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Next of Kin, Chapter Ten: 27%


  11:35:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2518 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Ten: 27%

Ten, 27%

Jenel's guard grabbed my shoulder and I nearly wet myself. She smiled, or at least, I thought she was smiling, through the pixelation. She nodded, and he dragged me away. He took my down a set of stairs leading into an apartment building. I walked with him down a long hall. I wondered, idly, if I was going to be shot in the back, but I knew the audience could still see me, so I was trying to keep my head.
I noticed a flurry of action from the chat window, and one name stood out among the crowd. ?ShartGurgler: Turn around and break that shotty off in his crap tube.?
I ignored the 'advice.' I didn't seriously think I was about to die, but if I did, I definitely wanted to die with a little dignity.
The hall dead-ended at a door. When it didn't open in front of me, I knew I was about to be shot. I thought about trying to delete any links I had to porn or dirty jokes, so my mom wouldn't find them going through my effects, but none of it was well-organized enough to actually be dealt with in the time it would take for a man whose face I couldn't even see to raise a shotgun.
I shut my eyes, and tried to imagine a pleasant afterlife, but it ended up more of a waiting room populated with people I liked enough to remember but couldn't think of anything to actually say to. Then I heard the door in front of me unlock. I glanced behind me, and the shotgun guard was gone.
I walked inside the mostly-dark room. There was a single lamp on a small table between two chairs. My lenses automatically adjusted to the low light in the room. With the adjustment, I could see a thick, marginally overweight man with a hairline that had only started to recede, somewhat hidden by the fact that he kept all the hair on his head buzzed short.
I sat across from him.
?Do you know why I'm here??
?I heard what happened. You're Conrad, right? He told me about you. He was kind of proud.?
?That's me,? I said.
A message obscured him for a moment. ?Investigator Tip: It is important to build rapport during an interrogation. A subject will more freely converse with an advocate when they think they will be listened to, and not immediately suspected.?
?What should I call you??
?Jim is fine,? he said.
?What'd you hear about John??
?I heard he's dead.?
?Investigator Tip: When confronting a subject, several indicators can express deception. These include, but are not limited to sweating, increased heart rate, spending too much time thinking about a response that should not require analysis, or expressing an emotion inappropriate to the situation. However, it is important to rule out other potential interpretations for apprehension, however, to prevent accusing an innocent person.?
New tools popped up in the bottom right of my interface, beside the chat. The first was a heart-rate monitor, the second showed a human brain, and highlighted points of activity. It was taking readings directly from his interface and giving them to me.
?Where'd you hear that?? I watched both his heart-rate and his brainscan.
?Mutual acquaintance.?
?That's a strange name. Middle Eastern??
All-caps drew my attention to the chat. ?ShartGurgler: RACIST!?
?She's got a name, all right?? Jim said. ?But I don't sicc advocates on people I care about. She's somebody who cared about him a hell of a lot more than you.? He seemed to notice a discrepancy. ?Just because I said he was proud of you, doesn't mean he fooled himself into thinking you cared about him.?
?I care,? I said. ?It's why I'm here.?
?Bullshit. You're here because your feet are to the fire. Don't con a con.?
At the suggestion that he was a con, my interface pulled up his arrest record through the DCA. He'd been pulled in for a half a dozen violations, but never convicted, rarely even charged.
The information showed to the audience, too, and the reaction was predictable. ?ShartGurgler: He's lying.?
?What'd you hear from this mutual acquaintance?? I asked.
?She said he was dead. She heard it through somebody she knew in civic circles. That's as far as she got into it.?
?Investigator Tip: Liars avoid first-person pronouns to distance themselves from responsibility.?
I ran the last three seconds of his scans over; he was steady as a rock- no deception telltales.
?And when did you see him last??
He pondered. I go the distinct impression he was deciding whether or not to lie to me.
?Last night. We had a few beers, and got in a fight. By a few, of course, I mean all of the, probably in the county.?
?You take a swing at him?? I asked.
