FIRST TIME HERE? START FROM THE BEGINNING!
The article about Shallie was precise and well written. It reported all the details of how she was found and the police investigation. After I read it carefully, I was positive that meeting the journalist could really be helpful. Dan called him and made an appointment at 4 p.m. at his office.
The place was on the other side of the city, and Dan told me the fastest way to get there was to cross Downtown horizontally by train. Going out of his apartment, I didn’t recognize the place from the night before. I was too tired, and it was too dark. The only thing I clearly remembered was, in fact, the stairs with no elevator. The building was old and small, and we were on the fourth and last floor. The door of the building was facing onto an alley, and right in front of it, there was a sex toy shop. On its upper floor a sign that read “Madame Papillon House.” So that’s a brothel, I thought. Now I was sure I was in Downtown.
“Be careful if they invite you upstairs. It can be very expensive,” Dan said as he walked past me to show me the way to the station.
“Have you been there?”
“You think I’d need to pay for sex? I must look terrible,” he said, smiling.
“And drugs? Earlier you said that you knew something about it.” And that might be linked to Shallie. I needed to know as soon as possible.
“I know a few people in the drug market because I worked for them in the past. Depending on what Walker tells you, we might go have a talk with someone.”
“Did you sell drugs?” The thought of him working with the drugs that might have killed Shallie disgusted me so much I would have punched him.
“No, I tried them. The people I worked for had important clients, like actors and TV showmen. Of course they didn’t want them to die if some idiot in the laboratory messed the recipe up. I had to confirm the effects on myself for every new type they produced,” he said. All of that nauseated me. Just a couple of months before I was enrolling in the police academy to go find and arrest exactly those kinds of people.
“So since you’re here I deduce that you never tried the one that might have killed Shallie,” I said.
“Yeah, if it really was dope. I’ve never heard of a drug that leaves no traces on a body.” The situation was becoming even more obscure.
We reached the train station, and Dan bought two tickets using his money. I noted that he wasn’t using the watchpad I had seen during the lunch. “What’s with that watchpad of yours? That’s not the one you had seven years ago. And it seems different from mine too.”
“You’re right. This is not the watchpad registered in the City’s database with my name; it’s a modified version that allows me to use the internet anonymously. Obviously, there are no credits in it. It’s better to use money here to leave no evidence of where you’ve been.”
“And where do you keep your money? You can’t keep it all on you, right?”
“There are money banks. You can register with them under a false name and choose a set of passwords to protect your account. Then they give you a serial number key that changes every minute. You can deposit and withdraw money in person using your credentials. If you don’t access your account for a year, they delete it and take the money you left on it. Of course, the more money you deposit, the higher is the interest they ask for. That’s why I opened different accounts with a small amount of money each, for each job I did.”
“I heard of people getting arrested for converting large sums of money into credits without providing argument on how they obtained it.”
“Idiots. They probably went to the City’s official front desk. There’s no limit to human stupidity. There are other ways to safely convert money into credits.”
“Casinos. They are legal, accept only money when you go in, and their prizes can be turned into credits. Many of them offer this sort of service; they take an interest of course, fake a winning and change your illegal money into credits, ready to be spent in Uptown.” Take that, perfect society.
We rode on the train, and I looked outside the window most of the time, curious to learn more about Downtown. I had been there just once in my life: the one time I went looking for him when I was fourteen. I had gone to the police, asking how to find his house. They sent me away telling me they had no time to waste with me, and I got lost trying to find the place myself. In the end, my parents came to pick me up and we went together to the address he had given to us. But nobody was living there anymore.
