This is the third part of a multi-part story. The first part can be found here, the second part here, and the fourth part here.
It was during moments like this that he feared he was losing his touch. It had taken him hours to figure out the solution to this particular puzzle, when years ago he swore it would have taken him half an hour at most. He had dwelled on the matter at hand for a solid hour while eating lunch, and then for a good half an hour back at his office. It took a review of whatever he scribbled down as notes to even begin down the right track.
Maybe that was the issue. Perhaps years ago he was more prone to looking at the facts, whereas now he had let those better skills slip. Pushing the thoughts away, Elliot brought himself back down to reality, where some hapless dock worker was waiting for him to give him instructions. In front of him sat the manifest from the ship, its contents likely one of the last things touched by the now ship’s now-dead captains. Next to it was the pile of digital tickets they had used for boarding. To his right, said hapless dock worker was going to town, rewinding a security tape that showed the boarding from a generous enough angle to let them both get to work. All it had taken to get this far was exchanging a few credits, and letting the guy help him do ‘detective’ work. It would all end nicely for both of them, so long as his boss didn’t find out.
“I can’t wait to tell my wife about this,” the guy muttered, a broad grin on his face.
Elliot offered him a smooth enough smile, “I’m sure.”
Once the man had rolled the tape back far enough to the initial boarding, Elliot motioned for him to start it rolling. As each passenger approached the ship in the video, the man would pause to give him time to scramble through the tickets, before matching the two. It was certainly lucky that the dead were thorough in their work while they were alive. Each ticket had the person’s name and a face to go with it, double identification. He wouldn’t be surprised if they managed to slip some fingerprint scanner into the things either. When a person was identified, he tossed their ticket into a pile, making a note in of his own on who remained in the manifest.
“Hold on,” Elliot muttered as he saw the man’s hand reaching to start the video again.
One after another he brought the remaining tickets up, none of them producing a match. Tapping the screen he muttered something about zooming in on the woman in question. His hand continued to scribble away with notes. Red hair, pale, thin, dirty.
“Somebody needs to feed that girl,” his partner in crime muttered, shaking his head, “Looks like ‘er clothes’re about to fall right off of her.” Elliot nodded, taking another look, almost disgusted about how thin the woman was. The only reason he could say he had seen fewer was due to some war documentary an ex-girlfriend had talked him into watching.
Once the last ticket was tossed aside, he frowned. The only thing left was the burnt out husk of a device. If this had been another ship, he would have assumed that someone might have let her onboard, broken ticket and all, but it wasn’t another ship. No, this was a ship with all of its paperwork in order, a fully prepared manifest that this woman wasn’t in, and tickets that had faces registered to them.
He elbowed the man at the camera’s arm, motioning toward the screen, “Got an angle of them boarding?”
The man nodded, tapping the back of his head, “Sure, but you ain’t gonna see nothin’ ‘cept the rear of ‘em.”
“We saw her face, don’t need to check that again. Just wanna see if she gets on or not.”
With another nod the man clicked over to another camera angle, zooming in slightly to get a better view of the ship’s entrance. Outside it waited one of the ship’s crew, still alive and well, taking tickets and tossing them into a basket once he had decided they were legit. A few times he sent people off, having decided that their ticket wasn’t up to standard or that they weren’t up to the ticket’s standards, all the while maintaining the same dull look.
They saw her enter the line, same clothes, and the same red hair. A few of those near her in line seemed to begin shifting around awkwardly, the few in pairs leaning in close to exchange murmurs. It wasn’t hard to assume what they were saying.
When she reached the front of the line, she handed the man in front something, he gave it a glance, tossed it in the pile, and she went in. Elliot kept his frown, scribbling once more in his notes. Something here didn’t add up. He looked up to ask for the man to zoom in on the transaction itself, only to find he already had.
The man’s finger pointed toward the crewman’s face as he took the ‘ticket’ from the woman, a disturbed look on his face as he looked at the flickering image, “Something’s not right with this fella.”
Elliot leaned in, squinting, “Maybe?”
His companion shook his head, zooming in a bit more, “Ain’t no maybe about this, mister. The look in that fella’s eyes ain’t nothing normal.”
Once he caught sight of it, it became impossible to unseen. The crewman had a glazed look to him, staring straight forward as he took the device from the woman’s hands. He never so much as gave it a glance before tossing it into the basket. After the woman had hopped aboard, he shook his head, seeming to come down from some nearby cloud.
“Does she wave her hand or anything?” Elliot muttered, squinting as the clip replayed itself.
“Not doing any of that Jedi stuff far as I can tell. Just hands the thingy to him and goes on her merry way.”
“Skip to when the ship got back.”
The video sped forward a solid day, with people and things zooming by at breakneck speed. The sun came and went only to be replaced with overhead lights that kept the spaceport in plain view. When the ship finally reappeared, the sun was starting to sink once more. There were police officers waiting for it, since at some point it had been reported that those in command of the vessel had passed away, though no one claimed to know any time it could have possibly happened.
As people filed out, some being met by family members, others wandering off to find some other ship to take them wherever they had wanted to go, he made sure to note the same woman as she hopped off, hurrying off, now with a satchel slung under her arm.
“Where does she end up going?”
The man at the controls quickly flicked through feeds, keeping track of the woman. Elliot raised a brow ever so slightly, impressed at how well he worked the cameras. For someone who apparently worked in a warehouse unloading ships, somebody had found time to mess around with the security system.
On the screen the woman skirted through the spaceports nearby allies, passing by a number of shops, all of which apparently helped pay to keep these cameras going. He sighed, noting how she seemed to pause whenever she got close to a dumpster, knowing exactly what it meant for him later on. His new friend seemed to note his expression, offering a polite smile, “The trash don’t run ‘til Friday.”
“How convenient,” Elliot growled.
Rummaging through his pockets, Elliot produced a few credit chits, offering them to the man, along with a smile. The man accepted them, not even bothering to count them out, smiling all the same. As the private investigator began to gather his things, he let out a cough, “Was an honor bein’ able to work with you, Mister Martin. Real exciting.”
Elliot nodded, “And I’m happy I was able to convince you to help, uh.” He snapped his fingers a few times, trying to produce a name, suddenly feeling terrible.
“Stephen,” the man added, appearing happy to make the introduction again, rather than angered at it probably being the third time he had done so.
Nadine was giving him a stare. It was the type of stare he had seen from her few times before, but that he knew exactly what it meant. Mostly because it was the same look he would be giving himself in such a situation. Her hand was against her mouth, holding a tissue up against her nose, eyes watering. Maybe he should have given that shower more than a second thought.
With her other hand, she plucked up the disc he had tossed from her desk, slowly looking it over. “Ship’s security footage?” she asked, tissue remaining firmly in place.
He crossed his arms, nodding, “Yep. Plus, I can tell you exactly who you need to identify on it.”
She gave him another look, one that held equal amounts disbelief and trust. It was a cocky claim, but by this point, he knew he had earned some amount of acceptance from her. He would have done the same.
“And how many dumpsters did you have to crawl through to find this?”
Elliot shrugged, “I dunno. Six maybe.” Her brow rose, forcing him to correct himself, “Nine.”
“Then that’s nine different reasons this could have waited for you to take a shower.”
He bit his lip to stop himself from making a smart remark. Instead he put his hands up, making for the door. It wouldn’t take long to run home, bathe, and come back. Doing it in this order just meant that by the time he got back, she would have plenty of time to sign all of the things required to bring him on the case.