by Karlos Allen
part 4 of 4
She looked away for a second and shuddered all over. “I’m going to hold you to that, you know.”
O’Leary shrugged. “Well, as you said earlier, I’m a cop. This is what I do and I’m good at it.” He looked at his watch, “Speaking of which, you said you had a contact for me? Do you still feel up to putting me in touch with them?”
“Yes, I’m supposed to meet him tonight. I asked if it would be OK to bring you along, he said that would be fine. We’re to meet him at his clients’ home out in Manning.”
“Manning? Pretty expensive clients he has.”
“Yes, well, some of the ‘fringe’ happen to have more money than sense. Or so I thought; now I think perhaps they knew something and just didn’t know how to communicate it.”
“When do we meet them?”
“About seven, I—” Her com beeped. “Excuse me. This is Christie. Yes? Who? I see. Just a minute.” She turned to O’Leary and mouthed “Margie” and then took a few steps away. The rest of the conversation became a low mumble as O’Leary strained to hear. He was thinking about sneaking in closer when Christie came back and handed him the phone.
“I... I’m really sorry, Mr. O’Leary. I didn’t mean to do that. I heard what you said to her and what she said it was like. I googled rape experiences to see what she was talking about. I had no idea...”
“I know that, Margie. I think Christie knows that too.” He looked over at her, she nodded, tight-lipped, but agreeing. “She’s still pretty upset though.”
“I don’t know if I can move, Mr. O’Leary. I’ve been studying my code; I don’t think I can do it without going to Tech Support. I don’t want to go there.”
“All right, we’ll figure something out. For now though, do you think you could do something to insulate the wall so you can’t hear anything? I think that would make her more comfortable.” Christie nodded again.
“OK, I have to meet a source, but I’ll see you tomorrow in the office. We’ll try to work something out then, all right?”
“All right.” The connection broke.
“Well?” Christie asked.
“I don’t know what she said to you, of course, but she’s really shocked.”
“Yes, I know. Can she move?”
“She doesn’t think so, not without going to Tech Support. She really doesn’t want to go there. It’s almost as if she’s afraid of them. I think she’s afraid they’ll erase her personality. Imagine being afraid that going to the doctor is going to get you lobotomized. She said she would try to insulate the wall so she can’t hear you. I think what’s been happening is that data’s been leaking between the two of you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when we first met, you asked where my hat was. Margie always sees me in a hat. Then later you suddenly thought that the Bio-Server project was important. I’d been having Margie research it for me because all the straightforward leads were coming up duds. I remember now that after we had met at Ernie’s, Margie told me I should try the goat curry.”
Christie half-smiled. “She did? Good for her.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with this.” He looked at his watch. “It’s about five-thirty right now. You said you wanted a drink; I could use some coffee myself, and then why don’t we go meet this source of yours?”
The restaurant they ended up at was quiet, which O’Leary was thankful for. Christie ordered something weird and expensive and he ordered another coffee. It was terrible and expensive. It must have shown on his face because she asked him about it.
“I’m a coffee snob. I like good coffee, and this isn’t it.”
“Why didn’t you order a drink? Are you on duty?”
“Not really, but I don’t drink. I haven’t had a drink in...” He paused to think. “Three years, two months and five days.”
“Oh, sorry. Is that why you’re divorced?”
“I don’t think that’s really any of your business, Christie.”
“Your secretary lives in my head. That makes it my business.”
“All right, it was a contributing factor, but not the whole story. A divorce is like an election. By the time it’s over, everybody’s dirty. I’m not going to go into it.”
She nodded, “Any kids?”
He felt his jaw tighten at the memory. “I have a son.”
“Do you see him often?”
“That’s not a wise choice. Children need both parents.”
His jaw tightened till it hurt. Through stiff lips he forced out, “It wasn’t my choice to make.”
“Oh.” She looked away. “Well, maybe you’ll get a chance to tell your side someday.”
O’Leary shook his head, “No, I won’t.”
“You don’t know that, a lot of kids contact their parents when they get older.”
“Yes, I’ve been told that. But I won’t tell my ‘side’. He’ll have gotten enough of that from his mother.” He paused and then continued: “I have a box in my closet; it has hardcopy of all of the correspondence between us. If he ever does show up, I’m going to hand him that box and let him draw his own conclusions. It’s the closest I’ll ever be able to come to giving him the whole truth. Then we’ll talk. And Ms. Porter, that’s all I’m saying, I don’t care who is camped out in your head.”
As he followed her out to meet her source he ran the conversation over in his mind. He thought he was past the need to spill his guts to the first person who would listen. His coworkers weren’t avoiding him any more, so he knew he wasn’t still dumping his sorrows on them. He shook his head; obviously he still had a weakness for a listening ear, especially after a stressful day.
* * *
You could always tell when you were getting into Manning, The decorative rock walls got a bit higher, the gates a bit heavier. For the first time he saw Crime Busters actually on duty. He craned his neck to get a closer look as one went by. The posture was stiff, almost military. He wasn’t sure but he thought he saw the bulge of a concealed weapon in the woman’s pocket.
Then they turned into a long drive. The gate opened silently after Christie spoke into the pickup. Two CB’s stepped out of the shadows and peered into her car and then came toward him. As one of them bent down to look in, he held up his badge. It didn’t faze the CB at all, he just looked around and then walked behind the car to ogle the license plate. During the entire time no one said a word. Finally they melted back into the shadows and the cars were able to pull up to the house.
The owner of the house turned out to be a retired local politician. O’Leary remembered him; he’d helped bust him a few years back on minor corruption charges. It hadn’t put him in jail, but it had ended his career. Apparently, though it hadn’t affected him financially. The look on the man’s face showed that he remembered O’Leary too.
“Evening, Officer, it’s been a while.”
“Yes, Vinh, it has. I see you’re doing well; becoming something of a civic activist too.”
“Well, we all have things that we can’t close our eyes to, Officer. Now I have more free time and fewer... obligations, shall we say? I’m able to act on what I feel is right without having to worry about how it will affect my career. In some ways, your department did me a favor.”
Vinh led them into the living room and made them comfortable. O’Leary noticed that there were several others present. They seemed to be of all different levels socially. He could swear he’d seen some of them on the street just that morning.
Vinh cleared his throat and said, “OK, people, you know we’ve been investigating the Bio-Server Project. In a few minutes I’ll bring in the professional I’ve retained; his help has been invaluable.
“Before I do that though, I’d like to introduce our guests. This is Christine Porter, some of you probably know her, she’s the local head of Americans for Free Minds. I know we’ve said a few things about their ‘patience’ in the past, but let’s keep it friendly tonight, shall we?”
He flashed a grin, “The gentleman with her is Officer, sorry, I mean Detective Charles O’Leary from the Metropolitan Police force. He’s been investigating the Bio-server Project himself and is looking for our help. Now I’d like to bring in our detective.” With a flourish he opened the door.
O’Leary stared; he felt a sudden urge to slap himself on the forehead really hard. Multiple times.
“Evening, Bud.” The Old Man grinned and sauntered in. “Long time no see.” He looked Christie up and down and the grin broadened: “I thought you said you weren’t seeing any women.”
Vinh looked at them. “You know each other?”
“Sure do. O’Leary was my last trainee before I retired from the force. Good man to have on a case. Nothing gets past him, not for long anyway. Go ahead Bud, I know you want to do it; we won’t stop you.”
“Do what?” Vinh was rapidly looking worried.
“Slap himself on the forehead. Lotta things are coming together. Aren’t they?”
“Why did you do it, Old Man?”
“Why do you think I did it?”
“I have no idea. Bitterness? Wanting to get back at a world that you think has passed you by? For all I know, you’ve gone off your meds and the voices in your head told you to!”
Vinh raised his voice; the panic was starting to eat away at his cultivated manner. “What are you two talking about?”
O’Leary looked at him. “Do you know what happened at the Pearl server farm a few days ago?”
“Somebody bombed it.” He pointed at the Old Man, “HE bombed it The only reason the Feds aren’t involved already is that the Chief doesn’t want them around and I wanted to see this through.”
