"Old man, you've watched too many stupid cop shows."
"Little boy, go find out if there even is a body."
Eventually they stopping running in circles and admitted that the reason they couldn't find a body was posssibly because no one had died.
Then they did the finger prints, retinal scans, and DNA checks, which, of course, all matched up with Ernie Sneed, on account of that being his real name.
And they finally checked them against the DSA secret files, that had him listed ass Ernie "The Seeker" Snead.
Four hours after they'd first questioned him, a man who looked even older than Ernie walked in and stooping over a cane, stared at him.
Ernie stared back . . . the set and shape of those eyes . . . the left eye off a bit too far from the nose . . . "Scotch? Is that you? I thought they'd send Pretty Boy."
"Yeah. I can't convince these idiots that Inferno blew up their van, and walked off. Something happened in Vegas four days ago, that almost killed him. But he was walking better yesterday, and seemed pretty all-there mentally."
"Wait, you both retired here?"
"Yeah, why not? Bakersfield is pretty nice. Kinda hot in the summer, but you can't beat the rest of the year."
"Well . . . when did Inferno get here?"
"He was here before me. I spotted some watchers, and looked around to see who they were watching and recognized him." Ernie shrugged. "Since they were already watching him, I just settled in and, well, when he's not trying to do anything, he's an easygoing guy."
The middle-aged types swapped looks. Loomer spoke. "TSA called in about a guy setting off their detectors, so we trailed this Ernie Snead from the airport to here. Watched remotely for awhile, then got a man inside. We swap them out every few years."
The other one brought out a picture of Will. "This is the dead guy."
"He's not dead!" Ernie unclenched his fists.
Scotch raised his brows, "Damn, he's old, almost a generic old man . . . You sure this is Inferno, Seek?"
"Yeah, we had a lot of good times, talking about the old times. I used to write up every thing he said, but my computer died, and I just figured, what the heck, the watchers probably had copied it all, and probably recorded all the conversations any way. So I stopped writing and analyzing his every word. I mean, we were getting repetitive. I think. My memory's not what it used to be. And he's fifty years older than I am."
Loomer and his pal swapped frowns. "We figured you were setting him up. And finally killed him, so you could walk away free."
"For . . . what? Fifteen years?"
"Right. C'mon down to HQ and help us figure out what happened to him in Vegas. Did he say anything at all?"
Ernie snorted. "He said a whore with knockout drops. So let's track him."
The federal building was nice--after all the city had half a million people and four times that in the county--the northern edge of the SoCal metroplex, it covered a lot of land, and the thinner population half way up the San Joaquin valley.
DSMD had a tiny three office suite in the middle of the south side of the building's fourth floor.
I'll bet they bake in the summer.
One side-office was stuffed with electronics. The woman who looked around was a nurse who used to work at Golden Sunshine. She gawped at him.
Probably knows every word I've said for the last fifteen years.
Ernie nodded politely, and wheeled himself over to glance in the other side office, which had four desks crammed in. A young woman tapping at he computer, a scowl on her face, didn't even glance their way.
The middle office had a wall of windows and a single desk with enough overhang to double as a conference table. Loomer summoned the not-really-a-nurse with a crook of his ringer, then circled the desk and settled down to eye Ernie, then the Not-Nurse.
"We need surveillance data from Vegas, following both Mr. Snead here, and the possible victim, Mr. Furnace, on their last trip."
"Yes, sir. Vic's working on it, she got the public cams already." She gave Ernie the stink eye and walked right back out. Mike got shooed out.
Scotch snickered. "They really didn't ID you right."
Ernie shook his head. "I suppose Inferno'd been retired for at least five years before me, and he'd been barely outside norms for at least a decade before that, so no one believed the sorts of things he could do in his prime."
The younger woman stuck her head in. "We've done some tracking on the exterior cameras. Do you want to see the start?"
"Thanks Kelly, yes." Loomer handed a wand to the girl.
Kelly pointed it at the wall and the painting dissolved into a grubby daylit bus yard.
"The guy on the right, waiting, is Will. He always waited to make sure I got my wheel chair. and got going, then we'd split up, might meet for lunch, might not."
On the wall screen, Mike-the-not-really-an-orderly helped Ernie down the steps and Will brought his wheel chair to him and leaned on it while helping Ernie get into it.
Ernie headed down the side walk, while Mike got Jackie down the steps and into her wheelchair, again with Will bringing up the chair.
"Wretched casinos don't like electric carts." Ernie grumbled. "There's always a man and a woman attendant along, but then you all know about that. And there's Will humping along with his cane. He caught up with me at a light and we went in together, but split up almost immediately."
Kelly nodded. "We tracked you through four casinos and a show . . ."
Ernie shook his head. "Track Will. I want to see what happened."
She looked at her boss, who nodded. "Right. Track the nice helpful guy." She set the wand on the desk and trotted out.
Mike shifted uncomfortably. "Sorry, but I'm having trouble seeing him as Doctor Inferno. Worst thing I know about him is cussing, but even so . . . I mean, he helps people, especially with tech stuff. He's a wiz with getting computers set up for folks."
Ernie nodded. "He had good-sounding explanations for most of his truly dire deeds."
"Justifications." Mike glowered. "And all those recorded conversations? Your accent really slid . . . and so did his. It was hard to say who was saying what."
Ernie threw up his hands. "Voice prints? Whatever. Just find out what happened to Will."
The first thing Will did in Vegas was find a restaurant with a good net connection. And get Laine Black's address. The computer--not the one in the suitcase, the big one in Dallas--gave him the code numbers for the door and assured him that his finger and retinal prints were already in the house system.
Then he headed for the Allmart.
Some definitely female clothes, some ambiguous. A gray wig, cheap jewelry, lipstick, loose powder powder. Athletic shoes.
Oh dammit, I forgot everything.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap . . .
He hated using the credit card, but . . . And then an auto-cab. He hated them, but better that, than a live driver.
It took him to a fancy neighborhood, up a gated driveway and dropped him off at an impressive front entrance. Will tapped in the code, pressed his left thumb on the pad, right eye to the lens, and walked into his new home.
It was echoingly empty.
Will looked around and failed to spot any speaker. "So, you can talk, here."
He strolled into a large area with a staircase on either side. An architects idea of visual balance, and a complete waste of material, since they both went to the same balcony. He crossed the room and opened the blinds to a view of a desert landscaped yard and a high stone fence. A few trees on the other side almost blocked his view of the roof tops of the neighboring houses.
"The previous owners left all the window treatments as part of the contract. I did not want Yard Care employees to realize the house was empty."
Will nodded. "Good idea. And your voice handling is very good. You very nearly sounded nervous."
"I want you to like your houses, Master."
I'm absolutely certain there's an emotionless computer behind that apparent relief!
He twirled his cane--awkwardly, as the orthopedic device wasn't balanced for it-- and took a tour. Dining room to the left, kitchen and breakfast room beyond, the door was to the garage. He strolled back and across the living room and down a hall. A fancy half bath . . . toilet paper! I forgot TP. Sheessh!
Then a big suite, bedroom, other room, huge bathroom . . .
Upstairs, two bedrooms and two bathrooms on either side.
"A nice big house, good job . . . I never gave you a name. Have you given yourself one?"
"I use Miss Glenda Prince when I talk to anyone on the phone."
"Glenda." The Good Witch. "Good choice. So . . ." he trotted down the stairs, then turned back and looked at them.
Holy crap. It's working! I didn't even think about how hard stairs were, going up!
He grabbed his suit case and and hauled it to the kitchen, put it up on the counter . . . nothing to sit on. Oh. Well.
"So, lets spend some money and furnish this place."
"Yes! Master!" Gleefully happy tones.
As soon as he fired up his computer, she displayed her suggestions.
He cleared his throat. "You know Glenda . . . I think you need a few more lessons in interior decorating before I turn you loose."
"But . . . Laine Black would like this!" Dismay and hurt.
"Possibly, but as a successful business woman, she'd need something a bit less like a pink bordello in the parts of the house any visitors would see."
Oh. My. God! Lace everywhere! And the bedroom! I'd have nightmares!
But my super computer . . .
"You know? You know, you're right about Laine. Keep the master suite like that. Now the living room . . ."
When Glenda started sounding too hurt, Will distracted her with a grocery order to be delivered. And then with creating documentation for Laine's grandson Lance William Black who was coming to live here.
The food, minimal kitchen ware, and paper goods, arrived first. The pizza second. Then the nice but not custom furniture for Lance's upstairs bedroom and office.
Will, in a wig, saggy pink blouse and lipstick, sent the furniture delivery men off with big tips and collapsed on his new bed.
"Glenda? In the morning, remind me to order sheets and blankets. Today's been an awfully long day. I'm calling it quits."