Authors: Tracy St. John
The distant conversations, laughter, and music that the Dramok heard came mostly from the levels above. At least the evidence of the firefight had been erased. Though his gaze couldn’t help but return time and again to the spot where Amik had fallen, Gelan saw no indication of his late partner’s final stand. The hush here seemed almost proper, given what had happened a week ago. This level and the ones below were almost deadly silent. Only the efficient hums of moving platforms that carried one over the longer distances between stores broke the hush. The in-house transports that moved one between vertical levels were similarly quiet.
Most of the holdover businesses still here were like the one belonging to the Imdiko Gelan had just questioned: older residents who had worked in this level for decades. These people were unable or unwilling to move into the shopping levels nearer the middle of the mountain’s interior expanse. Mid-mountain was where basic government housing gave way to more spacious living units. Those homes were owned by those who had incomes beyond the allowance earned from the Empire’s mining ventures.
Gelan sighed and rubbed his face in his palms before looking at his new partner. “Apparently, I’m the only witness who saw or remembers anything that happened during the shootout.”
Wynhod gave him a crooked half-smile. “We’d better put you in protective custody. You know how witnesses to Delir crimes go missing.”
The Dramok snorted. “Right. Let’s go back to the office. I’m coming up with nothing here.”
He followed Wynhod to the transport platform in the center of the level, which would take them back to their shuttle dock. Gelan kept an eye on everyone he saw, remembering all too well how fast the attack had gone down on him and Amik. No one returned his glare, keeping their faces averted as they hurried past.
He entered the transport under Wynhod’s watchful gaze. His partner’s main task was to keep him safe from attack while Gelan concentrated on the investigation. Wynhod’s hand never strayed far from the percussion blaster holstered in his utility belt. The Nobek’s sharp eyes probed the well-lit level. As soon as Gelan stepped inside the transport, Wynhod backed in. The door shut, and he barked, “Lower shuttle bay.”
As the in-house transport hummed its obedient path, the Nobek relaxed his protective stance a little. “I’ve been over and over the forensics. None of the evidence shows anything new from previous Delir-related crimes and the attack on you and Amik.”
Gelan nodded, his thoughts bitter. “They used untraceable military-grade weaponry that could have come from any of the manufacturing plants. All the men Amik and I killed or killed themselves during the shoot-out wore brand-new coms. None of those had saved call frequencies that could lead us to the leaders of the distribution network.”
Wynhod pursed his lips. “They’re well organized. They intimidate so thoroughly that no one will talk. They themselves are intimidated enough that they commit suicide rather than take the chance of being interrogated.”
Gelan added, “They usually manage to steer clear of those of us in law enforcement. It’s odd that they made an actual attack on me and Amik. Unheard of, especially since we never uncovered anything of note that would help us in this case.”
“That you know of. They thought you’d found something, or they wouldn’t have done such a brazen ambush.”
“I’ve got nothing. Not even one fucking suspect.” Gelan’s fists clenched, but the transport interior had been constructed of flex metal. Punching it wouldn’t leave a dent to show his frustration.
“These guys are like ghosts,” Wynhod said. “So questioning the witnesses who swear they witnessed nothing is done. What’s next?”
Gelan sighed. “I guess I should talk to the new guy the brain trust has appointed to the case. They took the last guy assigned to Delir off because he’s not come up with anything of help.” He grimaced. “This will be my fourth brainiac to weigh in.”
The Nobek rolled his eyes. “The criminal psych department? Great.”
“Ours is usually pretty good, but even they’ve been drawing a blank. Like you said, the gang leadership is made up of ghosts.” Gelan punched his own thigh in frustration. “We’ve got to find a way to get that damned Delir out of circulation.”
“I don’t have much faith in criminal psychologists to pinpoint suspects. They’re good at figuring out motive after the guy’s been caught, but when it comes to actually catching criminals … I haven’t seen anything impressive yet.”
Gelan managed to offer Wynhod a halfhearted smirk. “Yeah, we on the ground have a much better record when it comes to that, don’t we?”
