Chris's parents Andre and Marilyn arrived home separately but within a few minutes of each other. Forced to park on the street due to the barricades erected by the enforcers, they were also forced to provide ID. Once they had established their identities Andre demanded to see the officer in charge.
The detective was used to dealing with people in stressful situations and immediately he was introduced was able to provide calm and concise replies to the frantic parent's questions.
"Let me assure you that your son is fine. "I will take you to him in just a minute. One of his friends is also assisting us with our inquiries, and there are two more of his friends waiting for him." He waved a hand in the general direction of a communications van bristling with antennas.
"I need to ask some questions first to establish your alibis and then I can brief you on the situation here."
"First, can both please talk loudly and clearly into this device and answer a few simple questions."
He thrust a hand held recorder in front of them and began to ask questions.
After establishing that Andre and Marilyn both had alibis that could be verified, the officer agreed to allow them to see Chris.
As they were walking to the command vehicle its door opened and Chris and Simon came out with another officer. Marilyn ran to her son and hugged him. He briefly hugged her back before his adolescent embarrassment showed and he wriggled free. Andre clasped his hand and grabbed him for a brief hug also. Simon stood quietly nearby and as Marilyn pestered Chris with questions of the details of what happened Andre spoke to him.
They quickly learnt the situation from the boys' perspective and then Andre remembered that Chris's other two mates Barry and Philip were being held outside the perimeter. He turned and asked the officer who had remained standing there if they could be brought in, and he agreed there was no reason they couldn't come in. Simon went with him down the street to where the two boys were sitting on the curb.
The head detective came back to where Andre and Marilyn remained in conversation with Chris and asked them if they would like to have a tour inside now.
Marilyn responded "Tour? What do you mean? We can't go inside our own house?"
Her voice rose to s shriek as she finished causing some nearby technicians to look over. Fearful of her causing a scene, Andre took her arm and calmed her down. "This is a crime scene now, and the evidence will not be able to be disturbed. We will need to stay in a hotel tonight." Suddenly remembering his daughter Kat he turned to the officer. "Has anybody called my daughter?" The officer responded and told them that she was on her way home. She had been offered an escort but had declined and was driving herself. Andre looked relieved and commented back to Marilyn. "When she gets here we will book a hotel and stay away for a couple of days. We could all do with a break anyway."
The detective turned away to take some information over his comms unit. When he turned back he was serious again. "OK we can go in now, but family only please. We have had initial evidence from our field lab that there was definitely human remains in the burnt patch. DNA analysis from some of the burnt material should help us identify the victim but in the meantime we will put out an APB on your cleaner Amy. Chris said he identified the body as hers. There is no evidence now to suggest that, but that's as good a place as any to start the investigation. If she turns up before the DNA analysis gives us a positive ID then we will widen our search, but for now we will assume that she is the victim. More importantly we are looking for evidence of the perpetrators."
Marilyn looked puzzled. "Perpetrators?" she raised her voice on the last syllable. "Chris said there was only one."
"Chris only saw one. There may have been more and the evidence gathered so far indicates that."
Andre butted in. "The gardener was to be here today. He may be able to help you."
"We are already tracking him down. He is considered a suspect, in fact the prime suspect at this time."
By this stage the foursome had reached the front door. The detective indicated the damaged door, and said that his department's insurance would pay for that damage as it had been inflicted when the enforcers opened the door.
A strand of tape had been run across the entrance to the kitchen and here the detective stood by the tape and stopped them from proceeding.
"We have already analysed the kitchen area as this was where your son Chris was attacked as he called emergency. However the rest of the house will take some time. The attack appears to have been made in the laundry area and there is a lot of blood in there. I am not going to take you in there." They went back to the foyer and round the other way to the family room and out to the patio. Between the end of the patio and the lawn was more tape, but this time he did not lift the tape. He indicated the teams of technicians working on the lawn. Some were setting up a tarpaulin in case of rain and lights so they could work through the night. "We are hoping to get plenty of evidence from the grass." The black burned out circle looked out of place on the lawn. Technicians continued to measure, sample and analyse it while others used special vacuum type instruments to search the lawn for other evidence.
