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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Previous episodes:
Remote Control” (issues 61-62)
Rude Awakening” (issues 91-93)
The Soul Hunter” (issues 97-101)
Essay: “Remote Psychosis
(in this issue)

Tamara Tomson, detective extraordinaire of Acheron City, has had a few successes in the recent past, but they have been earned at the cost of some terrible losses. Now, she awakens every morning a mess, not sure how many bottles of wine she drank the night before. Her dissolving life must be put on hold, though, when a set of simultaneous murder sprees occur throughout the City.

Tamara is assigned to the case along with her partner, Jeremy, who may care a bit more for Tamara than he does for the case. As the connections between these murders become tangled like a puppetmaster’s strings, Tamara realizes that while her problems may have been suppressed, they can come back to haunt her.

part 1 of 11

Tamara Tomson gasped for breath as she bolted upright in her bed, the sound of her scream still echoing through her bedroom. The bed sheets were soaked with sweat and tangled around her. The bedroom reeked with fear and sweat. She leaned forward and buried her face in her hands, struggled to get control of her emotions. This wasn’t the first time she had been awakened from this dream, but it was certainly the most violent. To Tamara that could only mean one thing; the dream was getting worse. She didn’t know how she was going to be able to deal with that.

Certainly the methods she was currently using were proving less than adequate. The sheer strength of her hangover was a testament to that. How many glasses of wine did I have the night before? Tamara asked herself. Or have I graduated from drinking wine by the glass to drinking it by the bottle? Have I really fallen so far?

Tamara shook her head to clear her thoughts. She couldn’t afford to start thinking along those lines, for that way lay madness. She untangled herself from the bed sheets and retreated into the bathroom to take care of her morning toiletries. Then she wrapped an old terry cloth robe around herself and returned to the bedroom, promptly stripped the bed. As she stuffed the soaked sheets into her laundry hamper she resolved that she would clean them when she returned home from work. She would have to; they were the only set she had left. Previous nightmares had decimated all of her others.

Tamara selected the clothes she would be wearing (a black pinstriped silk pantsuit and a white silk button down blouse) and laid them out on her bare bed. Then she returned to the bathroom and stepped into the shower. Thirty minutes later she was showered and dressed and as ready to face the world as she was ever going to be. She toyed with the notion of wearing her long auburn hair up that day, but decided against it because it was just too easy to wear it down and she didn’t have the energy to fiddle with it.

Tamara passed through the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee, pointedly ignoring the three empty wine bottles on her kitchen counter. She had just seated herself at the dining room table and began to contemplate whether or not she would bother with breakfast today when her front door chimed.

Tamara’s partner, Detective Jeremy Bennett, stepped into the house when Tamara answered the door. He gave Tamara a quick squeeze and a kiss on her forehead in passing and sat himself down at her dining room table. He spotted the empty wine bottles out of the corner of his eye and managed not to shake his head. Tamara was drinking more and more with each passing day. He wanted to confront her and ask what was going on, but he knew that Tamara would tell him nothing. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him, for partners in the Police Force can’t afford not to trust each other, but he knew that Tamara wasn’t talking to anyone about what was happening to her. She seemed to think that she should be able to deal with things on her own. But she wasn’t dealing with things; she was retreating into a bottle and pulling the cork in behind her.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Tamara asked.

Jeremy shook his head. “No, I’m fine,” he answered.

Jeremy and Tamara had been partnered together for barely three months. They had first met when Jeremy had been tasked with investigating the murder of a young girl who had been found in Tamara’s bed. Tamara had been instrumental in the investigation, and after the smoke had cleared the two of them had been partnered together. Alan’s death had left Tamara emotionally fragile. By the time Jeremy met her she had seemed to conquer her demons and was willing to open herself up to the world, despite the whole thing about the body in her bed. For a time Jeremy had found himself blessed with a glimpse of the Tamara of old, the one with the quick smile and the quick wit, the adorable little imp that everyone seemed to love and cherish.

It didn’t take long for Tamara to sink back into depression, though, and that made her an entirely different sort of creature. Now she was moody and mercurial. One moment she was grumpy and predatory and introspective, and the next moment she was affectionate and loving, but then the depression would take hold of her again and her mood would spiral downward. She had taken to reaching out to people, Jeremy in particular, at odd times and in odd ways.

Now Jeremy watched as Tamara rummaged around in her kitchen. She was a beautiful young woman, and Jeremy smiled to himself as he realized that his eyes were roving appreciatively up and down her body. Tamara was still a year short of forty, but she had the body of an eighteen-year old schoolgirl, lean and athletic and still undeniably female. She was graceful in her movements, as if she had once been a dancer. Watching her move was a pleasure.

The two of them sat in Tamara’s kitchen and talked about day to day irrelevancies while Tamara nursed down a breakfast that Jeremy thought was entirely too small for her. When it was time for them to leave for work, Jeremy held out Tamara’s jacket for her while she put it on. As they were about to leave Tamara turned suddenly and wrapped her arms around Jeremy’s shoulders, buried her face in his neck. Jeremy kissed the top of her head as he curled his arms around her. He pushed her auburn hair aside and started to gently caress her neck. Tamara purred a little bit and snuggled against him. As Jeremy looked down into her face he thought that he could see a ghost of her old smile, but it quickly faded.

Time seemed to stand still for a while, but eventually the world got the better of them, and they separated and went to work.

* * *

Tamara stood in the middle of the downtown branch of the Acheron City Bank of Commerce with her hands on her hips and surveyed the carnage before her. There were bodies everywhere. Earlier in the day a man in his late forties had entered the bank, pulled a pistol from his jacket pocket and promptly shot the door guard in the face. Then he had gone deeper into the bank, pistol in hand. The rest of the security guards had been killed first, followed by those few tellers who hadn’t been lucky enough or smart enough to scramble for cover. He had gone after the rest of the customers next before turning the pistol on himself. By the time the riot squad had arrived it was all over.

The shooter’s remains were sprawled on the floor ten metres away from the front door. His last act had been to place the barrel of his pistol against the bottom of his head, just behind the chin, and pull the trigger. The particle bolt had covered the millimetres of space between the end of the flash suppressor and the base of the shooter’s head in something less than a microsecond. The force of the blast had disintegrated the head, causing instant death. Suddenly deprived of life, the shooter’s body had simply gone limp and dropped to the floor.

Tamara knelt down beside the headless corpse and shook her head. The shooter had been identified and his profile had been called up for Tamara by the time she arrived on the scene. Victor Crowley, forty-three years of age, married with two young children, a boy and a girl. He worked as an estimator for a local construction contractor.

Cases like this never seemed to make any sense. Here was a man who had been at peace with the world. He was a loving husband and a devoted father, but he had suddenly taken a hankering to go on a killing spree and now his wife was a widow, and his children would never see their father again. Why did people do this to themselves? Why did people do things like this to the ones they loved? Why was it always the innocent who lost the ones they loved?

A small tear streamed out of the corner of Tamara’s eye. In her mind the body before her faded away to be replaced by a totally different body from a totally different case, yet another one that Tamara had solved, but none of the others had ever cut so deeply. Tamara squeezed her eyes closed and reached up to wipe away the tears that leaked out. Now was not the time to be thinking about Alan.

Tamara looked up when she felt a gentle hand land on her shoulder and squeeze. Jeremy was kneeling down beside her, his hand on her shoulder and sympathy in his eyes. “Hey there, pretty lady,” he said, his voice pitched so that only she could hear him. “You okay?”

Tamara nodded even though she didn’t feel particularly okay. If she admitted to what she was feeling then Jeremy would want to talk about it with her, and she just wasn’t capable of doing that just then. She didn’t have the strength to face that demon, not yet. “I’m fine,” she said quietly.

Jeremy nodded acceptance of Tamara’s answer, but he could tell that she was lying to him. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. He hadn’t known her for very long, but he had heard about her. She was a gifted investigator, ruthlessly logical, with a mischievous streak a mile wide. She always smiled, always had a quip on the tip of her tongue. She was fiercely loyal, and would lay down her life to protect someone she cared about. Tamara Tomson, the other detectives would tell him, was someone you wanted at your side in a fight, and someone that you didn’t ever want to cross when she was angry.

Jeremy’s first encounter with Tamara had been drastically different from what he had expected. She had been on stress leave for several months when he had been called to her house to investigate a dead body that had turned up in her bed. The first time he had seen her she had been dressed only in a ratty old terry cloth robe. Her hair had been a startling mess and there had been dark circles under her eyes. This wounded and fragile young kitten wasn’t the affectionate and self-possessed young woman that Jeremy had expected, and so over time he had become protective of her. He felt that she needed a guardian, someone to help her keep the ghosts at bay. He would have thought that she would have been happy to accept his help, but she had retreated deeper and deeper within herself instead.

Tamara brightened some whenever Jeremy was near her, but she would cloud over almost instantly, and it was becoming more and more difficult to get through to her these days. Jeremy wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but he knew that sooner or later she was going to have to face what was happening inside her or it was going to kill her, and he didn’t want that to happen.

Tamara, for her part, was grateful to have Jeremy. It warmed her heart to know that there was someone out there who could make her feel as intensely loved as he did, a feat that was all the more remarkable when you considered how long the two of them had known each other. What Tamara couldn’t figure out was why he would want her to feel that way. Sure, she had managed to preserve her good looks over the years, but aside from physical attributes she couldn’t think of a single thing that she could offer Jeremy or any other guy in a relationship. She couldn’t wrap her brain around the notion that someone could be attracted to her because she couldn’t come up with any reason why this would be so.

