Mystery Science Fiction

Somebody's Daughter

By Curtis C. Chen
13,367 words · 49-minute reading time

NYPD BLUE

Photo by Ryan Loughlin via Unsplash.

From the author: Not too many years from now, New York City police detectives Jake and Andy catch a very personal case--and in a world where organized crime has taken advantage of legalized human cloning, family secrets take on a whole new meaning. But how far are Jake and Andy willing to bend the rules in order to uncover the truth?


The girl didn't look healthy. That was the first thing Jake noticed. Her skin was pale, and her face—angular, bird-like—would have been striking if it weren't so gaunt. Dark hair spilled in tight curls over her shimmering, size-all jacket, which still looked too big on her. A distressed polygon handbag hung from her shoulder.

Her big round eyes darted left and right, then settled on Jake. She moved across the squad room floor, heading straight for him, clutching a display tab to her chest.

“Andy,” Jake said. He suddenly had a very bad feeling. His partner looked up just as the girl stopped next to the detectives' shared desk.

“Excuse me. Are you Jacob Lanosky?”

She lowered her arms, and the image on the display tab rotated as it flipped down: a picture of a man, maybe twenty years younger than Jake, smiling, wearing a blue police uniform. He immediately recognized the thick eyebrows he faced in the bathroom mirror every morning.

Why does she have a copy of my academy graduation photo? Jake studied the girl's face. Close up, she looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite identify her. Do I know her? Is she police?

“I'm Detective Lanosky,” Jake said, standing up. “Have we met before?”

The girl shook her head. “No. But I need your help.”

“This is Homicide, miss. We don't handle general complaints—”

“Please, Detective,” the girl said, “I'm your daughter.”

Jake felt a defensive smile creeping onto his face. It wasn't the worst thing anybody had ever said to him, but it was one of the strangest. “And what makes you think that?”

The girl opened her handbag and pulled out a piece of paper printed with gibberish. “My mother went to a fertility clinic. Artificial insemination. That's the genetic profile of the donor—my biological father. I matched this to the municipal genome database.”

“Look, I've never, uh, donated in that way.” Jake fought to keep smiling. “Must be a computer error. If you go down the hall to our records division—”

The girl shook her head. “No! It's you. It has to be you!”

“Calm down, miss,” Andy said, raising his arms and holding his palms out. The gesture was meant to appear friendly but actually helped corral suspects.

The girl dropped her paper, turned, and yanked Andy's revolver out of his shoulder holster. Before he could react, she had jumped backward, out of reach, and pointed the weapon at Jake's chest.

“Gun!” Andy shouted. “GUN!”

All around Jake, police officers ducked behind furniture and drew their weapons. Jake and Andy both stayed perfectly still. The girl's hands shook like a leaf in a thunderstorm.

“You're a policeman,” she said. “I must be breaking, like, five different laws right now. You have to arrest me. You have to talk to me!”

“We can talk,” Jake said in what he hoped was a soft voice. The room had become unnaturally quiet. “Just put the gun down, slowly, and we'll talk.”

She obviously didn't know anything about firearms—she hadn't cocked the hammer, and her elbows weren't locked to brace against the recoil. Chances were the shot would go wild, into a wall or the ceiling, but one of the other detectives was sure to react and put a bullet or twelve into her. Jake didn't need that kind of incident ruining his day.

“Do you promise?” The girl looked like she was about to cry.

“I promise,” Jake said.

“Swear!” the girl said, waving the revolver for emphasis. Jake did his best not to flinch. “You have to swear!”

“I swear,” Jake said quietly, “on the grave of my wife and my honor as an officer of the law, I will hear you out.”

She stared into his eyes for a moment, then nodded and lowered the revolver. As she did, she seemed to feel its full weight for the first time, and she fell to her knees. The barrel of the gun thunked against the tile floor. Then she burst into tears.

Andy swooped in to retrieve his weapon. Jake stepped forward, kicked away her handbag, and waved off the other detectives, who had risen from their cover and were advancing on the girl with their own weapons drawn.

“All clear!” Jake called out. “We got this!” He looked down at Andy. “Cuff her, Dix.”

Andy looked up, surprised. “But you said—”

“I said I'd talk to her,” Jake snapped, “not serve her tea and cookies. Get her into an interview room. I'm going to find a lawyer.”

Jake didn't notice Libby Wasserman waiting in the lobby when he walked up to the desk sergeant and said, “I need a lawyer.”

“This must be your lucky day, Detective,” said a female voice behind Jake. “I'm available.”

Jake felt his face scrunch up. The desk sergeant shrugged and went back to his Sudoku. Jake turned around.

Libby looked as good as always: high cheekbones, dark eyes, perfect hair. Her business outfit would have been demure if it weren't just a little too tight in all the right places. Jake could barely stand to look at her.

He kept seeing his dead wife in her face, her eyes, her hands. Mary and Libby had both been cloned from the same line, and after Mary had passed away, seeing any of the other clones was like seeing a ghost.

It's not her fault, Jake reminded himself. It's not her.

“Wrong lawyer,” he said as Libby approached. “I'm looking for a public defender.”

“Too bad,” she said, exaggerating a pout. “Still, I can make a phone call. Are you looking for a softball or a shield?”

“Whoever's next in the rotation,” Jake said. “And I am shocked, shocked that you would suggest anything different, counselor.”

Libby grinned. “I'm a bad girl.”

The desk sergeant coughed loudly.

“Tell me what's going on?” Libby asked.

Jake recounted the incident in the squad room. Any sign of playfulness evaporated from Libby's face as he spoke.

When he finished, she said, “You have a daughter?”

“I don't,” Jake said. “I have no idea who this girl is. For all we know, she could have falsified those records.”

“Why would she do that?”

Jake spread his arms in a gesture of futility. “Why do perps do anything? Look, this isn't your problem. I'm going to find a PD, get a psych consult, and we'll put her in the system. She obviously needs professional help.”

“What if she really is your daughter?” Libby asked.

“Not possible,” Jake said. “I told you—”

“Okay, fine,” Libby said. “She still pulled a gun on you—Andy's gun—in the squad room. The city's going to press charges. They don't have a choice. That makes it my problem. Let's go.”

“Libby,” Jake started to say.

She raised a finger to silence him. “Are you really going to argue with a district attorney, Detective?”

“Fine,” Jake said. “Don't say I didn't warn you.”

“This is unbelievable,” Libby said. “She looks like a stiff breeze would break her in half. You actually handcuffed her?”

“Andy did it,” Jake said.

Libby, Jake, and the Homicide day shift commander, Lieutenant Keating, stood in the monitoring lounge at one end of the hall of soundproofed interview rooms. The main screen showed Interview Two, where the girl was dabbing tears from her face with a kleenex. Under the harsh lights of the box, she looked even more pale and thin than before.

“Drugs?” Keating asked. “Wires?” Direct electrical stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers was the latest trend in recreational self-abuse.

Jake shook his head. “She was responsive and coherent. Definitely knew where she was and what she was doing.”

“And you're sure you don't know this girl?” Keating said. He folded his arms and turned. At nearly two meters tall, the lieutenant towered over both Jake and Libby.

“I'm sure,” Jake said.

“You need to find out why she thinks otherwise,” Libby said.

“Andy'll get it out of her.”

“No, you.” Libby glared at Jake. “She came here to see you.”

“She's looking for her father,” Jake said. “That's not me.”

“She thinks it's you,” Libby said.

“You can use that as leverage,” Keating said.

“Or just be nice to her for a few minutes,” Libby said. “Come on, Jake. It's not going to cost you anything, and it'll mean the world to her.”

“Fine,” Jake grumbled. “Let's get this carnival of fun started so it can end sooner.” He wished he could light a cigarette or chew on an ice cube.

“Look on the bright side, Jake,” Keating said. “She wants to talk to you. How many people do you get in the box who actually want to talk?”

The door to Interview Two closed with a soft click behind Jake. The girl had stopped crying, but her eyes were still red, and she clutched a damp kleenex in one hand. Her bony fingers looked like claws.

She and Andy both shifted in their seats. Jake leaned back against the wall and folded his arms.

“We got a name?” he asked Andy.

“Leah Comler,” Andy said, holding up a reader tab. The girl's DMV record glowed on the translucent plastic screen. “Valid ID, no priors.”

“Why do you need to find your father, Miss Comler?” Jake asked. “Other than for emotional closure, I mean.”

“Jake,” Andy said. “She's sick. Hospital sick.

Nobody said anything for a moment. Jake glared at Andy. Andy glared back. Jake walked around the table and sat down next to Andy.

