Monday, March 10, 2008

Chapter four: "Let's go for a walk."

Previous Chapter

The first thing Calvin said to me the next morning was, "Well, you look like hell."

I'd returned to Sky City immediately after leaving Sensei Mack's. It had been a tossup whether I entered legally or illegally. In fact, I'd flipped a coin, a habit I'd picked up from Lewis. I was relieved when it came up heads, which meant that I hadn't really been ready for one of my late night prowls in the lowest sections of the City. Apparently I wasn't in the mood to hurt anyone that night, despite everything.

So I'd come in through one of the checkpoints and strolled the corridors near Central Police Headquarters, waiting for clock time to pass by, waiting for Calvin's shift to begin.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I told him. "Maybe I can use you for a reference."

"So what's up?" he asked me. "Why are you here at this ungodly hour?" It was 0700 by the twenty-four hour clock, 7900 by Venus mean time. Daylight was still a clock cycle away.

"You're here early, yourself," I told him.

"I need to get some paperwork out of the way," he said.

"Then I can add to it," I told him. "Get out your forms; I'll sign in blood." He gave me a strange look.

"I know when I'm licked," I said. "I need to follow up on Molly Laird. It's necessary."

He walked around to his desk and sat down. There were two desks in the office and he shared his with one other homicide detective. There was seldom more than a single detective in the office at the same time, since they had four part time guys to handle a round-the-clock duty. At a rate of only one murder a week for all of Sky City, they could afford the slack.

Calvin looked up at the ceiling and made a show of thinking things through. At length he said, "The best way to go about it would be to sign you on as a private consultant to trace Molly's relatives for the purpose of disposing of the estate. That has to be done anyway. Then, if you uncover anything, we can make modifications to the case file. The estate disposition is the only part of the case that is still open, incidentally, though that could change with additional information."

"What about her link to Grayling?" I asked him.

"I haven't checked yet," he said. He bounced his inflatable chair around a bit to better get at his comm terminal. He flipped up the screen and it lit up to illuminate his face with gray light. He tapped a few keys and waited for the access. After a few moments, he said, "Okay, this is just a preliminary, but it looks like you were probably right. Blood type and the first few sequences match. From the first tests, there's a ninety-nine percent likelihood that Molly Laird was Grayling's daughter. That's enough to make the full sequencing mandatory."

He looked over at me. "Let's go for a walk," he told me.

We made our way down to the PD ready room, through the air curtain, and out into the main corridor. Calvin didn't say anything for a while. We were well out of sight of Police Headquarters when he spoke.

"About six months ago," he began, "We had a couple of Lunars come through here. A man and a woman. Very heavy credentials. They came through Skyhook Authority and their papers said that they were on detachment from the Guard to the Special Cabinet to the Lunar Council. We were instructed to give them every courtesy and all the help we could muster.

"They didn't want much, though. They asked some questions, got a full access data terminal, went at it for a couple of days, then disappeared. They're still on Venus, I think, but I have no idea where."

He looked at me sideways. "Some of their questions were about you," he said. "I'm under orders not to tell you about it, though."

"So why are you telling me about it?" I asked him.

He ignored my question. "The man's name was Harmon Reed, the woman was Juliet Carlyle. Those names mean anything to you?" I shook my head.

He continued. "She was taller than I am, and he was quite a bit taller still. About your height, in fact. Built a lot like you, too. In fact, he reminded me of you quite a number of ways."

I shrugged, trying not to give anything away. Usually I don't have to try, but this was different. "They're both probably from one of the police families," I said. This produced a quizzical look from Calvin.

"I was fourth generation police," I told him. "There are a lot of families like mine. It's a tradition of the high born, a higher occupation for the well-to-do. Our families eat better, get better medical care, all of it. It doesn't pay to mistreat your police force, and the Luna police families aren't mistreated."

He nodded. "Anyway, they were very interested in the fact that you'd done work for us on the Mason case. They asked me if I could get you to work for us again. I told them that I doubted it, not unless you got personally interested in something. They let the matter drop, but ever since then, I've been getting subtle pressure from on high. Somebody important wants you involved in something, maybe anything. I don't think it has anything to do with this matter of Molly Laird, but they may figure that, once you're involved with us again, they can drag you in deeper."

That seemed Byzantine enough to be true. I'd have to think about the implications sometime when I was more centered. "Any idea of what Reed and Carlyle were after?" I asked him.

"Not really," he said. "They did ask a lot of questions about the shadow clusters, though. And they were tapping the medical records mostly, not the crime stats."

I shook my head. Too much to think about. "So why are you telling me this?" I asked again.

It was his turn to shrug. "Maybe I figure that you'll find out about it sometime, and I'd rather not hold out on you," he told me. He grinned. "I don't think I want you mad at me," he said. "Not even momentarily."

"Am I doing that badly at hiding it?" I asked him.

"Worse," he told me. "Much worse."


We went back to Calvin's office and filled out a few forms, and when we were done, I had a Police access card, a small expense account, and a stipend number for consultant billing. It made me marginally more official than a private citizen. The access card, plus threat and bluster, would open a few doors that might otherwise remain closed. More important, I could now tap into the normal police data banks through any protected comm unit.

I said goodbye to Calvin, left PD Headquarters by the main gate and motored back to my hotel. Joey was back at his post when I returned, and his usual smile had a bit of a worried look to it when he saw me. "Have a rough night, Mr. Honlin?" he asked me.

"It wasn't too bad, Joey," I told him. "It just lasted a lot longer than I expected." That softened his smile a bit, and I tipped him and went inside.

Madame Fumio was in the lounge, having breakfast with her most recent play boy, a long haired blonde charmer named Bart. This one was a musician, of sorts, and might manage to stay around after Fumio got tired of his bedroom manners. Madame Fumio has a fondness for musicians.

Fumio saw me from across the room and waved me over. "Leo told me you went out late last night," she said. "Anything I should know about? Or anything I shouldn't know about?" She motioned me to join them at their table. Bart forced a smile at me, too. What was it about me this morning that made people think they'd better smile?

I sat down and tried to look nonchalant. "It's nothing much," I told her. "Somebody died and I've taken a short job with the City to track down relatives or other heirs of the deceased."

She gave me a look that asked several questions and made several statements. "It's not like the last time," I told her. "It was a murder, yes, but they already know who did it. He's dead, in fact. The dead girl killed him before she died." I gave Fumio a brief account of the murder. I didn't mention that Molly was Grayling's illegitimate daughter.

When she was done, she shook her head. "So you're looking for someone to inherit a gun?" Leave it to Madame Fumio to read the bottom line.

"That's about the size of it, yes. Mostly it's an excuse to get out away from the City, for a while. In fact, I was going to ask your permission to ask Lewis to go along with me. And to rent a bloon, no use wasting a perfectly good expense account. The girl, Molly, who died, is originally from a cluster about a hundred kilometers north of here. The mother's dead, but I thought I might be able to get some leads where Molly and her mother used to live."

"Couldn't that be done by comm?" she asked me.

I shrugged. "Most of the time, that's the way it would be done. This isn't a high priority job, finding heirs, especially away from the City. But there's no rule against going in person, and I need a break, I think."

"You certainly look like it," she said.

I smiled back at her. "You, on the other hand, look as beautiful as ever, Fumio dear." She blew a raspberry and Bart suppressed a real smile. I got up and went over to the bar to talk to Lewis.

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