by stefan gagne

From the files of Unreal Estate: Open House,
Some portions copyright other authors; see website for details.

WARNING: This story contains graphic violence. Reader discretion is advised.

The sky was dark gray.

The only difference between daylight and nighttime in Restless was the color of the sky. If it's light gray with rain pouring out of the sky and sparsely populated crowds avoiding eye contact, that means it's day, when I'm asleep and recharging my batteries to face another evening. If it's dark gray with rain pouring out of the sky and sparsely populated crowds avoiding eye contact, that means it's night, and it's time to go to work.

I don't know who was responsible for deciding that the homicide department should be on the perpetual midnight shift. I have a feeling it was the Restless Board of Tourism -- cops stalking around investigating death tend to put people off. But then again, so does murder, so I can't explain away that bit of logic.

Fortunately murder is rare in Restless... although plenty of folks come here to hide from people who want to hurt them, chances of being found once here are pretty low. Most of the seedier hotels make a point of not keeping accurate records of who's staying where... a practice encouraged by the higher ups to keep the reality attractive to all clientele, from families on layover to criminals with something to dodge.

Still, murder does happen, and I'm there to catch those responsible. Not that I ever do, since they typically flee the reality right after doing the deed., and then it's up to the legal heads to handle extradition from other realities...

Thoughts like these make me wonder why I still get up in the evenings. Why I still work the job. When I'm not bored, I'm wallowing in futility. When I'm not wallowing in futility, I'm bored. When I'm not doing either I'm asleep to be fresh and ready for new boredom and futility...

Put it out of your head. Focus on the work. Close your umbrella. Check that your piece is secured under the jacket, with safety on. Pull out your ID card, and check in.

I walked into the station, card in hand, and punched in with the timekeeping Workstation, as usual. As usual, Jack was there to greet me with his bubbly good cheer; despite being only three years younger than my ripe old age of thirty-five, he carried himself like some high school pep squad cheerleader. Sometimes I wondered if he maintained a 1000% optimistic outlook just to spite me. Sometimes I wondered if he maintained a 1000% optimistic outlook because he thought it'd help me.

"Hey, Holden! Great night, isn't it? You know, the weatherman's saying it might actually not rain later on," he opened with, which he usually did 3/5ths of the time. His card ran through the slot right after mine, punching in.

"Too bad we'll be indoors when it happens," I said. "No pending cases, nothing to investigate."

"Don't look at the negative like that, Holden," he recommended. "There's going to be a Cases From Beyond marathon on the Legality stream tonight. Seasons two and three, before they changed the cast. Twenty four episodes, if you're counting, which I know you always are being the numbers junkie... but the best ones, every one worth watching! We can tune in from the squad room while we wait."

"I'm not really interested in that junk, Jack. You're the one obsessed with the paranormal, not me."

"I don't like the term paranormal. A lot of it is based on reality," he said. "On the normal. If--"

"Excuse me--"

"One second, sir. If you'd read those magazines I keep lending you, maybe you'd realize what's going on out there. People are getting weird, you know--"

"Excuse me--"

Because Jack was too busy ranting cheerfully, I decided to deal with the guy who had just walked into the station myself.

The guy wearing the shirt covered in blood. Who was reaching for me, with a pleading look in his eyes.

"I need to be arrested. I just killed someone--" he managed, before I was on him, using a takedown I learned in my three years at the academy. About the only policework that I'd needed for the last two weeks. Jack had his piece drawn and trained on him -- which wasn't a brilliant idea, given you could get a three week suspension for pulling one in the station itself. Another contradictory law from the higher ups.

As I cuffed him, I realized tonight was about to get exciting and unpleasant. And Cases From Beyond could wait.


The marathon was running in the other room, with the rest of the squad enjoying episode after episode of psychodrama. Jack and I were enjoying our own psychodrama, courtesy one Nipponese psycho named Watanabe Hidoi.

He hadn't put up a struggle. Not a single move against us, as I cuffed him, and brought him up for questioning -- so we'd know what exactly we were booking him for. His bloody shirt had been bagged and sent down to the lab for forensics; he himself was secured firmly to a chair, and looking very, very relieved.

"I couldn't stop myself," he continued in his confession, being helpfully recorded for later incrimination. "Five of them. Five women. And two children, little girls, I didn't want to do them but I had to... it was horrible. There was blood everywhere..."

