It was a quiet, amber morning near the center of Solms-Braunfels. Favorable winds and pleasant weather conditions meant open windows; stepping quickly through the streets, his black leather boots clacking on the old cobblestone of the market district, Detective Carel could hear the hubbub of daily life pouring out of every home’s window: the clang of pots and pans, the sizzling sound of bacon and the gentle crack of broken eggs, bakers arriving early to have the fresh bread ready for the men and women on their way to work, parents yelling at their children, children yelling at their parents and the whole world, televisions tuned to comedy programs and newscasts. Newscasts that painted a bright picture of the nation, basking in the golden image of the city-state covered in the golden light of the rising sun. The smiling, plastic faces of the interchangeable anchormen from competing channels would greet their viewers, exchanging pleasantries with rowdy living rooms, messy bedrooms, and sedated civilians attuned to the humdrum voices of the Wachter’s mouthpieces.
Detective Carel knew the drivel that every newscaster in the city dumped into the minds of people, he had watched an earlier program with his wife that morning, but he knew the truth that loomed below the gilded statements too. The new transportation budget promised improvements to the scattered roadways that cut through the limited countryside surrounding the city. “Honey, look!” His wife, Mina, declared, even though he was sitting right next to her watching and listening to the same thing. “Our next trip out to that little cottage will be easier now. What a nice thing to do…” she added. He had shrugged and smiled at his wife; he did enjoy visiting that little cottage tucked away in the rolling, emerald hills. Yet the detective knew that the real reason the government wanted to improve the rural roadways was for defensive purposes; the fragile roads, built decades ago, were no longer able to handle the heavy military hardware that moved through those rolling hills like barracudas slicing through otherwise tranquil patches of water.
Carel knew many of the secrets that were being hidden from the general public. At least, unlike the foreigners, children, and those who did not work for the Wachter, he knew that there were secrets being hidden. As a mid-level employee, he had access to information that the average civilian would be killed for knowing, something that frightened him, something that his own wife and children did not know or realize when they kissed him goodbye every morning. Secrets build up, they do not fall or diminish; secrets only seem smaller when the false concepts and gods that humans create to hide their original secrets loom over the whole world, casting shows about doubt and mystery onto every place and time. The secrets of Solms-Braunfels coursed through the veins of the city, lurking beneath the surface like labyrinthine catacombs; no one, especially not Carel, knew what Minotaur hid at the center.
Ignorant to the broader mysteries of his nation, Carel did know where he did know what he had to accomplish today; he knew the simple things in life, things that no one can dispute. He knew that the morning, with air as crisp as the apple he had eaten for breakfast, had been violated by the brutal murder of three prostitutes. Not one newscast would cover the murders, though each and every station throughout the country knew about them. People did not need to feel afraid. More importantly, international business and disgruntled husbands did not need to worry about witnessing bloody scenes and dismantled bodies when they visited the legal pleasure houses scattered through the urbanized country. Crime against prostitutes dropped dramatically following its legalization almost two decades ago; that was Carel’s second year on the force. Ensuring every prostitute was licensed and regularly tested for sexually-transmitted infections helped ease the minds and consciences of the unfortunates who frequented the whore houses.
Arriving at his destination, a tiny hole-in-the-wall dubbed the “Moon Lounge,” Carel recognized his young partner, Detective Josev, standing outside the door. His previous partner had retired six months ago, a sudden and unfortunate retirement due to the idiots fumbling of some vital paperwork. Carel did not like his previous partner and he did not like Josev either. He did his best work alone without being pestered by an insolent rookie. He hated the way that Josev spoke and he realized as he approached the pudgy man that he hates the way he stands. Josev looked like a vulture perched on a branch, waiting for the bleeding carcas on the road to die so that he could sink his teeth into it.
“Good morning,” Josev croaked at Carel. There were bagel crumbs in his beard and a small coffee stain near the neckline of his dark blue uniform. He looked pale. In the shadows of the building and the early morning light, the neon sign from the Moon Lounge made his nearly translucent skin blue, green, and pink.
“Did you go inside yet?” Cut to the chase. We are here for a reason. The government doesn’t pay us to exchange pleasantries.
“No I-I, now don’t take this the wrong way, but I-y’know, I didn’t want to be seen going into this place, y’know?” The answer didn’t surprise Carel. His partner was a prude--one of the last true blue God-fearing men in all of Solms-Braunfels. He rambled about his faith, something that he shouldn’t do on the job. There were many times that Carel thought about reporting his partner, but he didn’t know what other idiot he’d get stuck with. Josev was a moron, but he didn’t prevent the job from getting done typically.
“Let’s go,” Carel rolled his eyes, his tone reflecting the action. Unable to handle any more of the insolence and ineptitude of the streets, he crossed the threshold into the Moon Lounge. The space was small, not much need for a waiting room at the whorehouse, but there were some drunken foreigners sprawled throughout the room: Akareans and Kanatians more highly represented than any other groups. Visibly, smoke hung in the air, it smelled like booze and loss, but it was oddly quiet. It was early in the morning, but somewhere in the establishment some bed springs were getting a workout. Josev pushed his way through the door; squinting, either from the smoke or in some vain effort to preserve himself.
As the two detectives entered, something moved towards them from behind the closest thing to the “front desk.” It may have been a man, woman, or neither, but it’s voice failed to give any hints: “You’re the detectives?”
Satisfied by Carel’s nod, the mysterious guardian led the two detectives into a dimly lit hallway: maybe to hide the shame of the men and the looks of the women. “All three of ‘em were found in the same room--good girls, high customer satisfaction ratings.. Nice ‘nough to have repeats, even the foreign ones liked ‘em. Trying to put ‘emselves through school or some shit. I think they knew each other, might’ve lived together, I’m not paid to know those things.” It wasn’t a lot, but it was more information than Carel or Josev had received in the initial report from the station.
“‘Ere we are, cover yer noses. It’s better than it was when we found ‘em a few hours ago, we lit some candles, but that’s all we did.” With that, the door opened into the small room--two beds were pressed up against opposite walls, a small table next to each, no clocks, one dresser, the window was covered up by a dark sheet, the room was well-lit by an overhead fixture and one lamp. The three bodies were crowded into the corner, left where they had been found. All three were bound at the feet and at their wrists, gagged and blindfolded too. None of the prostitutes were wearing clothes, but describing them as naked would be unfair: they were covered in blood, almost from head to foot, eerie ball gowns woven by their killers. Each appeared to have multiple stab wounds, but none were visibly mutilated in any other way.
It was a troubling scene, but it wasn’t the worst that Carel had ever seen. “How many men…” Bought? Rented? Loaned?
“Two, according to our payment records.” The staff member sensed his apprehension, filling in the blanks.
“Can we see those records?” Josev butted into the conversation, he looked a bit pale, but he could handle this job. It was a good question too, Carel smirked a bit as he crouched down closer to the bodies.
“You can, but the two men paid with cash. We do have their names; they’re not Akarean, but I don’t know if they’re from here either. I’ll go get the records name, it stinks in here.” It did stink, but it wasn’t that bad. Perhaps a bit of pity or disgust, maybe the two are indistinguishable in this circumstance, thought Carel.
“This doesn’t look good,” interjected Josev.
“It doesn’t, but that’s why we’re here…”