Friday, October 28, 2016

Crime and Gravity Part 7

“What do we have on Burke?”

Sarah called up a data file as she slowly paced around the office. “The combination of tailing him for two days and the research I have done online has given a well detailed profile. What were you looking for?”

I scanned the file as the question mulled over in my mind. “Let’s start with his home. His death has not been reported as a murder yet so there is a chance no one has bothered to lock it down yet.”

“Address is locked into your GPS. Research suggests that Mr. Burke’s home has an out of date security system.”

I made my way out of the Regency Bright office building, speeding along the freeway as the streetlights flashed by my window one at a time, distracting from the full moon outside as I headed into the northern suburbs. I slowed down to avoid attracting attention as I approached the subdivision, stopping to plant a small tracker by the most likely way in. That should let me know if anyone was passing by this late at night with a few minutes notice to run for it if I felt the need. Taking in the view of how the better half lived as I passed by pristine white houses one after another until I made it to Burke’s address. It appeared being a crooked lawyer paid fairly well. Working for Kimura carried a lousy retirement plan though. The area was far too open to hide the car anywhere and sneak in so I went with plan B and drove into the driveway like I belonged there.

I took a moment scanning the area before exiting the car. Either no one had noticed my arrival or they just did not care. A short walk to the back door told me Sarah had been right. This security system was slightly more technologically advanced than barricading the door, but not much. It took me thirty seconds flat to disable the electronics on the alarm and another twenty to force the lock. I didn’t even beat it up too badly. Closing the door behind me I started to search the rooms one by one. The kitchen was pristine, black and white tile matching the outside view and giving the place a cold, empty look. Burke didn’t strike me as the domestic type so I was guessing a cleaning service. That could give me one more avenue to check if I came out of this with a big pile of nothing. I slipped around the back into the master bedroom. My experience told me if there was anything to find, it would be here. The place had the same just cleansed look as the rest of the house. The closet was a whole different story. At first glance I thought someone had tossed it, but as I searched through the pile of clothes I started to get the feeling Burke had packed in a hurry and was considering never coming back. I Wasn’t sure how much time I had and going through this one hiding spot at a time was taking too long. I turned on a slow infrared sweep of the room that led med right to a hidden panel in the closet. Gently sliding it open I found several pages of handwritten notes, and a small data disc buried in an almost imperceptible hole in the wall.

Sarah’s familiar voice came in. “Multiple cars approaching, the police are on their way. I would say you have about three minutes before you are discovered.”

“Perfect timing as always.” I flipped on the camera in my artificial eye and copied the pages in one by one before turning my attention to the disc. I slid it into a ship reader. “Can you get me a copy of this.”

“It has not been encrypted, copying files now. I have a clone of the disc Detective.”

I shoved the evidence back in it’s hole but did not bother to cover it up. Hiding evidence in a murder case was a bit farther than I liked to push Bruno. I didn’t waste any more time, dashing back to the car and pulling out of Burke’s driveway to begin a nice slow tour of the area away from the advancing law. As soon as I was clear I kicked the car back into auto drive and turned my attention to Sarah.

“So what do we have.”

“I cannot fully verify this information without the help of the police department. However at first glance it appears to exonerate our client and connect Burke to a Miss Lindsey Williams. Miss Williams matches the description on the woman you saw Burke with in the alley.

“That’s our girl then. Can you get me an address?”

“Already done. Auto drive locked in to new location.”

I flicked the auto drive off and stepped in the gas. “I’ve got this one, we are only a few minutes ahead of the law tonight.” I could almost feel Sarah’s eyes roll as I listened to my tires sliding across the pavement.

It didn't take me long to find Miss Williams' apartment downtown, and even less time to realize I was not the first one here. The door had been kicked right off the hinges. My left hand dipped into my jacket, slowly slipping out the revolver and pulling the hammer back. The slow creak of the door echoed through the hallway as I slid what was left of the door open. I stepped through the threshold cautiously the revolver held low as I took in the scene. The place had been trashed. Tables overturned, broken glass scattered across the floor, and four holes in the wall that unless I missed my guess were the result of bullets. The final bit of evidence was in the next room. A young Japanese man laying face down in a pool of his own blood. I knelt down at a safe distance and stared into his lifeless eyes. The poor bastard almost looked surprised even now. "Were you alone, or just the unlucky one who took the bullets?" After a moment to study the scene I was firmly convinced the latter was true. Assume Williams was in the corner. Then when they came into the room she filled the first one in full of lead. Judging by the mess there was more than one and she emptied the gun on the first . Either Williams was in the wind or had been taken. Probably the second unless she could take down two or three heavies with her fists and an empty gun.

