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It was another hot night on the space station Belvaille and I was standing in a cold puddle of sweat.
It wasn’t my sweat I was standing in. It belonged to someone else. Who, I don’t know. But whoever it was left behind more than discarded saltwater.
I stared at the dead body at the foot of the stairs.
He had been shot and stabbed. Stabbed many times, which accounted for the sweat. Hacking at someone was difficult work. The knife was still buried in the man’s torso.
I stood up and took some tele pictures of the crime, before anything changed. Before the sweat evaporated. Before the man jumped up and told me he was playing a morbid practical joke on me.
The house I was in was tasteful. Well-furnished. It looked a shopping catalog they sent to happy couples hoping they would buy something to make themselves even happier. I searched the rest of the home, but found nothing out of the ordinary. No more sweat stains. No more dead bodies.
I called up my cop friend, MTB. Told them there was a murder. Gave the address. I asked him to keep it under wraps if he could, but I would understand if he couldn’t.
It would take MTB fifteen minutes to get here. I lied down on the nearby couch and tried to go back to sleep. I was still sleep-groggy despite my jolt of adrenaline. However I found it difficult to count sheep while I was twenty feet away from a corpse. Especially since I had been hired to prevent his murder.
It felt like hours, but MTB finally walked in the front door with gun drawn. MTB was tall, broad, wore a loose, crumpled suit, years out of fashion. He had a face that looked like it had been punched so many times it was permanently swollen.
“Hank?” he called out in his gravelly voice.
“Yeah,” I answered.
He ignored me and went over to the body as I got up from the couch.
MTB had been a cop now for centuries. I’d say it was in his blood, but I’m not sure MTB had blood. I think if you cut him, little cops sprung out and started arresting people. MTB was strictly by the book, but Belvaille didn’t have a book. Not even a brochure. About half the people in the city were criminals. Murders were common. But this was not a common murder.
“What were you doing here?” he asked me.
“I work here. I am—was—his bodyguard,” I said, standing next to MTB but not close enough that I was crowding him.
“Nice job,” he said absently. I had expected at least one tease, but then MTB shifted into gear. “What were you doing before you found the body?”
MTB looked over at the couch and saw the piled-up pillows and bowl of food on the floor.
“You weren’t sleeping?”
“Maybe resting my eyes. I’m no good to anyone if I’m too tired to function,” I explained.
“So you were ‘resting’ over there?”
“You stink like rotten fish,” he whispered to me.
“Huh? I do?” I said, sniffing at my shirt, confused.
“Well, your hearing is okay. And your former employer has three bullet holes and…at least twenty stab wounds. You were either asleep or are an accomplice. Which is it?”
“I guess I might have been asleep,” I admitted.
“What is this water on the ground?”
“I assume it’s sweat,” I said.
MTB took a chillwipe from his jacket, a chemical towel that maintains a frosty temperature. He placed it on his forehead to cool himself off.
“No kidding. I thought it was bad outside. What is it, a hundred degrees in here?”
“A hundred and one. He was really strict about it.”
“One bullet went through and hit the stairs. So he must have been standing when he was shot. And it must have been close range.”
MTB examined the hole in the ornate plastic stairs. The base of each stair had little white cherubs sculpted into them. They all smiled contentedly. Like they were happy the homeowner had been shot because he had stepped on them so many times.
“It’s a pistol,” I say. “I figure a .38.”
“Yeah. Did you see this hole?”
“No, but I’ve seen enough people shot that I can tell what kind of gun it was,” I reply. “Two shots in the upper chest, one in the stomach. That last one was probably when he was falling.”
“Why the knife? You think he was still alive? Did the shooter suddenly run out of bullets? It doesn’t make sense,” MTB said.
“None of this makes sense. That’s why I called you.”
“Okay, so who is this guy?”
“He’s a Damakan,” I explained needlessly.
“I could tell by how hot it is in here. And this house isn’t gaudy enough to belong to any crime boss you normally work for. Was he an actor?”
“Aren’t they all?” I asked.
“Not all. He play in anything I seen?”
“Maybe. He was in the weekly show about some people working as medical technicians.”
“A lot of shows like that,” MTB said.
“Wednesday night. I think it was called something like, ‘Organ Transfer.’”
“‘Open Heart.’ Holy frak, this is Cousin Randolph.” MTB said the character’s name that the dead actor played.
“Weelon Poshor,” he said. “Was that his real name or a stage name?”
“How should I know?” I asked.
“Did he have any enemies? Did you know this was coming?”
“If I had known, I like to think I wouldn’t have gone to sleep,” I replied.
“The door was unlocked when I came. Did you do that or the killer?” MTB asked.
“I didn’t unlock it. I enter the passcode when I come over.”
MTB walked to the door and examined it, looking for signs of forced entry or electronic bypass.
“What’s the code to the door?” he asked.
I fished in my pocket and pulled out a strip.
“You have it written down?” he asked.
“The code is twelve digits long. I have enough trouble remembering my own name.”
MTB returned to the body without trying the code. He looked closely at the dead man’s features.
Weelon Posher had a big brown afro and eyebrows to match in that they looked like twin bushes planted on his face. His nose hooked and was so long it made you wonder if he had nibbled on it while he spoke.
Damakan were pronounced. It was like their DNA didn’t understand half-measures. There was no such thing as a non-descript Damakan.
“So why do you think someone would kill him? He have a wife? Lover? Kids? Rivals?” MTB asked.
“Not married. No kids that I know. If he was ever threatened or hassled, I never saw and he didn’t tell me about it.”
MTB glanced at me.
“When you first called, I was surprised. Haven’t heard from you in ages. Someone said you got a girl.”
I know he’s heard but I don’t push it. He does.
“She a local gal?”
“This is a space station. No one is local, MTB.”
“You and I are local.”
“I guess. No, she doesn’t come from around here. Look, I get what you’re asking. She’s a Damakan, too.”
“Is that how you got this gig as bodyguard?”
“No. Just because they’re the same species doesn’t mean they all know each other. I’ve been doing security work on pictures for about six months. I get the jobs from Cliston.”
“Ah, yeah. That makes sense. Your girl, is she in the movies?”
“No, that’s not her scene. She does small theater work in South Belvaille. She doesn’t want all those lights and publicity,” I said.
“One of those bashful Damakans, huh?” MTB said.
“It’s none of my business, Hank.”
“Then why are you asking?”
“No reason. You just got to admit, it’s damn unusual for a Colmarian to be dating a Damakan.”
“I’m not a Colmarian, I’m an Ontakian. She’s my fiancée,” I said.
“Well, we’re kind of engaged to be engaged,” I amended.
“Getting back to why you called me here, did you search the rest of the place?”
“Yeah. No windows broken. I don’t think anything was touched at all.”
“This isn’t a robbery. No one stops to stab someone a couple dozen times if they’re looking for quick cash. This was a murder,” MTB said. “You work on the other side of the tracks quite a bit, Hank. You ever heard of someone being hired to kill a Damakan?”
“No. Never. Kidnapping, sure. Extortion. Bribery. But Damakan are like a commodity of the station. Probably half the jobs and half the money are created by them. Killing one…I just don’t see why anyone would do it,” I said.
“Someone who uses a knife when they got a gun is either angry or trying to make a point. Maybe a jilted romance?” he asked.
“Their emotions don’t work like yours and mine,” I said.
“You would know, you’re engaged to one,” he replied delicately.
“Besides, whoever did this, came in here sweating. This is room temperature to a Damakan. They’d think it was nippy, if anything.”
“Yeah, so maybe a Colmarian did it. I got to call the forensics people here to check this place out,” MTB said.
“You have forensics people?” I asked, surprised.
“Nah. I guess that’s just me being cute. They’re only extra sets of eyes to look everything over. We can’t do any of that ‘angle of attack’ or ‘time of death’ crap. But…” MTB kicks the body twice. “I’d guess he croaked about four hours ago.”
“Two, is what I’d say. I don’t think I was napping for that long. Can you test the sweat?” I ask.
“Test it for what? To see if it’s wet? You think we got a database with everyone’s sweat in it? This isn’t a real city, you know.”
“It’s got real people. Real houses. Real deaths.”
“But this space station isn’t a part of the PCC empire. We don’t pay taxes. We don’t have a crime lab. Barely any police. One time I spent three hours collecting fingerprints at a crime scene and the only ones they matched were mine.”
“Maybe you were the criminal and didn’t know it.”
“Maybe. But can you promise me that you weren’t it this time? Look, I don’t hassle you about the life you lead. You do what you got to do in this city. But did you kill this guy?”
“No, MTB. I didn’t kill him,” I said, looking him square in the eyes. He and I go back a long way.
“Okay. I know you wanted this quiet, Hank, but a Damakan getting iced is a big deal. The gun must have been silenced or you would have woken up.”
“And he didn’t shout or scream,” I said.
“Maybe he knew the killer?”
“Or was taken by surprise coming down the stairs,” I said.
“Someone has to talk to his Guild. You want to do it or me?” MTB asked.
“It’s going to look bad either way. I’ll do it,” I said. “This is rotten luck.”
“For you or him?”
“Me. It’s going to do wonders for my reputation as a bodyguard.”
“It’s not such great luck for him either,” MTB said.
“It wasn’t luck. He didn’t trip and fall on three bullets and then try and stop the bleeding by stabbing himself twenty times.”