The Doppelganger Gambit
In the late twenty-first century Detective Janna Brill is assigned to what seems the suicide of a businessman who outfits colonial companies going to colonize new planets. Only her weird new partner Mahlon “Mama” Maxwell thinks it’s murder. That despite the fact the victim locked himself in with a privacy code that could be entered only from the inside. Her partner also has the victim’s partner as the number one suspect … despite the fact the partner has an iron-clad alibi. His implanted ID/credit card chip places him shopping on the far side of town at the time of the death, and mall surveillance supports that. To make this case they have to prove a man can be in two places at once … and maybe destroy one of law enforcements current best means of tracking suspects.
Saturdays could be hell . . . sorting out Friday night’s mayhem. Especially with the current temperature flaming tempers. How satisfying, then, Janna reflected — comfortable in her desk chair with jacket hanging on the back — that all four of today’s assault cases had been cleared by noon. Two arrests without incident. Charges dropped on another. The domestic between co-husbands resolved with mutual tears and begging of forgiveness. Now she even had her reports finished . . . dictated to the computer and the last, the domestic, ready to be filed with bovi recordings attached.
She reached for her Aztec go-cup on the narrow leg of the L desk and sipped, savoring the coffee’s acidity. Enjoy this, she told herself, gazing through the transparent crime board — empty at the moment — rising between her desk and the matching section of Wim’s. Come Monday, when Detective Maxwell sat over there, who knew what the day might be like.
And her old partner Wim had plenty to say about him when she visited the hospital later.
“No! Don’t let Vradel do this to you! Not Maxwell! He’s brainbent, a wickertick who ignores procedure and bends the rules to the breaking point and beyond. He’s shuffled through every division in the city, where he always screws up. You don’t deserve to be hung with a freak like Mama Maxwell!”
Wim had shrugged. “He likes being called that. Maybe it’s short for Madman, Mayhem Maxwell, or Magnet for Mayhem. Whatever the reason, it’s a name meaning disaster.”
“Do you know that from personal experience or just chop?”
“Personal experience. I worked night watch with that wickertick for a month in Oakland when I was a rookie. We caught this pair of breakers trying to pry open the back door of a tronics store. When they fled, we took off after them. I nailed one and was wrapping him when down the alley ahead I heard what sounded like a cannon going off, followed by screaming. We were carrying just Thor and rubber ammo so I used another strap on my rag’s ankles and went tearing into the alley expecting to find Maxwell down. The place reeked of gun smoke. But it was the breaker screaming, an Afam flat against a wall. He said Maxwell tried to shoot him in the back with the shooter they brought to the break-in for ‘protection’ and dropped in the chase. Maxwell said the breaker shot at him. The shooter’s lying on the ground halfway between them. Maxwell’s wearing gloves so I know the only prints we’ll find will be the breaker’s and it’s a revolver so there’s no discarded brass to suggest which direction the shot came from. And we don’t have bovi evidence because Maxwell’s visor is gone. Knocked off in the course of the chase, he claimed. When the opies questioned us, I backed up Maxwell, of course . . . but sweated the whole time. If that deek had ended up ventilated because Maxwell stumbled or mis-aimed . . . “
Now, swallowing more coffee, Janna grimaced at the memory . . . and at the unit’s clerk Morello eyeing her across the room with a sly grin on his foxy face. That grin always spelled trouble.
She tore across to his desk. “What is it? What’s coming down the pipe?”
The grin broadened. “You’ll see.”
“No.” She slapped both hands on his desk and leaned over them toward him. “Tell me now or I’ll hurt you.”
Instead, he looked beyond her to the door. “Go on in. The lieutenant’s expecting you.”
Janna glanced over her shoulder to see an Afam jon passing behind her.
“You might as well follow him,” Morello said.
She whipped around to stare after the newcomer. A bald, Dutch chocolate scarecrow in a unisuit with a retro tie-dye pattern looking like psychedelic neon bull’s-eyes front and back. She went cold, remember the department photo. Maxwell?
Morello’s smirk confirmed it even before he spoke. “Your new partner, I believe.”
Shit! That glance had shown her a flat stud on the suit’s upright collar . . . the kind containing a program chip for cyberskein fabric. Change the chip, change the suit’s color and pattern. So this program was surely just an off-duty choice since Maxwell did not report for duty until Monday. Please, please. Though that shaved head and the idea of someone choosing such a garish pattern for even off duty brought Wim’s warning shouting in her head.
“Lose that grin, Morello, or your teeth!”
The clerk went instantly deadpan. Until, no doubt, she turned her back.
Entering Vradel’s office, she kept her own face just as impassive.
Vradel’s eyes narrowed. Below them, he smiled. “Brill . . . I was just going to ask you to come in. This is—”
“Detective Maxwell. Morello told me. A couple of days early.” Was he a rocket jockey on top of everything else?
Maxwell smiled. “Call me Mama. I thought I’d do some recon . . . test the temperature of the waters.” The smile faded as he eyed her. “I detect they’re a little cool.”
“Brill and her partner were close,” Vradel said.
Maxwell sighed. “You don’t have to make excuses, Lieutenant. I know my rep precedes me . . . and accept that hasty conclusions result.”
“Then I trust you’ll do your best to alter the rep and conclusions in the coming weeks. On Monday—” The computer pinged. Vradel glanced at the screen. “Brill, how are you coming with those assaults?”
“Then go check out a body at the Prairie Bank and Trust building. Take Maxwell, since he’s here. And, Brill . . . ” His eyes bored into her. ” . . . play nice.”
Leaving, she detoured to her desk long enough to snag her jacket from the back of the chair and set her visor on top of her head, then headed to the atrium stairs and took them three at a time without bothering to see if Maxwell kept up.
He did . . . effortlessly. “I realize I’m not your partner of choice. But I’m an acquirable taste and . . .” At the edge of her vision, he grinned. ” . . . you’ll love me when you get to know me.”
Talk about hasty conclusions. So far, she had no desire at all to acquire the taste. “Since you’re on duty now, how about changing the chip on your suit to something more professional.”
“I didn’t bring another with me.”
Okay, live with it . . . for now. “If we run a log, you can use my slate.”
