Condor Rising 27

Biff met his sergeant, William Jefferies, who had shown up on the scene along with dozens of other officers.

The spaceport was a mess, with blaster damage and blood everywhere. Expensive guardbots lay in pieces, and several civilians had suffered injuries in the shootout. All teleportation to and from ships in orbit ground to a halt, with travel at a standstill while the Capital City Police Force tried to sort things out.

They moved swiftly and efficiently. Officers cordoned off the main areas of attack, identified witnesses and began interrogations.

But within the hour, SSI showed up in force and moved to take over the investigation. When StarCen alerted Jefferies that a group of armored agents had entered the building and were marching down the corridor toward them, he quickly deduced what was happening.

He gave orders to remove the body of ‘Andi Jones,’ and directed all witnesses be taken elsewhere, including Biff. When the agents arrived, the area had been swept clean except for the holographic yellow crime scene tape.

As the crowd of police and people moved further down the corridor, Biff nodded toward the propped open door to the stairwell.

“Hey Sarge, I bet the second floor is deserted.”

Jefferies diverted everyone into the stairwell and unblocked the door so it would close.

The group of officers and civilians walked up the steps and out into the empty and spacious second floor corridor.

Jefferies said, “Okay, SSI has control of the spaceport now. We would like to continue getting statements from each one of you, then you’ll be free to go about your business. I apologize for the inconvenience. Just help us figure out what happened, and we’ll go from there.”

Everyone spread out, officers interrogating witnesses in small clumps throughout the wide, abandoned corridor.

Jefferies took Jones farther away so they could speak without being overheard. They sidled up to the windowed side and looked out over the city.

Jefferies said, “So, let’s pick up where we left off. I want to make sure I understand. You were saying the lady you initially thought was her was not, but you followed Andi to Petra Roe?”

“It gets tricky, Sarge. I do need to sit down and write up a full report. The long and the short of it is, I had to take an unauthorized ship to get back here. There was just no way around it. Meanwhile, Andi hitched a ride on a private vessel traveling from Petra Roe to Juventas. I think she passed herself off as someone else, in transit.”

“What was her plan? Why come back?”

Biff shrugged. “I don’t know. Sow chaos and confusion? Shoot up the spaceport? Take out another VIP? Whatever it was, it looks like I got here just in time. Just in time . . . to see her killed.”

Jefferies looked at him with respect. He said, “Man, that is something. I know you loved her. It must be incredibly difficult to see her shot down like that right in front of your eyes.”

“I’m just . . . numb right now. I’m in total shock. I mean, I chased her all those weeks but I just . . . I don’t feel anything right now.”

“It’ll hit you later, buddy.”

Jefferies clasped him on the shoulder.

He said, “Hey, if there’s anything I can do . . .”

“Actually, yeah, there is something you can do. Those SSI bastards are going to dissect her body six ways to Sunday. She was the wife of a police officer, I don’t care what crimes she committed. If there’s any way you could have her cremated before they get their hands on her, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“Absolutely, buddy. Don’t worry about it. This is still my case, and they have not asserted jurisdiction or anything yet. I’ll take care of it, they’ll never touch her.”

-+-

Several hours later everyone was finally allowed to leave. Williams set up officers to direct the witnesses toward an emergency exit on the first floor, an egress point controlled by SSPF instead of SSI. That way, everyone was allowed to depart unmolested by the secret police.

A stream of people exited and headed down a street running alongside the giant spaceport building. Biff found himself walking beside Julia, still wearing her current disguise. She turned to him and smiled.

Well aware they were now under observation by StarCen, she said, “I’m Catarina Mulligan, by the way.”

He took her hand and shook it.

“Biffender Jones.”

“Please to meet you. I don’t really know a lot of people here.”

They walked for a few more moments in silence. Up ahead, a skybus landed at a terminal on the side of the street.

Biff said, “Well . . . I can certainly show you around.”

He thought for a moment and said, “Would you like to go out for dinner? Maybe we can talk about Yorkton and Juventas over food and drinks.”

“Sure. I’d like that.”

The smiled at him again, this time with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

She said, “You’re not married, are you?”

He looked down at the ring on his left hand.

“My wife . . . recently died. So, no. I am not married.”

“Good, because I don’t date married men. I would love to go out for dinner. And, uh, maybe afterwards you can help me pick out a hotel? I’m afraid I don’t have anyplace to stay.”

Biff shrugged. He said, “Feel free to crash at my place until you get settled in.”

“Why, thank you, Biffender. That’s really sweet of you.”

“Call me Biff.”

They stood in line and boarded the skybus together, smiling.

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