Crime Fiction

“Did you get it?” Mischa propped her feet up onto the rickety table, sending a few mobile phones skittering across the weathered wood. Her fingers quickly found the wall and started peeling the flaky paint.

Maxim flicked a look at Zed, but returned to his laptop almost immediately. Zed would get to him in time.

“Zed, the IP address?” Mischa prompted again, now having shifted to picking out splinters from her socked feet.

Zed was staring at the phone held tightly in her hands with a frown, her gaze unfocused. Her brows dipped together when the web slowly unspooled, splintered into chaos and finally disintegrated into white noise. She blinked, confused, and then screwed her eyes shut. Connections were firing down, links were rupturing and trails were going haywire. Still, she tried mapping that particular thread again until she was abruptly sawed off.

Black spots dotted her vision and the dim loft seemed too bright. Zed winced when the heavy weight digging into her head reached her temples.

“Swear on vodka, if you say you forgot like last time…” Mischa was saying when she noticed Zed bleeding from her nose.

Dodging low wooden beams and upsetting boxes lining the floor, she rushed over.

“Zed…” she whispered, her gloved hands moving to cradle Zed’s face, “Are you okay?”

“Something really strange happened, Mish.” Zed’s eyes were still clouded over, looking right through Mischa. She sounded unsure and faraway, the trance reeling her back in. “I think I disconnected. It was like I was…”

“Cut off?” Maxim finished, a rare note of emotion in his tone. He eyed both of them warily, his jaw ticking in agitation. His gaze drifted to the hesitant shafts of light filtering into the room through cracks in the ceiling.

“Zed, the internet is down.”


Three years ago…


A pyramid stack of gold bars.

The barely there humming of the rotary tattoo gun, the scent of a perfume with too many delicate notes to be cheap, the checkered patterns on the wall all slowly came back into focus. Zed stifled an irritated sigh and narrowly avoided the gun moving off trace.

That vision was too hazy to make sense.

Her nose had begun burning. Any more trying, and she might bleed right in front of her client.

Leaning back to work a crick in her neck, Zed surveyed the half-done tattoo.

‘Im ein ani li, mi li?’, the finished tattoo would say. The silk-donning client had mentioned it was Hebrew.

‘If I’m not for myself, who is?’, it meant, she had figured out. It gave her a sort of perverse enjoyment, blatantly reading the souls of those who naively believed they were revealing parts of themselves to the world through tattoos. At least when she managed to pull some reading that wasn’t outright senseless.

Reading people was hard, Zed had come to know over the years, harder than reading objects. With people came the messy business of navigating emotions, sensations and thousands and thousands of trackless thoughts. Sometimes readings revealed nothing, sometimes they revealed too much crap until her ears rang. 

An hour later, Zed was still contemplating the vision. The hazy image of gold bars was too enticing to let go of. What could it possibly mean? 506… gold bars inside a nondescript box…

She was spinning around in her rolling chair, eyes travelling across sketches pinned to the walls, when her gaze snagged on the debit card her client was handing to the receptionist. 506… gold bars…

Zed shot up from her chair so quick it almost tipped over. She started cleaning her work station in an attempt to calm down.

This is crazy, she muttered to herself, even as she wondered why this had to be the one vision so far that made sense and was worth something.

This is dangerous, she knew, even as she wondered if this was a sign.

This is risky, she thought, even as she opened her cubicle door and called out to the receptionist.

“Yo Liz, what bank card did that lady use?”

If my psychometry isn’t for myself…..  

A day later…

The CCTV footage had been on loop for four hours now. In the muted illumination of his laptop, Detective Shen was painting his nails black. The foolery he had watched for a sixth of his day played out yet again.

The culprit came into view, a low-billed cap and mask obscuring her face. Reaching the vault door, she raised a hand to it hesitantly, but retracted it before her fingers made contact. As the culprit was facing the other way, nothing much was visible of her but for hip-length hair and a bomber jacket even when she took off her cap. She then crouched low, and after a long pause pressed her forehead to the door.

Detective Shen raised his gaze to the black-and-white screen at that exact moment. He had re-watched the clip enough to know what happened when, down to seconds. The culprit was pressing her forehead to the door with intent, like she was trying to imprint it to memory by sheer will.

People had patterns. However unpredictable, however idiosyncratic, people always had patterns. Deducing those patterns was how Detective Shen had gotten so far ahead in his career. When adrenaline kicks in, people don’t reason; they resort to these instinctual patterns, their fail-safe.

The culprit stood from her crouch and fixed the cap on. There was another pause, then she touched the end of her closed fist to the corridor wall. Detective Shen settled back in his chair to watch as she seemed to rub small circles around her masked nose with the other hand. Suddenly, she took off running and disappeared from view.

The footage that played now was part of another CCTV but had been edited in. The culprit was repeating her weird groping, planting her clenched fists on the computers in the lobby. Satisfied with whatever she had done, she disappeared from view and reappeared near the vault.

This time around, she simply entered the combination and twisted the spoke handle. The vault door opened with a series of clicks and she stepped in, moving out of view. Somewhere between the two CCTV ranges, she had slipped gloves on, eliminating the prospect of fingerprint tracing.

Detective Shen counted down the minutes it would take for the culprit to exit the vault empty-handed. She kicked the wall thrice, in frustration the detective assumed, before limping down the corridor.  

Detective Shen powered off his laptop and welcomed the comfort of darkness. His fingers twitched, protesting his dereliction of figuring out the pattern. He forced himself to sit still, smothered the urge to watch the footage one more time.

A cold case, that is what this would end up as. No traces of fingerprints, no stolen goods, no identification of the culprit. It agitated him, though. Whatever angle he looked from, he couldn’t see any devices on the culprit. Could she have been a decoy, seeing as she didn’t actually take anything? That didn’t piece together either. She had broken in past the night guard, figured out the combination and had not even bothered to close the vault door before walking away. Like she was sure there was no way she could get caught. Despite all that, she would be scot-free.    

Detective Shen grabbed the pen closest to him when his hands started shivering. Maybe he couldn’t figure out her pattern, but he was certain he could break it.


Two years ago…

“You didn’t know safety deposit boxes needed keys?” Mischa choked out a snort, while Maxim was shooting contempt Zed’s way without even looking.

Zed had always told the twins that she hadn’t been able to pick the locks, not the embarrassing truth that she had broken in thinking safety deposit boxes had combinations too. Her glaring miscalculation had meant her walking away with nothing.

“Zed…” Mischa called, but Zed continued sketching her design. Being the butt of Mischa’s incessant teasing wasn’t her favorite pastime.

The design was one she sketched way too often, a tattoo sleeve of roses and skulls hidden in an extensive labyrinth of doodles. The crowning glory of the tattoo, the part Zed liked, was that invisible to everyone else, there were intricate trails connecting just the roses and skulls, among all the clutter. Trails only she could see. The kind of trails she wished she could see in her readings.

After that day a year ago, Zed had realized she might be able to break into the safety deposit boxes too, just not alone. That was where Mischa and Maxim came into the picture. Twins who had fled Russia a few years ago. One could drink her own weight in vodka, and the other spoke a word for every ten thoughts he had.

Maybe if she could read the keys that went in the box, Mischa’s job of picking the locks would be easier.

Maxim planned for them, and it was because Maxim was the one planning that they came across an important detail Zed might have overlooked.


Zed had been caught on camera, Maxim had reasoned, and these were consequences. He had ruled out their operation as too risky. Maxim knew that installing touch sensors on all safety deposit boxes would be too expensive, too impractical. Instead, the banks would have set them up on random boxes, which would make their attempt even riskier than if touch sensors were set up all over.

“Zed, you really have to know something.” Mischa had planted herself next to Zed on the studio couch and was whispering so Maxim wouldn’t hear. Zed looked up from her sketch with a huff. Resisting Mischa was as exhausting as her reading.

