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Chapter 26


4 September 2006

“Come on, Matty-boy!” called Agent Dan Grant, at the doors from the main office of the DAHQ. “We’ve got our assignment and we need to get going.”

Matt was tapping his note program, entering in the details spoken to him.

“Matty!” his voice was getting exasperated. “The dossier has all the relevant data!”

The younger, probationary officer didn’t answer. This was an old argument. But Matt liked to keep his account of the case up and running. He nodded to Yeager, the clerk, who had been in a squad a few years before his own. His boots tapped on the antique ceramic tiles covering the floor as he closed the mana-window and turned to leave.

The clerk’s message crystal beeped. He waved Matt off and answered as the door closed.

“You take so long, Matty!”

It’s going to be another uncomfortable ride with a grumpy mentor! thought Hamblin. He kept his head down and walked briskly behind Grant. Soon, they came to the door that led to the kitchen that had fed his squad and had housed his graduation ceremony, not that he remembered much of it! He’d slept through most of that boring meeting.

As they were closing that door, the one to the office foyer banged open. “Agent Grant!” yelled the clerk. “Come back, this is an emergency!”

Matt pivoted and ran. Grant was on his heels. They reached the doors simultaneously; his mentor reached past him for the doorknob. “What is it, Yeager?”

“This is just coming in, from St. George. Trouble at Dick Smith’s -- He may be dead.” The clerk’s mouth was a firm bloodless line. His jaws were clenched.

Matt knew that Yeager was Smith’s clerk, had worked with him since he finished his apprenticeship.

“Go, you two, I’ll send you information as I get it. The St. George PD is waiting for you. They think you’re FBI.”

“Send it to me, Yeager,” said Matt as he ran through the door.

“I was planning on it, Hamblin!” The response was barely audible over the noise of their footfalls and the slamming of the doors. Grant was out of breath when they arrived at the huge, bank vault doors to the garage. Matt wasn’t so much.

“You’re driving,” he said to his apprentice. “You drive a better car and I have to open the portals.”

Matt’s car was also closer. He tapped a crystal cufflink, opening the car and starting it. He slid on his darkly tinted sunglasses. They had bright orange rims and mirror-shiny lenses. He slid in and Grant opened a mana-window to plot the best route to Smith’s home.

Fog filled the parking stall and Matt’s Mustang Mach 1 rolled out onto the parking lot of a large chapel in Southern Utah. Grant had sent a map, which Matt had projected on the inside of the windshield with directional arrows. His special mana features accepted the map and put up current road conditions over top of it. He drove out of the lot onto the street. The windshield override tinted the car in front of them a slight shade of pink, indicating that it was driving slower and might pose a collision danger. An arrow around the slower car showed that it was clear for him to pass. And he did, quickly.

Green arrows also indicated that the oncoming stop sign at the top of the rise had no cars waiting. They roared through the intersection. The whole next street was clear. Suddenly a red arrow appeared with a loud beeping. Matt swerved to the left, into the oncoming lane, which was empty. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw a young child chase a ball out into the street.

Matt had the clear to turn left at the next intersection but had to slow down. There was an older model car in each of the two lanes driving his direction, going 5 miles an hour less than posted. The override plotted a course around them in the far lane going the opposite direction. He was honked at by both the elderly man in the oncoming lane and the women in the older model cars going his direction.

He suddenly cut to the right directly in front of the ladies and drove on for two more blocks. The arrows indicated a parking spot two houses down from Smith’s.

“It’s always fun driving with you, Matty-boy!” said his mentor grasping onto his shoulder. Matt grinned, slid his hat onto his head, and took his staff out of the trunk. He looked to his right and saw that they were on one of the cliffs overlooking downtown St. George. He stood for a few moments. His humor evaporated, to be replaced by a grim expression.

“That’s Smith’s house?” he asked, several steps behind, and indicated a large, two or three-story manse. The front of the house and front yard both perched at the top of the cliff edge. The entrance led to the upper floor, while the bottom floor opened out to a yard at the base of the small cliff. Beyond that, was a major drop to the terraces below. The front yard was immaculate, or would be if it weren’t covered by police cars and an ambulance. Grant either ignored the question, as he did all ‘dumb’ questions, or he didn’t hear from the distance.

When Matt caught up, he noticed that he’d missed most of Grant’s altering the perception of the police in charge. He saw a mana snake enter the woman’s forehead, though. They were led throught the house to a set of freestanding wooden steps leading from one of the several the decks down to a cellar of sorts. The steps had no risers as each tread was supported on the ends.

There at the bottom of the steps lay Smith, his neck broken.

Grant placed his hand on the man’s forehead, then opened a mana-window. He tapped and slid a few times then shook his head. “He’s dead and gone.” His eyes were glistening and he coughed to get the feeling out of his voice. “Images, Hamblin.”

Matt snapped back to business and tapped his staff on the floor at the bottom of the steps. He recorded images of the scene, first live images, then mana-images from the moment of death which Matt and Grant watched together. As Smith was descending the stairs, one of the treads wobbled and pitched the old man down to where he was discovered by his seventy-five-year-old daughter.

Matt took his mentor aside and whispered. “It doesn’t look like a crime here. Smith’s steps were poorly maintained and he fell to his death. A horrible accident, yes. But not a crime.”

“Matty-boy. What was Rockwell’s motto in regards to protecting a client?”

“Always assume there’s an assassin.” He froze for a slight moment then took off his sunglasses. He fixed his mentor with his eyes. “You think Smith was mur...”

“Shhhh.” He held his finger over his lips. “Dick had his enemies, no one overt for a while. This looks like a horrific negligence. What if it weren’t?”

“I’ll check this step for tampering.” He put his sunglasses back in his duster inside pocket.

“Good, I’ll ‘console’ his daughter.”

Matt knelt on the step below the wobbly one, which he grabbed and pulled up and down to see how much give it had. There was no doubt that it didn’t have enough strength to support a man of Smith’s size. It would probably give under the weight of a small, sixth grader. Matt didn’t trust it at all. He pulled the mana-pattern of the tread from the wood itself and began to examine it.

It was not an old piece of wood. In fact, it had only recently been installed, about the same time as the one above it. He examined the mana-pattern of the bracket that had given way. It was not a standard piece. It looked normal, but the metal was weaker than construction grade.

Matt compared the brackets from the tread above and there was a definite difference. The screws holding the damaged bracket had ripped through the softer metal which had given way. “Either this is extreme neglect, or it’s sabotage.”

He followed the mana pattern of the bracket, down the tail into the wood. He counted the lunar nodes back to when it was repaired. It was only three days ago. He crossed mana trails from the bracket to the repairman. He had first repaired a light fixture just above the step, then he slammed his foot on the tread. It was not quite solid. The repairman then disassembled the bracket and put on a new one, the weaker one that gave way.

It looked reasonable and all, but this might be murder. Over the next week Matt followed the man’s mana trail to a mortuary in town. He had just died in an automobile accident and then been cremated. “I guess we’ll never know,” he said. “Burning kills the mana patterns, too.” The official inquiry lasted a month, a very long amount of time for manamancers. In the end, the case was left unresolved pending further information.

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