Death on Dorado

Chapter 1 Death of a Bizman

Sarn Denson hovered high above the silver sea. It was a beautiful dawn and the distant city gleamed in the bright yellow of Aurum, so that the spires and towers were gold, and the shore outshone the sea. Beneath him: the silver, beyond: the gold, and around and above, the deep cloudless blue of Dorado's crystal sky.

Tired though he was, Denson found the sight irresistible. His cruiser hung motionless while he gazed upon the scene. At the press of a button, the transparent canopy slid back and the cool, pure air of morning washed over him, soothing the smart in his eyes, smoothing the frown from his face, and washing the smell of corruption from his nostrils.

It had been a long and bitter night, and the depths of depravity which his investigations into the crimes of Kerent had revealed, had shaken even Denson's cynical acceptance of human perversion. He felt the need for a respite, for solitude in the presence of beauty, to remind him that there was goodness and enjoyment in life as well as evil and suffering.

Denson soon tired of goodness and beauty and resumed his journey towards Gold City. He crossed the shoreline and sped between the sky-scraping towers. There was little traffic in the air - the city lived late into the night and always seemed reluctant to greet the dawn.

Around him, the towers of gold rose sheer into the morning sky. They weren't pure gold, of course, since gold hasn't the mechanical strength necessary for construction work - it needs reinforcing with precious synthetics. Still, it looked just like ordinary gold; the valuable materials weren't exposed at the surface.

Denson approached his own building, a slender golden column like the stem of a gigantic plant, from which branched the berthing arms with their office nodules. Before docking, he checked his office on the viewscreen. The room wasn't a place for working, it was just somewhere for clients to leave messages, or, if they were desperate, wait. There was someone waiting now.

Denson looked her over carefully. She was young, not yet thirty standard years, he would guess, and good looking seen by herself. He doubted whether he'd notice her in a crowd, though. She seemed calm, yet she was waiting there for him. Something must be very wrong, he thought, for her to exercise such tight control when apparently unobserved.

Denson was a successful Tec, in the sense that he got results, but he worked alone and the rich contracts seldom came his way - they went to the big agencies where teamwork and sledgehammer thinking prevailed. Denson didn't like that style of working. Still, as long as he could afford to run his cruiser and keep up the payments on the office berth, and visit Goldenhaze occasionally, and get drunk from time to time, and ...

Denson sighed. He didn't earn enough money even for his modest pleasures. It was time to get tough. No more philanthropic assignments.

The Tec nosed his cruiser into place. The lock below the pilot cabin closed with the port of the building nodule. At this early hour, there were few empty berths, and the building looked almost solid, so closely packed were the craft which surrounded him.

Sarn Denson, pale of countenance, hair brown and curly, eyes a tired grey, slight of build, but of medium height, rose and left the flight cabin. He descended to the lower deck and walked through his living quarters and his real office to the door which now communicated with his waiting room.

The woman started slightly as Denson came in. She looked up at him and he noted the wide blue eyes in an almost white face, framed by jet black hair. Her mouth was small and sombre. She rose awkwardly as though she had been sitting motionless for a long time, and extended a slim, ringless hand. Denson took it and it was cold against his own warm skin.

"Sorry if you've been waiting long," he said. He felt her eyes on him, noting the crumpled clothing and dirty face, and sensed her thoughts. He smiled crookedly. "I'm just back from an all night assignment. Haven't had time to clean up yet."

"Of course," she acknowledged, and her voice was slight but tense.

"Well,' continued Denson, "you came to see me and here I am, so what's the problem?"

He went and sat on the edge of his desk. The woman resumed her seat.

"You are Tec Denson?" she inquired. "Tec Sarn Denson?"

Denson sighed. This looked like being a difficult one.

“For certain I am," he replied, and handed her the identification card issued by the Tec Guild. She nodded, without looking at it. Denson could see she was doing things her training - whatever that was - had taught her, but mechanically, without commitment.

"So what's the problem?" he repeated.

"I understand you aren't expensive...", she said, ignoring his question.

Denson contained his exasperation. "I don't have a lot of fancy gadgets, and I work alone, so I don't have the overheads the bigger outfits have. But I do need to eat and drink, and run a cruiser, and rent this place. It all costs."

Again she nodded, but without seeming to have listened to his reply.

Suddenly she whispered: "I'm frightened!"

At last, thought the Tec, I'm going to find out what all this is about. He left the desk and sat closer to her, on a chair.

"Who's frightening you?" he probed gently.

"City Investigators Limited," she replied.

Denson was taken aback. "But they don't frighten people! Not law-abiding citizens, that is. They're respectable Tecs."

The woman looked down, and when she spoke he could hardly hear her: "They frighten me. They think I murdered my employer."

*Did you?" asked Denson.

"Certainly not!" she retorted, and there was defiance in her eyes as she looked up again.

"You want me to prove it?" asked Denson rhetorically.

The woman nodded. "Will you do it?" she pleaded. "I'm not rich. I can't afford a large fee. Most of my earnings have gone into paying off the loan which financed my education. The Philanthropic Trust won't award grants for commercial studies."

Inwardly Denson groaned. It looked like another case in which he'd be lucky if he broke even, let alone made a profit. He ought to shake his head and suggest she go somewhere else, but he knew he wouldn't. He'd give his all, whether he got the rate for the job or not.

"I'll do what I can for the money," he said out loud. "When it runs out, I'm finished. Want me on those terms?"

The woman's lip trembled at this financially brutal attitude, but she nodded her agreement.

"You'd better tell me the whole story," commanded the Tec, "starting with your name, which you forgot to tell me when we introduced ourselves."

Ros Kernwell was an accountant. She had graduated from Dorado's National Business College with honours in Visual Arts Accounting. She'd served some years in the First Gold City Bank as a Paintings Auditor, and had then gone to work for Edlin Borrowitch, one of Gold City's wealthiest and most successful business men. Now Bizman Borrowitch had been found dead.

"The Bizman had an enormous life insurance policy," finished Ros Kernwell, "and of course the company, Aurum Life, will want to keep the cost of investigating his death to a minimum. So City Investigators are under pressure to find a culprit, and they've picked on me."

"How did Borrowitch die?" asked Denson.

"Poison," replied Ros. "It was one of those random action poisons which may cause death after a matter of hours, or not for weeks, so there's no way of knowing when it was administered."

"So it's not much use seeing who had the opportunity - almost anyone might have. They'll have to concentrate on motive. Had you a reason for wanting the Bizman dead?"

"No," said Ros quickly, "but..."

"Then why are you worried?" interrupted the Tec irritably.

"Because it looks as though I had..." finished the woman miserably.

With an effort, Denson pulled himself together. He was going about this consultation all wrong. People came to him because they were in trouble. They needed sympathy and understanding. He had no business bullying a client.

He smiled, and said in a voice as sympathetic as he could contrive: "Tell me why anyone should think you wanted Bizman Borrowitch dead."

To his exasperation, the girl began to weep. He should have remained his normal hectoring self, he reflected bitterly. In an attempt to retrieve the situation, he said harshly: "Look, all the time you and I are here talking, you're paying for. If you want to pay for me to listen to you weep - well, it's your money. But when it's gone, I'll stop listening and throw you out."

This verbal smack in the face dried up the tears with a jerk. Ros Kernwell regarded him with loathing.

"If I weren't honest, I'd be able to afford a better Tec than you!" she complained bitterly. "A civil one, at any rate..."

"All right, all right' You're still wasting time."

"Bizman Borrowitch employed me as his accountant because he preferred to keep his assets in visual art form rather than copyright. His account was with First Gold City Bank, so he already knew me, and he knew the Bank's opinion of me."

"He didn't hire you because you were young and pretty?" interposed the Tec.

The girl half rose.

"Sit down," drawled Denson. "Remember you can't afford anyone else. I may have to ask you a lot worse questions than that before I'm through, so you'd better learn to keep your cool. I'll take the answer to that as 'no'. Here's another rude one: Are you really experienced, or might he have hired you because he thought you were a dope?"

"There are plenty of experts in the field more experienced than l," replied Ros tightly, "but they would be more expensive, of course. Conversely, there are those who would be a lot cheaper, but know a lot less."

"That doesn't entirely answer my question," grunted the Tec.

"Only Borrowitch could have answered for his motives. Why don't you summon his shade and cross-examine him?" retorted the woman, the bitterness back in her voice.

"It might be easier than talking to you!" responded Denson. "What happened that would give City Investigators reason to suspect you?"

"They've had the picture collection at the bank audited. Most of them are fakes. "

The Tec stared. "How come you didn't realise that?"

"Because the last time I checked on them they were genuine. The switch must have taken place after that."

"But City Investigators don't believe that? They think you disposed of the pictures some time ago?"

“Yes," replied Ros.

"But then why would you kill Borrowitch? The last thing you would want to do, if you knew the pictures had been substituted, would be to draw attention to the collection by bumping off the owner."

"Tec Garwen - the man from City who interrogated me - he suggests that I panicked and murdered him."

"Poison isn't a panic weapon," objected Sarn Denson.

"Garwen says people don't always act rationally - especially if they panic."

"I take it you have an Accusation Policy?"

The woman nodded.

"Who is it with?"

"Aurum Life."

The Tec sighed. "You certainly do complicate things. Of course, if they were to accuse you, they couldn't also act for you - they'd have to lay off the policy with some other company. Still, they don't have to do anything until you are formally accused, and you can't claim under the policy until they do. My guess is that they'll stall on the formalities until they've got a cast iron case."

The woman watched, silently.

"Where did the Bizman actually die?"

"At his house in Shatter Hill."

"That's an expensive area - all single - column developments, aren't they?"

Ros nodded. "The Borrowitch household has its own column in a hundred hectare park. There are ten pods attached when everyone's at home, but that doesn't happen very often."

"Tell me about his family."

"Adelin Borrowitch is - was - his second wife. She's a sculptress, but not much of her work is bankworthy. It might do as loose change at a drinkshop."

"Younger than Borrowitch?" interrupted the Tec.

Ros nodded vigorously. "Much younger. She's about the same age as Zarah, Edlin's daughter by his first marriage."

"Zarah lives at the column?"

"Yes, some of the time. When she's there, she's with her boyfriend, Arick Earthborn. Sometimes they go off together, though."

"Is that his real name?" questioned the Tec.

Ros shrugged, “I don't know. He's an actor, if he can be said to actually do anything, so probably not."

"Pity," sighed Denson. "Old Earth interests me. It would be fascinating to meet someone with a patronymic dating back to the Expansion. However, I can't imagine it's relevant to your difficulties. Who else hangs from the column?"

"The Bizman has two sons, also by his first marriage. They live there when they've insufficient lucre to live anywhere else."

"Any attachments?"

"They don't bring them to the column if they have. Lastly, there's Nadya Lasolere. She's a friend of Adelin's."

"Any of them have any motives for killing the Bizman?"

"Any one of them, I shouldn't wonder," replied Ros.

"You don't like them?"

"None of them have ever given me any reason to," said Ros shortly.

"Was it well known that Borrowitch had a large insurance policy?"

"Of course. There's no deterrent in a large policy if you don't advertise it."

Tec Denson nodded. "So the killer had a very compelling motive, serious enough for him (or her) to risk the sort of intensive investigation that a large policy buys..."

He stood up. "There will be other questions I want to ask you, but I don't know what they are yet. I'll have to dig around a bit, then I'll see you again. Oh, and I stipulate the usual oneman operator exclusion: if at any point it becomes apparent that one of the mobs is responsible, I'll drop out and make no charge. Tackling the gangs is a job for the big Tec agencies, not for one man bands."

Ros Kernwell rose. "Are you going to question the Borrowitch family?"

Denson shook his head. "Not yet. They'd just refuse to talk to me and there's no way in which I could compel them. I need something on them first, something that will make them speak to me rather than risk staying silent. It'll take me a little while to find what I need."

"Supposing you don't find anything?"

"I will," promised Sarn, although some doubt assailed him, as it always did at the start of the case.

"There might be nothing to find," persisted Ros.

"There's always something," asserted Denson, "especially when it's rich people you're dealing with. Everyone has something to hide, not necessarily anything criminal, but something which conflicts so seriously with their own image of themselves, that they will do almost anything to prevent anyone else discovering it..."