Friday, March 23, 2012

MEMORIA. A Corporation of Lies (Chater 2)

Chapter two

                Edward Baggins slid three fingers underneath his belt and studied the detainee's face. The man sat in the interrogation room. A soundproof observation mirror, half the wall wide, separated the detainee from the detective in the utility room.
                A man's face could tell Baggins a lot. A heavy forehead in combination with pronounced brow bones and a square chin betrayed violent tendencies and high aggression levels. A small mouth, thin lips and narrow, close-set eyes revealed stealthiness of character: this was the type prone to sexual abuse. But the man in front of the detective didn't seem to fit the typical mold.
                Women had to find his oval face attractive with its high square cheekbones, a straight nose, light-green eyes and dark hair. The man was a couple of inches shorter then Baggins who used to pump iron when he was younger and therefore looked slightly bigger with wider shoulders.
                Frank Shelby sat at the desk in the interrogation room staring straight in front. He wore a slightly crinkled navy raincoat over a red-stained shirt: Baggins could easily tell that the stains weren't blood. The man was facing a camera mounted on a tripod. The chair next to it stood empty.
                It had been a while since Edward Baggins had rested his fat butt on the chair's polished seat. It had been ages since he'd last heard the familiar claims, I didn't kill! and I want to call my lawyer! that greeted him whenever he entered the interrogation room. They were usually accompanied by tears and bail pleas, by detainees' assurances that they didn't remember anything, that the whole thing was nothing but a ginormous mistake. Then they all begged him not to call for a Memoria technician, hoping he'd give the memory scan a miss.
                That had been a long time ago. No murders had been committed in New York for a long time. The corporation's methods had proven efficient enough, and the number of capital offences had gradually dwindled to nothing. Still, the city's police force remained the biggest in the country. It had to be: the Bronx camp still housed almost three hundred thousand migrants. And migrants, they don't feel obliged to visit Memoria. They keep their thoughts to themselves.
                The door of the utility room opened, letting in the gray mane of Bud Jessup, the chief of the police department. Without saying a word, he handed the detective a file and glanced through the mirrored glass.
                "Has the victim's identity been established?" Baggins asked as he leafed through the paperwork.
                "They're busy with it now."
                "Why didn't she wear the bracelet? How on earth did she manage to take it off?"
                "As if I don't want to know!" The chief of police leaned over the control panel next to the glass wall and studied the detainee. "I'm afraid, you've got your job cut out for you, Ed. It's not an easy case. Not an easy suspect."
                Baggins looked up from the file.
                "And don't look at me like that," Jessup stood up. "I know better than you do that there's no bloody murder without a bloody motive. And you're gonna find it for me." He smoothed out his thick gray hair and rested his hand on the detective's shoulder. "Now go and talk to him. You're good at that. Strike a chord and try to wheedle out whatever it is he has...
                "Bud," at work, Baggins avoided being too familiar with his boss, but the moment called for some intimacy. "What're you driving at? If this Shelby is innocent, he has nothing to worry about. He'll be out in no time, no charges filed. It could be manslaughter for all we know. He could have taken their bedroom games one step too far and didn't notice that he'd-"
                "Very well," the chief of police shrugged, dismissing his ideas. "Just go through the file and have a heart-to-heart with him before his brief arrives."
                Baggins nodded and returned to the file. He knew what his old friend had meant to say. There had been no murders in New York for over five years now. Surely Jessup had already had the town hall on the line demanding to get to the bottom of it ASAP. He wouldn't be surprised if Memoria's expert and mnemotechnic team made it to the station before the man's lawyer did. The Mayor had his head firmly implanted up the corporation bosses' asses. Nothing new there. The suspect was a state government lawyer so they should expect DC calling in no time.
                Baggins turned the page, thinking. His boss had passed his anxiety onto him. Scanning pages of small print, he marked out that Shelby had done some serious boxing in the past although an injury to his forearm had prevented him from pursuing a professional career. Baggins made a mental note. He'd also had a record of police assistance: when the suspect had been twenty years old, he'd defended a fellow trainee student against some hoods. The fellow student had apparently been an acting assistant city attorney. Later in court, Shelby testified against them.
                Baggins snapped the file shut and left the utility room, leaving Bud Jessup alone with the recording system.
                When he entered the interrogation room, Shelby still sat staring at the desk, his left hand feeling his empty right wrist: the electronic bracelet had been removed as part of the arrest procedure. Baggins flipped the camera on, checked his holster and said,
                "Feel strange, eh?"
                "What does?" the suspect raised his eyes at him.
                "The bracelet. Feels funny when it's not there, doesn't it? As if a body part's missing."
                Shelby didn't answer. He sat there staring blankly at the desk.
                "Never mind," the detective sat at the desk opposite and placed the file in front of him. "It won't last. Once we're finished, you'll go back to jail. There, they'll give you the bracelet back, after they've changed the encoding."
                He clenched his hands and got serious.
                "My name is Edward Baggins and I'm investigating the murder case which currently lists you as the primary suspect. I'm informing you that under the ninety-third amendment, your name is now on the special category list, the electronic bracelet is temporarily confiscated, and you're deprived of your right to erase your memories. If you refuse to cooperate, we will have to contact Memoria for their expert and mnemotechnic team. In this case, you'll have to undergo a memory scan."
                The detective paused, watching Shelby. "Want to make a statement?"
                Frank raised his head. For a few moments he studied the detective and asked in a calm voice,
                "Where's my lawyer?"
                "He's on his way."
                Baggins couldn't help admiring the man's composure. Looked like Jessup had his work cut out for him with this one. He undid his sleeve buttons and started rolling them up, exposing thick hairy forearms. "I could turn the camera off, you know. Want to say something off record?"
                Shelby placed his elbows on the desk and rubbed his handcuffed wrists. He glanced at the mirror partition behind Baggins's back and returned the man's stare.
                "You have a good face, detective. And I appreciate your trying to speak with me off the record. But," he shook his head, "I won't speak to you without my lawyer."
                "I promise," Baggins turned around, nodded to the unseen observer behind the mirror and turned back to Shelby. "I'll have the equipment turned off. I don't want to waste our time. So?" he opened the file and got busy sorting the papers.
                Shelby remained silent.
                "Frank. You help me, and I'll help you."
                Baggins never pressurized his suspects. No need to. Once they realized the Memoria expert was waiting, they would tell him all he needed and then some.
                After about a minute, Shelby spoke. He rambled on, reasoning with himself, and immediately the detective managed to single out a few interesting facts. The suspect knew the victim by the name of Kathleen and used to see her occasionally at his place. She always called him herself or contacted him by email. Alternatively, she arrived at his apartment first, preferring to wait for him there. Shelby had gone so far as to entrust her with the door key - something the detective would never have done. To allow a stranger access to your home... oh well. It was one thing sleeping with a woman, or living with one, but these two didn't seem to know themselves what kind of relationship they were having.
                Still, at this point he didn't want to interrupt the suspect. Let him pour his heart out.
                "I meant to ask her to tell me more about herself tonight. I was going to propose." Shelby tried to raise his hands, but the gesture failed, restricted by his handcuffs. He laced his fingers and lowered his wrists onto the desk. "But tell me, detective-"
                "You can call me Edward if you wish."
                "All right. Edward. Can you give me one reason why I should kill her?"
                That's what Baggins himself wanted to know.
                "Frank," he produced a pen and a clean sheet of paper. "Can anyone confirm seeing you together? How often? Where and when?"
                "Our doorman can, I suppose... Also, a friend of mine has a bar in Brooklyn. His name is Mike. Kathleen and I used to go there for a meal or a beer, or to watch a game…" Shelby paused, thoughtful.
                Baggins waited patiently over his notes.
                "There's also the girl from the minimarket next door. She used to like Kathleen a lot. She once told me we were a handsome couple. I think," Frank rubbed the bridge of his nose, "I think she might remember how many times she saw us together."
                "Excellent. We'll have to pose them a few questions. Now I want you to concentrate and tell me. Did your girlfriend seem concerned about anything lately? Received threats, maybe?"
                "No, she didn't," Frank shook his head. "She… She used to be outgoing and cheerful. One thing I did notice before leaving for DC, she seemed sort of preoccupied."
                "Did you meet before you left?"
                "No. No, we spoke on the phone. She seemed reserved and kept losing track of our conversation."
                Baggins was about to ask his next question, but Shelby added,
                "Then there was the cabman. On my way home from the airport, I spoke to Kathleen on the phone. Nothing special, really, only that her voice sounded strange. Preoccupied, you could say so. And hoarse. She told me she'd had a cold, but was feeling better already…"
                Frank stopped and rubbed the bridge of his nose again. "I spoke to the cabman, too. I told him how it had gone in DC, said the place was rebuilt anew…"
                "Did you take his plate number?"
                "No, but… The cabman is a Hopper veteran guy, huge, wide face, thick mustache. I'm sure you can find him through the airport transportation department.
                "I will," Baggins marked it down.
                He could already see the way Shelby was heading. The man was recreating the events on his way home from the airport. Clever move: the more eyewitnesses he had, the more chances he had to be acquitted in court. Jessup seemed to be convinced of Shelby's innocence, but still there was some investigating to be done.
                "When I arrived home, the lobby was wall-to-wall media," Frank hurried to add. "I elbowed my way to the reception, collected the mail and went upstairs. Ah! One other thing! Kathleen said to me on the phone that Mrs. Fletcher, my neighbor, had dropped by to see me."
                This was something Baggins already knew from the crime scene unit report.
                "She came back," Shelby went on, "when I'd just discovered Kathleen's body. It couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes since I'd spoken to Kathleen on the phone. It means that the murderer was in the apartment at that exact time. He strangled Kathleen with the tie which she'd given me recently. Now why would he do that?" Frank put his hands together and shook them. "Don't you think it's too elaborate? He could have hit her on the head with something. Or stabbed her, or broken her neck-"
                He could have, Baggins agreed. He couldn't tell Frank, but that was exactly what had happened. She was first knocked senseless, then strangled.
