PC du Toit – ‘QR’, a short story

Aaron Smith was usually a solitary man, he liked to keep to himself; relatively new to the police life, he had just become a detective in his division. He was very different in the work place to outside of his job. Aaron was a lot more confident in his job but was still considered to be a ‘youngster’ by all the other men, who all seemed like veterans in the police force to him. Aaron was only 26 at the time with no parents or anyone to call family, he was an orphan since he was born. To this day it chilled Detective Smith to think that he never had anyone meaningful in his life. Nevertheless, he was a determined man, he went to Cambridge and gained a masters degree in psychiatry. He prospered. He landed here in the summer of 2016 as a rookie detective.

Aaron was confined to minor cases, such as robberies and arson, which severely restricted him. Detective Smith lived for 6 months handling the arduous, mundane an monotonous cases that were so unfulfilling and frankly patronising. Aaron knew he had more to offer.

On the morning of the 18th of July he walked into the precinct, but he noticed there was something slightly ominous, something out of place. He knew something wasn’t right. There was a clear variation between the actions and presence of his co-workers. Some were manic and alert, others were very much reserved, but even they seemed bewildered. The DCIs were furiously tapping away at their keyboards like they were possessed. The office was never this preoccupied. In this part of the world there was never much to worry about in terms of serious crimes. But as detective Smith could infer, there was some form of peculiar, even idiosyncratic crime. This was an extraordinary case. Something different; something unexpected.

He realised this was his opportunity to substantiate his role as an astonishingly talented detective. Aaron wanted this case, he wanted to be the one to solve it, even before knowing what it involved. Aaron was an intellectual, a very smart man. He could pick out the finer details, the intricacies of a situation, better than any other man could. He tried to work his way into this case that had caused such uproar. It took time, but he communicated with the right people and eventually managed to secure an interview. “This is your chance kiddo, your only chance; show us what you’ve got. Show me that you aren’t just another rookie,” came the reply, somewhat cliché from the esteemed chief super intendant after a few minutes. It didn’t matter, he was in. Not only that, but Aaron was promoted there and then. The chief was a spontaneous man, he lived his life on gut instinct, or as others in the department interpret it, “a bit trigger happy”.

Detective Smith was taken to the crime scene within a few hours, however it was already very dark by 2am. It was a very cold and quiet evening, he could hear the flicker of street lamps and even the sound of pencils making an imprint on the papers of the forensic team. The aura at the crime scene was sombre, but professional, it was clear to detective Smith that the forensic team and analysts had been here for some time. He subsequently donned some gloves and proceeded to examine the body of the victim. As he had anticipated, it was very unusual. Under the artificial light of the halogens, watching closely over the white sheet, the body lay. The myriad forensic equipment lay scattered around the sheet, each indicating something significant about the body or the scene. The sight was morbid and sickening, the body of the young male lay naked and lifeless.

No arms, no legs and no head. The cuts were worryingly clean, as if performed by a professional; someone who was trained. They were perfect, so immaculate. This was naturally what had evoked such a solemn aura. It worried everybody. Everybody knew it. “We aren’t dealing with a murderer, we are dealing with a maniac, a psychopath, someone compulsively accurate with their technique. Someone special.” Remarked the chief investigator. This was obvious to detective Smith, but nonetheless frightened him somewhat. He could sense everybody was on edge. The murder was undoubtably carried out by someone who was skilled, however there was something else about the victim. Something that was even more puzzling, something profound.

Etched meticulously into the already pale skin of the victim’s chest was an all too familiar pattern to Aaron. The flesh of the victim was already starting to give off a rancid smell, coming and going at regular intervals. It was comparable to vomit. Somehow preserved, as the body around it started to deteriorate he saw a QR code. It seemed so precise, detective Smith assumed that it must have been formed using a laser cutter of some sort. Upon closer inspection he recognised a gel like substance covering the symbol, with a slightly blue tinge; Similar to that of bioluminescence. It had the consistency of hand cream. The difference between the flesh of the QR code and the surrounding flesh was obvious. There were blotches of blood surrounding the raised components of the code. However, Aaron’s notion of hope of at least finding the victim’s identity was very quickly diminished. He was alerted to the fact that the forensic team had already tested the samples of blood and there was no match for anyone on the police database. It was untraceable. The gel was not only used to preserve the Quick Response code, but to scramble the DNA from the blood. “Genius!” Aaron thought. At this point detective Smith accepted that this case was going to be much more challenging and demanding than he had originally anticipated. The criminal was already gloating, trying to deceive them. “He’s bloody smart, I’ll give him that” remarked one of the officers chuckling, somewhat impressed.  Aaron took 5 minutes to just recuperate after the puzzling concept of the crime and to come up with a plan of action. He decided his first port of call was to gather any information that the forensic team and the ‘techs’ had uncovered about the case, and more specifically the body.

“We estimate that the victim was around the age of 23, he was relatively healthy” stated one man from the forensic team. “Is that all we have?” Exclaimed Aaron, becoming slightly frustrated.

“Unfortunately yes sir, this guy is good, very good. We can’t find DNA anywhere on the body. All the hair has been waxed off and we obviously can’t take fingerprints. Any DNA that we have found, isn’t the victim’s, quite likely planted there too. And all the victim’s blood has been drained. The blood found on the code was only left there to patronise us. I’m sure you can tell this isn’t a minor case, this will be difficult.”. Aaron paused to think. He walked away without saying a thing, trying to comprehend the complexity and ramifications of this crime. He moved swiftly over to the techs and immediately started questioning them. “Tell me about the QR code!” He said abruptly. One of the young tech guys (called Alex) replied enthusiastically in quick succession to detective Smith. “A QR code, stands for quick response, it can be scanned and interpreted by a smartphone or a dedicated QR reader. Once recognised it will redirect you to a specific URL, location on a map or even a social media post. It is…..”.

“Stop! I know what a bloody QR code is. I want to know what the code on the body did. Where did it take you?” He said loudly, getting frustrated. Alex hesitated but answered Aaron. ” No one has scanned it yet sir. We haven’t been given clearance” he said, his voice thick with anxiety.

“Well I am giving you clearance, Alex”.

Everybody on the scene swarmed to the body like bees to see the result of scanning the code. It took a few minutes. The ‘techs’ were plugging all sorts of cables from the iPhone into their hi tech laptops, sensors and readers. They did this in an attempt to backtrace the URL or web destination of the code to find the original source (through a IP address) and to de-encrypt any viruses or programmes that could appear. As smart as Aaron was, he didn’t understand most of it. But, if it worked, he didn’t care. Some people started to become impatient and others were still admiring the elaborateness and time taken to ‘perform’ this crime.

After 8 or so minutes, the techs were ready to scan. At this point the chief superintendent arrived with a deluded look on his face. Everyone on the scene turned to face him. He didn’t understand the gravity of this case at the time, but then again, neither did Aaron. The superintendent paced slowly over to the body. As the chief arrived at the scene he was perplexed by the body, just as many of the others were the first time they saw the victim. He smiled and chuckled. He had worked in the police force for 36 years, but had never been this excited. Aaron was surprised by his joy at witnessing such a harrowing scene. However, detective Smith immediately realised that the chief lived for a challenge. The chief was excited because he wanted to solve this case. He had a similar disposition to Aaron.

The fact that the superintendent was even here at this time showed that he was interested and somewhat intrigued. He walked over to Aaron to inquire about the case. He wanted to know more. Aaron told him everything he knew and any other details that he had interpreted and discovered himself. Much of this was to impress the chief, but was still important. The chief asked the same question about the code as Aaron did. Detective Smith explained that they were just about to scan the code.

The chief joined the group of people assimilating near the body. He removed his blazer and tie, placed them on the forensics’ table and undid the top button of his shirt. the whole group (about 15 people now) went silent. Alex stepped forward and kneeled reluctantly next to the slowly decomposing corpse. The overpowering smell again hitting them all, making a few noticeably gag. It was so quiet Aaron heard Alex tap at his phone to unlock it, which was followed by the audible ‘click’ as the iPhone unlocked. Alex opened up the QR reader and held his phone over the chest of the rotting man. “A QR code on a body? This can’t seriously work, can it?” Thought one man. Alex’s hand was shaking profusely and the other covering his nose. The screen almost instantly altered, it was redirected.

The disparity in feeling was clear amongst the group of people. Alex’s face was rigid with anticipation and fear, Aaron’s eyes were fixated upon the screen, his anxiety raging, and the chief was smiling like the Cheshire cat, but behind the face was something deeper, a real feeling pure excitement and adventure. In that moment, although it happened so quickly, everything seemed to freeze; everything stood still. Aaron’s mind raced through every possible outcome, he analysed anything that his mind could grasp at to make sense of who the killer could be, where he comes from, what he looks like, why he did it? Something clicked in his head. It was there and then gone within an instant, something integral, something key that he had missed in his emotionally fuelled examination of the scene. He tried to clutch onto the thought, but it slipped through his fingers, it was futile. Immediately he snapped back.

Dozens of eyes were perusing the screen of the device held in front of them, waiting for something to happen. And then it came. As soon as it materialised on the screen people started to mutter and whisper to each other. The techs furiously tapped away at their keys constantly looking up at each other. Alex remained composed and just stared at the screen trying to comprehend what it meant…

Leave a Reply