Murder Beyond The Milky Way

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Chapter Forty-Nine

Harry walked forward to the middle of the room. “You’ve got a smuggling problem,” he said. The miner owners looked at each other.

“No way,” Seth Thomas said. “Every brick shipped out of here has been accounted for.”

“What if someone else was doing the counting?” Harry asked.

“Is there another mine somewhere?”

“Yes. It’s called your warehouses,” Harry said as facetiously as he could.

“Someone’s stealing from our warehouses and shipping the bricks off planet without our knowledge? That’s not possible,” Ethan Allen said. “We tally each brick into and out of them.” The mine owners began to talk loudly among themselves.

“I’d advise you to listen,” Quincey said. “He might be young, but he’s a Directorate expert at the movement of commodities.”

The men stopped talking and looked at Harry. “I’ve got a simple question for each of you. You monitor how many red-ore bricks go into a warehouse? Yes?” They all nodded. “And you monitor how many bricks go out, right?” They nodded again. “But do you ever monitor how many bricks are actually IN the warehouse at any given time?” Harry looked at the mine owners and their blank stares.

“The number of bricks should be constant,” Ethan Allen said.

“Have you ever done an inventory?” Harry asked.

“There has never been a need since we control the number of bricks moved off planet with each freighter,” Thomas said.

“What if someone were stealing from you?” Harry asked.

“What if they were?” Bradshaw asked.“Without them being moved off planet, red-ore bricks would be nothing more than paperweights.”

“But what if they WERE being moved off planet?” Harry asked.

“Then we’d have a problem,” Allen said. “Move enough of them off planet and you could upset the economic balance of Directorate space... so Lydia tells us.”

“But what if you didn’t want to upset the economic balance?” Harry walked up and stood in front of the mine owners who moved forward to form a semi-circle around him. “What if there were another reason to move them off planet?”

“What other reason could there be?” Bradshaw asked.

“Power,” Harry said. “Power like the power you men exert here. There are hundreds of moons and planets that have been terraformed in almost every parsec of space. What if the goal of your smugglers was not to upset the balance of the economy, but to give them enough power to establish themselves on a planet or moon like you men have established yourselves here and basically take over the place?”

“But why would they want to do that?” Jane asked.“Don’t we give everyone everything they could possibly want?”

“No, you don’t,” Harry said turning to face her. “Look... back on Earth Prime we give everyone just a little more than enough to get by. Everyone works to live. If they can’t work, they are given just enough to make life almost bearable. Think of it this way. Here your workers have everything that they could possibly want... as long as they work. If they don’t work, they don’t eat. On Earth Prime, if someone doesn’t work, we give them enough food for three days. If they want the other four days of food, they have to go out and work for it. The Directorate controls its population by giving people who work just enough to keep them slightly above their level of desperation. They may want more, but they will not starve if they don’t get more. On the other hand, Directorate entitlements give them just enough to keep them slightly below their level of desperation. Therefore they feel compelled to go out and work. Here, you allow everyone who works to satisfy practically their every need and want. People may have all kinds of wants, but eventually they will be happy to settle for what they need so long as they know their needs will always be met. Every need, that it, except one... Power.

“Power, here, is held by the Vigilance Committee, a core group of founding fathers who will not allow anyone else into their inner circle. But what if you are a man like Turgenev, here?What if you want power, but you are not near enough to the top to attempt to get it. On this planet, you know that you can’t take the R&R from Turgenev. You know you will never become a mine owner. So what do you do? You form your own syndicate and you begin to siphon off the kind of wealth that will allow you to intimidate others.”

“But that would take years,” Ethan Allen said.

“Yes, it would,” Harry said. “You mine owners have had a small group of people robbing you piecemeal for at least five years.”

“Five years... that’s impossible,” Bradshaw said.

“Is it?” Harry asked rhetorically. “I’ve been in your warehouses. You keep so many red-ore bricks in them that no one can possibly tell by sight just how many there are. Say, for argument’s sake, that one of your warehouses holds 5-million bricks. When a freighter comes in, you load 100,000 bricks from each warehouse onto the outbound ship. What if someone takes 1000 bricks from each warehouse every time a freighter departs? Are you going to notice 1000 bricks missing out of the 999,000 left? No. Eventually the missing bricks will begin to make a hole. But that hole can be covered up, shored up, disguised in some way like filling the hole with red-ore building blocks and then placing the shipping bricks over top of them. It’s not like you are taking all 5-million bricks out of the warehouse with each freighter and then putting 5-million bricks back in. Your warehouses are so full that you are hardly making a dent in them each time a freighter loads.”

“So who has been stealing from us?” Ethan Allen asked.

“He has.” Harry pointed a finger at Fitz-Porter.

“Quincey?” Seth Thomas asked.

“He’s right,” Quincey said. “Like Harry said, it’s been going on for years.”

“But how?” Bradshaw asked.

“They have been smuggling their stolen red-ore brick up on the same shuttles that you use to load your standard freighter shipments,” Harry said.

Several of the mine owners shook their heads in disbelief. “There’s no way that could happen,” Ethan Allen said.

“Oh, it’s happening, all right,” Harry said. He told them of Mark’s innocent discovery and how and why Fitz-Porter had killed him, and how Fitz-Porter had bonded with fliers from each mine to siphon off red-ore bricks with each freighter shipment. “I noticed there was a pattern in the mines that gave one of their workers time off for personal business that needed to be conducted off world. The people were never the same, but there was, at least, one person who always left Magnum-4 on one freighter and returned on the next. On one freighter that person would be from Mine-1, on the next from Mine-2 and so on. You only spotted the pattern if you looked at the big picture.

“But then I had to ask myself if Fitz-Porter was so quick to kill someone as harmless as Mark Chapman because of what he might have known about the smuggling... could he have killed before? I looked back over the murders that have taken place on Magnum-4 and only one stood out:the killing of Mr. Lehman...”

“But that happened almost 5-years ago,” Mrs. Lehman said.

“But it was also the only unsolved murder you’ve had here,” Harry said.

“We all know that Turgenev had something to do with it,” Mrs. Lehman said.

“And I’ve always denied it,” Turgenev said. “I had no reason to murder the man.”

“You were upset with our export/import business taking business away from you,” Mrs. Lehman said. “As long as we were up and running, you couldn’t get anything to hold over the men who wanted private items imported especially Steve. You just didn’t realize that it was MY business and not my husbands.”

“You are right there, Mrs. Lehman,” Harry said. “Fitz-Porter didn’t realize that it was your business, either. He thought that by killing your husband, he could step in and run things thus giving him a perfect front for his smuggling operation.”

“And how was he going to do that?” Mrs. Lehman asked.

“By marrying your daughter,” Harry said. “On my way out here, I was told that Jane and your daughter did not socialize and I wondered why? Two young ladies, the same age, on an isolated planet, it would seem natural that some kind of association would develop. Why not? Eventually I learned that they shared the same boyfriend. Five years ago, Fitz-Porter dated/courted Allyson. She told me that he asked her to marry him, but that her father was vehemently against it. She told me that her father thought that she was too young to get married and that he wasn’t all that happy with Fitz-Porter as a prospective son-in-law.

“It was Fitz-Porter’s plan to marry Allyson, and worm his way into the export/import business to facilitate his smuggling. Only, after he killed your husband, he discovered you were just as adamant that Allyson not marry him and once he realized that you were the real brains behind the business, he broke it off. He had already corrupted at least one or two men from each mine into working with him. All he had to do was make arrangements with one or two of the freighter captains. It wouldn’t be as convenient as having access to an export/import business, but they could manage it.”

“How does Steve’s death factor into this?” Keith asked.

“It doesn’t,” Quincey said. Everyone looked at him. The silence in the room was palpable. “Fitz-Porter planned to kill Steve before he left on his last trip. That’s why he took his flight suit. But it had nothing to do with the smuggling.” He turned to Jane. “His meeting up with you was a fortuitous accident for both of you. It allowed you to cover your reason for being off-world, and taking you Finneying established an alibi for his having the flight suit along. No one would have suspected him of taking the flight suit because he planned to space-jump to the surface and kill your father.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Fitz-Porter said. “No one can do a space drop in a flight suit. Not from a low orbiting vessel. It’s not pressurized and you can’t carry enough air in your flight bladder.”

