Okay, it's time for this blog's host to foist another short story upon you. This one is a sci-fi crime thriller with commentary on large corporations, public apathy and the media. I enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it. As always, commentary is welcome.
GIVING IT ALL AWAY
Detective Ed Rucker walked into the cramped apartment and winced as the stink of death assaulted him. He had seen dead bodies in hovels like this before. The small apartment was squalid and stank of filth and sweat. Square block buildings like this one littered the west side of the city and catered to the un-techs, people who could not afford technology or those who rejected it. One look and you could tell that the owner of this dump was not treating him or herself to the services of a good automated house cleaning service.
“Smells as if the body has been here a while,” he said to the uniformed officer who led him into the apartment.
“We called the coroner after we saw the condition of the vic. He can probably tell you how long the guy’s been stiff.”
They passed through a living room that was hot and thick with flies. Rucker waved them away and stepped over a pile of rotting garbage.
“The landlord said this guy has been living here alone for about two months. The name on the building register didn’t come back as valid and they don’t use a DNA scanner on their residents. He rented week to week and always paid cash.”
“None that he can remember. He said the guy was always quiet and alone.”
“Have you talked to the neighbors yet? Maybe they saw him recently and can give us some idea of how long it’s been since anyone saw him breathing.”
“I’ll get right on that. The air is fresher in the hallway, anyway.”
Rucker grimaced and stepped into the bedroom. The flies were thicker in here and it was as filthy as the rest of the apartment. He pulled on a pair of plastic gloves as he examined the room. Soiled bedclothes were pulled back on the bed and revealed a brown stained mattress. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver sphere. He pushed a recessed button on it and it leapt into the air.
“Give me scans of this whole room,” Rucker said. “Pay special attention to the body, bed and doorway.”
The ball hovered in front of him and spoke. “Color and full spectrographic?”
Rucker nodded. “Yeah. Make sure you remember the ultraviolet when you do the body.”
The sphere hummed slightly and flew off, lighting the room as it scanned the scene. Rucker moved around the bed and found the body wedged between it and the wall. The victim’s head was toward the foot of the bed. He knelt down and examined it quickly. After a cursory look he pulled a small PDA out of another pocket and set it to record.
“The victim is a white male, age young but indeterminate. I am guessing height and weight to be approximately 5’ 10”, one hundred forty pounds. He has no hair. The victim has several lacerations across his back, moving from the right shoulder diagonally to the left buttock.”
Rucker removed the stylus clipped to the PDA and began to sketch the scene. A stick figure represented the body and other rough shapes represented the bed, nightstand and outline of the room. This was, of course, unnecessary now that the floating digital scanner he was using could reproduce the room in stunning three-dimensional detail but he liked being thorough. He finished his sketch and continued his dictation.
“There is a large pool of dried blood on the mattress on the side nearest the door.” He moved the sheets back a little further and examined the stains more closely. “The blood stain trails to the opposite side of the bed where the body is located.”
He stood up and examined the ceiling. “There is blood spatter across the ceiling going toward the position of the body and another trail going toward the direction of the door to the room.” What had caused that?
He went back to the body and lifted up one of the hands. There were deep cuts in it and the index finger was almost severed. He raised the PDA again.
“There are cuts on the hands that appear to be defensive wounds. The knife rising in one direction while the victim’s hands moved in another may have caused the blood spatter patterns across the ceiling. Note: take measurements and examine more closely.”
If the victim put up a fight he probably was not killed in his sleep. The wounds on his back suggested he was not facing his attacker. Could he have been chased into the bedroom and not surprised there? He walked back into the living area.
A chair lay on its side and he looked at the pile of garbage he had stepped over when he entered. Could the victim have met his attacker at the door and then knocked over the chair and garbage as he fled into the bedroom? Rucker moved to the door and examined it.
The cheap door had three locks on it, one in the knob, an old chain that wasn’t of use to anyone and a new electronic dead bolt that looked like it had been installed recently. Rucker lifted the chain and saw that the anchor from the doorframe was still attached to it, complete with the mounting screws. A quick examination of the frame revealed splintered wood. Rucker looked into the hallway and called to the uniformed officer.
“Benelli?” The patrolman was two doors down speaking with someone in hushed tones through a partially opened door. He finished his conversation and walked down the hall.
“What’s up, Detective?”
“When you arrived on the scene did you have to force your way in?”
“No, sir. The door was closed but it wasn’t locked. I just pushed it open.”
“Okay. Have you gotten anything out of the neighbors?”
“Not yet. The old lady next door is deaf and legally blind. She didn’t even know she had a neighbor. The lady I was just speaking with may have seen him a couple days ago. She’s thinking it over right now.”
“Keep asking around and let me know when the meat wagon shows up.”
“You got it.”
Rucker walked back into the apartment and moved into the bathroom. Examining bathrooms was Rucker’s least favorite thing to do in these situations. It was bad enough that some poor bastard had gotten himself killed for some as yet unknown reason but Rucker most definitely did not want to know if he had athlete’s foot, genital warts or hemorrhoids. Going through the contents of someone’s bathroom medicine cabinet was sometimes more disturbing than going through their other personal possessions. These things were meant to be kept private but his job made him the ultimate voyeur.
Thankfully, this victim’s bathroom was pretty mundane, if not entirely clean. Rucker stepped over some dirty laundry on the floor and opened up the medicine chest. There was a line of prescription pill bottles across the top shelf.
Rucker reached out with a gloved hand and inspected them one by one. He noticed one of them was a painkiller and the other three were heavy-duty anti-biotics. There was nothing illegal about them but the names on the prescription labels did not match each other, almost as if they had been stolen and resold. He bagged them and continued his search.
The second shelf yielded only a toothbrush but he bagged it as well.
The bottom of the cabinet held various bandages, dressings and anti-biotic ointments. There were also several dermal patch kits that were used to reduce scarring caused by incisions. He picked up his PDA.
“Note: Make sure Medical Examiner looks for signs of recent surgery and infection. Maybe we can find a doctor that knew him.”
Rucker was finished with the bathroom and moved back into the living room/kitchen combo. A quick examination showed a collection of take out containers from several restaurants and only a few dirty dishes in the sink. The refrigerator was empty except for two soft drink bottles and the remnants of the victim’s last Chinese dinner. Rucker watched as the scanner came in close and recorded the scene in the kitchen. It was a handy little gadget and very thorough. It floated around the counters, over the sink and moved on to the bathroom.
Rucker walked into the living room and stood in the center of the floor. He turned in a small circle and examined the entire area. When he was finished he pulled out his PDA again.
“Note: Except for a small, free signal video receiver on a shelf in the northwest quadrant of the living area, there are no electronic devices in this apartment. The digital net hookups are not connected to anything and there are no gaming consoles or computers. My examination has not revealed any dust displacement on the furniture so it does not appear that anything has been stolen. There is also a lack of any hand held devices or personal identification.”
Rucker was puzzled. A burglary in this neighborhood was nothing out of the ordinary but it did not look like anything had been taken from the apartment. In fact, he noted, it did not look as though it had been searched. The garbage on the floor could have been knocked over if the victim was running for his life and everything else looked unkempt, not ransacked. The small silver ball flew in front of him.
“Thanks. Deactivate.” He held his hand out and the ball dropped into it.
The door to the apartment swung open and Rucker saw the medical examiner enter. “Hi, Ed,” he said, “what have you got?”
“Afternoon, Joe. There’s one stiff in the bedroom. It looks like he’s been here a while. Let me show you.”
The two men walked into the bedroom. After a quick look at the body the ME looked up at him.
“The stab wounds almost certainly killed him. This one” he said, pointing to the long one on the victim’s back, “is deep enough to have severed several back muscles and this deep one,” he gestured again, “looks like it sliced through his lung and the left ventricle of his heart.”
Rucker considered that. “Big guy, then, right? To cut though so much muscle and get through to the heart?”
The ME nodded. “That’s one possibility. The other depends on the weapon. Some molecular blades can cut through a centimeter of steel. A weapon like that would let a small man or woman inflict this kind of damage.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to identify the type of weapon?”
“Probably, once we get him back to the morgue. Are you done here?”
Rucker nodded and the ME stood up. He pulled a spray bottle out of his case, adjusted the nozzle and sprayed the body from head to toe.
“What’s that?” Rucker asked.
“It’s an electrostatic spray that will keep any hair and fiber evidence clinging to the body.” He stood up. “Can you help me pull the bed away from him?”
They pulled the bed away and the body fell to the floor. A minute later the ME wrestled it into a body bag and attached a small box to it. He touched a switch and the body began to float.
“These magnetic litters are great,” he said to Rucker. “It used to take two or three guys to do this but now I can just float him out to the van.”
“I bet it’s fun at parties too.”
“Oh yeah. Hey, I’ll do the autopsy on him when I get back and I’ll have a report for you in the morning.”
“Okay. Let me know what you find out. Oh, I found all sorts of dermal regeneration patches, bandages and anti-biotics in the bathroom. Let me know if he’s had any surgery lately.”
Rucker watched him leave and left the apartment to find Benelli. He was further down the hall speaking to someone through another half-opened door. He gestured to him.
“Find anything yet?” He asked.
“One thing, Detective. The neighbor on the right heard some kind of commotion about two nights ago but said she couldn’t be sure what it was. She said it sounded like a fight but wasn’t sure.”
“Okay. Get a full statement from her and have it forwarded to me before the end of the shift. Make sure you get times out of her.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
Rucker walked down three flights of stairs and stepped out onto the busy street just as the coroner’s wagon pulled away. He made his way through the crowded sidewalk to his own unit and climbed in. The small police car gave him a jolt as it lifted off the ground. The mag-lev rails caught it and he hovered a few centimeters off the street.
“Destination?” A voice from the dashboard asked.
“10th precinct.” He answered.
The small vehicle slid into the traffic flow on computer auto-pilot and Rucker observed people on the street as the car zipped toward the precinct. The city was crowded as ever, he saw, as a mass of people moved up and down the sidewalks. He was a history buff and was amused that life in the city in 2130 was still very similar to what it had been in the late twentieth century. This neighborhood, for example, had been constructed in the late 1980’s as low income housing and 150 years later it still served that purpose. Certain things had changed he reminded himself, the education was better and there was no doubt that advancements in medical technologies had increased the human life span but people themselves never really changed.
The car slowed at an intersection and Rucker watched the local street walkers trolling for customers. His attention was caught by one young woman who looked too fresh and clean to have been in the business long. Suggestive messages in neon colors slid across her smooth, pale skin as she took a long drag on a cigarette. Body messaging was a new art form that had popped up recently. Rucker didn’t know how it worked exactly but it was an eye catcher. That sort of body modification seemed harmless but some developments bothered him. The implants for instance. The implants really concerned him.
Nanotechnology had developed microscopic robots that could repair wounds from the inside out and eliminated the need for most surgery. People were now injected with billions of the machines at birth. They just floated in the bloodstream waiting for a serious injury to activate them. This was a fantastic development. People now survived traumas that would have killed them years before. The robots could even be programmed to clear arteries of the dangerous plaque that caused heart attacks. Some vision and hearing problems were also a thing of the past. Surgeries could now be performed in areas that scalpels and lasers could not reach such as the interior of the brain. The nano-bots also helped the body fight infection and accept transplanted organs and mechanical implants without rejections. This was the aspect that bothered Rucker.
His car stopped at another intersection in a much better neighborhood than the one he had just left and he watched as an attractive young woman looked over the merchandise in a store window. He knew that as innocent as that activity looked, there were implants in the woman’s eyes that were feeding her information about the products she was looking at. Almost everyone had those types of implants now. A small camera in your pupil saw what you were looking at and searched for a microscopic bar code on the item. Contained within that bar code was all the information you could ask for about that product. The information was then displayed directly on to the woman’s eye. He knew that while she was examining the style and color of the dress on the mannequin information on the fabric and designer was flooding her vision. A trip to the supermarket could tell you every ingredient in every product you bought. Rucker didn’t like the idea at all.
The implants had been around for about twelve years now and in a society that had grown accustomed to adapting to fantastic new technologies, he knew they were already old hat. The newest implants were popular among everyone. Vision and auditory devices could now enhance normal human senses beyond perfection. He thought about that as the cruiser pulled away from the intersection. Perfection wasn’t good enough for some people any more. He wondered about the street walker he had seen earlier. He could only imagine the type of implants she had to keep her customers happy.
The cruiser pulled up in front of the precinct and he disembarked. He noticed a uniformed officer standing at the curb and watched as he got into the cruiser Rucker had just vacated and headed out on patrol. If nothing else, the traffic had improved in the last century. Private vehicles were a thing of the past because of the advancements made in magnetic levitation. The city was lined with mag-lev rails and the public just rode “common cars” to their destination. A car pulled up and someone got out. The next person in line just took the car and went to their destination. Parking had ceased to become a problem.
Rucker filled the next few hours writing reports and catching up on his cases. Technology may have changed some things but people were still criminals. Increased surveillance, better forensic capabilities and a prison system that made a real effort to rehabilitate people had reduced crime from the high point of the early twenty-first century but it still existed. Rucker and the rest of the department were secure in their employment.
At two o’clock, his vid-phone beeped. He lifted the screen and accepted the call. It was Joe Bannon, the medical examiner who had picked up the body in the tenement.
“Hi, Joe. Have some news for me?”
“A little. Your stabbing victim had some strange things going on.”
Rucker put his coffee cup down. “Like what?”
“I think he was hiding from someone.”
“I don’t know.”
“No, I mean why do think he was hiding?”
“Oh. You were right; he’d had surgery recently, and lots of it. There were scars from fifteen different incisions around his head and torso. From the locations of the scars I’m assuming that he had a number of implants removed.”
“Before he died or post mortem?”
“All before. The only fresh damage I found on the body were the stab wounds and a fracture to his left eye socket. The implants were removed about two weeks ago."
“Can you tell what types of implants were removed?’
“Not precisely, but I can give you list of good possibilities. He also tried to mask his DNA signature.”
That caught Rucker’s attention. Trying to change your DNA was expensive and usually not successful. “His DNA? I thought that was almost impossible.”
“Changing it is. However, your victim showed a little ingenuity. He was using a dermal sealant. It’s not harmful, but if you were trying to make sure you didn’t leave any stray biological evidence behind this might do the trick. That’s why his head and eyebrows were shaved. He was spraying a polymer on his skin and sealing it. It took me an extra hour to find his identity because of it.”
“Are you sure you have his real name?”
“I think so. The birth registry database lists him as Earnest Payton, born at Our Lady of Mercy on 4 August 2104. He turned twenty-six last year.”
“What about the murder weapon?”
“Figuring that out took less time than discovering his identity. The blade that made those cuts was a molecularly sharpened blade of surgical quality. It would be very easy to inflict the wounds we saw using a scalpel with this type of blade.”
“Any particular brand?”
“I have a list of five different companies that make them and I’m waiting for some samples now so I can compare them. I do know that it’s a #10 blade from the depth of the cuts.”
“Any evidence of drugs or alcohol?”
He shook his head. “None. His blood and tissue samples were very clean. It looked like he took very good care of himself.”
“Okay, Doc, thanks for the info. Send me your final report when you have it and I’ll get started on this.”
“You’ll have it before the end of your shift, Ed.” The screen went blank as the ME hung up.
