Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Excerpt Deux!

Didn’t I promise another excerpt of Preying On Time after I provided you with the prologue in my Whetting Your Appetites post?

Well here you go. I kept my promise – even if it has been delivered later than I planned.

1. John Doe

“So who do we think he is?”

The police officer glanced up at her and then down at his screen once more, a scowl etched into his face. He highlighted things, pressed delete and then hammered the same information in again, the old keys clacking like arthritic knuckles in the chaotic jangle of paper, chatter and phone calls. The screen refreshed and the officer’s frown deepened.

A sigh. “Well?”

This usually only took ten minutes, even with the clapped out equipment. If it was above the civilian information level, she still had clearance; so why was he stalling? She shifted her weight to her other foot, hands still buried deep in her pockets. Clearance was a great asset, but it would be easier if she still had it to use the system herself without having to ask one of the junior officers every time. They were never fast enough.

Her tones were flat, voice oozing cold irritation. “Hey, I need to be somewhere. Can you hurry it up?”

The officer compressed his lips, the furrows of his brow lengthening into chasms with the sickly yellow light of the department. This was ridiculous but somehow she managed to check herself before her foot began tapping against the tiles.

“Well...?”

“There must be something wrong with the system,” he muttered reluctantly, gaze dancing in a loop from her to the screen. The computer bleeped in derision. A flicker of frustration distressed his face. “I can’t make heads or tails of this.”

Violet rolled her eyes, stepping closer. The system was a joke. It badly needed upgrading, but the coding hadn’t been touched in years. It would probably have been easier to hack it from the outside.

So much for giving the best equipment to those on the frontline.

Still, wasn’t it always the case that the government ignored the public service needs in favour of their own expensive wars or outrageous laws? Or was that just her cynicism talking?

She pushed in beside the officer. This computer had obviously been dragged out of the old stockpiles; no wonder it wasn’t working properly. The screen lit her face. Cyan indiscretion. She frowned too, studying the face of the twenty-first century throwback.

“You see what I mean, ma’am? That can’t be right.”

Violet compressed her lips, thoughtfully, scrutinising the details as if they would change. Maybe the bobby had entered it wrong… But that couldn’t be the case. She’d watched him fill it in. He hadn’t put a finger out of place.

“What can’t be right?” piped a voice from the other side of the monitor. The sound hit Violet’s ears with a familiar ring, twirling further annoyance into her stomach. As if she hadn’t had enough to deal with today. Both at the desk raised their heads to acknowledge the police detective but he didn’t require a greeting. “Is this the one you brought in, Eonsen?”

Violet nodded, a dissatisfied expression on her face. She knew the next bit would intrigue him but her annoyance with the system rose higher than her pride. “There’s something very wrong here. The database must be down again.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the database. Let me take a look.”

The officer shifted brusquely allowing his senior to be seated. Violet liked the young man’s eagerness, but didn’t let it show. He’d have to toughen up to get by on this force. He hovered beside her, moth-like, as if afraid his computer would be commandeered interminably.

Having a working machine in that place was a godsend and only a few of the officers managed it. There had been promises of more up to date models, but still the constabulary relied on this ancient, yellowed equipment. This was stuff that had been stockpiled centuries before. It was an old measure for when the oil ran out, leaving the people of the world with no electricity until the conversion plants could be made more widespread.

The detective paid no attention to his moth, his interest captured by the screen. The cursor clicked around a bit followed by harshly tapped information but the same results plinked up on the dated monitor, lighting the detective’s face with an eerie cyan.

He leaned back. “Well, maybe this is a solved cold case then.” The response was optimistic, but nobody else inched towards a smile.

Violet merely raised an eyebrow. “It can’t be solved. Nothing on that screen can be right. The stiff I brought in was fresh. There is no way that guy could have died in the 21st century, Maloney.”

A reluctant frown cut the detective’s face. Giving up meant extra paperwork for him. “Maybe he was just well preserved?”

“No, sir,” the officer cut in, bright eyed, palms sweaty. A look of nervous urgency claimed his face. “I saw the body when they were bringing it in. There’s no way that was either old enough to be from that century, sir, or even somehow preserved for that amount of time in that state. He was alive when the wolves got at him.” He shifted from foot to foot. “You could tell, sir.”

Violet shook her head. There was no point in bickering over it with them. It was their problem to deal with now. She had things to do that were far more important. The only duty she’d had was to report the body and even that was more out of courtesy than anything else. What should it matter to her so long as it wasn’t one of her clients? Nobody else gave a damn.

Let them sort it out. It might even help the rookie earn his stripes.

She moved to the other side of the desk, extracting herself from the situation. “It’s your mess to deal with, now. I’ve got things to do. Have fun.”

She swept between the bustling office desks and was through the door to the cool air of the corridor before the detective caught up with her determined stride. His footsteps rattled off the hard floors with purpose, bouncing against the walls. An irritating echo. She wasn’t getting caught up in this, no matter how intriguing it was or how hard Maloney tried.

His hand reached her elbow just as the lights fizzled out. A soft cuss hissed from under breath. He followed it with a hurried suggestion that they make for the exit. Violet shook off the urge to decline; it wouldn’t be a wise move in the dark. Instead, she let him begrudgingly guide her through the maze of corridors, trusting his sense of direction in the pitch black.

It had changed a lot since she’d been on the staff, the myriad of corridors looping and altering, and, without a key card, it would take her longer to find her way out of that hell hole in the dark.

Inky suffocation eventually gave way to cooler air. The street was lit by firefly lanterns and a veil of glittering stars that swathed the two calm celestial bodies above. People cycled by or wandered on their way, ignoring the blackout. It had become a part of the culture lately. The lanterns strung along trees and shops, twisted from lamppost to lamppost, danced and wriggled in the slight breeze, but the gust wasn’t too biting yet; the weather was warm for October, despite the damp tang of rain that sifted the atmosphere.

The detective released his grasp on Violet’s elbow. She blinked into the paler darkness. A switch and a crackle announced that Maloney was lighting a cigarette. The burning light illuminated his worn face and then faded into nothing but embers. He looked as tired as she felt.

“So… long time no see, Eonsen.”

Violet nodded. A cyclist swirled through a shallow puddle nearby, rainwater sprinkling the damp bitumen. His bell rang cheerily in the twinkling glow of the lantern light. She tightened her lips, quietly watching the world carry on regardless of the dark. Smalltalk wasn’t her forte.

“Was that stiff something to do with one of your cases?” the other detective pressed.

She shook her head, concentrating on an old woman across the road. The old dame squeezed out her wet laundry straight onto the path. Medieval. There were going to be protests soon, if Violet’s sources were correct, and not just about the electricity failures. They would probably centre around the station again and then the washerwoman would have to find somewhere else to dump her dirty water. Street vendors weren’t supposed to be so close to the base anyway.

“How’d you find it?”

Violet sighed and returned to the conversation as if trapped in a vice, running the information off in the air of a filed report, something she didn’t have much cause to write any more.

“I was passing the alley. The spillage had reached the main street indicating the attackers weren’t worried about getting caught. Paw prints showed several large canines. The deceased was mutilated and in pieces provoking the first impression of a particularly vicious dog attack. But it could have been a fake.”

She cast a knowing glance at the detective. It wasn’t hard to put the facts together. The fakers were getting better at imitating wolf kills. Catching the glint in her gaze, Maloney also compressed his lips.

“My case or not, I figured I should alert authorities before the opposition had any more ammunition.”

“Quick thinking,” he agreed quietly, pondering on her almost clinical description of the crime scene. Only she’d phrase it that way, cold and emotionless. He’d never understood that, but he didn’t expect she wanted him to.

Violet made a move as if to leave, twitching to escape.

“How’s life as a PI treating you?” The words were a quick issue designed to keep her there a bit longer – something she didn’t need. “Better money, I hear.” He slipped her a sly sideways glance. Cash never seemed to be far from cops’ minds these days. Any way to fill their pockets up that bit more was all they looked for, breeding corruption. An inside irk itched at her.

“Depends on your clients,” she muttered.

“Tough week?” His expression tilted with concern.

A tight smile crossed Violet’s lips and she stayed herself a little more. Sometimes she had to remind herself that his caustic comments meant no real harm. He was one of the good guys. “Anyone would think you were a detective, Maloney.”

