Part 4 - The Case Opens
It was early afternoon when the pair of Bounty a Hunters were arriving in region 214. It had taken then multiple hours to pass through the three hundreds checkpoint and the view on the other side was breath taking. Redd had never been past the three hundreds checkpoint and despite being the driver of his precious Cobra he could not take his attention away from the sights that surrounded him; most important of all was the genuine sunlight that beat down on them. On more than one occasion Redd caught himself thinking about how beautiful it was in the two hundreds and how angelic the one hundreds must be in comparison.
When Paul and Redd arrived at Villa and Klein's the sky was beginning to darken and they both knew that their time was short if they wanted to question the victim's employer. Before then stood the Accounting firm, it's walls made out of white-polished steel that reflected the setting star of the Honos system with an orange glow. Set within the walls was a door of deep brown genuine wood carved with adorning curls and markings that seemed to serve no functional purpose.
"Leave the talking to me" Paul politely ordered to Redd "You've never dealt with anyone above the three hundreds. Either your tongue will swell or you'll insult them".
Redd nodded looking slightly embarrassed but knowing Paul was right. With a dry throat he paused open the door and the pair entered the lobby.
The reception area was covered in a plush burgundy carpet, it reminded Redd of the type of furnishings that he had seen gang bosses use so that it his blood stains. The ceiling was bone white arches adorned with golden filigree that lead down to red wood panelling that fed back to the burgundy carpet. In stark contrast to the 601 mortuary, there were eight single person chairs, each one upholstered in the finest of padded comfort and surrounding a small yet sizeable circular wooden table. Redd couldn't tell by looking but he was prepared to put his take on this job that these tables were not attached to the floor.
At the far end of the reception area was a manned desk, a youthful man who sat upright looking directly at the Bounty Hunters with a perfectly polite smile, thin rimmed glasses and an Air-Pad that floated on the desk to which the receptionist typed away quickly and precisely. At that point neither Hunter had ever seen an Air-Pad before, but they had heard many stories about the richest of the rich who had devoted a digi-pad who's processor was mounted into a dermal implant on the back of the user's hand. This allowed the user to type in thin air without requiring a physical device. Of course initial tests had proved problematic and so the Air-Pad v2 had been created; the one this receptionist used, which emitted a faint hologram allowing the user and any viewers to see what was being 'typed'.
As the Hunters approached the reception desk the man smiled warmly. Everything about him had been tailored to create the most 'perfectly polite' experience for the customer from his hair style to the not too-whiteness of his teeth.
"May I help you gentlemen?" Asked the receptionist. It was impossible to place his accent. He wasn't British, he wasn't American and he certainly wasn't European or African, instead his voice seemed to be all of these at the same time, and yet none of them. A perfectly polite accent so no matter your own country of origin you felt welcomed and safe.
"Yes, we're looking for..." Paul paused and pulled out his digi-pad "Caroline... West?"
"I'm sorry" replied the receptionist looking genuinely disheartened at the news he was about to break to the men "but Miss West is no longer with the agency" the receptionist paused too while he glanced at his Air-Pad and tapped away quickly "perhaps you would like to speak with Ms Hu instead?" The receptionist looked at the hunters expectantly.
Paul shook his head and pulled out his Bounty Hunter badge before replying in the most serious tone he could manage. "That's not good enough, maybe we could see Caroline's boss instead?"
The receptionist glanced at his Air-Pad again, his perfectly polite demeanour slowly slipping from his face "I'm afraid Mr Thaits is not available at this time" his perfectly polite smile returned to his face as he cocked his head ever so slightly to one side "perhaps you would like to make an appointment?"
Paul stared into the receptionist's eyes trying to get as best an understanding of the man as possible. The receptionist was clearly human and alive, but his face and reactions were as calculated and cold as that of a Reborn cyborg.
"Maybe I didn't make myself clear" continued Paul, placing both hands firmly on the desk "this is about a murder, one that we believe Mr Thaits holds crucial information about!"
"One moment please" the receptionist did not look phased or surprised in the slightest and continued to tap away at his Air-Pad before nodding as if agreeing with some unknown voice. "Mr Thaits will see you now. Please take the elevator behind you to the thirty third floor" the receptionist gestured behind them as an elevator door soundlessly opened and the two bounty hunters quietly obliged.
No sooner as they had stepped inside the elevator did the doors close and the carriage began to climb. At least the numbers above the door were switching from Ground to Second, then Third, Forth and so on. If it was not for these numbers neither Paul not Redd would have known they were moving due to the total lack of turbulence the carriage suffered as it transitioned smoothly and cleanly from floor to floor.
The inside of the carriage looked much like the reception area of the building with plush burgundy carpet and ivory walls. There were no buttons present within the elevator nor any controls of any kind signalling to both occupants that this was completely controlled by the perfectly polite receptionist at all times. It caused Redd no end of discomfort to think how much at the mercy of a single person they were at that point.
After what seemed like half way between no time at all, and far too long a wait the elevator's digits stopped at sixty fourth floor and the doors slid open. Ahead of them was yet more burgundy, ivory and gold and they were presented with a neatly square room devoid of any furnishings beyond a single dark brown wooden desk behind which sat a man who at first glance appeared to be in his mid to late twenties. He was sat staring directly in the direction of the two hunters, but it was clear his focus was not on them, instead his eyes darted around them as if focusing on images and information that only he could see.
Paul had seen this behaviour before; this man had been chipped with a dermal implant, something quite similar to the one presumed missing from the victim and it was clear from the mid air tapping the man's fingers made while using his Air-Pad that he was currently in the middle of work. By his side Paul heard Redd mutter something under his breath, something about pencil pushers and desk jockeys to which Paul nudged him reminding Redd of where they were and to leave any conversation down to him.
As the two approached the desk the man made a large sweeping motion with his right hand and promptly placed both hands clasped together on his desk, looking directly at the two with a smile that seemed to mirror that of the receptionist below them.
"You must be the bounty hunters, yes?" Asked the man. His perfectly tanned blemish free skin hardly moving as he spoke.
The man did not stand or even extend a hand in greeting, instead he moved his left hand in a brief circular motion and in front of the desk two upholstered chairs extended out from the desk the man sat behind.
"Please have a seat. I believe you wanted to speak with me about a..." The man paused as if looking for the right words "a murder. Yes, let's not mess about with words, shall we?"
"Mr Thaits is it?" Enquired Paul, gesturing for Redd to seat in one of the chairs, while he promptly took the other.
"Robert Thaits, yes" replied the man. "How can I help you?"
"We're here about Caroline West" stated Paul. There was no emotion in his voice, he was cold and exacting in his demeanour.
"Of course" replied Thaits "a terrible state of affairs that. Such a tragedy when someone so young looses their life".
Paul began to question how this man knew of what happened to the victim, but before he was able to utter more than a handful of words, Thaits continued.
"Yes, yes. But first may I ask what it is that has brought two bounty hunters to our office? Are you not usually preoccupied with chasing down bail dodgers or wanted criminals rather than investigating into who committed the crimes?"
Paul paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. He was used to dealings within Free Port where due to a lack of recognised law enforcement it was left to the hunters to perform all the work in tracking down those who committed crimes. He had forgotten that here in the Block that was normally left to law enforcement, complete with any corruption that came with it.
Paul nodded calmly and began what he hoped would be a suitable reply "we're here on request of the father. Six One Two law enforcement are aware of our involvement and are happy for us to take lead on any investigation" Paul took a breath observing any reaction from Thaits "you can contact them if you so wish?"
Redd stayed quiet as he watched Thaits listen intently to Paul. Throughout the entire brief explanation Thaits didn't react in the slightest until the offer of contact was made, it was in that moment Thaits' pupils dilated then contracted and for what looked like an instant his cheeks flushed with colour.
"No, no" reassured Thaits "that will not be necessary. So what can I do to help you both?"
"We understand Caroline was working for you?" Asked Paul, his manner once again precise and controlled.
"Not for the past..." Thaits paused, his fingers tapping into thin air "two months" Thaits continued. "Yes, tragic affair. She was let go on the most unavoidably sad circumstances".
Paul cocked his head to one side "circumstances?"
"Drugs" came the abrupt reply from Thaits "we regularly have drug screening here at Villa and Klein's, standard procedure. And sadly on more than one occasion little Caroline failed the test" he turned his head in the direction of an outer wall as if staring out of a window that did not exist "so terrible".
"I see" replied Paul "and if I can ask, did you know she was chipped?"
"Of course" came an abrupt reply from Thaits. "That's standard practice here. Everyone is chipped"
Paul nodded in reply before following through with another question "and how is that financed?"
"Privately" Thaits answered "during employment we issue new starters with a discount voucher at our specified supplier but the actual finances are worked out independent of the company".
Paul nodded and gently stood from his seat. Redd followed suit. "Thank you" said Paul bowing slightly "you have been more than helpful".
Thaits nodded in reply and swiped his right hand back again presumably returning whatever work he was previously occupied with.
"Oh but if I may?" Asked Paul giving Thaits a rude interruption "which company is that who supplies your chips?"
"Core-Gen!" Snapped Thaits back at the pair as he continued to work.
Paul bowed once again and the two returned to the elevator. Inside Paul gestured for quiet as the descended to the ground floor, nodded a fair well to the receptionist and returned to Redd's Cobra.
Once inside Redd turned Paul "So what is it boss? I haven't seen you pull the mac-trick in ages. You're onto something aren't you?"
Paul nodded but did not look pleased. "Our victim, Caroline West? She was chipped with her dermal implant at Core-Gen, then thanks to a drug problem was let go. Two months later she's found in the six hundreds with signs of living rough as a prostitute, stab marks from what appears to be a mugging turned murder and a hidden surgical mark from a chip extraction done just prior to her death?" Paul paused to take in Redd's reaction.
"You think this is a repo job?" Answered Redd.
Paul nodded "No way did the Wests have the funds to pay for that sort of chip work outright. Hell I doubt Mr Fancy-Pants in there could afford that. It would have been a repayment plan for sure".
Redd continued where Paul had left off "and when she got kicked out of work with a drug problem she had two immediate concerns; get her next fix and continue her repayments?"
"Exactly" stated Paul "she must have taken to the streets to pay for her drugs, but her repayments on the chipset must have fallen by the wayside. Core-Gen aren't happy so they send someone to reclaim their goods".
"And hide the whole thing by making it look like a mugging!" Exclaimed Redd.
Paul nodded thoughtfully before continuing "and as repossession of implants is illegal everywhere outside of Free Port, we've got one hell of a case on our hands".
Redd smiled, back in Free Port he had seen so many people having their lives destroyed by the repossession of implants where it was not done with appropriate care and medical attention, leaving the previous user no better than a vegetable. In Free Port however it was not illegal and as long as the owner was not killed in the process, fully legal. In the Block however this was not the case, and he was certain they would make both Core-Gen and whoever committed the crime pay for it.
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley