Authors: Dean Ing
Tags: #Science Fiction
Baen Books by Dean Ing
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2004 by Dean Ing. Pulling Through © 1983 by Dean Ing. "Vital Signs" © 1980 by Dean Ing (from
). "Inside Job" © 2001 by Dean Ing (from
© Stephen Coonts; first printing Forge, January 2001).
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original Megabook
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Stephen Hickman
First printing, February 2004
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Rackham files / by Dean Ing.
"A Baen Books original megabook"—T.p. verso.
ISBN 0-7434-7183-0 (HC)
1. Automobile racing drivers—Fiction. 2. Bounty hunters—Fiction.
3. Survivalism—Fiction. 4. California—Fiction. 5. Forgers—Fiction. I. Title.
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
Houses of the Kzint
(created by Larry Niven,
with Jerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling)
Once upon a time, my wife Marilyn and I went to England for a World Science Fiction Convention. On return, the Customs official scanned my passport and said, "Larry Niven the writer?
I said, "Right. You're a science fiction fan?"
"No," he said, and lifted the magazine he was reading. It was a publication for survivalists.
(written with Jerry Pournelle) was, at that time, being used as a survivalist text. Several of the surviving characters in that book are of that stamp: determined to make themselves self-sufficient and ready for anything the universe or the Soviet Union might throw at them.
The survivalists in
weren't just ready for the collapse of civilization. They were eager. Dr. Forrester was an exception. He was a diabetic. He needed to find a group that would find him worth saving. Dr. Forrester's preparations were given in nitpicking detail. Dr. Pournelle researched them thoroughly, and that's what got the attention of the survivalists.
There are more survivalists than you think. Their ideal is self-sufficiency.
I raise the subject because Dean Ing is one of those. From my viewpoint it seems he can do anything with his hands. He designs and builds cars and planes and other tools, sometimes to leave a clean environment, sometimes to win races, sometimes—as in the Rackham stories—to weave a plausible near-future.
I'm not one of these myself: not good with my hands. I sometimes wonder if people like Dean Ing know how I see them. They're the original model for Motie Engineers (as in
A Mote in God's Eye
.) A better model might be Dr. Zarkhov from the Flash Gordon comic strip. He knows enough about anything to make the tool that fits.
This tool building talent is the most human of traits, but some of us have more of it than others.
Dean Ing wants you to survive, if you're smart enough to read his books.
He's a muscular guy, not spectacularly tall, who weighs no more than he should. In this respect he's quite different from his character Rackham. But Rackham is another Zarkhov: he can make a tool on the spot. The difference is that you will understand the tool. You'll be able to make it yourself.
The Rackham stories date from the Cold War. That's okay. The laws of physics and engineering haven't changed.
My favorite of his novels is
If I tried to describe the premise, you wouldn't believe me. It's up-to-the-minute relevant. I just can't quite believe it would work.
"The longer I live, the more I realize the less I know for sure." That's what my friend Quentin Kim used to mutter to me and curvy little Dana Martin in our Public Safety classes at San Jose State. Dana would frown because she revered conventional wisdom. I'd always chuckle, because I thought Quent was kidding. But that was years ago, and I was older then.
I mean, I thought I knew it all. "Public Safety" is genteel academic code for cop coursework, and while Quent had already built himself an enviable rep as a licensed P.I. in the Bay Area, he hadn't been a big-city cop. I went on to become one, until I got fed up with the cold war between guys on the take and guys in Internal Affairs, both sides angling for recruits. I tried hard to avoid getting their crap on my size thirteen brogans while I lost track of Dana, saw Quent infrequently, and served the City of Oakland's plainclothes detail in the name of public safety.
So much for stepping carefully in such a barnyard. At least I got out with honor after a few years, and I still had contacts around Oakland on both sides of the law. Make that several sides; and to an investigator that's worth more than diamonds. It would've taken a better man than Harve Rackham to let those contacts go to waste, which is why I became the private kind of investigator, aka gumshoe, peeper, or just plain Rackham, P.I.
Early success can destroy you faster than a palmed ice pick, especially if it comes through luck you thought was skill. A year into my new career, I talked my way into a seam job—a kidnapping within a disintegrating family. The kidnapped boy's father, a Sunnyvale software genius, wanted the kid back badly enough to throw serious money at his problem. After a few days of frustration, I shot my big mouth off about it to my sister's husband, Ernie.
It was a lucky shot, though. Ernie was with NASA at Moffett Field and by sheer coincidence he knew a certain Canadian physicist. I'd picked up a rumor that the physicist had been playing footsie with the boy's vanished mother.
The physicist had a Quebecois accent, Ernie recalled, and had spoken longingly about a teaching career. The man had already given notice at NASA without a forwarding address. He was Catholic. A little digging told me that might place him at the University of Montreal, a Catholic school which gives instruction in French. I caught a Boeing 787 and got there before he did, and guess who was waiting with her five-year-old boy in the Montreal apartment the physicist had leased.
I knew better than to dig very far into the reasons why Mama took Kiddie and left Papa. It was enough that she'd fled the country illegally. The check I cashed was so much more than enough that I bought a decaying farmhouse twenty miles and a hundred years from Oakland.