He smiled, ducking his head as tired lines creased the corners of his eyes. When he brought his gaze level with hers it was marked with compassion. “We could go for a drink and talk about it?”

Violet sighed and shook her head, stepping out from the corner of the dark building. “I said I’d meet Logan.”

“Ah...”

She swallowed, guilty for the deflated expression that crossed his face but not guilty enough to stay. He knew she wasn’t the social type. A gloved hand squeezed his shoulder in an alien way. It felt strange beneath her fingers. “Maybe some other time. I doubt they’d be serving in a power cut, anyway, to be honest.”

He chuckled and took another quick drag on his cigarette, the embers glittering in the darkness. “Girl’s got brain skills. I still say you would have made captain.”

“In another life.”

“Maybe you’re right. We couldn’t have you depressing the team, now.”

Her lips twisted sardonically. He’d been the one she’d trusted most in that place. She stepped further towards the street. “Team implies people working together.”

“Ouch!” he cried in mock offence.

“There are too many of them, Maloney. Give me my solitude any day.” There was no point discussing it any further with him; he knew her feelings on the matter. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and stepped toward the dark road, her muffled words cast blindly over her shoulder. “I’ll catch you later; I’m already late.”

“Just remember you owe me a drink.”

“Yeah, yeah...”

She forgot her conversation with him almost as soon as she left the precinct. Her mind ran once more to the victim in the alley. It didn’t make sense. There’d been blood everywhere, flesh torn and bone scattered. Yet, the police computer... Well.. The DNA results from the body matched those of a missing person far back in the twenty-first century.

That couldn’t be right. This was the thirty-first.

The body she had seen was definitely fresh. The way it had been contorted and the spray of the blood indicated he’d been alive when the wolves had attacked him. Still, questions remained. There had been no signs of the usual kind of struggle, which indicated that the victim either hadn’t had chance to respond or hadn’t responded.

The first was improbable. The second was highly unlikely.

There were only two types of beings left who wouldn’t have fought back in the usual way. Mutes were rare but he clearly wasn’t one if-

Something buzzed in Violet’s pocket, crashing her thoughts. She fished the circular device out, wondering if it was Logan trying to get in touch. He’d be running late and sorry, but so was she. The screen flicked open like a compact mirror, taking a moment to flash up its demands on her time.

Violet sighed. It was just another of those stupid network messages. A gloved hand brushed back her hair in irritation. Her fingers played the touch screen, wiping the message away. She wasn’t in the market for a new call plan. Fingertips danced across the lower screen until she pulled up an image of Logan, hitting video dial with more gusto than needed.

The screen fizzled for a few minutes, wriggling with a green line like a heart monitor that jumped every time the ringtone sounded. A short while passed and it flat lined. Violet rolled her eyes, cancelling the call. She wondered if he was already there and was about to put the iCom in her pocket again when it buzzed for a second time.

Another network message? She hoped not.

Flipped open, there was a picture of a familiar face on the upper screen. The answer options were only red and green without the added amber, but there was no point in a video message with this caller. A disconcerting bubble formed low in Violet’s stomach. She had a feeling that she was about to become even later to her dinner. The answer options pulsed as coloured circles, glowing on the small display. Pressing green, Violet accepted the voice call, putting the device to her ear.

“I’m supposed to be meeting Logan for coffee, Bella, but I suppose you already knew that,” she tipped into the receiver, a tang of irony in her voice.

“I need you to go somewhere for me.”

Wasn’t that always the case?

Violet listened to the details of the address; her lips pursed together. Mute. She readjusted the gun tucked into the back of her dark jeans, searching the streets for the best route as instructions rattled down the line. The only pause in conversation was to confirm clarity of the orders. Another task. Mere moments later, the private detective was pressing red on the screen and sliding the phone into her pocket once more.

Her plans were hanging by a thread. She really didn’t want to be late for Logan, but this was more important. She’d cancelled on him three times before and then been late on other occasions too innumerable to count. Her personal life was being overrun by work. She should care more that it was, but she didn’t. If only she could have been prompt for once.

Not that Logan would be angelically on time.

-::-::-

Maybe if you guys are good I’ll let you peek a little further, too. If you can’t wait, though, you should check out the page dedicated to Preying On Time where you can find information to buy the ebook (so far…)

There may be a paperback surprise in the future, though!

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