There are four ways to kill a man.
The bullet hole was small, but the wound bled profusely, staining the man's white polo from his chest to his sleeve.
Drip, drip. Drops of blood fell from the man's limp fingers and splashed off the remains of a broken champagne glass and its former contents.
A bloody pillow had been cast aside and lay against a wall.
The man lay splayed out upon the couch, limbs askew; his back was broken in three places. The awkward angle made the scene nauseating to observe.
Chief Investigator Lucas Briggs crouched by the body, gazing upon the man's lifeless form. Somewhere within those dead gray eyes lay the key to this disturbing puzzle. "Who killed you, Charles Ives?" he implored. The businessman's pallid face did not respond.
Briggs sighed and stood up. "Cordon off the crime scene and alert police units in the area. This guy could be running around out there. Somebody get me a coffee."
There was a bustle of excitement to follow orders. Lucas Briggs was something of a legend among investigators, and everyone working there was keen to impress him. Gordon Duncan, Briggs' lieutenant, snapped out his omniphone and started repeating the orders to everyone on the police frequency.
"And… stand back some. I don't want any erroneous boot prints or the like in my crime scene."
Duncan nodded and herded the several assistants and aides out the door into the corridor outside Ives' office.
Briggs was left alone with his personal assistant, Samantha Conors, and the body of investment banker Charles Ives. Samantha got out a computer tablet for taking notes and dutifully followed Briggs around the crime scene.
"The guy hasn't been dead for more than half an hour," Briggs noted.
"How do you know?" Samantha asked.
"The ice cubes haven't melted—he made himself a Madonna on the Rocks, but never got a chance to finish it. Make that twenty minutes; it feels pretty warm in here."
Briggs stood back to survey the room, making a snapshot of the scene in his mind. It was a special talent he'd had as long as he could remember. Once he fixed a scene in his memory, he never forgot it.
It was Ives' personal office and was designed to let every visitor know that he was important. A large mahogany desk faced a set of two-story tall windows that overlooked Moscow's famous Revolution Avenue in the background. The fading sun cast a soft glow on the desk and small dust particles were visible, floating in the beams. In the foreground lay a white leather couch, facing two similar armchairs around a post-modern glass coffee table, presumably for receiving guests. It currently supported the corpse of Charles Ives. The floor was white marble from wall to wall, except for an oriental rug beneath the desk.
On the right was a small set of stairs that led to an upstairs kitchen. The upstairs was separated from the main office space merely by a balcony that ran the length of the room, in accordance with the room's open, grandiose style.
Briggs was interrupted by an aide. "Your coffee, sir. Oh, and Merry Christmas."
Briggs looked at the young lady. He didn't know her name. "Thanks," he said, brusquely accepting the steaming mug. "Some Christmas, eh? Now, shoo, you're contaminating my crime scene."
The aide curtseyed and scurried back beyond the yellow tape.
"Let's check upstairs," Briggs said.
Samantha followed her boss up the stairs. There was a small kitchenette with a mini-bar, presumably where Ives had made his drink. Opposite the mini-bar was the bathroom, which was done lavishly in blue pastels for the comfort and luxury of the banker.
"See anything?" Briggs asked the young woman.
"Well, he must have fallen from the balcony onto the couch, that much is clear. Apart from that, it looks like the poor man suffered," Samantha replied.
Briggs gave an approving nod. "I know exactly what happened. The killer waited in the bathroom while Charles made himself a drink. The ice cubes were poisoned, because the killer had no way of knowing what drink Charles would pick apart from a cold one—did you notice that the thermostat is set five degrees warmer than usual? Once Ives has his poisoned cup, out comes our killer. Ives goes over balcony to save himself, or perhaps because he was knocked over. Either way, he lands on the couch awkwardly, snapping his back. The killer comes down the stairs and shoots Ives in the heart. For some reason that didn't kill him, so the killer muffles him with a pillow, strangling him until he bleeds to death, dies of poison, or suffocates."
Samatha sighed. Briggs always made her feel so inadequate. In an attempt to salvage her pride, she tried to ask some probing questions. "Why didn't he just let Ives die of the poison? Assuming he put it in the ice cubes as you say, why wait around?"
"The poison was probably slow-acting. I'm guessing he wanted to confront Ives, or cause him to suffer. Maybe he couldn't risk Ives getting to an omniphone and calling in paramedics."
"So, a revenge killing?" Samantha asked.
"How did he get in? The door would have records of who went through, maybe we could check that—"
"The ventilation. Our man's smart; he knows the door will register who he is, height, weight, body odor. The only other way in is the ventilation."
Samantha was a bit frustrated. In four months of service under Briggs, she'd never heard the man say "I don't know." She had not stopped trying, though. One day, she'd ask the right question.
"Why only one shot? If Ives was screaming, why not shoot again to finish him off?" she pressed.
"A revenge killing, maybe. The killer was certainly attempting to inflict as much pain as possible. A second shot would kill the victim, cutting short on suffering time."
"So our killer is a sadistic madman?"
"I can't say who did it, only how they did it. I got the facts to go on, which don't tell me anything about our killer. I got no way—yet—to tell who we are looking for. What I find interesting is the killer's target selection. A sadistic madman would have no reason to kill Charles Ives."
"Someone who knows Ives, then?"
"Hell, that's just about everyone on the planet. Someone who would have good reason to kill Ives is all I can tell."
Briggs turned around and went downstairs, and Samantha followed him, trying to figure out how to be helpful. Briggs spat some orders into the omniphone.
"Tell the police squadrons to watch for anyone coming out of manholes or the ventilation ducts that lead to the alleyways. That's how he came in, that's how he's going out. Arrest anyone suspicious on sight. This man is armed and dangerous and he will not hesitate to shoot. And Duncan, where the hell is my CSI? My ice cubes are melting, man! Snow? What do you mean snow? How are hovercars slowed down by snow? Yes, man! The ambient temperature here is twenty five degrees. Look, I don't care if it's negative four or negative forty out there, my ice cubes are melting!"
Briggs turned off the omniphone in annoyance. Suddenly his expression changed from annoyance to shock.
"Something wrong, cap?" Samantha asked.
Briggs' voice was no louder than an urgent whisper. "He's still here."