Authors: Peter F. Hamilton
“Oh, no, you don’t,” John said. “This is just a technical appendix to your report.”
Renne’s e-butler informed her that a file from King’s forensic staff had just been deposited in her working case
John cocked his fingers pistol style and aimed at her. “What you do with it is up to you.”
He gave her a cheery wave, and retreated back to his own desk.
Vic Russell returned from Cagayn half an hour later. The second lieutenant barely had time to kiss his wife, Gwyneth, before Renne hauled him off into a conference room for a debrief.
“The Cagayn police were very familiar with Robin Beard,” Vic told her. “He works in the motor trade. Good repair and service man, apparently. Which fits in with what Cufflin told us; they met on an electronics course a few years back.”
“Did you see him?” Renne asked. She thought Vic looked tired; he was a big man, well over two meters tall, and about as wide. His weekends were spent playing bone-cruncher games of rugby for a nonprofessional club outside Leicester. Renne had turned up with Gwyneth to support his team one Saturday, and had been intimidated by the amount of
violence in the game. Cagayn must have been an exhausting trip for someone as fit as Vic to appear run-down.
“No, ’fraid not. I was too late. Our Mr. Beard is a somewhat migratory character. According to his tax records he never stays at the same garage for more than a couple of years.”
“He pays taxes?”
“Not very often. But that’s not why the police have such a big file on him. If you’re looking for a getaway vehicle, word is that Beard’s the one you need to give it a good overhaul beforehand. Same if you have a warehouse full of hot cars that need rebranding; he knows how to replace and revise all the manufacturers’ security tagging.”
“Sounds like the kind of person who would have good reason to know our elusive agent.”
“Quite so. I took a scout around his home. Rented, of course. We must have missed him by about twenty-four hours. His vehicle recovery van was gone, which is his own mobile maintenance shop; he keeps all his tools and equipment in there. It’s the one permanent thing in his life, apparently. I spoke to some of the guys he worked with at the garage; there’s a lot of customized machinery in the back, stuff he’s built over the years.”
For an instant, Renne saw the image of some titanic truck rolling along a highway with force field bubbles for wheels, draining energy from the Commonwealth grid as it went. “Ah, so if we find the van—”
“—we find the man. Yeah. Ordinarily the police wouldn’t have too much trouble spotting a bright orange three-ton tow van. Of course, given his chosen field of expertise it’s not quite as simple as it would be with the average criminal on the run. Beard is familiar with every traffic monitor program in the Commonwealth. He’ll have aggressor software to deal with all of it. Cagayn police have issued an all-officer dispatch for vans of that description to be pulled over and checked.”
“The boss would have loved that one: proper police work.”
Vic grinned, revealing teeth that had been rearranged in crooked ranks by too many hard impacts on the rugby pitch. “She would, yeah. But it gives us a bit of a nightmare.”
“You’ve alerted the Cagayn CST station?”
“First thing I did. They checked back through their schedules for me; no van of that kind left Cagayn in the time frame we’re considering. So if anybody does take a van like that on board a freight train, they’ll let this office know about it immediately.”
“Good. Thanks, Vic.”
Noon saw the daily senior officers’ case review meeting in conference room three. Renne joined Tarlo and John at the big table, put her coffee mug down, then hurriedly mopped up the ring it left on the surface.
“You two want to try Amies for lunch?” John asked.
“Sure,” Tarlo said.
“You’re not still after that waitress, are you?” Renne asked disapprovingly. The redhead Tarlo had spent a month flirting with was a first-life art student, still in her early twenties. He was in his third life. It wasn’t done. But that damn uniform …
“There are waitresses there?”
The men laughed. She sighed.
Hogan marched in and sat at the head of the table. His whole stance was charged with energy, which produced an aggressive smile.
“John, I believe you have something critical for us?”
Renne gave him a curious glance; he hadn’t mentioned anything earlier.
“Foster Cortese finally pulled a match out of the visual recognition program,” John said. The big high-rez portal at the end of the conference room lit up to show the assassin’s face. “CST on Boongate has been slow to locate their records for us, but we can all see there’s no mistake. He came through the Half Way gateway six months before the Venice Coast incident.”
“Name?” Tarlo asked.
“Officially: Francis Rowden, son of a landowner, which is how he can afford to travel to the Commonwealth. He was going to enroll at a university on Kolhapur, a two-year agricultural course. We checked; they have no record of him.”
“He’s a Guardian,” Alic said happily.
“Why do you think that?” Renne asked.
Alic’s good humor flickered slightly, but nothing could tone down his enthusiasm. He held up his hand and started ticking off points. “Okay, one, he’s a Far Away native, so what other faction could he belong to? Two, he’s sent on tough assignments to benefit them, I mean really tough. Our boy is wetwired to the back of his ears with weapons. He’s their new enforcer.”
“How did the Venice Coast hit benefit them?” Renne asked quickly.
“Valtare Rigin was fucking them over. He had to be. He was a black market arms dealer. These guys don’t exactly have corporate mission statements. He saw a chance to switch cargoes or make a low-grade substitution or he was holding out for more money. Whatever. They caught him red-handed. What are they going to do? Sue him? Shake hands and say sorry? No, they close the deal their way. They’re terrorists, remember. The most lethal bunch of psychotics we’ve ever had running around the Commonwealth. This is what they do: kill people.
“Thompson Burnelli, well, that’s obvious. He’d just pushed through an inspectorate division which is going to screw every clandestine weapons shipment back to Far Away. Blam, out he goes. Revenge, a warning to others that no one is safe, none of you are beyond our reach. Murdering a senator shook the whole political establishment to its core. Then there was McFoster. He betrayed the Guardians; they killed him for it.”
“How did he betray them?” Tarlo asked.
“Justine Burnelli,” Renne said in a flat voice. She could see how Alic Hogan’s mind was working, and didn’t like it.
“Exactly,” Alic said, on a roll. “They find out McFoster visited Senator Burnelli, that the two of them are lovers. The next thing they know, he’s got a navy squad tailing him. They thought he was about to lead us to them.”
“How did they find that out?” Renne asked.
Alic treated her to an expression of mild scorn. “The trip to the observatory. His colleagues were watching him the whole time, a backup team. And we had that local office idiot …” He snapped his fingers.
“Phil Mandia,” Renne supplied reluctantly.
“Right: Mandia. He was following McFoster in a convoy of four-by-fours through the mountains. The Guardians saw us. They put it together. It wouldn’t matter to them if McFoster had actually clued Senator Burnelli in on what was happening or not. Whatever he said to her, it betrayed them. And there he is again, this Frances Rowden, waiting at LA Galactic. There on the right concourse exactly when the loop train pulled in, knowing he’s got our squads to dodge as well.” Alic beamed contentedly.
The trouble was, Renne admitted to herself, the facts fitted. Not only that, she couldn’t see a flaw in the Commander’s line of reasoning. Granted, a lot of it was speculation, but
speculation; the kind of argument a jury would convict on.
It was also politically expedient, which fueled her unease. That same nagging little uncertainty she’d experienced when she walked into the Halgarth girls’ loft apartment on Daroca. No reason for it. Just her own awkward intuition. A detective knowing instinctively when something is out of kilter.
Everything Alic claimed was possible. Yes.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” Alic said. “
in Senate Security are going to be extremely upset when they access this case file now we’ve solved it for them. It doesn’t leave any room for her stupid conspiracy theories.”
Renne tried to catch Tarlo’s attention. She couldn’t, which she suspected was deliberate.
“Thank Foster Cortese for me,” Alic said. “He’s done a good job. Credit where it’s due.”
“Will do,” John King said.
He ran a program,
Renne thought in disgust. She could see what Alic was doing, pulling the staff into his orbit. Team building with the completely wrong motivation behind it. They’d wind up producing politically required answers for him, not the right ones.
And why am I so cynical about this? That bullshit theory about Francis Rowden. Am I just jealous I didn’t put it together? It is simple enough. Why do I think it’s not right?
“I’m going to need another warrant,” Tarlo said.
“What for?” Alic asked.
“The Pacific Pine Bank records have been quite useful,” Tarlo said. Now he allowed eye contact with Renne, giving her an
smile. “The Shaw-Hemmings finance company on Tolaka transferred a lot of money into Kazimir’s account. I’d like to see where it came from.”
“How much money?” Renne asked.
“A hundred thousand Earth dollars.”
She pursed her lips, impressed.
“You’ve got it,” Alic said. “Renne, how is it coming with the Lambeth Interplanetary Society?”
There wasn’t any undue emphasis on the question; nevertheless she got the feeling that expectations were set a little too high following the news about Francis Rowden. Her report was going to let the side down.
Ridiculous, I’m getting paranoid.
“Nothing solid yet, I’m afraid. It was Vic’s case, but I’ve had him chasing down Robin Beard. Matthew has been datamining the Society, but there are very few files to work with. The employment agencies that serve that part of London don’t have any records of the Society at all. It’s not a promising avenue.”
“We could launch a unisphere appeal,” Tarlo suggested. “See if the news shows would give us some time. Ask for any ex-employees to come forward and contact us.”
“No,” Renne said. “That would show our hand to the Guardians.”
“I’m going to agree with Renne on this one,” Alic said. “We’ll keep public appeals as a last resort; it smacks of desperation. Let me know when the datamining stalls completely, and we’ll reconsider then.”
“So what about Beard?”
“He’s gone to ground on Cagayn, but the police there are on alert for him. Judging by his background, he’s someone who could provide us with a positive lead to the agent the Guardians use.”
“Do the police understand how important this is?”
“Good, but ride them hard. We can’t let this one slip.”
Senate Security’s European division was nothing like as grand as the ever-expanding navy intelligence facilities over in Paris. It was based in London, taking over the entire top floor of a monolithic stone-fronted building in Whitehall, half a kilometer from Westminster Palace. The European division shared it with two other Intersolar Commonwealth departments, the UFN regional auditor and the environmental commission, all of whom provided excellent cover. There was no plaque outside announcing Senate Security’s presence, and if accessed the building management array had no knowledge of their existence. Entry was gained through a discreet underground ramp entrance opposite the old British Foreign Office building.
Every morning, Paula’s designated car would pick her up outside her apartment and drive onto the European trans-capital shuttle train, a sleek new maglev vehicle, which took thirty-five minutes to get from Paris to London using the old Channel tunnel route. Once they arrived at Waterloo Station the car drove her straight to Whitehall and down into the secure parking chamber underneath the ancient building. Travel time was well under an hour.
When Hoshe arrived on his first day, Paula was checking through the official case files on Francis Rowden as Senate Security pulled them out of navy intelligence’s array. “Idiot,” she muttered as Hoshe knocked on her open office door.
“Am I not welcome?” he inquired.
Paula grinned at him. “No, not you. Please, come in.” Her office was a great deal larger than the one in Paris, with a high ceiling and elaborate cornices. Wooden paneling extended halfway up the walls, originally a dark gold oak, but now nearly black with age. Two big windows looked out over the trees lining Victoria Embankment to the Thames beyond. Just to the north, Hungerford bridge was visible, carrying rail lines over the river to Charing Cross station.
One wall was completely covered by a holographic projection, a map of a large CST station, with a big terminal building at one end and hundreds of track lines winding across a broad open space outside it. Various trains were frozen in place, and a large number of green dots were sprinkled across the ground, each with its own neon-blue code tag floating above it.