UNSUB, 2030 - The Phantom
The buzzing of my phone drills into my brain like a diamond-tipped engraving tool. It takes about three tries, but I finally manage to find it on the bedside table and drag it under the blanket. I try to see whose name is on the screen, but my right eye won’t focus, and the left one refuses to even open.
How much did I drink last night, where did I go, and who did I go there with?
Always the same three questions, and the first two are always gone into the black hole of gin and bad choices.
I force myself to sit up. I peel my left eye open, and thankfully the right one tracks along. As I focus them together, the phone stops buzzing and the words I hate appear:
3 MISSED CALLS. As I read it, the 3 becomes 4.
I think her name was Karen. Or Kora… or maybe Coral? Shit, I don’t know for sure.
I open the call log, and squint. Fuck! Gil was an okay partner, in small doses. Unless he called and woke me up. I know I have to call him back, but he’s gonna wait a few minutes; I can’t remember ever having to pee this badly.
As I’m getting up, the sheet pulls off the corner of the mattress, curling up alongside my pillow.
Where the fuck is my pillowcase?
A bass drum begins to beat loudly behind my eyes, before settling into a small set of bongos, being played by an angry 5 year-old. I wince and stretch, my back making sounds that are more like cracking knuckles than I’m comfortable with. At least it helps my head a little; the pounding behind my eyes eases slower and duller into the space between my sinuses and my ears.
I stumble toward the bathroom, and without warning, the coffee table I use for a TV stand jumps out and slams itself into my right shin.
Ow! God Damn it!
I finally make it to the bathroom, and have no more started peeing, than the phone starts going off again. Of course, the sound makes me jump a little, and I spray the seat. It’s gonna be one of those days.
I manage to wipe the seat off with a single pass of toilet paper, then turn and wash my hands. I make the mistake of looking at my reflection, and I have to splash my face with water. I’m getting too old to keep doing this to myself.
Yeah, like you’ve never told yourself THAT one before.
I dry my face as I walk back to the bed and grab my phone. I swipe the circle on the phone, and a small hologram of Gil’s face appears, floating just above the screen.
“Jesus Christ, Mac! Put some clothes on!
I realize with some chagrin that my phone is in full-vid mode.
Who the hell was I on the phone with last night!?
“What the fuck do you want?” I ask, swiping the vid mode button, making just my face appear in the small monitor box in the corner of the screen.
“Thank you. You look like shit, partner.”
“Gilbert, old buddy, if you called and woke me up to act like my mother—
“Shut up. We got a case. It looks like he’s struck again.”
“Fuck! I’ll be there as fast as I can.”
“Why don’t you jump in and out of your hydro, and meet me at the scene?” His voice sounds like scratchy condescension. “Trust me, you need it.”
“Fine. Send me the address… and buy me a coffee on the way.”
I hang up before he can respond. Heading to the bathroom, I dry-chew three aspirin and start the shower.
All right, you son-of-a-bitch. This time, we are gonna nail your ass to the wall.
The 305 is always full this time of day, but it’s still faster than trying to take the surface streets. As I wait for my turn to load my car into the tube, I grab my folder tablet and pull up what information we have on Phantom.
It isn’t much.
The MESH system has been live now for 10 years, and according to the party line, everyone in the country is in the system. Certainly everyone who uses a bank, pilots a vehicle, receives deliveries, or attends school is registered, as are all babies born since the Universal Identification and Registration Act was passed and the MESH system was turned on. The UIRA also made MESH registration mandatory for all prisoners, immigrants, and those in the military and federal services.
The upside of MESH is that it has reduced crime exponentially, and usually makes my job easier.
In fact, until this Phantom appeared, and the bodies started piling up, I’d had one of the best solve rates on the force, and being part of the Syntonago Police Department, means that is a big deal. We process more crimes every day than most monocities see in a week. The megabuildings are bad, but tough times are always worse in the big sprawling cities.
The case file is pretty thin. We’ve found 31 bodies, all over Syntonago, and we don’t have much more than the victims names and MESH profiles. I swipe through the list, unable to find any kind of pattern to them all.
Come on Mac, you can do this. There has to be a pattern in here somewhere.
The jolt of my vehicle being tubed up breaks my concentration, so I turn off the screen and close the folder. According to the dash, I have four minutes until insertion, then twelve minutes on the 305 before ejection and deposit at Fullbright station, about 3 miles from the alley where the latest victim was discovered.
I need a vacation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a detective in the SPD. Having everyone cataloged and identifiable by any and every vid source in the country means it is very rare for someone to get away with any crime, let alone murder.
Or 32 murders.
Somehow, this Phantom has done just that. The vics started showing up about two years ago, and the MO is always the same. The bodies are found in blind spots, and there is never any sign of anyone coming or going in the vicinity. Some of them have been found between businesses, with full vid coverage at both ends of the alley.
This guy, this Phantom, seems to be invisible to vid, in spectral bands ranging from infrared to ultraviolet, including wavelengths humans couldn’t see.
Eventually, he is going to screw up, and I plan on being there when he does. As my vehicle accelerates for insertion into the 305 stream, I close my eyes and try to relax; maybe this hangover will evaporate. They usually do.
Except when they don’t.
The biggest drawback to MESH, is it has made investigators complacent. Budget cuts mean the few of us who are left pull a lot more cases. Even though 90% of crimes are solved by pulling up a DCR MESH report, it still leaves a lot of cases to be worked.
Usually, solving a murder case is just a matter of tracking down those who are scanned on vid near a scene, and there is almost always DNA that MESH can use to identify and track down perpetrators in real time.
Not this Phantom though. He has never shed a drop of organic material at a crime scene, nor have we ever found any forensic evidence to tie anyone to the bodies.
Hopefully today will be the day we do.