"duality 01" by John Vega


Carnaby Street Station
by David Gill

 

Detective Superintendent Charles Davies watched the solar clipper round Saturn and reel in its cosmic sails as it approached. It was not the fastest means of space travel but it was the most reliable, the cheapest and, thought Charles, the most pleasant. He shifted his forty-year-old bulk, which was heavy in the standard Earth gravity that was the normal operating environment for the station, ran a stubby-fingered slab of a hand through his thinning hair and turned from the viewing port. The clipper would reach space station Carnaby Street within minutes. Charles walked to the drop-tube that would convey him to the dock. Part of his duty as Carnaby Street's superintendent was to view each incoming crew. He could have done it remotely, by video, but there was nothing like seeing for yourself, or so Charles told himself as the tube conveyed him to the dock.

The dock was busy but empty of people, a contrast that always unnerved Charles. He stood back from where the clipper would dock and watched machines steer the clipper into place. All that distance, all that speed, thought Charles, and now this slowness, this centimetre work. The air-locked prow of the clipper nosed alongside a gantry. This ship, the Jagger, had made the trip from Earth to Carnaby Street many times and Charles knew the ten-person crew well. Clipper work was well paid with long Earth breaks and crews were stable. Which was how the clipper owners wanted it. Everyone happy, thought Charles, as the air-lock in the clipper's prow flowered open. This trip they were carrying their normal assignment of goods plus two-dozen passengers consisting of scientists, civil servants and business people.

The captain of the ship, Nick Banbury, was last out. He waved to Charles before stepping into the tube that took him to the reception area. Charles instructed the machines that would unload the Jagger to increase their checking for illegal drugs amongst the cargo. This would slow the unloading, but there had been a small increase in drug use on the station and it was as well to check into every possible avenue of supply. Not that Charles expected the machines to discover anything on the clipper. The likelihood was that the drugs were being synthesised on the station. But he confirmed the search instructions before returning to his quarters.

* * *

Nick Banbury walked his crew through the familiar check-in procedures. They would be on the station for a week before turning around the Jagger and starting the run back to Earth. Traditionally, the captain bought his crew a round of drinks after a voyage, and Nick Banbury kept the tradition in the White Hart, a pub on Level Two. There was not the view that you would get in a higher-level place but the beer was good, or as good as it got on a space station, and was cheaper than higher up. And since when, thought Nick, did people come into a pub to look out? In a pub you drank and looked at each other, looked in. The pub was well populated. Station crew and space crew. A smattering of administrative officers that Nick couldn't put a name to. He proposed a toast: "The Jagger and her crew."

The table responded: "The Jagger."

For the rest of the evening the crew would buy their captain drinks. He had got them here safely. He had brought them to port across millions of miles of space. It was worth buying a man a drink for that.

* * *

Charles Davies lay flat on his back thinking of the sleep that he was not getting. His wanted his life to be bright with action or dark with sleep, he did not want anything in-between. He tilted his head to the left, to the picture of his son Donald next to his double bed. The picture had been obviously cut. To cut Jean out, he thought, to get her off of there. He could have had his computer adapt the picture perfectly, it would have been as though she had never been there, but he preferred to clip her out himself. It was obvious but it was better. He had no idea where his son and his wife were. Somewhere on Earth, he guessed. While I orbit Saturn with two thousand others. A metal moon among Saturn's many moons. A moon pieced together and scary with life. A shell of a thing. He stared at the ceiling. Untreated wounds could turn bad, could become infected. But what could you do? You could not will yourself better.

What I've done, he thought, is forgo my last two Earth sojourns in case, on a planet of ten billion people, I bump into my wife.

* * *

Nick Banbury grimaced when one of the passengers from the Jagger entered the pub. You did not expect to bump into passengers on Level Two. That was one reason why he and his crew were here. The passenger, John Philips, hesitated when he saw the crew then came over. I'll have to let him sit down, thought Nick.

"Mind if I join you?" said John to the table in general.

"Sit down," said Nick. "Have a drink with us."

John Philips was tall and thin and blond. He was all angles and lines, jerky, nervous, energy. He ordered rum and fell into quiet conversation with a crew member, and the captain turned from him.

* * *

An hour later John Philips was talking animatedly, was whirling his thin arms as though they could aid his argument. Captain Nick Banbury became aware that the passenger's argument was making one of his crew, Jim Clark, furious. I'll have to listen to this, he thought, I'll have to get involved. He looked into his beer. The glass was nearly empty. The next round will be the passenger's round, he decided. If he is going to drink with us, he has to pay like us. And when he's buying I'll get him and Jim apart.

