I have an idea, walking to my interviewee. Something in my walk or my face must change, because next thing I know, my phone rings.
"Hello?" I say.
the security footage is unusable.
"What?" I double-take and lower my voice to a furtive whisper, for some reason.
you seemed to have an idea. that indicates security footage. the security footage that you and caldmann were too distracted to remember to request. the night before the murder the cameras were covered in duct tape by a figure wearing a black swatch of fabric over their face. there is no positive identification available. it is hypothesized by me that this figure is the murderer.
"Great," I mutter. "What about the door change? Any footage on who changed those?"
"Any theories on their connection?'
I sigh. "Great. Just great. What does Security think? They're on this, right?"
yes, they are. however, they have been expending a tremendous amount of effort to move from confused to puzzled, with no success at the current moment. thus caldmann and you being brought in.
"By who? Why us? We aren't exactly investigative pros."
the instigatee apparently thought you had a certain level of creativity necessary for this case.
I pull the phone close to my ear and hiss as threateningly as I can. "Listen up, you dissembling piece of shit. All I want to know is who wanted Caldmann in. That's all I want. Can you tell me or not?"
i can. i will not.
I choke down a scream. It comes out as more a very loud hiss. "Why not?"
because it is caldmann's decision. to be frank, i thought he would have told you by now.
I roll my eyes heavenwards. "Thank you," I say, before hanging up.
Doctor Rosenthal, Beanbaum's first ex (of two, it turned out; Beanbaum was not exactly a Lothario) is a small, squad, balding man. Baldness has always horrified me; it speaks on a primal level to death and decay, and his wispy comb-over, covering up the rotting follicles below, makes me want to rip my tendons out through my arms. Today he seems distraught or sick; his eyes are puffy, and littered kleenex covers quite a few surfaces. I should've guessed when he requested it take place in his quarters. I avoid touching anything or breathing too heavily, erroring on the side of caution.
"How long did you and Doctor Beanbaum have your relationship?" I ask.
"T-two months," Rosenthal sniffs. "And then it ended. Just like it did…did with Newman!" Tears started leaking from his eyes.
"I'm sorry," I mutter, profoundly embarrassed. "Do you…need a kleenex?" I desperately look around for some.
"No, no," Rosenthal says, pulling one from god knows where and dabbing at his face. "It's just…I've suspected for weeks that Newman was cheating on me, you know, and now…well, he just won't return my calls…he's not in his room…he hasn't shown up for work…I'm sure he's found someone else!" More dabbing.
"There, there," I say, hoping it's comforting on some level. "I know this is hard, but I need you to push past this and talk about Doctor Beanbaum. It's very important."
"A-all right," he says. "Yes, it was just two months. And then I met Newman, and…well, it was like having my eyes opened. We just connected, you know? On every level. Something that poor Barry and I never had. And so I had to end it. And now I have nothing!" He starts crying again.
"I…see," I say, more than mildly surprised. "And so you have no…well, ill will towards him?"
"Of course not! If anything, the opposite is true."
"Alright," I say, already trying to get as far away from the bald spot and the incessant talk of Newman. Haste makes waste, as they say. "Thank you for your assistance."
Caldmann's interview, as I heard later on, didn't go much better. This sounds almost too ridiculous to be true, I know, but I heard it from the mainframe, and it's unlikely to lie to me (even if its sense of humor is a little…strange.)
He got to the door of a certain Doctor Walter and was greeted by the man himself wearing a bloodstained apron and carrying a large cleaver. He looked like, in Caldmann's own words, "someone who wouldn't hesitate to cut some poor reporter's throat." Your mileage may vary.
He invited Caldmann in. Caldmann accepted, against his better (and worse!) judgement.
Inside was a slaughterhouse, for some reason. It was Walter's personal quarters, and he'd apparently been raising chickens in the bathroom for…fun? and Caldmann had "just happened" to call during "slaughtering time." Everything in the room was covered in plastic sheeting, including the desk where the deed occurred, a sort of white altar of the modern age. Caldmann claimed it was one of the more disturbing sights and smells he'd ever seen, and I have no reason to disbelieve him.
The interview took place. Caldmann asked about the relationship and Walter answered, punctuating each sentence by chopping off the head of a chicken. The blood splattered across the room each time, meaning that with each question Caldmann looked more and more like a Pollock painting. Yes, they had dated for a few months. Yes, Beanbaum had broken it off with him. No, Walter was not currently in a relationship (though he could be, if you were available….) No, there was no ill will. Particularly emphatic chicken chop here. The squawking was unbearable. Did Caldmann have any more questions? No? Then could he please leave, please?
I'm sure Caldmann was just delighted to.
My phone rings on the way back to Archival. No number on the screen; taking a wild guess, I turn it off and shove it back into my pocket. It rings again. I take it out and throw it over my shoulder; a little whir indicates that a good li'l maintenance robot has picked it up. I'll get it from the lost and found later.
The whirring gets louder. The maintenance robot is holding my still-ringing phone in its grasp, desperately keeping pace and trying to hand it off. I studiously ignore it.
Now there are footsteps behind me. Some out-of-breath junior researcher taps me on the shoulder and holds out his phone. "It's for you," he pants.
"Come on!" I scream, snatching it away from him and continuing to walk. "Get one from the robot!" I shout over my shoulder. They're all interchangeable, anyways. "Yes?"
caldmann has finished his interview and will meet you in Archival.
"Is that all?"
security has made no progress as of yet. any movement on the case, it appears, will have to be done by you two.
"Is that all?" I pause. "And if you're so smart, why can't you solve it? Don't you track the movements of everyone, anyways?" I feel rather stupid for not thinking of that first.
no. the rfid chips embedded in your employee id badges—
I look down at mine. I didn't know those were in there.
—can be blocked by covering them in tinfoil.
there is currently research being done to work around this.
"Great," I growl. "Just great. Just fantastic."
I hang up, and very pointedly refuse to pick up again. Petty? Yes.
"But what's the motivation?" I ask. "Everything's so…strange. Why were the room plates changed? Why choose someone with a twin and then not kill the twin?"
"I don't know," Caldmann says, standing at his desk, toweling off his wet hair. "Do you have any suspects?"
"Walter is too suspicious," I say. "Rosenthal seems genuine, unless he's a very good at faking heartbreak over Newman."
"Newman?" Caldmann asks.
"Current squeeze," I say. "Seems to have skipped off for a few days. Rosenthal thought he was cheating."
Caldmann grunts in acknowledgement, then perks up. "I have made some progress on the Watson front," he says, smiling. "I sent them the case files earlier. Now we have someone to bounce off of."
"Excellent," I say. "Who is it?"
"Boo!" Diol says, directly behind me. I leap out of my chair.
"Jesus!" I say. 'What was that for?!"
"For your little prank earlier," she says, laughing. "An eye for an eye!"
Why she's here sinks in. "Oh come on," I say to Caldmann. "Really?"
He smiles apologetically, I think. "Sorry," he says. "Someone's got to be the Watson."
I sigh. "Fine. Let's think about this, then."
"Well, do you have any ideas?" Caldmann asks.
"No," I say.
"Nope!" Diol says.
"Well…" Diol says, looking a little ashamed, "I do have one…"
"What is it?" I ask.
"Well…" she says, "what if he faked his own death? You know, to get the attention?" She smiled and looked at our faces, waiting for the reaction.
I glare at Caldmann, my meaning clear. You take this.
"Well," Caldmann begins, as gently as he can, "I don't—"
And then it hits me. All at once. A little set of synapses pings deep in my brain, and more and more start clicking, falling into row behind that one little thought. Sometimes that's all it takes. One little seed-crystal, from which a whole cavern can grow…
I try to think everything through. I have it. I think. It seems to make sense. It's the only thing that makes sense, right? It's stupid, but…my eyes widen. That would mean that there's only one possible murderer then. But it all checks out. At least, it does if I can prove that one little conceit…
"Holy shit," I whisper.
Caldmann cuts off, turns to me, and narrows his eyes. "What is it?"
I stand up and grab my coat. "Follow me," I say. "The Watson works."
"Huh?" Diol says, but stands up and follows us out anyways. I don't worry about the mainframe. I'm sure it heard, and I hope it understands.