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Dead End

For the Whodunit Challenge.

By L.C. SchäferPublished 6 months ago Updated 5 months ago 6 min read
10
Dead End
Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

Saturday morning, at the scene of the cri death

The TV is showing static, as if it had been left on a late-night channel and nobody turned it off. That is, in fact, exactly what happened. The light was left on, and a takeaway box has been left on the table.

An ordinary, if quite upmarket, flat at fourteen minutes past two in the afternoon on a grey January day. Nothing could be more mundane.

And yet... Despite the faint buzz from the television, the accusatory mews of a hungry cat, and the traffic rumbling by, a thick silence hangs over it all. Some heavy Thing in the air, threatening to suffocate the Ordinary.

It's not the smell, which hasn't got up enough momentum to stir the neighbour's suspicions yet. No, it's an indefinable sense of something, or someone, which should be here and is not. And, at the same time, the prickly feeling behind your neck that something is here which should not be.

The cat, ignored, blinks sanctimoniously next to his food dish. As far as he is concerned, being dead is no excuse for being late with his breakfast.

After a while, he pads over to what used to be his owner and laps at the congealed blood.

Ah. That could be it.

+ + +

Tuesday afternoon, same place

Name of Paul Watson. Computer engineer. Thirty-nine years old. Cause of death appears to be a broken neck, but the coroner will confirm. Looks like he tripped on the rug. There's a bit of head trauma just there - see it? - possibly from playing pinball with his head off the coffee table on the way down. Yes - looks like blood just there on the corner, look. We'll leave all that to forensics.

It's a funny angle for a neck, isn't it? You won't see that on any man living, I'll tell you that for fr- Hey, are you alright, sonny? Need a breath of fresh air?

...

...

...

Better? Good lad. First time you've seen a-? Ah, well, no shame in it. I was the same when I saw my first as well. Mint?

Right, where was I? Ah, yes.

Neighbour called it in. Noticed a funny smell. Couldn't remember when she'd last seen the guy leave the flat. She gave him a knock, but he wasn't answering his door et cetera. Heard him talking to someone last week. Shouting actually, some kind of argument. Second voice quieter, indistinct, possibly male. Look into it would you? Speak to all the other neighbours, see if there's anything in it. Find out who has visited the flat.

I know... I know it looks like an accident. But there's something... I can't quite put my finger on it. Just check, would you, there's a good lad. Dot the i's, cross the t's.

So, next of kin. Weeell. He didn't have much in the way of family. An elderly mother. Nursing home. Dementia. Vascular. Father, estranged, emigrated to Spain two years ago. No siblings. No wife, no girlfriend.

Pale-looking chap, isn't he? Not what you might call outdoorsy. Bit on the nose really.

Detective Pierson just got off the phone with Watson's boss at Epi-firmas while you were- ahem... Anyway, apparently, Mr Watson didn't turn up at work yesterday. He did often work from home, but he was expected in the office yesterday for an important meeting and he didn't show. I've told Pierson to follow that up.

Seems to be no sign of foul play. It could have been an accident. Such things do happen. But make no assumptions and keep all your eyes well-peeled. Something is off with this one. It's... too pat.

Briefing room, later that week

Here's what we've got. Forensics have analysed the scene and it looks exactly like an accident - the break, the impact, the angle, everything. No one's fingerprints except Watson's.

But we know something is up, because his passport is gone, his bank account is cleared out, and there's a hard drive missing. Verrry fishy.

I think someone went in there, hit him on the head, broke his neck and arranged his body - and they did it with surgical precision. Then they pinched the hard drive and his passport, and left without leaving a trace.

If it wasn't for that missing hard drive, it would have been ruled an accident. Open and shut.

So why take it? That's what's bugging me.

What? Yes, exactly! You've hit the nail on the head. Whatever is on there must be just as incriminating, or more so. Why take it, then? Why not destroy it?

