|The Unofficial Tex Murphy Message Board
|Overseer - chapters 10
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|Author:||Jim the old guy [ Nov 29, 2006 7:21 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Overseer - chapters 10|
Chapter ten: Saturday Nov. 14, 2037 A.D.
Going back to CAPRICORN Headquarters after my excruciating excursion to the Anasazi Ruins was like a waltz in the park. Speaking of waltzing, Wanda Peck came to the reception room with the air of a prima-donna-ballerina-diva-par-excellance. Boy, this woman is something. Her very presence caused goose-bumps to arise all over my body. It was like the effects of a nitroglycerine pill when it explodes into action. What a rush! Okay, Murphy, itâ€™s now or never. Ask her to marry you.
â€œI thought Iâ€™d stop by and see whether youâ€™d finished your examination of that photograph of Linsky.â€ Not exactly a marriage proposal. Besides, sheâ€™d probably say she was married to her work. I know the type.
â€œWe did, but we only found one thing of any interest. Both Klaus and Linsky were wearing ID badges with the STG logo on them. Does that mean anything to you?â€
â€œNo, not yet,â€ I respond with tongue in cheek. I am aware of the STG letters on the passcards, but I wonâ€™t share that info with anyone until I know more. â€œIf youâ€™ve got a couple of minutes, Iâ€™d like to ask you a few more questions.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s up with the STG logo?â€ Good place to start.
â€œIâ€™ve heard of only one reference to STG. It was in a letter sent to me anonymously about a month ago.â€
â€œAn anonymous letter? From who?â€ Oh, that was profound, Murphy. Sheesh!
â€œThe letter was sent by someone calling him or herself the â€˜Poisoned Pawn.â€™ I would have figured it was written by some psychopath, but there was enough verifiable infor-
mation to make me take it seriously. The letter said that there was a project called STG which was in the process of being swallowed up by the Law and Order Party. The letter advised us to check out John Klaus, STG and the Law and Order Partyâ€™s connection to it.â€ How does she keep a straight face with me ogling her?
â€œWow! Thatâ€™s really involved,â€ was what I said, but Holy Cow was what I was thinking. Some of my research was starting to come together. Linsky, Davis, Morgan and Clark may have all been working together; the passcards Iâ€™ve found thus far have STG lettering on them; Linsky and Klaus appear to have been buddy-buddy; Klaus is connected to the Law and Order Party. And, to top it all off, Wanda receives an anonymous letter inferring the connection between them not to mention another reference to chess a la the Poisoned Pawn reference.
Wanda notices my far off thoughts and asks, â€œIs there something you want to tell me, Mr. Murphy?â€
â€œUh, no, nothing tangible, as yet. You said the letter mentioned someone called the â€˜Poisoned Pawn?â€™â€
â€œI have no idea who that is. We examined the letter for clues to the authorâ€™s identity, but came up dry. He or she did say that we could contact them through someone named Jorge Valdez.â€
â€œAnd who is Jorge Valdez?â€
â€œThere are a handful of Jorge Valdezes in the area as well as several that Iâ€™m sure are not listed. Iâ€™ve checked out the ones I could find, but none of them appeared to be the one I was looking for.â€
â€œOkay, thatâ€™s enough for now. Iâ€™ll do some personal research and let you know if I come up with anything else. If I do, Iâ€™ll be back.â€ Where have I heard that line before?
I fly directly back to my office and immediately dial AID. â€œWhat topic would you like us to research?â€ asked the automated voice. I punch in Jorge Valdez and STG. I didnâ€™t really expect much in the way of data, but I was optimistic that my efforts would provide even the smallest of clues.
Fax #1 told me what Wanda and I already knew: there were 23 matches for Jorge Valdez in the New San Francisco area. Only 23, huh? And no addresses or phone numbers. Gee, that should make it easy.
Fax #2 turned up 11 matches for STG world wide. There was a Satellite Tele-video Group in central Ohio; Sunspot Theater Group in Florida; Song Ti Granaries in China (theyâ€™re the miracle wheat producers); Sure Thing Gyro in England; just to name a few. However, the one that caught my eye was the last listed. It was called Security Technologies Group based here in California, a subsidiary of Gideon Enterprises. But that wasnâ€™t the clincher. It opened for business in January this year and closed in early November. Coincidence? Maybe, but a little too obvious for me. Clarkâ€™s work was finished by November 10th, just four days ago. And he was killed around that time. I need to go back and ask Wanda some more questions.
Fortunately, Wanda was still at her office.
â€œBack so soon?â€ she asks. Perhaps sheâ€™s loosening up a bit. Should I start asking her the questions or should I just stare flirtatiously for a while?
â€œI just couldnâ€™t stay away from you for so long.â€ There, I did it. Itâ€™s out in the open.