“Sorry,” Jake said. “I didn't know.”

“No,” Leah said, “I—I should apologize. I shouldn't have done what I did. It's just—” She sniffled. “I've been working so hard to find him. I was always curious, but my mother never wanted to talk about it. Then she died, and I couldn't do anything about it myself until two months ago.”

“What happened two months ago?” Jake asked.

“I turned twenty-one.”

“Happy birthday,” Andy said.

Leah chuckled hoarsely. “You know how I celebrated? I hired a lawyer so I could file to get my mother's records from the fertility clinic. Then I searched through every genome database I could get access to.” She looked at Jake, and it bothered him that her eyes seemed so familiar. “I was sure you were the one.”

Jake nodded at her hands. “What is it?”

“Idiopathic aplastic anemia,” Leah recited.

Jake slumped back in his seat. He recognized the condition from all the research he'd done when Mary got sick. “You're looking for a bone marrow transplant.”

He didn't say what he was thinking: You're dying.

Leah nodded.

“But you don't know the cause,” Jake said. Pathogeny was a huge factor in whether people made it onto the national transplant list.

“No,” Leah said. “My doctors think it's a hereditary auto-immune disorder, sort of. They're pretty sure I have it because my mother was a clone.”

“Your what was a what?” Andy said.

Jake swore out loud before he could stop himself. “Sorry. That's why you looked so familiar.” He hoped he wasn't blushing.

Leah smiled weakly. “People say I have her eyes. And her hair, a little bit.”

“Are you planning to loop me in here at some point?” Andy asked Jake.

It took Jake a moment to choose his words. “Adult entertainment.”

Andy looked at Leah, then stared at the wall. “Oh.”

“It wasn't her in those movies,” Leah said. “But that actress—the original person—was very... popular. She was one of the first to license her genome on the open market.”

Jake nodded. New York had been ground zero for the legislative fight over genetic replication—which the media had inevitably called “the clone wars”—but after the technology was legalized, pornography and prostitution enterprises all over the world had been the first to exploit full human cloning. Aside from being able to duplicate desirable physical characteristics, they also profited from one important biological distinction in clones.

“I thought all clones were sterile,” Andy said.

“That's why your mother went to a fertility clinic.” Jake leaned forward. “She needed help to get pregnant.”

Leah nodded. “Even then, it was a long shot. My mother always called me her little miracle.” She looked at Jake. “I guess I was hoping for another miracle.”

“My med charts are already on file with Red Cross,” Jake said. “I give blood four times a year. If I was a match, you'd already have found me.”

“I was hoping that you—I mean, my biological father—would have had other children. That would be my best chance for a donor match.” Leah's lower lip quivered. “And even if he didn't... I just wanted to meet him. Just once.”

Jake felt a knot in his stomach. “I'm not your father.”

Leah started crying again.

The door slammed open, and Libby stepped inside. “Detectives!” she said. “A word, please? Outside?”

“For crying out loud, Jake!” Libby said after ushering Jake and Andy into the empty monitoring lounge. Keating had returned to his office when Jake went into the box. “She's not some wirehead you pulled off the street. Could you at least try to treat her like a human being?”

“Give me a break,” Jake said. “How am I supposed to feel about all this? Some girl walks into my precinct, points a loaded gun at me, and says she's my kid? How would you feel?”

Libby glared at him. “Well, for starters, I wouldn't assume she was lying.”

Andy stepped forward. “There's an easy way to settle this.”

“I'm not taking a paternity test,” Jake said.

“That's not what I—”

“Why not?” Libby stepped forward, interrupting Andy and challenging Jake. “If you're so sure you're not the father, why not give her the benefit of some certainty?”

“Because it'll take a least a week to get the results,” Jake said, “and she's going to spend that week getting her hopes up, only to be disappointed again. It won't get her any closer to finding her actual father, and it'll make all of us miserable. You really want to put her through that?”

He glared at Libby, but he wasn't seeing her. He was seeing his late wife. He was thinking about Mary's final weeks, when she'd stopped taking the medication that would prolong her life but reduce its quality. He remembered arguing with her, selfishly wanting more time, not understanding until the end that how long they had together wasn't the most important thing. It was how well they lived that really mattered.

Libby blinked, then looked at Andy. “What's your idea, Detective?”

“Thank you.” Andy pointed at the Interview Two monitor. “I'm guessing neither of you was listening in earlier, when I was talking to Leah by myself.”

“No,” Jake and Libby said in unison.

“Okay, well, here's the thing,” Andy said. “Leah's mother died in January. And in her will, she left Leah a safe deposit box at Craneson Credit.”

That got Jake's attention. “You're joking.”

Andy shook his head. “Midtown branch, basement vault.”

“What's in the box?” Libby asked.

“No idea,” Andy said. “According to the will, it's coded so that only Leah and her father can open it. Together. Tandem verification, fingerprint and DNA scan required.”

“Who was her mother again?” Jake asked.

Craneson Credit International had built a reputation as trusted bankers to the rich and famous, ensuring their security and privacy with state-of-the-art technology. Craneson's customers also included more than one organized crime family, which the NYPD knew because of Craneson's grudging cooperation with ongoing federal investigations.

“Nobody like that,” Andy said. He turned to the nearest screen and pulled up a rap sheet. “Carolina Comler, died January twenty-seventh of this year; lung failure due to complications from bacterial pneumonia. Age forty, never married. Two convictions for soliciting, one for—”

“Wait a minute,” Libby said. “Did you say age forty?”

Andy nodded. “Smoking kills.” He shot a look at Jake.

“She was a clone,” Jake said. “Shortened life span is par for the course.”

“That's not my point.” Libby gestured toward Interview Two. “Leah Comler just turned twenty-one.”

“So?” Jake said.

So, she was born when her mother was nineteen. Unmarried nineteen-year-old girls don't go to fertility clinics,” Libby said. “They're generally trying not to get pregnant. Especially if they're prostitutes.”

“I worked Vice for three years,” Jake said. “Let me tell you, not a lot of things will stop a pimp from sending a hooker out to work. Some johns pay more for the weird stuff.”

“I think I know a little more about what a woman wants than you do, Jake,” Libby said.

“You're not Carolina Comler. We have no idea what she wanted!” Jake said.

“Yeah, it's a shame we can't talk to the mother!” Andy said, waving his hands. “But I've got something almost as good. While you two were arguing, I pulled up the bank records from that OCCB subpoena—you remember, Jake, for the Statz investigation? Check this out. Carolina Comler paid for that safe deposit box herself, in person, with cash.”

He tapped a key, and the screen changed from a grid of numbers to a black-and-white security camera image of a woman with long, dark, curly hair and big round eyes standing at a bank teller's window. Jake recognized the face—he'd seen it more than once, on the covers of pirated videos seized by Vice and in mugshots identified with other names.

“Momma must have had a sugar daddy,” Andy said.

“You're sure that's her?” Libby asked. “Not a different clone from the same line?”

Andy nodded. “The bank's fingerprint ID matches Carolina Comler's arrest record. Even clones have unique prints—just like identical twins. Same genes, but fingerprint development is stochastic.”

“Does he always talk like this?” Libby asked Jake.

Jake was only half listening. “Records,” he said, thinking out loud. “Computer records. Leah thought the information in the fertility clinic's database would lead to her biological father.”

Andy looked confused. “Right.”

“But they didn't,” Jake said. “They led to me instead. Even though I've never been anywhere near that clinic.”

Andy frowned. “You think somebody altered the clinic's records?”

“You have a better explanation?”

Something twittered in the vicinity of Libby's midsection. She pulled a phone out of some hidden pocket in her outfit and turned away to answer it. “Wasserman.”

“Where does she keep that thing?” Jake muttered.

“Maybe you don't want to know,” Andy replied.

“I'll be right there,” Libby said and snapped her phone shut. She turned back to face the detectives. “Leah Comler's lawyer is here.”

“We'll get out of your way,” Jake said.

“No,” Libby said. “You guys will want to see this. You'll never believe which firm is representing her.”

Jake disliked the man standing in the lobby immediately. It wasn't the slicked-back hair, the iridescent three-piece suit, or the trendy stubble covering the bottom half of a face too young and round for that look. It was the smell. Jake didn't trust men who wore cologne.

Libby took a single step forward when the elevator doors opened, then froze. Jake nearly ran into her and had to yank his arm back to avoid inappropriate touching. Andy exhaled sharply as his stomach met Jake's elbow.

“Libby?” said the man in the lobby. “Liberty Wasserman?”

Libby recovered from her momentary surprise and walked out of the elevator. Jake and Andy followed and stopped on either side of her, facing the man in the sharkskin suit.

“Roland,” Libby said. “I didn't know you were with Levine and Associates.”

“You know this guy?” Jake asked Libby.

“You work for Karl Levine?” Andy asked the lawyer. Levine and Associates was the finest criminal defense outfit in the city—more dedicated, more ruthless, and more expensive than any other law firm for a hundred kilometers.

“Roland Stern,” the man said, holding out a business card. Andy took it and held it up to the light. The holographic printing made the text appear to hover above the paper. “I'm doing a pro bono rotation. And yes, I went to law school with Miss Wasserman—it is still 'Miss,' isn't it?”

“It's District Attorney Wasserman,” Libby said, with an edge on her voice. She nodded at the folded paper in Stern's left hand. “You've read the people's brief?”

Stern nodded. “Yes, and may I say, it's very generous of you to authorize ROR, considering the unfortunate lapse in judgment my client displayed this morning.”

“Save it,” Libby said. “We know she's ill, and she's been cooperating. Are you ready to take custody?”

Stern actually winked at Libby. “Are you trying to get rid of me already, counselor?”

Jake saw the muscles in Libby's jaw clenching for a moment before she replied. “Detective Dixon will help you with the paperwork.”

Andy looked up from his examination of Stern's business card. “I will?”

“Detective Lanosky and I have an appointment elsewhere,” Libby said. “If you'll excuse us.”

She pinched Jake in the side and hustled him out the front door of the police station before he could object.

They drove directly from the station to the Fenton Dvorin Fertility Clinic, where Carolina Comler had received her medical treatments. At first, the staff were reluctant to cooperate with Jake's request for information. Then Libby stepped in and explained that the blunt-instrument subpoena she could be forced to serve would be devastating to both productivity and public relations, whereas the surgical precision of a quick, off-the-record database search would serve the people just as well without damaging the clinic's good name.

The staff provided a complete list of employees with access to the donor database twenty-two years ago. After a quick lunch—Libby insisted on trying a Cantonese food truck they'd passed on the way to the clinic—Jake and Libby began tracking down the former clinic workers. Most of them still lived in New York, but the first several interviewees failed to show any promise as suspects.

Three hours and two coffee breaks later, Jake and Libby arrived at the last name on the list.

“This is it,” Libby said, locking the computer screen built into the passenger-side dashboard of the unmarked police car. “Charming.”

Jake pulled over to the curb and looked across the street at the house. It was a small cottage behind a yard of yellow grass, and it looked like it hadn't been resurfaced for decades. By contrast, all the other houses in the neighborhood had well-manicured lawns and shiny new polychrome exteriors.

“I'm guessing this is our guy,” Jake said. “How many med-techs do you know who can afford a house on Long Island?”

“David Grant,” Libby read off her phone as she stepped out of the car. “A few busts for drug possession back in the day, about the time he would have been working at the clinic, but not much since then. Parking tickets, noise complaints from the neighbors. Guess he learned to keep his nose clean.”

Jake got out of the car, locked it, and followed Libby across the street. “Speaking of ancient history, what's the deal with you and that lawyer? Stern?”

“Rather not talk about it,” Libby said.

“Oh, come on,” Jake said, “I did you a favor, didn't I? You wanted to get out of there—”

Libby stopped, turned, and jabbed her phone into Jake's chest. “I said, I don't want to talk about it.”

Jake stared at her for a second, then flipped back his jacket and unbuckled his hip holster. With his other hand, he pulled his badge off his belt. “Stay behind me.”

“Are you always this optimistic?”

“Better safe than dead.”

Jake walked up to the house and knocked on the front door. “Anybody home?”

After a moment, a muffled voice said, “Who is it?”

Jake held his badge up to the peephole. “NYPD.”

Another pause, and then the door opened. The man inside looked like he had just gotten out of bed, with a tangled mess of brown hair, rumpled t-shirt, and pajama bottoms. He squinted as if he were unaccustomed to the sunlight.

“David Grant?” Libby said over Jake's left shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“I'm District Attorney Wasserman, and this is Detective Lanosky. We'd like to talk to you about a cold case we're working on.”

“Cold case?” Grant repeated, as if he didn't quite understand what the words meant.

“Something that happened about twenty years ago, at the Fenton Dvorin Fertility Clinic,” Libby said. “Do you remember working there?”

Grant frowned. “That was a long time ago.”

“Yes, it was,” Libby said. “A lot of the records were lost, which is why we're interviewing people who might remember anything. May we come in?”

Grant nodded and stepped back, out of the doorway. Jake put away his badge and smiled to himself. By volunteering the information that the clinic's records were incomplete, Libby had told Grant he could make up whatever story he wanted. It was the kind of thing Jake might have done, though he wouldn't have been quite so pleasant about it. That's what Andy was for.

The inside of the house was worse than the outside. Grant mumbled some vague apologies while clearing fast food zip-packs and magazine reader tabs off the couch, making a space for Jake and Libby to sit. The only natural light came from a small window, through which Jake could see the neighbor's yard and some high-rises in the distance.

Grant swept a pile of clothes off an armchair and sat down facing the couch. He squinted at Libby.

“Do I know you?” Grant asked.

“Almost certainly not,” Jake muttered.

“It's just you look kinda familiar,” Grant said.

Libby smiled politely. “You probably recognize my face from your med-tech training. My gene line was one of the first wave.”

Grant's eyes widened. “Oh. Yeah. Okay.”

Jake wondered how often Libby had to deal with that. He wondered if it bothered her as much as it had bothered Mary.

“This isn't about that, is it?” Grant asked. “I didn't do any actual lab work at the clinic. Just databases and EMR—electronic medical records. Stuff like that.”

“That's okay,” Libby said. “We're just looking into a cold case which involves one of the clinic's patients.”

“Well, you know, it's been a long time since I worked there. And I was kinda messed up back then, I admit. My memory may not be so great.”

“Anything you can recall would be a big help.” Libby accessed Carolina Comler's mugshot on her phone and held it up. “Do you recognize this woman?”

Grant squinted, then shook his head. “No.”

“Carolina Comler. Does that ring a bell?”

Jake saw Grant's face twitch just before he answered. “No. I don't know her. Is that all?”

“You're a terrible liar,” Jake said.

“I'm not lying,” Grant said.

Jake smiled. He loved this part. “Do you know what a plain-view search is, Mr. Grant?”

Grant looked around nervously. “You're bluffing.”

“Let me tell you what we know,” Jake said. “We know that somebody paid you to tamper with Fenton Dvorin's records twenty-two years ago. You faked a whole set of treatment records for Carolina Comler.”

“You can't prove that,” Grant said. “And even if you could, statute of limitations on falsifying medical records is three years.”

“Funny you should know that,” Jake said.

“Mandatory legal training,” Grant said. “Ask the clinic.”

“That statute only applies to criminal prosecution,” Libby said. “Carolina Comler's daughter just turned twenty-one. She subpoenaed the clinic's records to find out who her biological father was, and she wasn't very happy when she discovered those records were inaccurate.”

“To say the least,” Jake muttered.

“She can file a civil lawsuit against you personally, Mr. Grant,” Libby said. “The prescriptive period on that hasn't expired yet, and she can sue you for emotional and punitive damages.”

“That could be millions of dollars,” Jake added.

Grant's face twitched again. “You're lying. She can't do that. That's not right!”

Jake shrugged. “It's going to happen whether you believe it or not.”

“We can help you, Mr. Grant,” Libby said, “but only if you cooperate and tell us what you know.”

“How are you going to help? You're just the DA. You can't stop her from suing me!”

“We could talk her out of it,” Libby said. “If you tell us the whole story, if you give us a lead on this case, we can convince Miss Comler that it's for the greater good.”

“Who paid you to fake those records?” Jake asked. “And why did they want you to use a policeman's DNA?”

Grant's eyebrows shot up. “Whoa! The genome I picked was from a cop? I didn't know!” He held up both hands. “Look, they just told me to grab some random DNA—they didn't care whose—and change the records.”

“At random,” Jake said. “You chose me at random.” He shook his head and chuckled, feeling immensely relieved.

“Who's 'they?'“ Libby asked.

“You gotta understand the situation I was in,” Grant said. “This girl, Carolina, she was already pregnant, okay? And she came to me. She gave me a lot of cash and a container of, you know, donor material. Wanted me to scan it into the database and dummy up the records to make it look like she'd gotten fertilized at the clinic instead of, uh, 'in the wild.'

