Sunrise Destiny - Excerpt (part 1)
Time was quickly running out. I’d spent another day running down leads that led precisely nowhere. During that time, two more young women disappeared.
That evening I received a call on my implant from Joel.
“Sunrise. Remember that shiny liquid we found at one of the crime scenes?”
“Well, we found several more drops at the scene of one of the latest disappearances. Our forensic guys can’t identify the stuff, so it’s nuthin’ that could be picked up just anywhere. That pretty much proves there’s a connection between at least some of the disappearances.”
Good. He’d confirmed my hunch.
Joel kept talking. “We’re now classifyin’ those two girls as abducted and the feds have been called in. Watch your back. With them pokin’ around, you don’t need to get caught up in the investigation.”
“Thanks for the warning, Joel. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it. By the way, I left you a sample of one of the droplets at the usual place. I hope you have better luck identifyin’ it than we’ve had. Take care of yourself.”
I thanked him again and disconnected the call.
For the first time, I had something to go on. Not much, but something. If the crime scene techs couldn’t identify the liquid, I wasn’t sure I could find anyone better.
I hurried downstairs and hopped in my car. Despite noonday traffic, I reached Griffin Park in under ten minutes. Checking both ways for tails, I sauntered over to the nearest park bench. For the next fifteen minutes, I pretended I was enjoying the afternoon sun. Behind my shades, however, I carefully scanned the surrounding countryside for anyone who looked out of place.
Finally, satisfied I wasn’t being watched I blew my nose, strolled over to the nearby trash bin, and tossed the crumpled tissue, missing on purpose. I held onto the bin for balance and bent over to pick up the tissue. Once down there, I tipped the bin back a fraction and slid my hand underneath. Joel’s tiny envelope was right where it was supposed to be. It took only a moment to palm it. I retrieved the tissue and dropped it in the bin.
After a few more minutes of catching rays on the bench, I returned to my car and drove to the hotel. Back in my room, I ripped open the envelope. A specimen slide encased in cardboard slid out onto my palm. The liquid was sealed between two pieces of plexi. Just as before, the surface appeared iridescent, like oil, and the body of it translucent with the faintest pink tint.
I considered who might be able to help me identify the liquid. I still had some contacts at the local university from my days on the force. I decided to start there.
* * * *
“Any ideas, Professor?”
Stefan Dumbrowski, Professor Emeritus of the School of Geophysical Sciences at Browning University, stared at the information on the wallscreen. He was a tall, cadaverously thin, elderly man with sparse white hair. He appeared fragile, like a good sneeze could snap him in two, but I’d stack his intellect up against anyone’s.
The school offered advanced studies in geology, petrochemicals, vulcanology, and other disciplines. As a well-funded private university, it had the latest analytical gear and some of the leading experts in their fields.
Dumbrowski frowned at the screen and softly tapped his lips with his index finger. “Where did you get this sample?”
“I’m not at liberty to say, but it was a crime scene. Why?”
“Because I’ve never seen anything like it. It contains long-chain molecules, but it doesn’t resemble any substance logged in our database. As far as I know—or thought I knew—the database includes all organic and inorganic substances known to man. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a lubricant of some sort. But that’s just a guess. It’s certainly slick enough, but that doesn’t prove anything.”
It was my turn to frown. Another dead end, it looked like. “It’s definitely man-made, though?”
“It’s definitely not naturally occurring. That’s all I can say for sure.”
My frown deepened. “I don’t follow.”
He shrugged. “I can’t imagine who could have created it. Had anything been published on the subject, it would be in the database.”
“Are you suggesting a secret government experiment, or some private research?”
He shrugged again. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
* * * *
The professor’s analysis certainly gave me food for thought, but I was no closer to solving the mystery. More than two dozen girls were missing and my only clues were a few unexplained odds-and-ends. Two of the disappearances seemed to be linked by a mysterious liquid that defied identification.
Was the foil with the mysterious writing connected to the liquid? I decided to stop in to see Rod Schumacher, Doctor of Linguistics, while I was at the university. I expected him to take a glance at the image and tell me the writing was juvenile gibberish, or an obscure dialect of Aramaic.
Instead, for the second time that day I was surprised by the response to a simple question.
“Where did you get this?” Schumacher demanded.
“It’s a crime scene photo. Why?”
Instead of replying, he sat at his desk console and searched a linguistics database. For the next hour, he alternated between searching and reading, never saying a word. If I were a betting man, and I’m not anymore, I would have wagered anything that he’d forgotten I was even there.
I must have nodded off, because the squeal of a chair startled me.
Schumacher’s eyes bored into mine. He waved at the image on his screen. It was a close-up of part of the foil. “Where was this found?”
I shrugged. “A warehouse where a girl disappeared. Why?”
“Why? I can’t identify the language, that’s why!”
“So it’s definitely writing, then?”
“It would appear so. But I couldn’t begin to translate it or even identify the source. Do you have the foil? Maybe seeing the material in person would tell me something.”
“Sorry, Doc. I don’t have it. It’s in the police evidence locker.”
“Pity. I’ll have to contact someone about getting it loaned to the university. This is an incredible find!”
“Doc, I’m not even supposed to know about it. If you go around asking about it, my friend will get in trouble. You have to lay off for now. At least until the case is solved.”
Dr. Schumacher’s enthusiasm evaporated on the spot. “But—”
“Sorry, Doc. But I promise I’ll do what I can to get you a look at it in person after the case is over, okay?”
That seemed to mollify him somewhat. He nodded.
“In the meantime, can you tell me anything about it at all?”
Now it was Schumacher’s turn to shrug. “Only that it doesn’t resemble any language, past or present, that I’ve ever seen. Or that anyone has ever seen, according to the database.”
That really put a new spin on things.
