On the Case
The Necronaut was sipping a Samoan Fog Cutter, one gloved hand paging through scene of the crime photos on the tablet. A corpse in a bathtub full of ice. Skin and bones gone clear as crystal or plastic; even then the anatomy was wrong, bone structure subtly warped from adolescent pokes through medical textbooks looking for details on genitalia. Cause of death presumed to be the harpoon jutting obscenely out of its torso, sticking up out of the ice between its knees like the biggest boner in the world. The bathroom had been covered in clear fluid which the lab techs swore up and down was blood. A grass-skirted punk with the wrong tribal tattoos and pieced nipples came up with a pad. Jack ordered a Suffering Bastard, Beachcomber-style. The steel teeth clacked from inside the black crystal fishbowl.
“They tend to be.”
“Not like this.”
“No. You ever seen something like that before?”
Jack’s drink arrived. He took a sip, grimaced. Trader Vic’s. Now the only Bastard that was suffering was him. Jack sighed, promised to rip out the waiter’s piercings, and took another sip.
“Why do you order those, if you don’t like them?”
“They’re named after my grandfather. So, spill.”
“An obscure lineage, the Griffins. Developed a biochemical compound to change the refractive index of organic tissues. This would have been over a century ago, in Britain. I believe they’re still dealing with the fallout from that.”
“What kind of fallout?”
“Griffin didn’t begin experimenting on human subjects. The compound was tested first on small animals—rats, mice, cats, dogs, a chimpanzee, all of that. He disposed of the corpses, but the compound doesn’t break down easily. It passed into the local ecosystem. They’ll still be trapping blind rats with invisible skin a century from now.”
Jack finished his Bastard, held up his finger to the waitress for another. His hands itched for a cigarette. The waitress set them up, and they put them down. Jack gave in and lit up, letting the smoke sit in his lungs for a few minutes. The Necronaut kept talking, spinning out a secret history, and Jack let the individual words float past him, distilling out the essence. Deep sea fish with invisible skin; fish-people live down deep with the same thing, very hard to find as a consequence. Close to humans—they could interbreed—but a weird evolutionary path, back to the sea. Griffin had found out about them in his research, the water babies, gone trawling, committing atrocities worthy of a Mengele, distilling the protein or whatever the compound was out of their bodies while they were still alive. Side effect: the fish-people were very long-lived. The compound he injected himself with was more than an invisibility serum, it was immortality.
The servos in the Necronaut’s suit whined, and he sorted through the photos, bringing one up. There had been a gash in the torso, like a bone saw taken to inch-thick cellophane, revealing a cavity—lymph nodes removed.
“You see this? The compound concentrates here, in the nodes. This was a harvesting operation.”
“So this was a…what did you call them, Deep One?”
“Perhaps a hybrid, but yes.”
Robert Drasnin kicked in on the speakers, the first strains of Voodoo announcing the end of the happy hour and the beginning of the witching hour. Jack stabbed his cigarette out in a dish of black sand.
“Okay. So Griffin or whomever goes fishing, hooks our guy, takes him back to the hotel to clean the kill and harvest the goods. That helps.”
“Does it?” The Necronaut asked, gloved fingers digging into a bowl of nuts with a grinding sound.
“Sure. These are deep water critters, that means there’s a boat. We have a timeframe, there’s only so many docks in town, something set up for deep-sea fishing, out and back in time—but not too big, or they’d have an ice locker onboard that could handle a body, so a smaller boat. Somebody will remember it going out and coming back, there’ll be a registry somewhere. If Griffin’s an idiot he might even have it registered under his own name—”
“Griffin is dead.” The Necronaut chimed in.
Jack waved off the inconsequential detail.
“—okay, so somebody that knows Griffin’s tricks. Or discovered it on their own. Immortality-cum-invisibility syndrome? In L.A.? Probably somebody grinding things up and selling them as miracle vanishing crèmes to actresses. Wouldn’t be the craziest thing I’ve seen people try. The invisible thing threw me, but I’ve got a handle on it now.”
“So, you are off?”
“Nah, I’m on the case. Let’s get another drink.”