DETECTIVE MOXLEY, Part 18: “Don’t Come Back”
“Seingold. Seingold!” Moxley called.
Seingold turned. His expression was bland; he was apparently in one of his ignore-Harold-Moxley moods. There was no time to indulge petty grudges. Even the Goops were potential allies right now. “Harold Moxley,” said Seingold.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” said Moxley. “You don’t like me, I don’t like you, some guys are leg men and some aren’t, and a partridge in a pear tree. Look, you got a major security breach right now. I mean right now. I’ve got intelligence—”
“A security breach,” said Seingold. He stood at the leading corner of a set of geometric barricades that formed a cordon around the stage platform. Sara Lindsey was wrapping up her time at the podium, while the line of civilian participants was shuffling forward. Several government operatives stood at intervals around the platform, none close enough to hear Moxley’s conversation. Seingold seemed unconcerned as he surveyed both Lindsey and the Council seated beyond her.
Moxley swore to himself. It was a pretty good run from the barricade to where he stood with the Goop. He could probably cover that before somebody shot him, vault the stairs, push Lindsey to the platform floor… but then what? Where was the threat? And if nobody had taken a shot at her yet, when would they? Doubt was starting to creep in. Now that he was standing here, struggling to catch his breath, he wondered if he had put it together correctly. Maybe there was no threat to Sara Lindsey. Maybe Theopolis’ murder was a coincidence.
“Sara Lindsey,” said Moxley, going for broke. “You gotta get her into protective custody. I think whoever offed Theopolis is thinking of taking her down. Maybe even today, at this thing.”
“Sara Lindsey,” said Seingold. His expression still hadn’t changed. Moxley looked up at the Goop and felt the blood draining from his face.
“Say, uh, you Goops, you’re doing a good job,” he said.
“We Goops are doing a good job,” said Seingold, nodding.
Moxley went for his revolver. The thing that was not Seingold was faster. Moxley saw the weapon appear from inside the creature’s jacket. With nowhere to go and no other options, he fired his revolver from inside his waistband, shoving his elbow back, blowing a hole through his own belt line and into the Seingold-thing’s pelvis. The explosion, when it came, was strangely muffled, but Moxley felt the wall of heat. It backhanded him, rolled him over, brought the asphalt up to meet his face.
The creature had fired its incinerator.
* * *
The asphalt came up to meet his face. Moxley felt the sting. It was always shocking when something hit you in mouth. Didn’t matter what it was. There was always the tiniest bit of outrage. You expected to bark your shin or cut your finger or bruise your arm, from time to time. But hey, man, that’s my face. That initial sting was always more shock and surprise than pain.
Moxley felt the two stevedores pick him up by the arms and hang him there, more or less standing. Fedor, who had worked all over the Red Light, was the Palace’s enforcer, these days. You mistreated one of the house girls, it was Fedor who taught you the error of your ways. You got a little too drunk and did some damage inside the casino, it was Fedor who presented you with an invoice. You owed the Palace money, it was Fedor who came to collect. The man was a head taller than Moxley and built like a glacier. He was slow, deliberate, and cold as they came.
His fists were like bowling balls. Mox felt the air rush from his lungs as Fedor dropped a casual bomb in Moxley’s stomach. As sparkling motes drifted through his vision, he supposed he should be grateful the goon wasn’t punching the teeth out of his head.
Little things. Always be grateful for the little things, Web had told him.
“Two hundred twenty thousand,” said Fedor.
Moxley struggled to speak. The two thugs holding him up shook him, which — oddly enough — seemed to help a little. He wondered how many times they had done this before.
“Two,” said Mox. “Two hundred twenty. Yeah. I know.”
“Give me the money,” said Fedor.
“I don’t have the money.”
“You run up quite a bill, Moxley,” said Fedor. “Much money. You pay now. Never come into Palace again. Your credit is through.”
“Yeah,” said Moxley. “Sure.”
“But money now,” said Fedor. “You have had six months. You have had three months extension, too. Money now.”
“I told you,” said Moxley. “I don’t have it. I can’t give you what I don’t have.”
“Then I have to hurt you,” said Fedor.
“Yeah,” said Mox again. “I know.”
* * *
Moxley sat on an aluminum bench molded to the wall of the holding cell. While he was unconscious, someone had slathered burn gel on the back of his hands, on his face, and on his neck. The pain wasn’t too bad. He would look like a lobster for a day or two while the gel did its work. None of the burns was worse than a long morning on the beach during an ozone alert. He’d gotten really lucky there.
He couldn’t figure out if the guard had turned on the wall screen in sympathy or cruelty. The screen sat just outside the transparent barrier enclosing Mox’s cell. Nobody would talk to him, so he had no real clue where he was, but he suspected it was a Government Inspection facility. It might even be the one where Ray Neiring’s office had been. He had never seen their holding cells, so he couldn’t say for sure, but it seemed likely. The man in the corridor beyond the cell had been wearing a Goop line-troop uniform.
Stuck here with the screen, he could only watch as the news played, over and over, showing the explosion that had all but erased the man the Goops thought was Seingold.
I look fat on screen, Moxley thought for the tenth time. Like, dying early fat, not just too much lunch fat.
“The suspected murderer,” said the synthetic narration, “has yet to be identified by Hongkongtown authorities.”
That part was weird. It was weird that the Goops hadn’t told the press Moxley’s name. Hell, he would have expected them to perp-walk him where the reporters could get a good close-up. There was no reason for them to protect him, or his reputation, and every reason for them to want him pilloried. So why hadn’t they outed him?
The news did say that none of the Council members had been harmed. That was good. If Lindsey was the target, and Mox assumed she was, then he’d at least saved her. The Seingold-creature had reacted immediately when he let on what he suspected. That was enough for Moxley, even if it wasn’t evidence as such.
Having spoken to Seingold, or whatever had probably killed Seingold and taken its place, Moxley also understood why the infiltration units weren’t being used to impersonate the Council members. They weren’t smart enough to do it. One conversation and whoever was asking would know something wasn’t right.
He considered calling Lobby. He wasn’t sure if that would help. For all he knew, they were holding him without bail. Murdering a Goop was pretty serious business. He wasn’t sure how to go about clearing his name—
The transparent barrier slid aside.
“Moxley,” said the Goop in the corridor. “Move your hide.”
“Move it where?” Moxley said, standing.
“Don’t know,” said the Goop. “Don’t care. You’re free to go.”
“What?” said Moxley.
“Don’t come back,” said the Goop.