“Bombed?! That’s terrorism!” Vinh turned on the Old Man, “I want you out of this house now! I want nothing to do with—”
O’Leary swore he didn’t see the Old Man move, but suddenly Vinh was sitting down, hard. “It’s too late, Vinh, you’re already hip-deep in this.” He grinned ferociously. “You might as well hear the whole story. That way you can put together a good defense with your lawyers.” He turned back to O’Leary, “I did it to get attention.”
“Attention? To you?”
“No, to the Project. I needed it to be officially investigated. I’d taken it as far as I could.”
“Why didn’t you just TELL me?”
“You wouldn’t have believed me. If I’d walked into the station and said that an industry consortium was studying how to use people’s brains as web servers, you would have laughed me out of the building.”
“I wouldn’t have.”
“No, Bud, you wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t have been your top priority.” He shrugged, “When our host came to me with the story, I laughed. I refused to have anything to do with it. When he came back the second time, he didn’t have any more evidence, but he did have a lot more money. I needed the money, so I laughed again, inside, and took the money.
“Of course then I was obligated to look into it. You’ve seen what’s out there. Mostly junk. But when you filter out all of the junk, there are some facts that fit together. It’s not much, but I know a case when I see it. I couldn’t go any further with it; I don’t have police-level privileges on the Web anymore. You don’t know how useful those are till they’re gone.”
“Why didn’t you say anything yesterday?”
“Yesterday, you were hunting a bomber, not the Bio-Server Project. If I’d told you, you would’ve tried to put the cuffs on me and left it at that. No, I needed you to dig until you saw what I saw.”
“That excuses the deaths? The mental damage to my partner?”
“Bud, I really am sorry about that. Those were unintended consequences.”
“That’s what the drunk driver said after he ran over the little girl.”
“No, it’s not. Listen, suppose you’re in a building and you see smoke. For some reason the automatic alarm hasn’t gone off, you don’t know why. What do you do? Do you just walk away assuming it will go off, or do you yank the manual one? That’s a no-brainer, you yank the manual.
“Now suppose, because you did trip the alarm, somebody panics and gets hurt or killed, is that your fault? No, it’s an unintended consequence. You didn’t mean for that to happen, all you were trying to do was sound a warning. In the same situation you’d do it again.”
“I’m sure that sounds really convincing when you say it in the mirror, but I don’t buy it. There’s a huge difference between pulling a fire alarm and setting off a bomb.”
The Old Man looked at him. “OK, so what happens, now? You going to put the cuffs on me? Parade me downtown for Chief Duyck to crow over?”
“No, I’m not. Here’s how it’s gonna play. We’re going to get to the bottom of the Bio-Server thing; then you are going to come downtown and turn yourself in.”
“What if I don’t?”
“I’ll give you five days. If you don’t show I’ll come out to your house and put the cuffs on you myself.”
“You’d better bring back-up.”
“Oh, I will. And Hank? If you resist, I’ll shoot you down myself.”
The Old Man thought it over. “Fair enough. Where do we go from here?”
“We need to compare notes. I need to see what you’ve got that you need police privs to investigate. My AI has some search results that I need to pick up tomorrow when I get back to the office. Give me about 24 hours with your data and unless things are more complicated than I think, we can probably blow this whole case wide open.” He paused. “That is, if there is a case.”
Vinh looked up from his seat. “What do you mean by that?” O’Leary looked around at the group, “You’re not going to like this, but there is a chance that the whole thing is legal.” He held up his hand. “I don’t know of any laws that say it’s illegal to store data in anybody’s brain. People won’t like it when they hear about it, but that won’t stop it from happening.”
The Old Man nodded. “He’s right. Don’t worry though, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it. Good to be working with you again, Bud.” He held out his hand.
O’Leary shook his head, “It’s not the same, Mr. Logan. I’m sorry, but our relationship is that of detective and informant, not partners on a case.”
The Old Man scowled and then reached in his pocket and pulled out a memory stick. “Here’s your data.” He stalked out.
Copyright © 2010 by Karlos Allen