I left the vahana with Aggie so he could follow Bible if she decided she needed anything in the middle of the night. I hailed a taxi and headed over to find out if the plot would thicken. The offices of Doctor Ixlilton Runner were cold and unforgiving. They did not resemble the man who loved them. He was good at his job. He was a god that I thought could really be trusted. That is, if I trusted anybody. I trusted me and Aggie. Everyone else was a suspect to one degree or another.
“Ax. Good to see you.”
“You had a chance to check the I.D. on that body?”
“Well naturally. He was in very good shape for a fade, I can tell you.”
“Ah, you suspected what I did. That the body was mutilated to delay identification. What I meant was just that he was healthy. The body is decomposing back to abstractions slowly, but it’s still mostly cohesive. It hadn’t theodegraded much at all where it was since it was out in the frontier.”
I had forgotten. “That’s right. Bodies decay more slowly out there. How long had he been dead then?”
“There’s no way to know. Especially since it was that close to the boundary. Now that he’s in the city he’s crumbling at a natural rate, but I had plenty of time to document and photograph what was necessary. As it turns out, he’s the real thing. The god that they found out on the frontier was, in fact, Fade Triumph. He had the scars that were recognizable, the moles. His height and weight fit perfectly. His ichor was the right type. It’s him.”
“So why smash up his face?”
“I don’t know. I can tell you that he was killed by a blow to the head. Maybe it was just overkill.”
I nodded. “Gods do tend to kill with passion.”
“Is the investigation going well?”
“So far it’s a cakewalk.”
“You almost sound bothered.”
“I wouldn’t have been if you’d told what I expected to hear. Listen, Doc, I gotta apologize for this, but it has to be said. You know that if you’re lyin’ to me, it isn’t a good idea.”
It took a moment for him to understand that I had truly threatened him. He wasn’t as bothered by the threat as he was by the insult. “You think I’d falsify an identification?”
“No, Lilt, I don’t. I really don’t. But I have to be as certain of that as I can be. If this isn’t Fade Triumph, or if you have any reason at all to suspect that it isn’t, say so now. You don’t want me finding out about something like that later.”
Lilt took another moment. “Who do you think could buy me like that?”
“No one. I’ll say it again. I think you’re on the up and up. I don’t think you’d take a bribe. Blackmail maybe. Or some gun wielding badass threatening you.”
“Like you are now?”
“Exactly. I’m only doing it to get the truth.”
“Well, Ax, I hate to disappoint you, but the body on the frontier was Triumph. It would be nearly impossible to fake his I.D. this well. In fact, I think it would be impossible. Ax, I understand you, that’s why I’m going to pretend I’ve got no reason to be upset. But before you walk out that door, know this. The body on that slab is the god I say he is.”
“Thanks, Doc. And I’m sorry. Nothing personal.”
One of Lilt’s nurses poked her head in. “There’s a phone call for Ax.”
It was Aggie. The girl was on the move. It was the dark of night, and she slipped out of her building. She was clever about it, but I didn’t choose Aggie as my partner for nothing. He knew what to watch for and how to follow someone without being spotted.
In spite of the threats to his person, Lilt gave me a ride. We got there, and headed slowly in the direction that Aggie told us to go. “How are we going to find him?”
“Look for splattered paint in the road. Aggie will have marked a trail for us. If you see a splot of red, turn right. If it’s blue, turn left.”
“That’s pretty sharp,” Lilt said.
“It’s pretty obvious, but it works.”
It didn’t take us long. “Is that him?,” Lilt asked.
“That’s my vahana. Let me out here.”
“Hold on. Let me get out instead, and you can take both vahanas.”
“Thanks, Lilt.” That’s the kind of guy he is. Instead of waiting for me to make it right, he went above and beyond the call. “Wait in that coffee shop over there. I’ll be back as soon as I can get back.”
I blinked my lights at Aggie. I watched his hands give me the sign. We were after a shoddy, red Hippocampus model vahana. Aggie had the lead, so he had eyes on her. I let him do the actual following. It got boring after a while. A lot of detective work is. Following a suspect is supposed to be exciting, but when you’re crawling down the dim Pantheon streets minute after minute until it stretches past your patience, you get bored. Even Aggie is pretty jaded to this, and he hasn’t even been doing it for twenty years.
The broad wasn’t nearly paranoid enough. I don’t think she ever knew we were there, which was a bit surprising. Then again at that hour we would have been just headlights behind her. The streets weren’t empty in that area ever. She pulled up to a dusty, unmarked building, surely abandoned. Pantheon City was filled with them. We might last for centuries, but our buildings and structures don’t.
Aggie and I parked close enough to reach our vahanas, but we had them just out of sight. Aggie went to watch the rear side of the building, shotgun in hand. I waited for the luxurious lady of the night to come right out the front. Everything she was doing seemed obvious. She really thought she was alone. It made me think that we were following the wrong god to be honest. Then I remembered one of the principal rules of the profession. Never underestimate the average god’s stupidity.
Before long she reappeared right out the front where I expected her. She had on a ‘disguise’, a scarf around her hair, a set of heavy shades. She really should have worn a big coat or something to hide that figure. I could have followed her through the crowd at the Orpheus Amphitheatre during opening night of a new run of Common Loft.
She was carrying a bag, and I didn’t have to guess what was in it. I almost confronted her right there, but I wasn’t sure there wasn’t some accomplice ready for that. If she was sharper than I expected, then I could get shot. And if there wasn’t anyone there, then maybe she might take me to someone. So I let her get her Hippocampus started while I watched. I hoped that Aggie was listening for the second engine to start, because I was going to have to leave without him. His headlights were behind me before long though.
She must have thought she could really escape to the old town or the outskirts or something. We cornered the morbid beauty in an aether station. She actually shouted for help when I grabbed her arm. It was a good thing to have Aggie with me, because the guy behind the counter reached for a weapon. “Hold it,” Aggie said, leveling his shotgun.
I glanced back at the counter for only a moment. I was watching Bible’s hands to make sure she wasn’t going to shoot me either. I kept my eyes on Bible while I told the cash register guy, “It’s okay. We’re working for the police. In fact, we want you to call them for us.”
“Yeah?,” the tubby, grubby cashier said. I could almost hear his casual shrug. He dialed to get the cops to his place as fast as possible.
It was all wrapped up. She wasn’t exactly a criminal mastermind. That’s why we stopped following. The nubile nitwit hadn’t even taken her nest egg inside with her. It was right there on the passenger seat of her vahana, two hundred thousand drevens, minus Triumph’s party money. I’d like to tell you that it didn’t occur to me that it would make a better payday than the police and the temple checks combined. It wasn’t worth it though.
“You don’t seem talkative,” I said to Bible. She didn’t even look at me. She just sat in the backseat with a dead stare, like she was waiting for a cable ark.
Aggie brought over her bag. “What do we do with this?”
“Well we hold on to it, literally, until the cops get here. Keep your shooter ready. It wouldn’t be safe carrying around that kind cash even in a nice neighborhood.” I switched to the angel in the backseat. “So where were you going? Where did you think you could escape to with all that?”
Her dark eyes flashed over at me. I could tell she wanted to say something, but she kept her mouth shut. It was like so much of the business. Hurry up and wait. We had who and what we needed. We didn’t have any real proof that she killed Triumph, but she had the money. We’d talk to her at the police station, I guess. I can only assume that she was waiting for a mouthpiece. As long as she didn’t get some pain in the ass super celebrity like Adversary Jones, I didn’t care. In Pantheon City even a defense attorney didn’t have much sympathy for a murdering client. Had she murdered him though? “Listen, Bible, if you stole the money you can get a small sentence. Especially since the temple is getting the bulk of it back. Did you kill Triumph? If you didn’t, then you’d better say so. It’ll only make you look guilty if you don’t say a word.”
“I might look guilty. That might be enough for the city and the papers.”
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. She didn’t elaborate. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get much satisfaction out of this. After I pressed her a bit, she mumbled something about not wanting to talk to me.
Sands showed up with a few cars as though he was going to round up a bank robbing gang. “That was fast, Ax.”
“Yeah,” I said, discontented. “It was fast, but don’t think that reflects on me and Aggie. This wasn’t any kind of mystery. This was pretty much a straight line.”
“You don’t sound convinced. You think she’s not the right person?”
“I don’t know. Does she look like she could kill a guy out in the wilds, a stone’s throw from the boundary and make her way back to town?”
“It could happen.”
“It could. Anyway, one half of my job is done whether or not she’s Pantheon’s most wanted. We got the money. She had that. She was involved whether she killed Triumph or not.”
“If she didn’t kill him though, then who did?”
I shrugged. “I’d like to be there to hear her interrogation.”
They had to search Bible’s apartment and give her the chance to get a lawyer, so we had time to bring Lilt’s vahana back to him. We even had a few minutes to buy him one more coffee. The only thing Doc Lilt loved more than a cup of joe was another cup of joe. Even if he had cheap taste. “Try the syncretism,” he told me. The syncretism that Doc Lilt liked, that a lot of gods thought was so great, was a blend of scriptures. The coffee houses found a brilliant way to sell all the little leftovers or the shipments they got that weren’t worth putting out on their own. Sell it as a gourmet blend, and gods will believe it.
“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll just have a cup of koran.” Ritual and ceremony are our alcohol. Scripture, or rather the act of reading scripture, becomes something that can be made into our coffee. It’s ironic since reading that stuff can put most mortals to sleep.
Being me, I lit up a cigarette to go with my brew. Lilt didn’t like the things, so he gave me a look. Scripture in the cup, sin in the cigarettes. That’s what we smoke. Those little things that mortals do that they aren’t supposed to, they’re a form of belief as well. Any transgression that a mortal commits can be turned into our smokes. And ours don’t cause cancer.
Lilt asked, “It’s all over then?”
“In theory,” I told him.
“What’s wrong?,” he had to ask.