Unfortunately, his record on catching those responsible for the Delir fiasco wasn’t so good. Gelan was willing to hear what the latest geek from the criminal psychology could offer. As Wynhod had pointed out, it probably wouldn’t be much, but they had nothing but crap to go on anyway. What was a little more added to the pile?
* * * *
Wynhod followed Gelan into the precinct’s Criminal Psychology Department. The communal office space was filled with Dramoks and Imdikos hunched in their chairs at desks, staring at vid readouts with still pics of various ne’er-do-wells, reading criminal profiles, typing or dictating notes. Desk work. The Nobek shuddered. He thought he’d go insane if he had to sit indoors staring at vids all day.
Gelan stopped at one of the first desks, occupied by a Dramok perhaps twenty years Wynhod’s senior. His partner asked, “Can you tell me which one of you is Dr. Krijero?”
The man jerked his head back. “All the way to the rear of the room, far corner on your left.”
As Gelan and Wynhod passed the man, the Nobek noted how the Dramok psych looked him over. The older man was a decent enough looking guy, but not nearly as pleasing to the eye as Gelan. Wynhod kept his gaze forward, not wanting to encourage unwanted attention.
Wynhod found himself still attracted to his former lover. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, especially since they were now partners. If they ended up in bed and discovered they’d lost the compatibility they’d once shared, would it make it hard to work together?
It would probably be for the best if they didn’t find out. Yet, Wynhod couldn’t stop checking out the delicious ass and thighs stalking across the room in front of him. Gelan was still an amazing eyeful with that sculpted body and the noble features nature had saw fit to gift him with. How was Wynhod
supposed to try and bed that?
Wynhod remembered how difficult it had been to get on top of Gelan. Better still was recalling how the Dramok gave in and enjoyed being on the receiving end when Gelan realized he had been bested. It gave Wynhod another reason to contemplate things better left alone. His cocks twitched, and he made himself concentrate on locating the Imdiko psychologist they needed to talk to. He wasn’t roaming his new precinct with a full-blown hard on.
They approached the far back corner of the office space, nearing a desk remarkable for its messiness. Six different vids floated over the flat surface littered with the remains of snacks and drinks, three handhelds – two of which looked smashed beyond repair, a scattering of plug-ins, power amplifiers, at least six portable coms along with the desk model, and a still pic of an older clan.
The man sitting at the desk was no less untidy. His shock of shoulder-length black hair looked clean, but it was a mess of cowlicks that hid most of his face. Bright blue-purple eyes peered past the tumble of hair at the vids in front of him, and his fingers moved easily over the keyboard as he inputted information. His gray tunic was cut well enough that Wynhod could discern the lithe frame beneath it, but it was wrinkled and recently stained, probably from a breakfast mishap. Wynhod couldn’t believe the man’s clanmates had allowed him out of their home looking like such a wreck.
Gelan stopped by the man’s desk. “Dr. Krijero?”
The guy had been too intent on his work and Gelan and Wynhod too quiet on their approach. The psych jumped in surprise, one hand skidding across the desk to send food containers, plug-ins, and the one intact handheld to the floor. As the handheld computer hit the ground with a thud, the psych yelled in frustration.
“Shit! Tell me I didn’t break another one of these things.”
A man sitting at a nearby desk chuckled, shaking his head. “Supervisor said if you did, it was coming out of your pay.”
“I know. Damn it.”
He picked up the handheld, fussing with it until it came on with an obedient click. He blew out a relieved breath, making the strands of hair in his face drift outward to show pouty lips. “Good. It still works.”
The other psych snorted. “For now. You’re a disaster, Krijero. No way will it last the week.”
The gleam of white teeth appeared behind that mass of hair. “Are we wagering, Jomik?”
“Bottle of leshella.”
“You’re on.” Krijero finally stopped bantering with the other man to blink up at Gelan and Wynhod. He shook his hair back for an instant, and Wynhod looked into a very handsome face. A sweet face, remarkably innocent of guile. Its gentle openness was an instant giveaway that Dr. Krijero was one of Kalquor’s Imdiko breed.
