Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chapter twenty-three: You have to stop somewhere

Previous Chapter

From Grayling's office, I went back to PD headquarters to make funeral arrangements for Sheila's body. Smith's statements were now on the record as a deathbed confession of culpability in the death of Sheila Mason, and Angel Lee had been tagged as responsible for the death of Thomas Grayling and Mickey Deere. Somewhere around there was the other assailant of that night, who had been wounded by Deere, but he was a minor player, and the three homicides were now marked solved, files closed and archived.

"Do you think it was Smith who tried to kill you?" Calvin asked me after we'd gone through the filework and logged them to the main homicide database.

"I couldn't say," I told him. "The incendiaries they used on the drug lab sounded a lot like the ones that killed Bess, but those things are pretty common. Smith, Angel Lee, some random smuggler who thought I'd gone snitch, who can tell?"

Calvin nodded. "Then you can't be sure that somebody won't try it again," he said. "Or Grayling could send somebody after you."

I shrugged. "Life's a risk," I told him. "If anybody comes, I'll be waiting for them, and I'm not that easy to kill. As for Grayling, I've sent a few messages to some people I know on Luna. If anything happens to me..." I shrugged again. "I think Grayling knows better than to try something like that."

"That reminds me," he said. "This just came in through a mail drop." He showed me a printout of a list of addresses and names. One of the addresses was for the drug lab we'd raided a few days before. It looked like Grayling had taken my words to heart.

"That looks to be something from a little birdie," I told him. "I'd raid those addresses one at a time, slowly, over a period of a few months, if I were you. Like you were gathering information through an undercover operation, something like that. It could be good for your career."

"Some of these are offworld," he noted. "Luna, Earth-Sol Lagrange Stations, even Ceres."

"I could give you some names of people to notify," I said. "It never hurts to make a few more contacts."

He gave me an exasperated look. "But how what do I put on my reports?"

I shrugged. "Do like I do -- lie." We'd already had a few words about the paperwork on this case.

He made a face, and made a motion like he was washing his hands of the matter. Then he returned to the previous subject. "So you're just going to forget about the fact that someone tried to kill you? You're just going to let it drop?" he asked, then winced when he realized what he'd said.

"Why stir up trouble?" I asked. "I got what I wanted. Smith killed Sheila, and now he's dead. You have to stop somewhere. I choose here."

He stared at me for a long time, like he was trying to make up his mind about something. I let my grin join the Cheshire cat. "You know," he said at long last, "When I first saw you, there in that dump of yours, I said to myself, 'Here's a man who doesn't care if he lives or dies.'"

I felt my face twist into a smile. Calvin is pretty quick on the uptake, I guess. "And now?" I asked him.

"I'm still not sure if you care about whether you live or die," he said. "But I'm pretty sure you care how you live or die."

"Well," I told him. "That's something, isn't it?"


After my business at PD, I headed over to Marjori Low's. One of the Jameses let me in and Marjori came down immediately. She gave me a bone crunching hug and led me into the dining room where I snacked on some of the food that was being set out.

"I'm having a small reception here tonight," she told me. "Can you make it?"

I shook my head. "I have some business to attend to," I told her. "I've asked Lewis to help me take Sheila's body back to Marley Farm. I figured that it was only appropriate to let her feed the plants one last time."

"What did Lewis say?" she asked.

"That he figured anything he did with me was so chancy it was a religious experience. So of course he said yes."

She nodded and I told her about my meeting with Grayling and of Smith's demise. I held back on most of the description of the way Smith had died, and I said nothing specific about my threats to Grayling, but I think she figured out most of what had happened on her own. After I was finished she shivered slightly.

"What a wretched business," she said.

"It is that," I said. "Have you heard from Doria?"

That caught her by surprise, and she didn't even have time to think how she should react. She blinked. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Should I have?"

I shrugged. "I just thought that she should know that she's safe now. Angel is probably dead, and he's no risk anymore, no matter what. Smith is dead. No one has any reason to kill her anymore. You could even invite her to your reception."

She stared at me for a long time, a silence that spoke eloquently. Finally she asked, "How long have you known?"

"That you were Doria's 'friend' who gave her a hiding place when there were people trying to kill her? I thought it a good possibility from the very beginning. When you're in trouble, you try to get as much influence as possible on your side, and you were Doria's most influential contact. Also you couldn't find Doria's second postcard. It was confirming a visit, wasn't it?" She nodded.

"Then too," I continued, "Doria isn't a very good liar, and she hesitated when she called her friend a 'he.' So I figured it was probably a woman, and probably someone who knew me. That's not very conclusive, of course.

"But I didn't know for sure until just now. Doria's a poor liar, but you're one of the worst I've ever known." I looked into her eyes. "That's one of the things I like and respect about you, you know?" I told her. "Your need for the truth. That's why I'm telling you this."

Her eyes filled with years and they began a slow trickle down her face. "I'm sorry, Ed," she told me. "I had to lie, of course, I couldn't put Doria in danger. But I didn't..."

I reached out and took her hand. "Let me see if I can help," I told her. "You went to bed with me to find out what you could about the investigation directly, to try to find out who had tried to kill Doria. You also wanted to know if there was anyone on the case that Doria could go to who wouldn't put her in further jeopardy. Eventually, you decided that I filled that bill."

She nodded again. "Do you know what convinced me?" she asked. I shook my head.

"It was after your glider ride, that attempt on your life. Somebody tried to kill you, but you decided not to follow up on it. 'It wasn't worth it,' you said. What you meant was that it wasn't worth involving Joey."

