The press was having a gruesome field day as the bodies began to accumulate. Whoever it was, they weren’t discriminating as to victim. He looked to not care who he killed — just that he did so.
Detective Jim Stoval surveyed the scene of the sixth murder in as many weeks. This investigation was not going well.
Stoval did not look forward to facing the press or the higher-ups who were both screaming for action. There simply wasn’t a break in the case so far, for obvious reasons.
Not that the newsie feeds were going to let things be and leave the department alone to do their job. Wasn’t in the Fourth Estate’s DNA, oh no. It wasn’t in the commissioner’s or mayor’s DNA, either.
Eventually, the lab boys and the rest of the investigative team finished up gathering evidence and canvassing the area. The door-knocking, Stoval knew, would yield absolutely nothing in the way of information or witnesses. Nobody saw or heard anything at the approximate time of the crime was already a foregone conclusion.
It was so consistent a story that he might as well just duplicate the field reports from all the previous crimes to save time.
No, Stoval thought, this one is going to be solved by the Forensic labs because otherwise, we’ve got the same amount of stuff as at the start. Nothing.
He headed back to his car and sped off for Central.
At Central, he entered the building via a side entrance to avoid the press gaggle that would be laying in wait in the main lobby and made his way down utilitarian halls towards the Forensics section.
“Do something for you, Detective?” It was Jill DeField, a senior CSI, who had seen him come in.
“Yeah. Solve this thing for me so we can all go home, DeField.”
“I wish,” she said. “Want the prelim rundown of what we’ve got so far?”
“Let me guess: the assailant entered the house by breaking in through a convenient door, walked up to our victim, and then without further ado slit the throat and left the same way, taking nothing from the scene. There was no resistance, no struggle, because the victim never saw or heard him coming.”
DeField gave a wry grin. “Go to the head of the class. This case set is frighteningly eerie in how these crimes have been carried out. No variation, no change in tactics. Just go in, commit murder, then leave before the house AI health monitoring system notifies authorities something may have happened.”
Stoval grunted. It was going to be another long night.
It was bright and early the next morning. Stoval knew that it was early, because he hadn’t slept, and there was light streaming in through the windows where darkness had been before.
Cheery sunlight did not help his mood, especially when he got the expected call from the Chief demanding results he didn’t have. All he could do was yessir and nosir until the tirade stopped, and he could get on with work.
He was at his wit’s end with this case. There was no apparent motive beyond a desire to kill. The victims all seemed to be random. Nothing linked them to each other.
..and of course, no witnesses. That was the true fly in the ointment.
He stopped off down in the Patrol Divs locker room for a quick shower and change of clothes, then headed back over to Forensics to see if they had turned anything up. There he found Hiram, staring at six sets of evidence bags as if they were personally insulting him.
Hiram Faulkner was the Head CSI on the force and Stoval’s friend. Between them, they had solved quite a few sticky crimes, but this one may be the one that gets past them.
“Hey, Hi”, Stoval said in greeting. “Think if you glare at ’em hard enough, they’ll give up the secret of whodunnit?”
Hiram pressed his lips together in a line as he surveyed the victims’ effects, neatly laid out in rows on the table before him.
“I keep telling myself that there’s something here that we’re missing,” Hiram said without taking his eyes off of the tabletop. “Something small, some detail…” his voice trailed off as he picked up one of the bags.
“You got something?” Stoval cocked his head to one side as he regarded his friend and coworker.
“Maybe…” breathed Faulkner as he took the evidence bag over to another table. “Do me a favor and grab the bag for the, uh, second victim and bring it here. will you?”
Soon the contents of both bags were out and neatly laid side-by-side on the flat surface. Faulkner started to get visibly excited as he looked things over.
“It can’t be this simple. It just can’t!”
“You got something?” asked Stoval again. Faulkner’s rising excitement was contagious.
“Maybe. I have to do some testing to be sure. DeField! Get me four uni-jacks and a multi-T1 outlet to plug ’em into!”
“What have you got?”
“Not yet. It may be nothing — have to test to be sure…come back in a couple hours and I’ll know if I’m right.”
When Stoval came back to Forensics later that day, he found that the place was swarming with plainclothes and uniforms. He knew something was up when he saw the Chief enter, look around, and head straight for him.
“What’s all this about, Jim? Got a break in the case? I got an excited call from Faulkner telling me to call a task force together for a presentation with no explanation. What gives?”
“You’re learning about it the same way I am, Chief. Hi chased me out of here a couple hours ago, and told me to come back at this time.”
Hiram and several of his CSI staff walked in moments later. After the usual milling about for people to get situated about the room, he began.
He started by giving them what they had all been hoping for.
“We have a possible break in the series of murders we’ve been experiencing.”
He held up a hand to forestall the whoops and cheers that had started up.
“Like I said, a possible break. We still have to test it out more to be sure. Now, if you’ll bear with me, we need to go over some old ground first to throw this new wrinkle in relief.
Six weeks ago, our killer made his -or her- first appearance. Like all subsequent victims, the first one never saw or heard their killer, because they were deeply immersed in AR experience; eyes and ears covered while on the Interwebs. We only were able to respond as soon as we did each time because everyone has a house AI that monitors their health and calls emergency services when something’s wrong.
Now, until recently, we had nothing that seemed to tie in the victims with each other. Nothing, that is, until a stroke of luck today as Detective Stoval and I were looking over the effects of the dead people yet again. Two sets of AR gear are an older model with an external tuning knob — and both, it turns out, were set to IW channel three.”
“Couldn’t that be mere chance?” came from the back of the room.
“Good question!” Faulkner said. “To test this, I had DeField rig up a power source with Interwebs access, and we’ve been able to access the four newer AR units that have electronic tuning. That was also a stroke of good fortune, as the first two could have simply been knocked into that channel by handling. That couldn’t happen with the electronic units; they’d still be locked to wherever they were tuned.
ALL of the units were tuned to IW channel three.
ALL of the victims were therefore on Facebook when they were murdered. Statistically, that cannot be a coincidence.
That’s how this killer determines the victims. This is Death by Facebook.”
We caught him.”
Jim Stoval had the look of a man relieved when he uttered those words in front of the assembled vid cams and microphones.
“We were able to set up an extremely good electronic surveillance over the city IW infrastructure, and it led us right to him.”
Later, Stoval stopped by Hiram Faulkner’s lab with a bottle. They toasted the end of the case, and the brief respite it gave them.
Both knew that tomorrow there would be a new crime to solve…and once again, there would be no witnesses, thanks to AR.