Red

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Prologue

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Carlman Meinhard had been an investigator for a score of years now, but the frustration of having his case snatched from him by the Second Investigation Office had never eased. The fact that this time the ones pulling rank on him were women barely older than his daughters enhanced the feeling.

And one of them was beautiful. He hated beautiful people in his profession, because they always had it somewhat easier than the others. Beauty opened many doors that should have yielded only before competence.

"What in this makes it a secondary investigation?" he asked.

The beautiful woman brushed him off with a cool look.

"You're going to be one of the difficult ones," she sighed.

She suddenly bent down in half and slipped under the red plastic band that meant no one but the forensics and investigation teams were allowed in the perimeter; she already considered the crime scene hers and that, above anything else, angered Meinhard. The casual way she took no heed of him or his wishes reminded him that that was also the SIO's way; snatching cases and never offering any reason why. Anyway, what was so much better about psychics that only they could be promoted to the SIO?

Meinhard was a neutral, but his wife had been a psychic, and both his daughters were too. He held no prejudice against psychics, but in his opinion, all SIO officers were arrogant fools.

"Excuse my partner, Inspector," the other woman told him. "It's the sixth similar case, and we're all a bit uneasy. We don't deal often with serial killers."

She differed from the other woman like the sun from the moon. Her blonde hair almost matched her skin in coloring; her big eyes upset her face and her mouth could not counterbalance the whole. Her nose was too large, too. She looked older than her partner, but couldn't have been more than thirty-five. At best, she qualified for pleasant, but Meinhard suspected that, if a man formed feelings for this woman, it was more on grounds of her personality than her looks.

"Lena Feidel," she said, offering him her hand.

Despite his repugnance, he shook it. There was something in the way she looked at him that suggested she knew of his hypocrisy. He wondered what her ability was. His daughters were kinetics, and only level two. He had heard that SIO agents were never lower than the fifth level.

He presented himself, even if he suspected that both women already knew his name, as well as everything his record had ever contained.

"She's Blair Hawkins," Feidel added with a movement of the head that designated her partner.

Without further ado, she strolled away from him and to the other woman. As they discussed together, the contrasts couldn't have been more glaring; first, their heights didn't match; Hawkins had a good head on Feidel. The black of Hawkins' hair against the white of her skin, the way she stood and moved, lithe and panther-like, and her general figure cut her partner very short.

They looked ridiculous, Meinhard decided. Their black tailored costumes especially: on Hawkins it looked impressive, but when Feidel stood at her side it looked like someone had decided to play a cruel joke on the both of them, and forced them to masquerade as policewomen.

He joined them.

"So, what do you think?" Feidel was asking her partner.

"Definitively the same killer. The eyes, the pentagram… Almost everything fits," Hawkins answered, crouching next to the body.

She reached to the corpse's arm and raised it. Under it but on the exterior side, near the shoulder, someone had drawn a small stylized bird.

"But this, none of the last victims had it."

"The first one did."

Hawkins nodded. She put the arm down softly, which drew Meinhard's eyes to her hands. He realized she had no gloves on.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "You're going to pollute the crime scene!"

"Don't worry about it," Hawkins said.

"What she means is that the forensics will find nothing," Feidel added with an apologetic face. "The one who did this is a psychic and he left no trace."

"All murderers leave a trace," he retorted.

"Not this one," Hawkins snapped. "Believe it, we've had five cases to train us."

They glared at each other. Meinhard was furious at first, but his anger dissipated rapidly and he shrugged it off. He could do nothing more about the case, anyway. Nobody could, once the SIO took over. People higher ranked than him had tried and had been thwarted each time.

Hawkins had now turned her glare to her partner; he couldn't understand why but decided he didn't care. Let them deal with each other and with some chances, in a while there would be two SIO agents less in Chicago.

"Stay with us," Hawkins ordered abruptly. "I want to know if your team had time to touch or discover anything before we got there."

He glanced at the body. No, nobody had had time to touch it; they had barely been installed when the SIO team had arrived. The corpse was still in the same awkward position she had been discovered in, her legs crossed like she had sat Indian-style before dying. Her arms reposed in an unnatural way, close to her body and palms up; the twist on it made the bird drawing totally invisible without moving the body. Her head was turned to the right, but the way the hair sprawled suggested the killer had wanted to create a symmetry, which the laws of physic had prevented. There was blood coated in her ear.

She had been young – he remembered the time when his daughters had been at such an age. He had worried about their going to clubs and going home with strangers. Nadja had even had a vampire boyfriend for a time – such trouble she had given him then! He had laid restless at night, waiting for the sound of the door that meant she had came home safe – and then listening intently to know if she was alone, or if there was a risk that all of them died from blood loss that night.

Abruptly he wondered if the girl had been raped. Digust filled him.

"She wasn't," Feidel said, frowning. "We've already ruled out the possibility of a hedonistic motive. The killer's not a rapist. He has even killed men, but he doesn't seem to be striving for power of control."

Well… That said much about her ability. She probably was a telepath or something along that path.

"She didn't have anything in her hands?" Hawkins asked.

He shook his head.

"The other victims had feathers in their hand," she pointed out to her partner.

"She has the drawing. It might be an evolution for him, drawing a bird on them instead of just giving them feathers."

"The first one also had the drawing. And it was not even in the same place," Hawkins said. "The pentagram is also much simpler than in some cases, but there's nothing that suggest the killer didn't have enough time to finish. The way the corpse is positioned also doesn't exactly fit. The way of killing is not the same, there's no throttling this time."

"But it's still the same killer?" Feidel suggested.

Hawkins shook her head.

"Yes, I'm positive. There's just too much in common. But I don't understand what his motive is. I mean, we already ruled out a lot of the major motives. Power, lust, pleasure, profit... None of them seems to fit. The only thing that could fit would be if the murderer's racist against psychics."

"So, a mission-oriented killer?" Feidel said.

Her partner nodded absent-mindedly. Her eyes seemed to get caught on something all of a sudden. She extended her arm and grasped something in a flash; it was small enough that it fit entirely in her hand. When she opened it up, it displayed a ticket, the sort you got when entering in a club. The name glossed over in brilliant letters. The Babylon Tower.

"Now that makes it three, Lena," she said. "One too many for a simple coincidence."

"I don't like the idea of going there," Feidel said. "We should just hand over the case to someone else in the office."

"Yeah, like hell," Hawkins laughed. "That's my case, I'm keeping it."

Meinhard felt amusement. It reminded him too much of his own way of thinking when the two women had arrived. The fact they obviously knew much more than him about the murder didn't make it any easier to accept – it only made it more evident that they had to take the case.

Hawkins rose in one swift movement. She fished for something in her pockets and didn't find it.

"You have a cigarette?" she asked him.

He nodded and pulled his packet.

"Need fire?" he asked.

"Oh, don't bother," she laughed. "I make my own fire."

And with a flick of the hand, she lighted her cigarette.

.

..

Yeah, new story when TWF is not advancing, I know. But that one is already written up to chapter 8... Anyway, to leave me some time to write the following chapters and not make the same mistake as with TWF, I'll be posting a new chapter every friday.