|Dead Man's Party: The Ghost in the Machine
Author: WitchGirl PM
Archie receives strange and frightening messages and video on his computer. This spurs him to venture to a cemetery at night, to "dig up" a little evidence. But is Archie just digging his own grave? #2 in the Dead Man's Party Horror/Urban Legends series.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Crime - Archie J. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 14,061 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 10-23-11 - Published: 10-09-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7450857
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Summary: When Archie's computer starts giving him tips about solving a cold case from the '90s, he thinks Hodges is behind it. But the information turns out to be frighteningly accurate, and might lead Archie to a truth much darker than one dead prostitute.
Author's Note: Many Halloweens ago, I began a series of CSI one-shots meant to be collected in an anthology I'd called "Dead Man's Party." Their uniting factor was the use of supernatural urban legends and publication on or around Halloween. The first of these was "The Wendigo," and that can be found on my profile under the title: "Dead Man's Party: The Wendigo." I abandoned and revised many of my original story ideas, and this was the second to come out of that endeavor. Due to its length, I quickly realized it couldn't be a one-shot, as it was far too long. I decided to archive it on FFN under its own title, but still connected to the anthology by its name. Consider this the second installment in this anthology, just in time for Halloween. It will be posted in a total of four chapters, every other day.
Reviews and Comments: If this story has no interest, there's no point in me posting the rest of this. So please, if you read this story, drop me a line and let me know you're reading. This is a repost, mostly due to a poor proof-editing job on my part, which has now been resolved after reading it again and having my dependable beta, LaughableBlackStorm, read it over for me. So make this repost count - tell me what you think.
Time Line: This story is meant to take place in October of 2010, or the beginning of season 11.
The Ghost in the Machine
"For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ." Hamlet, 2.2.594
Chapter One: Hackers
"I want to show you something."
Hodges and Wendy exchanged looks at the goofy expression on Archie's face as he said the words.
"So show us," said Hodges, simply.
"It's in the AV lab—you have to see it!" And he took off.
Both a bit skeptical, Hodges and Wendy followed the eager tech down the hall and into his lab. The lights were off, as was every single monitor but one, which was flickering strange scenes, filled with grays and blues. Once or twice, a shadow would look sinister, or the hue would turn bloody.
"Is this evidence?" Wendy asked.
"Or a virus?" Hodges presumed.
"Never seen a virus do this," Archie replied as he stood behind them. "I was trying to shut down the machines for the night, but when I hit shutdown… it started showing this."
Wendy was mesmerized by the monitor. She stared at it for what felt like ages until she was certain she could make out rows of shelves in a library or a store, and what looked like a person, two people, flickering on the screen in stills. At one point, they seemed to jump out at her and she gasped and instinctively latched on to the nearest thing to her, which happened to be Hodges' arm.
Hodges, for his part, seemed startled by the contact, judging by the jerking motion he made when she grabbed him.
"Archie…" Wendy said slowly, her eyes never leaving the monitor. "Do you see—"
There was a loud scream and someone grabbed her shoulder, fingers digging into it and she heard Hodges give out a girlish shriek.
She blinked as she found herself staring at Henry, who had jumped out from behind the computer wearing a matted black wig and white makeup. It had been him who had screamed, after he'd jumped out at them of course, and Archie who had snatched her shoulder from behind.
As the two pranksters burst out laughing, Wendy's jaw dropped in shock and fury as she glared at the pair of them. She noticed that the monitor was back to normal as Archie closed the video file.
"Dude," Archie panted. "Those were just some random visual static. You guys watched it like it was porn!"
On her right, Wendy noticed that Hodges had turned beet red, and she wasn't sure if it was from humiliation or rage, or perhaps a bit of both.
"I don't have time for this!" he blustered before turning on his heel and marching out of the lab. His reaction only seemed to make Henry and Archie laugh even harder.
Wendy, who was normally brimming with witty retorts, was at a loss for words. She frowned and gave both of them the best death stare she could muster. It got to Henry first, who immediately sobered up, but Archie continued to chuckle. It gave her time to think of something to say.
"You two, we have jobs to do, you know? Hodges is right, we don't have time for this. Henry, I know for a fact that you are backlogged with that poison case of Catherine's and that suspicious suicide of Nick's. Get your ass back on task and work that out, or it'll be your head on a platter, do you hear me?"
