Corrupted Transmission

Missing Persons, Part II

Dr. Ilyes, Northern Seattle, Evening of January 27th

Dr. Ilyes‘s phone rings. He picks it up to hear Shaw’s voice. She explains, “I’ve run into a missing persons case with some interesting biology. Two of the missing people were researching a strange fish. I found a specimen in their apartment. I don’t know yet if it is connected to the case but apparently it has survived unattended for over a week and a half. I’d like if you could retrieve it and take care of it. Try to identify the fish and check for any weird pathogens.”

She tells him where the apartment is and its state. The former crime scene investigator drives over in his small car.

Climbing up the steps to room 3C, he finds the door forced open as Shaw described. He heads in tentatively, noting the smoke damage and smell of salt water. Only his flashlight provides any illumination in the chilly room. The ash filled trash can in the main room attracts his attention.

He quickly spots the two 100 gallon tanks. He shines his flashlight on the murky water. A moment later an ugly fish with a face filled with needle like teeth smacks against the glass. The thing looks to be a little over a foot long, with a serpent like head. He looks around for any fish food but fails to find any.

Dr. Ilyes briefly considers how to move the tank. 100 gallons is too big to move by himself and impractical with his small car. He pulls out his phone and finds the nearest aquarium store. He explains that he is moving a piranha to a friend’s apartment and asks what he needs to move the fish safely.

The store clerk is happy to help and invites him to come over. An hour later Ilyes is back at the apartment with a small oxygenator and aquarium. He quickly fishes the thing out with a long pincer and net, carefully sealing the top of the aquarium once it is in.

With the fish in some clean water, Dr. Ilyes takes a closer look. The thing is ugly with bulging eyes and a mouth of long thin teeth. He puts some fish food in and the ravenous creature devours it in seconds. He take some pictures and heads back to the lab.

At the lab he does some quick research on the internet. He isn’t able to identify its species but it resembles the Asian snakehead fish somewhat. He also learns that it is illegal to own a snakehead in the United States outside of Maryland.

The trash can still nags him and he heads back to the apartment. Unfortunately by the time he gets there after 8 PM there is a police car parked out front. Ilyes turns around.

As the evening wears on he does more research. He finds a pair of marine biologists at the University of Washington who might be able to help: Dr. Hicks and Dr. Chaney.

Then around 10:30 PM as he prepares to call it a night he gets an email through his website ‘muertobizzaro’. Someone calling themselves ‘iwanttobelieve12’ writes him: A friend of mine said you might be interested in these.

Attached is a file containing a coroner’s report dated for the 23rd of the month. It contains the details on an unidentified woman in her mid to late 40s who was found submerged in a storm drain. Decomposition was in line for a period 9 to 11 days given the weather and location. But unusually the woman’s brain was completely missing. Even more strangely there were no signs of trauma to the head and punctures to the skull.

Ilyes yawns and checks the clock. He quickly writes up a new blog post: Anomolous Brain Decomposition. He documents the forensic details, leaving out the source of the information and asks his readers for their explanations. As he leaves the mystery to the arm chair forensicists, he quickly writes emails to professors Hicks and Chaney. He includes the pictures he took, claiming they were sent to his website and are likely a hoax. But in a roundabout way he asks what they think about them.

Cafe Equinox, University District, January 28th, 10 AM

Shaw walks into Cafe Equinox. The small coffee shop is bustling with students back from winter break. Modern art and sculptures hang from the walls and ceiling while students sip on coffee and work on laptops on the narrow tables and used coaches.

She walks up to the counter and orders a small coffee. A print behind the counter shows the view from a hotel peephole with death knocking at the door. The two workers struggle to meet the demand at the shop.

Modern art 39

“Busy day?” Shaw asks the tall man behind the counter.

“Yeah,” he replies, scratching his tattooed neck. “We’re a little short staffed.”

“What happened?”

“Just people not showing up for work,” he says quickly, hurrying to fill the next order.

“Alright, thanks,” Shaw says. She find a chair and surreptitiously scans the shop. There are few young blond women there who might be Liz, Kenneth Thomas’s supposed girlfriend. There is a woman on a coach with purple streaks in her hair, another quietly reading a book and couple of women avidly talking about the local football star. She takes some quick pictures of them just in case.

The detective decides to go to the back of the shop, hoping to catch an employee on their smoke break. The alley behind the shop is empty, though a few cigarette butts decorate the ground. The back door has been vandalized with graffiti. Again it reads “ENE – VI.” Shaw snaps a picture.

Suddenly she realizes there is a young woman right next to her.

“Oh hey,” the dark haired woman says confused.

Shaw maintains her composure. “Where did you come from?”

The coffee shop worker points to the door behind her. “I just came out the back.”

Shaw shakes the cobwebs from her mind and asks, “You working in there?”

“Yeah, I’m on a smoke break,” she explains.

As the woman fishes in her bag for a lighter, Shaw offers her own. “Thanks.”

“I heard you guys are short changed,” Shaw says.

“Yeah, we had two guys bail on us. It’ll be better next week. Class is starting up again and some other people are coming back to work.” The young woman frowns. “We were just counting on them be here this week.”

“They’ve been gone a whole week?” Shaw asks, lighting a cigarette for herself.

“Two weeks actually,” she explains. “Last week no one was around but students are getting back this week.”

“And they are like that? Flaky?” Shaw probes.

“No, Ben was never flaky like this. I mean he always took the weird hours, late night and the like.” She smiles. “He was the best.”

“What’s you name?” the detective asks.

“Sam,” she says.

“I know all about working with people you can’t trust, but normally people are pretty steady. You know who you can trust and who you can’t.”

“Yeah,” she says. “You can trust Ben.” Sam pauses. “Ken, I don’t know if I can trust him.”

Shaw leans in. “Why? Did he do something weird?”

“I don’t know. There is something strange about him. He’s really intense. You know what I mean?”