I observed Downtown, trying to figure out how the other half of my hometown worked. The Uptown landscape was dominated by skyscrapers, towers and wide green areas, and the residential districts were located in quiet streets, far from airports, stations and factories but close to parks, hills and playgrounds. Downtown was all messed up. Houses were built next to factories and buildings were piled up all together, creating narrow passages that looked like a maze from above. There were casinos and fast food restaurants right next to every station and people selling things illegally on every corner. They kept their stuff on blankets on the ground, ready to take it and run away if the police ever come. I wondered how the Downtown everyday life was, and I ended up looking at Dan, trying to find the way to ask him. He was sitting by my side, wearing a leather jacket over his shirt and a scarf covering his neck and mouth. He had to lend me the jacket he wore the night before, since I hadn’t brought anything but sweatshirts and pants with me. At some point he took the hair band he had on his wrist and tied his hair in the same short ponytail of the day before; there I noticed for the first time he had three piercings on his right ear. In particular, my attention was captured by the brilliant red of the drop-shaped earring he was wearing on his earlobe. I was sure I had already seen that jewel somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where.
We got off the train shortly after, and in about ten minutes we reached the address written on the business card. It was an old building of six floors facing the main street of the district. Dan pushed the intercom button near a paper tag with the name “Freelancer W.W.” The man opened the building door for us, saying nothing but “Third floor on the right.”
Inside the elevator, Dan told me, “Drew, this person is a journalist. He sure doesn’t like to give away information for free. He probably accepted to see us because he hopes we will give him an interesting story.”
“Let me do the talking,” he said, confident. I didn’t like that at all. I was about to complain, but when the door of the elevator opened, Walker was already at his door. He was a small man, with gray beard and short hair. He was wearing a sweater and classic pants.
“So, you must be Ian Rogue, right?” he said to Dan, who had promptly walked in front of me, making him focus on him.
“Yes, Mr. Walker.” said Dan.
So he gave him a false name, I thought. I should have expected it. I think Rogue was his mother’s family name.
Walker welcomed us and invited us to sit on the couch in his studio. We shook hands, but he didn’t ask for my name. Instead, he told Dan, “You said you were interested in that case from two months ago. Shallie Lindsay, if I remember correctly.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“Well, the press didn’t give so much importance to it. Can I ask you why you are so concerned about it? You must be around the same age as the girl, did you know her?”
I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. In addition, I thought we were the ones asking the questions there.
“Yes, we went to the same university. I have just come back from the countryside, and I was shocked hearing what happened to her. I think there’s something fishy about what the police said.” Dan’s acting was good, he looked seriously worried. Walker had his eyes on him, trying to understand if he was lying, and to what extent.
“Why do you think so?”
“There’s no drug that can kill someone like that and leave no trace. And if there is one, it should be a scoop. The police should be searching all the drug markets of Downtown, and instead they closed the case. You are the only one who ever wrote anything about it. I’d like to know more.”
“You are right, indeed. Well, that article wasn’t one of my best works. After I published it I was told I shouldn’t make such a fuss over something so trivial.” Trivial? I was so angry I could have punched him in the face, but Dan froze me with a gelid glare, as if he had heard my thoughts. The man continued, “Everyday around town there are a lot of young people wasting their lives on the street. They run away from home, fall into drugs, prostitution and God knows what more. If we were to give them all the attention, we wouldn’t have time for anything else.” All of that had nothing to do with my Shallie. I hated that man, I couldn’t bear it anymore. I wanted to smack him, seriously, and go away from there.
“So what you’re telling us is that you wrote the article, and then you were explicitly asked not to dig into it anymore.” Dan’s words stopped me again.
“Journalism is my job, not my mission. I follow my instincts to find a good case to write about, but in the end it’s the readers who choose what really is interesting and what’s not.”
“But it wasn’t the readers this time, am I right?”
“I see you like to play detectives. I’m sorry about your friend and I hate to disappoint you, but there’s really nothing more to it than what the police said.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “Are you trying to tell me that she died for no reason and I have to bear with it?” I screamed, out of my mind. “Don’t make me laugh. You admitted yourself how strange this entire situation is. And now there’s nothing more than what the police said! You’re ridiculous!”
“What’s the meaning of this?” said Walker, shocked by my reaction.
