“Be cool, man, everything is just… peachy.” Harry Hale sank back into a drug-and-booze torpor.
Peachy? Not with a dead teenage girl lying on the floor of his hotel suite. Harry was the vocalist with Harry and The High, a psychotropic rock band. I don’t like working with musicians at the best of times and this was shaping up to be my worst experience yet. The assorted drugs and paraphernalia on display were worth an ‘intent to supply’ beef on their own. The naked corpse lying face down on the carpet added ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ and ‘reckless endangerment’ – if not an actual charge of homicide.
I left a micro-drone scanning the scene and returned to the corridor where Lonnie Perth, the band’s manager, was waiting. He looked pale and nervous. “Well?”
“She’s dead alright and has been for several hours. I didn’t touch the body but my drone detected no pulse or brain activity. There’s no sign of violence so I’m assuming it was something relatively benign, like choking to death on her own vomit or a drug-induced heart attack. Do you have any idea who she is?”
He shook his head. “Just some fan who blew a roadie to get access. Shit, this is a fucking disaster.”
“It’s manageable, and that’s why you called me. My drone uses the same technology the police have and is scanning for fibres and fluids – basically anything that would place the girl in Hale’s suite. We’ll dispose of the body and have the scene sanitised. My team will also amend the hotel surveillance records so that our dead groupie was never here. In fact, neither was I. Instead of checking up on your boy and discovering a corpse you went to your room and watched pay-per-view porn. The charge will appear on your hotel bill.”
Lonnie ran fingers through his hair. His hand trembled. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s your ‘special service’ that I’m not so keen on.”
I smiled. “It’s straightforward enough, Lonnie. We have an individual who can selectively erase memories. He treats you, Hale and the roadie so that if the police do bring in an empath no memory of the girl means no guilt, and no guilt means no grounds for a full, invasive scan.”
“But it’s safe, right? Only I’ve heard these stories…”
“It’s as safe as these things can be. A slight headache and mental blind spot is preferable to doing ten-to-fifteen upstate, don’t you think? Because that’s what your star attraction would be looking at if the cops walked in here right now.”
“OK, OK. Jesus, the things I do for that schmuck.” He wiped his mouth. “When I asked
Big Al Koenig for your number he said you don’t come cheap.”
I brought up a banking app on my phone and held it up for him to see. Lonnie gaped at the screen.
“How much? That’s more than the budget for the entire tour!”
“And if you’d paid that bit extra to have professionals service your boy we wouldn’t be standing here now. The price is non-negotiable. Take it or leave it.”
I could see the pain in his eyes as he used his own phone to authorise a transfer to my Cayman Islands account. Confirmation took only a few seconds.
Now that he’d paid for services-soon-to-be-rendered, the business part of Lonnie’s brain kicked into high gear. “OK, it sounds like everything’s covered, except, well, what about your memories? I don’t fancy going through all this only to have the cops bust my balls down the line if they ever pick your skull clean.”
“There’s no need to worry, Lonnie. Remember those ‘mind wall’ exercises you did in school to protect yourself from paedophile empaths? Well, you could sit me across the table from the best brain-breaker in the business and they’d come up with bupkis. Maybe one in ten million have this ability, but it’s not something the e-cops like to advertise.”
My new client sounded dubious. “So I’m supposed to trust in some freak of nature? Look, man, my backers, they’re the kind of guys who get nervous when it comes to protecting their investment. Real nervous, if you take my meaning.”
“I could take that as a not-so-subtle threat, dickhead, and walk out of here right now. Or you could shut your mouth and come help me get Hale into the bathroom. Your choice.”
Lonnie tried to crack a smile, spreading his hands. “Hey, we’re just two guys talking, is all.” But he followed me back into the hotel suite.
The drone had worked its way down to ground level and was circling the body. Its mini turbofans blew aside the hair covering her face and I saw a pencil-thin beam scan her features. We needed an ID in case she had friends or family with clout – those who wouldn’t be satisfied with a cursory police investigation into her disappearance.
The system kicked a name back to my phone. I took a deep breath. “Change of plan.” I drew a vacuum-packed semi-automatic pistol from my pocket and handed it to Lonnie. I was wearing gloves, he wasn’t.
Lonnie held the piece awkwardly, like he’d been given it by a friend who’d just stepped out for a moment. “A gun? What do I want a gun for? Harry is so wasted I doubt he’d notice a bazooka in his face, let alone a puissant twenty-two. Anyway, he won’t need to be forced into this once I lay it out for him.”
My mind came down on his like a sledgehammer. He went rigid, locked in place, eyes bulging with fear.
My voice betrayed no emotion. “I’m an unregistered empath, Lonnie, a strong level three. Not that you’ll remember when this is over. After I leave the room, wait ten minutes then kill Harry Hale. Then call the cops and cite moral outrage at the wanton depravity you’ve been forced to witness all these months, with the girl’s death being the final straw. I’ll return your money and you won’t remember ever having met me. The hotel surveillance record will be adjusted to fit this version of events.”
I turned and walked out, leaving my kid sister’s body behind on the carpet.