“You’re dumb as screws” Mischa claimed, and giggled. Too much Russian coffee loosened her up that way.

“Dumb as nails, Mish” Zed corrected with a smile she couldn’t help, and shoved a pillow in her face.

Soon, both of them were tugging the pillow, laughing, while Maxim grunted for them to keep it down in the background. For a moment, Zed forgot herself, and carelessly reached to grab Mischa’s hand. But her smile faltered when Mischa instantly pulled away.

Zed was reminded often that her ability was a curse too, especially when it came to Mischa.

Some secrets are better buried in the past, Zed.

“Zed…” Mischa trailed off, her fingers fiddling with the pillow. Zed nodded gently, swallowing past the lump in her throat, and pasted a smile on to say she understood.

She moved away from the couch, not wanting Mischa to feel bad. “Max, the grocery list?”

Maxim, who was either oblivious to the tension in the room or pretended to be, was reading an article on how the government was planning to wall off international social media. With a scowl, he tossed his phone at Zed. She already knew the list was on his phone. He hated when she and Mischa bothered him with redundant questions.

“It’s Maxim.”

With a cheeky two-fingered wave at him, Zed left her studio room. Casually, she tried to read the list from the phone.

Minutes later, she was rushing back to the room, rubbing at her bleeding nose.

“MnMs, I figured out…trails…” she was saying, when the world tinted black and she crumpled to the floor.


One year ago…

Zed had given up reading people altogether. Sensations of people were clumped, clusters that were tough to interpret. But Zed had stumbled upon a way for her visions to have trails.

People had something on them that was truly a part of them. Phones. People took them everywhere, used them for everything. Phones stored more memories of people than they did themselves.  

Reading people was arduous, but phones….phones mapped trails. There was order, nodes were connected to others with precision and every single happening was mapped for Zed to read.

For someone like her, the internet, social media in particular, was a miracle. When she read people, she had access only to them. But when she read their phones, she could access millions of people at once. Everyone was just a phone away, literally.

Phones, the internet and social media…they had magicked her imaginary tattoo sleeve to life.

The execution had taken time. Zed had had to wait for months before she could actually read phones and not pass out. Like Maxim had predicted, being connected to millions of people wasn’t as helpful as Zed had thought. That many trails were overwhelming, and she could hardly latch onto a particular thread.

The government was walling off international social media, though. Eventually, the slice of cyberspace they were operating in wasn’t as populated.

They had had to work out the handling of phones as well. The ‘Its-an-emergency-could-I-borrow-your-phone’ routine only worked for so long.

“I’m back” Mischa announced, tugging Zed’s hair loose after dropping the new batch of phones she had collected on the table. She dropped onto her beanbag and started changing the cases of phones to the ones they had with gloved hands. She would change them back too, before returning the phones. Maxim didn’t want to risk them identifying Zed’s fingerprints from the phones.

Kicking at Mischa’s beanbag, Zed gathered her hair up. She would read the phones and choose prospective patrons. A few hours of recharge, and then she would find out the IP addresses they would need, along with the bank details. From there, Maxim would take over.

Tying her hair, Zed smiled. Time to get to work.


48 hours ago…

It hurt to look at his fingers.

Detective Shen stared at his gaudy yellow painted nails, the only polish his daughter would let him borrow. He lifted the dainty brush from where it had smeared barf hues onto his wrinkled skin. He tried again, gripping the brush tighter, but it drifted sharply off his nail once again. The detective calmly put away the nail polish and picked up one case file with careful hands.

People seldom appreciated touch the way they did sight or hearing.

There were about twenty case files of serial cyber-crimes scattered across his desk. Net banking theft from their own IP addresses. The offenders hadn’t even hacked the details from their accounts, the cyber-crime department had reported. They must have stolen that information some other way.

Detective Shen had pored through the case files rigorously. A link that had come up in certain files was that the victims had had their phones stolen a few days before the theft. But the phones came back to the owners, right at their doorsteps, so that lead was a dead-end too.

The most complicated patterns were not patterns at all. When the dots wouldn’t connect, the dots themselves were patterns. Every dot mattered, had to be analysed.

The detective slowly started flipping through the case file, to keep his hands occupied. There had to be a way to track these crimes, trace them back step by step.

Step by step?

There were forty officers in the cyber-crime department, and twenty cases spanning over a year. Could they do with a few hours’ time?

Detective Shen grabbed a pad and jotted down the logistics of his idea. The sticky bit of this idea was that those few hours would be tumultuous, if not complete mayhem.

Even at that exorbitant cost, he would get the pattern.



“Pretty nails, detective” Zed commented, her lips quirking up. Her time and luck had run out, and she was woman enough to accept that.

The detective, Detective Shen it would seem, shrugged. “Helps with the Parkinson’s.”

Maxim’s words had sent Mischa into a frenzy. She had darted around the loft like she was sugar-high, muttering that she had a bad feeling about this. Maxim had agreed that this was no crazy coincidence, but had remained contemplative. They were probably being frozen out, he had told Zed.

Zed had reached that conclusion too, but couldn’t understand why. If this was the endgame, what would freezing them out achieve but stop them for a short while? Whatever it was, the investigative team willing to risk public paranoia suggested they were confident in their plans.

She had to get Mischa and Maxim out. Mischa wasn’t really lucid, so getting her to leave to return the phones was not easy. Mischa had always grumbled about returning the phones, about why they should bother when she could sell them. But that cash trail could be traced, and Zed knew better than anyone the potency of trails.

Maxim had bounced their siphoned funds across accounts regularly, but now they had no net-banking access. He had to head to the bank to get cash, in case they needed to flee. Maxim knew what Zed was trying to pull, and that there was no other way Zed would let this play out.  

We’ll be back for you, Zed, he promised to himself as he stepped out.

When the detective had finally reached the loft, about two hours later, Zed had been on Maxim’s laptop, enjoying her last moments of freedom by unearthing a few of his secrets. And making sure she was the only one linked to that crucial piece of evidence.

Zed noticed the detective’s shivering hands, but decided not to comment on that. She was ready to walk out in cuffs, but just needed to know how. How had cutting them off helped trap them?

“Why do we freeze stuff, kid? To preserve it” The detective had replied.

Hours later, in the chilly holding cell, Zed realized what that meant. The detective hadn’t frozen them out. He had frozen their past trails in.

“So, detective…what next?”

“There are a few things I would like to know too.” The pattern of this eccentric criminal. That was what he was here for.

October 15, 2021 22:19

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Ayesha 🌙
18:14 Oct 19, 2021

I love this one! It really drew me into the world. I would love some more clarity on the characters and powers, especially at the beginning.


Suchi J
18:49 Oct 19, 2021

It's great to hear that you liked the story. Thank you for taking the time to read it. Zed is psychometric, as in she can read the past of objects and people just by touch. Mischa is the one with nifty fingers, a lockpick and pick pocket. Maxim is the hacker of the trio. Hope that helps! I really appreciate your genuine interest in the story :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
02:02 Oct 22, 2021

Great story weaving, this was one of the most interesting stories on this site. Thanks for sharing. I agree that this would definitely be a better story if we had more clarity, but there’s only so much you can do with 3,000 words and a story this rich in character.


Suchi J
03:41 Oct 22, 2021

I got the feeling that at some parts, the readers might not get what's happening, so I totally get your point on clarity. But yeah, like you so kindly mentioned, 3000 words. Thank you for your comment on my story being really interesting! :)


17:27 Oct 22, 2021

I didn't have any problem following what was happening. I liked it because I had to think about it and figure it out. I was just saying that with more words you could put in a lot more aesthetics that would clarify the characters' personalities, interpersonal conflicts, motivations, etc.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply