Terri watched the cars go by in the neon lit street as she sat on top of a utility cabinet next to a group of teenage punk girls. There was no difference between day and night in this district. It was always busy. There was always noise, different kinds of music, default people, hustlers, security, trippers, sellers.
An idea for a piece of code came into her head and she wrote it down quickly in her notebook, then put it away again. She had bought a large cup of tea before and continued sipping it.
She watched the crowd pass by in front of her, keeping an eye out for her friend Mitsy who’d pay her tonight for the last job. Nothing illegal this time, but the client wanted to keep something new under wraps before launch to prevent competition finding out about it. They just needed her help on a search algorithm.
She recognised her friend as she hurried down the street and flexed her toes and claws. She stared into her cup as her friend slipped the tube with payment adress and key between her toes on her way. They never made eye contact nor exchanged words which could be recorded by the surveillance system.
She drank the last bit of tea, tossed the cup into the bin next to the cabinet and dialed her favorite take-away restaurant. She hopped off the cabinet and made her way down the street to pick up her order.
The restaurant was located in a small side street and served simple meals based on rice and pasta. Since she loved about anything with noodles and it was located close to home she went there almost every other day.
‘Hello Terri.’ the pudgy chef said as she opened the door.
‘You really know when it’s me, Roberto.’ she said as he still had his back to the door.
‘It’s easier to tell when you’ve called first.’ he said wrapping up a package for another customer.
She sat down on one of the cheap plastic chairs along the wall. The place looked shabby, white walls with menus, food posters, local news, a couple of neon signs, white floor tiles, cold overhead lights, the air thick with the smell of ingredients. Still, the food was great and despite the aged look it was clean.
‘Yours is ready.’ Roberto said.
‘Thanks.’ she said and put the money on the counter.
Roberto handed her the bag when a couple came in.
‘It’s like the street is redder with her blood than her coat.’ the girl said while looking at her mobile.
‘They got her good all right.’ the guy said turning his attention to the menus on the wall.
The girl put her mobile on the counter to search her pockets and Terri recognised the red colour of Mitsy’s coat. She often wore bright colours to keep the attention of any surveillance on her and not on those she hired.
‘Enjoy your meal.’ Roberto said.
She smiled at him. ‘I will as usual.’ she said and left the restaurant.
She kept her normal pace walking home to her apartment, listened downstairs for any unusual noise, walked up the stairs to her floor, checked the hallways quickly, went up to her door and checked the position of the inconspicuous mark she had made on the doorknob. If it had not been exactly where she had turned the knob she’d know someone had been or is still there.
It was just as she had left it so she unlocked the door and went inside. She dropped the bag on her couch and hurried to her terminal, punching up a search for local accidents and the last entry had enough info to confirm her fears, Mitsy had been shot by what seemed an oldfashioned sawed-off double barrel shotgun. Witnesses had been so shocked by the primitive way that they had not paid attention to who actually pulled the trigger.
Terri stared at the terminal for a while, disbelieving what she was looking at.
‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Goddammit!’ she said and kicked the wastebasket across the room. ‘Fuck!’
She paced around the couch to get rid of the shakes and went over all the jobs and talks she had with her to think of a reason why she got killed. Nothing came to mind and she kicked the basket again out of frustration.
She crashed down on her couch, putting the food down on the floor and looked up at the concrete ceiling. She pondered about being targeted at well, if she’d need more than the tazer she had for defense, and if taking a trip out of town for a while was a good idea. Knocking on her door woke her up and she realised she had fallen asleep.
Groggy she rolled from the couch and checked the corner where she kept her tazer.
‘Miss Terri Willis?’ the male voice on the other side asked. ‘I’m detective Pietuk and would like to ask you a few questions.’
She moved to her window silently, checking her escape route.
‘Miss Willis, I know you’re there.’ the detective said and she could hear a faint ping.
“Shit. Wallpinger.” she tought as she recognised the device to see what’s on the other side of doors and wall.
She sighed and went to open the door, hoping for a coincidental reason for why he was here.
He held up his ID for her to see and she opened the door.
‘Apologies for coming this late, but I’d like to ask you a few questions regarding a miss Sugimura.’ he said and held up a picture of Mitsy.
She let him inside and he took out his notebook. ‘I think you know just as well that it’s no use denying you know her. The surveillance footage we have collected while tailing her shows several people with too high a statistical probablility of coincidental encounters. Even though it seems nothing gets exchanged or said, we know you two are in contact.’
Terri suddenly remembered the tube but no longer felt it between her toes. ‘Then just tell me what you want to know.’ she said, turning away to check the floor and couch before sitting down on it. She felt relieved seeing the tube under her desk between other junk.
