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Criticality 3: Profiles in Cowardice

Arriving at the crime scene was like a cruel reminder of Pete’s most recent, personal past. While Julian made sure that he was amply able to maneuver around all of the squad cars gumming up the adjacent streets in order to find a parking space, he managed to peer over at his partner from time-to-time – seeing if he was alright. These scenes were not easy in the first place, but having actually been involved in one themselves, made this even harder.

Calmly and silently, Pete and Julian walked up to the taped-off apartment complex. The only people outside of Police Force officers who were even allowed close were the owners. All tenants whether asleep or returning home that night were inexplicably detained, delayed, and displaced. Controlling the situation was at the utmost top as far as forensics was concerned, and each tenant was warned to leave a number where they could be reached for further questioning and advised not to have the Second Earth Special Police Force come looking for them.

Flashing credentials, Pete and Julian each ducked under the yellow tape and immediately headed inside and upstairs to check out the scene. It was a scene of controlled chaos with Police Force officers gathering evidence, scanning for fingerprints, snapping photos, communicating with other agencies, breaking the news to next of kin, grimacing at the sight of the woman who lay twisted half in and half out of the shower, and ultimately pitying the person who had to clean this up. The rugged cop and his partner did not need to look away – instead choosing to focus in on the kill to take it all in. They had not been a party to this exact type of murder, personally, before, but it was close enough. This was eerily similar in so many ways.

“I’m in this guy’s head,” Pete concluded. “I can see him coming up those stairs after slipping in behind someone who had just exited while pretending to be talking on his cell phone.”

Julian simply stared at Pete in awe of these lofty pronouncements, but there was no denying the change in demeanor to his partner. Confidence and surety was abundant in every step, but those steps mimicked the personality of a maniac. Ironically, he could not imagine that Retsepar was as equally fluent and rehearsed in movement. Allowing the rugged cop to profile and project in this manner was possibly going to be the only way that they could even get close to this mercenary turned lunatic.

Pete was having a full conversation with himself, but nobody was on the other end…, “No. His cell phone was used to call the victim beforehand. That allowed him to be so much closer to her than ever before. He apologized for calling a wrong number as he climbed the stairs. She was polite, so inviting – just about to hop in the shower. I bet she was hoping it was her friend. Male, female, I’m unsure of who she was hoping it was, but it doesn’t discount the fact that she was in a good mood – probably heading out for a night on the town, a movie, or maybe even having someone over. He could hear the shower running in the background. It was going to be perfect this time – perfectly executed. She would never have heard his entry that way being all up in shower.”

“Go on,” Julian politely urged. This was amazing.

“There was a witness from room 204 who saw him in the hall,” Pete said through a clipped index finger and thumb pressed pensively up against his lips.

Julian hailed the nearest Police Force officer he could find and suggested, “We need to get a couple of us on whoever resides in Apartment 204. Hurry.”

The Police Force officer nodded and scurried off to make that suggestion a reality. Pete and Julian were the ranking Police Force officers on this scene and arguably, albeit by a fluke of fate, the most experienced in dealing with Retsepar. Needless to say, their word on the matter was law, and there was not a Police Force officer outside of internal affairs that would question their handling of the situation. One need only ask the question of what they would do if roles were reversed and would find affirmation in the answer of the steps the rugged cop and his partner were taking to crack this case. An internal directive had already been passed around the Police Force that Retsepar was to be shot first as there were no questions that cop killers and killers of cops’ family members were always lumped into the same category on the collective law enforcement shi- list.

Pete continued, “It was so easy – so easy this time. It was like he had been here before – like he had run some sort of previous reconnaissance or had cameras installed to spy on her. That wasn’t possible, but he knew everything nonetheless: the chip in the favorite mug in the cupboard; the creek in the door which, I might add, he took extra caution in closing; rugs hadn’t been replaced yet but painting was done and would have to suffice for now; even the exact location of the bathroom was known so that he could go right there and not waste any time. Her life was vivid like a picture and an open book that you didn’t need to pay for or checkout from a library.”

This next part, Julian would stop if it became too graphic. He was well aware that Pete did not have any super powers other than his bitter obsession to kill Retsepar. In order to do that, the rugged cop needed to become Retsepar to understand the mindset and derive any sort of pattern that could bring them at all closer.

Always reactive, it was the anticipation they all sought, and selfishly sitting back to witness Pete’s continued deterioration became the agonizing step that would inch them terrifyingly into the mind of a madman in hopes of somehow getting ahead of this carnage. Whether it was undercover, under the pressures of the job, or under this awkward mindset that the rugged cop was trying to achieve, Julian realized that there would be a breaking point as with all other Police Force officers – a subtle yet distinct place where his partner would have gone in too deep that it would be nearly impossible to pull him out.

The reason Pete, to this point, had never so much as reached such a place was because this last part was normally where he psychologically decided to shut out the resultant events. As badly as the rugged cop had dealt (or avoided dealing) with his wife’s murder, he did not want to relive matters, so this is where he normally just assumed the worst and let things be at that.

“What is it?” Julian did not know that Pete had concluded his work for the evening.

“It’s just hard,” Pete said as he dropped to a crouch overlooking the corpse. The coroner was not yet on site, so the victim’s eyes remained open and uneasily warm in their soft yet frozen gaze. Watching the peacefulness that only death could bring, the rugged cop made a silent, mental promise to her that he would get Retsepar.

While shaking his head, Julian approached and put a hand on Pete’s shoulder and in doing all he could to keep his voice from cracking because of the feelings of helplessness toward the situation, he replied, “I can’t even imagine.”

The O’Reilly Household

Chico’s home life included a wife and a warm meal when he returned home from work and not because she cooked it either. Lupita O’Reilly was a career woman who outpaced her husband financially, so their combined income was significant, and they were able to afford domestic service. Their nightly meal had become a pleasurable ritual of unwinding that they both looked forward to and made the most of.

Although Space Force jobs were most prominent, financial positions, as Lupita held, were also quite prevalent. She was fortunate to have a career that featured hours which revolved around the universal markets. This made her schedule predictable, allowing ample time for fiscal research, and often causing her to be the first one home at the dinner table as was the case tonight. Work for Chico finished when his work was completed which meant an open-ended schedule and some late nights. Sometimes there were overnights, but he never made an entrance without a kiss to his wife’s forehead whether she was sitting at the dinner table or asleep in bed. Tonight was to be no different, and with a kiss, their night’s conversation began.

Chico slung his suit coat over the back of his chair and sat down as the help began to serve up a salad appetizer. Not even all that hungry, he started things off with a question, “How was your day?”

“With your Space Force beginning to sell off more and more of their assets to the private sector, I was hoping my counterparts would see the signal as a positive indicator of future growth – thus the markets would rally,” Lupita explained. “Apparently, that was not to be the case.”

“Ha,” Chico rethought his position on the salad when he saw chicken in there and spoke with his mouth full, “they’re not my Space Force. I just work there.”

Lupita continued, “My concern is mostly for the overall market. Investors are confused right now as to what the Space Force actually has jurisdiction in or not. There’s no clear cut separation between corporations and government, and the long-term growth of the markets are suffering because of it. But that’s just me being pragmatic. In any situation, whenever somebody is losing money, somebody else has to be making money. I think that’s where I really excel – in finding that person at these key moments of downturn.”

Holding out his fork for emphasis, Chico clarified, “So, in English, that means you had a good day?”

“Grew my portfolio by five whole percentage points in one day,” Lupita smiled.

“My girl!” Chico complimented. “I wish I had as good of news, but you know, I take that back. It’s not all bad. I no longer need to fly out to Solstice Satellite each morning to head to work as Murk and I are now based out of the Second Earth Special Police Force Base here on the planet.”

Lupita was excited for Chico, “That’s great!”

Chico was a little more reserved in his celebration, “Well, we’re going to have to get the Police Force up to speed with Space Force policies and procedures, so if you can believe it, my days are going to be considerably longer until that happens.”

“At least now, I can stop by to see you on lunch,” Lupita replied making the best of the situation.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Chico admitted, but he did like the sound of it.

Lupita swirled the wine in her glass before taking a swig and stating, “That’s my job. I’m all about finding the arbitrage opportunities.”

Pete’s House

By contrast, Pete’s home life included an empty house and tortured memories of despair. He sat in the passenger seat of the Mustang dreading having to return to that place and eventual sleep. His dreams had been shattered and his nightmares were now reality, plus short of putting a bullet in Retsepar’s face, he could not fathom how things could get any better as that was really the only thing left he reasoned that he had to live for.

“You need me to come in?” Julian asked. “I’m good with the couch.”

Pete exited the car and asked, “Can you meet me back here at six in the morning?”

Julian nodded feeling much more reassured to Pete’s mental state, “Of course.” Once the seemingly renewed, all business rugged cop stepped safely away from his car, he sped off for a home of his own.

