The Ganelon Gambit

Part Six -- by Becky Ratliff

When Vansen and Sederis got back to the hospital fifteen minutes later, the panic was over, and the police were taking statements from the people in the waiting room. They found Joe Bealle still waiting for word on his wife and child. Ali and Jessa were sitting beside him. Ali stood when she saw Shane. "Did you get him?"

Shane shook her head. "He had too much of a head start. He ducked through a restaurant and lost us."

"Could you tell who it was?"

"No, we were hoping Joe could help us out with that," Sederis replied.

Ali gave him a puzzled look and Jessa scowled. Bealle's eyes narrowed. "What makes you think that?"

Sederis glanced at the bullet hole in the wall. "I was wondering why this guy aimed at you all the way back here, when there were all those other people sitting right in front of the window. That wasn't random. And you're on the sheriff's short list of suspects in the bombing, that's a big coincidence, isn't it?"

"If you think I'd do anything to hurt Ellie and the baby--!"

"So what gave Adams the idea to put your name on his list? If you had nothing to do with the bombing, then I think it's a pretty good bet that whoever just tried to shoot you did!"

"Adams took my name down because I reported some explosives stolen from the mine a week ago. It could have been the blasting powder used in the bomb, the amount would have been about right." Bealle gave Sederis a long look. "OK, Marc, you're all the time saying the past is the past and now we need to work together. I'm going to trust you and give you a chance to put your money where your mouth is. I was part of the underground during the indenture years. Things were different back then, it was a matter of life and death. Especially for runaways who needed new papers in a hurry. But then after the Liberation Act, there was a lot of argument about where the resistance was going. I felt like things had advanced far enough that we could make the law work for us. Some people didn't trust the system that far, they thought we couldn't change things from the inside. That was when I got out. I haven't heard from them since. I can't think of anyone else who'd single me out as a target. There's only one guy from my old cell still alive, I figure he can wait until Ellie and the baby are out of the woods."

Ali said, "I've got a few questions for him too -- if one of our own was behind this we know how to take care of it."

Vansen said, "Now wait a minute, you two belong here with your kids. Let us handle this."

Jessa said, "She's right, Ali. If Marc and I are both there to see it, that should satisfy everybody that we've got the right guy. And, Joe, if you're a suspect, the best place you can be is right here with lots of witnesses."

"Well...." Ali didn't really want to leave Heather -- taking care of her now was more important than personally getting her hands on the bomber. "They're right, Joe, I think we should stay here."

Marc said, "You said you were going to give me a chance to show my colors. That's all I'm asking you to do. You can trust me with this guy's name, here in front of Ali and Jessa. I give you my word of honor, unless I have good reason to believe this man is involved in these terrorist attacks, I'll never use his past with the underground against him in any way. If I let you down, I'd be finished doing business here on Ganelon -- none of the stations would ever trust me again."

Bealle looked from Sederis to Ali and Jessa, then made up his mind. "He's Adrian Jenson, he's a mechanic."

Ali said, "I know him, Jessa. That's the guy who sold us the parts for the harvester last season."

"The dark-haired guy, right? I remember him."

When Ross and McQueen had first arrived at the park, it had been deserted, except for a few people taking a siesta in the shade of a park service building. As the midday heat abated, more people began to fill the park. Push-carts lined up on the sidewalk and did a steady trade, and people were lined up three deep at the newspaper kiosk on the corner. The playground equipment and the wading pool around the fountain were conspicuously empty of children, though. Most of the people in the park were adults who stood around in small groups talking in quiet, concerned voices. As Ross looked closer, he realized the people were mostly blue-collar workers and therefore mostly In Vitroes. He overheard snatches of angry, anxious conversation.

"I don't think the police will be able to keep a lid on this too much longer," he commented.

McQueen nodded. "There'll be people in the streets tonight. We don't have much time to get to the bottom of this."

Ross nodded. If rioting broke out tonight, he wondered if the hospital would remain a safe refuge. Anything could happen.

Vansen lounged behind the wheel of a battered delivery van. Sederis had got it from somewhere. Somehow she hadn't been surprised that he knew where to find a non-descript vehicle on short notice. In the passenger seat next to her, he had a faded blue ball cap pulled low over his eyes. To anyone on the street they were a couple of delivery people catching a nap while waiting for a shipment at the down port, so they attracted little notice. Across the street and two doors down was a farm supply that carried everything from feed and seed to heavy agricultural equipment.

A dark-haired man came out the front. "Jessa, is this our guy?"

Jessa pulled herself up to look out the driver's side door, over Vansen's shoulder, then quickly ducked back. "That's him."

He got into a light blue pickup truck with a cap over the bed. Sederis cautioned, "Don't get right on his bumper -- let a couple of cars get between you. Just don't miss the green light up here."

Vansen pulled into traffic. "He's turning." She signalled and eased into the turn lane, letting a motorcycle in between her and the pickup. A few blocks later they turned onto a busy street. She glanced at a street sign -- Commerce.

Sederis said, "He must be going to the meeting."

"Looks like. I could drop back another couple of cars, we don't want to spook him."

"No, you're doing fine. If we're wrong and he turns off, you don't want to have to cut across traffic to get behind him in a turn lane."

"Right." She stayed with the flow of traffic. Adrian stayed on Commerce, parked at the curb near the park entrance. Vansen didn't see another spot along that block. She continued through the intersection and pulled the van into the first parking place she saw.

Jessa looked out the back. "I can't see, there are too many parked cars in the way! What do we do now?"

Vansen adjusted the side mirror. She spotted the Commodore almost immediately, and there was McQueen. Adrian joined a couple of other rough-looking guys, one of whom was carrying a newspaper over his arm.

"Hey, I think that guy has a gun--!"

She and Sederis both reached for the door handles, but before they could get out, Mr. Newspaper gestured back toward the sidewalk. Vansen judged distances. She could make a shot at that distance on the shooting range... but on a crowded sidewalk, across a busy intersection, no.

Jessa had already opened the back door of the van, but she hurriedly closed it. "They're leaving, Shane, don't get out!"

Shane turned around in her seat. A few minutes later the blue pickup and an old gray sedan passed them -- she saw McQueen and Ross in the back seat of the car. She pulled out a couple of cars behind them.

Beyond the strip was a district of light industries and warehouses. The traffic thinned considerably and few people were on the sidewalks, since most of the businesses were closed today for the fair holiday. Vansen could feel sweat running down the back of her neck, and it wasn't all due to the heat. There was a lot greater chance the undergrounders would spot them. Watching car chases on TV hadn't been good enough training for this. An old delivery van was right at home here, but any minute now Adrian could realize he'd seen the vehicle before.

The truck and the gray car slowed and turned into the parking lot of a machine shop. Vansen saw people starting to get out. McQueen stumbled getting out, drawing the attention of the man with the gun for just a second.

And that was all the opening Ross needed -- the next thing anyone knew, that guy was screaming that his arm was broken. Unable to get the weapon himself, Ross kicked it under the car out of everyone else's reach.

Vansen slammed on the brakes, nearly standing the van on its nose. She and Sederis piled out of the van while Jessa was still swearing and trying to get her crutch under her.

Sullivan went for Ross, but never got the chance because McQueen got in between them. Sullivan was a brawler, not a trained fighter -- but he was tough enough to take several of McQueen's best shots and keep coming.

Vansen saw some guy intending to brain McQueen with a tire iron. She tackled him and knocked him down, kicking and punching for all she was worth. She had no intention of letting a guy who had forty pounds on her get his wits together. Sederis waded into the brawl.

A few seconds later, a shotgun blast got everyone's attention. Jessa was leaning on the side of the van, with the barrel of the shotgun pointed straight at Sullivan. Nobody moved, and everything went suddenly quiet except for the guy with the broken arm moaning through clenched teeth.

"That's more like it," Jessa said. "Now, it's time we all had a nice, civilized little talk."

"Like the talk somebody had with Derek?" Sullivan managed to sound really dangerous, for a man who had a shotgun pointed at him.

"What about Derek?"

"He met me at the pool hall. Five minutes after he left, I found him dead in the alley. Somebody knifed him."

Vansen said, "That must have been right after he called me to set up the meeting." Sullivan glared at her. She continued, "Think about it, why the hell would we want to kill Derek!"

Sullivan pointed at Sederis. "Maybe you wouldn't, but I can think of a few reasons why this son of a bitch would."

Marc said, "Right. There's a hole in your theory, though. Someone took a shot at Joe Bealle, tried to make it look random. The only guy I can think of who'd want to do that is the guy who stole the blasting powder from Bealle's mine. Adrian, you wanna tell us about that? Where were you this afternoon?"

