Sometimes he kisses them then.
The whore strips with the confidence of long practice. She’s on automatic pilot, not really thinking about him at all. A flat-chested eighteen year old who trades on pretending to be daddy’s wicked little preteen for sad old fucks who can only get it up when they are breaking taboos. She thinks she’s seen it all.
She had shown some caution when he led her down into the room, but her caution evaporated when he paid an additional fee for using this rather unusual venue.
Wearing the iJak didn’t faze her. The tiny scars at the corner of her eyes showed that she’d worn them often.
“Play costs more than record” was her only comment. She didn’t know that play would cost her everything she had.
As the iJak worms its way behind her left eye and taps into her optic nerve, she writhes with fake pleasure and says, “Oooh, Daddy, that tickles, but it tickles nice.”
She thinks Daddy is just another iJakker, looking to amp up his come by feeding her hers.
She’s naked now, walking towards him, twisting one pigtail, trying to put a girlish spring in her step – little red riding hood setting out to visit granny. But today she will meet the big bad wolf.
Her skinny body has been shaved to match the pre-pubescent persona but he can see the beginnings of stubble and a slight razor rash. Briefly, he wonders who pays to fuck a fake preteen pussy with five O’clock shadow.
The whore pops out of auto-pilot long enough to recognize that he is still fully clothed. He should be touching himself by now, getting ready to show his little angel her new lollipop. She’s smart enough to improvise a response.
“Isn’t Daddy hot in all those clothes?” she says, pressing up against him, her fingers reaching for his fly.
He presses a button on the remote hidden in the palm of his hand and she gets the first surprise of the evening. The iJak releases a signal that raises her awareness to almost super human levels. Her head will never have been this clear; her body will never have been this responsive. Unfortunately the signal will also fry her synapses but she won’t live long enough for that to be a problem.
For a few seconds she is lost in rapture. That’s all he needs to bind her wrists in front of her.
The room appeals to him for three reasons: it was built when Jack the Ripper still walked London’s streets; it is so far below ground it might as well be sound proof, yet the tiled walls help every moan and scream to echo and, best of all, it has electric lifting gear.
He doesn’t even have to work up a sweat to have the whore suspended in front of him, her feet inches above the ground. All he has to do is slip a hook through her bindings, press a pleasingly old-fashioned industrial button, and she is hauled into the air.
This is not one of the safe suspensions favoured by the faint hearted bondage community. As the whore struggles she will probably dislocate her shoulders, her hands will turn blue then black as the blood supply is cut off. But those will be the least of her problems.
The whore has dropped out of character now and is cursing him with a variety of invective that no preteen could possess.
Time for the second surprise of the evening.
He presses “Play” and the iJak starts to feeds data directly into her brain. The whore will experience everything as if it were happening to her in real-time. Her raised awareness level means that she won’t miss a thing. Her youth means that she should last long enough to be satisfying.
The recording she is living through in her hyper-aware, hyper-sensitive state, lasts three minutes and forty-five seconds. Then there is a fifteen second gap before it starts again.
At the first gap he will get his first glimpse of the real her; the animal who lives behind her eyes. Some of them fill with hope, thinking their ordeal to be over; some plead for release; some still try to bargain with their bodies; but it is the smart ones that give him the most pleasure. Their eyes fill with fear. They have worked out that this is the beginning, not the end. By the second gap they have realised that it will go on and on but they still hope to live through it. By the third gap they no longer want to live but don’t know how to die. Sometimes he kisses them then.
The eyes of the whore in front of him widen with surprise and fear. Then the screaming and the writhing start.
He fetches a chair and settles down to watch.
“Live to Jak. Jak to live.”
I’d finally made it home and into a hot bath that I needed, absolutely needed, after a double shift at work, when my NJinn said, “One apologises for the intrusion ma’am, but the authorities have expressed a need to contact you urgently, it has something to do with a dead body.”
My job was all about dead bodies. I was tired and irritable and in the middle of my bath. “Stall them, Alfred.” I said. “I need a few minutes here.”
It had been funny at first, having my NJinn sound like Alfred in my old “Batman” movies. “What better personality could there be for my personal net demon?” I’d thought. I was so over it now. I wanted to shoot Alfred, but you can’t shoot a non-corporeal web avatar. I promised myself I would overwrite the stuffy bastard with something young, female, funny and equally retro, just as soon as I got the time: perhaps Sarah Michelle Geller from the first series of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or maybe Jennifer Alba from “Dark Angel”.
Hmm, it had been a while since I’d watched Jennifer. I loved the way she kicked butt then pouted afterwards. I slid further down into the water and closed my eyes, letting myself imagine what it would be like to kiss an X5 genetically-enhanced super-soldier who wore tight jeans, sat astride a powerful motorbike and had the delightfully androgynous name of “Max”.
“They are becoming most insistent ma’am. One has expressed the view that Ms Jezkova is not available but one has not prevailed.”
Alfred would have to go. He just wasn’t funny anymore.
“Connect them voice only please, Alfred.”
No point in losing my temper with an NJinn, I was going to save my wrath for whomever it was that was about to ruin my bath.
“Hey, Jezkova, how come it’s just audio? You got some new joystick you don’t want me to see, girl?”
Sarah, my partner: I couldn’t really be wrathful with her; she’d just worked the same double shift as me and probably hadn’t even made it to the shower, never mind a bath. Besides, she only used fake American accents with me when she had bad news.
“Jez, stop wearing the batteries out on that thing and speak to me.”
I stuck to voice only, not a modesty thing, not with Sarah; it was more that I didn’t want to have to look at the expression I knew I would see on her face.
“Tell me we haven’t got another one.”
“I could tell you that. Sadly, that wouldn’t make it true.”
Sarah was back to the Oxbridge accent that she used when she wanted her bosses to listen-up. I’d been in the UK since I graduated college back in 2076 and I still hadn’t figured out the Brit class system but I could see that Sarah was an anomaly who made people uncomfortable. It was probably why they had made us partners.
“And, Jez…” Sarah’s voice had a ragged edge to it, the verbal-equivalent to holding back tears, “…this one is the youngest yet.”
Shit! Shit! Shit! I thought. “Send the address to my NJinn. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Don’t let Dwyer start without me.”
“Too late for that, I’m afraid. He has a visitor, so he’ll feel compelled to demonstrate his leadership and his insight.”
I was towelling down, none-too-gently, and realising that my hair was just going to have to stay wet. That is one of the reasons I like to keep it short. The other is that it looks damn good that way.
“Now that would be fun to watch if this was a different kind of case. Who’s the visitor?” I asked.
“Someone from Europol. Visiting us all the way from The Hague. Dwyer is wetting himself at the prospect of ‘networking with a real professional from Europe’s premier international law enforcement agency’.”
“Europol. Why would they involve themselves after only three murders? They can’t have known there’d be a fourth one today. The first three victims were all British Citizens so there’s no international element.”
“Apparently they are offering to share technology that we don’t have access to…” Sarah paused, letting me make the connection.
“…which means that he’s not just from Europol but EC3, the European Cybercrimes guys with all the latest toys,” I said. “They’re not exactly famous for sharing their wealth…”
“…so they have an agenda,” Sarah said, in a tone that acknowledged that I’d finally caught up, “which I am not going to show any interest in as long as she helps us catch the man frightening these women to death.”
I should have registered the she. It might have save me from looking like a fool later, but I was wet and naked and still too tired to be enjoying myself.
“On your way,” Sarah said, “check the MetroNews webcast: there’s a segment on the case. They even have video of you. Dwyer won’t be happy at that. But then you are much prettier than him. Now stop talking and get moving. I need you here.”
The media piece was unexpected. We’d had hovercams buzzing around from time to time but so far none of the material had made it on-line. The media seemed to have little interest in the dead women who had been the centre of my life for the past two months.
I gave control of the car to Albert, told him to get me there as fast as possible, using police priority lanes if necessary, and pulled up the MetroNews webcast.
The banner beneath the webcaster made me wince.
“iJak THE RIPPER: cyber-killer stalks London’s Jakkers”
Someone in MPCCU must have talked: “iJak the Ripper” was what we’d started to call this guy after we found the third body. Dwyer would be furious.
The webcaster looked earnestly towards the camera and said, “In 2088, the 200th anniversary of Jack the Ripper’s killing spree, London’s police again find themselves hunting a killer who preys on sex industry workers.”
Sex industry workers. The phrase was meant to be polite. In my experience the “sex industry” was closer to a slave trade.
“Sources close to the investigation have confirmed that the Metropolitan Police Cyber Crime Unit, the MPCCU, have been called in, following evidence that the women were killed while using iJaks, presumably to service a Jakker.”
A menu scrolled up on the right hand corner of the webcast, offering links to articles on iJaks, Jakkers and the MPCCU. I wondered if there was still anyone out there who didn’t know what a Jakker was. I’d seen enough to know that people in every walk of life Jakked from time to time and many of them became addicted, with Jakking gradually taking over more and more of their day to day lives. The hard-core tattooed the Jakker icon, an eye with a jack slipped in, encircled with the mantra “Live to Jak. Jak to live”, as a badge of honour. They paid for their habit by selling the Jaks they recorded or let other people play Jaks in them. Sex Jaks and pain Jaks were in great demand.
I was about to cut the feed when the webcaster says, “MetroNews has exclusive video of the MPCCU team at the latest crime scene.”
I saw myself coming out of the building where we’d found the victim number three and I knew exactly what would happen next. Sarah was right; Dwyer wasn’t going to like this. The video had clearly been shot from a news hovercam from a few metres above my head. I look tired and unhappy as I talk into my phone. The camera zooms in on me, audio kicks in just as I’m saying, “Yes, another one. We’re looking at…” then I look up, see the hovercam, reach into my pocket and pull out a small pen-shaped object, point it at the hovercam and smile. The picture from the hovercam dies.
Shame really. It would almost have been worth the trouble I was going to be in if they’d had had footage of the hovercam falling out of the sky when my jammer hit it, causing catastrophic system failure.
“It seems MPCCU are so determined not to let the public know what is happening in this case that Detective Sergeant Jezkova was willing to go as far as disabling a MetroNews hovercam.”
A headshot of me, smiling just before I took out the hovercam, flashed up in top right hand corner together with links to my bio.
It wasn’t actually illegal for me to take down a hovercam at a crime scene but smiling at it first was definitely not normal protocol.
The car slowed. I was at the next crime scene. Victim number four. The youngest yet, Sarah had said. I put my personal infamy to one side and got ready to focus on another victim.
“… a prey that has to be hunted in the flesh.”
The silent, windowless room is illuminated only by the screen that makes up most of one of the walls. Jezkova’s smiling face, looking into the lens of the hovercam she was about to destroy, is in the top right hand corner of the screen.
“Zoom in on the face.”
The NJinn complies but doesn’t respond. He has deleted the NJinn’s ability to speak.
He studies the image as if he is surveying a landscape, mapping salient points that will aid future exploration. He classifies her as striking rather than pretty: the pale skin, high cheekbones, widely spaced eyes and broad forehead are memorable. Her features are pleasingly symmetrical but lack the slightly child-like, unthreatening aspect that most men are conditioned to find sexually attractive. Her hair is aggressively short, prioritising practicality over sensuality. Then there is her over-large mouth. In repose it might look sinful but spread into a smile that shows her teeth, it makes her look predatory.
Staring, unblinking, at the image, he lets himself imagine that mouth stretched wide as it pushes out a scream of agony. Her screams would be loud and strong and she would hate herself for making them.
“Zoom in on the eyes.”
The pale blue eyes scale until they fill almost half the wall. The quality of the hovercam lens means there is almost no distortion. He can see that these are not eyes people find easy to trust. The colour suggests coldness and calculation. He stares into her pupils but finds nothing but darkness. It is what he expected. The spark that lives behind the eyes seems to be able to hide from cameras. It is a prey that has to be hunted in the flesh.
“Play the bio”
It is an MPCCU bio, giving only the basic details: Ivana Ježková, Detective Sergeant with MPCCU, born Czech Republic 24th January 2055, graduated Univerzita Karlova v Praze in 2076 with a degree in psychology, moved to England the same year. Joined the Metropolitan Police in 2079.
He pauses, still staring into Jezkova’s cold blue eyes, analysing the things the bio didn’t say.
“Research Jezkova: all data in the Police and Security databases in Europe and the USA plus financial records, web presence analysis and her university transcripts. Set up monitoring of her communications. Track her NJinn. Tag data as ‘Possible Further Interest’. Ping me when the data is ready.”
He is pleased that his voice does not betray the curiosity and excitement that Jezkova has provoked. He does not permit even his NJinn to know where his curiosity lies.
He walks to the door, says “Terminate display”, places a civilized smile on his face and steps back into the world.
“…because the question was not asked.”
If it hadn’t been for the Police Cordon around the entrance, I’d have assumed my NJinn had screwed up and taken me to the wrong location. I’d expected to find myself in some back alley in Whitechapel, with the body stretched out against Victorian cobblestones like the previous three. Instead I was looking up at a brightly lit, modern, glass and steel office-block that must have been at least twenty stories high. The entrance was wide, with two revolving doors on either side of a large double door, a reception desk with a view of the whole Square and 3600static cameras on each corner of the building. This was not an easy place to dump a body.