Her death stare probably would have been enough, but the threat made Henry yelp, tear off his wig and scurry out of the AV lab, which just left the AV tech, who was gasping for air after laughing for so long.
"As for you," she sneered.
Archie rolled his eyes and waved her harsh tones away. "Oh, don't be such a spoil sport. You'd have laughed too, if I'd asked you to play Henry's role. But somehow, I thought it would be funnier if Henry dressed up like the chick from The Ring. You're more of a Carrie anyway, aren't you? Be grateful I decided against the pig's blood."
Wendy's eyes narrowed. She would never admit that the sight of Henry in a wig did make her smile. "If I was Carrie, you would so be on fire right now."
She started to leave, then stopped at the doorway. "And don't expect me to cover for you when Greg asks for his surveillance footage of that convenience store."
Archie was still grinning as he watched Wendy stomp furiously down the hall. The joke was on her. He'd finished scanning Greg's security tapes hours ago, and there was nothing useful on it. Not even the reflection of a license plate in the glass, because the crooks had covered it with cardboard. Tough luck for Greg's case, easy night for Archie.
He was just about to turn back to the computer and do a little web surfing when someone knocked on his door. He looked up to see a sweet young thing with wavy blonde hair. She was wearing a lab coat and held a clipboard.
"Excuse me," she said in a girlish voice with the hint of roughness to it. "I'm looking for the fingerprint lab? I'm filling in for…" She looked at her clipboard. "Amanda while she's on vacation."
Archie realized his mouth was dry because his jaw had been hanging open. He closed it and licked his lips. "Oh, yeah, right, hi." He fumbled to his feet and greeted her with a smile. "I'm Archie, the AV tech. I'll do anything you need. I mean, if you need anything I'll do it to you— for you."
She smiled, somewhat shyly. "Thank you, that's very sweet. My name is Libby."
"Welcome to the Las Vegas Crime Lab, Libby," Archie said. He leaned out the door and pointed down the hall. "Actually, the fingerprint lab is just down that way. Where the woman with the curly brown hair is. That's Jacqui, you'll get along great."
"Ah, yes, I see now," said Libby.
"I could walk you there, if you like," Archie chimed, a little too eagerly.
This time, Libby chuckled. "Oh, thank you, but I think I can manage a few feet."
Archie tilted his head as he watched her head off down the hall and turn into Mandy's lab. He saw her wave and say something to Jacqui, but the tech was so immersed in her work, she didn't manage to look up to respond. Typical, Archie thought. Jacqui had always been rather antisocial.
Archie slid back into his lab and fell into his office chair, making it slide backwards on its wheels a little bit. He stared at the familiar LVPD desktop background and pondered his next move. He pulled the chair up to the computer and on a whim, decided to check the surveillance footage from Greg's case again. Even he was known to miss things, and it was good to be thorough.
Just as he was pulling up the file, he received an instant message. Archie scanned the icons at the bottom right corner of his screen, but he didn't see any message programs open. Still, the message blinked at him from his menu bar. Thinking it was spam, Archie clicked on it.
Archie blinked. He was bored, but not curious enough to indulge in exploring spam that was possibly a virus. He closed the instant message and opened up YouTube. It wasn't long before the spam returned.
I have something to show you.
A link followed. Archie blinked at the message. Judging by the handle, he figured it was an ad for a porn site or escort service. Yeah, right, he wasn't falling for that sort of thing, and definitely not at work. He clicked the X in the corner.
Are you sure you want to close this instant message conversation? YES - CANCEL
Archie clicked yes. Another text box popped up.
You're going to want to see this video, Archie. YES - CANCEL
Archie pushed himself away from the computer. He looked around, trying to see signs of Hodges or Wendy, perhaps trying to prank him back for what he'd done to them. He could see Wendy across the way, talking to Sara. And Hodges looked busy with some trace evidence.
Curious, Archie pulled himself closer to the computer again. His mouse hovered over the cancel button. He clicked it gingerly.
