The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Hoy, Angel!” Cardenas looked back. “You know the worst thing about being stuck here like this?” The Inspector shook his head, and his partner explained mournfully, “I hate Jell-O.”

It did not take a lot of crunch nor require the services of a box tunneler to access information on Cleator Mockerkin. There was more in the restricted macrolice file than Cardenas cared to know.

The man’s present whereabouts were uncertain, although he was known to frequent residences in Greater Miami, Lala, Nawlins, and Harlingen. That was hardly surprising. A man like Mockerkin would have many enemies and no friends beyond those bought and paid for. By all accounts he was a thoroughly unpleasant character: his rap sheet comprised a copious and detailed catalog of antisoc activities ranging from petty theft as a subgrub to embezzlement, arson-for-hire, assault with and without a deadly weapon, extortion, sexual abuse, up to and including no less than three arrests for murder—one direct and two for hire. Although he had done three separate stints in stir, none had been for any of the significant felonies with which he had been charged.

Interestingly, he was also charged with illegal weapons procurement. This indictment stemmed from his involvement in the Paraguayan Rebellions of ’69 and ’71. Principally through numerous contacts in Central and South America, he had grown wealthy enough to buy off or dispose of his most serious rivals. Worse still, he was able to afford that bane of all hard-working, honest cops: lawyers whose courtroom skills were inversely proportional to their moral sense. If his sheet was to be believed, he should be in jail right now.

In addition to the long stat list, there were some vit clips. In the privacy of his office cubicle, Cardenas played them back over and over. In surveillance and courtroom recordings, they showed a tall, well-tanned individual slightly younger than the Inspector, with very blond hair cut short, a muscular upper torso, and a small, tight mouth that opened only to talk, never to smile or to frown or show expression of any kind. The courtroom vits were especially interesting. Mockerkin had one of those voices that was traditionally referred to as an “acid tongue.” Even his casual asides to his lawyers or supporters were tinged with venom. Surprisingly literate, his performance on the stand was characterized by a highly developed sense of sarcasm that would have done justice to a right-wing political pundit. The source of his sobriquet, among law enforcement and underworld representatives alike, was instantly apparent.

In the course of his career Cardenas had personally made the acquaintance of more than one skew-level antisoc. There was Little Napoleon, and Tipo Repo. There was Fregado Freddy and Azina the Legs, Marianne Molto and Johnni Half-Face, The Zipper and Gordo Carlos. To this long litany of antisocs could now be added Cleator Mockerkin—alias The Mocker. The Mock, for convenience. It suited the man, the Inspector decided as he reran the vit file. An antisoc as personally unpleasant as he was successful, and dangerously smart. Not the sort of individual you would want to cross. In running off with his woman, his daughter, and his money, his former associate Wayne Brummel had shown considerable huevos.

Or exceptional stupidity.

How much of it had been Brummel-Anderson’s idea, Cardenas wondered, and how much Surtsey Anderson-Mockerkin’s? Successfully eluding the attention of someone like Mockerkin would take time and planning. By all accounts, Mockerkin’s ex-wife was sufficiently attractive, and clever, to have carried off the flight without help. Had she wanted a little extra protection around, for herself and her daughter, or had she really been in love with the unfortunate Brummel? There were only two people who could answer that question. One of them was dead, vacced and drac’d, and the other was on a serioso waft.

Avoiding The Mock’s skills and reach would likely entail a good deal of moving around. Cardenas suspected that if he checked the Assessor’s records, he would find that the Anderson family had not occupied their recently annihilated habitation for very long. How long, exactly, the three of them had been on the run he did not yet know. But he would find out. Doubtless their change of residence coincided with a corresponding alteration of identity.

One thing he was able to infer, if not technically intuit, from the available information was the nature of the deceased Anderson-Brummel’s occupation. He was a promoter, all right. He had promoted himself into Surtsey Mockerkin’s confidence, promoted himself into The Mock’s missing money, and promoted himself into at least half a dozen illicit meat banks in this segment of the Strip, where his assorted hastily appropriated body parts would fetch a good price. His death would not be enough to satisfy someone like Mockerkin, Cardenas knew. The Mock would not be content until the absent components of his runaway family were returned to him. In that event, Katla Mockerkin would probably survive unharmed. Physically, anyway.

The Inspector did not dwell on what such a resolution might mean for Surtsey Mockerkin. He had dealt with too many men like Cleator Mockerkin to hold any illusions about how they treated women who betrayed them. The Namerican Federal Police needed to find her, and her daughter, fast, before they were run down by The Mock’s minions. It was too bad, he reflected, that those as yet unknown and unidentified individuals had not entered the abandoned Anderson house ahead of himself and Hyaki.

Now mother and daughter were on the run again. Presumably by themselves this time. He doubted someone as adroit as Surtsey Mockerkin would let more than one outsider into her confidence. With their male buffer gone, she would have to do everything by herself. As for Katla, in addition to those talents Cardenas had already learned she possessed, he now added the quality of resilience.

As he was pondering the shimmering depths of the box tunnel hovering over the far side of his desk, a note popped up in the lower right-hand corner. The Captain wanted to see him. Cardenas smiled inwardly. Very little got past Pangborn. The higher-profile the case, the more the Inspector’s superior’s ass itched. If he was following this one, Cardenas knew he must be scratching like mad.

He saved the augmented macrolice, shut down the vit, and headed upstairs.

Shaun Pangborn had an office. Not a cubicle, not a subdiv sec of multiuse floor: a real office. From its location on the next-to-the-top floor of the Federal Police Headquarters, Nogales Division (the top floor being armored and reserved for ballistics and rapid-reaction deployment via chopter and vertiprop), a visitor could see halfway across the Strip, past office towers and green-garbed codos, past humming maquiladoras and malls, and dream of the distant cool waters of the Golfo California.

The Inspector settled into a chair opposite. He liked Pangborn, and the Captain liked him. They had a lot in common besides age and experience. For one thing, neither was wholly original. Both men sported replacement parts: Cardenas his eyes, Pangborn part of an ear—and other more sensitive areas everyone knew about but were careful not to allude to in his presence. They were senior federales, with a shared sense of right, wrong, and what maybe perhaps possibly sometimes could be done about it.

Neither, however, was an innocent. They knew they could not eliminate evil, only mitigate it. In the Strip, sometimes that was enough.

“Got a traba-job for you, Angel.” Pangborn was studying a heads-up suspended to his right. From where he was sitting, Cardenas could not make out the details. “Over in Sanjuana. Branch of Macrovendi EU, Milan—you know that outfit?—is screaming because somebody’s spazzing half their new mollyspheres before they can be inserted in their new senseware. Since their organic burrowers have come up with nothing, they’ve come hat in hand begging the help of the lowly federales.” He waved a hand through the heads-up, temporarily distorting the carefully collated aura. “I thought maybe you’d like a few days at the beach. Do a little burrowing for Macrovendi, locus their compromise, issue a couple of warrants. The Department can always use some good PR.”

Cardenas smiled diffidently. “If it’s all the same to you, Shaun, I’d just as soon stay here and follow through on what I’m working on right now.”

Frowning, Pangborn ablaed the heads-up away. In response to his verbal command, the informational wraith vanished from above the desk. “Chinga, Angel. Half the people in the Department know about the Macrovendi assignment, and for the last couple of days it seems like every one of them has been kissing my nacha trying to get it.” He gestured expansively. “I offer it to you on a plate, and you come back at me with a no-thanks.”

Cardenas shrugged. He could be as parsimonious with words as with his salary.

“That’s neither answer nor explanation.” Irritated, Pangborn summoned forth the heads-up on the other side of the desk. Commanding it, he examined the results intently, squinting at the display. After a couple of minutes, with the call-up still occupying virtual space on the side of his desk, he turned back to his visitor.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster