Dark Siren: Part 1

Dark Siren CoverLast week, Tateru Nino reviewed Dark Siren, and as promised we’re really pleased to be able to present the first of a few posts that serialise a large part of the book.

Author Clifford Wycliffe is Australian, and has put a huge amount of effort into his creation of Avataria, which draws very heavily on Second Life for inspiration.

Reproduced below is the Prologue and the first two chapters. If you like what you read, you can buy the full book as a PDF here for only US $7.95. Payments are accepted via PayPal or credit card. We’re not getting any kickbacks, just the warm glow of helping an Aussie virtual worlds fiction author 😉

Please don’t hesitate to post your thoughts on Dark Siren in the comments, and look out for further chapters in the coming weeks.

As Tateru says in her review:

“It’s a pretty solid Australian crime-detective novel, involving a very realistic portrayal of Second Life, with a solid blend of high-tech crime, political skullduggery and human weakness. On the whole, I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the genre.”

Prologue

Cold Finger Bar, Avataria.  16 January 2008 : 3am PST

At 3am the Cold Finger Bar was almost deserted. On both sides of the dance floor, a bored pole dancer in a sparkly lurex costume gyrated ritualistically on a podium, each surrounded by an almost empty semicircle of seats. To achieve good search engine rankings in Avataria demanded a high throughput of visitors, so avatars with outgoing personalities were hired to make the place look busy. That didn’t fool anybody in the Cold Finger Bar, least of all the rent boys who made up the bulk of the customers.

Ginger Stallion settled back against the cushions in one of the snugs and tried to look as cool and desirable as he could, given the limitations of the animation override on his avatar. Hanging around was a tiresome aspect of the job. The clients were another. Boorish college dropouts looking to liven up their onanistic fantasies or shy beginners unsure of their true sexual orientation. Give it another ten minutes, he thought.

Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody stuttered intermittently in his headphones thanks to a slow Internet connection. His friend Blow Daley seemed engrossed in the gyrations of one particular dancer, a flashy looking shemale called Sugar Plumb whose costume emitted a shower of sparks each time she twirled around the dance pole in front of him.

Sugar Plumb: Like my dancing, Blow?

Blow Dailey:  Sure. It’s cute. And so are you, Sugar.

Sugar Plumb: Why thank you… would you like me to strip for you?

Blow Dailey:  How much that gonna cost?

Sugar Plumb:  Whatever you think I’m worth, darlin’

Blow clicked on Sugar Plumb’s tip jar and donated AV$20. An automated message lit up on the bottom left of his laptop screen:  Sugar Plumb thanks you for the kind donation. Sugar’s avatar started to shed garments piecemeal. Like taking a blowtorch to plastic, he thought idly. Gypsy Rose Lee she wasn’t, that was for sure.

Sugar Plumb:  So where are you boys from?

This time it was Ginger who answered.

Ginger Stallion: L.A.

Sugar Plumb:  Lookin’ for a nice girl?

Ginger Stallion:  Lol… not exactly. We work out of here… except it’s been kinda dead tonight.

Sugar Plumb:  Omg…  sorry…  I thought you were customers. I’m new here…  guess that’s why I haven’t seen you before.

Ginger Stallion:  And where are you from, hon?

An incoming message flashed up in Ginger’s viewer before Sugar had a chance to reply.  The caller’s name was unfamiliar and the grammar stilted.

IM: Joss Guest: Hello Ginger. I am friend of Ariana…  she recommend you

IM: Ginger Stallion: do I know you?

The caller ignored the question, which faded off the screen.

IM: Joss Guest: you are gay escort, yes?

IM: Ginger Stallion: yes… amongst other things…

IM: Joss Guest: I may have job for you. What are your charges?

IM: Ginger Stallion: Depends… basic AV$2500 per hour plus extras…

IM: Joss Guest: Extras?

IM: Ginger Stallion: Yeah… like room hire

IM: Joss Guest: don’t worry… I have room… dungeon actually

IM: Ginger Stallion: You into S&M?

IM: Joss Guest: If you’ve have suitable friend, I pay you $AV2500 each for one hour’s work… all included

IM: Ginger Stallion: Together?

IM: Joss Guest: Yes, together.

IM: Ginger Stallion: AV$3000 each upfront and you’ve got a deal

There was a pause before the text resumed.

IM: Joss Guest: You drive hard bargain Mister Stallion

IM: Ginger Stallion: That’s ‘cos we’re good

IM: Joss Guest: You’d better be. My client is very… how do you say? –  very particular

IM: Ginger Stallion: You won’t be disappointed

IM: Joss Guest: I hope not. Very well… it’s a deal. I contact you later to arrange time and place.

IM: Ginger Stallion: any particular likes and dislikes?

The text slowly faded leaving a blank screen. The caller was gone.

Joss Guest? The name didn’t ring any bells. Ginger called over to his friend, who by this time was deep in conversation with the shemale dancer:  Blow… d’ya know anyone by the name of Guest… Joss Guest? I’ve just had an IM from this dude about a job… friend of Ariana’s, think he was foreign…

No reply.

hey, Blow…

Still no reply.

Never mind… forget it. I’m outa here… I’ll see you tomorrow.

And with that, Kyle Martinez, aka Ginger Stallion, second year student of the Computer Science Dept. UCLA, logged out of Avataria, switched off his laptop and went to bed.

Chapter 1

Alexandria, Sydney, Australia. 23 January 2008: 4am AEDT

Lit only by sidelights the large black van hissed silently past on the wet road and came to a stop in front of Simon Austin’s parked car. Pools of water from an early morning shower sat in depressions in the asphalt as he quietly got out of the vehicle and walked towards the van. As he approached, the back door opened and heavily armed police in body armour piled out silently and conferred with three local officers waiting in the shadows. Simon shook hands with the Inspector, who introduced him to the leader of the Tactical Operations squad.

“Sergeant Blake – this is Simon Austin, AHTCC Canberra. We’ve been through all the details, is there anything you want to discuss before we go in?”

“No, sir. We know the guy’s armed and dangerous, and we’re prepared. How many do you think are in there?”

One of the younger constables from the NSW police stepped forward.

“I’ve been watching the place since yesterday arvo, sir. Kyrylo went in around lunchtime, and his two blokes turned up around half past five. No one’s come or gone since.”

“So three then?’

“Yep.”

The team set off at a jog across the car park towards the two storey office block, dark except for the patchy reflected light of a few street lamps behind the trees. Keeping in single file, they moved soundlessly behind a low wall until they were up against the building, heading for the main entrance. Simon and the three regular police followed at a safe distance, trying not to make any noise.

Lady Carmen & AlanThe Senior Sergeant looked round to check that the team were in place, then producing a ram, swung it forward hitting the grey security door with enormous force. The echo of the crash reverberated in the silence and a flock of startled birds flew up from the trees lining the road. The impact bent the frame, but the reinforced panel refused to budge. A squad member forced a long metal bar into the crack that had appeared and with the combined leverage of two men finally snapped the locks. Black-clad figures carrying assault rifles swarmed through the gap and up the concrete stairs shouting ‘Police! Stay where you are!’; another crash, then shouts and banging could be heard coming from the first floor. A moment later the sound of a shot rang out, followed by a short burst of automatic fire, shouts and a door slamming. More confusion: noise of boots on concrete, a stifled curse, and from the other end of the building, the distant clatter of footsteps on a metal staircase. Then silence, broken only by the crackling of a voice over a police radio: “Clear! Officer down! Call the ambos! Now!”

The Inspector shone his torch into the stairwell, and ran up the stairs two at a time to the first floor with Simon following. Someone had found the light switches and a line of fluorescents flickered into life as they reached the landing. They passed through a splintered door into an anteroom, where police were pointing their weapons at the figure of a man lying face down on the floor clad only in underpants and T-shirt. Two camp beds with sleeping bags lined a wall decorated with pictures of Jessica Alba torn from Ralph magazine; the only table was littered with empty beer cans and the remains of a takeaway meal. A few discarded clothes lay on the floor and the room stank of stale sweat and pizza.