“She was my girlfriend! I knew her better than I know myself! She didn’t go waste her life on the street like you said, you son of a bitch. She was kidnapped, and killed. And if you’re hiding the truth from me, you’re no better than who did this to her.” I was exhausted from screaming. I realized only then that Dan was holding my arm to keep me from jumping on Walker and beating the crap out of him.
“Drew, calm down,” he said.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, and I dragged myself to the door.
“Wait,” said Dan, and got closer to Walker, frozen in fear on the chair in front of the couch. “I’m sorry about the commotion. Your article was very well written, and I know you had the best intentions when you published it. I’m sure you were threatened by someone into giving up your investigation. We all need to protect ourselves somehow. If you ever happen to change your mind, you have my watchpad ID, call me anytime.” I listened to him without turning back. Dan came back to me ready to go out.
“Wait, please,” Walker called us back. “Forgive me for what I said before. Please, sit down. I will tell you what you want to know.” Dan and I stared at each other for a couple of seconds, and then we went back to the studio. I didn’t want to, but if he was going to tell me something about Shallie, I had to stay.
“What’s your name, son?” he said, talking to me. I looked at Dan, and when he nodded his head, I answered.
“Andrew, Andrew Lowell.”
“Andrew, you were right. My excuse was ridiculous, but I didn’t know if I could trust you. It’s like your friend said, after I published the article I was threatened. My editor called me telling me to give up on everything. Even the police requested it, and I could have been sued for spreading false information, and lose my job. Of course this was absurd, and I immediately understood that there was something bigger behind the death of that girl. Something the police were hiding. I gave up on writing about it again, but I decided to do some research to find out what it was. So, I looked into the other news of those days. I searched for accidents, anything that could be possibly connected to her and finally I ended up talking with a friend of mine, a police officer. He had me swear I wouldn’t say a word, but there was another episode that had been hidden from the public. I want you to understand that it’s possible that the two cases are completely unrelated. I have no evidence of any association between them. A car was found two days after Shallie Lindsay’s body, in the lake north of the Uptown of Rosedeer, on the road to get out of the City, towards the mountains. The police were searching the area since it is the direct road out of town from the place she was found,” he explained, and all of a sudden I felt cold shivers running down my back. “It was the car of Bart Robinson Jr., the son of the minister of education. Does this name remind you of something?”
“No,” I said.
“Yes,” said Dan, and I looked at him as to ask for more. “I saw him on the news. He had just recently started working with his father, when he brought him with him to attend an important meeting with other politicians. Apparently, he went crazy and shot his father and his colleagues, then killed himself. Nobody was expecting that.”
“Exactly,” said Walker. “This happened two weeks after Shallie Lindsay was found. As I told you, the cases might be unrelated. Also, it doesn’t explain how she died. But it’s all I could find.”
I was very confused. But at least I had a clue to follow. I had gotten just a step closer to the truth, and I was already feeling sick. “Thank you, Mr. Walker. I apologize for what I said to you,” I said.
“If I happen to find out something more, I’ll let you know. But I can’t guarantee I will,” replied the journalist.
“It’s more than enough for now, Mr. Walker, thank you,” said Dan. Walker left us at the door, and we went away. I didn’t wait for the elevator and I went down the stairs instead. I needed air.
“Are you okay?” asked me Dan when we exited the building.
“I… I don’t know.”
“We’re not sure yet. Don’t let it get to you too much.”
“Yes, sure.” My stomach was hurting, I felt I was about to puke. I thought of that guy, of him kidnapping Shallie. Of him drugging her, or worse. The police said there was no sign of violence on her body. But what if they lied? No, the autopsy confirmed that too. The food I had eaten was coming up to my throat and I felt I was about to faint, so I held on to the wall. An acid taste filled my mouth, and a growing sensation of disgust was rising.
“Ehy, Drew.” I heard Dan’s voice calling me, but I didn’t have the strength to turn to look at him; I was too concentrated trying not to fall on the ground. Then I felt his hand grabbing my arm, and he dragged me in a small alley full of garbage. The smell was horrible, and I couldn’t keep it anymore. I fell on my knees and threw up all that was left in my stomach.