“Not really,” Shaw says leaning back against the wall. “You sell coffee, maybe he had too many.”

Sam clarifies. “No I mean he’s like intense up here.” She taps her head. “I don’t know what a guy like him is doing working at a coffee shop.”

“Had he been here long?”

“He’s been working here a semester,” Same tells her, drawing deep on her cigarette.

“Oh. But neither of them had done this before? Are you sure they are okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well I’m sure your boss has called them. I know I would chew their asses out.”

“Well Mike said he had given them a call but he’s an easy going guy.”

“Pretty fucking easy going.”

“Telling me,” Sam agrees.

“So how long you’ve been working here?” Shaw asks.

“I started last year.”

Shaw chit chats with the young woman, learning that Ken has been flaky before. Both he and Ben sometimes come in with injuries. Ken claims to be involved in sporting accidents while Ben is training to be a stuntman in the movies. Sam is unsure what sport the academic Ken actually plays. She adds, “Ken’s girlfriend is worried. She’s been by here everyday this week.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah,” Sam says.

“He even ran out on his girlfriend,” Shaw says sourly.

“Yes.”

“Sounds like a prince.”

“Exactly,” Sam says. “Like I said I don’t trust him. He probably got Ben into trouble or something.”

“Were they pretty tight?” Shaw asks.

“Yeah. Ben got him the job. He vouched for Ken.” Same speculates, “They’re probably trapped in Mexico or something.”

Shaw asks, “think I could talk to Mike, the boss?”

“Uh sure.” Sam leads her through the back door. The back of the shop seems normal except for more of the modern art. They run into a man in his late 30’s with a large blond beard.

“Sam,” Mike admonishes, “you’re not supposed to bring people through the back.”

Sam explains, “she just wants to ask you about Ben and Ken. I guess.”

“Thanks Sam,” Shaw says as Sam walks back to work. She turns to Mike. “Hi Mike,” she says handing him her card for One of a Kind Investigations.

“Oh! You’re that famous detective,” he says recognizing her name.

“Yeah, I am curious about Ben and Ken.”

“Are they in trouble?” he asks.

“You tell me,” she says. “I heard they hadn’t been into work in two weeks.”

“Yeah, they didn’t come into work,” the manager says wearily. “It happens all the time. A new semester starts and people don’t return to school.”

Shaw listens to the man lament how college students just drop things like jobs without giving people any notice.

“And walk out on their girlfriends?” she adds.

“Yes,” he says seriously.

“That’s the kind of guy Ken was?” she asks incredulously.

“I don’t know.” He throws up his hands. “I liked the guy but I just never got to know him.”

“Sam thought he was a jackass.”

Mike smirks. “Sam thinks everyone is jackass.”

“She liked me,” Shaw retorts.

“Today. Tomorrow she’ll think you are a jackass.”

Shaw takes a more serious tone. “I’ve been asked to look into this because of Ken’s mother. He really is missing.”

“Oh,” Mike says. “Oh. Really? Okay, anything I can do to help. What do you want to know? They were supposed to show up for work on the 14th but never showed up.”

“What time did you last see them?”

“The 13th,” he quickly replies. “I saw them on the morning shift. They said they had some stuff to do that night. So they asked for the night off.”

“They ask for a lot of nights off? Is that usual?”

“Yeah.” He clarifies, “that’s pretty usual. I mean usually people want Friday or Thursday off. With these guys, I guess they had some gang they hung out with on odd nights.”

Shaw probes deeper. “I heard they would sometimes come in bruised.”

“Well Ben wants to be a stuntman.” Mike quickly mentions some obscure movies Ben was involved in.

He thinks for a moment. “I guess Ken is kind of accident prone though.”

“Have any other employees who come in bruised?” Shaw asks a little disbelievingly.

“Not lately no.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Well there was Russell. He worked here about four years ago. Russell, well he must have been hit by a car at least four times while he worked here.”

“That’s a little more than accident prone,” Shaw says sarcastically.

“Yes. He did collect, I think, 12 or 15 tickets for jaywalking in the same period.”

“He had a deathwish?” she asked.

Mike shrugs. “Don’t know.”

“But he’s fine now?”

“He moved to Colorado,” the manager offers by way of explanation.

Shaw collects the details on this Russel Lumis and turns to another subject. “Sam said his girlfriend has been coming by?”

“Yeah, Liz,” Mike glances back at the front of the store. “I mean she’s in there right now.”

“Oh can you point her out to me?”

“Sure, there she is,” he says pointing to the woman with purple streaked hair on a couch, slowly reading a thick book on Anthropology.

Shaw thanks him and buys another small cup of coffee. She quickly snaps a picture of Liz and emails it to Mill. As she does she realizes a half hour has vanished while she was in the alley. A bit disturbed she sets the phone to record and approaches the young woman.

Liz is sitting cross legged on the coach, wrapped up in a leather jacket. Several earrings hang from each ear. Shaw asks if she can share the coach.

“Sure,” Liz says curtly.

Shaw look at the massive book she’s reading. “That’s a pretty huge book.”

“I am an anthropology student,” Liz says dryly.

“No judgments,” Shaw says.

They sit quietly together. Liz takes no interest in Shaw. The detective meanwhile waits for Liz to leave. After a half hour, she gives up and heads outside. She finds a place to loiter and waits for her to come out, hoping to shadow her.

As she waits she checks her recording of Liz. Strangely Liz’s voice is absent. She can hear herself but not the strange girl. Disturbed she goes back to the coffee shop. Liz is still sitting there.

University District, 10 AM

Robert Mill walks down the cold streets of northern Seattle, posting fliers asking for information on Kenneth Thomas and Benjamin Miner. As he staples another paper to a telephone post, he glances around looking for any street people or children, people Ken claimed to have contact with in his notes.

He sees a man panhandling a block down from him. He cautiously approaches.