“Not exactly the Ritz, is it?”

The Inspector ignored Simon’s comment and led the way into a large shabby office painted an incongruous purple. There were four foldaway tables butted together; on them sat a laptop, several electronic components, two mobile phones and what looked like boxes of credit card blanks. Along the back wall were stacked unopened cartons of brand new plasma TVs, iPhones, digital cameras and various other electronic goods.

The leader of the police squad was lying on the floor, his head in a widening pool of blood that was already seeping into the grubby floor tiles. A colleague kneeling over him turned as the Inspector approached.

“Senior Sergeant Blake’s been hit, sir.” he said. “It’s serious.”

“An ambulance is on its way. Can you can do anything for him?”

“No sir. He’s been shot in the face.”

“Is he still breathing?”

“Yes sir, but his pulse is very weak.”

Simon turned away in shock, suddenly feeling sick and queasy. By the window a unshaven young man in jeans and singlet sat looking terrified, handcuffed to a battered office chair, a young constable’s assault weapon jammed in his ear.

“The bastard got Vince.” The policeman was almost crying, and spat the words out in a thick Scottish accent, kicking the chair for good measure.

“What happened?”

“It was dark. There was a shot and Vince went down. I let off a few rounds but must’ve missed. He got away through the door at the back.”

“You knew he was ex-Ukrainian special forces?”

“Of course we bloody did.”

“I’m sorry about Sergeant Blake. You did all you could.”

Kyrylo’s FBI mugshot didn’t match either of the two captives. Simon walked over to the Inspector who was talking into a mobile phone.

“Can you get some men to search for Kyrylo? He got out the back way. And check for blood stains – he might have been hit.”

“Taken care of. They’re doing it now. Just don’t hold your breath.”

“I am so sorry. About the sergeant, I mean. Will you keep me informed?”

“Of course. But don’t beat yourself up about it. He was doing his job and he knew the risks.”

“Even so… it looked pretty bad.”

“What do you want us to do with all this stuff?”

“We don’t need the TVs and the iPods, just all the gear on the tables.”

“OK. I’ll get it all bagged up for you.”

“I’ll need to take the computer back to Canberra with me.”

“No worries.”

“I’m going catch a few hours sleep, but I’d like to interview those guys first thing. Eight o’clock OK?”

The Inspector was already making another phone call.

“Inspector?”

“Sure.”

Simon was privately seething. The two arrested men were small fry and one of their own was badly hurt. The target of the raid had got away. The FBI had given them good information and Whitman would not be impressed. They had screwed up big time.

“Just make sure you take bloody good care of that laptop.”

He left the office and headed downstairs. From behind him came some muffled cries and what he knew to be the sound of someone being kicked. As he walked across the car park an ambulance was backing up against the front door, now hanging forlornly on one hinge. By the time he got to his car, the paramedics were going inside with a stretcher, the scene lit by the ghostly flashing of the blue lights on a parked patrol car. Shaking his head, he turned the ignition key, pulled out from behind the black van and headed back to his hotel.

Chapter 2

Kings Cross Police Station, Sydney, Australia : 23 January 2008 : 8am

Three hours later after a snatched rest, a shower and a strong cup of coffee, Simon phoned his supervisor at the AFP in Canberra. He was expecting to be read the riot act, as Chapman was a man given to intemperate outbursts.

“The bastard got away, I hear.”

“I am as angry as you are, Wayne. He slipped out through a new back doorway that wasn’t on the plans. They searched for him for an hour, but no luck.”

“Luck doesn’t come into it Simon. It was a stuff up, mate, pure and simple.”

“We’ll get him Wayne. We’ve effectively busted his organization in Sydney.”

“Sergeant Blake died this morning on the way to hospital.”

“I know. I feel responsible.”

“It was a bloody shambles. Can’t be helped, I suppose. That Kyrylo fella is one tough customer.”

“We did get his laptop though. I’ll bring it back with me and we’ll let the techos loose on it.”

“And the two blokes you caught?”

“Just going in to the interview room now. But I’m not expecting much – they’re local crims that Kyrylo hired to do menial stuff. I’ll keep you posted.”

Simon replaced the phone in its cradle and briefly pondered how he was going to conduct the interrogations. There’d been no joy from the owner of the offices involved. The premises they had raided had been on a short lease, managed by a local real estate agent and signed by someone who apparently didn’t exist. The new interconnecting door had been installed without planning permission six months earlier when the landlord had bought the building in the next street.

Lady Carmen_2The two suspects were being held in separate cells. The first, the swarthy man in jeans, had given his name as Salim Chamoun, 28 years old, originally from the Lebanon but a naturalised Australian. The second was a no-hoper from The Cross, Australian-born Gareth Johnston. Both had a string of petty convictions going back years, and according to the Inspector, neither was in a mood to talk. Simon sensed that they were scared witless by Kyrylo, and judging by the violent response to the attempt to arrest him, Simon could understand why. Johnston had been recruited by Salim, who had a distant family connection with Kyrylo’s sister, who had married into a family living in Beirut. Both denied having anything to do with the laptop; their role was to skim credit card information from legitimate credit card holders, and use the resulting fake cards to buy high value goods before the owner discovered the theft. To those ends Salim had taken up employment as a waiter in a busy upmarket restaurant, while Gareth worked as a cashier in a petrol station.

Simon had expected the interviews to commence on the dot of 8am, but as he entered the police station, the duty sergeant pulled him aside.

“You the bloke from the Hi-Tech Crime Centre? I’m Sgt. Crawford. I don’t think Salim’s going to be much use to you this morning. He’s not feeling very well.”

It all came back to him with a rush. The muffled cries and the sounds of a bashing as he left the warehouse. NSW’s finest settling a score.

“What do you mean, he’s not feeling very well? “What happened?”

“He tried to make a run for it as they were taking him out of that building this morning. Fell down a flight of stairs… few cuts and bruises, but he’ll be alright.”

“So when can I see him? It’s very important. And what about Gareth Johnston?”

The Sergeant leaned across the desk and lowered his voice conspiratorily.

“Look mate, I don’t think it would be wise to formally interview Salim at the moment, if you catch my drift. But I could arrange a few minutes in his cell, if that’s any use to you.’

Simon nodded his assent and the Sergeant grabbed a bunch of keys and led him downstairs. He stopped in front of one of the cells and looked through the viewing flap.

“Still asleep, the lazy bugger!”

He unlocked the door and they both walked into the cell. Salim was lying on the bunk fast asleep, his face to the wall. The sergeant shook him roughly.

“C’mon ya bastard! Wake up! There’s someone here to see you.”

Simon was visibly shocked when Salim finally turned round. He’d expected the police detail to rough him up after what had happened to Blake, but not to this extent. One of the prisoner’s eyes was almost shut and black with bruises, and there were deep cuts on his cheeks. His knuckles were raw and bloody and one arm was in a sling.

He turned to the sergeant.

“Injuries incurred whilst resisting arrest, eh? I hope you got the ambos to look at him.”

Crawford was offhand. “We took him to the hospital with Blake. They checked him over and discharged him this morning. He’ll be right.”

Simon asked the sergeant to step outside, then turned back to Salim.

“You know you could be charged with accessory to murder over the shooting this morning?”

Salim responded with a grunt and turned back to the wall. Simon shook him again.

“Look mate, help me with this one and I’ll put a good word in for you. I’m only interested in what Kyrylo was up to with the computer.” Salim muttered something that Simon couldn’t catch. He shook him again. “C’mon, speak up.”

“I said, he used the computer to make new cards.”

“And was that all?”

There was no response.

“Salim!”

“Fuck off and leave me alone. I ain’t sayin’ no more without a brief.”

“Alright, if that’s your attitude, maybe the sergeant will help change your mind.”