He went on with graphic detail. Organs. Screams. Knives. The sort of thing that no doubt our fellow cops were watching only a few rooms down the hall. Jack maintained his relentless cheer, simply sitting back and quirking the occasional eyebrow; stories like this, or crime scenes like this, never fazed him. I simply pushed down my own dread to deal with later. Likely when I was sleeping come morning.

"We're going to need names," I told him, tapping the desktop audio recorder for emphasis. "Names, dates, and where you put the bodies."

"I.. I never asked for names," Watanabe replied. "I didn't want to know their names. You never know who's in a crime scene until it's published in the paper after... but I never saw them in the paper. I was expecting to see them in the paper, or... or to have you looking for me, after studying the forensics..."

"There haven't been any missing persons reports for the last two weeks," I told him. "These people you killed weren't missed."

"But... but the crime scenes? I'm a member of the Crime Scene Fan Circle," he said, confused. "I look at guro RealNet nodes all time--"

"'Guro'?" Jack asked.

"Nihongo contraction for 'grotesque,'" I informed him. "Go on, Watanabe."

"I meant... I mean, I know how these things work," he said. "I know you collect all sorts of evidence, and could find my DNA, fibers from my clothes, things like that... I was... I wanted you to catch me. But you weren't. I had to struggle against myself to make it to the station, to turn myself in... why didn't you stop me?"

"Because it looks like you were a little too good for us, pardner," Jack commented, speaking up after a few minutes of smirking. "We haven't found any nasty corpses lying around, either. But that shirt certainly speaks for itself, doesn't it? Looked fresh. Who'd you do tonight? If not a name, at least tell us what she looked like. And where she is now."

"I'll do that," Watanabe said. "I want to do that. I want to be locked up for the rest of my life. I can feel the need even now, I want to go out there and do it again, and if you don't stop me--"

"Let us handle the stopping," I said, flipping open my data pad, ready to tap the screen. "Just tell us where you left her."


The crime scene wasn't far from the station. Maybe 75% of a mile, at best; we could walk there. Which was good, because the station's budget for land vehicle fuel was slim, and we'd have to file paperwork to allocate some for our use.

Watanabe provided exacting detail. He'd taken most of the body and buried it under a specific tree in Silver Park, a rarely visited public space. It was never a nice day for a jaunt in the park in Restless, even if the greenery supposedly prettied up the place. We took a jogging path that he said he snatched up his victim from, followed it to the tree with four branches pointing north, south, east, and west, and looked for the telltale signs of recent burial.

There weren't any.

"Okay, this guy is yanking our crank," Jack decided, peering around the tree. "No bloody shovel where he claims he left it. No mound of dirt. No signs of a struggle, no mashed up grass, no nothing..."

"Except a bloody shirt," I pointed out.

"Hey, that could've been his blood!"

"Not with the amount of it. Multiple quarts, more than he could've lost without extremely visible wounds. But the lab will come back with a DNA match on him if it really is his, somehow..."

"So... did he actually kill someone today, or not?" Jack asked. "What's your intuition say? We haven't had any reports that line up with his supposed murderous rampage. No evidence at the scene, no weapon, nothing. Just a shirt."

"I think he's quite possibly insane," I said. "But that doesn't mean he never killed anyone. How many murders go unreported, Jack? We live in a reality that nobody goes to unless they specifically want to be away from home. Many of them have good reasons for that. And if it's a good enough reasons, maybe someone will make a good enough effort to conceal the end result."

"Would you please look on the glass-is-half-full side for once, Holden? I'd like to think we snag ... maybe not ALL but the vast majority of murders in Restless--"

"Twenty one percent of which go unsolved and dumped into the file archives in the station systems," I pointed out. "Maybe his sense of time is confused. He could have done his murders deeper into the past, spreading them out..."

"Now who's the conspiracy buff?" Jack asked. "Alright. Whatever. So we go back to the station, and look through the files. That's a waste of an evening when we could be watching some really good drama, but I'll go along with it. We can't lock his lunatic ass up without actually having a crime to pin on his head, after all... hrm."

"Back to the station, then," I suggested, turning to go. "This could take a day or two, but we can hold him for questioning based on the shirt, at least. He hasn't lawyered up, so we've got buffer time."

"Holden? Would you call this a paranormal-type situation?" Jack asked. In an oddly serious voice.

"Of course not."

"Nonexistent victims and crime scenes, but distinct evidence of a crime on his person? It's spooky, isn't it? Like someone's not playing by the rules..."