“No, but you can wear a travel pressure suit under your flight suit. It will give you enough short term protection until you reenter the atmosphere... and you can carry an air bottle that will allow you to make almost the entire free fall before you have to engage your in-flight re-breather,” Quincey said.

“Do you realize how fast you would be going?” Fitz-Porter asked. “You would be going faster than the speed of sound. You would need a drone chute just to slow you down so that you could perform some basic maneuvers. And any kind of chute would show up on his radar.” With his hands tied, Fitz-Porter pointed his chin towards Rohl.

“If you were a normal human being,” Quincey said. “But you’re not normal. You’re the Iron Eagle. You’ve already flared out at 11-Gs and you know the pressure and strain it puts on your pectoral muscles and shoulders. Of all the people on this planet, you are the only one who could make the jump and survive. I checked with my wife and she agrees. If anyone could do it, you are the man.”

“But that still puts me outside any of the LifeShields. How did I get back in?” Fitz-Porter asked.

“You had help over at Mine-6,” Quincey said.

“My place?” Harlas asked.

“When Harry dropped in to track the missing order for Allyson Lehman, one of your desk jockeys was talking to one of the repair men about a 3% loss in the oxygen level on one of the harvesting machines. All the other machines were working up to specs. Only that one was off. So I checked. I researched how one of those strip-mining machines worked and how much oxygen their pilots consumed. Then, I did the math. A trip from the silicon mountain would account for just such a loss if the operator picked up another passenger.” Quincey turned to Fitz-Porter. “All you had to do was change clothes. In a miner’s jumpsuit and wearing a face mask, no one would have given you a second look. You came in from the outside, took the shuttle back to the main dome, walked up to Steve’s, went in the back way, had words with him and then killed him with a shard you picked up after you landed. Suited and gloved, you would have left no evidence at the crime scene. Then, all you had to do was get smuggled back up to the STAR on the same shuttle that took the quarantine examiners up that morning. You probably had help from the crewman Huntington killed. No one would have thought twice about where you were. Jane would have assumed that you were sleeping in your quarters and your roommates would have assumed that you were in some isolated spot having sex with her. No one would have thought to even look for you.”

“This is a great story, but you can’t prove any of it,” Fitz-Porter said.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Quincey said. He pulled out his PCD and touched the screen with his thumb.“Bring him in,” he said.

Three men entered the living room from the direction of the kitchen. The two men on the outside were big and strong. The man in the middle was about two-thirds of their size. He was smaller, wiry, and bound securely. Harry saw the man’s eyes flit from side to side looking for an escape. When he realized there was none, he looked at the mine owners and then over at the seated and bound Fitz-Porter.

Quincey walked up and stood inches away from the bound man. “Here’s the offer. I’m going to make it only once. This is the Vigilance Committee. You have only one chance to live. Lie to us and we’ll give you over to that man...” He pointed to Dr. Mendoza.“... and your body will be composting in the greenway before tomorrow’s sundown. On the morning that the freighter arrived, did you pick up that man...” He pointed to Fitz-Porter.“... out by the silicon mountain?”

There was silence. The man looked around the room. He looked at Quincey. He looked at Jane. He looked at Harry. Then, he looked at the obese Dr. Mendoza.


Jane screamed and hurled herself at Fitz-Porter. “You killed father!!! You miserable piece of human waste... you bastard... you... you...” She couldn’t think of the words. She began clawing at the bound man’s face.

“Get her off of me!” Fitz-Porter stood up and tried to shoulder his way past the maniacal Jane. He knocked her to the floor. Harry jumped him and tried to hold him steady. Fitz-Porter carried Harry along until, Quincey, Bradshaw and one of the bodyguards fought Fitz-Porter to the ground.”

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