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"Born of the Blade" - Part Five

We had just stepped out of the motel entrance, the glass doors shushing close behind us, when the black ChrysFord SUV pulled in under the covered portico and came to a stop at the curb five meters away, passenger side facing us. The passenger window rolled down and Chen of the Jade Dragon Society regarded us behind a pair of slim mirrorshades.
   
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Mouse about to go for her Bowies.
   
I grabbed her arm.
   
"Don't," I said.
   
She growled.
   
"They're trying to force our hand, remember?"
   
"Force it right up their--"
   
"Mouse."
   
Another growl. "Fine."
   
Turned to Chen.
   
He continued looking at us, face expressionless.
   
I gave him a small nod and started walking toward the Royale.
   
The SUV crept forward to intercept me.
   
I stopped at the curb.
   
The SUV stopped.
   
I started toward the Royale.
   
The SUV crept forward, paralleling me along the curb.
   
I stopped.
   
It stopped.
   
I looked at Chen, then stepped off the curb in front of the SUV.
   
Chen stared at me, his brow creased.
   
The SUV's driver gaped at me, turned to Chen, and said something I couldn't hear.
   
Chen said nothing but continued to stare at me, the crease in his brow deepening.
   
The driver said something again, urgent this time.
   
Chen scowled and replied.
   
The SUV backed out from beneath the portico, backed up to the far curb, and drove out of the lot.
   
Heard Mouse come up beside me.
   
"That could've ended badly," she said.
   
"Chest puffing," I said.
   
"For now."
   
"For now."
   
"And when it isn't anymore?"
   
I looked her in the eye. "Then we go to war."
   
She gave me a feral grin.


*   *   *

We were halfway to Val's when the thought struck.
   
"We don't know shit about serial killers," I said.
   
"I've seen vids," said Mouse.
   
"Those are vids, though," I said. "I don't think they all wear human skin masks."
   
"That chainsaw one was supposed to have happened."
   
"That also had the ancient book that supposedly summoned demons."
   
"Wrong chainsaw movie."
   
"No vid info," I said. "We need an expert."
   
"We could see if Specs..." She stopped and made a strangled noise in her throat.
   
I felt the knot in my gut again. "I know," I said.
   
We drove the next few blocks in silence.
   
As we crossed Midway and Sheffield heading north I said, "When we get to Val's I'll see if Revell knows anybody."


*   *   *
   
Revell said, "There is expert in Bay City."
   
"Who?" I said.
   
"Elaine McCarthy. She is professor at BCU. Criminology. She was in news several years ago. Helped NorFed IB catch serial killer."
   
"Thanks, Rev. We'll try her next." I hung up and turned back to Val and Mouse.
   
We were again seated next to Val's workstation watching the three display screens.
   
"Ready when you are," said Val.
   
I told her about the footage of Brittany. A short burst of typing soon displayed the correct feed and we watched as Brittany collapsed and was dragged away out of the frame.
   
"There's supposed to be another camera on that side of the building."
   
"I've got it," said Val, fingers flying across the keyboard.
   
A display box materialized on the center screen and the footage began to play. The camera now looked back toward the opposite end of the property, part of the parking lot to the left side of the frame, the building wall along the right side. Val had keyed up the correct timecode and we watched Brittany step through the side entrance, the door closing behind her, finish talking on her phone, lower it, and begin to dial.
   
Then the figure stepped around the far corner of the building, keeping close to the wall, crept forward quickly between a low bush and the building, and swatted Brittany in the back of the head with a club-like object.
   
"Freeze it," I said.
   
The footage stopped.
   
The image now depicted Brittany lying prone and the figure crouched just behind her.
   
Val keyed commands and another still image popped up next to the first. Reverse angle from the first camera showing Brittany on the ground.
   
"Right here," said Val, pointing to the lower edge of the frame in the second still image. "They're standing just at the edge of the camera's frame."
   
"But you can see them here," said Mouse, pointing at the first still image.
   
"Can you get closer?" I said. "See if we can ID her attacker?"
   
"Let's see," said Val, keying more commands.
   
The image popped up in a display box on the right-side screen, then shifted and zoomed on the figure. Val continued typing commands and tiny menu boxes flickered in and out of view. Then the image sharpened to a head and shoulders view of the figure. They were wearing a watch cap and had tied a bandanna around their face so that only the eyes were visible.
   
"Crap and a half," said Mouse.
   
"Can't do a match with that," said Val.
   
I looked at the image for a moment then back to the frozen feed. "Replay that far camera," I said.
   
Val keyed in commands.
   
The footage replayed. I studied it.
   
"You seeing something?" said Mouse.
   
"Maybe," I said. "Let's look at the other feeds."
   
Val keyed up the dates and times for Eve. Then for Sheena.
   
Each time was roughly the same. Out the side entrance, in the middle of a phone call, then struck from behind.
   
Realization hit.
   
"Freeze it," I said.
   
The footage of Eve's attack stopped in mid-stream.
   
"These were planned," I said. "Had to be. The girls came out of the same door every time. The figure comes up behind them and knocks them out. Same corner of the building. They knew to cover up to prevent facial recognition and they stayed hidden enough when they attacked."
   
"But they still got caught," said Mouse. "They're all over the feed."
   
"But not enough to identify them."
   
"Fucking hell."
   
I said to Val, "Is there anything you can do to the image to get a better look?"
   
"Unless they take off that bandanna or the watch cap, I got nothing."
   
"Can you go by eye shape?"
   
"Not enough info."
   
"Damn," I said, looking at the frozen feed.
   
Then a thought struck.
   
"Keep it playing," I said.
   
"Sure," said Val, keying commands.
   
The footage picked up again. Eve crumpled to the ground, prone. The figure then crouched near Eve's legs, dragged her backward a short distance, then picked her up under the armpits and dragged her the rest of the way toward the left-side of the camera frame, toward the parking lot. A moment later, they disappeared from view and we were watching nothing on camera but scenery.
   
"Keep it running," I said.
   
We waited and watched.
   
Ten minutes later, the front corner of a car swung out from a parking slot outside the frame, traverse a small section of camera before vanishing from view
   
The footage froze.
   
"Dammit," said Val. "That could be any car."
   
"Did you see tags?" I said.
   
"No," said Val.
   
"Parking lot cameras?" I said.
   
"No," said Val. Suddenly she straightened in her chair. "Wait a minute." She turned toward us. "Street cams."
   
"You can follow," said Mouse.
   
"Damn right," said Val. "It might take a little bit."
   
"How long?"
   
"Not long to pull the feed," she said. "But time to sort through it. Maybe half an hour or more. Provided I get left alone."
   
"You expect trouble?"
   
"More annoyance than real trouble," said Val. "Traffic control tries to be proactive."
   
"You can handle that," I said. "We're going to find out about serial killers. Quick infodump on Elaine McCarthy at BCU."


(to be continued...)


"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 6
 

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