“So I figured she just gave me some random sample, right? But this is after the Info Connect Act, and as soon as I register the DNA, the computer pops up this huge alert. Says the donor's wanted by the FBI.”

“Who was it?” Jake asked.

Grant ignored him. “I was going to do the right thing,” he said to Libby. “I swear. But they must have had some kind of wiretap into the system. I barely had time to read the name before the alert disappeared, and an hour later, two guidos show up at the clinic asking questions.”

Jake and Libby traded a look. “You're talking about the Mafia?” Libby asked.

“I'm saying they were definitely organized, if you know what I mean,” Grant said. “Anyway, I thought they'd tell me to delete the records and then go deal with the girl themselves, but they told me to change the file instead. Make it look like somebody else was the father. I figured the happy couple had worked things out, and anyway, you don't say no to these people.

“So I pulled a random profile from the blood bank where I was working a second job—moonlighting, you know, to make ends meet?—and I overwrote the donor profile for this girl's record with the new genome data from the blood bank.”

“Who paid you, Mr. Grant?” Libby asked. “Who was the father?”

Grant stared at her. “You can protect me, right? You're going to protect me?”

There was a sound of glass breaking. A small red spot appeared on Grant's chest. He made a whimpering, gurgling noise.

There was another cracking sound. The window beside the couch shattered and spilled glass onto the floor. Grant fell backward into his chair, leaking blood from his mouth and two holes in the middle of his chest.

“Down!” Jake shouted. “GET DOWN!”

He grabbed Libby's jacket collar and pulled her onto the floor, putting the couch between them and the window. Jake looked around the room for better cover. Libby had her phone out and was calling 911.

“We need to get out of here,” Jake said.

“Are you wearing a shield?” Libby asked.

Jake had already considered using the department-issued emergency force field generator clipped to his belt. He opened his mouth to answer. There was a loud thwack, and a bullet hole appeared in the far wall.

“That's a high-powered sniper rifle,” he said. “Nothing except distance is going to protect us.”

He helped Libby up into a crouch. Then Jake drew his weapon, pointing the Glock ahead of them. He pushed Libby toward the front door. Another bullet smacked into Grant's lifeless body with a wet crunch.

Jake fumbled the car's key fob out of his pocket and into Libby's palm. “Stay in front of me. Get in the car, get down on the floor.”

“I can drive while you shoot,” Libby said.

“The shooter could be half a kilometer away. I won't even be able to see him.” Jake hefted his Glock. “This is just in case he's got friends waiting out front.”

Libby grimaced. “Always the optimist.”

She yanked the front door open and sprinted through it, faster than Jake had expected. They made it across the empty street in seconds. Libby opened the car door and tumbled inside. Jake followed, slammed the door shut, and powered up the car.

He kept his head below the top of the dashboard as he pulled into the street. The back window shattered. He risked looking over the dash to turn the corner at the end of the block. Another bullet pierced the side door and ripped through the backseat.

Jake stomped the accelerator. His heart didn't stop pounding until the car was ten blocks away, safely inside a parking structure, and backup had arrived.

“Good guess on this high-rise, Detective,” said Huang, the lead crime scene investigator. “We found this at the southeast corner of the roof.” He held up a plastic bag containing a crumpled shell casing. “The shooter didn't clean up after himself very well.”

Jake shoved his hands into his pockets. It wasn't that cold on the roof, but he didn't want any of the CSIs to see him shaking.

“Please tell me that's something really exotic,” Jake said.

“Not as such,” Huang said. “Seven-point-six-two NATO standard rifle cartridge, mostly used in military small arms. But given this unusual crimping pattern, and when you combine it with this...” He raised his other gloved hand, which gripped a long, black metal cylinder.

“And what is that?”

“Hensoldt six-by-forty-two scope. Illuminated reticles, sighting up to six hundred meters—”

“Skip to the end,” Jake said.

“This is the only unmodified scope that will fit a vintage Heckler & Koch PSG1. Looks like the shooter cracked it against the concrete here.” Huang indicated a scrape in the low wall at the edge of the roof. “Knocked it right off the rifle and broke the lens. Guy must have really been in a hurry.

“Anyway, the PSG1 does fire seven-point-six-two NATO rounds, and we found the casings about nine meters away from the scope, which is consistent with a PSG1's ejection pattern.” He grinned. “Those bad boys really kick brass.”

Jake resisted the urge to roll his eyes. And I thought Andy was bad. “So this isn't the average sportsman's hunting rifle. Does that mean it's traceable?”

“Possibly,” Huang said. Jake bit his tongue and curled one hand into a fist. “There's still a federal import ban in effect, so the only PSG1s in the US are owned by private collectors with overseas connections. We'll run the ballistics to confirm and get you a list of registered owners, but it's very possible it was purchased on the black market.”

“Thanks,” Jake said. “Excuse me.”

He descended the stairs to the top floor, then took the elevator down to ground level. Two patrol cars blocked the driveways leading in and out of the building's parking lot, and Jake's damaged vehicle sat at an angle straddling two parking spaces, surrounded by yellow tape and guarded by uniforms while more CSIs worked on it.

Libby sat on a green metal bench between two potted plants, facing the street. As Jake walked up to her, an unmarked police car screeched to a halt next to one of the black-and-whites. Andy jumped out of the car and jogged over to the bench.

“I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?” Andy said to Jake, his impish grin belying the concern in his eyes. He turned to Libby. “You okay, counselor?”

“I've been better,” Libby said. She looked at Jake. “I'm still not sold on that second date.”

“And you?” Andy turned to Jake. “No bullet holes?”

Jake shook his head. “We got a lead.”

“You got a corpse,” Andy said.

“Yeah, I'm guessing that's related.” Jake repeated Grant's story.

“Wow,” Andy said. “You know, FBI did plug a hole in their ICA network a few years ago. They never figured out which family was behind it, though.”

“So some gangster doesn't want us to find out he was paying mommie dearest by the hour twenty years ago.” Jake looked down at Libby. “You were right, counselor. Carolina's pregnancy was an accident.”

“Woman's intuition,” Libby said, staring into the distance.

“Leah Comler was even more of a 'little miracle' than she thought,” Andy said. “The odds against a clone conceiving healthy offspring are astronomical.”

“Leah Comler's not healthy,” Jake said.

Andy scratched his chin. “But what kind of wiseguy finds out his call girl is trying to put him in the jackpot and doesn't order a hit?”

“It wasn't that simple,” Libby said. “There was a child involved.”

“A fetus,” Jake said.

Libby looked at him with mournful eyes. “Some people don't make that distinction.” She turned away.

Jake shook his head, wanting to ask about that look but not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“So the father won't let Carolina get an abortion,” Andy said, “but he's connected, and he will pay her off for the rest of her life, as long as she never reveals his identity. That's how she was able to afford that Craneson safe box.”

Jake nodded. “The mob can't touch Carolina now that she's dead. She was probably betting that the father wouldn’t murder his own flesh and blood.”

“So there's some proof of Leah Comler's parentage inside that box,” Andy said. “But we can't open it unless we have the father's thumbprint and DNA.”

“Which means getting him into the same room with his daughter,” Jake grumbled. “But without the original records or David Grant to question, we have no idea who the father is.”

Libby made a strange noise. After a second, Jake realized she was giggling. He had never heard her giggle.

“We need the proof to get the proof,” she said. “Catch-22. The chicken and the egg.”

Jake looked at Libby's face. Her lips were pale. “Okay, you need to get checked out by EMS.”

“I'm fine,” she said.

“I wasn't asking. Andy, where's the nearest ambo?”

Andy checked the tracker on his phone. “Other side of town. You should just drive her to the hospital.” He showed Jake a map.

“Key.” Jake held out his hand.

Andy frowned. “How am I supposed to get back?”

“Catch a ride with one of the CSIs. Huang's on the roof with some evidence. Go have a conversation.”

“Drive safely.” Andy handed over the key fob. “Hope you feel better, counselor.”

“I'm fine,” Libby repeated.

Jake grabbed her upper arm and planted her in the unmarked police car. They drove in silence for several minutes, until Libby spoke.

“I chose differently,” she said.

Jake reached behind him, found an unopened bottle of water on the floor—Andy was obsessive about hydration—and handed it to Libby. “Drink this, then put your head back and rest. You're still in shock.”

Libby sipped some water. “I had an abortion in college.”

Jake gripped the steering wheel. “We don't need to talk about this.”

“It was Roland Stern's.”

