Chapter 19:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

It was both easier and more difficult having Javan as a PARD. One one hand, whenever he wanted to share something with her, there she was, already watching. On the other hand, whenever he didn't want to share something with her, there she was. Already watching.

Vadstalle enjoyed the fact that he could just delegate all of the paperwork to Javan, and she, having nothing else to do but hang out in the limbo of his brain, would gladly do it. Though, always having her hanging over his shoulder made him feel like he always had to be on. He worked away at his desk all that day doing some research on the files he had gotten from the fire chief and the chemical plant.

The fire report was already digital, but the folders he had taken from Marney were all physical documents. He'd spent the first part of his morning chasing down a cleric and about an hour more eagerly anticipating the digitized files in his inbox. While he waited, he skimmed the fire report and gave the Arai-kun figurine a twirl in his hands.

"I really wish you'd put that back," said Javan.

"Make me," said Vadstalle.

"I am wired directly to your brain, Rick," she said. "I could give you a shock that would knock you out cold."

"You're all talk, Bher," he said, still twirling the Arai-kun figurine in his hands. "You knock me out, and you're stuck in my empty head until somebody wakes me up."

Javan didn't immediately respond.

"Once I'm back in my own body," she said at last, "I'll glue that thing down."

"Until then," he said. He gave it one last twirl before putting it back in his shirt pocket. 

"Rick," Javan said.

"What?" said Vadstalle.

"You have a new message, but I can't identify the sender. Would you like to see it?"

"Sure," he said.

Javan sent the message to Rick's eye. It said, "FOLLOW THE ACQUISITIONS. -JC".

Rick read it a few times. "What do you suppose that means?"

"I have no idea," said Javan. "Do you want me to delete it or flag it or anything?"

"No," Vadstalle said. He leaned back and read the message once more. "JC, huh?" He took a sip of coffee. "Aren't those the initials of that one beat cop?"

Javan didn't immediately respond. "Officer Czeslaw does have those initials," she finally confirmed.

Vadstalle chuckled. "Find out what he's up to, and why he's sending us cryptic messages."

After another pause, Javan responded. "He did file a report on the Marney Chemical explosion, indicating a suspicious person." He thought he heard her laugh. "Was that you, Rick?"

Vadstalle shrugged. "It may have been."

"That explains the documents you're having digitized," she said. She paused again. "It looks like he's requesting to be assigned to the investigation. Let me see if I can get his PARD to open up to me." She was silent for a few more minutes.

Vadstalle went back to reading the fire report until the documents from Marney finally came through in his inbox. He flipped through them, trying to make heads or tails of them. All the while, the bizarre message floated through his head: "FOLLOW THE ACQUISITIONS."

Whose acquisitions? He finished his coffee and went to the break room to get a fresh cup. Some other cops were there, and at least one was surprised to see a homicide detective there among their midst. He just ignored them, filling up a paper cup from the machine and taking a sip of it as he looked out across the precinct with a far off look in his eyes.

"Rick?" Javan said into his ear.

"Yeah?" he replied.

"I managed to convince Czeslaw's PARD to cooperate with me."

"Great," he said, meandering back toward his desk. "What do we owe him?"

"It's nothing, really," said Javan. "If we put in a recommendation to have him put on the Marney Chemical investigation, we can get access to what he's working on."

Vadstalle shrugged. "Okay. Do it."

"Done," said Javan almost instantly. "I've sent what I think is relevant to your terminal."

Vadstalle sat back down at his desk and looked at the screen. He saw a list of queries that Czeslaw had sent to the case-base. He skimmed a few before finding one. "Did you see this?" he said to Javan. He opened up the one about someone overdosing on designer drugs.

"Yes," she said. "I've managed to read them all. I'm not sure, though, what to make of them."

"I am," said Vadstalle. He brought up the Marney documents and sifted through them until he found what he was looking for. There was an order tucked away in there for something called "sodium tetra sulfate." He put that order next to the casefile for the overdose. "Vince Cattigan, co-founder of Augmentable, was found dead, having overdosed on a drug known as Seymour. Lab analysis indicates that this drug is the product of sodium tetra sulfate bonding with chlorophyll."

