Losing a math coprocessor implant might be an annoyance, but losing a heart regulator was a different thing altogether. Detective William Greene gazed down at the body lying on the polished marble of the landing, trying to decide whether he felt sorry for the guy or not.
The suit had to be hand-tailored. The gray wool shone, a recent Italian style touted in the newest fashion videos. The victim’s dark hair had gray at the temples; an affectation, most likely to lend him an air of dignity. His body looked too fit to be natural, the kind of fitness only the wealthy could afford—metabolism regulator chips, continual isometric toning programs, possibly even a few DNA alterations. A man like that didn’t have gray in his hair unless he wanted to.
Greene decided he should feel sorry for the victim anyway. They had too much in common, despite all the things they didn’t. If an EM blast hit him, he’d be in a bad way too.
He checked the cards handed over to him by a weeping secretary in a yellow blouse—perhaps it was orange. He couldn’t quite tell. The young woman now stood in a spot where the light didn’t hit her directly, so he couldn’t see her clearly any longer. He could still hear her sobbing. He held the top card squarely in front of his eyes, its black text easy to read on a white background.
DeVane Michaelson, it said. International Travel Litigation. A lawyer who specialized in suing travel agencies, the secretary had told him.
“What kind of name is DeVane?” Sergeant Ellison asked. She leaned over and took the card, her dark hand passing into and then out of the range of his cameras.
“One that sounds impressive,” Greene said. “Looks like there’s a lot of money in travel lawsuits.”
“Huh. I wonder why the Purists would come after him. He’s not one of their usual targets.” Her voice sounded only mildly curious.
No, Greene thought, the Purists usually went after the purveyors of Intelligent Medical Implants—not the IMI users. Any manner of chip implanted in the human body to improve performance or appearance, the Purists called a “pollution” of Nature’s Creation. With an implanted heart regulator, Michaelson certainly violated their standards of human purity.
It concerned Greene that the Purists might have gone after a user. So far they had managed to vandalize several implantation facilities in the Greater Los Angeles area. They concentrated on taking out the companies’ computers using EM blast guns, mostly homemade. Kits for the things were available all over the Internet, marketed for “legitimate uses” such as the destruction of old data. So far, any humans hit with blasts in the Purist’s “raids” had only suffered inconveniences. DeVane Michaelson was the first to die.
“Who knows? There might be some link,” Greene said. “Why don’t you start running down everything you can on him?” Ellison would spend the rest of the day with her computer, he reckoned. His own forte was listening, not reading screens—the images that the cameras embedded in his contact lenses fed to his retinal implants were grainy at best. “If it was the Purists, do you think they intended to kill him,” he asked, “or just burn him out?”
“Normally, regulators are pretty heavily shielded,” Ellison said. “The EM blast would have had to come from close range to cause one to fail.”
A strong blast could have come from a distance, but still inside. The building’s Faraday system kept outside electrical intrusions at bay, and nothing near the body had shut down, suggesting a very localized blast. Two large screens on the wall nearby merrily cycled some irritating, colorful art that changed just about the time Greene had them figured out. He thought they might be Van Goghs.
Greene turned his eyes in Ellison’s direction. His retinal implant ran a facial recognition program and supplied her name—an annoyance as it scrolled slowly through the bottom of his vision. He’d put Ellison into the program when she first started working with him about a year ago and had never gotten around to taking her out.
“My dad has a heart regulator,” Ellison added in a quiet voice. “He got a letter.”
The Purists had gotten their hands on some of the implant firms’ client lists and sent threatening letters to the users in an attempt to dry up demand for implants. Greene had gotten a letter or two himself, but hadn’t taken them too seriously. “You report it?”
Ellison shook her head. “Just a form threat. I’ll ask him if he’s still got a hard copy, though. Those people start going after users, Dad might want to invest in a shield vest.”
Greene turned back to the body lying on the landing. “Yeah. A vest might be a good buy.”
He wouldn’t have said that a day ago, but this murder had him worried. Unfortunately, a vest wouldn’t offer any protection for him.
The widow had a nice figure. As she stood silhouetted in the light of a large bay window, it was easy for Greene to see that much. Her face remained elusive, even though his program informed him it had pinned down her features to a seventy-two percent probability of recognizing her later. Dark hair, worn long, medium skin, moderately tall. She wore a white blouse and dark skirt, high heels—details that would change.
She came back from the window and sat down across from him on a wide pale-colored couch. With the window behind her, she was little more than an outline to him. She crossed her legs, and said, “They told me that DeVane was leaving his office. That he didn’t tell his secretary where he was going.”
“No, Mrs. Michaelson. We don’t know where yet.” Greene shifted in his chair, feeling uneasy. “Did you talk to him at any time today?”
“I went into the office this morning to get him to sign some papers for the bank. And before you ask,” she added, “I went to the bank and handed them over. I was there from eleven till almost noon.”
Which gave her an alibi at the time of the crime. “What sort of relationship did you and your husband have?”
She sighed and laid something down on the table next to her. “If you talk to his lawyer, you’ll find out we were in the process of a very civil divorce.”
“Over the secretary?” he guessed.
“No, not her. She wasn’t the first, Detective; I just got tired of it. I decided it was time to call DeVane a mistake and move on. He was tired of being tied down, so he was perfectly agreeable.”
That explanation covered her lack of emotion on hearing of her husband’s death. “So you get—What? Half?—and he goes off with the secretary?”
