The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Tell me, Angel: what’s so special about this affair? I grant you there are some interesting characters involved, but the details suggest that the explanations are rote. Wife runs off with a big chunk of the husband’s money, one of his partners, and their kid.” He glanced briefly back at the heads-up. “Sure, given his record, it’d be a nice little coup to pin some pintatime on this Mockerkin culo. But this is scut work and track, follow-up and simple addition. Any junior officer can handle it.”

“There’s a homicide involved,” Cardenas pointed out.

Pangborn rolled his eyes. “Ordinary revenge killing. Nothing out of the ordinary. From the particulars on the deceased Anderson-Brummel, I doubt that soche-at-grande has suffered any great loss. Let somebody else handle it. Go to Sanjuana, take a week burrowing for Macrovendi, spend some time on the beach miraing the chicas.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “There’s room in Accounting for a little drift. I think we can get you into the Coronado. As for this standard-issue sorryness”—he indicated the read-only that gleamed within the heads-up—”I’ll put Gonzalez or Rutland on it.”

Cardenas did not like to argue with Pangborn. The Captain was one of the very few in the Department who could almost understand what it was like to be an intuit. Almost.

“I really want to see this case through to conclusion, Shaun. As Senior Inspector, I can cogit some fluence.”

Pangborn looked sad. “I guess it’s true what happens when people start to get old. They suffer these attacks of dementia; mild at first, slowly evolving into episodes of insanity that eventually start to opaque their thinking.” He sat back in his chair, which sighed appreciatively. “Either that, or you’re being more than typically pig-headed. But then, you know that I’m just slagging you, and that I’m going to let you swim in your chosen slime. Don’t you?”

Cardenas grinned. “Of course I do.” And he was not lying.

When Pangborn rose, the Inspector stood with him. The two senior officers walked to the door of the Captain’s office. “After thirty years on the force there are two things I’ve learned.” Pangborn fingered his artificial ear, the one whose prosthetic did not properly match the original cartilage. “Don’t try to talk sense to someone who’s spizzing on sparkle, and never play poker with an intuit.” He rested a hand on the Inspector’s shoulder. “Do me a favor, will you? Wind this up as fast as you can and try not to get vaped in the process.”

Cardenas advanced far enough for the door to respond to his presence, identify him, and open. “I’ll try. Dying always complicates an investigation.”

“Not to mention the added paperwork.” Pangborn dismissed him with a wave of mock annoyance. “I’ll send Gonzalez to Sanjuana. He can sneak his new bride along. Put them up at the Coronado for a few days, and he’ll raise an icon to me.” His tone grew more somber. “Watch yourself, Angel. I’m not concerned about the usual rent-a-cutioner. But my read on this Mockerkin is—cautionary.”

“Same here. Thanks, Shaun.”

Cardenas felt no sense of triumph as he departed the division Captain’s office. Only quiet satisfaction that he was going to be allowed to continue with the assignment he had set for himself. He felt he owed it to Hyaki. He felt he needed it for himself. And for some reason as yet undetermined, he felt he owed it to someone he had yet to meet.

A twelve-year-old girl named Katla Mockerkin.

The more he learned about The Mock, the less he liked the man. What available information there was had to be scrounged from the depths of the central Namerican macrolice box. There was next to nothing in the popular media. Clearly, Cleator Mockerkin was one of those insidiously intelligent antisocs who neither needed nor wanted his picture flashed on the evening cast, prizing anonymity alongside power.

And power he had. Over the course of the next couple of days, Cardenas tied fiscal links to The Mock that crossed half a hundred boxlines girdling the globe. In addition to dealing in illegal weaponry on an impressive scale, Mockerkin drew revenue from trade in banned designer pharmaceuticals, siphoned crunch, endangered species (foodstuffs as well as the illegal pet business), and prohibited wafers and mollys. This income was supplemented with money from more mundane activities like extortion and kidnapping. None of it was kosh, all of it was stylishly laundered, and there was enough of it floating around to tempt even a knowledgeable subordinate who should have known better like the late Wayne Brummel.

A meticulously diversified feleon was The Mock. A real verdad nasty-ass chingaroon. If his disciples caught up with the fleeing Surtsey and Katla before the authorities did, Cardenas knew the upshot would not be acrimonious debate followed by a succession of mutually agreed-upon visits to a marriage counselor. About the daughter he could not surmise, but he seriously doubted that Surtsey Mockerkin was getting much sleep these days.

Following long hours spent staring at info, he relaxed by striding the streets of the Strip at night, his dark eyes flicking from side to side and taking everything in as he walked off the energy that built up during the day. He paid little attention to the gaudy displays, the glittering municipal art works, or the persistent adverts. People were what interested him; the bustling inhabitants of the Strip in all their manifold musky ethnicity, a potpourri of colors, sizes, and shapes. In this, the commercial center of the western hemisphere, a casual listener could snak yakk of several dozen languages and dialects, from Azeri to Zulu, in addition to the predominating Spanish and English. Underlying it all, like a set of conversational box springs, was the provincial patois of the Strip—the jumpy, jerky hybrid argot known as Spang, for English-Spanish slang.

Cardenas could volubate with the best of them. His fluency was a frequent surprise to the ninlocos and algaeaters he often had to deal with. What he could not inflect, he inferred—one of the benefits of being an intuit.

Why hadn’t he taken Pangborn up on his offer? He was as fond of Sanjuana’s beaches as the next indigene. The Captain had been perfectly correct that the business of the puzzling Anderson-Brummel-Mockerkin axis could be dealt with by junior inspectors. Was Cardenas, after all, the secret masochist that some of his younger colleagues suspected? It wasn’t as if he was angling for a promotion. In the last five years he’d turned down half a dozen higher-paying (and far less risky) admin posts.

Seguro sure, he loved the Strip, with its noise and flair and surprises and the constant, never-ending action that was missing from his own life. But that was not explanation enough. Nor was his lack of a stable home life, although his recent relationship with the Gen-Dyne designer Hypatia Spango had lasted longer than most. Maybe it was because he lavished the love he carried around like carefully guarded baggage on kids like Wormy G and Bac-a-ran and, most recently, Wild Whoh. They were his family. Where most federales gave out only citations, Angel Cardenas also dispensed hope. There were subgrubs and nins and orphanos out there he hadn’t even met yet, and all of them doubtless deserving of salvation.

It was not only possible, but highly probable, that Katla Mockerkin was one of them, and he knew full well that any junior inspectors assigned to the case were unlikely to dispense their actions in light of that distinct possibility. Cardenas did not have to intuit the girl to know that she was worth protecting. He needed only to know that she was a seemingly normal twelve-year-old who had the misfortune to find herself caught between a duplicitous if protective mother and a corrupt, intimidating father.

Beyond The Mock’s inner circle and the Namerican Federal Police, he did not expect anyone to be much interested in, far less know of, the circumstances surrounding Surtsey and Katla Mockerkin’s frantic flight from the peaceful surrounds of Olmec inurb. So he was more than a little surprised when, finishing his dinner on the patio of the Tchere-cheri Restaurant down the street from his codo, he was approached by a tottering masque in human form from which issued the whispery phrase, “Follow me, si see, fedoco, if you’d still like to dock The Mock.” The gaunt figure did not stop, but continued to lurch down the pedestrian street like some psychotic scarecrow fled in secret from its farm of birth.

The fluid outlines of the morphmasque rippled with every step the camouflaged figure took. Hastily settling his bill, Cardenas followed in its wake. Without a clear view of the masque’s owner, he could not even be certain if it was a man or woman who shambled along beneath the ever-shifting veil. When it turned down an alley lit only by the diffuse glow from the remaining phototropic paint that covered the surrounding walls, the Inspector hesitated. It was difficult enough to try and intuit the intentions of someone cloaked by a masque without the added burden of trying to do so in the dark.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster