The apartment door slid closed, the magnetic lock slamming into place with an audible ping against the armature plate. Py stood dumbfounded, the brushed steel of the door reflecting back the two indistinct blobs that were himself and Logan. His eyes searched those indiscernible forms for some type of solace and found nothing so much as the imagined outline of Cline Fulworth’s smiling face, the man Logan and he had just interviewed.
Logan was already making his way towards the elevator at the end of the hall. Py turned and followed, letting himself be pulled along in Logan’s wake. They passed other doors identical to Cline’s on the way to the elevator, save for a different number stamped on the upper third of their front panels. Py found it strange that a killer could be all but invisible in a sea of identical doors. They made it into the elevator and, as they began to descend, Py found his voice in the privacy of the gently sinking space.
“Logan… did that man kill his wife?” Py had to ask.
Py hadn't known a lot of killers, well, not that he was aware, since catching them wasn't his usual business. Sitting face to face with one now had left him tired and despondent. The last few days had been rough. Even before Fulworth, Py’s mind had been swimming in rationalizations and excuses, trying to explain away how the justice system had so thoroughly failed the people they were interviewing. Py understood, academically, that these cases were disproportionately skewed, that many of them were cold, or muddy, or so piecemeal as to hardly deserve a case file. It was because they were edge cases, because they had fallen through the cracks, that they required Py and Logan’s attention to begin with. Still, that knowledge was little comfort and being hit with the reality of that failure time and again had worn Py down.
Cline Fulworth had stood there and smiled as Py and Logan asked about his case. All too happy to help. All too happy to indulge in the premise that it was somebody else that had killed his wife. As they probed it became plain that Angela Fulworth’s death had nothing to do with the Alleyman case. What made it worse was that the evidence was so distorted, the accounts so poorly documented and mismanaged that Cline would never be convicted.
“Yeah, looks that way.” Logan said somberly.
“I guess there’s not much we do?” Py asked, more out of habit than anything else. He felt the question was as good as rhetorical.
“Not really, anyway he’s not what we’re looking for. If the wife’s not one of our victims, then he’s not one of our witnesses. We can cross this off the list.” Logan’s tone was one of sympathy, like that of a friend trying to console a mourner. The first day of their interviews, Py and Logan had gotten into something of an argument. It had been over another miscarriage of justice, a gang member who was clearly trafficking in prescription narcotics. Py had been frustrated with Logan’s seemingly blasé handling of the incident. The indifference with which Logan had treated a clear criminal had been frustrating, especially one that was so without remorse, but as the days wore on it became abundantly clear that such things were routine. That to care about every injustice with the indignity of Py’s first encounter was self destructive and ultimately useless.
“Logan, how many of these have we done? I know we’ve been closing holes and narrowing our possibilities… but this is exhausting. I don’t know how many more of these I can do.” The elevator glided to a stop, opening to the apartment structure’s entrance hall. Dice lattice tiling, a tessellation of black, blue, and white rhombi made up the lobby floor, the repeating mosaic of stacked cubes appeared to Py’s depressed mind hungry, eager to reach up and snare unwary passersby. The design continued some distance up the walls, transitioning into thin lines of brushed steel framework that gracefully arched and domed some thirty feet above.
Logan nodded as they moved through the Escher like entryway.
“Not sure. Something like forty or fifty. Honestly, I’m a little worn down myself.” Logan reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, quickly scanning their list of people they should question. “I’ll try and find an easy one to close out the day.” Py wasn’t paying much attention, too caught up in his own melancholic thoughts to see the smile creep across Logan’s face.
“I’d almost forgotten about her,” Logan, murmured at his phone, “and close too^”
“What are you mumbling about?” Py asked. They’d reached the car, which they’d called to the front of the building before exiting Cline’s condo. Logan had a wide smile on his face, the sudden change in his temperament a bit jarring for Py.
“It’s a surprise. Don’t worry, I think this will help clear the air.”
Logan moved around the car to the driver’s seat and dictated their new destination. It wasn’t a place Py recognized, and so contented himself with window gazing as they pulled away from the apartment complex.
The streets of Uptown were teeming with people. The late afternoon sun reflected off the surfaces of most buildings, making the city shine noonday-bright. Though Py didn’t think of himself as a Delphi local, he could still pick out the tourists. It was mostly the pointing that gave them away, that and the occasional selfie-drone flitting about people’s heads as they gawked at the majesty of the city. Uptown’s architecture was unparalleled, each structure, each surface, designed to complement its peers. Ground space was at a premium, so the city danced skyward in a ballet of spirals, arches, and domes.
The last time Py had been in a city this size it was to quarantine a neighborhood with a highly infectious virus that had become airborne and was spreading wildly. It had been awful. Families had been separated across different sections of the quarantine zone. There were corpses everywhere. Still, a virus isn’t evil. Not really. It’s barely even alive. It wasn’t premeditated and deranged. It wasn’t prone to crimes of passion or violence. It was something that could be destroyed with impunity, not something that walked around the busy streets on a ridiculous technicality. In Py’s mind the comparison led to one conclusion…
I like diseases better.
They were just shy of the border between Old Town and Uptown when the car pulled in front of the Dahlia Place apartments. The building had been inspired by the striking orb shaped petals of the pompon dahlia. The base of the building was a round cylindrical shape that was narrow in the middle and larger at the base and top. The cylinder curved majestically from top to bottom like the bowing stem of a flower that looked as if it might snap in half at any moment. The stem was comprised of smaller studio style apartments. The top, mostly penthouses, where private balconies had been delicately rounded from the bottom to resemble elegant flower petals.
Logan strode confidently toward the door. He’d only booked the appointed a few minutes ago, but that was more than enough time to enter Logan’s biometrics into the ‘automated doorman’, which in this case was just a fancy set of cameras and a self opening door. It was an easy thing to add guests to the registry if they had full federal background, verified credentials. It was as simple as speaking a word to pull a citizen from the national database and assign them all sorts of permissions. These systems were also great for emergency responders, as they almost always had a crisis override.
Logan had gathered from their various conversation over the past few days that Py hadn’t spent much time in Uptown. Until recently, his financial situation had precluded him from experiencing the area to it’s fullest... also not being from Delphi, and also being in prison. Logan had spent enough time in the city he could describe it from rote, no need to really look around other than to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. It was different for Py, and Logan found some small amusement watching Py gawk at the towering architecture, looking far more like a tourist then Py would ever admit.
The area had been gentrified in the extreme. Burned to the ground and built from the ground up. Not a pebble had been spared and this area of the city, more than almost any other, reminded people of the inevitable encroachment of technology into every corner of their lives.
The elevator ride was dull, an unremarkable experience after becoming fully acclimated to the mag-lev system in the Vergeron building. A short walk down a neatly decorated hallway, keeping with the complex’s floral theme, led them to the door in question. Logan gave the door bell a press and deliberately stepped to the side so Py was front and center. The door opened and they were greeted by a welcome sight.
Evelyn Desmond was looking well. The cuts on her face were gone, the scarring either nonexistent or so expertly covered that Logan couldn’t tell the difference. She still wore a brace on her left hand and her neck was encircled with a wide choker that Logan suspected might be hiding one of her still healing wounds. Despite that, Evelyn was stunning. She wore her brown hair loose and it hung to each side of her heart shaped face and brought attention to her high cheekbones and pale complexion. She was sporting a blue A-line dress that framed her curves well, and when her bright hazel eyes alighted on Py, Logan was pleased to see her obvious interest burning bright.
Logan let Evelyn’s gaze linger over Py for a few moments before clearing his throat and bringing attention to himself.
“Ms. Desmond, thank you for seeing us on such short notice.” Logan said, glancing at Py and finding to his surprise the man had adopted the same neutral expression he’d used for their other interviews.
“Not at all. Please, come in. I understand you have some questions for me.” Evelyn guided them into a sitting room. The room had a sort of Bohemian feel to it. A few three panel dividers with brightly colored canvases had been placed carefully to close the space and make it feel more intimate. A large wooden shelf on one end of the room was filled with mementos: photographs, souvenirs, probably from various travels, and of course the obligatory crystals and incense. Long strings of beads dangled from the ceiling light fixtures, creating what could only be described as gypsy chandeliers, and thick decorative rugs dotted the wide wood floor. The light in the room was faintly yellow and warm, combined with the wafting scented smoke gave the room a calm, meditative air.
“That’s correct Ms. Desmond.” Py began. “We…”
“Please, call me Evelyn.”
“...right, Evelyn. We were wondering if you could give us an account of the night you were attacked?”
“Is this to build a case against the man who assaulted me?” Evelyn asked, sitting down and gesturing to the couch in front of her. “You must have enough to convict, even without my statement. I’m not sure how much more I can help? I told the police the whole story that first night I was in the hospital.”
“Actually, Ms. Desmond, the man who attacked you is dead.” Logan said. “This is for our own clarification surrounding the events of that night. We believe the suspect may have been part of another incident and we’re trying to see if the two cases might be related. Please, anything you remember could help us.” Logan saw her surprise at that and some small measure of relief as she relaxed back into her chair. Logan also noted that she did not correct him on the use of her name.
“Yes, and don’t be worried if some of your recollections seem strange or fanciful.” Py chimed in. “It’s very likely you were affected by a powerful hallucinogenic. This might seem… unusual, but the nature of the hallucinations is important for our understanding if the same man was responsible. It relates to the specific drugs used during the attacks. So don’t be worried to expand on things that you might consider impossible.”
Evelyn smiled softly at Py before bringing her legs up under her dress and arranging herself in a more comfortable position.
“I’ll do what I can. You know, you’re a hard man to get a hold of Mr. Black.”
“Py is fine.”
“Ahh, Py. Good, well I had just finished seeing one of my regulars.”
“Can you give us a name?” Logan asked, producing a notepad out of habit.
“You can call him Mr. Regular, if you like.” Evelyn said, smiling at Logan. “Anyway, I was almost to the car when something caught my eye.” Evelyn had stopped smiling and had fixed her gaze at a point somewhere beyond Logan and Py. “It was a spider.”
“A spider? Py asked, a quizzical expression appearing on his face.”
“Well… not exactly.” Evelyn said, seeming out of sorts now that she was talking about the incident. “It was the size of a car! All I saw at first was this bright yellow face, like a giant clown face, you know, just suspended in the air. It was terrifying, gave me the creeps.” Evelyn was moving her hands in the air, trying to mimic what she saw. “Then I realized that weird face was attached to something, something huge and black, with eight legs climbing along the building, between me and my car, never making a sound. Now, I don’t even like the little ones, so I took off in the opposite direction and rounded the nearest corner… I think you have a pretty good idea of what happened next.”
Evelyn had drawn in on herself a little bit, the memories obviously difficult for her to recount without reliving some portion of the trauma.
“I know this is difficult Ms. Desmond,” Logan said, adopting a tried and true understanding manner, “but was there anything about your attacker that stood out to you. Anything that might have been strange at the time.”
Evelyn gave a little snort of laughter.
“Other than the giant spider? He did speak in a weird broken pigeon, and of course there was the straight razor.”
“Anything else? Scars or distinctive markings. Please, try to remember.” Logan said, leaning into his experience as a DPD detective.
Evelyn took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She was clearly thinking, playing through the events in her head without distraction when her eyes suddenly burst open.
“A tattoo. He had a tattoo on the inside of his left arm, just below the elbow.” Evelyn grabbed her own arm, displaying the placement.
“Can you describe it for us?” Py asked, and Logan could tell he was excited to hear anything new, anything that could further the investigation.
“Emm, I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s the snake eating its own tail in a circle. It was clearly an old tattoo. Faded to that blue you see some of the old-timers still walking around with.”
“How big was it?” Py asked. And so it went. Logan let Py take point. Turns out he could do a pretty good interview when he was addressing an obvious victim as opposed to an obvious criminal. It was fascinating to watch. Evelyn was clearly smitten and doing her best to impress with thoughtful and measured responses. Py was… well, Py. He was attacking the puzzle and not giving thought to the fact that somewhere during their conversation Evelyn had moved forward in her chair and placed her knees scant inches from Py’s.
“It’s funny.” Evelyn said. “Now that we’re talking about it, this sounds like the Ripper?”
“As in Jack the Ripper?” Py asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that every worker in Old Town has heard about the Ripper with the snake. It’s one of our little urban legends.”
The silences became more pronounced as Py’s list of questions ran thin. Logan found himself interjecting more often and finally decided to bring the conversation to a close before it became awkward.
“Well, thank you Ms. Desmond, I think that’s all we need for today.” Logan stood and Py came up with him. “We won’t take up any more of your time.”
“Oh, well, of course.” Evelyn said, standing as well. “Um, how do I contact you? If I think of anything else.” Evelyn had reached out and touched Py on the shoulder. Logan knew that question hadn’t been directed at him, but felt the need to interject seeing the sudden discomfort in Py’s posture.
“Don’t worry, we’ll stay in contact. Have a pleasant evening.” Logan somewhat ushered Py out, letting him escape from the unwanted contact. The last thing Logan saw was the concerned look on Evelyn’s face before giving a nod of goodbye and swiftly shutting the door.
Py was already in the elevator before Logan had a chance to catch up. Logan waited until they were properly outside before starting in on what he felt was some necessary teasing.
“You know she likes you.” Logan said with a sly smile on his face.
“What was that?” Py said, bringing his attention to Logan from wherever it had been. “I’m sorry I wasn't paying attention.”
“Evelyn. You’re like her knight in shining armor.”
“Please,” Py replied dismissively, “nothing of the sort.”
Logan just shook his head.
“Are all scientists like this? I’m pretty sure all scientists are like this.”
“Whether we are or not I have a better question, did you know anything about a tattoo?”
Logan gave a frown at that.
“No, and I’ve looked at the same case file you have. It’s not something we would’ve missed.”
“Which means the data’s been lost or deliberately erased. Did you find anything else in her story strange?”
“Actually, yes.” Logan said, humoring Py a little. The ribbing would continue later. “It turned up in the video as well. The suspect clearly said ‘I wish you hadn’t seen that’. The other attacks seemed so deliberate. Was this an accident? What would that even mean?”
“Agreed. Even if he’d dosed her by accident why would he care? Nobody would've believed her story.”
“Pretending for a second she really did see something, what could she have mistaken for a giant spider? A car? Some type of drone?”
“Not a clue. We have a lot of aerial footage from that night. We can check it when we get back. Actually, Alice does anything matching Evelyn’s description appear on the drone footage?”
“Sorry, Py. I have no drone footage of Evelyn during the night in question.”
“Really, nothing at all?” Py asked, seeming surprised that Alice had come up empty.
“There is some drone footage that has been badly corrupted. I excluded the footage from the query results due to its poor quality.”
“Did the Doctor set that criteria?”
“No, it’s based on personal observation.”
“What’s the criteria for rejection?” Py continued.
“It’s based on metrics derived from the original Omniscan data captured at the inception of the Alleyman case.”
“Fair enough... I should probably still review it. So, what’s next?” Py asked, putting the pen away in his coat pocket.
“I don’t know… slice of pie?” Logan smiled at his own double entendre as the car pulled up to take them to the Pie Bird diner.