Check out chapter 1 here.
She was asleep. And he was grateful. This way, she couldn’t see the fatigue and fear in his face. And, oddly, guilt.
It’s like I was there but I couldn’t DO anything, Shakes thought to himself. I feel like a bloody accomplice to the whole sordid thing!
It was irrational, but there it was. And Shakes couldn’t deny it – this changed everything. Who couldn’t they catch this way? Detective work would never be the same again. It was a gruelling experience and utterly horrible, but the pay-off would surely be fantastic! Why on earth are they not using this technology more? Why all this secret cloak and dagger stuff?
De Villiers’ words echoed in his mind: “It’s all in there. It’s just chemicals reacting to the surroundings – like when it gets hot, you sweat. Seeing is not always believing. Sometimes you’ve got to believe first to understand what you’re seeing. You just need to get used to it.”
He would get used to it. And tomorrow he would be first in the office, getting to the bottom of this thing. This man – greedy for murder – he was going to get him. Just like he had put dozens of criminals before him behind bars.
He changed clothes slowly and quietly, eventually climbing into bed, admiring his wife’s soft silhouette in the darkness, sleeping peacefully. His body immediately took to the comfortable sheets, washing over the aches and pains of the day. He knew he was going to fall asleep quickly and that comforted him.
As his head fell onto his pillow, that ghostly killer’s face flashed back in his mind. But this time he didn’t banish it but rather held it there, challenging it in his mind’s eye.
“We’ll get you,” he whispered as he drifted away.
He arrived at his new office, early as intended, ready to get going. He powered up his new laptop on his desk and clicked his shared folders, hoping to already have access to the case files. Unfortunately no such luck, but he did start typing up his own report. It seemed easier to remember it all now, like it really was a film this time, like it didn’t really matter – he was just recollecting something he had seen on a screen.
De Villiers sauntered in after an hour, smelling of coffee and cigarettes as always; white, gray hair in a mess, and wearing his familiar white collared shirt and black trousers. It was now just past seven in the morning.
“Ah, an early starter,” he said as he walked past Shakes and headed to the coffee machine. “Much like myself. We’ll get along just fine.”
Shakes turned in his chair and looked at him.
“How you feeling this morning?” De Villiers asked, his back to Shakes, putting his fourth spoon of sugar in his dirty mug of coffee and giving it a stir.
“Great, thanks.” He paused. “Er… sorry about last night. I really didn’t expect all that. All the Commissioner told me, when I signed up, was some vague story about how they had discovered that ghosts were actually the result of some magnetism of the earth that records events and then plays it back at certain times, and that we now had technology that helped us to manipulate that and effectively see who had committed a murder. I honestly didn’t believe half of what he told me, it sounded as if he had been in the Twilight Zone; and so I didn’t expect it to really look as if there were actually ghosts in the room… or to feel so… irrational.”
De Villiers was staring at the blank wall in front of him as he stirred his mug and said, “It’s called Dread. That’s what they call it. Yes, well they’re playing with some interesting and wild natural forces there, which affect us in strange, kinetic ways. You held up better than many others have, Shakes.”
He took a sip of his coffee.
He looked back down at his mug, turned around and started fiddling in his pockets. “You know Shakes, we’ve known each other a long time, worked together on a few cases, and I think you handled it well.”
“Thanks,” Shakes replied. “By the way, how is Shaun? Not missing the work here, is he?”
“He… might be,” de Villiers said. He stopped fiddling. “Well, you’ll see the rest of the team will saunter in here about eight. Except for Jessica, she’ll probably be in at nine due to a late night doing the whole cop thing.” He took a deep slug of his coffee. “I’ll leave you to finish your report. I’m sure Serita will sort out your access to the system when she gets in.”
De Villiers grinned and started fiddling again. “Yes, all in good time. When they come in I’ll introduce you to the your team.” He walked away to his office.
Shakes nodded and turned around, attending to his laptop and putting the final touches on his report. His description of the killer: Caucasian, most definitely; scrawny build. Long hair, to the shoulders. Strange. Then he remembered – the suit. The killer wore what looked like a fairly well cut suit, but a very outdated cut. What colour? It was very difficult to pinpoint, the eerie flashing of the projection made it hard to know. He tried to remember – on, off, on, off. No luck. But definitely a suit jacket and trousers. No tie, which probably made sense, yet the shirt looked like it could do with a tie. Smart shoes if he could remember correctly. And, oh yes, it seemed as if he may be blonde.
Clearly they were dealing with a businessman, an educated man. Well, that could make things either more difficult or easier. Easier as they may be able to find some kind of motive and plot his next move. If he was like most serial killers, there would be some kind of pattern and motive for his murders – no matter how demented. Even the choice of method – strangulation – was a vital clue. Difficult because he could be known as an upstanding citizen, and that would make getting close to him a problem.
But what was with the hair? It was almost like a mullet. What kind of businessman has that kind of hair style? That might make him quite easy to find, actually.
“Hendri,” Shakes shouted over his shoulder. “How many people has this guy killed overall, and how many while Shaun was working on the case? And where?”
“We’ll go over the case details just now,” de Villiers shouted back, keeping his eyes on his own laptop. “But two that we know of, all the time that Shaun’s been on the case.”
Shakes considered this a moment. “Methods?”
“Strangulation,” de Villiers said. “Always the same.”
Strangulation. Yes, that said something. A slow, difficult method. You needed to be committed to it – it’s not quick like a gunshot or a stabbing. You need to go through with it all the way. You need to be the kind of person who can stand it, perhaps even…
“Ah, Serita. Told you she would be in at eight. But here comes Jessica too; well that works.”
Shakes was still in his thoughts.
“Let’s all go outside for a smoke,” de Villiers said, already heading to the door nearby, leading out to a balcony.
Shakes tapped on his desk and stood up. A tall, well dressed, young Indian girl, probably in her mid 20's, glided in and smiled at him.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Serita.”
Just behind her, a short, brawny blonde woman walked in and gave Shakes a beady eye.
“Good morning,” she said in a familiar, flat, White South African accent.
“Good morning,” Shakes returned.
“Well?” De Villiers said, cigarette in hand and holding the door open. “It’s cold outside but not cold enough to keep us from a smoke. Come along.”
They all moved to the door except the white girl, who meandered to the coffee machine and poured herself a mug. She quickly joined them outside, cigarette already lit. Serita wasn’t smoking and neither was Shakes. He had quit years ago. He tried e-cigarettes but eventually had just gone cold turkey. Not even the previous night’s smoke really made him want to go back. Not with that taste of vomit and tobacco. And with de Villiers so close, and the small balcony cramped, Shakes was struggling with the pungent stale tobacco on de Villiers’ clothes and the mix of coffee and tobacco on his breath. Nothing would make Shakes want to have that again. He eyed de Villiers’ tobacco stained moustache.
“Well, you all probably know David by reputation,” de Villiers was saying, pointing to Shakes with his cigarette hand. “We all call him Shakes. He got that nickname when he was quitting these things.” He held the cigarette up. He then gestured to Serita. “Shakes, Serita is your data and research girl. All the data we get and you get and she gets she’ll sift and get it all to you in small, easy to handle chunks. Or, in big chunks, depending on how you prefer to work. Whatever the case, she’s here to take data and transform it into English, into something we can understand and use. She also liasons with SVC, forensic and the paranormal science unit, which I’ll tell you about in a moment. Also, all your technology needs, access to files, etcetera, she’s your girl.”
Shakes nodded to her.
“And this is Jessica,” de Villiers said, gesturing to the white girl. “She’ll say she doesn’t like me putting it this way, but I know she really does: Jessica’s the real cop amongst us. She’ll manage suspects for you, interrogate witnesses, that sort of thing. Any meetings you need arranged, that’s what she can do best. You want to meet the vice president of Russia? Jessica knows how to muscle you in anywhere.”
Jessica sniffed loudly and flattened her lips. She took a deep drag from her cigarette. “Ya, well someone has to do it, and detectives need to keep their mind on the case, ya know.”
“Pretty much,” said de Villiers. “Now, while Jessica is basically your partner when it comes to your time on the street, both her and Serita don’t attend any Projectings. This isn’t because they are women…”
“Bloody straight it’s not,” Jessica said.
“Yes. It’s because we want them to remain as objective as possible. We’ve discovered that Projectings can have a certain… emotional effect… so you needn’t feel bad about last night Shakes. It’ll get better though. And if it doesn’t I’m here to keep you from falling. But…” he said this quickly, “It’s not because they’re women and all the emotions and all that. All over the world it’s been found this kind of team works best – you need some people who can be highly objective about the case, see it at face value. That’s what Serita and Jessica are here to do. You and I, on the other hand, are here to be both subjective and objective. We have to get into the mind of the killer.”
Shakes nodded. He was trying to hold his breath so he wouldn’t have to smell de Villiers’.
“Good. As you know, I’m here to provide you with the criminal psychology aspects, which I know you are rather good at yourself. I’m also here to help you, Shakes, and monitor you as far as your psychological condition is concerned. Homicide isn’t for the feint hearted, and with this paranormal science nonsense what-what it can get a bit more hairy and quite… well, psychological.”
“Yes,” Shakes said. “I can see why.”
De Villiers nodded. “Alright, well, as you can see we have our own little office here, to help us think a little clearer. In the next room, behind those coded doors, that’s where the paranormal science guys are.”
Shakes coughed. Damn, but de Villiers’ breath was bad!
“Those are basically the guys who handle the technology, set things up for us, and so forth. I advise you to rather speak to Serita if you need anything from them as they can be a bit… well… odd. It’s a mixed bag of pure objective scientists, technology geeks and paranormal aficionados. I mean, it’s a real geek paradise in there, complete with conspiracy theorists and the strangest posters on the walls you’ve ever seen. Some of those people will have you coming out there believing in ancient astronauts and the Lizard People, while they don’t believe a stitch of it themselves. All their ideas are pretty wild. Sometimes their ideas are not conducive to help us in our quest for objectivity. That’s a funny bunch. They’ll really confuse you and some of them – those from the paranormal side – won’t exactly help you to stay sane.”
Shakes nodded again. Why did de Villiers keep going back to this?
As if he were reading him, de Villiers said, “We, and the three other Spectre divisions around the world, like in Australia, find this whole thing can take its toll on people in the investigation psychologically. My job is to watch your psychological process, make sure you’re okay. And you have to keep an eye on me as well, although since I’m trained in psychological matters its easier for me to be objective and take things for what they are. You’re the one who’s going to get really close in this case, not me.”
Shakes nodded again while De Villiers took a long drag from his cigarette. “So, any questions?”
“Yes, when do I get access to…”
“I already requested access for you last night, I’m sure when our meeting is done you’ll be able to see all the files,” Serita piped up.
“Thank you,” Shakes said. “Well, I’d like to get to work quickly. I want to get up to speed on this guy, everything you guys know first. Please, no theories just yet, I want the bare facts to start with, then we can discuss theories.”
“That’s it,” De Villiers said. “Getting straight to the job. Well done Shakes. Glad to see you’re taking charge. Let’s do it.”
Shakes got back inside first, relieved to get away from the cigarette smoke and de Villiers’ breath. He headed to his desk and fired up his laptop again. Sure enough, Serita was right, he now had access.
A couple of things immediately popped up. Firstly, last night’s murder was suspected to be the third; a second had been committed just two months before. In January.
The fulfilment of a new years resolution? Shakes thought. He had dealt with a homicide before where that was the exact motive of the killer.
Onto method and de Villiers was right. All three were strangulation. But why was it assumed it was the same killer? What kind of evidence was there? Only because of the Projections? Surely not, Shakes thought. There must be some forensic evidence. He flipped over to the relevant tab on the screen to find the word ‘classified’ all over it.
“Evidence?” he said out loud with a raised eyebrow. Serita turned in her chair.
“Oh, sorry. One sec.”
Some typing and clicking.
“Just hit F5 to refresh.”
Shakes did so and there it was – pictures, videos, of all of the three murders. He was startled. What happened to cold, hardcore forensic evidence? He wasn’t aware that he had actually said this out loud.
“The trouble is we’re not finding much in that vein,” Serita said. “You see, no fingerprints, no weapon left behind, not even skin under the fingernails. He never assaults the female victims sexually. He just arrives, chokes them with his rope, and leaves. He obviously uses the same rope for all his… work.”
“And he sure enjoys his work,” Jessica interrupted, ending off her sentence with a few choice words. “He doesn’t ‘just choke them’, he strangles them slowly, smiling and enjoying it, giving them just enough air to keep them alive, cutting it off slowly. I’d prefer it if he just brought a shotgun or summin’ – cleaning up a bloody mess will be better than what he does. But he’s an old-school serial killer who laaks to be in control.”
“No theories just yet, please,” Shakes said.
De Villiers nodded. “That’s it, Shakes. Taking charge.”
Shakes frowned at him. “Ok, so what forensic evidence do we have?” He started clicking through all the videos and pictures. “There must be something here I’m used to working with…”
“Ok – none? When you said we ‘didn’t have much’ I didn’t realise you meant none! How are we meant to work with that?”
There was silence. Eventually, de Villiers piped up: “We’ll see what the boys can cook up after last night’s ordeal.”
Shakes frowned and then looked to see if there were any identity matches on the artist’s impression. When he got there, he found there was nothing but a short sentence saying no identification had yet been made. Official status? A phantom.
“No ID? What? We have photos and video evidence! What’s the use of this technology if we can’t use it to get anything solid?”
“We’re struggling to find any positive matches on his description,” Serita said matter-of-factly. Shakes knew that already, obviously. She said no more. That was it.
“Anything?” Shakes asked, looking around.
“He’s a ghost then!”
“We don’t use that kind of phraseology here, Shakes,” De Villiers piped up immediately.
Shakes looked at him and breathed in deeply. “Ok. Phantom, then? That’s what the computer’s telling me.”
“Better. But Spectre is what we refer to. We’re the Spectre Division after all.”
“Not that any of those words really help,” Jessica said flatly. “Look, Shakes, is there anything ah can do? Ah’m getting bored just sitting here.”
“I want to ask for your theories in a moment,” Shakes replied. “First, let me take a look at Shaun’s reports. He must have been onto something.”
As Shakes moved the mouse to get to the area on-screen, de Villiers interrupted, sitting in front of him.
“Before you do that, you probably best know Shaun’s state of mind. You’ll read those reports and be a bit muddled, I think.”
Damn, that breath again. Shakes raised an eyebrow. “Where is he assigned to now? I haven’t seen him around. I heard he was taking a holiday.”
Jessica blew through her nose. “I miss him. He had his head screwed on straight, that’s far sure.”
Serita gave her a dirty look but kept quiet.
“This is why I’m going to be keeping a closer eye on you than I did on Shaun,” de Villiers continued. “That’s why this line of work is dangerous business. Homicide is bad enough, but when you have to watch the murders over and over and experience what you experienced last night numerous times, it appears to have its toll.”
“Out with it,” Shakes said. “Where is he?”
“What? You serious?”
“For a few months now. He has good days and bad days.”
Shakes stared blankly at de Villiers. “He is in a psychiatric hospital?” he said. “Shaun? No. What? What happened?”
“Those reports will tell you. He claims that sometimes the temperature would drop unexpectedly no matter where he was. That the murderer was stalking him – making appearances when he would go out for lunch, haunting… um… appearing to him at home. He said he would wake up at night and see the murderer at the side of his bed grinning at him, moving towards him, and then disappearing. He would hear moaning at night, somewhere in his roof. Threats from different voices whenever he was alone. Cold, damp hands around his throat when he was sleeping. He felt he was being watched all the time. He even claimed he woke up one night and felt as if something was sucking the air out of him!”
“That’s enough,” Serita said. Jessica gave her a satisfied look.
“He, uh… basically, you could say he thought he was being haunted,” de Villiers added. “Things moving around in his house at night. It got pretty crazy, Shakes.”
Serita got up. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said, walking away determinedly.