“This is the place.” Rishards stopped in the center of one passage.
“Where’s the damage? “Matt scrutinized the ceiling, but he couldn’t detect the spot where the wires had dangled in the image. He scanned the panels for the gruesome marker to the precise place where the victim hung. In the computer image, it was obvious, but without the wires or body, each passage in the commercial quad looked the same, right down to the insipid motivational posters that lined the hallway.
“The dome administration had it repaired.” She explained. “You didn’t think they’d leave it as if was. It would be a daily reminder of the horrible event, and this is a situation they’d want to be forgotten.”
“Back in the USA, they’d have left the scene untouched until the investigation was complete.”
Rishards broke out laughing as the doors along the hallway swung open, and workers poured out. Each person trying to get to a restroom or grab some coffee in the minuscule amount of time allocated them for their break. Matt pressed himself back along the wall next to Rishards.
“Yeah, I get it, “he conceded. “Not really a possibility here.”
“Nope.” Rishards waited for the crowd to thin and then started to look around.
“Shouldn’t we wait until the break is over?” Matt dared a step away from the wall.
“No point.” She said. “As soon as these go back there will be a group of others, and then another all day.”
“So, with this kind of traffic, what kind of window are we looking at? The report gave the killer ten minutes.”
“It is likely that a person would come along in that amount of time.”
“Could the killer have blocked the doors, of fixed it so that the people stayed in their offices till break time.” The throng dispersed, and Matt returned to where the body had hung.
“I don’t see how.” She shook her head.
“Okay, he got lucky?” The odds of such a thing Matt realized where astronomical.
“Or didn’t care if he got caught.” Rishards indicated the floor near the far wall. “We found Kossman here, unconscious. His toolbox was there.” She pointed at the ceiling. “The victim.”
“If he didn’t care, then why kill them at the only time when they couldn’t be tracked.” Matt’s blood ran cold in his veins. What were they dealing with? The killer was either the luckiest person alive or the most brazen. Who would trust such a deed to such a slim chance of success? Waiting for the blackout showed patience and planning. That argued against taking such a chance.
“I don’t get it, why take such a risk. There are several places in the dome where a person could remain unseen for some time.” Matt rubbed his hair.
“Too well thought out to be an impulsive act of rage,” Rishards said.
The flow of the crowd had diminished to a few people a minute.
“Let’s go through this step by step.” Matt studied the ceiling.
“Kossman was assigned to repair wiring under that panel.” She pointed. “He’d been here working on it for two hours before the murder. The victim’s co-workers said she took an early break to get her boss a present for his birthday. That is why she was here between breaks. Did she ever have bad timing.”
“So, she was targeted because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Matt didn’t think it was that simple. “No, there’s got to be more to it, the act was too violent.”
“Look at this place, a person hanging from the ceiling could be seen in either direction for a long way. This wasn’t about her.” Rishards said. “This was about the display.”
“If the victim was random, then why not kill Kossman?” Matt mused. “And to stab a person through both lungs seems a bit personal, almost as though the killer resented the victim for breathing the air.”
“It would take four of us to get him up there.”
“Perhaps that was part of a message. We live in a closed system. The air I breathe today, you breathe tomorrow.” Matt said.
“If you are right about religion as a potential motivation, the killer might view the victims as evil, maybe even seeing them as corrupting the very air.”
“There are several fundamentalist groups on Earth who protest the use of palm chips on the off-world colonies. They denounce them publicly, as the mark of the beast promised in the Bible. Hell, they have groups protesting every launch port. Screaming that we were damned if we allow the chips to be embedded. There was a rather large group to see me off.”
“Cut off the hand if it offends me.” Rishards quoted the Bible roughly.
“But in each case, they didn’t cut off the hand, just dug the chip out,” Matt said.
“To look like the wound in Jesus’ hand?”
“Then why only the chip hand. Didn’t Jesus have wounds in both hands?”
“And feet” Rishards added.
“This was about the image; the victim may have been chosen for aesthetic reasons or perhaps because she was small enough to lift.” Matt looked up again. “Stand over here and put your arms out like hers. Yes, like that. It looks eerily similar to some street art I’ve seen in the barrios of Dallas. Jesus.”
She dropped her arms and moved back. “That’s a leap.”
“Is it? Arms extended feet together bloody wound on the palm. It matches.” he said.
“According to scholars, Jesus wasn’t crucified through the hands. They put the nails through his wrists.” Rishards countered.
“Yes, but that’s not the popular image of him, is it.”
“Let’s go over this again. Kossman was unconscious on the ground and the wires that he pulled out strung up the victim. That’s pretty high up. How could the killer have gotten the victim up there?”
“Kossman had a ladder.”
“You are slightly larger than the victim, I think, and I’m not a small person. But I don’t think I could get you up a latter without it tipping over, especially if you were struggling.”
“Are you suggesting she let herself be strung up?”
“Or maybe the killer had an accomplice, someone to steady the latter or to put her up while they tied her to the wires.”
“Why not Kossman? He’s large enough. There were bruises on the arms of the victim. What if he held her while the killer tied her up?” Matt acted out the tying. “Then they hoisted her up.”
“The bruises could have been made by his large hands; but if he was an accomplice, why knock him out?”
“He’s a burn out right. He cannot make new memories. When he goes to sleep his memories reset, he’d be a perfect accomplice, never be able to remember or turn you in.”
“You’re making a lot of guesses.” She said.
“Maybe, but they fit the facts, and I’ve got a hunch we’re on the right track.” Matt looked around nervously. The crowds were returning; the hallway filled quickly.
“A hunch?” Rishards voice flowed with derision.
“Yeah.” Matt hated crowds and pushed himself back against the wall, gritted his teeth as the crowd thickened. “The subconscious mind can sometimes make connections that the conscious mind overlooks. It comes to you as a feeling; detectives have been using them for centuries.”
“Sounds like psychic hoo-ha to me.” She said. “But I’ve heard about your ‘hunches.’ They say you’re never wrong.”
“Everyone is wrong sometimes.” Matt squirmed. “The trick is to keep your theories adaptable and chance with new evidence.”
Rishards gestured for Matt toward the end of the hall, where a public computer station was mounted to the wall. Rishards made her way through the crowd. Matt weaved his way behind, then leaned against the wall and studied the adjacent hallways. The wall felt hard and cool on his back. The location was exposed; the killer could have been seen from four large corridors and at least six public offices.
“… over there is where the killer dropped the chip.” She said. “But why post the apology on the cities message board?”
“For the same reason, the victim was left strung up in a hall. To show everyone what they have done.” Even though it was between shifts, Matt was becoming more agitated by the masses of people coming and going. He took several deep breaths, reached into his pocket, and pulled out another pill, opened the small sealed package, and swallowed it without water, nearly choking.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I just don’t like crowds.” Matt took several more deep breaths.
“I had a theory of my own,” Rishards said.
“Go ahead; I’m listening.”
“What if Kossman did it alone?” She asked. “I mean, what if when they did the operation that removed part of the brain they made him sensitive to the same radiation that causes the black-outs.”
Matt contemplated this for a moment. “Then, the equation would change. The killings wouldn’t be occurring because the black-outs gave him the opportunity, but because the radiation spikes released some latent homicidal tendency?”
“That’s the idea. It would also explain why the killings were so different and why. There is no relationship between the victims.” She said.
“Interesting idea, except that Kossman was in custody for two of the killings.” Matt rubbed his chin. “Is it possible that maybe the radiation could have that effect on other burnouts Different burnouts, different killers?”
“It might be worth inquiring of a brain specialist.”
“That is a terrifying thought, how many burnouts are there on Sirius?”
“A couple hundred I think,” She said.
“A couple of hundred potential murders and each one could snap at the only time we can’t track them.” Matt’s spine chilled. “No, we’re going off track.”
“What do you mean?”
Matt pointed to the monitor. “The message left on the system. They were all left after the killings. Same MO, same killer.”
“It was a thought.” She said.
“Let’s not throw that into the trash heap just yet. I’d rather have twenty wrong theories than miss the correct one.”
“Did you get what you needed?” Rishards asked.
“I have some new insights. But I’d like to check a few things out before we head back to the station.”
“What do you have in mind?” She asked.
“I want to check out Kossman’s apartment. Then I want to interview him.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Won’t know until we look,” Matt strode swiftly down the corridor.