Salim half turned around and raised himself on one elbow. “Look, as far as I’m concerned the bloke was a psycho. We didn’t ‘ave nothin’ to do with the computer. He wouldn’t let us. All I know was that he used to visit some funny porn sites.”

“Porn sites? What was funny about them?”

“They didn’t ‘ave real people in them. They was cartoons… like those Japanese anime things.”

“What were they doing?”

“What weren’t they doin’ more like.”

“Tell me.”

“It was gay porn… not that I could see much, but that was what it was.”

“And that was all?”

“In dungeons… with two blokes. That was what it was. Now leave me alone.”

Simon was about to ask another question, but thought better of it. He called to Crawford who was waiting outside the door.

“We’ve finished mate… thanks. Where’s Johnston being interviewed?”

A few minutes later he was shown into a shabby room with three other occupants, Johnston, a police constable, and the Duty Solicitor Marcus Freeman, an ethically challenged silvertail in a pin-stripe suit whom Simon knew from a case in Sydney some years before. He sat down opposite Johnston, who was looking decidedly the worse for wear.

“You realise you’re in serious shit, Gareth. Sergeant Blake is dead, and I want some good reasons why you shouldn’t be charged as an accessory to his murder.”

Johnston squirmed in his seat, and ran his hand nervously over his two-day old stubble. “It wasn’t me that shot him. It was that crazy Ukrainian bastard.”

“I thought he was a mate of yours.”

“He was no bloody mate of mine, I can tell you. Salim rang me a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to earn a few bucks. If I’d known what Kyrylo was like I woulda said no.”

“So what was he like, Gareth?”

Johnston shot a glance at Freeman, who shrugged unhelpfully.

“We was ‘sposed to copy all the numbers off the credit cards I got off the customers.”

“And?”

“The first day, I didn’t know ‘e wanted the codes on the backs of the cards as well as the numbers and expiry dates. When I told ‘im he hadn’t asked for them, he head butted me, and told me if I didn’t get ‘em the next day he’d put me in hospital. The bloke was mental.” He raised a lock of unkempt hair in his forehead to reveal an ugly red weal, already going brown and yellow around the edges.

“So you supplied the card information and he made up the copies?”

“Yeh. From the stuff that me and Salim gave ‘im.”

“And who bought all the TVs?”

“We did… Had to get the stuff real quick before the cards got stopped.”

“How did you get rid of it?”

“Salim had a mate who ran a market stall.”

“Not the best place to sell a $3000 plasma TV.”

“He’d shift all the small stuff like the iPhones. Any stuff he couldn’t handle would get sold on to someone else.”

“What else did Kyrylo do? Apart from make counterfeit cards.”

“He played around on that laptop a lot. I don’t know what he was doing, I don’t know much about computers.”

“But you must’ve seen what he was up to?”

“He played that cartoon game a lot. What’s it called? The one with the avatars.”

Avataria?”

“Yeh. He’d get on to it in the afternoons, after three usually. We couldn’t talk to ‘im then. He didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Did he ever make any long distance phone calls?’

“Not that I know of. He was paranoid about us making phone calls. Told us never to mention ‘is name, and to keep them as short as possible.”

Simon told the Duty Solicitor that he was leaving. Johnston paused the audio recording and stood up.  Simon inclined his head towards the door and followed him into the corridor.

“Keep up the pressure on them about what Kyrylo was doing with the laptop,” he said. “I don’t hold out much hope. I’ve got a feeling he kept ‘em out of the loop – they’re not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer – but anything they give us could be helpful.”

The sergeant nodded and returned to the interviewing room. Simon retrieved the laptop from the evidence store and headed back to Canberra.

Trackbacks

  1. […] At the time that I wrote the review, I didn’t know that a portion of the novel was going to be serialized at the TMJ. I only found that out the next day. So, you’ve got an opportunity to get a taste for it, starting with part one. […]

  2. […] time for the third part of the Dark Siren serialisation. You can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here, and if you like what you read, please do support an up and coming author and buy […]

  3. […] time for part four of the Dark Siren serialisation. You can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and if you like what you read, please do support an up and coming author […]

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