Varriano had a cubicle to himself. Normally, Stem Corp used it to test people who wanted to work there. He didn’t mind that he had job seekers to his right going down the row by half a dozen other cubicles, except when they leaned over and asked him to answer something for them, which of course he knew nothing about.
He had his laptop with him, and he spent the next half hour studying two murder cases. They drew his attention because they were high-placed scientists working on projection models. Both scientists lived alone in secured communities and no signs of forced entry were ever found. They’d been murdered with items found in their own homes. For some reason, the strangeness of the cases haunted his brain. He set those on the back burner for the time being.
Next, he went into the files for EFH’s only competitor in the States, Live Again! This was a company from Free Korea that populated its ghosts / virtual people onto a virtual Earth scenario instead of sending them to exotic locations like EFH did. The reasoning was that a lot of people wished they’d made better choices during their lives, like choosing family over a career, getting married, having kids, that sort of thing. The ghosts knew what their actual lives were like, and they re-lived them while keeping most things intact, but they could choose to shake things up by making life-altering decisions and seeing where that throw of the dice would take them. The ghost could quit the life-change whenever they wanted to, or they could follow it to the end, and rate their experience for other ghosts wanting to try something similar. That sounded… It sounded interesting, and morbid too. The virtual dead were telling other dead how to live their after-lives.
With two hours in, Varriano decided he’d take the bus out to where one of the murdered scientists used to live. He uploaded both cases into his laptop; they were tagged by Stem Corp and would be removed whenever he left the job, and he used a randomizer to choose one of the two locations for him.
The scientist’s name was Yvette Kennet. She worked for FVL, Forward Velocity Limited, as part of an egghead think tank designed to predict future trends in areas wealthy investors kept track of: commodities, banking, fashion, travel, communications, etc. Kennet had rivals but no real enemies, casual lovers but no one serious, and oftentimes took her work home with her and stayed to herself. In many respects, she was a lot like the other murdered scientist. Neither of them made waves or caused trouble. They did their jobs at work and they went home to do their jobs there also.
The bus ride took over an hour. Once Varriano refreshed his mind on the case, he used his laptop to check out the most obvious possibilities. Nothing stuck out, really. He came to the same conclusion a previous Stem Corp investigator had for their preliminary findings: Kennet was most likely targeted for her wealth or her financial prognostications. As a loner, she would be easy to keep track of and follow. The most puzzling part was that Kennet had been killed in a secure residential area with regular patrols, and according to the initial report, there were a lot of cameras around and none of them showed anything unusual in the days leading up to the murder. It would have been much easier to approach her during her drive to and from work, at a gas station or a store. Anywhere but the heavily guarded place she lived in.
Varriano found out just how secure the neighborhood was once he got off the bus. He had to walk up a winding road that led into the hills, with not one but two guard shacks to get past. The first set of guards he came to checked him out with a fine-tooth comb, scanning him and his ID, calling Stem Corp to verify, and putting him into a golf cart with an armed escort. He got lucky with the escort: the woman was an ex-cop like himself, who liked to chat. Her name was Regine, Regine Jammer.
“I’m guessing you’re going to want the video for the last week before her death.” Jammer said. “I can get that for you, for a price.”
“What’s the price?” Varriano inquired.
She winked at him. Huh, he thought. That was twice in one day that women had flirted with him. Could it be because he’d had his teeth cleaned like Engstrom had told him?
“You’ll have to excuse me.” Varriano replied. “I’m not good at flirting. I’ve been out of the game too long, and I still have nightmares about my ex sucking the blood out of me at night. Off chance, do you happen to know how many days of video the other investigator asked for?”
“I think it was a full week.”
“I’m going to need two weeks, then. And one week after the murder as well.”
“For that, you’re going to have to buy me a drink tonight.” Jammer returned.
“Didn’t I tell you I don’t know how to flirt? I’m socially awkward, but I can work myself up to buying you a drink. You’re just going to have to do all the talking until I figure out what I want to say to you.”
“Fine with me. I’m not much for talking either. I’m more of a ‘doing’ person. Here is the house coming up on the right.”
It was a real house, Varriano observed, and not a townhome or an apartment or a bunch of cubes stacked together. The house had a lawn and everything. “It’s a big, fancy place for one woman who doesn’t go out much, don’t you think?”
“She had visitors a few times a month.” Jammer replied. “When we found out about the murder, we pulled the log and looked into those people ourselves. They all had verifiable alibis. Is that in your report?”
“Yes it is. Did your people go into the house when the body was discovered?”
“Yes, right at the start. Her company called and said she hadn’t been to work or called in for three days. We have full video of our people entering Kennet’s house. I’ll make that available to you.”
“For a price?” Varriano grinned.
“You’ve got it, stud.”
Maybe it was his clothes that made him look attractive, he figured, or his cologne. He had an epiphany a second later. It was his fucking Stem Corp badge! People thought he was making buku credits because of that badge! Jammer probably thought he lived in a house like Kennet’s!
“Let’s, uh, keep things on a professional level for now.” Varriano said. “While I conduct my investigation.”
“Of course.” Jammer smiled at him.
The guard escorted him into the house, shadowing him while he made his way from room to room. Varriano stopped at all the evidence markers the previous investigator had left behind. The markers were placed where fingerprints were found that were not Kennet’s, or things that felt out of place or unusual for her assumed lifestyle.
“She has two cameras in her bedroom.” Jammer said. “Is that in your report, that she liked to record herself having sex?”
“It is.” The detective nodded. “My report also says nothing appears to be missing. We know how much money Kennet made in salary. We know she didn’t spend a lot of money because she was a loner, and her bank account doesn’t have a whole lot of money in it. So, my first question is, where did all that money go? Did the murderer have a chance to steal it or not?”
“That’s what a secondary investigator tries to figure out?”
“Right. That’s why I’m here.”
“I have no idea what Kennet did with her finances. All I know is that she wasn’t a showy person. She was low-key the entire time she lived here. Even her car was a little on the drab side. Any leads the last guy left for you?”
“Nothing, unfortunately. Do me a favor, yeah? Stand behind me while I make like I’m Kennet.”
“You’re going to pretend to be her?”
“Right. Did she come in the front door or through the garage?”
That’s where Varriano went. He saw Kennet’s car with a couple of markers on it and in it, but he wasn’t worried about those yet.
“I’m Kennet.” He said out loud, standing in the garage by the car’s driver door. “I just pulled in and it’s around six or seven in the evening.” He started toward the door leading into the kitchen. “I’m staying in tonight, like most nights, because I’m running simulations on some future scenario for my think tank.”
To be continued.