I heard the metallic footsteps just outside the apartment as I relaxed the hammer on my revolver and holstered it. From the sound of the approaching law, Lindsey Williams was about to become someone else's problem. Four BULS units came through the door on cue, their glowing red eyes focusing on me after they saw the dead body.

I raised my hands in surrender. "Samuel Sloan, Licensed private investigator. There is a gun in my jacket but it has not been fired."

The mechanized voice responded from the lead BULS unit. "You will surrender your weapon then be taken in for questioning."

I handed over the revolver just as the one of the BULS got that weird look that happens when their orders are being updated. "New instructions, you will be taken to Lieutenant Bruno. He wishes to conduct your interrogation himself."

Just what I needed, several hours of getting worked over by Anton Bruno. Whatever else you could say about him, the man had a sense of order and tended to get upset when dead bodies started appearing. As I was shoved into the back of the police cruiser I mulled over in my mind that it could have easily been worse then two dead bodies. I suspected Bruno would not find this argument compelling.

The BULS let me out of the car at the front door of abandoned warehouse. Just looking at the place made me wonder when my last tetanus shot had been. Bruno was waiting for me just inside the front door.

Bruno glared daggers at me. "I have so many reasons to throw you in a cell I am finding it difficult to decide where to start."

"I am at your disposal Lieutenant." I generally tried not to aggravate Bruno when he was this angry. I don't think he would shoot me just because he was irritated, but I am not completely sure.

"Let's start with the basics. What were you doing this time? Don't even think of giving me that 'confidential' crap."

I took a moment to try to make sense of the last few days. "Would you believe following a lawyer to see if he was involved in an embezzlement scheme?"

"In your case I would. That is just stupid enough to be true." Bruno slid his hat off, running his fingers through his hair in frustration. "We are going to go through this in great detail later, but right this second why were you searching for Lindsey Williams?"

Fellows didn't pay me enough to cover this up. "I have reason to believe she was a contact between the midnighters cycle gang, a lawyer downtown, and Haruki Kimura."

"Normally I'd call you a lunatic, but that would help explain this place. Follow me." Bruno led me into the open space in the center of the rotted out factory where BULS were collecting images of a dead woman tied to a chair in the middle of the room.

"Lindsey Williams?"

"Got it in one." Bruno held out his hand, stopping me from going farther into his crime scene. "And they worked her over hard. Two broken bones, a couple bullets in non vital places. You can't see the final touch from here. Two bullets in the back of the head for a messy execution."

"Kimura got to her before either of us."

"Looks like." Bruno turned to the BULS. "Take him to holding. I'll get the full story from him after I am done here."

After Bruno made me wait till he calmed down, I got to repeat the events of the last several days five times before Bruno was satisfied that I was telling the truth. Or at least he had determined he wasn't getting any more information.

"Since you haven't given me too much grief during this interrogation I'll give you one bit of information for free. Your buddy Rand of Zeta station security. He just hung himself in a apparent suicide after evidence started to surface that he was on the take."

Four dead bodies, I should count myself lucky Bruno didn't make up something to charge me with. "Did he really kill himself or is Kimura tidying up loose ends?"

"I'm not sure...yet. Get out of here before I change my mind."

I nodded then made my way back to the office, updating Sarah as I I let the car handle the trip. She was waiting for me as I entered.

"Welcome back Detective, I have an invite to the Century Club's New Year's party tonight." Sarah followed me through the office as I found my chair and tossed my hat on the desk.

"Not tonight, I have lost my celebratory mood. I'll make my apologies to Cherry later." A pile of dead bodies and a three day stake out will take it out of anyone.

"Will you tell anyone about Toshiro?"

"Not until I actually know something. I'm not going to bring back the dead unless I am sure."

"Any other instructions.?"

