An Axton to Grind

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The man in the trilby passed a small crowd outside an electronics store, catching a glimpse of the news station the televisions were turned to.

"… got reports of a stolen military vehicle on the loose. An unknown individual has stolen a M6…"

Not your usual Wednesday, he gathered from the voice. He would have stayed to watch the news himself, but he was already late and didn't want to waste any more time. Trilby walked across the unusually deserted street and spotted a phone booth in the distance, the blue trimming on the booth standing out from the dour San Diego evening. He quickened his pace to the phone booth, oblivious of the flight jacket-clad figure staying at a steady distance behind Trilby.

"Where is it, where is it?" Trilby asked himself. He was flipping through a small, black notebook when he found what he had been looking for. Several tones emanated from the payphone as the man dialed the phone number. 1-619-727-5465. He picked up the receiver and waited for the call to be patched to the other side.

"Hello, this is Sotherby-Charleston & Partners, how may I help you?" responded a male voice.

"Hello. I am inquiring about a Mrs. Amy Martins?"

"Hold on for a second." A click and a whirr was audible on the other side of the line.

"Does the Black Moon howl?" asked the now female voice.

"Only to herald the return of the White Sun." responded Trilby.

"You're late, Sloan. I was just about to leave!"

"Well, I'm here now Ame… err, Kabasic. You want me to report first?"

"Sure. Hit it."

Agent Sloan shuffled a bit at the phonebooth. Jacket was now at the corner of the sidewalk, curiously watching Sloan, who appeared to be intensely talking. Jacket fiddled with the object in their pocket.

"… but it's major. ANDANI's loose and ASP Corp. is starting to get upset. They think it's Kilgore." said Sloan.

"Certainly not. Nothing's happened here, as far as I can tell. It's no bother, anyway. We can just pick up this ANDANI project walking around like a mechanical toy."

"That's what I thought too. But I borrowed the files. I have them with me. This… thing is definitely anomalous. This level of tech? This quick? Impossible."

Sloan pulled out a small manila folder from under his coat and started to flip through the files. Jacket looked around for a second, before making a beat directly for Sloan.

"You think this is what the Foundation sent us out here for? What those reports were talking about?"

"Yeah. This project is more advanced than anyone had let on, Kabasic. This thing eats, breathes, sleeps, shits, and fucks like any other human being. And get this. They even made this thing, can you believe it, they made it able to reproduce. It seems like they, hold on," - Sloan turned the folder sideways - ", made it a doppleganger of someone here in San Diego. I've got a name… I can't read it very well but it seems to-"

Sloan let out a loud scream as Jacket twisted the knife into his stomach. The knife was retracted, then plunged again into Sloan's soft flesh. He gasped, before dropping to the ground like a stone. Jacket bent down, grabbed the dirtied files, and stepped over the puddle of blood and man on the floor before running off. Sloan could faintly hear the screams of "Hello, hello? David?" coming from the telephone grasped in his hands. He nudged the receiver closer to his mouth.

"Crawley …and Gamble… hurry, please…"

Sloan was already a corpse face down pool of blood by the time the phone call had ended.

— ~ —

"Crawley and Gamble Investigative Services." said the man, waving his hand over the glass office door.

"No, too long." the woman replied.

"Alright then, how about this: Crawley and Gamble Investigations."

"No, now that's too commonplace."

"Come on, Stephanie. Commonplace? I'd rather take commonplace than 'Crawley & Gamble, Suite 117.'"

"You're right, Axton, but I don't want our agency to get washed out. Anyway, what time is it?"

"Almost eleven o'clock."

"Let's go back inside. Our next client should be arriving soon."

The Crawley & Gamble detective agency was a medium-sized office with several rooms. The main area took up most of the office, and was filled with various chairs and sofas - some which had never been used, to Stephanie's dismay - for customers. There was a desk meant for a secretary, but the duo had not employed one for over a year. Although, it was very convenient for making their workforce appear larger than it actually was. The lobby was connected to both Crawley and Gamble's office. Crawley's office was slightly larger than Gamble's, and commanded a great view of Coronado bay, but Gamble's office was the one more commonly used.

