The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

The sideways twitch of the Inspector’s head was barely perceptible. “Deep scan. Now.”

The Forensics spec turned to shout at her superior. “Hey, Gergo! Inspector here wants a scan. Onsite, right now, even though we got the muerto’s ident pill.”

Gergovitch looked out from behind his medoggles. “He’s the intuit, not me. Run it, Ellen.”

Making no secret of her displeasure, the woman slipped her spinner into a holder on her belt and removed another tool from a second holster. As she snapped it to life, she muttered, “I thought you freaks couldn’t intuit a dead guy. No disrespect intended, Inspector.”

Cardenas’s tone did not change. “We can’t. I don’t sense or suspect anything unusual. I just want to leave here confident in the knowledge that nothing’s been overlooked.”

“Yeah, yeah; si, si, siryore.” Taking a deep breath, she went to work. Cardenas looked away. Grabbing the body’s detailed DNA scan and then running it past Records would take a few minutes.

Hyaki hovered close by; part mutt, part truck, all business. But wet. “Any reason why the scan, Angel?”

Why indeed? What made him worry about dead people as much as live ones? A desire to seek justice? Or was it nothing more than professional pride? Cardenas spoke without looking back, not wanting to distract the irritated spec from her work. He indicated the corpse. “Good hair—expensive transplant graft. Soft skin. Two regenerated bicuspids, maybe more. All nice work.” Raising a hand, he gestured at their surroundings. “This is not a nice place. They don’t match up.” He looked back at his assistant. “Why vape the guy from the inside out, instead of the outside in?”

Hyaki considered. “One kidney’s worth more than a truckload of clothes.”

“I don’t mean that.” Cardenas squinted into the rain-swept darkness. “I mean, what’s a citizen from a nice, genteel neighborhood like Olmec, an apparent cleanie, doing down in a muck urb like Quetzal on a nasty night like this? Why isn’t he home with his wife, watching the rain come down, or the game between Arsenal and Chicago?”

Five minutes later, sensing movement behind him, he turned just in time to confront Ellen. No one commented on the perfect timing of his reaction, least of all the Forensics spec. If anyone could get used to the sometimes unsettling actions of intuits, it was other cops.

Her earlier resentment had given way to a grudging respect, tempered by just a hint of awe. “How did you know?” she murmured.

Cardenas took no joy in the small vindication. He had only been doing his job. “Know what?” he responded encouragingly, even though he already knew perfectly well what.

“That there was something not right about the muerto’s ident.” Intelligent and perceptive, she was peering hard into the lined face that was half masked by darkness and rain.

“I didn’t know. Like I said, I just wanted to be thorough.”

“Yeah, verdad.” Her attention dropped to the very expensive and very wet apparatus she was holding. “His embedded citizen’s ident insists he’s George Anderson of Olmec inurb. When I coupled that info with the results of the DNA scan and ran it through Archives, the readout suddenly looked like it had caught the measles. Angry little red pinpricks started popping up all over my nice, clean screen.”

“So who is he?” Hyaki asked, vouchsafing new interest.

She held the screen up to them as she read. “Depends which you believe: local eyedee or national. Archives says he’s really somebody named Wayne Brummel, of Greater Harlingen, Texas. And guess what? It also lists no place of business, only a home address. In Harlingen.”

Cardenas blinked at the small screen. “Physical description is a match. At least, it matches what the wallowers left.” He glanced past the handheld, at the uninformative and now somehow ominous body. “Same question applies: what’s a cleanie like this doing here in Quetzal? And with two identities.” He passed her his spinner.

She mated it to her own, waited the necessary couple of seconds for the two police devices to swap the requisite information, and then placed hers neatly back in its holster. “How should I know? You’re the intuit.” She glanced upward, shading her eyes from the rain. “Weather’s starting to clear. Going to be very hot tomorrow.” It being late summer in the Sonoran Desert, her comment was worse than superfluous.

“What do you want to do, Angel?”

Cardenas considered. He ought to let Homicide handle it, he knew. Except—National didn’t make mistakes. It insisted the body belonged to Wayne Brummel of Greater Harlingen. Subcutaneous idents were difficult to forge. The man’s insisted he was George Anderson, of Olmec. Taken together they added up to a real mierde magnet.

