November 18, 2050
When Detective Wesley Wright walked into Hayashi’s Sushi Lounge, he instantly wished that he’d called in sick.
He was tired and drawn from a long night poring over security footage and felt as though someone had Saran-wrapped his eyeballs. He had the prickle of yesterday’s beard on his jaw, and his breath was sour from too much coffee.
The restaurant looked more like a movie set than a true crime scene. Blood was everywhere: smeared across the floor, splattered along the side of the bar, sprayed across the paper screen behind the hostess’s station.
Shards of broken glass glittered like confetti in the weak strands of morning light. A potted bamboo plant was lying on its side next to the door with dirt and pebbles spilling out of the base. Two of the stylish high-backed barstools had been upended, and the speckled granite bar top was bare except for a puddle of spilled sake.
Wesley rarely ate sushi, but he had an odd feeling that he’d been here before — probably on a date with some woman who claimed to be “addicted to traveling” or “fascinated by other cultures.”
It could only have been six or seven years ago, during the resentful firestorm of his divorce, but the interior of the restaurant looked dramatically different.
Back then, Wesley had had more chestnut hair than forehead, and the restaurant had been a quirky little dive with colorful anime artwork papering the walls. The waitresses had all worn kimono with bright geometric designs, and he remembered a tip jar with doe-eyed anime girls sketched on the side.
Like the rest of the neighborhood, Hayashi’s had fallen victim to merciless gentrification. The kitschy paper lanterns hanging over the tables had been replaced by cylindrical frosted-glass light fixtures. The spray-painted metal tables had given way to solid walnut monstrosities accented with simple white candles, and the comic book-style menus had been replaced by skinny flipbooks that advertised prices without dollar signs or decimal points.
Wesley was sure that Hayashi’s recent facelift had allowed the restaurant to raise its prices by at least fifty percent, but that hike probably just kept pace with the skyrocketing rent in the neighborhood.
The victim was a woman in her mid-thirties. She was crumpled beside the bar with her knees tucked underneath her as if she’d been dragging herself across the floor in the moments leading up to her death. She was wearing a snug black pencil skirt, a red sleeveless blouse, and matching black pumps.
Her name was Juliette Hayashi, and she was the owner of the restaurant. The photo on Hayashi’s “About” page showed Juliette standing behind the bar in an elegant cream kimono shirt with her long black hair draped over her shoulders. She had full, pillowy lips and eyes that seemed to smile for her. She had some Japanese in her, but one parent was probably of European descent.
The picture also showed a young girl — maybe twelve or thirteen — peeking over the bar in front of her mother.
Wesley’s stomach lurched. He hated these types of cases more than anything. Juliette was a single mother, and he had a horrible feeling that he was about to find the body of the girl around the corner.
“Do we have cause of death?” he asked Daniel, the crime scene supervisor.
“Looks like she was stabbed.”
Daniel was a thick-set man with bushy brown hair that he styled to stand straight up. His generous side burns dipped low enough to connect with his chin curtain, which made it look as though he were wearing a bizarre furry helmet.
It was barely six o’clock, but Daniel already had traces of a powdered donut on his chin. Wesley only hoped he hadn’t contaminated the crime scene with his breakfast.
“No signs of sexual assault, but it looks as though the perp tried to strangle her first. There’s bruising along the vic’s neck and arms.”
Daniel shook his head. “Not here, but we’re thinking she was stabbed with one of her own sushi knives.”
“She was the chef?”
“Nope,” said Daniel. “She was probably closing up when she was attacked. The doors were locked from the inside and the windows don’t open, so . . .”
“So she must have known the killer.”
“It could have been one of her employees — or a regular customer, maybe.”
Wesley swallowed and picked his way around the trail of blood on the floor, trying to imagine what the struggle might have looked like.
It wasn’t for them to decide who Juliette’s murderer was, but he couldn’t help speculating. The public would hold his precinct accountable, yet Wesley was really just the human face on the investigation.
Daniel and his techs would show up, gather the evidence, take pictures of the crime scene, and enter the data into the department’s crime-solving program, Sherlokk. The program would mine the victim’s smartware, social media profiles, and bank accounts to construct a timeline, generate a list of all persons of interest in the case, and flag potential motives.
Wesley’s job was to conduct interviews with potential witnesses and import the recordings into the program. Then Sherlokk would go to work analyzing interviewees’ tone, speech patterns, and body language to identify who was telling the truth and who might be lying. If it recognized deception, Sherlokk would cross-reference facial data from the city’s surveillance cameras and smartware GPS data to pick apart that individual’s alibi.
When it was all said and done, the program would generate a list of potential suspects, complete with a certainty score and a recommendation for the department.
If there was enough evidence for a conviction, Wesley would march in to make the arrest and parade the perp in front of the media — regardless of whether he thought the guy was guilty or not.
Wesley usually had his own theories on who the killer was, but his superiors liked him to stick to the program’s recommendations when making an arrest. With Sherlokk, the department could count on a tidy eighty-five percent solve rate for homicides, which was four percentage points better than the pre-AI solve rate in the state of Colorado and a whopping twenty percent better than the national average.
But occasionally, the program would miss something entirely — something that only a human investigator could detect in his gut. Staring down at Juliette Hayashi’s crumpled body, Wesley had a feeling that this could be one of those cases.
“Who found her?” Wesley asked.
“A guy out walking his girlfriend’s dog called it in. Said he saw the victim lying on the ground through the door. There was a lot of blood, so he called 911.”
“Surveillance confirm his story?”
Daniel shook his head. “The whole neighborhood lost power for about three hours last night . . . screwed up the security cameras. My guys say there’s no footage of anyone entering or leaving the restaurant between ten-forty and one-thirty.”
“I know. The 911 caller seems legit though. He’s still outside if you want to talk to him.”
Daniel nodded toward the door. Through the glass, Wesley could see a crowd of curious onlookers gathering around the perimeter they’d set up. His gaze darted past the cluster of news reporters, a large man with a crooked nose, and an old lady wearing oversized earmuffs to a guy with short blond hair holding a Yorkie on a pink rhinestone leash.
Careful not to disturb the body, Wesley crossed behind the bar and slowly made his way back to the kitchen.
“Looks like the perp was just here to drink,” Daniel called behind him. “There’s no food on the sushi bar, and the kitchen is clean.”
“Clean” was an understatement. The kitchen looked completely untouched. The stainless-steel surfaces gleamed under the bright florescent lighting — not a grain of rice out of place. Clearly Juliette Hayashi ran a tight ship.
But toward the very back of the room, Wesley spotted a rickety little table that had been pushed up against the wall. A purple corduroy backpack was leaning against the table leg, and the surface was covered in looseleaf paper.
Using his pen to lift the top layer, Wesley saw an algebra textbook with a Hello Kitty pencil wedged in the spine. Sitting next to it was a well-worn eraser that had left little pink shavings all over the table. Unless Juliette was employing some underage workers, this had to be the daughter’s homework.
“Where’s the girl?” Wesley called.
“Vic’s daughter. She’s probably fourteen or fifteen by now.”
The crunch of glass underfoot signaled Daniel’s approach. He stopped, following Wesley’s gaze to the textbook. “She isn’t here.”
“Where is she then?”
“Dunno,” said Daniel. “They’re searching Hayashi’s residence now. Maybe she’s at home.”
“I don’t think so. She left all her school stuff here.”
Wesley let out a resigned sigh. With the father/husband dead, Juliette and her daughter were probably all each other had left in this world. Now the girl had no one, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
Until they found the daughter, they couldn’t rule out the possibility that they were looking at a double homicide or a kidnapping. Wherever the girl was, she could be in trouble.
By the time Wesley stepped outside to interview the 911 caller and any neighbors who might have seen something, reporters were already starting to gather like flies.
They were snapping photos of the restaurant and trying to get a clean shot of the body, which made Wesley sick to his stomach. The murder of an attractive single mother and the disappearance of her young daughter would no doubt grab headlines, and the fact that she’d been murdered in a hip sushi bar surrounded by pricey condos would only add fuel to the story. Wesley predicted that Juliette’s and Arianna’s faces would be plastered over every Denver news site within the hour.
