Authors: Dean Ing
Tags: #Science Fiction
The normal functions of the LOC-8's little screen hadn't been compromised, so I was able to scroll through its travels beginning with Quent's departure from the Sunnyvale lab early in the evening. I brewed strong Java and sipped as I made longhand notes with pen on paper at my kitchen table. Say what you will about old-fashioned methods, nothing helps me assemble thoughts like notes on paper.
Quent had driven back via the Bay Bridge to Richmond at his ordinary sedate pace, and the Volvo had stopped for two minutes or so halfway down a block in the neighborhood where he had spoken earlier in the day with the so-called machinist. If he hadn't found a parking slot, I guessed he had double-parked.
Next he had driven half a mile, and here the LOC-8 had stayed for over an hour. At max magnification it showed he must have used a parking lot because the Volvo had been well off the street. I noted the location so I could interview the parking attendant, if any. From the locale, I figured Quent had been cruising the ethnic bars and game palaces, maybe looking for our missing engineer or, still more likely, the machinist's roomie. Then the car had left its spot, found the freeway, and headed south through Oakland to the Alameda, not in any special hurry.
But when the Volvo's trail traversed a long block for the second time, I checked the intersections. There was no mistake: Quent had circled the Sonmiani offices a couple of times, then parked in an adjacent alleyway, the same one Norm used for his Porsche as access to the garage entrance of the first-floor offices. As well as I could recall, I hadn't been gone from there long when Quent arrived to do his usual careful survey of the whole layout before committing himself. That would fit if he'd intended to meet someone like Mike Kaplan or the other guy I hadn't met—Meltzer. Someone whose phone number he didn't have. Maybe he had been confident I was still there.
But if he had been trying to contact me, why hadn't he just grabbed his phone? Obviously he hadn't thought it was necessary. That meant he wasn't worried about his safety, because Quent had told me up front that he'd rented me, as it were, by the pound of gristle. And, like most P.I.s, Quent worked on the premise that discretion was the better part, et cetera. The P.I. species is often bred from insurance investigators, a few lawyers, ex-military types, and ex-cops. Guess which ones are most willing to throw discretion in the dumper. . . .
Despite the lateness of the hour, my first impulse was to call Norm and ask him a few questions about what, or whom, Quent might have met there. But what would he know? He'd been tailgating me out past Mt. Diablo at that time. Another thing: Nearing my place I had called Quent to no avail. Had he gone inside by then? Or he could have met someone in another car. Illegal entry wasn't Quent's style. I decided that if he had been looking for me, he'd have called before parking there. The car had stayed there for about five minutes and then its location cursor virtually disappeared, but not quite. With its signal greatly diminished, it said the Volvo had been driven into Norm's garage. There it had stayed for about an hour.
Then when the cursor suddenly appeared with a strong satellite signal, the Volvo went squirting through the Alameda as if someone were chasing it. It would've been dark by then as the cursor traced its way up the Nimitz Freeway to the Eastshore route, taking a turnoff near Richmond. I was feeling prickly heat as I keyed the screen back and forth between real time and fast-forward, because in real time Quent never drove with that kind of vigor.
I concluded he hadn't been driving by then. The Volvo had gone some distance up Wildcat Canyon near Richmond's outskirts, now driving more slowly, at times too slowly, then picking up the pace as it turned back toward the commercial district. There was no doubt in my mind where this jaunt would end, and for once I nailed it. The Volvo sizzled past the spot where a chalk outline now climbed a boulevard curb, turned off the main drag, and doubled back and forth on a service road before it stopped. The site was approximately where I had found the Volvo.
The screen said more than two hours passed before the cursor headed toward my place, duly recording the moment when I stole the gadget—recovered it, I mean; Dana had clearly said she wished she could lend it to me. Had she been lying? Probably, but it didn't matter. I had the gimmicked LOC-8 and I had time to fiddle with its hidden functions, having watched while Dana showed another one off while sitting on a park bench between me and Quent.
And I had something else: a cold hard knot of certainty that someone working for my new friend Norm Goldman was no friend of Quent's. Or of mine.
I did sleep, after all. Worry keeps me awake but firm resolve has a way of grinding worry underfoot. I woke up mad as hell before I even remembered why, and then I sat on the edge of my bed and shed the tears I never let anyone see.
Then I dressed for a tour of the
I'm told that the Cheyennes used to gather before a war party and ritually purge their bellies. They believed it sharpened their hunting instincts, and I know for a fact that if you expect a reasonable likelihood of serious injury, your chances of surviving surgery are better on an empty stomach. For breakfast I brewed tea, and nothing else, in memory of my friend.
Around nine, I called Norm Goldman and asked if my visit was on. He said yes, and asked if my Korean boss would be coming, too. I told him I hadn't been able to raise Quent, before I realized the grisly double entendre of my reply. We agreed to meet at the slip at ten-thirty. I went downstairs and made a weapons check. Assuming the guys who took Quent down were connected with the ship—and I did assume it—somehow it just seemed a natural progression for them to make a run on me on what was their turf. Especially if Quent, in his agony, had admitted who was running the two of us.
I ignored my phone's bleat because its readout didn't identify the caller and there was no message, and I figured it might be my Feebie boss with new orders I didn't want to follow.
With my StudyChick in one jacket pocket, the LOC-8 in the other, my Glock auto in its breakaway Bianchi against my left armpit and the ex-Bobby Rooney derringer taped into the hollow of my right armpit, I felt like the six-million-gadget man. My phone chortled at me as I drove into town. Still no ident for the caller, and I didn't reply, but this time there was a message and it was clearly Dana's voice on the messager.
She was careful with her phrasing. "The car's been found, but not our property. Whoever has it is asking for a grand theft indictment. But the real news is, someone with political pull back East has complained at ministerial level about the, and I quote, unconscionable interference with Pacific Rim commerce. We're now obeying a new directive. Absent some solid evidence of illegal activity by the maritime entity—and nothing ironclad is present—we're terminating the operation. Of course last night's felony will be pursued by the metro force.
"I want you to report to me immediately. After what's happened, it makes me nervous not to know whether you're still pursuing the operation. If I knew, it would probably make me even more nervous. Just ask yourself how much your license is worth." No cheery good-byes, no nothing else.
I wanted to answer that last one, though not enough to call her back. While my license was worth a lot to me, it wasn't worth Quentin Kim's life. She might not know it, but I could make a decent living as a temp working under someone else's license. If Dana Martin's people dropped out, whatever the Richmond homicide detail found they'd almost certainly discover that their suspects had sailed on the
Good luck, Sergeant, here's a ticket to Pusan and the damnedest bilingual dictionary you ever saw . . .
I played the recording back again, trying to listen between the lines. If Dana had been thinking how her message would sound when replayed for her local SAC, she'd have said just about what she did say. Did she suspect the Volvo's window had been busted by clumsy ol' Harve, who had the LOC-8 and was now en route to the docks? If so, she evidently wasn't going to share that suspicion with her office.
She had also made it plain that I'd have bupkis for backup, leaving an implication that until I got her message, I was still on the case. Or I could just be reading into it what I wanted to read.
What I wanted to read at the moment were my notes, not an easy task in what had now become city traffic.
With twenty minutes to burn, I pulled over beside a warehouse near the wharf and scrolled over my notes hoping to identify the next cargo. The stuff Sonmiani wanted to load was something called paraglycidyl ether, a resin thinner. Quent had checked a hazmat book on the off chance that it might be really hazardous material.
The classic historic screwup along that line had been the burning shipload of ammonium nitrate in 1947 that was identified only by its actual intended use as fertilizer. However, Quent had found that this cargo wasn't a very mean puppy though it was flammable; certainly not like the old ethyl ether that puts your lights out after a few sniffs.