John Philips and Jim Clark were arguing about who controlled the station and who ought to control it.

"The Station Master is in control," said Jim. "And he's British."

"Always has been," agreed John. "But it needn't be so. The major funding is European, even the Commonwealth contributed more than Britain last year."

"It's ours by right." The amount of people who ran down British control of the station, you wouldn't believe it. Jim thought how satisfyingly the issue could be settled by his making a fist and launching it toward this clever-mouthed passenger's thin face. He didn't think that the passenger would be able to avoid the blow. He would be too heavy with mocking words to move fast. And those words would never come out of a smashed mouth.

"It's British because it suited the Americans, at a certain point in history, to let us have it. The Chinese and Americans built the thing, put it here." John Philips' words were clear, reasonable, right. Why could the other not see how right he was?

I'll glass him, thought Jim. Let's see him explain that. Let's see him be calm about that. There was a point where arguments ended. But he said with a sneer that, because of drink, came out as a slur: "We all know that story. The dumb war story."

John Philips' voice was as thin as the rest of him. It whistled from him. He used it to explain things to Jim Clark. "Our vote then was important on the Security Council. We were necessary. This station is the price of our vote. A large X over Saturn."

What did he think? That he could whistle out a windy explanation, and that would matter? That he could whistle down his country? Jim slapped the table. "However we got it, we got it."

John took a mouthful of rum, left a smear in the bottom of his glass. "In what way do we have it? The people who pay, the Europeans and increasingly the Commonwealth, call the tunes. We dance or they take their business elsewhere. There are other stations."

We carried this man across millions of miles of space, thought Jim, we could have chucked him out anywhere on route. No one would have known. We could have written it up any way we liked. Off-handedly, thinking about the effects of vacuum on John Philips' body, he said: "You're just running the country down."

John, who thought that he was winning the argument, said: "No I'm not. In fact I'd like to build the country up."

Jim, who did not care about winning or losing an argument, who thought an argument such as this could not be won or lost, only fought over, said: "Your lot doesn't want to build. You want to make us faceless."

"My lot?" snorted John.

"The anti-nats," said Jim.

John took the last of his rum and said: "Nationalism has its place, but is it at the centre of a man? I don't want to make anyone faceless but I would like the one mask that covers us all to slip a little."

Captain Nick Banbury, seeing that John Philips had finished his rum, gulped what was left of the beer in his glass and said: "That's enough of that. We are full of talk but our glasses are empty of drink. Mr. Philips, your turn, I believe."

"I'm not drinking what he buys," said Jim. "I'm not taking anything from him."

John rolled his eyes and stood up. He smiled at the captain. "I'll be off. I don't want to get in the way here."

"If you're sure," said Nick.

John Philips nodded and walked out of the pub.

* * *

Superintendent Charles Davies was woken by the pinging of his phone, which was clipped to his belt. As he reached for the phone, he thought: Asleep in my clothes again. It's getting to be a habit.

"Hello," he barked at the phone, swiveling so that he was sitting at the end of the bed. It felt like the middle of the night, the dead middle. The clock showed five-fifteen.

"Control here. A body's been discovered on Level Three."

"Where?"

"The recycling depot."

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes." He broke the connection.

He made himself change his clothes and wash his face. On his way out of the door he tossed the whisky bottle that he had used to send him to sleep into the bin. Good whisky was expensive on Carnaby Street Station but what else did he have to spend his money on? And he needed the sleep that it gave him, the passing out of things.

* * *

The area around the body was flooded with light and cordoned off. Charles Davies glanced at his watch. Five- thirty. The station was dark outside this bubble of light. Lit for a dead man, thought Charles, and he ducked under tape marked Do Not Cross. One of the men inside the tape came forward to meet him. It was Anthony Cross, the senior Administrative Officer for Level Three.

Anthony was tall, thin and pale. Am I the only fat man on this station, thought Charles. If Charles wanted to look at Anthony while talking to him he would have to look up.

"Charles," said Anthony, reaching out to shake his hand. "Good of you to come so quickly."

It's my job, thought Charles, as though I couldn't do it.

"The body's in one of the bins. A workman spotted it and contacted me. I was the senior officer on duty for Level Three."

Makes sense for this place, thought Charles, a person discovering a body contacts the station management not the police.

"Has anything been touched?" asked Charles.

"Not a thing. We sealed the area, got the lights on, called you in."

I bet, thought Charles. How come human actions were sensible and straightforward in the telling while they were anything but in the living? The world was messy with mistakes. A young, uniformed Constable Conner arrived. Charles acknowledged him but did not issue an instruction. He reached the bin and looked in.

He didn't react and he could feel Anthony waiting for a reaction. The body was a mess. It would be clear in his report, the injuries described, explained, but here, looking into a bin at what used to be a man, it was just a mess. The naked body was badly beaten. A white male in his forties, but beyond that identification by eye was difficult. The face seemed to have been pounded away. Not that it mattered for identification purposes. A genetic check would reveal identity. Charles leaned further in. The man had been castrated. There also seemed to be a lot of blood on his back although this was obscured by the position at which the body had come to rest. It was frightening to know the fury at the heart of a man.

"Doctor on the way, is he?" asked Charles.

"Yes. Ruth Jennings. She'll be here at any moment, I'm sure."

Charles grunted as though at the tardiness of all doctors, stepped away from the body. "Well let's give her first go. When she does manage to turn up, let me know. In the meantime, who found the body?"

Anthony gestured with his head to a man wearing a green boiler suit. "Peter Watson. Lucky that he did . . ." He trailed off.

"Yeah," said Charles. "Otherwise our poor friend would have been recycled and ended up on our plates. Would have been difficult to build a case then, having eaten the victim."

Peter was nervous, empty of colour, falling over his story as he told it. Which did not surprise Charles. Murder upset things.

Charles asked: "On your way down here did you see anyone?"

"No," said Peter. "It was early. I mean this is the early shift. One drunken spaceman a couple of levels up. That was hours ago. I been on the job since three. Nothing really. And then this."

"This spaceman, did you know him?"

"No." He paused. "You don't think it could have been him, do you? I was as close to him as I am to you." He seemed horrified.

"Routine. We will need to eliminate him from the investigation."

Dr Ruth Jennings arrived in a flurry. She was a broad woman decked out with equipment. Anthony Cross signaled to Charles who called over Constable Connor to take the description of the drunken spaceman from Peter Watson.

Charles hurried to the bin where Dr. Jennings had placed thermometers on the body. She waited the couple of seconds the thermometers needed to take the readings. She doesn't look well, thought Charles. Still, one had to make allowances. Being dragged out of bed at five-thirty in the morning to view a particularly grisly murder would leave a lot of people pale.

"Dead 'un," said Charles.

"Is that the police opinion?" said Ruth calmly, without taking her eyes off the body.

"At present."

"Then it matches my medical opinion. The man has been dead for more than two and a half hours and less than three hours. Provisional, of course, until I get him on the table."

"Of course."

"Cause of death appears to be blows to the head."

Oh to be a doctor, thought Charles.

"Let's lift him out."

Two gloved technicians manhandled the body out of the bin.

"Be careful with him," hissed Charles. Don't break him. Don't spoil the clues that might be on him.

As the body came out of the bin Ruth swore. A small crack in her professional surface. What she swore at was that the dead man had a crude Union Jack cut into his back.

Now there's a bloody big clue, thought Charles, there's something that we couldn't miss.

* * *

Charles' office was a perfect cube. He sat behind his desk, a smaller cube, and read reports on the dead man, John Philips. It was good to have a name on which to hang a life. John Philips had been a finance executive with the engineering group Zee Enterprises. British by birth, he was forty-two-years old and based in Amsterdam. Married with two children, ages thirteen and eight. Wife a teacher of English as a foreign language. You could find out a lot about a murdered person. You could generate his dead weight in paper. But you could not understand him. You could not touch him through the paper parade of facts. And you could not find his murderer, thought Charles.

There was a knock on his office door which immediately swung open to reveal Constable Connor. Ginger-haired, pale, young. Charles looked at him and thought: You shouldn't be here. This place will kill you.

Dennis Connor said: "We've identified the spaceman that the recycling worker saw. Name of Jim Clark. Crewman on the Jagger. Inspector Johnson's talking to him now. It turns out that he had a blazing row with our dead man in a pub."

That easy, thought Charles. He was almost disappointed.

"The Inspector thought that you ought to know, that you might want to get involved in the interview."

No, thought Charles, Inspector Debbie Johnson did not need him in the way. Not if this was a drunk carrying an argument out of a pub. But it did not sit well with him. It was too neat. Would a drunk kill a man the way that John Philips had been killed? "Inspector Johnson is entirely capable of handling the interview, Constable," said Charles. "I'll be out of the office for a while." It was Peter Watson that had identified Jim Clark, who had tied up this pretty package.