"There's a logical reason behind it all, and we'll figure it out. Might take a dozen hours of casework but we'll figure it out, Jack. Don't worry."

"I'm not worried," he said, back to being jovial. "I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of it, one way or another."


1 strangulation, blonde, 20s
2 flayings, blonde / brunette, 20s 30s
2 evisceration, blonde / brunette, teens, preteens

It was easier to deal with Watanabe's greatest hits when itemized, tallied, and reduced to the bare facts. Not just to keep the lurid details he seemed to enjoy focusing on out of the way, but because the station's databases didn't care if the "blood pools were like scarlet puddles of night".

It took a short time to transcribe the relevant details from his confession, but a longer time to make the matchups. The budget didn't call for very high end computing power, and pulling up crime scene photos was nice and slow. So slow that Jack got bored and wandered off to watch Cases From Beyond. I let him go; I could work better alone on this, the slow crunch of data.

There were plenty of possible candidates, but only a few fell within the time range -- and then it wasn't possible to tell which ones were possibly his and which belonged to someone else. At this point, I couldn't rely on the facts... I had to figure out what was going on in Watanabe's head, to determine which ones would have been his handiwork, which ones would appeal to him.

What appealed to him? Guro. So, I did a search for this fan circle he was a part of, and checked if they had any galleries of the grotesque. Which they did.

And that was the end of my research, because it was all there. A strangulation, blonde, 20s. Flayings and eviscerations... every detail matched up to one story or another in his spook-story. But oddly, only one of them was in Restless. Was he confusing time and space, not just time..?

My budget RealNet communication software beeped from the corner of the workstation window.

"Holden," I responded, loud enough for the microphone to pick it up.

"Forensics," the lab monkey replied. "About this shirt you sent down here... what do you want me to do with it, exactly? There wasn't any note attached..."

"That's because it should be obvious," I replied, while paging through the circle's wax gallery. "The blood. Analyze it, see if we can get a match."

"What blood?"

My image browsing halted dead.

"What do you mean, what blood?"

"There's no blood on this shirt, sir. There never was, from what I can see. I could study it closer, see if there are any year old stains he tried to wash out, but--"

"It was soaked in blood when we sent it to you. Blue shirt, button down, stripes, right? We sealed it in an evidence bag, bag number... hold on... #341..."

"That's the shirt, sir, but I'm telling you it was never bloody. Do you want us to run a fiber trace or something instead?"

"No," I said, and closed the communicator. And got to my feet, to go get some real answers.

I bypassed the lounge; RealNet video delights weren't on my mind, and at a glance Jack wasn't there, anyway. Watanabe wasn't going anywhere, but I felt the urgency, the need to get in there and start asking the hard questions...

Watanabe was going somewhere. Gone, to be specific. His handcuffs were left on the floor, his chair was empty, and the door to his holding room had been left unlocked.

I raced back to the lounge, demanding to know what happened, but naturally nobody saw a thing. Except that Jack had got up and left during "the good bit," for some reason.


Tracking Jack down wasn't hard. Or rather, tracking down Watanabe; he was running and on foot, shoving his way past people, desperate to get somewhere. I briefly interviewed seven people who had encountered him, tracing a beeline for the seedier part of town. Not that the majority of Restless wasn't seedy to begin with, but I knew the area in question because of the large number of alleys it held -- alleys where murders occasionally happened. Just the sort of detail a crime scene fanatic would also know.

It was a two mile run, but I was in decent enough shape. Not because I worked out regularly, but because I didn't have a sweet tooth. I knew Jack could run just as far and just as fast... and that he was probably following Watanabe.

My confusion was confirmed, as I spied Jack standing at the mouth of an alley, watching what transpired within with a curious look on his face. And with his gun drawn, not pointed at anything. Not yet.

I jogged up next to him, filled with a need to know.

"Jack, what--"

Watanabe was at work, that's what.

He was killing her, no, she was already dead. Nobody could endure that much tissue damage without being dead. He'd cut her secondary sexual characteristics off, for starters, and her throat couldn't be a simple flesh wound. He was covered in blood, and carrying a monstrous looking knife that he hadn't previously been in possession of. Neither had Jack. I would know. I think.

I drew my weapon, hoping I wouldn't have to use it, and drew a bead on the killer in turn.

"FREEZE!" I ordered. "Don't make a move, Watanabe! You are under arrest for murder!"

"Oh, thank you, thank you so much..." Watanabe said, letting the knife fall from his hands, as he placed them behind his neck. "Just... just shoot me, please, right in my head, so I won't do this anymore..."

"And what won't you be doing anymore, exactly?" Jack asked. Completely unconcerned. "You never killed anyone, Watanabe. Not even her."

I kept my piece on him, while fishing for my handcuffs. "Jack, what the hell are you doing?" I asked, my voice low. "You let him go so he could kill again? It doesn't make sense!"

"Yeah, it doesn't, does it?" Jack asked. "That's what I was thinking. How paranormal it was. Look at the body, Holden. Look at the RAIN..."

Because I prefer to draw factual data rather than ask useless questions to an inscrutable police officer, I did as asked.

At first I couldn't tell what I was supposed to be seeing. The body was horrific indeed, just like one of the photos on his circle's RealNet node, but...

But the rain was falling THROUGH the body. It would plink against the ground and splash as if there was nothing there; it wouldn't bead on the skin, it didn't pool in the empty sockets of her removed eyes. When I moved my eyes to check if the knife was doing the same thing, I failed to find the knife. He hadn't kicked it out of the way, it should be right where he had dropped it, but it wasn't anymore. Like it was never there...

"Projection," Jack explained. "Illusions. He's making them with his... well, I guess his mind, it's never been fully understood how they do it. But it's one of the things they can do."

"Who's.. they..?"

"The abnormals," my partner said calmly. "Reality changers. Freaks of nature. The paranormal. I've known about them for a long time, Holden, but I never actually saw one! Amazing, isn't it? He's not playing by the rules, he's bending reality so he can live out his little fantasies, despite being too chicken to kill anyone. And he doesn't realize it, he can't realize it, he's too far gone..."

The numbers weren't adding up. I didn't like it when things didn't make sense according to how I knew the multiverse operated. But I could push past that, swallow it down like I did the horrible things I saw on the job. I could get to the core of the situation.

"We're bringing him in," I decided, having my handcuffs in hand. "He belongs in a hospital. Sick in the head. Regardless of HOW he's doing this, he's insane, and needs to be treated even if we can't convict him of any actual crime."

"But we can," Jack said... raising his weapon. "We can convict him of being an abnormal. We can normalize him. This is what we have to do, Holden. Nobody's gonna notice he's gone; I already deleted him out of the station records. We do the guy, and go home in time to finish the marathon..."

The trembling "killer" trembled more, in anticipation of the bullet, back turned to us. "Yes, please...!" he begged. "I can't take it, I can't take the pictures in my head, I don't want to do this anymore..!"

I was about to protest, to ask Jack what in blazes he thought he was doing. It had to be a prank, his sick sense of humor bubbling up to the surface. But it wasn't. He had the same oddly serious look he had at the fake crime scene earlier tonight. He really was going to shoot Watanabe.

I moved my gun to point at my partner, instead of the real victim here.

"Jack... put it down," I said. "I don't know what you're up to but you are not putting a bullet in an innocent man."

"Innocent? Holden, are you kidding me?" Jack asked. "He's an abnormal! I've been trying to tell you, but you keep disregarding it when I go on about these things! I wish I had more time to break you in on this stuff, but we've got to act here and now... he's too dangerous to turn over to some touchy-feely head doctors! Abnormals are capable of turning reality on its ear, slaughtering people with their powers, destroying everything... I mean, Just LOOK at this schmuck, do you really think he'll be content to kill daydreams forever? He's gonna step up to the real thing one day, Holden, and then nobody's gonna be able to stop him! Isn't our job to stop murders? Mortimer's right on this, the risk is just too high to let him live! Now put your gun down!"

"I don't know what you're talking about and I don't care," I told him. "Don't make me do this, Jack. I won't let you shoot an unarmed man... I don't care what 'powers' he has. That's not why I wake myself up every night and put on the badge! Now put YOUR gun down!"

The next two moments were 120% tense.

"Holden... you're going to realize one day I was right," Jack said. "I'm sorry."

And fired.

And I fired.

Two bodies fell.


Daytime was rising on Restless, dark gray to light gray, when I entered the station house. My jacket spattered with blood.

I tapped one of the day shift officers on the shoulder, trying to get his attention.

"Excuse me," I said. "I need to be arrested. I just killed someone."


Holden O'Neal
No protections.

Cases From Beyond
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The Legality Stream
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The Restless Homicide Division
You may not disband the Restless Homicide Division, or change their operating hours.