Benjamin gave us a rundown of the crime scene. “The pictures were nauseating, Jackson,” Benjamin said. “Dennis’s ankles looked like barbequed pulled pork. The blood-crusted handcuffs had dug so far into his skin I’m positive the metal met bone. The handcuffs had chunks of skin and hair embedded in the small wells; they had rubbed his wrists raw and had cut into the tendons.”
Mary made a face of disgust while Benjamin paused to collect his thoughts. He sounded exhausted, but he pushed on.
“I don’t understand how people stomach the savage destruction people do to each other. What the hell is wrong with people?”
“You’d be surprised how desensitized our civilization has become,” Lee, the new member of my team, said. “When I worked Chicago’s gang division and then homicide it felt like I was in the middle of some tribal war.”
Benjamin let that sit and continued. “The crime scene photos showed three stab marks inflicted without hesitation at points that would cause the most damage. I’m not a blood splatter expert, but it looked like someone had straddled Dennis at the hips and plunged the blade from a back overhead reach into his stomach until the blade hilt fully sank into his stomach. The attacker ripped the blade upward and then tore it out. Think of the brutality it took to cut him open like that—gutted like a deer. The stab penetrated his aorta and killed him.
“But from what the report indicated, the punctures in his femoral arteries triggered the gusher-like blood spray, which was easy to visualize pulsating in rhythm with each heartbeat. Jackson, I swear, the room looked like Pollock had risen from the dead just to put his signature splatter and drip marks on the cream-colored walls,” Benjamin said, taking a deep breath through his nose.
“They found Ryan passed out next to Dennis. His chest was smeared with dry blood, and his face was painted with blood in a war paint manner. He had no visible injuries but was in a coma. They transported him to the hospital.
“A long blade, like a hunting knife, was found on the floor. Part of the handle was still sticky with brown, crusted blood. The sheets were soaked with whatever blood hadn’t hit the walls. The report said the room had a metallic and urine smell.”
Benjamin’s voice wavered, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he bolted to puke. I suppose that visual of all that blood burned into your brain would haunt you forever.
“So, what makes you think this Fiona person was with them?” Lee asked as he jotted notes on his short yellow pad.
“There aren’t any cameras at the motel. But when the police took statements, one witness said she’d seen a woman matching Fiona’s description knock on the door ten minutes after the men entered. However, the witness appeared inebriated, so they’re taking what she said with a grain of salt. There’s no physical evidence placing her in the room,” Benjamin said.
“What a mess,” Lee said.
“But I don’t understand why you need us,” I said. “You need to let local law enforcement handle this mess. This is a job for them.”
“I need you to find Fiona. The police are treating this case as a murder. Ryan’s in the hospital with high levels of ketamine. If he wakes up, he might not remember anything, and there’s no physical evidence he murdered Dennis. But I believe they feel strongly that Ryan is the main suspect in the murder. The police aren’t going to look for Fiona. They’re going to focus on the murder, and unless Fiona becomes a person of interest or she’s dead too, she’s not on their radar. Fiona is an adult, and the police said our only option was to file a missing person report, if warranted.
“Here’s my dilemma, Jackson. Ryan, Fiona, and Dennis were working on a sensitive project. Someone in that department stole the entire research project and wiped the server and cloud of all data.” He hesitated.
“So why not alert the FBI or local law enforcement?” Mary interjected, raising an eyebrow and leaning forward to get closer to the speaker on the table.
Benjamin cleared his throat. “We acquired the project from a lab in Berlin. Berlin found a mechanism that allows the alteration of DNA at the base level. The implications are enormous. Upon completion of the project, our price to sell it would be in the neighborhood of half a billion. It could be used for good, to cure disease, or for bad, to alter existing DNA after someone committed a crime. Whoever stole the project, wiped all the servers of the information after they completed the transfer to an external drive. On the dark web, it could be sold for billions. We wanted to sell it to one entity, so that party could fully develop it and market it. On the dark web, however, it could be sold again and again. So where is it? Either Dennis hid it, or Ryan or Fiona have it. I need you to find out which one of them has it, or where they hid it.”