A Touch Of Death

Sometimes Eldan Bethy was petrified to touch anything. He hated watching people die.

Although the Scenes of Crime Officers, had completed their evidence gathering, Eldan still had to wear white disposable overalls, plastic over-boots and a mask, but no gloves; unlike the rest of the team, he needed bare, sanitised, hands for his line of work. He flicked through the box of overalls, grabbed one marked ‘170cm’ and tore it open. He cursed as he struggled to zip it up over his stomach. After donning the over-boots he grabbed a mask and headed to the scene.

Stood at the entrance to the log cabin, in the picturesque Afan Valley, was Jim Ballam, a short, rotund Detective Inspector from the Murder Investigation Team at Scotland Yard Terminus, London. Below his bulbous nose and bushy moustache a café crème cigar smouldered away as he gave Eldan an overview of the crime scene, so that there were no unexpected surprises during his solitary sweep. Eldan took off his glasses and pushed his scraggly brown hair backwards. The DI then placed a Woollgar-Verall helmet on his head and connected the electrodes to a digital encoder, which he strapped around his waist. The helmet allowed MIT to capture the images passed between the synapses in Eldan’s head when he touched an object. Back in 2028, such images were granted as admissible evidence in courts worldwide. Eldan was one of only two certified Article Phenomenologists, or APs, in the UK, with the ability to see the history of physical objects, when touched.

Eldan raised a shaky hand, put a thumb up and briefly grabbed the door handle, before pushing open the door fully. ‘How’s the image looking?’ he asked, as his head flooded with thousands of images of people entering and exiting the cabin.

Suddenly his earpiece crackled into life. ‘Erm… Not too bad, but there is quite a lot of distortion on the focus, which we need to resolve before we start recording. Try to relax, Eldan, your pulse is through the roof and your raised blood pressure isn’t helping. You can do this, just relax, man,’ the Technical Support Unit technician said.

‘OK, I’ll try.’ He stepped over the threshold.

The man’s ruined corpse lay slumped against the wood-burning stove at the rear of the cabin. The killer had moved him from the far side of the bed. He had been dragged across the stained oak floor before being propped up against the back wall. Both of his hands were hacked off and the remains of his head still hissed and popped in the stove. The stench of burnt flesh slammed into Eldan’s nasal cavities, jolting his head backwards. He spun around towards the open door, flinging his hand to his mask as his stomach wretched.

‘Jesus,’ he spluttered. He leaned on the frame to compose himself.

‘You OK?’ his earpiece enquired.

‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ he coughed. ‘That smell… It’s rank. Just give me a sec.’ Eldan closed his eyes and took a calming breath before returning to the scene.

The woman’s corpse was tucked-up in bed, her face an indistinguishable mush of flesh, blood and bone fragments. Blood-spatter covered the headboard and the cabin wall for a two-metre radius around her head. She, too, was relieved of her hands; the sheets were drenched where she bled out. MIT were waiting on the results from earlier DNA swabs, from both of the deceased, before formal identification could be attempted.

‘Any evidence of sexual assault?’ Eldan asked.

The gravelly sound of the TSU technician was replaced by a smooth, mellifluous voice. ‘Hello, Eldan, it’s Dr Jazmyn Ackerman here. I’m the Observation Manager for this sweep, today.’

‘Oh… Hi Jazmyn.’

‘Hi. OK, Eldan, let me just have a quick glance at the initial crime log… Right, no signs of rape, but there are traces of semen, so it appears she was having sex when the killer entered the cabin. Time of death estimated at around 7pm last night,’ Jazmyn explained.

‘Thanks Jazmyn. OK, in that case, let’s review the footage from the door handle and see if we can capture the moment the killer comes in,’ Eldan suggested. He reached behind for the handle.

‘Noooo!’ DI Ballam’s voice boomed through the earpiece, making Eldan jump. ‘Don’t you dare, this is a rental cabin; we’ll be here forever, unless you can pinpoint the most recent scenes?’

‘Nah, sorry, Jim, you know it doesn’t work like that. I just see whatever the article has seen; there is no order to the images, most of the time,’ he explained.

‘Well, carry on with the internal sweep, then. We can come back to the handle later, if we have time.’

‘Do we have the murder weapon?’ Eldan enquired.

‘Nope, this isn’t like the last job. Forensics do have their suspicions but I want you to find it. The killer smeared the victim’s blood everywhere… Well, either that or the guy put up one hell of a fight. I’ll hand you back to the OM, now, but I’ll still be overseeing things out here. You OK?’