Crawley and Gamble strolled into the lobby. Gamble put her hands on her hips and took a look around as Crawley walked towards a pair of mugs on the secretary's desk.

"This place is a mess. What's our client going to think when they see this?"

"Oh, come off of it, Stephanie. We just cleaned it yesterday." complained Crawley.

Gamble went towards one of the sofas and adjusted the cushions. Crawley picked up the green-colored mug and took a sip before nearly spitting out the drink. He took a look at the cream-colored liquid, then stole a glance at Gamble.

"Did you put sugar in my coffee?" quizzed Crawley.

"Yes, you said you wouldn't mind!"

"I wouldn't mind when there's actually more coffee than creamer!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I'll let you make the coffee next time." she said, disappearing into her office. Crawley followed right behind her.

"That's not what I mean-" Crawley said as Gamble, smiling, turned around and put her hands on his shoulders.

"Of course not, I'm just kidding. Do you really think I'd let you make the coffee?"

"Hello? Is anyone here?" asked a voice in the lobby. The duo stepped out into the lobby and was faced by a young, red-haired woman.

"Are you Crawley and Gamble?" the woman said.

"Yes, me Axton Crawley." He smiled as Gamble made a clicking noise.

"And I'm Stephanie Gamble. Nice to meet you."

"Same here! I had the 11:00 appointment, but it looked like your secretary was out so I just was checking if anyone was here, sorry." The woman extended her hand and the PIs each returned it with firm handshakes.

"How about we discuss your matter then? Right this way, please." Gamble turned around and opened the door as Crawley escorted the red-haired woman in. She pulled out a chair and sat in it as the other two took spots on the opposite side of the desk.

"Thank you for booking my appointment under such short notice."

"It's no problem, Miss-?"

"Miss Martins. Amy Martins."

"Miss Martins. Got it." finished Crawley.

"So why did you book an appointment with us, Ms. Martins?"

Martins hesitated a bit, and looked down at the back of her hands, which were neatly tucked between her legs. She looked back up at the PIs before responding.

"Well, I guess, here goes. Two days ago, during the night… err, evening, a good friend of mine was killed while he was talking to me on a phonebooth. This is him - his name was David Sloan. Worked as a technology advisor for ASP Corporation." Martins handed the PIs a picture, then looked back at her hands.

"I'm sorry for your loss. Do the police have a suspect?" asked Crawley, studying the photograph. Martins rubbed her thumb against her index finger. Stephanie put her hand on the woman's shoulder.

"They do, in fact. An unidentified person wearing a blue flight jacket." she said, straightening up.
"But that's not why I came here, actually. I'm not supposed to divulge this, but Mr. Sloan and I are agents of the Un-Ethical Advisory Committee. We were sent - undercover, of course - to see if the two biggest names in robotics this side of the country were doing anything immoral or illegal."

Crawley and Gamble looked at each other momentarily with a look of confusion before listening to the rest of their client's story.

"Now. Mr. Sloan had uncovered something big, a robotics project named ANDANI. He had some files regarding the project, and he was about to reveal them to me. I believe that's why he was killed."

"So you believe his murderer is related to ASP Corporation?" asked Crawley.


"Have you told any of this to anyone? Maybe the authorities?" Gamble asked.

"The authorities don't take this stuff very lightly, Mrs. Gamble. That's why I came to you two."

"I see. Now, do yo-"

A large crash and a scream emanated from the lobby. The three rushed out into the hall. The glass door to the office had been broken, and a man wearing a light grey trenchcoat lay on the shards that were scattered all over the floor. Crawley bent down and turned the man over onto his back. He was thin, covered in light scratches, and his shirt was also soaked with blood. He grasped Gamble's arm tightly and spoke something softly. Martins was standing back a bit, with her hands over her mouth.

"Doctor Grey!" Martins yelled. Crawley looked at Martins and pointed to the man.

"You know him?"

"Yes! He's the lead scientist where I work, Kilgore Incorporated." replied Martins. The man moaned and mumbled some words, slightly louder than before.

"We can't hear you. Can you say that again?" Gamble said.

"Ppp… please help me… someone… someone is trying to kill me." muttered Grey.

"Who? Who? Who's trying to kill you?" Crawley asked.

"M… me."

— ~ —

"Thank god it was only a flesh wound. I thought I was dead." mused Doctor Grey. "I'm in real debt to you three."

"Oh, I did nothing, Doctor. It was these two who got you better. Are you alright?" Martins said, rubbing a finger against her chin.

Crawley finished wrapping the doctor's injury before throwing the bloody shirt in the trash can. Grey patted his new bandages before sitting up on Crawley's desk. Crawley helped ease the man to the ground, and Grey took a seat on a vacant chair in the office.

"I'm admittedly very shaken up. If I may ask, whose office did I barge into?" Grey gave a toothy smile to the others.

"We run a private investigation firm. I'm Axton Crawley."

"And I'm Stephanie Gamble."

"That's… convenient. I know I owe you my life-" Doctor Grey trailed off, looking out towards the window. "Could I trouble you by hiring you?" he finished.

"Well, Ms. Martins here was just about to do the same." Gamble said, palming towards Martins. "However, since you two work in the same building, I'm sure we can work out a schedule."

"That's exemplary! Thank you two so much for everything." Grey attempted to get up, but clutched his side and sat back down.

"Now, Dr. Grey-"

"Mr. Grey is fine with me."

"Alright then. Mr. Grey, you said that, before you nearly passed out, you were trying to kill yourself. What did you mean by that?"

"Oh. I was walking to work this morning, it's always good to be early," Grey looked back out the window, "but as I was walking, this man tried to shoot at me. Well, more than tried."

"What did the man look like?" queried Gamble.

"That's the thing. He looked just like me: the same hairstyle, the same glasses, the same clothes. Everything looked just like me. I'm sure my wife could mistake him for me. I thought it was a bad dream at first, but it got worse."

"So, this, uhh, doppleganger attempted to kill you? Do you know why?"

"No, I don't. He got me in the side and I just ran away in the nearest building and office I could - and… and I ended up here. He didn't follow me up. Maybe he was trying to kill me to impersonate me? I have no clue."

Crawley sighed and plopped himself in his swivel chair by the window. Suddenly, a hole in his desk appeared followed by the sound of glass breaking. Gamble, Grey, and Martins all looked with the window with one thought in their mind.

"Down, down!" yelled Crawley. Grey hit the ground, Gamble laying on top of him, and Martins had her back to a wall, out of view of the window. Crawley, surrounded by shards of glass, was stuck under the window.

Several bullets whizzed overhead as several rifle rounds embedded themselves into Crawley's desk, the chair Grey had been sitting on, and the office door. The shots stopped as suddenly as they had started. The four looked up at the window, wondering if the shooter was still there. Crawley motioned for Gamble's attention.

"Stephanie, pass me the shirt inside the trash can." asked Crawley. Stephanie gave him a curt nod. She reached over Grey, snagged an end of the shirt and pulled it closer towards herself. She balled up the shirt and tossed it to Crawley.

"Thanks." He took the central pole from his swivel chair, propped the shirt up on the end of the pole, and poked the contraption over the windowsill several times. Hearing nor seeing any response to the makeshift dummy, Crawley carefully peeked his head out the window.

"I think we're safe." Crawley stated.

Martins, Gamble, and Grey got out of their hiding spots and came towards the window.

"By that rate of fire, that had to have been a semi-automatic rifle. Not bolt action." said Martins.

"You're pretty knowledgeable about guns." Gamble said.

"Oh, uhh, I'm just, uhh, a member of a local shooting club. It's not very big." replied Martins.

"You think the shots came from there?" Crawley asked. He pointed to the roof of the building across the street.

"I don't think so. It does look like a good vantage point, though." Grey conceded.

"This is the third incident in the span of half an hour. I think we're getting in over our heads, Axton."

"I think this is the perfect amount of excitement to spice up a case. I'll call over Captain Pronin. I'll also see if we can get Mr. Grey some better treatment. We know one thing for sure now, though."

"And what is that?" asked Grey. Crawley picked up the phone, dialed 911, and looked seriously at Dr. Grey.

"Someone wants you dead very badly."

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submitted to scholastic: 12/4/18