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Fall Of A Corporate Man

Part V


"I hope you know what you're doing, Jorran," Garrett told Tyler.

"Of course. The data transmissions of an ordinary phone call are routed through the same grid as computer transmissions, and Mika can tap into that, shadowing a call if she knows the origination or destination point."

"I know basic security concepts," the division chief reminded his agent. "I'm talking about your logic. It's like something straight out of Monica Shayne, Hunter for Hire."

"My younger son loves that show," Mika noted with a smile. "Ah! Here we are, not one minute after you hung up on her, Tyler. Call to...hm, yes, it's a home phone number in Parolit. 719 Fairgate, the Windward Apartments, #36, registered to a Gordon Grayle. He's answering."

Mika cued an audivis feed from the phone tap, the split screen depicting images of Amie and a handsome, golden-haired man with a sinuous red dragon tattooed under his left cheek.

"Hello, Gordie love," Amie purred.

"Amie, is it safe to call? You said that you'd been told Rafe was still alive."

"And now I've gotten the word that he'd dead. It seems that those two men your gambling 'friends' put you in touch with did the job after all, even if they didn't stay to see it finished."

"You can hardly expect them to stand there and finish off a killing while a patrolling DLE agent walks by."

Amie nodded reluctantly.

"I know, and I suppose I should be thankful that they knew their business. I just...well, I wanted it finished. When those sec-agents said Rafe wasn't dead, I kept second-guessing myself. We could have just run away together."

"Hey, the man made a will with you as beneficiary," Grayle said. "The way I see it, someone who makes a will is saying they're ready to die. You and me, we want to live, and we can do a lot of living with his nest egg."

"I have a profile on Grayle," Mika said. "Thirty-two, unmarried, a performance artist with the Tamagi Theater. I can get you the works in thirty minutes, tops, from his personal assets to what color underwear he prefers."

"Black bikini briefs," Melora jeered, "synthetic silk. He's the type."

"It's irrelevant," Garrett said. "The point is, we've got confirmation that the attack on Rafe was a private matter, not a corporate one."

"Newcomb did try to use it to cover for Martinez, though," Tyler pointed out. "She had a tag on Rafe's life-signs monitor, and when it triggered, she called in her hunters to try and fish out Rafe's data. They'd have done it, too, if we hadn't caught them."

Over the visiphone, Amie and Grayle billed and cooed a while, before making plans to meet at his apartment. The attack on her was, they assumed, a perfect excuse to hide out with him and celebrate a successful murder.

"That's my problem to deal with," Garrett said.

"If she'd thought that far ahead," Melora snapped, "the odds are she intended to put Rafe down sooner or later."

"Planning isn't doing," Garrett told her, "and no one at Luveno was responsible for the attack on Rafe."

"I wish it had been."

Garrett, Tyler, and Melora all turned. Rafe was standing there with a sick look on his face, one that had little to do with his near-death experience. He'd been silent up until then.

"Amie knew I was going to Neroton. She probably told her lover, and he had the thugs waiting for me."

"She knew about your cache at Argus?" Tyler asked.

"No, only that I had business in Neroton."

"Amie almost told us that," Melora remembered, "but backed out at the last second. Probably was more scared we'd find out about the crime than about Arno and Castle finding her again. Or maybe she figured she could lay her hands on the info and sell it."

Rafe shook his head in disbelief.

"I was going to ask her to marry me after Martinez went down." He turned to Garrett. "Speaking of which, I've got everything you need to prove that he's about to be extracted. That's why I went to Neroton tonight; I was going to bring the evidence to you."

"You think you'll be up to telling the old man tomorrow? I can do it myself, but it'll have more of a punch if the investigating agent tells him personally."

Rafe nodded, shakily but with determination.

"I'll be there. I figure a little work is what I need to take my mind off this...mess. Focus on the things that are going right."

"That's the spirit."

"Hey, what are you going to do about Amie and her boytoy?" Melora asked. Not surprisingly, she cared more about the personal aspects than corporate business.

Rafe shrugged.