“Nothing,” Aggie said. “It’s just not over until it’s over. We got the person who had the money Triumph stole. That doesn’t mean for sure that she killed him.”
I said, “We can’t even be absolutely sure that it’s the same money. Certainty is for the cops. I get paid to ask questions, and not to stop until there aren’t any left.”
“You think she didn’t do it?,” the Doc asked.
“No, I think she did,” I admitted. “I don’t know that though. Maybe someone else did the killing, and that’s not unlikely, and she just ended up with the money. We’ll see what the cops get out of her.”
“You sound disappointed,” Lilt told me.
“I guess I was just looking forward to a real case. Or at least a hunt. This was fast and easy.”
We ended up at the station to watch the show. Me and Sands were there, coffee in hand, watching through the two way mirror. Bible was sitting there, with the exact same posture and expression she had in the back of my vahana. She looked only a little worried. She was more disappointed than anything else if I could tell. They made her wait, but it didn’t seem to matter to her. I figured that she was already resigned to jailtime. She hadn’t even gotten a lawyer.
Eventually one of Sands’s people sat down across from Bible. He could really do his job, because he looked at her like she was a menu with one item listed. He was about as passionate as if he was discussing a parking violation. “So… Bible Lighter. You want to tell me where you got all that money?”
“Where do you think?”
“Listen, Miss Lighter, I’m going to get into the criminal questions in a moment. First let me ask a couple things about you. Your name is Bible. Don’t you have enough of a natural Devotional Revenue without thieving a bag like this?”
I don’t know how he did it. How did he know what question to ask to break past her defenses that quickly? The look in her eyes was unbridled disdain. “I’m a Bible. I’m not a Christ, God, Jehovah, Heavenly Father or even a Christianity. I’m not a deity. I’m not even a belief system that people worship in place of a deity. I’m a book. Narrow minded mortals who can’t see their own beliefs past their own icon are my source of revenue. Two things about them. First, I feel nothing but contempt for my own believers. Do you have any idea what that’s like? And that’s part of my problem. No. I don’t have a lot of money coming in. When my so called believers should be sending me belief, ritual or whatever, they’re just stroking their own ego, and I see practically nothing. There are rich Bibles that get revenue every time their believers read a passage. I’m not one of them. I’ve never even understood the perspective that brought me into being. I’m belief formed by people who believe in their own belief. I’m poor, and I resemble a minimized idea.”
“So you took your shot to get rich quick.”
“The god I took that money from, it wasn’t his either.”
He was on the right track. He was going to get answers out of her fast. The cop with Bible said, “You know, a lot of people think that our religions shouldn’t be stockpiling devotion from mortals. That devotion is supposed to be for us, not our institutions.”
“I’m not some revolutionary, if that’s what you’re after. I’m just a lowly nobody who saw a sack of money and I took it.”
“How did you know where to get it?”
“You know the guy who stole it in the first place? Or are you guessing? You must know. You mentioned the Temple.”
Actually he mentioned religion, but the cop didn’t correct her. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“Does it matter?”
“His body is crumbling back to abstraction.”
She held her blank expression. “That guy that came to my apartment told me. It’s really true?”
I told Sands, “You saw the look on her, Sam? She already knew.”
“That’s what I’m seeing. We have to prove it though.”
On the other side of the glass, the cop questioning her asked her, “How did you get the money?”
“He gave it to me,” she said.
“This fade just handed a fortune like that over to you?”
“He wanted us to leave the city. Set up in some house in the frontier or in some little town.”
“He stole a fortune, but he wanted to live a simple rugged life? Out in the middle of nowhere?”
“Or in a small town!,” she protested.
“You know that no one is going to believe that.”
“We even took a look out there.”
Could she be that stupid? After leading us right to the money, I wasn’t certain I doubted it. She was tricked, little by little, into admitting that she had been outside the city with Triumph. She had been alone with him. With the money? Not at first. But before long he trusted her. That was the story. If it was true, then Fade Triumph saw something in her that I didn’t.
Bible was an easy target. She didn’t have answers to the questions she was being asked. Where did she get the money? We knew where it came from, but how did she get ahold of it? How did she and Triumph get out to the frontier, and where exactly had he taken her? When was the last time she saw him? Where was she taking the money when she was apprehended? She refused to answer any of these questions.
Could the murder be proved? For that matter had she actually killed him? As it turned out, proving that wouldn’t be hard at all. Bible owned a sweater that had ichor on it, ichor that we could already guess matched Fade Triumph. It looked like she had tried to clean it off. Why had she kept it though? The cops didn’t ask that question. They had the proof they needed. They had everything, in fact. Once they told her about the sweater, she broke down and confessed. She admitted to killing Triumph and stealing his money. She didn’t think anyone would find his body, and she didn’t think anyone would ask too many questions about a missing fade. Why had she waited to try to leave town though? They couldn’t get that answer out of her, but they had the evidence and the confession they needed, so they stopped asking. That’s not the way my mind works though. I knew that we had what we needed, but it wasn’t enough for me. There were questions I didn’t have answers to. It’s always like that, but this one was too easy.