A/N- Oh, hey… It's been a while, huh? For those of you who are curious, I deleted a few stories. So, er, sorry about that. But now it's time for serious writing :|
Standard disclaimer applies.
Murder Most Foul
Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of a human being by another human being.
At least, that's what I was taught.
I was also taught to question the obvious, not to trust facts. You see, I can find many questionable flaws in that statement. For instance, isn't every killing unlawful? Who deserves the have the power to decide who lives and who dies? And surely if you kill a person then you lose whatever shred of humanity you had left, right? It was these kinds of questions that got me working for SOLDIER. I had been training in the police before they found me. They told me that I was special, just what they were looking for, and that I could help them. Soon enough, after a couple of months of training, I was hired.
But you're not here to read my life story, are you? No, you're here to find out about what happened to Cloud Strife, that boy with the angel's eyes.
I often find myself staring out of the window while it was raining, which tends not to be a good thing if I'm driving. However, I did manage to get to my destination in one piece. The house looked quite small from the outside but it looked like one of those places that just feels like home. Even if I hadn't known what had happened in there, I could've guessed. An aura of grief and confusion seemed to surround the house; only amplified by the downpour of rain. The car sounded behind me as I locked it on my way to the door. It was opened before I even knocked.
"You're late, Fair," the tall man said to me. He was a robust man, someone you wouldn't say 'no' to, but I often went out of my way to irk him. Sephiroth never seemed to mind though; in fact I'd say he almost enjoyed it. Besides, things would be boring without me.
"Sorry, sir," I replied, "Bad weather and a sleepy driver isn't a good combination. Now, what am I doing?"
The general let out a small scoff. "What indeed. Get inside before you freeze to death." Taking a step aside, he allowed me to pass through. "No matter how much I would like to stay, I have other business to attend to. A boy has been murdered in his own home and I would like you to take the matter carefully; the boy's father is a close friend of mine. Perhaps you will recognise him."
A spark of recognition ignited in my head. "Ah, right, I remember now! Don't worry Seph, you can count on me to get this case solved."
He gave me a formal nod before stalking out of the door, scowling at the rain. Sephiroth wasn't usually this grumpy but I guess the death of that kid must have had some effect on him. The kid's name was Cloud, Cloud Strife. I'd seen him around when his father, Angeal, had been at our section of headquarters. I knew he and Sephiroth were close but I didn't know exactly how close.
It was hard for me to look at the body once I'd first caught a glance of it. Cloud had been such an attractive boy; he'd had a feminine face, soft blonde hair that was usually styled into spikes, and eyes so blue you could easily lose yourself in them. Of course, now his face was splattered with blood, the hair lay matted across his forehead, and those eyes, those beautiful eyes, would never see the light of day again. It was a shame to see such a young loss. I wasn't sure what Cloud had planned to do in life but I overheard Sephiroth saying that he was a fairly decent swordsman.
I cleared my throat to announce myself to the other men in the room. I tried to look authoritative as I surveyed the others. There were two policemen stood side by side and I recognised one of them immediately. I'd been training with Kunsel in the police before SOLDIER found me; we'd been quite close. I managed to catch up with him now and then but it'd been a few weeks since I'd last heard from him. The other officer looked unfamiliar to me but the other man in the room, standing with his back to the body, was Angeal. I could tell from his body language that he was incredibly distressed. I decided not to question the police officers as I tapped Angeal's shoulder; had he been forced to stay in the same room as his dead son?
"Er, Mr Hewley," I started hesitantly. "Would you mind coming with me?"
Angeal turned slightly, sparing me a glance over his shoulder. "Don't call me Mr Hewley, that makes me sound old." A ghost of a smile passed over his lips. "I… I don't want to leave him." His eyes drifted downwards and I followed his gaze.
"Please, Angeal, we're not going far. Just to the kitchen." To be honest, I just needed to talk to him and get a straight story from him which certainly wasn't going to happen with the mangled corpse of his son in the room—
Ah, my apologies, you must be quite confused. Cloud isn't Angeal's biological son but his adopted son. His parents died in a tragic accident when he was young and Angeal took him in. Not that the 'adopted' part made any real difference; they were as close as any father and son. Or at least, I thought they were.
It was nearly four am by the time I managed to get Angeal to talk, not that it was much use. I didn't want to ask about Cloud straight away so I started with a light conversation. I'd been taught not to pressure people, to let them come to talk on their own. I learnt from our little talk that Angeal had been working alongside Sephiroth and the other third of their trio, Genesis, in SOLDIER a few years before I joined. They're been the golden trio—better than all the rest. However, one day a terrible event occurred. They'd been set to find out some top secret information at an official ball but they'd been kicked out after their cover had been blown. On the way back to headquarters, they'd witnessed a horrific car crash. Of course, being the heroes that they were, their immediate reaction was to rescue the people involved. Unfortunately, three people had already died and on their attempts to save the survivors, Angeal was badly injured. When I asked what the injury was, he rolled up his sleeve, showing me a patch of disfigured flesh. He'd been badly burnt and was off duty for months. When he was finally better, he decided to branch off into another strand of SOLDIER and specialise in missions abroad. I questioned him on this and he said that with Cloud getting older, he was running low on money. Missions abroad pay much more than local missions.
As our cups of coffee started to become cold, I decided it was time to move onto the topic of Cloud. I'd seen a number of people walk past the door, some in forensics suits and others dressed for business. Placing my cup down gently on the table, I drew my eyes up to meet Angeal's.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
Angeal heaved a deep sigh, his gaze drifting off into the distance. "I suppose I can. You remind me of him, you know? Except you're more… excitable than he was—like a puppy." I could almost see his thought whizzing about in his head. "Before you ask, I don't know what actually happened and I don't know why. I just went to bed a couple of hours before he got back and at about one in the morning, I heard a crash and a scream. Cloud was supposed to be back at about eleven. I saw everything had been knocked over in the hallway and I ran to the living room. He was dead before—before I even reached him. And no, I didn't see anyone else in the room. They'd opened the window and were already running down the street. Filthy murderer." He spat out the words as if they spoiled his mouth.
After jotting down a couple of notes, I questioned him further. "Can you give me any exact times? How many people do you think were with Cloud?"
"Zack, I've been where you are. I know all the questions you're going to ask. If I knew, I would have answered them already," he replied.
I don't know why, but I felt as if I had to impress the man in front of me, as if he was judging me. I knew, of course, that he wasn't but there was this little voice in my head scolding me for my mistake. Actually, I wouldn't consider it as a mistake; I would call it being thorough. Then again, I probably should have realised that he would've told me already if he knew.
"Do you have any idea who might have done this to Cloud? Did he have any enemies?"
Angeal shook his head slowly, a dark look passing over his face. "No. No one I can think of… But they must have been very dishonourable. I don't know why someone would want… want to do that to him."
I sighed and sat back in my chair, I hadn't even realised I'd been leaning forwards. As much as my job paid, it required many incredibly early mornings and late nights. Rubbing my eyes, I ran a hand through my spikes. I probably looked like the most unofficial SOLDIER but I didn't really care. "Do you have anything else you can tell me?"
The other seemed to think over his words carefully before speaking. "Cloud… He's been acting strange. He said he'd got a job at a café but he never let me drive him to work or pick him up. He said he'd get lifts from one of his colleagues but I never saw them. He kept getting home very late, too. He just got very—very secretive."
I arched an eyebrow and wrote that down too. At least I had something to go on. "Is that all?"
Angeal gave an affirmative nod. "Yes. Thank you, Zack."
Despite my tiredness, I flashed a beaming smile to the man. "No, thank you, Angeal. I promise I'll find out what happened to Cloud." With a salute, I stood up and left the house.
The rain had stopped.
"Fair! Wake up!"
I sat up with a start, the book I was reading falling off my face. I looked around with wide eyes until they landed on a clothed torso. I slowly glanced upwards and smiled sheepishly at Sephiroth. "Mornin', sir."
He sent me a glare and turned around, only to turn back and hand me a mass of files. "I've read through your notes and took the liberty of getting records of every café in town while you slept."
Resisting the urge to groan, I flipped through the papers. "Thank you. I'll get on it straight awa—Sephiroth?" I looked to where he had been standing but he was no longer there. I brushed it off and took the first few files. It looked like I was going to be in the office for quite a while.
My office was –how should I put it?— organised chaos. I knew where everything was but that didn't necessarily mean it was tidy. I was constantly scolded by my colleagues about the mess but why should I bother tidying it? It'll only get messy again.
It was several hours later when the pile of paper finally reached a manageable level. I'd had to go through every café and either call or look them up on the internet to find out if Cloud had worked there. Part way through my work, an intern came in and handed me more files. Oh great, I though, more work. However, it turned out that from witnesses and neighbours, they'd managed to track the way Cloud went to work. I shot up immediately and started rummaging around the office for a town map. Once I found it, I cleared my desk and set it down. It took me a few minutes to locate Angeal's house but once I did, I took out a red marker pen. Tracing the route that was described on the file, I then located the cafés that were situated along that route. It wasn't much but it made my life easier.
As I worked through the shorter list I had compiled, I mused over what I'd been told. The whole job thing was very suspicious so my best lead would be to find out where he was actually working, since I highly doubted it was a café. Maybe I could find out who Cloud had carpooled with. I glanced over to another paper that Kunsel had given me. I'd texted him asking him if he could find out what Cloud had been doing all day. It seemed he'd left for work soon after school had finished. I should check out his school too.
One thing that had bugged me was that there was a gap between when Angeal had said when Cloud finished work and when he was murdered. It could be that he stayed late at work, or that he was at home for a while before he was murdered. However, the forensics report said that there had been a struggle through the hallway and he'd been cut with a sharp object, such as a knife, and then hit over the head with a blunt object. I was still waiting for the official report but I think his skull was fractured. Maybe he'd got in a fight with someone at work or school and it ended badly.
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud growling from my stomach. "I guess I should go get lunch," I said to the empty room. A glance at my watch told me it was my lunch hour so I headed out, grabbing my coat on the way. It was quite cold for early autumn, the harsh wind nearly cold enough to cut my face. Not that it needed to, I already had a small cross- shaped scar on the left of my face. I'd got it in a fight a few weeks ago.
I stopped at a small café not far from headquarters. I laugh quietly at the irony—this was one of the cafés marked on my map. I ordered a ham sandwich and a coffee, still not fully awake. I was usually a morning person and quite active for most of the day, but that was when my mornings didn't start at two am. I took a seat at an empty table and surveyed my surroundings. It wasn't that busy for lunch hour, in fact it was nearly empty. Soon a, er, large chested lady walked up to me and handed me my order. I smiled at her and thanked, about to take a sip of my coffee before she interrupted me.
"If you don't mind me asking, your voice sounds awfully familiar. Have I met you before?"
I quirked an eyebrow as the cogs turned in my head. "Ah, you must be Tifa. I'm Zack Fair, we spoke on the phone." I extended a hand and she shook it.
"Oh, right. It was a-about Cloud, wasn't it?" My eyebrows knitted together; how could she know about him? I only asked if they'd hired anyone recently. She answered my question before I even spoke it out loud. "I go to school with him… I've known him almost all of my life. A-Angeal t-told me the new this m-morning." She sniffed quietly, raising a hand to her eyes.
"No, don't cry." I stood up and placed a hand on the small of her back. I probably should have cared that she started crying into my chest and making my shirt wet or that my coffee was getting cold, but I didn't. I just whispered soothing words into her hair and she soon calmed down.
"Sorry about that…" she said softly, turning away to rub away her smeared mascara. "It's just that I—I loved him and I never got to tell him…" When she turned back, she had a defiant look on her face. "Find out who killed him Zack. Don't let this go; he wouldn't want that—"
"Tifa, hurry up! We've got orders to serve!" A voice called from somewhere behind her. Sending me a shaky smile, she went back to the kitchen and I sat down. I made a mental note to question her later; maybe she knew more about whatever Cloud was doing than Angeal did. It wasn't uncommon for kids to trust their friends more than their parents.
As I finished up my lunch, I waited for Tifa to re-emerge. She appeared shortly dressed in skinny jeans and a baggy shirt, carrying a bag on her shoulder.
"Shouldn't you be at school?" I asked.
She let out a small laugh. "Zack, it's Saturday."
A look of surprise crossed my face but it soon faded as I grinned. "Right, I lose track of the days."
She tilted her head in the direction of the door and I followed her through it. "So, I'm assuming this is about Cloud."
I gave a short nod. "Yes, it is. Would you mind coming to my office? I need to talk to you privately."
She bit her lip, glanced at her watch, and then nodded. "Sure, but I have to be home by two or my dad will get angry."
"Thanks, it's this way." I lead her through streets of people until we arrived at a strange building. Headquarters didn't look like anything special from the outside, just a hotel. I walked around to the side where an old door stood embedded in the wall. I took my card out and swiped it through the reader, soon gaining access to the building. I told Tifa to keep her head down and to just follow me, which she did. As we neared my office, I held the door open for her and she hurried in.
"This place could do with a good tidying," she commented.
I rolled my eyes and sat down behind my desk. "Everyone says that. Take a seat." She took the chair from the side of the room and dragged it in front of my desk.
"What is this place?"
"This is the SOLDIER headquarters. We deal with the things the police can't," I replied, leaning my head on my hand.
"Like a secret service?"
"Yes, like that. So, Tifa, this is going to be official and confidential. I need you to swear that every word you say in answer to my questions with be the truth."
I smiled, my official look vanishing, replaced by a friendlier one. "Good. I need to know if Cloud was having troubles with anyone. Did he get into fights, get picked on at school?"
Tifa looked down at her lap, shaking her head. "No, not that he told me. He might have gotten into fights but I never saw or heard about them. I… We were hanging out outside a few days ago and… I-I saw these bruises on his neck. They could have been love bites but he said he'd slipped and hit his head and neck… I'm not sure, he could just be clumsy, but he seemed to get bruises and cuts very easily."
I flipped through the papers that had been added to the pile on my desk while I was out, jotting down her statement as I did. "Ah, here it is." I skimmed the text for what I was looking for. "Yes, it says here that he was a well-trained fighter."
"Yeah, he was." She gave a small shrug. "Everyone has their hobbies."
"Okay, something else now. Are you aware that he had a job?" She nodded. "Okay, do you know where?"
"… I suppose it doesn't matter now he's gone," she said to herself. My gaze turned into a curious one as I waited for her to continue. "He said to everyone else that he was working at a café. I know what working at a café is like and he couldn't tell me where so I got suspicious. He made me promise not to tell anyone but… it's not like it matter's whether other people know any more. Just, please, don't make this public."
I leaned forwards unconsciously. "What is it?"
"He… I'm sure you know he was lying. He didn't tell me where exactly it was but he did say that he worked in a-a brothel."
I'm sure my eyes widened to the size of dinner plates at that information. I tried to imagine Cloud in a—a sexual situation but my mind came up blank. He looked far too innocent for that. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Can I go now?" She tapped her watched and I saw that she needed to be getting home soon.
"Yes… Thank you, Tifa. You've been a great help. I'll get one of the interns to show you out." She smiled nervously to me and exited.
I leaned back in my chair, exhaling a deep sigh. It seems the angel boy wasn't so angelic after all. I waited a few moments to get my head around the situation. So, Cloud's been working at a brothel secretly. There're two obvious possibilities now… He wanted to leave or got in a fight with one of his colleagues or clients, or it could be that someone at school found out and decided to do something about it. I honestly despised people who did things like this to others just because of their sexuality. I enjoyed swinging both ways so I failed to see what was wrong with homosexuality. Anyway, I had to take the situation with an open mind. No judging or assumptions, just facts and details.
I took out my work phone and dialled Sephiroth's number; maybe he knew something about any illegal brothels around town.
"Zack, what is it?"
"Oh, it's lovely to hear from you too, sweetie," I teased. I could practically hear his glare.
"Fair, what is it?"
I rolled my eyes. He never likes to play. "I need some information and it'd be best if you, er, didn't ask why I need it." I paused, allowing him to reply but he didn't. "Are there any brothels in this town that take in young bo—people."
The other line was silent and I thought for a moment that he'd gone. "Yes. There's one located on a side alley of Main Street. It'd be best if you didn't ask how I know that or why it hasn't been shut down."
I stifled a small laugh as my words were mirrored back to me and nodded, then remembering afterwards that he couldn't see me. "Okay, thanks, si—Did he just hang up?" I scoffed at my phone as a loud beep was heard. I looked back to my map that still occupied the majority of my desk. Main Street… There're three side alleys. Looks like this is actually getting somewhere.
As I walked out of my office once again, I almost ran straight into our resident redhead, Genesis Rhapsodos. Well, I say redhead but he was more of a copper-auburn colour nowadays.
"You heading out again, Zack?" he asked, brushing himself off from our little collision.
"Yes, it looks like you are too," I replied, indicating to his coat and scarf.
"I will be in a couple of minutes. We could go together if you wait a few moments." It could have just been my imagination but I could've sworn his voice was laced with seduction. Then again, that wouldn't be too surprising.
"Sorry, I've gotta go now, it's kinda urgent." He gave a short nod and allowed me to pass. I waved to him and quickly went on my way.
I'm not sure what I was expecting but when I finally reached my destination, it just looked… plain. I'd been to the other alleys and there was nothing there but this one—this one had a door with a small slot in it. It didn't take a genius to figure out where I needed to go.
Before I entered the place, I stayed back for a bit, observing the people walking in and out. They were mainly men; old, overweight, rich men. The thought of one of them having their hands all over Cloud sent a shiver down my spine. Disgusting. I probably should have gone in and asked questions but something in my head warned me against it. Maybe I've finally got some common sense, I joked silently. I didn't want to cause a stir; I just wanted answers and the culprit. Perhaps I should've waited and returned in the morning when there weren't actually clients in there. I didn't want to be recognised and have some wild rumour flying around, did I?
I was about to emerge from the shadows and head back to headquarters when a particular figure caught my attention. He was wearing a long red and black coat, his face hidden in his thick scarf. I almost called out to him, only managing to stop myself at the last second. Genesis? What's he doing here? He's not on the Cloud case. He knocked on the door and a pair of eyes appeared through the slot.
"You here for business?" a deep but soft voice asked.
Genesis nodded. "Always am." The door opened slightly and he slipped in.
I moved away from the walls quickly and reappeared back on Main Street. A crack of thunder sounded overhead. I scowled at the sky and pulled my hood up. This was going to be a long day.