As Poppy hurried to the scene of the crime, Walter made every effort to keep out of harm’s way. His body pressed close to the bedroom wall, nearby the victim’s corpse, where he was far enough away from the living room to avoid accidentally stabbing his boss but near enough to the closet where he could hide himself in a pinch.
It was an optimum position — he tells me, blushing — where the culprit wouldn’t expect him to lunge forth and attack!
In such a readied, adrenaline-fuelled state, Walter couldn’t keep himself from thinking about Poppy. From her no-nonsense demeanour, he figured she would consider near-fatal injuries to be part of the job and definitely something he should’ve been prepared for but, instead, she actually seemed half-bothered by his peril. It was a nice change in character from the woman who bludgeoned him with citrus sack of suffering.
Poppy would soon arrive on the scene; smart enough to call for Walter’s attention as she waltzed into the flat like she knew the killer was elsewhere. Contrary to his previous thoughts, he almost didn’t like her stoic confidence. It was suspicious, he figured, but maybe that was just because nobody ever suspects the cool detective until it’s far too late.
He didn’t like to admit he thought Poppy was cool, either.
She was already kneeling beside the severed hand when Walter peered around the corner. He kept his knife close, just incase the culprit had Hannibal Lector-ed Poppy’s face and demeanour in an attempt to slash him up, but it appeared he was in safe hands. Speaking of hands, Poppy had taken the time to wrap her own up in a pair of blue latex gloves which she used to examine the lonely limb.
“You could’ve given me some gloves before I came…” he moaned. “What’re you doing to it?”
Exploring the intricacies of the withered finger, Poppy remained silent leaving only the scraping of latex in the air. “How unusual,” she soon muttered. “All signs point to this stray finger belonging to Maika Poisson but this cubic zirconia ring that you discovered fits around it perfectly.”
“Cubic what-now?” Walter scratched his greasy head, “Why would Poisson own a fake wedding ring in the first place? It’s not like her husband couldn’t afford a showstopper and, if she really was gonna play it off like she wasn’t married, she just wouldn’t wear a ring.”
“What is this culprit trying to tell us?”
“You think they’re speaking to us in particular?”
“No. I don’t think the culprit believed private investigators would get involved in somebody else’s ‘dirty work’. After all, it could be because she over-stepped a boundary during a case, or discovered some deep running criminal set-up. I think they’re trying to throw off the police, there’s something bigger behind this.”
“But it’s framed as a ransom, right? We don’t have confirmation that Poisson is dead, maybe there are other targets besides Tony? I just can’t wrap my head around that hand.”
“There’s a motive and a message and we’re missing both; this culprit clearly isn’t just inherently evil. Those kinds of people don’t have a message behind their madness, they don’t lay out puzzles like this one, and they certainly don’t go through the trouble of placing red herrings.”
Poppy stood, leaving the fake diamond ring attached to the unusual finger. “Besides the bedroom, there are still two rooms left unexplored.” The detective scanned the room like an android, devouring spacial information at an alarming rate as she muttered something cryptic beneath her breath. “Walter, did you notice those cameras in the corners of the room?”
He hadn’t but, once Poppy had pointed them out to him, they were quite the eyesore for such a well designed home. The wires hadn’t been hidden from sight very well, nor had they been painted over, and the cameras themselves weren’t even the same model as though they’d just grabbed any old junk to use. “Those are new, aren’t they?”
“I have a hunch Ms. Poisson didn’t place them. Otherwise, everything else seems to be in order. Let’s take a look at the victim,” she said, leading Walter back towards the stench of the bedroom. The corpse still faced the doorway, strapped into Maika’s leather office chair. In moving him, Walter had dislodged bundles of the crumbled paper, allowing them to come falling to the ground below him.
Anthony Todd’s eyes had rolled back into the inactive darkness of his skull and the discoloured skin of his face almost matched the silk of his shirt, which he wore beneath a familiar blazer. It wasn’t exactly leisure wear, perhaps leading Walter to believe that Tony hadn’t come to this apartment for some afternoon escapade. Furthermore, that Bluetooth set-up was still pinned to his left ear as though he was expecting a business call from the afterlife.
“What are you thinking?” asked Poppy.
“Are you, the great detective, asking me for advice?” He said, turning back from the victim to his superior only to see that she’d acquired a lollipop from somewhere.
Poppy pulled the sweet from her cheek; its swirling colours matching the dark green of her nails. Walter could detect notes of fake apple in the air, hidden beneath the musk of the carcass. “What?”
“Sugar feeds the brain, Walter.”
“I guess you don’t get a codename like that for no reason.”
“Just tell me what you think.”
“All right, I reckon Tony came over here to meet the actual culprit, don’t you?”
Poppy nodded in agreement; “these notes around him aren’t in great condition but, from reading them, it is clear that the culprit only actually wrote three letters, the rest are simple photocopies.” In the time it took Walter to survey Tony’s clothing, cycle through possibilities, and arrive at the same conclusion, Poppy had already moved three steps ahead.
“But, all the copies are here?”
“It does seem to suggest that an inside party is responsible for the crime. Here, look at these ones,” she said, pointing towards the victim’s shirt breast, obscured somewhat by his blazer. Tucked into the shallow pocket were two of the same notes which Poppy promptly removed and opened; “see how these are folded neatly compared to the others? They’re also on a thicker weight of paper, I believe these must be the original copies.”
