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Someone had skewered the man’s naked body onto the jagged end of a rotting post under Seattle’s Pier 55. The old ferry terminal had been out of service since 2110, when folks started immigrating to the other seven worlds of the Union.

This early in the morning, the pier was deserted, as it almost always was. The body, face up, dangled four feet off the ground, limbs splayed out as if prepared for some ritualistic sacrifice. It’d been impaled through the midsection, and large splinters gaped through his stomach.

I wondered when the unfortunate skewering happened, but Seattle Authority detective Shirley McCoy would have a better idea once the coroner arrived. I hadn’t been part of Authority since I opened my private agency a few years back, but a morning run had brought me in contact with the deceased.

McCoy arrived just before nine o’clock and started examining the body jammed onto the post. She ignored me. She did that a lot these days. When she was my partner at Authority, things were better between us. Now, I rarely saw her. She talked to me, anyway, which was more than could be said for most of the department.

Three other Authority officials were casing the pier itself, top and bottom, looking for clues. I knew some of them. Amy Campbell, a crime scene specialist. Thomas Bloom and Ralph Sanderson, detectives. Neither of those two cared a shit about me. They were partners and had been for a long time. Sanderson saw me eyeing him and flipped me off, the son of a bitch. A few uniformed cops were there, too, most of whom I knew. Tom Charles, Michelle Muller, Andrea Juangco. Muller took a moment to frown at me. So much love.

The water levels in Elliot Bay had diminished over the years, but the coming and going of the tide would have covered the body off and on, enough so that the skin would’ve had a slight blistering, patches turning greenish black. If the body had been through several months of constant submersion, and deeper underwater, the scavengers might have picked it to the bones. Birds had started to do a number on it, and some of them wheeled about the sky, keeping watch, but someone from Authority had generated sound to scare most of them away from the pier. The post had long ago splintered and rotted, and it had split into three spires. The body had been jammed onto one of the spires, and recently, but I suspected the man had been dead for longer than that.

It was late fall, cool and gray, but during the last few days, no rain had fallen.

“First glance, I’m guessing dead about a week,” I finally said to McCoy, “but here under the pier less than a day.”

Her black hair bobbed on her back when she nodded. “Good guess, Crowell.”

“I paid attention during the last impaling I investigated.”

She turned and raised an eyebrow.

“Okay,” I said, “not even.”

She turned back to the body, focusing on the head. “Not something you see every day. Or month or year.” She looked at me again. “Would a Helk do something like this?”

It was my turn to raise an eyebrow, and I added a bemused smirk. Sure, blame it on the aliens. “Only to other Helks, and only to those they like. It would take a lot of force to impale the body here, so it’s possible a Helk could’ve done it.”


“We’ve got a human corpse, not an alien one. A Helk First Clan wouldn’t even fit under the pier. Not in this amount of space.”

“So what do you think?”

At least I’d softened her up enough for her to ask my opinion. “Murder. I think we can rule out suicide.”

“Brilliant. You can still call ’em, Crowell. Maybe your move to go private wasn’t such a bad idea after all.” She squinted at the corpse’s head again. “Maybe you should slip away before the captain finds out you’re here.”

“He’s still mad at me, huh?”

“A lot mad.”

“Why shouldn’t I be here? I found the body, so I reported it.”

“Never mind. We’ve got something else going on here.” McCoy pointed at the man.

I stepped to the side and took a closer look. The “something else” did not make itself known to me. “What am I looking at?”

“The fingertips,” she said.

“What about them?”

“They’re slightly red.”

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