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14 May 2008 @ 09:08 pm

P R O V E R B I A L – S T O N E
Chapter Eight

Present day

“Brazen bastard,” muttered Vince Moretti, switching the morning news off. Troy Procris had some nerve giving a press conference. What Vince really wanted from him was an interview, but Troy was untouchable on the waves of Canceron.

Stretching, he squinted at the bruised clock beside his bed. Five in the morning, he could catch a few more minutes of sleep if he really tried.

That morning at breakfast, Vince licked his jam covered fingers as he cut the hastily made sandwich into four. With sticky fingers, he tore off a section of clingwrap while cautioning a look at the clock above the oven. Vince was rewarded with an error message. Shit, he had meant to get that fixed. Maybe he would have a go at that this afternoon.

“Dad, we’re gonna be late!” Bret stood at the door with his arm outstretched expectantly.

“You’re going to be late, I am already very late.” Vince packed the sandwich into the yellow lunch box along with other items varying in nutrition. “Have you got your instrument?” Bret sighed and raised the black case in his other hand. “Right, good.”

“Come on, Miss Avery takes maths first and she makes you stand if you’re late.”

“Tell them it was my fault.” Vince searched for his coffee, but failed to find it next to the coffee machine where he had left it an hour ago.

“It’s the third time this week. She won’t believe me!”

Gods he sounded like his mother sometimes. “Here,” Vince put his son’s bag on the bench. “Right, keys, keys, keys... ah keys,” Vince scrunched up his face when he felt that horrible sticking sensation between his fingers. “Tomorrow you’re having chicken,” he said, washing them.

“I’m with mum tomorrow...”

Vince wiped his hands on his pants, “I knew that.”

* * *

“You’re late Vince.” Moretti’s hated boss threw another package on Vince’s desk then proceeded to stalk the rest of the room with his tattooed neck on display. That man looked more like an ex-con than a police officer, which was probably due to the fact that he had, indeed, done time. ‘All adds to the flavour,’ he used to say.

“What have we here?” said Vince under his breath as he flipped the package over. It was a padded envelope sent by courier. Whatever was inside was heavy but did not seem to have any rigid shape. Giving in, Vince took his stainless steel letter opener in hand.

A junior cop strolled passed, stopping to turn his pokey nose up in revolt at Vince. “That’s disgusting!” he said, backing away from Vince’s desk with a look of horror.

Vince was in a state of shock. His hands and desk had become slippery as a greasy substance poured out from the envelope. It was blacker than the night sky and stuck to everything it touched leaving the faintest smell of salt.

* * *

“Someone likes you Vince, sending you an envelope of oil.”

Vince’s hands were still black along with his morning newspaper which had earned its purchase price protecting his desk. “If only I could siphon it into my car.”

“I think you have bigger problems than filling your car with people like Troy Procris sending you gifts.” Matt heard chairs shuffle behind the door where he was waiting. “Look, I have to go.”

“’Course,” Vince glared at the people staring at him. It was not like he was the first to be sent curious mail. Hanging up the mobile, Vince examined the damage with a cringe, rubbing the greasy residue between his fingertips.

Five days before the murder

Colette Procris woke up in a hotel bed. At first she found it pleasant waking up away from the stress of her life. Paul would be wondering where she was, but she doubted that he would be surprised at her absence. The city noise was quieter here. It was peaceful in the room. Finely woven silk fell from the frame above the windows. Cris had left them open last night forgetting that the beautiful nights turned to torrential downpours. She hoped the curtains would dry before checkout. The weather was predictably unstable here.

A loud snore brought her out of sleep’s grasp. Sitting up, she pulled the sheet to her chest and searched the room. She had been alone last night, she was sure of it. By the third snore she realised that it was coming from her door rather than the room.

Yawning, Colette tied a robe around her scant figure and went for the door. She slid the chain across and pulled it open. The culprit fell at her feet. “Colonel!” she gasped, stepping backwards. Colonel Matthew Lenard blinked, squinting up at the angel-like figure in white. “How did you find me?”

Matt sat up, “Same way you lost me,” he replied sleepily, “I called the Captain.”

Colette sighed, “I shouldn’t have sent him that last bottle.” With that she closed the door on Matt and headed back toward the bed. A gentle knock came before she was able to reach it.

Still seated on the floor outside, Matt proceeded to knock on the door.

A young porter boy paused as he passed a dishevelled man on the floor outside one of the hotel room. He was knocking calmly with no answer. “Can I help you?” he said politely.

“It’s doubtful,” replied Matt.

The boy tipped his hat and continued down the hall with his trolley full of bags. Giving up, Matt leant against the door and started debating whether his severely cramped body was capable of standing. His head hit the floor again as the door of Room 1360 swung open.

The First Lady knelt down beside him, her dark hair falling over her shoulder in an un-brushed mass. “Have you been here all night?” she asked softly. Matt nodded.

* * *

Room service delivered two full breakfasts. Colette, still in the hotel dressing gown, sat across the small table. She folded one leg underneath and cupped her coffee in both hands. Matt sat forward grinding some pepper over his eggs.

“I’ve had several body guards Colonel, but you are the first to spend the night on the floor.”

Matt searched the table for the salt, “I’m probably the first one you’ve run out on twice in a row. I hope you weren’t meeting the Minister for Aerelon, people will talk.”

They both laughed. “Turns out,” said Colette leaning forward to inspect her breakfast, “that you are the only person I have met so far.”

“That is a very sad life, Ms. Procris.”

He jumped as she kicked him under the table. “Aren’t you going to tell me why you sacrificed your spinal column?”

Matt explained how he had waited for her to return. She listened placidly until he came to the part about the Quorum being in session during the early evening.

“You’re mistaken,” she said at first. “I would have known.” Even as she said the words, it was clear to Matt that she had suspected her contacts within the Quorum were waning. “Was it a full sitting? Never mind, it doesn’t change anything. Epeius is gaining friends while mine fall away and still I need more time.”

“Time to do what, ma’am?”

“Please,” she said sadly, “you have to stop calling me that.”

* * *

The President’s head ached. His body was nauseous from an evening brewed in the pit of a martini glass. Looking to his right, Paul found his bed empty. The folded sheets on Colette’s side turned his stomach further. He had no idea where she had spent the night. It was not the first time this had happened, but it was the first time that the thought of her never returning had crossed Paul’s soul.

He rolled back over and pulled the sheets to his chin, not wanting to see the sun rise.

* * *

“Am I allowed to know our heading?” said an unshaven Matt from the front row of the Presidential shuttle. The First Lady was in speaking to the Captain, but Matt knew that she could still hear him. It was too early to go anywhere but back to Parliament House. If they hurried, nobody but the President would realise that she had not spent the night there.

The First Lady bent over as she exited the front compartment. Beneath their feet they could feel the engines of the shuttle start to hum quietly. “You are going to Parliament House,” she said, quickly taking her seat.

“Are our intentions to kill or maim?”

Colette considered her options carefully. “A little of both I hope.”

“Right,” smiled Matt. “I’ll have your lawyer on standby then.”

She turned her face to the morning light. It was warm and glorious – fresh and ambivalent. “You do that. I appoint you the position of reason,” she joked, her eyes closed. “Gods know we some.”

Matt winked, “Ma’am.”

Present Day

“Suspicious Lab accident,” Vince’s boss threw another folder on his desk. Its hefty weight curled his nose.

“Aerelon?” Vince groaned, reading the location. “Explain to me why I care?”

The boss frowned as if Vince’s very existence was an offence. “Because you a man of the law,” he declared, quoting some recruitment poster. “A model citizen who’s duty it is to investigate the – ” The boss paused, taking a step toward Vince’s desk. He lowered his voice. “Two reasons. One, I asked you to. And two, you want to.”

Without another word, he stalked off to harass the other members of the office. Vince rolled his eyes and flipped open the folder. He scanned down the cover page, sighing.

* * *

“Wow, you look more depressed than a welcome mat.” Matt nudged the detective as he sat down next to him. They were outside on the top level of the Parliament building.

The horrid smell of grease etched its way into the landscape. Vince subconsciously gave his hands a once over before realising that it was Matt’s takeaway offending the atmosphere. “I’ve booked a flight for Aerelon today,” he moaned. “I don’t want to go to Aerelon.”

“That bad?” Matt bit down on his lunch. “At least you’re not going to Virgon...”

Vince glanced sideways at him, shaking his head. “Wait, why are you going there?”

“I go where he goes,” said Matt between bites.

Vince translated ‘he’ as ‘President’. “Planet A or B?”

Virgon was the only double planet system in the collection of worlds known as, ‘The Colonies’. True, with three planets, Picon was the most irregular, but two of those were more like moons than actual planets. Their small, rocky surfaces hardly compared to the truly double planet system of Virgon.

“The big one,” was all Matt said. “What’s your excuse?”

Vince shrugged. “Duty. A couple of scientists met their end and it’s supposed to be my problem. I think I’m being punished for being a pain in the ass. Boss does things like that.”

“Scientists? Very strange that they called you in, Vince. Aerelon has their own law enforcement and they’re not too keen on help.”

“I know that. Hence the concealed weapon.” Vince patted his waist band.

“Crazy son of a bitch.”

“Always will be.”

Present Day
Virgon Planet Astraea

Yellow. That was Matt’s only thought for the first ten minutes of his adventures on the planet’s surface. The earth on which the main city had been built was soft and clayish and had been used as a feature in all the gardens that lined the footpaths and roads to the CBD. Most of the plants used in these arrangements were a deep beetroot colour, and the likely decedents of cacti.