                "It's as if the murderer was trying to leave a message. Another thing," Frank raised a warning finger, "Why did the murderer take the trouble of looking for this particular tie? It was shoved away in the back drawer. He could have taken one of those that hung on the wardrobe door. You think it could be jealousy? One thing I don't understand is how he got into my apartment in the first place. Could it be he was on our tail all that time?"
                "That's possible," Baggins said, thinking. "The girl could have known him, too. She could have answered the door herself."
                "There, you see! So you believe me now, then? What's the point of me killing her? And how do you think I was going to get rid of the body?"
                Baggins nodded. Alternatively, the murderer could have made it look like jealousy. Could Shelby be trying to throw them off the scent?
                "Have you ever seen her without her bracelet?"
                "Why? Ah, no, of course not. No one can remove it, apart from Memoria people or one of you guys. And even then you can't remove it without the explicit consent from the chief of police."
                "That's right."
                "No," Shelby shook his head, "I never saw her without it."
                "Good," the detective shuffled through the papers and produced a yellow post office receipt. "Have you any idea what kind of item this is? Sent to you by general delivery this morning. You see," he pointed with a pen, "This is her name and the date. Kathleen Baker. Any chance this is your late girlfriend?"
                Now Shelby didn't know how to react. He stared at the receipt in Edward's hand, moving his lips. Finally, he leaned back and said,
                "No idea who that might be. I didn't check the mail the doorman had given me. So I didn't know about this receipt. I went straight upstairs." He sighed.
                "Never mind, Frank. We'll find out."
                "Listen, Edward," the suspect perked up. "There was another odd thing about this. When I walked in, I didn't see Kathleen's purse anywhere. She always used to have this fancy little purse, black with those square buckles. She loves black… loved. She always used to leave it on the mirror shelf when she came. But the last time, the purse wasn't there."
                Baggins paused, then asked,
                "Is that it?"
                "It is."
                Baggins remembered the crime scene unit report. They did point out that the only things that belonged to the victim were her dress, shoes and a coat with its pockets empty. No keys, no IDs, no makeup whatsoever, not even a paper tissue. And the victim didn't look like one of those migrant girls or a penniless odd-job woman. But even those women have some items of personal hygiene on them, so their absence didn't look right. It just wasn't normal.
                The door opened a crack, and Bud Jessup looked in.
                "One moment," Baggins rose and went to the door.
                Jessup whispered a few words, gave Edward a meaningful look and retreated, closing the door behind him.
                Slowly, Baggins turned around. Frank looked at him, as if expecting them to tell him that Kathleen had somehow survived. Kathleen - right, that was her name. Kathleen Baker.
                Baggins returned to the desk, leaned across it grabbing at its edges and said,
                "I'm afraid you're deep in shit, Frank. This girlfriend of yours, do you have any idea who she used to work for?"
                The lights overhead went out. The station building shook and the blast shattered Baggins's eardrums. Something hit him hard on the face cutting his eyebrow open. He let out a cry and fell over the desk. When the emergency lighting flickered on, he saw that the lighting fixture had come off the ceiling and landed on his head, cutting his face with broken glass.
                Blood flooded his eyes and streamed down his cheek. Baggins squinted, trying to stem the wound, his other hand feeling for the gun.
                Shaking his head, a stunned Shelby crawled out from under the desk. He stared at Baggins round-eyed, shouting,
                "The handcuffs!"
                The detective reached into his pocket for the keys and stepped towards Frank. Then, bullets started crackling through the door, covering it with a complex pattern. The camera on its tripod cracked and exploded. The mirror partition broke into a thousand pieces. A bullet stung Baggins's shoulder. He staggered. Another one hit him, and he grabbed at his chest swaying. His legs gave. Trying to latch onto a chair, Baggins collapsed on his side, using the desk between him and the door as a cover.
                For a few seconds, the whole building fell silent. Moving to the door, Baggins finally managed to get the gun out. He croaked in a whisper,
                "Get under cover."
                Shelby jumped up, glanced at the desk, grabbed the paperwork and clattered across the broken mirror to the utility room.
                Baggins turned to the exit and raised his gun, trying to keep it steady in both outstretched hands. The interrogation room door swung open. A masked black figure appeared in the doorway, machine gun at the ready.
                The bullets sent Baggins to the floor. He didn't get one round off. The man started moving along the wall toward the utility room. Another masked man joined him, then two more. Four faceless figures moved slowly, their pointing guns scanning the room. Two more trained their guns on the detective. He was bleeding heavily. His chest burned and his mind started to collapse.
                Another vague figure appeared in the doorway. This one had a smudge of white where others had masks. Edward squinted, trying to focus. A tall blond man looked down at him, his eyes cold. He walked into the room, pointed his silencer at Baggins's face and said indifferently,
"Where's Shelby?"
                Baggins wanted to tell him to go stuff it but all his throat could manage was an unintelligible wheeze. Droplets of bloody saliva landed on the stranger's trouser leg and his combat boot.
The gun in his hand jerked, spitting fire. The breech resounded, ejecting an empty shell. Baggins didn't hear it. He was dead.

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