Rucker made a note of the information on his PDA and opened the city employment registry on his desktop terminal. He typed in Payton’s name and a report popped up on the screen. General Technologies Corporation employed him as a programmer. Rucker cross-referenced his employment file with his tax records and saw that Payton had been pulling down very good money. What the hell was he doing living in a tenement with all of his implants removed?
Rucker called up the city’s hospital registry. The municipality now ran most hospitals and those records were in the public domain. Payton was admitted three weeks ago to the same hospital where he had been born, Our Lady of Mercy, but the registry did not say why. Rucker smiled as he jotted down the doctor’s name that had treated Payton. Most people lived ninety percent of their lives within twenty-five miles of where they were born. You could now travel farther and faster than ever but some patterns never changed. Home was always home.
Rucker gathered up his coat and PDA and headed outside. He caught the next cruiser and headed to the hospital. He arrived ten minutes later.
The information kiosk in the hospital lobby told him where to find Payton’s doctor and he took an elevator up to the thirty-fourth floor. The hospital was very neat and clean on this floor. Rucker walked along the thick carpet of the hallway until he found the office he was looking for.
“I’m here to speak with Dr. Ross,” he told the receptionist. “I’m with the police department.” Rucker held his badge and ID out for her to examine.
“He’s with a patient right now. Can you wait for a few minutes?”
“Certainly.” Rucker took a seat. A few moments later a tall thin man in a white coat walked into the waiting room.
“Officer?” “Detective, actually, Detective Ed Rucker. Are you Dr. Gary Ross?”
“I am. Is there a problem?”
“Is there somewhere more private we could speak?”
“My office. Follow me.”
They walked down a short hallway and Rucker took a seat in front of a large mahogany desk. Ross sat down in the large leather office chair behind it.
“Now, Detective, is there something I can do for you?”
“You had a patient named Earnest Payton who was admitted to the hospital for some surgeries recently. What can you tell me about the nature of those surgeries and Mr. Payton?”
“Is Mr. Payton all right? I really should have his permission before violating his confidentiality.”
“Mr. Payton was found murdered this morning. As part of our investigation we found that he had been in the hospital recently and we were puzzled by the removal of his implants.”
“That’s terrible.” The doctor said. “Earnest was very bright young man.”
“Was he friendly? Did you know him well?” Rucker asked.
“Well?” The doctor answered. “No, I wouldn’t say well but he had been a patient of mine for a number of years.”
“The surgeries, Doctor Ross. What can you tell me about them?”
The doctor shifted in his seat. “As you said, they were a bit unusual but Earnest wanted them performed. He didn’t give me much of a reason. He just came in and scheduled a series of procedures to remove his technological implants.”
“How many operations?”
The doctor called up a file on his desktop computer. “Four procedures altogether. I removed visual scanners and enhancers from both eyes, auditory magnifiers from his ears, and a universal connection port from behind his right ear. However, he had me add an information encoder to his right fingertip.”
“Those are all standard implants with people who like that sort of thing. I don’t recognize the fingertip device though. What’s that?”
“It’s new,” the doctor said. “A person with one implanted in their fingertip can program information into it for a variety of purposes.”
“You can use it to open electronic locks, pay for goods and services, or identification purposes. The information programmed in determines how it is used.”
Rucker smiled. “So if I got tired of identifying myself over and over I could just get one of those and make my life that much easier.”
“That is correct. May I infer from your tone, Detective, that you do not approve of the recent advances in biotechnology?”
“I have this discussion with the younger officers at the precinct all the time, Doctor. It’s all right that technology makes life easier but if it becomes almost effortless I have to wonder what will become of us. After all, I would hate to think we now live in an age where our ultimate pursuit is lethargy.”
“This is a common debate, Detective. I think many people share your concerns.”
“This implant in his finger, Doctor. Was that the only piece foreign matter in his body?”
Dr. Ross scanned the file in front of him. “Yes. I examined Mr. Payton a few weeks ago and that was the only thing that appeared out of the ordinary.”
“What was his state of mind that day, Doctor?”
Dr. Ross leaned back in his chair and thought about it. “I really can’t say. I don’t think there was anything out of the ordinary because I didn’t note anything in his chart.”
“I see. Thank you for your time, Dr. Ross.” Rucker stood up.
“You’re welcome, Detective. If you have any other questions, please let me know.”
Rucker made notes in his PDA as he rode toward his next destination. The common car glided smoothly down the street and Rucker noticed it was getting later in the afternoon. He checked the time and saw that it almost two o'clock. As he headed south, the traffic grew heavier. Bright yellow taxi pods with paying fares passed slower moving public buses. As Rucker’s pod turned a corner, he saw his destination come into view. The large office complex of General Technologies Corporation dominated the southernmost tip of the city. Four gigantic towers faced the open sea in a defiant stance. Each building stood one hundred and thirty stories above the ground and twenty below. He marveled at their sheer size every time he saw them.
The buildings stood on 20 acres and formed a square. The towers were connected to one another and supported each other at their four inner curves at various floors. They were rounded towers that dazzled the eye with black glass and chrome trim. Rucker could feel the power of the world’s largest corporation wash over him as his pod drew closer.
General Technologies Corporation was the result of decades of mergers by different conglomerations. The company was responsible for building everything from transportation pods to every computing device imaginable. They were truly the world’s first mega-corporation. As impressed as he was by their building, Rucker held a strong dislike for the company. His pod slipped into an underground parking garage and glided to a stop near a bank of elevators at the base of the towers. He dismounted and entered one of them.
“Destination please,” a soft female voice asked him.
“Personnel department, please.” He answered.
“An access code is required for that department,” the voice cooed at him.
Rucker sighed and pulled his identification card out. He held it up to the small scanner on the control panel. “Detective Rucker, 10th precinct.”
“That is not a valid access code. I will take you to the reception area.”
Rucker started to protest and then stopped. He had no patience with machines and always felt like a fool when he argued with them. He barely felt any movement as the elevator raced skyward to the twenty-first floor, which was also the first ground floor level. The doors slid open and Rucker entered a large lobby.
The reception area was spacious, with ceilings that rose fifty feet above the Italian tile floor. Rucker took a long lingering look around. An atrium to his far right stood under large windows and held exotic looking plants. A large marble fountain in the center of the room bubbled with cool water. Statuary from Greece stood at the windows and looked over the open space. An impeccably groomed man in a dark blue suit walked up to him.
“May I help you, sir?” He asked.
Rucker nodded and pulled out his badge. “Yes, I’m Detective Ed Rucker with the city police department. I need to speak with someone in your personnel department.”
The man smiled. “Of course, sir. May I inquire as to why?” He led Rucker toward an elevator.
“There has been an incident involving one of your employees.”
“Nothing serious, I hope.” The smile on the man’s face never wavered. The doors closed and the car rose as he pushed a button.
“I’m afraid so. Who will I be meeting with?”
“Miss Liani Yin. She is the personnel manager for this building. She should be able to assist you.”
The elevator stopped and Rucker was led to a large receptionist’s desk. The man in the blue suit gestured to the young woman sitting behind the desk. “Kim? Can you please help this gentleman? He’s from the police and needs to see Miss Yin.”
The woman smiled. “Certainly. Please have a seat, sir, and I’ll get her for you.”
Rucker took a seat.
A few moments later an attractive young woman walked into the reception area. She was Chinese, small and thin. Rucker noticed she was wearing a conservative black business suit with a mini-skirt. Her hair was dyed a flattering deep blue. He stood to greet her.
“Yes. Are you Detective Rucker?”
“I am. I would like to ask some questions about one of your employees. Do you have an office?”
“Of course, please follow me.”
They walked a short way down the hall and the personnel director gestured to a chair. Liani Yin took a seat behind her desk.
“How can I help you, Detective?”
“One of your employees was found dead in a tenement this morning.” Rucker pulled out a picture taken at the morgue. “Do you know him?”
Liani took the picture and studied it. Rucker thought he saw a flicker of recognition cross her face but she shook her head. “No, I’m sorry but he doesn’t look familiar. Of course, with the number of people working here in the complex that’s not unusual. What was his name? I’m sure I can find his personnel file.”
“Earnest Payton. He was a computer programmer.” Rucker watched her closely as she punched the keys on her desktop computer. “Are you sure you didn’t know him?”
She nodded without looking up, “Yes, quite sure. Ah, here we go. Mr. Payton was terminated three weeks ago. He worked in our bio-implant programming department.”
“What did he do exactly?”
Liani looked at the file again. “He designed software for biological implants. At the time of his termination he was working on improvements in our fingertip identification implant. Are you familiar with it?”
“I’ve seen it, yes. Why was Mr. Payton terminated?”
“That is confidential information, Detective.”
“The man is dead, Miss Yin. What could be the harm?”
She considered it for a moment. “If it will aid your investigation I suppose I could tell you. Mr. Payton had an unacceptable attendance record and failed a routine random drug screen.”
“Drugs? What kind?”
“Stimulants, it seems. It’s a problem among some of our younger employees. Some of them have trouble becoming acclimated to long work hours.”
“I’ll bet. Long hours are something you have to get used to in police work as well. Do you often terminate people for such an offense?”
Liani turned. “Not for the first offense, however, Mr. Payton also had a poor attendance record. Why should we accept sub-par performance when we can simply hire new personnel? After all, there is no shortage of qualified personnel knocking at our door.”
Rucker nodded. “Is it true that one of your towers actually has residential units?”
“Yes. Tower Number Two serves as residential housing for about ten thousand people. We find that it increases attendance and efficiency.”
“Did Earnest Payton maintain a residence there?”
Liani consulted the file again. “He did. He had a small apartment until he was terminated.”
“May I examine it?”
She looked at the file again. “Let me see if it has been re-occupied.”
Rucker watched her as she examined the file. She was lying about something. Small telltale signs in her mannerisms gave her away. She kept brushing the hair from her eyes and licking her lips. He also noticed she was starting to perspire. The air conditioning in the building was keeping the temperature very cool. In fact, he was comfortable wearing his suit and dress coat. Miss Yin should have been chilly in the short skirt and thin suit jacket she was wearing.
“Well, you’re in luck. The apartment is open until tomorrow morning when a new programmer takes residence. If you follow me I’ll show you the way.” The big smile returned.
They left her office and walked to one of the bridges between the buildings. Rucker enjoyed the view as he eyed the city from one hundred and five stories above ground. The newer buildings under construction near the river were coming up quickly. Everyone wanted a view of the water. Rucker smiled to himself; some things may change but the prestige of a waterfront view was forever.
They crossed to Tower Two and took an elevator down to the 60th floor. Rucker glanced at Miss Yin. She had made eye contact with every security camera along their route. He was convinced she was in surreptitious contact with someone else in the building. There was some sort of tiny implant within her right ear and he wondered who the secret voyeur was. She looked up at him and saw him staring. She smiled. It was the smile of a pretty woman who was used to admirers stealing glances.
“Have you worked here long?” He asked.
“About three years, right out of Harvard.”
“That’s a very nice school. I take it you received your MBA there?”
“That’s right.” She smiled again, “Third in my class.”
“So working at GTC must be a dream come true. I understand that many people in your position can afford to retire by the time they reach their mid-forties.”
“The company has a generous compensation plan,” she said as they exited the elevator. “Many people take advantage of the employee stock ownership plan and invest their salaries wisely.”
“Does it ever bother any of you?”
She stopped and turned. “Does what bother us?”
“How much power a corporation this large has over your life? They have a say over your finances, where you live, the demands they make on your time?”
“Detective, corporations like GTC have that much control over everyone’s life. Politics and business have become one. It’s the natural evolution of the capitalist system in America.” They walked a bit farther and she stopped in front of a door.
“This is it?” Rucker asked.
“Yes. Let me get the door.” She inserted a small card key into the door frame and it opened.
The room was cramped and utilitarian in style. All of the furniture was like something found in a motel. The living room opened into a small kitchen and a bedroom and bathroom were off to the left. Rucker was immediately struck by the similarities between this small apartment and the one he had found Payton in. It also smelled very clean.
“Has this room been cleaned recently?” He asked.
Liani nodded. “If a new employee is going to be moving in, I’m sure the building manager would have the cleaning staff in.”
Rucker nodded and walked into the bedroom. Once inside he released the small scanner from his pocket and stepped back into the living area. He made a show out of calmly looking under the couch cushions and checking the cupboards in the kitchen. Inside he was fuming. He would have preferred to search an apartment that had not been expertly cleaned but that wasn’t to be. He walked back into the bedroom and retrieved the scanner. Liani stayed near the door.
“Well, I certainly don’t see anything out of the ordinary here. Thank you for all of your help.”
Liani smiled. “It was my pleasure, Detective. I hope you find whoever murdered poor Mr. Payton.”
As the left the apartment a small blonde girl walked down the hall and stopped in front of the door across from Payton’s apartment. Rucker stopped and turned to her.
“Excuse me, Miss, I am Detective Ed Rucker with the city police department. I’m investigating the murder of the young man who used to live in that apartment,” he cocked his head toward the open door. “Could I have a few words with you?”
Liani’s hand went to her ear. She caught Rucker looking at her and brushed a strand of hair out of the way. “Detective, I’m sure this young woman is busy. You said your visit would not intrude on the working habits of our employees.” She flashed another million-watt smile at him.
“No I didn’t, Miss Yin. If this young woman has any information that could help with my investigation, I would like to speak with her.”
Rucker watched as a look passed between the two young women.
“My name is Emma Watson, Detective. I did know Mr. Payton but I haven’t seen him since he moved out.”
“Are you sure? Did you ever see anyone around his place that look as though they didn’t belong or hear anything unusual?”
“No, he kept to himself mostly.”
Rucker saw her glance at Liani again and realized he wasn’t going to get any help from her right now. “Let me leave my number with you, Miss Watson. If you think of anything give me a call.” Rucker pulled out his PDA and held it against the face of hers for a moment. His number transferred and he smiled.
“Any information you have may be valuable, Miss. Have a good day.”
Liani escorted Rucker back to the elevator. “If you take this down to parking level three your car will be waiting for you. It was nice to meet you, Detective.”
“It was nice to meet you as well, Miss Yin,” Rucker said as he stepped into the elevator car. “Perhaps on my next visit I’ll get to meet whoever was listening in on our conversation. Goodbye, Miss Yin.”
Rucker saw her smile vanish as the doors closed.
His car was waiting for him, as promised, when he stepped out of the elevator. On the way back to the precinct his phone rang.
“This is Rucker,” he answered.
“This is Dr. Bannon. Can you talk?”
“I’m secure, go ahead, Doc.”
“I just finished a very thorough examination of Mr. Payton and found something unusual”
“He had implants in all ten of his fingers, not just the identification chip in his right index finger. These other nine were much more sophisticated.”
“In what way?”
“They hold a very large amount of data, at least 10 gigabits per implant.”
“Have them removed and sent to the Information Systems department. I need to know what is in those implants.”
“I’ve already taken care of it. Sgt. Nelson on the fifth floor is looking at them right now. He assures me that they are cutting edge technology. He hasn’t seen anything like them before.”
“Okay. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes. I’ll see him then. Thanks.”
Rucker no more than hung up the phone before it rang again.
“Rucker.” He answered.
“This is Patrolman Benelli, Detective, from your homicide this morning?”
“Oh, okay, go ahead.”
“We may have a suspect for you, sir. I checked the street level surveillance cameras in the area of Payton’s apartment and we may have a hit. Can you meet me at the precinct?”
“Twenty minutes, Benelli. Come to my desk.”
“I’ll see you there, sir.”
