Detective Jansen twirled his pen in surprisingly dexterous fingers. “I understand your contract granted you extraordinary powers.”
“No more than regular police,” Greenwald said, “only for matters related to this case, and only because Mr. Lee is an accredited private peace officer in the employ of Lithsman Kinetics.”
Distaste crawled across the troll’s face. “A bounty hunter, in other words. Tell me, Mr. Lee, do you consider yourself above the police?”
“Do you feel you have a higher status than the police? That you are entitled to special privileges?”
“Detective!” Greenwald interjected. “What’s the relevance?”
“RKC Biosoft. They pulled strings and got you into the morgue.”
“You’re making baseless accusations!”
“Baseless? The ME has a two-week backlog on autopsies, but the Chief Medical Examiner got an autopsy held just for you. And he told me a rep from RKC called him. How did that happen?”
“We didn’t go to RKC,” I said. “RKC came to us.”
Leaving Kantun behind, I called my contacts in the NHPD, trying to wheedle out more information about the case. No joy. Cops don’t like independents muscling into their turf. With no other leads, I returned to my office, where paperwork awaited.
Lithsman Kinetics occupies the upper floor of a sturdy two-story building. The lower floor is given over to Lithsman Arms and Supplies. A steady stream of customers were checking out the long guns and pistol cabinets, while others inspected shelves of ammo and assorted kit. More than a few of them have The Look, earned by spilling blood in righteous combat.
I went around the back and made my way upstairs. Alex Hanson, my partner and the owner of both Lithsman companies, was standing at the conference table in the middle of the room, conferring with an elf. Alex looked up and saw me coming.
“Yo!” Alex said, raising his hand.
“Hey,” I replied, and gestured at the elf. “Client?”
The elf turned to face me. Alex smirked behind his back. “Yup,” Alex said. “This is Mr. Johnson from RKC’s legal department.”
Johnson had perfectly coiffed silver hair, pale skin and a sharp black suit. No signs of a weapon, but it didn’t mean he didn’t have one. Or need one.
I extended my hand.
“Dominic Lee,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
He grasped my hand and shook. Once, firm.
“Good to meet you.” His voice had a melodious lilt. “I understand you’ve been retained to look into Mr. Gerald Vandemeer’s untimely demise.”
“Mr. Vandemeer was an important asset to our company. I’m here to assist your investigation.”
“You should be holding this conversation with the police. I’m just helping them out.”
Alex blinked twice, very deliberately, very firmly. Then he brought his left hand up and scratched his ear. That meant he was recording the conversation.
“They are on my appointment list, yes,” Johnson said. “But unlike them, you are not necessarily encumbered by red tape.”
“What exactly do you want?”
“The apprehension of the criminals.”
I raised my eyebrow. “Really.”
“Yes,” he said mildly. “Surely the legal system would be sufficient, even if they happen to be members of an organized crime syndicate.”
“Organized crime? Could you share with us what you know about the murder?”
“RKC Biosoft is a leading developer of cybernetic enhancement technologies, and unfortunately this has encouraged theft of our intellectual property. In recent years, we have noticed a large number of counterfeit RKC products flooding the market. Without proper quality control or competent medical supervision, these counterfeits have claimed many lives in many low-income areas.
“Our security department has determined that the chief source of these counterfeits is the Gramzin crime syndicate. They illegally obtain our design documents and ‘license’ them to their franchisees for manufacture, sale and implantation.
“Mr. Vandemeer was in charge of a team working on a sensitive contract for certain government agencies. The clients require low-profile implants for high-risk operations. The Gramzins attempted to blackmail Mr. Vandemeer into giving up the project data, but he refused and informed our security chief. Three days later, he was murdered.
“Mr. Vandemeer stored the project data on his laptop and neural chip. The laptop holds the data, and the neural chip the passwords needed to decrypt it. Both items have not been accounted for. My company is prepared to offer payment for their discreet recovery.”
RKC was the premier supplier of biomechatronics to the government and military. They couldn’t let a disaster like this affect their bottom line. Public health was, naturally, an afterthought.
Alex cut in. “What kind of payment are we talking about?”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars, cash, on delivery. Non-negotiable. We know you are already receiving generous payment for your existing contract.”
With terms like that, it went without saying that they did not want the police involved.
Alex’s eyes widened. “Sounds reasonable.”
“I specialize in tracking people, not stolen goods,” I said. “But the killers might know where they are.”
The elf smiled. “Exactly. Our interests converge.”
“Do you have any leads?”
“The laptop’s internal tracker was disabled. As for the neural chip, we don’t know if it’s still in Mr Vandemeer’s brain. If it’s missing, I recommend a séance.”
“It’ll be weeks before the autopsy.”
Johnson smiled again. “I can expedite matters.”
I glanced at Alex, eyebrow raised. “I’ll need backup for this.”
He nodded. “My calendar’s clear.”
“Then we’ll see what we can do, Mr. Johnson.”
“Excellent. Pleasure doing business with you.”
We shook on it.
For more tales of magic, fantasy and high tech, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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