Bare Hands

Yellow crime scene tape

The police tried to secure the crime scene

Three of us arrived at the crime scene right away. The first response team tried to cordon off the area, but didn’t have enough patrolmen. The looky-loos already pressed the perimeter. Yellow tape wouldn’t hold ‘em for long.

“So what’ve you got, Sergeant?” I asked.

“Well, sir, not sure what to make of it.” He looked around both ways, then down. Pushed his hands into pockets, searching for something. Fidgety. Strange. I’d worked with him before. Always direct. Solid. No messing around, but now different. Maybe scared? “Sergeant?” I repeated.

“Sorry, sir. Just making sure … “ He paused, cleared his throat then said, “This one’s different’s all I can say. Maybe you detectives can figure it out. We’ll try to keep the crowd out.”

“Yeah, you do that. We’re going in.”

The sergeant gave a slight bow and half salute, then stepped aside almost relieved.

“What’s with him?” Diane asked.

“Don’t know.” I shrugged. “Come on, let’s get inside.” We tramped through the opening and saw right away. Evidence everywhere. Heaps. Piles.

“What the …?” Randy wondered.

“Don’t wonder. Get facts. Get evidence. We’ll speculate later,” I said.

“Right, Lieutenant. I’m on it.” He jerked a quick nod, then strode across the large room.

Diane was already dusting for prints.

Clearly the suspect was a pro. His trade craft (ironic to call it that, I thought) was excellent. Perfect, in fact. I’d never seen anything like it. So why did he leave all the evidence? Getting sloppy? Probably not. Everything else was too good. This guy knew what he was doing. In a hurry? Maybe. But my gut said, no. Something else was going on.

We’d been there only 20 minutes when Diane called over from the other side. “Lieutenant?”

“Yeah, what’d you find? Tell me.” I answered, checking a window casing for forced entry.

“You gotta see this yourself,” she insisted.

I pulled my head out of the frame, climbed down off the chair and wound my way around more piles to her side of the room. She knelt on the floor, surrounded by the tools of her profession. An open investigation kit lay arrayed alongside, trays in neat rows, labeled evidence bags set in precise order. She hunched over a microscope, mumbling to herself. As I approached, she leaned to one side. “Look,” she instructed.

I knelt on the floor beside her, giving up clean trousers for the day, snapped glasses off with my left hand, and let my right fall automatically to the focus knob—except it wasn’t there. The new smart-scopes amazed me. Showed stuff in unprecedented detail and clarity. Just had to get used to them was all. Slowly, I lowered my eyes to the dual lens. It always took a moment to orient to the specimen’s perspective, to understand what we were really seeing.

Close up of snow flake. Created or by chance?

Six-sided snow crystals grow from the shape of 3-sided water molecules

“Wow …” escaped unbidden, unanticipated. A six-sided star shimmered, silvery translucent. Perfectly aligned ridges outlined its hexagonal center. From each corner a broad point protruded, each with three smaller hexagons. Balanced, harmonious, not all exactly alike, but nearly so. Complementary, not clashing.

“Have you done the …?” I started to ask.

“Yes,” she interrupted. “I’ve got the measurements.” Glancing back at the screen, she read aloud, “From point to point, it contains 5 quintillion water molecules.”


“That’s a thousand, billion for you non-math types,” she chided.

“Funny.” I said, not looking up. “The other points look equal. What does the read-out say?”

“All about the same size,” she replied.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” I straightened up, still kneeling. Rubbed my chin. Needed a shave already. After a moment, “So what are these supposed to be?”

Diane checked the auto ID on the scope. “Snowflakes.”


“Yeah, you know, the white stuff that falls from the sky,” she said.

“I know what snowflakes are, but these …” I considered the implications for a moment then said, “I think we’re dealing with the same guy.”

Animation of factory created inside a single cell

Factories inside a single cell, created to keep the cell alive so it can create other factories …

“Do you mean the single-cell case?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yep. Remember? The living cells we found couldn’t function, couldn’t even survive unless an internal part worked. But—and this is the knotty thing—that part couldn’t work unless it was already part of a living cell. So how does that happen? It’s almost like it was …”

“And what about that other case?” she interrupted connecting dots. “What’s it called…?”

Why do it? And why do it this way? On one hand, he’s really good at what he does, a first class pro who creates these things all the time.”

Earth’s conditions and situation fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle created to make life possible

“The privileged planet case.“ I stood up and brushed off my knees. These were going to the cleaners for sure. “You know, the one where a bunch of factors have to come together exactly right to make Earth life possible?”

“Heard about it,” she said still kneeling by her equipment.

Randy walked up, listened.

“It’s still open, by the way. Others like it are, too. A lot of ‘em, in fact. The Chief says it’s all coincidence. Just a bunch of random circumstances that happen to line up. I don’t buy it. I think it’s the same guy, and he actually created all this stuff.”

“You’re kidding me,” Randy shook his head.

“I know it sounds crazy, but humor me a moment.”

“Ok. For a moment,” he conceded.

Diane stood. Both looked at me, waiting.

“So let’s say, for discussion purposes only,” I nodded at Randy, “this guy created all this stuff.”

Randy raised an eyebrow.

“Come on, stay with me.”

Randy shrugged, but said nothing.

“Why do it?” I continued. “And why do it this way?”

“Clearly, he’s really good at what he does, a first class pro. But, if he is in fact making this stuff, it raises two big questions. First, he leaves all this evidence laying around. Obvious. In plain sight.” I swung my arms wide at the piles scattered over the whole area. “And every scene’s the same. Kinda like it’s his mark, his calling card.”

I looked back at them. “Second, his finger prints are all over everything. He doesn’t wear gloves. Doesn’t try the glue-on-finger-tips trick. Nothing. This guy creates all of this with his bare hands.”

Diane narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips then said, “It’s almost like he’s taunting us, daring us to find him.”

“Exactly! But what’s his motive? What does he want?”

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