Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Two



It was a bright morning, echoing with crashing waves and the foolhardy cries of the seagulls. A now peaceful ocean washed ashore the booty of a night of rage: weeds and twigs and shells.

An army of hungry shorebirds—herons, plovers, stilts, a couple of pelicans, a squad of ruffled sparrows as well as a solitary robin—patrolled the beach, rummaging through the jetsam in search for the unexpected treat to pick at: a crablet in hiding, a beached pilchard, if they were lucky.

Occasional vacation houses and bungalows closed up for the cold season dotted the seaside, resembling ghosts looking out at sea. Most of them were concrete-plastic prefab buildings fitted with standard components.

Each one had its own built-in solar-cell circuitry. Its bare front porch with its withered plastic floorboards. Its pathway eternally buried in sand. Its collection of overgrown and then dried-out weeds that kept bowing according to the breeze on blowing duty. Its bleached-out picket fence equally torn and eaten away by the salt. Its neat, shriveled white post box mounted on a stick.

The houses and bungalows looked cheap and they were. But they would do fine for a pair of vacation weeks in April, a couple of months in summer and a bunch of weekends throughout the year.

Kayaks, rigid-sail windsurfs and small, sleek sailboats that had been pulled aground sat next to the houses, looking like oversized cuttlebones in disarray.

A lonely vehicle sped along the coastal road overlooking the deserted beach and the bungalows, whirring softly.

It was a white, streamlined champion of ergonomics, long time friends with what was left of the environment.

Its fenders were no more than a darting outline in the elegant case of metal-plastic. Its polished windshield had evolved into a big, encasing dome that connected the front and the rear hood in one continuous, graceful arc. It still had wheels, of course; they were withdrawn under the bodywork like the curled paws of a well-fed cat out for a nap.

A bow-like protrusion at the end of the front hood culminated in a big halogen headlight, so that the most modern vehicle technology could create looked very much like a car built at the beginning of two centuries before, in the roaring 1940s.

The car sped on in a comfortable buzz, whipping up the grit in its wake as it went. It drove onward, shrinking in the distance, turning into a long spit of land, headed for a lonely house at the end of it.

As if a switch had been thrown, the purr went off all of a sudden and the car glided into a decrepit yard engulfed in the sand pushed over by the wind and overrun with scrubwood.

It parked in silence next to a beaten up pickup truck and three other vehicles, all electrical: a nondescript sienna sedan car—one of the millions one could find in every street in every city at every time of day and night; a compact van the color of cream—from the back of which the dimple-cheeked face of a red-haired boy licked his fingers and grinned in a big ad picture; last was a white police squad car whose black front and rear were so tapered down it resembled a vacuum cleaner.

The door of the just parked car swung open and a man climbed down from it.

He wore spotless white shoes and a Syntex suit that wrapped around his body with ease, fitting like a tailored cloth, feeling warmer than real wool and looking as expensive as silk.

But the man was neither a bank teller, nor a salesman.

Christian Trumaine was thirty-six, about one inch short of six feet, built strong without being hulky. He was fit and tanned, with thick jet-black hair that had just begun to fade to gray above the jawbone.

He peered around with iron, piercing eyes that missed nothing. He glanced at the parked cars. At the sand. At the house. His eyes finally sat on the ever-churning ocean seen beyond it.

Like an old sailor, he took a lungful of brackish air and held it inside him ... and, for the briefest moment, the ocean looked back at him; it reflected itself in his irises, washing away.

Trumaine came to and moved along the walkway lined with dusty rosemary and sage bushes that brought him to the entrance of the building.

The house sat half-hidden behind a tall hedge, pushed far back in the lot, looking as solitary and withdrawn as it could be. It was round like a cylinder and squat like a stump, topped with a slanted roof covered with old-fashioned clay tiles. The plaster looked fresh and pristine around the walls. That meant that the house had been built recently; salt could be nasty on finishing around here.

The house resembled a solitary bunker and partly it was. From the outside, only one opening could be seen, and that was the entrance door. It was designed to keep off intruders.

If it was true that homes were a bit like their owners, thought Trumaine, the people who lived here were difficult, extremely reserved and must value privacy above anything else, including relations. Even close friends, if any at all, were welcomed half-heartedly in there.

Trumaine stepped to the entrance door. He looked down at the doorbell, where a small brass plaque read a lonely name: JARVA.

Below the plaque, four self-sealing milk cartons were aligned like soldiers against the wall. From every single one of them, the dimple-cheeked boy seen on the back of the compact van sneered cheerfully.

Trumaine rang the bell and immediately a young cop he had never seen before opened the door.

“Firrell?” asked Trumaine.

“He’s down in the bunker,” said the rookie, excitedly. “You better hurry, he’s already questioning the witnesses.”

The cop stared, a dumb frozen smile spread across his face. That told Trumaine the boy must’ve been in the force no more than a couple of months. He was exhilarated and thrilled like a pup, willing to do his best, happy to serve and all. It was a warm, easygoing smile that came from the heart and Trumaine appreciated it as any decent human being in the world would, but he knew it wouldn’t last.

Soon enough, the boy would learn all about the shadowy recesses of the mind, about the foul things people happen to do to each other. The smile wouldn’t like that in the least. Soon, it would fade and sink back into the well of good wishes from where it had risen.

The zealous eagerness was going to turn into coldness and disenchantment. In the end, the boy would become a man who would hate his job, the people who worked with him and the infesting moss that was the human race.

But he was still young, thought Trumaine. In youth lay hope, the tiniest hope of all: That in the flutter of time it takes to turn a boy into a man, the world would also change into something better.

Trumaine nodded his head to the rookie and stepped past him into the bunker.

Despite the fact that there were no windows, the lighting was excellent and perfectly tuned. Warm-light fluorescent lights as well as halogen lamps and LED spotlights had been arranged in such a masterful way that one never had the feeling of being closed in.

The light cascaded down in such a proper way, that even the too small entrance hall looked adequately large.

A couple of antique chairs and a matching table leaned against the far wall. There wasn’t anything else in the room, except for an elevator door—included with a polished-brass control panel—and a corridor to the left that led down in a wide spiral to the next level.

Trumaine studied the elevator door and its brass panel, then spun on his heels and went down the spiral corridor.

Trumaine’s polished shoes hit the shiny resin of the sloping spiral, resounding like the measured, inexorable beats of a pendulum clock. He walked not with haste, but with a purpose.

He had been summoned for something he knew was going to turn into long, tedious hours of speculation and endless headaches and he had no intention of hurrying the process. Each case was unique and he needed to be detached, fresh-minded and alert.

Only when the mind was in that peculiar state would it be able to string the most insignificant details into a meaningful, often unexpected and hopefully decisive clue.

Trumaine took a deep breath, the same way cliff divers do before they plunge into the roiling waters below. He didn’t know then, but it was exactly what he was about to do: dive into an obscure world that would change him forever.

The spiral walkway ended in a second hall exactly one level below the entrance hall. The metal shutter that would eventually open and lead to the inside of the bunker’s keep looked like a big safe door and was still shut. Bright metal shone from a couple of sharp and deep dents just above the lock, where the sappers’ hardened tools had bitten, in a first fruitless attempt to pry the door open.

Three men stood in the hall. Captain Grant Firrell was a burly, big chunk of a man of about forty-five. Slightly overweight, not ever completely at ease in his uniform suit, he had a blue police badge pinned on his jacket lapel that kept flashing every time he breathed.

He squinted hard as he scribbled away in the electronic pad in his hands, then he peered up from below his thick eyebrows and studied the man standing in front of him.

“You absolutely sure?” asked Firrell.

“I’ve been working at Security Systems for ten years now, sir. I know these toys like the back of my hand,” said the technician.

He looked just shy of his forties, wore a boring, faded-blue shirt and pants and clung to a metal suitcase the same way a shipwreck survivor would do with a safety belt. He kept throwing nervous glances around him, as if he was eager to leave quickly.

“I already told you, sir. The bunker’s been shut for ninety-six hours straight. I’m sure,” he added with a tone of finality.

Firrell stroked his chin. He reread the statement recorded in the pad, then shook his head and grunted in disappointment.

He wasn’t the brightest person on the planet and he knew it, but he was stubborn and he had learned it was the perfect skill for the job. Solving a murder case was a complicated enough thing. But if you had the patience to keep looking at things, soon or later something conclusive was bound to turn up. When it did, Firrell would be there to pick up that bit.

Firrell’s trust had always proven right—well, at least until that morning. Because all the information he had collected up to that point led to a big zero. As if the clues being scarce, queer and making little sense weren’t difficult enough, the last words of the technician had wrapped it all in a big gift box that had the word “impossible” for a tag. If there were any hidden threads or clues, he couldn’t see them. If someone was trying to be smart with him, he couldn’t say who it was. But there was one thing he was damn sure of. That case was going to be a hell of a nut to crack.

Firrell rolled his eyes and bounced them off to a lonely chair where a plump guy of about twenty-five sat, wearing a cream uniform and a white overall from which the same carefree dimple-cheeked redhead boy seen on the van and on the milk cartons sitting outside the entrance door smirked.