In fact, Pete had not slept, so when six in the morning came around, he found that he had done everything else but sleep: shave, shower, eat, television – the list went on and on. Wired as his body seemed to be, the rugged cop presently sat on the front stoop awaiting Julian’s arrival. As his partner pulled up, he stood up and mentioned, “You’re late.”

“First of all,” Julian corrected with a smile, “you’ve gotten us how many demerits for being tardy? Now we’re, what is it seven hours and fifty-nine minutes early for the shift, and you wanna hate? Boy, don’t have me drive off!”

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base

Pete and Julian’s first stop was to see the Russian, Yori Curch. A seamstress of gadgetry and an all-around tinkerer, Yori often provided either devices or technical insight on a number of various, different matters. They were hoping that he could shed some light on these social networking website (dubbed SoNet) murders.

Yori’s work area was trashed with a place for everything and everything in some place – certainly not organized in the slightest. But the way his mind worked, it made sense, and at the end of a long work day, that was all that mattered. And he put in some hours.

There was no secret why Pete selected such an early time to get into the office. Yori’s services were in high demand, so as a compromise to the Police Force, he extended his hours by moving in. Sure, time was allotted for sleep but after about four hours from two in the morning to six in the morning, capable of achieving a significant amount of REM, availability became fair game.

“Pete, Julian – good morning!” Yori greeted.

Julian pulled up a chair he could find, which was, itself, caked in a pile of unrecognizable components and gear. “What’s up, Yori?”

Yori explained, “Ah, not too much. Just another day at work, I suppose.”

“Did you get that computer from the crime scene last night?” Pete asked. He was almost gruff, but it was clear that he was all business.

“Yes, yes,” Yori answered as he felt no malice from the actions of Pete’s urgency. Pointing toward Julian’s feet he said, “Hand me that cord right there.”

“This one?” Julian inquired as he literally just picked up some cord from the ground. There were cords everywhere.

Yori sat pensively for a moment but then decided, “Yes, that will work. I can make it work.”

Julian took a gander at the back of the wall where the majority of the cords led and noticed a shelving system that had desktops and laptops on top of other desktops and laptops. He was even able to make out some sort of networking devices in there like routers and firewalls among other things, but part of him wondered what would happen if the base’s electrician, some random wiring specialist, or a Space Force building and zoning code officer were to walk in here.

Plugging that cable into what appeared to be some sort of switch and some light work on the keyboard before Yori brought up the data Pete sought. He explained, “These SoNet murders are gruesome at best but I believe wholly preventable at worst. It is absurd the amount of information contained on a social networking website. Some of these rival the databases of the Space Force with the amount of personal information contained within. You know when people wake up, when they go to work, when they are sick, when they go to bed, when they have a bad day – and there are pictures and résumés to go along with the narrative in support of the vanity. Frankly, I’m surprised that there aren’t many more of these murders. All some anal-retentive psychopath has to do is latch on to a person’s private-made-public life, and you have me looking through yet another computer trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong.”

Pete nodded his agreement and asked, “Can you determine any sort of pattern out of this latest woman’s lifestyle? Certainly, there’s got to be some sort of paper trail – people she had friended, people who were following her, connections, etcetera.”

“Unfortunately,” Yori explained, “there’s an infinite amount of possibilities to that as far as degrees of separation are concerned. If we really want to pinpoint that type of data, I suggest you subpoena the records from the various SoNet websites that she happened to be a member of. I can certainly pull that data to get you pointed in the right direction.”

Julian replied, “That sounds good.”

Turning around in an out of place, comfy brown leather swivel chair that looked like it belonged more in some house’s warmly-colored den than this dank area of the Police Force Base, Yori needed to say something else, “I have been keeping a database of my own for cross-referencing purposes as far as all of this is concerned. Now I’m assuming Retsepar is smart, and will have unsubscribed from a victim’s page before carrying out the brutality so as to not have such actions traced back to him by my efforts, but it’s much, much harder to go into his victims’ computers and erase the sites that they belong to. I’m not saying that this is overly substantial information, but it’s vetted information as in I believe I’ve narrowed down the sheer number of possible sites that this freak is working off of. The information in this manila folder is retroactive obviously. If he signs up for some new site moving forward and kills again, the data does not support that type of behavioral pattern. But everything from familial to personal to business relationships is compiled there. It’s a data dump, so my job is to find out the enemies, the deceased, and the reclusive.

It is very difficult to make up an identity in this day and age. Sure, you can have an alias. Of course there will be duplicates. But we are fortunate as law enforcement professionals to have come into this after the Space Force regulation of these sites. These types of murders would have run rampant had you been able to regularly supply false information. It all but eliminated spam, allowed us a means to better pinpoint fraud, and ultimately kept the networking crowd safe. Those authenticity laws are what make it only a matter of time before Retsepar is caught.”

“Pete, you said something last night about one of the other tenants, so could that be how Retsepar assumes additional identities in order to be able to sign up for these sites?” Julian deduced after accepting the manila folder from Yori. “He certainly can’t use his own name. Even Stalkord distanced himself from this guy.”

“If that’s the case,” Pete stated, “then we’ve gotta reference random murders and missing persons reports. That’s almost like being back at square one again. On top of that, if he’s using identities from Earth, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint that fu–er.”

With a sigh, Yori turned back around to his computer screen.

Julian promised while flipping through the manila folder’s contents, “Yori, we’ll get you all of the data that you can crunch from these SoNet companies. We’ve got to get somebody on that. We need to also follow up on that tenant angle – set up some sort of surveillance.”

Pete agreed, “Lightning only seems to strike twice with Retsepar.”

“On that subject, man,” Julian looked nervously down at the ground before regaining eye contact with Pete on an uneasy request, “have you put any further thought into what Stalkord was talking about where we should be focusing our efforts on the person who actually hired Retsepar, in the first place, to take you out?”

In Stalkord’s Death Corps there was no room for two things: Space Force contracts and hitting the wrong target. Retsepar had fallen into the latter category and wound up becoming the first mercenary ever dismissed. Now, mistakes did happen which were all part of the job, but taking additional pleasures in the flesh from the heinous power trip of rape went way overboard.

It was like Retsepar was so unstable that he was not even trying to hit Pete – instead choosing to veer disturbingly off course. Those subsequent actions involved with killing Pete’s wife and not Pete disgraced the guild of mercenaries and brought on a lot of undue heat and scrutiny that made their services less and less favorable to solicit. With clients balking at the chance to work with Death Corps, a statement needed to be made, and the mercenary-turned-serial killer was made an example of via firing by press conference. Moneys were refunded and another attempt was never made on the rugged cop’s life, but the question still remained as to who, like Julian had put it, initiated the contract in the first place.

“That’s probably an even longer list than what you have in your hand,” Pete quipped.

The Lenorox Household

It was entirely too early for the phone to be ringing, but for as beautiful as Sylvia was in her slumber, she was still extremely groggy and went fumbling around and about across the night table for the phone. The voicemail had started to pick up, but once the handset was secured from its base, the Briton blinked away watery eyes and answered, “Hello.”

“Sylvia?” Billy said from the other end.

“It took you a whole twelve hours to call,” Sylvia said as she sat up. “I was starting to think that you didn’t like me.”

Billy’s smile could be heard over the phone, “Nah, I just didn’t want you to think I was being too forward, desperate.”

Clanging and other sounds like crashes were driving Sylvia uneasily back to consciousness so she had to ask, “What is all of that noise on your end?”

“I’m at the gym,” Billy admitted, “knocking out my morning workout.”

“Ahhh…,” Sylvia cooed, “and you were thinking about me?”

Billy cut to the chase although it sure seemed like the chase was all but over, “So what’s up? You wanna do the cliché dinner and a movie or what?”

Sylvia was open to that, but it was all about details at this point, so she replied, “Yes. Well, I’m working your event tonight, so I won’t get off of work until ten o’clock.”

“Actually,” Billy said, “that’s fine. All of my next matches are going to be during the main event time slot for the tournament from here on out, and although I don’t expect this match to go very long, I’ll be getting out of there at about the same time as you.”

“I have to ditch my partner though. Where do you plan on meeting up?” Sylvia inquired.

Billy suggested, “That’ll work out perfectly. I’ve been making use of public transportation while I’m out here competing, so do you mind picking me up at my hotel? It’ll give me a chance to get all slutted up for you.”

Sylvia burst out laughing, “We can do that. Consider it a date, but I don’t date losers, so you better keep your focus on the tournament until then.”

“You know it,” Billy realized, “and I’ll use that as motivation.”

“I didn’t say kill your opponent, Billy,” Sylvia clarified.

Billy cackled, “No, I know. That probably wouldn’t impress you all that much – probably scare you off actually. I won’t get cocky.”

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