Tamara felt like she was buried in a dark pit and she couldn’t find a way to escape.

“I think you’ve seen enough death and carnage for one afternoon,” Jeremy suggested as he stood up. “Why don’t we go outside and see what the constables have turned up?”

Tamara nodded and accepted Jeremy’s proffered hand, allowed him to help her to her feet. She held onto his hand until the two of them left the bank and walked up to the uniformed constables who were waiting to report to them.

There wasn’t much for the constables to report that Tamara and Jeremy didn’t already know. Those who had survived the event had been taken to the nearest hospital and were being interviewed by constables and psychologists while they were being treated. All of the stories were the same. No one in the neighbourhood knew that anything was amiss inside the bank until screaming survivors started streaming through the front door. The Medical Examiner was on the scene, but Tamara didn’t need to talk to him to know how the victims and their killer had died.

Tamara and Jeremy took the constables’ reports and then returned to headquarters, where they were called into the office of their division lieutenant, Kevin Dubois. They walked through the door into his office and were surprised to find that the lieutenant was not alone. A man in the uniform of the Imperial Navy, with the four broad gold stripes of a Captain on the cuffs of his sleeves, was in the office talking with the lieutenant.

Tamara folded her arms across her chest and cocked her head at the Naval officer. “You seem to have a talent for showing up when we have bodies on the ground,” she observed. “Why is that?”

Jeremy frowned and gestured to the captain. “You say that like you know him,” he observed.

“Let’s just say we’ve encountered each other before,” Tamara said.

Captain Michael Richardson sketched a little bow at Tamara and smiled a wan smile. “It’s good to see you again, Tamara,” he said. “I heard about what happened to Alan. I’m sorry.”

Tamara waved dismissively at Mike and dropped into one of the guest chairs. “You didn’t answer my question,” she said.

Kevin and Jeremy exchanged looks and dropped into their own chairs. Mike dragged a third guest chair out of the corner and sat down beside Tamara. “I came because I know a thing or two about the implant that killed Alan,” he said. “The Empire is concerned about the possibility of implants of this nature being used on a larger scale, and so they’ve sent me on a mission to prevent that from happening.”

“Why should the Empire care what happens out here?” Tamara demanded. “This is a local problem, after all.”

Mike took a deep breath. “Not as local as you think,” he said. “Ever since you identified the implant that you found in Alan we’ve been getting increased reports of implants of this nature being connected to various criminal investigations on a dozen worlds in this sector alone. When you found that implant you stumbled onto something a lot bigger than Acheron City. If the people behind this technology are allowed to develop it to its logical conclusion then its very existence could alter the balance of power throughout the Empire.”

Tamara nodded slowly. “Okay,” she said. “Fair enough. If you’ve got something to tell us then get it over with and tell us.”

Mike nodded. “Your boss told me that someone went on a shooting spree at one of the downtown banks,” he said.

Jeremy nodded. “Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he commented. “He walked into the bank and started firing, and then turned the gun on himself.”

“What he didn’t tell you,” Mike continued, “and he was in the process of telling me when the two of you came back, is that that wasn’t the only such incident in Acheron City this afternoon.”

Tamara bolted upright in her chair and locked eyes with Kevin. “Is this true?”

Kevin nodded sadly. “There were nine other incidents,” he said, “and all of them happened within minutes of each other. All of them involved someone going on a short killing spree and then committing suicide. I’ve got the entire division looking into it.”

Tamara turned on Mike. “You think this has something to do with Alan’s implant,” she ventured.

Mike nodded. “Yes,” he admitted, “I do.”

“But you didn’t know about any of this before you came to Acheron City,” Tamara persisted.

Mike shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”

Tamara turned on Kevin. “This isn’t a coincidence, boss,” she said. “It can’t be. It’s just too damn neat to be a coincidence.”

Kevin nodded thoughtfully. “I’m inclined to agree,” he said. “That’s why I want you to listen to what he has to say. If he and his sources can provide us with some useful information then we might be able to stop these killings and catch the people responsible for inciting them.”

Tamara rose from her chair and stepped over to the floor to ceiling windows that dominated one wall of Kevin’s office. She folded her arms across her chest and stared out at the city. Kevin gave Jeremy a curious look, but Jeremy just shook his head. As good as he had become at reading Tamara he just couldn’t tell what she was thinking just then. He could ask her, but that would just derail her train of thought, and Jeremy had a funny feeling that whatever thoughts were going through her head were thoughts that she needed to have just then. Maybe something good would come out of all this, he thought.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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