R U M O U R S ~ O F ~ P R I V I L E G E
Six days before the murder
Colette waited long enough to hear something else follow the Ambrosia glass’s demise. Whatever it was hit the door with a dull thud then fell to the ground. Last time this happened she had been leaning up against that door, with her back pressed to the wooden surface. She was close enough to feel it then.
That was Paul’s way; throwing things that didn’t belong to him.
It seemed that once again they had drawn more silly lines in the sand, so many over the years that she’d forgotten where half of their boundaries were. Little good those boundaries were with the tide on its way in. The hour was drawing late for them – the daylight was starting to wane and the moons of their world were drawing the waters ever closer. When the tide came, and coming it was…
“Good afternoon, this is the President’s office, how may I help you?”
Colette went to open the President’s door. She got as far as clasping the handle, but something held her back. A choice was in the process of being made, quite without her consent, in the deepest – most primal parts of her mind. Instinct had sensed a volatile future and was taking hold. If she walked away from this door, without opening it, she knew for certain that she would walk away from him.
This same instinct told her that she would, without questioning it, obey. Once, in the memory of someone else’s life, this would have caused her considerable distress. What she felt now was a quiet regret. A defiant sadness that this was the end of her first real relationship, but there was nothing to be done. Her decision might save them both.
“…I’m afraid he’s in a meeting at the moment – yes, I know you that, but I’m afraid that can’t be arranged…”
Cris walked through the reception area smiling pleasantly at the receptionist. She proceeded through into the main corridor heading right, toward the elevator which she took directly to the roof.
The lights in the pilot’s cabin were still on. As she’d hoped, the Captain had not finished checking the shuttle since her arrival a quarter of an hour earlier.
He heard her approach through the cabin. “What can I do for you today, young lady?”
The Captain had always reminded Colette of the old sea masters that used to give her rides across the ocean when the weather was fine. He was the type that liked to think she was a relative of his; it was the same with all the girls, she suspected. “Can I ask you a favour, Captain?”
“Surely sweetheart. Anything for you, you know that.”
“I’d like – ” Cris paused, not sure exactly what she was after. “I’d like to go across town to the ‘Twelve Colonies’. Short notice I realise, but something’s come up.”
It was always there, that knowing smile. The Captain did her bidding without question, which made a nice change from the other men in her life.
* * *
Colette strode into the foyer of the lavish hotel. Porters and waitmen crossed back and forth along the exterior. A drink waiter ventured into the circular seating arrangement in the centre where various important looking people had arranged themselves at respectful distances. They were watching her through their newspapers. One lowered theirs enough to make a request of the waiter. No doubt these assorted guests were waiting for the real business hours to begin.
“Good afternoon and welcome to the Twelve Colonies. How may I help you?”
“That time already? I’d like a room for this evening, but I’m afraid I don’t have a reservation.”
The woman, without referring to her screen, replied, “The Presidential suite is available, Ms. Procris.”
As much as she appreciated the popularity, sometimes she just wished she could vanish for a while and be offered a dodgy room well out of the way of prying eyes. “No, that won’t be necessary – just somewhere I can see the water will do fine.”
Presidential room, short notice – no problem. Ordinary room with a view of the water? Now that caused a frown to appear.
“Room 1360 ma’am. It will be ready in half an hour. Do you require a porter for your luggage?”
Colette glanced down at the small overnight bag she was holding. “No, no.” The receptionist handed over the key. “Oh…” Colette had almost forgotten. “Send a bottle of your best whisky to my shuttle and offer the gentleman there a room for the night – he’ll say no to the room, but offer it anyway.”
* * *
Matt waited patiently in Colette’s office for some time even though he had guessed quite early on that Colette had performed another one of her famous disappearing acts. It was enough to send his stomach into knots. Was it any wonder the President had asked him to keep an eye on her! Guarding Colette was a full time job and then some.
“Margaret, do you know where the First Lady is?”
The secretary looked a little concerned at the question. “With you,” she said hesitantly.
“Right – of course.”
What an idiot! Matt scalded himself as he headed up to the roof, hoping that she might have sort refuge in her shuttle, which she had. The parking space was vacant.
“Fabulous.” Matt scuffed his shoes on the cement rooftop in displeasure. Freeing himself of his jacket, Matt strolled over to the edge of the rooftop to look out over the water and enjoy the pre-dusk breeze. It was pleasantly warm with the sun setting behind him. The top of Parliament Building cast a narrow shadow over Matt and the city below. It was as if the streets were sinking in the shadows that formed between the crests of these concrete fortresses. Music would begin playing shortly from the numerous restaurants along the water. How pleasant it would be, thought Matt, to be able to share a glass of wine in one of their balconies.
The cell door was heavy and closed ungracefully. One of the three guards locked inside readjusted his weapon. Vince approached the prisoner, surprised to see Troy Procris under extensive guard. The man was not the finest physical example, but he was in good health for his age. Vince had a well informed suspicion that the guards were not afraid of Mr. Procris – they were afraid of the people on their way to free him. A man with such a sheer volume of influence could be counted on to mount a completely legally illegal escape, and soon.
The room itself was devoid of furniture, so Troy sat on the floor in the middle of the back wall. His figure was draped in poorly fitting red overalls. Several bruises that were already turning yellow obscured his face. Whatever damage he may have done to Naxos, it had not been entirely one sided. “Mr. Procris, my name is Detective Moretti, and I am here to ask you some questions about the death of Colette Procris.”
Troy threw his head back and laughed. “You are not here to ask me why the Representative and I had a bit of a tiff then?”
“I was hoping they might be the same question.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice for you…”
“I assure Mr. Procris, that co-operating with me will look good in your trial.” Troy was unmoved. “I’m sure they’ve told you that Edward Naxos died a short time ago?”
“Figures, the old bastard never could go the distance.”
“I’m sure a jury will see events slightly differently.” Vince came to rest directly in front of him. “You’re only way out is to give me the information I need so that I can write you a lovely recommendation and maybe, with luck, you’ll get manslaughter and won’t spend the remainder of your life in this jail cell.”
Troy did not respond. He did not even flinch. Vince glanced up at the tiny square of light making its way through the corner of the room. Troy followed his eye but found a smile to counter Vince’s smugness.
“You think you can help me?” he began, almost curiously, “I do not require help,” he continued, “especially not from your kind.”
“From where I’m standing, help is everything you need.”
“You are incorrect Vince, and it would do you well to remember that you can be wrong.” Troy looked up at the guards either side of him. Even with Troy in chains, they avoided eye contact. “My lawyer is not present so this conversation is over. My father was a man of the law, Mr. Moretti, and it is foolish to think that I do not know it. For my own interest though, I will tell you this. No one is ever stabbed by one person.”
Inwardly, Moretti frowned. He did not have time for unravelling riddles. “To my knowledge, no one has been stabbed – yet.”
Whenever Troy spoke, Vince got the impression that he thought of Vince as some kind of pesky insect that he kept alive only to torture further. “Think about it,” he said simply. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have matters to attend to.”
* * *
The court hearing for Troy Procris was scheduled in one week’s time. Two hours after Vince left the cell, Troy was gone. Absorbed back into the world. No wonder he was not afraid. More to the point, Vince had not told Troy his name. He wondered how he knew it.
Six days before the murder
Colette relaxed in one of the comfortable lounge chairs in the main bar area. If anyone knew who she was, they knew enough to keep their distance and their respective conversations to themselves. The man at the grand piano was an old school friend. Currently he was working his way down a lengthy list of light jazz that she had once spent time enjoying in a little bar on Canceron. Music was graceful. His was unpredictable.
She needed a way to prove the connection between Gemenon and the complex trade industries of Aerelon and Canceron. Not just any proof either, it had to be undeniable evidence of Gemenon’s desire to set the world’s at war. If that could be done then the Quorum could be overruled. So far all her evidence was hearsay.
Rumour placed Epeius in this hotel sometime this evening. Cris was counting on him to make an appearance at the nearby bar. Stalking was still illegal, even for public servants, but she could not be held accountable if some of her friends – who just happened to be staff, let slip a few intricate details of his travel arrangements.
Colette was soon to find out that she was misinformed.
Cris had not realized her glass was empty. “A lemon lime and bitters this time and a bowel of nuts Tom, I’m starving.”
“Dinner is available in the dining hall early if you would prefer.” Tom leant down to collect her glass, as he did he tilted his head to whisper, “The reservation was cancelled by phone.” He straightened himself up.