“Pardon me sir, you haven’t see this man?” he asks showing him the picture on the flier.

“Why do you want to know?” the balding man says shifting on his makeshift mat.

“He’s missing and his parents are worried about him,” Mill explains. “I think he might be in some trouble.”

“I think I’ve seen that one.” He points to the picture of Kenneth.

“Oh great,” the detective says cheerfully. “Where do you think you’ve seen him?”

“Over by the homeless shelter off the Avenue.” Robert remembers the Ave fondly. The man clarifies, “at the church.”

“Excellent news, how long ago was that?”

“I haven’t seen him in a while. A few weeks maybe? But maybe somebody there knows.”

Mill thanks the man and gives him his card as well as $10. He asks him to call him if he hears anything else.

Mill hurries down the street towards the Ave. A few blocks off the Ave he spots a renovated church. It seems to have been re-purposed as a homeless shelter. It has seen better days though. The roof is missing shingles and graffiti mars the brick exterior. He spots another tag by VI. He posts a flier next to it.

Heading inside he finds the church filled with cheap chairs and tables. The few volunteers seem to be preparing to serve lunch. The discolored wallpaper looks even worse next to the bright white sign advertising the group funding the operation: A Better Tomorrow.

Other than several people waiting for lunch, there are only 2 people working there. Mill approaches an older gentleman who has just finished laying out plates. “Pardon me sir?”

“Yes?” the gray haired man replies.

“I’m looking for a man who has gone missing and I heard he may be staying here.” Mill shows him the picture of Kenneth.

The man squints at the picture. “Oh. I thought you meant one of the people who was staying here. No, that’s Ken. He volunteers here.”

“Oh.” Mill says surprised. “Really?”

“Yes.” The man, reading the flier more closely, asks, “is he in any trouble? He’s missing?”

“He might be. His parents haven’t heard from him in a while.” Mill explains how Ken has not turned up for work or school either. “We’re not sure what’s happen to him. I’m hoping to locate him.”

“I see. I didn’t see him last week.” The man thinks back. “I was out of town before that” He turns the other worker. “Sharon?”

The dark haired woman looks up. “Yeah?”

“When did you see Ken last?”

“I think I saw him the week before last,” she replies.

Mill realizes that might be after the last recorded time he was seen.

The woman continues, “I think maybe Friday. Just for a little bit. He said he had left some stuff in the back.”

‘That would be 15th,’ Mill thinks. He asks Sharon, “Did he seem okay at the time?”

“I don’t know, he seemed really rattled or something. He didn’t look like he had slept recently.”

“Any idea where he might have gone? Any other contacts?” Mill quickly relays the people they had already contacted.

Sharon thinks for a moment. “I don’t think I know any of those people. As for contacts, there was his adviser Dr. Baker.”

Robert remembers Dr. Baker from college. He was perhaps the least friendly professor in the Anthropology department.

The old man interjects, “he seemed really close to the people who come here. He was always putting in extra hours helping them out. They might know something.”

Mill asks, “Do you know anyone here now who might have been close to him?”

“Jeremiah,” he says pointing out an older black man in a corner.

Mill thanks them. “If you could post these fliers that would be a great help.”

The man quickly says yes and starts putting up a flier. Mill gives them his card and heads over the corner.

Mill introduces himself to Jeremiah explaining he is a detective looking to find Kenneth Thomas. The dark skinned man replies in grunts and monosyllables. With effort Mill coaxes him to admit to knowing Ken, “Ken’s a good friend.”

Mill persists. “He sounds like a good guy, we’re just worried about him. Nobody has seen him in over a week.”

“Ken can take care of himself,” the man says sipping some lukewarm coffee.

Mill tries to explain the graveness of the situation. “We’ve seen evidence one of his friends may have been injured. They were carrying weapons and one of his close friends is at a mental hospital now. Another of his friends, Ben, is also missing. Its very worrisome.”

“Ken can take care of himself,” he repeats. “If he hasn’t been found its cause he doesn’t want to be found.”

Mill tries a different tactic. “Would it be possible if you could get word to him? I wouldn’t need to see him or anything. Just to let him know people are looking for him and worried about him. Would that be okay?”

Jeremiah grudgingly says, “If I see him I’ll tell him.”

Mill gives him his card and leaves. On the way out he gets a text from Shaw on Liz. The picture is blurry and hard to see. Mill gives a call Erin, hoping she might be able to stake out the church and tail Jeremiah. Unfortunately she has a dentist appointment to make. He sighs and heads back to the office to look at Kenneth’s burnt hard drive.

Meadow Forest Health Clinic, Bellevue, Washington, January 28th

In between trivial medical procedures,Dr. Ilyes gets an email reply from Dr. Hicks. The professor explains the pictures do indeed show a common Southeast Asian snakehead fish, Channa striata. He explains there have been reports for this fish in the area over the last year or so. Ilyes forwards this on to One of a Kind Investigations.

Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, Downtown, 12 PM

Mill gets back to the office to find Vito waiting with an ugly but working hard drive for him. As the ex-SEAL leaves to check out Ella Mae’s neighborhood, Mill sits down for some data recovery.

The drive was cracked, burned, and wiped. With several hours of work, he recovers some material despite this. Notably he finds over a hundred pages of thesis material in the same dry tone as the charred case files, quite a few pictures of large ugly fish, and a map of Seattle with locations marked with red dots.

The map focuses on northern Seattle and one is set exactly at the location of Ella Mae’s house. He emails his findings to the other investigators.

Cafe Equinox, University District, 12 PM

Realizing that there is something deeply strange going on, Shaw buys her third cup of coffee for the day. But this one is not for her. She ‘stumbles’ as she passes near Liz, spilling coffee all over the teenager.

The young woman shout in pain and surprise. Shaw quickly leans in with a napkin. “So sorry. Here let me help you.”

