Masks 19: Part 2

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Masks XIX:

A Disturbance of the Peace

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Two

"Do you trust him?" said Sally, once we were back out on the street.

"For this? Yes. It's in his best interest to find out who is making trouble in his town. Trouble which could cause him to lose clients and maybe even have to move again."

"So, he's a super?"

"I'm not really sure. I do know that he's been in this game since the late Forties at least."

She looked a bit surprised at this, but only a bit.

"Someone Mack Risk introduced you to?"

"Oh, yeah," I said with a fond smile.

"Say, uhm..."

"Yes?" I said, puzzled.

"I know we can't have sex at our fancy hotel but..."

"Okay, we'll find a hotel which rents rooms by the hour..."

"Ewww..."

"...and have a bit of fun."

"On second thought, a little celibacy is good for the soul."

I laughed.

* * *

We took a bus to the big Westlake Center mall downtown. Once at our destination I found a secluded spot and changed to my Henley R. Regatta identity. We got a room at a motel nearby before doing any actual shopping, though.

"Anything in particular you want?" I said, casually, as I locked the door.

She practically stripped me and herself at the same time. Which I found gratifying.

Afterwards we showered - yes, together - and dressed and left a big tip for the maid. We went on our way looking slightly rumpled but feeling much better.

We then proceeded to the nearby mall and had supper, then bought some clothes and other supplies. We paid cash for everything, including the room.

* * *

Once again back in our "aunt and niece" guises we boarded the monorail to travel to the stop closest to our hotel. From there we used a taxi to return to our double business suite, closing the door behind us just after dark. The route could have been quicker and more direct, but not only was I making backtracking us more difficult, I was teaching Sally how to get around a city without being tailed. We put our new belongings away - including some food and drink in the wet bar area - and I started for my bedroom to clean up.

"What is this?" said Sally, holding up a couple of items I'd bought while we were out. "You're kidding. A collar and leash?!"

"You know I can do some animals, right?" I said grabbing the door frame to stop and leaning back into the room. "On the off chance we need a bloodhound or guard dog..."

She just smirked and shook her head.

I was very glad to get out of that bra; Lorraine is a healthy gal and needs a lot of support. Even though the ring makes clothing fit perfectly, the style of bra I had picked - which was pretty much essential for the type of top I was wearing - had thin straps. Too thin. Once clean and more casually dressed in slacks, a comfortable bra and a long-sleeved T I went into the central area and settled down with my laptop to do some checking. Sandy, meanwhile, watched TV. I had already noticed that all three sets had IR headphones for private listening, which I greatly appreciated.

"Okay, looks like the news about Doro being the suspect finally broke outside this area," Sally said, a little later, taking her headphones off to talk to me. She suddenly noticed what I was wearing, and grinned. "Damn, you look good for your age."

I felt flattered, but knew she was speaking platonically, so focussed on her first topic.

"The problems with the investigation still haven't reached the major news agencies," I reported. "However, there's lots of rumors. Unfortunately, there are more about a coverup of 'a government agent' going rogue or acting as part of a federal attack on business than there are of her being set up."

"What would the motive be?" said Sally, coming over to my desk. "For someone setting her up, I mean."

"It could simply be someone trying to get revenge on Doro. However, I wouldn't bet that way. More likely, whoever is behind this had a reason to get rid of those businessmen and also had a grudge against Doro. Setting her up for the murders doesn't just get revenge on both them and her, but damages her reputation."

"Is that what you're checking? Who might want to get rid of those men?"

"In part," I said, nodding. I grinned at her. "I'll make a detective of you yet."

"So tomorrow we meet with her lawyer?" said Sally, barely stifling a yawn.

"That's the plan. Better get ready for bed. I'll be heading to mine, soon enough."

She gave me an affectionate peck on the forehead then sauntered off.

* * *

There was an interesting event the next morning which - probably - had nothing to do with our investigation: President Gibbons gave a speech. An unusually - for him - long and honest one. Basically, he apologized to the citizens of the United States. He confessed that he'd thought the presidency would be an easy post given how well things were going currently, and had expected to coast. That because of his relaxed management style "certain factions" had used his lack of oversight to suborn people he trusted, and thereby caused enormous damage to democracy in the US. He promised to knuckle down and do the job right from now on.

Yeah. We'll see. Anyway, it was time to get ready for our next outing. This time we used a combination of taxi, monorail and bus to reach our destination.

I was actually getting a little tired of all the subterfuge, but it was still a good idea if only on general principles. This was why I made the appointment with the attorney as Henley Regatta.

Brandon Shaw was a senior partner in a small but well respected local firm. Tall, slim, going a bit grey - which gave him a very dignified look - he was one of two in the company who specialized in criminal cases. Both were on retainer with local federal offices. He had been informed by Brade - indirectly - that Henley Regatta had her confidence and he and his assistant were there to help with the investigation. As we began talking in his very nice office he was a bit wary, at first. However, the fact that I asked smart, pertinent questions and made appropriate comments soon had him more relaxed.

"People who know Doro say she wouldn't have done this," I said. "I believe them. She was last seen entering her apartment. Then nothing until the Bureau was notified that she'd been involved in a multiple killing a day and a half later. So, there could be powers involved, or a neutralizer, or maybe just someone with anesthetic gas."

"I insisted on a blood test," said Shaw, scowling. "Had trouble getting it - had to threaten a court order which likely would have taken too long - but they eventually complied, though almost too late."

"So what did they find?" I asked, leaning forward.

"Pseudotetrodotoxin," he spat out. "Just traces left, but it's not a natural substance. Given the half life in her body, and using the time between when she was found and when she was tested, we know she must have been given a substantial dose some time before the murders. An amount likely just barely sublethal."

"Yeah. There's a lot of that stuff floating around recently, for some reason. Maybe because few powers give a defense against it once it's in the body."

"From what the doctors tell me," said Shaw, "it is also more likely to produce a coma without death than regular tetrodotoxin. Especially when administered by someone trained in its application. The good news is that if someone survives the poison they'll usually recover in a few days with no lasting effects. The medical report confirmed that she was not only unconscious but completely helpless for hours before, during and after the attack. That, plus her disappearance from her apartment pretty much cinched it, at least in my mind. The police originally claimed the injury was self-inflicted, but that went by the wayside pretty quickly once I challenged it."

"How was her injury made?"

"Short-barreled shotgun firing a deer slug." He pointed a finger at his own chin to show the angle. "Firing up and back from under the chin. Tore her mouth up pretty good, including the palate. It's mostly soft tissue damage, though her jaw was broken, right at the point. There are already people saying this incident justifies more gun control. Even though sawed-off shotguns - not to mention murder and attempted murder - are already illegal."

"Has anyone explained why someone physically superhuman who planned to kill several people with her bare hands would bring a shotgun?"

"The working hypothesis by the police was originally that she planned to kill herself with it after she finished. They haven't explained, yet, how there were no fingerprints on the weapon, even though Doro was in plain clothes with no gloves. I had to suggest - firmly - that they check the ammunition for fingerprints, too. No word on that, yet."

I shook my head, as well. Looking at Sally I saw she had an opinion similar to mine and that of the attorney.

"According to the medical report that slug did nearly kill her," Shaw noted, sadly. "Fortunately she's gotten tougher over the past few years. Unfortunately, while she heals quickly she doesn't have regeneration. Unless she can get time in a regeneration tank she'll have scars and need some crowns. Though she is expected to otherwise make a full recovery."

"Those are getting more common, too," I said, hopefully. "The tanks, I mean."

"I'm also having trouble with discovery. They keep putting me off. Especially on the initial autopsy reports. The city says the coroners haven't had time to finish, but in a major case like this they always bring in extra help and do a quick preliminary. I may actually have to get a court order for that."

"I suspect part of the problem is that the results aren't showing what the DA expects them to show," I said, dryly. "From my research, I know she's demonstrated some anti-super sentiments before. If the examination was showing that the injuries to the deceased were made with clubs instead of fists she may have told them to look again."

"You didn't hear that from me," said Shaw, with a slight smile.

"Really, that's pretty basic," I said, with a shrug. "It's also speculation, until you get the reports."

"Hmmm, yes," Shaw said, rubbing his chin. "I think I'll try harder to light a fire under them. I know a judge..."

"I think we're done for now, so we won't take any more of your time today," I said, with my own smile. I stood and offered my hand. "Thank you for meeting with us. I hope we'll be talking more soon."

He was already reaching for the phone as we walked out.

* * *

Another day passed with us making basic inquiries of several sources. We also did a reconnaissance of the building where the murders had taken place, openly as Lorraine and Sandy. It was a local hotel - not far from ours, deliberately - which frequently rented rooms for important business meetings. In this case, while all of the business involved in Corporate Salvage had local offices, the bosses had come to town for a personal get-together on neutral ground. They had obviously wanted to talk privately about something they considered very important. Unfortunately, I didn't have any details beyond that. However, while touring the facilities - on the pretense of wanting to rent rooms for a conference - I made several contacts and spotted multiple ways of potentially getting into the scene of the crime without detection.

"So, given that the room they chose was deliberately isolated, that made the attack easier," said Sally, when I pointed out that location. She shook her head as we walked towards a bus stop near the convention center hotel. "They didn't make any efforts to conceal their meeting or their presence in the city. I've worked security enough to know that if they had thought they might be in danger they - more likely, their own security people - would have taken better precautions."

"I suspect they either had no feeling they might be in physical danger, or simply assumed that hotel security would handle any problems."

"In which case their own security people should be fired." She frowned. "Or maybe they were in on it?"

"Probably not. Keep it in mind, but not as a priority."

Once back in our own hotel suite - yes, by a circuitous route - we began checking messages. I had one from Brandon Shaw which I immediately opened. He'd received the autopsy reports on the dead Corporate Salvage businessmen, but only after getting a judge to file a court order. He'd had to take that route due to the prosecutors stalling, obviously under orders, so he had the judge go straight to the coroner's office. However, the result was not a proper coroner's report; rather, it was more like a press release. A very dumbed-down press release. The injuries were all described vaguely enough that they could have been made by blunt objects or superhuman hands and feet. Much other expected information was simply omitted. Shaw closed by reporting that he went back to the same judge, showed her the report, and the woman had ordered independent autopsies.

"That's good news," said Sally. "Maybe the new ones will exonerate Doro."

"Hopefully, they'll at least incriminate someone else."
I was about to say more but was interrupted by a notice that a new message had arrived. Another e-mail from Shawl, marked Urgent! I opened it, started reading, and snarled.

"The bodies have disappeared from the morgue."

"Shit," was all Sally had to say.

* * *

The next day there was a press release from DA's office about the missing bodies. It made big news, not only national but to some extent international. This was partly due to the office making vague accusations that the theft of the bodies was due to other supers trying to cover up Doro's crimes.

We went back to Shaw's office that afternoon for an update.

"The new forensic pathology team I organized must work with copies of the notes and photos from the first autopsies," said the attorney. "The coroner's office sent me those as a consolation prize after the bodies went missing. I sent copies of those documents to each of the pathologists we've hired. They won't have to come here for the work, so it will actually be faster. If those documents are accurate and adequate."

"So much of that work depends on feel and even smell," I said, concerned. "I know experts can do a good job just from examining the work of others, but - at the risk of sounding ghoulish - we really need those bodies."

"They're almost literally turning the morgue upside down," said Shaw, looking and sounding tired. "It's possible someone simply put them in a safe place and went on vacation, but in all likelihood those bodies are already ashes. The next of kin are screaming."

"This looks like catch-up," said Sally. She usually played silent partner in these discussions, but when she did talk it was to ask or point out something the rest of us had missed. She did, indeed, have the makings of a good detective.

"Yeah," I said, nodding, and giving her an affectionate smile. "Someone who is smart but not used to committing crimes - at least of this type - keeps realizing they need to do something. Unfortunately, once they act they're doing these things very well."

"So... It's either someone clever who just isn't used to this type of crime but is learning fast," said Shaw, thoughtfully, "or they know to call in experts, but are only calling on them for specific tasks."

"Either of which fit someone unethical who felt the need to take things to another level with those vultures," I said, frowning. "Whatever the reason for that is."

* * *

"What's on the schedule today?" said Sally, after we returned to the room from breakfast the next morning.

"I'm not sure," I said, with a sigh, feeling tired already. "Frankly, I'm out of ideas. Well, for the moment."

I grinned at her.

"One of Mack Risk's favorite sayings was 'When in doubt, walk it out.' Which meant that you should keep working the scene and the witnesses. Do the legwork."

"That actually makes sense," she said, nodding.

We changed and headed out.

* * *

We checked street vendors. We checked the doormen of neighboring hotels. We checked security guards for all the businesses in the area around the convention center. That took all that day and a couple of hours the next morning. After deciding we'd covered all the available angles from that resource we headed back to our suite.

"You mentioned something about checking security cameras," said Sally, as we rode up in the otherwise empty elevator.

"That would likely take court orders or warrants," I said. I frowned. "Actually, I wish I'd thought to ask Shaw about that. I know the police got the videos from the convention center, but I don't know if they checked neighboring facilities."

Back in the suite I did a quick check of my e-mail, and found one marked Urgent! from Shaw. I shifted to Henley Regatta form and used my drop phone to call instead of responding to his message. His secretary was expecting my call and put me right through. I set my phone to conference mode and put it on the coffee table in front of the couch in the central room.

"Someone broke into the medical examiner's office last night," he said, without preamble. "Took off with the computers, the paper records and the sample jars."

"I can't say I'm surprised," I said. "Didn't they increase their security after the bodies went missing?"

"I don't know. Like you I just assumed they would, but after this..."

"I was going to call you anyway," I said, after he went silent. I mentioned my idea about checking the security videos from businesses around the convention center.

"The police actually already did that," he said. "They even checked with ATM cameras, and found who had been using the machines during that period and are interviewing them."

"That's more thorough than I expected."

"Anyway, I sent copies of all the digital files they sent me back to the coroner's office. Keep in mind that this is not for public release yet. I only know because the head of the medical examiner's office called to ask if I still had my copies. I did a quick check, confirmed that I did and sent them back."

"We got very lucky," I said, quietly. "If you hadn't received those copies so soon..."

"Tell me about it," said Shaw. "Of course, by the time the original materials - including the computer files - vanished, I'd already forwarded what I got to the three outside medical examiners. Which makes me wonder if whoever is behind this might be someone old enough that they don't how quick and easy it is to share information in digital form."

"That's less an effect of age than awareness," I said, frowning in thought. "Though, yeah, that sort of unawareness is more common in older folks. What I'm thinking, though, is that whoever is behind this is someone who may be aware of modern technology - and likely uses it - but isn't interested enough in it to understand how easy it makes backing things up."

"Some older businessman who was done wrong by the vultures?" said Sally, speculating aloud as she spoke for the first time. "Maybe a coconspirator they were about to turn on?"

"They weren't exactly secretive about when and where they were meeting," I said, frowning. "Though they were about what they were meeting for."

"We still don't know," said Shaw. "They didn't have a meeting schedule, they didn't keep minutes..."

We spoke for several more minutes, but none of us had anything more to say which was likely to be constructive. We each promised to keep the other notified of developments, and I ended the call.

Sally and I sat in silence for a moment.

"Damn..." was all I could manage, finally.



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