By the evening the body count had reached double figures across LA and the chief had been forced by the mayor’s office to make a statement to the media. Lara would have to wait for her five minutes of fame.
We went to the Dominion that night. Lara had coloured her hair and painted her nails black in an attempt to fit in despite the fact that we weren’t going in undercover.
‘Thought you said that it wasn’t your scene?’ I said, which earned me one of her patented looks of derision.
The club was open, but probably lost money during the week. There seemed to be more staff than customers. There was a shady looking guy propping up the bar who disappeared swiftly with his drink when we flashed our IDs at the nearest barman. A few of the tables near the bar were occupied with mid-week drinkers in business suits, bankers looking for cheap hook-ups, and a couple of girls who looked more like the regular clientele – all fishnets and eye makeup.
‘You think it’s got something to do with the band?’ she asked me while we were waiting for one of the bar staff to fetch the manager.
‘I honestly don’t know. I think we need to confirm whether all the dead girls were here on Saturday to begin with and take it from there,’ I said.
I had a series of holos ready to project from my hand console. It looked like a page from a dating site for maladjusted youths, all frowns, bad mascara and face furniture, and I wondered if there was any other type of youth these days.
The manager duly arrived. She looked too young to gain admittance to the joint, never mind run it. Half of her head was shaved, including the eyebrow, and was adorned with multiple silver piercings, the other half sported a long pink pigtail and a quirky pink eyebrow which looked like it had been drawn on with a marker pen.
I flashed my badge. She gave it the most cursory of glances and allowed us into the security room that smelt of mildew and stale beer. A collection of unmatched bar furniture was stacked in one corner of the room which seemed to double as a janitor’s cupboard, if the mop and bucket in the corner were any indication.
An old Stenson security monitor sat on a desk that looked like it had been attacked by the most bored of penknife wielding doodlers. I saw several cartoon schlongs and a number of diagrams more suited to the Kama Sutra.
I sat on the rickety wooden chair opposite the Stenson. Lara selected a stool from the stock of furniture. She sat down beside me and tilted her head for a better look at one choice illustration depicting a dog and a horse conjoined with a caricature of outgoing Mayor Drumold.
‘Fetch you a drink guvnor?’ the manager asked in an affected Cockney accent that had been a painful fad due to the popularity of an English period drama on one of the main holo channels.
‘No just leave us alone. Are your cameras working?’ I asked.
‘Right as rain sir, right as rain,’ she said and then departed to go and pick peanuts out of poop or whatever chores a club manager does on a quiet night.
It didn’t take long to find and review the recordings from the night of the gig. Within half an hour we had checked off every victim from a fast forward play of the recording from the external camera on the club entrance thanks to a face-matching app on my hand, and then we moved our attention towards the internal footage.
‘Sure you don’t want a drink?’ Lara asked.
‘I saw a vending machine outside,’ I suggested. It was standard protocol to decline offers of food or drink while out in the field. You could never be one hundred percent sure that what you were offered wouldn’t be spiked.
While Lara was fetching a couple of Cokes I reviewed a holo of the main interior space of the club. I had placed coloured markers on the victims and tracked points of convergence. The entrance, the bar and the toilets were predictable nodes and while the band played the first half of their set the markers all remained relatively static. There were a few coincidental connections between the victims, but no obvious signs that any of them knew each other beyond being passing acquaintances.
Lara came back and I took a swig of my Coke.
‘Got anything?’ she asked. Her close proximity excited and depressed me in equal measure. What I’d give for a couple of shots of Jack in the Coke.
‘Actually yes,’ I said. I pointed to the one unpredictable convergence point. During the band’s intermission the coloured lines all centred on a hooded figure standing in the shadows of one far corner of the club. Once the band started up again the figure slipped out of sight and didn’t reappear. Another review of the door traffic showed our man skulk out of the building soon after.
‘Obviously not a big Scratch fan,’ Lara said.
‘Careful not to show his face,’ I said.
‘You sure it’s a man?’ she asked. She closed her mouth around the top of the bottle and sucked down Coke and then gasped in air. She drank like she gave head.
‘The Stenson says it is. Who am I to argue?’
‘Most probably. Got a crystal?’
‘Sure,’ she said and passed me a data cube. I placed it in the download slot and pulled off all the data from that night.
‘Let’s see if the Algos can pop out a face from a reflection,’ I said.
‘Mean time do you want to identify anyone else who spoke to him that night? Might be we can save some souls?’ Lara said. ‘If he’s been dishing out dodgy pills we need to warn his other customers.’
‘Let’s take it back to the office, I don’t like the smell and this Stenson is overheating.’
We fed the data into the system from my desk and then clocked off. Both of us were dog-tired and went our separate ways. I’m sure it was a relief for both of us. It seemed like it was never going to get any easier. As soon as Lara turned a corner and was out of sight I drank the contents of my hipflask and tried to decide which fast food joint I would visit on my way to the 7-11. It was bad to drink on an empty stomach.
I would spend what was left of the evening watching recordings of old ballgames and pre-pan black and white two-dees.
(C) 2015 Matthew Haynes extract from The Sun & The Rainfall.
Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash