|Chapter 17: Detective Work
"What medication?" asked Ken Campbell, lowering a bottle of premium beer from his lips. He sat on the edge of a cheap, brown, coved, section of couch facing Vince Costello. Vince sat back in a cheap, gray, straight section of couch taking a drink from his beer bottle. No other furniture occupied the living room. No pictures or trophies adorned the walls. He didnt even have a telewindow.
Vince lowered his bottle. "Mnemonoline 724 is what killed all of those women in Detroit, Chicago, New York and LA." He paused to consider what hed said: Mnemonoline 724? Or was it 725 or...Oh well. At least I got the hard part rightI think. "Its a monster maker. I think Aarons death was tied to something he knew about the doctor who prescribed it.
Kens pulse quickened. "Got a name?"
Better than that; I can tie him to Jack and Kimberly Fleetwood. Hes the Fleetwood family physician, Rupert Gieldgood."
Vince was startled by Kens explosive expression of recognition. "You know him?"
"Ive been trying to get a line on that bastard since the day Dad was killed. I know he was behind that, too, but I cant get a thing on him."
"You couldnt before," said Vince. "You can now."
Ken flashed on the Brown Belt Strangler copycats in other big cities just as Gloria had when she made the connection between Gieldgood and the drug he prescribed. "Oh yeah, you were gonna tell me about that monster maker drug."
Vince nodded. "A woman I served with on the jury is a pharmacist. She knows all about it and she told me all about it. Im gonna try to explain it the way she did. By the way, did you take any psychology classes in school?"
"No, but I have to know more about it than most people to do my job."
"Stop me if Im telling you what you already know. You might want to record this."
Ken slid open a panel on his wristband computer and pressed a button.
"Now and then," said Vince, "everybody needs somethin special to look forward to. You know, a thrilla big thrill. What Im sayin is, we all have a built-in biological need to experience a certain amount of...."
When the right word failed to make its entrance on cue, he searched for it in the air with his hands, making contorted gestures that started compact and ended wide. The word he was looking for was pleasure. The "certain amount" he was talking about was as much as possible.
"...excess," he said, not entirely satisfied with his delayed choice. "Its a craving, like hunger that cant go unsatisfied indefinitely. I mean, its not enough for the human body to have enough nourishment and protection from the elements and shit like that. It aint even enough to be stroked or to have a good time. Every so often we gotta go overboard. We gotta have more of a good thing than normal; you know, a feast instead of a meal."
"A feast for the senses," offered Ken, also failing to find the word, pleasure.
"Y-y-yeah," said Vince uncertainly.
"Frosting on the cake."
"No. More cake. More frosting. With different people its associated with different things. Some people get it with sports. Some people get it with music. With other people its drugs. It could be sex, religion, crime, politics, high finance, military conquest. Some people can get it vicariously; thats what stadiums, T-windows and Virtual Reality Sessions are about. But some of us gotta have the real thing. Only it takes more of whatever it is, or a more extreme form of it to get us off the ground.
"Like high stakes gambling."
Vince made a check mark in the air with his finger. "Exactly. P.J. is one of those peoplebut so was Aaron, and so am I. The difference is conditioning and M-724." He was now certain that hed gotten the number wrong but he felt it wise to be consistent.
"A realistic threat of punishment is one of the things that deters a normal guy from committing a crime he would otherwise commit. For a man like P.J. its an incentive. Every time he went hunting, he knew he was risking it all. Without that knowledge, it wouldnt have been worth his while to do it because there would have been no payoff in getting away with it."
Again, the word, pleasure, evaded him. "Its the process that was important to him and the threat of punishment was a big part it. It made him feel alive. If you want to make a predator like the Brown Belt Strangler, give him a prey like his party girl mother and more reason to rape and murder than not to. Do it well enough and often enough and hell forget why he shouldnt. I dont know about rape, but believe me, I know what intensive training can do to a regular guy all by itself to make him one hell of a killer."
Ken pictured Vince and Hector Clay in the Guido Calvera Drug War, learning from his late father-in-law to kill their prey with bayonets, then practicing what theyd learned. It was a small mental eye-shift from there to see how some children could be taught the lessons of the Brown Belt Stranglerthen to practice what theyd learned.
Vince hesitated, seeing the same image of himself and his fellow Army rangers as Ken had. He shook it off and pressed on. "M-723 is basically a memory suppresser that takes the conditioning process to the limit."
"I see," said Ken, without quibbling about the new number. "Put the right lower-class candidates on the drug, throw in the right mix of news and entertainment shows and you have a little hit squad for undesirable, lower-class women with a fondness for tight, red dresses and party shoes. Is that how you see it, Vince?"
"Uh-huh. Looks to me like they wanna cull the heardeliminate the non-productive breedersthe ones who are most likely to spread disease in the real America and give birth to breeders like themselves."
"Doesnt sound like a very efficient way to me."
Vince finished off his beer and set the bottle down on the floor by his combat boot. "It wouldnt be," he said, "If thats all they were doing and it was the only reason they were doing it. But if they were using a dozen overlapping techniques to accomplish the same thingsand other things as wellthey could rape, rob and kill millions of peoplemaybe tens of millions of people worldwide, without creating a fuss."
"Who are they," asked Ken, guessing that Vince had more people in mind than Gieldgood and Fleetwood.
"I dont know, yet. But Aaron and I used to argue"
Vinces unfinished sentence seemed to smack Ken in the face like a custard pie. He all but shouted, "How could I have forgotten that!"
"The guy in the VRS who called himself The Genie, told us that you were right about Condor and Dean Piper."
I knew it! thought Vince. I knew it! I knew it!
"Only Piper is out of it now, for some reason, and Gieldgood is out to take his place. Ive been trying to confirm the stuff that The Genie showed us in that VRS. So far, no luck."
"Maybe youre not trying hard enough," snarled Vince.
Ken reached back with his beer bottle, unconscious of his intent to hurl it at Vinces head until he saw the tight-jawed strain on the older mans face. Even then, confusion rather than enlightenment ruled his perceptions. What the hell is the matter with him, he wondered. After that, he felt Vinces painful grip around his wrist and the wetness of spilled beer in his hair and on his back. Next, he discovered that he couldnt breath. After that, he realized that he was sprawled on the hardwood floor, flat on his back with one of Vinces knees in his chest. Then, he remembered the beer bottle and why hed wanted to throw it at him, though he didnt recall actually drawing back his arm to do it.
Vinces face relaxed. He released his grip on Kens wrist and stood up. "Im sorry, man," he said. "Aaron meant a lot to me. I guess I forgot how much he meant to you." He extended his hand to Ken, then brought it back as Ken caught his breath, closed his eyes and slowly rolled his head from side to side.
"You got nothin to apologize for" said Ken. "I know Gieldgood killed Dad. I knew it when it happened. And Ive been depending too much on people in the department that I have no reason to trust to get him. I should have called you instead of waiting for you to call me."
Again, Vince extended his hand to Ken. This time, he took it.
"Why didnt you call me?" asked Vince, pulling Ken to his feet.
Ken ran his fingers straight back through his hair. "Politics. I thought I could investigate Dads death through normal channels as a possible homicide if I kept you out of it. I didnt think I could call you without the wrong people in the department knowing about it. I was afraid that if anybody but me got a look at your hot seat, they would have arrested you and that would have been the end of it. Hell, you did install his, and you do have one just like it, right?"
Vince lowered his head. "Yeah," he admitted.
Ken waved away any fault that may have resided with his father-in-laws old friend. "I should have called you anyway. If Id given it enough thought, I would have come up with a safe way to do it. Fact is, Ive been doing more thinking about the man on the mountain than anything else."
Vince nodded. "I know what you mean. Do you think thats what you would have seen if you hadnt been snatched out of the VRS?"
"I dont think so. I keep going over everything in my mind. Until Dads funeral, I thought the big thing the Genie had brought us into the VRS to see had to do with Gieldgood, the Fleetwoods and the nurse who got strangled when you and P.J. were on jury duty. Now I think he wanted to show something that had to do with the trial, something about Blue Monday or the Gidarbs. This guy had a flair for the dramatic. He would have saved the big news for last."
"The man on the mountain is big news," observed Vince.
"Sure," said Ken, "But what does it mean? What would it have meant to The Genie, and what could he have expected it to mean to me and Dad? No, it had to involve somebody we all knew before we went into the VRS. Maybe somebody famous."
"So," said Vince, where does that put The Genie and the man on the mountain?"
"For all we know, the Genie didn't see the man on the mountain unlit everybody else did at Dad's funeral. But Im sure thats the last thing Dad saw. The only way to know is to find out who The Genie is."
"That cant be too many people," observed Vince.