The minute he did, his web browser loaded. The only thing visible was a video. The scene was dark and hard to make out. And then, the picture brightened and he could see it clear as day. A girl sat at a table in what appeared to be a library, smoothing her short red skirt. She wore black rimmed glasses, and her brown hair hung in two braided pigtails. Her white blouse was unbuttoned, revealing a fair bit of cleavage.
"Aw, Christ!" Archie cursed. "It is porn!" He wrinkled his nose. "And old porn!" The quality was grainy and the colors were faded. Once in a while, a white line flickered and floated upwards across the screen.
He tried to click exit, convinced that somehow a porn virus had contaminated the system. Ecklie was going to be so mad at him! But no matter how many times he clicked, the video wouldn't go away. He furiously stood up, kicking over his chair. The wheels spun hopelessly in the air. Archie hit the power button, but the computer remained on. The girl was talking to someone.
"So… how does this work… exactly?" she said. The quality of the video made her voice sound warbled.
Archie tried to force quit the program.
"I pay you. You do everything I say."
"You mean, like… the sex?"
The man laughed. "It's really not that hard to understand, sweetheart."
Archie rolled his eyes, then looked for where this computer was plugged in. He started at the back of the CPU.
"Yeah, but, I don't know…" She squirmed in her chair. "You gonna pay me now?"
A man came into view. His back was to the camera. "You really haven't done this before, have you? Here I was thinking you were just playing a part. I pay you when I'm satisfied."
Archie followed the cord back, to a mess of other cords from other machines. He grumbled and blew away the dust, diving into the nest of wires.
On the video, the girl looked sharply away from the looming man. "I… I need the money."
He sat down next to her and put a hand on her knee, but his head was still out of view. "I told you, you'll get it." He put a hand on the back of her head and guided her down towards his lap. "If I get what I need."
Archie found the cord and muttered a silent Eureka before yanking it out of the wall.
The shriek cut shrilly through the air and Archie sat up so fast he knocked his head under the table. It sounded as if it had come from that room. He scrambled out from under the table and looked all around himself. It was as if the cord he had unplugged powered everything else in that room except for the monitor he was trying to turn off. Even the overhead lights were dark, as the eerie glow of the monitor filled the room.
One image remained on the screen. The light came and went, as if an incandescent bulb swung above the hideous image. It was the girl in the library. Her face was inches away from the lens of the camera, which seemed to have fallen onto the floor. Her eyes were wide and bulging, and her face was pale and her temple red. A tiny river of blood trickled out of her mouth. What made it worse, the image was in crystal clear high definition.
And then, the computer went off. Archie was left alone in the dark. He could feel his heart rattling in his chest, but he showed no fear. He glanced around the room again, waiting for someone to jump out and say BOO so that he could tell them that joke wasn't funny. Not at all.
And then, the lights came back on. The computers rebooted. All but the one he had unplugged. Out the windows, people walked the halls as if they hadn't seen or heard anything from the AV Lab.
Archie closed his dry mouth, which he hadn't realized had been open, swallowed, and licked his lips.
"Whoo!" he sighed, raking both hands through his hair before righting the chair he had overturned and sitting on it. He looked at the unplugged monitor, as if waiting for it to flicker back to life with the haunting face of that girl. He couldn't close his eyes without seeing her. And the more he dwelled on the image, the more familiar she seemed, as if he had known her at some point, in another life.
He shook his head to clear it and logged on to another machine. He told himself it was because the first one he was using had a virus, and that he couldn't turn it back on without risking the entire system. This satisfied him a little. And for a while, nothing happened.
And then, Sunshine came back.
Archie wasn't sure what to do. If the virus had spread, it was too late. Last time, he had closed the instant message. Is that what had triggered the spread of the virus? He decided to ignore it while he pulled up some antivirus tools.
But then, the virus spoke again.
What did you think of the video?
Archie pursed his lips and analyzed his antivirus settings.
I'm not a virus, Archie.
Archie looked at the message, and the blinking cursor in the response box. His fingers hit the keyboard.
WTF was that?
For a moment, he hoped it wouldn't respond.
Does it help?
"Does it help?" Archie muttered to himself incredulously.
Help with what?
Jane Doe cold case, November 1994. JD-94-1348.
Archie had no idea how to respond. He reasoned that this person who had contacted him must have some sort of wireless override software that he used to hijack the CSI system. Which meant that he was chatting with a hacker. But then, he asked himself why a hacker would go through all of this trouble to show him that video. No one he knew in the lab knew more about computers than he did, and even if they did, none of them had the courage to hack into the crime lab's system. Hesitantly, he put his fingers to the keyboard.
Maybe. Where did you get that video?
342 West Dover Drive.
Is that where you are?
I'll provide the shovel.
And then, just like that, the conversation closed, and Archie was looking at the LVPD background again. There was something chilling about the conversation, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He wondered if he should tell one of the CSIs, or maybe Brass, about what this woman had said. But then, he realized, what if it was all just some crazy prank? A wild goose chase? He still hadn't fully dismissed the idea that Wendy and Hodges hadn't hired someone to prank him, even if he was being paranoid.
But what if it's real? What if you have the chance to solve a sixteen-year-old crime?
It only took him a moment to make his decision. West Dover was in a shadier part of town, but it wasn't that far. He took his jacket off of the back of his chair and shrugged it on his shoulders.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned around and saw Libby, standing there with some files. He let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, hey." He smiled at her to mask his edginess. "What do you need?"
She held up a file. "This was on my desk? There are no fingerprints or anything, so I thought it was there by mistake. I'm… not really sure who to talk to about this."
Archie nodded, a little too quickly, his eyes a little too wide. But he reached for the file, and she handed it to him. "Here, let me take a—" One look at the label on the edge almost made him drop it again. Jane Doe 11/04/94.
"What's wrong?" Libby asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
Archie shook it off. "You, uh… you sure you didn't, you know, see anyone leave this on your desk? Like a short guy, gray hair, kinda angry looking? Maybe a brunette, with a ponytail?"
Libby shrugged. "I don't know, maybe. I was running prints for one of the CSIs, I didn't notice anybody. It's probably for one of their cases, they must have just got the wrong lab."
"Libby, this is a cold case file from 1994."
Libby frowned, then took the file back and looked at it. "That's weird. You think there's new evidence or something?"
"Or something…" Archie muttered.
Libby opened the file and thumbed through it. "How curious…" Her eyes skimmed the information and Archie watched as she began to chew on her lip. She closed the file and gave it back to Archie. "'94, huh? What a wacky year. I remember, the Internet was just coming out, huh? Beginning to be a big deal. It was kinda like something out of the future, you know? Fascinated tech geeks everywhere. I spent hours in my dorm room surfin' 'the nfet'." She giggled. "You remember those days?"
"Yeah, I explored the Internet in the '90s," Archie muttered absently, looking at the file in his hands apprehensively, worried about what would be inside. "My kid sister has Power Rangers fan fiction archived on from 1996. I should have never shown her how to post that stuff…" He looked up at Libby. "What… was in the file?"
"Photos of a dead girl," Libby replied. "Maybe a hooker? She wasn't exactly dressed conservatively, and she was found in the wrong side of town. Died on November 4th, no ID on her person, no fingerprints, and DNA back then was still in trial phases, so none of that. No clue who she was really, and no leads. Looks like it was open and then shelved within the span of a few days. Like they just… gave up on her… Sad, really."
Slowly, Archie opened the file. As he had expected, that pale girl with the braids and the blood coming out of her mouth was staring right back at him. But the photo was taken from above, when the video had seemed to be on the ground, angled down on the girl. It was definitely not the same shot that was now seared into the back of his mind. It said that she was found in a warehouse in the red light district. He chewed on his lip, then made the decision to drive to West Dover.
As if reading his mind, Libby said, "Going somewhere?"
"Wha?" Archie replied, blinking at her.
Libby gestured at him. "You're wearing your jacket."
"Yeah, I think I want to… check on something."
"Aren't you being mysterious?" Libby said. "Something personal?"
"No, it's just… about the case."
Libby seemed confused. "I thought that was the detectives' jobs, not ours."
"It's not," Archie replied. "It's… off the record."
Libby grinned. "Well, in that case, need someone to watch your back?"
Archie was about to protest, and then he thought of the video. Maybe having another person along would prevent any creepy things from happening again. "Sure. Grab a coat, it's cold out there."