by Edward M. Erdelac -
Arden Pacoy was heavyset and dark-skinned, obviously annoyed to have been pulled out of pre-flight checks to sit and wait in the dim, rusty interrogation room when she should have been earning her daily bread.
As soon as Inspector Considine entered, she said, “What’s this all about? I’m due on the flight deck in fifteen minutes.”
“Put a lid on it, Ms. Pacoy. You didn’t complete your pre-flight. Your company’s already bumped you. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
“Is your office going to compensate me for time lost? I’ve got a kid to feed…”
“You’ll be lucky if you fly again.”
“Why what’s this about?”
“Tell me how you know Almer Croix.”
She blinked, then shrugged.
“Never heard of him.”
“Well he’s heard of you,” Considine said. “This morning he tried to blow up one of the habitation rings. He demanded safe passage to Avenir and picked your name off the flight duty roster as his preferred pilot.”
“It was probably random!” she exclaimed.
“If it was random he would’ve asked for any old pilot. He demanded to see the duty roster, and asked specifically for you.”
“Well, I don’t know him….he might’ve been a customer.”
“A customer? Aren’t you a company pilot? Your only customer is the people who own your ship.”
She pursed her lips.
“You’re taking side jobs?”
She nodded slowly.
“So you flew cargo for Almer Croix?”
“Not specifically for him. The way it works is, people pay for cargo space on my supply runs.”
“Does the company know you’re renting out space on their freighter?”
“I have a kid to feed, like I said. Besides, the space I leave for independent cargo is negligible. It doesn’t detract much from the company runs.”
“Would they see it that way?”
She bit her lip.
“What was the cargo?”
“I don’t peek. That’s part of the arrangement.”
“Even if it’s high explosive detonite?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I never take suicide cargos. That’s my stipulation.”
Considine studied her face. She had blanched at the mention of the explosives. She was scared. It was obvious.
“Why would he ask for you?”
“I don’t know! I swear! Because he’d dealt with me already, I guess.”
Or maybe because had he gotten on board her ship she could’ve delivered him to somebody sympathetic on Avenir, no need for a transmission that they could’ve intercepted.
“I’m willing to believe you didn’t know what you were hired to deliver. But I want to know who your contact on Avenir was. We know the detonite went missing from a shipment bound for Sheba from Morgenstar Munitions. But we don’t know who lifted the detonite in the first place. It’s likely the same person who delivered it to you on Avenir.”
“I don’t know his name.”
“Could you pick out his face?”
“I don’t know. But he had on a Morgenstar cap.”
Considine pushed back the chair and stood. He took out his pack of cigarettes and offered her one. This was a break. There was a slim chance the perpetrator on Avenir was just wearing a Morgenstar cap. They weren’t exactly the height of fashion. More likely the man who’d delivered the package to her was the same who stole it. If he was an employee of Morgenstar that would make sense. If he was an employee he’d be on record.
She took the cigarette and put it in her lips quick so he wouldn’t see her hand shake.
“I’m going to hold you here just long enough for you to go through some pics. After that I’ll release you.”
“What about the company?” she asked, leaning in to take his light. “Are you going to report me?”
He lit her and then himself, sucked in the fishy smoke and blew it through his nose. She was just one freighter pilot trying to scrape by on a pittance.
“You’ve got a kid to feed,” he said.
She closed her eyes.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me, Arden. If you’ve lied, he’ll be an orphan.”
He went outside without another word, letting the hatch clang behind him. The cigarettes didn’t go with the canned air. He dropped it and ground it out with his boot.
“Any luck?” asked Galveston.
He’d asked Jelly Galveston and Brendermyer to stay suited up for the time being, watch the prisoners. The other Enforcers had gone back to their day jobs.
“Yeah, Inspector, can we go home? I’ve got a gig tonight at the Starboard I gotta get ready for.”
Brendermyer worked as a comic there.
“I’ve seen your act, Brendermyer. You’re in no rush. You stay here and guard the door. Jelly, let’s go see if Croix is ready to talk.”
“Come on!” Brendermyer whined as they went off to the hyperbaric chamber where Croix was decompressing.
“How about you, Jelly? Got some place to be?”
“Nossir,” said Galveston. “My brother can hold down the dock while I’m on duty.”
“Good. Put it in a call to Morgenstar Munitions on my authorization and have them send a transtat of their personnel files. Males only. When it comes in, see that Ms. Pacoy has a chance to go through it.”
“Yessir,” said Galveston, going off.