‘I’m fine, Thanks. Right then, guys, first article, copper pan on table.’

‘Eldan!’ Jazmyn barked in his earpiece, startling him.

‘Jeez, what is up with you guys, today?’

‘Sorry Eldan, I’ve forgotten to switch our eyes on.’ A few seconds later, the camera embedded inside Eldan’s helmet beeped into life. ‘OK, I can see it now. For the record, article one, copper pan, left side of wooden table. Proceed when ready.’

As Eldan leaned forward and touched the pan a multitude of images whizzed through his head and disappeared after a few seconds. Although he could make out everything with perfect clarity, MIT would have to playback the images at least thirty times slower in order to view them. As Eldan moved onto article two, the observers, in the TSU truck outside, began reviewing the footage captured from the copper pan.

‘Underneath the table, article two, brass or copper candlestick.’

‘Roger that.’

Inside the vehicle was a bank of twenty screens to replay all of the captured article images simultaneously, each one monitored by a separate observer, as the AP continued his sweep of the crime scene. It could take the team up to an hour to review the footage from a single article, depending upon the amount of images each one revealed. Occasionally, for large incidents, several TSU vehicles were required.

The observer, assigned to screen one, leaned back in his chair and twirled his long goatee beard between his fingers. ‘Anything worthwhile from item one, Eldan?’ he asked.

‘Nah, nothing obvious, that I could see. The killer nudged it, whilst dragging the male over to the stove, but it wasn’t used in the attack.’

Eldan approached an oval rug, to the right of the bed, bent down and rolled the rug back on itself to reveal a trapdoor set into the wooden floor.

‘Hey, guys, were you aware of the trapdoor, under the rug?’ Eldan asked.

In the truck, Jazmyn swivelled around in her chair. Screen three had already sparked into life with images streaming past, as if on fast-forward. She checked the head-cam footage to see Eldan down on one knee near the bed.

‘Eldan, what about the rug?’ She asked.

‘Oh shit, sorry, guys, I’m not with it today. Third article, oval rug.’

‘Confirmed, article three, bedside oval rug,’ Jazmyn said. She assigned an observer to screen three before updating the crime scene inventory accordingly. As she meticulously checked and initialled the changes in the crime scene logs, she discovered that the DI had approved the morning’s sweep but had not signed off the AP’s neuroimaging scan. This was a pre-requisite before any sweep could be conducted in order to ensure that the AP’s brain activity was normal. Jazmyn opened the hospital results and read the doctor’s report scrawled across the page.

 

MRI Scan.       Date: 23/08/2035

Phenomenologist’s Name: Eldan Bethy.         Date of Birth: 17/11/2001

Slight shadow to temporal cortex (including the amygdala) since last scan. Suggests possible changes in subject, i.e. reduction in synaptic plasticity, possibly affecting memory retention, the assimilation of event information into long-term memory and/or fear conditioning – traumatic experiences may bypass the hippocampus and become stored somatically leading to flashbacks.

Diagnosis:

Physical blow to skull ruled out as no signs of skin damage or bruising present. Traumatic event more likely cause – PTSD, Psychogenic amnesia or dissociative fugue state. Further scans/tests required. Subject not fit for AP sweeps until further notice.

 

Jazmyn slammed the file down on the desk, shaking her head. She glanced across at the DI slumped in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. He looked his usual supercilious self. She always got the impression that he looked down on her because she wasn’t an officer. Her Forensic Psychology Doctorate meant a lot to her even if he regarded her with contempt. She grabbed the file and approached the DI.

The DI watched out of the corner of his eye as Jazmyn came closer. She had long wavy auburn hair, wore a white, wide-collared, shirt and black trouser suit and, despite her flat shoes, she still towered over him.

‘Excuse me, sir. You haven’t signed off Eldan’s neuroimaging scan. Have you seen the doctor’s notes?’ she said, shoving the file under his nose.

He brushed it aside. ‘I didn’t have time for that, woman. I needed this sweep done. There’s a brutal killer on the loose or didn’t you get that memo?’ He smirked.

She threw the file onto his chest. ‘It’s procedure Jim. Eldan shouldn’t even be in there; read the damn notes!’ She went back to her desk.

The lorry door burst open and a Police Constable handed the nearest observer a file. ‘DNA results for DI Ballam,’ he said, before he slammed the door behind him as he left.