“Counselor—”

“First you want to know all about my past,” Libby drawled, “then you don't want to hear it. You're a real tease, you know that, cowboy?”

“Drink your water.”

Libby took another sip. “You really want me to shut up?”

Jake sighed. If she was making noise, he wouldn't have to watch her to make sure she was still conscious. Plus she sounded like her heart was breaking, and he didn't need that on his conscience. “Talk.”

“We dated for a few months. Third year of law school. Slept together, didn't use protection. Didn't think it was an issue. Because, you know. I'm not a real person.”

“Don't say that,” Jake said.

Libby shrugged. “It's what everyone says.”

“Mary was a real person,” Jake snapped. “So are you. So is every other human clone on the planet. You live, you die, you obey the law or we lock you up. It's the same for everyone.”

“Sorry,” Libby said after a pause. “I didn't mean—”

“Forget it.”

“I'm sorry.”

Jake looked at Libby and instantly regretted it. Her eyes glistened with tears. She's not Mary. She's not your wife. Your wife is dead. He looked away. Change the subject before you lose it.

“Does Stern know what happened?” he asked.

“Oh no. No, no, no no no.” Libby shook her head. “I didn't tell anyone. Went to Planned Parenthood by myself before finals, then broke up with Roland right after graduation. Was kind of hoping I'd never see him again, honestly.”

“Is that why you're so interested in this case?” Jake asked. “Because you feel some kinship with Carolina Comler? Because Leah Comler is like the daughter you never had?”

“I don't feel guilty, if that's what you're implying.”

“I wasn't implying anything.”

“I don't regret my decision,” Libby said. “I was always told I couldn't have children, so of course I wanted them more than anything. Then, when I actually got pregnant—it should have felt like a second chance, but it didn't. I realized I didn't want that life. The things you want when you're playing with dolls aren't the same things you want when you're twenty-three and living on ramen and caffeine.

“Besides, I'd already pretty much won the lottery. I was one of the first wave of human clones, birthed illegally using experimental incubators, and I didn't have some kind of birth defect or congenital disease? I didn't want to tempt fate by asking for a healthy child, too.”

Jake nodded. He'd also been lucky, to have had so many years with Mary. Most of the first wave had died before they reached thirty. Their suffering had spurred the federal government to tighten biotech regulations across the board, but clones still couldn't lead completely normal lives.

“You didn't answer my question,” he said. “About this case.”

Libby drank some more water. “You're right, Jake. I feel sorry for Leah Comler because I think I know what her mother went through. You're right. We want to help people who remind us of ourselves.” She looked at the side of his face. “And we want to avoid fake copies of our dead spouses.”

Jake didn't look at her. “I can't help how I feel.”

“I'm not talking about that. Half the time you can't even look at me.”

“You're going to blame me for that?”

“It's just a face, Jake.” Libby sighed. “My face is not who I am.”

“I know. I know!” Jake said. “But this isn't a rational thing. I don't have a switch I can turn on and off so I don't think of Mary every time I see a clone from her line. It's confusing, all right? Our brains weren't meant to deal with this kind of stuff.”

“Don't give me that,” Libby said. “You're a police detective, for crying out loud. You've been on the science crimes task force for ten months. Your job is to take things that don't make sense and make sense out of them.”

“That's my job,” Jake said. “Not my life.”

“You're impossible,” Libby said. “Why are you even on this case, Jake?”

“It's a homicide.”

Libby shook her head. “It wasn't a homicide until after we found Grant. You drove us around the city all day before that. I told you why I care about this case. Why do you care so much?”

Jake didn't want to think about Mary. He didn't want to wonder if he could have done anything more for her before she died, to make her happier, to help her accept her fate. He didn't want to hope that he could do the same for another woman who was slowly dying because her mother had also been incubated instead of born.

“I just want some answers,” he said.

As soon as Jake and Andy entered the squad room the next morning, before they even reached their desk, Lieutenant Keating opened the door of his office and shouted their names. “Lanosky! Dixon! Get in here!”

“How does he do that?” Andy wondered.

“Clairvoyance?” Jake said. “Black magic? Pact with Lucifer?”

The blinds over the window of the lieutenant's office were drawn. Keating slammed the door shut behind Jake and Andy, then picked up a reader tab from his desk.

“Ballistics report,” Keating said.

“That was fast,” Andy said. He took the tab and began scrolling through the report.

“Snipers in the suburbs tend to make voters nervous,” Keating said. “This is no longer a cold case. This is not even a red ball. This is a flaming lava bomb that will melt both your faces off if you don't close it soon. Got that?”

“Face-melting lava bomb. Got it,” Jake said. “Do we have a name?”

“You're in luck, Detective,” Keating said. “Apparently this was a very specialized, high-end firearm, only accessible to collectors or criminals. And one of the registered owners in our jurisdiction happens to be both.”

“I'm so sorry,” the well-groomed young man said. “Mr. Statz isn't available today.”

The young man, who'd identified himself as Topher, had the same face and voice as every other man in the building—the doorman who'd let Jake and Andy into the lobby, the receptionist who'd summoned Topher to greet the detectives, and the security guards who patrolled around them at regular intervals. The men were all different ages and slightly different body types, but Jake's brain still wanted to think they were the same person. It was like being in some kind of surrealistic film.

For years, a loophole in federal law had allowed Marko Statz to use his legitimate biotech businesses to replicate any chosen genome into complete human beings, as long as he could find a way to claim they were part of a clinical trial. As soon as the embryos came out of the incubators, they were people, and killing them would be murder. Mob families usually adopted the children, and when they came of age, they were inducted into the criminal organization.

Jake had to admit, clones made the perfect foot soldiers. They were impossible for eyewitnesses to positively identify in most cases, since they all looked very similar, and when you expected to die young anyway, why not live fast until then?

Topher looked down at his electronic notepad. “If you'd like to make an appointment—”

Andy surprised Jake by shoving his badge into Topher's face. “You see what that says? NYPD. You know what that means?”

Topher seemed flustered by the sudden invasion of his personal space. “Uh—”

Andy snapped his badge holder shut, making Topher flinch. “NYPD means we don't need an appointment. NYPD means your boss is going to make time for us, right now, unless he wants us to call in a warrant and shut this entire building down while we search every square centimeter for the rifle, registered in his name, which killed a citizen of this fair city yesterday and nearly killed my partner and our friend the district attorney!”

Topher cleared his throat. “I'll just have to check with Mr. Statz—”

“Statz is watching right now,” Andy said. He jabbed a finger at the top edge of Topher's pad. “You're transmitting from the camera and mic built into the bezel of that oversized clipboard, and your boss is giving you orders through that poorly hidden earpiece.” He pointed at Topher's left ear. “Now you've got two minutes to escort us upstairs, or we mobilize SWAT and CSU and kill traffic inside a four-block radius.” Andy leaned down and spoke into the pad. “Would your boss like to see that on the evening news?”

Topher blinked and said, “Just a moment, please.” He turned and walked quickly around the corner, toward the elevators.

“Golly Gee Willikers, Andy,” Jake said, very proud of himself for not laughing out loud, “you didn't tell me you wore your big-boy pants today.”

“Self-important little jerk,” Andy said. “Just because I'm over thirty, he thinks I'm blind? He wasn't even trying to hide the fact that he was pointing that camera right at us. That's insulting.” He paused. “Do you think I was too hard on him?”

Jake patted his partner on the back. “You're going to make somebody a great wife one day, Dix.”

“Screw you too.” Andy glared back at another security guard and lowered his voice. “Looks like we're on the right trail, though, judging by the labor force around here.”

“Yeah,” Jake muttered. “If anybody was going to get a clone pregnant, it'd be Marko Statz.”

One of the elevators dinged. Jake didn't really expect Statz would come down to meet them, but he leaned over to get a look anyway.

He also wasn't expecting to see a familiar round face in a sharkskin suit.

“What the—?” Jake stood up and walked toward the elevators.

Roland Stern was heading for the exit on the other side of the building, talking into a blinking blue wireless headset, and didn't notice the detectives approaching until Jake tapped him on the shoulder.

Stern turned around, froze, and said, “Let me call you back in a minute.” He touched his headset. The blue light disappeared. “Detectives. I didn't expect to see you here. Aren't you a little out of your element?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Jake said. “You visiting a client?”

Stern smiled. “I'm afraid answering that could be seen as a violation of attorney-client privilege.”

“Right,” Jake said.

“Now, if you'll excuse me,” Stern said, “I have to be in court soon. Leah Comler's arraignment is today.”

“That was fast,” Andy said.

