Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Thirteen

The sun sat low in the late afternoon sky, painting the ocean below it in a soft shade of gold nobody would’ve bought.

Trumaine drove along with the receding tide of commuters. Only when the City started to disappear behind him, he signaled and pulled out.

The unmarked car came to a secondary alley that brought him to one of the many suburban areas called “Riviera.” Even if it faced the ocean like the other Rivieras, this one stood just outside the City. Less touristic than its homonymous counterparts, it was provided with decent facilities, including schools, libraries and even had its own administration.

It was a perfect place for middle-to-mildly-high incomers who needed to be close to the City without the drawbacks of noise, traffic and high-rise buildings’ bad habit of standing in one’s light.

Number 5657 must be among the houses a couple hundred yards ahead, thought Trumaine and, soon, he could make out the familiar shape and color of the sienna sedan car belonging to Eddie Boyle, the forensic expert.

He pulled over and parked behind Boyle’s car.

Trumaine stepped up the mild ramp that brought him to the porch of a tall two-storied house facing the ocean. Like all houses on this side of the road, it had a private, direct access to the beach.

Number 5657 and its fellow neighbors didn’t look like prefab buildings, just like old-fashioned houses with wood panels painted white for walls and a saddle roof covered with shingles. Even if he didn’t see it from where he was, he knew that, hidden somewhere, was the ever-indispensable solar-cell circuitry that powered the house.

Under the porch of number 5657 sat the infamous Meteor ’55.

Trumaine approached and studied the front of the car: was there a slight hollow in the front hood, or was it a trick of the light? He wasn’t sure. He walked around the vehicle, peeking through the windows for any hint, but there was nothing special inside the car to be seen—except for Boyle.

He was patiently sweeping the scanning device in his hands in the recess under the driver’s seat. When he was done, he got out of the car and acknowledged Trumaine with a nod.

“Found anything interesting?”

Boyle tilted his head; it was both yes and no, or it was none.

“Hair, mostly. I think I’ve picked up a couple of cat’s ginger hair too. Plenty of DNA traces to sift through, anyway.”

Trumaine stepped to the entrance door to the house and rang the bell, but nobody came to open it.

“Don’t bother,” said Boyle. “They’ll be touring the Greek islands for the rest of the month. The car’s been sitting here for more than a week now. Anybody could’ve picked it up.”

“How do you know the Goldmars will be away for a month?”

“The neighbor told me.”

Trumaine sat his jaw, thinking, until something else caught his attention: from the doorstep of the next house, someone was waving at him, motioning for him to come over.

Puzzled, shielding his eyes from the direct light the setting sun was casting, he stepped off of the porch.

“Someone’s waving ...”

Boyle looked over too.

“Ah. That’s the neighbor who told me about the Goldmars.”

Trumaine realized with a frown it was Faith ...

It had taken him less than a minute to walk over to Faith’s house. She opened the door for him, welcoming him with a large smile and the usual amount of enthusiasm.

“Well, looks like you’ve found me, Detective. I surrender,” she said, lifting her hands over her head.

“Or you could come in and try my special coffee.”

With a silvery chuckle, she stood aside for Trumaine to enter and they both went in.

The house was small and simple, its bright interior sparkling with colorful, ethnic furniture. A living room, a kitchen and a staircase that led to the upper bedrooms was all there was to be found on the ground floor.

A short-hair Indian runner slung across the living room, going back and forth between a couple of large African masks facing each other from opposite walls, looking like silent guardians.

The mask on Trumaine’s left was carved from a block of ebony and was polished and shiny. The other was more primitive and rough, was painted in gray and had a pointy chin, a crooked nose and a tapered forehead. Hair or something that looked like hair had been threaded into small holes at the top of the head, around the chin for a beard and at either side of the face—for sideburns, thought Trumaine.

Both masks had holes in place of their eyes. They gave him the queer, uneasy feeling that they were observing him from behind their hollow orbits.

The ebony mask guarded a large wicker crate. Also, to Trumaine’s left, were to be found a small sofa and an armchair. On the other side of the room, a couple of shelves hung on the wall, carrying transparent jewel boxes containing digital disks. In the far corners, toward the kitchen, sat two small tables overflowing with shiny knickknacks and whatnot.

“It’s not much, but it will do for me,” said Faith.

She had waited in silence as Trumaine had perused the ground floor.

“On the contrary, it’s cozy and personal. I like it.”

“Sit down. I’ll be back in a minute with your coffee.”

Faith disappeared in the kitchen where, from behind the polished glass of a paned door, the ocean and the darkening horizon that bordered it could be glimpsed.

Trumaine took advantage of the time to snoop around. He moved to the tables containing the odds and ends. He slid his fingers over them, coming to some shell-encrusted boxes. He flicked them open; some were empty, some were filled with junk: cheap paste earrings, pewter necklaces and brass bracelets.

He lifted his head and stared at the ceiling.

“I guess you heard about the death of Jimmy Boyd.”

“What a shame!” shouted Faith from the kitchen.

“You knew him?”

“I think I’ve seen him a couple of times ... but I didn’t happen to know him personally!”

“Where were you last night?” threw in Trumaine.

A puzzled Faith poked her head from the kitchen.

“I was on shift in the believers’ chamber, of course. You can check that.”

“You didn’t happen to take your neighbors’ car tonight, did you?”

“Why should I? I have my own monocar ...”

He studied her eyes, trying to see if she was lying ... To his regret, he couldn’t tell. Even if Faith seemed so smart and sociable and outgoing, Trumaine had the clear feeling that she could quickly close and withdraw like a hedgehog, raising an invisible barrier between the world and herself, as if she was wearing one of those mysterious African masks that gave him the creeps.

Suddenly, something that sounded very much like the whistle of an ancient coffeepot rang out.

“Coffee’s ready!” said Faith.

She hurried to the kitchen, leaving Trumaine to explore the rest of the house.

He moved to the bookshelves on the right, taking a mental note of the titles on the jewel boxes. Most were digital editions of Jarva’s books:

Pistocentrism; The Unlocked Thalamus; The Evolutionary Step; The Fusiform Brain; Frontier Studies of Cognitive Science; High Thinking; Communal Behavior and Social Response.

Trumaine crossed the room, approaching the crate sitting under the ebony mask. He crouched, touching his fingers to the lid. He was about to open it ... when a yelp and crash coming from the kitchen interrupted him.

He hurried to the next room, where he found Faith picking up the shards of a cup of coffee.

“You all right?”

“I’m sorry, it slipped from my fingers. I’m a bit tense these days.”

“Why should you be?”

“It’s all that’s happening at Credence, it wears me out. There’s a murderer on the loose. He killed Jarva and his wife and I’m sure he killed Boyd as well, and I can’t help wondering who will be next ...”

“I never said someone killed Jimmy Boyd.”

She looked at him with despair in her eyes.

“Do you really believe he killed himself?”

“He was hanging from the ceiling. We’re filing the case as a suicide.”

“Have you ever thought that the murderer could have forced Boyd to kill himself?”

“There’s no evidence of that. As far as we know, Boyd can really be the murderer we’re looking for.”

“Boyd wouldn’t hurt a fly!” snapped Faith from her kneeling position, then she went back to sweeping the chips that were still on the floor.

She got to her feet, dropped the shards into the trash can, rinsed and dried her hands, then looked into Trumaine’s eyes again.

“What if the killer is after believers? What if—what if I’m next?”

She let out a stifled sob and Trumaine grabbed her shoulders, trying to console her.

“Why on earth should you be next?”

“It’s just a weird feeling I can’t get rid of ... Is it true that the murderer is a telepath?”

“Who told you that?”

“It’s all the believers talk about at the canteen. Is that why you’re always in the chamber? Trying to see if he shows up?”

Trumaine let go of her. “That’s the idea. Yes.”

“And has he come to visit yet?”

“Not yet,” he admitted.

“You really think you can catch him that way?”

“I’m no telepath. I have no idea what it feels like entering other peoples’ mind. I have no idea about how he can manipulate people into believing what he wants them to. But I must hang onto everything I have.”

All of a sudden, Faith remembered the coffee.

She took out another cup and sat it over the lonely saucer belonging to the perished cup. She poured a black, hot stream of liquid in both cups, put the cups on a silver tray and brought it all into the living room.

Trumaine followed her, slumping on the armchair that was farthest from both African masks. He took the cup Faith offered him, then waited for her to sit too.

The two studied each other for a long while as they sipped their drinks.

The coffee was strong, hot and intoxicating. It felt good as it went down Trumaine’s throat, diffusing in a warm glow in his stomach.

“You make a great coffee.”

Again, they were silent, both lost in thought.

“You live here all alone? No friends? No boyfriend?” asked Trumaine.

“I’m a free bird,” said Faith with a smile. “What about you? Don’t you have a wife somewhere?”

“She’s on Aquaria.”

“Why? I mean—isn’t she your wife?”

“We weren’t getting along very well lately, so we took a pause. Maybe I’ll go when I’ll be a full Aquarian citizen ...”

“Don’t you love it here?”

Trumaine shrugged. He wondered if one painful memory could wipe away years of happy things. He decided it could.

“What’s up with my neighbor’s car?”

“Someone borrowed that car to take something from Boyd’s apartment. I was in the apartment with him, chased him to the garage, almost got him. I shot at him, but I missed and he ran me over.”

Again, he studied Faith for any hint that she was lying to him, that she knew way more than she pretended to when she was with him, that she was hiding things from him ...

But he found none.

He stood. “I’d better be on my way,” he said. “Thanks again for the coffee ...”

He headed for the door, when he turned suddenly.

“I hope you don’t plan on leaving the town any too soon, Miss Alveraz,”

“So I’m a suspect, after all.”

“Just don’t leave until the case is solved.”

“I don’t plan to ...”

“Good. I’ve nothing against you, but it’s my job to follow all trails. I hope you understand.”

“Of course ...”

Trumaine opened the door and got out.

Faith waved at him as he climbed in his car, started it then, with a last glance at her, pulled out into traffic.

Trumaine was again on the highway. The sun had gone down at last and the evening looked mild. As he drove on, he tried to put some order to the many unanswered questions that whirled in his head. It all spun around Jarva’s latest study—telepathy. Were Jarva and Boyd killed because of that? Was Boyd still in contact with Jarva? Anything could be. Why was Boyd in Credence? Because he couldn’t find a better job? Or because he was still working for Jarva? Trumaine didn’t know. What was Jarva working on when he was killed? Hijacking believers? Was Boyd helping him from the inside? Again, it could be.

Even if he hadn’t found an answer to any of those questions, all the same, he felt that the field of his research was finally focusing on something specific. It didn’t look like anything yet, but it was taking an even, vague shape.

What he needed to do now was to go back to Credence and keep pursuing the telepath in the believers’ chamber. He had already spent too much time fooling around with the Boyd case.