“I sincerely doubt that,” she said. “DeVane isn’t . . . wasn’t the sort to settle for one woman. I doubt little Veronica would have held his attention for more than a few months. I’m getting most of the money, by the way. You can check with his lawyer on that, too. I had far more money coming into the relationship than he did and at least had the sense to require a clear prenuptial agreement. DeVane is getting this monstrosity of a house and his car.”
“You don’t want the house?” he asked.
“Good Lord, no. Would you?” Her horrified tone almost made Greene laugh. She sighed and added, “It’s a showcase, Detective, to display all of DeVane’s nice things, myself included. My tastes are far simpler.”
“It must be worth a fortune,” he said.
She moved her head. “There are two mortgages on it. Unfortunately, I was cosigner on them, so now I believe I’m stuck with the thing. I’m meeting with my business planner tomorrow to find out how bad it is.”
She tilted her head to one side. “Do you?”
“Hmm. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“We’re going through his office files to determine if he’s received any threats there. I need to know if he’s received anything discretely on the house link.”
She shook her head. “He was a lawyer, Detective. Of course people threatened him. He kept files. If you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’ll make a copy for you.”
She rose gracefully, passing close to him as she swayed toward the hallway. She smelled of lilacs. Her heels clicked intermittently, moving from floor to rug to floor.
Once she’d gone, he crossed to the bay window and looked back at the room, trying to see details from this angle. His cameras supplied information to his implants, but lighting was always their critical weakness. He needed light on the subject—not behind—to be able to get a good idea of how it looked.
His eyes started to go out on him in his twenties, falling quickly through the stages of Retinitis Pigmentosa—night blindness and then an escalating loss of peripheral vision. But while the disease ravaged his retinas, it left his optic nerve unharmed. His implants fooled his brain into thinking his own eyes were doing the seeing, not a pair of cameras. They weren’t perfect, but were far better than nothing.
The officer who’d driven him to the house still waited in the foyer, a dark spot in Greene’s vision. The house was vast, this living room big enough to hold his entire apartment. The furniture seemed to be of the sparse, Scandinavian variety—clean lines and neutral colors, like the widow. A grand piano rested in one corner of the room, its top propped open, black and white, easy to see. Pale rugs took up floor space, covering dark tile. It felt hard and slick enough to be marble, so Greene made a mental note to walk carefully. Everything smelled expensive—like a museum.
A newspaper lay on the table next to the window, folded in half. He picked it up and held it so the light hit the page. “Purists Protest at Walker Implants,” the headline read. There was a picture below it, but he couldn’t refine his camera focus enough to see it clearly.
The sharp click of her heels warned him that the widow was returning. He dropped the paper back on the table. She came toward him with something small and dark in her hand. When she held it out to him, he took it. His fingers told him it was a drive chip, so he slid it into his pocket and thanked her.
She turned to face the window and gazed outward, in profile now. This close, with the light from the window on her features, he decided she was lovely. He couldn’t make a guess as to her ethnic background, but her facial features had very elegant lines. The implant claimed a ninety-seven percent probability of recognition if he saw her later.
“Is there anything else, Detective?” she asked without turning to look at him.
“Not at this time. I’ll probably need to get back in contact with you later, though, when we’ve had more time to refine our lines of inquiry. If you think of anything, you have my card.”
“Thank you.” Her voice sounded absent, as if her mind had turned away along with her face.
Greene showed himself out, walking slowly on the hard floor.
The geek squad had already taken apart Michaelson’s computer, checked every nook and cranny for hidden data, and come up with tons of personal information, all of which the computers at the precinct determined had no relationship to the Purists. “Well, run it again,” Greene suggested when Jackson came back with that result.
“If I run it again, Greene, I’ll tell you the same thing in five minutes.” Jackson’s voice made his opinion clear, even if Greene didn’t look up at his face. Jackson stood nearly seven feet tall and towered over all of them, making him the easiest person in the precinct to identify, except when he was sitting. Not quite six feet himself, Greene always felt short when he stood next to the man. “You may not know how to use a computer,” the geek added, “but you want me to do it for you, then don’t question my results.”
“Sorry, Jackson,” Greene said. “Didn’t mean it that way.”
“Right.” Jackson tossed something small onto the desk. “What we’ve got. Maybe Ellison’ll take pity on you and re-run it, but there’s no reason to.” He took himself away, his elongated shape sliding out through the doorway.
“Hey, Stretch,” Ellison said as she walked into the room, evidently addressing the departing Jackson, not Greene. “Twelve security cameras,” she said in a plaintive voice. “Not a single one caught the murder.”
“What are the odds of that?” Greene asked.
“Nil.” She leaned over his desk and typed something up on his computer. “Except this one. See the blonde walking up the steps?”
“Can you enlarge it?”
“Nah, just goes all grainy.” She pointed a dark finger against the muddled grays on the screen. “I’d guess about five-foot-eight, nine, maybe.”
He shrugged. “What makes you think this is the killer?”
She chuckled. “Because this camera feed dies about a millisecond after this frame. She took out the camera. There’s not enough data for facial recognition, pulls up about ten thousand possible matches. She had her face turned away.”
“If this is the only camera that caught her, then she must have been extremely lucky.”
“You know I don’t believe in luck,” Ellison said. “She knew the camera’s sweep pattern.”
“Staked out the building?”
“Or had access on a regular basis,” she pointed out. “With that low of a match probability, DA probably won’t take the record into evidence.”
“If we can get a decent copy off this, one of the guys can run it down to Michaelson’s office tomorrow and see if anyone recognizes her.”
