“Get up.” Reaching down, he got both hands under his partner’s right arm and heaved. The mountain stirred. “Vamos your overpaid ass, Fredoso!”
With a tremendous effort of will, the wounded sergeant heaved himself to his knees. “I’m okay, Angel.” Reaching up and around, he felt of the back of his neck. A callused palm came away syrupy with blood. “Maybe a little banged up.”
“It’s verdad, compadre? Shunt—now!” Leaning backward, Cardenas used his weight to drag his partner in the direction of the street. Behind them, neighbors were gathering outside the fencewall. They wore the vacant, bewildered expressions of lemmings who suddenly found themselves adrift in a sea of mayhem they could not comprehend. From somewhere within the collapsed, smoking center of the house, the voice of Surtsey Anderson cried out.
“Help me, please! I’m hurt! Can’t somebody help me?”
Hyaki hesitated, rendering futile the effort of the worried Cardenas to keep moving his mountainous companion toward the street. “We’ve got to go back. The woman, she’s—”
“Not there,” Cardenas snapped at him. “It’s a recording. Keep moving!” With one hand, he continued to tug on Hyaki’s right arm, hoping the rest of the sergeant would follow. Using the other, he flipped open his spinner.
“I have a Red eight-two-four at four-eight-two-two-three-six West Minero Place, Olmec inurb!” he barked at the vorec. “Officer down. Repeat, officer is down—requesting airmed!”
Still dazed, his head wobbling slightly, Hyaki was gazing back in the direction of the slumping structure. From damaged, hidden depths, a female voice continued to plead with any listeners. Hyaki frowned uncertainly.
“A recording? Angel, are you sur—?”
They had almost made it to the sidewalk when the house blew up all over again. This time there were multiple explosions. The gathering crowd of rubbernecking neighbors screamed. Those who were not knocked down, fled. Cardenas felt the heavy hand of the blast wave slam him to the hard ground. When the rain of debris finally ceased, he struggled to free himself from chunks of building material and shards of shattered window. Hyaki was unconscious and bleeding badly from the back of his skull. Shoving the insensible bulk of his partner to one side, the Inspector sat up, dug dust from his eyes, and stared.
The serpentine walkway that had previously led to the front door of the comfortable suburban home now led to a smoking hole in the ground. Overhead, the heavy hum of approaching chopters was beginning to mask the ongoing screams and shouts of stunned and injured onlookers.
He would not have expected so unassuming a residence to be equipped with so advanced a kamikaze security system. Instead of keeping trespassers out, the idea was to let them in, and then liquidate them. One also lost one’s home and possessions in the process. As a security measure, the technique was devastatingly effective. Of course, it could be used only once. What had the recently deceased George Anderson-Brummel feared badly enough to induce him to turn his own home into the explosive equivalent of a low-grade munitions dump? Why had he gone to elaborate and expensive lengths to try to trap and kill?
Of more immediate interest, Cardenas wondered as he cradled the unconscious Hyaki’s bruised, bleeding head in his lap and watched grim-faced airmeds drop from the descending lead diopter, where the hell were Surtsey and Katla Anderson?
ONLY WHEN HE WAS ASSURED THAT HIS PARTNER was going to be okay and Hyaki had been choptered out did he allow the airmeds to clean his own wounds and treat the most seriously damaged areas with sprayskin. He declined to leave the scene, refusing a lift to hospital. As might be expected, media teams were onsite almost as quickly as the airmeds. When a team from Forensics finally arrived, they had to run the usual gauntlet of vitwits who peppered the new arrivals with questions they could not answer. Officers and a pair of department flashmen from Comrel cordoned them off as two squads went to work on the scene.
The nature of the destruction ruled out natural causes such as a gas explosion even before the studious evaluators had a chance to talk to Cardenas. Ignoring his wounds while trying to keep visions of the battered, unconscious Hyaki from flashing through his mind, the Inspector insisted on joining them in their work.
“There was an initial detonation that was as much bait as killing charge,” he told the male and female officers who confronted him, taking notes, “followed by the added lure of an injured woman crying out for help. Then a whole series of secondary explosions.” Angrily, he kicked aside a twisted strip of metal wall cladding. “Whoever cojoned this casa wanted to make sure and kill anyone and everyone who was inside.”
The female Forensics spec was kneeling, passing a scanner over a still-smoking cavity within the greater crater, applying the kind of high-class infosuck for which the department was well-known. “Pretty extreme way of dealing with burglars.”
“Depends on what kind of insurance you have.” Having dropped a select handful of dirt and debris into the mouth of a device that resembled a portable sonic oven, her partner waited patiently for it to produce intelligible results. “Some companies will pay full replacement if the homeowner can prove they expiated two or more intruders.” He smiled thinly. “That’s morally indefensible as well as highly illegal, of course. But try and get a conviction in court against the corporation making the payout. Plenty of cleanies own shady policies that carry evanescent forced-entry extermination riders.” Frowning, he gave the oven a firm smack.
“Here we go,” he muttered, staring at the readouts that promptly blinked to life. “Pretty stylish package of ingredients.” He glanced meaningfully at the attentive Cardenas. “Where death-dealing is concerned, your suspects show some sophisticated taste. Hellex expanders, Tarifa bursters, and Jaffna jelly. All sequenced and set off with Taichug micros programmed to react in concert with your lady-in-distress reaper.” He favored the intuit with a longer look. “I heard the preliminary. Your open spinner forwarded it downtown. How’d you know it was a recording, that there was nobody in the house?”
Cardenas was following the progress of the other specs. “The anxiety in the voice rang false. She was a good actor; but it’s still acting.”
The specialist nodded, gesturing at the inurban devastation through which his colleagues were picking. “Whoever’s behind this sure as hell didn’t want anybody to get out.”
“Or to find anything.” Kneeling, Cardenas pulled something from the rubble. It was the upper half of a doll, the gelatinous simulated eyes still moist. Disconnected, it automatically gazed back up at him out of limpid synthesized oculars.
The spec blinked as he dumped the contents of the oven into a specimen bag. “Find what?”
The Inspector did not drop, but instead carefully placed, the piece of homunculus back on the ground. Something in the synthetic eyes made him use a foot to cover it with debris. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t have to ask the question. What I do know is that no one turns their home into a bomb this sophisticated just to muerto a couple of skraggers.”
Despite his injuries, he insisted on joining the assessors who were working the street, questioning stunned residents of the heretofore peaceful neighborhood. The two flashmen from the department were busy massaging the media, doing their best to persuade the skeets that the destruction could not have been prevented.
The few resident citizens on off-day who came stumbling out of their individually secured abodes wore the dazed expressions typical of cleanies for whom daily existence was a succession of relatively predictable concerns over bills, professional worries, and family. Ordinary, everyday problems that were not a matter of life and death as they were for the underfolk of the Strip.
Cardenas approached a wide-eyed older woman clad only in swimsuit and throwover. Evidently, she had been relaxing in a backyard pool when the Anderson home had tried its best to exterminate the two visiting federales. A few lingering beads of water still clung to her lower legs, fighting evaporation. She flinched slightly when the Inspector drew near.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” he reassured her. “You don’t need to run.”
“I wasn’t going to—well, maybe I was,” she mumbled. No maybe about it, Cardenas knew. He did not explain to her that the subtle movements of her body and face revealed her intentions to him as clearly as if she had loudly declaimed them.
He flashed his ident, saw her relax slightly. “I won’t involve you, I promise.” He indicated the smoking ruins of the house in front of them, now smothered in flame suppressant from the hovering fire department chopter. “Did you know the occupants? A Mr. George Anderson and…”
“Surtsey,” the woman stammered. “Her name is Surtsey. They had a daughter.” Her eyes were pools of concern. Not for potentially extirpated neighbors, but for herself and her own kin. “What happened?”