* * *

The recycling plant was working flat out to make up for the time that had been lost with the discovery of the body. The plant foreman was not happy to release Peter Watson to another round of questioning, but then, thought Charles, this wasn't about happiness.

The interview was held in the foreman's office. Charles slumped in the foreman's chair while Peter sat straight-backed on a hard chair. He's got his colour back since this morning, thought Charles, but then he had been at work, been getting things done and that could take a man's mind from other affairs. That could lend a distance.

"How long you been on the station?" Charles flipped the question out. He knew the answer of course and Peter must know that he knew the answer. But he thought that he would put a little pressure on Peter and see what happened.

"Seven years," said Peter, his working colour fading. Where was this leading?

"Long time in this tin can." You squeeze and all sorts of things squirt out. Not pleasant. Not fair. But murder enquiries were not pleasant or fair.

"The money's good." Peter's face furrowed as Charles tried to see if he would fit this murder.

"But what can a man spend money on out here?" He would really like to know that.

"There's enough. And you can save." My calm words protect, he thought, they keep this fat man off me.

Check his finances, thought Charles, and said: "Long time to be stuck as a garbage man, seven years."

He shrugged. "It suits me."

"What, working with filth? Still, someone has to do it." Push, push, push like bad love.

"Like police work?" And when he said that he thought: not so clever. Satisfying, but not clever. It would do nothing to stop the fat man opposite.

You had better be clean, thought Charles. "Perhaps like that. What time did you get to the plant this morning."

"Just before three o'clock. The early shift. I told you." What exactly did I say? Is there anything that I've forgotten? Could I have trapped myself with my own words? Oh stop. You know what to say. Don't let him manoeuvre you into guilt. You didn't kill anyone.

"It'll survive telling again. And where was the drunk spaceman, how many levels down?"

Peter took a breath. "Three up from here."

"Oh sure. The shopping level. Not much open there at three o' clock. You saw no one else?" Charles slowly raised his hand, placed his little finger in his ear and twisted.

Peter watched this operation as though fascinated, then blurted: "No."

"Heard no one." He removed the finger, wiped it on his trousers.

Peter paused. "There's always some noise at this level."

"So you did hear something?" Charles focused his pale blue eyes on Peter.

Peter met the gaze. He was not the killer. The fat man would not see that there. "No, there was nothing."

"And finding the body, you called Mr. Cross before calling the police." Let's remind him of the right way of doing things and how he did not do it.

He didn't answer. Charles stood. "We'll be in touch. If anything else occurs to you please don't be shy about coming forward."

Peter followed Charles out of the office. His colour was gone as though it had been scraped off.

"You don't look well," said Charles. "Perhaps you should ask your foreman for the day off. Not every day that a man is caught up in murder."

* * *

Inspector Debbie Johnson had tagged Jim Clark and sent him to his quarters. She stood perfectly correctly in Superintendent Charles Davies' office and told him that. Charles grunted acceptance. After all, it was not as if there was anywhere for him to run to.

"Did he do it?" asked Charles.

Debbie twitched at the question. There was no proper way to answer it. "He claims no," she ventured.

"And you were impressed by these claims?" Charles waved vaguely at a chair.

Debbie relaxed her stance but did not sit. "There might be something in them."

She was a short, slim, black woman. Ambitious, thought Charles, and there was nothing wrong in that. It was good to have an idea of where you were going. Whereas I, he thought, am stuck here. And I don't want to leave. "What exactly do you have?"

"His clothes."

Clever, thought Charles, good.

"Mr. Watson describes Mr. Clark drunk as wearing the same clothes as he wore in the pub. Somewhere between being in the pub and being seen wandering drunk Mr. Philips was bloodily killed. There is no trace of blood on Mr. Clark's clothes. Not on the clothes that he was reported as wearing or anything else of his. We checked."

"One point in his favour. There are many against."

"True, sir." But an investigation was not a balance. The one thing in a suspect's favour might be enough to acquit him.

"Anything else?"

"No sir. Still haven't found Mr. Philips' clothes. Or the murder weapon. Or what was used to carve the Union Jack into his back."

Charles looked at the ceiling. Composite metal, like everywhere else. The station was lots of separate parts bolted together, glued together, hammered together. Made up into a whole and floated over Saturn. It was easy to imagine it all coming apart at the seams. He looked at Debbie. "Right. I want a check run on Mr. Watson's finances. Do the dead man's as well while you're about it. Get Constable Connor to lend a hand." He looked past Debbie at the wall, which had a false, pleasant surface. Beneath that the same as everywhere, he thought, beneath that metal and beyond that space.

