Saturday, November 3, 2007

Chapter nine: AKA, 'not his real name.'

Previous Chapter

Besides Wilma Fiore and Jean Fallow, both of whom lived nearly half the world away on the Circle, Deeth Moran was our only remaining contact for the therapy group that was itself our only slim connection to Doria Adams. Neither Calvin nor I expected much from Moran, and we were not disappointed.

Moran worked the docking bays and warehouses on the underside of the City Hub, well below from the Skyhook terminus, but within the City's center zone. Reaching the Hub underside from the area of the police headquarters was a matter of elevator transport and a modicum of walking. The warehouse bloons are very large, dirigible-sized, each with a single entry point for security. The connecting corridors are narrow, large enough for a two narrow wheeled lifts to barely pass.

From what Mrs. Low had said about Moran, it seemed a good idea to be discreet in our inquiries, so I asked the shift boss to see Moran, but didn't identify myself as being from the police.

"Who's looking for him?" the shift boss asked, in a tone that made me dislike the man instantly. He was a short stocky little fellow, with shoulders not quite broad enough to carry all the chips stacked on them.

"I'm a private investigator working on a missing persons case," I told him. "Mr. Moran knows a friend of the individual who is missing, that's all. I'm just looking for a little information, nothing fancy."

"Moran gets off in fifteen minutes," the boss said. "You can see him then. Until then, get lost, we've got work here."

Calvin and I beat a retreat. "Very diplomatic," he observed. "And you didn't even have to lie."

"I probably should have, though," I said. "Telling bits of the truth is dangerous. If you just decide to lie it's not as easy to get tripped up."

"I've heard people say the opposite," he replied. "That twisting the truth is the best way to lie."

"They're wrong," I told him.

Moran got off his shift a bit late, probably because his boss decided to jerk our chains a little. Such men are their own punishment. It's too bad that it spills over onto the rest of us sometimes.

"There's a bar two levels up," Moran told us. "Let's go there to talk."
"Telling bits of the truth is dangerous. If you just decide to lie it's not as easy to get tripped up."

The bar was a laborer's hangout. Moran asked for his usual, Calvin for soda water, and I had a gin and tonic, maybe from remembering Marjori Low. Moran's usual was a beer. When we sat down he took a sip of it, leaned forward a bit and whispered, "It's non-alcoholic. I try to stay away from the real stuff these days."

It was both funny and sad, actually. Moran was a large man, nearly my height and probably out-massing me by ten or fifteen kilos. His hair was mid-tone brown and close cut, and he had small ears. He also had several tattoos, fancy ones of dragons and firebirds, of the sort that spacers get up in Anchorage. Some spacers have their entire bodies covered, to make up for the induced baldness and to help shield them from solar UV.

But there was something timid about Deeth Moran, for all his size and strength. I knew at a glance that in a fight I could take him in about two seconds, and that he probably couldn't even out-tussle Calvin Lee. Moran had a boss that bullied him, and he was embarrassed by a former set of addictions and embarrassed by his abstinence, embarrassed enough to drink de-alcoholized beer while acting like he was just having his usual brew with the boys.

Well, none of that was my problem. Moran told us briefly how he'd gotten hooked on uppers while working two shifts, because he'd needed the money for some extra expenses that had come up. Moran supported his mother and two sisters, and one of the sisters had some medical bills that had caught them by surprise, so the loyal son had stepped into the breach. After a double shift with an amphetamine buzz, alcohol was the downer he began to need put the brakes on to sleep. By the time he realized he was hooked, it was too late to kick without help. So he took his vacation time and checked into Fields.

We asked him about the people in his group, Doria especially. It turned out that Doria was the one he remembered. He spoke of her with the sort of obvious love that the downtrodden show for the unattainable. And no, he'd never heard from her after the program ended. I gave my number to Moran in the outside chance that he'd think of anything to help us find Doria or any of the other missing group members, then Calvin and I left for police headquarters.


Dawn was only a few hours away, and we were still bleary-eyed staring at another holorez computer screen. The Venus citizen registry database is incomplete compared to Luna, where every living thing is cross-filed down to its DNA patterns. On Venus, out of maybe ten million humans, probably ninety nine percent of them have at least a listing in the main storage memory in Anchorage at the other end of the Skyhook. Luna immigrants, of course, have full personal files, as do Anchorage and Skyhook personnel. A Sky City visa at a minimum requires a coded Ident bracelet plus fingerprints and retinal scans. City residents have school and work assignment records as well.