I leaned back in my chair closing my eyes. "Nothing tonight, Happy New Year Sarah."

"Happy New Year Detective."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Crime and Gravity Part 6

Aiko moved to the left while his partner tried to circle around me. I cut to the right using the wall to stop him from getting around me as I raised my fists to defend myself. After that airlock opening security should already be on the way so I didn’t need to win this fight so much as not get killed. I took a quick jab at laughing boy’s chin but he backed up fast enough that it just glanced him. As he retreated Aiko was on me. I rolled out of the corner as his punch glanced off of my ribs. I managed to get a hold on his arm and use his momentum to swing him around and half toss him at his friend. That should keep them from surrounding me for at least a few more seconds. They immediately gave up the maneuvering and just came at me. I started backing up as I traded punches with the two of them. A solid right hook with my metal fist sent one reeling and I thought for a moment he might go down. Aiko was there to take his place while his friend recovered. He caught me with a quick side kick to the gut, knocking the wind out of me as I staggered back. Number two joined him and they stared at me with an annoyed glare. I must have been more trouble than they were planning for.

The long term of this was what worried me. I was fairly certain I could take either of them one on one. Two was going to be difficult at best. I sputtered out a slow breath and caught their gaze. “Ready to give up yet?”

Aiko gestured to his friend then moved forward with his fists raised for round two. I caught a side door opening out of the corner of my eye as a familiar face walked through.

“Enough!” A solidly built Japanese man in a tailored white shirt and black tie came through the access door. If I hadn’t known his face I still would have known Haruki Kimura instantly by the matched mechanical arms. “You two over here.”

The pair of goons went to Kimura like school boys who were about to be scolded. “Both of you, unable to bring down one American private investigator. I am embarrassed. Now stay here while I attend to business.” Kimura took two quick steps in my direction “Mister Sloan, a pleasure to see you again.”

I inclined my head slightly. “Mister Kimura. To what do I owe the honor?” Truth be told I still owed Kimura several bullets for the death of Toshiro Ishamoto. When he was surrounded by two of this heavies and I had just taken several punches was not what I would call a good time to settle up.

“A simple question only you can answer. Where is Toshiro Ishamoto?”

I took a moment to process the question. “Falling into the Pacific last I saw him. Do you know something different?”

“Know? No. Hear a whisper here and a couple lost men under mysterious circumstances there. Yes.” Kimura folded his hands in front of him. “But I am confidant he has not contacted you, if he does live. Now if you will excuse me I must explain to these two the difference between ‘Accident’ and ‘Attack anyone that shows up.’ Until next time.” Kimura gestured as the two followed him, locking the access door behind him.

Late as always station security wandered into the room with an amazing lack of urgency. I slumped against the bulkhead taking a moment to rest and check that Aiko hadn’t done anything worse than bruise my ribs. I was starting to miss the local criminals. They were in a lot worse shape.

A big guy with a face like an angry ox and a powder blue station uniform that fit like it was made for someone about fifty pounds lighter loomed over me. “You the one who called in the accident.”

“If that’s what you want to call it.”

The Ox gave a puzzled look then returned to the script in his head. “You’ll have to talk to the inspector.”

“Right behind you, help me off the ground and let’s go.” I lifted up an arm which after a moment of thought I am sure was painful he took and helped me up. “Lead on, Macduff.” I staggered momentarily on the way out and ditched my ear mic just in case.

Ox led me to the administrative wing of the station where I was escorted to an out of the way office by a pair of crisp, clean uniforms. I tried to make conversation out of boredom, but these two were all proper haircuts, no chit-chat, and as far as I could tell spent their free time practicing marching in ranks. With that kind of company I took a seat and practiced my twiddling just in case it ever became an important skill.

After a suspiciously long wait the blond haired, blue eyed head uniform of the brigade came through the door with his face buried in a data pad. He made it to his chair before his eyes rose above the floor. “You are Mister Samuel Sloan. Witness in the death of one James Burke and…” His voice took on a tone of disdain. “Private investigator in Los Angeles. I am station security sub-chief Rand. Are you ready to make a statement in the accidental death of Richard Burke?”

“I am. I have been here quite long enough to compose my thoughts on the matter.” Accident was it? I decided to play this one quietly until I had an idea what this guy was about. “What did you want to know?”

Sub-Chief Rand took his seat behind the desk as he started to read from his notes. “From what we have so far you came across James Burke trapped in an airlock and called maintenance to rescue. Unfortunately they were unable to arrive in time and Mister Burke died when the door accidentally opened and he was cast into space.”

My first instinct was that this guy was bought by Kimura. There was a small chance he was just a complete moron so I decided to lead him along and see how hard he fought. “Very well, I heard a noise coming from the floor and when I looked in there was Burke. He looked confused, like he had no idea where he was or how he had got there. If I had to guess I would say he just became conscious before I arrived.”

“Yes, I am sure the experience was terrifying for Mister Burke. However this does not change my ruling of accidental death.”

Crooked it was then. That explains my Kimura let me go so easily. It was much easier to rely on this patsy to cover up the paperwork than actually deal with me directly. My long wait was probably giving Kimura time to cover his tracks. “Was there anything else?”

“Yes your PI license does not cover investigations off of Earth. I will need to detain you while I verify any legal ramifications.”

“Who said I was investigating anything? I am a tourist. Here to witness the wonders of space. At least that is what the brochures say.” I tipped my hat back, waiting.

“So you are claiming you are not here on a case?”

“I am claiming nothing, but I do not share my client list.” Time to find out how deep Kimura has bought off this organization. “If there is some point of confusion I would be happy to stay until your chief returns and explain things to him.”

“Unneeded, I think I have all we require here.”

I saw a bead of sweat form on Rand’s forehead. He wanted me gone and fast. I decided to help him along, if only to keep myself from being arrested. “You know if your report is done… I think I have seen all I need to of Zeta Station. Perhaps the next transport down would be a good idea.”

Rand was trying to play it cool but I could still feel him relax as he exhaled. “That would be acceptable Mister Sloan. You may go, although I must warn you any independent attempt to investigate the Burke incident will result in your arrest.”

I stood up and readjusted my hat with a smile. “As I said, I am just a tourist. I’ll show myself out.” I stepped out before Rand could think up another reason to arrest me, then slipped down the hallway to recover my ear mic.

After a quick pass around the dome to make sure the security cameras were the only thing watching me, I booked my return trip then sent Sarah the latest updates in the case along with instructions to send a heavily edited account of events along to Cherry and Lieutenant Bruno. Sarah’s response noted that Aiko was a known associate of Haruki Kimura. That would have been useful to know earlier. Then after an hour of waiting I switched my flight plans at the last minute just in case anyone had prepared a second ‘accident’. I will admit to a certain paranoia being a consequence of my chosen profession, however it has kept me alive thus far.

The trip back to Earth was far less interesting than the way up. I still wanted a drink as the air around the nose of the Hawkling turned red with the air resistance as we shook our way through re-entry. After the worst of it was over I turned my mind back to the case. Kimura must have realized I was close to naming him in the case. Which explains why he revealed himself so easily. His man in the security office certainly did a number on keeping Burke’s murder quiet. I wanted to find where Burke was staying and give it a solid search myself, but I was sure Kimura had removed anything of consequence. The Hawkling touched down with a squeak of it wheels on the runway as my communications reconnected with the Los Angeles network.

As soon as contact was reestablished a familiar voice came back in my ear. “Welcome back detective. I am sending the car to you now.”

“Good, suspend all communications on the case until I get back to the office. I want to go through it, but not here.”

“Orders confirmed Detective. There may be a couple cases lined up for you in the new year. Also Lieutenant Bruno wants to interview you over the information we sent him.”

“Of course he does. I’ll be in the office soon then we can discuss it.”

After an hour of fighting my way through a mass of people trying to get out of the spaceport, I climbed into the Fairlane turning the noise dampeners up and the tinting on the windows as dark as possible while I set the destination for home. The trip to the office in real gravity with a proper cigar that I had stashed in the dash for just such an occasion was a highlight of my day.

Sarah appeared as soon as I crossed the threshold of the office. I motioned for her to follow as she peered over my shoulder at the collection of our evidence thus far. “Something of note Detective? It appears to be enough to exonerate our client. At the very least it casts enough suspicion on his guilt to prevent any kind of conviction.”

“Yes, Pack up the relevant information and send it to Fellows. Inform him I will contact him tomorrow to explain the details.”

“Done. Some reason for the delay?”

I spun through the computer files to the picture of the woman Burke was meeting in an alley before the bikers interrupted my nice quiet stakeout. “Her, I would be willing to bet she was Burke’s link to Kimura’s organization. If I can find her before any of the other players…”

“You could lead the police to Kimura, or go after him yourself?”

“First I need to find her.”

“Happy hunting Detective.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Crime and Gravity Part 5

Traffic was backed up at least a mile away from LA and Up, the most popular launch pad in all of Los Angeles. Of course by that I mean the cheapest, reserved for those who were too poor or stingy to find a better way into space. Still one cannot argue with cheap when you are on a limited expense account. I started the radio playing an old jazz number from the last century as I started to wonder if it would be faster to walk to the blasted station. While I waited, my pistol was quickly stashed in the glove box, no use where I was going anyways. The third guitar solo had just finished as I finally made it to the curb and went into my trunk for a dark leather bag containing enough clothing, odds, and ends to make me look like a tourist. The real treasure in the bag was very well concealed surveillance equipment, small enough to bypass just about any security. At least they had never caught me before.

I tapped the communicator in my ear. “Sarah take the car back to the office, I’ll call when I need it.”

“Confirmed Detective, I also adjusted the schedule for your time away.”

“You’re the best, I’ll make contact after I am safely at Zeta.”

I switched comms to off before spending the next half hour being searched, scanned, and stared at by a weedy little man in thick glasses who seemed a little too determined to find some contraband buried in the circuitry of my artificial eye. The little man finally gave up and let me through, allowing me the dubious pleasure of strapping myself into a T-37 Hawkling, a frightening hybrid of airplane, rocket and spaceship. I did say I wanted to get there fast though. I felt a strong desire for a stiff Bourbon, but they had stopped drinks on these flights after the first five or six people vomited, a thing you really to not want to witness in zero gravity. After several dull moments of passenger warnings the Hawkling hit the runway and launched into the air. I held onto my hat knowing what was coming in three, two, one. The bird’s boosters fired, pinning everyone in the plane to the back of their seat as we rocketed into the sky. Two minutes later I felt the weight shift to the left as the Hawkling switched to the non atmospheric engines. We started to lock into orbit with Zeta Station as I realized I was going to survive this insane trip at least one more time.

From my seat I could hear the loud click of the Hawkling connecting to the station's dock followed by the hiss of air as our air pressure equalized with the station. One by one we were escorted from the Hawkling onto a small shuttle in the spinning center of the station. I found the motion disorienting and just closed my eyes until we started to move and finally arrived at the artificial gravity of the station’s rim. Zeta station was one of twelve satellites orbiting the globe and handling the majority of the planet's communications. About a thousand administrators and maintenance workers besides the occasional tourist, which was what I was using as a admittedly thin cover. It should hold as long as no one looked too close, and I was hopeful that Burke had not made me yet. Finding Burke was going to be my main problem here, security was tight for obvious reasons and scanning equipment with any power would be picked up. I decided to go with maintaining my cover first and checked into the small closet of a room Sarah had found for me. Just a bed, toilet, and enough room to pace and think, if I didn't mind turning around every two steps. I tossed my bag down and dug into the secret compartment in the bottom, coming up with a specialized ear mic. Then I spent a few minutes setting it to lock in on Burke's voice. That should tell me if he says a word within half a mile of my location. My other advantage was there were only a few decent restaurants on Zeta Station, and my mark didn't strike me as the type for sitting in his room with a frozen food pack. He wasn't smart enough to lay that low. I took the rooms comm unit and sent a message back to Sarah. 'Just arrived, haven't seen anything yet.'

I made a slow tour of the stations public observation areas. One shaded and reinforced window after the other showing anyone who cared to see the vastness of the galaxy. The trick to that of course is too keep your mind on the deck beneath you and just presume the earth is spinning. It's less painful that way. Still I decided I would much prefer the far less vast inside of a shot glass. I made by way back to the middle of the station's rim. It was the only area on the station open to lease by the public, and therefore had virtually all of the station's commerce.

As I was deciding which of these places might have the best whiskey, I got a hit on Burke and he was close. Taking a turn around the corner I made him out sitting in the corner of the not so cleverly named Starlight Lounge. Burke looked terrified. His eyes darting left and right like a trapped rabbit as a glass of booze shook in his hand. I quietly took a booth where I could keep an eye on him and ordered a drink with some form of chicken. It appeared my rabbit was waiting for someone and no reason to wait out the interim hungry. Burke tried several calls as I dug into my chicken and rice, not terrible but nothing ever seems to taste right after you launch it into space.

I was just finishing the meal and taking a sip of the whiskey as a young Japanese man wearing a crisp black and white suit the a bowler hat walked over with a drink in his hand, taking the seat opposite Burke. He spoke softly as he leaned over the table. "Try to control yourself, you are drawing to much attention."

"What does it matter, no one knows I am here."

"That is what I believe you Americans call 'Famous last words’. Now why did you request this meeting?"

"I'm in trouble and need to talk to Ha_"

The young man cut Burke off with a gesture. "You speak to who we say you speak to, now tell me the problem."

Burke swallowed the rest of his drink in one gulp, eyes scanning the room in fear. "I think someone at the Century Club has found me out, maybe even Cherry Azure herself. And the patsy we set up to take the fall found out about the operation. The little twerp is trying to follow me, it can't be long until he decides to go to the law.

Burke's opposite stared right into his eyes without betraying a single emotion. "And you wish us to do what?"

"Either get rid of the people chasing me, or give me enough money to get out of town and stay gone. I know enough to make trouble for you." Burke shook his finger at his quiet companion, about as intimidating as your average squirrel. "I keep records."

"Are you truly sure you wish to threaten us Mister Burke?"

Burke lowered his head. "Of course not Aiko."

"I thought not" Aiko pulled a small device out of his jacket and typed a few words into it. "Meet me in corridor seven in two hours. I can arrange your escape. Until then keep out of sight."

"Thank you, you don't know what this means_"

Aiko cut him off with another gesture. "When I said do not be seen I meant begin doing so now."

Burke slowly caught the drift and slinked out of the place before Aiko had to repeat himself again. I slid slightly over in my booth at avoid attracting any attention myself and waiting for Aiko to make himself scarce before taking my leave. I made my way back to the closet and took advantage of the two paces each way for a bit of good pacing well I thought. I only knew of a couple Japanese outfits that operated in the Los Angeles area and they were both bad news. I sent an update to Sarah with Aiko’s picture and told her to look for known associates and any encounters he may have had with the law. That should get me started. It had been a long day so I took advantage of the gap in time to close my eyes. This was the kind of meeting you wanted to show up fashionably late for.

The alarm went off and I took a moment to splash some water on my face. Readjusting my hat as I made my way down a dull gray corridor and turning the ear mic up to give me advance warning if anyone was lurking in the shadows. I found corridor seven and peeked around the corner. No conversation, not much of anything would be more accurate. Something was not right here. I took a slow stroll down the empty corridor acting like the lost tourist I was meant to be. A single access hatch on the floor caught my eye and I moved towards it with a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I wiped a touch of condensation away and peered through the window seeing Burke on the floor of the airlock dazed and trying to rise. He look like he had been either beaten up or drugged and was struggling to rise. I started to search for the mechanism to open the hatch as it occurred to me I should have known his threats would not have been taken lightly.

I managed to raise local security on my comm unit. “Emergency in corridor seven, there is a man trapped in the airlock.”

A response came back. “That should not be possible. Sending maintenance to investigate.”

“I’d hurry if I were you.” I switched the channel off and went back to the window. “Burke! Listen I have people coming to get you out of there.

Burke nodded groggily then stopped in place. I could see the look of horror on his face as the outer door opened and he was drug out into the vacuum around the station. I hit the inner door in frustration getting a hollow ring in reply to my efforts. As I stood up as I heard foot falls behind me and there was Aiko and a man in an identical suit that could be his brother.

Aiko took a couple steps forward and shook his head. “I don’t know who you are, but you picked a bad place to be today.”

Truer words were never spoken. I sized the two crooks up getting ready for a fight.