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Shattered City: 1

This pacing malarkey is hard. I feel like I should be burning through at one idea per paragraph, throwing all the details out at once. But I've done that before, and it really doesn't work for any kind of detective/mystery story. It needs planning and pacing, details revealed as the characters find them.

Doesn't stop the beginning feeling very slow.

As a bonus: Every reference you can find to genre fiction of any form nets a cookie.

Shattered City: 1
by Stewart Wilson

Another morning. Another hangover. To Sam, they're both the same. Head swimming, he aims for the window. A bad memory reminds him to open it before vomiting down four floors to the open gutter.

He looks around, his eye catching on the empty bottles and half-eaten rat kebab. The smell of old cigarettes masks the stink of hot sauce; he'd been drinking for a reason. The kebab remains followed their half-digested brothers out of the window. Grey sky above, filtered through two levels of scavenged housing leaning against the tenement block.

"Morning. Looks like morning. Smoke. Where are my fucking fags?"

The flash of a cigarette box under an open notebook catches his eye and he lights up. The notebook. He was drinking for a reason. Might as well find out what it was. The later pages are covered in incomprehensible scrawls, and before he can flip back to the beginning his door bangs loud enough that he can hear it over the headache.

"All right. I'm coming, you bastards. Give me half a chance."

He opens the door carefully, one hand by a knife just in case. He's a known man, and nobody gets known in Edinburgh without making enemies. There's a shark on the other side, immaculate suit and elegant hair framing a face that other women would spend good money on if they had it, buying designer genes to go with the designer clothes. All part of her look, whether it was natural or bought.

She opens her mouth to speak and he shuts the door on her.

Sam's heart pounds. Why would a shark be after him? He's not pissed off the Clade in any way he can tell, so one of their stealth attack lawyers has no reason to track him down. Unless it's about whatever caused the binge last night. He needs an hour to refresh his memory, get coffee, and generally wake up, but she's put him off his stride before he's even started.

On the other hand, the Clade obviously think that something is important enough to send someone round to see him. And she can't want to kill him, because he's still breathing. He's heard stories about sharks, how they'll wait for days in one spot until their mark needs to leave to get food or water. They're unstoppable. And as tempting as it is to take an hour to get his head together, something about last night is bugging him. He has to get this over with, whether he wants to or not. He opens the door again.

The shark looks at him with dazzling amber eyes. There's something about them, the pattern of the iris, that sets him on edge. Implants. Everyone knows that the Clade have all the good toys, but he's never seen one up close before.

"Samuel Chandler?" The question sounded like a formality. She knew who he was, probably reading his medical history off an internal screen.

"Yes."

"I need to talk to you, Mr. Chandler." A hint of pleading in her voice. She wants something. But she's interrupted his morning, and Sam's in a foul mood.

"We're talking now."

"Please, Mr. Chandler. It's about the girl you found yesterday. I need your help."

That name sets off a storm of memories, sending Sam staggering inside. "Come in. Close the door."

The shark frowns at the mess in the single room, but doesn't say anything. She takes the only chair, leaving Sam to sit on the end of the bed.

"What do you know about her?"

"A lot, as it happens. I'm a lawyer for her wunch. Her father's a close friend of mine."

"I'm not surprised. You lot are all in with one another."

"Only in a given wunch. If her father was someone different, you'd be talking to a personal injury lawyer."

"Right. You want my help. A shark wants my help." A twisted half-grin creeps across Sam's face.

"I'm serious."

"Get to fuck."

"What?"

"Look, I'm sorry but tell whoever sent you that I don't get involved with your lot. Whoever sent you must have thought I was a sucker for pretty girls, and while he'd be right I'm still not going along with this. Thanks but no thanks. Just finding the body gave me enough nightmares."

The shark looks away, either offended or cataloguing his rant. Or both. Sam sighs and sticks another cigarette in his mouth.

"If that's really all you think this is then obviously you're not the man I was looking for. I was told you were intelligent, Mr. Chandler." Her voice is icily professional, just saying his name is going to cost Sam a month's pay.

"What's that supposed to mean? You can just go and look with your magic eyes, see the scene and do some weird techno-shit to tell you who killed her. Dragging me in makes no sense."

"So think about it." She fixes him with a glare. "Do you think I would come here without checking the scene? I'm not stupid. And I'm not some pretty-girl here to bat her eyelashes and get you involved. I'm trying to find out who killed Amy the same as you, but I'm out of options and I thought you might have the common decency to help."

"I didn't-"

"Since you're obviously so up yourself you think we'd resort to sex appeal I don't see why I should stay here another second." She rose and went for the door, one hand slipping into a pocket.

"Don't leave!"

"Why not?"

There's a lot he wants to say. Adding a name to the face in his mind's eye just makes it worse. He wants to apologise, to say something that will stop the shark hating him. But nothing comes to mind and the words dry up in this mouth. "Because..."

She treats him to one last glare before leaving, letting the door slam behind her.

Sam falls back onto the bed, and lets sleep override his hangover. He dreams of his city, not the sandstone buildings and skyscrapers of junk, but the patterns of theft and murder that hold everything together. Dead friends walk with him, and he sees every single one of them die all over again. And behind it all, a girl called Amy screaming as some bastard twists her neck until it snaps. He tries to see who it is, but all he can find is his shadow.

This is what he is. A magnifying glass of pain and hurt, bringing light to where there should only be darkness, opening up old wounds for everyone to see. The city needs him to do it, dragging him like a puppet from case to case, death to death, in a dance around its streets. And now a thread leading back to the Gyle and the Clade who live there, bringing the whole city together.

Lines of light cut through the murky streets, tracing a map of murder. None of the victims will let him sleep soundly until they have been avenged, their killers brought to some kind of justice. It's a nasty truth and a horrible burden to bear, but it's what he has to do.

Sam opens his eyes with a start. The throbbing in his head has died down, and the sky outside is a darker shade of grey that marks the evening. He grabs the notebook and flips through it again. Notes on the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. He finds a pencil and adds the word "Amy" to the top of the page. She's a person, and he's letting her down.

Dressed in a worn-out suit-jacket and trenchcoat, he heads for the street. Pinned to his door is a small white card, which he pockets without reading. He needs coffee more than anything. Two streets away he buys a large cup of truly awful black coffee and four packs of cigarettes from a woman who had asked him to find out what happened to her husband. After she found out, the jilted ex who had kidnapped him turned up battered but alive and Sam had always got a big discount.

The card from his door has a name, Nicole Astor -- the shark -- and a set of numbers across the front, and "The scene. 7:00" on the back. Looks like she's giving him one last chance. One that he's going to take. He finishes the coffee in silence, thinking. Why would any shark need his help? What had she said? But her anger had faded to a blur in his mind, nothing useful shining through. He'd not dealt with the Clade up close before, but he'd picked at the edges of their interactions with the city to know better than to find out more. But this cuts deeper. Something about this shark just doesn't sit right.

The scene is a poky room in Appleton Tower, one floor set up for kids to meet and escape their families while mum and dad get drunk after work. It's a combination school and recreation centre, but the room Amy was killed in had been closed off at his request. Sam got there early and had another look around. There was the weapon, just where he had left it. Other agents of the wunch would have come for the body. A table, tipped over. A splash of blood and chalk dust on the floor.

Someone's being too quiet behind him. The sounds of the city are being drowned by someone doing their best not to be heard. Sam's hand creeps to the knife at his belt as he turns. Nicole the shark watches him with an unreadable expression.

"You decided to show up."

"Yeah."

"Looks like you're not a total waste after all."

"I was an idiot this morning. I don't like the idea of interfering with any kind of Clade politics, but this is still a murder in my city and I still need to know who did it."

She narrows her eyes, irises glowing in the shadowy room. "I suppose I can live with you as a sidekick, then. But if you give me any more shit then I'll personally break your legs, Mr. Chandler."

"Fine. And call me 'Sam'."

She just nodded, looking around in detail.

"Nothing's changed since I left." he continued. "Except for the body being moved, and there's no chance your lot will overlook anything there."

"I know. But they won't find what they need to."

"They're going to find that the only marks on Amy were from Saul, the guy who runs this place and takes most of the lessons. Hence the chalk on the floor, his knife being the one used to stab her, and his fingerprints being on everything."

"You can't see fingerprints."

"I don't need to, it's obvious. He goes everywhere in this place, sets up everything by himself. Leaves a little of himself on everything he touches. So what won't they find?"

"The killer's traces."

"I'd hoped you weren't going to say that."

"I can't help it. Whoever did kill Amy did so by snapping her neck. Judging by the style of knife, it's for self-defence. Takes more effort to kill with it. The hand-prints on the table are spaced enough that he had trouble righting it. The obvious conclusion is that this Saul isn't strong enough to be our killer."

"Smooth explanation."

"What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?"

"It was pointless anyway. Saul couldn't be the killer if he tried. He's a good man. I've seen him drunk and I've seen him angry, but never mad enough to be a killer. And he's got nothing to gain. If people get scared off, he helps fewer people and pays more."

"What?"

"It's how things work out here. Fifty quid to a bastard might see him a fortnight's food. Fifty quid for me and I can find the right places to make it last a season with people who like me. Someone like Saul can live for a year on the same."

"You're saying there's no motive."

"Worse than that, there's an anti-motive. A reason for Saul not to have done it."

"But people are already talking about it." Nicole frowned. "I overheard a group outside reassuring each other that it was always the quiet ones."

"That just goes to show that people will believe the worst of anyone when he's framed. Even when it's an awful job. That chalk is just going over the top." Sam lit another cigarette, exhaling a cloud of thick smoke towards the ceiling. "You say you can't get anything else?"

"No. Whoever did kill her was a professional, and well equipped. There's no traces at all."

"I know what you're going to say. It's the reason I told you to piss off earlier." Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, frowning. "But it makes only a bit more sense."

Nicole shook her head, turning towards the door. "Why would anyone kill a Clade-mate?" She paused, wiping the chalk off the floor. "And why try to frame a teacher for it?"

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digitalraven
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC)
True. Tef is rather an oddity there,

I'm playing with dialogue and having fun with it. And at least the dichotomy of style (Nicole is CSI, Sam's more Sam Spade or Columbo) gives me a nice excuse to have discursive exposition. I'll have to see how that holds up in later parts.

Speaking of which, I need red bull and I can get on with the next.
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