Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chapter twenty: "What a thoroughgoing cockup"

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Once Calvin and I got our dead guy into the vehicle, we gave him a once over and tried to figure out why he was dead. His face was contorted and his body looked like it had undergone spasm death throes. It could easily have been CO2 poisoning, but Calvin wasn't so sure.

"This looks more extreme than what I've seen before," he said. "Anyway, I'd bet he was killed, rather than dying by accident."

I looked at our corpse, who'd been dressed in the same body suit and helmet as all the rest we'd seen. "How so?" I asked.

He'd pulled off the guy's gloves, and he pointed to his wrist. "No ID bracelet. He was here illegally."

"You think somebody killed him for that?" I asked.

"No," he answered. "I think he was killed to keep him quiet. I think his being an illegal made him more of a risk. We might spot him; we could detain him and nobody could spring him, we'd have leverage."

"Poor bastard," I said. "I wonder if there were any others like him back there?"

We never found out. The explosions from the abandoned operation got larger and larger, and a fire had started in the chemical works next door. We heard the news on our way back that they'd decided that the entire level had to be dumped. No one was willing to go into a set of bloons that were coming apart at the seams. They managed to save the waste bloons, though the waste shaft suffered some damage. But the entire lowest level of industrial bloons, all eighteen of them, were cut loose to drop into the clouds below. Fortunately, it was a clear drop. Some places in the City have people living lower down.

We got back to Police Department headquarters, docked our bloon and got a stretcher at the docking area to transport our prize. Calvin and I removed our bubblemasks as well, and immediately realized why the other few people in the docking area had given us such strange looks when we arrived. I'd thought it was because of the body, but police personnel are used to bodies showing up. No, it was because we stank. The smell of smoke clung to us with a miasmatic intensity, and I felt my own nose wrinkling at it.

"Whew," said Calvin. "I think we'd better get separate body bags for our clothing, too."

"They qualify as evidence, anyway," I agreed. We commed down to the morgue and hauled our burden there, then changed into spare clothing. All that we had been wearing was now tagged as evidence, with the grime that we carried soon to pass through chromatographic analysis to find out how many different kinds of smoke we'd been through.

Calvin also left instructions that the body was to receive a thorough autopsy at Skyhook medical center. Then he turned to me.

"I need to get out of here, how about you?"

I nodded my assent.

"You prefer beer or wine?" he asked.

"I think this was a beer day," I told him.

"Sounds right," he said. Then we left.


There are about a dozen major biome parks in Sky City, all of them at the topmost level, little hillocks in the expanse of green and silver. Calvin and I went to Whisper Park, a semi-tropical biome whose lush vegetation and shadowy landscaping casts a spell of quietude over most of its visitors. We took up a position near the edge of a forest of dwarf trees, near a waste chute where we could "feed the biome" when bladder pressure built too high. Drinking liquor in the park was technically illegal, but who was going to hassle a cop about it?

"What a thoroughgoing cockup," Calvin said ruefully. He obviously wasn't talking about either the park or the view, both of which were very nice. Condensation distorted the sight of the City out and down below the bloon wall where we sat, but the late afternoon sky outside gave a pink cast to the City and the park itself.

"Cockup is one word for it," I agreed as I flipped a pebble into a small pool of water that had dripped down from a tree branch.

"I'm not used to this sort of thing, you know," he said. "I like to investigate knife fights and insurance scams, not this reach-for-it-and-more-people-start-dying bit. This is more like some kind of war."

"I wouldn't say it's standard practice on the Moon, but it happens plenty," I told him. "It's a side effect of secrecy, and that's a side effect of, well, life on Luna, actually. The closer you pack people, the more they need their secrets."

He nodded absently. He was too preoccupied to ask me more about criminal behavior on Luna, I guess. So his next question caught me by surprise.

"Have you ever been married?"

The lie was easier than the complicated half truth. "No," I told him.

"I've been thinking of it," he said. "There's a lady that I'm very interested in, and I think it's mutual. But she's not sure how close she wants to get to a cop."

"I can see how that might be the case," I observed.

"I understand that the police are pretty high up on the social scale on Luna," he said. "Not like here. Here we're closer to loan officers, or waste treatment engineers."

"We all have our crosses to bear," I said.

He grinned at me. "Thanks, I was beginning to think you might be sympathetic to my plight."

"I am," I told him. "More than you can appreciate, maybe. But I have no pull in heaven, and that's where marriages are made, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," he said. "Don't be too sure about your lack of pull in high places, though. One of the higher ups tried to yank your card, thought you might be a loose cannon, maybe even in cahoots with somebody, you know, guilt by association and all that?"

"So what happened?" I asked.

"He got stomped on real fast. Word came down the pipe that you were not to be interfered with in any way. Pretty major backing on it, too."

Now that was interesting. I wondered who had taken an interest, and in what. Was it in this case, or in me?

"This case is about murder and disappearing persons," I reminded him. "I'm not the mystery we're working on."

