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Chapter 12

IN THE PRIVACY OF his room Drinkwine studied the growing wall of investigation. A large poster board had been procured and was pinned together in a map of notes and photos and facts—of which there were few. A piece of string connected the pushpins in a tapestry of speculation. Though impressive in its detail and execution, it offered precious little in terms of genuine value. He’d been here before; the inevitable lull preceding the windfall of leads. Still, it frustrated him to have so little to go on.

Looking out from the fourteenth floor at the budding city beyond, Drinkwine was painfully aware that down there, among the pedestrians, the cranes, and the smiles, was a killer. A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts.

Drinkwine opened the door to a porter standing there with one of his linen suits, freshly laundered, draped over his small arms. After an exchange of niceties in their respective languages the porter gently handed over the suit, excusing himself with a bow and retracing his path down the hall with quiet strides.

After closing the door Drinkwine crossed to the closet, ripping the plastic off the hanger. As he hung the laundered garment up he noticed that the hem of each trouser was stained with a faint, stubborn imprint of red, the Martian sand having imbedded itself deep in the threads of the fine linen.

The formerly attired doorman escorted Drinkwine, fastidious in another of his perfect white linen suits, up the grand staircase of the Ambassador’s Mansion. He was being led toward the din of a social gathering; sparse tinkling of glasses accompanying a soft cacophony of conversations in foreign tongues.

The doorman led Drinkwine into a large sitting room. At the far end—seated around the stone hearth of a fireplace that held a perfectly built fire—were a dozen women with long, passive expressions. They were mostly Middle Eastern and Asian, dressed elegantly in expensive gowns. They had been sitting quietly, sipping demurely at their fine crystal glasses of expensive fizzy water until Drinkwine entered. His arrival got several of them to whispering into one another’s ears. The doorman retreated without a word. Not sure where to stand or what to do, Drinkwine felt uneasy, his gaze drifting about the ornate room. He realized that what at first had appeared to be a blazing fire in the stone fireplace was in fact a plasma screen carrying a 3-D image of perfectly licking flames. Happenings according to its own weird.

After a moment Kurian appeared, entering the sitting room through a heavy oak door that was flush with the wall, almost like a hidden passage. He immediately spotted Drinkwine and made directly for him. He was wearing yet another audacious silk suit, this one brilliant purple, immaculately accessorized right down to the purple silk handkerchief folded with perfect triangles in his breast pocket. “Detective, so good to see you, thank you for coming.”

Kurian linked his arm through Drinkwine’s and led him, without acknowledging any of the women, toward the oak door and the room beyond. “This is an opportunity for you to meet some of the influential people here, an opportunity to ingratiate yourself to them.” And on that, Kurian pushed through the flush oak door.

The small sitting room on the other side of the wall from where the women waited was constructed of fine wood and set with plush leather couches where men of Middle Eastern, Asian, and Russian blood were gathered in circles of discussion. The room lifted and fell with occasional laughter in response to various humors. What Drinkwine found interesting was the presence of alcohol and tobacco. Each man held a glass and had a lit cigar in his hands. They blew smoke into the stale air from their circles of conversation that mingled with the clinking of ice. Several of the guests turned at his arrival.

Here were the power players that were settling Mars, dressed in fine tunics, thobes, and tailored suits, with their expensive watches and jewelry. The room reeked of wealth. Drinkwine was acutely aware that these were the very men who were benefitting handsomely from the gruesome, backbreaking work of the mining operations. They were a far cry from The Hole, far removed from the numbing tendencies of the jackhammers that were dredging the ore out of the planet—far from the stench of hydraulic fluid and the raising of granite dust that was paying for all this.

Drinkwine immediately spied the bar where a lavish array of exclusive whiskeys, bourbons, and Scotches were lined up, tempting his severely dry palate. He was mesmerized, looking at each label in turn, absently licking his lips like a man who has been lost in the desert and is now spying water. Placed as proud centerpieces along the bar, lit by the sharp beams of small spotlights, were bottles of Dalmore, Macallen, Mortlach, and a Glenfiddich, all of which Drinkwine had only seen in photos. Here they were. He knew the bottle of Glenfiddich, the finest of Scotches, had a price in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars in US currency on Earth.

Observant enough to see Drinkwine’s awe, Kurian was quick to pacify, “What will you have, Detective?”

“Scotch,” he blurted out a little too eagerly. “The Glenfiddich,” he followed, absent his usual careful deliberation of response.

Kurian spoke to the bartender in Farsi. He turned back to Drinkwine, “How do you take it?”

“Neat,” Drinkwine responded, close to salivating.

Kurian smiled slyly, having discovered the detective’s soft spot, then translated to the bartender who retrieved the ornate bottle. Drinkwine watched as the luscious liquid was carefully poured to fill a glass, which was then presented to him. He raised the glass to his lips and savored the first sip of alcohol he’d had in seven weeks. He gave himself this little indulgence, letting down the stern, principled demeanor in favor of experiencing perhaps the universe’s finest Scotch. He felt he owed himself this much. And if they were pouring, he wouldn’t deny them their hospitality.

Kurian took special pleasure in watching Drinkwine’s appreciation. He let him have a moment before asking, “Cigar?”

Drinkwine was still savoring that first sip of the Glenfiddich, letting it wallow in his mouth and tingle his tongue. His expression said it all.

Kurian laughed out loud, opening a fine wood case on the bar filled with perfect rows of Gurkha Black Dragons.

Drinkwine knew Kurian was trying to butter him up. How stupid did he think he was? Regardless, he plucked one of the cigars from the box. From out of nowhere a pretty young Iranian girl appeared wearing a tight Turkmeni dress, holding an ornate gold-plated wand in her bejeweled fingers that had a perpetual flame burning at the end. She demurely presented the lighter. As Drinkwine ceremoniously puffed the expensive cigar to life he realized that the holder of the lavish lighter was in fact, a boy. Happenings according to its own weird, he thought to himself as the fine paper glowed and the cigar took.

The smooth tobacco mixed with the fine Scotch in an elixir of excess. Drinkwine told himself he would regain his professional composure and ethics after this momentary detour into extravagance. Certainly he deserved that much, didn’t he?

The room was clouded with a dense atmosphere of expensive, exhaled smoke from the lips of the urbane men, all with deep ties and influence over the vigorous and prodigious transformation of Mars. Under a vibrant cacophony of dialects, superficial arguments over business and politics were punctuated with laughter—the room intoxicated with an underpinning of the mad grab for wealth.

After all, this was the American Old West during the heady time of the Gold Rush. And who made money during the Gold Rush? Drinkwine thought to himself cynically; the men who sold the shovels. Well, these men here, in their silk dishdashas and tailored threads, puffing out thousand-dollar clouds of pale blue smoke between their pontifications, were the sellers of shovels on a grand scale.

Drinkwine was fully aware of the inquisitive looks he was receiving; all begging introduction. The men regarded him like some circus act—or perhaps one of their caged rare animals—with a curious air of novelty to it all; a white man, an educated white policeman, from America, here, conducting an investigation.

Moreover, Drinkwine discerned simmering reservations. It was to be expected, after all, these were the men tied to heavy investments, to which the future of their fortunes may well rest in what would transpire here with him and his findings over the coming weeks. He could feel their uneasiness, their questions, their less-than-sincere efforts—under the guise of friendly banter—to get acquainted with the man who had come to delve into their private society. Drinkwine ascertained correctly that these were the men who, behind closed doors, had impressed upon Kurian to do all that was possible to pacify him and cater to his whims to help soften any findings that threatened their interests. As a result, Kurian was exhibiting a joy in having found what he believed to be some corruptibility in the detective’s weakness for good liquor.

Over the course of the following hour Drinkwine was reluctantly led about the room like a quaffed poodle, Kurian eagerly spiriting introductions with so-and-so, and so-and-so, who worked for such-and-such; and here was Mr. Sedeghi, head of Bank of Iran—and Mr. Wong, with the Chinese Embassy—oh, and Mr. Moisiev, with the Russian Heavy Industries Company, Zardk. Even for a man of Drinkwine’s capacity for the intake and retention of a great amount of information it was all a bit of a blur.

Through it all, the yapping mouth of Kurian enthusiastically spewing out this and that bit of verbal garbage. For an Ambassador he was a little too impressed by the power and wealth in the room, always a hold of Drinkwine’s arm, in between the empty introductions leading him to the next frivolity with a clandestine lean into him with whispered gossip about the pending, costly divorces and the various mistresses ensconced in the Tower Suites; the height of status among apartment buildings reserved for mistresses. The gossip provided Drinkwine with a more in-depth reveal of the little brown man divulging it, than the trite information could ever provide about the men in question.

Beleaguered, Drinkwine found himself dragged into various clusters of conversation where the men haughtily tossed out opinions about the state of things, such as how settling Mars would be the greatest achievement of man. They proselytized how new alloys would allow for yet taller skyscrapers and increased speeds of travel. How it’s a pity that a beautiful place like Tuscany had to be decimated with an H-Bomb, when in fact it was but a small minority of Italians that were rebelling against the country’s acquisition by China.

Drinkwine listened to the various diatribes, wishing he had the balls to tell them all how full of shit they were, and how crappy the quality was of the build of their precious skyscrapers. But instead he just smiled and let them talk. It was best when you were in a room of men with erroneously inflated egos. The mere fact that these men had conjured great fortunes out of their respective industries predisposed them to arrogance and a distasteful sense of entitlement that could never be reasoned with. Also, these men, these scheming men, were not accustomed to having their ideas and opinions questioned, certainly not by a white.

In passing there was strangely candid talk of Drinkwine being an American, which ushered in a comment by an acerbic Arab, “America was great once, yes, but that was a very long time ago.”

“It’s a wasteland now,” an overweight Iranian offered, an expensive cigar sloshing around in his mouth as he spoke, the tip soiled by his prodigiously wet lips.

The comment sparked another, a Japanese man, to say, “Yes, but let’s not bite the hand that feeds. Think of the labor force that America’s decline has provided for us here. Wonderfully low wages and the abolition of meddling unions.”

The Arab stroked his eyebrow, “Ah, but the Americans seem grateful.”

“Yes, well,” Kurian contributed, “a tin plate serves some as equally as fine china.”

“True, true,” came out of a Saudi in thoughtful repose. His nodding introducing a small circle of heads bobbing in agreement.

What Drinkwine found most fascinating was that none of the gathered men seemed to think that their words would offend him as an American, as a white. They were too obtuse. Then the topic turned, as it always did, to his name.

“Drinkwine, such an odd name.”

“Drinkwine, is that actually a family name?”

To which Drinkwine waded through his tired responses.

As the evening wore on and the novelty of Drinkwine was diffused, some of the men ventured to ask about the investigation. They were seeking answers to assuage their concerns—not for justice, but for their investments. After all, nothing quite derails the value of real estate quite like a murder. Drinkwine wanted to tell them to get used to it, that there were going to be plenty more in the years ahead. He deeply wished to say that this was merely a formality, the busting of Mars’ immaculate cherry with the harsh reality of its first cold-blooded murder. But Drinkwine was too polite for that.

“Surely, Detective,” began one rant, “you don’t believe this thing that has happened has any larger bearing than that of some argument among the lowers?”

To which Drinkwine could only benignly respond, “Well, we’ll have to wait and see what surfaces.”

“Detective, I’ve read your book.” It was a powerfully-built Russian. He looked like a boxer in a nice suit. His nose had been broken somewhere along the path to his wealth, probably early on in rough and illegal dealings slugging his way out of the Moscow ghetto. Finely tailored clothes could never fully hide a man’s roots if he was from the streets. Drinkwine wondered what line of work he was in. Probably heavy construction, where it was rumored the most brutal threats and exacting bribes won the more lucrative contracts. The Russians seemed to have a knack for that.

“You suggest that man has evolved past basic primal instinct, beyond acting on impulse,” the Russian’s words were muddled by what appeared to be a limitation in the movement of his jaw. “Violence playing out only with reason?”

Drinkwine felt the eyes of the circle fall on him. “That would be over simplifying the science. But yes, in general, when it comes to homicide, I believe man has arrived at a place where technocracy has altered certain patterns. There must be some gain to be had to warrant it.”

“Descartes’ ‘rational man?’” an East Indian man suggested.

The astute observation impressed Drinkwine. The Indian gentleman quieted any further comment with a sip of his bourbon.

“My friend,” a small Iranian began.

But Drinkwine clung to; my friend. Why do they say that when you’ve only just met?

“Are you saying that gone are the random and senseless killings that plagued your country at the end?”

“My country is still intact,” Drinkwine patiently responded. “But if you’re referring to the recent civil war, that would be politically motivated… again, reason.”

“Ah, but a shadow of its former glory,” a handsome, square-jawed Saudi mused.

The Russian, who had not taken his eyes off of Drinkwine, then spoke, his deep voice softening, “A lot of savvy American businessmen profited nicely from that demise.” He said it with disturbing praise. “They saw the end coming and parceled out the vast open plains for foreign countries to dump their refuse. Brilliant.”

Drinkwine studied the cold calculation in the big Russian’s eyes. He appeared to be taunting him. “I suppose, if you want to call turning a beautiful country into a dumping ground.”

“They made billions,” the Russian proclaimed, deeply envious.

“Well,” Drinkwine came back, “trading money to destroy nature might be perceived by some as short-sighted.”

The Russian just smiled as he sipped his Vodka, his eyes taking inventory of Drinkwine’s responses.

What an ass, Drinkwine thought, as he tipped his Glenfiddich back.

“The ways of America, with its wars and its international meddling, would eventually come to no good, everyone knew this,” a rotund, high-voiced Pakistani proffered. “They were still depending on their facility at making war to usher them into the 22nd Century, trying to conquer and reshape the Earth with brute force, with violence. Didn’t they realize those wars cost money to fight?”

“Now, the fountain pen does that,” a Japanese man uttered, smirking as he stared into the stirring of ice in his glass.

“The fountain pen has its own degree of brutality,” Drinkwine came back, which quieted the circle as each man drank and smoked, nodding in agreement.

Having escaped the room of foreign tongues and exhausting pomposity, Drinkwine explored the mansion, coming upon a beautifully appointed study, walled with cherry wood bookcases reminiscent of an old English manner. He eagerly perused the impressive collection of leather-bound literary classics lining the shelves, which reached to the ceiling. He was surprised to see a very old volume of Moby Dick, the title embossed in lacily scrawled gold leaf down the spine. He reached for it, hungry to see Melville’s words on fine paper, only to discover that the book was in fact part of a large plastic façade. Bewildered, Drinkwine realized there wasn’t an actual page of text in the entire study.

Leaving the fake books behind, yet wanting to avoid the trying triviality of the conversations in the other room, Drinkwine found refuge on the large stone terrace. What he first believed to be a view of the night sky turned out in fact to be an artificial dome; a miniature scale planetarium with stars projected as a slowly rotating field to mimic the night firmament of Mars. The counterfeit sky was an appropriate coupling to the falsehood of the study, replete with an occasional shooting star. The terrace wall overlooked an artificial jungle of dense plastic foliage; a phony tropical forest to accent the lie of night sky. The setting even had artificial fireflies and a soundtrack of jungle noises to sweep people to some other place—anywhere but here.

Drinkwine surmised the Martian landscape was too unpredictable to chance the annoyance of wind-driven sand blotting out the scenery and hammering attending dignitaries. This was, after all, the Ambassador’s Mansion. This was ground zero for the selling of lies and securing of bribes. They dare not risk the undoing of deals on account of some unbecoming weather. Instead, a smart construct of artificial, comfortable environment to seduce and secure the contracts that would make Mars habitable.

Before coming out here Drinkwine had secured a fresh glass of Glenfiddich and snagged another Black Dragon. The smokes and booze he had consumed thus far were the equivalent to perhaps a quarter of his yearly salary. Though the Scotch went down nicely, and the smoke followed it sublimely, Drinkwine wondered, even if he could afford it, given the great strife afflicting the various worlds, would he be able to stomach the guilt that comes with this degree of excess and indulgence for very long? He settled at the terrace wall and closed his eyes as he savored the Scotch and dragged on the cigar.

Audible through the open French doors, behind the sheer drapes wafting in the breeze of the air conditioning, Drinkwine could hear bits and pieces of conversation inside, where men drank expensive black market booze and drew on smuggled cigars. He heard a voice in Farsi say, “Drinkwine, yes, the Detective. He’s an America, but still, a very nice fellow.” Drinkwine laughed to himself. Another man spoke in Urdu—Drinkwine struggling to translate—“Is Drinkwine really his name, or is that some nom de plume to conceal his true identity?” Drinkwine was immune to the comments from too many years of dealing with it. He heard someone mention the title of his book, The Alchemy of Murder, suggesting that it must be enjoying a reprise in sales due the snippets on the news about the murder. This invited another guest to speculate as to what too much news coverage might do to the reputation of Mars. “Yes, this man Drinkwine. He solved the Moon’s first murder,” which was followed by a flurry of exchanges; “Hadn’t there always been murders on the Moon?” “Certainly nothing unusual about that.” “No, no, no,” a voice fired back, “this Drinkwine solved the Moon’s very first murder.” Which was followed by, “Well, I don’t know anything about that.” Another offered, “A well-spoken man, nonetheless.”

‘A well-spoken man,’ Drinkwine thought to himself, humored. You never heard them say how well-spoken an Arab, or a Pakistani was. How many times had he been complimented as to his impressive deportment and breadth of vocabulary; ‘Doesn’t he have a broad vocabulary for a white?’ Always followed by; ‘Despite being an American.’

Drinkwine had been promising himself for some time now to tackle the task of learning Farsi or Chinese to better ingratiate himself. It was all part of the great shift, the lines of status that had been drawn and redrawn in the Martian sand. If you planned to have a livelihood, English wasn’t the language to have sole custodianship to. Drinkwine had been spared the indignity of poverty because of his chosen field. There was plenty of work for one trained in the art of forensics, regardless of their color or religion. As his chief had once said, ‘Crime is a growth industry.’

To help dilute the rash of rude comments Drinkwine took a sip of the Glenfiddich. He thought about his life, how he came to be here; a white man on Mars, drinking expensive booze and smoking a fine cigar. He had been born the final lineage to a once prominent, white family dealing with rapidly declining wealth—which had been burdened further by the exorbitant cost of a formal education for their youngest. Advice had been offered from a number of well-meaning aunts and uncles as to the importance of upholding the family name despite the dour circumstances. It had been decided that young Drinkwine should attend Harvard in order to secure a decent means for himself, as his inheritance had been steadily and systematically siphoned off by the immediate needs of the family and their acquired standard of living.

The great institutions of learning across the country had become the exclusive proprietorship of those with the means to afford it—mostly foreigners. Eventually, due the shifting dynamics of economic inequality, the doors of education closed to the majority of Americans. Drinkwine had the distinction of being the last Caucasian to have graduated Harvard. He was easy to find in the graduating class picture; the lone white face and fair hair in a sea of brown and yellow and black.

In the end, the family was woefully dismayed when their only son chose the unlikely career path of criminal pathologist and forensics, as opposed to a degree in business or law, which was their preference. One particularly outraged aunt had accused young Drinkwine of spite. Drinkwine hadn’t taken up his field to spite anyone. He simply was fascinated with the dead. They were no longer alive. They didn’t suggest life paths. They didn’t meddle in other’s affairs.

None of it really mattered. The family was eventually evicted from their sprawling estate when years of debt—afforded by the leniency of the last remaining American financial institution—was called back by the new foreign owners. Some seven generations of Drinkwines was, in essence, wiped out with the stroke of a pen. An inordinate number of relations chose to take their own lives rather than succumb to lives of poverty, the inevitable consequence of those who only spoke English. When Drinkwine accepted his diploma there were no family members to witness it, those who had survived all blown to various corners of the nation and unaware of their nephew’s achievement. How odd, now here he was, on Mars, smoking a Gurkha and getting to the bottom of a third glass of Glenfiddich.

In the years since entering the field Drinkwine had come to relish his work. People always asked about how horrid it must be to deal with the dead. It didn’t bother him at all. In fact, he preferred the dead to many of the living, partly because the dead don’t talk. They’ve said all they’re going to say and patiently wait out the long hours of toil and study, never complaining about the prodding and poking. They are tirelessly agreeable and conveniently still. They demand no responses to their ideas and thoughts, expect no niceties, and harbor no ill will toward any misstep of manners. They are, quite perfectly, dead.

Memories of his old school days came back to him, perhaps stirred by the solitude of being out here, alone, segregated from the voices in the other room. As a young student Drinkwine had suffered through the indignities of being the only white in school. His skin had predisposed him to isolation. As a result he had only his schoolwork to occupy him. There were none of the nostalgic college high jinks or mischief for him. No, those frivolities had been reserved for the other boys and girls whose family’s wealth had already secured for them bright futures. Their schooling was merely a formality, a time to enjoy some of the fruits of carefree youth before they would be handed companies to run. Drinkwine had been, without question, the poorest student in his school. White and poor; two heavy social strikes against him.

His fellow students had made derogatory comments about the financial limitations of solving crimes. That seemed to be their focus; how much money there was to be made. They couldn’t fathom why a man would want to limit himself fiscally with the task of solving crimes when it paid so pitifully. All Drinkwine could do with the memories was chuckle about the absurdity of it all as he tilted back the Glenfiddich. The coursing of the fine liquor down his throat dissuaded any serious concern he had about these men, or anyone for that matter, and their views of him, or America, or the work he was carrying out. Yes, he thought, the dead are so much more pleasant.

The moment of quiet contemplation was intruded upon by Kurian, “Ah, Detective, you have found the balcony.” The Ambassador took up next to Drinkwine at the terrace wall. “I come out here quite often to think,” he said, listening to the soft rush of a simulated stream, closing his eyes and breathing in deeply of the processed air.

Turning to look at Kurian standing there in his purple suit and pointed suede shoes—eyes closed dreamily, doing that little boyish thing of rocking himself up onto the balls of his feet—Drinkwine wondered exactly what it might be that Kurian thought about on the occasions when he repaired to this plastic sanctuary. He allowed him to wallow in his splendor for just a moment before bringing him back to Mars.

“Ambassador,” his tone rife with reality. “You know, I will need to question some of these people.”

Kurian slowly dropped down from his toes onto his flat feet. His eyes labored open, the weight of what had just been said stirring him uncomfortably. “Detective, must you?”

Drinkwine saw the first crack in the seemingly unflappable courtesy of Kurian, the Ambassador suddenly aware that his little ruse of indulgence hadn’t quite taken.

“Detective,” Kurian began, his voice unsettled. “These are developers, dignitaries, heads of very important financial institutions, what would they have to do with a murder?”

Over the clink of glasses and the muffled sounds of hypocrisy unfolding inside, Drinkwine responded, “I’m conducting an investigation. I’m trying to find out why someone was killed.”

“Why a worker was killed,” Kurian emphasized, “a worker.” He blinked his eyes in agitation. “What has that to do with these men here?”

“For all I know the man was killed because he was going to file a labor dispute, or blow the whistle on a hazardous work environment.”

“Blow the…,’ do you mean to suggest, in your parlance,” the Ambassador said deprecatingly, “that there might be dubious activity going on?”

“I need to look at all the possibilities.” Drinkwine steady, calm.

“I can assure you, those people are not about to make waves. They are quite content to have found jobs.” The Ambassador seemed piqued at the mere suggestion. “They would never be so stupid as to do anything to upset that.”

Drinkwine didn’t answer, letting Kurian stew.

“Detective Drinkwine, I beg of you, don’t call these people in. They are engaged in a great many deals. This type of…,” fumbling, “… unsavory questioning is an affront to their character, it could jeopardize some of those dealings. Do you appreciate the gravity of this? The amount of money concerned?”

“So then,” Drinkwine came back, “how much is a man’s life worth?”

Kurian dropped the hand clutching his silk handkerchief to the terrace wall. “Please don’t be naïve.”

“I need to consider all the angles.” With a tired wisdom, “You can’t build a society and not expect there to be crime, whether that be among workers, or the leaders.”

“Detective, I can assure you, the majority… nay, all of the crimes being perpetrated on Mars have been, and are going to be, the doing of the workers, the whites and the blacks. Surely you know this.” Kurian saw Drinkwine’s reaction. “It isn’t a racist statement. It is proven fact, Detective.” Kurian was adamant, “They are prone to deviant behavior,”

“You’re so convinced it was a worker.”

Kurian looked at him oddly, “Come now, surely you don’t suppose…”

“I don’t ‘suppose’ anything,” Drinkwine fired back. “I work in facts.”

“Then… yes, I believe it was between workers. And I say,” handkerchief waving frivolously, “let the workers have their crime,” adding shamelessly, “just keep it in the camps, away from the decents.”

“And what do you intend to do with the workers after the buildings have all gone up? When the thoroughfares have all been built?” Drinkwine asked point blank.

“You lead me, once again, to arguments that serve no purpose. The important thing is that for the time being there are things to be built, and that is creating jobs.” Kurian had stiffened significantly, his slight physique tense. “Do you have some manifest desire to undo the good we’ve offered these people?” Kurian put forth as a rhetorical question. “Detective, believe it or not, I am trying to assist you. But you must understand that these people here, in that room, are accustomed to a certain amount of respect. To be questioned by a white will never go over well.”

Silence between them.

Kurian regained some of his professional decorum. “Why don’t we leave this evening for leisure. Give them their Scotch and brandy. We can make this all up in very short order.”

Drinkwine was reticent.

Kurian sought a path to soften things. “Tell you what, tomorrow there is an event, which many of the men here, and more, will be attending,” Kurian offered in truce. “It’s quite monumental, you may actually enjoy it. We’re releasing one million Monarch Butterflies into the Martian atmosphere.”

Drinkwine considered, trading looks between Kurian and where the voices of men droned on behind the long, draping curtains. “And you’ll help pave the way to those people?” Drinkwine asked.

Kurian smiled in subtle victory, raising his handkerchief up against his chest, regaining that conceited stance. “Yes, certainly,” relieved, “certainly Detective. So then, until tomorrow?” he asked, hesitantly.

A pause fell between them. Drinkwine mulled it over as the soundtrack of the stream filtered through the artificial night.

Kurian used the pause to excuse himself before another joust of words arrived to undo the moment.

As the Ambassador’s footsteps faded off, Drinkwine turned back to the plastic forest and the pre-recorded jungle sounds. He tipped the flaking gray ash of his Gurkha Black Dragon over the edge of the terrace wall, watching a thousand dollars worth of burnt and flaked tobacco fall into the blackness beyond.

Night had poured an immaculate blackness out over the Martian landscape. The winds had ceased their virulent whims and repaired for the night to their secret enclaves, leaving unseen in the darkness the perfectly groomed dunes of red sand they had labored over during the course of the day. Out on the plains, mountains of layered shale reached into the night sky, painted in soft gray. The majestic peaks had been here eons before their imported metal brethren polluted the landscape. The stillness placed an erroneous aura of calm over the night that would surely be erased in the coming day with an inevitable rising of winds.

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