?No. Nothing like that. An argument. Yelling, passionate, but not violent. It got heated enough I needed air. I've had a DUI stop or two, so the cops installed a BAC-monitor in with my hardware. I so much as turn on the heat in a car with more than a half a beer in me and I get popped like a Catholic girl's cherry on prom night. So I went for a walk. Figured I'd crash at a friend's place, or on a bench. But I was still pissed with John, so I kept walking, and walking, until I realized I was sober. Then I came back and grabbed the car.?
?I didn't see you walk away on the camera,? I said.
?Hopped the back fence. In my line of work, you get used to dodging cameras, making sure it'll be harder for the cops to piece together where you been or what you been up to. Even drunk, you'll be lucky to catch an identifiable image of me on every fifth camera.?
?And what is your work, exactly??
?I procure certain substances,? he said, with half a grin.
?LeslieBien: Poison pusher.?
?ShartGurgler: Squeeze his balls and stare him in the eye. MAKE him talk.?
?And how'd you start working with John?? I asked. He didn't want to say anything; he just clammed up and hoped I'd move on. Tutoring, I'd learned the value of silence. Even the most uncooperative student will start to feel uncomfortable, and do something- anything- to fill that space.
?We started working together,? he said, ?when we found out mooks were half as likely to screw with somebody who had a partner- it was a safety in numbers thing. But we were friends going way back. We used to get stoned in high school, if you can believe that.? I checked the brainscan and heart rate; I did believe it.
?Tell me about the fight,? I said.
?New distributor, trying to supplant the old. We don't usually step in on that kind of dispute- we're little fish, cleaning the crap out of the bigger predators' teeth. It always kept us small-time enough not to be worth the violence- before last night, anyway.?
?You think your fight had something to do with his death??
?The subject, yeah. Most of what we move is middle-grade stuff coming out of China. It's stepped-on, sure, but at a level that's saleable. And we've got a long-standing relationship with the distributor. Not what you'd call a friendship, but a couple of times he was able to expedite, or sell us some extra product on the sly, when we needed it for a bulk customer.?
?New distributor is coming up from South America. I get the impression it's a lowest-bidder kind of co-op, where if this week the Guatemalans are providing cheap shit that's what they sell, and if the next week the low-ball comes from Columbia, that's what they send on up. Means the quality is a roller coaster, and it's basically always been stepped-on harder than the Chinese stuff. Even getting it for cheaper, it cuts into our margins.?
Another message. ?Investigator Tip: Liars use fewer exclusionary words like 'but' 'nor' or 'except'.?
?Walk me through the argument.?
?We've met with the Chinese, met with the Latinos. Mumbled along when it came time for making deals, though in my opinion what we told the Chinese was a lot closer to an assurance. But I find out John's had more conversations with the Latins under my nose. He thinks he can get them to implement some QA in their pipeline, make sure that they aren't slinging premium one week and dogfarts the next. It sounds great; it also sounds like the kind of thing I'd promise to a seller to get his business, regardless of whether or not I could deliver. And distributors are like pretty girls- they don't like knowing you know more than the one. They get butthurt over it, maybe because they're fighting tooth and nail for service area- most of the bodies that fall in this trade fall because of distributors warring for territory. But if the Latins didn't work out, the Chinese were likely to punish us with a surcharge- and it's already not like we clear the margins we used to, anyway.?
His eyes welled up. ?But if I'm being honest, it wasn't really about the business. We've taken bigger risks together. It was that he went out on his own on this, that he didn't tell me what he was up to, just did it, behind my back. It hurt. It made me feel like he was... it's weird, you know, when you work with somebody a long time, how much of the vocabulary you use with them is the same as you would in a romantic relationship. But I kind of felt like he was pulling away from me. I lashed out.?
?Investigator Tip: Liars use more negative emotional words, and often feel anxious and guilty.?
?Did you hurt him??
His eyes tightened into little coals, and they burst into flame at the suggestion. ?No,? he said, glaring. His vitals were still solid as a rock. I pulled up my own, for a reference point. My heart rate looked like the Rockies by comparison. I pulled up an input and entered a query, to see if there were any substances that could make a person that kind of mellow. My typing during the interview made him extra nervous.
?How did you feel about him?? I asked.
?We were brothers, man.? I raised an eyebrow. ?Look, you grew up with him. But that's two inmates housed in the same asylum. We chose to spend the time together we did. It's different. The family you're born with you love because they're what you got; the family you make for yourself are the ones you love because you want to.?
?So you loved him?? I asked. I thought it was a clever question; play off his homophobia to put him off his game.
?Yeah,? he said without blinking.
?And you left him alive?? I asked.
?Do you have any notes, or recordings of any of the business meetings you had??
?Even being smart, using quasi-legal codewords, only a fool would keep recordings of this kind of business. And I'm no dummy.?
?Fair enough,? I said.
?You tell his girl?? he asked.
?What girl??
?His girl, man. Sort of, anyway. She had a client who wanted a bump as part of a party. She was drop dead fucking the most gorgeous woman I'd ever seen, but not in a- like a normal woman way, not in a airbrushed, photoshopped glamour photo way. Like as beautiful as a woman gets without manipulation. And they hit it off. And he asked her if she wanted to get something to eat later. They did. So they started a thing. And she got knocked up. Which made John happy, up until he found out she was running a black hat mod that made her ID show 18, when they met. She was of age, by then, but it caused enough static that they 'broke up.'? He put fingerquotes to it. ?I say it like that because they'd screw whenever they were lonesome, or sad, or horny, or high, or any time he came over to see his kid.?
?So she had the baby??
?Yeah,? he said, and shared a photo with me. ?Guess that makes you an uncle.?
?I guess so. You got a name and an address for her??
He eyed me suspiciously. He wasn't a snitch, and he didn't like cooperating. But this wasn't an official, investigative thing; she was family- her kid was my blood. And she deserved to hear the truth out of me. He sent me her name and address, though without a picture attached to it.
I hadn't been watching the chat or my rating intently. My numbers were low again, after bouncing somewhere in the middle thirties. A glance at the chat essentially told the story, as two factions warred over my next course.
?ShartGurgler: Don't trust him. He's a con. He's obviously playing you, obviously.?
Another person in the chat jumped to my, or maybe Jim's, defense. ?Randals10InPen15: Obvious except for any of the metrics. BP, EEG, if he's been deceptive, the signs weren't there. And he's not a con. He's never been convicted.?
?ShartGurgler: And a man with that many arrests who's at best a professional smuggler was probably innocent all of those times. And regardless, he's a con man.?
?Anything else you can tell me, that might help me catch John's killer??
?I don't know about that,? he said. ?But if you're even thinking about talking to the distributors, be careful. They don't take kindly to advocates, and they take less kindly when they're covered in camera spores. Even if they've got mods that'll blur their faces, it's not a game they'll be happy to play with you.?
?If I do decide to talk, can you make contact for me??
?I can set it up,? he said. ?But I'm not putting my reputation on it. I'd tell them up front what you want, and what you're going to ask. And given that, if they show, I wouldn't like your odds of walking away.?
?Then I guess we'll hope it doesn't come to that,? I said ?The address you sent me the picture from, will I get a reply if I respond to that?? He nodded.
The DCA program finished running, and in yellow displayed the text, ?Minimal deception.? Immediately a message popped up beneath that read, ?Investigator Tip: Minimal deception means that any emotional leaks, increased blood pressure or creative processing during the course of the interview occurred within the range of normal human interaction. Humans are necessarily complicated, compartmentalized beings. This compartmentalization can lead to false-positives on the lower end of the deception spectrum. These readings are consistent with the normal amount of deception you would expect in dealing with someone with reasons for being evasive about an aspect of their life, like a career criminal, but fall outside the range you would expect for active deceit.?
I stood up. ?Take care of yourself, Jim.?

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