"No, it cant be. People with that kind of ability always leave a trail back to them. It's like they just have to let somebody know how clever they are. Ive already got it narrowed down to two men and two women."
Vince looked incredulous. "Women?"
"Yeah," said Ken. Vivian Foski and her sister boss, Margaret St. Clair."
Vinces eyes lit up. "Vivian Foski! I know her. Shes one of the producers for Hector Clays God. Her sister did the programming for Crime Scene 2000."
"Thats right. Vivian may have also been a hot-shot programmer for the network. The trouble is, nobody has seen her or heard from her in a long time. There was talk of her involvement in money smuggling to the NEZs so she might have skipped to Canada, but I dont know. For all we know she could be dead."
"What about Mina Foski?" asked Vince.
"Couldnt have been her. Whoever slipped into our VRS had special skills and an opportunity, time-wise, that Mina didnt have. Plus, Margaret is the second highest-ranking executive at CBI, which could have given her more access to more information. And I...I dunno. I have this gut feeling that shes involved in this somehow. Shes got too much power to just sit on it."
Vince started at the mention of Margaret St. Clairs position at CBI. He had a vague recollection of Aaron mentioning her name. Apparently, there had, indeed, been a shake-up in the top ranks of CBI. Dean Piper would never have allowed a woman to reach a level in the company where she would have any real power.
Still, the notion that a woman could be The Genie had a sour ring to it in Vince Costellos ear. Had he been in the VRS with Ken and Aaron the theory that the Genie could have been a woman might have seemed more viable. But from everything he could gather, The Genie sounded to him like a man. A woman pretending to be a regular guy? How many women could pull that off? Vince didnt know of any? At best, they came off as androgynous or effeminate if they tried to stay in character too long.
"What about the men?" he asked.
"Both ofem work for CBI. Out of the four, one ofem is definitely The Genie. The Genie is the key to everything."
"Everything," said Vince, "except for how it was done."
"How what was done?"
"How they killed Aaron and made it look like an accident."
Ken folded his chin into his neck. "Havent you figured that one out?"
Vince hunched his shoulders and opened his palms to the ceiling."
"The tour that The Genie took us on was a setup."
"...By The Genie?"
"No. The Genie is the one who was set up. I doubt that he knew about Dads hot seat. But Ill eat my shorts if the guy who let him bring us into his VRS wasnt counting on it."
Vince had not been particularly impressed with Kens crime-solving skills until now. "And you think that guy was Gieldgood."
"I sure do. Guys like him dont trust anybody. They cant afford to. But they have to convince people like The Genie that they trusts them so they can use them for their own purposes. If Gieldgood is in line to take Dean Pipers place, he has to be the one who had The Genie watching Fleetwood while Gieldgood was watching the Genie."
Vince rubbed his chin. "Which means he knew the guys habits well enough to anticipate that he would tuck Aaron under his arm and trying to fly him through a brick wall at the speed of sound, or some shit like that."
Ken turned the idea over in his mind. "Thats one way it could have happened. But a sure way would be for somebody to have entered the VRS and pushed him off a cliff or shot him in the back"
"Or," inserted Vince, "dropped a bomb on him. I got the idea. The problem is, it still leaves you as a witness."
"Not really," said Ken. "Everything the Genie showed us could have been staged. On top of that, if anything had happened to both of us, it might have looked suspicious. The way it is now, I gotta hold my tongue about what I saw until I can prove it. Even the stuff you gave me on the Gieldgood connection to the Strangler doesnt help me with that. Dad is the only one who could have nailed it all down. He had the expertise. And his friendship with you, and your involvement in the Blue Monday case would have put him on the right track sooner or later, Genie or no Genie. Im sure of that. And Im sure that Gieldgood was sure, which is why he had him killed."
"You still havent nailed down the other thing the Genie wanted to show you. Maybe it was something more down to earth. Maybe...Vinces mind stopped working properly with Kens mention of his friendship with Aaron. It was as though he had been stripped naked and forced to expose to the world all that he had ever felt the need to concealall the stupid, petty, cruel, humiliating, wrong-headed things hed ever said and done in Aarons company. For that, he cursed Gieldgood and himself. At the same time, it was as though his close friendship with his former superior officer had been arranged by God Almighty for the soul purpose of leading his friend to his death. For that, he cursed God.
Then, he thought about the man on the mountain. He changed his mind.
"What is it?" asked Ken.
Vince blinked himself back to reality. "Nothing. I was just thinking, thats all."
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison