Saturday, February 2, 2008

Chapter twenty-two: "Have you ever heard of karma?"

Previous Chapter

I was up late that night, thinking, and when I did go to bed, it was without chemical assistance, not that said assistance ever did me much good, but there are a few things that slip past the guard dogs in my liver. If the nightmares wanted me, they could have me, I decided. Unto thine own self be true. Good behavior is its own reward, I suppose, because instead of nightmares, I dreamt of flying weightless though endless perfect clouds of light, while somewhere down below me the darkness growled its appreciation and applauded my performance with thunder claps.

The next morning I motored over to Police Headquarters to check on some facts and to see what else had come up. They already had a preliminary autopsy on our stiff from the raid, which said more or less what I expected, how he'd died and what had been used to kill him. I also called Horowith at Marley Farms for some more background on Angel Lee. Then I made an appointment.

Calvin wasn't too happy with what I intended to do, but he agreed that it was pretty much the only course of action, given the circumstances. So I packed my gear and headed over to Robert Grayling's office.

Though it was clock morning, it was light night, and Grayling's offices looked quite different with only the artificial light of the Skyhook tower illuminating their exterior. Inside, the light was muted, more given over to the atmosphere of investment banking than the harsh entrepreneurial glare of the daylight hours. I could imagine that working there imposed its own rhythms and moods, and I wondered to what extent Grayling himself was the controller and to what extent he was the controlled.

I was led to Grayling's inner sanctum almost immediately; the man was still almost pathetically eager for word on his son. I was not going to take much pleasure in what I had to tell him.

"You already know Mr. Smith and Mr. Lusk," Grayling said to me as we shook hands. He indicated another person, pressed from the same mold as Smith and Lusk. "This is Elvin Dwight, another associate of mine. They may leave or stay, at your preference."

"I would rather that they stayed, actually," I told him. "I also have to ask your indulgence in another matter," I said. I reached into my pocket and removed a small mobile comm unit, and activated it. "This is Ed Honlin, a special consultant to the Sky City Police Department," I said into the microphone of the comm. "I am in the offices of Mr. Robert Grayling and several of his associates. This is to indicate that this meeting is being recorded as of now."

Grayling's brow clouded. "I think I must protest the use of transmission and recording devices in my offices," he said.

I switched off the comm unit. "If you object," I told him levelly, "Then I will leave, and you will have to obtain any and all further information about this case through official channels. I might also mention that any conclusions and speculations that I might have as a consultant are not part of the official record."

If metaphors were real, his look would have frozen me solid. Or maybe killed me on the spot. "I object to this blackmail, also," he said, his voice barely making it past his throat.

"This is not blackmail, and you know it," I told him. "I'm doing you a favor here and I'm cutting some corners. But I want a record of the cutting, so I still have all my fingers left when I'm done."

He darkened some more, and I hoped he wasn't a stroke risk. Finally, he said, "All right, damn you, just tell me what you know about my son."

I switched the comm back on and repeated my initial statement. Then I looked at him and said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you, but your son is dead."

The breath whistled out of his nostrils and he closed his eyes. "Are you sure?" he said.

"We don't have a body, but we have a witness to the event," I told him. "So, yes, I'm quite sure. He was killed during an attack on a woman named Doria Adams. His bodyguard and friend, Michael Deere, was also killed, while trying to protect the two young people."

"Who killed him?" Grayling asked in a whisper.

"That is somewhat problematic," I said. "There were two people in the assault, but there is reason to believe that the assault was part of a much larger crime, so culpability is not easily determined."

He scowled. "I don't follow you," he said.

"Then I'll explain," I told him, and began to tell my tale.

"One of the two men who killed Thomas was named Angel Lee. Mr. Lee was, until recently, a part owner of a communal agricultural cluster called Marley Farm, which grows and sells a number of plants, which the Marley people call 'herbs.' These plants contain a variety of psychoactive and medicinal chemicals. Some of your companies even do business with the Marley Farm people, using their tobacco, cannabis, belladonna, and so forth as sources of nicotine, cannabinol, atropine, strychnine, and other compounds of medical and recreational value."

I paused, then said, "There is nothing illegal in this, of course. You run a legitimate enterprise and so does Marley Farm.

"However," I continued, "There are venues and applications of the plant-derived drugs which are not legal, and these uses are, as a result, more lucrative. Mr. Lee apparently was ambitious and greedy. He joined into a scheme whereby some of the Marley Farm crops, which were supposedly sold to businesses out on the Circle, or free floating clusters, were in fact diverted and smuggled into Sky City. Here in the City, the contraband was converted into pure alkaloids for the purpose of smuggling them offworld.

"The smuggling was done 'up through the floor' and Mr. Lee accompanied the shipments. For some reason, Mr. Lee also found it necessary to appear in public. Maybe he didn't completely trust those he dealt with and preferred to have his meetings where there were witnesses. In any case, by a piece of very bad luck, he was seen at a club called the Turbolift, by another worker at Marley Farm. That would be Miss Adams, who I mentioned earlier.

"The problem was that Mr. Lee was in the City illegally, although Miss Adams couldn't have known that. But she might have mentioned it to somebody and if the word got back to Marley Farm, Mr. Lee would have been finished. Marley Farm is very strict about its rules, or so I'm informed. In any case, I don't think that the Marley people would risk covering for a smuggling operation that brought them no profit and considerable risk.

"Mr. Lee was not willing to gamble in that fashion and apparently neither were those he was dealing with. So he followed the trio when they left the club and attacked them. It was more bad luck for them that they didn't recognize Mr. Deere for a fight-trained bodyguard, because Mr. Deere severely wounded the other man, and your son put up enough of a struggle for Miss Adams to escape."

I looked Grayling straight in the eye. "Thomas died a hero, Mr. Grayling. He was doing his best to protect a woman for whom he felt responsible. I'd even go so far as to say that he did it out of love."

"That doesn't make him any less dead, though, does it?" said Grayling bitterly.

"No, it does not," I admitted. "But there's more to it as well." I looked around at the impassive faces of the men listening to me.

"We received word just yesterday of Angel Lee's demise. He had a bloon accident on his was to Sky City from Marley Farm. But it doesn't end there, either. He was almost certainly murdered as well, so the next questions are 'by whom' and 'why?'"

I continued to look into his eyes, his gaze locked on mine, as if he were paralyzed by some bright light. "Let's consider the smuggling operation that Angel was involved with. It has offworld connections and it must be large enough to transport a lot of material, so the smuggled quantities can be disguised. The obvious place to smuggle pharmaceuticals is with other pharmaceuticals.

"Let's also consider someone who works for this organization in a position of significant responsibility. Suppose he is a combination manager and trouble-shooter. Now let's suppose that someone accidentally punches a hole in the operation, and the first attempt to patch that hole has the disastrous result that it kills the son of the owner of the whole shebang. What do you think a manager would do in such a situation? Do you think he'd go right to the owner and say, 'Hey boss, we just screwed up and killed your kid?' Or do you think that the manager would try to cover his tracks?"

The flicker of Grayling's eyes told me everything that I needed to know, but I continued anyway.

"So the first order of business for the underlings was to find Doria Adams. Here another poor innocent gets in the way, a girl named Sheila Mason. Sheila never did anyone any harm; all she did was try to look up her friend Doria when both of them had overlapping vacations in the big City. For that little bit of friendship, she got herself kidnapped and tortured until she died. Some fun, huh?

"Other loose ends were a drug lab, now defunct and Angel Lee, also defunct. But Doria Adams managed to escape, hide out, and finally tell her story to somebody who had once known Sheila and who, coincidentally, knew enough about life's dark underbelly to recognize a hawk with a handsaw. That would be me, and the hawk with the handsaw would be you, wouldn't it, Mr. Smith?"

There was no way that Grayling could have kept himself from at least glancing at the man responsible for covering up his son's death, and Grayling's body language had been screaming out whodunit for the past couple of minutes. Lusk and Dwight turned toward Smith ever so slightly, but it was easy to tell that neither of them wanted to make a move.

I looked at Smith who had been listening impassively during my entire speech. I knew that if killing me would have helped him in the slightest, I would be a dead man now. But the damage had been done a long time ago, and Smith surely knew it by now.

"I should never have sat with my back toward the door," Smith said quietly. "Angel insisted on it, though. He was beginning to develop a nicotine and cocaine habit; he'd go on periodic binges and he was on one of them that night. He was more than a little bit paranoid at the time. I thought that by humoring him we could conclude our business, and I could decide what to do about him later. My mistake. I didn't see either Thomas or Mickey in the club, so when Angel saw the girl on her way out, I let him go after her to attend to it."

He looked at Grayling with dull, sad eyes. "You can't imagine how I felt when I discovered that they had killed your son. I wanted to tear them to shreds on the spot. Instead, I let them try to cover the tracks, to find the Adams girl." He shook his head. "It was all so pointless."

He looked at me. "I'm truly sorry about the Mason girl," he said. "I was never very good at interrogation. Even back on Luna, I never got the hang of it."

He had a hypo spray in his hand. "Do you know what this is?" he asked me.

"At a guess, I'd say it was loaded with nicotine and strychnine," I told him.

He gave me a thin smile. "I don't believe that you are guessing very hard," he said.

"Well," I told him. "We have a corpse over in the morgue who died of an overdose of those two compounds just yesterday, so you're right, it wasn't much of a stretch."

He brought the hypo to his abdomen.

"You don't have to do this," I told him. "We could work something out."

The thin smile remained as he shook his head. "No, we could not," he said. "A knight without a lord, a samurai without a domo, there isn't much of a market for pretorian guards, and I've already job-hopped once. Twice just isn't done." With that he squeezed the hypo.

The puft of compressed gas was surprisingly loud, and he dropped the hypo as he sank down to his knees, then into meditation posture. The drugs worked fast and we could see his skin tighten and the muscles bunch beneath his clothing. As the two deadly stimulants worked, his breathing seemed to stop as his entire body went taut.

Then we heard the first snapping crunch of a bone breaking. The pain must have been incredible and I was amazed at his control as he managed to keep his body straight and relatively still as his suddenly overstimulated muscles broke his bones in rapid order. Only when his spine arched, then broke, did his whole body begin to spasm, and his eyes rolled back up in his head as bursting blood vessels consumed his consciousness. Finally, his neck gave a spasmed crack! and the twitches began to subside.

Grayling and his other two men stared at Smith's body in open mouthed horror. Then Grayling found his voice and said, "Get him out of here." Lusk and Dwight complied.

When Smith's body had been removed Grayling turned to me and regarded me with a look so bleak that made Smith seem like the lucky one. "You have no proof of any involvement by me in any of this," he said.

"That is correct," I told him, and I reached over and switched off the comm unit.

"Now we're off the record," I said. "And you're still right, there's no way to directly connect you to anything. I'm sure your operations are at this minute clean as a whistle, and the only person who could have testified against you just took a permanent vow of silence."

I leaned a little closer to him. "Have you ever heard of karma?" I asked him.

"What does that have to do with anything?" he asked me.

"Karma is the original Hindu word for it, but I've been talking a lot recently to a guy by the name of Lewis, who is a Stochastacist. They call it 'karma' also, but they also say that every religion has an idea like karma in it. The Golden Rule is a statement about how to deal with Karma. 'Bread cast upon the waters returneth a thousand fold,' is what it's all about, 'what comes around goes around,' that sort of thing. And what works for bread on the water works for shit, too."

I watched Grayling's dead expression and I knew that he knew where this was headed; it must have already occurred to him. I was just echoing his own thoughts before he could think them.

"Whenever you do anything, have any dealings with another human being, something gets passed along. Then, good or bad, the next person passes it around as well. We all carry our own little karma cloud around with us, reflected back at us by all the people we meet and all the people that they meet. Sometimes it goes through so many people that we don't even recognize our own evil when it returns, but the taint is still there.

"It was very bad luck that had Doria Adams seeing Angel Lee in a dance club, but it was only bad luck because of what Angel was involved with. And Angel was a little tiny player in a big time operation. That operation carries some heavy karma, and whoever set up that operation carries some of the karma for the death of your son. You're setting up a shit factory, Grayling, so don't whine when some of your life begins to stink."

His anger at my words was palpable. My guess was that he was using the anger to keep back the tears, we all have to do that every now and then. So as his hands began to twitch and rise, I said softly to him, "I'd be careful if I were you, Grayling. You only had one man who could take me, and he's just broke his own neck."

There was a final flash of anger from him, like the last flare from a broken ember, then his face collapsed and he leaned back and sat down heavily in his chair. He buried his face in his hands. "What do you intend to do?" he asked in a choked voice.

"Nothing for awhile," I told him. "I don't expect I'll have to."

I waited for him to lift his head and look at me, then I continued. "Now if I were setting up a drug smuggling ring on Luna, I'd first make sure that I had a lot of product stored away safely, so that I could shut the pipeline on and off if the heat got bad, and still be able to service my customers. I don't know how close you were to a full working operation and I don't know how much stuff is squirreled away on Luna and elsewhere, but I'd take it as a very good sign if the police started to get some anonymous tips as to where the stuff was stashed."

"I have associates..." he began.

"Buy them out, if they'll let you," I told him. "Concentrate the first heat on your own turf and they'll never suspect that you are the one bringing the whole thing down."

He nodded bleakly.

"I'll be watching, you know," I told him. "And I have a few friends and associates who will be watching as well. If things start showing up on Luna, I'll know about it. If anything happens to me, my associates will shut you down completely, your good business and the bad. No trials, no due process. Some of it might look like bureaucratic harassment, but a lot of it will look just like bad luck. A lost shipment here, a seized load there. It can add up fast. There's a lot of things that happen that look just like bad luck, if you get my drift."

I leaned close to him. "Just think of me as your conscience," I told him. "Just a little cricket sitting on your shoulder, watching everything you do. A little cricket with very big teeth and no sense of forgiveness, at all.

"And if I ever get word that you're trying to do an end run around me, I promise you that you'll find out firsthand what it feels like to see Maximilian's ghost."

He looked up at me wide-eyed and uncomprehending, tears just barely held back. But the way I looked must have gotten through to him because I saw a sudden flash of fear in his eyes, the fear of something worse than death. I'd seen that look before and I still don't know how it makes me feel to cause that look in another human being.

I straightened up and headed for the door. When I reached the door I turned and looked back at him. He still had a bit of fight left in him, because he called after me, "It will happen anyway, you know, no matter what I do. You can't stop it. People will get what they want, one way or another."

"Yes," I said, in a voice that might not even have been loud enough for him to hear it. I think he did hear it though. "It will happen anyway. Drugs will be made, laws banning them will be passed, people will be killed or corrupted, all of that. But it won't be you who does it, and it won't be me who lets it happen."

Then I left the offices of Robert T. Grayling, one of the wealthiest men in the Solar System.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable. Thanks