So last March, I took a “master class” by James Patterson. It was an online video thing through masterclass.com and, while I didn’t learn a whole lot of new things (or anything new, really, given the number of books I’ve read over the years), it did get me to thinking about style and whatnot. He has a very distinctive style, even with books he “co-writes,” and that’s good. It adds to his brand and control as an author. And if anyone has control as an author in this crazy world of writing, he’s one of the biggies.
I decided to change mine up a bit and this is the result: a scifi suspense with a global conspiracy bwahahaha…
if you’re wondering how close to being done this is, I’ll be sending it out to agents in a couple of months. sooner if any of them hit me up from this. ;o)
The first body was only in two pieces; the second and third bodies didn’t fare quite so neatly. Abeni McLaren looked on from the apartment doorway as the forensic ‘bots did their work and thought, Well sure. Triple murder on my first day. Why not?
Abeni stepped around a delicate female hand and its pool of blood to the window that took up half the wall. New Los Angeles spread out below, sunlight glinting off the UVA/B protected windows in the surrounding, matching high-rises. They were only on the fortieth floor, so mostly she saw the other buildings and the drones zipping around on business. The vague shadow of the Pacific lurked in the too-near distance.
Her reflection ghosted back at her… dark skin, slight frame, short-cropped afro, and gray eyes that stood out from her small, round face even with barely anything there to see.
“Enjoying the view?”
Taking a steadying breath and reminding herself she’d earned the promotion, Abeni faced her new second-in-command. “Outside, sure. Inside? Not really. Did you canvass?”
Luca Capello took up most of the doorway, dark eyes giving away no feelings about her either way. “Jo and Sujan are handling it. Daryl’s scouring the networks and intel traffic.”
Luca pointed at the mostly together male body under the entertainment wall. “In third place, we have Ambassador Royce Sellers of England. Fifty-two. Contracted successfully for the last twenty years with a full allotment of two boys. Well-thought-of in the diplomatic field and has degrees out the asshole.”
Abeni bit back the impulse to scold his language. “Next.”
He pointed to the pile of female body parts nearest the real leather sectional. “Most of second place belongs to Sheila Kay of Monrovia, California. This is her apartment. Well, her fifth apartment. Eighty-six. Single. No kids. Rich. Old money rich.”
Abeni inched closer to the deceased Ms. Kay and peered at the sightless blue eyes. The slightly wrinkled, well-sculpted face was familiar enough to match to the mental screenshot of the woman who’d dominated the music landscape for the last twenty years.
“And in first place we have no one.”
Capello’s words startled Abeni into straightening to look at him. “Excuse me?”
He shrugged. “No facial rec, no prints, no DNA, no eye scans, nothing, nowhere. She didn’t even sign in at the concierge desk. The woman’s a ghost. So far the scanner’s aged her at one-oh-one and of direct African descent, but that’s it.”
“So we have an ambassador, a music executive, and a ghost.”
“And no joke to go with such a great opening, either. Damn.”
She ignored the smart-assed tone and paced behind a vid ‘bot to take in the whole scene. The half-foot high ‘bot rolled over each millimeter of the room. Its measured pace forced her to take in everything. The thickness of the hand woven carpet under the evidence preservation film showed nearly every strand. Each red splotch of blood smeared slightly under the transparent barrier. The ghost’s left foot rested next to Ms. Kay’s left knee and the rivulet of blood connected them to Ms. Kay’s left thigh. A lone high heel tucked under one of the wooden, decorative tables while the rest of the shoes remained stacked neatly by the door.
The wealth of the apartment bled through everything: leather furniture, silk drapes, red meat in the refrigerator, and gold accenting the many mirrors. Eight-six was when life really began. Sellers’s fifty-two was hardly out of adolescence in the grand scheme of things.
That notification’s going to be a real trauma. Abeni sighed to herself at the thought of telling the wife or husband of Sellers’s death.
Capello’s silent gaze followed her entire path. If he had a problem with her slow survey of the apartment, he kept it to himself. Surprising, given what she’d read in his file.
“Canvassing of thirty-ninth, fortieth, and forty-first floors completed.”
Jo’s soft words barely penetrated over the comm. nestled in Abeni’s ear. She tapped it and answered, “Heard. Check the garage and the roof pad.”
Abeni walked back to the living room, her gaze returning to the window.
Something in her expression tipped off Capello, because he said, “What, already? It’s a building. There’s twenty of them in two square blocks and not a view between the pack of them.”
“That’s what bothers me. Why would Sheila Kay have an apartment that didn’t have a view? Why would she even have an apartment in a building she didn’t own? She doesn’t, right?”
“I don’t think… no, she doesn’t,” Capello said after a quick, rapid tapping on his sten-pad. “Hey this is weird. She doesn’t own any property in the U.S.”
It was weird, but irrelevant. At least for the moment. Abeni tucked the factoid away for later and stepped over the ghost’s right lower leg and walked to Capello still standing in the doorway. “Let’s go.”
That he didn’t question her abrupt departure or lack of response was also surprising. His psych file read ‘abrasive’ and ‘pathologically opposed to authority.’ Acquiescence didn’t appear to be in the man’s vocabulary, let alone passivity.
As Capello moved aside to let her leave the apartment, Abeni thought, Then again, he’s probably just giving me enough rope to hang myself.
* * * *
It was a twenty-minute ride on the bullet train from L.A. to Ontario, CA, which was faster than fighting through car traffic. Not even automated cars had soothed the savage beast that was L.A. traffic. Ten years after the Pacific had violently drowned LAX, the small airport in Ontario had been expanded. It grew up to not only handle commercial air traffic, but also the Specialist and Emergency Services airplanes that bordered on space shuttle speed.
The local U.S. Specialist HQ squatted in what remained of Boston’s Back Bay. Much like L.A., Boston had lost plenty of real estate in the twenty-second to the rising seas. Unlike L.A., the Atlantic had devoured the land in a strange, almost circular fashion that had left bits poking up like islands. Winthrop had survived, but Logan hadn’t. Bunker Hill had survived, but not Cambridge. South Boston and the Back Bay stayed dry, but the ocean had flooded a new tributary from Brookline out to the JFK Library. And somehow, Fenway’s miraculous island of baseball still lived more than five hundred years after its birth; people just had to take a ferry to see the games.
It was forty-five minutes from L.A. to Boston versus two hours from L.A. to Bern, so Abeni made her first executive decision. She tapped Boston into the destination pad by the plane entrance and faced her squad. “We’re going to work out of Boston for this one.”
She expected protesting groans and wasn’t disappointed.
Josefina Santo raised her hand. “Excuse me, Commander, but I don’t have my go bag.”
Abeni tried to keep the judgment from her voice. “Why not?”
From the short, dark haired woman’s flinch, she wasn’t successful.
“I’m sorry, Commander, but I wasn’t expecting to stay local. My partner’s expecting our first child so Commander Welsh gave me permission to commute.”
First children being what they were, Abeni wasn’t surprised by the leeway. “That’s fine, then. Keep your comms. on when you’re home in case we need you.”
“Thank you, Commander.”
No one else lodged an actual protest, so Abeni walked to her seat near the Artificial Intelligence Pilot door at the front of the plane and tapped the ‘ready’ button on the wall.
Almost immediately, the A.I.P. voiced, “Take off in five minutes. Please be seated and buckle your restraints,” in Swiss and then repeated the instructions in English and Mandarin.
Stepping into leg holders that secured her lower legs, Abeni sat and buckled her chest restraints, leaning her head against the contoured headrest. The ergonomic seats were built to withstand Mach Five and practically counted as A.I. in and of themselves with physical and emotional monitoring of those in its restraint system.
No one spoke as the plane engines hummed to full power and the small craft taxied down the runway. Abeni’s mental clock hit four minutes and fifty-three seconds when the G-forces smothered her backwards. The first thirty seconds of a flight were the hardest, which was why only Specialists and emergency disaster personnel used the Secure Flight System. Specialists were drilled in the experience from late teen years to build up a tolerance. Emergency workers simply had to grin and bear it until they got used to it.
As soon as the ‘Fasten Restraints’ signs dimmed, she undid them and hit the button to retract the leg holders. The others moved around the main cabin pulling out their palm-sized sten-pads as they sat at the lone table. Abeni joined them, sitting between Daryl and Capello. Sujan disappeared into the commode.
She tapped the table’s screen and asked, “What do we have so far?”
Jo placed her sten-pad screen face down on the table screen and a colorful download wheel turned on the large monitor for a few seconds before her notes appeared in the center. Jo summarized in low, quick words. “Apartments 40B, 41A and 41B are vacant. The Holstedts in 39A weren’t home at the time of deaths. The Friendly’s did hear a bang about ten minutes prior to TOD, but chalked it up to neighbors playing video games too loud. Didn’t realize the Holstedts were gone.”
Abeni frowned. “Three out of six vacant? That’s a coincidence I don’t like. Track down the rental histories. Next?”
Daryl pushed glasses to the bridge of his thin nose with shaking fingers and cleared his throat, Adam’s apple bobbing like a buoy in hard chop. “Still no identification for Jane Doe 3-2400-US. We’ll have all the remains categorized and at HQ Boston within two hours.”
Sujan slipped into the seat on Daryl’s other side at the end of the table, pressing his sten-pad to the table for download. “There was an extra vehicle in the garage. It’ll be chopped and transported to Boston HQ. Oh, and someone used the roof pad a half hour after time of deaths, but no itinerary was logged with the concierge.”
Capello snorted. “The concierge is useless. He’d let anyone in for the right price and disengage security for a tip.”
Abeni just barely restrained a grimace at the news. “Is he in holding?”
“Nah. Useless and greedy, but not accessory to a triple homicide. Besides. I think he’d piss himself if he ever came into contact with actual blood.”
“In your opinion.”
“Which is practically fact, Commander.”
Abeni let the matter-of-fact boast wash by. She looked each of them in the eye before speaking. “Triple homicide. It’s not what I would’ve picked for our first case but no one gets a choice in life except the Committee, right? We’ve got a lot to learn about each other, but it’ll have to wait until the case is done. Failure is never an option.”
As one, they echoed, “Failure is never an option.”
Abeni briefly prayed to a God she was almost sure didn’t exist… Please, don’t let me fail.