Excerpt for The Case of the Copycat Killer by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



THE CHARGER CHRONICLES



Book 5 THE CASE OF THE COPYCAT KILLER


by


LEA TASSIE



Copyright 2017 Lea Tassie

Published by Lea Tassie at Smashwords


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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the

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dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.



CONTENTS


Chapter 1 Sudden death

Chapter 2 Moriarty

Chapter 3 Stonewalled

Chapter 4 Seeing things

Chapter 5 Strategizing

Chapter 6 Charger RT

Chapter 7 Super Pilot

Chapter 8 Copycatting

Chapter 9 A few answers

Chapter 10 Memories

Chapter 11 Revelations

Chapter 12 Stakeout

Chapter 13 Charger R/T wins

Chapter 14 Decisions

Chapter 15 Moriarty

About Lea Tassie

Also by Lea Tassie


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Mega thanks and a big wave to the friends who helped to make this novel better: Heidi and Rod, who were willing to die in the interests of fiction, Leanne Allen, Sharon King-Booker, and, most of all, to my science guy.

There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.


(Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I)


Chapter 1 Sudden death

Crimson drops of blood slid down the brick wall in the shadowed street, turning dark and viscous in the chilly night air of early March. Puddles of lurid red oozed across the cobblestones. The victim had been splattered everywhere, in pieces so small it was impossible to identify what they were. The forensic team, in the usual suits, masks, and booties, moved quickly to and fro beneath glaring lights, which contrasted sharply with the strange, dark shadows over the rest of the dimly lighted thoroughfare.

"Seems like gallons of blood out there." Lieutenant Lucie Bisbee of the New Denver constabulary, standing next to the crime scene tape, shivered and rubbed a finger over the silver bar on the shoulder epaulette of her navy uniform.

"The human body contains approximately five quarts. That's not a lot," Captain Jack Lantern replied. "Maybe more than one victim got wasted." He assumed Lucie was shivering because of the cold; he'd never seen her squeamish about blood.

"Jack the Ripper on steroids."

Captain Jack shrugged. Lucie went in for black humor. It grated on him a little now, but only because he was never happy in confined spaces like this narrow street.

A fleeting movement in the shadows on the right caught his eye, and he focused on a tiny wrought iron balcony on a building across the street. A man stood there, one gloved hand on the railing, watching the scene below. Jack squinted. Not surprising the locals would be curious about what happened on the street, but what intrigued him was the man's attire. Top hat, cane, black tails. The face was pale, reminding him of old, old movies about Dracula.

"Willis," Jack said to a passing cop, "track the guy up on that balcony. See if he saw anything. And find out what he's doing in the costume. Could be an actor, but the theaters closed three or four hours ago."

***

Dateline: March 21, 2170, New Denver Herald

Early yesterday morning, on Dorset Street of the church-owned enclave of New London, a brutally mangled human body was discovered by a passing cyclist and reported to police, who so far have refused to make any comment on the murder.


Captain Jack Lantern put down the newspaper and picked up his coffee. Of course, they hadn't made any comments. The body, and whatever clothes and identification it had been wearing, were so badly chewed up that Forensic hadn't yet found a name to attach to it all. They were working on the problem but he didn't expect to get any answers from the lab upstairs for another day or two. And he was in no hurry to offer any theories about method or motive. Not until he had all the facts.

Jack put the empty coffee mug on the desk, grabbed his well-worn tan cowboy hat off the filing cabinet and walked out into the main office area.

He stuck his head into his sidekick's office. "Annie, you coming?"

She erupted out of her chair, a trim woman with short, curly, red hair and fire in her big, blue eyes. "Don't call me that! It's Lieutenant Bisbee to you, Pumpkin!"

"Oh, temper, temper," was Jack's mild response. "Was that four-a.m. call yesterday too early for your delicate constitution?"

"It wasn't the hour; it was all the damn blood," she snapped.

Little Orphan Annie was always so neat, Jack thought, watching her shrug into her jacket. Unlike him, she paid attention to the rules and the dress code. If he cared to look, which he didn't, he'd probably see that her shoes were even freshly polished. He wore sneakers most of the time, so that he didn't have to bother with such petty details. He'd had to cut his black hair to regulation length, though. The Chief had said that wearing it in a single braid down his back was pushing his luck.

"Come on," Jack said. "Let's have another look at the murder scene. Forensics said they hosed it down and took away the crime tape."

They exited the downtown high-rise and walked a couple of blocks to the New London district. This replica of an ancient part of London, England had been created by the church nearly a hundred years before, as a reaction to the predominantly scientific and technological specialties of New Denver. The BOBS claimed that such buildings, which they said were without elevators or electricity, represented the ideal way of living.

"Fake horses!" Lucie muttered, as a horse-drawn carriage rattled past them.

"But real robots," Jack replied. So much for the BOBS hating technology. He suspected the buildings did have elevators, electricity, and every other convenience, though there was no way of telling from the outside. He hadn't had the opportunity to check the interiors; no crime had been committed in the area during his time on the force. The BOBS policed the area with their own deacons, so the Chief said. But perhaps this killing would open some doors for him.

"This used to be Larimer Square, way back before the war, and before the BOBS got hold of it," Lucie said. "The city fathers of the day set it up as sort of a museum to preserve the original nineteenth-century buildings."

She'd obviously been reading history again. That was her favorite subject, so she said, though she claimed to read anything she could get her hands on, when she had the time. Not him. The only time he bothered was when the text offered some kind of problem that would exercise his brain.

Lucie was talking about the Mahoud-Earth War, of course, which ended way back in 2033. Plenty of things had changed in the last hundred and forty years, including amazing experiments on life extension. But, at age forty, he didn't expect to benefit by it, and he dismissed all the excited speculation on the news services about humans achieving immortality. Give me some facts, he thought. Give me some facts and then I might believe it.

Jack glanced up, already feeling squeezed by the confines of the little street and the tall, narrow, brick buildings which opened directly onto it. Above these three and four-storied buildings loomed the sky-piercing spires of the enormous First Universal Church of the Brothers of Boundless Space. The church and its grounds covered a square city block on the edge of New London. The BOBS had gone all out to achieve historical authenticity; the exterior was built of granite blocks and designed in every detail to look like ancient European cathedrals.

The interior of the church, so he had heard, was sumptuous with gold, silver, jewels, satin, and paintings. He wouldn't mind having a look at what the BOBS considered appropriate decor, but he'd never been interested enough to make a point of it. Besides, if he stuck his nose inside the huge, carved, double doors of the imposing church, one of the Brothers would probably start bugging him to join. Not a chance! For one thing, he wasn't a joiner, and for another, the BOBS were apparently dead set against card-playing.

They arrived at the crime site. All the flayed bits of human anatomy were gone, along with the blood which had been splattered everywhere. A few pedestrians were wandering the street. Tourists, from the look of them. One of the few things he knew about the BOBS, aside from the fact that it was almost the only religion still extant, was that they ran guided tours of New London.

Lucie said, "Whoever offed the victim sure wanted him very dead. Or her."

"Might have been an accident," Jack said.

Lucie raised her eyebrows.

"What if it was a bomb? Could have been some fanatic intending to blow himself up and take a few other people with him. Maybe he triggered the bomb too early."

Lucie shook her head. "Nobody reported hearing a bomb going off."

"Yeah, but how do you explain the condition of the body? It would have taken hours for a man to hack a body into those little pieces, not to mention he'd have been covered in blood himself. This is supposed to be a quiet area at night, but it can't be that quiet. Somebody would have seen it."

Jack paced back and forth, scanning the crime area. Forensics rarely missed anything, but it could happen.

And they had missed something this time. There, by the wall, a glimmer of red caught his eye. He bent, picked it up with the tweezers he always carried for that purpose, and gave it a closer look.

Lucie was at his shoulder. "Soaked in blood. Might be a piece of bone. Or maybe kidney, but a lot smaller than bite-size."

Jack shook his head. "Take a closer look. That's not blood; it's nail polish."

"So it is!" She peered at his find. "Could be either fingernail or toenail. It was ripped off, though, not cut."

He took a glassine evidence envelope from his pocket and dropped the sliver of nail into it. "I have another idea about the killing. You must have read about the Hyborg, Charger. He could have torn a body into pieces like that. Think of his fangs and those swords he used. Think of the size of the man! Think of the Lycans that went everywhere with him."

"Jack, Charger was in the Mahoud-Earth War, which was a hundred and forty years ago! He must be long dead. Anyway, didn't the government get rid of all the Hyborgs and their Lycans?"

"That's what we were told," Jack said. "At least, that's what I read in history books when I was in school. But how do we know it's true? History books are usually written by conquerors who have clear ideas about what the unwashed populace should be told and what should be kept quiet."

Lucie shrugged. "We could never prove whether Charger is dead, one way or the other. But blaming a Hyborg sounds pretty far-fetched to me. From everything I've read, there just aren't any around anymore."

They continued pacing the area. A woman emerged from a small gift shop and stared at them for a moment before walking away. She no doubt knew about the murder and, since he and Lucie were in uniform, it probably looked like they were hoping for an inspiration to suddenly appear, for the answer to come floating down from the sky or up out of the cobblestones. But Jack liked to get a feeling for the crime scene, for how it would have looked and felt to someone there. While they walked, he thought about Charger.

Back in 2030, so the story went, Charger had been just plain Henry, a patriotic but autistic young man with an extraordinary talent for math. He'd joined up to fight the savage aliens attacking Earth, and volunteered for conversion into a Hyborg. Hyborgs were powerful, twice the size of the average man, with scaly armor, and so ugly that their mere appearance terrified most people. They had been programmed to kill aliens, but to help and protect humans. Therefore, aside from the fact that Charger was likely long dead, why would he attack a human?

However, no matter what Lucie thought, Charger and his Lycans would have been capable of destroying a body by shredding it. A bomb would have had the same effect. "Let's go back to the office," Jack said. "See if Forensics has any answers yet."

"I'll check on the Hyborg question," Lucie said, "even if the possibility is so remote it might as well be a fantasy."

"Good idea," Jack said. After all, when the impossibilities were eliminated, what was left had to be the truth. And Lucie would do a thorough job. She had to; her position was hanging by a thread. Not that there was anything wrong with either her or her work, but the department really didn't need the position he'd convinced the Chief to create.

They arrived back in the lobby of the high-rise office building and Jack pressed the button for the elevator. But the department would survive and so would Lucie. She was smart enough and desperate enough to make herself indispensable, what with a massive house mortgage hanging over her head and a crazy mother that New Denver's crowded nursing homes so far hadn't been able to accommodate.

Jack spent the next few hours reading through the reports of various officers involved in the New London investigation. He managed to refrain from nagging Forensics until early afternoon. His nagging did no good, anyway; Forensics was not yet ready to commit themselves to facts.

Frustrated, he went next door to Lucie's office. "Any luck on Charger?"

Lucie ran a hand through her auburn curls. "None. But there has to be some information out there, because I was being stonewalled."

"No kidding! You sure?"

"Listen, Jack, I know about stonewalling. My mother does it all the time. Won't answer questions, or answers with more questions. Mumbles, changes the subject."

He had to concede the point.

"Okay, if you don't have enough clout to get answers, I won't even bother trying. This is something the Chief needs to do."

He found Chief Adam Nevin in his office, and made his request.

"Jack, you're losing it," Nevin said.

"No, I'm just following up on a possibility. Can you say for sure all the Hyborgs are dead? After all, they were created by some pretty damn sophisticated technology. We don't know if it included greater longevity than normal for humans, but with what the researchers are coming up with these days, it certainly could have."

Nevin sighed. "I don't know squat about the Hyborgs."

"Well, can you find out? There seems to be a mystery here. Some kind of secret that nobody wants to reveal."

"Yeah, I'll find out." Chief Nevin straightened his middle-aged pudgy body and picked up a communicator. "Not because I think your idea is worth shit, but I'd kind of like to know about the Hyborgs myself. Lucie got me thinking about it."

"I know it's a long shot," Jack said, "but even if it's only remotely possible, I need to know."

"Understood." The Chief looked up at Jack. "When are you going to marry Lucie? The two of you would make a perfect couple. And you wouldn't have to live by yourself in that big old house."

It was Jack's turn to sigh. He didn't want to marry Lucie. He didn't want to marry anyone. He walked to the door, then turned back for a last word. "Wouldn't work. She breathes and I don't like anybody breathing in my space."

Adam Nevin snorted, then began pressing buttons on the communicator.

Satisfied, Jack put the battered cowboy hat back on and headed home to his equally battered old ranch house up in the hills west of New Denver. He ditched the uniform, poured himself a neat scotch, and relaxed in an over-stuffed chair in the glassed-in half of his veranda. As soon as the weather warmed up, he'd start using the open half, where he got fresh mountain air along with the view. It was his favorite part of the house. He could sit there and enjoy contemplating the vast landscape of mountains and plains with the wide sky above, and the lights of the city twinkling below. It helped him to focus, to clear his mind of trivia.

He leaned back in the threadbare chair, enjoying the silence. Visitors were rare; he didn't like having his train of thought interrupted, either.

It was Lucie's comment about Jack the Ripper that had made him think of Charger as the perp. "The Ripper" was a popular name for the unidentified serial killer generally believed to have been active in the poor areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. There'd been other nicknames, too. But it was highly unlikely that such a killer was involved with this case in New London. While it was true that Jack the Ripper had mutilated the bodies of his victims, he'd done so in a very mild way compared to what had happened in Dorset Street.

Charger, who had been acknowledged a hero in the Mahoud-Earth War, was probably too much of a long shot. Pretty damned unlikely that he could be alive after so many years, in spite of science. Particularly military science, which sat on a lot of things they didn't want to share with the general public. But Jack had been a cop for too long to dismiss wild possibilities without checking. He poured himself another scotch and returned to gaze at the city of lights on the plain below.

It wasn't only the BOBS church that spanned an entire city block; many other buildings did so as well, and rose hundreds of stories into the air. Mass transit was the way to go if you lived in the city, but Jack still drove his old, green Range Rover when he could. It took a lot of work in these modern days to remain individual and independent. School children met for sports and some projects, but mostly they plugged into a global web that taught them everything they needed to know, including the current propaganda. How could anyone expect these kids to come up with an original thought if they weren't out experiencing the world?

Hunger drove Jack into the kitchen, where he dialed up his favorite tamales. Too much starch, too much cheese. But what the hell; he'd given up guilt years ago.

Another hour in the sunroom, staring at the stars overhead, netted him no insights, and no fresh ideas, either. He rose. Time to give the brain a rest from the case and give it some exercise at the same time.

Poker was the game he played for fun, and he enjoyed observing and analyzing other players, but you couldn't beat chess as a way to learn strategy and to shut out the rest of the world.

In a dark corner of the living room stood a small, polished wooden table which held a chess board. On either side of the table was a comfortable, padded chair, and above, a low light which illuminated the table but nothing else. Here, he played chess against himself with the aim of giving his brain cells free rein on a game with endless possibilities.

The current game had been in progress for a couple of weeks. Jack sat on the white side of the board, which had the next move, and analyzed the position of the pieces. He reviewed the various pitfalls that might pop up, exploring moves and ideas, backtracking and generally meandering, digging deeply to figure out how things should proceed. He did not care which side won; it was merely a way of honing his analytical skills.

Two hours and three moves later, Jack retired to his bedroom, his mind relaxed and ready for sleep. In bed, his breathing slowed as the bed warmed and the lights automatically dimmed throughout the house.


Chapter 2 Moriarty

Jack tossed his hat on top of the filing cabinet and put his coffee container on the desk. He'd barely had time for the first invigorating sip when the door opened and Fred Dixon from Forensic walked in.

"You got info for me on the New London case?" Jack asked.

"Yeah." Fred sat across from him and took one of Jack's cards out of the box on the desk.

Jack sighed, knowing what was coming. He could pull rank, sure, but it didn't pay to piss off Forensic.

Fred grinned at him. "Jack O. Lantern, huh? You go trick or treating with your sidekick? What's her name again? Hallowe'en?"

"Little Orphan Annie doesn't observe that old tradition."

The tech laughed. "Didn't know you had a nickname for her."

"All part of the service." Lucie would be more than pissed with him for telling Fred. The news could be all over the building by noon, depending on what kind of mood Fred was in. Well, she'd have to deal with it. She didn't have much choice, any more than he did.

"I never met anybody by the name of Lantern before," Fred said.

"Oh, it goes way, way back to medieval days," Jack said. "You know what it means, right? A protective enclosure for a light source."

"You're shitting me," Fred said.

"Not at all. We don't use candles or kerosene-filled lanterns anymore because electricity is so cheap and comes in so many forms. But the name still fits, because it shields the people around me from the shining brilliance of my brain."

"Jesus! Now I've heard everything!" Fred lost the silly grin and assumed a serious expression. "Just wanted to let you know we found two different DNA traces on the site. One's gotta be the victim, since it was everywhere."

"Got names to match?"

Fred shook his head. "No, the computer hasn't finished the comparison. We'll have it later today and I'll bring you the paperwork."

Everybody's DNA was available now, recorded at birth. Lucie said she'd read about the big stink that happened when the world government passed that law a hundred years ago, but these days nobody thought much about it. Having the information made it a lot easier to pin crimes on those who'd committed them, and to identify accident victims or old human remains, not to mention the ordinary needs for identification.

The tech pushed back his chair and rose. "Don't know why you guys still want a paper record of everything. You do use computers, am I right? Or is it still quill pens and ink?"

"As long as the case is open, the Chief likes everything backed up six ways from Sunday," Jack said. "Once it's closed, we get rid of the paper."

Fred left and Jack sat back to decide on his next move. The case shouldn't prove difficult, once they had names matched with the DNA. Except they'd still have to find the family of the victim and let them know what happened, and arrest the owner of the second DNA trace. Judges liked to know about circumstances, motive and intent, too. And he wanted to get the final pieces of the puzzle in place for his own satisfaction, to see if they confirmed his deductions. Usually they did, but sometimes he got a surprise. The possibility of a surprise kept him from getting too bored.

It occurred to him that he hadn't heard anything from Willis, the detective, about the man he'd seen standing on the balcony and watching Forensics work the murder scene. But Willis was out somewhere. And Lucie wasn't in her office either.

Jack grabbed his hat and headed for New London. Another look around couldn't hurt. It was good to get outside again, into the sunny, crisp air of early spring. He could tolerate his office because he had a window with a half-decent view of the city, but it drove him nuts that he wasn't able to open it. The all-important internal climate system wouldn't tolerate open windows, so he'd been told. By the time he quit muttering to himself about bureaucracy and what some people called 'progress,' he was back on the cobblestones of Dorset Street.

A dozen tourists came toward him from the other end of the short street, led by a tall man in black top hat and tails, the crisp, white ruff at his throat and the silver head of his cane flashing in the sunlight. The guy looked familiar. Maybe it was the man he'd seen on the balcony the night of the murder.

The man with the cane gathered the tourists around the site of the killing. He recounted the late 1800s story of Jack the Ripper and the many gruesome murders he was supposed to have committed. After his tale was finished, he announced, to a chorus of shocked gasps from his audience, that they were standing on the site of a very recent brutal and bloody murder.

The tourists began chattering among themselves and taking photographs. Jack stepped forward and showed his badge to the leader, who looked startled. His face was so pale that, for a moment, Jack thought he was terrified. Then he realized the man was wearing makeup. His face was dead white, emphasizing the black makeup around his eyes, reminiscent of old Dracula movies, or Boris Karloff in horror movies.

"My name's Captain Jack Lantern, of the police," Jack said. "I'm investigating the killing that took place here a couple of days ago. You look a lot like the guy who was watching from that balcony up there when the investigation was taking place."

"Oh, no, it couldn't have been me," the man said. His voice seemed a little high-pitched, as though he might be nervous.

"Same clothes," Jack said. "Can I have your name, please?"

The man cleared his throat. "Charles Reynolds. And there are several of us who lead tourist parties around New London. It must have been one of the others you saw."

Reynolds was lying; he was sure of it. And he knew from playing poker, that the throat clearing could be a sign of a player lying. "Do you all wear the same costume?"

"Yes, of course. New London is a replica of the British London of the 1880s, and we all have to dress in late Victorian fashion." The man polished the silver knob on his cane with gloved hands.

"At four o'clock in the morning?" Jack raised his eyebrows. "I know there are inns and pubs in this area, but it seems a little late to be ferrying tourists through them."

"Oh, indeed!" Reynolds said, nodding. "The latest tours are over by midnight. Possibly the guide you saw decided to participate in the night life while still in costume." He glanced at his group and saw the tourists were showing signs of restlessness. "I have to get back to work. These people paid for a full tour."

Jack decided to let it go. As soon as he got the DNA matches, he'd be able to finish up the case. If there were more questions, he now had the man's name and his connection to the church. He'd be easy to find.

The tourist group moved on, and Jack leaned against a wall and stared at the street. It seemed an odd place for such violence. Most premeditated murders took place indoors, behind locked doors, and sometimes were not discovered for weeks. So, had this been a spur-of-the-moment killing? A vicious quarrel that erupted unexpectedly?

Jack shook his head and headed back to the office. The condition of the victim bothered him. It had to be the result of an explosion. But how? And why?

***

Around mid-afternoon, Fred Dixon came down from Forensics, a sheaf of paper in one hand, a container of coffee in the other. "You better get a coffee, Jack, you'll need it."

"Why? The DNA turn up some interesting names?"

Fred shook his head. "No. It turned up only one name."

"But that's impossible!" Jack stared at Fred, trying to decide if the guy was yanking his chain. But he looked dead serious. Jack pressed a button on the intercom and snapped, "Bring me a coffee, tall, with cream. Now!"

"Complain to the computer," Fred said. "We've checked and double-checked. The victim's DNA belonged to a guy named Thomas Avery. The other DNA, and there's damn little of it, doesn't match with anybody in the records. Any records, anywhere."

"But I thought the DNA of every human being in existence since 2070 is in those records." Jack's office door opened, an aide set a tall coffee at his elbow, then quickly retreated.

"Me, too," Fred said. "This is the weirdest thing I've seen since I started working for the department, and that's thirty years ago."

Jack sipped his coffee. For a change, it was just like he wanted it. Maybe he should use that strident tone of voice more often. Then he sat back. "Did you find any trace of explosives in that mess?"

"Nope. None. Which is the second weirdest thing I've seen in my career. Thought for sure it was somebody strapped a bomb to himself."

"So did I," Jack said, "so did I. Anything weird about the victim?"

"All I know is what's in the records," Fred said. "Avery was a sergeant in the military. Based at the airfield south of here."

Jack gazed out the window for a few seconds. "Yeah, those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't."

"Huh?"

"Just thinking out loud," Jack said. "Well, I'll track down Avery's boss and his family and so on, find out if there was any reason somebody wanted him dead. But this unidentified DNA has me stumped."

Fred rose and tapped his finger on the papers he'd put on the desk. "The rest of the stats are there."

"Okay," Jack said. "Thanks. And I'm going to call the perp 'Moriarty'."

"Morrie who?"

"Moriarty. I guess you never read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Moriarty was Holmes' nemesis, his archenemy. And whoever killed Avery is mine."

Fred stopped at the door. "What's the O stand for?"

"You mean on my card? Owen."

"Oh hell," Fred said, "I thought it might stand for 'orange.' Pumpkins, you know. Pumpkins are orange."


Chapter 3 Stonewalled

Lucie folded herself into Jack's guest chair. "You're not going to believe this. The Chief just told me that Charger, the Hyborg, is alive and well and living at the military base south of the city."

"I knew it!" Jack exulted. "I knew it! And he's Moriarty. He has to be."

"So, are we going out there?"

"Damn right!" Jack rose, and took his Colt semi-automatic out of a desk drawer. "We need to get the details on Thomas Avery anyway. This way we'll only have to make one trip."

"Are you still carrying that Colt?" Lucie asked. "You know it's illegal."

Jack loaded the pistol and holstered it. "Yeah, I know. Regulation 47B says we all have to use smart guns."

"So, why don't you?"

"Because smart guns aren't smart; they're stupid." Jack sat down again. Now that they knew the identities of both victim and perp, there was no need to rush. "What if the battery dies?"

"Keep it charged up."

"Suppose it's the kind of gun that responds to your finger print," Jack said. "And then suppose you cut your trigger finger and you're wearing a Band-Aid. The gun isn't going to fire."

"Then take the Band-Aid off." Lucie sounded impatient.

"In the two seconds it takes me to do that, I could be dead. Or whoever I'm trying to protect could be dead. And what if the glue from the Band-Aid messes up the print on my finger?"

"You're splitting hairs. The Chief will have your ass if he finds out."

Jack grinned. "The Chief already knows. And he'll leave my ass alone because I'm the best detective he's ever worked with. I get results. I find answers for him. And it's just about to happen again, so quit worrying about the regulations."

"I wish I could," Lucie said. "I hate red tape and regs as much as you do. In my not-so-humble opinion, there are way too many so-called "safety controls" applied to how we operate. But I can't afford to give the Chief any excuse for firing me."

"I hear you." He knew how much Lucie was weighed down by her obligations to mortgage payments and the care of her screwball mother. He also knew the department didn't really need Lucie as a full-time detective. Half-time would have been enough, if they ever hired part-time people, which they didn't. Regulations again, he suspected. You had to be fully committed to this kind of job or you didn't have a job.

He rose again. "Okay, let's go. And we'll take the Rover. Time it had a little exercise on an open road."

"Open road?" Lucie scoffed. "It's like twenty miles of suburbs, Jack. Be faster to take the train."

"We're not in a hurry, are we? Anyway, it's a nice day for a drive. The sun shining, the sky blue. All that neat nature stuff." If he had his way, he'd live in a cabin way back in the mountains, surrounded by all that neat nature stuff and play a lot of chess. But he had a mortgage, too.

"It's freezing cold out there," Lucie said, grabbing her coat from the rack just inside her office door. "The temperature was actually below the freezing mark this morning, plus there's a wind blowing off those mountain glaciers."

Jack took another look at her coat as they got in the elevator to go below ground to the parking level. "Is that a real fur collar? Or fake?"

"Wolf fur," Lucie said. "I don't buy plastic if I can help it."

"Good," Jack said, "I admire a woman who kills her own clothing." When she didn't respond, he turned to look at her.

"What?" she asked. "Was I rolling my eyes out loud?"

It was not until they were out of the downtown area and into the suburbs that Jack spoke again. "How are things at home?"

"A shrink might be fascinated with the situation. I'm just frustrated." Lucie sighed. "My mother's entire world revolves around herself, which means that when I'm home, I do a lot of listening. But lately she's going in for hallucinations, which of course she has to describe in lurid and lengthy detail."

"Should I ask what they are?"

Lucie sighed again. "This week it's been strangers breaking into the house and stealing food from the fridge. I know it's not happening because I've got every kind of security lock on the place you could imagine. And there's never any food missing."

"Sounds like a narcissist. Always looking for another way of getting attention."

"I'll probably hear the same story again tonight when I get home," Lucie said. "But if we can close this case, I'll be able to stay home over the weekend and she'll be fine for those days. And maybe for one or two after."

"No hope yet of getting her into a care facility?" Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught Lucie shaking her head.

"No, nothing yet. We've regained all the population we lost in the Mahoud-Earth War. Even the emigration to New Eden, Mars, and Crest hasn't solved the problem of too many elderly people to look after. And all the successes the scientists are having with extending life aren't helping. Everybody over sixty is volunteering for the experiments and that means we have even more old people."

Jack turned off on the side road leading to the military base, and stopped at the gate. The corporal on guard duty glanced at his badge, then looked again.

"Jack O. Lantern?" he said. "You have to be kidding me."

"I'm not," Jack said. "You want to see my driver's license?"

The young corporal glanced at Lucie. "And this would be Casper the Ghost?"

Lucie handed the guard her badge.

The guard took a good look at both badges and handed them back, shaking his head. "If it was me, I'd change it. Public parking is over there on the right."

As they got out of the Rover, Lucie asked, "So why don't you change your name? You must get tired of people making jokes about it."

"Sometimes." Jack clicked the doors closed. "But it can be useful. While a suspect is laughing at my name I can check him out and he doesn't realize what I'm doing. Take that young corporal who waved us in; he's from New York state."

Lucie looked startled. "How do you know?"

"Just a faint inflection in his voice when he pronounced 'Casper'. I recognized the accent. Also, he's newly divorced."

"Go on! You can't possibly have gleaned that kind of information in sixty seconds."

Jack smiled at her. "When he handed me the badges he did so with his left hand. There was a pale circle of skin on his ring finger, whereas the rest of his hand was tanned. Obviously, he's recently removed a wedding ring."

"You're good," Lucie said. "Now, can we get inside? I'm going to turn into a block of ice if we stand around out here in the cold wind."

"But wait, there's more. I noticed that the guard moved with a slight shift of his body weight to the right. Since he wasn't limping, that shift made me look for a reason, which I found. Just behind his right temple and above his right ear, there was a small scar, obviously from a gunshot wound to the head."

"Do you know who shot him?" Lucie demanded.

"I'm not that good! Might have been an accident. Or he might have been fighting in one of the small so-called skirmishes that come up now and again around the world. I told you that he handed our badges back with his left hand and, when he did so, a tattoo under his sleeve was exposed for a second. The tattoo was of the 82nd flight brigade, so the gunshot wound was likely part of wartime experience." Jack grabbed Lucie's elbow to prevent her walking toward the building. "I'm not done yet."

"What?"

Jack grinned. "When the guard leaned across me to examine your badge, I noticed a slightly acidic smell from his breath, which indicated a nervous reaction when he looked at you. I suspect he found you attractive enough to make him nervous."

"Bullshit!"

"Nope. When he straightened up, he squared his shoulders and walked away with a more masculine attitude. Also, he walked slower than when he approached us, so he was probably trying to think of some clever way of asking you for a date."

"Now that last idea is pure conjecture!" Lucie paused. "And so is your theory about him wearing a wedding ring. It could have been a signet ring."

"Maybe so," Jack said, "But I noticed something else as he turned away from us. His gun was holstered on the left side of his belt with the gun grip facing forward. That means he would draw his weapon with his right hand by reaching across his belly, which is not the usual way. It suggests to me that he damaged his right elbow so that he can't now draw from his right side."

Lucie pounced. "Got you! If he was using his left hand to take and hand back our badges, maybe he's left-handed."

"No way," Jack said. "I also said the gun grip was facing forward, which means he'd draw with his right hand. I stick to my theory of wounded right elbow. Oh, and one last thing, Little Orphan Annie. You handed him your badge, with your hand palm up, rather than displaying it in the usual forceful manner, palm down and shoved in his face. I'd say you found the guard attractive and your body language showed it."

"I'm impressed. Now, can we get on with the job?" Lucie's cheeks were flushed, and Jack felt quite sure that if she kept blushing, at least her face was in no danger of freezing, no matter what she claimed.

At the front desk, Jack asked for Sergeant Stewart. "We have an appointment with him."

"Names, please?" the man behind the desk asked, without looking up.

"Captain Jack Lantern and Lieutenant Lucie Bisbee."

The man looked up and blinked, then began to smile. He said, "Sergeant Stewart don't go in for trick or treating." Then his phone rang. He scowled, waved his hand, and said, "Down the hall there, second door on the right."

"You almost got off free that time," Lucie muttered, as they headed down the hall.

"My lucky day, obviously."

Sergeant Stewart turned out to be Sergeant Nancy Stewart, with dark hair curling around her collar and a friendly expression on her face. They introduced themselves to her, and handed her their cards.

She looked carefully at the cards, but didn't react to the names. "You're here about Sergeant Avery's death?"

"In part," Jack replied. "Does he have family that needs to be notified or is that part of your routine when there's a death?"

"We've already taken care of it," Sergeant Stewart said. "His parents are very upset. Naturally they want to know why he was killed and who's to blame. As I do. Avery was a friend of mine. Have you discovered that information yet? Surely there must have been witnesses."

Jack shook his head. "I have to say no to both questions. No witnesses have come forward, but we certainly will find out who killed Avery and why."

"I'm glad to hear it," the sergeant said.

"What was Avery like as a person? Belligerent? Likely to have enemies?"

"No." Sergeant Stewart leaned back in her chair, her hands in her lap. "Thomas was never belligerent. Basically, he was friendly with everybody and easy to work with, or so I've been told by everyone I asked."

"So, you've been doing your own investigation?" Lucie asked.

"The military has always taken responsibility for the welfare of its men. Besides, everybody here wants to know what happened," the sergeant said. "Thomas was one of the good guys, and he was well-liked. The consensus of opinion says it must have been an accident."

"It might have been," Jack said. "At first, because the body was totally destroyed, we thought the victim might have been wearing a bomb, which he accidently triggered. But no traces of explosives have been found. Which makes me lean toward deliberate murder rather than accident. And a very vicious murder, at that."

"I find that hard to believe," Sergeant Stewart said. "But surely by now you've found the perpetrator through traces of DNA."

"No, we haven't." He leaned forward. "We found a second trace of DNA in addition to that belonging to Avery. But the owner is not listed in the world records. The DNA is from someone who's never been registered."

Sergeant Stewart looked surprised. "But that's impossible."

"Is it?" Jack said. "Has Charger's DNA ever been recorded?"

Silence reigned for a moment. Then the sergeant said, "I know that he was born years before the world government began recording DNA for every human. But surely, with all the operations that were done to convert him to a Hyborg, that would have been accomplished. And he is a soldier, after all. Regulations dictate that everyone's DNA be a matter of record."

"You'd think so," Lucie said, "but perhaps not. We know that he's here on the base, by the way."

"And," Jack continued along that line of thought, "from all the stories I've heard about Charger, he doesn't take kindly to regulations." He sat up straighter in his chair. "Can you tell us why Charger is here? What are his duties?"


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