“What seets thou else
In the dark backward abysm of time?“
William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Act 1, Scene 2)
Tashi Fujara was stunning; and she knew it: she had wrapped her Amazonian body in an immaculate, tailored, slate-grey suit (which displayed, without flaunting, her attributes), and she walked on sensible, but exorbitant, shoes. Her hair had been recently coiffed short, with copper highlights, which accented the sienna flecks in her grey eyes. She didn’t wear make-up.
She surveyed the crime-scene quickly, walked through the parking lot, and stopped beside her partner, Marvin (actually little more than an executive assistant), who handed her a file that contained a newspaper proof for the New Vancouver morning edition. She read it quickly and crossed out imprudent information (she harbored suspicions that Marvin included careless details to annoy her):
There was a multiple-homicide in an extensive warehouse district in New Vancouver last night. Investigators are sifting through the remains; the victims were shot, and their faces obliterated, before a purposely set fire destroyed any useful evidence.
So far, none of the bodies have been identified (neither finger-prints, nor dental records matched records of missing persons, known criminals, or et cetera). The warehouse district opened into a colossal, underground complex; a warren of living quarters and laboratories.
This was the kind of puzzle Tashi savored. She was determined to make rapid progress before the CIA caught-wind. They would eventually assume control and assign her an adjunct role — the CIA, like most American institutions, assumed superiority over foreign matters, and they treated CSIS Officers like feeble-minded cousins. But she’d worry about the CIA later; for now, her main concern was the locals: the policewoman was going to be uncommonly difficult. Inspector Hornbeam seemed competent, but she’d get in the way. Tashi had read the Inspector’s file on the flight from Ottawa. Hornbeam’s superiors were complimentary, but Tashi read between the lines: Hornbeam had a tendency to defy her superiors; she must be good, because she’d never been officially reprimanded.
Tashi leveled her gaze at the Inspector and said, “Could I have a word with you?”
The Inspector followed Tashi away from the others.
“Aradny. Friends call me Rad. I suppose I should call you Tash? I read your file too.”
“I see,” Tashi replied. “It seems we understand each other, Hornbeam”
“Yes; I believe your right, Tash.”
Tashi smiled: “It’s possible that I could learn to tolerate you; unfortunately, as of now, you’re removed from the case. I anticipate complete cooperation.”
Inspector Hornbeam gazed into Special Agent Fujara’s eyes, turned around, and sauntered toward the warehouse.
“God damn it!” Tashi said. “For Christ sake! Hornbeam! Stop right there or — so help me — I’ll shoot you in the God-damn back!”
The Inspector stopped, turned back around, and said, “Bullshit. Your best bet would be to accept my assistance until I’m dragged away kicking and screaming; and, even then, I’ll stick my business up your ass until it hurts. This is my town, Fujara: don’t forget it! You need connections.”
“Okay, Hornbeam. Until I get my team up to speed, I’ll pretend you’re important.”
Aradny snapped her right hand up, palm toward herself, fingers splayed toward the sky: “Fine,” she said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tashi asked, pointing at the fingers of Aradny’s hand: “Is it some kind of local sign-slang?”
Aradny smiled, rearranged her hand so that only the middle finger pointed up, and said, “It’s a bouquet of these.”
Tashi heard muffled laughter from the group of Special Ops men behind her: she spun around quickly, but the laughter stopped abruptly, and all agents were surprisingly busy.
Tashi turned back to Aradny, who was wearing an accommodating smile: “I really hate to repeat myself,” the Inspector said, “but I prefer to be called Aradny. What could I help you with?”
Oh, for Christ sake, Tashi thought; I’m surrounded by imbeciles; and, as an added bonus, I have to deal with a bloated ego. She sighed: “Fine,” she said; “let’s make our way into the depths of the warehouse. You never know: some day I may even be glad I met you.”
The Inspector’s smile grew brighter: “And I look forward to working with you too, Fujara.”
They descended six flights of stairs and pushed through a door to a sterile hallway. They split up; Tashi went to the left, Aradny to the right.
Tashi walked past six doors: three on each side, which offered a view into flame-induced disaster; the eighth door was ajar — she pushed it open and walked in.
Some sort of electronics had been suspended from the ceiling, but only a tangled mess of wiring remained. A block of equipment had also been removed from the floor, beneath the wires.
The room was seamless, wall-to-wall stainless steel; clinical, except for the half-dozen dead bodies that littered the floor. Two of them were naked, the rest were in various stages of dress. Five females and one male; their faces had been obliterated by gun-shots, at close range. The victims were young and in excellent shape, and none wore socks or shoes. Two of the victims matched victim one — from the parking lot — too closely. Two other victims were also of a type. The hairs on the back of Tashi’s neck stood up. She smiled.
She left the room and continued down the hallway. Only one other room had escaped the fire: there were eight people in the room’s vestibule; five males and three females. Again, Tashi noticed phenotypic similarities. As in the other room, the victim’s faces were obscured by bullet-wounds.
She searched further inside the twisting hallways of the room and discovered a woman who didn’t harmonize with the other victims; she was middle-aged, and clothed in a lab-jacket over scrubs. She had been wearing comfortable, soft-soled shoes. Her body’s posture looked unnatural; possibly due to how she fell when shot, but something looked odd.
Outwardly, Tashi remained calm, but her curiosity was aroused as never before. She’d dreamed of the day when a scene would dumfound her. She called back the photographers and had them take dozens of additional close-up and odd-angle shots (they were not a happy bunch, but knew better than to complain).
Tashi met Aradny at the stairwell, where they exchanged information; their observations had been similar. They examined many more levels, but both were satisfied with their original survey. They returned to the parking lot.
Aradny smiled at Tashi and said, “I suppose you’re Tech-Team is on their way: I’m going to grab some sleep — be back in the morning.” Then she turned to walked away.
Tashi called after her: “Hornbeam! I’ll search you before you go.”
“Is that necessary?”
“Yes,” Tashi replied, and checked Aradny carefully before waving her away.
“Power is transitory,” Aradny said.
“And yet,” Tashi said, “I think you’ll find it very difficult to return to the crime-scene tomorrow. Here, have my superior’s card, in case you want someone to complain to.”
Aradny’s efficient, rhythmic steps echoed off of the warehouse walls.