Beyond City borders, records vary. Most Great Circle residents are as Big-Brother-visible as City folk. At the other end of the scale are the comm-less clusters, of which there are an unknown number, many tracing their histories back to the early settlers who came before the Plague that took the Earth. Most clusters are on the comm net, though, and most with comm links participate in the census, because Skyhook Authority gives a price break if they do. The accuracy of the volunteered information has been the subject of numerous studies.

"Our problem," said Calvin Lee in frustration, "is that the Fields Clinic is outside the City and they have that damn confidentiality policy. They don't do ID checks, in other words, and many of their clients pay cash. Apparently, at least half of their clients come in under phony names and they don't bother to ask them about it."
"That could turn up every other homosexual couple in Sky City that took a vacation outside."

"Well, I certainly agree that all substance abuse clinics should set themselves up to make our job easier," I said, and saw my irony rewarded by a dirty look from Calvin. "But, gosh, they seem to have tried to take their clients wishes into greater account. Go figure."

I waited a moment, then said, "Chan knows more than he lets on. It's maybe not worth shaking his tree too hard, not until we run out of other options."

He looked at me in mild surprise. "Yes," he agreed, as if to encourage further signs of empathy and restraint from my direction. "Well, it behooves us to come up with other options, then, doesn't it? Any suggestions?"

"I was hoping for a brainstorm from the Sky City representative," I said. "Finding Thomas Roberts sounds like a good first move."

"Agreed," he said. "Or maybe we could find Michael Williams, probably not his real name, who may or may not have a connection to Roberts, also aka, 'not his real name.'"

"Mrs. Low did suggest that Roberts was a City resident," I observed. "Which means that he probably had to pass through the City checkpoints when he went out, and then when he came back in."

"Yeah, I thought of that," he told me, indicating the computer screen. "But there are over two thousand City limit checkpoints, each averaging over a hundred passes per day. That's almost a quarter million exits and entrances each day we choose to sort."

"Most are day trips though," he continued. "And three quarters of the longer trips are tourists coming in."

"So how many City residents took month-long trips at the correct time?" I asked.

"Nearly three thousand," he said. "Way too many."

"Males in their mid twenties with light brown hair?"

"Over two hundred."

I thought for a moment. "That's low enough for a photo lineup. Mrs. Low or Deeth Moran could..."

He interrupted me with a shake of his head. "We don't do yearly photo IDs like on Luna," he said. "You get photographed only if you need a special license. We might have file photos on thirty or forty of them, and most of those would be older photos. We'll try it, but..."

"We'll probably come up dry," I finished for him. "While we're trying long shots, let's try something else. Let's guess that Thomas and Mick came in together. Let's guess that Mick was there to keep an eye on Tommy boy, in fact, maybe he's a bodyguard or a nanny, or something. If Thomas was a golden child, he might well have come with a keeper."

Lee pondered this for a moment. "That might explain how Mrs. Low thought she'd seen him before, mightn't it? Overlapping social circles. Okay, so if that was the case, then we're looking for a double pattern. Two men leaving and coming back together. At most a fifteen year age difference, so that will eliminate father/son combos." He grinned. "That could turn up every other homosexual couple in Sky City that took a vacation outside."

"Try putting a filter on it to keep out co-residents, then," I told him.

He shook his head. "If Mick really was a bodyguard, he might live on the same premises. But we can put in an income and job status filter. The younger man would class as wealthy, the older man as salaried."

A few minutes at the keyboard and we were left with a blank screen. "Progress of a sort," Lee said blackly.

"Expand the time window," I suggested. "Put three weeks on either side of the clinic time." But that still gave us nothing. Apparently, wealthy young men were not prone to the company of slightly older working stiffs, even as lovers.

"Okay," he said. "Let's follow this. Maybe Thomas has a job. Instead of a trust fund from mommy or daddy, he has a job in the family firm."

"That gets rid of the income filter," I said.

"Maybe not," he replied. "The bodyguard probably won't make as much as the kid."

"Unless he's on a tight leash," I said. "Try just killing the income filter and see what we get."
"Progress of a sort," Lee said blackly.

He shrugged and entered the codes.

We couldn't have found them if we hadn't already expanded the search, because they'd stayed out of the City for an additional two weeks after the clinic. But among the four sets of two names that came up on the screen, there they were. Robert Thomas Grayling, and Roy Michael Deere had left the City together and returned together. Thomas Grayling worked for a company that was owned by his father, Robert Whitley Grayling, and Deere was on the elder Grayling's personal staff.

And Robert Whitley Grayling was one of the wealthiest men on Venus.

Next Chapter


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