“Not likely, but maybe someone will remember the clothing.” She leaned on the edge of his desk. “So, what did you make of the widow? He had a picture in his office. Trophy wife?”
“Well, she wasn’t grief-stricken,” Greene admitted.
Ellison sighed. “The secretary cried all over me when I took her statement. No one said it, but I’ll bet she was his bit of fluff on the side.”
“Yeah, the widow confirmed that. They are ‘in the process of a very civil divorce,’ she said.” He handed Ellison the drive chip and the name of the divorce lawyer’s firm. “Jackson says no joy on the computer files.”
Ellison tapped something against his desk. A pen, or pencil, he decided. “Yep, already told me. Probably no tie to the Purists then. Maybe someone taking lessons from their play book?”
“A possibility, so, we run the wife . . .” Greene suggested.
“And the secretary,” she added. “I’ll get right on it. Don’t you have to go give evidence in the Vargas case?”
“What time is it?” he asked.
His implant supplied the time just as Ellison said, “Three twenty-five.”
Greene pushed himself to his feet. “Just a deposition, but I’m supposed to be there at four. Thanks for reminding me.”
“That’s why I exist, boss,” she said.
“Heading out to the gym?” Ellison asked.
Greene had stopped back by the office to pick up his bag and plowed right into her in the hallway. “Is the gym bag a giveaway?
“Yep, run a mile for me, okay?” She headed back toward the office with a wave.
The Americans with Disabilities Act might keep the police department from firing a half-blind detective, but if he failed a fitness test, that would have the same result. Heading toward forty, Greene couldn’t rely on his natural leanness to keep in shape any longer, so he took a bus to his gym. It was annoyingly crowded at that hour, but he found a treadmill, spent an hour running, then showered up and headed for home.
His apartment was small enough that he could negotiate it in the dark but he kept the lights on full anyway. An extravagance, one for which he paid dearly, but the high power bills were worth being able to see.
His kitchen smelled like Thai food, the natural consequence of bringing it home almost every night. Greene sat in his favorite chair in the living area, put his feet up on the ottoman and worked his way through the garlic chicken, mentally reviewing his statement for the Vargas case. He set the container on the table and closed his eyes. The cameras imbedded in his lenses cycled off, leaving him with just the implant’s feed. He’d learned early on that daily maintenance of his optical files was far better than leaving it for later.
The implant dutifully showed him the faces it had recorded since last night, those on which it had gotten enough data to make a positive match. Most were easy calls—people he’d seen on the street, the regular patrons of the Thai restaurant. Those he trashed. The implant recalled the face of the secretary then, displaying her image for him. She had blond hair, and dark smudges under her eyes that must be smeared make-up. “Record,” he said, “Michaelson secretary. Cancel. ‘Veronica.’ ”
The implant recorded the data points for the face, creating a file for her. Greene trashed several more before coming to the widow. The implant had a good side view and extrapolated a frontal view.
“Record. Manisone Michaelson.”
He worked through the remaining records. Then he pulled up Ellison’s image and deleted that file, to keep the program from running letters through his brain every time she came near. He didn’t need the help to recognize her any longer.
That done, he got up, turned on the radio, and relaxed back into his chair to the soothing sound of the news.
“Well, will you look at that,” Ellison said.
Greene pushed his chair away from his desk and rolled toward hers. Her screens showed line after line of data, all too small for him to read. She tapped the upper left corner of the screen a few times, enlarging the image for him. His cameras focused on the words.
“Look where she worked before they met.” Ellison pointed. “IMI-AG”
Intelligent Medical Implants, he read. “AG? Wouldn’t that be their German division, then?”
“Yep. Graduated from Yale, Masters in Prosthetics Engineering.”
“So, not a trophy wife, after all.” Somehow that didn’t surprise him. “How long did she work there?”
“Pretty sparse info on-line. It doesn’t specify what division, but I doubt she was a secretary with that degree.”
“Can we get that information?”
Ellison shrugged, the motion clear enough for him to register. “I’ll contact the firm. They’re probably not going to give it to us, though. It’s actually a German company. The Americans are the branch, not the other way around. She hasn’t worked since she married Michaelson. Five years now. Doing charity work, mostly through the Lions Club. I’m still hunting.”
Greene sat back. “Did Michaelson get the heart regulator through IMI?”
She shuffled some printouts. “Yep, that’s where he met her, looks like. Had to have it implanted while in Germany on a litigation case. They dated for a couple of months, got married, came back to the states. Beautiful story.”
“You’re a cynic,” he told her.
“No, I’m really weeping inside,” she said. “Truly.”
“Right. Anything else?”
“Not so far.”
“So what about the secretary?”
“Twenty-seven. Local high school. Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies through Kaplan. This is her only job so far. Seven years with the firm, Michaelson specifically requested her transfer to a position as his secretary about five months ago. Good evaluations, no reprimands. One arrest for involvement in the PETA sit-down protest at Armour-Tyson Foods here in town.”
“Really? Think she’s gone from PETA to Purist?” He raised a single eyebrow.
“Don’t do that. It looks weird. Haven’t found a link yet.” Ellison sighed.
“Hey, can you pull up the paper from a few days ago. Had a headline on Walker Implants.” His implant showed him the headline from the paper he’d seen.
Ellison typed for a second and then touched one of the spots on her left screen. “This one?” She’d found the one he’d seen the day before, grayscale picture and all.
“That was only, what, three days ago?”
“Nope, last week,” she said.
That meant someone at the Michaelson household had hung onto that paper for a few days. Greene frowned, peering at the picture. He tapped the corner to enlarge it. A crowd of blurry protesters sat on the steps of the Walker building, arms linked. A handful of police dragged one of them loose from the pack as the passersby cheered.
“Amazing,” Ellison said. She tapped the screen a few times, getting it to refocus on the protestors, and then one in particular. “Well, I’d say my money is on her.”
The name “Veronica” scrolled across Greene’s vision, his implant supplying the recognition prompt. “Can you run a printout on that?”
“Yep.” Ellison tapped the screen, and across the room the printer began to whir.
“Greene,” a voice called, “Jackson wants you right now.”
He pushed his chair back and followed the junior geek down the hallway to the bullpen where the herd of geeks had their screen heaven. Jackson sat in his usual pod, no less than a dozen screens pulled down to surround him.
“Hey, Greeney,” Jackson said, “you almost missed it.”
“What are we looking at?” Ellison asked from behind Greene, saving him from asking.
Jackson pointed at three of the screens in succession. “Whoever is doing it has all his codes. Liquidated the stocks in the last ten minutes . . . and . . .” Jackson drummed on the desk with a couple of fingers, a mock drum roll. “There it goes.”
“Very cool,” Ellison said. “Where is it going?”
Greene focused on the screen, his cameras enlarging the view internally. “Mutual Manhattan Bank,” the screen said. He could make out a short list of account numbers running down the page, balances next to them, each one resetting to zero in turn.
“This guy’s good,” Jackson said. “If it does what the stock portfolio did, everything is going to re-route to an account in Dubai . . . and we will never see it again. Banker’s paradise, Dubai.” He began touching screens with one hand, typing with the other. “And it’s away. Probably be transferred out of that account soon, but their government will never give up that information. All told, looks to be about a million dollars, no, maybe eight-hundred thousand.”
Not as much as he would have expected, Greene reflected, given the huge house and expensive implants the man had carried about inside himself. And a car—private vehicles cost their owners a fortune in annual fees and taxes.
“Did they clear out all of Michaelson’s assets?” Ellison asked. She leaned past Greene and touched something over Jackson’s head.
“Nope, we’ve got a couple of life insurance policies untouched. Compared to what they’ve got, not worth the bother. Pretty small, in fact.”
“You want the secretary or the widow?” Ellison asked.
“Five bucks on the widow,” Jackson answered without turning around.
“Let’s bring ’em both in,” Greene said. “Without doubt, one of them knows the access codes or can point us to someone who does. I think we know our motive now, at least.”
Ellison rapped on the door. “Veronica Sweet?”
“Is that really her name?” Greene asked.
Ellison laughed. “Didn’t I tell you before? Her real name. I checked.”
Greene rolled his eyes and then endured a second of blurred vision as his lenses rotated with the movement. The secretary had a house in the suburbs, far larger than Greene would have expected. He wondered if the title might have Michaelson’s name on it—something else to check out.
Ellison banged on the door this time. A second later, the door opened a crack and Veronica Sweet peeked out past the chain holding it shut. To Greene’s eyes, it looked like she’d been crying again. “Who is it?” she asked in a timid voice.
“Sergeant Ellison and Detective Greene,” Ellison said. “We’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
“Can I get dressed real quick?” the secretary asked.
Greene saw a great deal of leg exposed in the door’s narrow opening and nothing else.
“Sure,” Ellison said. “We just need to talk to you.”
The door clicked shut. Ellison shrugged and asked, “Who answers the door naked?”
Greene almost laughed at her scandalized tone. “Never done so yourself?”
Her face turned in his direction. Greene couldn’t quite decide what her expression meant. She opened her mouth but then stopped and pressed her ear against the door. “Damn,” she said a second later. “Door slamming. I’ll go around the back, boss.”
She drew her gun and headed off the porch. Greene drew his own weapon and thumbed off the safety. He gave Ellison a second longer and then tried the door again. When no answer came, he kicked it in. The door banged against the wall of the house with a hollow crunching sound, giving him some idea about the quality of the construction.
He took a careful look inside and didn’t process any movement. “Veronica Sweet?” he called.
He didn’t get an answer, so he edged inside the doorway, moving to one side. His cameras took in the small living room. Trinkets covered every horizontal surface, a mysterious jumble in his limited vision. The place smelled like cheap air-fresheners. He advanced toward the next room, the kitchen. Linoleum tiles on the floor in a black and white checkerboard dominated his vision until he could see the form of the secretary standing near the sink. He couldn’t make out what she held before her, but her posture told him it was some sort of gun—illegal in civilian hands.
He trained his in her direction. A useless gesture, since he had trouble hitting the side of a barn. “Put it down, Ms. Sweet. We just want to talk to you.”
His shoulder burned and his mind filled with white light. He staggered and hit his knees, so disoriented that he nearly didn’t hear the sound of bare feet pattering past him.
“Greene?” Ellison’s voice entered the blackness. “You hear me, Greene?”
“Crap,” he said. “She got away, didn’t she?”
“Yep. We’ll get her. The guys are going to take you on in, okay?”
He was lying flat on his back, covered with blankets and strapped down. Ambulance, he decided. “I’m fine. They don’t need to take me in.”
“You’re not fine. Stop arguing.”
Greene blinked, trying to get anything from his eyes into his brain. Faint hints of light bubbled past—either remnants of his lousy natural vision or hallucinations. He couldn’t make sense of anything.
