Joined: 31 May 2007
Location: Roswell, GA
Chapter 12: Seeing Double [solved]
Medicorp Central Offices - Red District
Bishop and I descend the last steps of the grey concrete staircase and step into the center of an enormous loft sized room with hundreds upon hundreds of government style filing cabinets, shelves, vaults and various keyed bank style deposit boxes. The entire secret room’s footprint is the entirety of the top floor of the mercer building, larger even than the penthouse apartment above, and with no apparent way down to the lower levels.
The red windows of the building are on all sides, where they can be seen past the many rows and shelves. The increasingly vicious storm is beating relentlessly on two sides of the building and water is cascading down all four. The lightning irregularly blazes the familiar dancing sparkles and red flowing water shapes onto everything inside the room, while the ensuing thunder noticeably rumbles and shakes the tall tower. Every time it does, the lights in the stairway flicker and the indistinct Red District skyline below even darkens for a moment before flickering back block by block.
“Whoa!” I hear from over my shoulder.
“I think we found what we were looking for.” I say.
A faint tapping and banging noise is coming from somewhere in the room. Bishop freezes. I whirl towards the sound and focus in on a dark and distant corner where the flickering light from the stairway doesn’t reach.
An especially long and well-timed flash of lightning lights up the corner while thunder growls long and low. In the corner I see the silhouetted outline of a man, gagged and tied in a wooden chair, he bangs on the floor with it, rocking back and forth, struggling for attention and freedom.
I cautiously move across the room towards him, looking down each long row of secure boxes and vaults as I pass them.
I reach the man and utter confusion slaps me across the face. The man sits bound to his chair in nothing but his underwear and a white sleeveless undershirt. He’s emaciated and thin, his red hair is rumpled, his beard thick and dirty under his strong, almost wild eyes, but there’s no mistaking who he is.
The late Senator Thomas Mercer, back from the grave.
“Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” I ask him, lifting the gag from his dirty head.
He coughs and wheezes weakly, and when he speaks it is with a dry and raspy unpracticed croak. “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated I’m sure, But that impersonating bastard still got what was coming to him. Where’s my backstabbing wife? I haven’t seen her down here to taunt me with the news netcasts feeds in days!” His honest eyes go narrow. “And who are you anyway?”
“Detective Sawyer, Freelance.” I say. “Tara Mercer is dead Senator. I saw her body.”
This news seems to confuse him, his expression is a mix of sadness and amusement. “Heh. Then I’m glad you found me. I guess I’d better improve my security. There are only three people who are supposed to be able to get in here, and I’m one of them.
I reach into my pocket and hold up the silver bag with Senator Thomas Mercer’s identity chip inside.
“You’ll have to forgive me Senator.” I say, “I’ve been... um, using you.”
“Ah. I see.” He says. “Well under the circumstances I guess I’m not too worried about it. Listen, I don’t mean to be rude but do you think you might...?” Mercer nods down, indicating the ropes which confine him to his chair. I raise an eyebrow, stuff the chip back into his coat and move to free him of his ropes, working the first knots free with my fingers.
“Oh thank God.” He sighs, “Another few minutes and I would have permanently ruined another perfectly good pair of underpants... Listen we don’t have much time, if they’ve gotten to Tara already then he must be close to the end of the list! Who else is dead?”
“List? What list?” I ask him casually, then over my shoulder say, “Hey Bish, quit screwing around and grab those other subcues would you?... Bish?” I scan our end of the room. Bishop is nowhere to be seen. Only then do I realize he hasn’t followed me. The hair on my neck prickles. I turn and cautiously move back towards the dark shadows of the many shelves leaving the still half-bound Thomas Mercer in the chair.
“Uh.. excuse me? Detective! Hello?”
Another bolt of Lightning flashes outside and this time the power cuts off entirely, leaving the room in total darkness for a few seconds until the red emergency power lights kick on. Even the skyline goes dark as the sector’s power management computers are finally overcome by the strain and the safety protocols cut the power entirely.
I can only take one tentative step when I hear the meaty smack of something hitting the floor behind me. I whirl around a half second too late. A dark form from the deep shadows between two shelves knocks me to the floor with a heavy thud.
I swing at the dark air but manage to kick at flesh. Then there is a great weight on me and we are rolling around and around across the floor and out of the darkness. The man is heavyset but short and a mess of fabric and rope. I land a few solid punches and take a few blows and a knee in the side myself, but finally pin him down as a rumbling flash illuminates the short bearded face in front of me with the blood red streaks of the water cascading down the floor to ceiling glass windows.
It is none other than Father Ziod in his purple HFU priest’s robe. His face is a horrible sneer.
“Sinner! Blasphemer!” he screams at me, spittle and blood flying from his split lip.
Ziod brings up his knee to my groin and a different kind of lightning flashes before my eyes, forcing me to recoil and wince, stagger backwards while bent double, clutching myself.
“Repent of your sins my son!” he screams, using my pain as an opportunity to charge me like a bull, his silk-covered shoulder ramming my ribs with a horrible sick crunch and knocking me back into the window with terrifying crack. It is enough force to split the large pane of red window into a me-sized concave spiderweb, but not quite enough to shatter completely.
I reel from the blow and stagger forward, suddenly appreciative of just exactly how high the Mercer tower is, looking for Ziod but not seeing him until he dives at me yet again from the dark shadows. We both go down again, this time taking Thomas Mercer still tied to his chair with us. We hit him with a thud and a crack of splintering wood or possibly bones.
Then it’s the tangle of flailing parts again, and we roll away from Mercer across the empty floor. I see that he has managed to free one of his hands from the broken chair before Ziod lands one on my jaw and spins me around. This time it doesn’t hurt.
Thinking about adrenaline and revenge I manage to hoist myself onto my knee, and grabbing Ziod by the collar yank him up far enough to smack him three times hard and with my left fist.
“Repent this you sanctimonious bastard!”
Ziod goes limp and I drop him, his head hitting the floor like a mellon with a hollow thud. His nose oozes blood and he lays still.
I limp towards Mercer clutching my ribs, my face poorly hiding my pain in the ambient red glow of the emergency lights, but not caring. I attempt to upright the chair with the senator still in it, but it is dangerously close to falling apart completely. Mercer clutches my coat collar with his free hand and the chair comes up. Pain like fire shoots though my side.
Mercer tugs on his other hand and the rope comes away from the chair.
“Oh God! What happened?” we hear. It’s bishop. He’s standing between two shelves clutching his head, blood glistening on his temple.
“Good. You aren’t dead.” I say.
“Gee thanks Sawyer, I knew you cared. Some bastard sucker-punched me when the lights went out. Where is he now?”
“I sucker-punched him a few times.” I say. “Now his lights are out...”
I turn and point to the sorry sack of priest on the floor. The spot on the floor where Ziod lay is empty, and I cringe.
Ziod charges me from the darkness for the third time. Blood streams from his busted lip and nose like an animal, and a blood lust is in his eyes.
“You will join the fallen!” he screams.
I instantly react, stepping to the side of the human missile just enough for him to get a glancing blow of my coattails. Unable to stop, Ziod misses me by inches and rockets instead into the already broken window pane.
We watch in fascination and horror as the window gives and Ziod punches through in seeming slow motion amidst shards of glass and blood out into the darkness. The sound of the storm immediately rushes in and Ziod is simply gone.
Mercer, Bishop and I stand in the gaping hole in the side of the Mercer Tower staring down to the dark street below. Mercer is loosening the last of the ropes still tied to his wrist, which he then throws out into the night. The wind and rain whips past them in a whirling vortex taking the rope away as lightning flashes behind the building, punctuating his act like some ancient god. Mercer turns from the window and looks down at his underpants.
“Damn! Ruined another pair after all.”
Mercer becomes deadly serous. “Come. I have something I need to show you.” He says to me.
He leads us through the maze of shelves and lock boxes to an enormous vault door in the center of the room, where he begins spinning the giant combination lock back and forth. Bishop is dabbing at his bloody cut with his shirt sleeve before he looks up at the vault.
“Whoa! Big.” He says.
Mercer glances at Bishop over his shoulder and smiles wryly with a laughing snort. I hold my expression and my judgment while Bishop looks from him to me self-consciously.
The heavy vault door swings open revealing a small-sized room with floor to ceiling metal drawers and one small counter top upon which sits a thick red ledger book and a fancy gold and red pen. Mercer walks over to the ledger and flips through the pages to the last entry running his finger down the list. On the nearly full left page is a series of names and numbers all catalogued and notated with meticulous care by hand. The right page is completely blank.
“Gentlemen, do you have any idea what it’s like to be the C.E.O. and congressional representative of Mercer Enterprises and its subsidiaries including Medicorp?”
“You mean being personally responsible for creating, owning, and ultimately managing the single largest world health corporation which manufactures and tracks every subcue identity chip ever made, and subsequently every person in Deus City?”
“Bingo. I’ve got stress. Ah here it is!” Mercer fingers an entry in the book, then walks over to a drawer and opens it. He withdraws a lidded box about the size of his hand.
“My heart bleeds for you.” I say.
Mercer looks up at me and snorts, flips the box top off and over, sets the box into it and walks two fingers past the many index cards inside it. I can’t help but admire his obvious distrust for digital filing of certain information, something that I would not have expected from a man like him. Bishop is stunned into horrified silence, something that I wouldn’t have thought he was even capable of.
“Well needless to say that over the course of the last few years I have managed to accumulate something of a collection of... shall we say, interesting figures?” Mercer withdraws a shimmering bag from the box with a well practiced smile. Inside is a tiny subcue chip.