I must have looked puzzled, and she stared at me for a second. "Oh," she said, looking at me strangely. "You probably didn't think of it that way, did you? It didn't occur to you that protecting Joey was why you let it slide."

I hesitated. "It would have been a long shot, no matter what," I said. "Joey only saw a decoy, and they wouldn't expose anyone important."

"You don't know that," she said. "The only way to eliminate a lead is to follow it until it ends, right? But you were willing to have it stop at Joey. You didn't want to pressure him; you didn't want to put him in jeopardy."

I thought about what she was saying for a few seconds. Then I think I sighed. "You're probably right," I admitted. "Joey doesn't deserve that kind of treatment, certainly not for something as unimportant as..."

"As an attempt on your life?" she asked. "I also noticed that you were more annoyed at someone's having killed an old bloon than you were that someone had tried to kill you."

She paused, then said, "So you protected Joey, and I was counting on you to protect Doria, too. And I was right, wasn't I? You did protect her. You caught the people who were after her, and made it safe for her to live."

She stepped closer. "And I genuinely meant what I said about the ice melting," she said. "I'm a terrible liar, remember? I just didn't know if it was you or the excitement and the intrigue. That's horrible isn't it? To not know?"

"Not so horrible," I told her. "On a real horribleness scale I'd put in maybe around a two. I can think of worse things." I didn't add, much worse things.

"So now what?" she asked me.

"So now I take Sheila's body to the farm. I'll be back in a few days. Then..."

I stopped for a moment, looking into her face for some sign, I suppose. Then I said, "There's only one way to find out, isn't there? You'll have to decide if you still feel the same without the little thrill of hiding secrets. If it helps any, I've got secrets enough for the both of us; you don't need to bring your own to the mix.

"Anyway," I said, "When I get back you'll have to decide whether or not you want to see me again. I hope that the answer is 'yes,' but I'll understand if the answer is 'no.'"

She gripped my hand fiercely and looked into my eyes. What did she see in there, I wonder? What does anyone see in there?

"Yes," she said in a voice that still spoke to something in me I'd thought long dead. "Yes, I want to see you again.


Lewis and I made a slow trip to Marley Farm, free sail all the way, and we talked about many things. I'd also asked Calvin if he could come, but he was too busy setting up a raid that turned out to be of a small speedball factory in Carnival Cluster. Robert Grayling's list looked like it was the genuine article. I wondered if it was guilt or fear that was driving him. Both, most likely.

Grayling was one of the things Lewis and I talked about on our way to Marley Farm. "Do you figure you were too hard on him, or too easy?" was one of the questions Lewis asked me.

I shrugged. "Grayling wasn't my main concern," I told him. "I signed on to find out who killed Sheila and to bring that person to justice. That person was Smith, and I don't know if his death was justice, but it's all he's going to get from me."

"But Grayling set up the circumstances," Lewis said. "It happened on his watch."

"Yeah," I agreed. "He has blood on his hands. But very little of it is Sheila's. He didn't order her death, and even if he had, it's the men who do the deeds, not the men who give the orders. That's where the responsibility lies."

He looked at me. "You believe that?" he asked.

"I have to," I told him. "Anything else is just madness."

"Or karma," Lewis said.

"Yes, well, there is that. That's why the blood on Grayling's hands is mostly his own. He knows that his own actions led not very indirectly to the death of his own and only son. Some would say that's punishment enough. The Great Wheel turns, but it turns on its own. I'm not the karma police."

As I say, Lewis and I talked about a lot of things on the way to Marley Farm.

I wasn't done thinking about this karma stuff, of course. It's a big subject, and there was a certain amount of personal applicability, after all. You can do good or you can do evil and both are bound to come after you if you stay in one spot. Or you can run from them. Maybe then you can get out from under, but running carries its own karma with it. You can become a ghost in your own life, with no company but other ghosts, the memories of deeds past, but no flesh to clothe the ghosts. So there's a lot to be said for standing your ground.

Which is ironic, I suppose, because Venus has no ground to stand on, just a sky filled with bloons and a future that stretches out into the unknown. But I guess it's where I'll make my stand.

We got to Marley Farm, and watched as they loaded Sheila's body into a bloon that was about ready to bud, one that was going to be part of an expansion of the farm. So the buds would grow to full size, and would be filled with the dirt from two worlds, and Sheila would be both in and around the plants she loved. It was the least I could do, and the most I could do.

Then we toasted her memory with drink and I tried some of the Marley ganja. After that the entire matter became a happy blur. The Rastas dance at funerals, like they dance at every other part of life, and we were not allowed to abstain. So they taught us how to move, and Lewis and I danced the raucous funeral dances with them until we fell over and had to be carried to bed to sleep. And I dreamed a dream of a place with blue skies and bodies of water so large that great waves of it crested and broke upon the shores. I dreamed of snow and wind and rain, of great forests and prairies and green covered mountains, all the images of a lost world that we orphaned millions can only see on picture screens and viewing tapes. And for a time I loved my three homes, the world upon which I lived, the world upon which I was born, and the world I've never seen. And it was enough. For the moment, at least, it was enough.

End of Book One


Anonymous said...

Absolutely riveting.

Read it straight through.

Struck all kinds of chords - rung all sorts of bells.


James Killus said...

And thank you. It means a lot to me that someone is paying attention.

Anonymous said...

Yup, good stuff. Thanks.