"Who called it in?" I asked, projecting my voice to get Daniel's attention.
Most often when people meet me for the first time, they look at the braids and the patch of skin around the base of my neck, searching for a tattoo.
The other thing they seem enchanted with was my silver-toned laser gun.
The metallic finish somehow managed to mesmerize folks into gawking in the rudest manner. I cleared my throat and put it away before Daniel snapped back to the dead body that lay on the ground between us.
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah, yeah," said Regulator Daniel Tom, his eyebrows twitching in earnest as his hazel eyes glided up to mine. He smiled. "Sorry about that. Damn nice piece, Lewis."
There were so many ways I could take that comment. So, I just let it slide.
"Yeah. Who called it in?"
The ratty, tossed-out mattress had two laser gun holes the size of silver dollars in it.
So did the girl.
Daniel pulled out his PDA and worked the little pen, scanning through his notes.
"A district helicopter's night vision discovered a body. Called it in to dispatch and we were sent right out."
"Who is she?" I asked Daniel. The November winds whipped about, blowing debris and scattering the scene's possibly important stuff away and on down the sidewalk. "ID chip?"
"No, but she does have identification. Not the usual kind, though. It is why I called you here," he said with a smile that lit up his weary face.
Regulators. You've got to love them for enforcing the divided territories' regulations. You had to hate them for being smug and mysterious about it.
Being a private inspector, I wasn't supposed to be here and every navy-clad reg at the violation scene knew it. Whispers snaked around Daniel and I, falling amazingly silent as we passed. Only to be resurrected in to hyper buzzing in our wake. The flashes, whirling, and clanking of the Violation Scene Inspectors processing the evidence didn't hide the quick, questioning looks, and eye rolling.
Nope. I wasn't supposed to be here.
Daniel wasn't even the primary, but he was the first on the scene, so until the primary did show up, he was in charge. Some weird regulator rule.
Every inch of Daniel was muscled. His hazel eyes were slightly slanted, some Asian in his family tree, along with the usual engineering cocktail. Daniel's mother had been a hatchling, a genetically engineered human, and a real beauty.
"The tattoo," he said gravely, the smile slipping from his face as if it had been melted. At once he, with one hand, stuck a cigarette in his mouth. "On the neck."
There, just beneath the fall of her dreadlocks, seemingly glittering up from her ebony skin rested the mark--a double helix tattoo.
"Hatchling," I whispered dread piled into my stomach.
"I know you ain't here officially, Lewis," Daniel said, his eyes somewhat bleary stared at something behind me. "Check this out for me, you know, on the low. 'Cause they gonna bag this one as trash. To the governor and everybody else, she ain't nothing but more engineering garbage."
I nodded, knowing what he meant, but not wanting to get into it with him now. That discussion couldn't occur at the violation scene. Very few knew that Daniel's mother had been concocted in a test tube.
Viola! Human being.
I stood up. The air grew colder still. At nine at night, November in D.C. wasn't the place to be outside necking, or doing anything like murdering a woman outside a cafe. All around us the section is low rise mixed-use buildings and apartments overlooked vile things humans did to each other. A string of rubbernecking pedestrians huddled like penguins against the cold, trying to catch a glimpse of the carnage.
A canary yellow caution beam held them at bay, parting the regs from the residents.
Somewhere an onslaught of roaring rock music spilled into the scene, providing an eerie soundtrack to death and murder.
"I'll give you what I find," I said, not meeting his eyes. "I guess I'm not gonna get any payment for this one."
Daniel shrugged. "Not officially. It ain't even my primary. Cho is."
I nodded, pulled the collar up on my jacket and headed to my wauto, my wind automobile, having been unofficially recruited. Once securely locked inside, I launched the flight sequence and lifted up into the air. The elevated lanes were practically empty as I flew home. My apartment sat on D.C.'s eastside, a part of the district that appeared to have been forgotten by just about everyone but those of us who lived there.
I passed grim, soulless apartment blocks that contained the discouraged, the disadvantaged and the disabled. Below me, a circle of fires marked where trash containers had been lit for warmth with fire sticks and chempacks. The sterile, high-rise public housing buildings dominated the horizon, casting a shadow over the lives of its inhabitants.
Setting down the wauto in the parking section assigned to me, I realized that the Jane Doe in the park might be one of these lost flocks of people. Since the demise of a more centralized government, money, healthcare, hell, everything had evaporated into nearly nothing but pebbles.
My grandmother told me tales of how life once existed, before the war. How the United States, a big dog on a global block of many, held the world and its allies in its open paw. Sometime or another that paw closed into a fist and people suffered more than they ever thought possible.
And it wasn't all foreigners.