Compliance and Liability

Waking up next to a dead man will ruin your entire day. About the only positive thing you can say about the experience is, at least you’re not him. Though, if the pounding in my skull didn’t stop soon I might consider it as a second career option. I touched my left temple as I sat up and felt the stickiness of coagulating blood. I couldn’t tell how long I’d been out for.

I looked around, took in my surroundings. From the dim light filtering down from the track lighting I could tell I was in some derelict warehouse, somewhere on the outer hub. Empty shipping crates and paper trash littered the floor. There was a gantry on the upper level that lead to a single door, probably to an office. From where I was sitting, the only other exit I could see was an enormous set of pressure doors that offered the cold vacuum of space. I turned my attention to the body of the man next to me.

He had been shot with some kind of energy weapon, the burns across his neck and chest suggested a microwaver, or maybe some low phased plasma caster. I reached for my sidearm, I figured it wouldn’t be in its holster but I checked anyway. A renewed sense of dread dawned on me as I searched poor son of a bitch.

I was under contract with the Frambanc Corporation and was sent up the wire earlier in the day to find Mr. Erad Jalhin, an investment banker, who had gone missing from block thirty-four, D Tier of LEO Station 12, a few days ago. Judging from the pass card in the corpses wallet I had just found him. Now I thought I should figure out how he became a corpse, and what we were both doing lying on the floor of an abandoned factory.  Rifling through the rest of his possessions I find a few bucks in trade notes, and a data key for the Pacifica, a casino hotel in Tier H. It wasn’t much but it was a place to start. I threw the dead man’s personal effects into my own pockets and stood up. My head swam a little as I walked along the wall looking for the exit.

An alarm blared and then stopped. A red light flashed over the pressure door. Someone had tried to vent the facility into space, the fail-safe had detected my presence and aborted the procedure. Who ever had put Jalhin and me in here just found out one of us was still alive. I grabbed a piece of debris and settled in behind one of the cargo crates.

***

The Pacifica hotel was one of those places didn’t ask too many questions of its guests. The questions it did ask could usually be answered with money. The trade notes I found on Jalhin’s body were just enough to bribe my way to finding what room the data key went to. I took the elevator up, patting the pistol, secure in the holster slung on my shoulder. I had managed to recover it from the heavy that had tried to vent me into space. I walloped him across the chin with a piece of high density plastic when he came to see why the airlock wouldn’t open. Given the circumstances of the day so far I was glad to have it back.

The last thing I remember before being introduced to the late Erad Jalhin, was being at his residence on Tier D. I had been interviewing his neighbors, most of them didn’t even know he hadn’t been home. The couple that loved across the corridor seemed to be the only ones paying attention. They told me that he had been seeing someone for the last few months, a tall woman with brown hair. Right before he disappeared they had a fight ,a few days later she stopped coming by. They couldn’t tell me her name, Nothing inside the apartment suite indicated a romantic involvement. Photographs of him in his college days, and posing with obvious business associates. No tall brunettes to be seen.  Closets full of business attire, no sign of recent overnight guests. I’ve found that most investigative findings come down to digging in the trash. There among burned out vapor cartridges and take-out containers was a business card. That’s when I heard someone moving behind me. I jammed the card into my pocket, drew my weapon and wheeled around. I was too slow, I was hit hard before I could see my attacker. When I woke I was in the warehouse.

I remembered the card as the elevator doors open. It’s still there, crumpled in the pocket of my jacket. I read it as I walk towards the hotel room. It read: Michelle Ruhlman, Security Consultant, Suite 3D Block 16 Tier H. A security consultant could mean a body-guard or a gumshoe. I wondered in what capacity Jahlin needed her. In either case I would wager that Michelle Ruhlman was the brown-haired woman who had been seen with him in the past weeks. She was also probably the woman pointing the gun at me when I stepped into the room.