When he tilted his head up to the soft light in the sky, Matt saw a large sphere, obscured by the horizon, beginning to eclipse the sun. It was Themis, the sister planet of the Vigon duo. Even though Matt knew that Themis was a world of thick forests and sporadic cities, she looked a pastel rouge in the atmosphere.

“How far to the Law Courts?” he asked the President, as they waited at a set of lights. Usually, the President would never walk on the streets, but Astraea was the most secure city in the colonies. It was devoted almost entirely to the law, and they were currently approaching its heart. It was impossible to get within 40 metrics by air.

“A block,” he answered roughly, pounding the button on the traffic light. The stepped back abruptly as one of the cars took the corner they were standing on a little too sharply. “Frakking bureaucrats. They make rubbish drivers.”

* * *

The President left his security detail outside . The Honourable John Herminal had an office on the top floor of the law courts overlooking the great expanse of grey and yellow that was daily joy of its population. The city spikes flared out like an elegant daiquiri, tapering off toward the cave ridden hills behind the urban sprawl.

The office itself was thickset, embroidered with furniture bought from deceased estates of the old wealth. Herminal was a man who set his look to a constant scowl. His hair twisted in white curls that joined a fearsome beard. Icy blue eyes hid beneath generously swooped eyebrows which curled up toward the ceiling.

“Your wife’s insurance policy covers circumstances of pre-meditated murder,” he began, without a hint of compassion. “Providing that her killer or killers are found and prosecuted, you stand as the sole inheritor of her wealth as she left no other instructions prior to her death.”

Paul Stravos’s shoulder’s dropped slightly. “And how much is that?” Herminal passed him a document with a highlighted section at the bottom, anointed with tabs. “Oh...” It was a lot of money. More than enough to free him from the tightening grip of Epieus. “Good,” he breathed, satisfied.

Herminal shook his head, a couple of his silver hairs floating to the floor. “You do not understand. Unless her killers are prosecuted in a court of law, her assets cannot be transferred to you. They will remain in the hands of The Colonies until such time as the circumstances of her death are resolved or the expiration on the holding date reached.”

“And how long is that?” said Paul, leaning forward in the oversized chair.

“Generally, twenty-five years. Long enough to discourage crimes of finance.”

“But that’s too long. I will be ruined by then.”

“I’m sorry Paul. You have been with us a long time, but as I told your father, some things not even the law can change.” He took the file back and placed it in the open draw of a file cabinet. “It would have been better if you had killed her,” said Herminal, pushing the draw shut. “Legally speaking. You’d inherit the money, serve fifteen years for manslaughter – out in ten with good behaviour.”

Paul collapsed back in his chair, frustration building in his chest. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”

Present Day
Aerelon Police Department

Detective Vince Moretti ran his eyes over the imposing statue at the entrance to the APD. The polished Bloodstone was marbled with veins of gold and black that caught the lights of the building behind. It was almost night and Vince was yet to see the dune-locked landscape this place was famous for.

“Wish they wouldn’t send in the filth...” muttered a uniformed passerby as Vince took a turn around the statue. Shortly after, Vince caught sight of a tall, plain clothes man weaving through the sea of red and yellow officers. The man was carrying several files and appeared to be scanning the room.

As soon as they caught sight of each other, the man waved Vince toward him. They finally met up in one of the corners of the entrance hall where they were able to escape the endless shuffling of feet.

“The Caprican?”

Vince looked over his shoulder before realising that the officer was referring to him. “I usually go by Vince.”

“Humour. That’s a good start. You’re going to need it in this place. I’m Detective Carlo.” They shook hands warily. “Reading material,” he said, handing Vince the folders. “Anyway, I suppose you want to talk about the letter.”

Vince frowned. “It was my understanding that you had a couple of dead scientists sprawled across their lab.”

Carlo fished a pair of glasses out of his pocket. “Yes,” he slipped them on his head and blinked rapidly, finally able to see. The confused face of the Caprican detective came into focus. “That’s what I said, you want to know about the letter.”

Five days before the murder

Matt and Cris stepped off the shuttle and made their way across Parliament roof. He stepped ahead of her to open the door to the building, guided her through it, and then closed it behind them. They approached the elevator together but she placed her hand on his blazer collar, preventing him from signalling the lift.

“What?” He motioned forward but she held him steady.

“I need you to do me a favour,” she said seriously, reaching behind her to summon the lift. “Will you wait for me here?”

Matt gave a look that unmistakably read seriously?

“Look,” she said as the lift pulled up. “I’ll meet you back here in four hours – ”

“Four – ”

“Please... This is something I need to do. If it makes you feel better, I promise not to kill anyone.”

The Colonel exhaled sharply.

“Or maim them.”