The detective led them back through the house, avoiding the kitchen again,
Marilyn asked, "Are we able to collect personal items to take with us?"
"Sorry ma'am. We will reimburse any expenses incurred as a result. I will introduce you to our crime victims' liaison officer shortly. She will coordinate your accommodation and other requirements while we conduct the investigation."
He went on. "An officer will accompany you at all times, and you will be guarded while you are in the hotel. At this stage we have to take the precaution that you were being targeted and the cleaner just got in the way. No one will care about the death of a tribesperson but the attempted murder or murder of one of the city's finest lawyers is not something I want on my record because I failed to provide adequate protection."
Andre murmured something conciliatory and took his wife's arm again. "It's OK dear, we will be fine. Once Kat gets here we will go. In fact she should be here by now - where was she when you called?" This last was directed to the officer.
He looked at his timepiece and then responded slowly. "She was at the surf club, and said she would leave immediately. She should be here by now. I will get a tech to locate her." He turned away, thumbed his comms unit and began to speak urgently into it.
He turned back to the family "I am sure she will be here soon. Come and meet Chris's friends and sit and relax til she gets here. She is not answering her communicator. We have officers now looking for her on all the possible routes from the surf club to here, including any fuel stations or shops she may have stopped. We know what sort of car she has, so she should be located shortly."
By now the party had come back out the gates onto the street. It was starting to get dark, but not so dark that Chris couldn't recognise his mates. He left his parents and went to join them and there was much back slapping and giving of high fives as the other 2 lads were regaled with Chris and Simon's exploits.
Andre and Marilyn stood alone in the deepening darkness, surrounded by busy technicians yet isolated and alone. Marilyn clung to Andre for support as the reality of a murder in her home finally impacted her.
They waited in silent comforting each other by their physical closeness.
Drenched in sunlight the afternoon slipped away for Kat and Robin. The sound of the crashing surf was lulling and the gentle breeze whistling in the dunes was intermittent. Occasionally the girls would roll over and reapply their lotion. Both were content to lie lazily around with out having to focus on their studies or other cares. At around quarter to four they rose, dusted errant grains of sand from their bronzed limbs, packed up their belongings and sauntered back to the surf club.
There were plenty of people now sitting around on the balcony under sun umbrellas drinking and watching the surfers and swimmers. As they stepped into the cool clubroom the girls had to pause to flip their sunnies up onto the top of their heads and let their eyes adjust to the light.
Greg was still behind the bar serving customers. There were now a good number of people sitting around and standing at the bar. Greg was kept busy serving for the next 5 minutes until he could sneak away, hang up his apron and come round the front of the bar.
"Whew" he gasped in mock distress and pretended to mop his brow. "That's busy today. Care to join me for a drink?" he asked.
Robin agreed instantly and Kat nodded also.
"What'll it be ladies, drinks are on me."
Robin and Kat made their requests and Greg ordered the drinks and then turned to the girls. "What's the plan for tonight?"
Robin answered first with a laugh, "Nothing planned, let's just take it as it comes. Are there any live bands on here tonight?"
"Not here," Greg replied. "But the tavern up the road does. Do you want to go there?" The surf club tended to attract regulars, while the tavern was more of a tourist trap and was unpredictable.
Kat opened her mouth to comment but in that instant her communicator beeped loudly using its most strident tone. Kat looked alarmed as she thumbed the head set in her sunglasses frames, and her friends watched in shock as the alarmed look on her face grew.
Kat turned away from the noisy bar and walked out into the foyer so she could hear better. Robin and Greg followed a pace behind, Robin clutching Greg's arm. "Something's obviously wrong" she said.
Greg nodded. "Look's that way. Let's just wait and find out. We may have to put those ideas for tonight on hold."
Robin was talking now, asking a couple of questions and then listening. Her friends saw the initial look of alarm had been replaced with a less serious worried look, but were still concerned for her.
As she disconnected the call Robin immediately took her friend by the arm.
"What's wrong?" she inquired with a concerned tone.
"Amy, our tribe cleaner is dead," Robin answered flatly. "Chris found her, he was attacked by the same person but escaped. Mum and Dad have been called home but haven't arrived yet. That was the detective. The enforcers have been there all afternoon, but he hasn't been able to call me before now. I am going to have to go home sorry guys."
"Hey nothing to be sorry for," Robin replied. "I will come with you if you'd like."
Greg chimed in. "Do you want me to drive you?"
"No, thanks for the offer though. No look, you two go and have fun tonight. It sounds like it is all under control. I will miss Amy though, she was fun."
Greg looked relieved but Robin still looked dubiously at her friend. "Are you sure?" she asked.
Kat made an attempt to brighten up her smile and look less worried, but it wasn't very convincing. "Yes I am fine. I can drive home by myself and my parents will be there by then. You two head on out and enjoy being on your own."
Robin still didn't look convinced. Greg downed the remainder of the drink he was holding and left it on a table in the foyer. "Someone else can pick that up. Lets go." He shouldered his bag and started walking to the door. Kat and Robin followed his lead and the trio stepped out into the carpark and the bright sunlight once more. Greg and Robin walked Kat to her car and watched as she put in her bag, lowered the top and drove off.
"It just goes to show you can't trust those tribies." Greg proclaimed.
"What makes you think it was a tribesperson?" asked Robin.
"Who else would want to kill one? Certainly none of our people would. They have nothing we want." Greg's understanding of human nature was shallow and at times Robin was frustrated with her boyfriends rather bigoted views. She tried to make light of it now as she didn't want to cause an argument. "I am sure the enforcers will work it out in due course."
"You watch and see, they will find the varmint quick enough. It's just a pity they won't execute them, but waste money locking them up."
Robin did not want to talk about it so she turned her pretty face up to Greg's as they walked to his car. "Let's not worry about it eh, we have all night to ourselves now."
"You're right." Greg was distracted from his line of thought as she had intended and instead bent down to kiss her full lips. Robin pressed her body into his and all thoughts of murdering tribesmen vanished from his mind as she returned the kiss with passion.
Eventually they broke the kiss, but remained embraced. They resumed walking arm in arm to the car.
"Let's give the tavern a miss. I feel like going out for a nice meal instead. Lets head back to our place for a shower and then I will take you out and treat you!"
"You’re on!" Robin acquiesced as the two lovers reached the vehicle. They separated briefly to enter from opposite sides and then as Greg started the car up, she resumed the contact with a hand resting on his leg.
"Let's have a great night and not worry about Kat. She will be fine."
"Agreed." and with that Greg slipped the car into gear and they headed off.
Jord waited in line. The whitefaces had lots of these feeding places, but unlike the tribes they wouldn’t let you just turn up and eat. If Jord went to another tribe (although he never had) he knew he would be immediately welcome and could get a feed. However here the whitefaces wouldn’t let the tribe cook their food on a fire in the meeting place ever since the big fight. Instead they gave food paper to the tribe and told them to come to the whiteface’s feeding place. You gave them the paper and they fed you. Jord had worked out early on that no paper meant no food.
He was still amazed at what he could see. The bright colours and lights were completely strange to him. Usually he came to this place just outside the meeting place using sound and smell as his guides, or with someone to help him. Now he could see and the short walk was a totally immersive experience. Now he was experiencing the visual feast that accompanied the sounds and smells he usually was aware of. He came to the front of the line and requested his usual food. It was thrust across to him with a brief command, “Pay”.
Jord handed over the wad and the whiteface behind the counter took it, peeled of a few notes and passed the rest back.
Jord savoured the food; relishing eating something he could see for the first time ever. He felt suddenly liberated and on a whim decided to go exploring rather than return to the meeting place. He wandered through the city aimlessly wondering at the sights. The people looked so different from how he imagined them, especially the women. Most people were dressed in business attire and were walking purposefully to unknown destinations. Most people also completely ignored Jord, except to curse if he was in their way as they walked quickly and he shuffled along. Old habits died hard.
Another thing that amazed him was the beasts. The growling and whirring noises they made were not animal as he had originally thought. He decided they were mechanical and made of the shiny metal stuff. People were getting in and out of the beasts. As he walked along a large beast came alongside him and stopped. People poured out and when the entrance way was clear another line of people started filing in. Jord decided to join them. As he got to the entrance way an enforcer stopped him. Taking his arm he guided Jord away from the door. Jord couldn’t explain why but he was annoyed.
A sudden thought crossed his mind; he could try the invisibility function. Flipping the hood up he looked at the icon and waited for it to expand. The world flickered briefly and then came back with the glowing images visible in the edge of his vision. Stepping back up to the doorway he climbed in unobstructed. Walking down the narrow aisle between the seated people he found a niche where he could squat out of the way.
With a lurch and a growl the beast started moving and everything Jord had ever known began to fade away behind him. Completely unworried and relaxed Jord looked around at the view through the beast’s multiple eyes.
The tinny voice sounded again, monotonously repeating the same mantra. Chris did not dare speak back, but the fact that someone was there was comforting. The sound of heavy boots tramping across the kitchen floor came as a sudden loud noise as the intruder, who must have been standing still all this time, suddenly started walking.
Chris quietly placed the phone on a shelf behind his back as he pressed himself against the shelves. He raised the bottle over his head and waited for the pantry door to swing open.
But the boots retreated back down the hallway towards the entrance. Chris let out a long breath and then realised he had been holding it. He picked the phone back up and pressed it to his ear. The voice was still repeating its message.
“Hullo,” he whispered.
The voice stopped instantly. “Emergency Operator,” she now spoke more animatedly.
Chris continued, “I need help, I may not be able to talk for long.”
“That’s ok,” she responded. “Help is on the way. Can you tell me what happened?”
Chris blabbered out, “Amy is dead, they attacked me, tried to smash the phone, bashed me, I’m hiding…”
“Calm down, one thing at a time please,” The Emergency Operator interrupted.
My name is Claire and I will help you as much as possible, but I need good information.”
“OK” said Chris.
“Now, there is a dead body?”
I don’t know I only saw one, there could be more, they made a mess…”
She interrupted again. “Are they still there?”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
Chris spoke urgently and in as low a voice as possible.
“No. There is only one intruder that I know of. They attacked me and knocked me out. Our cleaner has been killed and butchered.” His voice cracked as he said this.
“OK, where are you in the house? I have blueprints here” The voice remained calm.
“I am in the pantry off the kitchen.”
“OK, sit tight there. Help will be there in a few minutes.”
Simon had watched the patio area and through the windows into the family room for over 2 minutes now and seen no sign of movement. He risked sneaking closer and slid open the sliding door. Stepping into the room he quickly moved across to the archway to the kitchen and risked a look around. No-one there.
Simon looked around the kitchen. All looked normal. There were a couple of unwashed bowls on the bench. He saw a odd shaped piece of plastic on the floor and walked over. Picking it up he realised it was a battery cover off something. He read the manufacturers label and realised it was from the phone. As he was looking at the plastic cover a voice speaking caught his attention. It was very quiet and he couldn’t place its location. It almost sounded like a radio on very low volume.
He heard it again. This time as he strained to hear he caught the sound of a male voice whispering. “There’s someone in the kitchen now.” The voice was indistinct and muffled but it was definitely coming from the pantry. Simon stepped over to the pantry door and whispered “Chris?”
There was absolute silence for a few seconds then the pantry door cracked open. “Simon! Quickly, in here mate.” Chris opened the door wide and dragged Simon in by his shirt sleeve.
As the door shut and the gloom enveloped them Simon whispered hastily, “What the heck is going on? And is that your cleaner outside all chopped up?”
“Shhhh” Chris warned. “There is someone in the house. They already attacked me once.”
Simon asked “What are we going to do?”
“Wait for the enforcers. They are on their way.”
“I know” Simon replied, “I talked to them too.”
Suddenly a tinny voice broke through their conversation. “Chris are you there?”
Chris held the phone to his ear. Simon passed him the battery cover he was still holding. Chris took it as he listened carefully to the operator. Then he turned the phone over and slid the cover on as he relayed the message to Simon.
“They are outside now They are going to come inside in the next 2-5 minutes. We are to keep our heads down and stay in the back of the cupboard. They may use gas and weapons if necessary.”
