Note: This is an alternative shorter version of the story that appears in my book Girl in The Camera.
Suicide was the only possible answer. She was lying on the bed of a hotel room with a pistol in her left hand and dressed as though she was going to a party. Detective Rimmer turned away to look at her clothes scattered on the floor.
He had a 20-something daughter and so had an idea what the kids of today wore – and what he was looking at didn’t fit. The fabrics didn’t seem right, the colours certainly weren’t in fashion, and even the girl’s shoes didn’t look like any he’d seen his daughter wear.
Still, it was open and shut as far as he was concerned. All he needed was her name so he could break the news to her family, and he’d be able to get that on the way out from the hotel receptionist. It was some hotel too. Easily the most expensive in the city, and this was an executive suite.
Back at his desk, Rimmer ran her name through the missing persons’ database and drew a blank. She didn’t have a criminal record – another dead end. That left the phone book.
The one in the bottom draw of his desk was 10 years old, but would likely include her parents’ contact details. Having checked the pages very carefully, he figured the family must be unlisted, put the directory back and turned to his computer. Even the online directory didn’t have the name listed.
“Fleming! What can you tell me about this dead girl?” His new detective shrugged his shoulders and pulled a face.
“No fingerprints, no DNA, and she may not even be local – or a citizen,” said Fleming. “There was no passport, the hotel room had dozens of people’s DNA all over it, and her purse had no ID cards, bank cards, or receipts.”
So much for ‘open and shut’, thought Rimmer as he turned back to his cluttered desk.
He picked up his phone to call forensics, hopefully the autopsy will find something apart from the obvious bullet entry and exit wounds.
“Hi, Rimmer here…That hotel fatal, the girl, from this morning, any signs of a struggle? What can you tell me?”
Rimmer listened with a yawn until he heard all the clothes the girl had didn’t have any labels.
“So all we know for sure is we have a young woman, with a single gunshot wound to the head. She may or may not be a local, a citizen, a runaway… For all we know she appeared out of thin air, booked herself into a top hotel – without a credit card – and killed herself.
“Okay, where’d the gun come from if she came from abroad – she wouldn’t have got it through security. I assume the gun’s made of metal?”
Tomorrow he’d have to get some poor sap to check hours of airport security video for the girl.
“Fleming, where’s our Jane Doe’s phone?”
“Haven’t seen it guv, not sure it’s listed in evidence.”
The day before yesterday
At three in the morning the latest member of the hotel reception team was manning the desk. All the newbies got this shift – all part of paying their dues.
You’d think there’d be little to do, but there was paperwork to sort out (left over from the previous evening’s shift), making sure all was in order for the early departures, and the handling any of the odd requests from the hotel’s notoriously high-flying demanding guests.
Arrivals were few and far-between at this time of day, but alerted by the sound of stilettos cracking on the polished marble floor, the young man looked up to see a tall, slim, woman heading straight for him.
She looked like a woman you’d not want to let down, her steely demeanour cut through the plush surroundings and sophisticated ambience like a jagged blade between the shoulders.
“You have a room for me, Fernanda Kloss.”
The woman’s manicured fingernails tapped impatiently as the boy behind the desk scrolled up and down his screen; almost frightened to give her the bad news.
“I phoned a few hours ago, spoke to a charming woman…She took my credit card details. Kloss!”
That didn’t help, but if she rang maybe he had missed the paperwork. He quickly booked her into a suite and gave her the door entry card for room 709 with a calm efficient smile.
As the lift door closed the boy started looking for the woman’s paperwork. Booking someone in without seeing their credit card was a strict ‘no-no’. Then he realised he hadn’t asked to see her passport. No worries, the day shift will sort it out.
As the lift door opened to the seventh floor Fernanda couldn’t believe her luck at scoring a good room with a view of the city. From the balcony of her suite she looked at the streets below and took in a huge deep breath of air.
After sliding the door closed she drew the curtains, placed a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, showered, and climbed into bed. It had been a long journey.
* * *
As dawn broke a slither of light seeped into the room between the blackout curtains to land directly on Fernanda’s closed eyelids. She squeezed them tight and turned over, away from the light, but it was too late, the damage was done.
Picking up the phone was enough to alert the girl on the executive desk to answer with a bright “good morning, how can I help you Miss Kloss?”
Fernanda asked for a full cooked and a full continental breakfast and within half an hour there was a knock on her door.
“Shall I remove the do not disturb sign Miss Klos?” Asked the young girl as she pushed a trolley laden with food, tea and coffee, across the threshold.
“No need, you can put the trolley there, near the window, and that’ll be all.”
Sitting alone Fernanda tucked in to whatever took her fancy and watched the world go by for an hour, all the time contemplating her next move.
Looking at the news only confirmed her plight and despite considering all the scenarios she kept returning to the same answer. She didn’t have a next move. No cash, no ID cards, no credit cards, no passport, not even a drivers’ licence – which was just as well as she couldn’t drive.
It was checkmate and it was all her own fault for volunteering.
“No good turn goes unpunished,” she thought to herself. It was something her father was always saying.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts and by the time she opened the door all she saw down the corridor were the lift doors closing. At her feet lay a triangle-shaped box that she pushed into her room with her right foot while keeping an eye out for any other people.
With the door closed and locked she picked up the box and placed it on her bed. Inside was a gun with a full clip of ammunition along with a black & white photo of a man’s face. On the back was his name.
The enormity of what she had signed up for was overcoming her once again and looking at the empty coffee pot she knew she’d have to settle for warm tea.
It wasn’t long before the breakfast trolley was replaced with the lunch trolley, and that in-turn was replaced with a tray of food for an evening meal. Day one slipped into day two, then three, and she figured it wouldn’t be long before someone knocked on the door asking for her passport and credit card.
With the international leaders’ conference two days away in the hotel’s main function suite she had to lay low. Watching the news it was clear that, compared to where she came from, everything was the same and at the same time everything was different.
People spoke, but spoke differently to what she was used to. They looked the same, but at the same time looked different. And the clothes…They really did look old fashioned compared to the fabrics her people used. That’s what 30 years can do.
Like it or not, Fernanda was on a suicide mission. She didn’t really expect to do her job and escape with her life. But if she did, there’d be no life to speak of. It was a one-way trip.
The boffins had cracked the technology to send people back but their actions always changed the future – and that meant a return journey was impossible.
Still, she had nothing to live for in her time. A lonely life in a tiny apartment, a military career cut short by injury, invalided out of the service and – until last week – was washing dishes at a local restaurant three block away that didn’t exist yet.
Just for fun she’d looked it up on a street map, it was a school playing field today – but at some point soon the bulldozers would roll in as school sports and outside activities were deemed unnecessary to a child’s education by the corporations that now ran all the schools.
A factory to make robots, said the authorities, would be the best use of the land and the corporations were well placed to train the people they need – not the government.
“If only they knew,” thought Fernanda. “A virus will soon be used to change all of humanity. No more freedom of movement, face masks…And the unemployed snitching on neighbours, family and friends to make a little money.”
As she looked out from her balcony she mused that while neighbours will turn a blind eye to domestic violence they wouldn’t miss a beat in reporting their neighbours for stepping outside during curfew.
But back to the job at hand… Her instructions were clear, put one industry leader out of everyone’s misery before he became too powerful, and good luck.
As the evening of day three rolled in someone decided to ignore the ‘do not disturb’ notice and knocked on Fernanda’s door. She ignored the repeated tapping until a man’s voice called her name.
“Who is it?” She shouted at the door. The man tapped again and rattled the handle. Placing the security latch across the door she opened it a crack to see the man’s face.
“Remember the summer of 2069?” He said. Releasing the latch she let him in while remembering her gun was in a draw next to her bed.
The man, Addison, explained he’d been dropped last month, taken a dead man’s identity, and was working on a construction site.
“I knew you were coming before you did,” he said. “I put the package outside your door, I would have stayed but was spooked by a cleaner so I slipped out. Are you ready?”
Fernanda said she was nervous and hoped to get across the border afterward.
“I can’t imagine how,” he said. “No money or documents…You’ve done well to stay here as long as you have. But there is a way you can survive all this. After all we both know there’s no going back, and we know what’s coming.
“If we work together we can really look after ourselves. I can’t do it alone, and neither can you.”
Fernanda sat on the edge of her bed and asked to hear more. Addison explained he was living under someone else’s identity and that she could too. Just pick a person living on the streets and take their papers.
“Then it’s just a quick hop, skip and a jump into a job, security, home and a new life while then exploit all we know about what’s coming,” he said.
“We will invest in face masks, vaccine companies, big pharma, use our military skills when necessary…We can make a mint and within a year be living like royalty.
“And when they send someone after us we turn them too. What a hoot!”
Fernanda wasn’t so sure. She’d seen the future, had come from it. Seen her parents struggle and die under the rule of corporations, and although she could change things for the better she’d not be able to see it for herself.
She reasoned with Addison that the greater good was worth their sacrifice.
“Yes it is a sacrifice,” said Addison. “I derailed a train to stop people getting to a meeting two weeks ago and haven’t seen any change at all!”
“It’s too soon,” replied Fernanda. “You have to look at the bigger picture, there is no moral desert for us.
“We play our part now and things turn out better in the future, you know it – we both do. It has to be true.”
Addison took a step forward, grabbed Fernanda’s throat with both hands and pushed her down on the bed.
“You’re either with me or you’re dead!” he said. “I’ve come too far to throw it all away now.”
She pushed up her right knee to shuv him over.
“No you don’t,” shouted Addison as he grabbed her arm and pushed her face down into a pillow.
Fernanda, fumbled for her bedside draw, grabbed her gun, and stretched her arm under her bed, and pulled the trigger with her thumb.
Addison’s lifeless body slumped on top of Fernanda, one ear bleeding from a bullet nicking her flesh.
Thankfully the mattress dulled the crack of the gun, and in the peace that followed, Fernanda contemplated the situation.
A dead man with a bullet in his temple lying on her bed.
Detective Rimmer sat back in a chair that seemed to become more uncomfortable as each week passed. Looking up at Fleming he said it had been one of those weeks.
“One of what weeks?,” said his young assistant.
“You know, a long week. I could have sworn today is Thursday but it’s Wednesday – will the week never end…”
Fleming rolled his eyes and handed him a buff coloured folder.
“Ah, the autopsy on that hotel Jon Doe.”
“That’s right,” said Fleming.
“And there’s a woman in reception, your 10 o’clock for the admin job. Addison someone…”
Copyright Steve Hart