“He has retinal implants and a generator pack imbedded in his shoulder,” Ellison told someone else. “The pack definitely burned out.”
“There’s not anything they can do,” Greene said in a voice that sounded far older than his own.
“Shut up, Greene,” Ellison said, sounding angry now. “They’re going to take you in and check you out. I’ll come by the hospital to pick you up later.”
The gurney on which he lay began to move, a sure sign that he’d lost the argument.
When the EM blast had hit him, it fried all the circuits in his implants. The retinal implants hadn’t hurt when they went; the retina didn’t feel pain that way, he knew. The shoulder implant had burned like hell, though, as circuits superheated under the electromagnetic pulse.
Implants like his weren’t covered under the Police Department’s insurance. He’d known that before the doctor told him so. A prosthetics specialist removed the ruined generator pack from his right shoulder, but couldn’t offer any help for Greene’s eyes. He would have to go to his own retinal specialist tomorrow and hope that there was a plan by which he could pay out new implants over the rest of eternity. At least it had happened while he was on duty, which meant the department would keep him on disability in the meantime.
Ellison didn’t bring him any better news than the doctor. “We haven’t picked her up yet. We’re checking all her known associates and family, but haven’t had any hits yet. And the widow has disappeared, too. She made an appointment with her business manager, and then flaked out on a dinner date with a bunch of her friends.”
“Couldn’t have been the secretary in the surveillance video, though. She’s too small. Five-foot-three at the most.”
“So she had an accomplice. One who gave the gun back to her afterward, I suppose. I have to wonder if the woman meant for Veronica to get caught with it. Take the fall, sort of.”
“I’m not all that sympathetic to Ms. Sweet right now.” Greene pulled on his jacket, and Ellison patted him on his good shoulder. The dermal patch on the other would take a few days to heal over.
“I’ll work on it in the morning, Greene. Come on.”
The whole world of blind habits came swimming back to him, as if he’d never escaped. The first thing he’d done at the hospital was ask for a cane. “I can get home by myself,” he groused.
“I know that, but I’m here and I have the car.”
He gave in. “Can you drop me at the Thai restaurant on the corner?”
“You still eat at that place?” Ellison asked. “Sure, no problem. I’m definitely going to buy my dad a vest.”
“Good idea. Buy me a shielded sack to put over my head while you’re on-line, okay?”
Ellison chuckled. She dropped him at the corner and, after a moment of getting his bearings, Greene made his way into the restaurant. After he’d explained the cane to the owner, he got his usual garlic chicken and made his way up to his apartment. He felt proud that he remembered the way.
He dug his keys out and let himself in, shutting the door behind him. After setting the cane against the door jamb, he went into his narrow kitchen to fetch a pair of chopsticks. He thought better of it a moment later and dug out a fork instead. Then, with the paper bag still stapled closed, he caught the faint smell of lilacs.
“Detective,” the widow said. “I couldn’t think of who else to talk to.”
He could hear her feet come closer. Not heels this time, but something soft, like running shoes. He decided she stood on the other side of the kitchen counter. Her hand touched his face, just under the eye. “What happened?” she asked.
“How did you get in here?”
She laughed, the kind of laugh that sounded like a rippling stream—beautiful. “I told your landlady I was your girlfriend.”
“Oh, that’s great.” He needed to have a serious talk with Mrs. Chao.
“What happened to your eyes?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You don’t have your camera lenses on anymore. The cane was a give-away, too.”
“Same thing that happened to your husband. How did you know they were cameras?”
“You didn’t look at my legs. Men always look at my legs,” she said.
“Did it occur to you that I might not be interested in women?”
“Frankly, no,” she said with that laugh still in her tone. “You just couldn’t see my legs. When I returned, you were standing with your back to the light so you could see me. I just had to do a little careful investigation. Here, move over.”
She pushed on his arm, and he heard the bag rattling. The scent of garlic chicken rose as she opened the bag. “Are you going to eat all of this?”
“You missed dinner, I hear. Why shouldn’t I call my partner?”
“Hey, I’m just helping. I haven’t stolen anything. I didn’t even break or enter. What are you going to complain about? Where are your plates?”
“You’re a person of interest in a homicide investigation,” he reminded her.
“Person of interest—I like that. Makes it sound less sordid. Where are the plates?”
“Cabinet in the corner, above the sink.” He heard the cabinet doors open and then the clatter of stoneware.
“So what did you see?” she asked. “We were never allowed to test that on human subjects, even if they agreed to it. Triggering a catastrophic shutdown, I mean. German government didn’t approve, believe it or not.”
“I take it you worked on retinal implants, then?”
“Yes. Go sit down.”
For a second, Greene considered taking a swing at her. She definitely liked being in control of the situation. On the other hand, he’d learned a lot in the last few minutes. He walked to his chair, touched the arm and then sat down.
She continued talking. “My grandmother had Retinitis Pigmentosa. She had some of the first artificial silicon retina chips implanted. Back in the Dark Ages for implants, but that’s what got me interested in prosthetics. They made a real difference for her.”
He understood her curiosity better then. “White light.”
“Any pain?” she asked, following him from the kitchen.
“Are you enjoying this?”
She laughed again. “It’s actually quite interesting. As I said, the German government frowned on this sort of test. Any pain?”
“No,” he said.
“Any residual vision?”
“No. Well, some stray blobs of light.”
“That’s a good sign.” She put the plate in his hand and handed him a fork, wrapping his fingers around it. “You had a central field of vision of about one-third of a meter when you had the implantation, right?”
“How did you know that?”
“I still have friends in the industry. It wasn’t hard to get a download of your files.” He heard the sound of her sitting on the nearby sofa. “She did you a favor, Detective Greene. Those implants were almost ten years old. The fifteen-forty pixel camera. They can do far better than that now. It’s a night and day difference.”
The urge to take a swing at her resurfaced. “Do you have any idea how much I make?”
“I can look it up. Actually, I came to ask your help.”
Greene picked up a forkful and, from the taste of it, got mostly rice. He went after a second bite, digging around more judiciously this time. “Mrs. Michaelson, I’m not in a position to help you right now. I’m officially on disability leave, and you’re involved in this case.”
“Call me Manisone, please,” she said. “I didn’t kill him. I don’t know whether Veronica did, but she certainly made away with the money quickly enough.”
He’d never really been able to rely on the cameras to relay facial expressions very well, so over the last ten years, he honed his ability to listen. She sounded honest to him. “You’re saying she took the money.”
“Why would I take money I would have inherited anyway?”
A good point. “So why would I help you?”
“Do you know how much it will cost you to get implanted again? How long you’ll have to wait? Particularly since you’re a municipal employee?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “I can get you into one of the experimental programs inside a month. One of my former colleagues works at Walker. I can ask him to clear a space for you.”
She waited a second, as if he needed time to process that explanation, and then said, “Provided you help me.”
He’d known that was coming. “How exactly can I help you? I’m blind now, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I have eyes. What I don’t have is access to the resources needed to track her down. So, this is easy. I can get your eyes fixed fast, provided you help me find her before she manages to transfer that money to someone else.”
“How do you know it was her?”
“Because DeVane was stupid enough to allow her to do some of his banking for him. The bank manager told me yesterday that she’d been in several times to make deposits and withdrawals on the accounts. If I could strangle DeVane at this point, I would.”
Greene took a bite. “Withdrawals? How large?”
“Big enough to make house payments?” she asked in turn. “Yes, I know about the bimbo’s little love nest.”
Well, at least she didn’t have any illusions about her husband that he would have to dispel. “Why would she kill him if he was her paycheck?”
“I expect he broke it off with her. I don’t know. But I need to find her fast, and I need your help to do that. Once she’s transferred it to a third party, I’ll have no chance of getting it back.”
He sighed, thinking he must be even stupider than the husband. Still, she had exactly the carrot he wanted on the end of her stick. “I don’t have a car.”
“I do. So where did she go?”
“Let me make a couple of calls.”
The car whirred softly, far quieter than the police hack Ellison drove. Manisone maneuvered it onto the freeway, heading toward San Francisco, where Veronica’s parents lived. At least they’d missed the worst of the traffic, and the air in the car seemed reasonably breathable. Greene hated being on the freeways during the day.
“I need to call my partner.” He pulled out his spare police com-link and hooked the device over his ear. “You mind?”
He thumbed on the link and called Ellison on voice-only mode.
“Boss?” she asked. “This had better be good.”
“I’m being held hostage and . . .”
“I am not holding you hostage,” Manisone said softly.
“I’m being corrected, Ellison. Mrs. Michaelson is not holding me hostage. She’s bribing me into chasing after the secretary.”
For a second Ellison didn’t answer.
“You going to argue about that one?” he asked the woman sitting next to him.
“I don’t think I can argue that,” she said.
“Come again?” Ellison said in his ear.
So he started at the beginning, running through the whole encounter at his apartment. Ellison listened, but he suspected she had already pulled up a screen or two. “I’ve got you on the H40, Greene. You want a pick-up?”
“No. It’s a pretty good bribe.” The woman had gotten to the one thing he really needed. Without his eyes, he wouldn’t have a job. “Did the locals dig up the secretary yet?”
“Wait a minute, I’m trying to get through.”
“Am I going to be arrested for bribing you?” Manisone asked softly. “You get me arrested and our deal’s off.”
“I might settle for breaking your jaw,” Greene said, waiting for Ellison to respond.
“Don’t try it.” Manisone patted his shoulder.
“Got something,” the voice in his ear said. “Got a sister in Bakersfield.”
“The woman in the surveillance feed?”
“Low percentage match. Face turned away thing, remember. Wait . . . looks like the sister has just purchased a ticket on the Amtrak Express to Tijuana.”
“Can you get security to grab her?”
“The TSA? Their only inspection point on this line is at the border crossing. No, wait. The passengers are inspected at the San Diego inspection station.”
“We’ll head that way, see if we can catch her before she hits the station.” Greene didn’t have a lot of faith that the perennially overworked Transport Security agents would be able to pick either woman out of the horde, but it was worth a try. “Nudge the TSA anyway, won’t you?
“Sure thing. You okay, Greene?” Ellison asked in his ear.
“For right now,” he said, and thumbed the unit off.
“So her sister helped her?” Manisone asked.
It took a second for him to redirect his train of thought. “Looks like she might have been at his office that day. So were you, though, as was the secretary.”
“Still not willing to count me out?”
“I’m a skeptic,” he admitted.
She sighed. “Where exactly are we going?”
“Amtrak Station. San Diego, near the naval base. How fast do you drive?”
“I’ll have to turn around,” she said. “Don’t worry; for this, I’ll drive fast.”
He felt the car ease to one side, heading toward a ramp.
“This is your chance to jump out,” she said.
“You’re holding my eyes hostage,” he said. He clutched his borrowed cane. He’d considered using it on her, but couldn’t quite bring himself to. Not yet, at least.
The station in San Diego reeked of oil and diesel, with the smell of the sea floating over that on a cool night breeze. Greene got out of the car when prompted and followed Manisone inside, using her light grip on his arm as a guide.
He almost stopped dead in his tracks. A smudge of light floated in his mind, that spare tendril of natural vision that apparently escaped the frying out of his implants. The lights inside the station actually seemed to register in his brain. Not much more than a bright blur and only about a foot across, but it was better than nothing. It reassured him that his optic nerve, at least, was undamaged.
Manisone drew him farther into the well-lit space. When they reached the main office, his sight wasn’t much better, but in the direct center of his limited field of vision he could make out a dark, moving blob.
“Identification?” the blob asked in a man’s voice.
To Greene’s ears the TSA officer sound young. Manisone discreetly pushed his hand in the right direction. Greene stretched out his hand and, luckily, laid it directly on the identification pad. He asked about Ellison’s request, hoping to distract the officer from his halting motions.
“The blonde?” the security officer said. “Yeah, we’ve got her in the back.”
“She’s wanted for questioning in a murder back in Los Angeles,” he said smoothly. “We need to make arrangements to take her in.”
He had faked being able to see well for so long that faking being able to see at all wasn’t difficult. He kept his face turned toward the speaker, who seemed to be looking in Manisone’s direction anyway.
“You have her secure?” she asked sweetly. “Can we go ahead and speak to her?”
The officer apparently considered that request for a full half-second. “Don’t see why not. You’re the police, after all.”
Greene felt like slapping the man silly. Not only had the officer not checked Manisone’s identity, he hadn’t blinked an eyebrow at the fact that Greene was out of his jurisdiction. “Why don’t you take us back there,” he said, thumbing on his link as he did so.
“Is she there?” Ellison asked in his ear.
“I’ll know in a minute.”
The guard led them down an echoing corridor, well lit enough that Greene could catch hints of light and shadow. That only served to confuse him, so he closed his eyes for the moment. His own retinas hadn’t actually done any of the work of seeing for some time, and his head had already begun to ache.
Manisone’s hand tugged on his arm. “Take a nap later.”
He opened his eyes to catch a dark sliver of movement . . . a door opening. He stepped forward when she pulled at him, following her into the room. It was brightly lit, at least. A dark form moved past his vision—Manisone’s head. Something lighter waited across the room, sitting, he guessed. He tried to squint without looking like he was squinting.
“Where is she?” Manisone asked the sitting figure, sounding like the police officer. She laid Greene’s hand on the back of a chair, as if practiced at this type of thing; she must have spent a good deal of time with her nearly-blind grandmother.
Greene pulled out that chair and sat, keeping his eyes on the blurry shape across the table. Ellison asked the same question in his ear, so he flicked on the link’s camera. She would be able to see what was directly in front of him, even if he couldn’t.
The figure across from him—the security officer’s blonde—must not be Veronica, he decided, but the sister. After looking at the feed, Ellison confirmed that.
“I don’t know where she went,” the blurry woman said in a defiant voice.
“I wouldn’t open my mouth, boss,” Ellison warned in his ear. “Jurisdiction.”
Sitting in the room made him an accessory to whatever Manisone did—unless he could convince a jury that he hadn’t been entirely willing. She did, after all, have his eyeballs in her pocket. He’d had plenty of time to work through that defense in the car.
Her dark form moved and he turned his head to keep her in his tiny field of vision. She walked around to the edge of the room, and paused by the white wall. He thought she stood facing it.
“What are you doing?” the woman at the table asked in a panicked voice.
Manisone moved abruptly. A muffled squeal came from somewhere near the floor, sounding like someone wrapped in cloth.
The sounds came together in Greene’s mind. “Luggage?”
“Her luggage makes noise,” Manisone said. “How exactly did you plan to get a bag this big through the border checkpoint?”
“I want a lawyer,” the woman at the table said.
Greene heard the door open, and Manisone called for the security officer. She closed the door again. “Now, Detective Greene wants to bring in whoever killed my husband,” she said, apparently addressing the woman at the table. “I, on the other hand, just want to know where my money is.”
“You made that money violating Nature,” the woman said in a pious tone.
That rang false in Greene’s ears.
“Going to go for the “I was misled by political activists” defense?” Manisone laughed. “If you really wanted us to believe that the two of you stole it for your political convictions, you wouldn’t be trying to get out of the country so quickly, now would you? Why not just hand it over to the organization?”
Another person entered the room—the security officer. “Detective?”
“We’ll need someone to open the luggage, Officer,” Greene said. “It squeaked when she kicked it.”
Evidently the officer repeated the experiment, getting a similar response.
“We’re almost there,” Ellison said in his ear.
A very reassuring thought. Greene allowed himself a smile. He heard the security officer calling for a detail to report back to the offices.
“You can’t do that,” the woman at the table protested. “That’s private property.”
“Ma’am, there appears to be living contraband in this bag,” the TSA officer said. “We have the right to search any suspect luggage.”
Greene heard the sound of a zipper, then, followed by a curse and whistle from the TSA officer. “What do you know?” the officer said. “Come on, miss, get up.”
Sounds of a scuffle came from the far side of the room, frustratingly unclear in Greene’s vision. He heard a male protest, followed by a female squeal of fury, and an angry shout.
