Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chapter seven: But of course he knew I was lying.

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Calvin and I took a pneumatic tube to the clinic where Doria had dried out a year earlier. Most of the transport tubes run east west because of the wind shear, and every year they extend them a little further out along the Circle, the linkage of connected bloon clusters that circumnavigates Venus at the equator. Someday there will be tube transport that circumnavigates the globe as well, just like the data pipes do now. Maybe someday they'll widen the damn things enough so that more than two people can sit abreast in them, or make the roofs high enough so someone as tall as I am doesn't get his head bumped when the top is zipped down on the tube car.

City expansion favors the east/west direction, just like the transport lines do, and the cluster that contained the rehab clinic could expect to be annexed sometime in the next few years. The clinic itself was an old bloon, still viable, but with streaks of brown and yellow in its photosynthetic surfaces. Inside it felt warm and homey, just the sort of place for a detoxing patient to try to learn to master the cravings that had led them to make whatever Faustian bargains that had gotten them there.

Biochemical detox itself is no big deal; there are at least a dozen treatments that bring about a gentle shift of metabolism from drug dependent to sobriety. Maintaining the sobriety is something else again, because the cravings can sink their hooks into the personality and soul of the addict. Many addicts run a cycle of euphoria, habituation, detoxification, then relapse, okay if you can afford it, maybe, but society as a whole often cannot. On Luna, the cycle gets broken in a straightforward manner, get addicted and you get forcibly treated. Relapse and you're work-ganged. On Venus, the options are more variable.

Skyhook Authority and the Sky City government run a number of charitable programs, and the rehab clinics are an example. Turn yourself in for detox, and for a small fee or subsequent contract work, they'll take care of you. But rehab counseling comes with the deal, and if the overall success rate is lousy, its backers can rightfully claim that it works better than doing nothing at all, though maybe not as cheap.

The Fields Clinic ran on a Skyhook grant and private donations. It was City licensed, even if it wasn't yet in the City proper, so most of its clients were City inhabitants. Some were even City employees. Being outside the City, though, had its advantages, since it made it easier for those who passed through to remain obscure. You didn't need to pass through an ID checkpoint to get to Fields Clinic, and many of its clients came under a pseudonym.

Much to our annoyance, of course.

The doctor who had treated Doria Adams was named Lou Chan. Despite his name he was a male caucasian with graying hair and smile lines on his face, though he wasn't using the smile when we came in. He'd stood up from behind his desk when we entered his office and I figured him at about a hundred and sixty five centimeters, and maybe sixty five kilos, with not much of it muscle. He looked fiftyish, but age retardants can shave five or ten years off somebody's looks, and Dr. Chan was highly enough placed to have access to all the best gerontologicals. I could think of no obvious reason for the immediate dislike I felt for him, except that it might serve our purposes for me to be abrasive. Chan's record indicated that he was a psych therapist and he had an obvious concern for his patients that was probably sincere. I expect that he did as good a job of separating a client from his or her soul killing habits as anyone. It was just too bad that he stood in the way of our investigation.

"Look, Mr. Lee, Mr. Honlin," he said after our initial questions. "Confidentiality is part of the service that we offer. Surely you can understand that."

"I don't give a goddamn," I said. It's not too much of a stretch for me to sound menacing, so I let nature take its course. "We're investigating a murder here. A very nasty murder that one of your patients may have been involved with. You can plead patient privilege all you want, but if it turns out that you've withheld even a scrap of information that might be important, I'll have your license for toilet paper, and I'll see to it that Skyhook shuts this place down, you got that?"

His lips compressed in a brave line and he seemed about to offer a retort, but Calvin beat him to it.

"Lay off, Ed," he told me. "Dr. Chan, my associate is a little excitable about this because he knew the murder victim. We don't know what sort of information might help us, so we're a little bewildered and frustrated. But we do think that we need to talk to Doria Adams, who was a client here about a year ago. Conceivably, you or one of your other clients might know something to help us get in contact with Miss Adams. And if she is involved, it might be very dangerous for her if we don't find her soon. Is there anything at all you can tell us that might help?"

He considered this. "You've already got my notes and records," he observed. "Over my extreme protest, I might add. I do remember Miss Adams, albeit more vaguely than I would like. We have twenty to thirty patients here at any given time, and the duration is less than a month, so you can imagine that I can't remember them all.

"I do remember that she was young, bright, and attractive, exactly the sort of person prone to burn-out in the fast life. I recommended that she try positional employment in the farm clusters when she left, and I'm happy to see that she took my advice. Farming is good occupational therapy, and migratory work can give vent to some of the more flight prone natures.

"She made friends easily. The men in her group were obviously attracted to her, but she got on well with the women also. She had the knack for not letting her attractiveness reflect on others."

He paused for a moment of reflection, then said, "Frankly, as I talk about it some of it comes back to me. She was a good group therapy patient, not so much for how much it helped her, but because she was so good in drawing out the others. She seemed forthright in speaking about her own past, although I am always a little suspicious of that, but the others always took her revelations as a cue that it was all right to unburden themselves. It made my work much easier."

He paused for a second, and shook his head. "I don't encourage my patients to remain in contact with me," he said, as if admitting a failing. "When my methods work, they work fairly quickly. We use a combination of 'the talking cure' and behavior modification. If you watch what you are doing, you have a better chance of changing it. So most of what I hear from the clients of this clinic comes from the voluntary follow-ups.
If you must contact any of the clients, please try not to let them know that their privacy was ultimately just a sham.
"But the patients often vow to remain in touch with each other; often they actually do. In the follow up interviews, this often comes across as a big reason why it works when it works. The clients learn a new skill, sobriety, and they develop a network of people who appreciate that skill.

