Thursday, December 3, 2009

Timestream, Part 9

[Just one more to go after this episode! Our story starts here, while the previous episode is located here. And I'll eventually put the whole thing on Calameo. - RJ]

Back to Commodore Billings’ office. If I was to start moving money through the judicial system, I would need a great deal more than I had at the moment. I did not know how much Tom Billings was willing to pay to keep his nephew out of jail: when he asked me to help, he gave the impression that he would do almost anything to accomplish that goal; after my last conversation with Jason, I was no long so certain of the relationship between the two.

The Commodore was willing to take time to talk with me, however, which I took as a good sign. “Do you think this is the only way to go?” he asked me.

“It is not the only option we have, but it may be the best one. The alternative – trying to solve the case ourselves – may be far more complex and require far more manpower than we have. I tried to see whether the police had overlooked something completely obvious in their haste to arrest Jason, but came up empty.”

“Not to sound crass, but how much will this cost me?”

I crossed my legs. “I cannot be positive until I start feeling out various officials. In Oceania, where we had jury trials with a panel of seven, and the verdict needed to have a majority of jurors, one need find four jurors with money troubles and limited conscience, or a single judge. Sometimes one was cheaper, sometimes the other. If those options failed, it was easy enough to find someone to kill a key witness, for example, but, while that was usually less costly in terms of cash, it tended to draw scrutiny from the prosecutor’s office, and thus tended to be a last resort. Usually the equivalent of L$50,000 would be sufficient, though it varied depending on the crime and the jury. Here…I could not say.”

Tom blanched at the figure. I recalled Jason’s story; Tom was not a rich man. Perhaps L$50,000 was beyond his means. However, he rallied, sighed, shrugged, and said, “Family. What can you do?”

I outlined my plan. It was going to take a little time, a great deal of money, and more than a little luck, but it was based on the time-honored approach of giving the already-corrupt what they wanted. I rose from my chair and turned to leave when something occurred to me.

“Excuse me, Commodore, but Jason suggested I might ask you what Mr. Patterson was working on at the time of his death.”

“Is that important?”

“I do not know at this point. Certainly one possible motive for murdering him would be to obtain any papers or prototypes of his current projects, should any of them be particularly valuable.”

“Yes, of course. Clever of you. As it turns out, I can’t help you. Farley didn’t confide in me. Very secretive chap.”

I hesitated before continuing. “How odd! I was told he often sought backing for his inventions in return for a share of the profits. I was also told he offered you the opportunity to buy into his latest invention.”

“Oh, that.” Tom Billings waved a hand, as though the subject was so trivial as to be not worth recalling. “You’re right, I was offered the chance to buy in. Farley claimed he was doing me a favor, letting me invest so late in the process when he no longer really needed the money and his doo-dad was nearly complete. But I thought there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that this thing would make money, so I saw his ‘offer’ as a way of separating my money and me. I turned him down.”

“But…” I stopped. “I see. Thank you, Commodore.” He showed me out.

Rather than heading directly to the courthouse to start on my plan, I wandered the streets for some time. Jason was a thief and a hot-tempered young man, but he told a consistent story. So did Angela Patterson and Colt Schneider. The only person who did not seem to be telling the truth was Tom Billings. Schneider told me that Farley Patterson was working on, and had nearly completed, a device to navigate the timestream. Jason told me that Patterson had offered Tom Billings the opportunity to invest in his latest invention. Tom told me that he had no idea what Patterson’s current project might be. I recalled our earlier conversation about the timestream, in which Tom said that no one could navigate it, save for trial and error. I was adding things up, but I did not care for the sum.

If I now suspected my client of killing Farley Patterson, the loose end was why he brought me to Octoberville to try to clear Jason of the crime. Then it occurred to me: Tom never anticipated that Jason would be suspected, much less arrested, because Tom knew nothing of his nephew’s crime against Patterson. Once Jason was arrested, Tom was stuck. Tom did not want his nephew to be sent to prison for a crime he did not commit, but Tom could hardly urge the police to work harder at finding a different suspect. Enter moi, whom Tom knew from Oceania not as a sleuth extraordinaire, but as the fixer, the person who knew everyone, could move among the various social classes, and – this is the important part – could make things happen through the application of the right kind of pressure. He might have looked pained at the cost of fixing the problem, but that was a lie, too. Given the millions he was likely to make if he had indeed stolen the timestream navigator, L$50,000, or even ten times that amount, was a pittance to him to soothe his conscience over Jason’s problem.

I had to tell the police. This went against every instinct I had, but, without Tom’s protection and help, I was alone in the city. The only reasonable course I could see was to let the police know my suspicions and leave town as quickly and as quietly as possible. I made my way to the police station.

As I approached, I could see I was too late. Tom Billings, having read my expression in his office, anticipated that this was where I would eventually go, and arrived ahead of me. He convinced someone in the precinct station that I was a dangerous criminal, a spy – the excuse hardly mattered. They would take me somewhere, and an accident would happen. I needed a diversion to get away from Tom and his allies.

The best I could do on the spur of the moment was to begin shrieking about giant bugs, punctuating my sentences with random words and sounds. I started thrashing on the sidewalk, as though I could no longer control my body. Alerted by the din I was making, two policemen ran out of the station. Several shopkeepers also came to the rescue. By the time Tom and his cronies arrived, I was surrounded.

“Call the hospital – she may be ill.”

“Ill? She’s crazy! Just listen to her.”

“I’ll call for the sanitarium. Physical or mental, they’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah, put her in the nut hatch. She’s scaring all my customers away.”

“That woman is a criminal! She stole L$50,000 from me – arrest her!” That last was from my good friend Tom Billings and, indeed, I had his money hidden on me. I kept babbling, and the crowd kept growing. The policemen were clearly conflicted. On the one hand, they knew Tom and wanted to help him by arresting me. On the other, they did not want a screaming madwoman in their cells. Self-interest won out, and they waited for an ambulance from the sanitarium to arrive. Several burly men – at least one of whom was quite handsome, I noticed – wrestled me into the ambulance and sedated me.

I awoke in this room, locked in until further notice. Although I stopped screaming and babbling once I was safe from Tom, at least for the moment, the doctor apparently wanted to keep me under observation for forty-eight hours. In the meanwhile, I have spent the time alternating between trying to think of a plan to evade Tom and hoping that you would arrive with the cavalry.

1 comment:

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Ha! I love a woman with an agile, inventive mind! What a plan at the end! Brave, bold, daring!

Now, how can the dynamic sisters stick it to dear old uncle Tom, eh?