"Working, man, I was at the farm supply all day!"

Vansen said, "We don't know if we're chasing two things at once here. A guy like Derek makes a lot of enemies. Whoever killed him might not have had anything to do with the bombing."

Sullivan said, "All right! Jessa, you want to point that thing someplace else?"

She lowered the shotgun. "We better get out of here before the police get here, don't you think?"

It was quickly decided that Adrian would take the man with the broken arm to the hospital, while the rest of them moved further down the street.

For all the theatrics leading up to it, the discussion produced frustratingly little new information. Sullivan didn't know who could have set off the fairgrounds bomb, or for that matter who could have set the fire on the Agropoint loading dock or shot at the bus on the New Waikiki Road.

Sederis admitted, "The loading dock fire could have been an accident. The fire marshal couldn't be sure it was set."

Sullivan said, "I don't believe the underground had anything to do with any of it. If something was up, I would have heard. What about that shipment of medical supplies that got contaminated?"

Sederis replied, "I don't know any more about it than you do. Think about it -- both my company and the co-ops have every acre planted and the factories going three shifts now, and we still can't keep up with the demand. Sure, the co-ops are underselling us -- so what? We're still shipping our products out as fast as we can load the transports. What would be the sense in either of us trying to sabotage the other?"

"Okay!" Sullivan glowered. "Let's think this thing through. The only thing we know for sure is that Giraldo was found next to the bomb, right? What kinda bomb was it? I heard pipe bomb, is that true?"

Ross said, "Yes, they haven't issued an official statement yet but that's what it was."

"Figures. Any asshole could build a pipe bomb. So who saw Giraldo last before that?"

Sederis said, "I don't know, but the last time I saw him was leaving work yesterday around 6:30 in the evening."

Sullivan said, "I'm going to do what I can to keep a lid on things tonight."

Sederis nodded. "If we can just keep our people on our own sides of the Strip, maybe we can keep things from going too far before we find out what's going on."

"Ain't gonna last long. You heard the latest?"

"What latest?"

"That little boy from Bramblett's died a little while ago."

Sederis cursed. He remembered a couple of firemen and a hysterical woman rushing past him with a stretcher carrying a small bloody body. "Whoever the hell did this had just better hope somebody else gets their hands on him before I do."

Ross nodded. "I would be glad to take that job off your hands, Mr. Sederis. There isn't much more we can do here. Let's get back to work, shall we? Thank you for your help, Mr. Sullivan."

Sullivan hesitated a moment, then held out a beefy hand -- a courtesy he still wasn't ready to extend to Sederis. "You're welcome."

Jessa pulled the back doors of the van closed. "Well, that was an interesting fight."

Ross chuckled. "We didn't come up empty, Jessa. If you believe Sullivan -- and I do -- the underground wasn't behind it. I think we've already decided that Marc here is innocent. If it wasn't organized by either of the major factions on Ganelon, then we are dealing with a splinter group or maybe even one lunatic."

Sederis said, "It all comes back to Stan. Someone grabbed him after he left the office, and someone had to see something. Let's retrace his usual route."

Vansen said, "The police would already have done that."

"But they must have missed something," Sederis insisted.

Ross nodded. "That's our best chance right now."

Stan Giraldo's usual evening stop was the Crown Restaurant because it was on his way home. It didn't look very crowded -- the parking lot was almost empty and Sederis said it was usually a lot busier. Ross looked around -- nice dining area, a small bar with a vidscreen that was now tuned to the local news. Sederis lead the way to the bar.

The bartender recognized Sederis from being in here with Giraldo a few times. He asked, "Was Stan in here yesterday evening?"

"The restaurant hostess told me the cops were in here asking, I was waiting for someone to call me back. Yeah, he was here about seven."

"Did you see anything?"

"Nothing special. He was talking to a girl -- a real nice looking redhead."

The bartender had never seen the girl before, and he had been busy so he hadn't noticed if they had left together.

On their way out, Ross asked, "Was Stan a lady's man?"

"He did all right."

"Would he have picked up a girl in a bar and taken her home?"

Sederis replied, "Maybe. It wouldn't be unheard of."

"Let's see if anyone around his building remembers a redhead. Does his building have a doorman?"

"Only at night. The police might not have questioned him yet -- and I doubt they knew to ask about the woman."

It was starting to get dark when they walked up to the doorman at Stan Giraldo's apartment building. He didn't recognize any of them and had no intention of letting such a motley assembly into the building. "The police have ordered everyone off the streets. You'd be much safer if you get back where ever it was you came from. I'm going to lock all the sand storm shutters and sit it out inside myself as soon as a few more of the tenants come home."

Sederis laughed. "This disguise works better than I thought it did." He showed the doorman his ID. "I'm trying to find out what happened to Stan Giraldo."

"Sorry, Mr. Sederis! Hell of a shame about Mr. Giraldo, too. He was a good tenant."

"Did you see him last night?"

"He came home about nine."

"Was there a girl with him?"

"Yes, there was -- a redhead."

"Did you see anything else?"

"Well, about twenty minutes later, a man came up and called Mr. Giraldo's apartment to be let in."

Sederis asked, "What did he look like?"

"Medium height, blonde hair, wearing jeans. I didn't pay too much attention, Mr. Giraldo's girlfriend answered the phone and buzzed him in so I didn't have to unlock the door for him."

Shane asked, "Was his hair a little long?"

"Yeah, I think it was now that you mention it."

She looked at Jessa. "Could be the guy on the roof."

Sederis said, "The police will be interested in all of this. They'll probably want you to get together with a sketch artist."

Ross asked, "Did any of them leave while you were on duty, son?"

The doorman shook his head.

"Could we have a look around the apartment?"

"Well, the cops have it taped off but I don't see why you couldn't look from the hallway." He let them in and locked the door behind them, then took them up the elevator.

All they could do without disturbing the crime scene tape across the door was look, but that was enough to convince Sederis that they wouldn't serve any purpose by going inside. "I don't think there was a fight in there." He turned to the doorman. "Is there any other way out of the building?"

"Service entrance in the back. The tenants have keys so they can take their trash out to the dumpster."

"You mind letting us out that way?"

The doorman shrugged. "No problem."

McQueen did a quickstep to beat Ross to the door. It was dark in the alley, not much twilight made it past the tall buildings on either side. McQueen heard a rustling sound. There was a row of three dumpsters back there, and someone was going through one on the far end.

"Mind stepping away from the dumpster for a minute?"

The woman yelped and stood up so fast she hit her head on the dumpster lid. "Don't sneak up on a person like that!" She scolded. Then she saw that there were a lot of them and her eyes went wide. "I don't have any money, don't hurt me!"

Vansen soothed, "We're not going to hurt you, we just want to talk to you. It's okay."

"Talk? About what?"

"Do you stop at these dumpsters every evening?"

"Just about."

"What about yesterday? Did you see anything yesterday evening?"

The woman said, "Couple people brought some guy was drunk out of that door."

"What did they look like?"

"Man and a woman. Her skirt was too short."

"Yeah, I'm sure it was. Do you remember anything else about them? What color hair did they have?"

"I don't remember.... hers was red."

"What about the drunk guy? What did he look like?"

"He didn't have no hair, he didn't."

Sederis tucked a bill into her grimy hand. "This is important. What did they do after they came out into the alley?"

"The man left and came back with a big black car. They put the drunk guy in the back seat and they drove away."

Sederis patted her arm. "Thanks, you've helped us a lot." After a moment, he gave her another bill. "Now, that's more than you'll make on recyclables tonight. Why don't you go home and stay off the streets tonight? It isn't safe."

"Gonna be fighting?"

"I hope not, but there could be. It won't be very nice, anyway."

The bag lady nodded and pushed her shopping cart towards the street.

Jessa shook her head. "You know she's gonna score meanies with that, or else drink it up."

"Maybe so, but if she takes her recreational chemicals back to her squat, she won't be out on the street tonight," Marc replied.

Jessa nodded, that was exactly the kind of practicality she could respect in a person. "I don't see what we can do now but have the cops look for that car."

"The cops -- Frank Sullivan's people are going to be out trying to keep things quiet in the Quarter, there's no reason they can't look for it at the same time. I'll put the word out on it with my security people."

Ross said, "Get me the license number and I'll pass it along to the shore patrol. If it's anywhere in the downport, they'll find it."

Sederis nodded. "Let's head back to the Agropoint building for coffee and sandwiches while we're waiting. It's the most central location when we hear something."

to be continued...

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