***

Most companies now-a-days have insurance contracts on executive officers. These contracts get activated if they don’t check in with their offices every few days. The contracts have a stipulation that these “disappearances” be checked by an outside investigator to eliminate cases of fraud or corporate malfeasance.  Seven times out of ten the missing executive is shacked up with a member of the opposite sex on some off-world pleasure cruise, the other three times it’s with a member of the same-sex. This was how I made my living. You can imagine my frustration at finding this particular case turning up a corpse, requiring me to actually investigate.

Michelle Ruhlman, wasn’t happy to see me. Less happy when she found her former clients credentials in my possession. Jalhin had hired her to ferry him down the line to Earth. He was in possession of sensitive material that implicated someone in his company of shipping black market pharmaceuticals planet-side. She was planning on protecting him till he testified to the council’s magistrate. Then he began talking about blackmail. Michelle had thought she had persuaded him to reconsider and was supposed to meet him here in the hotel. Instead he ended up dead and she was out a client and the cost of two tickets downward. This is why I always operate on a retainer.

Jalhin had worked for Marikel Diversifications, they practically owned LEO 12 and good chunk of real estate back on Earth. The person he had the goods on was their Chief Operational Officer. I thought about just walking away, but if the story that Ruhlman told me got out I’d lose my license. Besides I had just enough self-respect, and professional ethics left in me to finish the job I was hired for. Also I got a bonus if I prevented the policy from being collected on.

There is this phenomena with people who try blackmail. They always think it’s clever to hide their evidence in the most dangerous possible place. Michelle told me that Jahlin had left the documents on a solid state drive, somewhere in his office. The due diligence clause in my contract meant it was necessary I attempted to retrieve the drive; since it was proof Jahlin’s death was a matter of corporate assassination, voiding the insurance policy on him.

The Marikel offices were one of the few freestanding structures on LEO 12. They were four expansive buildings each covering several blocks surrounding the central  well of Tier B winding their way up to become the major features of the A Tier, which was reserved for penthouses for the highest officials of the corporate council and private pleasure dens. Erad’s office was about halfway up the western column. Merikel had state of the art security. The good news was that since he hadn’t been reported dead yet his pass card was still able to get me into the building. Provided I avoided speaking with any of the guards, I’d be able to get in and back out with little problem.

This was largely true on the way up, aside from a few sidelong glances from secretaries, and a brief hold up with a stuck elevator there wasn’t any trouble. It took a little time to locate the drive I was looking for, I eventually found it taped to the underside of his desk drawer. I decided against booting up the files to find out who might have killed Jalhin, there would be plenty of time for that on my way back down the line. I’d fulfilled my contract or I would once I reported Jahlin’s death to the council authorities, and to Frambanc’s liability office.

I walked casually back down the hall making sure to keep my face down as I passed the security cameras. I made it to the elevators and breathed a sigh of relief as the doors closed. I pushed the button to return to the lobby, but was surprised to find the car was travelling upward. I drew the gun from under my jacket. I didn’t figure it was going to help much but it would be nice to have for moral support.

The doors slid open and I was greeted by four thugs with Marikel security I.D.’s. The look on their faces seemed to indicate that handing my gun over would be proper ettiquette in this situation. They led me down an empty hall to an executive suite. Once inside I was pushed into a chair. I was seated across a man who introduced himself a Dominick Tael. He offered apologies for me ending up in the warehouse earlier in the morning. He had been hoping for a couple more days before the policy on him activated. He had hoped to only be disposing of one body. He wasn’t really concerned with the company collecting. He made me a simple offer, I gave him the information he was being blackmailed with, report that I hadn’t found Jalhin. I’d get to walk away, he’d see to it that I’d get a sizable payout when the policy on Erad was cashed. It was a good offer. I thought it over carefully, seeing as how the alternative seemed to involve another chance at being sent out an airlock.

The door slid open and four blaster shots barked into the room. MIchelle was a good shot. All of the corporate goons were on the ground, smoldering slightly. I stood up, decked Tael a good one in the jaw, and started toward the door. As I walked I explained that I had to decline his offer. I already had a deal, with Ms. Ruhlman. Half my bonus if she made sure I got out of the building safe and sound.

This was written in response to yet another challenge over at Terribleminds. Opening sentence written by lisacle
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