"Yes, sir." Inspector Johnson turned, moved out of the room.

Charles punched a button that gave him a direct line to the Station Master, Gordon Childs.

"Charles, how are you?" said the Station Master, his voice dripping out of him.

"Tired. You read the flash that I sent about the murder?"

"Of course. Progress?"

"Hard at it. We have to work through those who were immediately on the scene. Those who were there before I got there." He did not want to say that he wanted permission to look into the affairs of Anthony Cross, but that was what the question asked.

Which Gordon Childs understood. He had the list of those at the scene. His pause was barely detectable. "If you feel that it is warranted."

"We have to treat everyone who was at the scene the same."

"Quite understandable."

"I'll keep you in touch."

"I'm sure," and the Station Master broke the connection.

* * *

Charles stopped work at midnight. He had been through Anthony Cross's finances and personnel records. There was nothing there. In fact, they were exemplary. The sort of records required of a prospective Station Master. He heaved himself up from his desk. He had sent Debbie and Dennis home an hour earlier. As quiet in here as it is at home, he thought. The walk from his office to his quarters took fifteen minutes. Walking, he thought: if we run through these metal pipes for long enough, do we become rats?

His bedroom was friendless. He found the whisky bottle in the dark. He took a mouthful and undressed. That's enough, he thought, and lay on his bed, but his hand, which knew that it was never enough, reached for the bottle.

* * *

His phone peep, peep, peeped him awake. The station's environment lighting was simulating early morning. As Charles tipped out of sleep his head took on a throbbing deeper than his phone. He pressed a button to answer his phone. His head would not be so easily quieted. With a thick tongue, he said: "Hello."

"Superintendent, this is Dennis." The constable sounded younger than Charles could ever remember being. "You'd better get down to the docks. Peter Watson is dead."

"Ten minutes," said Charles. "Do what you can to keep the area clear."

Peter Watson, the garbage man, had been stabbed once through the heart. He had a bemused look on his dead face. Poor man, thought Charles bending down, getting close to him. Know how you feel. "How did you come across him?"

"He called me," said Dennis.

Charles straightened up. "He what?"

"He telephoned me. I had been doing some work after getting home and I discovered that although his accounts seemed in order, an account in the name of one of his sisters, to which he had rights of access, had recently shown a large deposit."

"How recent?"

"Yesterday. I tried to get in touch with him but he wasn't answering. I left a message and about an hour ago he got back to me and arranged to meet me here."

"And now he's dead."

"A pity," said Dennis, thinking of evidence.

"Yes," agreed Charles, thinking of the man.

"There's more, sir." Dennis was bubbling, excited. You could not hold it against him. "According to records Watson didn't have a sister."

Charles shook his head. People got dumber and dumber. "Who made the deposit?"

"I wasn't able to discover that sir. I didn't have the security for it."

"But I do."

It took Charles weary hours at his terminal to discover where the deposit had originated from, but discover it he did.

* * *

"It came from the Level Three budget," he announced to Constable Connor and Inspector Johnson.

"Who signed for it? It would have to be a senior administration official," said Dennis.

"Would it were so easy," said Charles. "Three officers have the power to authorise the expenditure from this budget, four if you include the Station Master. The amount we are talking about, although large as a payment to an individual, is small compared to station expenditure; it would just be necessary to know the key-code for the account. I can tell you when it was authorised and where it was authorised but not who authorised it."

"One of four," said Dennis.

"That's it," said Charles.

"So what do we do?"

"Keep digging, of course. We find out." He switched off his terminal. There had been enough digging there. "Debbie, I would like you to talk to the Level Three administration officers. We need to interview them, anyway; the John Philips murder happened on their level. There's no need to mention what we know about the payment to Peter Watson, but see what you can get on how they use their budget."

"I understand, sir."

"And after that, if you've time, I'd like you to have a chat with the crew of the Jagger, who were in the pub with John Philips. Find out if he talked about what he had been up to between arriving at the station and turning up in the pub."

"Yes, sir."

"Dennis, I want you to work the docks. Speak to anyone who might have seen anything. That means speak to everyone."

"Right, sir."

"So what are the pair of you waiting for? Off you go."

Neither Inspector Johnson nor Constable Connor broached the question of what the Superintendent would be up to, although both wondered as they stepped smartly through the door.