"Aren't you?" he asked. "No, spike that. Of course, you're right. We're supposed to be finding out who murdered Sheila Mason. At least I am, because that's my job. But why are you doing it?"

"You guys are paying me," I observed.

"As if you give a tinker's damn," he said.

I was silent for quite a while. Then I said, "Okay, why do you think I'm in on this? You've been thinking about it."

"Yeah," he said. "I've been thinking about it, but I'm no Sherlock. I can't read minds, and you don't leave tracks. Maybe Sheila was someone special to you, but I don't believe that. Maybe you liked her, but you don't do things just because you like somebody. You only do the things you have to."

"Is that an insult?" I asked.

"Only an observation," he said. "Like you say, you have a box that you don't open. What's in that box is anybody's guess, maybe even you don't know all that's in that box."

I thought about that for a bit, and shrugged. He had me dead to rights on that one.

"But keeping that box closed is important to you," he continued. "It may be the most important thing in your life. So I'm bound to wonder if Sheila's death doesn't open that box a little, and you want it closed again."

"If you think I knew Sheila back on Luna..." I began.

"Oh, no," he said. "Nothing as obvious as that. But the way that she died reminded you of something, something you thought you'd left behind. Now you find that maybe you hadn't."

I had no snappy comeback for that one, either. The thought had certainly occurred to me more than once. For somebody who wasn't a mind reader, Calvin Lee was doing too damned good an imitation.

He didn't say anything for a long time, long enough for the character of the light to change again. The faint pink was deepening. In another few hours it would go blood red.

Finally, Calvin broke the silence and changed the subject. "The last couple of calls you made didn't come from your regular comm," he told me.

It was standard procedure to log the caller ID on police matters, so I wasn't surprised that he'd noticed.

"No, I didn't make them from my hotel," I said.

"They came from the residence of Marjori Low," he said.

I nodded. "Yes, that's true," I said. "I've had dinner with her twice now, both times in the company of my landlady, Fumio Huntington. I filed a brief report on the first time, since that was when she gave me the postcard from Doria Adams. Which you now have, right?"

He held up a hand. "I'm not asking for explanations," he said.

"And I'm not giving any," I told him.

He hesitated. "But I do have to ask," he said. "Are you sleeping with her?"

"Yes," I replied. I think he was surprised that I didn’t lie about it.

"Is that wise?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Ask me again in six months. Or ask me after you're married, whichever comes first."

"Ah, hell," he said, and gave a half shrug, half wave, a certain gesture of dismissal. "You're a big boy, too, I guess. I'm just confused."

"Why should you be any different than the rest of us?" I replied.


By the time we broke off, we'd consumed enough beer for my aches of the previous day to have melted into a soggy set of non-agonizing lumps. The throbbing in my heel eased off a little, as well, though I knew that it would be only a brief respite. We stopped by Calvin's office before I went home so I could record my deposition of the day's activities and to check messages. The beer buzz was long gone by then.

Calvin's message light was doing a rapid blink when we got to his office and he called up the appropriate recordings. The first was from the lab; they'd dug into our gear already, since we were the first back with any booty. The grime that we'd collected had a nice collection of alkaloids all right, as well as chemical signatures from several standard incendiary devices.

The next message was more interesting. It was a request to call Horowith at Marley Farm.

Calvin put it through immediately, and piped it to the room speaker. "Mr. Horowith," he said. "We just got your message."

"Ah, hallo, Mr. Lee," came Horowith's voice. "We have another little problem here that I thought maybe you should know about. Two more of our people are missing, one by the name of Patrick Barefoot, and the other's name is Angel Lee, no relation to yourself, I'm sure."

"Lee is the most common name on Venus," Calvin said.

"Indeed, indeed," replied Horowith. "But our Mr. Lee is one of the owners of Marley Farm; he bought in about six years ago. He's on our trading council besides. We are more than a little worried about him. He left on business about four clock days ago, and he hasn't been seen or heard from since."

"And you suspect foul play?" asked Calvin.

"I don't know what to expect anymore, man. We are not used to murders and crime out here."

"I daresay," said Calvin dryly. "Who was the other man, this Barefoot person?"

"He was Angel's assistant," replied Horowith. "He and Angel would often take our wares to markets, first along the Circle, then into the City."

"Ah," said Calvin. "Was that their business this time?"

"No," said Horowith. "This was to be a simple pickup of some machinery and other stuff. A few medical supplies, things we need from time to time. They wouldn't even have to enter the City for the run."

"Could you make a list of those things," asked Calvin. "Maybe there is a clue in there somewhere."

"Okay, I guess," said Horowith. "But they never made it to town to buy the goods."

"Have you asked for a check on their transponder records?"

"Not yet," said Horowith. "I was hoping you could do that for me."

"Sure," said Calvin. "We'll attend to it." Then he said goodbye and hung up.

He looked at me. "What do you think?" he asked.

I made a face. "I think that if this keeps up we won't have to worry about finding out who did anything," I replied. "If this keeps up, soon they'll all be dead."

He nodded as if the idea was beginning to take on a certain appeal.

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