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The union meeting, thought Al Veasy, had gone as well as could be expected, all things considered. He had finally figured out why the retirement fund was in such trouble all the time, when everybody else in the whole country with anything to invest seemed to be making money. And he had explained what he knew, and the union members had understood it right away, because it wasn’t anything surprising if you read the newspapers. The big unions had been getting caught in similar situations for years. Low-interest loans to Fieldston Growth Enterprises—hell of an impressive name, but zero return so far on almost five million dollars. If the company was as bad as it looked, there would be no more Fieldston than there was growth. Just a name and a fancy address. When the union started to apply pressure some lawyer nobody ever heard of would quietly file bankruptcy papers. Probably in New York or someplace where it would take weeks before the union here in Ventura, California, heard of it. Just a notice by certified mail to O’Connell, the president of the union local, informing him of the dissolution of Fieldston Growth Enterprises and the sale of its assets to cover debts. And O’Connell, the big dumb bastard, would bring it to Veasy for translation. “Hey, Al,” he would say, “take a look at this,” as though he already knew what it meant but felt it was his duty to let somebody else see the actual document. Not that it would do anybody any good by then.
Or now either. That was the trouble and always had been. Veasy could feel it as he walked away from the union hall, still wearing his clodhopper boots and a work shirt that the sweat had dried on hours ago. He could smell himself. The wise guys in their perfectly fitted three-piece suits and their Italian shoes always ended up with everything. The best the ordinary working man could hope for was sometimes to figure out how they’d done it, and then make one or two of them uncomfortable. Slow them down was what it amounted to. If it hadn’t been Fieldston Growth Enterprises it would have been something else that sounded just as substantial and ended up just the same. The money gone and nobody, no person, who could be forced to give it back.
He kicked at a stone on the gravel parking lot. There probably wasn’t even any point in going to the government about it. The courts and the bureaucrats and commissions. Veasy snorted. All of them made up of the same wise guys in the three-piece suits, so much alike you couldn’t tell them from each other or from the crooks, except maybe the crooks were a little better at it, at getting money without working for it, and they smiled at you. The ones in the government didn’t even have to smile at you, because they’d get their cut of it no matter what. But hell, what else could you do? You had to go through the motions. Sue Fieldston, just so it got on the record. A little machinists’ union local in Ventura losing 70 percent of its pension fund to bad investments. It probably wouldn’t even make the papers. But you had to try, even if all you could hope for was to make them a little more cautious next time, a little less greedy so they wouldn’t try to take it all. And maybe make one or two of them sweat a little.
Veasy opened the door of his pickup truck and climbed in. He sat there for a minute, lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and blew a puff out the window. “Jesus,” he thought. “Nine o’clock. I wonder if Sue kept dinner for me.” He looked at the lighted doorway of the union hall, where he could see the men filing out past the bulky shape of O’Connell, who was smiling and slapping somebody on the back. He would be saying something about how we don’t know yet and that it’s too early to panic. “That’s right, you big dumb bastard,” thought Veasy. “Keep calm, and you’ll never know what hit you.”
Veasy turned the key in the ignition and the whole world turned to fire and noise. The concussion threw O’Connell back against the clapboards of the union hall and disintegrated the front window. Then the parking lot was bathed in light as the billowing ball of flame tore up into the sky. Afterward a machinist named Lynley said pieces of the pickup truck went with it, but O’Connell said there wasn’t anything to that. People always said things like that, especially when somebody actually got killed. Sure was a shame, though, and it was bad enough without making things up.
“Here’s the daily gloom,” said Padgett, tossing the sheaf of computer printouts on Elizabeth’s desk. “Early today, and you’re welcome to it.”
“Thanks,” said Elizabeth, not looking up from her calculations. She was still trying to figure out how that check had bounced. Even if the store had tried to cash it the next morning, the deposit should have been there at least twelve hours before. Eight fifteen, and the bank would open at nine thirty. She made a note to call. It was probably the post office, as usual. Anybody who couldn’t deliver a piece of mail across town in two days ought to get into another business. They had sure delivered the notice of insufficient funds fast enough. One day.
Elizabeth put the checkbook and notice back in her purse and picked up the printout. “All those years of school for this,” she thought. “Reading computerized obituaries for the Department of Justice for a living, and lucky to get it.”
She started at the first sheet, going through the items one by one. “De Vitto, L. G. Male. Caucasian. 46. Apparent suicide. Shotgun, 12 gauge. Toledo, Ohio. Code number 79-8475.” She marked the entry in pencil, maybe just because of the name that could mean Mafia, and maybe just because it was the first one, and the other prospects might be even less likely.
“Gale, D. R. Female. Caucasian. 34. Apparent murder. Revolver, .38. Suspects: Gale, P. G., 36; no prior arrests. Wichita, Kansas, code number 79-8476.” No, just the usual thing, thought Elizabeth. Family argument and one of them picks up a gun. She went on down the list, searching for the unusual, the one that might not be one of the same old things.
“Veasy, A. E. Male. Caucasian. 35. Apparent murder. Dynamite. Ventura, California. Code number 79-8477.” Dynamite? Murder by dynamite? Elizabeth marked this one. Maybe it wasn’t anything for the Activity Report, but at least it wasn’t the predictable, normal Friday night’s random violence.
“Satterfield, R. J. Male. Afro-American. 26. Apparent murder/robbery. Revolver, .32. Washington, D.C. Code number 79-8478.” No.
“Davidson, B. L. Female. Caucasian. 23. Apparent murder/rape. Knife. Carmel, California. Code number 79-8479.” No again.
Down the printout she went, letting the sheets fall in front of her desk to re-form themselves into an accordion shape on the floor. Now and then she would make a check mark with her pencil beside an entry that didn’t fall into the ten or twelve most common murder patterns. It was Monday, so she had to work fast to catch up. One thing Elizabeth had learned on this job was that a lot of people killed each other on weekends.
It was just after ten when she reached the final entry. “Stapleton, R. D. Male. Caucasian. 41. Apparent murder. Revolver, .45. Suspects: Stapleton, A. E., 38; no prior arrests. Buffalo, New York. Code number 79-102033.” Padgett, the senior analyst in charge of analyzing reports, would be on his morning break, she thought. The timing was always wrong, somehow. Whenever you got to the stage where you needed somebody it was either lunchtime or a break. She picked up the printout and carried it across the office to the glass-walled room where the computer operators worked.
She was surprised to see Padgett at his desk behind the glass, frowning over a report. She rapped on the glass and he got up to open the door for her without putting down the papers he was reading.
“I thought you would be on your break, Roger,” she said.
“Not today,” said Padgett. “Must have been a big weekend. Four of our friends bought airline tickets in the last three days.” He always called them “our friends,” as though the years of scanning lists for familiar names had prompted a kind of affection.
“All to the same place?”
“No,” he said. “Two to Las Vegas, one to Phoenix, and one to Los Angeles.”
“It’s probably the weather,” said Elizabeth. “They don’t like it any more than we do. You still have to scrape the snow off your car if it’s a Rolls Royce.”
He looked impatient. “Okay, love. What did you find?”
“Eight possibles. The numbers are marked. The rest are the usual weekend stuff—rapes, muggings, and arguments that went a little too far.”
“I’ll have Mary get the details to you as soon as they’re printed out. Give her fifteen minutes. Take a break or something.”
“Okay,” she said, and walked out again into the large outer office. She saw that Brayer, her section head, was just putting a few papers into a file, then throwing on his sport coat.