Charles punched a button that connected him to the Station Master.

"Hello, Charles." Station Master Gordon Childs' voice slinked.

"Morning, sir. There's been another killing."

"I read the flash. Is it connected to the death of John Philips?"

"It is a possibility. Sir, I need to talk to you."

The slightest of pauses. "Very well. I'll make room for you in an hour. Come up then."

"Very well, sir."

* * *

The Station Master's office was appropriately large. One whole side was a view of Saturn. I don't know if I'd like that, thought Charles, being always reminded of that.

"What can I do for you, Charles?" Station Master Gordon Childs had his feet on his desk and a smile on his face. Sixty years old, he had been Station Master for three years.

Might as well come to the point, judged Charles; there is nothing to gain in putting it off. "What were you doing the night of John Philips' murder?" As well as being the time of the murder, it was when the money had been transferred to the account controlled by Peter Watson.

Gordon Childs' mouth tightened at the corners but his reply was perfectly civil. "I was in bed."

"Anything to confirm this?"

"Inspector Johnson will confirm it. It was her that I was in bed with."

All of Charles' other questions were dulled by this answer, but doggedly he pursued them. At the end, Gordon Childs shook his hand. "I don't suppose you can keep quiet about Debbie?" he said.

"No, sir." No more than he could about anything else.

On his way to his office, he thought: the fact that my Inspector is sleeping with him gives him a witness, puts him in the clear -- but to go in there not knowing that, that is embarrassing, that is undercutting.

Inspector Debbie Johnson was in her office. Charles poked his big head around the door. "Come on," he said.

She looked at him, looked down at what she was working on. She was a little irritated at the interruption.

"Drop that. We need to have words."

What did he want, thought Debbie, getting up from her desk, following him.

As Debbie took a seat in Charles' office, he was considering how to phrase his newly acquired knowledge and so confirm her as a witness for Gordon Childs for the night of the murder of John Philips when she said: "John Philips met with Anthony Cross before going to the pub."

I'm behind the game today, thought Charles, well behind. "How do you know this?"

"From talking to the crew of the Jagger who were in the pub with John Philips. He mentioned it before the big row started. It was your suggestion to ask, sir."

"Have you talked to Anthony Cross about this?" He was cropping up too often in this investigation.

"No. I was thinking of getting him down." It was what I was working on when you called me away, she thought. She had interviewed all the Level Three administrators, including Anthony Cross, but that had been before she had found out about the meeting between Anthony Cross and John Philips. Before, she thought, I had an idea of the killer.

"Do it. And arrange for a complete sweep of his quarters while he is down here." He scratched the top of his head and thought of what he had meant to say, how that had been overtaken.

"How complete a sweep?" asked Debbie

"Complete. The works." He grinned. Let's find out about Anthony Cross, he thought. Let's see what a thorough search of him would turn up. There would be something. There always was.

"That could take some time." Privacy was an important issue on a space station and searches were unpopular. They were also expensive.

"Then Mr. Cross will have to be down here with us for some time."

"I'll get right on it, sir." She stood to leave.

"I want to be in on the sweep of his quarters."

"I'll see to it, sir."

"And Debbie."

"Yes sir?"

"If on a case, especially a murder case, you have anything to say about any of the people who come up in the course of the investigation I expect you to say it."

She stopped in her leaving. "Yes, sir." So that was it.

"I spent some time today with the Station Master. You remember that he was the fourth person who could have authorised the transfer of funds from the Level Three budget."

"Yes, sir." She knew what Charles was going to say. I should have brought it up, she thought, how could I have imagined that it could have remained secret in a murder investigation?

"He could provide a good witness for the night of John Philips' murder. I didn't ask about Peter Watson."

"He has a witness there too, sir."

"It would have helped to know that before going in to see him."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Now give Mr. Cross a call and set up the sweep." He looked down at his papers and she turned to the door. "And Debbie."

"Yes, sir?"

"Good work finding out about Anthony Cross."

* * *

The technicians who swept Anthony Cross's quarters wore white coveralls and face masks. Charles followed their painstaking progress from just inside the entrance.

Anthony Cross's quarters were elaborately British. Pictures, wooden furniture, even a pair of swords crossed and mounted on the wall. Peculiarly thick carpets. Good for holding blood that, thought Charles, difficult to get all the blood out of that.

Down on Level One, Anthony Cross patiently answered the questions that Inspector Johnson asked.

