It took a while to get a bus to the scene of the crime. The protests going on down at Seattle Center had blocked up traffic coming out of the south side of the New City, forcing the coroner team that Martin and his boys had called for to take scenic route. Meanwhile, Carter and Gray cased the scene.
As best as either man could tell, the murder had in fact taken place there. There had been a bloody wound on the back of Anderson’s skull that looked like the result of blunt force trauma; there were no drag marks that matched the body, and the way it had been posed suggested that he’d been dropped right in front of the deli’s back door. It was possible that the victim had still been alive when whatever had been done to him took place.
Gray had gotten the field investigation kit from the back of the Vectra and went over the body. The wound down Anderson’s back had been cleanly cauterized, as if some kind of heat-based tool had been used to lay him open. The state of the surrounding organ tissue and muscle seemed to support this. While Carter checked the body Gray swept the alley for clues, but nothing stood out; they’d have to wait for the lab team’s analysis for anything further there.
As Gray hunched over a pile of garbage, scanning it with his own palm-light, Carter spoke up. “Got this guy’s wallet,” Carter called to him. “Gray, come over and look at this.”
Gray stood and turned toward the body; Carter was still crouched, peering over the corpse. In his massive black coat he looked a bit like the Reaper come to check His handiwork. In one hand was the dark leather flap of a wallet. “I’m here,” Gray said as he walked over. “What’s up?”
“Here’s the vic’s wallet,” he said, holding it up for Gray to take. “Bag it.”
Gray rifled through it a moment. There was a company identification card which confirmed Anderson’s name and a Queen Anne address. The radio tag on one corner was what Martin and his streeters had picked up for the initial ID. There was no cashcard, but a Helios Gymnasium Centers membership card rode along with a luminous green slab of thin plastic that proclaimed itself a ‘Pass to Paradise’ for the Autumn Heights Gentleman’s Club. The address was down by Sea-Tac. A number had been scrawled across the back of the holographically-augmented card, the name ‘Angie’ written over that. Wrapping up the contents of the wallet were two snaptabs of Medriazine-Beta for immediate contraception.
“Looks like the vic liked to have a good time,” Gray said. “No cashcard, though. Strange.”
A snort from the other man. “Why bring a cashcard when you’ve got this?” Gray looked on as Carter held up a fist-sized wad of green plastic bills banded with an elastic band. American cash notes, big ones if the grim face of President Hunley staring out from the outermost layer was any indication.
“Shit,” Gray said, brows leaping toward his hairline. “You could choke a horse with that. Are they all thousand-dollar bills?”
“As nearly as I can tell,” Carter replied, getting to his feet. He weighed the knot of cash in his hand thoughtfully. “Though we’ll have Evidence go over it when we get back. Nothing else on the body that I could find. Here, bag this up too.”
He tossed the wad to Gray, who caught it in one gloved hand. “Roger that,” said Gray, though he eyed the knot of cash a moment. Something didn’t seem right.
Carter smiled as he watched him. “Something wrong?”
“Yeah,” muttered Gray, testing the weight again. “Feels too heavy. Something’s wrapped up inside maybe.”
“Good catch. Don’t unroll it, though. Let Evidence take it apart. Put it in the car’s vault in case there’s something nasty in there.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t a rookie, after all. “Yeah,” he said instead, and took the roll and the wallet over to the slim metal shell of the field kit which lay open on the Vectra’s hood. After snapping shots with the camera on his palm computer and bagging up the evidence, he put the kit away. The wad of bills went into a lunchbox-sized compartment of solid armorplas that was mounted inside the car’s trunk; the evidence kit was secure enough, but the vault was for potentially dangerous evidence that didn’t require a hazard team. That done, Gray returned to find Carter standing by the alley mouth.
“So all right then,” Gray said as he approached. “You all done?”
“Yeah,” Carter said, and he tapped his ear. “I ran Anderson’s employment record past Central while you were bagging that stuff up. Looks like he’s been out sick for the past few days.”
“Sick, huh.” Gray wondered briefly what sort of sickness got you flayed open in a back alley with a wad of cash in your shorts. “So what’s our next move?”
“I’m going to take Martin and Patel here and toss Anderson’s apartment.” Carter stepped out onto the street, hands jammed into the pockets of his pants. For a man who made roughly twice what Gray did he looked like he still bought his suits from a discount mall. “It’s in the company’s name, so it’s not like we need a warrant.”
Gray nodded. “All right,” he said. “And me?”
“I want you to head over to that club that card in the vic’s wallet was from,” Carter said. “See who he’s been talking to. Maybe we can get a head start on whatever this guy was into. With a wad that size on hand, it’s sure not going to be anything legal.”
The Autumn Heights club capped the C tower of the Hilton Crown Pavilion, a massive fortress of glass and gleaming steel that dominated the Boeing-King Aeroplex. Now the major airport of the region, B-K handled all manner of corporate and luxury air passengers along with a massive number of tourists. The fact that the outlying ring of the city was filled with savages and crazy people really didn’t blunt anyone’s vacation plans. At least, not with the Company around. Anyone not going through Civil Protection gateways - that is, basically anyone daring to cross into the Verge - were usually shot on sight, and even crazy people usually retained survival instincts. You didn’t hear about that on television, of course.
The Hilton loomed before Gray as he pulled the Vectra into the hotel’s priority lot. The company kept several spaces paid for within easy distance to the front door; business was business, after all. The structure was shaped like a snowflake with five towers and an entry hall radiating around a central spire, all shining with a haze of light reflected from the airport. Seattle was like that everywhere there was civilization that counted, massive and monolithic. To Gray it was a beautiful edifice, one which he’d never before visited.
No time like the present, he supposed.
The hotel was just as impressive on the inside, Gray discovered as he passed through they vaulted arches of the entry hall. The interior of the spire dripped with holograms, advertisements for local resorts and glimpses of scenes at branches elsewhere in the world. Overhead hovered an image of the Hilton Star Palace, the first major hotel in orbit and the largest in the Newberg Spindle. Gray eyed the floating image as he passed under, wondering what it would be like in space. The company handled security up there as well; maybe he could get a transfer at some point. Not without a Tier IV rating, old son, he thought darkly to himself. Not likely to get one of those on corpse patrol.
Gray bypassed the front desk and took the elevator up to the top of the C tower. Through the polarized windows of the elevator cab the haze of light persisted from outside, further transforming the hotel into the jeweled crown it was named for. Gray took the ten floors to the top with his eyes closed, putting on his game face. He had on a thousand-dollar suit, his tie was narrow as a razor, and his Rolex was so heavy with gold he could kill a small child just by throwing it at him. He was a figure of order. Stony. Quiet. Composed. By the time the elevator opened and released him into the darker strata of the club, he had pushed out of his mind the bewildering strangeness of the alley scene and taken on the company character.
When Civil Protection comes into a room, people do not miss it.
Gray strode without challenge into a wall of smoke and sound. Clubs like this were basically all the same: tunnel leading in, vaulted ceiling, no windows, lights and neon everywhere. DJ Shithead on the sound system, girls who look amazing under neon and often nowhere else grinding on poles. At its most essential level, strip club fashion hadn’t changed since the golden age of taxi dancers, not for a hundred and fifty years. His badge hung out of his jacket’s breast pocket; the Blue Shield glowed like a magical sigil as he approached the shallow arc of black, chromed-banded marble that served as the club’s bar. Eyes followed him as he went, and his facade was armor against them. He appreciated the power the badge gave him - on his own, he reveled in it. Respect tinged with fear, this was what he saw in the eyes of the bartender as Gray bellied up in front of him and jerked his chin in welcome.
“Good evening, Citizen,” Gray said, giving the bartender a tepid smile. “Gray. Homicide Services.”
“Evening, Detective,” the bartender replied. “Haven’t seen you in here before.” Upon hearing Gray’s department the man’s expression seemed to calm a bit. Club men fear Vice, not the corpse squad. “Something I can do for you?”
A flash of irritation shot through Gray as he sensed the playing field even. “Depends,” said Gray, fishing the pocket computer out of his coat. “Have you seen this man in here before?” He put the computer on the bar and keyed it on, conjuring the holographic apparition of Anderson’s handsome face.
The bartender looked the dead man’s image for a long moment. “Yeah,” he said. “I have. This guy comes in to see Angie a lot.”
“Regular customer?” Gray felt his lips quirk very slightly at their corners.
“Yeah, pretty regular.” The bartender shrugged. “He gets her for private dances a lot.”
“Point her out for me.”
Angie was a slim girl, dark-skinned and - shattering Gray’s general experience with strippers - clearly beautiful both in and out of the club lights. Her face was small and round, her smile brilliant as she wound herself like ivy around the pole of her little stage. He liked how she moved, neat and spare and barefoot, and how she didn’t wear pasties with her tiny black thong; her breasts were small and tipped with nubs of chocolate brown. Her mane of curly hair was a black banner that licked the small of her back. He could see why Anderson might like her; she was definitely singular.
As Angie worked around brass, Gray heaved a tiny sigh before pushing off the bar. He took his time on approach before he stepped up to the edge of her stage. She looked over and saw him, startling blue eyes glittering under lights, and he nodded at the badge to make sure he had her attention. Once he was sure she saw it, he gestured toward the dressing rooms. He was kind enough to go there and hover by the door until her song ended before he walked toward the back, and he even held the dressing room door open for her as she shouldered past him without a word. He tried very hard not to stare at her ass as he followed her backstage. He really did.
Angie dropped into a seat by a dressing table rimmed with a cosmetician’s white bar lamps, which only put a harder point on her beauty. A nondescript blonde with inflated breasts and a cheap holographic tattoo of koi fish swimming around them got up and left as soon as she saw Gray’s badge. “All right,” said Angie, leaning against the back of her chair. “What do you want, Mr. Cop?”
It was the kind of mouth he should have expected. Tough girl. “I’m Dan Gray,” he began, gesturing to the badge. “Homicide Solutions.”
“That’s the strangest name for a department I’ve ever heard,” she said with a snort.
Gray paused. “I’m sorry?”
“‘Homicide Solutions’,” she repeated. Angie leaned back a bit, arching her back just a bit to give him a better view of her. Fucking with him. Gray could count the freckles across her chest if he wanted to, but he made a concerted effort to look at that pretty face instead. “I mean, you don’t prevent homicides, you just find out who did them. Don’t you think that title’s just a little disingenuous?”
Yeah, he thought. Tough girl. “I couldn’t say,” Gray said instead. “Now, Angie —”
“Angela,” she replied. “Angela Lamont Velasquez. You can call me Ms. Velasquez.”
“Ms. Velasquez, then.” He matched her resistance with impassivity. “I’m here to speak to you about Ronald Anderson.”
“Who’s that?” She didn’t blink, which was rarely the sign of innocence that people thought it was.
Gray went on. “Mr. Anderson was a regular customer of yours, I understand,” he said, producing the palm computer again. He keyed up a chain of images from its holographic display, horrors in miniature. Anderson’s face, an image of his corpse with the horrible furrow in his back. A good, close shot of the tattoo on his back. “A lot of…private dances.”
“I know him,” she replied. Her voice was as neutral as it was, but her eyes were fixed upon the images that slowly cycled over the surface of the little machine. They were chips of ice, wide and fixed. “I know him.”
“I know that you do,” replied Gray. He cycled to the next image, that handsome face lying face-down against the concrete. Anderson’s eyes, bleach-blue, wide and staring. One of them looked downward, but the other was turned back as if to try and see its assailant. “What can you tell me, Angela?”
It was cruel, this way of questioning - he didn’t like it. On the other hand, she was resolved from the start to stonewall him and he couldn’t have that either. Sometimes you had to be the hard guy. Sometimes you had to be an ass. It just happened that he was good at it. And as if he had worked some magical charm, tears began to bud in the corners of those exquisite eyes. They glittered as they ran slowly down her cheeks, with no words yet in their wake. Gray reached up and plucked a gray satin robe from its hook by the dressing table and offered it to her.
Angie slid the robe on. As she did, her expression shifted from the tough-girl neutrality to one of quiet shock. She belted the robe around her waist and leaned back in her seat. She reached behind her to pluck a pack of Anoraks off the table, selecting one as if on autopilot and crushing the tip to ignite it. The faint odor of tobacco escaped from the cigarette’s smokeless tip as she inhaled from it deeply.
“He wasn’t my boyfriend or anything,” she said then, a little too fast to be entirely true. “We just liked to have fun, that’s all.”
“I understand,” Gray said. His voice was low now, understanding.
Angie took another drag. “I wasn’t into his racket. At all.”
Gray nodded. “Tell me.”
He emerged from the Autumn Heights that night with the Angie’s number - her home number, not the throwaway mobile she had given Anderson - and a new understanding of just what it was Anderson had been into. Only a hint of it, mind you, though perhaps there was more yet to tap from Miss Velasquez in the future. For now he would have to report to Carter, who was no doubt well into tossing Anderson’s apartment for further clues.
Gray had no doubt that Carter would appreciate what he had to say.
The story continues in...Private: Bone Wires, Episode 3: