Having thought long and hard about what project to work on next, i decided to make significant changes to Better Than Human, my modern day cyberpunk thriller. Despite my love of Sci Fi, it seems that i'm better at writing crime than most other things, so i thought i'd have a gradual lead in to the story through an FBI invesitagion.
So here's one of the opening chapters. I'd really appreciate any comments or feedback, both good and bad.
A light wind swirled the desert dust into tiny spirals that spent themselves on the hood of my black SUV, leaving a fine patina of pale brown and white that stuck to the hot metal.
Climbing out, I adjusted my suit and tie in the wing mirror before settling my shades and heading towards the yellow police tape, the same dust coating my polished shoes as I kicked it up in little puffs with each step.
Uniformed officers stood at five metre intervals, ready to intercept anyone foolish enough to try and enter the parking lot outside the diner.
Stopping under the pretext of polishing my shades on my sleeve, I took in the scene, knowing from experience that first impressions often gave details that you missed once you got into the nitty gritty of an investigation.
The old-fashioned diner sat just north of the I70 a few miles west of Topeka, Kansas, where the green fields that surrounded the town gave way to rocky desert for a small stretch before turning green again further west.
My SUV was parked between an ambulance and a patrol car, which in turn were held up by half a dozen other emergency service vehicles parked haphazardly by the first responders.
The lot itself had eight cars and one truck half filling it, slow business for Wednesday lunchtime but not unusually so. The rest of the parking lot was filled with police and paramedics, some taping off the doors while others suited up to head into the dark interior of the building.
The building itself was mostly wood and red brick, built sometime in the early 1900’s, with forlorn looking creepers covering the near end.
Half a mile west I could just make out the sign for a gas station, the building itself a dark smudge almost eclipsed by the heat haze.
The officer nearest took a few hesitant steps forward, dark uniform smeared with dust. Damn stuff got everywhere.
“Excuse me sir, this area is restricted”, he said uncertainly, looking at the suit and trying to figure out how important I was.
I put him out of his misery and showed him my badge.
“Special Agent Carver, FBI”.
He scanned the picture and nodded respectfully. “Thank you sir. Sure is a mess in there”.
“I’m sure. Were you first on scene?”
The officer shook his head. “No sir, just got here five minutes ago. Sergeant Fuentez is in charge, she’s suiting up”. He pointed to the doors where a small, intense looking Hispanic woman with stripes on her sleeve was working her way smoothly into a paper suit.
“Thanks”. I slipped under the tape and made a beeline for the sergeant. She saw me coming and her expression said she had me figured out before I’d gotten halfway there. I hoped she was in for a surprise.
She finished suiting up and turned to face me, arms folded as she prepared the traditional argument over jurisdiction.
“Sergeant Fuentez, I’m Special Agent Carver from the Kansas City field office”, I said as I reached her, “and I’m not going to try and take your crime scene away from you. Think of me as an interested observer”.
She blinked as I held out my hand with a smile. She shook it as if she was waiting for the punch line from a bad joke.
“So what’s the FBI doing here if you don’t want to take charge?” She asked, arms re-crossing her chest.
I took my shades off and shrugged. “Don’t get your hopes up, I’ve got optional jurisdiction depending on what we find. I just don’t believe in marching in and taking over, it’s not polite”.
She raised an eyebrow. “Polite. Right”.
I grinned. “So how about you tell me what we’ve got?”
She threw me a paper suit and filled me in while I struggled into it far less gracefully than she had.
“We got a call about an hour ago, waitress saying a guy was going crazy with a knife. By the time we got a unit out here we had seven corpses and three survivors too shocked to make any sense. Soon as they made sure it was secure they sealed it off and called for backup”.
I pulled on a pair of latex gloves and gestured for her to enter first. “Any description on the suspect?” I asked as I followed her through the door, blinking at the change from bright sunshine.
She shook her head, but I wasn’t sure if it was in answer to my question or a mute response to the scene in front of us. The smell hit me first, the burned copper tang of blood overlaid with faeces and stale sweat.
The slow whirring of the ceiling fans did little to dispel the stench, the motor straining as it pushed the humid air in pointless circles. A fly buzzed angrily, head butting against the window as if trying to escape the carnage. Other than that you could have heard a pin drop.
The thing that drew the eye, however, was the row of corpses neatly laid out on the wooden floor, sightless eyes staring at the ceiling in mute horror.
Moving over to them, I crouched down to take a closer look. I’d seen a lot of dead bodies in my time and whoever had made these was a master of his craft.
Each one had had their throat cut from ear to ear, a single slice that almost severed the head. From the blood spattered across the room it was clear that they had been moved after death, trails leading from various tables to their final resting places.
There were four men and three women laid out, no children thank god.
“One guy did this?” Fuentez’ voice cracked on the last word.
I nodded. “Yeah, and he sure knows his shit. Single cuts made with a long blade, razor sharp too. See the edges of the wounds? No tearing, means that the skin was sliced. Machete maybe, or at the very least a Tanto”.
“Tanto?” She asked as I stood and followed a blood trail back to one of the tables. “Japanese dagger, very slightly curved like a katana, about a foot long and lethally sharp. Very nasty”. I reached the table and stopped, closing my eyes for a second and then reopening them, focusing on the first thing that caught my attention. Two plates were sat on the table, one on each side and both half eaten.
“That’s interesting”, I muttered to myself.
“What is?” Fuentez asked, hanging back a few feet from the table.
I pointed at the nearest plate. Half a burger and a few fries remained, now covered in blood. “I’m pretty sure that’s not gravy, but look at the other plate”.
Fuentez looked but shrugged. “What about it? There’s no blood”.
“Exactly, but the fork still has a mouthful on it and it’s been dropped on the table, yet the chair hasn’t been pushed back or tipped. That says to me that whoever was eating wasn’t expecting their lunch date to get their throat cut.
I think this is the first kill”.
I stepped back from the table, turning sharply and drawing my hand across where the first victim’s throat would have been.
“Whoever did it walked past, turned and struck. Slit the man’s throat and pulled him backwards onto the floor”. I pointed at the blood drying on the floor by the chair, then moved around the table to the other side. Frowning, I dropped to one knee and tried to read the patterns in the blood there.
“What you got?” Fuentez asked, clearly hooked on my interpretation of events.
“I’m not sure”, I mused as I stood and stepped back to survey the table from a different angle. “It looks like the killer took out the first victim then got to the second before they could do more than drop their fork. See the blood here?” I pointed to a spray of sticky droplets that started about half a metre away from the second chair and stretched for about another metre before petering out.
“I guess the second victim went into shock at seeing their lunch date killed, then the killer moved around and took them out too. Fast, neat work. Definitely a professional, but why kill seven random people in a diner?”
Fuentez shrugged. “Maybe only one or two were the targets and the rest were killed to cover their tracks?”
I nodded. “It’s a good theory”. I glanced at the row of bodies as a CSI began taking photos. “Get me an ID on all the victims and we’ll run them to see what comes up. I hope you’re right, because if not we’re looking at someone who kills like a pro but does it for fun, and that would be a very bad thing”.
The sergeant folded her arms across her chest again. “Run their ID’s? I thought you weren’t going to come in and take over my crime scene?”
I shrugged and smiled. “I wasn’t going to, but that was before you came up with the idea that this might be a professional hit. If you’re right, that means it falls right into my ballpark and I’m afraid that makes me captain of the team”.