Monday, November 23, 2009

Timestream, Part 6

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.]

“Anything to help out old Tom,” Schneider said, “even if his nephew has turned out to be a no-good rat-faced thieving sonnova bi…” He bit off the rest of the phrase. Schneider turned out to be a barrel-chested man in his late 50s, with silver hair chopped very short. Like Jason Billings, he had no facial hair; I was beginning to think this town had something against beards. Despite his age, Schneider gave the impression of being a powerfully built, as though he made his living as a weightlifter. He informed me that he had worked the docks as a young man, where his muscles grew under the weight of the cargoes he loaded and unloaded. Always a thrifty boy, he saved what he could from his wages in order to invest as opportunities arose. Because he spent his days at a trading hub, and because merchants tended to see nothing but a young longshoreman with brawn but no brain, he was able to overhear enough conversations to provide him with good investments. Slowly, he accumulated enough wealth to quit the docks and look more broadly for a good return on his money.

“I was doing just fine until my wife said I should let Tom Billings’ youngster handle my money so I could spend more time scouting out new businesses. Seems she was meeting with other women her age for lunch and such, and several of the widows were taken with young Billings. I knew Tom, and I guess I let my wife talk me into it.” He shook his head bitterly. “What a mistake.”

“How did you find out that Jason Billings had defrauded you?”

“Through Farley Patterson, as it turns out. Farley is a whiz-bang inventor, a real ideas man. Not just pie-in-the-sky stuff, either; his inventions are real commercial successes. But they tend to be pretty expensive to make, and Farley doesn’t – didn’t – have the money to front as capital for his ideas. He gets some investors like me together, we bankroll him, he keeps a share of the profits, and everybody gets rich. Matter of fact, after I started letting young Billings manage my money, I told Farley and Farley started doing the same thing. I guess Farley was a little more careful in minding his money, because he came to me one day last week saying he had proof that Billings was stealing from us. I couldn’t believe it, but Farley showed me his calculations that said Billings was stealing from him, and I figured Billings was probably stealing from me, too.”

“Was there any particular project that Mr. Patterson was working on at the time of his death? Something in which you invested?”

Schneider hesitated. “I don’t know that I can…”

“Mr. Schneider, I am the soul of discretion. Furthermore, as soon as my job here is finished, I plan on flying back to Caledon. I could not possibly profit from any information you might give me in confidence.” That was a white lie, as my livelihood in Oceania was doing just that. However, I really did intend to head home quickly, and had no intention of trying to profit.

My reassurance must have worked. “Please understand that no one else knew about this, or at least that’s what Patterson told me. You know what a timestream is, right?” I nodded. “Farley was working on a device that would automatically detect a timestream and plot its course. If it wasn’t a known stream, if it wasn’t in the device’s database already, it would compute the destination of the stream, both geographically and temporally, and send the information back to the master database. If this worked, it would revolutionize travel.”

I did not know what a “database” might be, but I understood what Schneider was saying. “This would be a valuable invention, I take it?”

“That’s an understatement, lady. Farley would be rich – and so would I, if I bought a big enough piece of the action. I hadn’t yet, but I was thinking about it. He needed money to build a prototype – the parts would have set him back millions – but was giving me a few days to think about how much of a share I wanted to buy, before he’d seek other investors. But…you’re not suggesting this invention had anything to do with his murder?”

I let a small smile play on my face. “I mean to suggest nothing at this point. However, it does seem a possibility worth bearing in mind.”

“Bullfeathers! People have been trying to crack this problem for year, and have gotten nowhere. Scientists pretty much all say it can’t be done. Farley Patterson was the only person who could have pulled this off, and he hadn’t done it yet. Killing him just ensures that it never happens.”

Nodding, I said, “That makes sense to me.” I questioned Schneider further, but it was clear he had nothing more that he knew – or would tell me.

1 comment:

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Ooo, i hadn't thought of the twist - killing him to ensure it never worked! But who would have those manner of vested interests?