Totally ignoring my flirtatious remark, she asks, â€œSo, how is your investigation going?â€
Well, now that you mention it, my investigation has led me to believe that you will fall head over heels for me. We will get married, have lots of kids, a small house in the country with white picket fencing, and weâ€™ll live happily ever after.
â€œI found out some things that might interest you,â€ was all I could marshal.
â€œI thought you might. You seem a resourceful and persistent fellow.â€ Was that slur aimed at my earlier remark?
â€œWhat can you tell me about Gideon Enterprises?â€ I already know itâ€™s one of the worldâ€™s largest security companies. What I donâ€™t know is the relationship between Gideon Enterprises and my case, if there is one.
â€œGideon Enterprises had a little shake up recently. The Chairman of the Board, Frank Schimming, pulled a coup on J. Saint Gideon, whoâ€™s now practically out of a job. It was all legal, but underhanded.â€ Big deal. Millionaires in cat fights doesnâ€™t phase me. Still....
â€œIâ€™ve heard of J. Saint Gideon. Is there anything else you can tell me about him?â€
â€œGideon helped us design some of our most valuable and top secret surveillance equipment. We even invited him to join our organization, but he said he was too old for the cloak and dagger business.â€ She smiled faintly with that last quip. Nonetheless, the part about surveillance equipment piqued my interest. As I recall, Bosworth Clark was working on a project involving that type of equipment. Coincidence? Hmmm.
â€œOkay, Ms. Peck, what, if anything, do I need to know about Frank Schimming?â€
â€œRumors have circulated that Schimming is connected to the Law and Order Party. If thatâ€™s the case, weâ€™re gonna have a hard time doing anything to stop them. Gideon Enter-
prises has more money and power than it knows what to do with. They would make an opposing enemy.â€ Those last words were spoken with a defeatist connotation. It seems that Wanda is worried about the relation between L & O and Gideon Enterprises. Maybe I should be worried as well.
Letâ€™s see. CAPRICORN is investigating the Law and Order Party; John Klaus is the apparent power behind that nefarious group; he was pals with Linsky; they wore STG badges; STG may deal with surveillance equipment; Gideon Enterprises deals with that kind of stuff; and Schimming, who has connections with L & O, just overthrew the head of Gideon Enterprises. This is getting scary. My mind is reeling with one notion after another. What about Overlord? Didnâ€™t Wanda say before that she heard that term in association with Law and Order? Could Schimming...or, Klaus... be Overlord? That may be a stretch right now, but I wonâ€™t completely discount it until I have more information.
I thank Wanda and head back to my office. It takes a concerted effort to keep my mind on my driving. Thoughts are whizzing around the inside of my brain like tse tse flies in heat.
As I enter my office, I hear the all too familiar digital voice advising me that I have a fax. Not now, Mom, Iâ€™m hot on a case. I peruse the fax anyway and am quite surprised to see Frank Schimmingâ€™s direct number staring back at me. The fax was simply signed, â€˜A friend.â€™ Yeah, right. He or she wants me to call Frank Schimming on his direct line and they call themselves my friend? We shall see.
However, it may be the course of wisdom to make the call. The facts, as supplied me, are still fresh in my mind. Whatâ€™s the old adage? Strike while the iron is hot? Yeah, thatâ€™s it. So, without further ado, I make the call. Itâ€™s plain as the nose on my face that I will need to exercise caution dealing with this Schimming character. If he was able to legally, but underhandedly, overthrow the prez of Gideon Enterprises, he will have no difficulty in manhandling me. Except for one thing - Iâ€™m a Murphy.
Still, I need a plan of action. One thingâ€™s for sure. If I tell him Iâ€™m a PI, heâ€™ll probably think that stands for â€˜pathetic individual.â€™ So, why donâ€™t I make up a little white lie?
â€œYes,â€ asks a balding, fiftyish, conservatively dressed man whose response implies that I have intruded on his privacy.
Confidently, I answer with, â€œMr. Schimming? My name is Murphy. Iâ€™d like to ask you a few questions about STG.â€ I realize right away that I need to deal with him on his own level. Anything else would imply cowardice and he would chomp me to bits. He wasnâ€™t an imposing figure, but he definitely had an imposing demeanor.
â€œIs this an official investigation?â€ he demands.
â€œYou better believe it, pal,â€ I shoot back at him with an air of Murphy-style confidence.
Without a hitch, he challenges my authority. â€œI believe itâ€™s within my rights to ask for whom you work?â€ I hate it when someone looks over the top of their spectacles to talk with me. If youâ€™re going to look over the top of them, why wear them at all? Sheesh!
I better think of something quick. And I do.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll give you a hint. Itâ€™s between Sagittarius and Aquarius.â€ Not only do I hope thatâ€™s correct, I hope he knows his zodiac signs.
Removing his glasses and placing them in his inside suit coat pocket, he sidles to his massive, sumptuous chair. Taking off his jacket, he lays it over the back of the chair and proceeds to take a seat. Cool, calm and collected.
â€œSo, youâ€™re with CAPRICORN. I thought you people had gotten tired of pestering me.â€ So, heâ€™s talked with them before. Curious.
â€œWe never get tired of pestering; thatâ€™s our motto,â€ and I hope it is.
Sighing with annoyance, he asks, â€œWhat is it you want this time?â€
Not wasting any time, I launch directly into my interrogation. He knows nothing of several names I mention and he seems to be developing a short fuse. â€œGet to the point, if you have one.â€ Yeah, good idea.
The mere mention of Rona Morgan actually made him smile, I think. She was a top engineering consultant for Gideon Enterprises at one time. However, she lit out on her own and started her own business. I knew that much.
Taking a big chance, I decided to go for the brass ring. â€œWhat can you tell me about J. Saint Gideon?â€ and I hold my breath.
Without hesitating, he replies, â€œMr. Gideon founded this corporation and brought it to prominence.â€ Nice platitude. â€œAnd he did this despite mediocre business skills which have diminished along with his general mental state over the past several years.â€ So much for platitudes. â€œHe became obsessed with pet projects and was leading the company in a counter productive direction. For that reason, the Board of Directors saw fit to limit his authority in business matters.â€ A.K.A. a coup dâ€™etat.
â€œSo, what does Mr. Gideon think about all of this?â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you ask him yourself? Iâ€™m sure heâ€™d appreciate a visit from someone other than nurses and wheelchair repairmen.â€ What a nice man! Not! â€œIâ€™ll let you know where to find him.â€ Whoa! Get out the notebook, muy pronto. He proceeds to rattle off Gideonâ€™s home address. I know he lives somewhere north of San Francisco, in a secluded area, but now I have the exact location. What a stroke of luck!
I ask him to tell me a little about himself and he, in effect, tells me to go fly a kite. Okay, letâ€™s move on. He knows John Klaus, supposedly only on a social basis, but he doesnâ€™t recognize Linsky as I show him the photo. He seems proud of the fact that he is now Chairman of the Board at Gideon Enterprises. He tells me they are the worldâ€™s foremost innovator and implementer of surveillance equipment. Besides all of that, they are a parent company to dozens of smaller firms, including research facilities. Now thatâ€™s very interesting. The correlation between L & O and Gideon Enterprises is becoming more apparent. My suspicion level just went up two notches.
In lieu of the research facilities comment, I decide to ask if he knows anything about STG.
â€œIf I remember correctly,â€ a term normally used when one is trying to throw another off track, â€œSTG was researched based and probably more of a write-off than anything. I know itâ€™s no longer in existence and was unimportant to say the least.â€ Yeah, I bet. Itâ€™s no longer in existence because you have finished your research. And now you and the L & O Party are going to rule the world. Well, maybe only the USA.
Now, for the coup dâ€™ grace, â€œWho or what is Overlord?â€
â€œI havenâ€™t heard of it,â€ was his direct response. No flinching, no clearing the throat, no break in eye contact. Nothing to suggest that he is even remotely connected to the STG project. Either he is telling the truth or heâ€™s the worldâ€™s greatest prevaricator.
â€œWell, Mr. Schimming, I would like to thank you....â€, click, he hangs up. Mr. Personality heâ€™s not. But, I did get Gideonâ€™s home address and thatâ€™s my next stop. I look forward to meeting the man known throughout San Francisco as â€˜Mr. Security.â€™
On the way to Gideonâ€™s hideaway I take time to meditate on the case as it is unfolding before my eyes. Carl Linsky commits suicide and Sylvia says he didnâ€™t. Is that because she drove him mad? Did she cause him to jump from the bridge? Is she that desperate for money? Or is she merely an innocent bystander, as the saying goes?
Val Davis dies in a speeder accident. No biggie. Happens all the time. So why is there a little voice in the deep recesses of my mind whispering that that was no accident at all? Is it because she may have been working on the STG project with Linsky? The same Linsky who committed suicide? Because she was mentioned in a letter by the same Linsky? Because the same Linsky asked Sonny to check on her whereabouts?
Rona Morgan, top engineering consultant for Gideon Enterprises, dies of accidental poisoning. So what! Accidents are common in that field of work, especially when working on new or experimental projects. The little voice in my head is gone, replaced by bells and whistles. How does someone accidentally poison themselves? Because she may have been working with Linsky on the STG project? And with Val Davis? The same Davis who died in a speeder accident? The same Linsky who leapt from a bridge?
Of course, Iâ€™m surmising regarding their association with the STG project. In fact, I donâ€™t have any hard evidence that the STG project even exists! Maybe Carl Linsky was really going mad and jumped because he wanted to end it all. Maybe Val Davis was a lousy driver. Maybe Rona Morgan would get so involved in her work that she really did accidentally poison herself.
