Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chapter fourteen: I thought you had a plan for all this.

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Marjori didn't start to laugh until we pulled away, and she kept it moderate in order not to disturb the child. "Is it that funny?" I asked her.

"Oh, darling, the look on your face was priceless," she said softly. "Just 'Hi, my name is Honlin,' and she pushes a baby on you. Whoops." She gave another laugh.

Some of it was a release of tension, I knew. And she was uncertain about our circumstances as well.

"So now what?" I asked her.

"You're asking me?" she said. "I thought you had a plan for all this."

In truth, though, I did not. I'd wanted to find out more about the situation before committing to a course of action. Not much chance of that now, however.

"Well," I said, after a pause. "I suppose that we should contact the child welfare agencies."

She shook her head. "Not yet," she said. "Why do you think that Ms. Barker didn't call the City hospitals and such to inquire about Molly?"

I thought for a moment. "Because she didn't want anyone to know whose Molly's people were. If something had happened to Molly, she didn't want them tracing the child."

"Because there might be some who consider little Anna here to be an inconvenience, right? And that's dangerous for Anna."

"You're pretty sharp, lady," I told her. "So what would you suggest?"

"Anna will be safe with me," she said. "And I have a top rate lawyer. So we'll see what Leo has to say about it all."

"Won't the child be a bother to you?" I asked, thinking of Mirri and the dark circles under her eyes.

"Dear, I raised three of them already," she said. "You're just lucky I've been visiting some of my brood and that I'm feeling maternal." She gave a sharp barking laugh, and Anna stirred.

"Really, though, Ed," she continued in a whisper. "I'm rich, remember? We rich folk hire people for the drudgery. Another nursemaid or two won't cause even a ripple in my household staff. So I get all the pleasure of a little one around the place, and none of the pain."

I think that she was maybe painting a rosy picture for my benefit, sparing me the guilt of having involved her in something that she hadn't asked for. Or maybe not, what the hell did I know about it?

In any case, things were turning out well enough, and for once, I wasn't going to question good fortune, especially not little Anna's.


____________________________

We returned to Marjori's place and she turned Anna over to one of the James gang while she made calls to arrange for additional servants. She also promised to set up a meeting with Leo Rhinard, her attorney. She'd call me with the meeting time, she promised. Then I left and headed home.

I didn't want to proceed with Molly's case until I learned more about the legal ramifications. Besides, there was this new matter to look into, the problem of tracing the former whereabouts of Lucy Dahl, and finding out whether or not there was a new disease vector for us all to worry about.

It occurred to me that I needed more background, plus some other things that I could only get through a secured data comm unit, and those were most easily accessed at Police Headquarters. So I changed my route to take me through City Center before I went back to Fumio's.

"So," said Calvin as I came in through his office door. "What did the high and mighty want from you? Or can you talk about it?"

"Only to the extent that it's a missing persons job," I told him. "I have to do some trace work in Darkunder, and they didn't have anyone else familiar with the place." That satisfied him for the moment, so he let it drop.

"So what can I do for you?" he asked.

"I need a terminal and privacy," I said.

"Oh," he said, his curiosity obviously again aroused. But he suppressed the urge for further questions and let me use the next office over, one of the time shares that the part-time people used. Calvin was also part-time for homicide, but he also used his office for his other assignment, which was the robbery detail.

The first thing I did was to pull the file on Bert Costello, the man who killed Molly. It wasn't much, but I printed his morgue photo, which was the only one we had. If I was going to go looking for someone in Darkunder, I wanted a cover story, and trying to backtrack Mr. Costello looked to be as good a cover as any. His last known address was in a small dive only a couple of klicks from Carnival, a coincidence that I could use to my advantage.

Next I tried for Reed and Carlyle. The first time I'd tried to access them, I'd lacked the slick, but with my new, top-of-the-line Skyhook codes, I got a partial dump. There was no mention of their current assignment in their files; that probably wasn't even recorded anywhere. But I got their descriptions, photos, some medical records, and service histories.

They were, as I expected, a double team, the Special Guard equivalent of a married couple who trained and worked together. No one in the Guard is allowed to have children; it's something of a priesthood that way, but when they retired, they'd be allowed an unlimited number, or at least as many as they could have in the few remaining years of fertility that Carlyle would have left. It's one of the carrots that gets dangled by Luna Gov to keep the troops in line.

The two had both come up through the ranks of regular police work, though Reed had spent a couple of years in hospital security when he was in his teens. The Guard had also given both of them special medical training, but the assignment that they'd used it for was blanked out. They'd apparently met during their academy years; my guess was that it had been during deep cover training. That's when a lot of the character armor gets stripped away, and it leaves some cadets vulnerable to romantic attachments. It's easier to fall in love when your personality is in a state of flux.

One of Landau's unstated missions for me was to find out what Reed and Carlyle were up to. I'd been doing some thinking about it all, and I gave Dr. Mike Morales a call.

"Hello, Mike? This is Ed Honlin."

"Hello, Mr. Honlin. Is this a secured line?" he asked me after a brief pause. There's about a half second delay for a round trip signal to Anchorage, just enough to be annoying if you notice it.

"Yes, but don't let that count for too much," I said. All Skyhook messages are recorded, and most codes can be cracked if you want to spend a lot of machine time on it. Landau might have been able to wipe yesterday's conference from the databanks, or he might not, depending on who got to it first. My best guess was that he'd made arrangements to kill the files even before the meeting. Dr. Landau seemed to have a good case of looking-back-over-his-shoulder.

"I'll bear that in mind," he said.

"This is just some background," I said. "I've been thinking about something you said, the stuff about bioengineering and the fruits thereof. Who would have that kind of capability currently?"

The pause was longer than the signal delay. After a few seconds, he said, "I honestly don't know, Mr. Honlin. We lost a great deal of technical capability when the Earth went into Silence, of course. Many things that used to be commonplace are now heroic efforts. That would include many types of protein and nucleic acid engineering. And this is not really my specialty."

"Could there be anyone currently at work who could do the sorts of things we spoke about?" I asked.

Another hesitation. "We considered that possibility," he said. "But it seems very unlikely. For one thing, we were unable to come up with a motive for such a bizarre action. Most of the probable causes of the previous . . . um, example, are long dead or defunct."

"Things don't always work the way that they are planned," I said. "Could there have been an accident?"

"Possibly," he said. "The nature of the work is such that only deep black organizations would be allowed to do it, however. So there would be no public record."

"How about the physical facilities themselves?"

"My guess would be that there are no more than three or four such laboratories in the system," he said. "Two in the L-4 cluster, one in L-5, and one on Luna."

"I see," I said. "You say that this is not your specialty, though. Do you have the names of anyone whose specialty this is?"

"I'm not privy to that information, either," he said.

"Okay," I said. "I'll settle for the names of those facilities."

"Well, there's the main biochemical research lab on Luna, of course," he said. "That's the LunaGov Institute for Biomedical Research. Then there's the Sloan Institute in the L-5 cluster, plus Hoffla Research and Clarke-Saunders in L-4."

"Would it be possible for you to ask Dr. Landau to get me a personnel roster for those?" I asked him.

"I doubt that it would be complete," he said. "Some of the work there is deep black, like I told you."

"I understand," I told him. "But something is better than nothing."

"I'll ask him," he said.

Then I thanked him and clicked off.



___________________________

I got up and went back to Calvin's office. "This is on the QT," I told him, "But Molly Laird did have a child. A three-month old daughter. She's safe for the moment; Marjori is taking care of her."

He looked at me and blinked. "Oops," he said. "That does complicate matters, doesn't it?"

I nodded. It complicated a lot of things. "I think we'd better keep quiet about it for a while."

"Anything else you want from me?" he asked. He looked like he was expecting bad news.

I shrugged. "Can you get the Laird case reopened? Nothing fancy. I'd just like to try to do a traceback on this Costello guy. I won't try anything in the City without your say-so, but I'd like to ask around in the shadows." I showed him the picture.

He looked relieved, but also puzzled. Costello was the least likely lead on the whole deal. If he was a hired hand, whoever hired him would have had the brains to cover the tracks. Checking out the Grayling organization would have made more sense at this point. Then the mental gears worked a bit and he grinned. "Ah, I get it. An excuse to ask around. You're going undercover to . . ."

"No."

I cut him off. Maybe my voice had an edge to it and it surprised him.

"This is not undercover work," I said evenly. "No fake identity, no phony cover story. I'm doing a real investigation on a real case, and anything else I turn up just happens to turn up."

"Anything you say," he said, but he sounded dubious.

I tried a smile. It felt real enough. "Just a little legwork for the exercise," I told him. "And maybe a way to stretch a City contract for a few more days."

"Hell, from the kind of pressure I got to get you back on board, you could stay on until you retire," he told me.

"I'm already retired," I told him. "This is just killing time."

"Don't kill too much of it," he said. "We don't have that much room in the morgue."

I had no idea what he meant by that, but it seemed like a good snappy exit line, so I smiled at him again and I left.

_________________________________


It wasn't really that much of a coincidence that Costello had lived near Carnival cluster. He was muscle, a bouncer or enforcer type, and it made sense that he'd try to find work at the largest sleaze palaces in Darkunder. His trips to the City showed no obvious pattern, so I'd start with his hotel and then head for the clubs.

His hotel was a dive that made Fumio's look like the Ritz. Where I live is as cheap as they come, but it's an unfurnished lift bloon in a place that has better digs. Fumio's has the bar and lounge downstairs, places to sit comfortably in the lobby, and a courteous staff. And it doesn't stink.

As you may have guessed, I mention these things about Fumio's to contrast it with Costello's last abode, a place without a name, as nearly as I could tell, just an ad in the Directory that said, Rooms for Rent, and an address code.

The desk clerk wasn't much help, either. I showed him Costello's picture and he said, "He looks dead." The clerk was a runt with beady eyes and an expression that wasn't much better than Costello's picture.

"Sharp eyes," I told him.

"The management won't be happy about that," he said. "I think he owes money."

"Probably because he didn't check out before he checked out," I said. I love to say things like that, but the clerk wasn't up to appreciating my wit. He just nodded.

"What can you tell me about him?" I asked.

"Nothing," he told me. "He came, he went. Then he didn't come."

"Visitors?" I asked him. Another shake of his head. "Any calls?"

"I don't pay much attention to that," he said.

I shook my head and flipped him the smallest denomination note I had on me. His face was a study in disappointment. "Next time pay more attention," I told him, with some disgust, and then I left.

As I pulled the squid from the docking bay, I took stock of the situation. It was beginning to get late and the sun was nearly set. I hadn't even had dinner. I could go back to my hotel, have dinner, call Marjori, and leave my Quixotic quest for another day. Or I could check out the Carnival cluster. I flipped a coin and it came up heads. So I set my sights for the Carnival and put the fans on full.

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