Wynhod swallowed. Then Krijero’s hair fell forward again, hiding the right half of that lovely face, lessening the effect somewhat.
The psych looked at them with confusion. “Oh, hello. Did you want something?”
Gelan stared at Krijero, his brows drawing together as he regarded the Imdiko. Wynhod wonder if his partner had been as caught off guard by the good looks of the red-hot mess of a man in front of them.
Sounding bemused, Gelan answered, “You’re the psych working my case. Delir.”
The one eye not covered by hair widened, and a delighted smile appeared. “Oh, yeah. What a great case that one is. No witnesses, no real evidence. Pure brain candy,” Krijero enthused.
Wynhod felt Gelan stiffen next to him. The Dramok’s arms crossed over his chest. His voice low with anger, Gelan said, “Deadly ‘brain candy’, Imdiko. A lot of people have been killed, including my former partner.”
“Yeah, that was awful. Sorry about that.”
Krijero’s tone sounded flippant, and he seemed to realize it right away. His face reddened, and he stammered, “Oh, that didn’t come out right at all. I really am sorry about your partner. The Delir shit is completely bad news.”
A laugh sounded behind Wynhod. He and a now fuming Gelan turned to the man who’d made the bet with Krijero, the one identified as Jomik. He smiled indulgently at the Imdiko.
“Krijero, shut it down before these two kick your ass.” With the voice of diplomacy, Jomik told them, “Don’t mind him, Investigator, Enforcer. He doesn’t mean any harm. Krijero is as smart as they come, but the stupidest things come out of his mouth. He’s got the tact of a hungry zibger.”
Wynhod looked at the Imdiko again to see Krijero scowl at Jomik. “Don’t make excuses for me.” With an embarrassed grimace, he told Gelan, “I sincerely apologize. Now let’s talk about your case.”
Gelan raised an eyebrow at the swift shift from apology to business. Wynhod felt every bit as flummoxed by the behavior of this odd Imdiko.
Gelan lowered his arms, settling his hands on his hips. Apparently letting Krijero’s insult slide, he said, “Fine. I take it you’ve looked the files over?”
Krijero’s head bobbed enthusiastically, sending a cascade of hair to fall over the other side of his face. He shook most of it back impatiently. “Oh yes. I’ve been fascinated by this case since the Delir started showing up on the streets. No clue who’s manufacturing it, no knowledge where the gang is getting it from, who’s running them, and no one is talking. No one! That’s almost unheard of.”
Gelan said, “I figure the gang selling it is making it themselves.”
Krijero burst out laughing. “Seriously?” At Gelan’s bald stare, he quickly recovered. “Sorry, Investigator, uh, Investigator…”
“Gelan.” Spoken in a very cold voice.
Krijero didn’t seem to notice he was pissing the Dramok off. “Okay, Gelan. You’ve seen the backgrounds on the gang members who killed themselves when you got in too close, right? Nobeks who went no farther than basic training camp, bullies really, no prospects, no interest in doing much more than collecting their government allowance plus whatever they can steal.”
Testily, Wynhod pointed out, “They have been a few Dramoks in that group too.”
“Right, right, I mean no offense to your breed, Enforcer. I’m talking the majority of the perps. The Dramoks involved have been the lowest common denominator of their breed too.”
Gelan pursed his lips. “You’re saying none of the dealers we know of have been smart enough to make Delir. I’ll give you that, but the leadership of this group is another matter.”
Krijero shook his head. His hair slid over his face again. “Not likely. No, the gang’s leadership probably consists of more hoods with a little more seniority. That’s my thought, anyway, based on past arrest records and psychological analysis.”
“So you believe Delir is being made by someone outside of the group? That they’re turning it over to the gang to sell it?”
Krijero ran his fingers over his scalp, pulling back his hair to reveal that remarkable face once more. The excited expression he wore made him even more appealing in Wynhod’s opinion. The guy was downright cute, goofy demeanor notwithstanding.