(Unborked version at my web log. Slashdot, fix your buggy code!!)
Mayor Waldo was eating his salad as he waited for the main course when he was summoned to Dome Hall for an emergency. His secretary insisted that he couldn't talk about it in public or on the phone.
He paid for the meal, told the serverbot to keep his food warm when it was finished cooking, and returned to Dome Hall, muttering under his breath. He asked Willie Clark, his secretary, what was going on that was so important it would interrupt his lunch hour.
âoeA body was found outside the dome, sir. We suspect murder.â
Murder? There had been a lot of death in Marsâ(TM) hundred years of colonization, but until now there hadnâ(TM)t been a single murder, at least that anyone had known about. There were no homicides on the planetâ(TM)s surface, at least; in space the pirates would kill you the first chance they got. In space, only the Green-Osbourne Transportation Companyâ(TM)s security fleet kept things relatively calm.
âoeWhy do you suspect murder? Thereâ(TM)s never been a murder on Mars.â
âoeUntil now. The body was found outside the dome and wasnâ(TM)t wearing a suit.â
âoeMaybe he was drunk and stumbled through the wrong door. I should talk to council members about assigning guards to the airlocks.â
âoeNo, sir. Impossible. The body was found a half kilometer from the nearest lock. If heâ(TM)d simply walked through the airlock...â
âoeHmm, yes. Heâ(TM)d have died before he went two steps and probably would have died inside the lock. Who do you have investigating?â
âoeNobody yet, sir. The police chief called us right before we called you, looking for guidance. The coroner is examining the body and we expect her report in a week or two. The corpse had been out there a couple of days at least. Of course there was no decay, but the body was completely desiccated, freeze-dried, as would be expected.â
âoeDo we know the cause of death? Was a dead body taken outside, or a live one out there to die?â
âoeThe coroner is still doing the examination, sir. Weâ(TM)ll let you know as soon as we know.â
âoeThanks, Willie. Have the police start an investigation, and have them get in touch with an Earthian police detective who has experience in solving homicides, and have our people get advice from him or her.â
âoeShould we keep this secret? At least until we know more? The Chief thinks so.â
âoeNo, youâ(TM)re not working for Wilcox any more, and Iâ(TM)m not anything like Wilcox was. Thatâ(TM)s why we won in a landslide, people hated his secrecy. Set up a press conference for tomorrow morning.â
He went back and finished his lunch.
Albert Morton was the electrician who had discovered the body. It had been the most horrible thing he had ever seen in his life, and it ate at him that there had been nothing about it on the news. Who had done this, and why? He decided to contact a newspaper the next morning. Tonight he was going to get drunk; heâ(TM)d never seen anything so gruesome, and couldnâ(TM)t get the awful scene out of his head.
âoeSay, Ed, howâ(TM)s being Mayor treating you? Lager?â
âoeHi, John. Yeah, and a shot, I donâ(TM)t care what. Scotch, I guess. My jobâ(TM)s sure not very fun today, weâ(TM)re almost certain that we have a murder on our hands.â
âoeMurder? On Mars? Really?â
âoeWe canâ(TM)t see how it could be anything else. He was found half a kilometer from the airlock without an environment suit.â
âoeWhat killed him?â
âoeWe wonâ(TM)t know until the coronerâ(TM)s report comes in. But it has to be murder, nothing else makes sense. Howâ(TM)s business?â
âoeI just got mail from Dewey this morning. We captured five pirate vessels last week and got a nice big finderâ(TM)s fee from the boatsâ(TM) rightful owners. He and Charles are looking at some new propulsion systems that might be a lot more efficient than the ion engines weâ(TM)re using now. That will both lower the shipperâ(TM)s cost and increase our profits, maybe even more than when we went from fission generators to fusions. And thereâ(TM)s a lot more shipping since they found all those rare earths on Ceres.â
âoeYour bar doesnâ(TM)t seem to be doing all that good.â
John snorted. âoeYou know this is just a hobby, but still, it is turning a small profit. It doesnâ(TM)t usually get too busy until later at night. My brewery is doing almost too good. Itâ(TM)s hard to grow enough ingredients to brew enough of it to supply the demand. I may have to buy another building to grow more hops and barley and other ingredients.â
A man walked in. âoeHi, Al,â the bartender said. âoeThe usual?â
âoeNot today, John. Really bad day, Iâ(TM)ll have nightmares tonight. A lager and a shot of that white lightning you make. God damn, I ran across a dead body at work today outside the dome, and it was someone Iâ(TM)d met a few times. The poor guy didnâ(TM)t have a suit on. Not just no suit, he wasnâ(TM)t wearing a stitch of clothing.â
âoeYeah, Ed here was telling me about it.â
The mayor said âoeI hadnâ(TM)t heard that. They only said he had no suit.â
The electrician asked âoeEd, why isnâ(TM)t this in the news?â
âoeBeats me, but Iâ(TM)m holding a press conference about it tomorrow. Wilcox would have tried to keep it secret, but thatâ(TM)s why he lost the election. Was it gruesome?â
Al downed his shot, took a sip of beer, and said âoeYou wouldnâ(TM)t have wanted to be there. John, another shot, please. Make it a double.
Sam Woodside was a reporter for the Martian Times, one of several dozen such newspapers in Marsâ(TM) many domes. Al Morton called him the next morning, a day after the discovery, with news of the dead body that he had found. The reporter asked the electrician âoeWho was he and how did he die?â
âoeI donâ(TM)t know, His first name was Bob, but I donâ(TM)t know what his last name was. He was an electrician, too, but he usually worked the other side of the dome from me and I didnâ(TM)t know him very well, I only met him a few times. His shop was short staffed so they assigned me on that side temporarily. Youâ(TM)ll have to ask the cops his full name and how he died. I talked to the mayor last night at Hookerâ(TM)s, and they donâ(TM)t know much yet.â
âoeHookerâ(TM)s Tavern, named after a musician who lived in the nineteen hundreds. John Knolls is a good friend of mine and owns the place.â
They spoke for another fifteen minutes without Sam learning much.
As he was beginning to dial the mayorâ(TM)s office to get more information, another call came in. It was from his boss, who assigned him to a press conference the mayor had scheduled for the morning.
Typical. He really wanted to write about the murder and here he had to attend a meaningless press conference. He wondered what it was about. âoeProbably something nobody would want to read about,â he thought.
The news conference lasted a long time, even though little was yet known about the murder. The only clue had been the corpse itself, and it hadnâ(TM)t yet yielded any answers. They would have to wait for the coroner, who had possession of the caseâ(TM)s only clue that had turned up so far.
The mayor issued an executive order that all airlocks be guarded, and that no one would be allowed outside the dome alone. Martians had to be extra cautious about everything, since the environment outside the domes was so deadly. Safety was drilled into native-born Martians from birth.
The mayor had of course been in contact with Dome Council members, all of whom were going to present a bill making the guards and the âoenobody goes out aloneâ rule law. All had urged him to make the executive order, which would last until the council next met.
Sam wrote the story, which was on the front page with an extra large headline: âoeGRUESOME MURDER OUTSIDE THE DOMEâ and in smaller type, âoePolice Have Few Clues, No Suspectsâ. Sam took what little information he had about the murder and skillfully stretched it to two full columns, most of which was the accounts of the electricianâ(TM)s grieving friends and family, and some of it slightly redundant.
The domeâ(TM)s police contacted a homicide investigator on Earth, who chided the Martian for doing so little investigating. âoeCome on, man, get a warrant and search the victimâ(TM)s home and workplace. It may have been for robbery, but there are a lot of things that cause murder. Find out who he associated with, if he was having any love affairs, who saw him last. Donâ(TM)t wait for the coroner! What did the crime scene look like?â
âoeLike there was a dust storm between when he was killed and when the body was found. If there were any footprints or wheel tracks or any other such evidence they were gone.â
It seemed the newspaper had done more investigating than the police. The Martian took the Earthian policemanâ(TM)s advice, but still came up with little, at least at first.
âoeHi, George, I was wondering if you were sick or something and didnâ(TM)t go to work today, you always drop by for a beer on your way home.â John poured an ale for him.
âoeI ran really late tonight, somebody stole my tools. At first I thought somebody might have grabbed my tool box by mistake, but Iâ(TM)m pretty sure they were stolen. Anyway, I had to fill out a ton of paperwork for the insurance.â
âoeSorry to hear that, the tools must be expensive.â
âoeYeah, they are. Brand new tools, state of the art stuff. I was working on two panels around a corner from each other, and I had my tool chest by one panel when I was working on the other one. I closed that panel up and went to finish the side where my tools were, and they were gone.
âoeLike I was saying, at first I thought someone must have picked the tools up by mistake, but I noticed boot prints going away from the dome from where my tools had been. So when I got back in the dome and out of my suit I called the cops. I didnâ(TM)t think anyone picked them up by mistake after seeing footprints leading away from the dome. The cops said it was possible that were taken by mistake, but I donâ(TM)t think so. Talking to the cops took another hour.â
A man in a policemanâ(TM)s uniform came in, sat down, and ordered a shot of Bourbon and a wheat beer. âoeRough week,â he told the bartender. âoeMurder a few days ago, probable theft today.â
âoeYeah, I heard.â
The policeman looked at George. âoeSay, youâ(TM)re the fellow whose tools are missing, arenâ(TM)t you?â
George answered in the affirmative and ordered another beer. Obviously a little distraught, he had drank the first one far faster than usual.
The officer said âoethose boot prints you saw led to wheel tracks. We followed them for ten kilometers, and it looked like a space craft had landed and taken off. We think pirates have your tools.â
George shook his head sadly. âoeDamned pirates, the tools are insured but itâ(TM)ll take three weeks to get them replaced, and I wonâ(TM)t be able to work.â
âoeThat sucks, George. Need to run a tab until your new tools come?â the bartender asked.
âoeThanks, John, but I have enough cash and credit to make it until I can get new tools delivered.â
The police officer finished his beer and shot and walked home, just as Mayor Waldo came in. âoeHi, John. We had a theft today, give me the usual.â
âoeHi, Ed. Yeah, I heard,â he said, pouring the mayor a beer and the thirsty electrician a third beer.
Ed sighed. âoeNews travels fast.â
John laughed. âoeWhere would you go if your tools were stolen and you couldnâ(TM)t work for weeks? You know George, donâ(TM)t you?â
âoeYeah, hi George. Those were your tools?â
âoeYeah, it really sucks.â
âoeAnything I can do? Or the dome can do?â
George laughed. âoeYeah, get a better football team, the Australians and Europeans always kick our asses!â
Talk drifted off to sports for a while, and a thought came to John. âoeEd,â he said, âoeCould the pirates have committed that murder?â
âoeNo, they would have taken him to their ship so they wouldnâ(TM)t harm the suit. Everyone knows how valuable a suit is. They would have just dumped the body in space.â
âoeYou ought to dump those footballers in space,â George said dourly.
The mayor and bartender laughed, and talk went back to sports as more people started trickling in.
The next day the Chief of Police called the mayor with news of clues: the dead manâ(TM)s tools and environment suit were missing. Did someone murder him for his suit and tools? It looked like that was the motive, although police were still investigating the victimâ(TM)s associates. If they found that suit and those tools, they would likely find the murderer.
Things seemed to be looking up. He usually only stopped by Johnâ(TM)s bar when heâ(TM)d had a bad day or a seemingly insoluble problem, but he decided to make an exception this time since his old friend Charlie Onehorse would be there. Charlie was the mayor of Dome Australia Two, about twenty kilometers from his dome. Old Charlie had been visiting on a trade mission.
When he got off work, Johnâ(TM)s bar was already filling up. âoeEd!â came a voice from the gloom, as his eyes hadnâ(TM)t yet adjusted, but he knew that voice.
âoeHey, Charlie! How did your deal go?â
âoeAce, even though those blokes arenâ(TM)t drongos, but the deals always go well. Almost all of them, anyway. I heard your dome had a homicide?â
âoeYeah, it sure looks like the poor guy was murdered. Had some thefts, too, but one of them looks like pirates.â
âoeMaybe it was pirates that killed that bloke,â Charlie said.
âoeThatâ(TM)s what John said, but like I told him, they would have just carried him and his suit away and dumped the body in space.â
âoeYeah, youâ(TM)re right, they would have. Damned pirates, I hope they leave my dome alone. Hey, John, get a grog for Ed, would you?â Just then a robot rolled up with Mayor Waldoâ(TM)s beer.
At the other end of the bar, John was talking to Al. Al had been telling him of the nightmarishly horrible discovery and how it was affecting him for the last few days, which he had mostly spent in the bar getting very drunk. âoeAl, I want you to meet a friend of mine,â John said as an attractive woman walked up. âoeAl, meet Tammy Winters.â
âoeHello, Ms. Winters.â
âoeItâ(TM)s doctor, but call me Tammy. John tells me youâ(TM)re having some problems.â
Al glared at John angrily. Tammy said âoeLook, Al, your reaction to what youâ(TM)ve gone through is normal. Look, I have a friend who needs some new patients, could you help him out?â and handed him her colleagueâ(TM)s business card.
âoeWell, I donâ(TM)t know,â Al said, looking at the card. âoeWhat will it cost?â
âoeNothing, the government pays for it.â
âoeThanks, I will!â
Tammy replied âoeJohn, are you going to pour me a beer or what?â
Several days later the coroner's report came back, right before the mayor was due to go home, and Mayor Waldo was puzzled. The report said the victim had a stroke; a blood vessel in his brain had burst and heâ(TM)d died instantly. But why was he out there naked?
He decided to talk to John. John always had an answer when things got crazy.
âoeHoly crap,â Sam said when he got the news. âoeDamn, the most sensational news in my career and it wasnâ(TM)t. How can I spin this? The boss wants more papers sold!â
He decided to focus on the mystery of the naked corpse.
âoeAnd your cops canâ(TM)t figure it out, either?â John asked.
âoeNo,â said Ed. âoeItâ(TM)s still a mystery.â
âoeChrist, Ed, itâ(TM)s as plain as the nose on your face! Look, only a few days later Georgeâ(TM)s tools were stolen, and the police say it was pirates. Itâ(TM)s simple, Ed. They were waiting for a chance to steal the poor guyâ(TM)s expensive tools and he collapsed. So they not only stole his tools, but his environment suit and clothing as well. Why didnâ(TM)t you guys see that?â
Ed scratched his head. âoeI donâ(TM)t know, but it makes sense. Iâ(TM)ll talk to the police chief about it tomorrow.â Just then George entered.
âoeJohn!â he yelled. âoeDrinks for everybody! WOO HOO!â
âoeWhat happened?â Ed asked.
âoeIt isnâ(TM)t my army,â John said. âoeMore Deweyâ(TM)s than anyoneâ(TM)s, I only hold maybe fifteen percent of Green-Osbourne.â
George said âoeI canâ(TM)t thank you enough, John.â
âoeGeorge, I didnâ(TM)t do anything, there wasnâ(TM)t anything I could do,â John replied. âoeWe capture pirates all the time. It earns us a lot of cash and makes shipping easier for everybody, including our competition. You just got lucky.â
âoeI donâ(TM)t care, Iâ(TM)m still grateful. They said Iâ(TM)d have my tools back the day after tomorrow.
âoeOh, and Edâ"they found Bobâ(TM)s suit and tools when they found my tools.â
John grinned. âoeSee?â
After the Mayorâ(TM)s press conference the next morning, Sam cursed. How could he spin this one without looking like a damned fool?