“I don't get paid to drag my feet, Detective,” Stern said. “And I'm sure we all want Miss Comler to be able to put this unfortunate incident behind her as soon as possible.”

Jake grumbled and stepped aside. Stern tapped his headset and walked out of the building.

Someone cleared his throat behind Jake. He turned and saw Topher. “Detectives? Mr. Statz will see you now.”

Marko Statz had a massive corner office on the top floor of the building. Two of the walls behind his dark wooden desk were floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Hudson River. The other walls were lined with display cases full of thick, illuminated manuscripts, miniature statues of Catholic saints, and weapons from every era of human history. Jake was pretty sure he recognized a thirteenth-century samurai sword and a prototype electrolaser stun gun flanking Saint Francis of Assisi. A very detailed, very crucified stone Jesus watched over the whole spread.

Statz was standing at the window when Jake and Andy entered, and he stayed there with his back to the detectives as they approached. Once they reached the two chairs on the near side of the desk, Statz turned around and focused watery blue eyes on Jake and Andy in turn. Jake shivered as he saw Leah Comler's angular nose between those eyes.

“I don't take threats lightly, Detectives,” Statz said.

“We don't take murder lightly, Mr. Statz,” Jake said.

“Would you care for a drink?” Statz walked over to the nearest bookshelf, which shuttered open to reveal a liquor cabinet when he got within half a meter. “I have the feeling I may need one.”

Jake watched Statz pour scotch into a lowball glass and had an idea. It could be the best idea he'd had all week, or the worst idea of his entire career.

Statz doesn't know about the safe box, he thought. He doesn't know his DNA will open it.

He's going to touch the glass.

“I'll have a wee dram,” Jake said.

Andy frowned. “You're on duty.”

Jake handed him the car key fob. “I'm not driving.”

“Jake.”

“That's a thirty-year-old Lagavulin. I can't even afford to look at the stuff normally. Just one shot. Two fingers.” Jake wiggled his fingertips in Andy's face. “How about one finger?” Come on, kid, hear what I'm not saying.

“I assure you, Detectives,” Statz said, “such a small token could hardly be considered inappropriate.”

Andy narrowed his eyes at Jake. “Fine. You can smell it. Just don't accidentally spill any in your mouth.”

Jake smiled. “Thanks, dad.”

Statz splashed some scotch into a second glass. Jake took it, being careful to place his fingers where Statz's hadn't been, and made a show of swirling the contents and inhaling. He put his other hand on his hip, then slowly slid it under his jacket to find his portable evidence kit.

Andy stepped forward and flipped open his notepad. “Mr. Statz, are you the owner of a Heckler & Koch PSG1 semi-automatic rifle, imported from West Germany three years ago?”

Statz sipped his drink. “I was. Unfortunately, that item was stolen from my collection several months ago.”

“Of course it was,” Andy said, scribbling in his notepad. “And why didn't you report the theft?”

“As you may know, detective, the police are not exactly sympathetic to many of my troubles,” Statz said. “In this case, I preferred to conduct a private investigation to recover my property.”

“And how's that working out for you?”

“These things take time.” Statz sat down behind his desk. “May I ask what your interest is in this matter?”

“Someone used a PSG1 to shoot and kill a witness on Long Island yesterday,” Andy said. “And you're one of very few people in New York who owns such a weapon.”

“Owned,” Statz said. “Past tense. I wish I could help you, Detectives. But as I've explained, my rifle was stolen. I don't know where it is or who might be using it.”

Jake began coughing and turned away to cover his mouth with his sleeve. With his other arm, he pressed a piece of lifting film over the lower part of the scotch glass.

“I don't suppose you'd want to share the current status of your private inquiry into this theft,” Andy said to Statz.

“As you said, Detective. It's a private matter.”

Jake finished coughing and turned back around. “Sorry about that.” He put the glass down on Statz's desk and hoped he wasn't crumpling the lifting film hidden in his other palm. “Pretty strong stuff, there.”

Statz nodded. “Will there be anything else, Detectives?”

Andy pulled out a business card and dropped it on the desk. “Feel free to call us if you change your mind about talking.”

Statz didn't look down. “Good luck finding your murderer, Detectives.”

“What was that all about?” Andy asked after he and Jake were back at their car, two blocks away from Statz's building. “And are you really going to let me drive?”

“We're splitting up,” Jake said. “You're driving back to the station. I'm taking a cab—”

“Let's start over,” Andy said. “I'm guessing that little song and dance up there was so you could pull Statz's prints off the glass. You do realize we already have his fingerprints and DNA on file, right?”

Jake held up the film. “We didn't have his skin cells.”

“And how is that supposed to help?” Andy asked. “Even if the sniper rifle isn't at the bottom of the Hudson by now, there's no chance Statz pulled the trigger himself.”

“I don't care about the rifle,” Jake said. “I want to see what's in that safe box at Craneson.” I want to know what I can tell Leah Comler about her father.

Andy gaped for a moment, then shook his head. “Okay, no. That is not even close to being legal. That is completely off the map.”

“You're not curious?”

“That's irrelevant! You're talking about spoofing one of the most secure civilian facilities on the east coast.”

“So you saying you can't do it.”

“I am not falling for this,” Andy said.

Jake shrugged. “I understand. It must be really hard to fool a fingertip DNA scanner. Way beyond your skill set.”

“Your transparent attempts to manipulate me will not work,” Andy said loudly. “Also, we can't be sure that Statz is Leah's father. It could have been someone else in his organization.”

“Someone else who also happened to be a devout Catholic and therefore refused to allow his mistress to get an abortion? I'm sure it's Statz.” Jake sighed. “It's just too bad you can't hack the safe box—”

“I hate you.” Andy grabbed the film out of Jake's hand and examined it. “There aren't a lot of skin cells here. We're only going to get one shot at this.”

“I'm sure that's all you'll need.”

“I'll also need some supplies from Forensics. Off the record, obviously.”

“I can call in a few favors.”

“And how are you planning to get us into the vault without a warrant?”

Jake smiled. “I'm a very good cop.”

An hour later, Jake, Andy, and the bank manager at Craneson Manhattan, a woman named Matmor, were in the safe deposit vault, standing around a table with a slim metal container on it. Two small squares glowed white on a raised panel at one end of the safe deposit box.

Matmor checked her watch. “We do have more comfortable waiting areas.”

“They were right behind us in the other car,” Jake said. “I'm sure they'll be here any minute.”

They waited in silence for another sixty seconds.

“Do you have a restroom?” Andy asked.

“Of course,” Matmor said. “Right this way.”

She led Andy out the door into the hall. As soon as they were out of sight, Jake pulled out his phone and called Andy, then dropped it back into his pocket.

Seventeen agonizingly long seconds later, Andy rushed back into the room and closed the door. “Okay, she's headed upstairs. The elevator took about thirty seconds coming down, so we've got maybe two minutes. You're sure there are no cameras down here?”

“Craneson's clients value their privacy.” Jake noted the time on his watch. “Did you get what you needed from Forensics?”

Andy took a small plastic bag out of his pocket and put it on the table. From his other pocket, he retrieved two pairs of nitrile gloves. He and Jake pulled on the gloves.

Andy reached into the bag and produced a translucent red disk about the size of a quarter, but thicker and more flexible. A thin piece of plastic was stuck to one side of the disk. He handed it to Jake. “Hold that. Gently! Don't deform it, and don't touch the surface with the film on it.” Andy pulled a second, green disk from the bag.

Jake sniffed the red disk. “What are these things?”

“Gummy bears have the same electrical resistivity as human skin,” Andy said. “Biometric sensors like the one on this safe box use surface conductivity as a verification factor. I pulled Statz's and Leah's prints from Booking, then used Forensics' 3-D printer to etch—”

“Skip to the end,” Jake said.

“It probably cost Craneson a quarter of a million dollars to manufacture this box, and we're going to open it with five bucks' worth of candy from the corner store.” Andy grinned. “How do you like me now?”

Jake held up his wrist. “Seventy-five seconds.”

“Okay, peel off the film, then put your gummy disk face down on the sensor pad.”

They positioned their candies on top of the glowing white squares, then counted down and swiped them across both scanners at the same time. The pads pulsed rapidly five times, then glowed a steady green. The top of the box slid open.

Andy reached into the box and pulled out the only thing inside, a plastic bag containing a hardbound book. He carefully removed the book and looked at the cover.

“King James Bible,” he said, frowning.

“Open it. Fifty-nine seconds.”

Jake looked over Andy's shoulder. The title page had been laminated, and there were black fingerprint impressions all around a handwritten inscription.

“'To my most beloved, there is no one else like you in the whole wide world,'“ Andy read. “And lots of prints. Somebody dusted this page, then sealed it in poly-eth.” He pulled out his phone.

“What do you want to bet there are only two sets of prints anywhere on that book?” Jake asked.

“Church-going Marko Statz and the 'beloved' Carolina Comler?” Andy snapped a picture. “No bet.”

“Where's that bookmark?”

Andy pulled on the ribbon to open the book. “She circled Psalm 127—'Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.'“ He frowned. “That sounds like a threat.”

Jake shook his head. “Ten seconds.”

They put the Bible back, closed the box, and hid their supplies moments before Matmor returned, looking confused. Jake talked quickly and loudly about how there had been some kind of stupid mix-up, wasn't that typical, and he and Andy would be back after they had sorted it out, curse those knuckleheads down at the precinct.

“Now what?” Andy whispered once they were alone in the elevator.

“We need to talk to a lawyer,” Jake said.

“You can't tell her,” Libby said. “For crying out loud, Jake, you cannot tell her!”

Jake and Andy were sitting in a conference room down the hall from Libby's office. She paced back and forth along one side of the room, making ripples in Jake's cup of coffee.

“Which part can we not tell her?” Jake asked.

“Any of it!” Libby said.

“She has a right to know,” Jake said. “She wanted to know.”

“Carolina Comler didn't leave that Bible behind for her daughter's benefit,” Libby said. “She set it up as one final screw-you to Marko Statz from beyond the grave. It was a time bomb with a twenty-year fuse.”

“Maybe not such a bad idea,” Jake said to his coffee.

“Nobody is going to use this girl!” Libby said. “Leah Comler is very sick. If she doesn't find a bone marrow donor soon, she'll die. Do you really want to burden her with the knowledge that her biological father is the head of one of New York's biggest crime syndicates?”

“Maybe she'll be happy about it,” Jake said. “Maybe Statz can buy her some stem cells on the black market.”

Libby glared at him. “This isn't funny.”

“Are you kidding? This is hilarious.” Jake put his coffee down. “I start donating blood twenty years ago, and by pure dumb luck, some sleazy med-tech uses my DNA to falsify the records at a fertility clinic—”

“Wait,” Libby said, holding up one hand. “How did Statz know about David Grant?”

“It must have been the Trapanis who broke into the ICA network,” Andy said. “Statz is married to Adelaide Trapani. Her father wouldn't want—”

“No, I don't mean twenty years ago,” Libby said. “Your theory is that Statz sent the sniper to kill Grant before he could start naming names, right?”

“Hypothesis,” Andy said.

Libby frowned. “What?”

“Shut up, Andy,” Jake said. “Yeah, we're pretty sure Statz put out the hit on Grant. His rifle, his secret.”

Libby leaned over and put both hands on the table. “How did Statz know Grant was talking to us? How did he even know we were investigating Grant? It's been twenty years. There's no way Statz had somebody sitting on Grant's house this whole time. And you two didn't interview Statz until today.”

Jake sat up straight. “No. Statz wasn't watching Grant, he was—crap!” He jumped out of his chair, nearly knocking it over. “We need to get to the courthouse.”

“What's wrong?” Libby asked.

Jake grabbed his coat. “Andy! What did Roland Stern say on his way out of Statz's building?”

“He said he was on his way to Leah Comler's arraignment,” Andy said.

Jake turned to Libby. “He said he wasn't getting paid to drag his feet.”

Libby squinted at him. “But he's defending her pro bono—”

Her eyes widened. Jake beat her to the door by a split second, and Andy was right behind her. They ran down the corridor together, all three dialing their phones.

Jake paced in a tight circle at the southwest corner of the courthouse. His phone buzzed, and he answered without checking caller ID. “What?”

“It's Libby,” said the voice on the phone. “Leah should have just come out of her hearing. I didn't catch her in the courtroom, but she's probably leaving the building right now.”

“Got it.” He waved to Andy, who was at the other end of the courthouse. “We're looking.”

“I'm trying her phone again,” Libby said. “She probably turned it off during the arraignment, but—”

“Go. We'll find her.” Jake hung up, waved again to get Andy's attention, then pointed at the courthouse doors. Andy gave a thumbs-up and moved in.

There were only two public exits from the courthouse, but there were at least three different buildings to the south tall enough to provide a sniper perch with a clear shot at anyone coming out. Keeping Leah inside was their best chance of keeping her safe.

Jake turned back and saw Leah and Stern coming out of the southwest doors. He shouted, but they didn't respond. Jake ran into their path and held up his arms, stopping them.

“Detective?” Leah said. “What are you doing here?”

“I need both of you back inside the building right now,” Jake said.

Stern frowned. “My client was just released, Detective. I hope you're not here to harass—”

“Inside!” Jake pointed over their heads, hoping his raised arm was shielding them—and that this sniper wouldn't risk killing a cop on the courthouse steps in broad daylight. “Both of you, inside, NOW!”

Stern was standing in front of Leah. Jake grabbed the lawyer's arm and pushed him back.

“All right, we're going,” Stern said. He motioned Leah ahead, and she turned and headed back toward the doors.

Jake let go of Stern's arm. The lawyer took one step, staggered, and then Jake heard the gunshot.

People screamed and ducked to the ground all around them. Jake shoved Leah forward, then drew his weapon and swung around. He saw Andy running toward them, brandishing his revolver.

“Did you see it?” Andy shouted.

“No!” Jake replied. Another shot echoed across the street, and this time Jake saw the muzzle flash.

He raised his Glock and squeezed off four shots. He knew he didn't have a chance of hitting anything from this distance, but he needed to do something. And maybe he would distract the shooter long enough for Leah to get back inside the courthouse.

Jake kept his eyes on the rooftop where he'd seen the flash. He was surprised when a body fell forward, casting a long shadow against the building and making a sickening noise when it struck the pavement.

“I can't believe it,” Andy said. “You got him.”

Jake shook his head. “At this range? There's no way.”

He turned to check on Leah and Stern. They hadn't quite made it back through the doors. Leah was on the ground, crawling back toward Stern. The lawyer lay on his back, eyes open and glassy, a large red stain spreading across his expensive suit.

“He's dead,” Leah cried. “He's dead!” She looked up at Jake. “They were shooting at me!”

“No,” Jake said. “They were tying up loose ends.”

“You should be happy, Jake,” Keating said. “The case is closed. A murderer's dead, your clearance rate is still in the stratosphere, and you helped a vulnerable young woman.”

They were in the lieutenant's office. The second shift was rolling in, and Andy had already gone home.

“It's a lie,” Jake said. “Nobody accidentally falls over a building ledge that tall without some help. There was someone else on that roof.”

Keating sighed. “Okay, walk me through it again.”

“Statz always knew Leah Comler was his daughter. Carolina Comler was one of the Trapani family's cloned prostitute lines, and Statz had an intimate relationship with her. Neither of them thought she could have children. She didn't tell him when it happened—she tried to cover it up—but he found out.

“Statz knew his wife would divorce him if she learned about Carolina's baby, and that would jeopardize Statz's business arrangements with the Trapanis. Statz thought Carolina's plan to forge fertility clinic records was a pretty good idea. He paid David Grant to use a random stranger for the fake profile, and Grant picked my data out of the local blood bank.”

“I'm with you so far,” Keating said.

“Statz and Carolina broke up at some point, but Statz kept tabs on her. Probably because he wanted to make sure she never told anyone about his illegitimate daughter.”

“And he paid her off.”

Jake nodded. “Carolina didn't like it, but she couldn't defy him without risking her life. So she used his money to get a safe box at Craneson, and she presumably put something inside that would positively identify Statz as Leah's father.” He avoided looking at Keating during that last part.

“You said the box was coded to require both Leah and Statz to open it,” Keating said. “How did Carolina Comler think her daughter was ever going to get Statz into the vault with her?”

“Carolina didn't know Statz had altered the clinic's records after Grant forged them the first time,” Jake said. “She believed Leah would subpoena the records someday, find out who her biological father was, and the whole thing would blow up in Statz's face.” He shrugged. “It doesn't even matter what's in the safe box. It might be empty, for all we know.”

Jake watched Keating's face for any sign that he was suspicious of this claim. The lieutenant was staring off into space.

“Meanwhile,” Keating said, “Statz was still keeping track of his daughter, discreetly.”

“Which is how he knew she was in trouble here at the precinct. He got nervous and called in a lawyer—Roland Stern—to keep her away from us. Stern marked Andy and me and Libby downstairs when Leah was released, and Statz's goons tailed Libby and me to the fertility clinic. When he figured out what we were doing, he realized we would talk to Grant sooner or later. It was just dumb luck that we happened to be there when the hit went down.”

“Statz didn't have enough time to hire a professional, so he used a rifle from his private collection and one of his own bodyguards,” Keating said. “One of his clones.”

“And he learned that you get what you pay for,” Jake said. “The shooter got the job done with Grant, but he left behind way too much evidence. Statz gave him a second chance. Once he killed Stern, there wouldn't be anyone left alive who knew the whole timeline on the cover-up. What Statz didn't tell the sniper was that he would also need to go away. Permanently. There was another person on that roof, LK. It's the only thing that makes sense.”

“I'm not debating that,” Keating said. “But with no physical evidence and no witnesses, all we've got is a story. And that's not enough to make a case.”

“We'll find something.”

“Let it go, Jake.” Keating stood up and put on his jacket. “There are fewer bad guys walking around now than three days ago. You closed your case. Let OCCB chip away at Statz. Go home and get some rest.”

“I'm leaving,” Jake grumbled. “Just got one stop to make first.”

The Green Eye Bazaar wasn't in the best part of downtown, but it was one of the last places in Manhattan where Jake could legally purchase tobacco products—and the only one he knew of where the proprietor didn't scowl when a cop walked through the door. Sam welcomed any and all paying customers.

“A hard day on the mean streets, my friend?” Sam said with a smile when Jake asked for two packs of Morley Patriots.

“You know me too well, Sam,” Jake said, pulling out his credit card and healthcare waiver chit. “When are you going to get a liquor license so I can just move in here?”

Sam laughed, put the cigarettes on the counter, and waved away Jake's hand. “No, no. On the house today.”

Jake glared at him, then slapped both cards down next to the shrink-wrapped, red-white-and-blue packages. “I'm paying for the smokes. Like I always do.”

“Please, my friend,” Sam said, still smiling. “A gift from Uncle Sam, you know? You look so tired. After all these years, it's the least I can do.”

“No. Thank you.” Jake felt his hand closing into a fist. The shop door opened behind him, sending a chill across his back. He glared at Sam. “I'm buying these.”

“No, a gift. I insist. You're one of my regulars—”

“Just scan the cards and take my money!” Jake slammed his fist against the counter. Why is this making me so angry?

Behind him, he heard a voice he wouldn't have recognized before that morning.

“Is there a problem here, Sam?”

“No problem, Mr. Statz,” Sam said over Jake's shoulder. “Be with you in one minute.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Jake muttered. He raised his hands off the counter, palms up, and turned around slowly.

Marko Statz stood in the doorway to the shop, flanked by two of his cloned bodyguards. Jake saw personal assistant Topher's head behind Statz's right shoulder. One of the guards had a hand inside his jacket. Statz waved his own hand, and the thug relaxed slightly.

“Good evening, Detective,” Statz said. He nodded at the cigarettes on the counter. “It's a very unhealthy habit we seem to share.”

“Yeah,” Jake said through clenched teeth. “Probably get us both killed one day.”

Statz chuckled. “Meanwhile, we're putting Sam's children through college.”

Jake tilted his head toward Sam. “Would you ring me up, please, Sam. I'd like to go home.”

Sam nodded. “Okay, Detective. But next time.”

“Sure.”

Jake felt himself calming down as Sam ran his cards through the paypoint reader, producing the familiar chirping noises of a transaction being completed.

That's why I was so angry, Jake realized. He had been thwarted at just about everything today. He couldn't tell Leah Comler the truth, and he couldn't put all the facts in his report. It galled him to know that uncovering all those secrets would not make one bit of difference in the end.

Jake stared at Statz's watery eyes, and he hoped Sam's security cameras were working.

“Actually, I do have some good news for you, Mr. Statz,” Jake said. “We recovered that rifle we were looking for. Ballistics confirmed it's our murder weapon. Unfortunately, the serial numbers and other identifying marks have been removed, so we can't tell for sure whether it's your stolen property. NYPD will have to keep it in evidence until such information becomes available.”

“That is unfortunate,” Statz said. “But I can make do with a slightly smaller collection for a while.”

“Right,” Jake said. “Quite a sacrifice for a man who cares more about things than people.”

Statz's face remained still, but his stare became icy. “Be careful with your judgments, Detective. You don't know me.”

The paypoint chimed, and Sam placed Jake's cards and a small paper slip on top of the cigarettes. “Here's your receipt, Detective.”

“Thanks, Sam.” Jake grabbed the bundle in one hand, then stepped away from the counter, moving directly toward Statz. He stopped less than a meter away, when he saw the two thugs tensing up again.

“I know you, Statz,” Jake said. “I know exactly who you are. Always focused on your business. No room in your life for a daughter. Not even when she's dying.”

“What would you know about family, Detective?” Statz said. “You married a clone from the first wave. What does that say about you?”

That I didn't care where she came from, Jake thought. That I only cared about who she was.

A face appeared in his mind's eye, and for a moment, he couldn't tell whether it was Mary or Libby he was seeing. He shook his head to clear it.

“I never wanted children,” Jake said aloud. “But if I had had a daughter, I wouldn't have abandoned her—”

“You know nothing.” Statz's voice was tight. “I take care of my people. I tell them what they need to know.” The muscles around his left eye twitched. “I protect my family.”

“Is that right?” Jake said. “Leah Comler would probably disagree. But I guess you chose twenty-two years ago. You decided you'd rather grow people you could control instead of being an actual father.

“But they still manage to surprise you, don't they?” Jake looked at the clones surrounding Statz. Three male faces, all identical but each one unique. “That's the thing. No two people ever turn out the same. Even clones don't have the same fingerprints. They may have the same face, but they're not the same person.”

He saw Libby's face again.

She's not the same person.

Jake realized he had one more stop to make before going home. He walked around Statz and his men, got into his car, and drove away without giving them another thought.

Jake found Libby in her office, surrounded by reader tabs and paper files, her face illuminated by the sickly glow of a green-hooded desk lamp. It was nearly eleven o'clock at night, and she was the only person still working on the tenth floor.

Jake knocked lightly on the open door. “Counselor?”

Libby looked up. “I was just thinking about calling you, Detective.”

“Well, I'm here. Saved you a dime.”

“I have no idea what that means.” Libby waved him inside. “Come on in.”

Jake sat down on the chair across from her desk. All the furniture was old, dark wood, which gave the place a different look and smell from the metallic squad room which Jake normally inhabited. The change of scenery felt nice.

“I just spoke to Leah Comler,” Libby said. “She got a call tonight from Kearney-Cohens.”

“Should I know who that is?”

“What,” Libby corrected. “Bleeding-edge teaching hospital in New Jersey. They've been doing experiments with a stem cell therapy that rejuvenates bone marrow, and an anonymous financial supporter just moved her name to the top of their patient list. She starts her treatments in two days.”

“Taking care of his family.” Jake shook his head. “You know that's blood money paying for her medical.”

Libby turned her head and pointed to her earring. The gems sparkled in the light. “See these diamonds? Who knows where in Africa they came from, but I wasn't going to refuse the gift and break my godmother's heart.”

“That's different,” Jake said.

“Someone will get Statz,” Libby said. “Maybe not OCCB, maybe not FBI, but sooner or later, he'll get what's coming to him. We should just be happy that he's doing one good thing with his life in the meantime.”

“You really believe that?” Jake asked. “You think any number of good deeds can make up for a life full of mistakes?”

“I'm not saying it'll ever balance the scales,” Libby said. “I hope Marko Statz suffers an eternity of unspeakable torment in the afterlife. But it's something.”

Jake realized that he'd been looking at her face ever since he sat down, and he hadn't thought about Mary once. He couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry.

Libby tilted her head. “Anyway. Something I can help you with, sailor?”

“Are you hungry?” Jake asked. “My stomach's reminding me that I skipped dinner.”

Libby patted the paperwork on her desk. “Wish I could. Got a court date in the morning.”

“No problem.” Jake stood up. “I'll get takeout. You like Chinese, right? Sweet and sour?”

He didn't wait for her to answer before going back out into the world.

This story originally appeared in Leading Edge.


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Curtis C. Chen

Curtis writes mostly science fiction and fantasy. MOSTLY.

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  • 1 Comment
  • maybefriday
    January 17, 11:55pm

    I loved this! It got me into "settling in to read a great story" mode immediately, especially with all the rain we're having. Hope to see more!