World War - The ReLife Project Book Two
"Ekstrom, can you hear me?"
The full-body suit laying in the hospital bed groaned something that sounded like "Uh huh".
"Mr. Ekstrom, I'm Jason Milkweed. I'm an investigator with the Medical Examiner's office. I know you're not feeling well but I'd like to ask you a few questions about the blast at the Opulenz apartments last night. Are you able to answer my questions, Mr. Ekstrom?"
Not feeling well? Was this kid joking? Klaus relished some pain in his life occasionally, but this was far beyond masochistic enjoyment. Every damn bone and muscle felt as if it had been removed from his body and beat on a brick wall. And the pulsating heat on his face and across much of his upper body was almost unbearable.
Thank God for the opiate-based numbing gas delivered to his skin by the DACS suit he laid in. The DACS was another brilliant product invented and marketed by Phoenvartis. It was a major leap forward in dealing with burn victims with broken bones and torn muscles who had to remain stationary during convalescence. The computerized suit was an automated, clear polyvision shell. It delivered pain relief, cooling and healing drugs to the skin while prohibiting the patient from moving around. When a doctor wanted to look closely or touch the patient, he could open it up like a clamshell. Klaus had no idea he would be wearing one five years after he approved the suit for release to the marketplace. If it wasn't for the DACS suit he would demand to be euthanized.
He fought through the pain of taking a deep breath to answer. All he could muster was a whisper. "Noooo. Hurt too much."
"I understand, Mr. Ekstrom. What if you raise one finger for ‘yes’ and two fingers for ’no’? Can you do that, sir?"
Klaus raised one finger. He would rather sleep, but the kid was taking his mind off the pain. He sure hoped this kid was really an investigator and not some government lackey honing his interviewing skills on a crime victim.
Klaus strained his eyes to get a good look at the kid. Luckily, he’d looked away from the blast milli-seconds before the detonation. Thus, the burns to his eyes were minor and would heal in short order.
If it wasn't for the excruciating pain, he'd swear he was in heaven. The kid had the face of an angel. His skin was smooth as silk without a flaw, mole or birthmark. Klaus couldn't see any facial hair, not even peach fuzz. Put this kid in a white robe and he'd pass easily for one of God's flying servants. Of course, Klaus didn't believe in God, so he found a little humor thinking the kid better keep his day job as an investigator.
"Mr. Ekstrom, were you at the Opulenz apartments to see someone?"
Klaus raised a finger. Milkweed continued. "Mr. Ekstrom, I'm going to say the names of residents at the Opulenz. When I get to the person you were there to see, please raise a finger. Okay. Mr. Stevens, Mr. Crouthamner, a Laslo Trinklett, Ms. Sophia…" Before Milkweed could pronounce the last name, Klaus raised his finger.
"Very good. Was she a friend?" As he raised a finger, Klaus realized the kid was referring to Sophia in the past tense. Was she dead?
"Did she work at Phoenvartis?" A single finger went up.
"Was she your girlfriend?" Klaus guessed Sophia was dead, so he raised two fingers for the first time. He could feel the drugs taking over again and the shadows of sleep starting to crowd out his consciousness. He only heard the first half of Milkweed's next question before slipping into a dream reliving the events of the night before.
He saw himself standing in the shadows across the street from the Opulenz, watching Rollie and Sophia arrive arm in arm. He’d never considered himself an envious person but their kissing in front of the apartment building was enough to ignite a flame of jealousy. He couldn't wait to get into her apartment to teach her another lesson. This one would be about faithfulness to the person who paid for her luxurious living arrangements.
He didn't bother to knock on her apartment door. He passed his palm over the security panel to release the lock and open it. At first, he didn't see anyone, but then noticed a pair of feet wearing women's shoes sticking out from behind the living room couch. That was the last thing he remembered until waking in the hospital emergency room for a few seconds. The nurses were injecting him with numerous drugs, so the doctors could go to work on his body while he was numb. The drugs took hold and he faded back into semi-consciousness. For several minutes, he listened to the nurses talk about some fellow who would be a hideous-looking cripple for the rest of his life.
When Milkweed didn't get a response to his next question, he looked through the eye holes in the DACS suit and saw that Ekstrom was asleep. He was amazed that Ekstrom could answer any questions considering his condition. It was a miracle that he was still alive. Leaving the apartment door open had saved his life. The blast catapulted him through the doorway and down the hallway for forty feet. If the door had been closed there would have been another murder victim in the Opulenz bombing.
So much for collecting information to solve the murder. He would have to wait until Ekstrom was in better shape to talk. With luck, there would be better days ahead for Klaus Ekstrom. In the meantime, Milkweed would concentrate on the other person-of-interest and the charred remains of the victim.
There were already some clues discovered in the burned-out apartment. Most were identified by the Fire Investigator.
Apartment 4A was occupied by a Sophia Groetschow. It was ground zero for the blast. Fragments from combination explosive-incendiary devices were found attached to permanent fixtures on the perimeter walls of the apartment. In all, there were six devices, each pointing at a 30-degree angle toward the middle of the apartment. When detonated, these devices decimated virtually every square inch of the entryway, kitchen and living room.
The Fire Investigator had determined there were no trip wires or timing devices. This meant the explosives were set off remotely by someone outside the apartment. Milkweed needed to learn who that person was. But first, he needed to identify the charred remains of the dead woman found in the apartment.
The corpse was burned beyond recognition on her posterior. The only reason he knew the victim's sex was because the vaginal passage remained partially intact. In fact, there was less damage to the woman's front side which told Milkweed she was lying face-down at the time of the explosion. It was obvious that she had made no effort to move after the bulk of the blast passed over her. He expected further forensics work to show she was either dead or unconscious before the blast and fire.
Other than being female, the only clue found on the corpse was a chain of black pearls around her neck. These weren't fake or imitation pearls; they were the real thing. Much too expensive for a mid-level executive at Phoenvartis to afford. They were lavish, just like the Opulenz apartment. Both were way out of reach for a single woman with no other means of support other than a ‘so-so’ salary from Phoenvartis. Milkweed made a note to himself to find out who paid the lease on the apartment.
As Milkweed sat at a table in the hospital cafeteria having lunch and making notes, Sophia was winding her way through the Tyrolean Alps. She boarded a magnetic float train in Zurich. The first two hours were spent changing her appearance from a brunette with shoulder-length, curly hair to a blonde with a pageboy cut. Her stylish clothes were discarded and replaced with ratty, blue-collar work clothes. She made sure to wear only clothes scrubbed of all government tracking devices. Years of living underground taught her that people ignored and avoided anyone who looked poor. That's exactly what she wanted; to move unnoticed among the masses anywhere in the world.
She no longer had a micro monitoring device lodged in one of her kidneys. Before her entire family was interned by the central government, her father found a qualified surgeon who removed the devices from Sophia and her brother. Without the micro monitor, she wouldn't have to worry about the World Government tracking her movements and activities. All she needed to do was live a conservative, reserved life. Simply keep to herself and avoid the thousands of government snitches. These bottom-feeders were everywhere and profited by reporting citizens who appeared to live beyond their means.
Every so often she looked at or felt the five-inch-long scar on her backside just above the buttocks. Until the recent beating by Klaus, it was the only noticeable scar on her body. It had faded over the years but could still be seen by anyone looking closely. Rollie was her only lover who noticed and affectionately caressed the scar. He knew why it was there but didn't say one word about it.
Her first destination was Innsbruck in the former country of Austria. She would stay there for a couple of weeks, skiing, dining, shopping and getting plenty of rest. She would check into a modest hotel and start to give some thought to her immediate future.
She was torn between going home to Moldova or heading north to Germany. Going to either or both destinations would be for the express purpose of killing a foe. In Moldova, it was her former boyfriend, who turned her anti-government group into the central government for a reward. He’d escaped her vengeance years before but this time he wouldn't be so lucky.
In Germany, she would track down and take care of that foul-mouth prick known as Mr. Sun. She had already won a partial victory by stealing his twenty-five percent World Credit down payment. But that wasn't enough. She dreamed about running a knife over his throat and watching the expression on his face when she introduced herself as Catherine, his former contact at Phoenvartis.
Now, she had the element of surprise on her side. But it wouldn't be long before the authorities in Zurich identified the body in her apartment. They would realize it wasn’t Sophia. The corpse belonged to the missing Phoenvartis employee who filled in for sick and vacationing employees.
It was a shame Claudette died in the explosion. She was a sweetheart and one of the few people at Phoenvartis who Sophia socialized with. Sophia imagined her in heaven, standing too close to God as she jibber-jabbered his ear off.