“What did you? Aah! Why don’t you watch what you are doing?” Liz exclaims. “Aagh! It’s on my book!”

As she is distracted, Shaw lifts the strange girl’s wallet from her pocket. She fails to notice. “Let me buy you a coffee. I’m so sorry.”

Somewhat placated, Liz says, “Ok. Alright.”

Shaw asks her what she drinks and then goes to order a triple caramel macchiato frappe with extra whip and soy cafe. After giving her her drink, Shaw hurries to the restroom. She checks her recorder and as before Liz’s voice isn’t present on the recording.

She turns to the wallet. She finds a strange student ID. It lists her name as Liz and has a clear picture of her. But all the other fields are blank. Shaw snaps a picture of the ID but the images just shows a featureless blank card.

The other contents are just as strange. There are several poorly counterfeited bills and a credit card with the name Liz but no expiration date or company logo. There are also several pieces of blank paper like business cards or photographs.

Shaw thinks who she can call to double check this for her. Vito is already heading to Ella Mae’s and Robert Mill is working on the hard drive. She tosses between Dr. Ilyes and Dr. Sorenson. Since Hillcrest is closer, she calls Sorenson.

Hillcrest Mental Health Center, Greenwood, 12:15 PM

Back at his office, Dr. Sorenson looks over the latest reports. The blood work for Georgia Chaney has come back negative as he expected.

The phone rings and he picks it up.

Shaw says hesitantly, “hey, Dr. Sorenson, I was wondering if you would meet me for coffee.”

“Um, yeah!” he agrees. “Any excuse to get out of the office and away from the cafeteria food.”

“I’m at Cafe Equinox,” she tells him and relays the directions.

“Sure. I’ll meet you there. Sounds great.”

Cafe Equinox, University District, 12:35 PM

Dr. Sorenson finds parking a few blocks away from Cafe Equinox. The area is filled with students returning to school. He finds Shaw at a table inside.

“So I assume you invited me here for more than just a lovely chat,” he says as he joins her.

“Yes.” Shaw gestures, “see the blond haired woman with the purple highlights over there reading a large book.”

“Mm-mm,” he says as he casually glances at the student.

Shaw shows him a strangely blurry image on her phone. “This is the best picture I’ve been able to get of her. That’s the girlfriend of Kenneth.”

Sorenson discretely takes a picture with his own phone. It too is blurry.

Shaw continues, “it’s the same thing we saw with the pictures of the clients. When I recorded the conversation with her, her voice doesn’t show up in the recording.”

Trevor speculates nervously, “it’s has to be some sort of strange technology, some kind of interference that creates a distortion.”

“When I picked her pocket,” Shaw says with a smirk, “I found that all of her IDs lists her nickname. No last name. No student number. No address. Her credit card is fake and the money is badly counterfeited. I can let you look at them. I kind of wanted someone else to verify…that she was there.”

“She looks like she is there to me. Let me look at that wallet real quick.”

Sorenson sifts through the wallet. He looks at the badly faked ID. “That’s not normal.”

He examines the credit card. It has the 16 digit number and a VISA logo but no expiration date and uses just her nickname. “Doesn’t look right but at the same time, I can’t explain it why would someone carry around-”

Shaw interjects, “Its changed. It didn’t have the VISA logo before.”

The two look over the other papers. Most are still blank but one now has a picture of a house on it.

“This one is not blank,” Sorenson says.

“They were all blank,” Shaw explains. “Less than an hour ago.”

“That’s not possible,” Trevor says. “Wait. Do you have a pencil?”

“Yes.”

“Just write little numbers on the corners of each these pieces of paper.” She quickly numbers the papers and puts them back in the wallet.

Dr. Sorenson decides to pretend to head to the restroom to get a better position to observe Liz. He find a spot where he can watch her without being noticed. She looks to be reading a book, though he notes she hasn’t made much progress on the book or her coffee. She also seems to be ignoring everyone else around her.

He decides to talk to her. Dr. Sorenson approaches and explains he read that book in college as well. They begin to discuss the author with Liz babbling away about his theories.

“Are you an anthropology major?” Sorenson asks.

“Yes,” she tells him.

“I thought about going into anthropology but then I got sidetracked into psychology by the science. But I think my heart was really into anthropology.”

The two chit chat and the doctor attempts to learn more about her past. He learns that her favorite professor is her advisor Dr. Baker. She seems very interested in his research and is looking forward to the summer for some guided research with him.

Sorenson focuses on learning her motives. He finds that she is here looking for her boyfriend. He disappeared without any warning. She seems pretty bitter.

“Having been a man on campus myself, I know we don’t have great reputations.”

“Terrible,” Liz says.

“You think he found somebody else?” Sorenson probes.

“Oh he better not of,” she says angrily.

The psychiatrist determines that Liz isn’t actually jealous but does have a low opinion of men. But this doesn’t seem to apply to Kenneth. She seems genuinely worried about him. Sorenson ends the conversation and gives her his card. “Oh hey, I don’t know if you are interested in psychiatry or if its even an aspect of anthropology you would want to learn more about. But if you do, give me a call. Thanks for the chat. Nice meeting you.”

The doctor quickly rejoins Shaw.

“She seems pretty normal,” he tells her. “She seemed genuinely concerned about her missing boyfriend. It doesn’t make sense. She is either a really good undercover agent or something weird is going on. She’s seems normal though.”

Shaw asks, “Did she say her last name? Or anything personal?”

“All I know is she was really fond of Dr. Baker, her advisor at school. We could find more details through him.”

“Alright. Sure. I want to look a bit closer at these papers. I was just going to give it back but…let’s get out of here before she realizes she’s lost her wallet.”

Outside Dr. Sorenson speculates, “Maybe she carries that as a decoy. Perhaps she is afraid of people stealing her wallet so she keeps a decoy wallet. I don’t know.”

