by Michael J A Tyzuk
I had a thought about that. “Alexander Martin told us that his company stood to potentially lose millions of credits from this little debacle, but money isn’t all he’s going to lose. Because of this people are going to think twice before they buy Château de Martin again. Not only are they going to lose money now but they’ll lose even more money in the future because people are going to stop buying their wine.”
“That kind of thing could potentially put a company out of business,” Jeremy observed.
“And as Chief Financial Officer, Gabriel would be in a position to tell his father just how much they stand to lose, now and in the future.”
“And as a member of the board of directors he would have full unrestricted access to the entire facility.”
“The problem is, though, that it would cause talk if members of the Board of Directors were seen going into the storage warehouses every day, and it would take more than a day to poison the sheer volume of bottles we found.”
“They would pretty much have to poison a lot of bottles, wouldn’t they?” Jeremy mused. “It would be the only way that they could be sure that they would achieve the desired effect.”
“A member of the board of directors would receive a significant bonus for the profitable performance of the vineyard, and judging from the price of a bottle of Château de Martin I would have to conclude that the company is indeed profitable.”
“Which means that the member in question would have more than enough money to buy the kind of assistance he needed.”
I nodded agreement. “Someone would have to be paid handsomely to do it, but they could be snuck onto the grounds and given suitable ID. That would give them access to the warehouses, and with the right information on the ID they could conceivably
demand the privacy that would be needed to get the job done.”
“Means and opportunity, but what about motive?”
“Revenge against his father for driving his mother away? We asked him about disgruntled employees but we didn’t ask him about family problems.”
“No, we didn’t.” Jeremy frowned. “That’s thin.”
I nodded. “That’s very thin.”
Jeremy stood and offered me his hand. “Shall we pay the vineyards a visit?”
I smiled. “Let’s.”
* * *
We got there just as they were closing up operations for the day. In fact, we met Mr. Martin at the front gate as he was on his way out. As soon as he saw us he pulled his speeder off to the side of the road and got out to talk to us.
“You told us earlier that you don’t have any problems with disgruntled employees,” I began, “but one thing we didn’t get a chance to ask you when we were here before was whether or not you’re having any family problems.”
Martin frowned at that. “What do you mean?”
“Mister Martin,” Jeremy cut in, “you were recently divorced from your wife, yes?”
Martin nodded. “I made a terrible mistake and she caught me at it.”
“In the divorce settlement she asked for a fifty percent share of earnings from the vineyards for the time that you were married, but the terms of the agreement the two of you signed before you said your vows disallowed that kind of claim. The judge who tried your case decided in your favor and your wife walked out of the settlement with nothing.”
Martin nodded. “That’s right. I wanted to give her at least a little something, but my lawyer talked me out of it. He said it was her own damn fault for signing the agreement in the first place.”
“Did you agree with him?” I asked.
Martin shook his head. “No, I didn’t.”
“Was it on his advice that you signed the agreement?”
Martin nodded. “Yes, it was. He said that it was important for me to look after my interests in the event that something happened between us.”
“So, it was his idea to deny your wife any of your assets in the event of divorce?”
“And it was his advice that prevented you from giving her even so much as a single credit in the divorce settlement?”
“After the settlement your wife liquidated what few assets she had, is that correct?” Jeremy wanted to know.
Martin winced at that. “Yes, she did. She used the money to book passage on an outward bound transport.”
“Are you aware of what happened to that transport?”
Martin nodded sadly. “Yes, I am. I was devastated when I heard about it.”
“How did your son Gabriel take it?” I wondered.
Martin frowned. “He took is pretty stoically, as I recall. Why?”
“Gabriel is the Chief Financial Officer of your Vineyard, isn’t he?” I asked.
Martin nodded. “That’s right. He earned that posting two years before the divorce.”
“As the Chief Financial Officer he would be in a unique position to be able to forecast and calculate losses in the event of a catastrophe, would he not?”
Martin glared at me. “I don’t think that I like where you’re going with this,” he snapped.
I smiled grimly. “I can’t exactly say that I’m fond with this line of reasoning either,” I soothed. “However, this is something that we need to follow up on. Remember what’s at stake here: one person has already died because someone in this organization decided to poison several hundred bottles of your product. Our job is to find out who did it and why and we don’t have the luxury of playing favorites. We have to follow this up.”
Martin held his glare for a long moment, and then nodded understanding. “I hope to God that you’re wrong, Detective.”
I reached out and squeezed Martin’s shoulder. “So do I.”
“You still haven’t answered the question,” Jeremy pointed out.
Martin leaned against his speeder and folded his arms across his chest. “Well, things haven’t exactly been cordial since my wife was killed,” he admitted. “Daniel has been distant, and sometimes even downright hostile. About the only time we can have something that even approximates a civilized conversation these days is if we’re talking business. Otherwise he gives the impression that he wants nothing to do with me.”
“Do you think that he blames you for his mother’s death?” I asked.
Martin nodded. “I can pretty much guarantee that he does,” he admitted, “and why shouldn’t he? I was the one who got caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I was the one who pushed her into signing that stupid agreement. I was the one who took the advice of a greedy and self-centered man and didn’t give her so much as a single credit. By the time the settlement was completed the only things she had to her name was the contents of the accounts she had before we were married, and they totalled less than a thousand credits. She had nowhere to go. Why not make a new start on a new planet? It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?”
“Have you tried to patch things up with Gabriel?” I asked.
Martin nodded. “I’ve tried to talk to him so many times. He just wants nothing to do with me. Every time I try to talk to him he just turns his back and walks away. And it’s not like I can spank him for being rude anymore, he’s been an adult for years.”
“Do you think that it would be possible for us to see him?” Jeremy wondered. “We’d like to ask him some questions.”
Martin thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. “Why not? I suppose you guys need to know, don’t you? And I suppose I need to know too.”
Mister Martin escorted us back onto the vineyard grounds and into the office complex. Gabriel’s office was on the top floor of the three story building in the northwestern corner, directly opposite his father. Gabriel was loading data cards and reams of hardcopy into his briefcase when Mister Martin led us past his secretary and into his office. He bore a striking resemblance to his father. They both had the same facial features, but his father’s were more worn, more weathered. The really striking thing about Gabriel, though, was his eyes. I’ve never seen such intense blue eyes look so cold. And I hope to God that I never do again.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” Gabriel demanded.
Mister Martin introduced us. “They would like to ask you a few questions.”
Gabriel gave me a look of pure loathing. “Well, get on with it then,” he snapped. “I’ve got better things to do with my time, thank you very much.”
I grinned. “My, you’re a pleasant fellow, aren’t you?”
“If you’re not going to ask me anything then I’m leaving,” Gabriel said and rounded his desk to make for the door.
Jeremy and I met Gabriel halfway and gently eased him back into his chair. Jeremy relieved him of his briefcase and laid it atop one of the sitting tables near the couch. “Not so fast, sport,” Jeremy said. “You don’t leave until we’re done with you.”
“You’re the Chief Financial Officer for the Vineyards, yes?” I asked.
“That’s what it says on the door, isn’t it?” Gabriel countered.
“So, that means you’re in the unique position of being able to calculate to the last credit just how much money the Vineyards are going to lose because of this poisoning fiasco, yes?”
“I think that’s implied in the title.”
“So, how much does the company stand to lose because of all this?” I wondered. Gabriel named a figure and I whistled appreciatively. “My, that’s a rather large chunk of money, isn’t it? And isn’t it amazing how quickly you managed to spit that figure out.”
“What are you trying to say?” Gabriel demanded.
“She’s saying,” Jeremy answered, “that your father told us some hours ago that it would be some time before the exact magnitude of the potential loss could be determined, and just now you spit out that number without a moment’s hesitation. It makes one wonder if you spent some time calculating that in advance.”
Gabriel reached for his comm terminal. “I’m calling my attorney.”
I batted Gabriel’s hands away from the keyboard and hitched one hip onto his desk. I pushed my jacked open and made sure he got a good look at the sidearm that was riding my hip. “What do you need your attorney for?” I asked. “It’s not like you’re being charged with anything.”
“Yet,” Jeremy added.
“Yet,” I agreed. “Truth be told you might not be charged with anything at all, not if we find out that you had nothing to do with what happened. All you have to do is cooperate like a good boy and my partner and I will go away and never bother you again. Now, that’s not too much to ask, is it?”
“The alternative, of course,” Jeremy cut in, “is that we can arrest you here and now on suspicion, take you downtown in chains and question you in an interrogation room. Personally I don’t really care which one of those options appeals to you the most, but I would think that the first option would be the least painful for you.”
“Certainly it would be the least embarrassing,” I agreed.
Gabriel shook his head and sighed disgustedly. “Ask your questions.”
Jeremy and I shared a grin. “Did you calculate that loss figure in advance?” I asked.
Gabriel nodded. “It’s my job to consider worst-case scenarios.”
“Of course it is,” Jeremy agreed. “And naturally, the mass poisoning of several hundred bottles would be one of the scenarios up for consideration.”
“It’s happened at other vineyards before,” Gabriel said.
“Not in Acheron City it hasn’t,” I asserted.
Gabriel sneered at me. “Sure it has,” he said. “No one bothered to report it to the police, is all.”
“Sounds like you know a thing or two about poisoning bottles,” I ventured.
“I know a thing or two about the kind of effect that kind of event can have on a business,” Gabriel corrected.
“Of course you do,” I agreed. “Important distinction, that.”
“Then you know, of course, that this kind of thing can’t be done by an outside party,” Jeremy commented. “It has to be done by someone on the inside.”
“In that case you have a lot of people to interview,” Gabriel said. “Decided to start at the top and work your way down, did you? Tell me something, have you questioned that fornicator over there by the door? I’ll bet you he’s got a really good alibi. Just ask his secretary, I’m sure she’ll vouch for him.”
Martin stepped towards the desk, his hands held out imploringly. “Gabriel, please, I freely admit that I made a terrible mistake, but I’m still your father and you’re the only family I have left. Isn’t there any way that you can manage to forgive me?”
Gabriel snorted. “Spare me your righteous indignation. You and I both know that this wasn’t the first time you cheated on Mother, it was just the first time you got caught, is all.”
“No love lost in this family,” Jeremy commented.
“You cheated on her,” Gabriel stormed, “you ruined her, you practically drove her onto that transport and you have the balls to stand here before me and beg me to forgive you? That’s rich. That’s like Hitler asking the families of the Jews he killed in World War Two on Earth to forgive him.”
“Now that was below the belt,” Jeremy said.
“Do you think I went looking for an excuse to divorce her?” Mister Martin demanded. “Is that what you think, that I lay there in bed beside her year after year just plotting the day when I would be rid of her? I never asked for what happened, but it happened anyway, and I can’t do anything to change that.”
“Nor could you do anything to stop yourself when it happened,” Gabriel shot back. “I’ll bet you didn’t even try. You saw an opportunity and you took it, and the only thing that you regret is that you got caught.”
Martin shook his head. “That’s not how it happened, son.”
“Aye, and if you keep telling yourself that long enough maybe one day you’ll actually start to believe it.”
“Sounds to me like you and your father have some issues,” I observed.
Gabriel pointed at his father. “That man is not my father. That man is nothing more than my sperm donor.”
“That isn’t fair, Gabriel,” Martin protested.
“Neither is what happened to Mother,” Gabriel spat back. “Does it gnaw at you, the way you pushed her away from you, the way you pushed her away from us? Tell me, can you live with yourself knowing that you’re the one who killed her?”
Martin shook his head. “I didn’t kill your mother.”
“Of course not, a freak reactor accident did it for you and saved you the trouble.”
“I never wanted to hurt her!”
“You wanted nothing but to hurt her!” Gabriel thundered back. “You went looking for an opportunity to do it, and when it came your way you took it wholeheartedly! And now you have the stones to stand there before me and beg for my forgiveness. Well, you know what? It isn’t going to happen. But I’ll tell you what is going to happen: You’re going to know exactly how she felt when you and that bastard of an attorney you keep beside you ruined her. You’re going to lose your Vineyard and I’m going to be there to watch it all happen and laugh at you the way you laughed at her.”
Jeremy and I shared a look and I shook my head sadly. “You poisoned those bottles, didn’t you, Gabriel?”
“You couldn’t hurt your father directly,” Jeremy put in, “so you started looking for a more subtle way of doing it. It occurred to you that it would be the ultimate justice to see your father suffer the way your mother suffer, and in order for that to happen he had to lose the Vineyard.”
“So you hatched the idea of poisoning the product,” I contributed. “You figured that if a few people got sick and let their friends know, that would be enough to send the Vineyard into a spiral that it wouldn’t be able to recover from.”
“It’s what he deserves, isn’t it?” Gabriel said. “Sooner or later there comes a time when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done, when the sins you’ve committed have to be repaid and the only way that they can be repaid is with blood. Well, your blood is your Vineyard, so I decided to take it away from you.”
Jeremy reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of binders. “You paid off one or more of the workers to inject the bottles with aurapine,” he said. “You probably paid them well, too, with a nice tidy little bonus for keeping their silence about what happened.”
“I did even better than that,” Gabriel proclaimed. “I told them that when the Vineyard falls and I start up my own businesses they would be guaranteed jobs. Very high-paying jobs, in fact.”
“You never intended to keep that promise, did you, Gabriel?” I wondered.
“Of course not,” Gabriel spat. “Those men were tools, noting more. They were a means to an end. I have used them, and now I will throw them away, just like I’m going to throw him away.”
“The problem is that you miscalculated, though,” Jeremy said. “Your intended objective was to make people sick, but it didn’t happen that way. Someone died because of what you put on those bottles, Gabriel, and now someone has to pay for it.”
“And pay for it he will,” Gabriel said between clenched teeth as he stared at his father. “I hope you rot in hell for what you’ve done.”
I straightened up and took Gabriel by the arm, pulled him out of his chair and turned him to face me. “I’m afraid, Gabriel, that the only one who is going to be paying the price for what happened is you.”
Gabriel glared at me as Jeremy took his hands and forced them behind his back, started to secure the binders to his wrists. “You’re little victory will be short-lived,” he said. “My attorney will have me set free within the hour.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so, Gabriel.”
Jeremy turned Gabriel around to face him and read him his rights. I turned to face the door. While we were dealing with Gabriel, Alexander Martin dropped onto the couch, buried his face in his hands, and wept.
* * *
When we got to headquarters Jeremy took Gabriel down to the cells to process him and give him his chance to call his attorney. I went upstairs into detective country and slumped into the chair behind my desk, buried my face in my hands.
So much had happened to me over the last few months, and I really didn’t know how much more I could take. First I had been forced to kill Alan, and then Tanya had died in my bed because some spoiled rich kid with no conception of consequences decided he wanted to get back at his father.
Alexander Martin was certainly facing the consequences of his actions. His wife had been driven to migrate to another world and had been killed before she could get there. His son had committed an act of murder just for the sake of getting back at him for what happened to his mother. What was Mister Martin feeling just then, I wondered? Did he feel anything like as empty as I did?
My biggest problem was that I was just plain sick and tired. I was tired of feeling empty, lifeless. I was tired of watching people die and being able to do nothing but catch the person responsible after they had already committed the crime. I was tired of burying friends.
And I was tired of being lonely.
A gentle hand dropped onto my shoulder and squeezed. I looked up to see Kevin standing over me, a sympathetic look on his face. “You were right about this case coming to a bad end,” I told him.
Kevin dropped into the guest chair beside my desk and smiled a wan smile. “Most of these cases do come to a bad end, Tamara,” he said. “You know that as well as I do.”
I nodded. “Alexander Martin made a mistake, but he didn’t deserve what his son tried to do to him. And Tanya didn’t deserve to be caught in the middle.”
“No,” Kevin agreed, “and neither did you.”
I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. “Somehow, though, I always seem to get caught in the middle. Why is that?”
Kevin just shrugged. “Everyone has a talent.”
* * *
Jeremy and I filed our reports, and then Kevin released me from active duty to continue my stress leave. I had been intending to call a cab but Jeremy insisted on driving me home, and when we got there he insisted on following me inside. He said he wanted to make sure I was okay before he left. I really didn’t care what his reasons were just then, I just wanted to be left alone.
But something inside of me kicked in and compelled me to play hostess for Jeremy. I sat him down in the living room and poured him a glass of ale. I thought about indulging myself in a vodka, but decided to abstain. I had probably had enough to drink in the last few days. It would be good for me to go without for a night.
We sat there in companionable silence in my living room for what seemed like hours. Finally Jeremy finished his ale, kissed me on the forehead, and told me that he would call and check up on me tomorrow.
Tomorrow. The word just felt so ominous.
What does it mean when you don’t really care whether or not you wake up the next morning? I wasn’t sure, but I figured that I could figure it out tomorrow.
Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk