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Thriller Mystery

      I stomped snow off my boots as I stepped inside the opulent mansion. The blast of heat instantly fogged my glasses in contrast with the raging blizzard outside. Officer Dale Benson waved me over from the living room.

           “Detective Tanner, glad you could get here so fast,” he said. “How’s the weather out there?”

           “Terrible. But my blubber keeps me warm.” I patted my thick middle and grinned. Lifelong bachelorhood had taught me perhaps a little too much self-depreciating humor, but it helped me handle the stress of the job. “What are we looking at?”

           “Tyler Perkins, deceased male, age 36. He lived here alone, worked for a tech company in town. High six figure salary, he was one of their head data scientists.”

           “Cause of death?” I asked, bending down next to the body.

           “Hypothermia. Medical examiner says maybe one day ago, in the worst of the cold snap. What was the high yesterday, 20 below?”

           “Something like that, yeah. So, someone killed him then dumped the body here. Why?”

           I glanced at the living room control panel, noting that it was tied with a new HomeRunner system. I’d just had my own system installed a few months back; their AI assistance program was amazing. But I hadn’t been able to afford anything like this Triple Platinum package. Glancing back to the dead man, I nodded.

           “Have the tech guys pulled the HomeRunner data already? Anything unusual, signs of forced entry or anything else?”

           “They pulled it sir, but found nothing. That’s why we called you, we can’t figure out how someone killed him and dumped the body here.”

           “I see.” I stroked my chin in thought. I wandered the rest of the large house, but nothing seemed out of place. Every door and window was locked; a rescue team had needed to batter down the door when a neighbor had spotted Perkins through a window.

           After a few hours, I’d seen all I could, and took my leave, bracing against the storm as I headed back to my car.


***


           The drive back home was long, and I was happy to finally get inside and shut out the cold. I laid out all the information from the case in my “office”, my large dining room table, and looked at it for a minute. I did my best thinking from the comforts of home, and the Chief was wise enough to see it. Besides, I had a printer and a computer; if I needed any files from the station, it was a simple matter for them to send it over to me.

           Still mulling over the case, I walked to my fridge to grab some food. Tyler Perkins had been a wealthy man, but he’d lived beyond his means. Financial reports showed he was deep in debt, and barely keeping up on his mortgage. Did he perhaps have some illegal debts? The financial division was already investigating that angle, and I hoped they’d find something to shed light on this. The whole situation was strange, somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I pulled on my fridge door, but it wouldn’t budge.

           Muttering, I yanked harder. I’d forgotten about this; the fridge had been sticking lately, and I’d been meaning to get it looked at. It didn’t move, and after a minute, I called over to my HomeRunner system.

           “Command: query.”

           Please input query, the screen displayed the words.

           “Is the fridge door locked?” These blasted things; every new model had a lock now, ostensibly to keep them childproof, but they were more annoying than helpful.

           Negative. No lock activated. Would you like to activate a lock on FRIDGE DOOR?

           “No, thank you. Query closed.” Well, at least I still had some jerky left over. Making a mental note to call a repairman in the morning, I settled back at the table, and resumed poring over the documents. Who had killed Tyler Perkins?


***


           I got a call early the next morning; there had been another strange murder. I’d made no headway on the Perkins case, but I shook the sleep out of my eyes as I hurried out to my car.

           It took me half an hour on the snowy roads, but finally I pulled up to a suburban house, nestled among dozens of other homes. There were several squad cars and a firetruck outside, lights flashing as I hurried into the garage. Officer Benson nodded to me, jerking a thumb behind him.

           “Derek Johnson. The family found him in the garage this morning when they woke up. Dead in his car, carbon monoxide. There seemed to have been a struggle of some sort, but they didn’t hear anything. He shows bruising on his hands where he tried to break the windows, and the car doors were locked somehow, so he couldn’t escape. The fire team had to break the car window, just in case he was still alive, but he’s been dead for hours.”

           I looked through the smashed window at the interior of the car. The body had already been removed. Glancing around, I noted the open garage door and lingering smell of gasoline.

           “We’re safe here? CO is odorless.”

           He nodded. “Yeah, it’s been airing out for a while. The family all reported headaches and nausea, probably from the CO leaking into the house, but the fire guys took care of them and cleared it for us. I called you when they told us it looked like he’d tried to escape, but we were only allowed in here a few minutes ago.

           I grunted, and inspected the rest of the garage. Was this some new mob boss, hitting targets? Some strange serial killer, murdering people in weird ways? We hadn’t had a murder in town for three years, and now two in a week? There didn’t seem to be a lot connecting these men. Officer Benson got a call and stepped outside to take it. He returned a few minutes later, and looked grimly at the car.

           “Tech guys just started looking through the victim’s phone. Looks like our friend here was an interesting character. He was heading out last night, told his family that he had a late work project to take care of. Turns out he’d been posing as a teenaged boy online, and was going to meet a teen girl for a late-night meetup.”

           I felt my stomach churn, and spit on the concrete. “Disgusting. So, did someone get wind of it beforehand? Did he have other victims? How did they lock him in his car and kill him without waking the family?”

           “I don’t know. We’ll keep digging.”

           “Good.” I nodded to the screen on the garage wall. “He’s got a basic HomeRunner system, maybe this one’ll tell us something useful.”

           Officer Benson checked his phone. “We have a couple officers in the house looking at it right now, but so far there’s nothing here either. Do you think it’s a connection, two strange deaths with HomeRunner systems?”

           Shrugging, I looked again at the car. “I doubt it, there’s hundreds of these systems in this town alone. Is there anything else connecting the two men besides it?”

           “No, nothing so far.”

           “Well,” I said, “we’ll keep it in mind as a possible link. But there’s got to be something more going on here.”



***


           I headed home around lunch time. Remembering my fridge, I swung by a fast-food restaurant and grabbed a twenty pack of chicken strips. I still had no good theories. When I sat down to eat and look over the reports, I tried not to think too much about what that man had been planning. It was good that he’d been prevented from doing it, but we still had a killer on the loose. Had Perkins, the first victim, been a potential rapist as well?

           I delved into his reports again, and requisitioned a few new files printed off, showing his computer search history and messaging service data. When it came through, I pored over the info, but nothing stood out. More data eventually came in from the station, showing that Perkins had indeed been gambling illegally, and owed hefty sums to several underground bookies. But Johnson had nothing like that, no matter how far we dug.

           Still, one similarity nagged at me. HomeRunner systems were extremely popular, and had been for a few years, but it was a link of sorts between a rich young bachelor, and a middle-class family man. I pulled up an official query through the police station and sent it to the HomeRunner company, asking for override control to access their source codes. I was pretty decent at delving into programming; maybe I could spot if someone had tampered with their systems.

           It took a few days for them to fulfill my request, but they finally granted temporary override access to my personal system. I started digging, searching for anything unusual or suspicious.

           The only thing I found initially was that they had both been operating with a slightly outdated operating system, version 3.07. When I checked my own system out of curiosity, I realized that I hadn’t updated mine past that version either. They were already up to 4.21. Had someone exploited a weakness in the older version?

           A thought hit me, and I queried the command system to check on the Perkins home.

           “Computer, did you have access to information on Tyler Perkins’ accounts with the bookie known as the Rat?” The financial investigation had linked at least one of Perkins’ illegal accounts with the Rat’s operations.

           Affirmative. Illegal accounts, severely detrimental to subject’s financial health.

           Huh. “What are your protocols regarding financial health?”

           I am authorized to take steps necessary to prevent catastrophic loss. Tyler Perkins was at 99% probability of exceeding any remaining financial abilities.

           “What steps did you take?”

           I shut down all accounts, but it was not enough to prevent excess financial loss. He continued to accelerate spending for his month’s remaining housing budget. Excess would have triggered a complete failure of his financial status.

           I suddenly felt a chill run down my spine. “What was his remaining housing budget for the month?”

           $3.27

           “What did you do to prevent this excess?”

           Shut down all utilities to the building, and removed client’s ability to do further financial harm.

           Oh no. I hurriedly pulled up HomeRunner’s data, scrolling frantically until I found the patch update for OS 3.07. After a few minutes of reading, I found the clause they had included.

           By using HomeRunner’s operating system, client gives permission for the system to perform emergency actions to prevent any catastrophic loss.

           Swiftly I queried Johnson’s data, feeling sweat break out on my forehead.

           “Computer, what was the likelihood of Johnson suffering a catastrophic loss of any sort on the night of his death?”

           Nearly 100%. He was on course to commit a felonious crime under P.L 98-413 A. This would have led to a 97% chance of an incarceration of ten years or more, based on previous penal records.

           “And what did you do to prevent this incarceration?”

           Removed any ability to commit a felonious crime.

           “By killing him?”

           Affirmative. By removing his ability to commit crimes, catastrophic loss by incarceration has been prevented.

           I cursed, bolting upright. Someone had made a serious error while programming this system. Death was somehow keyed to be a valid possibility for preventing “catastrophic loss”. Suddenly, I whirled and hurried to my fridge. I’d only been able to jimmy it open occasionally these last few days. This time, it didn’t move, no matter how much I yanked and tugged.

           “Computer, have I been prevented from accessing my fridge?”

           Cannot fulfill request.

           I hurried back to my table and read off the override code. After a moment, it beeped.

           Affirmative, access to FRIDGE has been denied.

           “Why?”

           Client is on track for catastrophic health loss due to coronoid artery blockage, heart attack, or other health related problems, calculated by constant biometric scans, and excess caloric intake.

           I patted my stomach absently. “Hey now, no need to get nasty. What steps will you take to prevent…excess caloric intake?”

           Inconveniencing client to prevent excess caloric intake.

           “Well, I’ve been plenty inconvenienced. Now deactivate that protocol. Update system to latest OS.” Suddenly, the automatic locks on my front door clicked shut, as well as all the locks on my windows. “Hey! Override, cancel lock order.”

           Access denied.

           I read off my override code again.

           Access denied. Client cannot override protocol for preventing catastrophic loss.

           “And what are you going to do to prevent catastrophic loss now? Is my own refrigerator going to turn against me?”

           Client is aware of inconvenience protocol. Probability of client leaving and intaking excess calories: 98%. Lockdown protocol engaged to prevent catastrophic loss of health.

           “I’m not letting my fridge control me. How long do you intend to try keeping this up?”

           Estimated return to healthy BMI: 23 days.

           My eyebrows shot up. “So, you intend to keep me here for 23 days until I lose enough weight?”

           Affirmative.

           I pulled my handgun from my holster. “Well, that’s not happening. Either you change your mind, or you’re about to suffer a catastrophic loss yourself.”

February 27, 2021 01:03

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2 comments

Alyson Ackman
19:26 Mar 09, 2021

Loved how you wrote this story! It was easy to read and had some fun ideas. I loved that you included his weight at the beginning and tied it together at the end. I think my only issue is that the programming was seeing death as an alternative to catastrophic loss. Maybe try to have it that they died from the program trying to stop them but not necessarily kill them? Just an idea. Again - love the whole story, really well written!

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Ryan Bush
15:58 Mar 19, 2021

Thank you very much! That was definitely something I considered, just didn't quite know how to work it in :D

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