‘We know you’re a programmer specialised in algorithms. She provides software to all sorts of businesses. What was she working on lately?’ he said kicking a crumpled page with notes aside.
She looked at him, wearing a cheap dark red suit, clean shaved face making him look younger and more of a rookie was in contrast to the feeling she had looking at his blue-grey eyes and grey hair. She expected him to know a lot more about things than he let others to believe. He had to have a good reason to make detective at his age.
‘I have no idea.’ she said and held up her hand to silence him before he could speak. ‘I know, default answer, and often enough I know more about the projects she sends my way, but this time I only got the specs to build an algorithm around.’
‘What was it supposed to do?’
‘Extrapolate patterns from short pieces of data.’
He wrote in his notebook. ‘Do you know anyone else working on this project?’
She shook her head. ‘I keep isolated. Easier to deny knowledge.’
He nodded in agreement. ‘Anyone you recognised tonight who might have connections with her?’
He looked over the shelves filled mainly with books on mathematics, statistics and machine code. ‘Not many people keep books nowadays.’
‘Works better for me than reading from multiple monitors.’
He put away his notebook and went back to the door. ‘Thanks for your time. Please stay close in case I have more questions.’ he said and let himself out.
Terri pulled up her knees and rested her head on her folded arms. ‘I really have no idea.’
She didn’t feel like working the next day and spend her time going through the specialised shops she found most interesting, antique, electronic parts, books. Although there was nothing worth buying she did feel better after a while. She just started on a sandwich she bought at a stall when a familiar voice called her.
Detective Pietuk walked up to her. ‘Good afternoon miss Willis.’
She gave a nod because her mouth was still full.
‘Good idea.’ he said and ordered a sandwich for himself. ‘I haven’t eaten since this morning.’
He leaned against the rail next to her and took a bite. ‘That’s better.’ he said after the second bite.
‘Maybe, that’s why I’m glad to see you. I’d like you to come with me to the office to have a look at another victim that had a connection with miss Sugimura. See if you recognise him.’
‘You weren’t just in the neighbourhood, right?’
He chuckled. ‘Actually, I was checking up on a lead around here. But I did do a search to find you to contact you and saw you were close.’
‘All right then, lead the way.’ she said and tossed her napkin in the bin.
He finished his sandwich on the way to the security office. The building the office occupied wasn’t large.
‘We’re specialised in grid related crimes, so there’s not much personel here but we do have several basement floors full of processing equipment.’ he said with a hint of pride which she found funny.
He registered her and led her up to his office.
‘Hey Milo, trade cases?’ asked one of the guys as they crossed the common room.
‘Behave.’ Pietuk said and waved him off.
‘Was that about me?’ Terri asked.
‘Of course. Always happens when one of us shows up with a pretty woman.’
She raised her eyebrow. ‘I’m a pretty woman?’ she asked with a slight smile.
He blushed lightly opening his door for her. ‘Yes?’
‘Thanks.’ she said as she walked in and found the same ordered chaos as in her own apartment.
‘Maybe it’s something in the personalities of the people in this line of work, but none of us feel uncomfortable with chimera-, I mean transmutated humans.’
‘Just call it what you like. I’ve heard worse since I was born with canine genes.’ she said and sat down in the chair next to his desk.
‘I can understand.’ he said as he fished out the file from the latest victim.
He opened it and showed her a photo of an older male with feline characteristics. ‘Frederik Kruickdam, programmer specialised in networking equipment. Found dead early in the morning at his home.’
Terri looked at the photo but her attention went to the photo of his head resting on his desk as he was found. In particular a piece of paper with variable names she recognised as her own.
‘Do you know him?’
She shook her head. ‘I might have heard of his name somewhere, but I don’t know him directly.’
Milo took the photos and looked at them. ‘Too bad, we’re not really sure but we suspect he was hired for a project as well.’
Terri looked at the page in the file, the same as on the photo and read the loose lines of code written on it.
‘Oh, sorry, can I offer you something to drink?’ Milo asked.
Terri looked up. ‘Just some cold water is fine.’
‘Be right back.’ he said as he left the office.
She took the pages from the file and scanned the various lines of code. She recognised input/output code and suspected it was made to intercept specific traffic.
She heard his footsteps, put the pages back and looked at the few stacks of security oriented books behind his desk.
‘Here you go.’ he said as he put down a glass of water. ‘Nothing else has come to mind?’
‘No.’ she said.
‘Shame.’ he said and sat down. ‘Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with the Sugimura case. Seems he was into some kinky business as well.’
‘I don’t think I can help with this.’
‘Yeah.’ he said and sighed. ‘Let me walk you to the door.’
After saying goodbye outside and coming back up he lifted the pages from the file and smiled at his grey hair underneath. ‘Thank you miss Willis.’