Paradigms Lost – Chapter 17
Chapter 17: Laughing Assassin
I really don’t like this one.
I’d done plenty of work for the police, and other people. I may not have been very old, but I’d already done everything from enhance photos and research prior art on patents to, well, finding out that vampires were real. Sometimes you get feelings about things, and right now, I had a very strong, very bad feeling about the job I was doing for Xavier Ross.
Not that I felt there was anything wrong with doing the job; I didn’t think there was anything shady about the kid himself. But I was finding way too many questions than I should in a case that had been closed by police. Way too many. Oh, a lot of them were circumstantial, but the fact was that most good cops pay attention to stuff like that, and this case had been closed up so quick and neatâ€¦
The door chimed as someone came through, and I looked up from my monitor. Damn. Well, I knew he was coming soon. “Hello, Mr. Ross. Please, sit down.”
Xavier looked hopeful. “Did youâ€¦”
“I found some things, yes.” I picked up a file and handed it to him.
“For a fairly well-known figure, your brother was good at losing people. He turned out to be pretty hard to track. The bill for this is not going to be cheap.”
He was already glancing through the file. “I know. Will seven thousand dollars cut it?”
That’s about what I’d charge the cops, but â€¦ he’s serious. “I’d find that acceptable, perhaps overgenerous, but Mr. Ross, you are a minor. I’m starting to get very very uncomfortable with this. I find it extremely hard to believe your mother would approve of you spending a total of ten thousand dollars on an investigation that may not even go anywhere.”
“Look,” he said, “can we discuss that afterward? I’d really like to hear what you found.”
I sighed. “Okay. But I’m not forgetting this subject.” I turned to the monitor. “I started trying to trace his movements around the time that we first found indications that his records had been altered. At that point he was working on an article for Time on the nightclub revival in New York City.
“Now, that assignment finished up a little before Christmas; he came back up here for the holidays but then went back to New York for several days. He got an assignment that flew him out to Costa Rica, but as soon as that was done he came back to New York and again spent several days there before he came up to visit you.”
Xavier looked up, startled. “Butâ€¦ I remember him saying he’d flown straight back from Costa Rica.”
“Not unless he was letting someone use his ID and credit cards, he didn’t.”
“Waitâ€¦ you’re not the police, how could youâ€¦?”
“Let’s say that while what I did is technically probably legal I don’t want to discuss the details and the police would take a very dim view of it.” I couldn’t get direct access to such information without police authority, but there were indirect methods to get people to give you that information.
“All right,” the boy said, settling back into his chair. “I didn’t want you to do anything to get yourself in trouble.”
I shrugged. “I’m not in trouble. Now, anyway. If you talk about this to too many people I might be, so it’s up to you whether I’m in trouble.”
“Hey, I won’t talk about this.”
“Okay. Your brother then went to the West Coast and got a couple of assignments in the Los Angeles vicinity. Note that the order there is important. He’d already flown to Los Angeles when National Geographic asked him to do a photo article on modern filmmaking and another for current earthquake research at the universities.”
“Soâ€¦ he wanted to go to Los Angeles and found jobs to keep himself there?”
“That’s my guess. What I can’t get much of without extra research is the exact locations he went. I can show you the hotels where he stayed and some of the restaurants he ate at, but where he went when he was on his ownâ€¦ I really don’t know. There were a couple locations I got lucky and made a hit on — Thanation Research and Development apparently hired him during his visit as a photographer for a big release event, for instance — but for the most part? No clue. I’d have to hire some real talent to do gumshoe work through the city, and the trail’s already pretty cold.”
Xavier rolled his eyes skyward. “Damn. What about those pictures?”
“The girl?” I shrugged. “I did quite a bit of looking through various file references but I haven’t turned up an ID yet. Now, if you could wait a few monthsâ€¦”
He started to shake his head violently, then controlled himself with a visible effort. “Why a few months?”
“Because I might be able to get access to an online image comparator that can access a very large database of photos, if I ask the right people nicely. Something I’d really like to have but it’s way out of my price range, unfortunately.”
“What about hiring thoseâ€¦ people you mentioned to do the work to find out –”
No. “Xavier, that would start to get very expensive. Very, very expensive. I don’t care how much your â€¦ bank account has in it, this is going too far outside of my comfort zone. This is something much more for the police than for someone like me. You’ve got some circumstantial evidence I’ve given you; maybe they’ll reopen the case. But at this point I think I have to stop. If you were an adultâ€¦ maybe. Probably. But honestly? It sounds like you’re obsessing over this.”
Xavier glared at me with those startling gray eyes.
“I understand you cared about your brother very much –”
“She laughed,” he said suddenly.
“The biâ€¦ girl that killed him. She killed him, and he was screaming, and then she picked the phone up and laughed about it.”
Crap. I could see the anger — very cold, very hard — in his eyes, and hear it in his voice. Xavier Ross might be a kid, but he was old enough apparently to have an adult’s desire for justiceâ€¦ or revenge. “You heard this?”
“He was â€¦” his voice caught, then he managed to control it. “He was talking to me when she did it.”
“Sure it was a ‘she’?”
His smile was tight, without much humor. “Yeah. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure. Real sure. Almost sounded like a little girl, and the way my brother reacted beforeâ€¦ before she did it, he didn’t think she was a threat, just someone who wanted to use the phone.”
That was surprising on multiple levels. His brother had obviously called him from a public phone — not a hotel room, not using a cell phone. And then he’d been apparently killed quickly and savagely by someone he didn’t think of as threatening. Given that my research had shown Michael Ross as a survivor of dangerous situations around the world, and an expert in both armed and unarmed combatâ€¦ whoever took him down had to be something special. “And she laughed?”
“Oh, yeah.” His teeth clenched so hard I could see the muscles jump at his temples before he relaxed. “Iâ€¦” He swallowed. “I heard Mike sâ€¦scream, and thenâ€¦ she laughed. Like a â€¦ like a happy girl. And she said ‘Oh, so pretty, so pretty, the patterns in the moonlight. But oh, such a waste of blood.’ And then she whispered ‘ Michael’s quiet now. He says goodbye,’ and hung up on me.”
Jesus H. Christ. I couldn’t blame Xavier for his anger. That was one of the most macabre stories I’d ever heard. “I’m sorry, Xavier. That’sâ€¦ hideous.”
He looked at me. “But you’re still not going to help me anymore.”
I shook my head reluctantly. “No. This is clearly police business. Take the evidence I’ve got, bring it to Lieutenant Reisman — you know her?”
He nodded. “She interviewed me.”
“Okay, take it to her, tell her you got it from me. I’m sure they’ll have to reopen the case, especially if you and your family push for it.”
He looked unconvinced, but apparently the expression on my face convinced him I wasn’t going to change my mind. “Okay.”
He got out his credit card, but I waved it away. “Not taking any more from you, not after that story. Consider it a public service. Someone like that shouldn’t get away with it.”
His expression brightened, just a hair. “Thanks. I mean it.”
“You’re welcome.” I shook his hand. “Good luck, Xavier.”
I watched him go out the door. They damn well better reopen that case, because he’s not taking “no” for an answer.