“I’ll use mine.” Maxwell patted a scabbard pocket on one thigh.
She frowned. “Not without a division code to link you. You should know that.”
“I have it. I signed in at Com coming into the building.” He shrugged. “To save me doing it Monday.”
She glanced sideways at him. “So . . . you have your visor with you, too?” Since signing in included computer and visor talking to one another for future recognition.
“Of course.” He reached into a cargo pocket.
“That’s a visor?” She winced in disbelief at what ended up on his face. Glasses out of old twentieth century photos: large round lenses in a thick black frame that made him look embarrassingly like an owl. “That isn’t even close to regulation.”
“The regs don’t prohibit customized equipment for officers not in uniform as long as its functionality conforms to department specifications. These are fully compliant.”
He called that “customized” and got away with it? But then, he successfully defended officers against Professional Standards charges, which demonstrated a certain power of persuasion.
“So if you’d like to design your own visor, go ahead.”
No, thank you. “Why did you?” Aside from marching to his own drummer.
“It’s my experience civilians aren’t as intimidated because it doesn’t look like typical leo gear.”
He might have a point. She went for a candid appearance by dropping her visor so it hung around the front of her neck. Off her face, but the bovi still active, unknown to witnesses and suspects.
A bigger point with Maxwell: how leo did he look to start with?
At the Prairie building, she had a chance to test the question. While a watchcar sat at the curb, a security guard in a light blue uniform admitted them to the lobby. He nodded as she tapped the badge on her belt and introduced herself. Maxwell, in his blinding unisuit and window frames on his face, earned a dubious stare. Despite his badge and the field kit Janna had him toting.
“Where’s the body?” she asked.
Up at suite 803 she still saw no body, only a quartet in the corridor outside the glass doors of an unlighted suite: a male civilian, middle-aged, balding, and frowning; another guard — carrying a code scanner and looking ex-leo — and two uniforms she recognized only by sight, but greeted by the name on their tags . . . Dillon and Swenson. Because in uniform, she always resented detectives treating her as anonymous.
She had to introduce herself twice, however, with everyone gaping at Maxwell.
Except the frowning civilian. He moved and talked with the impatience of strung nerves. “I’m Lyle Mercer, building manager. Harold Reed, head of security.” Jerking his chin toward the ex-leo.
Two bosses here on Saturday. Impressive. Someone had applied pressure. “Where’s the body?”
“There.” Mercer pointed through the doors. “Office left of the reception desk.”
Janna peered in. Light from the corridor illuminated the area well enough to see two doors in the far wall with an arc of desk between. Pairs of upholstered chairs against the right-hand wall flanked a cart with an urn, mugs, a caddy of blister packs presumably containing coffee and tea cubes, and two cylinders for dispensing creamer and sweetener tabs at a push of the button on top. To her left, the chairs sat either side of a three-foot square holo tank . . . empty at the moment. On both walls tachyon probe photos filled in the space above the chairs.
“The subject’s name is Andrew Kellener,” Reed said.
Of Kellener and Hazlett Colonial Outfitters lettered on the doors above images of a ramjet and planet.
“Allegedly, Kellener!” Mercer said.
“But you know there’s a body?”
“We have drone images taken through the window. The doors are locked in privacy mode and it’s our policy to honor that except in emergencies or with official permission to override, and we’ve been unable to contact the other partner, Jorge Hazlett.”
Just how the hell did this fail to be an emergency! “Mr. Mercer . . .” She kept her voice bland. “. . . you didn’t consider a man down critical enough to override? That he might need medical aid? Or that Hazlett might be in there, too?”
Mercer stiffened. “The man was obviously dead! Some kind of seizure. He’s all twisted.”
Officer Swenson said, “The IR scan on the drone registered the body almost room temperature.”
Beyond medical aid, then, for better than twelve hours.
“We’re confident Hazlett isn’t there,” Reed said. “The office door records him locking up at sixteen-forty-five hours and the building’s rear door cam shows him leaving at sixteen-forty-eight.”
“There’s a parking lot out back for bicycles, motorcycles, and a few cars.”
So maybe just Kellener. Time to put human eyes on him. She handed Maxwell the code reader from their field kit while she slipped her visor down over her eyes and activated it. Stated time, location, and situation for the bovi record, and: “Detective J. Brill overriding privacy mode.”
Maxwell pointed the reader at the outside keypad.
“As the police have taken charge, I see no further need for my presence,” Mercer said, and left.
Looking after him, Reed grimaced. “I was supposed to be off, too.”
Hard card, Janna thought. Death had a way of being inconvenient . . . especially for the deceased. “What made you suspect a death?”
“We didn’t. We just knew—”
“Got it!” Maxwell said.
The doors slid open.
Janna set the field kit in the opening to keep the doors from closing again, slid her boots into disposable scuffs, and one hand after the other into the Instagluv pack. Gritting her teeth against the sensation of gel adhering to her skin. “Start the log.”
He pulled the spindle from his scabbard pocket and opened the slate.
Inside, she walked straight through the reception room to the door Reed pointed out. Not locked. The reek of urine and feces hit her the moment she opened it. One look at the twisted body beyond the semi-circle of desk gave her not only visual confirmation of death but the violence of it. Unlikely a natural death. So, just as well no one had been in and contaminated the scene. The top of a computer screen protruded from the desktop, retraction blocked by a red data stick plugged into its side.
Janna sighed. Shit. Smartdesk. They needed to look at the computer, but with the integrated electronics preventing them from taking the computer back with them, later she needed someone from the Cyber section here. Prepared to override the security — certainly more than a mere password — and download the files. First things first, however.
“Detective J. Brill requesting SI and ME, Prairie Bank building, suite Eight-oh-three.”
“Request received and relayed,” Com replied.
She retraced her path out and bagged the scuffs for Scene Investigation to check for any trace evidence collected on the bottoms. They had no need for her gloves, but she peeled those off and discarded the sticky wad in the bag, too.
Maxwell logged the exit time.
“SI and ME are on the way. So . . . Mr. Reed, you were telling me how you came to find the body.”
“A street entrance and the drive-through window for the bank are open Saturday mornings but none of the offices in this portion of the building. At oh-nine-hundred, Kellener’s wife, name of Embra Seaton, arrived at the main lobby doors requesting entry to check her husband’s offices. She stated he came here yesterday evening after someone using my name called him about eighteen-hundred to report the cleaning crew found his offices unlocked. He then failed to return home. Repeated attempts by her to reach him received no answer at either the office number or his personal cell. Officer Yu refused to admit her because the story didn’t scan. I don’t work nights and the cleaning crew had just arrived at the time she claimed I called. Officer Yu suggested the husband had gone elsewhere. She denied the possibility because he told her he was coming here.”
And husbands never lied. Right. But it was easy enough to check. “I take it his scib doesn’t include a GPS.” In common with most of the population over age eighteen.
“And Yu didn’t run the door log?”
“No.” The set of Reed’s jaw promised Yu a reprimand. “He returned to the security office, where he observed Seaton remaining outside, making calls on her cell. At oh-ten-hundred another female arrived, which the door admitted. Scib scan identified her as Nina Linderman, an employee of Kellener and Hazlett. They entered an elevator and—”
“Sorry to interrupt.” She needed a summary, not this report mode his leo training triggered. “I assume they found the doors locked in privacy mode. Linderman isn’t authorized to override?”
Janna watched a frown flicker and clear as Reed switched mind set. “Only to unlock in standard security mode.”
“What happened then?”
“Since privacy mode can be set only inside, someone had to be there, but they received no response to pounding on the doors. After they tried calling Hazlett to come override, but failed to reach him, they came down to the security office to ask us to override. None of the officers on duty are authorized for that, so Yu called me. Before I arrived he finally ran the door log, which recorded Kellener entering at eighteen-fifty-nine hours and setting the privacy mode set at nineteen-nineteen, clearing it at nineteen-twenty-one and re-setting it at nineteen-twenty-one.”
Set twice. Why? Janna wondered.
“I then notified Mr. Mercer . . . who after arrival and being apprised of the situation . . . and following further failure to reach Hazlett still felt . . . ” Reed’s voice went carefully neutral. ” . . . we had insufficient cause to override.”
More likely he lacked the balls to take responsibility for it, fearing they might interrupt a compromising situation. Ridiculous. Why would Kellener come to his office for a rump romp, or if so, tell his wife his destination?
“The secretary raised hell and started looking up corporation officers on her slate, threatening to call them. So I linked with an old buddy in Patrol and said we needed to make a welfare check. He sent the uniformed officers with the hover drone.”
At which point, seeing the drone image, Mercer’s bureaucratic balls shrank from pea size to pin heads, Janna surmised, and he decided to punt.
“Where’s the wife now?” Janna asked.
“My office, with the secretary . . . having chamomile tea laced with Sereen. She became distraught after insisting on seeing the drone image.”
“I’ll come talk to her presently.” After SI started scanning. “Meanwhile, let’s locate Hazlett and notify him of his partner’s death.” She opened her slate and entered the business name. That gave her the partners’ full names: Jorge Edward Hazlett and Andrew Morgan Kellener. She entered her code and Hazlett’s name for a GPS search . . . in case his scib included one. But — no surprise — no GPS. So they needed scib activity to trace him . . . which required her computer at headquarters.
The SI team arrived, ambling up the corridor with gear cases rolling at heel . . . a pair she knew well, Anya Peshar and Stan Hardy.
“What have we got?” Hardy asked.
“Suspicious death. Victim’s in the office left of the reception desk,” Janna said, “but start in the reception— Hardy!”
He was staring at Maxwell. Correction, Maxwell’s suit. He reached a lanky arm toward one sleeve. “Ooh . . . cyberskein! You mean someone without a fortune can actually afford these? How many chips do you have?”
Maxwell touched the stud on his collar. “Twenty-five.”
For god’s sake! “Zero the fashion discussion!”
Peshar surveyed the reception room with a grimace. “You know all the crap that’ll be here.”
“Yeah, but record it anyway. We don’t know what’ll be relevant once the body’s processed. There’s a data stick plugged into his computer screen in the office. Make sure you collect and print that.” Since it did not have to wait for Cyber.
They opened their cases. With the speed of practice, they quickly stepped into footed shrouds and pressed them closed to the hood. Hardy picked up the holocam . . . which looked like a three liter cannister with a bug-eyed lens on top that swivelled up, down, and around, 360 degrees. He set its tripod in the center of the room and turned on the overhead lights, then returned to the corridor and moved Janna’s field kit to let the doors close.
His remote started the scan . . . a ten minute procedure that recorded and stored every detail of the room from carpet to ceiling in its pristine pre-search state. If it appeared useful, they might make a second scan later with SI’s markers indicating critical evidence.
While the cam recorded, she might as well learn about the living Kellener. A few taps and swipes on her slate accessed criminal and civilian databases.
Andrew Morgan Kellener, 47 — better looking in his included photos than in death — faded red hair pulled back neatly and blue eyes not bulging. Born in Lawrence, Kansas. Clean in Interpol’s ICIC. The FBI’s NCIC showed one arrest. For civil disobedience in D.C. during Diaspora’s ‘68 rally protesting proposed funding cuts to the tachyon probe program. No charges filed. Other than that, nothing . . . not even traffic citations. Only registered vehicles were two junior-sized bikes and a market trike. And the latter, with its cargo basket between the rear wheels, probably stayed home for the wife’s shopping use. Graduated from the KU law school ‘69; passed the bar ‘70, entered law practice in Lawrence with Jorge Edward Hazlett ‘70; moved practice to Topeka in ‘73, became a colonial outfitter with Hazlett in ‘75. Contracted marriage with Embra Elise Seaton in ‘74. Contract still valid. Two children, Gregg Charles Kellener, born 2082; Elisa April Seaton, born 2085. Affiliations: Diaspora, Greenstrive, Terrasave, ECO.
“I was at the Diaspora demonstration, too,” Maxwell said in her ear.
She looked up to see him peering over her shoulder and edged away. “Why? You had to be, what . . . fifteen?”
“Fourteen. I went with my mother and her brother. He wanted to be a colonist — actually is on his way out there somewhere now — and she thought he ought to have the chance. If we end up poisoning the planet beyond reclamation, emigration will at least ensure Mankind’s survival.”
The pious sound of that made her sniff. “Does Mankind deserve survival after what it’s done to this planet?”
He ticked his tongue. “What kind of attitude is that for someone sworn to serve and protect Mankind?”
More often forced to clean up their messes.
A light on the holocam cannister went from green to red, signaling finished. Hardy re-entered the suite and moved the holocam into Kellener’s office. After starting the cam from the office door, he joined Peshar back in the corridor where they picked up the handvac-looking scene scanners and began working the reception room, starting right. Peshar led with the omniscanner cycling through its light variants . . . illuminating hair, fibers, fluids, fingerprints. Hardy followed with the sniffer . . . putting down a marker like a giant push pin where they discovered something for imaging or other further examination.
Past the chairs and table with the urn they reached two doors. Peshar opened each. “Washroom. Workroom-slash-storeroom.”
“Process them later,” Janna said.
They continued on past the office doors, reception desk, chairs and holo tank. Peshar swept the scanner down the tank’s surface, and then touched a control on the base. A planet with three small moons appeared inside. A very blue planet . . . with small polar caps and webs of island chains, but otherwise all ocean.
Watching it rotate, Janna felt a pull . . . a prickle down her arms and back at the beauty of it and found herself imagining a walk along those island beaches, or a swim in what had to be warm seas. Was this how Wim and Vada felt seeing images of Highland? No wonder colonization attracted them. Could she be wrong in rejecting the idea?
Peshar touched the control once more and the planet vanished. Peshar and Hardy moved on . . . passing the entry doors…spiraling toward the center.
Janna started and shook herself, feeling as if as if a spell just broke. “Crap. Is that what these jons do, sell their services by running subliminals in holos?”
Maxwell grinned. “They don’t need subliminals. Bright baubles like that just naturally make the ape in your brain go: ooh, I want the pretty pretty!”
She preferred to blame subliminals.
The SI’s finished off at the room’s center and returned to the corridor.
“You finding anything interesting?” Janna asked.
Peshar rolled her eyes. “Scanning plenty of trace, of course. Hair, a million fingerprints, most probably smudged, but maybe clearer ones on the drink mugs. A wastebasket with discarded napkins and blister packs. Their relevance is your call. The urn’s flash heater is on.”
They might leave it on, though surely not for the weekend. A question for the secretary.
“You want us to start collecting now?”
“Yes. The office first.” The holo scan should be done by now.
They disappeared through Kellener’s door.
“Why are you all just standing there!”
Janna turned to find a pouter pigeon of a female storming up the corridor toward them . . . red-patterned overblouse fluttering like flames.
She halted toe to toe with Reed . . . glaring up from the level of his shoulders. “We’ve been sitting in your office for hours, waiting to hear something! Why aren’t you finding what happened to Andy!”
Andy. Was this the wife? Maybe not. Reed said the secretary had raised hell, which fit this female. Janna pulled the name from her memory. “We are attempting to do so, Ms. Linderman.”
Linderman wheeled. “And who the hell are you!”
Janna tapped her badge. “Detective Brill, SCPD.”
“Yes? Attempting how? Andy’s in there and you’re out here!”
Nothing visible, therefore nothing happening? She gave the secretary a professionally polite smile. “Our scene investigators are with Mr. Kellener. It’s how we’re required to proceed with deaths of an unknown cause.”
“Isn’t it obvious? He had some kind of terrible seizure.”
“We’re attempting to find out. I need to talk to Ms. Seaton, so if you will please return to Mr. Reed’s office until—”
“No.” Linderman crossed her arms. “We’re waiting right here for answers.”
We . . . meaning the other female behind her in the corridor? That must be Embra Seaton. Slim, short dark hair, faded tee and jeans . . . and expression blank as a sleepwalker’s. Blanker than Sereen in her tea alone accounted for.
Reed said, “You’ll be more comfortable down the hall. I’m sure Dr. Bender won’t mind you using her waiting room.” He pointed while lifting a brow at Janna.
She glanced the direction of his finger . . . down and across the corridor at a door with a grinning tooth on it . . . and nodded.
Linderman’s jaw set. But Seaton gave her a stricken stare from eyes like bruises. “Please, Nina.”
Linderman hurried to put an arm around Seaton and let the two of them be escorted to the dentist’s office, which Reed unlocked with his own code reader.
Hardy appeared presently to stow away the holocam. “Plenty of action in there. He spilled a mug. Liquid’s dried on the desktop and we’ll swab it for the lab, but most went on the carpet and that soaked deep enough to stay damp and give us an ace sniffer reading. Green tea and trick. Mega OD the way he’s turned pretzel. The poor bastard.”
Trick! Not poor bastard, but brainbent bastard! If he took it knowingly, maybe that accounted for setting the privacy mode twice . . . trying to make up his mind about zeroing himself. “Okay . . . now we need to process everything. Out here concentrate on the urn area and trash.”
With a nod, Hardy disappeared back into Kellener’s office with the evidence collection kit.
“Trick.” Janna sighed. “I’ll talk to the wife and try getting a feel for whether this was accidental or a deliberate zero.”
“With trick?” Maxwell shook his head. “Brutal way to go.”
Unless he thought he was overdosing with something like Lotus or Nirvana and expected to float away on a gentle wave of synesthesia.
On the way down the corridor she lowered her visor so it hung around the front of her neck. Still recording, of course, but the less “official” look might help her deal with Linderman.
In the dentist’s waiting room, Embra Seaton sat wedged against one arm of a colloidal plastic chair . . . rigidly upright as a catatonic. The hand held by Linderman in the adjoining chair lay limp in the secretary’s grip.
Janna pulled another chair around to face them. “Ms. Seaton, I know this is difficult. I’m so sorry for your loss. But in order to help find answers for you, we need to ask you some questions.”
As though the speed of sound had slowed around her, Seaton took several seconds before nodding.
“Tell me about your husband’s drug use.”
Linderman stiffened. “Andy doesn’t use drugs! Ever! He doesn’t believe in polluting the body any more than polluting the planet.”
Which might explain ignorance about trick. If true. Janna forced her tone to remain mild. “Are the three of you in an uncontracted group marriage?”
Linderman blinked. “What? No. But Embra and I have been best friends since school.”
Thereby making her feel entitled to act as spokeswoman? “So you aren’t a spouse. Then I need Ms. Seaton to answer the question.”
“Why? She’s in shock! How can you expect her to answer?”
Janna sighed. There appeared to be only one way to deal with this female. “She certainly can’t if you don’t give her a chance to. I need you to step into the hall.”
Linderman’s jaw set. “No. I’m not leaving you alone to bully her into some kind of confession.”
Now that was interesting. Janna raised her brows. “Is there something for her to confess to?”
Linderman recoiled . . . went even more vehement. “Of course not!”
“Then leave and let Ms. Seaton answer.”
Her hand tightened around Seaton’s. “I’m staying! But . . . I won’t say anything.” She pressed her lips tightly together.
Janna focused on Seaton again.
Before she had to repeat her question, however, Seaton answered as though the original one just reached her . . . voice slow, tone flat. “Andy didn’t use drugs. Why would he?”
“For energy; for relaxation; to calm anxiety . . . like the Sereen in your tea.”
That touched something. Linderman’s breath caught.
Janna glanced from one to the other. “Did he have anything to be anxious about?”
“Of course not!”
The secretary’s favorite response. Janna took a breath to order Linderman out of the room.
Seaton sighed. “Nina. They’ll find out.”
Sometimes not asking brought the fastest reply. Janna waited.
Seaton sighed again and pulled loose from Linderman to lace her hands together tightly in her lap. “Andy’s been upset since the news about the Invictus. He and Jorge were the outfitters for the Laheli Company.”
Holy fuck! Janna clenched her jaw to keep it from dropping. That gave Kellener reason for mega anxiety. In a burst of personal fear she wondered if they had outfitted Wim’s ship. Her fingers itched to call and ask him.
Linderman scowled. “The firm didn’t do anything wrong! Andy was just upset about the people lost! He treated clients like members of his own family and became very close to them. Outfitting colonists to send them on to new lives was a . . . mission with him.”
It would be, as a Diasporist.
“But . . . ” Linderman paused and took a breath.
But. Janna waited for the rest . . . often the most informative part of a statement.
The breath sighed out. “Andy wanted to go through the Laheli file to make absolutely sure we hadn’t overlooked some small but fatal detail with Kyzer. Of course, he hadn’t. He’s always been very careful about details. Checking and double-checking. Except he couldn’t access the file because it had some kind of glitch. Then the computer went down with a virus that wasn’t cleaned out until yesterday. It was driving him crazy. Then the Laheli file still had a glitch. Cybermage was supposed to come back later in the afternoon to take care of that.”
“Not before Andy and I left. That was at three-thirty. It’s early — we usually close at five unless there’s a client who needs a late appointment — but Jorge said with the computer down we might as well go. He stayed to wait for the tech.”
Janna turned that over in her head. “Ms. Seaton, was your husband concerned enough that once the file became accessible, he’d want to check it right away?”
She hesitated. “It’d be like him. But if he came here for that, why not tell me?”
Linderman answered. “Because he knew you’d try to make him forget it for the weekend.”
“Did you recognize the voice or face of the person who called?” Janna asked.
Seaton shook her head. “The face was a blur and now I know the voice wasn’t Mr. Reed’s.”
“Do you think your husband knew the caller?”
“I . . . guess so. He didn’t ask who it was.”
“How did he react to the call? Relieved? More worried?”
She hesitated again. “I’m not sure. I couldn’t hear what he said except once when he raised his voice. He said, ‘Tonight?’ Like he didn’t want to do something. But when he told me about coming here and I asked if the security people couldn’t lock the office, he said he wanted to check that everything was all right and would be home in a couple of hours.” Her breath caught. “He wasn’t.”
Com whispered in Janna’s ear: “Copy to Detective Brill: Most recent scib activity for Jorge Edward Hazlett, 250DD debit to Astin Hyatt Hotel, KC Mo, 1000DD debit oh-nine hundred to Knight’s Hall at Union Station, KC Mo, 7000DD deposit oh-eleven thirty from Knight’s Hall. Deposit of 6000DD thirteen thirty-eight from Knight’s Hall.”
Scib activity? How did Maxwell manage that from a slate? “I need the number for Knight’s Hall.”
“Already requested and given to Detective Maxwell.”
Oh, yeah? Was he trying to take the lead?
She pushed irritation back to see how the secretary and wife might react to Hazlett’s location and activity. “We’ve learned Mr. Hazlett is in Kansas City . . . playing chess.”
To Janna’s surprise Linderman looked relieved. “Good.”
“You don’t mind he’s gone there?”
Her brows went up. “It means the computers are fixed. He wouldn’t have gone otherwise. And it explains why he hasn’t answered his phone. The chess club doesn’t allow electronic devices in the game hall. Of course, if he’d gone off with a femfriend or to one of those wild parties his friends throw, he wouldn’t have answered either. Oh.” The brows came down. “You mean gone this weekend . . . because of the Invictus.” She paused before answering. “I can’t judge him for not being emotional as Andy. He said he’s never met any of the Laheli people and he doesn’t get involved with clients in the same way as Andy anyway. I know he isn’t worried about an investigation. He’s sure it’ll prove there was a building flaw by Kyzer.”
“I noticed Mr. Kellener has a smartdesk. What form of biometrics activates it?”
“Palm scan and voice recognition. All our desks use that.”
“Are your computers linked?”
“Andy and Jorge’s are. Mine is separate.”
Good. Once they had the partner here, they could download Kellener’s files from his comp.
“May I take Embra home?”
“Not yet,” Seaton said. “I want to see Andy.”
“You don’t want to see him now,” Linderman said. “Wait until— ”
Seaton shook her head sharply. “I don’t want to wait. The drone didn’t have a good view of the face. Maybe it isn’t Andy.”
They always hoped that. “I’ll be confirming ID shortly by fingerprints.”
“I want to see for myself.”
The set of Seaton’s jaw told Janna there was no point arguing. Fine. “I’ll come get you when the ME brings him out.”
Approaching the outfitters’ office she started to put back on her visor, then left it hanging on her neck. Maxwell stood alone in the corridor.
“Where are Reed and the uniforms?”
“I released the uniforms since they weren’t doing anything except playing games on their slates. I asked Reed to run the lock log for the last thirty-six hours and check the street and rear door cam recordings from last night . . . see who’s come and gone from the office and building.
Reasonable actions on his part. Still . . .
She deactivated her bovi. “A private word.”
After eyeing her a moment, he deactivated his bovi, too.
“How did you get the scib activity?”
Maxwell shrugged. “I looked up his bank and called them. They have 24/7 customer service. I explained to a charming representative that we had a compassionate notification to make. He checked the account and recited entries for the last six hours.”
Compassionate notification made it a request within the guidelines. Did it rankle because he thought of it first?
“I almost had him convinced to send me everything for the past twenty-four hours.”
Really? Now she had a legitimate reason for irritation. “Do I need to remind you that we need the proper authorization codes on record for that? And since I’m the lead, you should at least let me know actions you wish to take before you act.”
His eyes glinted. “You work strictly by the book.” As if that were a character flaw.
She fought not to snarl. “Following procedure prevents duplication of effort, keeps the investigation orderly . . . and keeps it tidy for eventually handing to the DA.” That said, she took a breath and went on: “Since you requested a contact number for Knight’s Hall, I assumed you’ve called it?”
“Yes . . . but the officious prick who answers the phone will only give Hazlett a message to call us, and that after the conclusion of his current match. Their procedure is to never interrupt games in progress.”
Had that been a dig at her? Not the way to endear himself.
“What did you learn from Seaton and Linderman?”
Playing by the book meant her, too, unfortunately . . . keeping her partner informed. “These are the outfitters for the Invictus.”
His brows rose above his glasses. Then made the trip up and down several times while she summarized the interview . . . ending with his eyes narrowed. “Hazlett didn’t bother letting Kellener know the computer problem was fixed, just left him stewing while he sailed away to play for the weekend? You’d think even if he wasn’t worried personally, he’d have some sympathy for his partner.”
Janna shrugged. “The secretary says Kellener was obsessive about details and emotionally involved with clients. If he worried aloud, Hazlett may just tune him out and never consider his partner might be depressed enough to zero himself. Maybe he knew Kellener had good reason for depression, that he had overlooked some fatal detail.”
“You’re saying this was suicide?”
“He locked himself in and took a lethal drug. It could have been accidental because he didn’t realize it was fatal. Assuming the wife and secretary are being truthful about his drug use.”
“Maybe, but . . . the trick bothers me. Assuming he wanted to zero himself, you can OD on a big enough dose of any OTC pharmaceutical, including his aspirin or Sereen. So why choose trick if you know drugs, and if you don’t, how did he come by it?”
Since that echoed some of her thoughts, she nodded. “Good question.”
“I ran the wife and secretary while you were interviewing them.” He handed her his slate. “They’ve both had possession charges. Nothing serious, and not recent. That doesn’t mean one or both aren’t still using, sticking to legals, or are more careful with illegals.”
“Including trick?” Janna frowned. “You think Seaton would have something like that in the house with kids around?”
“Users can be zipwits.”
Well . . . he had that right.
She half-listened to Maxwell spouting theories. “Maybe Kellener said something that told the wife he was at fault for the Invictus and she thought Why you bastard and gave him the trick as he headed for the office. ‘Here, honey . . . take this with you. You need to relax and this will help.’”
Murder on behalf of strangers? Not much of a motive. But then, people killed for all manner of strange or trivial reasons. He blew all his leaves into my yard. Or: I got tired of telling the prick to put down the fucking toilet seat.
“Maybe she just wanted to be rid of him and saw a perfect opportunity for it.”
“We’ll get a warrant to search their house.”
The slate played a cheerful martial march. She switched to phone mode.
Jorge Hazlett’s face appeared on the screen, forehead furrowed in puzzlement. “Are you Detective Maxwell? I have a message that you need to talk to me about Andy Kellener?”
“I’m Detective Brill. This is Detective Maxwell.” She tipped the slate toward him. “Mr. Kellener—”
“Has something happened to Andy? Is it serious? Was it an autocab?”
Janna blinked. “Autocab?”
Hazlett grimaced. “He insists on using them even though I keep telling him they’re junk, driven to death. Be safe, I say. Buy a car, even one of those pathetic solar-charged ones since he’s so damn worried about his carbon footprint. Was his family with him? Are they all right?”
Janna said, “Breathe.”
He stared at her. “What?”
“Give us a chance to answer. This has nothing to do with autocabs. But we’re very sorry to inform you that Mr. Kellener is dead.”
Hazlett sucked in a breath. “What? How!”
“It will be easier to explain if you’re here.”
He hesitated a moment. “Of course. Where do I come?”
His eyes widened. “My office? What the hell . . . Never mind.” He shook his head. “I’m on my way.”
The screen blanked.
Janna handed the slate back to Maxwell, who returned it to log mode with a frown. “He’s very cooperative, isn’t he?”
Janna eyed him. “You consider that suspicious?”
“Partners, sexual or business . . . always at the top of my suspect list.”
“If Kellener is responsible for the Invictus, Hazlett could be pissed off at him for bringing the Feds down on them. And he likely has access to drugs at the ‘wild parties’ the secretary mentioned.”
But used discreetly, going by the lack of drug charges in his data. “Let’s not jump to hasty conclusions.” Her own return dig, repeating his words in Vradel’s office. “He didn’t call Kellener, or the wife would have recognized his voice.”
“We only have her word she didn’t recognize who called.”
A conspiracy? Were Hazlett and Seaton lovers? She would have expected someone with Hazlett’s expensive tastes — the Vulcan, spending 250dd’s just for a night’s bed there in KC — to prefer flashier dance partners. Still, chemistry created strange pairings.
A familiar voice down the corridor broke into the thought and she turned to smile at baby-faced Assistant ME Sid Chesney headed her way ahead of two attendants and a stretcher. “Imagine seeing you here.”
He grinned back. “No imagination needed. I learned it’s your case and volunteered.” Reaching her, he leaned close to her ear. “I wanted to see your new partner. Bright plumage. What dance partners do you suppose he likes?”
“I’m not about to ask.” Speaking of odd dance partners. She squinted sideways at Maxwell. What did Sid see that made him want to know? Misled by the “plumage”? “I won’t risk Treece scratching my eyes out.”
Maxwell’s slate played its cheerful march again. He frowned at the screen.
Reed’s voice said, “The last recorded office entry before Kellener yesterday evening was at oh-eight-fifty Friday, opened with Kellener’s code. Linderman and Hazlett did not use their codes to enter.”
So the office remained unlocked all day.
“Hazlett’s code locked the doors at sixteen-forty-five, as I reported before. He left the building at sixteen-forty-eight. Neither door cams nor scib scan record him re-entering. The street door scanned Kellener’s scib at eighteen-fifty-six and his code unlocked his office at eighteen-fifty-nine hours.”
Which appeared to disappoint Maxwell.
Peshar and Hardy came out of Kellener’s office. Peshar carried evidence bags that included a mug, the data stick, and small bottles that looked like OTC products. “The victim’s yours. The sniffer reads trick on the surface of one desk drawer — likely tea spilled down it — but not inside any of them. We found these aspirin and antacids in one drawer. Sniffer didn’t detect trick in either. Do you want them tested anyway?”
“Yes.” If trick ended up in either by some circumstance, no one of any intelligence should mistake the stars for aspirin or antacid tabs. Unless it had been no mistake.
Her jacket replaced by a footed shroud, gloved again, visor back on and activated . . . Janna snagged the combo scib scanner/print reader from her field kit along with print film envelopes and followed Sid and his attendants into the office. Leaving Maxwell in the corridor with the log and the SI’s collecting in the reception area.
In the office, Sid pushed a probe into Kellener’s liver and felt along the limbs. “Well, this poor soul didn’t go gently into that good night.”
With second look at the twisted form and the agonized expression on the discolored face, the violence of the death struck Janna even harder. Going from mere “body” to a victim with a name, family, and personality did that to her.
Sid looked up. “TOD was between seven and eight last night. COD appears to be asphyxia. We’ll confirm at autopsy. Did I hear the SI’s mention trick?”
Janna nodded. “The sniffer ID’d it his tea.”
Sid shuddered. “That’d do it. We’ll still run tox, of course. God. What a way to go. These were violent seizures. Strong enough to crack a bone or two, I suspect. That’s messed up rigor progress, of course.”
The intense activity bringing it on sooner.
“He’s coming out now.”
Not enough to relax his limbs. They and his body remained frozen in their final spasm. Sid and the attendants bagged the hands and forced the arms and legs straight, then stood.
“All yours, Detective.”
Scanning the dead man’s scib and pressing one of his thumbs to the print reader gave her official confirmation of Kellener’s ID. The search of his pockets yielded no swipe cards, so all his locks must have keypads. He carried no memory fob, either, for storing the various codes, but . . . did have a pocket cell, and running down through the address book produced an entry for Yale with five number sequences. None of them were identified, which he probably thought made them secure. The cell also listed fourteen missed calls, all from the same number. Presumably home.
Other items: eleven vend tokens, a stiff wadded handkerchief, equally stiff sweatband, and a receipt for bike rental timed 18:11 at a Metrans stand on west 40th Street. It all went into evidence bags. Before standing, Janna removed a sheet of print film from its envelope and pressed each of Kellener’s fingers around its edges. The images began developing as she finished his last thumb, appearing like magic on the black surface . . . bright white, ready for scanning and comparison to scene prints. With Kellener’s name written on the ID strip down the center along with her name and the date, the film went back in its envelope.
“Take him away.” She pushed to her feet, stepping back to let them load him on the stretcher, and followed them out, frowning at the Metrans receipt.
Despite the concern for carbon footprint that Hazlett disparaged, with last night’s heat, why had Kellener not taken an autocab? And if none remained at his local Metrans stand, why not wait for the relative comfort of a bus? Who called, and what had they really said that Kellener found so urgent he opted to bike in?
In the reception room, Peshar and Hardy had sorted the wastebasket contents onto a sheet of plastic and were running a sniffer over them.
Seaton’s voice reached Janna as she handed the SI techs her print envelope. “I want to see my husband.”
Janna turned to see Seaton stepping in front of the stretcher.
Linderman shrugged at Janna. “She wouldn’t wait.”
Janna nodded at Sid. At least the body had been straightened and Maxwell looked in good position to catch Seaton if she collapsed.
Sid peeled open the head end of the body bag.
Seaton sucked in a sharp breath and went white but stood steady. “All right . . . that’s Andy. What happens now?”
“Now we’ll determine how he died,” Maxwell said.
Nice evasion. Put off news of the trick a while longer.
“We’ll let you know when you can have his body,” Janna said.
“Thank you. Nina, will you drive me home?”
“But before you go . . .”
“We have their prints.” Maxwell held up two envelopes. “I took them while you were in the office.”
Efficient, therefore nothing to fault. Maybe she judged him too quickly.
After the women and ME’s crew left, she moved to the door and showed him the evidence bags. “This is what Kellener had in his pockets.”
Maxwell studied the items for a minute, then shrouded, gloved, and strode through the office to the spread contents of the wastebasket. “Identify trick on anything?”
“No.” Peshar dropped stir sticks into a bag. “We’ll swab everything back at the lab to double-check.”
“And for DNA and antibody profiles?”
Maxwell frowned at the bags containing the data stick and mug from the office, along with the film recording the prints on them. “Did you find anything besides this mug on the desk or the floor around the desk?”
“That was it.”
He shifted to the aspirin and antacid bottles. “No powder on the desk or carpet?”
“Nope.” Hardy picked up the first of eight blister packs.
One by one, he reached into each from the bottom with his own gloved finger, popped it out smooth, and holding it firm, pressed a small square of print film on the top. Film and blister then went into an evidence bag.
Peshar finished bagging napkins and moved on to the washroom.
Maxwell took each bag as Hardy sealed it, studying the blister pack and the prints coming up white on the film inside. Four he set apart from the others. “Run the prints on these first, please.”
Janna set the bags of pocket contents on a corner of the plastic sheet and eyed him, curiosity overriding annoyance at him acting like the lead again. “Why those first?”
“They’re for green tea. Kellener had tea. Let’s see if he made it. May I borrow the sniffer?”
Hardy raised a brow. “Why?”
“To check these.”
Before Janna realized his intention, Maxwell had broken open the bag of tokens and dumped them on the plastic.
Son of a bitch. “What the hell are you doing?”
Without answering, he passed the sniffer over the tokens. Nothing registered. Behind his lenses, though, Maxwell’s eyes glinted in what looked like satisfaction. He returned them to the bag and resealed it. “Make sure these get swabbed, too, please.”
“What’s missing here?” He waved at the collection on the plastic sheet.
Janna narrowed her eyes. “What’s missing?”
“What’s your theory about what happened to Kellener?”
Nothing like changing the subject. Fine. “He . . . came here after receiving a phone call purportedly warning him the office had been found unlocked but perhaps letting him know the computer had been fixed. Once here he locked himself in . . . possibly to study the Laheli file without interruption by the cleaning crew. He plugged in a data stick. At some point he made himself a cup of tea containing trick. Whether he knew what he was doing or not, we have yet to determine.”
“But you feel confident he brought it with him last night?”
Janna frowned. She knew that tone. Defense attorneys used it in anticipation of attacking her answer. “You don’t?”
“Not unless you show me how he brought it. I don’t see any container for it.”
She frowned. “Maybe he flushed it down their john.”
“Why do that when the wastebasket is right where he makes up the tea? Or, if it wasn’t added until he went to his desk, why isn’t the container lying there?”
“Maybe it is. It came in the aspirin or antacid bottles.”
Maxwell shook his head. “Those are over half empty. I think they’ve been in his desk for a while. And if trick were in either, there’d be trace for the sniffer to pick up. Even ignoring that, to get the trick, he’d have to shake out a handful of tabs.”
Shit. Right. “Along with some of that powder that’s always in the bottle.”
Which they should find on his hand or the desk, and maybe on his clothes from wiping his hand. She had seen nothing like that on him, and SI reported none on the desk or carpet. So the trick came in something else.
She studied the collection on the floor . . . all bagged and waiting for Hardy to finish printing the mugs before being packed away in an evidence case. Unlicensed street dealers liked to sandwich drug tabs between tokens . . . explaining why Maxwell ran the sniffer over Kellener’s. Barring the discovery of trace the sniffer missed, though, trick had not touched them. She rejected the napkins as a possible conveyance in this weather. Too likely to become sweat-soaked and dissolve the tabs right there in Kellener’s pocket. The design of the napkins from the wastebasket matched those remaining in the caddy anyway. One of the blister packs? Druggists, licensed street dealers, and the more sophisticated unlicensed ones used those . . . falsely labeled if they contained illegals. Except, again, the sniffer detected no trick.
“See anything?” Maxwell asked.
“No.” She took a breath. “This is pure blue sky, but . . . could the trick be something he found here? Felt so strung he went looking for a calmer . . . found it instead, and took it without realizing what it was.” Blue sky indeed that trick might be just lying around the office.
They tried the reception desk, the first place she would look in Kellener’s place. A row of drawers following the desk’s curve. All locked. Forget the desk, then. Any drugs here had to be easily accessible.
Maxwell headed for the washroom. Janna heard him ask Peshar about findings there.
She took the workroom/storage room.
A conventional printer sat against one wall of the narrow space. Shelves beyond it held printer supplies, a few cartons containing promotional brochures for Kellener and Hazlett’s business, and info kits for prospective clients. Nothing in the room offered storage space for painkillers or calmers and she bet a sniffer found the area clean.
She moved on to Hazlett’s office. His desk, a smartdesk like Kellener’s, had two drawers toward each end of the arc. All locked.
Back in the reception room, she found Maxwell coming out of Kellener’s office. “No luck, right?” he said. “So . . . if there’s no other trick here except that in the tea and no container for bringing it, someone took away whatever it came in.”
A reasonable conclusion.
“We need to review all the cam recordings from last night . . . see everyone who came and went . . . I’d say from seven nineteen on.”
She moved into the corridor and stripped off her shroud. “You think that’s when he let his dealer out and locked up behind him?”
Following her, Maxwell discarded his shroud, too. “I don’t think he let out whoever brought the trick. I think he was dead by then. I think whoever brought it and gave it to him waited to make sure it did the job.”
The words took a moment to register. Then she whirled on him. “Hey! Whoa! You think Kellener was murdered?”
Maxwell frowned. “The evidence says so.”
Evidence? “What evidence?”
“The trick was in the tea.” His tone made it fact that explained everything.
“So?” Talk about marching to his own drummer.
“Why put it in tea except to dose Kellener without him knowing it?”
He had a whole drum corps. “One problem. How did he or she leave with the door locked?”
Maxwell shrugged. “If the privacy code can be overridden from the outside, there’s probably a way to set it outside, too. Our cyber boys can tell us. Oh,” he said to Hardy, “make sure that data stick gets to Cyber asap, to Mal Kreske. He’s the best.”
“Never heard of him,” Janna said. “It goes to Reyal, Hardy.”
Maxwell’s lips compressed. “We’ll check with Mal about the doors. If anyone knows how to fox the lock, he does. Then we just need to decide whether the wife or partner had the best motive for wanting him dead.”
What! “No, we won’t.” She forced herself not to shout. “No, no, no. Of course we’ll check out the wife and partner, but as the routine gathering of evidence. Seeing where that takes us. We will not — I repeat not — pole vault to an assumption of murder and who committed it and focus the investigation on supporting that theory.”
“Investigate by the book.” The total lack of expression in his face and voice might as well have been a sneer.
“Yes.” Did scorn for procedure indicate an intention to ignore it in favor of soaring into blue sky? If that happened, this piece of bovi recording got played for Vradel while she requested a new partner.