"What about the fingerprints?" asked Melvin when he entered the room the woman was in, taking note of the new location. How she found a new place every night to meet him would be a mystery to him for a long while.
"Oh, don't you worry about that," said the woman casually. "That special cell we implanted in your brain wipes your fingerprints clear. You leave none."
Melvin stared blankly. He didn't like what he heard, didn't like being reminded of the horrifying process of the night before. Finally, he said, "Wiped my fingerprints
? How the hell does that thing wipe my fingerprints
"It's simple. The cell searches for the SMARCAD1 gene that controls your fingerprint pattern and annihilates it."
Melvin stared for even longer. Then he let out a chuckle.
"What's so funny?"
"Nowhere," said Melvin, exasperated, "nowhere
, have I heard of a cell that can be implanted into your body and used to annihilate your genes. It's impossible. Not in modern science, on television, not in the wildest science fiction books, not even in my own, have I heard of something so preposterous."
"Well, now you have."
"I don't believe it."
"Then start to."
"My, my, aren't we pushy? Fine. Touch something, anything. Pick up a glass."
Due to his poor eyesight, he could never see his fingerprints clearly, though he could always tell when they left a mark. Melvin picked up a glass of wine the woman offered him, ready to gloat over his imminent capture. He confidently took a sip from the glass, staring straight into the woman's eyes. Setting the glass down, he glanced at it. His mouth dropped.
He left no fingerprint.
"Convinced now?" sneered the woman. Melvin gaped.
"What about skin flakes?"
"Those happen regularly in that building. They won't be anything of suspicion."
Melvin tried to think of something else that could get him caught, but he had little hope. He was no investigator. He didn't know what they did.
"Is there anything at all that could give me away?"
"Not to our knowledge, and we have all knowledge we need."
"What if someone saw me rushing out of the building?"
"You were a perfectly normal looking businessman. The only person to take note of you was that young woman outside of the NASH building that we told you to get away from. We'll be keeping an eye on her from now on."
"Why was it so important to avoid her?"
"My, we're curious. That's of no concern at the moment. The important thing is to dodge her at all costs."
The TV played at a soft volume as the conversation wore on. Looking at the screen, there was a video showing the front of the NASH building. The woman turned the volume up.
"This is Brenda Wimbly, coming with a special report in front of the National Association of Suicide Hotlines building in the west side of the city, home of the mysterious deaths of two employees late this afternoon.
"These deaths are unlike anything the investigators have ever experienced before—it would seem that the two men merely dropped dead over tea in a small room on the fourth floor. There were no signs of illness, foul play, or indeed any injury at all to the men. The only fingerprints in the room were their own, along with their flakes of skin. Absolutely nothing of interest was found at the scene. There were no eyewitness reports of suspicious looking individuals in the area.
"We have, however, received new information from the investigators: They're bringing back a former investigator to the team. This mystery investigator, they say, had solved numerous crimes such as this in the past. They hope to close the case before it gets too far, as they fear this isn't the last they hear of the same type of strange deaths."
"Good to see they aren't slackers," said the woman. "But I'm afraid their goal is unreachable." * * *
Out on the rooftops, Victor pressed his ear to the cold surface to listen for a television. Finally catching the noise, he listened in to the report on the news.
"...special report in front of the National Association of Suicide Hotlines building in the west side of the city, home of the mysterious deaths of two employees late this afternoon. These deaths are unlike anything the investigators have ever experienced before—"
Victor lifted his ear from the rooftop and looked up towards the tall glass building to the west. With tremendous speed and strength, he scaled the walls and hopped over the alleys until he reached one close to the NASH building. He observed the scene below.
A few police cars and a sedan were lined up outside of the building. There was no one dawdling around. Men in uniforms carried a pair of bodies on stretchers to an ambulance with several men wearing black suits in tow. He assumed these were the investigators.
Peering into a window at eye level with him, Victor watched the television blinking inside. The screen depicted the scene of that afternoon around the time of the deaths. As he watched, a woman strode out of the building doors at a quick pace. Just as he was thinking of how suspicious she looked, a figure stumbled past the woman, turned, and left the screen.
The man was on the screen for such a short amount of time that he doubted anyone else had caught the sight of him. The camera was angled just so to give him the least airtime, so that his face was hidden. But Victor recognized him. He was the man who he had seen in the alley earlier that very night.
Down below, the investigators were discussing the event vehemently.
"I can't believe it—it's as if they just dropped dead," said a dark-haired young man in a green tie.
"Now, now, don't believe all you see. We need to report our information to headquarters—"
"Not out here! Get in the car."
The other three men did as they were told. The green eyed man who had directed the conversation to the more private quarters began again as the last door was closed.
"Right, as soon as we get the report back from the lab, we'll begin work. Fenworthy, you take charge of the victim's relations study. Pennington, Longfellow, Hemingway, you search for leads on the possible identity of the murderer, if any. The whole case is so misty right now, it's best to be on the safe side and search for signs of foul play immediately. I'll take the public relations, notes, investigation organization, and interrogations. Are we clear?"
The other investigators gave nods of assent as they set off down the road back to headquarters. Back on the rooftops, Victor was pondering the meaning of the connection between seeing the man in the news and in the alley. He supposed there was the possibility there was no connection; but a small part of his mind still felt convinced there was. Watching the police cars drive away, he wondered whether he might be an asset to the investigation. But he stuck with his ways and decided to operate alone.
The investigators' car reached its destination minutes later and Lind Ridgway stepped up to the apartment door and knocked. A few moments later, the clattering of someone walking down the stairs could be heard, and the door was opened. The blonde haired woman who answered was a familiar face to the group.
"Good evening, Jessica."
"You need me for an investigation, don't you?"
"What gave it away?"
"The news report and the codename," she replied lazily. "Come in."
The investigators entered the apartment and sat down where Jessica motioned them.
"I trust you have heard of the deaths?"
"Of course I have. I was just watching the news, wasn't I?"
"Yes. What's your opinion on them?"
"It's unfortunate, yes, but I don't believe we should all jump on the foul play boat just yet. It's bound to sink."
There was a slight pause as the investigators pondered her words.
"Care to clarify?" Ridgway asked.
"Simple—I don't believe we should call murder right off the bat. Yes, it's a strange coincidence that the men died in the same room at roughly the same time of, as far as we know, the same cause, but if we go romping around yelling murder the public will panic when it may not truly be a murder at all. The autopsy could have been faulty, the cause could be of a new kind of disease that we have yet to discover, you need to approach these things with caution."
"We do need to at least investigate the possibility, however."
"Exactly. Which is why you shouldn't shout it out on the news. Keep it quiet until we're sure. For all we know, the perpetrator is next door as we speak. For all we know, it was a natural death on both accounts. For all we know, we know nothing."
A silence followed her words. The eerie silence filled the room and crushed their throats. * * *
Outside, the same unnatural, eerie, pounding silence resounded through the alleys, across the river, into the caves of the mountains. The silence was too thick for Kevin Apollo as he walked back from the pub that evening. The strange feeling he was being watched came back to him as it did often before, and to every other person at some point in their lives. This time, however, he really was being watched.
A dark shadow in the sky. A glint of light from the reflection of an eyeball. A split second later, it was gone; he knew not what or who it was. But it was enough to make him sprint the rest of the way home. All the news of death and the eerie silence made him yet more timid.
Up high on the rooftops, Victor watched from a safer distance as the man he was watching ran away. It didn't seem he was the one he was after, but he still kept a close watch. Whether the man ran of fear of being caught or fear of Victor himself, he did not know. Following the man, he found himself near the river.
It became apparent the man was only afraid of him; he was muttering to himself, with excuses such as "trick of the night," "just a light in a window far away," and "just my imagination." However, Victor decided to tread ground over to the bridge, where he saw an abandoned hut underneath.
It felt almost foreign to walk on the flat ground at street level. Crossing the bridge, he stared into the hut. A paper lay on the ground and some trash lay about. Walking over to the banks and inside, he kicked a few things around, searching for nothing. He picked up the paper and read the tattered remains of the letter.
Dear M M l n F n ci
Meet at mark place, :00PM tonight. Do not bring the c en. Do not get seen.
Victor read over the letter again, trying to make sense of it. It could possibly be related to the deaths at NASH. He tried to fill in the blanks, but all he got out of it was replacing "mark place" with marketplace and "Si r y" with sincerely. He supposed whoever lived here could have picked it up out of curiosity. It was apparent to him that anyone who would live in that little hut by the river would not be a murderer. Nevertheless, he put the note in his pocket in case it would come in handy later. * * *
The next day was cold and foggy, and Fenworthy sat in the car sipping his tea, waiting for the rest of the investigators to get ready. He turned on the radio to a favorite station and leaned his seat back. In the back of his mind, Fenworthy knew it wouldn't be this peaceful for the rest of the day, so he took the moment and squeezed all of the serenity out of it he could. However, just as he was settling in, the radio tuned out.
His eyes snapped open. He wasn't aware they had closed. Sitting up farther in his seat, he turned up the volume. He heard nothing. Trying to tune back in, he thought curiously about what could be going on. Then, a voice crackled through the speakers that made him jump.
"Investigators," it began, echoing and fluctuating in a deafening cacophony that made Fenworthy uneasy, "you cannot stop perpetual motion. It's fatuous to believe so. You must merely let natural processes fulfill their duties, as we are here for causes imperceptible by ones such as you. We are not barbarians. We are mechanical, we are perfect, we are monochronical. We maintain anonymity while remaining familiar to all. We leave no evidence yet our mark is placed everywhere we go. You are trying to catch smoke with your bare hands."
As the speech ended, everything was silent. Seconds later, a door slammed to his right. Looking around, the other investigators were filing out and into the car. Jessica was taking her own car. All hung a portrait of foreboding over their faces, marked by the anonymous entity that had been their messenger. Fenworthy pulled his seat forward and put his head in his hands as the rest entered the car, all with the same thing on their minds.