Spending so much time away, I figured I'd need to fence the five acres of peaches and grapes, but the smithy was what sold me. "The smith, a mighty man was he, with large and sinewy," et cetera. Romantic bullshit, sure, but as I said, I knew it all then. And I wanted to build an off-road racer, one of the diesel-electric hybrids that were just becoming popular. I couldn't imagine a better life than peeping around the Port of Oakland for money, and hiding out on my acreage whenever I had some time off, building my big lightning-on-wheels toy.
And God knows, I had plenty of time off after that! Didn't the word get out that I was hot stuff? Weren't more rich guys clamoring for my expensive services? Wasn't I slated for greatness?
In three words: no, no, and no. I didn't even invest in a slick Web site while I still had the money, with only a line in the yellow pages, so I didn't get many calls. I was grunting beneath my old gasoline-fueled Toyota pickup one April afternoon, chasing an oil leak because I couldn't afford to have someone else do it, when my cell phone warbled.
Quentin Kim; I was grinning in an instant. "I thought I was good, but it's humbling when I can't find something as big as you," he bitched.
I squoze my hundred kilos from under the Toyota. "You mean you're looking for me now? Today?"
"I have driven that country road three times, Harvey. My GP mapper's no help. Where the devil are you?"
Even his cussing was conservative. When Quent used my full given name, he was a quart low on patience. I told him to try the road again and I'd flag him down, and he did, and twenty minutes later I guided his Volvo Electrabout up the lane to my place.
He emerged looking fit, a few grey hairs but the almond eyes still raven-bright, the smile mellow, unchanged. I ignored the limp; maybe his shoes pinched. From force of habit and ethnic Korean good manners, Quent avoided staring around him, but I knew he would miss very little as I invited him through the squinchy old screen door into my authentic 1910 kitchen with its woodstove. He didn't relax until we continued to the basement, the fluorescents obediently flickering on along the stairs.
"You had me worried for a minute," he said, now with a frankly approving glance at my office. As
fin de siècle
as the house was from the foundation up, I'd fixed it all Frank Gehry and Starship
below. He perched his butt carefully on the stool at my drafting carrel; ran his hand along the flat catatonic stare of my Magnascreen. "But you must be doing all right for yourself. Some of this has got to be expensive stuff, Harve."
"Pure sweat equity, most of it." I shrugged. "I do adhesive bonding, some welding, cabinetry—oh, I was a whiz in shop, back in high school."
"Don't try to imply that you missed your real calling. I notice you're working under your own license since a year ago. Can people with budgets still afford you?"
"I won't shit you, Quent, but don't spread this around. Way things are right now, anybody can afford me."
It had been over a year since we'd watched World Cup soccer matches together, and while we caught each other up on recent events, I brewed tea for him in my six-cup glass rig with its flash boiler.
He didn't make me ask about the limp. "You know how those old alleyway fire-escape ladders get rickety after sixty years or so," he told me, shifting his leg. "A few months ago I was closing on a bail-jumper who'd been living on a roof in Alameda, and the ladder came loose on us." Shy smile, to forestall sympathy. "He hit the bricks. I bounced off a Dumpster." Shrug.
"Bring him in?"
"The paramedics brought us both in, but I got my fee," he said. "I don't have to tell you how an HMO views our work, and I'm not indigent. Fixing this hip cost me a lot more than I made, and legwork will never be my forte again, I'm afraid."
I folded my arms and attended to the beep of my tea rig. "You're telling me you were bounty hunting," I said. It wasn't exactly an accusation, but most P.I.s won't work for bail bondsmen. It's pretty demanding work, though the money can be good when you negotiate a fifteen percent fee and then bring in some scuffler who's worth fifty large.
While we sipped tea, we swapped sob stories, maintaining a light touch because nobody had forced either of us into the peeper business. You hear a lot about P.I.s being churlish to each other. Mostly a myth, beyond some healthy competition. "I suppose I couldn't resist the challenge," said Quent. "You know me, always trying to expand my education. As a bounty hunter you learn a lot, pretty quickly."
"Like, don't trust old fire escapes," I said.
"Like that," he agreed. "But it also brings you to the attention of a different class of client. It might surprise even you that some Fed agencies will subcontract an investigation, given special circumstances."
It surprised me less when he said that the present circumstances required someone who spoke Hangul, the Korean language, and knew the dockside world around Oakland. Someone the Federal Bureau of Investigation could trust.
"Those guys," I said, "frost my
It's been my experience that they'll let metro cops take most of the chances and zero percent of the credit."
"Credit is what you buy groceries with, Harve," he said. "What do we care, so long as the Feds will hire us again?"
"Whoa. What's that word again?
as in you and me?"
"If you'll take it. I need an extra set of feet—hips, if you insist—and it doesn't hurt that you carry the air of plainclothes cop with you. And with your size, you can handle yourself, which is something I might need."
He mentioned a fee, including a daily rate, and I managed not to whistle. "I need to know more. This gonna be something like a bodyguard detail, Quent? I don't speak Hangul, beyond a few phrases you taught me."
"That's only part of it. Most people we'll interview speak plain American; record checks, for example. The case involves a marine engineer missing from the tramp motorship
, which is tied up for round-the-clock refitting at a Richmond wharf. He's Korean. Coast Guard and FBI would both like to find him, without their being identified."
There's an old cop saying about Richmond, California: it's vampire turf. Safe enough in daylight, but watch your neck at night. "I suppose you've already tried Missing Persons."