Machine of Death
"I'd like to report a murder."
I had to admit, my cases had gotten a lot stranger as of late. I was still relatively new to the area, but my experience generally made up for my unfamiliarity--or so I wanted my clients to believe, at least until I had built up a reputation. This particular client seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite place his face off the top of my head.
"You seem disinterested," he remarked, possibly taken aback by my casual air.
"Hmm," I mused. "In this line of work, I can't really afford to let my emotions run rampant."
"Also, this 'Death Prediction Machine' business has made the cases I get more... interesting, to be certain."
He didn't seem to know what to think about the matter, pondering my comment. Certainly the notion of having perfectly accurate death predictions put a new angle on things, making life both simpler and much more complicated.
"So," I continued, "you had your death predicted, and it said you were going to be murdered?"
After a brief pause, he nodded hesitantly; I assumed I wasn't dealing with a quick thinker here. "Right. Specifically, it said, 'ASSASSINATION.' So, in my case, I wanted to report my murder before it happened--you know, so my family will know justice has been served... or will be served, I guess."
"That's sweet of you. A lot of people don't even make a will."
"So, could you be my bodyguard today?"
Bodyguard? "Why today?"
"I have this feeling... I don't believe my Proposition 573 is very popular here in the District, and I fear the prediction is that someone will try to take my life over it before it can pass the Senate."
Ah, yes. This was Senator Carme for Maryland--I had voted for the other guy. It seemed unusual for his type to come to a relative no-name like myself, but I wasn't going to complain. "Fair enough. I will require payment up front, of course."
"Also," I added, reaching for a pen, "can you think of any possible suspects?"
"Offhand? Just about anyone."
"What about anyone who knows your prediction and might try to take advantage of it?"
He froze. Had he given any thought to the idea of someone enforcing the prediction, so to speak?
"Oh, man," he gasped, biting his thumb. "I can't imagine anyone being so cruel. I mean, murder is bad enough, but making sure it will happen seems downright evil!"
"You know what? I bet Leda would actually do it. He's enough of a bastard to do something like that, and it would further his agenda to kill me off. Kind of my archnemesis, if you will. He doesn't like Prop 573 and might do anything to stop its nomination for the ballot."
Really. "Noted. Anyone else?"
"Mmm... I was hoping you'd be able to figure it out for me, so I could focus on pushing the initiative while I still have time."
"That's lazy of you."
"Do you want my business or not?"
"Sorry. I'm not in the habit of beating around the bush. Anyway, my services are four hundred per day. My assistant will handle payment."
I led Carme to the adjoining door and knocked on it sharply. "Marius, any calls?"
"I told you, Callisto, I prefer Sky."
"...Marius, any calls?"
Predictably, he grumbled. "Just another one from--"
"Leave me the message in my box, I'll get to it later. If it's absolutely urgent, forward it to Amalthea--she owes me a favour."
The door opened after a lengthy pause, and my assistant emerged with a disgruntled look on his face. "I don't see why you ask for them if you don't want the messages. Why don't you have a phone in your office, anyway?"
"We'll talk about this later," I snapped. "I'm your superior, and you shouldn't talk back to me. Anyway, I'm heading out on assignment. Senator Carme is going to give you an advance while I get ready."
His eyes darted to Carme, lighting up with notable interest. "This way, sir," Marius said politely, motioning inside. At least I had trained him for that much.
Playing bodyguard for someone who knew he was going to catch it seemed like an easy gig; all I really had to do was keep my eyes open and let things play out, then justice would be served. It made me wonder how the senator could be so complacent if he knew what was coming, though.
Carme gave me a ride to the Capitol in his limo, trying to engage me with small talk along the way. I suppose I would have paid more attention if I wasn't on the job--my mind was more on who the hitman was and where the attempt would take place. This was one of the times I cursed my unfamiliarity with the territory, as I had to use every second to orient myself and take in the surroundings.
Police Chief Metis was also at the scene, on routine patrol. "What're you doing here, Callisto?"
"Carme hired me as a bodyguard."
The notion perplexed him. "Why?"
