The Electric Blues [working title], Another Excerpt.

2

I had seen that kind of thing before. If you’re a good enough hacker, you can get implants to do anything you want. Including a catastrophic failure. Once, I’d watched as prisoners with cybernetic limbs were made to dance like grotesque marionettes during a military training program. Thoroughly repulsed by the memory, I needed a change of scenery, preferably somewhere with fewer corpses. Once I had pushed my way back through the reporters at the door I decided to call up the office.

“Cooper! Don’t fuckin’ tell me you’re only just now finishing that fuckin’ coffee!” The chief sounded like he was still in a good mood.

“No, chief. I‘ve been to the vic’s apartment. Someone fried his brain implants. Looks like a hack-job to me.”

“Holy fuck, that’s painful. You really gotta hate someone to put them through something like that. Did you bother reading the case file?”

“Yes, chief. I read the case file. I am planning on following up on some known associates that may have been with him last night.” I didn’t think it was necessary to let him know about the ‘confiscated’ pad just yet, it likely wouldn’t lead to anything important, and I didn’t need him threatening to fire me for a minor infraction.

“Alright, the AIs are about halfway done with the reconstruction of the vic’s path prior to his death last night. Looks like he came from a floor below you, head that way.”

“Right, that’s only ninety-nine percent of the floors in the Tower.” I hoped that my humor would brighten his day.

“Listen, the bosses upstairs are all over me about this case. This is a fuckin’ press nightmare, it’s all over the feeds. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen up there. I need an airtight case, and you need fuckin’ evidence this time Coop. If you fuck up again, it’s your ass.” He ended his sentence, and the conversation, with that same forceful click as before.

I knew that my first stop would be at the home of one Mr. William Cheng. According to the case file, Cheng was a fellow accountant and was known to be the most socially prominent of the victim’s drinking buddies. And I knew the vic was drunker than Hell the night he died, so it was a pretty good bet that Cheng was with him that night. Thankfully, they also lived on the same floor, so I was there after only a 30 minute walk further into the Tower. At that point, I was starting to get a headache from all the gold trim and bright lighting.

I got to Cheng’s door and could hear the thumping bass of music playing inside. Well, hear isn’t quite the right word. More like, I could feel my implants buzzing along with the beat. I didn’t like it. I knocked several times, but there was no answer, so I tried the intercom. After several more minutes, and another buzz, a voice came in through the static of the speaker.

“Can I help you? I’m kinda busy in here.” I could barely hear him over the music.

“LPD. Official business. Could we talk?”

The music stopped and the door swung open. Standing there I saw a tall, wiry, Asian man. He was wearing a dark suit, and holding a pad. His hair was medium length and had clearly been slicked back a day or two ago, but now hung down in his face in greasy locks.

“What is this about? I am really very busy.” He spoke quickly, like he forgot that he was supposed to pause between words. He seemed restless too, and moved as quickly as he spoke.

“I need to speak with you about Andrew Banks. May I come in?”

“I suppose, but this needs to be fast.” He stepped aside and waved me into the apartment.

Cheng’s home had a lot in common with the victim’s. Very expensive, very showy, and lots of space. This apartment wasn’t on the edge of the Tower like Banks’ was, though. Instead of the windows, there was a massive screen on one wall showing a picture of a sprawling metropolis, shot from the top of a skyscraper. It looked like one of the Old American cities. Couldn’t tell you which one, I never paid much attention in History class, but it had a view of the ocean.

Unfortunately, the impressive price tag of the apartment was somewhat soiled by the various needles, pill bottles, and other chemical detritus that littered the living room. Apparently, Cheng had a bit of a habit. Or several habits. But from what I could see it was all legal, so long as you tip your doctor well enough.

“So I understand that you and Andrew Banks are friends? The two of you go out all the time, right?”

“Yeah, until recently.” He swept his hair back and out of his face, and plopped down on the couch. The grease in his hair kept it mostly in place.

“What happened recently?”

“Look, I don’t know what he’s done, but I only ever saw him on the weekends. We would go out for drinks and that was it. I don’t really have the time to go into all the details of my personal life right now.”

He sat the pad on his lap and multiple holo-screens blinked into existence in front of him. I watched as he rolled up his sleeves, and noticed several chem-patches on his arms. One of them was labeled AMP-10. That was a serious upper. He started working, doing complex calculations across all of the screens. I knew he was about to start stonewalling me, and I didn’t have time for that.

“Banks was found dead in his apartment this morning. Surveillance shows that he was clearly intoxicated the night before, so that tells me that you’re most likely the last person to see him alive. So I suggest that you make a little time and start cooperating.”

He stopped working, but the screens remained.

“Look, I go out all the time, okay? He is certainly not the only person I hang out with, and I don’t even hang out with him anymore. I haven’t seen him in weeks!” I didn’t think it was possible for him to talk any faster than he had been before, but I was wrong.

“Why did you stop hanging out?”

“He had started asking for money all the time. Said he had some ‘expenses’ and couldn’t afford his drinks. I figured he was blowing all his cash on gambling or something.”

“Something like an expensive chem habit?” I gestured to the state of the apartment. “I’d bet that you owe someone a lot of money for all of this. Smells like motive to me.” I gave him my finest Big Bad Wolf smile.

“These are all legal!” He waved his hands desperately at me through the holo-screens, causing them to blink and flicker wildly. “I am a very active man, both socially and professionally, and I may occasionally require a bit of chemical assistance to meet my busy schedule.”

“Okay. Okay. Calm down, I was only noting details. They could be pertinent to the case, after all. So is there anyone else who goes out with the two of you? Anyone he might have visited recently? Or pissed off recently?”

“I don’t know about pissed off, but there was another guy who used to go out with us a lot. A programmer who worked IT for our floor. They were pretty close, and used to sit in the corner and make jokes when we went out.” It sounded like I may have been on to something now.

“You think he might have seen Banks recently?”

“He stopped coming out all together about six months ago. I remember him and Andrew having a pretty intense argument about something around that time, but I haven’t seen him since. Andrew sent me a message saying that they had been talking recently, about a week ago. His name’s Gary Lester.”

“I think I can work with that. Thank you, William. You may be hearing from the LPD in the future. I’ll be in touch.”

I left William Cheng alone in his gold-trimmed chem-den, content to let him stew away in his anxiety. I was sure that he was flushing the illegal parts of his stash as soon as the door closed behind me. He wasn’t really in any danger from the LPD. He didn’t strike me as the killer type, and he had no real, concrete motive. But this programmer friend, that had caught my interest. All it takes is a grudge to turn a programmer into a hacker, and maybe even a murderer.

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