Colette slipped him a generous tip. Her confrontation with Gemenon would have to wait. Even if she could not get the truth to the world, she desperately wanted it to hear it for herself. It appeared evident by today’s exhibition that the Quorum was preparing to bring down the Presidency. That could not be allowed to happen yet.
“He’s gone then?”
“Very,” replied Vince, shuffling through his desk draws.
“Just walked out through the front doors?”
“So it would seem.” Vince dropped the phone accidentally, swearing as a folder flipped open and spewed its contents over the desk and floor. Matt waited patiently on the other end while Vince fumbled around. “Sorry, you there still?”
“Listen Vince, I’ve been hearing things. Strange stuff. Rumours of some kind of – privileged information. Something Colette was caught up in before she – anyway, I thought you should know. Edward Naxos was connected to it as well.”
Vince stopped fussing with his papers, “What kind of information? Hold on, who told you this?”
Matt’s voice was rushed. The background chatter placed him somewhere in the facility of public transport. Horns blared and the general chatter of frustrated commuters made it difficult for him to hear, “Look, meet me in Central Park in half an hour. I think I can get someone to fill in for me after I finish this.”
Putting the phone down, Vince collected the rest of the documents from the floor. His office desk was hidden below several layers of accumulated evidence thrown on his desk throughout the day by various associates. It was more a cubical than a proper office. From his chair he could see the rest of the ‘offices’ hug the back wall. Opposite, a panel of glass let in much needed light and slats above them helped to circulate the air. Half a dozen detectives paced about with files in hand. This was the last day the entire services of the department were to be focused on the Procis Case. Tomorrow operations would resume, as crime had not paused. A select team, including Vince, would remain assigned to this case. Between the press and the public, pressure was mounting to find the killer. Everyone was anxious to know how someone in a high public office could be murdered so viciously inside the building that stood for permanence and order. Further, the people struggled to cope with the loss of a widely loved woman who promised to restore peace to the Colonies. How was such peace to be found now that its torch bearer had been quashed without mercy?
In peak time, Central Park was a thoroughfare for city commuters. The fountain at its centre propelled water into the air regardless of the hour. Thirteen jets of liquid hit the mossy rocks and broke over their carved forms, flowing back into the aqua pond. Matt sat on the edge of this structure. Vince recognised him from the opposite end of the park. His suited friend was seated beside a tourist group snapping away at the spectacular fountain. A small child from the group challenged his patience by running along the stone boundary that held the main body of water, leaping over Matt on each circuit.
“I suppose your watch is broken as well as your phone,” said Matt on Vince’s arrival. It had been close on forty-five minutes since they had spoken.
Vince hauled himself up onto the edge of the fountain. His feet dangled as he leant backwards to look up at the great tragic figure at its centre. Below the choppy water, assorted coins glistened. As a boy, Vince had fantasised about ducking beneath the water to collect them and buy ice-cream at the store by the edge of the park. “What kind of information is so important that you hauled me all the way down to this miserable place?”
Matt forced a smile as he watched Vince test the water. The child that had been circling him earlier reappeared but did not attempt to jump over them. “It’s not information, perse.” Vince straightened. “Colette did not share any of her work with me; I was just the body guard you understand.”
Vince nodded. He had not expected Matt to know any of the particulars.
“It didn’t even occur to me until today,” Matt shook his head, “I should have said something earlier but I thought it was to do with the nasty run in with him she had.”
“Had a run in with whom?”
“Epieus,” Matt closed his eyes, “it was about two weeks ago. The First Lady and I had just returned from Canceron –”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted Vince. “I read about her address to the Quorum. Apparently she lifted a few robes.”
“That would put it mildly. When we returned to Caprica that afternoon, we heard raised voices coming from the President’s office. Naturally Colette dropped everything to have look. I followed. We found Epieus cowering by the door and the President standing opposite. His speech was slurred and I should think he had had a bit to drink.”
Vince understood why Matt had not ventured this information before. During his job he witnessed things that were better hushed up for the good of the Presidency. Drunken arguments with Quorum members were probably best left to lie.
Matt left out the subsequent argument between Cris and the President. “That night though, the Quorum held an unplanned session. I only noticed because I almost walked in on them that evening while doing a security check of the building. Colette didn’t know about it, I’m sure of it.”
“So they held a meeting, I thought that was the only thing they did.”
Only now did Matt feel the same frustration that had haunted Cris throughout her life. “That is not the point.”
Six days before the murder
Matt waited on the rooftop until the night was firmly in place. Out on the water, colourful lights bobbed with the current. It appeared that the First Lady was not coming back tonight, and waiting out on a rooftop as a storm started to build on the horizon, would not hasten her return. “All right,” he whispered, pushing himself off the railing. One of his favourite tunes finished playing below with applause as another one overlapped it. These pleasant festivities would have to pack up in a few hours once the nightly summer storm rolled in.
Passing the vacant parking space of the First Lady’s shuttle, Matt ducked into the warmth of the building. With nothing to do now that his job had commandeered a ship for the night, he started on a routine security sweep.
One of the first rooms he entered was the temple room. It was dark and quiet with its heavy drapes drawn over the view. The afternoon prayer session was long over and there would not be another one until the weekend.
Running his hand along the decorative wallpaper of the narrow hallway, Matt hummed one of the tunes he had spent the evening enjoying. He had forgotten how quiet the Parliament building was after hours. Lately he had spent all his time trailing the First Lady. It had been an adventure, one that his queasy stomach was glad for a break from. There was nothing like solid ground beneath your feet sometimes.
Catching his heavy set of keys mid-throw, Colonel Matthew Lenard stopped in front of the next set of double doors. These ones were slightly more ornate than the others of the hallway. Arching across both doors was a gold inset that read, 'Gods shall hear our cry and answer'. Matt smiled, his ability to read the ancient language expiring after the first line.
The doors opened with a defiant squeak. Matt was met, not with another blackened room as he had expected, but with the glare of the Quorum in full session. The room appeared as if on pause. The curved seating held a silent audience while the speaker on the ground held his bony hands clasped in front of him. Epieus had halted mid-sentence. There were no meetings at this hour.
Epieus was the first to speak. He relaxed his stance, and turned to face Matt. “Colonel, may we help you?”
The room listened intently. Matt, taken off guard and uneasy around politicians of any sort, had no response.
“No?” Epieus laid a hand on the podium, “Then perhaps you would be kind enough to close the doors on your way out.”
Confused, Matt nodded silently and left. He listened at the door for a few minutes, but the doors refused to whisper.
“So you left?” said Vince, listening intently to Matt’s recount.
“What else could I do?”
Matt had a point. Holding an unscheduled meeting meant nothing. Well, Vince corrected himself, it defiantly meant something, but you could not do anything about it. What would you say to them, stop talking? “Nothing,” said Vince. “Though I think there is something else you came to tell me about.”
“Yes of course,” he replied, “it happened today. It is probably nothing.” Matt stood up from his relaxed position against the fountain and moved closer to Vince. “I spent the day escorting the President between finance meetings. On the third, he asked me to wait outside. This happens often in closed meetings and I did not worry. As you could imagine, a lot of people pass by at this time of the day and when you are bored beyond reason, you listen.”
“You should try ‘people watching’, more interesting.”
“Vince...” said Matt irritably, not in the mood for interruptions. Vince apologised. “It was Epeius.”
“Gods he gets around – sorry,” Vince held his hand over his mouth, promising to remain quiet.
“He was talking to a few gentlemen in robes that I had not seen before, and I don’t think he saw me at first. All I heard was, ‘we cannot have that old hack Naxos seeding his filth on every vermin ridden Colonel, afternoon.’ Then he nodded at me and the group walked off without a word. That wasn’t the most interesting thing though; it was what one of the other gentlemen said.”
“’And the letter, it has been sent.’”
Vince body language echoed Matt’s frustration. “That’s not enough. Those comments on their own mean nothing.”
"I know, but at least we know that Naxos and Epieus weren't the best of friends. That, at least, has to mean something. As for the contents of the letter, I couldn't guess."
"But if I made you guess?"
Matt frowned, "Guessing is not what I do."
"Come on Matt, I refuse to believe the military has sucked you dry of your curiosity."
"Well, if I had to guess, which I never do, I would guess that it had something to do with this civil war the First Lady was so focused on. It's all she did for those last few weeks and Epieus was at the top of her list of persons of interest."