As Wesley had predicted, Juliette’s daughter wasn’t back at their apartment, and a quick call to the girl’s school revealed that she wasn’t there either. He knocked on all the doors on the Hayashis’ floor and talked to the super, but no one had seen Arianna or her mother since that morning. Arianna didn’t have her own smartware, but Wesley had the techs sifting through Juliette’s Connected Home account to see whom the girl was in contact with online.
According to her school file, fourteen-year-old Arianna Hayashi was an honors student and first-chair violin in the eighth-grade orchestra. Her English teacher reported that she was reading at a college level, and all her teachers had recommended her for the accelerated learning program when she entered the e-school the following year.
A note from the guidance counselor revealed that Arianna was introverted, polite, and painfully shy, but Wesley didn’t put much stock in what some junior-league quack thought about his witness. He’d had his head shrunk in couples counseling for more than a year, and in the end his wife had still decided to leave him and take their daughter with her.
Wesley was more interested in Arianna’s friends and extracurricular activities than her Myers-Briggs personality type. Judging from the guidance counselor’s note, Arianna spent most of her time after school training at the Swann Ballet Academy downtown and the rest working at her mother’s restaurant.
Her file made no mention of any friends or accomplices, so Wesley decided to pay a visit to Morey Middle School to speak to the vice principal and see if he could question a few of the girl’s classmates before news of her disappearance spread.
Vice Principal Keaton was a tall, muscular black man with a neat mustache and deep, probing eyes. He wore a gray suit that was smart but not flashy and had a commanding presence that could put a halt to all shenanigans within a twelve-foot radius.
Wesley’s conversation with Keaton wasn’t very illuminating. Arianna wasn’t a trouble-maker, and she rarely missed school. The only reason Keaton even knew the girl was because of Juliette’s recent complaint that her daughter was being bullied.
Keaton agreed to let Wesley interview a few of Arianna’s friends and classmates, but most of the other students seemed only vaguely aware of her existence. The few he could find who knew Arianna all described her the same way.
“She’s kind of weird,” said Ashleigh, one of Arianna’s gum-smacking classmates who knew her from dance.
Ashleigh was blond, pretty, and made up in a way that added a few years to her looks. She wore her hair in a jauntily messy bun at the top of her head, and her eyes were rimmed with dark-purple eyeliner. With her designer purse, good looks, and subtle air of superiority, Wesley surmised that Ashleigh was one of the “it” girls at her school — possibly even one of Arianna’s antagonists.
“Weird how?” asked Wesley.
“Well, she doesn’t have many friends.” Gum smack. “Just Quinn Peterson. She doesn’t talk in class at all. She just, like, sits there and reads.” Ashleigh shrugged. “I tried to be her friend, but . . .”
Wesley took a deep breath to summon some extra patience. “But what?”
Ashleigh shrugged. “I don’t know. She could be cool, but she doesn’t even try. And she’s way too skinny.” Ashleigh lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think she might be anorexic.”
“Right,” said Wesley. “I think I have enough. Can you send Quinn in?”
“Quinn and I aren’t friends!”
“Please, Ashleigh,” said Keaton. “It’s important.”
Ashleigh scoffed and got up to leave, stomping her boots so that the little gold embellishments clinked like spurs. Wesley breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he’d dodged a bullet when it came to his own daughter.
Quinn Peterson turned out to be the polar opposite of Ashleigh but just as terrifying. She stalked into the vice principal’s office as though she were walking to her own execution and collapsed into the chair next to Wesley with an aggravated sigh.
Quinn was pale and slight with home-dyed hair, thick black eyeliner, and black lipstick. She was wearing baggy black pants held up by a studded belt and a T-shirt that had been artfully ripped and torn.
Apart from the thick streak of blue hair tucked behind her ear, the only part of her wardrobe that wasn’t black was a pink cord bracelet with a plastic letter “A” sliding along the wrist.
Under her arm, she carried a composition notebook that she had doodled all over with a metallic Sharpie, and Wesley was certain he saw the words “Die bitch, die” inked in silver across the cover.
“There’s nothing in the dress code about black lipstick,” she said with a hostile edge to her voice.
“You’re not in trouble, Quinn,” said Keaton in a tired but patient voice. “Detective Wesley just wants to ask you a few questions about Arianna Hayashi.”
At the mention of Arianna, Quinn’s demeanor changed instantly. She sat up straighter and looked from Wesley to the vice principal with wide eyes.
“Is Ari okay?”
So she hadn’t seen the news yet.
“Is there any reason for you to think she isn’t?” asked Wesley.
“Duh! You’re here,” snarled Quinn. “Just tell me! Is she all right?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” said Wesley, choosing his words carefully. “I’m here because Arianna is missing.”
“She didn’t show up at school today, and she isn’t at home.”
“What did Mrs. Hayashi say?” asked Quinn, a slight note of panic in her voice.
Wesley glanced at the vice principal. He didn’t want to upset the girl, and he didn’t want news of Juliette’s death to make Quinn any more dramatic than she already was. So he decided to pad the truth. “Mrs. Hayashi doesn’t know where she is.”
“Arianna’s not in trouble,” Wesley added, ignoring Keaton’s disapproving look. “We just want to know where she might have gone . . . for her own safety.”
“I haven’t seen her since yesterday,” said Quinn, shaking her head slowly. “When she didn’t show up for first period, I thought she was sick or something.”
Quinn let out a panicky breath. “This doesn’t make any sense. Arianna wouldn’t run off like that. Her mom would be worried sick.” She paused. “Do you think she might have been kidnapped?”
Wesley swallowed. “So far we have no reason to think she was taken against her will . . . but we can’t rule anything out.”
Quinn’s eyes grew even wider, and Keaton cleared his throat. The girl was clearly worried — as she should be. The more he learned about Arianna, the more it looked as though she had either run away out of fear or that she had been kidnapped.
But as he stared at Quinn, Wesley felt a pang of sympathy. If this were his daughter, he’d want the investigator to reassure her that everything was fine. Unfortunately, his experience had taught him that being blind-sided was much worse than a slow build of dread.
“Does Arianna have any other friends or family members who might let her spend the night?”
Again, Quinn shook her head. “She doesn’t have any family besides her mom. Her dad killed himself when she was, like, four. And there’s no way she’d be hanging out with any of these assholes.” She glanced at Keaton. “I mean . . . other kids.”
“Did Arianna say anything to you in the past few weeks that made you think she was scared of something or someone?”
“What do you mean?”
Wesley bit the inside of his lip. “Was there anyone new hanging around Arianna or her mother? Someone she found threatening or strange?”
Quinn shook her head.
“Think about it now,” Wesley pressed.
“There wasn’t anyone!” Quinn snapped.
“Detective —” Keaton broke in.
“All right,” said Wesley. Although Quinn was probably his best source for all things related to the girl, questioning her wasn’t getting him anywhere. He decided to try another tack. “How would you describe Arianna?”
“Why are you asking me that?”
“Please,” said Wesley. “Anything you can tell me could help us track her down.”
Quinn nodded. “She’s . . . She’s smart. She’s the smartest kid in our class. Ari could have skipped a grade, but Mrs. Hayashi didn’t want her to move into the e-school early. Ari’s a really nice person. She’s just shy.”
“Ashleigh said she hasn’t made many friends at school,” said Wesley.
“Ashleigh Roark is a cunt!”
“Quinn!” Keaton barked. “That’s detention. One more outburst like that, and I’ll be calling your mother.”
“Are you serious?” Quinn screeched, jumping to her feet and clenching her fists. “How am I in trouble right now?”
“You know that language is not allowed, and you’re on thin ice as it is.”
“Well it’s the truth. And I swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
“You’re not under oath,” said Wesley quickly, throwing a nervous glance at Keaton.
Quinn crossed her arms over her chest and let out a breathy little huff. “I’m just saying . . . I wouldn’t listen to anything that be-atch has to say. Ashleigh has had it out for Arianna since the first grade.”
“Thank you, Quinn,” said the vice principal in an exasperated tone. “You can go. But you and I will talk after school.”
Quinn rolled her eyes and shoved her chair back against the wall. “Fine.”
“Quinn,” said Wesley, wishing Keaton hadn’t taken it upon himself to cut the interview short. “If you hear from Arianna, please let me know.”
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a business card. “You can call me any time, day or night.”
Quinn took the card wordlessly and slid it into her notebook like a bookmark. Then she turned on her heel and strolled toward the door.
When her hand touched the doorknob, she paused and turned around halfway so she could face Wesley without looking at Keaton.
For the first time since she’d entered the room, Quinn looked genuinely scared.
“You have to find Arianna.”
“We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “I promise.”
“Please,” Quinn whispered. “She’s my best friend.”
When Wesley arrived back at the police station, he was immediately ambushed by Daniel. He had moved on to a jelly-filled donut and a cup of weak breakroom coffee for breakfast, part two.
Like many on the force, Daniel was a stress-eater, which did little to enhance his figure. Wesley was no health nut himself, but apart from the pooch that extended over his belt, the extra jelly on his biceps, and the slight sag under his jaw, you’d never be able to guess that most of his meals came wrapped in plastic.
When Daniel turned to donuts, Wesley went to the weight room to heave out his frustration. He wouldn’t ever have six-pack abs, but it kept him reasonably fit.
“The chief wants to talk to you,” said Daniel around a mouthful of fried dough. “Something about talking to minors without their parents’ permission . . .”
“Fucking hell,” muttered Wesley. “Does she have drones following my every move?”
“It wasn’t anything official.”
“Hey, I’m just the messenger.”
“Got anything good for me?” Wesley asked impatiently, quickening his pace to get back to his desk before the chief spotted him.
Daniel nodded. “Lots of blood for the analysts to work with, and we picked up some hair and fibers from the rug inside the door. You want the good news, the bad news, or the weird news first?”
“I just finished talking to a bunch of fourteen-year-old girls about Arianna,” said Wesley. “What do you think?”
“Right. So the good news is that the killer left some DNA behind. Not all that blood on the floor belonged to Juliette.”
“Yeah. There’s a good chance she stabbed the perp before he killed her.”
Wesley stopped in his tracks. “That’s great.”
Daniel shook his head. “Don’t get too excited. The blood matches the DNA found on the glass and a hair we got off the vic’s shirt, but they weren’t able to find a match in the database. All we know so far is that the suspect is male — blue eyes, brown hair.”
“So he doesn’t have a record,” said Wesley. “We still know more than we did this morning. What about fingerprints?”
“The restaurant is lousy with ’em. They were able to lift prints off that glass on the bar, but we didn’t get a match.”
“This guy was sloppy,” said Wesley. “It’s a wonder he doesn’t have a record.”
Daniel nodded. “If I had to guess, I’d say this was a crime of passion.”
“Is that the weird news?”
“Uh-uh.” Daniel quirked an eyebrow. “Not all that blood belonged to Juliette, and not all of it belonged to the murderer.”
“What are you saying?”
“They found the blood of three individuals at the restaurant.”
“Who was the third person?”
“DNA markers point to Juliette’s kid.”
Wesley’s heart sank. “Shit.”
“It wasn’t a lot,” Daniel added. “That amount of blood loss wouldn’t have been fatal.”
Wesley let out a long sigh. He wanted to take that as good news, but thinking back to the blood-spattered crime scene and the brutality of the murder made it difficult to think positive. If Quinn was telling the truth and Arianna hadn’t made contact with any of her friends, kidnap was the most likely scenario.
Daniel seemed to be following Wesley’s train of thought. “Any of the neighbors see or hear anything?”
“No. The art gallery and café next door were both closed. And none of the people who live on that street reported anything unusual. I’m thinking it would be hard to drag off a fourteen-year-old girl in that neighborhood without anyone noticing. He’d need a getaway vehicle parked close by.”
“Maybe he never took the girl.”
Wesley looked up. “You think she managed to get away?”
Daniel let out a burst of air from between his lips. “If she did, then we aren’t going to be the only ones looking for her.”
Wesley nodded and collapsed into his chair.
In most murder investigations, there were only two people in the whole world who would ever know exactly what had happened, and one of them was always dead.
That was the job, and Wesley had learned to live with a degree of uncertainty. But in this case, there was a third person who knew exactly what had happened, and that person was Arianna Hayashi.
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