Shaw is dubious. She glances through the wallet and notices some of the blank papers have vanished. One of the blank cards is now a business card for Dr. Baker. However Shaw’s camera still can’t pick it up.

“These are subliminal objects,” Trevor says. “The more we investigate and look at them, they turn into things we expect to find. I bet if we look at the credit card again it will have an expiration date and a signature on the back just like a real credit card.”

They check but it still looks the same.

“Give it some more time,” Trevor says.

Shaw considers running the card.

Dr. Sorenson thinks out loud, “perhaps it is contact, some chemical on the card that affects the mind. Give me a card or something to look at. Maybe I can do some chemical sniffing on it.”

Shaw takes the credit card and ID and hands the rest to Dr. Sorenson. The two split up and head in opposite directions.

Dr. Sorenson arrives at work to find an emergency has arisen with a distraught patient. He drops the wallet on his desk and forgets about it for now.

Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, Downtown, 1PM

Shaw returns to the office to find Robert Mill working on the computer. She makes her way to her office and looks over the reports for her other cases. She also checks on her friend in San Diego for any progress in finding the real Donald Thomas.

As she works, she gets a call from Dr. Ilyes. “This is Dr. Ilyes. So I ran a couple photos by a marine biology expert at the university. He said it was a rather large ugly version of the snakehead fish. That’s without a direct examination by the-”

“Was this Dr. Hicks?” she interrupts.

“Yep.”

“He was the rival of the professor who went missing.”

“He went missing?” Ilyes says confused. “Which professor would that be?”

“You want to swing by at the end of the day. I’ll fill you in.”

“End of the day? Sure, I’ll be by.”

Shaw hangs up. She tries running the credit card but as expected it doesn’t work. She checks what a picture of the card looks like. It is just a featureless piece of plastic.

She takes it into the bullpen to show Robert. “So Mill, I don’t know, I was going to follow Liz but there is something seriously wrong here. I got her wallet and it was full of blank cards and these.”

She shows him the ID and credit card. “The ID is the only good picture I have of her. When I take one of her it is all blurry. But when I take a picture of this card,” she says snapping a photo, “there’s nothing. It is just a blank plastic card. You can see its not what you see here. It doesn’t catch the raised numbers. When I first got it, it didn’t even have the VISA logo and now there it is.”

She continues explaining to the mystified detective. “There’s no post editing happening here. I can’t explain what’s going on. Sorenson thought it might be some sort of psychotropic substance on the wallet. He took it and the other contents to be tested. I thought we’d keep these in case we could pull anything off of them.”

She fills him in on the other details she had discovered like the voice recording mystery. Robert decides to test it for himself. He grabs the company’s hidden camera and points it at the credit card. Strangely on the screen it is blurry like it is out of focus. It is also blank. Robert can’t explain it and freezes up.

As he mumbles and stares at the screen, Shaw continues, “I figured following her wouldn’t work. Its like she wasn’t really there and might be some weird hallucination or projection or something. Though I didn’t get any sort of weird vibe from the people working there at the cafe. They didn’t seem to be in on it.”

Robert looks away from the credit card, “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

“I said I decided not to follow her because I don’t think I’d be able to.”

“She works there you say?”

“No, she just hangs out there because she is supposedly looking for her boyfriend. Though all I saw her doing is staring at her anthropology textbook. She talked to Dr. Sorenson a bit. She apparently a student of Dr. Baker’s.”

“Oh that’s Ken’s thesis advisor,” Robert informs her.

“That makes sense. Maybe that’s how they met.” She reconsiders, “maybe. If she is not completely lying about it. Perhaps this Dr. Baker can put a last name to her. Though I don’t know why she is impersonating college student and why she would have a fake student ID with no last name on it. Its stupid.”

“And she fit the description from the landlady?” Robert asks.

“Pretty much. Except for the purple highlighted tips.”

Robert considers. “And we already figure the father was a fraud?”

“Well, yeah. I need to call down to Mac down in San Diego. He’s trying to get eyes on the guy. He should be getting back to me sometime today or tomorrow. But I can’t find the guy where he said he would be. The mom apparently disappeared before she even reported Ken missing. Its obvious that some people are impersonating people in Ken’s life. That was what I was kind of expecting with the girlfriend. But I wasn’t expecting this kind of mess. It doesn’t fit either story. If she’s really his girlfriend and concerned about him, then why the fake ID? If its really some highly organized infiltration operation then-”

“Why?” Robert offers.

“Yes, and why would they have such weird ID? And the cards in the wallet started disappearing. Dr. Sorenson might not even have anything to study after a few hours.” Shaw mutters, “but she reacted when I threw coffee on her.”

Robert avoids thinking about the card. “Was she able to give you any other potential leads? Or anything to follow?”

“Not really.” The two continue to chat on and off over the afternoon. They speculate that Liz is looking for Ken and might be part of group after him. But they can’t explain the weirdness.

Lake City, Seattle, 1 PM

As Vito parks his car on Pine street, he thinks back to his talk with Shaw in the morning. He pulls out his clipboard and begins to survey the neighborhood, pretending to be investigating the fire as part of an insurance investigation.

The first person he sees is an older man walking his dog down the street. He greets him and asks, “I’m looking into the fire that occurred here last May. I was wondering if you knew anything about it?”

“Oh right, Mae’s house,” the man replies. “Yeah, seemed like an accident to me.” He pauses for a moment and then confides, “She was really old, not all there anymore.”

“What do you mean ‘not all there anymore’?”

“I mean, forgetting things. That sort of thing.”

“Did she have strange habits?” Vito asks.

“She kept a lot of cats,” he says hesitantly.

“Cats,” he says jotting it down. “What do you mean by ‘a lot’?”

The dog struggles at its leash. The older man thinks for a moment. “I’m not really sure how many cats she had.”

“More than 5?” Vito asks.

“Oh, a lot more than five.”