“You mean you kept certain dead people’s chips for fun?”
“Fun, security, voyeuristic kicks, whatever... Why do people collect salt shakers? I don’t know. For me it’s these little things.” His smile falls. “Of course, That’s when my so-called wife and my back-stabbing business partner decided it was the perfect business opportunity! You’d be amazed what people will give for a new life.
Then it hits me.
The thing I was missing... Like another slap in the face, only not as polite, I realize I know the truth, and suddenly everything makes sense.
“Your twin brother.” I say. “He didn’t really die in that car accident did he?” Thomas Mercer’s eyes light up and a smile of surprise dominates his face.
“Well what do you know? I guess that’s why my wife said you were the best! When our mom was killed by that drunk car thief, Dad hid him from the prying eyes of the world. William was in a coma for years after the accident, and we bought him the best doctors in the world. Dad said he didn’t want him to have to suffer like I did. I was young, but I remember. Not too much suffering back then as I recall beyond the initial public spectacle, and will and I had always shared everything... After that, though William was always jealous of me. He wasn’t content with living in the shadows. He even swore someday he’d have everything that was mine. I never took him seriously.”
Mercer replaces the lid of the box and lovingly slides it back into its place in the drawer. “So I did what any loving brother would have done. I shared.”
“I loved my brother detective, he was insane at the end, maybe he it was the accident or maybe he always was... I don’t really know anymore, but at the time it seemed like the solution to all our problems! I gave him a duplicate chip so that we could share it all. It was great! We were so much alike already that all we had to do was lay low for a month or take a tropical vacation while the other took care of business!”
“That’s when he stole your idea?”
“That’s not all he stole! He and Tara found out about my little collection here. Using that Unified Church of Ecumenical Apostasy - or whatever they call it - as a front, they offered a new kind of salvation to the sinners of this city. I found out. I protested. Loudly.”
Mercer slams the metal drawer shut with a CLANG, causing Bishop to jump.
“When I threatened to tip off Securicorp they tossed me down here, in my most secret place... coming in often enough to make sure I wasn’t dead yet and taunt me with their success and superiority... at least at first. I assume that when they were done with me they would have killed me. But then strange things began happening.”
Mercer indicates the ledger with his hand. I step to it and look at the page. I scan the last five handwritten names. Some have a question mark and an exclamation point in feminine hand.
Mr. Thomas Mercer ?!
Mr. Benny Gonzalez ?!
Fr. Emanuel Beck ?!
Ms. Tara Mercer
Ms. Linda Miller
”When the people they were selling chips to started dying.” I say
“Killed you mean!” He says. I study the last entries of the ledger, my eyes becoming narrow slits.
“Impossible, everyone we have investigated has died by an act of go... By an accident.” I say.
“Uh huh.” Mercer is not amused. I think perhaps even disappointed in me “I take it you aren’t a religious man Mr. Sawyer?” he asks.
I look up from the ledger, my eyebrows knitted together, the edges of my mouth turned down slightly.
“Not especially.” I say.
Senator Thomas Mercer chuckles.
“Neither was my wife. She was convinced I had something to do with it, that it was all a big conspiracy against her! She set up a portable screen and forced me to watch the news feeds as they came down the line, feeding me information and demanding that I tell her how to stop the deaths!”
Bishop gapes at both of us, his eyes dancing between us like someone watching a ping-pong table.
“She even hired some kid to dig up the hot chips so she could see what was wrong with them. Then, when my brother William died on the golf course she lost it, said she was going to hire a freelance detective to bring me down once and for all. I assume you know the rest.
“So what did kill all those people?”
“Hell if I know! Maybe the chips went bad and affected their minds... they were never meant to be in more than one body. For all I know they all went crazy and committed suicide.”
Bishop can hold his tongue no more. “Wait, Wait, Wait! All of this is just really about an identity theft ring taken down by a bunch of coincidental accidental deaths and suicides? What the HELL does this mean Sawyer? Is it over?”
I stand with the ledger in my hands, scanning up the list of dead names one by one. Then my expressionless face widens into momentary surprise.
“No.” I say, “There is one more person on this list who isn’t dead yet.”
“Good!” Mercer exclaims, “Then you may still have time! Take this, and if I could ask one last favor of you. Please call me a Medicorp ambulance as I do believe I’ll pass out now.” As he says this, he hands me the bagged chip and smiles, then his eyes roll up into his head and he sways hard against the wall of drawers with a metallic thud. I grab his arm to keep him from falling further and lower him slowly to the floor.
“Sleep tight Senator.” I say. Bishop looks at me with an expression of questioning doubt. I afford myself one more look at the unconscious man and merely shrug. Then looking directly into Bishop’s eyes I ask, “Can you take care of things here?”
He nods and swallows hard. He is straight faced and uncharacteristically serious as I turn and walk up and out of the vault to catch the train to yellow District before it is too late.
Who will cause the end of the world?