When I checked the manufacturing location I found that the liquid was synthesized right there, not merely there in Richmond but in one of the fenced-off chemical plants with an address off the boulevard facing me. I drove on and found a maze of chemical processing towers, reactor tanks, pipes, and catwalks a half mile past the
A gate was open to accept a whopping big diesel Freightliner rig that was backing in among the storage tanks, carrying smaller tanks of its own like grain hoppers. For a moment I thought the driver would bend a yellow guide barrier of welded pipe and wipe out the prefab plastic shed that stood within inches of the pipe. Near the shed stood a vertically aligned bank of bright red tanks the size of torpedoes. I recognized the color coding, and I didn't want to be anywhere near if that shed got graunched.
The driver stopped in time, though. He was no expert, concentrating on operating his rearview video instead of using a stooge to damned well direct him, and I thought he looked straight at me when he was only concentrating on an external mirror directly in front of him. He didn't see me any more than he would've seen a gull in the far background.
It was Mike Kaplan.
I couldn't be wrong about that. Same caricature of a beak, same severe brush cut and intense features. And why shouldn't it be him? Okay, using a desk jockey to drive a rig might be unusual, and I had thought Kaplan was slated to take the ship tour with me. But if the Fed-erected barriers to Pacific Rim commerce had come tumbling down during the morning as Dana claimed, an aggressive bunch of local reps might be pitching in to make up for lost time.
I wondered what, if anything, Kaplan might be able to tell me about what had happened in that office building early on the previous night. He had left before Norm and I did, but how did I know when he had come back? The third guy—Seltzer? Meltzer!—was one I hadn't met, but without any positive evidence I had already made a tentative reservation for him on my shit list.
It was only a short drive back to the gate that served the
This time the gate was manned, but Norm Goldman, in a ritzy black-leather jacket, leaned with a skinny frizzle-haired guy against the fender of his Turbo Porsche, just outside the fencing. Norm recognized me with a wave and called something to the two guys at the gate as I parked beside the swoopy coupe.
The skinny guy with Norm turned out to be Ira Meltzer, who spoke very softly and had a handshake that was too passive for his work-hardened hands, and wore a denim jacket that exaggerated his shoulders. When Meltzer asked where my partner was, I said he hadn't answered my calls, so I figured he wasn't coming.
Neither of them seemed to find anything odd about that. If Meltzer knew
Quent wasn't coming, it was possible that Norm might know. I didn't like that train of thought; if true, it made me the prize patsy of all time. And if they had learned from Quent who it was that had been giving him orders, they would assume I already knew what had happened to him. While I thought about these things, the three of us stood there and smiled at one another.
Then Meltzer said, "By the way, aboard ship it's the captain's little kingdom—except for government agencies. And you're private, am I right?"
"Then if I were you, I wouldn't try to go aboard with a concealed weapon." His smile broadened. "Or any other kind."
He didn't actually say I was carrying, and it took a practiced eye to spot the slight bulge of my Glock, but I didn't need an argument with the honcho on board. "Glad you told me," I said, and popped the little black convincer from its holster. I unlocked the Toyota and shut my main weapon in the glove box. "I carry my GPS mapper; it's a LOC-8. And I've got a StudyGirl for notes. That a problem?"
Meltzer looked at Norm, who made a wry grimace. "Shit, Ira, why would it be? In fact, you might carry one of 'em openly in your hand, Harve. I'll do the same with the other, and I'll give it back once we're aboard. I don't think al-Nadwi will get his shorts in a wad. I'm supposed to carry a little weight around here, even with these ragheads."
Meltzer said he supposed so, and I handed over StudySkirt, carrying the LOC-8 in one hand. We left our vehicles near the gate and walked in side by side toward the
The commercial cleanup outfit I had previously seen on the wharf was finally leaving, a bright yellow hazmat suit visibly untenanted in a niche near the truck's external console. I recognized two of the three guys in the truck's cab, and Consoleman, now the driver, waved. When Sweatman, the guy who had worn the suit, pretended he didn't notice us I knew which of them the Feds had co-opted on the job. I would've given a lot to talk with him alone right then.
Norm waved back, his good spirits irksome to me though I couldn't very well bitch about it. He kept looking around at the skyline and the wheeling gulls, taking big breaths of mud-flavored waterfront air that I didn't find all that enticing. Wonderful day, he said, and I nodded.