“Could it be some sort of code?”
He shook his head. “Even code would be written in a familiar language, only scrambled so as to be unintelligible to someone who doesn’t have the decryption key. This is something quite unique.”
“So how do you know it’s writing then, and not just someone’s doodling?”
He shook his head sharply. “Not a chance. Even though I can’t read it, I can recognize morphology and syntax—”
I held up a hand to stop him. “English, please, Doc.”
“Sorry. I recognize patterns that indicate a sophisticated and consistent structure to it. No, it’s definitely a form of writing.”
I thanked Schumacher for his time and promised to let him know if I found out anything about the language.
What the hell was going on? Before, I merely had to consider whether we had a serial killer on the loose or possibly just a rash of individual unrelated crimes. Now, it seemed, I was looking at two other possible scenarios. The mystifying liquid suggested a brilliant mad scientist or supersecret government project. Yet, the unknown language perhaps suggested invading aliens. Yeah, I know how that sounds. There’s an evil madman set on populating the world with brainwashed automatons on the one hand, some government conspiracy nut’s wet dream on the other hand, or aliens coming to Earth to steal our women on the third hand—assuming the aliens even had three hands.
Ri-i-ght. Every single choice sounded like a plot from an old grade-Z horror movie. What would the next clue point to? Zombies? Vampires? How about a leprechaun? This was getting too weird.
If the suggestions, or maybe they were only intimations, had come from sources other than Professor Dumbrowski and Dr. Schumacher—who’d collectively found a lot more marbles than they’d lost—I’d have laughed in their faces. At the moment, though, I had no better explanation and no concrete leads.
Plus, I had the specter of Scar’s deadline looming over me. Three more days and then I had to worry about Tiny doing the fandango on my head while Weasel pulled out my fingernails with his teeth. Maybe it was time to come up with a contingency plan that didn’t involve me losing body parts.
* * * *
I spent the next morning scraping up what money I could and letting my friends know I might have to leave town suddenly. I also “accidentally” let slip where I’d be going: a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees from my real destination. That way, when Scar’s goons came looking for me, they’d be chasing my red herrings up the wrong tree.
At this point, I was pretty certain that Sara Scarpacci and the other girls weren’t going to turn up, at least not in any recognizable form. If they surfaced at all, it would be at the bottom of a lime pit or acid bath, or under a sports stadium somewhere. No sense getting my brains pureed by Tiny because I wasted my last few days alive searching for a corpse.
I spent the afternoon and early evening following more pointless leads, just in case something panned out. No joy. I was just as confused as ever and no closer to solving the mystery of Sara’s disappearance.
It was time to bug out. I threw all my belongings in a bag. That didn’t take long; I’m not one for mementos. Then I waited. Three hours later, I slipped out my door and down the stairs, bag in hand.
The hotel was as quiet as a church on Thursday and the lobby was deserted. I knew the desk clerk liked to sleep in the back.
A minute later I was in the underground parking lot. Some of the overhead lights were out. Two a.m., in a darkened lot, all alone—what a great setup for an ambush. The hushed echoes of my footsteps did nothing to lessen the feeling of impending doom.
I ducked behind a shadowy support pillar and scanned the area. Nothing moved. I slipped on a pair of infrared specs. No heat emissions in the area, either. I relaxed. Just my overactive imagination.
Another twenty paces and I’d almost reached my car. She was a rust-bucket and the suspension needed work, but she got me where I needed to go. Using my implant, I fired her up and took another look around. The area was clear. I reached for the door handle.
A pinprick under my jawbone froze me in place. “Going somewhere, Sunrise?”
I dropped my bag. Weasel! Where had he come from? How could I have let him get the drop on me? That’s how people get killed in my line of work. Then I noticed the concrete pillar by the car—the large, wide, heat-blocking, concrete pillar. Stupid!
“Uh, just following some more leads.”
“Really. You always pack your bags to check out leads at two in the mornin’?”
You could sop up his sarcasm with a sponge.
“Only when the leads are out of town.”
“Funny guy. Now get in. Slowly. And keep your hands where I can see them.”
I did as I was told. Tiny climbed in the passenger door and sat beside me, one hand clamped on my elbow. I wasn’t going anywhere. Weasel slipped into the backseat right behind me. The shiv didn’t leave my throat for more than a second. There was no time for any monkey business on my part—especially with Tiny there to snap my arm off if I tried anything.
Weasel pressed the shiv up under my jaw just the tiniest bit harder and a warm trickle meandered down my neck. I winced and tried to lift myself off the seat. Tiny shoved my shoulder back down, which only drove the shiv in deeper.
“You almost made it, Sunrise. Too bad for you.”
The gleeful grin in the rearview mirror belied his
words. Weasel was enjoying the hell out of this, the sick bastard.
“The boss don’ want you leavin’ town ‘til you find his Sara.”
“Oh, really?” I bluffed. “I didn’t realize that. I guess I won’t check out this particular lead, then.”
I wasn’t fooling anyone.
“No, I guess you won’t.”
“Well, in that case, if you gentlemen will excuse me I should be getting my beauty sleep.” I reached for the door handle.
“Not so fast, smart guy. The boss says should you try to leave town, he wants to see you right away. To explain things in person, like.”
“Tell your boss it’s not necessary. I get the message. I’ll make sure I stay in town until I find Sara. Thanks for telling me.”
“What about my bag?” It was still on the ground outside the car.
“Leave it. You won’t be needin’ it.” He dug the shiv a bit deeper into my jaw. Not far enough to sever anything, but plenty far enough to hurt like the devil.
I swallowed hard. “Okay, okay!”
Had he been alone, I might have tried to take on Weasel. But not with Godzilla next to me, anchoring me in place. (CONTINUED)