The observer handed the notes to Jazmyn and returned to his monitoring station. As she walked back towards the DI, Jazmyn skimmed through the report, stopping mid-stride as she read the female victim’s details. She flung a hand to her chest. ‘Oh, my, God!’ she shouted. ‘Sir, you need to see this. The female victim is Suzanne Bethy.’

‘Who?’

‘Suzanne Bethy… Eldan’s wife. You need to get Eldan out of there, right now!’

The DI grimaced. ‘Not a chance. I need this sweep finished today. What Eldan doesn’t know won’t kill him.’ He snatched the results out of her hand and glanced at his watch. ‘We need to get these images processed and sent back to the repository, pronto; they may be needed in court tomorrow, if Eldan’s not interrupted, that is.’

‘Are you totally mad or just inept? That poor guy is investigating his own wife’s murder and doesn’t even know it. For goodness sake, Jim, pull him out now or I’ll do it myself!’ she snapped. Her face glowed red and her turned-up nose wrinkled in disgust.

The DI ignored her outburst. He thought she was far more attractive when she was angry, which was why he loved to wind her up. ‘Your opinion is noted, Jazmyn, but this sweep will be completed first.’

‘I don’t think so, sir,’ one of the observers interrupted. ‘Eldan has gone.’

‘What do you mean, gone? Gone where?’ the DI asked. He turned toward the monitors. ‘He just left? What the hell happened?… Well? Don’t just sit there, say something, boy.’

‘S-s-sorry, sir, umm… We had just moved onto article four when he screamed, took off his helmet and ran out.’

Jazmyn leaned forward and jabbed her finger into the DI’s chest. ‘I told you something like this would happen; he’s suffering from PTSD.’

The DI ignored her once more. His eyes were firmly fixed on monitor five.

‘Rewind to the moment just before he left, on his head-cam and the image feed,’ he said, nudging the observer in the shoulder. The DI turned his head towards Jazmyn. ‘What makes you so certain there’s anything wrong with him, anyway?’

‘Well, I’m not, but that’s not the point, is it, Jim? You have to follow the Doctor’s advice; that’s what the scan is for… it’s protocol.’

While they waited for the article images to rewind, the team watched Eldan’s previous head-cam footage. As they watched the monitor, they could see Eldan kneeling by the open trapdoor. He leaned over, reached inside and grabbed a shiny axe hidden under the floorboards and then began screaming, ‘No! No!’ before throwing down his helmet and running out of the cabin.

‘Get me the article images, now!’ the DI demanded.

‘W-w-which o-one, sir?’ The observer slunk back in his chair.

‘Are you retarded? The axe footage, obviously!’

The observer quickly fed the images from the recorder through to the spot monitor located on the desk in front of them and they watched as the sickening scenes, from the axe, unfolded.

‘Huh, there’s no reverse imagery; we can’t see the killer,’ Jazmyn exclaimed, raising her palms upwards.

The DI slowly shook his head and sighed. ‘That’s because he, or she, is wearing gloves.’

‘Oh, yeah, of course, sorry, I wasn’t thinking.’

When reviewing the axe footage it became clear that both of the victims were already dead when the axe was picked up. They watched as the axe swung down through the woman’s hands and into the wooden log on the woman’s lap. One by one, the killer hacked off each hand at the wrist, before throwing them into the stove’s roaring flames – the axe was used to push both hands into the fire’s heart. After the killer had repeated the same ritual with the man’s hands he spent close to ten minutes trying to remove the man’s head. Then, after stuffing the head into the stove with the end of the axe handle, the killer appeared to walk aimlessly around the cabin before wiping the axe clean and tossing it through the trapdoor and into the void.

‘Stop!’ snapped the DI. ‘Play that last bit, again… Wait… There, that’s it. Can you pan around to the right?’

‘What is it, Jim? What can you see?’ Jazmyn asked.

‘Well, I can see you’re wrong; it’s definitely not PTSD, that’s for sure. I’d say it was more like psychogenic amnesia, myself.’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’

‘The MRI report.’

‘Oh, really, and what makes you the expert on that?’ Jazmyn asked.

‘It doesn’t take a PhD to work this one out, love. Rewind again, but this time look closely at the axe before the killer tosses it.’

The observer rewound the images and played them back once more. Jazmyn watched as the axe came into view. There, for a brief second, reflected on the side of the axe, was the blood-drenched face of Eldan Bethy.