Hot damn, he thought. This may not take too long after all.
Rucker arrived at the precinct and took the stairs two at a time to his desk. Benelli was waiting for him. He had a data disk in his hand.
“What do you have, Benelli?” He asked as he slid into his chair. The younger man smiled as he slipped the disk into the computer on Rucker’s desk.
“Watch this, Detective.”
The screen jumped to life and showed the street outside Payton’s apartment as it looked at night. Off to the right Rucker could see the entrance and some of the windows
of the apartment building. Benelli pointed at the screen. “This is Payton’s apartment right here.” The window was dark.
“This guy right here,” he pointed again, “enters the building at 21:58.”
“A minute later the light came on in Payton’s unit.” He pointed to the window.
“Okay, Benelli, I can see without you getting fingerprints all over my screen.”
“Sorry, sir. The light stays on for three minutes and then goes out. This guy exits a minute later and returns the way he came.”
“It’s as dark as a coal mine on this thing. Were you able to get a good face shot of him?”
Benelli smiled, “Only in one frame. I think he knew where the camera was and didn’t look at it coming in but when he left he stumbled over something on the stairs. He looks to his left for a split second and we got him.” Benelli punched a button and pulled up a still frame of the suspect’s face.
“It’s a little dim, but it’s good enough for the video monkeys in the biometrics department to work with. They told me they should have an identification within 48 hours.”
Rucker nodded. “This is good work, Benelli. A lawyer may argue that you can’t make out exactly who enters the building but I’ll take it. Tell biometrics to get in touch with me as soon as they have an answer.”
Rucker checked the time and saw that five o’clock had come and gone so he clocked out and stopped by his lieutenant’s desk. It was vacant and his desktop was turned off. He shrugged his shoulders and went home. He could update him tomorrow.
The day started early for Rucker. He walked up the stairs into the precinct and stopped by the break room for a cup of coffee and a doughnut from the vendomatic. He found his desk, turned on his desktop and checked his messages. The only one was from the young woman he had met outside Payton’s apartment yesterday, Emma Watson. She said she had something to discuss and left a number where he could get in touch with her. He jotted it down and went to work on his notes concerning Payton’s murder. Ten minutes later his phone rang. It was his Lieutenant, Jackson Hart.
“Can you come to my office, Ed?”
Thirty seconds later Rucker walked into Hart’s office. In addition to his lieutenant, a squat man with a chubby face sat in a corner. He took the seat that offered to him.
Hart smiled. “I understand that you’ve made some progress with the Payton case.”
“I think so. Who is this, sir?” He said gesturing to the man in the corner.
“That is Mr. Anthony Calabrese. He is an attorney for General Technologies Corporation.”
Rucker eyed him suspiciously, “Well yes, we’ve had some promising leads.”
“Should we be speaking about this with Mr. Calabrese present, sir? I haven’t had a chance to properly brief you and I wouldn’t want to compromise our investigation.”
Calabrese edged closer to Rucker. “Lieutenant Hart, the Mayor’s office assured GTC that we would have the full cooperation of you and your officers regarding this affair.”
“And you will, Mr. Calabrese. Ed, continue your briefing. I’m sure GTC isn’t a suspect in your case. They simply have some concerns about the turn your investigation is taking.”
“That’s right, Detective.” Calabrese said. “We at GTC were saddened to hear of the untimely death of Mr. Payton and would like to assist you in every way possible.”
Rucker made no comment to the lawyer and turned back to his Lieutenant. “Sir, there may be sensitive information contained within my report.”
Hart grimaced impatiently. “Ed, I don’t have all morning. What progress have you made in this case?”
Rucker shook his head. What was going on here? Why was some lawyer from the biggest corporation in the world sitting in his lieutenant’s office and sticking his nose into a case that was probably nothing more than a junky robbing someone for their next hit? He decided to play it close to the vest. “Okay. Uh...considering the neighborhood we are following up the possibility that the murder may be drug related. There have been similar breaking and entering offenses in the area and they may be connected. Right now our theory is that Payton may have surprised a burglar who panicked and killed him.”
Hart looked at him for a moment, studying his face. “The murder weapon was very unusual wasn’t it? For a junkie?”
“Perhaps, but we may be able to answer that question when we find the perpetrator.”
Calabrese stood up. “May I ask why you visited the GTC office complex yesterday, Detective, if you were looking for a junkie?”
“Well, I like to be thorough, Mr. Calabrese. I needed some background information on the victim.”
“I see. So no one at GTC is under suspicion for this crime?”
“Not right now, no.”
“So there would be no reason for you to contact GTC again concerning this matter, is that correct?”
“Not unless further leads develop, no.”
“I see. Well, if you do feel the need to contact anyone at GTC, please do so through my office. I represent all of the company employees in this matter. Any questioning should take place within my presence. I’ve left my number with your lieutenant.”
Rucker turned back to Hart. “Is that how it should be, Lieutenant?”
Hart nodded. “It is. See me before the end of the day, Ed. If you can’t put this one to bed by then we’ll move it to the cold case files and get you on something hotter.”
“Cold case, Lieutenant? I’ve only been investigating it for a day. I don’t understand.”
“Well it seems pretty cut and dried to me, Ed. This guy was using and he got killed in a part of town known for drug activity and violence. There are other cases that need your attention.”
And this isn’t one of them for some reason, he thought to himself. “I see. Well, I’ll have my final report for you by the end of the shift.”
“Thanks, Ed.” Harts said standing up. “And thank you Mr. Calabrese, for your assistance.”
The portly lawyer shook Hart’s hand. “No problem at all, Lieutenant. Please let me know if you have any other questions.” The lawyer nodded to Rucker. “Goodbye, Detective.”
The door closed and Rucker turned to Hart. “What the hell is going on?”
Hart sat down in his chair. “Christ, Ed, what do think is going on? They’re the world’s largest corporation and something you did made them nervous. That little bastard’s already been to the mayor about it and he called the commissioner who called Captain Weller who called me. This case is done by the end of the day.”
“What does them being the largest corporation in the world have to do with our dead computer programmer?”
Hart shook his head. “Being the world’s largest corporation also makes them the largest campaign contributor in the world. Trust me, Ed, if they want this case closed for some reason, it will be closed.”
“Money? Are you kidding me? We let people get away with murder because they give money to the right politician?”
“No, but we don’t harass them because they have it either. You don’t have anything solid that points to GTC or anyone who works there. Hell, the victim didn’t even work there anymore! I would like to sugarcoat it for you and pretend to be noble but neither one of us is that naive. No one cares that a junkie got himself killed in some drug deal gone wrong. Just go write up a report that looks good and take the rest of the day off. Don’t worry, the Mayor won’t forget your help. He’s very good about taking care of people that help his friends.”
“But I didn’t find any drugs in his apartment and there weren’t any in his system. All we have is GTC’s word that he ever used...”
Hart leaned forward. “No buts, Ed. Go do what I tell you or you can walk a beat again. I really don’t care what you think but the matter is settled.”
Rucker stood up. “A body fell in our city, Lieutenant. We’re supposed to do something about that.”
Hart looked up at him. “We are, Ed. Now get the hell out of here.”
Rucker stood up. He thought of several things that demanded to be said but he just walked out of Hart’s office. The silence between them was palpable. He walked through the office and out into the morning sunlight. He sat down on a block wall near the sidewalk at the front of the building and lit a cigarette.
He could just let the case go like Hart wanted. No one would ever question the death of a supposed junkie in that neighborhood. It was clear to him that everyone in the city’s political hierarchy wanted it settled for some reason. They wanted it gone, disappeared, and taken care of. They were treating the murder of this man like it was an embarrassment to them. What could he possibly have known to make so many important people this bothered?
Rucker considered the matter for another moment. Should he let it go? What was it to him if this case was never solved? The headache of playing politics against those more powerful than you was rarely worth the effort. People were so self-absorbed that he doubted anyone would care if he screamed cover-up from the rooftops. He could probably call every news organization in the city and tell them he was being ordered to not investigate a homicide by the mayor himself and still not make the first page of their net site. News now revolved around stories concerning celebrity’s lives and technological breakthroughs. No one cared about corruption anymore. It took too long to think about. The general public had long ago stopped caring about anything that took more than thirty seconds to understand. The attention span just wasn’t there anymore. Information now had to be spoon-fed to them in easily digestible chunks that required little or no analysis on their part. People were tired of thinking. They just wanted to be entertained.
Rucker crushed the butt of his cigarette under his shoe and pulled out his personal cell phone, not the one issued to him by the department. He dialed the number Emma Watson had left for him. She answered on the second ring.
“This is Detective Rucker; you left a message for me?”
“That’s right,” she said in a nervous voice. “Please hold,” the line went silent for a moment.
Rucker looked around the crowded street. It was a nice day but he couldn’t enjoy it. The phone clicked.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t speak openly at my desk. I’m outside now.”
“Did you have something to tell me Miss Watson?”
“Yes, I couldn’t mention it in front of that woman from personnel but I knew Earnest Payton.”
“He gave me a disk and asked me to hold onto it. He said I should give it to the police if anything happened to him.”
Ruckers’s head snapped up. “Where is this disk?”
“My apartment was broken into three days ago. It was stolen.”
“Do you have a copy of it?”
“Was anything else taken?”
“Did you report the break in?” “No. Earnest told me that he was afraid of someone at GTC. I was afraid to go to anyone in management about the break in after I heard about his murder.” Her voice softened. “I was afraid of what might happen to me.”
“Okay. Don’t mention this conversation to anyone, Miss Watson. I think your fears may be justified. I’ll be in touch if I have any other questions.”
“Thank you, Detective. Earnest was my...friend. Please let me know if you discover anything.”
“I will. Goodbye.”
Rucker shoved the phone in his pocket and turned around. Hart was ten steps away, walking toward him.
“Who was that, Detective?”
“My mother, sir. She hasn’t been feeling well.”
“Ah. How is mother Rucker?”
Rucker forced a smile to his lips. “That one never gets old, sir. I thought I might get some breakfast and work on my report.”
“You do that. I’m on my way to the Commissioner’s office for a meeting. I’ll let him know this matter has been settled.”
“I’ll see you later, sir.”
Hart walked toward the sidewalk where a pod was waiting and got in. Rucker watched him drive away and felt disgusted. No matter what else was going on he was going to solve this murder by the end of the day. He didn’t want anyone anywhere to think he was someone who could be casually brushed aside. He grabbed a public pod instead of the usual police model and instructed it to head to the medical examiner’s office.
He walked into the medical examiner’s office and found Dr. Bannon sitting at his desk looking over reports. The doctor gestured to a chair when he saw Rucker.
“What brings you down here, Ed?”
Rucker closed the office door before he sat down. “The need for some privacy.”
Bannon leaned forward. “What’s up?”
“That murder at the tenement yesterday? It’s attracting a lot of attention, and none of it is good. I need to know if anyone was able to extract any data from the implants found in Payton’s fingers. Who did you send them to?”
Brannon pulled a small disk out of a metal rack on his desk. “We didn’t have to send it out. Eight of the ten implants were empty and the last two weren’t encrypted. I downloaded it onto this for you.”
Rucker took the disc. “Do you know what it said? Did you look at it?”
The ME shook his head. “I haven’t had time to look at it. I do know the one in his right index finger contained the normal identification data you would expect to find there. The left middle finger had two gigabits worth of data.”
Rucker looked at the doctor. “And you haven’t looked at it?”
Bannon shrugged. “I’ve been busy. This wasn’t the only murder in the city this week.”
Rucker got up. “OK, thanks. Look I need some time to examine this so if anyone asks if I was here, just tell them we spoke about the autopsy. I don’t want anyone to know about the data in the implant yet.”
“All right, if that’s what you want. What do you think is on there?”
Rucker shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know yet. I’ll see you later.”
Bannon watched him leave, puzzled by the detective’s strange behavior.
Once outside, Rucker got into another public transport pod and told it to drive to a local big chain store. Once inside he bought a new top of the line PDA and got into yet another public transport pod. He instructed this one to treat him as a tourist and show him the city. The pod began a long journey that could last well into the afternoon if he wanted it to. Inside the pod he was sure that he could not be eavesdropped on. He had used his personal phone to call Emma Watson, he was riding around in public transportation, he was using a new off-the-shelf PDA to examine his evidence and his lieutenant had told him to disappear for the day.
He took out the disk from the medical examiner’s office and slipped it into the PDA. He was surprised to see the chairman of the board of GTC looking back at him as a video file played. What he said surprised him even more. An hour later the file ended and Rucker instructed the pod to pull over.
He breathed deeply as he got out of the pod and walked along the sidewalk toward a park. His hands shook as he tried to light a cigarette. A large woman and her small dog vacated a bench as he approached and he sat down. The video file had shaken him badly and he needed to get his thoughts together in order to decide what he would do next. The contents of the file were disturbing. What people would do for money was even more disturbing.
He wished he had never answered the call for the body found in the tenement. Five seconds sooner or later and someone else in his squad would have answered the phone and this mess would have been in their lap. He looked to his left and saw kids on the playground; little kids on swings and monkey bars and sliding boards. Further on he saw their mothers watching them, guarding them against harm in all its forms. He realized that he was supposed to be doing the same thing. He was supposed to speak for them if someone did harm to them or threatened them. These were the people he worked for, not the politicians downtown. The women watching these children probably had husbands working in some office somewhere for the people who sat high in the towers; the same people who thought they could buy and sell justice because of their wealth and position. Money bought them access to the people running the city or allowed them to install their own kind in positions of power. This case, this body that lay in a morgue drawer across town needed someone to speak for him. That was Rucker’s job. The dead were whom he spoke for.
He flicked his cigarette butt into the street and ignored the nasty look he got from a young woman on a scooter. After thinking for another minute an idea came to him. He took out his personal phone and made a call.
Two hours later Rucker was in a police pod heading toward the GTC office towers at top speed. He fingered the object in the right hand coat pocket and was reassured when he felt the smooth metal rectangle.
The pod stopped in front of the towers and he exited, going in the front door this time. He passed through the ornate lobby and didn’t spare a second look at the Greco-Roman statuary. He wasn’t here to be impressed with the trappings of power. In fact, if he had taken the time to notice them it may have inflamed his temper.
He stepped into an elevator and was whisked upward to Liani Yin’s floor. He marched past the receptionist with a wave of his badge and entered her office.
“I need to see Elias Cogg.”
Liani stood up. Her hair was still a deep blue but her mini-skirt power suit was dark gray today. “I’m afraid that’s quite impossible. He’s in France today.”
“No he isn’t and don’t lie to me again unless you want an obstruction of justice charge leveled at you. I am not in the mood to dance today.”
Her mouth quivered slightly. “You were told to contact our attorney if you needed to question anyone here about his matter.”
“He can be present, but I need to see Cogg right now. I have evidence that he was involved in the murder of Earnest Payton. Take me to him right now!”
Liani stepped back at the sharp tone of his voice. Then she touched her ear. After a second she pushed a button her desktop. “Michelle?”
“Yes, Miss Yin?”
“Call Mr. Calabrese in Legal and tell him he is needed in Mr. Cogg’s office immediately.”
She turned to Rucker. “You are in luck, Detective. Mr. Cogg will see you. Please follow me.”
This elevator ride took longer. Rucker noticed Liani’s head dip several times during the ride. He also noticed the security camera in the elevator. Everything that happened here was being monitored, recorded and analyzed. Perfect, he thought, those kinds of records might be useful later on.
The elevator stopped and they exited. If the main lobby downstairs could be described as ornate then the lobby outside Cogg’s office might well be indescribable. Masterpieces from renaissance masters hung on the walls. Persian rugs of considerable size and beauty covered the floor. The wood paneling was mahogany, although it was rare Rucker had seen it before. Soft, overstuffed sofas lined the walls offering a very comfortable place to wait for the attention of one of the most powerful men in the world. The entire area was designed to intimidate a person before they made their way into what had to be an equally impressive office. Instead of intimidating him, it just angered Rucker. Such objects should have been inspiring in their beauty but here they were just another tool to be used for intimidation.
They stood at the receptionist’s desk for a minute. Liani turned her back to him. Rucker imagined she was very angry. He didn’t care. Another elevator door slid open and Attorney Anthony Calabrese shot out of it, his stubby legs pumping steadily as he crossed the polished Italian marble floor. His face had some color to it, Rucker noticed.
“Detective this is inexcusable! You are under strict orders to contact me if you wish to question any employee of General Technologies Corporation. What are you doing here?”
Rucker drew himself up to his full 6’2” height. “I’m here to question and most probably arrest Elias Cogg for complicity in the murder of Earnest Payton.”
Calabrese was stunned. “You’re out of your mind! Mr. Cogg can account for his whereabouts on the night in question.”
“I’m sure he can, Mr. Calabrese. I said complicity.”
“This is insane. Return to your precinct, Detective. I’ll be by later to speak with your lieutenant.”
Rucker pointed at the large oaken doors at the end of the lobby. “Open that door Mr. Calabrese. You can sit by quietly while I interrogate your client.”
“I will do nothing of the kind.”
“Gentlemen?” They both turned and looked at the attractive blonde sitting behind the large curved receptionist desk. “Mr. Cogg will see you, Detective. He also wishes for you to join them, Mr. Calabrese.”
Rucker shot a smile at Calabrese and dropped his hand into the right pocket of his coat. They walked to the end of the hall and the doors opened.
As Rucker expected, Cogg’s office was one of the finest rooms he had ever been in. Thick dark carpet covered the floor and Rucker spotted a large aquarium that ran at least fifteen feet along one wall. Cogg himself sat behind a large oak desk. He rose as the men entered the room. Rucker noted that he was tall, trim and looked to be in his late sixties.
“Detective Rucker is it?” He held his hand out.
“That’s right, sir. I apologize for taking up your time this afternoon but I need to ask you some questions concerning the death of one of your employees.”
“Ex-employee,” Calabrese interjected.
Cogg ignored him and gestured to the chairs in front of his desk. “Have a seat, gentlemen.”
Rucker sat down in a large leather chair. For as grand as it looked, it wasn’t very comfortable.
“Coffee?” Cogg offered.
“No thank you, sir. Can you tell me what you know about Earnest Payton?”
Cogg smiled. It was the same smile he had seen on the security guard during his first trip here and on Liani while they looked around Payton’s room. “Well, I’m afraid I am not as familiar with him as you would like me to be, Detective. GTC is the world’s largest corporation and it’s quite impossible for me to know everyone who works here.”
“How familiar with him were you? Did you ever meet him?”
“Yes, I met him. He was on one of the design teams I had meetings with concerning biological implants. He was a programmer and quite a clever one at that”
“Do you know why he was terminated?’
“I’ve been informed it was because of drug use. We can’t have that here.”
“Was he working on your newest type of implant? The one that sends out subliminal messages?”
“General Technologies Corporation’s newest bio-computerized implant. I’m sure you know the one I mean.”
Calabrese shot a look at him, “Really, Detective. This line of questioning is inappropriate. First you accuse Mr. Cogg of complicity to murder and now you are making allegations of, of what? Mind control?”
“Mr. Calabrese,” Rucker said, “I have reliable information that Earnest Payton was working on a new implant here at General Technologies Corporation. The purpose of that implant is to send subliminal signals to consumers in order to increase sales of your products. I don’t know whether or not that is common knowledge here or if I have just let the cat out of the proverbial bag. Either way, it’s true.” He turned his attention back to Cogg.
“Is it true, Mr. Cogg? Is that why Earnest Payton was killed in his apartment by a GTC security guard?”
“I suppose you have proof of that as well, Detective?” Calabrese said.
“I do. The killer looked right into a street level surveillance camera the night he killed Payton. Our biometrics lab provided me with his identity an hour ago. His name is James Hollings and he was transferred to one of your operations in Barcelona, Spain two days ago. ”
“Mr. Cogg, as your attorney I am advising you to cease answering questions until we are served with a subpoena.”
Cogg smiled and waved a hand at his attorney. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Calabrese. Detective Rucker isn’t holding the trump cards that he thinks he is. This conversation is just between the three of us. I certainly won’t repeat a word of it and neither will you. Detective Rucker can ask anything he wants but the answers will do him little good. That digital recorder you have running in your coat pocket is useless, Detective. This room has been secured against all means of electronic eavesdropping, I assure you. It’s a standard business practice.”
Rucker reached into his pocket and removed the small silver scanner that had been running. “My apologies for the deception, sir, but on-duty police officers have been required to record their actions for use in trial since the Los Angeles riots of 2049. However, I have no problem with continuing without it.”
Cogg smiled. “As if it would have done you any good, Detective. You do know which tower you’re sitting in don’t you?”
“Yes, sir. The GTC towers.”
“That’s right but they’re also the tallest in the city. These four towers concentrate fifteen percent of the United States economy. Say what you want about the White House and the Oval Office. The real seat of power is located at GTC Tower Number One, floor 140, office suite number one and you’re sitting in it.”
“That’s a lovely speech, sir. Was Earnest Payton killed because of knowledge he possessed about your new implants?”
Cogg smiled again. “You don’t understand the world at all, do you, Detective?”
“I don’t follow you, sir.”
“We run it! The corporations, not the politicians! If something gets in the way of our progress we take the necessary steps to remove the hindrance.”
“Are you saying Earnest Payton was a hindrance? Did you have him removed?”
“Detective, Earnest Payton was a noisy little man who was concerned with ethics, morality and the welfare of his fellow man. He didn’t have his eye on the prize!”
Calabrese stood up. “Really, sir! I must advise you to cease speaking to the detective.”
“Sit down, Calabrese!” Cogg shot back. “Don’t interrupt me again.”
“What is the prize, Mr. Cogg?”
“Profit, Detective. What else is there?”
“Did Earnest Payton have concerns about the new implant? Was he bothered by the subliminal messages that would be transmitted to a consumer’s brain whenever they saw a GTC product? Was he bothered by the messages that would be transmitted whenever they saw a competitor’s product? Messages that could make them feel happy or ill depending on what they chose? Did that bother him?”
“How do you know about the implant?”
“Payton recorded two of your conversations. Ironically he stored the files in an implant in his own body. In the first conversation, you and he are briefed on the objectives of the new implant. You offer several suggestions that would make them more powerful than the design team had in mind. In the second conversation, Payton states his misgivings about the project. He comes to you with reservations about manipulating consumer’s minds to the extent you want. He was very concerned about not only the liability of such a product but also the morality of it. He didn’t think it was a very good idea for your implants to make people feel ill about not choosing GTC products.”
“Imagine it, Detective. An entire world doing what we tell them to do. Buying the products we manufacture and boosting our profit margin so high the stockholders won’t know what to do with all the money.” Cogg had a frightening, far away look in his eyes.
“Why stop there, Mr. Cogg?” Rucker asked. “It’s only a small step to controlling what stocks or bonds people buy. You could manipulate the stock market and from there the entire economy.”
Cogg smiled. Rucker felt ill. “You see, Detective? You have vision. Payton lacked that quality.”
“Couldn’t you just fire him? Did you have to kill him?”