"I take the cases I'm given." It was pointless to elaborate further, and I didn't have time for chitchat. If he knew what the case entailed, I'm certain he would have berated me for not trying my damndest to stop the inevitable, even though I felt it was a waste of time. It was good having a second pair of eyes, though.
The other senators filed in, greeting each other as they approached the entrance. "Hey, Carme," Senator Himalia called. "Did you have your cellphone off? Your wife is looking for you."
"Really? Where is she?"
"I saw her on the Metro. I told her we were adjourning soon and you'd probably be here."
I glanced down the road and saw a frazzled woman. "Is that her?"
Carme waved to his wife. She immediately caught his eye and walked anxiously toward him. As she approached--
In the blink of an eye, blood splattered across my front as Carme's wife fell from a shot to the torso. It caught me by surprise as, for an assassination attempt, I would have expected a silencer. However, the hitman seemed intent on letting us know damn well what he was doing. My eyes scanned the area for the shooter.
"Civilian down!" I called, getting between Carme and the hitman.
"Elara!" he cried. "No--"
"Get back, sir!" I reached down to feel for the woman's pulse. "Dead. I'm sorry."
Carme seemed torn between chasing after the hitman and fleeing for his life.
"Get inside!" I ordered. "It's safer there!"
With some resistance, I hustled Carme into the building and followed the other senators. Metis was on the ball, securing the Russell building and setting up a perimeter to find the hitman. When the entire Senate was safely inside the caucus room, I closed the doors behind us.
"So," I announced. "Would you like to confess, or should I break it to them?"
Carme stared at me blankly. "...what?"
I touched my hand to the device I had just withdrawn from my pocket. "This is something that almost everyone overlooks because it goes counter to the very idea of prediction in the first place, but because predictions will never change throughout one person's lifespan, the Death Prediction Machine can be used on blood samples from the dead, as well. This has come in handy in homicide cases, such as this one."
"What do you mean? You still have to protect me from--"
"You're not going to be assassinated," I interrupted, taking the tiny printout from the device. "Your wife was--you took her test result and claimed it was yours."
"What! How can you accuse me of trying to kill my own wife, in front of my fellow senators!"
"See this printout reading, 'ASSASSINATION'? I ran her blood through the portable DPM I carry for just such occasions."
"You defiled my wife's body?!"
"I didn't do anything to her that your hitman hadn't already done. As it was, I got enough for a viable sample from my clothes. If you like, I can take a sample from you right now as further proof."
"Why would I want my wife dead?"
"You tell me. Before she had her prediction done, she was insured for a lot of money, and maybe you wanted that before the company pulled her coverage. Plus, having your wife murdered would put a sympathetic spin on the initiative, wouldn't it?"
He stared at me with furious eyes. Before the other members of the Senate, it was incontrovertible evidence against him, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it. As he said, justice would be served.
It was clear he was going to do something drastic. Before he could reach into his pocket, however, I drew my Colt and nudged it into his side. "Don't make a move."
"You can't kill me. I'm not supposed to die by shooting."
"You don't have to die."
Finally, he seemed resigned to his fate. "...so what gave you the idea to test my wife's blood?"
"Obviously, she was assassinated in front of us, and it seemed implausible for both of you to have the same prediction. However, I had also gotten a call from your wife Elara yesterday, regarding exactly the case that you brought before me today. It was lucky I got my assistant to shut up before saying her name, or I might have lost the evidence."
The look on the senator's face was priceless. I imagined that he would have been extremely impressed had he not been the one found guilty.
After giving my statement and filing the appropriate paperwork with the chief, I returned to the office without further incident. I knocked lightly on the door to the adjoining room. "Marius, any calls?"
There was a grumbling and some shuffling of feet before the door opened. "Why are you still treating me like you're my mother?"
"I might as well be."
He slammed the door without answering.
I returned to my desk and sat down, musing at how quickly the case had progressed. It was a shame to put Carme away; I liked his Proposition 573. Unfortunately, it wasn't likely to pass now due to his conviction, even though the merits of the law really shouldn't have anything to do with the morals of its author--or lack thereof. I sighed, resigning myself to the consequences of having done my job right, as the door jingled and a new client entered.
"I'd like to report a murder."