He ought to leave it alone, he knew. Follow-up on something like this was not his responsibility. He and Hyaki just happened to have been in the neighborhood when the flash came in. He could leave that particular neighborhood at will. Instead, he opened his spinner and mumbled the phone number imprinted on the dead man’s ident into the built-in vorec.

Observing this, Hyaki was not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. He’d seen it all before. The Inspector latched onto contradictions like a remora onto a shark. The older man would be unable to sleep until this one was resolved. Dragged along by his superior’s persistence, the same would be true of Hyaki.

Still, he tried. “It’s late, Angel. Maybe she has her phone turned off.”

“Maybe she doesn’t.” The Inspector checked his bracelet while his spinner dialed the unlisted number. “Yeah, it’s too late for socializing. No, it’s not too late to learn that your husband’s been found dead and boosted on a back street in a rotten part of town.”

He turned slightly away from his partner as the call connected. A sleepy woman’s voice emerged from the spinner. The screen remained blank: she had her video pickup turned off.

“Yes? Who’s this? George?”

The rain had almost stopped. By mid-morning tomorrow the amorphous puddles birthed by the fading clouds would have evaporated completely beneath the relentless desert sun. It would be as if the downpour had never been.

“Ms. Anderson?” Cardenas responded.

There was a pause at the other end. “Who is this? There’s no Anderson at this number.”

Hyaki made a face. Cardenas’s expression did not change. “This is Inspector Angel Cardenas of the Namerican Federal Police. I am presently in the industrial-commercial district of Quetzal, where the body of a man identified as George Anderson, of four-eight-two-two-three-six West Minero Place, is presently being prepped and bagged for a trip to the Nogales municipal morgue. His subcue identifies him as George Anderson and lists this number alongside that address. If this is not Ms. Anderson, with whom am I speaking, please?”

Another pause, then a guarded response. “How do I know you are who you say you are?”

Now Cardenas’s expression did change. “Who else might I be? And for that matter, how do I know you’re Ms. Anderson?”

“There is no Ms. Anderson.” The voice broke. “How—how did he die?”

Cardenas covered the vorec with his hand and whispered to his companion. “She’s panicking.” Hyaki just nodded. He could detect nothing suggestive in the woman’s voice, certainly not panic. But that was Cardenas. To a competent intuit a dropped vowel, a twisted consonant, spoke volumes. And Angel Cardenas was not merely competent: he was the faz, the very best. Muy duroble.

“We don’t know. The wallowers and the scaves didn’t leave much. When was the last time you saw him?”

“This—this morning, when he left for work. Are you sure you’re a federale?”

“Extremely federale,” Cardenas assured her. “So you’re not Ms.

Anderson. But you know the George Anderson who lived at this number and address?” Again he whispered an aside to the attentive sergeant. “She’s crying.”

Again Hyaki heard nothing in the voice emerging from the spinner. This time he said so. Cardenas shook his head brusquely.

“Inside. She’s crying inside.” To the vorec he said, “Please, ma’am. This is a necessary routine follow-up. Did you know the deceased?”

“Y-yes. I know—I knew him. You have no idea what happened to him?”

“No, ma’am. Did you also know a Wayne Brummel? And it would be helpful if you gave us a name, so I could stop calling you ‘ma’am.'”

“I don’t know anyone named Brummel. I’d like—I want to see him. George. Mr. Anderson.”

“The bod— He’s being taken to the police morgue, Nogales Division.”

“All right—I understand. But I can’t come now. I just can’t. My daughter is here at the house, and I—I have to take care of some things first. Would—eleven o’clock tomorrow morning be all right?”

Hyaki’s whisper ensured he would not be heard over the spinner. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Cardenas glanced disapprovingly in his assistant’s direction. “Eleven o’clock is fine, Ms. Anderson. I’m sure we could all do with some sleep. Have you ever been to the station?”

“N-no, but I have personal transportation. I’m sure my car can find it.” She was stammering now. “This is just terrible, and I—I don’t know what I’m going to do. What I should do.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster