THE MARTIAN DAWN WAS introducing the first hints of light to the corridor in long, gold shafts. Tweaked uncomfortably on the small couch, Drinkwine had his red-stained linen jacket drawn over him like a blanket. He woke to the sound of the door bolt being drawn back. He watched as Atefeh, slightly disheveled, dressed in the clothes of the previous night, came out of his room. She froze when she saw him there on the couch. Their eyes met. Her blank face gathered into that scorn of a woman whose bold advances have been rebuffed. In a confusion of anger and humiliation, without a word, she hurried off down the corridor, wanting only to be gone. Drinkwine thought to himself; Hell hath no fury like a woman not propositioned.
Drinkwine took stock of his pathetic situation. His face hung with exhaustion. His suit and shoes were filthed with the sludge of The Hole. He had not slept much at all, cramped by the couch into an unnatural bend, for which he would pay the price for several days. Rising with difficulty, the stiffness permeating his entire body, he looked out the fourteenth floor window at the creeping dawn. Down below, in their morning ritual, the broom men waded into the fresh carpet of sand that had draped the streets during the night.
The shower ran hot, steaming the bathroom mirror. Drinkwine was letting the water run over his tired body, creaked from cramped sleep. He turned off the water and dried himself. As he wiped the condensation from the mirror he ran a cotton-swabbed stick in his ear. It came out covered with red residue. When he caught sight of himself in the reflection through the dense steam he was stopped in his actions. Drinkwine thought he was looking at some old person who had entered the bathroom uninvited. He studied the tired, aged face staring back at him, wondering who this old man was that he was responsible for shaving every morning.
The marble floor that led to Kurian’s office in the embassy building echoed Drinkwine’s footsteps as he strode the austere corridor. The fountain that adorned the lobby had yet to be plumbed, so it sat idle, the curvaceous jugs the joyous stone statues hoisted heartily overhead, tilted to relieve them of their contents, poured nothing but emptiness for the time being.
When he arrived at the open door of the office the two Middle Eastern female secretaries standing there looked surprised, their girlish laughter abating upon sight of him. Drinkwine wasn’t sure if it was his presence as a white, or merely anyone, as the embassy had little to no business to occupy itself, and therefore visitors were uncommon. If it was his color, their reactions were understandable, their apprehensions presaged by decades of violent erosion of civility in America. He was quick to put them at ease with, “Good morning, I’m Detective Drinkwine, here to see Ambassador Kurian.”
Drinkwine was escorted into Kurian’s office by one of the women who obediently stopped at the door, gesturing for him to enter. Kurian looked up from reading on his thin, translucent blue glass reader, the text of a document written in Urdu visible in reverse. He was dressed in another of his perfectly tailored silk suits, this one a matching paisley pattern of green and orange slacks and jacket with a brass button vest that augmented alligator shoes. “Well, good morning Detective. Sleep well?”
The comment inadvertently felt like some inside joke, as if the Ambassador was in collusion on the previous evening’s failed sexual interlude. Drinkwine stared at Kurian, looking for any hint of knowledge about the embarrassingly awkward encounter with Atefeh. No, there was no way. He was just being paranoid.
“Fine, thank you.” Drinkwine settled into one of the plush chairs before Kurian’s large oak desk. Hardwood desks were a sign of status, having to be brought up from Earth at great expense due to their weight and size. “Do you have the list of names I requested?”
Kurian peeled a single sheet of paper from his polished desk and handed it over. “Yes, these are the names of all the people who would have had clearance to reserve a rover during the stated period,” Kurian continued, “as well as those who have access to the buildings where the weapons are under lock and key.”
Studying the list, Drinkwine asked, “And, the interviews?”
“All arranged,” Kurian answered politely, “scheduled for today and the day after tomorrow. We’ve put you in one of the offices here. Your first appointment is at 9:30,” the Ambassador said as he glanced at the large gold watch on his thin wrist.
Drinkwine checked his own watch; a shopworn timepiece without prominence or pretense. “I’d like to see the secure room where the guns are kept.”
Kurian responded with a dutiful nod of the head, but not without revealing a hint of inconvenience. With an exaggerated gesture he turned his reading device off and scraped his large leather chair back from the desk.
The attending security officer used one of a dozen keys on his belt ring to unlock the metal gun locker. When he opened the cabinet Drinkwine saw the six pre-shaped enclaves that harbored five Roches riot guns. One of the docks was empty.
“How many people have keys to this cabinet?” Drinkwine asked.
The officer seemed reticent to impart the information, before offering in broken English, “Myself, and four other officers.”
“I’d like to speak with them,” Drinkwine said as he studied the cabinet. “Also, I’ll need to see the logs.”
The officer’s brow furrowed, “Excuse me?”
“The gun logs,” Drinkwine repeated. “The paperwork for who took charge of which weapon, when.” He saw the confusion in the officer’s face. “Certainly, being an arm of government, you have administrative protocol for these weapons.”
After Kurian translated Drinkwine’s words the officer and he had a brief discussion in Farsi. The Ambassador addressed Drinkwine, “He says that the only time the logs were noted was upon delivery.”
“And when was that?” Drinkwine asked, anticipating an answer to support his failing impression of the organizational competency here.
After another brief exchange in Farsi, Kurian turned to Drinkwine. “Sometime in February.”
Drinkwine looked at the two men in turn. “Do they realize, that if the weapons aren’t maintained and serviced regularly they’re useless? Or worse, they’ll blow up in your hand.”
Kurian took this as accusation against his people. “Detective, we are a peaceful society. The only reason we even have the weapons is because of an archaic law on the books which, strangely enough,” with a flippant wave of his small hand, “is a remnant of American Imperialism, that declared each colony have them.” Then, with caustic tone, “Rest assured, that ruling is being appealed. Until then, we have abided the law and have fulfilled the requirements.”
Drinkwine’s eyes were a more emphatic dressing down than anything he could have drummed up in words. By routine, yet assuming the answer, he asked, “Did any of his officers think to dust the cabinet for prints?”
After another exchange in Farsi, that seemed to go on longer than warranted, Kurian translated, “No. They weren’t aware they were supposed to.”
“Was that really all he said?” Drinkwine asked, “It appeared like he said a great deal more.”
Kurian just stood there, his lips pursed, eyelids fluttering nervously with repeated, uncomfortable blinks.
Drinkwine considered, then motioned that the officer was free to close the cabinet, which he did with more force than necessary, the rattle of the metal resonating defiantly through the empty offices.
The attending officer was dismissed and eagerly made his way down the corridor of the building, as if some urgent task was awaiting him. Unlikely. Drinkwine took up at the large plate glass window that had a view of the desert.
Kurian stood nearby, attentive, poised with bent arm, another of his monogrammed white handkerchiefs clutched to his chest, waiting for Drinkwine to speak.
“So,” Drinkwine began, “we have a murderer out there, in possession of a weapon.”
“Come now, Detective,” Kurian responded in disbelief, “do you really think the person would be so stupid as to not have disposed of it by now?”
“What would make you assume that?” Drinkwine said, staring out across the desert.
“That would certainly be my inclination,” Kurian said glibly.
“Yes, ‘your inclination,’” Drinkwine uttered. “Unfortunately we don’t know their inclination.” Drinkwine absently ran his finger along the windowsill, leaving a small trail in the thin film of red dust that had managed to seep in around the seals of the windowpanes. “A Roches riot gun with as many as a dozen charges still in it. I need to assume it’s still in the murderer’s hands,” he came back as he wiped the dust off his finger. “I’d be foolish to think otherwise.”
Kurian was staring at the back of Drinkwine’s head. “I suppose, given your position, you need always to assume the worst in men.”
The Ambassador was pitying him now. Drinkwine didn’t respond, choosing instead to gaze out at the plains of Mars.
The first round of interviews went exactly as Drinkwine expected they would; a pointless parade of well-schooled researchers, scientists, and various employees with clearances who—in various languages translated by Kurian—all uttered an endless litany of, “I don’t recall,” “I’m not sure,” “I wasn’t there,” and more than one fuming at the thought of a white man asking them accusatory questions and exclaiming, insulted, “Am I a suspect!?”
In turn, each interviewee printed their name and office affiliation on the official interview form and signed it in affirmation that what they were saying was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As each interviewee rose from the questioning chair, eager to be done with the intrusive and insulting ordeal, Drinkwine would make notations on character traits and disposition in the margins of the paperwork that might come into play later. One never knew. Then he would sign on the line at the bottom as proof that the person had complied with the request of the Office of the Ambassador as regards to the ugly matter of murder.
After the final morning interview, before breaking for lunch, as Drinkwine made notes alongside the last interviewee’s name, a siren rang through the concrete canyons of Jannah with a haunting wail, reminiscent of the air raid sirens on Earth. Drinkwine looked to Kurian for explanation.
Checking his gold watch, Kurian said matter-of-fact, “The sunstrike,” before returning to his various Ambassadorial duties.
Drinkwine rose to look out the window at the city as the warning siren continued its disturbing howl. He watched as the few pedestrians that were on the walkways quickly scattered, taking refuge inside buildings. The cars on the avenue accelerated with purpose and disappeared into underground garages, leaving the streets eerily empty. The workers combing the high rises took cover in the appointed safety shelters. In a matter of moments the entire city of Jannah had been dipped into a funerary atmosphere.
As the siren continued its painful bellow, Drinkwine watched the skies transcend various shades of blue to increasing intensities of brightness.
Without taking his eyes from his screen text, Kurian reached with practiced ease for a wall switch that altered the sheath of chemically treated material imbedded in the windows, electronically tinting them with dark fields of neutral-density filter to ward off the coming glare. The room was simultaneously cooled with a heightened blast of air conditioning, the temperature plummeting as the outside world swelled to baking, the two environments counterbalancing one another to accommodate the radical shift.
Watching the transformation, Drinkwine was enthralled by the fury the Myoko mirror was able to deliver from its silent orbit four hundred kilometers above. He pressed his hand against the windowpane to feel the immense heat that was pounding the city, radiating off the towering skyscrapers. The building creaked, expanding against the sudden rise in temperature. Even with the neutral density filters in place the view beyond the window was obscured in a haze of blistering glare. Drinkwine squinted into it.
Through it all the siren continued its haunting cry, baying like some wounded animal in the distance, caught in the jaws of a predator. Then, as quickly as the blinding white and blistering heat had taken the city, it subsided. The siren stopped, the vestiges of its cry fading off. In moments the sky was returned to its previous pale blue as the outside temperature fell back to its pre-assault level. Drinkwine watched as the pedestrians resumed their routines and cars took up in their various ventures down the thoroughfares of Jannah as if nothing unusual had transpired. Drinkwine ruminated on what Atefeh had so rightly proffered; Mars had happenings according to its own weird. Yes, absolutely goddamned right, he thought to himself; happenings according to its own weird.
What Drinkwine found most perplexing was how unaffected Kurian was by the whole affair. During the entire ordeal he had steadfastly made notes in his official journal, unperturbed by the rage pounding the city. Perhaps his months and years here, enduring the daily hits, had calloused him. What else had he been calloused to, Drinkwine thought to himself.
“Detective,” Kurian broke the quiet of the large office. “There is a gathering tonight, if you wish, at the Ambassador’s Mansion. Nothing too formal, just a get together.” Kurian continued tapping away on the keys of his translucent computer glass. “There will be people there who would like to meet the man who has come up from Earth to conduct a formal investigation.”