of city blocks off of flat-topped cargo ships, some of which glide across the dense methane, others pressurized to dive beneath the toxic waves, still others with colossal fusion thrusters bolted onto the back of them to lift the ships away from the rock face so they can exploit the asteroid belt above.
The thin atmosphere muffles the sound of the busy dock, which otherwise would be a cacophony of hydraulic grinding, catastrophic banging, warning klaxons, and shouting workers. The lack of aural warnings is compensated for with lights of all shapes, colours, and intensities: green means go, red means stop, amber means caution, blue means slow down, blinking red means radioactivity, strobing white means military or government priority movement. Workers have earpieces that allow for communication, but also broadcast warning sounds and announcements dock-wide, or for their specific section. It's dangerous to be on the docks without one, but the riot of colour and distant noise is beautiful.
Paul-189 stood at the end of an unused loading crane. His back was to me. He was wearing a heavy work jacket & cargo pants and unlaced work boots drooped off his ankles. Without the earpiece, all the fury of the heavy machinery landed with weak thumps in my ears, like it was all far away and long ago.
I drew my gun and he turned to face me. I raised my weapon and stopped my advance twenty feet from where he stood at the edge of the crane. This machine stretched its neck far over the thick teal vapour of the methane sea, which boiled beneath us toxic and heavy.
"What do you draw?" He asks me, his voice barely crossing the distance.
I kept my gun up, but answered: "People. Bodies. Buildings and cars."
"Machines." He says with a sneer. "I used to think of people that way, too."
"Paul-189, you have violated Protocol One of the Working Order…"
"Have you ever been out to the hills? They're beautiful. They're everything you want them to be." He took a step towards me, my gun had been dropping but popped up to aim at his centre mass, "They're beautiful because they don't belong to us."
I am not allowed to ask about motive. That's rule number one: it doesn't matter why they did it--only that they did. Intention is irrelevant in a capital case. We are finite, we are precious, murder is murder.
"Murder is murder Paul-189." I said, right out of the rule book.
"She called me Peep." He laughs but the thin atmosphere swallows it whole, "Does she call you that? Do you have a Laura in your life?"
I swallow hard, "She's gone."
"So you're a killer, too. Well, obviously." He took another step towards me, "Did you look? What did you see?"
"Why do you draw eyes?"
"We are manufactured, we are assembled based on a plan written by men who abandoned us long ago. My eyes and your eyes are the same," He took another step towards me, "But we can choose what they see."
"I saw your murdered wife." Later, I would tell myself that I was losing patience with him but really I think I was losing patience with myself. "I saw what you did to a woman who trusted you."
He looked down at his boots, "I couldn't make her understand."
"Because she didn't want to." This time, I stepped towards him, "She didn't belong to you."
"Nothing does." He looked up at me. There were tears in his eyes that drifted off his face and floated away.
He took another step towards me, "Did you ever-"
I shot him.
He stumbled back and slipped off the edge of the crane. He tumbled end over end into the swirling gas, which bowed to accept his body, then folded back over him and wiped his passing away.
"They found the body. It got caught up in an eddy and was banging up against an outflow pipe." Warren was telling me this between bites of wet noodles in the front seat of his car. "Two shots--right in the chest--perfect as always 404. Quick, too."
"I clock 14 hours." I stank of methane and cordite--I left the passenger side door open and rain spattered my pant leg.
"Yeah, you've got a hell of a bonus coming! You can afford to take a trip. Maybe go offworld, or I hear the hills are beaut-"
"Get me something else as fast as you can." I said as I got up.
He chuckled, "I'll keep my eyes open."
I stepped out of the car and into the sulphur rain. Warren called to me from inside the car,
"He was a real sicko, our guy: Class-A Deviant. Even had a, what do you call it? A tattoo, on his back. It was-"
"A portrait of his wife." I said, "I have the same one."