He turned his partially working eyes back toward the sister in time to see the dark blob that must be her rising. Without thinking too much, he dove over the table in her direction. He wrapped his arms around the wriggling screeching woman, and held tight despite her pummeling him about the shoulders. He managed to wrestle her off the table and onto the floor, finally getting her down with a knee on her back. He hoped he wasn’t going to be arrested for assault. “Under control over there?” he asked as the sounds of struggle died down.
For a second, no one answered. Greene turned his head so that his link’s camera faced in their direction—difficult when the woman he held down kept trying to scramble out from under him.
“Miss, put down the gun,” the security officer said.
“She’s got his gun,” Ellison said softly in his ear.
That’s what comes of giving TSA personnel guns, Greene thought sourly.
“She’s got it on the widow,” Ellison added.
“Miss, you’ll need to put that down,” the man said, trying to sound older than eighteen.
“Officer, do you have any handcuffs?” Greene asked.
“No, sir,” the young man said.
He really wanted to tear the man’s arms off now.
“Just shut up,” the secretary said. “Get off of her.”
“We’re entering the station now,” Ellison told him. “I’ve got a couple of the local boys with me.”
“What did you do with the money?” Manisone asked.
“Like I would tell you,” Veronica said with a sneer in her voice. “It’s somewhere safe.”
The woman under Greene started kicking. “Shut up,” he snapped.
“This is all your fault,” Veronica said. “You said they would be able to get him to the hospital. You said it would just be a distraction. You didn’t say it would kill him.”
Greene argued with his mind, trying to decide to whom she spoke those words.
“Shut up,” the woman under him barked, giving him his answer.
“She did it?” Manisone asked.
“It was all her idea,” the secretary said then. “He was going to sell my house. She said he owed it to me for all those months I put up with him, and then he wouldn’t marry me because he was going back to his stupid wife.”
Manisone actually laughed. “And you believed him? That’s the excuse he uses every time he wants to dump one of his bimbos. He just got tired of you.”
Greene was afraid he was going to have a full-fledged catfight on his hands—complete with a gun—and he didn’t think the TSA officer could handle that. “Get in here, please,” Greene begged the disembodied voice on the link.
He thought he could hear Ellison chuckle. “Let me see the room, boss.”
Greene turned his head, making a slow scan of the others standing by the door—or at least where he thought they were.
Ellison’s voice came in his ear. “Three. Two. One.”
He heard the impact of a foot against the door and a female squeal. Something metallic skittered on the concrete floor. The body under him bucked, and he leaned his weight more heavily over the torso, cutting off her air supply. He could hear the sounds of a struggle and—quite clearly—the sound of a fist hitting flesh. Then sobbing.
The video feed was popular at the precinct. Greene didn’t get to see it until a couple of weeks later, after the retinal specialist permitted him to go back into work half-days, adequately convinced that Greene’s brain had accustomed itself to his new implants’ feed.
It showed Veronica standing with her back to the door. In her shaking hands, she held a gun trained on Manisone and the TSA officer. When Ellison slammed the door open, it swung directly into Veronica’s back. Her arms flew wide and the gun twirled away. The TSA officer—who turned out to look about forty, but Greene still thought of him as eighteen—dove after the gun. The secretary fell into Manisone who, with a furious expression on her face, grabbed her blouse and slugged her. Veronica slumped to the floor sobbing, her nose bleeding copiously as two police officers followed Ellison into the holding room. As a blind cameraman, Greene thought he’d done spectacularly well.
“The DA is still trying to pry the account codes out of them,” Manisone said, toying with her salad. “There’s no telling if the money is still in that account.”
The new implants gave him a far better picture of her face than the old ones had. He was still adjusting to the new program, but the resolution of the cameras was so good that any difficulties seemed trivial. “Surely they can track it down.”
“Turns out the sister actually did all the transfers. She’s trying to use the account information as a bargaining chip, but the DA isn’t budging. He wants to use this case to send a message to the Purists, whether or not they’re actually involved.” Manisone shook her head. “I’m never going to see that money. I’m lucky to have the shirt on my back. The insurance policies barely covered the loss I took in the sale of that damned house. I’m fortunate Walker Implants was willing to make an opening for me.”
“Well, you wanted to get back to work,” he reminded her. “So is he charging them with murder?”
Ellison came into the restaurant then, Jackson a couple of steps behind her. She sat down at the table, flushing slightly when Jackson held the chair out for her. “Boss, when are we going to stop eating Thai food?”
“I like Thai food,” Greene protested.
“Hey, it’s near your place and you’re lazy,” Jackson said. He turned toward Manisone, and smiled. “Nice punch by the way.”
“This is Sergeant Jackson,” Greene told her. He’d confessed to her that the video feed had already made the rounds of the precinct.
“Ah, I heard you bet that I was the murderer,” Manisone said with a laugh.
“Now, Mrs. Michaelson,” Jackson rumbled, “I hadn’t met you then.”
“Stop that,” Ellison said, and pinched him. “So what did the DA say this time?”
Manisone started over, explaining, “He’s just going to charge Veronica as an accessory in the murder. However, he does plan to charge her with aggravated assault for her attack on you.”
Greene allowed himself a grin. His implants had run their standard recognition program on the woman holding the EM gun that shot him. When Veronica fired, he’d instinctively turned away, his skull providing slight protection to his left eye’s implant. That implant had performed one last feat before dying a heroic death. The facial recognition program’s result had been one of the very few pieces of data the geeks had been able to pry out of his fried implants—one single, damning bit of evidence.