“He was a thief. You see that don’t you, Detective? I imagine that recording you have proves that. He threatened to use it against me if we didn’t stop development of the implant.”
“You had him killed because of what he knew and the recordings he made. But your man made a mistake. He couldn’t find the recordings. That’s why Calabrese showed up in my Lieutenant’s office. He was trying to shut down the investigation before it ever got started. How many favors did that cost you?”
Cogg was still smiling. When he did that he reminded Rucker of a kindly old uncle. The gray hair, wrinkles and nice suit just reinforced the image. “The mayor is an elected official, Detective. Elections cost money, money that people like myself provide. I don’t have to ask for favors. The mayor does whatever I tell him to do.”
“Just like that?”
Cogg nodded. “Just like that. Congress has never gotten around to passing a campaign finance reform law worth a damn, so people like me decide who gets elected. It’s like I told you, this office is the real seat of power.”
Rucker stood up. “I think I’ve heard enough. I’d like you stand up, Mr. Cogg. You are under arrest for the murder of Earnest Payton.”
“Like hell I am. Sit down before you embarrass yourself.”
“I insist, sir.”
“You misunderstand, Detective. This isn’t a question and answer period. This is a negotiation. When our man returned without the files we knew this outcome was a possibility. It was a contingency we planned for in case the mayor’s office couldn’t shut down the investigation. In case an honest cop or two appeared.”
“What do you mean?”
“A deal, son. I’m here to offer you a deal.”
“A bribe? Do you think you can bribe your way out of a murder conviction?” Rucker had an incredulous look on his face.
“Of course. The world runs on money and you need it as much as anyone else. You have credit payments to meet, a mother with Alzeimers in a nursing facility, and a son on his way to college. You see, we’ve done our homework too. Take the money and make your life easy, Detective.”
“I can’t do that.”
Cogg shook his head and smiled. “Just listen. I’m prepared to give you a half million dollars, U.S. mind you, not that European stuff, and offer you a position within GTC. You’re a good investigator; you’re smart, you could make a lot of money here by just doing what your lieutenant asked you to do this morning.”
Rucker stood silently. The offer was good. Money like that would let him take care of his mother and put his son in a good school instead of the city college he was planning on. Was he actually considering this? The offer came as such a surprise he hadn’t been ready for it.
“Well, Detective? I can tell you think it’s an attractive offer. You’re starting salary with us would be one hundred thousand a year, plus stock options and bonuses. That’s a very good salary.”
“I don’t think so, Mr. Cogg. Let’s get moving before you embarrass yourself more.”
Cogg’s mouth drew up in a tight smile. “Detective, arresting me will not solve anything. Someone will use this technology. It will be at least three years before one of our competitors develops it independently but they will. It’s what everyone wants. You can’t imagine the amount of money being spent on research.”
Rucker smiled. “Not everyone wants it. I’m pretty sure the average person doesn’t want a large multi-national corporation making all of their decisions for them.”
Cogg actually grinned this time. “Then you’re more naive than I gave you credit for, Detective. People don’t think for themselves anymore. They just accept what the media tells them and leave the hard work, you know, the learning and the analysis to others. That’s how it works now. We give them the side of the story we want them to hear and that’s what they get. The news agencies have been consolidated under the umbrellas of four major owners. They may all have different names but that’s just the illusion of competitiveness. We tell people what to think everyday. If we feel like giving them a choice we offer them a poll. They’ve been conditioned to think that if we offer them two solutions to a problem, then that is all the solutions that exist.”
“That’s funny. I was thinking along those lines this very morning.”
“I’ll bet you were. Once you learned where that evidence was going to lead you, I bet you were scared silly and looking for help. You can’t trust your own department so the news agencies were a logical choice. Then you remembered that we own all those as well. You’re on your own here, Detective. Take the deal.”
“You can.” Cogg got up and walked around the side of the desk. “Don’t you see? People won’t like it if you mess with the status quo. If you start talking about taking away the implants, any implants at all, you’ll have a riot on your hands. People like the new technology. It makes their life easier. They don’t have to think as hard and they don’t have to work as hard. The answers are easy now. They learn everything they need to know with a single glance at the item in question. Do you know what our marketing research shows?”
“People are slowly starting to reduce the number of questions they ask about products. We’ve given them so much information that they can’t handle it all. We’re answering questions before they’ve thought of them. The research indicates that we have to “dumb” down the information encoded in the bar codes you see everywhere. By making it easy, we’ve almost made it more complicated. They’re sheep to be led around. They’re children to be taken by the hand. Everything they have, all the self-determination they fought for, they’re giving it all away. Take the deal, Detective Rucker. Come and join us.”
Calabrese stood up. “Detective, if you intend to take Mr. Cogg into custody I insist that you produce a warrant for his arrest.”
“Under the circumstances, Mr. Calabrese, I don’t need one.”
Calabrese smiled. “He’s one of the most powerful men in the country, Detective. If I were you I think I’d want to make sure every detail of your procedure was followed. After all, the only evidence you have is a recording recovered from a dead man that could be interpreted in any number of ways without a living witness to put it in context. The conversation you’ve just had here may as well have never taken place. ”
“He’s right, you know,” Cogg said. “Take a day or two to consider the offer. You don’t have to answer right away. After all, It’s not like I’m going anywhere. I have a company to run.”
Rucker turned to Calabrese. “I’ll be back with a warrant. Make sure he doesn’t go far.”
Calabrese looked at him dismissively. “Detective, I don’t think you’ll be troubling us again. You’ll take the deal. Everyone does.”
“Are you a betting man, Mr. Calabrese?”
“Yes. I enjoy the Greyhounds in Florida on my vacations.”
“You can put money on me coming back here. Safest bet you’ll ever make.”
“Goodbye, Detective,” Cogg said. “Call me at this number to accept our offer.” He handed him a small card with a number on it.
“I’ll be back with a warrant tomorrow morning, Mr. Cogg. Get your affairs in order.”
Cogg smiled. “You are so stubborn. That will serve you well here. Calabrese, show the gentleman out.”
The great oak doors opened and the attorney escorted Rucker out. Both men walked in silence to the elevator.
“That number is mine, Detective,” Calabrese said while they waited for the doors to open. “Call me when you’re all done soul searching and have decided to join us. I’ll be waiting.”
Rucker boarded the elevator. He stared Calabrese down as the doors shut. “Yes, you will.”
Rucker waited until he was out of the building and in a public transport pod before he pulled the tape recorder out of his pocket. Going in to the office he knew the digital would be useless because of some sort of anti-spy technology but this, this was a far older device. Would century old hardware succeed where the latest and greatest had failed?
Rucker rewound the tape on the old machine and pushed play. The sound wasn’t digitally clear but it was audible and the conversation could be understood. A low thrumming sound was audible in the background. He assumed it was a side effect of whatever made digital recording useless. It didn’t hurt plain old analogue tape recording at all, though. He smiled. After enduring the arrogance of two of the most frustrating men he had ever met, a little self-righteous gloating felt good. Thank God Granddad had left him a bunch of antique gadgets and a love of history. He had everything he needed to nail Cogg.
There was the deal though. It was a lot of money. It was a hell of a lot of money. He hated himself for thinking about it but he couldn’t help it. The pod stopped in front of his destination. He sat for a moment before getting out.
Finally, knowing there was only one thing he could do, he got out of the pod and walked into the building. The offices of the small independent news service he enjoyed every morning, Inquiring Times, were on the fifteenth floor. The call he’d made from the park had been to the political editor’s desk. The young man had a certain zeal in his voice that Rucker found encouraging. The service was not affiliated with any of the large news networks but they had a small and loyal subscriber base. He was pretty sure that their readership was going to get a lot bigger after his tape was broadcast. He pushed the up button for the elevator and said a small prayer that everything Cogg had said about public apathy wasn’t true.
2 hours ago