Into Focus, Part III


elisabeth_icon.gif elliot_icon.gif lance_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Into Focus, Part III
Synopsis Attempts to perform a wellness check on the wife of one of the Red Hook victims turns up an empty apartment in a curious state.
Date October 30, 2020

An apartment complex in Phoenix Heights

It turned out that the two victims from the Medina rally at Red Hook hadn't been together after all. At the very least, on paper, the man was still legally married.

But also, according to the woman's roommate, very in a committed relationship to the woman whose arms he fell apart in.

So that's awkward.

The first attempt to notify Ethan Smith's wife about his death had been unsuccessful. For that matter, attempts to pin her down otherwise had not been fruitful. Valerie Smith hasn't shown up to work since the event at Red Hook, and her landlord reports he's not seen her either. She's not answering her number on file.

This time when police come knocking, it's on a 'welfare check' with the landlord's key. And also with backup, in case… well, just in case.

These are not exactly the calls Elisabeth is usually on these days, but she likes to keep her hand in. And this particular case has her interest. She slants a glance toward the others and shrugs slightly — technically speaking, 'welfare checks' are done by the PD, so…

The Cop Knock is definitely a Thing. "Mrs. Smith, NYPD. Please open the door." At the same time, Elisabeth stretches out her ability, seeking any signs of movement or life within the apartment in the form of heartbeats or breathing.

Wright keeps her eyes on the hallway past the Lieutenant. Here in a supplementary capacity she remains out of the way for now, letting the police handle things for now.

Elliot is out of view in the building’s entryway, pretending to sort through a handful of mail should Mrs. Smith decide to waltz back in. He’s streaming Wright’s perception in case anything sudden and unexpected happens in or around the apartment.

As Wright can’t stream Elliot’s perception without feeling his pain—thankfully just a dull throb at the moment—He’d have to rely on less fantastical methods of letting her know that the POI came home. The signal is screaming, he had joked.

This isn’t the sort of thing Lance normally does either, but given recent events, SESA is a bit stretched thin - which is why he’s here unsupervised, unless one counts Elisabeth of course. He’s got a pad in his hand with a pen slid through the spiral binding, and he’s standing just a bit off to one side.

He’s seen the movies. The person standing in front of the door is the one who gets shot, and Liz is the one that probably has a bulletproof vest on.

It's silent inside, Liz notes. Her sense expands as she listens harder, a smaller sound than a human heartbeat emerging from another room and into the main area of the apartment.

A needy mrow heard even by Lance and Wright serves as the only reply.

When the door is unlocked and opened, the tabby on the other side is sitting patiently waiting in the middle of the living room space. On seeing just who it is (read: not the expected faces), the cat scrabbles back and darts into another room to take cover. Cats being how they are, it's likely under a bed.

The kitchen light and bedroom light were left on. The apartment overall is small in size, a open floor plan kitchen and living room combo delineated by an island bar. On the couch and coffee table, scrapbooks are opened, left mid-page. Many photos have had something cut out of them, the scraps of those on the table as well as scattered along the carpet. The cat has batted them all over the place. A frame of a sits on the couch cushions, its photograph set atop the gold embellishment. It's a wedding photo, it looks like. The bridal party, perhaps, judging by the similar gowns.

The bedroom door left open allows a view in, the covers mussed by something heavy having been dragged off of it. Drawers are open, clothes and socks scattered in an otherwise well-kept space.

If a picture paints a thousand words…

As they make their way cautiously in to the apartment, Elisabeth has one hand on her service weapon. "Mrs. Smith, NYPD. Are you here?" She already knows the answer — there is only one heartbeat in the place and it just ran like hell under the bed. But protocol.

She waves the others in so the group can spread out and take individual locations while she pauses to just take an overview of what she can see. "Looks like she knew he was stepping out," she comments. Blue eyes flicker toward where the cat retreated and step toward that doorway gives her a glimpse of the mess. "And it looks rather like she took off in a hell of a hurry."

Pursing her lips thoughtfully, she takes her hand from her weapon and gestures vaguely to the apartment as she pulls out gloves. "First person who finds us a clue on this lady gets coffee from my secret stash," she offers with a faint smile.

Wright steps carefully around the scattered photos, snapping photos of her own with her cellphone in case she accidentally moves something. “Daydream,” she says quietly, and begins to use Elliot’s cognition to try to map out meaning from the chaos. Elliot lounges back against the wall-mounted mailboxes in the entryway, eyes closed as though he’s dizzy.

“Scrap-booker,” Wright muses. “She’s used to snipping up parts of her life to display an idealized version.” She begins to flip backward through the scrapbooks with gloved hands, looking to a time before Mr. Smith. For pictures of some place she’d retreat to from before him, to be free of him. Family campground, childhood road trips.

“Let me guess, she cut her husband out of the pictures?” Lance is already tucking the notepad away in a pocket of his light jacket and pulling his own gloves on, blue latex snapping into place. As Wright’s already working on the scrapbooks, he carefully pushes the bedroom door open the rest of the way, slipping inside.

“Clothes are thrown around, doesn’t look like they normally are - I’d put my money that she packed and ran in a hurry.”

Like Lance suspected, it appears to be Ethan who's cut out of all of the photographs. Wright can confirm the same as she goes back through the first book she looks through. There is a neatness to the untouched photographs versus the ones that were altered. Not all were cleanly replaced in the scrapbook. An Xacto knife as well as scissors sit on the table before the couch. The knife, capped— likely abandoned in favor of the scissors. Had one type of cut felt more satisfying than the other? Surgical versus cathartic. Some of the cut scraps are outright ripped where even the scissor slice wasn't enough.

When the book on the table reveals no more pages, what's left is the one on the couch. And turning to sift through that, Wright sees something odd. The uniform dresses and suits in the wedding photo on the couch have changed. Instead of a group smiling broadly at the camera, the people stationed in the photograph all appear to be doing different things. Weird. The scrapbook that was abandoned appears to be all wedding photos, as well, some of the photos altered before she gave up. In this book, there's not one, but two persons cut out— both Ethan and one of the bridesmaids.

Audrey, the other victim, perhaps.

Looking up from the book again, it's subtle, but the larger photograph of the wedding party has changed again. Everyone dressed the same as they are since the change, but moved just slightly compared to where they were before. The photograph has two figures cut out of it the same as the book— the groom, and one of the bridesmaids.

The books dragged out seem to be just of times Ethan would be present and need cut out of. But on a set of shelves on the wall next to the television, there's scrapbooks that look older. The cover of one turned out rather than stacked side by side proclaims Newman Family Reunion - Kekua Lake 2004.

In the bedroom, the cat had crept forward to the edge of the bed before darting back underneath when Lance's feet pass by. The bedroom's state is quickly ascertained, and the bathroom shows a similar state. Gaps exist in neatly lined bottles of product, a wire basket beneath the vanity disheveled. A curling iron remains, fallen. Maybe a hair dryer was pulled to go with the missing wife. At any rate, it proves that while the leaving was sudden, it was executed with at least some amount of thought.

Pulling back the curtain to the shower, the tub is thankfully empty of horrors. Just also void of any feminine or gender-neutral shower products. Men's two-in-one and body wash are all that's left. When Lance turns back from that, the cat has crept out from under the bed again, wide-eyed but head dipping to sniff after his heels. It mewls in his direction.

In the kitchen and laundry area, Elisabeth finds most things left as expected. The only oddity is a rubber lid like one might expect to find on a coffee can, a rectangle cut in its center, tossed on the countertop near the stove. There's not a pairing coffee can for it in sight. In the doorless pantry, on the floor is an empty water and food bowl for the cat; accompanied by a spilled bag of cat food, kibble scattered on the tile.

An eraseboard calendar hangs on the fridge, with a reminder for a Halloween party tonight, and handwritten reminders for early November to-dos. One of them includes Divorce Arbitration - Nov 8. Seems like they'll both be missing that.

A sizable scrap of one of the cut pieces of photograph was batted just before the fridge. It's of Ethan, judging by what's visible of his face in this particular scrap, shredded in a diagonal down the torso.

Careful about what she touches, Elisabeth takes a few cell phone pictures. One of the things she's seeking now is the junk drawer. Every kitchen has one, usually where stray bread ties, rubber bands, and keys and things end up. While she eyes the coffee can lid and its strange cutout, she uses her phone to call in.

"Hey, it's Harrison. Can you pull whatever property records we have for Valerie Smith, maiden name believed to be Newman, 8640 Roosevelt Avenue, number 23? … Yeah, real estate and vehicle. And if she has a vehicle, put out a BOLO on it. … Also, find a cell phone and see if you can get the records. Thanks."

When she hangs up, she purses her lips thoughtfully. "So… she left in a hurry, but not so much a hurry that she walked out with nothing. But she left the cat." There's a momentary pause. "There are a couple possibilities I'm thinking about here — you guys sound off. One, she's sitting here cutting up her wedding albums and gets a call. What would send you flying out of here? The only two things that spring to mind are that she hired someone to kill him and got word the deed was done…. or she found out it happened and thought she might be at risk. Thoughts?"

Wright stands over the moving photograph silently for a moment, but it doesn’t move at all. I’m not hallucinating, am I? she wonders. She remembers what Seren said on the bus, and feels Elliot remember it as he watches with her eyes.

"That reminds me, I've got a card for this special photographer… he did an exhibition recently in the Safe Zone and he wanted to do some photos of Baird. The guy has this really cool ability where his photos move over time." Wrapping the plastic bags back around their hands, they rock back to their feet. They squint one eye as they recall, "Rrrrroyce, I think the name is."

“This is going to sound out of nowhere,” Wright says, “But my gut feeling is she saw it on the news. She didn’t even realise she’d done it. This might be a manifestation, and possibly also a very weird ability interaction. Come look at this.” She takes a video of the picture, hoping to capture a movement, if it translates to a digital format at all. “Of course, now it’s not doing it.”

Elliot enters the apartment and leans against the door frame, keeping an eye on the cat. “You ever heard of an Expressive photographer named Royce?” he asks.

“She grabbed all her toiletries,” Lance reports as he steps back out from the bathroom, “So yeah, she’s definitely not coming back… aw, hi there, kitty. Psspspsps.”

The junior agent crouches down slowly to try not and startle the cat, one hand palm up to be sniffed at.

Then he hears Wright and Elliot, and his head lifts - eyes widening. “Holy— are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting? Do you think this lady’s power is literally voodoo?”

The cat cringes back from the sniff it had started to engage in on Lance's extended hand. The shift in his demeanor makes the friendly, but skittish and hungry creature uncertain again, letting out a louder mrow than before.

Something weirder than the photo moving happens when Wright brings up her camera. It looks much blurrier than it does using her own eyes, remaining out of focus no matter how she tries to adjust the phone. No luck on the photo then. But the page of other wedding photos, ones that don't move bear a small markup in the margins… a stylized, larger R followed by a smaller oyce in flowing lettering. It seems the man was responsible for the moving wedding photo— and the rest of them, too.

The drawers, one by one, prove to be nondescript as Elisabeth moves through them. The only one disheveled enough to pass as a junk one bears measuring utensils, a tiny whisk, fine wooden chopsticks, and a small garlic press. Even then, it only qualifies by being the one with a seemingly random assortment of utensils. It's opening the cabinet door next to the sink that reveals an empty space the size of a coffee can amid Pyrex and serving platters.

The missing coffee can and the lid with the cut-out have the Lieutenant wondering what the hell was in there… but she turns back toward the others and moves to look at what Wright has. She too at first thinks she's seeing things. Look away, look back, things are shifted slightly.

Elliott's arrival and question makes Elisabeth quirk a brow, though she casts Lance a small smile at his description of it as 'voodoo'. "Are any of the images that she cut up the moving ones?" She asks, scanning the photos on the table thoughtfully.

"And no, Elliott — do you know what Royce's ability actually does?" Because holy fucking shit, if it does somehow act like a goddamn voodoo doll, recalling every photo the guy has ever done is going to be a bitch. If it actually works like that, she wonders if the photographer even knows — how often are you expecting someone to cut up pictures, after all?