The two lads hunched down in the back of the cupboard and waited.
About 3 minutes later the door was opened and a burly enforcer in armour stood there. He gestured for the two boys to follow him and turned and left toward the front door. As they followed him they saw enforcers everywhere with weapons drawn standing beside doorways, or running in pairs. All of them were in constant communications with their team. The enforcer hurried the two boys out the now open wide front door that had been forced open.
Outside they were passed to some other technicians who took them straight to a van parked out in the street. It was black and had no windows apart from the front section where the driver sat. After the technician spoke on his comms unit a door opened from the inside and the boys were ushered inside.
The inside of the van was crammed with electronic gear. Several monitors displayed views of the house both inside and out, obviously from enforcers helmet cameras. 3 technicians sat watching the screens and issuing commands to the teams inside.
“Did you get him?” Chris asked excitedly.
The room started to buzz with comms traffic and the technicians ignored Chris and Simon as they answered and directed the operation. Chris noticed that one screen had the floor plan of the house on it. He watched another screen curiously as the enforcer wearing the camera flung open the door to his bedroom. He could see the weapons muzzle being poked around the doorway. There was no-one there.
All clear responses started to come through on the comms units. Chris watched as one screen showed the patio area. As the camera wearer headed toward the end of the patio and around the hedge onto the lawn where he had seen Amy’s body he held his breath.
In total surprise he exclaimed “Where is she?” and “What’s that?” as he saw nothing where she had been but a round black mark. Small tendrils of smoke drifted upward and as the camera cam lower to view the patch, Chris could see that the grass had been burned completely away. Even the dirt was scorched.
The van rocked as an enforcer entered. He looked commanding and he spoke first to the technicians. “Status?” he asked.
“All clear, zero hostile, zero hostage, zero bodies.”
“Good job, start packing up.”
“You two, come with me.” And he crooked his finger at Chris and Simon and beckoned them. Turning on his heel he strode from the van without a backward glance to see if they were coming. Simon followed immediately, but Chris turned back to the monitor, puzzled, and hoping to see more from the lawn. But the monitors had gone dead and the technicians were starting to shut systems down.
Chris hurried from the van and caught up to Simon who was walking behind the enforcer toward the house.
Walking back into the house was completely different. Now there were technicians with cameras and equipment everywhere. The big enforcer turned down the hallway toward the kitchen. Reaching the kitchen he stopped and turned back to Chris and Simon. “Which one of you is Chris?” he asked. Chris stepped forward. “Me.”
“This is where you were attacked.” It was a statement not a question. “Yes,” Chris volunteered though he felt his answer was unnecessary.
“You were thrown to the floor there”, he pointed at the middle of the floor, “before hiding in the pantry right?”
“Yes” responded Chris. “What about Amy, and did you capture the intruder?”
“We have found no-one and in fact have found no evidence of any bodies.”
“What happened to Amy? I saw a black circle on the grass on the monitor in the van.”
“Who is Amy?”
“She is our cleaner. I found her on the lawn all chopped up. There was blood everywhere. Now she’s gone.”
“Come and show me.” The enforcer stepped to the side to allow Chris to go first. Carefully stepping around the technicians who were checking for fingerprints and other forensic evidence Chris led the others to the patio. A technician opened the door for him with gloves. Chris walked around to the end of the patio and to the lawn beyond the hedge. There were a number of technicians around the black circle and now Chris could smell the acrid odour of burnt flesh and blood. There were still some tendrils of smoke coming off the blackened earth.
“She was here.” Chris pointed to the circle. “But she wasn’t all burnt up.”
The enforcer spoke to a technician briefly.
Coming back to the boys he said “There is no evidence of blood or any other human material in the burnt area or around on the grass. Who was Amy?”
“She’s our cleaner” Chris responded testily. “I already told you.”
“I will need to find out who she is,” the enforcer responded. “We will do a database search on her and then try and locate her.”
Chris was flummoxed. “I saw her body,” he said. Simon piped in, “So did I.”
The enforcer looked concerned for the first time.
“We have contacted your parents and your father is on his way here now. We will get details from him.”