"And as I said earlier, Doria was attractive. I would not be surprised to learn that some of the other patients had made an effort to keep in touch with her. I daresay that one or two of them may have had romantic designs on her. Something may even have happened while she was here. We try to give our clients as much privacy as we can."

He looked at Calvin and shrugged. "That's all I have. You have my notes. If you must contact any of the clients, please try not to let them know that their privacy was ultimately just a sham. They may need the refuge of another sham someday."

He turned to me. He said, "I'm familiar with the usual interrogation techniques, of course, and the 'good cop/bad cop' ploy is moderately effective even when the suspect knows what is going on. Even so, I could be more obdurate except that there is the possibility that Miss Adams might be in the sort of danger to which Mr. Lee alluded. But please don't again threaten me with political interference. I don't like to be bluffed."

I hadn't been bluffing exactly, since Skyhook was capable of doing everything that I had said. But he was correct in that they probably wouldn't use a hammer on him just for being recalcitrant.

"Fair enough," I told him. "If I ever want to do you harm, I won't bluff. I'll just break all the bones in your left hand."

I meant it as a joke, I think, but something of it must have come out wrong, because some of the blood drained from his face, and Calvin Lee beside me gave an almost inaudible gasp.


We left the clinic in an awkward silence. The tube was several bloon lengths away and we walked silently through the dimly lit corridors, periodically passing through the air curtains that separated each public bloon from the next. The floors of the public thoroughfares are springy and make walking easier, unlike house bloons which tend to have softer, more damping surfaces to reduce noise. You think about stuff like that when you're trying to avoid thinking about something else.
I meant it as a joke, I think, but something of it must have come out wrong…
"I've tried getting more information about you from Luna, you know," Calvin Lee said at length. I grunted noncommittally. He was a cop with a cop's curiosity. Besides, nobody expected him to be comfortable working with a question mark.

"Most of it came up dry, of course," he said. "But our chief of police knows a guy, I'm naming no names here, and this guy knows some pretty well-connected people back on Luna. So after a few questions, messages back and forth, yesterday I get this email message from a guy named Josephson. You heard of him?"

"If it's Dewey A. Josephson, he's the assistant deputy head of Pan Luna Security." I said. "Or at least he was when I was there. Every Luna cop pretty much knows about every upper echelon security politico, and they stay put for quite a while, so he's probably the guy."

"'One of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.' That's laying it on pretty thick don't you think?"

"He's first deputy, now," said Lee. "Answers only to the Minister and Chief of Security. Pretty powerful guy, I'd say. Very upside."

"Good for him," I replied.

"Anyway, I get this message from him. It says, blah, blah, blah, heard about your case, blah, blah, blah, would appreciate any information that develops concerning Skyhook/Luna trade, blah, blah, blah.

"Then it says, 'We've been told that Mr. Edwin Honlin, formerly of Luna City Police and Pan Luna Security operations has been involved in the case on an advisory basis. Let me mention that it is our belief that any involvement in any capacity by Mr. Honlin is a positive development. Pan Luna Security holds Mr. Honlin and his capabilities in the highest regard, and considers him to be one of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.'" Lee smiled at me. "'One of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.' That's laying it on pretty thick don't you think?"

"Josephson's a politician," I said. "Believe him like you believe any other politician. Someday, he'll probably want something from somebody for the testimonial. Shake hands, count your fingers."

"Maybe," Lee said thoughtfully. "Or maybe he already got his pound of flesh. My well-connected friend told me that Josephson mentioned off the record that he owed his job to you. You have something to do with his promotion?"

I said nothing.

"Maybe not his promotion," Lee continued. "I've studied law a little, and the Lunar constitution is a real nice piece of work. There's an article in it about succession after untimely death and assassination, did you know that?"

"I've read it a few times," I replied.

"Yeah, I'll bet. Anyway, part of the deal with assassinations is that if one of the top guys gets bumped off, the head of Pan Luna Security loses his job and is forbidden to hold office again. Any public office. Ever. And tradition has it that he takes the first two or three layers of the Security organization with him. They all get fired. The idea was to keep any Security heads from getting power hungry and maybe participating in an assassination plot."

"Grade school history," I told him. "Seventy, no, eighty years ago. The plot of '06. Nearly caused a civil war."

"Right," he said. "So if there were a major assassination on Luna, our Mr. Josephson would lose his job, as would his boss and maybe twenty or thirty other guys. Really important guys."

"So what's your point?" I asked, anxious to get this entire topic of conversation over with.

"Well," he said, with just a trace of smugness. "I was just wondering how grateful those guys could be. Seems to me that anyone having to do with foiling the sort of thing that could make them join the ranks of the unemployed, well, that sort of thing could be pretty big news. If it ever got out, I mean. But there was never any news like that, so it either never happened, or they put a deep black security blanket over it. Even so, those guys should be mighty grateful, don't you think?"

"I wouldn't know," I told him.

"Maybe not," he said. "But gratitude like that can usually let a man write his own ticket. What do you think would make a man take the ticket and make it a one way to Venus, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars?"

"I wouldn't know that either," I told him, but of course he knew I was lying.

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