Two weeks suspension and a soon to be set disciplinary hearing. Apparently that’s an appropriate discipline for letting such an important subject escape custody and get shot.
He was officially off-duty, but it niggled at him. He tried to sleep, but all he could do was run through the events to try make sense of them. He tried to work on a case but all he could think about was why. What had that girl done? It haunted him, seeing a kid that desperate. The vision of her falling out that window, the shot, her falling off that bridge… He couldn’t just carry on without finding out more.
He was back at the office on the pretext of returning some data-cards he’d checked out. It got him access to the computers and that’s what mattered.
There was no escaping the fact that the girl was dead because of him. He’d taken a life before, twice. Once, as a young officer. He was fired up, trigger happy. But it had been an easy decision; a guy with a gun taking aim at his old partner. How much more clear-cut could it get? He’d not lost sleep over it. Not until he’d grown older anyway…
The second time was much the same on the surface. Eerily similar in fact, something he often reflected on. He was older though, more mature, and took life with a pinch less youthful adrenaline. But it couldn’t have been an easier moral decision. A friend or a criminal. A life to save a life, it was just a matter of value. Crude, but when it came down to it you had to put a value on each life and follow what the scales said.
The gun was a toy. A fake. Not even a good one, but he’d like to see someone else tell the difference at ten meters in a rainstorm with seconds to make the call. By all accounts he’d followed protocol, his partner thanked him. He’d have done the same thing.
But it left a bitter taste that he’d never managed to shake.
After that moment he’d focused his career on the detective side of police work. It was his last year in uniform. He’d been trying to avoid all that.
But here he was, blood on his hands. There must have been a reason damn it! His superiors had made him hunt down and kill a child. There must be a justification behind it… She had no gun, fake or otherwise. How could she have been a threat to anybody?
He couldn’t resist pushing a little, but all he’d met were brick walls. None of his superiors were willing to even talk to him. They were concentrating on the clean-up operation.
Arthur got the impression none of them knew any more than he did. If he was going to find out about this he was going to have to start poking at the beast that is the Specials. You heard rumours about what happened to people who looked too close at them.
Or he could take a look at the girl.
He opened the database browser and typed in the name: Alexis Loch.
Blank, pretty much. No misdemeanours or crimes recorded except for one open case. He had a quick look but it was pretty trivial, a fight at school. He bookmarked it for future reading – but it certainly didn’t warrant whatever the hell had happened, and it was too recent. The morning that she died.
He scanned down the details.
Mother: Jasmine Loch
There was nothing, no criminal past, no markers or flags that she was involved in any crimes at all – almost too clean for a kid her age.
Arthur leaned back and ran through the series of events of the day. It didn’t make a lot of sense, he’d booked her as a witness a week before. She was in the database. If not the police specific one she was in the school’s, the citizen database had a basic entry. She was hardly a ghost that had only just hit the system.
So what had been the catalyst? They only came knocking when the DNA had been processed. That must be it. Either she’d been in custody and given a fake name, or she’d never been caught and left her DNA somewhere, a crime scene? What the hell kind of crime warranted that kind of response? He’d seen murderers chased with less vigour, and certainly not by Special Branch.
DNA… Maybe it wasn’t her at all, maybe it was her family.
He clicked on the mother.
The list exploded in a mass of petty criminal history, almost all older than 12 or 13 years. He scrolled through it: petty theft, a few cases of prostitution, a lot of public intoxication, even some assault and vandalism. In all, she had everything.
It was pretty impressive considering she lived in the island which, paradoxically had one of the best crime rates in the city – on paper. Few crimes that happened there ever reached the statistics, they were never reported. But then most petty thieves leave to find richer pickings.
By the rather large gap, at least she had the decency to give it up to look after her daughter.
It was as good a place to start as any. He grabbed his coat.
* * *
This place made the back of his neck prickle, like everyone could see through his normal clothes and see an MCPS uniform. He hadn’t even worn an MCPS uniform for ten years. It was unsettling and made his clothes itch.
As soon as you crossed the bridge things became denser. The buildings hunched together, leaning over the alleys, blocking what little sunlight could push through the smog like haze over the city. The reddening light of the setting sun was stained a deep orange by the chemical air.. The splash of artificial neon LED signs contrasted with the earthy natural light.
He was passing through a hub of activity. People were everywhere, and they all had something to sell, food, electronics. He spotted someone with a few washing-machines – just at the side of the road. The worst were those selling their bodies. He had to turn away from the women boasting the best prices in the area, some of them did not look… old enough for that.
It wasn’t a battle he could win though, certainly not now. Anyway he was suspended right?
Things got quieter as the sun lowered past the buildings. He was clearly entering an area that was more residential, with grim concrete flats squatting together. He checked the map on his phone. It was one of these.
It wasn’t common to find an up-to-date address for those that lived around here, but the girl’s mother was one of the surprisingly few who took advantage of the meager government support funds. For that, they required an accurate address.
A shattered latch hung from the door to the building. But from the layer of grime on the twisted metal that housed it, he determined it had happened years ago and never been repaired. With buildings like these, you had to wonder whether their occupants had anything worth stealing. What was the point in fixing it? He gave the door a light push, and it swung open.
His goal was on the third floor. The guts of the building were claustrophobic. Dim, flickering lights were struggling to cast their pathetic glow on the brown floors. He could forgive that at least. He didn’t want to see in any detail; they were disturbingly sticky each time he lifted a foot.
A spattering of brown aged blood greeted him on the second landing, pleasant. He tried not to look too closely.
As he approached the door to the third floor he wasn’t surprised to find it had been crudely kicked through, with splintered plastic scattering the landing. It was hard to work out exactly when, he should really have gotten here earlier. Would there be anything left that would give him any kind of lead?
Arthur ducked his head as he walked through the doorway. His head could easily clear the frame, but it gave the impression of being low. The door squealed as he pushed it wide.
He coughed when the air hit the back of his throat. Wow, this place stank of shit and piss. It smelled like something died in here, was it really where that girl lived?
He scanned the cramped two room flat. It was in a shockingly disgusting state, especially the bedroom, but there was little here that gave him any better idea of what had happened.
The only clues he had was the absence of anything, people included. There was no sign of a girl ever living here, he’d checked the few items of clothing and nothing would have fit someone so small. The Specials had already been here.
He cursed, a wasted trip. Stepping back through the doorway movement caught the corner of his eye.
It was too late for him to react, a blur swept in front of his vision and in a moment he felt a pull of something on his neck. A belt?
Choking, he was wrenched backwards inside the room, and then felt the cold edge of a blade pressed precisely against his jugular.