In Anthony Cross's quarters Charles Davies held a sword, felt its balance. It was one of the pair that had hung on the wall. The other had been removed. There had been a drop of blood on its tip, too small for the eye but large enough for the machines that were being used to search the quarters. The blood on the tip would be genetically matched against the dead men, John Philips and Peter Watson. There was always a clue, thought Charles, you could not help leaving clues to yourself. He made a clumsy lunge with the sword. Something like it, he supposed, had killed Peter Watson. One thrust at the heart. They were such lovely swords, it would be a crime to throw one away. So Anthony Cross had cleaned the weapon and put it back on his wall. He had trapped himself, had left the necessary clue. If not this, something else, thought Charles, and put a call in to Inspector Johnson.

Inspector Johnson's mistake was to turn her back on Anthony Cross as she took the call.

She said: "I'll caution him right away, sir," and a moment later was struck on the back of the head.

Over the phone Charles heard her go down before the transmission was broken. He ran toward the nearest tube instigating a repeating phone squawk message to Dennis Connor to meet him at Level One.

Which Dennis ignored. He killed the audio on his phone, although the message repeated on the display. He was on Level Six, a shopping area, and gaining on Anthony Cross, who had come out of the tube that Dennis had been hurrying toward. This Level was crowded, and he was not sure if this was a chase. Anthony may not have seen him.

Anthony Cross had seen Dennis and recognised him. He was not running but he was doing his best to maintain the distance between himself and Dennis. When Dennis realised Anthony's destination he broke cover and called: "Stop, police." Which was impressive but its effectiveness was minimal. He broke into a barging run.

Anthony increased the pace of his walking but did not run. The crowd milled, confused as to who Dennis was shouting at.

"Him there, by the tube," shouted Dennis in pointless clarification. He was too late. Anthony smiled at him before jumping into a different tube to the one that had brought him to Level Six.

The tube Anthony had chosen gave access to all Levels of the station. Dennis looked into the tube and guessed which Level Anthony had chosen. He used his phone before backing his guess.

"Superintendent. He's in the tube."

Charles, bent over Inspector Johnson's bleeding and unconscious body, hissed: "Get after him."

"I thought the docks, sir."

"That makes sense."

Charles held a wet towel to the bloody back of Debbie's head. If Anthony stayed on the station, he would be caught. The only way off was through the docks. He hoped that Dennis had his wits about him.

* * *

There were not many people in the docks area. There never were. The docks were all machine. In this machine area Dennis moved. He felt vulnerable, an out-of-place flesh-and-bone thing. He cast his senses like a net, hoping to trawl up Anthony Cross from the sea of machines. Concentrate, he thought, he's in here somewhere, he has to be. Forget the machines and think of the man. It took him fifteen minutes to find Anthony.

Anthony Cross was crouched, tinkering with an escape pod. Dennis accelerated toward him. Anthony turned and threw a large spanner. The spanner struck Dennis in the chest, broke his run. The pod slid open and Anthony slipped in. Dennis, lurching forward, stuck his hand into the pod, grabbed Anthony and pulled. Anthony came half out of the craft, swung a fist at Dennis. The pod door, recognising that something human was in the way, would not close. The blow caught Dennis on the side of the head, but he did not release his grip. He held on with both hands. If I let go, he thought, the door closes and he is away. The next blow was to the other side of his head. He saw it coming and bent under its main force. Just hang on, he thought. Anthony hit him flush in the face, one, two, three times. Dennis felt his nose go. Another blow to the side of the head. Then the face again. Quick now, as though he had got the rhythm of it. Dennis's eyes bloodied and closed but his grip was steady. Anthony was now banging at his wrists, smashing them down into the frame of the pod. If he breaks my wrists, thought Dennis, will I let go? And then someone else was there and the blows stopped.

* * *

The interview room was being cleaned of Debbie Johnson's blood, but Charles did not delay the charging nor the interview.

"You've been charged with the murder of Peter Watson, and you are a suspect for the murder of John Philips. Also you have been charged with assault on Inspector Debbie Johnson and Constable Dennis Connor. I'll get you a lawyer if you want."

Anthony shrugged, watched the machines as they cleaned up Debbie Johnson's blood.

"I know you did it. The evidence is there. The case is made. You will be tried and then you will be locked away forever. But what I want to know is why? What made you?"

"Does it matter?"

"Not really. You'll be locked up either way."

The machines finished their cleaning and withdrew.

"I wanted to be Master of this station," said Anthony.

"You had every chance. Gordon Childs has only got a couple more years here."

"And then one of the Level Officers would take over? A British officer? No, superintendent. That's not to be. John Philips' company, Zee Enterprises, is part of a group of European companies working with organic-type materials. They have developed a material that is partially self-repairing. You understand what a step forward that would be. And the profits, of course, would be vast. Two things, then. One, they want to large-scale test this material but they want it done in private. Nowhere on Earth is suitable. Here is very suitable. Two, this station as the centre for research in this material would become one of the most important stations in the system. Here would be where it would first be used. Now, two good things? Yes, in their way. Only thing is that they want one of their people in charge. They want to name the next Station Master. And they may well get their way: think of the money, the power, the prestige. And after all if they don't do it here they'll do it somewhere else."

"You've known all this for how long?"

"Not long, superintendent. Not long at all. And a lot of it only for a day or so. That's why John Philips came here, you see. To explain."

"To the Station Master?" Why had the Station Master not said anything? It was secret, but there had been murder done. He had not said anything, thought Charles, answering his own question, because he judged keeping the information restricted more important than helping to solve a murder.

"Partly. But also to me. You see, although they wanted their man in charge, they wanted a British second in command. They'd chosen me."

"And for that you killed him?"

"For that? Yes. I killed him for that. I wanted command. It's what my life has been aimed toward. It is what I'm about. Killing John Philips played up the tensions in the station, pointed them out. After all, they would not bring their precious product to an unstable station, a station with a lot of killings. Particularly nationalistic killings."

"And so you carved a Union Jack in his back?"

"Yes. And it fitted with the run-in he had with the crew of the Jagger. After all, I didn't create these forces, I just used them."

"And Peter Watson?"

"He came on duty ten minutes early. I had just finished stuffing John Philips in the bin. I was covered with blood. I think I can say that he was genuinely frightened of me."

"But you paid him."

"Oh, yes. At that time I needed that compromise, I needed to tie him in to the crime. But he was always an untidiness. And he came back to me."

"For more money?"

"No. He wanted promotion. I don't think the money meant that much. He wanted to hitch himself to me, to get on."

"And so you killed him?"

"It was an untidiness. And he was so easy to kill." He turned his head. "One of your men contacted him. He got into a panic. I advised him to arrange a meeting in a secluded area. He did. I told him that we would bribe the policeman, that it would be easy. We got there half an hour before the arranged time and I killed him. It was easy. It tidied things up." His voice was cool, level.

You get a taste for it, thought Charles, you empty yourself. You create a great hunger in yourself which only blood can sate. Sickened, he terminated the interview. You can make believe that you are so important and that others are as nothing. Others did not count. It was a smallness of imagination, a failing of sympathy, a narrowness. You could blind yourself with yourself.

He lay on his bed, lights on, eyes open. He looked at the photograph of his son. I have no idea where he is, thought Charles, except that he is millions of miles away. His son sank to his heart like a stone dropping in water. He pictured Jean, his wife, who he had cut out of the photograph, her wide, laughing mouth and bright, blue eyes. Her short, dark hair and tight, pale skin. Her quick, clever talk. Her love for me, he thought, and my love for her. That had been real once, that was true like a photograph was true. He sat up. Oh Jean, he thought, you turn my heart to corn ready for your reaping. He groped for the whisky bottle and took a long swallow.

* * *

Dennis woke in a hospital bed. He blinked once and Charles came into focus. He was munching on grapes.

"Sir," said Dennis.

Charles popped the grapes into a bag and put them on Dennis's bedside table. "Good to have you back. How you feeling? Want me to call a doctor to have a look at you?"

"Not yet, sir. What happened?"

"You apprehended a dangerous criminal. Well done."

"But he was . . ."

"Getting some blows in? Yes but you held on. And then I turned up." As though his turning up had put an end to all that nonsense.

"So he's in custody?"

"Oh yes, thanks to you. Confessed as well."

"And Inspector Johnson?"

"Recovering. She's just across the way. She's got the Station Master with her at the moment."

And I've got you, thought Dennis. He grimaced.

"A little pain? It'll hurt for a little while yet. Let me know if you need a doctor. Inspector Johnson's considering taking Earth leave. It's available to you as well. But I'll say to you what I said to her: there's going to be a great deal going on at the station over the next few months. It may do you well to be associated with it."

With that, he upped and left. "I'll let a doctor know that you're awake," he called through a door that he did not close.
 

 

Story copyright 2001 by David Gill hl10@dial.pipex.com

Illustration copyright 2001 by John Vega jvega@dancingimage.com

 

 

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