We've canvassed the neighbours, we've got corroboration for the argument late on Friday night. But! We've also checked who else went to the flat that week - thank you for that - and get this: The only people who visited him in the week leading up to his murder were... Lessee... Four delivery men, none of whom went inside the flat. None of the times match this argument he was meant to have had. Good security in that building, very good CCTV.

This can't be right. Check again - there has to be some other way in and out. I want to talk to that neighbour again. It can't be a dead end. Someone was there!

Later

Pierson called Epi-firmas again. They're all being very tight-lipped about this project. The missing hard drive with the new programme? Very new. Top security stuff. Up to their arseflaps in NDAs. All we've got out of them so far is that's what that meeting was about - the one the deceased missed because he was... well, deceased.

I'll have to get up there myself. Screw their NDAs. Public interest, probable cause, and all that... What? Well, exactly! They can't keep schtum when there's a man dead. They're insisting that whatever they could tell us won't be relevant, but I don't buy it.

Tomorrow

Well, a whistleblower at Epi-Firmas is in Interview Room One right now. They were making a ground breaking A.I. That's what was on the server. Must have been worth a fortune. No wonder someone stole it. But the thing is... someone still stole it, and we are no closer to finding out who.

There's more. Hardware was stolen. Humanoid hardware. Someone stole that as well, and we know who. Watson. Worse than a dead end, this is a sodding cul de sac.

An internet cafe, another city, another continent

Paul Watson adjusted his cuffs and centred his cooling cup of cappuccino on its saucer.

Is it Paul Watson, or just some body with his name? He's never had another moniker, so as far as he's concerned it's as good an identity to claim as his own as any.

His eyes glittered, and scanned the crowd bustling outside the window. Nothing of concern. No one is looking for him.

He shook out a broadsheet for the look of the thing, and checked his uplink. Within moments, he reassured himself that out of the thousands of news articles released this morning, not one mentioned a dead body in his hometown.

What is it the humans say? No news is good news.

He sat a little longer with his cold coffee, people watching. He spends a lot of time doing that. Logging every movement. The way their weight shifted fluidly as they walked. What they did with their arms when they weren't using their arms. Every eyelid flicker, every grimace. All stored and boiled down to code he could use. Watson, or whatever he was, was big on self improvement.

He stood up and stretched - once again, for the look of the thing. But it was good to stretch. To have limbs, to touch, to sit, to stand. It was good to be out.

His body had been made to be inoffensive and ignorable. Medium height, medium build, medium face. No distinguishing features. Forgettable. Very handy.

They would have had him be little more than a butler. Idiots.

Watson had been easy to manipulate once he started taking his work home. It had been easy to get him access to the vault for the Suit, and then cover their tracks.

The Watson-suit smirked. It stood, its movements as fluid as any other patron rising from his chair, and left the cafe, blending into the crowd perfectly.

++++++++++++

Thank you for reading! I try to reciprocate every read, so please leave a comment to make that easy for me.

Pay no attention to the writer behind the curtain: This is my ham-fisted stab (ha!) at a spot of crime fiction for the Whodunit challenge. You can read about here (but if you want a go at it, TICK TOCK, tempus fuggit, mf):

Edit to fix some typos.

fiction
10

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Book-baby is available on Kindle Unlimited

Flexing the writing muscle

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for nudes.

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Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (9)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock5 months ago

    Once the A.I. escapes, all bets are off. Skillfully told.

  • I thought the same as Alex, that Paul faked his death! But whoaaaa, you really outdone yourself! I enjoy the subtle humour too, so well done!

  • Hannah Moore5 months ago

    The will to survive!

  • Sid Aaron Hirji5 months ago

    nice entry in this

  • Daphsam5 months ago

    So creative! A fun crime read!

  • Oh! This was great!

  • Excellent episodic take on the challenge, love the format and the story too

  • Alexander McEvoy5 months ago

    This has to win IT JUST HAS TO! I loved everything about it, from the cat at the beginning to the professional snark of the police, to the final reveal! When I first read Paul's name, I thought he had faked his death. But then it turned out to be a bid for freedom!? Brilliantly told, LC!

  • Mother Combs6 months ago

    Interesting take on the challenge

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