After all these times, it’s the scream that’s the hardest to block out. You can look away from the dread on their faces, you get used to the sight of blood, but no matter how many times you watch the event unfold, the scream breaks through every barrier you have.
The woman, victim, crashes into a cabinet, shattering the glass doors. The assailant is on her in a second, knife in hand, ready to cut her up how he sees fit. He grabs her by the hair and lifts. He drags her down the hall toward me, kicking and flailing. He doesn’t see me as he comes closer. He phases through me and I feel nothing. The image seems as real as life, but it’s not. I’m watching a torture and murder as it unfolds, as it did twenty years ago.
They called it revolutionary. A new age in crime solving. T.R.I, Trace Remnant Imaging, the technology of the future. I was told how it worked once, but I couldn’t tell you now. I just use it.
The assailant takes the victim into her own room and tosses her on the bed. I’ve seen this all before, hundreds of times. The assault lasts two hours and forty-five minutes, down to the second. By the end, the victim has gouges and cuts all over her body, and carved into her chest are the words: ‘Thanks for watching!’. The assailant leaves out the front door with the victim’s phone to his ear, a call to us. I watch him go. Just before he turns left at the end of her driveway he tosses her phone to the curb. Fifteen minutes later my team arrives. I watch myself stride up the driveway, with every bit of confidence in the T.R.I.
The simulation stops and I’m standing in an empty white room large enough to encompass a house, large enough to encompass a crime scene.
I still haven’t solved that case.
The door opens and standing on the other side is my partner. He’s young, new to the job, and to the world. He’s a bright spark and I’m not sure how long he’ll last.
‘We got another call,’ he says. ‘Mike’s already making his way there.’
My techie’s always quick off the mark, it’s the reason he’s still with me.
‘Let’s hope he slips up this time,’ my partner says.
He won’t, but letting my cynicism show gets me nowhere and I swallow it. Just like my pride when I sit in a briefing with yet another unsolved murder in my files.
So I make my way to another scene. I already know what I’ll find. A random victim, mutilated beyond recognition, played up for the T.R.I. He will have written on the walls, and I will watch as he does. He changes up the way he does things. Sometimes he’ll use a knife. Sometimes he’ll use a saw or a bat. Only two things stay the same: ‘Thanks for watching!’ and his call to the police, so the T.R.I can capture the whole grisly thing. Like morbid clockwork.
When I get there I’ll do a quick scan of the aftermath, but it’s the T.R.I footage I want to see the most. If he does slip up, it’s the T.R.I that will find it.
The victim crashes into a cabinet, shattering the glass doors. The assailant is on her in a second, knife in hand, ready to cut her up how he sees fit. He grabs her by the hair and lifts. She kicks and flails. He doesn’t see me as he comes closer. He phases through me and I feel nothing.
He takes her to her own room, but I’m in a different place now, standing in the corner. I can see him making the cuts. I can see the blood pooling. I don’t usually watch this closely, I can’t.
He stops and looks directly at me, the mask he wears warps and twists. He laughs.
I tear myself from the dream. The sheets have twisted around my legs and my duvet is on the other side of the room. My pillow is wet with blood and my head is pounding. They tell me excessive use of the T.R.I can have side effects. I clean myself up, pop a couple painkillers, and stay awake watching crap on the internet, trying to free my mind from the nightmare.
But I still haven’t solved that case and the nightmare lives on.