But, what about Bosworth Clark? Now hereâ€™s a situation that begs for a different answer. Mild mannered computer programmer, father of five, amateur musician, trying to make ends meet and provide a living for his family. Goes to work one day and completely disappears. He had a STG passcard; I know because Iâ€™ve got it now, along with Linskyâ€™s. And I saw a video of a hired professional coercing Clark into taking his own life. Who would hire a hitman to kill such a meek and innocuous looking man? Was the passcard that important? Because he was working on a satellite surveillance program? Because he was mentioned in a letter, too?
And what about the passcards? One guy cuts his into several pieces; hides them in two different locations. Another guy hides his in a secret drawer that could only be opened by a special tone/touchpad combination. Do I consider myself fortunate to have two of these cards in my possession? Or, should I feel threatened? And what about Val Davis and Rona Morgan? Did they have passcards? If so, where are they? In the hands of the hitman? If he was responsible for their deaths? I mean, Slade searched Clarkâ€™s lab. Was he looking for Bosworthâ€™s passcard?
Frank Schimming and John Klaus - now thereâ€™s a match made in Hell. Reminds me of Leopold and Loeb; Hitler and Mussolini; Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine; George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. Except for one inescapable fact: Klaus and Schimming are virtual unknowns as far as the general public is concerned. Thatâ€™s the scary part. And letâ€™s say, for sake of argument, there really is a secret project called STG. Why would the Law and Order Party be so interested in absorbing it? Is Frank Schimming backing this endeavor? Does Gideon Enterprises have a personal stake in this coup? Could these so-
called men of high standards and positions of responsibility be the evil behind the deaths of four persons? Suicide, murder, accidents? Or, am I simply making a mountain out of a mole hill? Or, worse yet, have I stumbled onto a mole hill at the foot of a mountain? And, if Klaus and Schimming are NOT behind the curtain pulling the strings, who is? Have I yet to meet the real master-planner? Is Overlord a person, a group, or a thing?
Needless to say, my head is spinning. Sorting out this web of intrigue is causing me internal consternation. One thing is for sure, however. Wanda Peck and CAPRICORN are following up leads involving the Law and Order Party. In fact, they are actively pursuing an investigation in L&Oâ€™s activities, hoping to bring them down. Thatâ€™s enough for me to continue my own personal investigation.
Again, though, maybe Iâ€™m just being overly suspicious; maybe I should be; maybe I should pay attention to my driving. I zip right past Gideonâ€™s mansion. Before I left I plugged the coordinates to his house into my on-board travel computer, but I forgot to set the reminder switch. It would have beeped softly when I neared his location.
I do a 180 and fly into his compound. Absolutely impressive. Secluded, difficult to find even for someone stumbling along in the forest. It sits high up on a rocky crag, completely imbedded in a clump of trees, shrubbery and other foliage. Age-old ivy covered the outer walls like the barriers of Wrigley Field. I can see why it would be easy to pass up, especially flying at 300 feet.
As I land the speeder in the circular drive and exit the vehicle, I notice several cameras garnishing the eaves and peaks of the mansion. If it werenâ€™t for the colorful greenery growing everywhere, coupled with lush gardens of exotic flowers and ferns, fenced in by well groomed hedges, Iâ€™d say this place reminds me of a penitentiary.
Approaching the main door, a voice bids me welcome and asks for identification. I hold my new PI license up to the camera portion of the vid-com and shortly thereafter I hear the familiar click of the door strike being released. Entering a huge foyer with a cathedral ceiling, Iâ€™m met by a man in a wheelchair. Gideon himself? No servants? Hmmm.
After exchanging greetings and friendly handshakes, we transfer to a receiving room, I think. Difficult to say. In a house like this, one has to be a genius just to remember the names of all the rooms. Maybe thatâ€™s why I didnâ€™t pass the entrance exam to the Mensa group. We only had a ten room house - living room, dinning room, kitchen and family room on the main floor; four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs; and a REC room in the basement, which didnâ€™t qualify as a room because it was the basement. Boggles the mind.
Speaking of the mind being boggled, thereâ€™s an air of pleasantness about Mr. Gideon. Although heâ€™s immersed with the finer things of life, he has the ability to put someone totally at ease. Good. My anxiety level had reached the danger zone and I am apprehen-
sive at channeling our conversation to my interrogation. But it might not be as bad as I had originally anticipated.
â€œNice little place you got here,â€ I said, eyeing the walls, ceiling, stained-glass panels and art work.
â€œYou must find it ostentatious. I admit, I do as well.â€ Gideonâ€™s demure was equally impressive as his mansion. Late fifties, handsome, brown hair streaked with silver, clean shaven, confident, but not overbearing or condescending, like Schimming. And his voice! The air of English aristocracy. Perfect articulation accentuated with impeccable pronun-
â€œDid you buy this house as is?â€
â€œNo, actually, I did not. Incipiently, it belonged to an English earl. Built in the 12th century, I bought it from the British government. As you probably know, the monarchy of England has had huge costs overruns for the past several decades. After WWIII, the crown deemed it prudent to auction off a number of estates, including castles, stables, servantâ€™s quarters and so forth. Once in my possession, I hired an international remodeling and transporting firm to take it apart, quite literally, stone by stone, brick by brick, piece by piece. They shipped it here to be reassembled in this quiet part of Californiaâ€™s northern forest. The entire process was long and meticulous, but well worth it from my stand point. Upon completion, I spent years furnishing it with the trinkets and tokens you now behold.â€ Trinkets and tokens? Humble and modest, too! Just one of these trinkets could keep me in my office for the rest of my life.
â€œI hope this next question doesnâ€™t embarrass you, but, where are the servants?â€
â€œHa! No servants, Mr. Murphy. I live alone here and wholly enjoy my solitude.â€
â€œArenâ€™t you concerned for your own welfare? I mean, this place is a thiefâ€™s paradise.â€
â€œI appreciate your deep feelings, but they are unfounded. My fortune has provided me with a fully automated, self-sufficient existence. I suppose my disability has given me an aversion to reliance on others. I want for nothing. Except, perhaps, human companion-
ship. And that only after my somewhat forced semi-retirement.â€ Those last words said with a tinge of angst and bitterness.
I was awestruck by the size and decor of the room we were in. Two fireplaces, one at each end, provided a homey atmosphere in which to carry on casual conversation. Although I entered the house with a bit of apprehension, yes, even a smidgen of fear, I now felt totally at ease. Between Gideonâ€™s empathy for others and the crackle of the cherry wood coming from the fireplace, I felt completely relaxed. Even the majestic stained glass windows could not lessen my mood.
Gideon continued, â€œBesides, Gideon Enterprises defines state-of-the-art with regard to security systems. I am surrounded, perhaps imprisoned, by the very finest electronic moat. No, I donâ€™t worry about my safety, though I thank you for your concern. Now, to what do I owe this welcome visit?â€ Thoughtful, kind, empathetic, considerate - a manâ€™s man, if there ever was one. I can only imagine what it would be like working for him. In fact, if more corporate executives adopted Gideonâ€™s approach, friction between the white and blue collar factions would probably dissolve completely. Now that I think about it, there would be no â€œcollarâ€ distinction at all! Impressive!
â€œIâ€™m investigating the death of Carl Linsky,â€ I answer straight-forwardly. Then a thought occurred to me. Since Schimming admitted there was an STG division to Gideon Enterprises, why not act as though Iâ€™m aware of Linskyâ€™s connection to Gideonâ€™s company. â€œHe was an employee in your corporation.â€
â€œOh, no, no. Gideon Enterprises is no longer mine, Iâ€™m afraid. Iâ€™m sure that Frank Schimming would be a better source of information than I.â€ It caught me momentarily off guard at first, but he didnâ€™t answer my question. Rather, he deftly avoided it. Could that be intentional, or is he just pre-occupied with Schimmingâ€™s coup?
â€œI already talked to Frank Schimming. He was about as helpful as a DMV employee in the middle of his two week notice.â€
A quick smile broke out upon his face. It faded just as quickly. â€œWell, that doesnâ€™t sur-
prise me. I wonâ€™t mince words,â€ his face hardened as though he were about to enter the field of verbal battle, â€œI donâ€™t like Schimming. My complete trust in him was repaid with his exploiting my lack of management acumen, then usurping my position as head of Gideon.â€ My own fellow feeling began to permeate my heart and mind. Gideon was clearly upset and I donâ€™t blame him. How would anyone feel if they built a company from scratch, took it to the top of the commercial world, and then had it rent from their grasp by a so-called friend? I know how I would feel, thatâ€™s for sure.
â€œBut, youâ€™re still president of the corporation.â€
â€œOh, yes, yes! But I have no more real authority to run my company than the king of England has to run his country. Iâ€™m merely a figurehead, nothing more.â€ The open sore of forced semi-retirement was beginning to ooze infectious pus. I was starting to get angry myself. I already donâ€™t like Schimming, but now I was beginning to loathe the man.
Through clenched teeth I said, â€œWhy donâ€™t you just sack him, as the English say?â€ A hopeless laugh popped out from Gideonâ€™s throat.
â€œEven if I could, what would be the point? My time has passed. Iâ€™m as outdated as this antique,â€ he said, patting the arm of the prehistoric wheelchair. â€œSuch is the cutthroat nature of business. Though I dare say the world itself has become nothing more than a business, run by a select few.â€ Oh great! We just moved from commercialism to politics. I may never get to ask any questions if he gets me started on world affairs. Still, Iâ€™m a bit surprised at his defeatist attitude. Gideon doesnâ€™t impress me as a loser or one who gives up so easily. Well, Iâ€™m a Murphy and weâ€™re certainly no losers.
â€œIâ€™m not sure I agree, Mr. Gideon. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to make the world a better place.â€ Gideon eyed me incredulously. But, sensing an oppor-
tunity to meet my challenge, he quickly recovered.
â€œOh? And you, my fine friend, how do you intend to make the world a better place?â€ A head-on question the answer to which I did not have. But, I do believe that if enough people care, the world could be a better place to live in. Iâ€™m just not sure about all the details; in fact, I really hadnâ€™t given it much thought.
â€œI donâ€™t know. Keep an open mind, respect others, buy Girl Scout cookies.â€ Sheesh! What a dumb response. Girl scout cookies? Does that answer qualify me as an intel-lectual idiot?
â€œYou think that will make a difference?â€ Back at ya, bozo.
â€œI think if enough people care, it just might catch on.â€ All in all, a hopeless hope. Now he will probably chop me up into chaff and let the winds of mediocrity carry me away.
â€œAh, yes,â€ he said, nodding his head in mock agreement. â€œI used to think like you at one time, but idealism costs nothing and I lived on it for many years. But, its taste is bittersweet. Itâ€™s, in large part, the reason why I can no longer walk.â€ Emphasizing his point, Gideon wheeled his chair away from the fireâ€™s warmth and ended up near a large array of stained glass windows. Settling there, he prepared an oration for my benefit. But, considering my stupid answer to his question regarding the worldâ€™s future, he had not yet begun to belittle me. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s in his nature. Iâ€™m thankful for that.
â€œYouâ€™d like to hear what happened, wouldnâ€™t you?â€ Whether I did or not was irrelevant. He was determined to tell his story in spite of any objections from moi.
â€œI donâ€™t want to make you feel uncomfortable. You donâ€™t have to tell me anything,â€ I lied. Actually, I was dying to hear his life story. I was just being nice.
â€œOh Iâ€™ve been in this damn cage for more years than I care to remember. Iâ€™ve had to grow accustomed to it.â€ Rising out of my chair, I walked towards Gideon and took a seat next to him. With a deep sigh, he began telling his yarn.
â€œIt was 2013,â€ he started, looking off to the side. His mind was working its magic, recalling details to share with me. â€œI was in Geneva to attend a covert meeting of UN operatives. There were fourteen of us. And at least one was a traitor armed with an explosive device. I was the only survivor.â€ Traitors and Gideon go together like politics and corruption. Too bad, pun intended.
â€œDid you find out who it was?â€
â€œNo. It could have been any one of a score of countries or organizations. Well, I donâ€™t suppose it matters anymore. It was the beginning of the end. There are no heroes any more, only villains of varying degree.â€ His distaste for the past was becoming more apparent as the tale progressed. Maybe I should try to detour the direction its heading.
â€œWhat about CAPRICORN? You support what they do, donâ€™t you?â€ Wanda Peck even offered him a position.
â€œOh, CAPRICORN does what they do, but theyâ€™re merely fighting the fine fight. Greed and corruption have the upper hand.â€ No argument there. â€œWhen I was younger, I sincerely believed we could achieve a semblance of global order and harmony. Humpf! That was only the foolish dream of a youthful idealist. Once I was crippled, I was no longer of any use. No, no, I was turned loose into the world, a cruel and deadly steeplechase where survival was a matter of social Darwinism. I was lost,â€ he said, almost on the verge of tears. â€œI believed that my handicap had denied me my destiny.â€ He swung his chair around, venting his angst like a volcano about to erupt.
â€œYears and years passed before I realized that I still had much to offer. With little more than a plan, I laid the foundations of Gideon Enterprises. Among the mutant population, I found other social misfits whose skills and talents had been overshadowed by their physical abnormalities.â€ He now turned to face me again. I felt like a priest in a confes-
sional, hearing a long overdue unbosoming.
â€œOh, those were difficult times. We were openly ridiculed. Finding investors and financing was an often humiliating series of rejections. How could someone like myself, a cripple, ever hope to accomplish such a venture?â€ A rhetorical question, if ever there was one. Also, he was swiveling his chair, similar to that of a person pacing nervously.
â€œBut, eventually we did succeed, becoming the wealthiest and most powerful corpor-ation of its type in the world. I had recaptured the idealism of my youth, the belief that through sacrifice, commitment and hard work, anything was possible.â€ His face was beaming as he recalled those days of wine and roses. However, his countenance quickly changed to one of torment and grief.
Closing his eyes, he started up again. â€œBut, then it happened again. In the blink of an eye, all those years of investment and careful nurturing were torn from me by thieves and liars masquerading as board members and stockholders. And now, towering over them all is Frank Schimming! His disregard for integrity is matched only by his worship of divi-
dends and profit margins.â€ Gideonâ€™s voice, fueled by animosity and disheartenment, was rising in pitch, pace and power. Sort of like listening to a rousing rendition of Ravelâ€™s Bolero.
â€œSo....so, nothing has happened,â€ voice transforming to a pleading tone just above a whisper. â€œI have come full circle. And, once again Iâ€™m unwanted, unneeded and facing a purposeless existence.â€ Moving closer, only inches from my face, Gideon prepared to add the finishing touch to this diatribe. â€œSo, so, you listen to me! If you insist on striding through life, arms laden with hope, you will only meet with one devastating disappoint-
ment after another.â€ That was more of a caution than a warning. I donâ€™t think Gideon is capable of issuing a flat out warning.
After this harangue, Gideon faltered, remembering he was in the presence of a humble PI, not one of his former board members. He quivered slightly, recapturing his strength and bearing.
â€œOh, oh, please,â€ he pleaded candidly. â€œPlease forgive me, Mr. Murphy. You must be a very busy man. I must apologize for my ramblings.â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind,â€ I stated truthfully. Iâ€™d exchange conversations with this mountain of a man any day. After all, Schimming admitted that Gideon had few visitors lately.
â€œItâ€™s good of you to indulge me. Itâ€™s just that I receive so few visitors these days. Please, tell me what I can do to assist you.â€ I would rather crawl under a rock and hide, knowing my ignorant response earlier had caused him so mush emotional distress. But, I was here for a reason and he did invite me to continue. Besides, I sense we had bonded, in a fatalistic sort of way. He, the disencumbered chairman of the board; me, a down on his luck PI.
So, in spite of the foregoing, I set about the task of asking him several questions. My notebook was getting fuller as each hour passed and I assumed it was about to become gorged.
He didnâ€™t know Linsky, except by reputation; Klaus was unfamiliar; Bosworth Clark didnâ€™t engender a positive response; Val Davis was unknown by him; Sylvia Linsky was someone he did not know; and, unfortunately, he had no idea who or what Overlord was. Thatâ€™s a double strikeout in any baseball book. Too bad baseball went out in 2020. But, I guess the general paying public just got tired of multi-million-dollar crybabies arguing every strike, fighting at the drop of a hat and going on strike for more benefits.
I took a chance and asked him about Frank Schimming, hoping to glean more info that might link him to STG. Gideon simply said, â€œSuffice to say that Mr. Schimming will not be receiving a Christmas card from me this year.â€ The ultimate insult. Good for Gideon.
When asked about Gideon Enterprises, he spoke forthrightly by saying, â€œI feel like a parent whose child has left the nest. I created Gideon Enterprises, nursed it and raised it to adulthood. And now it has left me with an empty home and too many hours in the day.â€
Jorge Valdez, on the other hand, caused Gideon to smile with delight. â€œMr. Valdez runs a chess shop called The Rank and File in the old city. We play quite often over the ethernet. Yes, heâ€™s one of the few worthy opponents Iâ€™ve found.â€ Make a note to see Jorge Valdez. That little tidbit made me feel very good. Wanda and her organization could not locate Valdez, but not me. Iâ€™m a Murphy. We never quit. However, another reference to chess. This seems to be the interwoven theme to this case. Why? It escapes me, big time.
â€œWho or what is a Poisoned Pawn?â€ I ask. Turns out to be - guess what - a chess term. It seems a Poisoned Pawn is the bait in a trap. If someone is going by that alias, he or she probably considers themselves to be a sacrificial lamb. Chess personified? Hmmm.
He feels CAPRICORNâ€™s efforts are laudable, but futile when compared to the wall of iniquity theyâ€™re up against. Maybe, maybe not. I like what CAPRICORN is doing. More to the point, I love Wanda Peck. Okay, maybe itâ€™s just lust.
Rona Morganâ€™s name reversed his sagging spirits. â€œRona Morgan was a beautiful, intelligent woman trapped in a deformed shell. She joined our engineering team early on and soon proved her immense value. She went into business for herself some time ago, with my blessing.â€ Based on his response, Iâ€™d say heâ€™s not aware of her death. And I am NOT going to be the one to tell him.
I straightened in my chair in anticipation of asking the next question. STG has become the key to my investigation, along with the chess terms. As head of Gideon, he should be able to tell me something about it.
â€œI need some information regarding the project called STG - Securities Technology Group - a division of Gideon Enterprises.â€ A directive, not a question.
â€œIâ€™m afraid I know not of its existence.â€
â€œHow can that be? Its inception was January this year and remained in operation until earlier this month. Surely you would know of its conception and its purpose.â€ I was totally shocked.
â€œNot necessarily, Mr. Murphy. You must remember that Gideon Enterprises was a very large corporation. We had several divisions, such as research, finance, supplies, sales and installation to name a few. Many of these had their own annual budgets, and depending on yearly growth, they would have their budgets adjusted accordingly. Some of these divisions could handle undertakings in the millions of dollars range without my knowledge. I trained those people personally and trusted them implicitly. If there was a subsidiary by that acronym, I was not aware of it.â€ I shook my head in disbelief.
Well, if he couldnâ€™t tell me anything about STG, maybe he can help me with learning more about the Law and Order Party.
â€œThe Law and Order Party is merely a Machiavellian bi-product of our societyâ€™s decay. Their goals are not altogether unworthy, but those ends do not justify their means. Unfortunately, theyâ€™ve struck a chord with the public and, with an appealing candidate like Robert Knott, they will surely gain a great deal of power.â€ This seemed to worry him and well it should. L&O is anti-mutant and anti-everything else that gets in their way. Sort of like a 21st century version of the KKK. What concerns me is not Robert Knott, the L&O Partyâ€™s candidate for governor, but rather, the possible â€˜marriageâ€™ of L&O and Gideon Enterprises in the hands of Frank Schimming.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s about all I have for now. If I need to ask you more questions, would it be okay if I returned?â€
â€œAbsolutely. I would consider it a great pleasure.â€ With that, he extended his hand and shook mine warmly. We stared into each otherâ€™s eyes for a moment, as though we had indeed developed a bond of friendship.
â€œThank you, Mr. Gideon.â€ I twirled and exited the gorgeous house which now held Gideon prisoner. Thinking of all the wealth, art, decorations from all over the world, this man was probably one of the loneliest on the face of the earth. Perhaps when this case is finished, he could take some time to teach me how to play chess. I mean, I know some of the basics, but not enough to best someone like Gideon.
Next stop: The Rank and File. Iâ€™m excited about meeting the Jorge Valdez. But, I will need to exercise caution. Located in the old city, Freaktown as it is called, the local mutants will not take kindly to the presence of a NORM. Things have been heating up between the two groups and could be heading for WWIV. I would like to live long enough to find out the solution to this enigmatic case.
Freaktown, a byname I never really liked, was called such because of the high concen-
tration of mutants. The name, conceived by NORMS, propagated by NORMS and utilized by NORMS, was never accepted by the overall public. Sure, many who promote bigotry and racism have adopted the cognomen in a vain effort to support their own so-called superiority, a la Hitler and his â€˜pureâ€™ Aryan race. But I donâ€™t. I find it despicable and repugnant.
In lieu of my own personal feelings, Iâ€™m greeted by numerous hecklers casting racy dispersions on my normality. I donâ€™t blame them. They have good reason to feel the way they do. And it would be useless to attempt a truce. So, I simply ignore them and head on into the store.
A tall, slender, youthful mutant with long curly hair is fussing over a chessboard. He appears to be ardently involved in a game with no one but himself. I hope heâ€™s better at his solo game of chess than I was at my game of backgammon. I hate losing to myself.
â€œHowâ€™s the game going?â€ I ask, breaking the ice.
â€œWelcome to the Rank and File. What can I do for you?â€ Seems friendly enough.
Itâ€™s very late and Iâ€™m getting tired, so I skip the normal formalities and diversions and get down to cases. â€œIâ€™m a friend of J. Saint Gideonâ€™s. He gave me your name and address and said you might be able to help me with a case Iâ€™m working on.â€ So-so truth, but not necessarily a lie.
â€œWell, any friend of Mr. Gideon is a friend of mine. What sort of case are you talking about?â€
â€œIâ€™m a PI investigating the death of Carl Linsky.â€
â€œNice guy. I heard about his death. Too bad. He used to come in here often and we became friends.â€ His remorse was sincere, like Gideonâ€™s. Wow! Two nice people after my â€˜friendlyâ€™ conversation with Schimming.
The next several minutes were spent covering the names on my list. No, he didnâ€™t know anything about STG, Overlord, Val Davis, Rona Morgan or Bosworth Clark. Yes, he knew and liked Gideon, he knew and hated Schimming. CAPRICORN was the modern day messiah for mutants, but the Law and Order Party was the Fourth Reich. Knott was the pretty facade behind the Law and Order Party war machine (I personally liked that one). He had no idea why he was mentioned in the anonymous letter to Wanda Peck. He recognized Linsky in the photo, but Klaus he wasnâ€™t sure about. He thought he may have seen him and Schimming together some time ago. Fascinating!
He aped Gideonâ€™s reply concerning the Poisoned Pawn, with the addendum, â€œIf I had to guess, Iâ€™d say that the author of the anonymous letter felt like he was the first link in a dark chain.â€ Ominous, at the very least.
I thanked Mr. Valdez and left the building with the door open to a return should the need call for it. Exhausted, headache-a-raging, and just plain tired, I made a bee line for my office. Hoping to get some well deserved R&R, I entered my office and started for the bedroom. Before I could even get my coat off, the vid-phone began its familiar ting-ting. Just my luck. Should I answer it or shouldnâ€™t I?
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