Walter peered over the detective’s shoulder. The notes themselves were brief and anything but straight to the point as you might expect ransom notes to behave. They read: “GOOD JOB’, ‘COMMIT’, and ‘SINNER’.
“The culprit wanted Tony to commit suicide?”
“I don’t want to believe it’s that simple.”
“I don’t know if that’s something you should say out loud, Pops.”
As expected, the wind was forced from Walter’s bruised lungs as Poppy — that’s ‘POPPY’ in full, not shortened — planted her dagger of an elbow into his sternum.
“I d— deserved that.” An idea sparked, coughed up by the pain and half-stolen from a movie Walter had seen as a kid. “What if ‘commit’ is talking about his arm? Maybe the culprit forced Tony to hack off his own arm in order to pay-up for whatever sins they’re referring to? If he betrayed somebody close to his work, they wouldn’t have any trouble finding out about his relationship with Maika, or getting into this apartment to set everything up.”
“I see. That’s a valid theory.” Poppy pulled her fingers from the blue latex gloves and slapped them into Walter’s grip. “Put these on,” she said, “and take a look around here for anything Todd may have used to carve off his arm, or a photocopier that might have been used to copy these notes. I’m going to have a look in the other rooms.”
“Do you want this knife?” he asked, as Poppy just stared back at him. “Y’know, to protect yourself?”
Before she spoke, she returned the lollipop to her cheek and turned around. “Is it the knife Todd used to remove his arm?”
“No, I found it in the kitchen when you told me to defend myself.”
“Then no, I don’t want it.”
Maika’s bedroom office wasn’t as fully equipped as Poppy’s reasoning skills had assumed but that was understandable. After all, Maika had at least two other locations where she would conduct business, why would she bother bringing it all home with her? The desk held a computer, but no photocopier or printer beneath it. Neither did it seem to hold the cleaver within its drawers — in fact, many of the drawers kept nothing but dust within themselves.
Naturally, Walter assumed that any and all incriminating evidence would be locked away on the computer which — if his hunch was correct — is exactly what the criminal was after. The culprit was the victim of one of Maika’s investigations, and it was way more serious than Maika herself could’ve imagined.
How did Tony factor into all of this?
Did the culprit try interrogating Maika, only to realise she wouldn’t give anything up without a real fight? Was Tony leverage? If so, she must’ve either been strong-willed, sworn to secrecy, or a total psychopath for Tony to have deserved that much punishment.
Walter was in luck, it seemed, as the computer had been left switched on. The sleepy hum of the internal fans took off in an instant as he brushed the wireless mouse with his now-gloved hand. He didn’t believe that somebody who called themselves an investigator would be dumb enough to leave their personal computer unlocked to anybody and everybody, but it was worth a shot.
Did buildings like this one have shared printers? It would be a mistake to use a piece of public access technology to commit a crime but then, it takes a haunted kind of person to abduct somebody in the first place. The display shook and began to load in a blank white screen which flickered to blue once or twice but otherwise remained static and unfulfilling.
Before the desktop loaded in, Walter’s name came echoing down from the adjacent room. If he had been a little more daring, the trainee detective might’ve uncovered them earlier but Poppy’s confidence beat him to it. Bound and gagged in the bathroom, Sweet Tooth had discovered two wounded women: it appeared to be Maika Poisson and…
“You’re her assistant, aren’t you?” Walter heard Poppy say as he approached the white tiled scene. “Katja Amirmoez?” The pair had been propped up against the porcelain bath, arms and legs stretched out in front of them and wrapped in three laces like pyramids.
Maika’s ring finger was missing from her right hand but it had been wrapped up in tissue paper quite recently; the culprit was likely still in the vicinity or, rather, was until Walter arrived. Katja, on the other hand, had been left to bleed onto the rug beneath them. Maika appeared to be unconscious, her breathing half-visible against the tiled floor. Katja was very much awake, unable to form any kind of relieved expression. Not with the rushed word ‘FUCK’ scored into her cheeks, perhaps with the same knife used to carve off Tony’s arm judging by the inaccuracy of the letters.
Poppy’s lack of desire to remove the gag’s from the victim’s faces left an uncomfortable feeling in Walter’s chest but she must’ve had a reason. He would wager that removing the binding from Katja’s face might tear into her wounds and aggravate the damage but what about Maika? If she woke, couldn’t she give some helpful information?
“Should we take them somewhere else?” Walter’s suggestion immediately perked up the assistant who floundered her trapped limbs, possibly in an attempt to dissuade the detectives. Poppy sprung into action, placing her hand on the cuff of Katja’s slacks and pulling the right trouser leg up.
Beneath the cloth was a large black anklet device, strapped tight enough to cut out the blood flow from Katja’s numbed foot. “The culprit doesn’t want her to leave which means she is more than just an assistant. They’re not victims, they’re bargaining chips.”
“You’ve got a crazy look in your eye, what’re you thinking?”
“Those security cameras,” she muttered, “what is going on he—.”
A gunshot and a shatter; those unmistakable sounds found their way into the bathroom, setting off Walter’s fighting instinct. He scurried out of the room, seeking the source of the noise. “Poppy, I think the culprit has a sniper on a nearby building.”
A corpse now laid just a few steps from the open door to the apartment; a perfect straight shot through the middle of the cranium.
The doorman was dead.