Then I saw the address: ‘One Mitre Square’ and knew that the Press had just been handed a gift that would keep these killings in the news rotation for days. Mitre Square was the only Jack the Ripper murder site that still had its original name. Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, was murdered here, when it was still a quiet square of commercial buildings.
Sarah met me as I swiped my I.D. at the Police Cordon to log in to the crime scene and walked with me towards the small tent that had been erected at the entrance to the office-block.
“You could have told me I was coming to a Ripper murder site,” I said.
“I gave you the address, Jez. You really shouldn’t let your NJinn do ALL your reading for you.”
“So our murderer is putting on a show? Living up to the iJak The Ripper persona?”
“Very much so. He dumped Kate, naked, on her back, where the tent is, right between the two revolving doors.”
“Wait, you know the victim’s name?”
“Her I.D. card was between her teeth.”
“I assume he wanted us to make the connection to Catherine Eddowes, also known as Kate Kelly, in case the significance of the address escaped us.”
As we reached the tent, I looked up at the brightly-lit building and said, “How did he dump a body here without being caught.”
Before, Sarah could answer, a familiar voice said, “He took out the power.”
Lenka Sokolova stepped out of the tent, tall, lean, emanating intelligent authority; she looked even more beautiful than when I’d said goodbye to her on the day I left for my new life in England.
I was stunned. Lenka was here. Lenka, who had not contacted me once in the twelve years since I’d left Prague. Lenka, who was now apparently with EC3.
My reaction must have shown on my face because Sarah raised an eyebrow at me. I made an effort to recover my composure and make a response that didn’t sound like I’d just been thrown off balance by the appearance of a lover from a past life but before I could speak, Dwyer had stepped out of the tent, positioned himself proprietarily close to Lenka, extended a hand towards me and said, “Major Sokolova, may I introduce Detective Sergeant Jezkova.”
So Lenka hadn’t told Dwyer she knew me. Interesting. And when had she become a Major?
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hug Lenka or hit her. I opted for holding out my hand and saying, “Dobry den, Major.”
Lenka’s hand grasped mine firmly but formally and she said, “Dobry den, Detective Sergeant. Your boss told me that he already had a Czech working on the case and he’s been kind enough to offer you as my liaison while I’m here.”
I looked at Dwyer as Lenka released my hand. He didn’t seem happy so I was sure the liaison thing had been Lenka’s idea. It had probably been a requirement stated as a request.
“Actually, Major,” I said, getting my voice as close as I could to Sarah’s Oxbridge accent, “I am a British Citizen now”.
“How very dedicated of you, Detective Sergeant.” Lenka flashed Dwyer and Sarah a brilliant smile and continued “In Czech we say that when you gain a new language you gain a new soul. Of course it is leaving the old one behind seems to be the real challenge.”
Turning back to me, smile still in place she said, “I carry no rank here, Detective Sergeant, I am assigned as a consultant to The Met, so please, let’s drop the formalities. You may call me Lenka.”
“People here call me Jez.”
“Well, Jez, your murderer has access to a mobile EMP device. He used it take out the power and the cameras at 23.00. In the ensuing minutes of confusion, he dumped the body without being seen or recorded.”
Dwyer, who was bound to have been irritated by the “your murderer” comment, asserted himself by saying, “So you believe the murderer is military or has military connections, Major?”
“It’s possible but since the end of the Stan wars, all kinds of technology has been available to people with the cash to pay for it. It suggests he is well-funded, has a taste for theatrics and has, as I believe you say here, big brass balls.”
Dwyer laughed politely. Sarah and I did not.
Lenka had always been flippant and it had always irritated me. I let my lack of amusement show briefly on my face and said, “I’d like to see Kate.”
“Kate?” Lenka asked.
“The woman this brass-balled man murdered and then displayed like a freak-show.”
“Ah,” Lenka said, “I see I have offended you and you are living up to your name by being prickly.”
It was an old joke that Lenka enjoyed and that I had never found funny. One I thought I had escaped. One she was about to burden me with again.
Lenka turned to Dwyer and said, “In Czech, the name Ježková comes from Ježek. In English you would say Little Hedgehog.”
To my surprise, Dwyer did not laugh. He was assessing Lenka. I may be Czech but I was his Czech. Lenka was an outsider. In one of the flashes of intuition that partially explained how Dwyer reached his rank, he asked, “And what does Sokolova come from?”
“It is derived from Sokola, which means Falcon,” I said. “A predator that is often trained to hunt for others for the right reward.”
“Touché, Jez”, Lenka said, laughing and giving me a formal little bow, “We are, I hope, all on the same hunt: for the killer of your Kate.”
Lenka was being charming. Lenka was only charming when she wanted to hide something or gain something. Which meant I probably still didn’t yet know why she was here.
I decided Lenka could wait. Regardless of why she was here, I was here for the dead woman in the tent. It was time to take a look at her. I headed for the tent and the others followed me.
Kate was still spread out on the steps. Her small, slim, asexual body gave her a childlike appearance at first glance. Her face was obscured by the Virtual Autopsy Scanner that hovered above her, so I concentrated on her body, taking in the iJakker tatts on the inside of each wrist, the stubble on her sex, the emaciation of woman who would rather Jak than eat and the uniformly pale skin of someone who rarely went out during the day. She was young but she was not a child.
The Virtual Autopsy Scanner moved away from Kate and I saw her face. He’d taken her eyes. He always did. And it always filled me with rage.
“Report.” I said to the scanner’s NJinn
It replied in that inflectionless voice that is supposed to make Police NJinns sound non-threatening but which always made me feel as if the machine was hiding something.
“The victim was killed by an adrenalin storm that caused her heart to fail. Her heart shows no signs of earlier damage,” the NJinn said, “so the adrenalin storm would have to have been prolonged and or repeated, which suggests that it was artificially created and sustained.
Pre-mortem damage to the arms and shoulders are consistent with the victim having been suspended for an extended period and having struggled violently.”
“So she was hung up by her arms while the adrenalin storm frightened her to death?” I asked.
“That scenario is consistent with the available information,” the NJinn replied and stopped.
“Continue,” I said.
“There are no signs of physical abuse or sexual violence. There had been sexual activity prior to the victim’s death but there is no way to tell whether this involved her killer. The body has been cleaned, post-mortem, probably in a chemical bath containing a mild bleaching agent, strong enough to make it impossible to analyse any foreign DNA on the victim. The eyes have been removed and…”
“How were the eyes removed?” Lenka asked.
“The absence of tissue from the globe of the eye or from the fluid inside it suggest that an enucleation was performed. That is, they were surgically removed.”
We’d known this since the first victim. We’d all speculated on why he’d taken the eyes: as a trophy, as part of a ritual, for sexual kicks, even for organ harvesting. The enucleation had pointed us towards surgeons and had made us take a long look at the various bodyshops trafficking in organs but it hadn’t lead us anywhere.
Lenka asked, “Is the anything about the removal of the eyes that is anomalous?”
I tensed. This was not a spontaneous question from Lenka. She was looking for something. Perhaps expecting to find something.
The NJinn paused for a beat as it reviewed its data.
“The rectus muscles and Tenon’s capsule have also been removed.”
Lenka’s face gave nothing away, but she didn’t ask for an explanation of the anomaly, so she must already know what it meant.
“What is anomalous about this?” I asked the NJinn.
“In a standard enucleation, they are left in place in order to enable the use of implants. It is odd to see care taken to remove the globe of the eye intact and then go back in to remove the rest.”
“Was this also done with the other victims?”
With barely a pause, the NJinn said. “Yes. It was the same with all of the other victims.”
“Why were we not told this?” Dwyer said, angrily.
“The facts were reported in each case,” the NJinn replied “but the anomalous nature of the procedure was not highlighted because the question was not asked.”
NJinn’s were not supposed to be capable of political behaviour but I’d noticed that they often gave answers that placed the blame for everything with us. Which was probably where it belonged.
“What does it mean, Lenka?” I asked.
Lenka allowed a puzzled look to cross her face and then smiled.
“I have no idea, Jez. Perhaps nothing at all. It is something that we could look into together. After we have finished here.”
Which I was sure was a lie and an invitation to trade.
“Regardless of the business with the eyes,” Dwyer said, “We have work to do here. We need to be seen to be doing everything possible to solve these murders. The two of you can liaise later.”
I searched his tone for innuendo on the liaise statement but couldn’t find any. Maybe he really didn’t know about Lenka and me. Still, he was right, we needed to go and do the plodding statement-taking and fact-checking that still made up so much of police work. I would deal with Lenka later.