Red Herring

Summary

The year is 2285, a full 7 years since the Sole Survivor emerged from the frozen tomb of Vault 101 on a quest to avenge his wife and retrieve his kidnapped son in the unforgiving wasteland that was the Commonwealth and against all odds he overcame the challenges that his chosen road had taken him to the top of the Institute's leadership as it's "Director". And it's been 5 years since Nick Valentine had seen one of his best friends after taking those reigns of leadership, remaining Diamond City's Number-One detective for hire, his talents are again called into a greater scope than a back alley murder when a single murder leads him onto the trail of a perp who seems determined to bring the Institute, and by extension it's "Director", into the ground.

Chapter 0: Reunions and Murder
Nick Valentine, a Second Generation Synth with a past man's living memories and thoughts running through what passed for his brain, was easily one of the most observant people you'd have the pleasure of meeting because being what he was meant his eyes were always sharp, reflexes always on point, being a machine had a lot of disadvantages, things he'd come to live with after years of it. It's perks? Also numerous and in this particular instance the superior strength to your average wastelander.

"Damn, Valentine, I keep forgetting that despite the fact you look almost ready the scrapheap, you're still in damn near working order there." MacCready goaded with a grin, face strained all around as he tried to push the detective's arm over and onto the table between them with effort.

Nick rose to the bait with a grin of his own, albeit smaller than the witty Mercs. "An oil bath a day and a little tune up here and there does wonders, Mac'." He gave his own sound of strain, more out of a habit then a real necessity since he didn't "feel" the strain, but he still did in a way, in a sort of "phantom" pain way that amputees could feel their limbs despite them being prothestic, he knew he would be straining with his Human body, and he automatically made to sound it.

Needless to say, there was a thud as their joined hands hit the table and the Dugout broke into a rounds of cheers and boos as the various patrons who had been betting on the pair traded their caps and comments, Many knew it would be Nick who won, but the ones who betted on the underdog still looked good naturedly sour about it. The contest of strength done, MacCready returned to enjoying his whiskey and Nick lit a cigar and leaned back in his seat.

"A good try, definitely felt the strain that time." The Synth complimented, and it was true, he could tell the Merc had really put on the muscle since their last meeting two years prior.

"Not hard to see why," Another body slid into the seat beside Nick's and they both turned to give a nod to the woman who joined them. "Buy a lass a drink?" Cait asked as she settled in beside the detective, looking more than a little tired.

"What's the lass' poison for the evening?" MacCready stood from his spot. "I'm getting a refill anyway."

"What're you having?"

"Whiskey."

The brawler nodded. "Gimme a mug o' that then."

MacCread winked. "Comin' right up." He turned and moved for the bar, leaving Nick and Cait alone in their little corner for the time being. And it wasn't long before Cait spoke up.

"The others make it tonight?"

"Just you and MacCready so far, I got word from Preston, says he can't make it this time," Nick informed her, exhaling another puff of smoke from his lips. He couldn't really blame Preston for missing their "reunion", a ritual the remaining group of friends who'd come together because of their mutual friend, because the man was now General of the restored Minutemen and due to the sheer size of the group now, which had returned to more or less full strength since it's glory days, likely kept Preston beyond busy.

"I can understand that," Cait said with a nod, likely reaching the same conclusion he had. "Poor guy, probably has shite drinking partners at the Castle." She laughed.

Nick joined her with his own chuckling. "I don't know, Preston's always had a knack for finding interesting company." That was certainly true, he had been the first one to meet the Sole Survivor, after all.

"Fair point, that." Cait conceded. "What about the others?"

"Haven't heard from Danse, though I'm not worried, the man is as tough as the power armor he used to wear." Nick relayed, adding the tough bit when he saw Cait's shoulder tense just a bit in worry. Machine eyes were sharp, after all. "Since he likes to stick to the fringes of the Commonwealth, I'm not surprised he hasn't gotten a good radio signal for awhile. As for Piper? I give her another few minutes before she shows."

"Hah! Woman lives here and I still beat her here?" Cait shook her head in amusement. "Probably working on that paper for the mayor's big speech tomorrow, right? Or was that yesterday?"

"Tomorrow," The detective confirmed. They were referring to Mayor Tanner's first address and "swearing" into the office of the Mayor of Diamond City since he'd won the election a week ago, though he'd been acting as Mayor for the better part of three days already, this was just the official business to make it real. Tanners was a good man, humble, considerate and only a mild vice user, Nick dug up that he had a history with Jet, so Cait could relate, but unlike her, he didn't see the signs of rapid addiction, in fact the man's girlfriend had hinted that he had steadily declined in it's use since his campaign started.

Nick was hopeful for the changes to come.

"Guess I'll stick around for that, if you don't mind me crashing at your place for the night, Nicky?"

"Afraid not, Cait," Nick said as MacCready rejoined them, sliding a mug of whiskey to Cait and asking what he'd missed, Cait filled him in and Nick continued. "The spare bed in my office is being taken by my newest assistant."

"Oh yeah!" The Merc across from him nodded with a smile. "Heard you took on a new pair of hands, getting slow in your old age, Nick?"

"Considering I just took you to the cleaners in arm wrestling, what does that say about you, Mac?" The Synth's own wit was just as quick.

Cait burst out laughing. "Need a stim' for that?"

MacCready just pouted and took another shot of his whiskey before he gave a small laugh of his own. "Okay, okay, but really, what's the story there, Valentine? Your other helper not enough anymore or what?" The Merc continued.

Nick gave a thoughtful hum. In truth, he wasn't sure how to explain why he'd taken on his newest assistant, who wasn't really a new secratary, but a real detective in training like him. "Well, it's like this-"

"I'm so sorry I'm late!"

The three of them stopped and turned to see a flustered Piper almost sprint into the bar and to their corner, sliding into the chair beside MacCready with a pant, clearly she'd rushed to the Dugout after finally noticing the time. "I got caught up in writing tomorrow's issue and I lost track of the hour and then-"

"Calm down, Piper, you'll blow a fuse, girl." Cait smirked at the flustered reporter.

"Yeah, leave that stuff to Nicky." MacCready added with a wide grin.

"Hah. Hah." Nick snorted, shaking his head at the all too easy banter from the merc, honestly, MacCready had a habit of referring to Nick as both Human and Machine as easily as if it were instinct, and honestly Nick didn't mind it, the man was good natured as they came. A little black on the story, but like everyone at the table they shared, they were all broguht together by the Sole Survivor. "But Cait's right, Piper, we understand, busy day tomorrow, right?"

"Oh yeah, big time, Tanners status as Mayor being offically accepted, the speech, the after speech party which I plan to attend, it'll be a busy day and I don't want to miss a second of it!" The dark haired reporter stated, easilt regaining her wind. "Anyways, enough about work, I just got off it so I wanna hear more about you guys. How've you been?"

"Eh," Cait shrugged. "Can't complain, the Combat Zone is still getting back into the swing of things, thanks to the Minutemen, and some privately hired security, we're not being taken over by arsehole raiders again anytime soon, the caps are flowing again."

"You gettin' back into the ring?" MacCready tilted his head.

The brawler shook her head. "Nah, I'm just an instructor. I might own the place, but I leave most of the management stuff to Tommy. It's good system, no shortage of fighters these days wanting to go straight but love the thrill of a fight, y'know?"

"I know the type."

"Same here," Nick agreed with MacCready. Piper nodded along with them, then asked about MacCready's dealings.

The Merc was readily open. "Oh, here and there, mostly still doing grunt work. Caravan guarding, occasional bodyguard, Minuteman for hire." He chuckled and took another draw from his whiskey. "Nothing too shady. Gunners no longer able to breathe down my neck helps me expand my scope in work. I'm not poor and Duncan gets to live comfortably for it."

The table shared a round of encourgament for the merc's good fortune so far in straightening out his life and supporting his son. Nick especially was heart warmed because he, like they likely did, that someone who wasn't with them now hadn't had that luck to see their son happy and grow...Instead, they'd seen him sick and dying. But it wasn't long before they came back to the previous topic of his newest helping hand.

So, Nick finished the tale. "Alright, you nosy trio," He ignored their little jabs at "coming from the detective" and started. "As I was saying, My newest assistant just has that spark in her eye, she's sharp and a damn quick learner, it's obvious she could have been anything else in this city of ours, but she chose to approach me for a job?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Couldn't turn her away, so I hired her on, tested her a few times with some minor crimes...Honestly, in the five months I've had her, she's proven capable."

And now, the bombshell. "As for why I took her on? Well, I'm getting out of the business, probably retire after another year or so when I'm sure she's ready to take the agency off my hands."

The reaction was mixed, MacCready looked confused, Piper seemed a bit sad and Cait just nodded. "Why?" MacCready asked for them. "You're still the best, so why leave the trade?"

"Like you said, Mac, I'm getting old, I know it doesn't seem like it, but I do some days feel my age," He lifted his arm, giving it a few testing moves, they could heard the clicks and mechanics work, but there were more than few rattles he didn't like hearing. Yes, he was well maintaned for a Synth like himself, but that didn't mean he wouldn't break down eventually. "So, I think it's time I left the detective field and settled down, live the comfortable life."

"I know that choice, Nick," Cait planted her hand on his shoulder and grinned. "That mean I can start expecting you down at the Combat Zone every so often? Bettin' a good game makes comfortable living more fun."

"And losing a bet makes it harder, I'm lucky, but not that lucky," Nick chuckled.

"I'll be losing my inside source," Piper whined with a small pout. "Who'll give me all the inside scoops then?"

"You can try getting to my replacement, she might let you given we're friends. But who knows?" Nick knew that would be a tough egg to crack. Rose wasn't exactly the easiest to talk to when it came to ongoing investigations, so Piper would probably have to wait for her scoops. But the reporter need not learn that at the moment.

Piper just sighed dramatically. "Oh well, what about the others? Hancock? Danse?" She paused, then added. "Strong?"

MacCready snorted and Cait laughed. "Good luck getting Hancock into Diamond City willingly, even with McDonough no longer mayor the ghoul ban lifted, he still prefers Goodneighbour." The merc said.

"As for Strong, well...Good luck getting him past security." Cait rolled her eyes. "Or them alive if things got violent, so, I don't think Strong will be joining us."

"And I haven't heard from Danse or Curie, and I don't think Codsworth will be leaving Sanctuary for a visit and some drinks," Nick provided his own intel.

"So just us four this year, huh?" Piper sounded more resigned.

"Yeah." Cait joined her, eyes at the table.

MacCready was silent along with Nick. This often happened at some point during these reunions when they remembered the people who were no longer with them. Particularly Deacon, the smooth but mysterious Railroad agent who had chosen to fight for his fallen comrades when the Sole Survivor finally chose his side, the Institute demanded the destruction of the Brotherhood of Steel and the Railroad, and the soldier had delivered.

The Railroad, an underground force on it's own, had been nearly cleaned away in it's entirety. In the seven years it had stopped being a "myth" and instead was reduced to a rumor of a faction that "once existed", now just passing gossip about something past. Deacon had understandably been upset...and when he confronted the Sole Survivor back while trying to save the remains of one of the safehouses they'd established...He hadn't made it.

It was hard to feel about that, Nick remembered at the time. Deacon had been unknowable, but so approachable all the same, the man blended with any crowd he chose to and adopted so many masks it was hard to tell who "Deacon" really was beneath it all, a constant puzzle that even Nick hadn't figured out in the short time they'd known each other, but Deacon, like all of them, had been brought to their group by their mutual friend...and so, he had been a comrade until the end.

"To Deacon." Nick whispered. Cait and MacCready's glasses clinked. And par for their ritual, they drank while Nick and Piper held a moment of silence.

"What about our friend?" Piper asked then. "Anyone heard from him?"

MaCready, Cait and Nick all shook their heads. They hadn't heard from that man in a long while, five years in fact,not since he told them that his time at the Institute and as it's Director would be his full time focus since things were apparently progressing down there. They all understood and they had all accepted that their friend and leader had duties he attended to now, then it had stung, now it was just a bittersweet memory.

An hour later and midnight had come. The four friends were gathering themselves up and preparing to return home, "I'll be staying the night and taking off in the morning," MacCready informed them as he stretched his arms above his head, sufficiently buzzed alongside Cait. "I'll try and stop by tomorrow for a proper goodbye, but in case I don't, I'll see you all next year, yeah?"

"You know it," Piper adjusted her hat with a smile. "You know where to find me."

"I'll be staying the night too, probably follow MacCready's plan," Cait explained. "D'ya mind the company for the night, merc man?"

"You mean do I mind you mooching off my caps to get a free bed for the night?" MacCready shrugged. "Not at all, come on, lets go get settled." Together, the merc and brawler moved off to rent their room for the night.

Piper and Nick left the Dugout a moment later, the chilly night air making the report shiver after spending so much time in the proper heated bar. "Chilly."

"Just a bit." Nick agreed with a smile. "Want me to walk you home?" He offered.

"Please, Nick," Piper rolled her eyes with a good natured smile. "I'm not helpless and I live around the corner, I'll be fine. You take care of yourself, now." She moved away, pausing to ask over her shoulder. "You going to be at the speech tomorrow?"

"I make no promises," Nick held up his hands. "Never been one for fancy speeches."

"Hah, right, well goodnight, Nick."

"G'night, Piper."

The two parted ways and Nick took to the streets of Diamond City back towards his office with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his trench coat, had tipped forward a bit. It was a pretty calm night, only the hustle and bustle of the city's small night lifers and the generators running to keep their lights going. Not a cloud to obscure the shimmering stars above. A perfect night.

So it wasn't any surprise when his radio crackled to life caused him to jump out of his proverbial skin. "Valentine?"

Nick blinked, retrieving the device from from his breast pocket. The radio was a hand held device, and so long as his office tower stood, it would allow communication between himself and his aid and assistant. "Rose?" He frowned, she only ever used his last name when in a professional setting, so that meant something was up. "What's happened?"

"Come to Tanners, quickly." Her tone was as grim as the feeling growing in his gut. "You need to see this."

"On my way." He turned and broke into a jog, dreading what would come next.


It wasn't ten minutes later that he arrived at the home of the next mayor of Diamond City, on all fronts it was a modest home, single floor, a nice little fence and some bushes for greenery, small windows and welcome mat out. Unlike the social elite who liked to live up in the stands, Tanners preferred to be "on the ground" with the common people.

So when Nick saw three guards standing outside the property, one of the new doctors to the city, Doctor Smith, looking over two other guards who appeared to be stunned and out of it on the ground, he knew there wasn't going to be anything good past that door as he approached. "Where's Rose?"

"She's inside, Valentine," The guard sounded more than a little angry, and tired.

The detective stepped past them and into the humble home and wasn't disappointed by what he found inside. It was modest, simple and marred only by the body in the center of the living room, half drapped against the couch with an arm stretched out as if to reach for the couchside table, but from the blood seeping into the blue fabric of the couch beneath the body indicated, the new mayor hadn't made it to whatever he was reaching for.

Lance Tanners, the man was barely twenty-five in appearance, brown tousled hair, fair face and skin, patched suit. He was a man who Nick could honestly say he liked because it was difficult not to, the man had a natural charisma that drew you in and was only helped by the man's sheer desire to try and do good. He had been almost too perfect that Nick had to investigate him...And found cleanliness. He'd have been a good mayor and now he was another body on Nick's resume.

He spotted Rose leaning over the body, notebook in hand and emerald eyed focused on the body, her own trench coat billowing in the breeze priovided by the fan throwing cool air across the space as it turn to and fro. Rose, like Tanners, was young, Nick guessed her age at twenty, but she told him she was actually thirty-one, just incredibly aged. But she was also sharp, very sharp. If MacCready, Piper and Cait had some gene spliced love child, he imagined it would be someone like his newest assistant.

She had a keen talent for his line of work, in fact she seemed to have a talent for whatever she wanted to work on, when she had come to him months ago she was already something of a "genius", her resume consisted of being an accomplished fighter and shooter, common enough skills in the Wasteland, but her aim was almost as sharp as his own, and he was a machine who's fingers and arms barely shook. She had Cait's hair color almost perfectly too, though only halfway of it's length, the rest as black, as if her hair had been dyed and was growing out while the red faded.

Rose also had Cait's build, all lean muscle from physical labor, she told him she used to be a farmer before she started working as a caravan guard, havng traveled the Capital Wasteland and even the Mojave once or twice. So she was well travelled and knew her way around. With green eyes that shone with the edge of intelligence, Nick could safely say she was probably the best prospect to replace him when he finally informed her he was retiring soon when her training was complete.

For now though? Business. "What've we got?" He approached the scene.

"Professional hit." His partner didn't beat around the bush. "Guards outside were knocked out by a stun weapon, neither apparently saw anything before they went down, they came to and found Tanners like this, they called me, I called you and here we are."

Nick sighed. "What's the story, then?"

"Happened probably a half hour ago, body is stll warm and the blood hasn't come close to drying," Rose listed off as she looked up from her notebook. "Three wounds. Two to the upper back and one to the back of the head," She pointed with her pen to the two bloodied splotches on the body's back, which was where the majority of the blood had leaked from. "Found three casings, ten-milimeter caliber. No one heard any shots."

"So a silenced handgun then," Nick muttered, observing the scene. "No signs of struggle, what about the door?"

"Guards said it was locked before they were taken out and open when they came to." The two-toned haired woman moved over and let Nick get a closer look at the body while she went on. "Lock was picked. And given the time of night, I doubt questioning the neigbhours would prove useful."

"So, someone who knows their way around a lock and isn't big on theatrics, if these wounds are anything to go by," The detective stopped and observed the wound to the back of the hair, some of the hairs around the area were scorhed, along with the skin beneath those. He looked at the wounds to the back next, no burns. "Interesting."

"What is?"

"The wounds to the back were done at range, but the headshot was point blank, there's burned hair and skin, our killer put his weapon right to the back of Tanner's skull and fired." Nick stood relayed, "Tanners probably lived through the first two shots, tried to get at his table...Our killer strolls over." Nick point his finger over the hole at the back of the man's skull. "Bang. Now, what was Tanner's reaching for?"

"Checked, it's a simple ten caliber handgun." Rose flipped a page in her book, going back to writing with a frown.

"I'll give the rest of the house a once over, you stay with the body, try and see if there's anything here we might've missed." Nick said, adjusting his hat as he stood and moved for the bedroom after hearing a quick "Yes, sir" from his partner. He stepped into the bedroom and like the rest of the home, it was a modest one. Single bed, bedside dresser, lamp and a few books for reading material, a clean black suit hanging off a rack in the corner.

Likely for his speech tomorrow. Nick thought before seeing the small desk with a console atop it. He stepped over and frowned, the console was powered on, but the screen showed it was password locked. He leaned down and observed the keys, the usual wear and tear of repeated use was evident, but whatever was on it, Nick wasn't a computer expert. "Rose, get over here."

She appeared in the doorway and spotted the terminal. "Locked?"

"Can you crack it?"

She stepped forward, pulling up the chair and taking a seat. "I can try. Do you think our killer tried to get access to it?"

"It was powered on and the light was off, doesn't seem like a man who turns off his lamp would leave his computer on." Nick explaind. "If the killer tried to get accss to it, it might have something that can help us find out who did this."

"Gimme a second then, I'll try and crack this security." Rose leaned over the keyboard and got to work. "Might take a minute, this isn't something to scoff at."

"I'll give the room looking over more thoroughly then," Nick turned and moved to the dresser, pulling open the drawers and find clothing, moving through those, he found only fabric, all organized, but nothing out of the ordinary. Some spare ammunition in one drawer and more books. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. "Nothing."

"Well, this might be better." His partner called. "I'm in." She leaned back, various files scrolling across the screen. "Dates, looks like a personal journal maybe?"

"It could be, can you put those files onto a holotape?"

"I will, better go give bathroom a once over too, finish up here and give the guards the bad news."

Nick nodded. "I'll do that." When at the bathroom, he found similar results, nothing incriminating, a bit of jet. Cleaning supplies, nothing else. He sighed, rubbing the back of his head at how tough this was going to be. All they had to go on was their killer was a pro and had a possible interest in Tanners' journal entires. "This is going to be a tough one."

His partner stepped into the hall, holotape in hand. "I've got them." She held it up and out to him.

"We'll go over them when we get back to the office," Nick pocketed it. "For now, find anything else on the body?"

"Nothing worth note, caps, gum." Rose frowned, looking like she wanted to say more but was stopping herself, and Nick quickly urged her to speak her mind. "I don't like this, Valentine. A Professional hit like this on a man who for all we've found out is nothing but a good person? This feels...Bad, to me."

Nick almost smiled. She had good instincts, he was getting that same feeling. "I feel the same way, but, good or bad feeling, our job is to follow this trail, no matter how difficult the beginning is. Now come on, we better inform the guards outside what we've found," Or lack of. "And I'll get back to the office and look through these."

Rose blinked. "You will? What about me?"

"You turn in for the night, I'll need you at full tank tomorrow for when the hard part begins." And that was trying to find a lead to follow. Rose looked like she wanted to argue, before her lips formed a line and she nodded, another adjustment of her coat and together the pair of them moved outside, told the guards what they found their search and that they'd taken the journal entries onto a holotape for further lead searching.

"Should we inform his girl?" One guard asked tentatively.

"No," Nick shook his head. "I'll do that in the morning, for now..We ought to let the poor woman rest, she'll need it."

"Right," The guards didn't argue there. Everyone knew Tanners and his girlfriend, Trish, were head over heels for each other, so this was likely to cut the woman deeply, and Nick wasn't going to like breaking the news nor following up with questions...But someone had to. He could only hope she was cooperative come the morning.

"Well, good night, guys."

The guards returned the farewell with no real fire, they were probably as tired as any normal person at the hour. Halfway to the office, Rose said her own goodnight and broke off, going towards her home in the upper stands. Nick returned to the office and, keeping his hat on since he was still "on the clock", moved to his desk and slid the holotape into the computer there and got to reading. Hoping for something he could make use of before the morning came.


End of chapter 0

Well, there it is, another chapter in a story I'll probably get like six chapters in and stop writing because my fickle muse is like that, but! Considering how much this idea has been bugging me to write, I figured "What the hell? I'll do it for as long as the muse lasts." And so, here it is! The first chapter to my attempt at some mystery murder stuffs! And I know it wasn't really a good opening, considering it focused more on the reunion then the murder, but I figred a little explanation of events was in order!

That said, any questions/suggestions/critics, feel free to PM them or leave them a Review! Have a nice day/night and thanks for reading!