"You know," Elisabeth breathes out in exasperation, "now that Lance has raised the possibility of a fucking Dorian Gray picture, I can't get that out of my head. Thank you so much, Lance." She's not upset, though — it's not even the weirdest thing she's ever heard. "We need to follow up with the photographer."

"Not really," Elliot says. "Just that he made pictures which move over time, and that it didn't work digitally. Considering the weird 'only when you're not looking' parameter we just discovered, I'm curious if it's an ongoing perception-based effect anchored to the print. This though? Maybe a telekinetic shearing ability that used the photos as a focus of some kind to work at a range? Maybe witchcraft actually."

Elliot enters the room far enough to close the door most of the way to box the cat in. "And the groom and a bridesmaid are missing from the animated photo," he says from the doorway as Wright leaves the mess behind to check the vacation scrapbooks she'd noticed.

"I'm curious if any of the photo shreds would line up with the wound patterns on the victims." He looks around the rooms, impressed by how far away the cat seems to have moved them.

“Just a second, kit-kat,” Lance pushes himself up and moves towards the kitchen— glancing into the open-door pantry and seeing the cat food, he busies himself filling the bowl for the poor thing.

He’s not sure if it’s protocol to feed the cat, but hey, he’s wearing gloves and he has a soft spot for abandoned things and people.

“Christ. Voodoo, I…” He trails off, seeing the scrap before the fridge from his vantage and stepping away from the cat food to pull out his phone and take a picture of it, “There’s a nice torn piece here… looks like the vic. Torn right through.” Taking note of where the tear is, he heads into the living room to see if it matches with the photo that Eliot reported about.

The torn pieces certainly match up to one of the photos somewhere in the stack … there's so many scattered bits from the two books she'd been tearing through, it's hard to immediately find a match. Even for the wedding-related shreds, it's hard to find a full match against the shape. There's a commonality between them all, even though a perfect match for gap in the moving portrait is hard to find in the pile.

Not a single cutout is in one singular piece. Every last one has been cut into fragments either by scissors, or torn by hand.

Or maybe, as noted, by an ability.

The vacation scrapbook is a lighter thing than some of the others, meant to capture a single event than the goings-on of a year. The Kekua lake reunion starts with a roadtrip — photographs of signs and sites stopped at — before eventually arriving at the lake cabins. There's a partial group shot in front of one of them, standing with their arms arced in the direction of the cabin bearing the number 24. There's a good grouping of shots that generally capture the lane of cabins leading down to a lake dock, of people lounging, creating a frame of visual reference perhaps for where exactly on the finger lake this may have been taken at.

The sound of the kibble hitting the bowl brings the cat to dart out into the open area, less afraid of strangers than it is hungry. The bag pushed over onto the floor has only been picked at out of necessity — a filled bowl is a luxury that could only be made better by a tall glass of water. The cat's tail sways behind it with interest for the situation before it hunkers down, curling around its back while it settles in for a snack.

Elisabeth is more than a little interested in the answer to the question about whether the known injuries match any of those moving pictures. "Looks like we at least have a place to start, " she observes quietly. It's better than what they had an hour ago.

Wright holds the scrapbook up as she says, “Possible hidey-hole at Kekua Lake.” She places the book down on the armrest of the couch to avoid scattering the photos more than they already have been. Elliot looks to Wright with an expression that clearly reads, I sure hope Eve won’t be waiting for us there.

“We should get these pictures over to the coroner to have them check for matches on the injuries… if they match, then we know our hypothesis was right,” Lance clears his throat, looking a little pale as he thinks about the injuries in question and looks at the torn photographs.

Then he glances back to the kitchen, “Uh, should we— take the cat? We can’t just abandon him here.”

Pause. “He might be evidence. Or a witness. Voodoo witch familiar.” Yeah, that’s it.

Like it knows it's being discussed, the cat looks up, its curled tail twitching in a wave of interest. Mrow?

It? Important?

Whatever it takes to avoid being left alone in this now-empty apartment.

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