"Beats heck out of me. I can't call in the DLE, even for attempted murder, because their investigation would crawl all over corp biz. Amie doesn't work for Luveno, so we can't use any internal measures."

"If you liked, Tyler and I would be more than happy to rearrange their internal measures for you."

"Nain," Garrett said warningly.

"Hey, the two of them are a legitimate danger to a valued Luveno asset," she pointed out. "That's enough to justify it on paper."

"Melora," Tyler told his partner, "we're not murderers."

"Well, neither are they. I figure a bit of roughing up would convince them not to have a second try. Especially Grayle. Notice how he wasn't willing to take the girl without the cash? I hate skags like that."

Rafe chuckled.

"You're a very direct woman, Melora. No, I think what I'll do is play that call back to them--if Mika got a chip copy, that is."

"Of course," the gridrider affirmed.

"Then I'll acquaint them with the facts that (a)I'm still alive, (b)I've changed my will, and (c)I've arranged for a copy of that call to be sent to the DLE in case something happens to me. Beyond that, I figure that they deserve each other."

"You're taking this way too philosophically, Rafe," Tyler told him.

"Hey, why should I ruin my life obsessing over two people who aren't worth the time to spit on them? I got suckered by a pretty face. End of story, right?"

Tyler nodded.

"You may be right, Rafe, you may be right."

Frederichs gave him a sickly half-smile.

"Which doesn't mean that I'm not going to have a few bad nights. Or maybe a lot of bad nights. Not easy to find out that the girl you love wants you dead."

He glanced at his chron.

"Not even midnight yet. What say we find a bar and get me plastered?"

"Self-medicating," Tyler pointed out, "is not going to solve the problem. But yeah, I see what you mean."

"Just remember that I need you here tomorrow morning," Garrett reminded Rafe.

"Don't worry, Chief; I'll be there."

"Yeah. Nain, see that he makes it."

"I'm on it." Melora didn't drink, which made her the designated shoulder to cry on. But then, that's what friends did, and Rafe was a friend, something that in their business was too rare to lose.

* * * * *

They called Charles Macklin "the Old Man," which even he had to admit was a fitting description for him, the Executive Director of Luveno Industrial Mechanisms. He was in his early seventies, the third generation of Macklins to rule Luveno with an iron fist and meseta in his blood.

He surveyed the three people that stood before his desk, hard eyes assessing their faces, judging what was in their minds. Nash Garrett was his usual self, solid and steady, disciplined and stern. Garrett never changed, which was the reason why Macklin had promoted him to division chief. Even when he lost his temper, he did so under control, and he had lost it now. Garrett was as loyal to LIM as a good general was to Algo, and it enraged him to think that one of Luveno's "ministers" was betraying the company. A quaint attitude, really, for one of his rank.

Now, Laila Newcomb was most decidedly not loyal to Luveno as a cause. Money and power were her deities, ambition her spur. She reminded Macklin of his daughter Tara, who would probably be sitting in his seat someday.

Rafe Frederichs, the XD judged, lay somewhere between the two. Basically, he was loyal; the company paid him and he owed it his efforts, but it wasn't a moral imperative. He was also ambitious, and he worked hard to better himself. That, apparently, was how he'd come to learn about Javi Martinez defecting.

"To Scion-Colesburg," Rafe stated. "It's confirmed. The extraction is scheduled for two days from now."

"I presume," Macklin said, "that you have proof?" Smearing a rival was classic corp politics. Smearing a division chief, even one like Martinez who was definitely out of favor, was something the director didn't permit without hard evidence. The status quo at the top, if needlessly upset, could cost LIM and therefore Macklin a great deal of money.

"I do. It begins with Martinez bragging on holovid to his girlfriend about his impending defection. I've spoken with the woman; she struck me as truthful and her account tallies with the evidence." He set a datapak, the kind used in any household holovid camera, on the desk.

"Show me."

Macklin touched a control and a large screen opened in the wall. Frederichs took the pak and slotted it into the unit installed there for business presentations. The four of them watched Javi Martinez, obviously intoxicated, talking to a pretty woman with blue hair. The two were evidently lovers from their manner with one another. Macklin saw the Industrial Division Chief tell the woman that he'd gotten a new job offer, and he also saw the momentary paralysis, the shock cross the man's face as he realized that he'd put himself in her power.

"Why isn't the woman here to tell her story in person?" Newcomb asked with a faint tone of disbelief in her voice.

Frederichs gave the section manager a steady look.

"She was afraid that Martinez would have her killed, so she's gone into hiding. As I'm sure you're aware, a man in his position has a number of resources he can use to protect his interests."

Very nice, Frederichs.

The agent went on to detail his subsequent investigation, carried out with Garrett's approval but discreetly off the official record. He included surveillance, a check on Martinez's present and past activities, and a number of files ferreted out by a gridrider.

"When I needed outside assistance, I employed the team of hunters that Ms. Sedgewick, Martinez's girlfriend, went to for protection, so as to minimize exposure of the situation."

"That was good thinking," Macklin commended him.

"Thank you, sir. Martinez's inability to retrieve the recorded evidence from Ms. Sedgewick obviously worried him, and he was observed in contact with Bret Griffin, a known Scion-Colesburg headhunter, arranging to move up the extraction before we could get on to him. Despite their security precautions I was able to record the entire meeting."

He played that for Macklin as well.

"Garrett? I presume you had this checked?"

"I did. Though in my opinion Captain Frederichs is above that kind of suspicion, I had ComSec evaluate the holovid chip for signs of tampering or fraud. They found none."

Macklin smiled thinly.

"In which case, it seems that our Mr. Martinez has a problem. He's obviously too well-placed to cede to Scion-Colesburg, of all possibilities."

"In fact," Frederichs added, "my evidence indicates that he has already provided Scion-Colesburg with certain confidential data as a kind of sampler or incentive." That, of course, was no more than one more nail in an already closed coffin.

"There's another matter I'd like to bring up," Garrett noted.

"Oh?"

"Last night, Frederichs, here, was badly injured. Section Manager Newcomb, it turns out, had planted an electronic trace on Rafe's life-signs monitor. When it was triggered, she immediately contacted a hunter, who proceeded to break into Rafe's home, threaten his girlfriend, and trace his movements in an attempt to confiscate the data he'd amassed on Martinez."

Macklin's eyes flicked to Newcomb.

"Is that so?" he asked mildly.

"Absolutely," the Bloody Rose stated without a moment's hesitation. And why hesitate? She knew Garrett would call her on this; it's the only reason for her to be here. She's had all meeting to plan a response, presuming that she didn't have one ready in advance. The reaction did surprise Macklin, though. He'd expected denials, challenges that there was no proof, and contentiousness, not an immediate confirmation.

"You admit it?"

"Of course. Martinez approached me three days ago and informed me that he'd learned that Rafe Frederichs, one of my agents, was preparing a case to smear him with. After the failure of the Iala project a few months ago, Javi knew he was on shaky ground, and assumed that Frederichs was hand-in-glove with a subordinate who was out to take over the post of Industrial Division Chief."

"Are you claiming that what we've seen today is a lie? A put-up job?"

"No, no. It's obvious now that Martinez is planning to defect. I'm just telling you what he claimed."

Macklin folded his hands. This was proving to be entertaining.

"So you then...?"

"I worked to secure the data and have it analyzed for myself. That way I'd know the truth privately, before anything was said about either man openly, where it could easily spell the end of a career." She said it in the voice of someone who was being utterly reasonable, a woman just trying to do her best while caught between an executive and one of her own men, both accused of being disloyal. "The steps I took and my reasons for doing so have all been properly documented in my private logs. For the record, I would like to point out that my contacts with the hunter in question are all recorded in my secure files, access to which, even by my superior, requires the approval of your office, Mr. Macklin."

"You want us to believe that you did all this innocently, to protect the company?" Garrett protested angrily.

"Of course. Isn't that what you would do?"

There was one thing Macklin wanted to know, or at least see if she had a ready answer to.

"Ms. Newcomb, you tapped Captain Frederichs' LSM, did you not?"

"That's right. His medical treatment provided a window of opportunity to investigate him without interference."

"How did you know he would need medical attention? Did Martinez suggest that to you?"

She caught on to the trap at once.

"No; had he done that I would have caught on to his intentions at once and notified Captain Frederichs as well as opening a further investigation into Mr. Martinez. I was merely covering all bases. Was it Martinez who was responsible for Captain Frederichs being injured?"

Surprisingly, the sec-agent shook his head.

"No; it was...a private matter. Apparently, it had nothing at all to do with the company."

Macklin assumed that it had to be true. Garrett looked like he wanted Newcomb's head on a platter; if he could tie her to an attack on Frederichs the XD was sure that he would have.

"Very well."

Macklin was no fool, of course. He knew that Newcomb was lying through her perfect teeth. Martinez had procured her aid one way or another, probably bribery, with information rather than the meseta the most likely coin of payment. There was, however, no evidence of that, and the law of internal corporate politics was the same one as applied to external activities: "don't get caught."

Besides which, Newcomb was the kind of person who could be very useful to Luveno. It was only a matter of keeping her under control, working for the corp's goals.

"Ms. Newcomb," Macklin decided, "your answers are most satisfactory. I am sure that you have worked to protect the corporation's image throughout this matter." Now for the other shoe. "I am sure I can trust you to employ that same discretion when you inform Mr. Martinez that his services are no longer required."

That startled her. Good; I don't want you getting too cocky just yet.

"Pardon me?"

"The termination of a division chief is a serious matter and requires the attention of a senior executive like yourself," Macklin told her. Newcomb had been one of the best at wetwork in her field-agent days; assassination by any euphemism was by no means new to her. The tacit agreement was there: kill Martinez and we'll overlook your little jaunt into private enterprise.

Poetic justice. She'd schemed with Martinez, and now would be set to eliminate him. Then again, perhaps it didn't rise to that level, Macklin thought. To be ironic, Newcomb would have to care for Martinez on some human level, and he was quite sure she didn't.

Macklin did feel that Martinez would appreciate the irony, though, of being removed by his own accomplice. One out of two wasn't bad, he considered.

* * * * *

"What makes a person do that?" Melora asked.

They were taking their lunch break together in the garden courtyard between the three towers that made up LIM's headquarters. Expert hands had set rocks, streams, bridges, flowers, and lawns into a restful, pleasing pattern designed to induce calm and contentment. Tyler's favorite spot was the waterfall, which plunged eight feet over a lip of rock that was actually the front of a fountain.

"What do you mean?"

"Amie. I can understand killing for money. I can understand killing someone you have feelings for because they've cheated on you, or even just because you're mad at them. I've seen those things often enough. I don't see how you can care enough for a person to move in with them, though, and then give it all up to want them dead."

The waterfall splashed merrily into the pool at its base, spray lightly peppering Tyler's face.

"Well, I'm fairly sure that Grayle put her up to it from what we heard."

"Yeah, but to kill a guy you haven't even kicked out?"

"Some people are like that. They'll do anything for the one they love."

"That's not love. That's an obsession."

Tyler shrugged.

"Maybe you're right. I know that I couldn't compromise myself for love."

"Me, either. That's one of your best qualities; you don't try to change me."

"If I wanted to be with a different kind of person, I would be."

"Me, too. Real love accepts you the way you are, and doesn't compromise that."

Tyler thought of Amie, who had been willing to become a thief and an accessory to murder for her "love." All in all, he had to agree with Melora. Amie and Grayle, he thought, had no idea what the emotion was really all about.

Impulsively, he swept Melora against him and kissed her hard on the mouth.

"Wow," she murmured. "What was that for?"

"For being you."

"Oh, that's all right, then." She snuggled up against him, her head on his shoulder, and watched the water cascade into the pool like a rain of teardrops.

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