It was the milkman who had summoned the police in the first place, after he had discovered that nobody had picked up his Saturday delivery.

Firrell reread the technician’s statement for the third time, as if it could change or make more sense—it didn’t. It was going to be a very very long day, thought Firrell. A day good for ramming one’s head into the wall and seeing if anything good came out of it. He exhaled disconsolately ...

Then, at hearing approaching footsteps, he perked his ears and turned his head to see a man in a white suit. Firrell seemed quite relieved at seeing the detective emerge from the spiral corridor.

“Trumaine!” he blurted out with a grin. “About time you arrived!”

He motioned for the technician and the milkman to wait, then preceded Trumaine into the hole that had been dug in the wall.

It was about seven feet away from the bunker plate shutter where the sappers had found a good spot to break in. The edges of the door-like breach were rough and jagged. The tips of the iron bars drowned in the concrete glistened like silver buttons where the drill had cut them to level. In the breach, beyond a snowfall of dancing particles of dust, a blue living room could be glimpsed.

They set foot in a neat, silent world that didn’t belong to them. They lowered their voices in respect for the dead, then went on exploring the bunker.

“I thought I was off,” commented Trumaine, acrid.

“I know, I know. You’ll get back to what’s left of your vacation as soon as this thing is over,” said Firrell.

“What about your other guys?”

“Ah, cut me slack, Chris, will you? Guys are fine and all, but sometimes they just don’t get it,” he admitted.

“I’m flattered that you always think of me, Grant. You might as well ask me out for a date,” grumbled Trumaine, sourly.

Firrell rolled his eyes. He better change the subject.

“How’s Shanna doing?” he asked.

“I haven’t heard from her.”

“You promised you would call her,” reminded him Firrell.

“I haven’t, that’s all. Should I feel sorry? Because I don’t,” replied Trumaine with a glower.

“All right, all right. Forget it. Let’s just focus on this mess, huh?”

Even if the bunker had an unusual circular layout, it was just another unpretending apartment, a neat and tidy place for people who had very little needs.

A corridor went from the plate shutter straight into the round living room at the center of the apartment. The few other rooms fanned out like the eyes on a peacock’s tail: a small kitchen, a master bedroom, a bathroom and a small studio. Arranging the furniture must have been a major issue, thought Trumaine, since the only two straight walls in each room converged toward the center of the apartment. However, the owners had succeeded with little effort and a good result.

“The bunker sits twenty feet under the ocean,” Firrell went on. “Walls are two-foot-thick, salt-resistant, reinforced concrete.” He stopped and knocked at a thick partition wall, producing a dull sound. “Would you believe it? As if the concrete walls weren’t protection enough, the nutters had them lined with lead. My great-grandfather had something like this, when everybody was scared shitless of nuclear wars. But nowadays? What could a man worry about?”

“What about privacy?” tutted Trumaine.

“Well, ain’t that true,” grunted Firrell.

He pointed his thick thumb at the various rooms as they passed them. “You can see for yourself the bunker is designed to look like a real house. There’s a kitchen, a pantry, a bathroom, a master bedroom ... and the living room, of course.”

They entered the first room to the right. In the kitchen, the table, the chairs, all it contained was aligned and carefully laid out in a preordained position. Trumaine opened the kitchen countertop drawer. The cutlery was piled up neatly with the same manic precision.

After dinner, the Jarvas didn’t just put their chairs under the table, the dishes in the cupboard and the silverware in the drawer where it belonged, as everybody did. They would pigeonhole every single object in some abstract region of their mind labeled “kitchen.”

Under that master label, more labels would be found, reading “table centerpiece,” “tablecloth,” “napkins,” “coasters,” “fruit tray” and so on, to which precise spatial coordinates were assigned. If the Jarvas had lived in another house, they would lay all those objects in the very same spatial relationship they had here. Certain people were born that way, thought Trumaine. Their mind was as powerful, as inquisitive and as helplessly pedantic as the central processing unit of a mainframe computer. He couldn’t tell if it was a gift, or a curse. It certainly was the mark of genius.

“They’re over there,” said Firrell with a tragic sigh.

Samuel Diggs was already at work. He was a large man with a wide, peaceful face and small eyes. His body might have looked slow, but his fingers certainly weren’t. Despite being the size of sausages, they shifted around the bodies with a veteran typist’s speed: prodding, pinching, pulling, stirring and feeling.

They reached out for an infrared thermometer and aimed it at the various sections of the bodies, patiently waiting for the tool to adjust. When it gave its response, the fingers jotted it down in an electronic pad at their side.

Diggs rubbed his brow, then glanced up at Trumaine and Firrell, who had just entered.

“There. Ain’t it a nice, pretty way to snuff it?” said Firrell, motioning at the two bodies sprawled on the floor in front of him.

“Tru? I thought you were off,” commented Diggs.

“Yeah, me too,” said Trumaine flatly. He looked down at the dead couple and asked, “When did it happen?”

“A good guess? Between twelve and twenty hours ago,” said Diggs, after the bushes that were his brows had consulted with each other.

“Who discovered the bodies?”

“The milkman,” said Firrell. “Nobody had picked up his last delivery. The vault was sealed when we arrived. The security technician tried an old passkey with the lock, but it didn’t work. It took the sappers two hours to break through the concrete wall.”

Trumaine sighed, then glanced around him. He picked up a bronze plaque lying on a low table. It read:

TO AARMO R. JARVA, IN RECOGNITION OF THE 2075 NOBEL PRIZE IN NEUROBIOLOGY PHYSICS FOR THE DISCOVERY OF THE HUMAN THALAMIC PISTOCENTRIC STEM CELL.

“He’s that Jarva?” he wondered.

“Yep, he himself. The one and only,” said Firrell. “Jarva the scientist and the pioneer. The eminent scholar of the mind and the father of the modern-age space travel theory. Without him, we would still be mining the Moon for Helium-3. And that over there is—I mean was—his devoted wife.”

Trumaine could understand now why Firrell was on tenterhooks when he had called him, pleading him to come over. He had read something about Jarva, of course, but it was that kind of information that was passed along with the news. How on earth would someone kill such a man? Jarva was no ordinary man, he was an asset to mankind, a genius and a resource.

Trumaine shook his head, unable to understand.

“Any relatives?” he asked.

“No relatives,” said Firrell. “As far as we know, the closest person to being related to them is ... well, the milkman.”

“The milkman,” groaned Trumaine.

“According to him, they were a very shy couple,” said Firrell. “They weren’t disagreeable or anything. They just liked it that way. The milkman had been instructed to leave the cartons on the outside at exactly 7:00 in the morning. Every day, except on Sunday. He wasn’t even supposed to ring the doorbell. Jarva’s wife was going to pick up the milk later on. He told me he saw the husband only once, after a sandstorm had swept the bungalows and the bunker, completely burying their entryway. They looked so helpless he felt obliged to give them a hand and he shoveled the sand for them. At least, that’s what the milkman claims. Now the facts: the milkman made his last delivery on Saturday. It was a double carton for Sunday. This morning, when he made the usual round, he noticed that the cartons hadn’t been touched. He thought that even an old couple of solitary owls like the Jarvas would happen to be sick, from time to time. Maybe they needed help, so he rang the door. He rang and rang, but nobody opened it. Fearing the worst, he turned to us at last.”

“It looks plain enough to me,” said Trumaine. “The murderer only needed to wait for Jarva’s wife to open the door for the milk. He might have forced the woman inside and threatened to hurt or kill her if she didn’t open the door to the bunker’s keep. But she could have left the plate door open, coming out. Something like that wouldn’t take much thinking—even a bum could do it. Old, shy couples tend to manage their own money. Maybe he thought they kept their savings in here too. Say he didn’t want to hurt them, but they resisted him, things got out of hand and he killed them.” Trumaine shrugged, that was it for him.

“I wish it was that simple, Tru.”

“What do you mean?”

“I just interviewed the guy who sold the Jarvas the security installation. The lock of the plate door is connected to a separate central security system. If someone opens the plate shutter as little as a crack, a feedback is relayed to the central station and logged in their computers.” Firrell sighed. “Nobody has opened that door in ninety-six hours ...”

“But that’s impossible,” scoffed Trumaine.

“That’s exactly what I said in the first place,” said Firrell. “But the technician is positive. The bunker was shut when Jarva and his wife were being killed.”

“The murderer must’ve tinkered with the timer,” countered Trumaine.

“I thought that too. Guess what? The computer says no tampering ever occurred.”

“C’mon, Grant. Nobody can walk through a two-foot-thick concrete wall,” said Trumaine.

“Well. Apparently, someone did ...”

Trumaine groaned, when his attention was drawn to a round piece of furniture that had just moved. It was the back of a man kneeling on the floor, intent on searching for something. He stood and straightened out, revealing his features.

Edward Boyle was thin and way too short, but he had large eyes and a long crooked nose that made up for that.

He had been bent over and busy swinging around his portable scanner, looking for fingerprints, ever since they had entered the room, that’s why Trumaine hadn’t seen him.

“What did they use for a weapon?” Trumaine asked him.

Boyle didn’t say anything. He stepped over to a set of black, open cases laying against the far wall. He took out a plastic sleeve containing something dark and heavy. He brought it forth for Trumaine to take.

Inside the envelope was the most peculiar object he had ever seen. It was a bloodied cast-iron Pinocchio toy doll, about one-half foot tall, painted in vivid colors—crimson red, green, pale wood and black. It sneered evilly from below its conical hat.

“They used this?”

“A most unusual weapon, isn’t it?” said Boyle with a soft hiss. “It was on the floor, next to the bodies. It’s some very solid, very old doll from the last century that would do well in a museum. It isn’t anything like the biomaterials today’s toys are made of. It’s metal. It’s one damn heavy fellow.”

Boyle retrieved the toy from Trumaine’s hands. He coiled his fingers around the legs of the doll and swung it around. The body and the long, sharp nose made for a terribly effective spiked-club.

“He caught the woman on the side of her head. She must have died almost instantly,” explained Boyle. “She fell on the wound, that’s why there’s little blood, her clothes sucked it up. The husband now: he was hit five times in the stomach and one in the head, but that didn’t kill him. The old man was tough, or maybe the killer was getting tired. Anyway, he left Jarva on the shag rug, where he bled to death.”

“The killer got tired?” asked Trumaine.

“I swung this thing around for a couple of minutes,” said Boyle. “When I finished, I was out of breath. Oh, that nose goes into the flesh easily enough, that’s true. But it’s a nasty thing to take out, it gets caught into things—the bone, the flesh and even into the clothes. You have to rip through all of that to pull it out, before you can hit again. It takes a lot of effort, Trumaine. Add however weak opposition from the victims and you’ll have a good idea of why the killer tired,” concluded Boyle.

“Why should they use that?” asked Trumaine. “There’s plenty of knives in the kitchen, I think I even saw a cleaver. It’s odd. What’s the point of using something this cumbersome?”

“You tell me, Detective.” Boyle handed over the doll to Trumaine, picked up his scanner and went back to his work.

Trumaine studied the toy in his hands. There was something puzzling about it. Its jester sneer, its brilliant colors, its old-fashioned appearance, everything clashed with the delicate, blue shaded interior of the room, as if the toy didn’t belong in here.

Trumaine glanced around, trying to find a place for the doll, but he couldn’t find any. The toy might as well as have fallen out of thin air.

“Did you find anything else?” asked Trumaine.

“Place is as clean as a whistle,” said Boyle.

“Any traces of foreign DNA? Anything at all?” insisted Trumaine.

Boyle flicked at his nose. “Only theirs.”

Trumaine kneeled next to Aarmo’s corpse. He inspected it, hoping to find even the smallest clue that would lead him closer to discovering anything about the murderer, but he found nothing.

A few paces away, Diggs typed away his medical deductions in his electronic pad. He was denied access with a buzz. He shook his head in disappointment, then tried again. He got another buzz.

“Damn!”

“What is it?” asked Trumaine.

“I’m issuing the death certificate for the woman,” explained Diggs. “Computer says she died five years ago.”

“How on earth could that be?”

“Clearly, it’s a mistaken entry,” said Diggs. “Sometimes, it happens. The entries are numerical; you punch in a wrong number and you wipe from the system someone who’s still kicking. I’m amazed she hadn’t a problem with the social security in five years, though. I’ll have to login to the mainframe, find the faulty entry and delete it. What bothers me more is that I can’t do it from here, I’ll have to go to the mainframe proper personally. I can say good-bye to lunch, damn computers.”

Trumaine groaned. This case was enough of a mess even without system tantrums.

Firrell, who had been pacing around like a caged animal for the last ten minutes, turned to him.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

“I’ll be damned if anything of this makes any sense,” said Trumaine. “Nobody opened the bunker. They used a cumbersome weapon when they could use a knife. And we’ve got a toy that doesn’t belong in here. It’s a big mess, Grant. If there’s a clue at all to be found in here, I’m the tooth fairy.”

“C’mon,” prodded Firrell. “I know you have a hunch.”

Trumaine chuckled. “A hunch?”

“An inkling. A suspicion. An idea. Anything will do,” pleaded Firrell.

With a sigh, Trumaine set his jaw and stared at the blue ceiling of the room.

“You’re gonna think I’m crazy ...”

“Try me,” insisted Firrell.

Trumaine returned his eyes to his captain.

“There’s just one place in the world where they don’t give a damn about walls ...” he said.