He pointed to the screen. "Right there," he said. "Check the dates. The order happened about a week before the death."

After another pause, Javan spoke up. "It could be coincidence," she said. 

Vadstalle laughed. "And it could be what we need to crack this case wide open." He started wildly typing on his keyboard, pulling up the address of the order. "Copy this for me," he said. "We're about to hit the streets."

"Rick," Javan said, "I don't think this is going to lead anywhere."

"Think or don't think all you want," he said. "I'm going to act." He got up from his desk and made his way to the garage where he had parked Old Mellie. He popped on his helmet and roared his bike to life.

Javan sighed. "Let me know when we get there," she said. Then she was quiet.

Rick looked at the address and the floating arrow indicating his directions. He put the bike in gear and rode out of the garage and out onto the street. He enjoyed the quiet, the wind rushing past his body, and the feeling that he was onto something big.

He pulled the bike outside the building. It was an older office building, brutalist in its design. He looked up at it, at it's light gray walls and its almost black, narrow windows. "We're here," he said, before stepping inside. There was no doorman, so he had to use the lobby screen to figure out where the suite was. 

The elevator was out, so he had to take the stairs. When he got to the right floor, he was a bit winded. "Based on your heart rate and heavy breathing," Javan said, "I think you've been skipping your mandatory fitness requirements."

After a few moments to catch his breath, Vadstalle said, "I'll start back up again when you do," he said.

"Deal," she said. 

Vadstalle opened the door into the hallway. It was a maze of hallways. The wallpaper was an ugly yellow, water stains and grime giving them as much of a pattern as they would have had were they cleaned thoroughly. The doors to the offices were different shades of brown, indicating that they had been replaced at different times, or that whoever put the building together just bought whatever was available from the door store. Most of them had letters on the doors, and some of those even had names of the companies behind those doors.

Vadstalle stepped into the hallway and tried to get his bearings. "Find a fire map," suggested Javan. He found one just above a fire extinguisher. The charge on the extinguisher was all the way depleted, and the inspection card hadn't been updated any time in the past few years. Still, he ignored this and looked at the map. It had thin, faded numerals indicating the different suite numbers.

He blinked, taking a picture. Javan superimposed it into the corner of his vision like a minimap, updating his location as he moved. He stepped through the hallways until he found the suite for the office he wanted. It had faded brass numbers on the door, but no name. He knocked on the door and waited for someone to answer. After a minute, he tried the doorknob. It was unlocked.

He pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was a dark office. Javan turned on the light on his PARD so he could see. At the back of the suite was a door with a frosted glass window. It said "WHITE NOISE PROTOCOL" on it. Vadstalle tried the light switch, but nothing changed.

He crept through the dark office, barely wanting to breathe. Javan kept silent as well.

Vadstalle reached the door and slowly pushed it open. Within was a dilapidated room with a broken computer sitting on a desk. A thick layer of dust sat over everything. He brushed his finger through it. "How long do you think this place has been abandoned?" he whispered.

Javan observed the level of dust. "For over a year," she said.

"And how long ago did Vince Cattigan have his fatal encounter with Seymour?"

"A little longer than that," she said.

"Still think it a coincidence?" Vadstalle asked.

Javan would have shrugged. "I have no idea," she said.

Vadstalle poked at the computer. "Do you think the boys in the lab could do anything with this?"

Javan scanned the computer. "The drive has been wiped, and it looks like somebody poured some sort of alkaline agent all over everything else."

Vadstalle looked at his fingertip.

"You'll probably want to wash your hand," Javan said. "And stop tampering with a crime scene."

He chuckled. "Let's get this called in and see what we can find. Maybe we'll find more leads in Coleslaw's file."

"Do you think this is related to the Conchobhar case?" Javan said.

"I don't think," said Vadstalle. "I act." He stepped back into the hallway and made his way toward the staircase. "What do you think White Noise Protocol means?"

"It's anybody's guess," Javan said.

It was much easier going down the stairs than up. Javan considered staying online on the ride back, but once Old Mellie roared to life, she chickened out. "Let me know when we're back," she said.

"You got it, Pard," Vadstalle said.

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