“More than ten?”

“Oh a lot more than ten. I don’t know. She had maybe twenty or thirty or forty.”

“Wow,” the detective exclaims.

“Lots of cats. Nasty cats,” he adds.

“Nasty cats? What do you mean they were nasty?”

“They hissed and scratched people.” He gestures to his terrier with a torn ear. “They attacked Wilbur here.”

Vito looks at the poor dog’s ear. “Sort of unusual for a cat isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he agrees. “Like I said they were vicious.”

“And what did you have to do to save Wilbur?” Vito inquires.

The man gestures violently. “I had to run out there myself and beat the thing off of him.”

“Oh, that’s not good.”

“No,” he says grimly. “We complained to the authorities that they had to get the cats out of there but they never did.”

“No one ever showed up, huh?” Vito says rhetorically.

“No.”

The detective returns to the subject of his investigation. “Did you notice anything unusual on the night of the fire?”

“Not really, no,” the balding man says.

“Is Wilbur okay now?” Vito asks looking at the small dog again.

“Yes, now that those dangerous animals are gone,” he says sighing relief.

“What happened to all the cats?”

“Must have died in the fire,” he speculates.

“Interesting,” Vito says. “I would have thought at least some of them would have gotten out. Did she keep them indoors?”

“I don’t know.” The man speculates, “Maybe she was the only one feeding them and they moved on after she died.”

Vito thanks him for his time and heads for the site of the fire.

Workmen are at the location today. The bulldozer still sits idle but a man is seated inside talking to the foreman on the ground below. As Vito approaches he can hear them discussing the holdup with the dumpster for the debris.

Vito approaches the foreman and asks if the site is causing any trouble. The tall soot-stained man replies, “the site? Not really.”

He explains that it is almost collapsed already and that the foundation is cracked. Vito asks if he has seen any of the old woman’s cats. The man says they spotted some bones but nothing alive.

Vito inquires, “mind if I take a look around? Before the dumpster gets here.”

“Sure but be careful. Those walls could fall at any moment.”

The foreman hands him a hardhat and Vito scouts the remains of the house. He finds more bones. He puts a few from what look like cats and dogs into sample bags. He also finds a dog’s skull with the same small scratch marks. He snaps a picture of that plus a cat skull he finds under a pile of bricks. He heads out to the backyard and scouts the perimeter. The rusted remains of a chain link fence mark the property boundaries. There is nothing there except vines.

He moves on to the neighbors, talking to a half dozen people across the afternoon. Though they tell him nothing new, he does pick up on a feeling of relief that the house burned down and that Ella Mae and her cats are gone.

He heads back, getting Mill’s message about the hard drive on the way.

Hillcrest Mental Health Center, Greenwood, 3PM

Dr. Sorenson returns to his office, tired from dealing with patients. He looks for the wallet finding only the picture and a single dollar bill left. It seems to be evaporating.

He quickly begins to sketch the house. As he works he realizes he has seen this house before. Then it strikes him. This is the house from the Amityville horror. He bewildered why this house was in the wallet.

Amityville house

With his testing material quickly vanishing, Sorenson takes a sample of his own blood and sends for blood analysis. He indicates to the technicians he wants checks for any psychotropic chemicals.

Then he calls Shaw. “Hey, I don’t have a lot more to offer but I was wondering if I could still stop by and share some information.”

“Sure,” she says. “I have another consultant coming in at 4.”

“I’ll be in shortly after that then.”

Offices of One of a Kind Investigations, Downtown, 4PM

Everyone from the team is there. While Dr. Sorenson gets a coffee, Shaw and Robert Mill bring Dr. Ilyes up to speed on Kenneth Thomas’s case as well as connection to Dr. Chaney.

As they tell him about Ken’s history, he says, “Tell me about the fish.”

Shaw fills him in on Benjamin Miner and his research with Dr. Chaney. Ilyes says, “It was just a snakehead fish.”

Shaw shows him the remains of the papers found in trash can implicating Ken and Ben in the murder of an old woman. She explains she was forced to tell the police but that they are still examining that connection. She finishes, “…Which Vito was looking into.”

Robert asks, “Who told you the fish was a snakehead?”

“Dr. Hicks,” Ilyes says.

“That was the same person who told me. I wonder if we can get a second opinion on that. I don’t know if I fully trust the guy.”

Shaw suggests somebody not working for the university or otherwise tied to the case. In the end however she says since Ken didn’t kill the fish when he returned to apartment on the 14th it is likely not connected. He went to a great deal of trouble to destroy his notes and hard drive.

Robert speaks up. “I don’t know if this was the latest we’ve seen of him but I went down the homeless shelter on the Ave and he had been seen picking up his stuff on the 15th. He was a volunteer there. He seemed agitated.”

Shaw notes the answering machine messages she found at his mother’s indicating he has been on the run since the 14th. She also runs down what she learned at his job at Cafe Equinox.

“This is absolutely crazy,” Ilyes says reading through the case files. “A North American tribe worshipping a Assyrian Babylonian god!?”

As they chat about Ken’s theories about a cult, Ilyes asks about Keystone Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Sorenson tells him about their connections to Pentex and Verdant Technologies.

Robert hesitantly mentions the “thing” and motions to the credit card. As they examine that bit of the mystery, Shaw discusses the weirdness about Ken’s parents and why she thinks they are not who they say they are. As she shows her evidence including the blurry photos, Ilyes recognizes Stephanie Thomas as the same woman from the autopsy report he received last night.

Ilyes asks about if Shaw saw a birthmark on her arm. “No. Why?”

“Does she have a sister?” he asks.

“Why? Are you saying you’ve seen her?”

Dr. Ilyes evasively says, “possibly a relative?”

Sorenson breaks the back and forth. “This can’t be right.” He holds up the case file of Ella Mae. He reads the portions detailing how she believed she could take the forms of the victims of her cats. “I know it sounds really crazy.”

“Or someone could have just worn a wig and makeup,” Robert says sarcastically.

Shaw says thoughtfully, “It really looked like her though.”

The group discuss the options, getting nowhere. Eventually Ilyes decides to put his cards on the table. He pulls up his notes on his website. “On January 22nd this body was found in the city sewers.” He runs down the details including the missing brain.

Shaw says, “I’m no expert but there are other people connected to this case with brains disintegrating.”

“This is the worst we’ve heard of,” Trevor says. He continues, “I don’t believe this is true, but someone wants us to think its true.” He begins to outline his shapeshifter theory.

Ilyes derisively says, “You are drawing so many straws.” The other doctor quickly rebuts Trevor’s theories. In the end he asks, “Why act as an imposter?”

“Because they want to get Ken,” Dr. Sorenson says.

Vito speaks up, “What strikes me about this is there was absolutely no reason to bring us in on this investigation.”

Ilyes and Shaw suggest that they were using the company to get to Ken.

Robert reports on what he found at the homeless shelter. “Jeremiah might know where Ken was. But he didn’t want to talk to me. As for the computer files, the only item of use to my eye was a map of unmarked locations. One corresponds to Ella Mae’s house.” He shows them the map. The dots are scattered across Lake City, the University District and Greenwood.

Vito relays what he discovered about Ella Mae. “I went up there to talk to people. But not much information. The fire was pretty intense, the foundation is cracked.”

Shaw asks, “How did they get it to burn that hot?”

“Don’t know. They are about to bulldoze it. There were a lot of bones, animal bones. I got some pictures and samples.” He passes them out to the others.

Ilyes looks them over. “Okay,” he says slowly. “Dead cat, died in a fire.”

“Note the scratches on it,” Vito says.

The former CSI examines the bones. They appear to be gnawed on by smallish animal.

Vito continues, “the other thing that seemed really interesting is that all the neighbors seemed relieved to have had her die.”

“How horrible,” Shaw says.

Vito relays the story of the dog owner. He says, “that’s pretty atypical behavior for a cat.”

Ilyes asks, “Anything in particular you want to do with this snakehead?”

Shaw tells him, “let’s make sure there is no connection to the mysteries involved and then I can surrender the fish to the officials.”

As they continue their discussion, Robert’s personal line rings. He picks it up and says, “Hello?”

A small child-like voice wheezes, “You’re looking for – you’re looking for Ken?”

“Oh!” Robert starts recording the call. “Thanks for calling me. You have some information for me?”

“Yeah, yeah I know where Ken is,” the child says.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I saw him.”

“Where did you see him? When?”

“I saw him just-just a little while ago. He-he’s hiding.”

“Where is he hiding?”

“He’s down here down in Greenwood.”

Robert jots down the address the child tells him.

“What’s your name?”

The voice hesitates. “You can call me K-Kurt.”

“Are you okay, Kurt?”

“I’m okay. You’d better hurry.”

“If I came right now would you wait for me? I can pay you.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Thanks so much Kurt,” Robert says. Then Kurt hangs up. Caller ID shows the number to be a payphone nearby the address Kurt told him. He also sees that address corresponds to one of the dots on Ken’s map.

Robert tells others about the call. “We should go now though.”

Everyone except Ilyes heads out. The former crime scene investigator explains he will look into what happened to Stephanie Thomas and what is really going on with the Groetnick.

Greenwood, 5PM

The detectives and Dr. Sorenson drive through the low income neighborhood. Buildings show cracks and leans as they subside into the peat bog beneath them. Already the winter sky is darkening. They pass a battered payphone but there is no sign of Kurt, whoever he is.

The two cars split with Sorenson and Robert Mill pulling up front while Vito and Shaw approach from the back of the property.

A cold mist comes down as they approach the house. Broken windows and a gentle lean indicate the structure is abandoned. As Robert approaches, flashlight in hand, he can see the front door is hanging open. Water is streaming down a wall from leaks in the roof.

He shines his light inside. A soggy carpet decorates the narrow hallway. The detective enters while Sorenson waits outside keeping an eye out for any trouble.

Vito and Shaw approach the back entrances. A door to the basement is shut with a wooden bar. The back door is missing completely. While Shaw watches the basement entrance, Vito enters. The house smells of must and damp. Vito makes sure his knife is out. He looks around trying to puzzle out what the room was used for. A couple doorways lead deeper into the house. One leads to an empty room. From the other he can hear Robert moving through the house.

Robert makes his way down the hallway. In front of him there are rotten wooden stairs leading up to the second floor. The wood beneath his feet creaks with every step. To his left there is what may have been a living room. Soggy messes of furniture decorate the decaying chamber. He looks for signs of traffic in the area. The scuffing in the carpet points down the hall to a door beneath the stairs.

He find the door unlocked. He opens it and shines his light down the wooden steps to the basement. He shouts down, “Ken, its a friend!”

The light reflects off the 6 inch deep water in the flooded basement. He decides to head down.
Vito hears him shouting and quickly works his way through house to the the basement entrance.

The steps creak but hold as Robert makes his way down. He reaches the bottom and begins to slosh through the cold water. Looking back he spots Vito at the top of the stairs. Cautiously he pulls his revolver and begins to move towards one of the two doors out of the room.

Robert hears something moving in the water and turns. Vito looking down can see two fish, the size of dogs, one in front of Robert and the other beneath the stairs. One slithers rapidly towards Robert, pulling itself along on its clawed fins.

Vito shouts, “Get out of the water!” He draws his pistol.

Meanwhile Robert spots the toothy thing. As he backs up towards the stairs, he fires. The bullet sinks into its meaty tail but doesn’t dissuade it. It speeds up, leaping out of the water and wrapping itself around his leg like a snake. Surprised Robert calls out, “Help! help! Its got me!”

Outside Shaw hears the gunshot from the basement. She pulls out the bar, throws open the doors, and heads down. Sorenson also enters the house using his cellphone as a flashlight to guide his way.

Vito carefully shoots the fish but its thick scales absorb most of the impact. He sees the other fish hanging back for now. Robert puts a bullet in its skull as his heart hammers from the adrenaline rush. The impact does little to slow it as most of its head is taken up by teeth and bone.

Elsewhere Shaw shines her flashlight into the basement. The room she finds seems ajoin the flooded room. Someone has been sleeping here judging from the dirty clothes and blanket. She also sees a shotgun among the litter. She heads to the rotten door opposite her.

Sorenson grabs a loose banister on his way down to the basement as a crude club. As he reaches Vito he sees the fish, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds, bite deep into Robert’s leg. As blood drips into the water, Robert shouts in pain.

Vito puts a second bullet in the thing’s skull. The pressure lessens on Robert’s leg. The creature’s body sags and it hangs painfully off of his leg, dead.

But the other fish slithers out from under the stairs, drawn by the scent of blood. Still freaking out, Robert spots it and pulls himself towards it firing away. The door nearby flies open with a spray of water and Shaw takes in the scene. Meanwhile Sorenson rushes down and smashes the banister through the dead fish’s teeth and pries it off of the enraged detective.

The other fish flops forward and bites Robert in the foot as he keeps shooting. Vito also puts another shot into it and Shaw adds the chaos of gunfire. But the creatures bony hide and the poor lighting leave it relatively unharmed. Trevor however frightened by the hail of bullets dives under the stairs to hide. The fish leaps out of the water in his wake and latches onto Robert’s arm.

The three detectives all fire wildly at the thing as its needle like teeth perforate Robert’s arm. Finally Shaw shoots through its eye. It stops thrashing. Overcome by pain, Robert drops his arm and falls unconscious into the water. In the distorted illumination of Robert’s dropped flashlight, Vito pops his clip and reloads his pistol.

“Snakeheads my ass!” Shaw says.

As the gunfire dies away, Trevor recovers his senses. “Are we done shooting yet?”

He sees Robert in the water and heads over. Vito pulls the fish off him while Shaw keeps his head above water. The investigators patch him up as best they can.

Vito says, “let’s try and find Ken.”

Shaw points to the room she just left. “I think he was camped out in the other room. Someone was camped out. And its dry. Let’s get Mill into that room.”

They pull him to the other room. As their eyes adjust to the light they can make out a pile of dirty clothes next to the sleeping bag. There is also a shotgun resting on a box. Vito checks it. It is loaded and recently cleaned. They also find a lunch box holding eleven full ampules of BNSX-7. Vito quickly breaks down the shotgun and removes the firing pin. He puts it back together without it.

Shaw tells the others, “the other door was sealed from the outside. There are no signs Ken left in a hurry or was taken, so he could return. I’m going to stay here and watch from outside.”

Robert moans on the floor. They decide to get him to his car and drive him to a hospital. As Vito and Dr. Sorenson carry him, he mumbles, “don’t put me in my car. Don’t want to bleed on the seats.”

Vito leaves Sorenson to drive Robert to the hospital and heads back to watch with Shaw.

Hospital in Greenwood, 5:30 PM

Dr. Sorenson takes Mill to a friend of his. He explains the wounds as the result of an animal attack.

“What kind of animal?” the doctor asks.

“Somebody’s pitbull,” Sorenson explains. “Someone had sharpened his teeth.”

The doctor doesn’t quite believe the explanation but doesn’t press further. Robert is stitched up and put on pain meds. They also start a round of rabies shots.

Greenwood, 5:30 PM

Shaw covers up the signs of the struggle. She finds a spot in the backyard and hides. Vito pulls out his ghillie suit and disappears into the winter foliage.

About a half hour later, they see a man with a thin scraggly beard walk to the back of the house. His clothes are dark and torn. He hefts a iron pipe and looks around before reaching for the bar on the basement door. Even in the dim light it resembles Kenneth Thomas.

His eyes focus on Shaw. She stands up with her hands out. “Kenneth? Kenneth Thomas? I’m Lillian Shaw. I’ve been asked to look for you. I want to help.”

As he stares at her, she slowly approaches.

“Are you working for them?” Ken asks.

“I was asked to look for you, but I’ve come to distrust those who asked. Now I just want to help you.” She moves closer. “I want to help. You probably need to move from here. I want to help you get to another safe house. Does that sound good?”

He keeps the pipe up but some of the tension goes out of him. “What about…were you followed? Did they follow you?”

Shaw continues to approach. “I don’t think so. I was told by a friend where to find you.”

Suddenly he looks past her. “They’re here!”

He immediately begins to run toward the street. Shaw moves to intercept him. Vito abandons his hiding spot and runs around the opposite side of the house.

As Shaw catches up to Ken she glances behind her. She sees a strange figure rushing out of the bushes behind where she was hiding. Its pale skin is stretched across its deathly thin body. Pitch black eyes stare at her. As it rushes toward her, she curses and runs toward the car.

Vito catches up and also sees the things moving toward him. He shouts to Ken, “come on! The car is this way!”

The two pile into the car just as Shaw guns the engine. The things are hot on their heels. One of them wraps its long spidery fingers around Ken’s leg for a moment before Vito scares it off with his knife. The car peels out and they speed away.

Bellevue, Washington 6 PM

That night Ilyes emails ‘iwanttobelieve12’ about the case he sent him. He tells him he has a possible ID on the Jane Doe. He also uses his contacts in CSI units and the morgues to find out what happened to the body. Unfortunately he finds the body has already been processed and cremated.

His research on the Groetnick, the name Kenneth Thomas gives the fish, is more successful. He finds a lot of literature, dealing mythological fish and spanning much of Canada and the northern United States. It will take some time to digest it all.

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