The Ishtar Investigation
Chapter 13: Questions Asked, Questions Answered
It was once we were inside that he revealed that he was aware of what we were doing. "Why?" were his first words once the door closed.
"Because I have questions I don't want to ask where others can hear," I stated firmly.
I could see Sarah and Fate peeking around the corner from the back room, but guided Commodore Pruitt to a chair and had him sit. Linda clearly had decided that withdrawing might help and vanished into the back for a moment. I could see the man look around and spoke again.
"First, what is your first name. I think we'll be a bit more comfortable if we dispense with rank and such for this talk."
Commodore Pruitt shrugged. "Its Johnny. Well, I guess calling me John is best."
"Well, I'll call you John for now," I said with a smile. "Now, I'll be blunt, you surprised me with some of the things you said. Are you really related to Jennifer Gates, the one who is in DECO and works in assignments?"
John sighed. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. We grew up in the same town, only she's three years older than me, so I was only a freshman in high school when she was a senior and astounding the teachers with her intelligence. The whole family was overjoyed by her CAP score and was saying she was destined for greatness. My score of six point nine was barely given a mention even though no other family member managed better than a five two."
Linda was standing at the door as I could see her whispering something to Fate. The pregnant girl frowned for a moment before shaking her head. At that point I thought to ask another question.
"But all the stories say that Jennifer hates the military. Something doesn't add up here."
John's head came up and his hands formed into fists. However before he threw any punches he slumped back into the chair. "I know. She wasn't like that when we were first picked up. In fact she was hoping for assignment to a ship somewhere. I think she even planned on that from the start, but once we were picked up the ship that picked us up released both our pods and we found ourselves transferred to the Townhouse. I don't know the whole story after that because I was put to work in Fleet Readiness almost immediately. I did hear that Jennifer had a huge argument with a couple of commodores about three days after our arrival at the Townhouse and after that she basically refused to talk to any officer unless she had to. The only other story I remember was her fight in the bar when we were picked up."
"She got in a fight then?" I asked.
"Good lord, what a fight she got in," John said. "The trip to the bar that night included most of our friends. Jennifer's fiancée was with us and once the interdiction field lit up he started trying to give Jen directions about who she should take. Jen was thinking of taking five girls and three boys, for variety, but Bud lost his temper when she started looking over some of the men who had been attendance. He finally backed down after Jen threatened to leave him behind, but about three hours after our pods had connected with the Townhouse I got a call from her asking if I wanted to save his sorry butt by trading him for one of my girls. I never saw or heard about him after that."
"Ouch," I said. "But that's a tale I've heard before. Many men taken as concubines don't really understand the rules right away, and they rarely get second chances. Now I do have a question, her other concubines, how did she choose them?"
John shrugged. "The normal way I guess. Zelda, Dawn and Char all worked for the same HR consulting firm that Jennifer was the VP of, and they were great friends. I think the other girls were Ally and Kathy. I never asked for the names of the men she took, but both looked like young businessmen."
"How young?" Linda asked from the doorway. She smiled and winked at me. I turned back to John to find him blushing.
"A few years older than me," he said quietly. "Don't tell anyone, but I was in there with a false license. I'm only twenty. I so wanted to be there because Jen was celebrating becoming a new VP at only twenty-three. The company was mostly young singles looking to get experience quickly."
I found myself shaking my head. "Well, I don't think anyone is going to bother reporting that crime now. However, and this might sound strange, I need you to remain in this pod for a couple hours. You are right that something funny is happening and I get this feeling that you are being set up to be blamed. Lie down on one of the beds if you want, but don't leave for now."
With that I walked into the back where Linda was standing with Fate and Sarah. Fate was the first to speak.
"He is a cousin to Miss Gates?" she whispered in shock. "My god! The others never said and they all acted like she was hatched out an egg or something. I never would have known they were coworkers of hers back on Earth."
Sarah giggled. It seemed out of place, but she surprised all of us by smiling when we turned to glare at her. "Oh Normie, you are over-thinking again," she said with her crooked grin. "It has nothing to do with the current case, and probably clears her but it makes sense. We know she has a very high score and if she really was a VP of an HR consulting firm I'm sure that Miles saw her as a perfect pickup for his little empire. At the same time the anguish of seeming to be rejected by the military probably made her a bit bitter. I doubt she had anything to do with our current crime, but I can see why she is the way she is."
I sighed and covered my face with my hands. "Now you know why I have my concubines help," I said quietly. "The only problem is I now suspect that our villain was trying to cover his tracks with Jen's attempted murder."
"Any guesses as to who that was?" Linda asked.
"None," I replied. "Right now I can't see any motive other than the rivalry between DECO and the Navy and that isn't enough to kill over. The only way I could see her being a target was if she was involved in our crime, but she doesn't seem the type. She might disdain lower scoring people, but I can't see her causally offering to kill them."
Linda nodded. Fate's face had a look of intense concentration as if she was trying to remember something and was finding the memory just out of reach. Sarah's gaze switched between the two before she grabbed my PDA and started reviewing some information. I could hear her muttering under her breath to the PDA and AI as a way to compensate for her poor reading and writing skills.
My own thoughts returned to what Commodore Pruitt had revealed. It was clear that he had vastly overstated some elements when he first met Linda. However, I could find no flaw in his most recent story and it now looked like he was merely a bystander and perhaps convenient patsy. If the training base commanders were well known for loud complaining he would have become an obvious suspect in the crime I was investigating. Only his complete lack of guile kept me from looking deeper into his records. He seemed to be nothing more than a young man who wanted others to approve of his work.
My thoughts turned to how the outage occurred and what might have been accomplished during that time. Once again I was finding it hard to attribute a motive to any of the actions that Linda and I had witnessed since we reached the Success. I understood that this place was one of political infighting, backroom deals and betrayals, but the deliberate murder attempt puzzled me. It might have simply been a crime of opportunity, but that failed to explain how the attacker knew Jennifer would be in that hallway just then.
I was finding no easy answer when the AI spoke. "Sir, you wanted to be informed when..."
"I have been," I snapped before the AI could finish its sentence. "Inform the medical bay that I'll be there immediately and to maintain the quarantine until then.
Linda looked up at me and I gave her a nod. "Linda, Fate, Sarah, I want you with me for this."
"What was that about," a voice cried from the other room.
I poked my head out to find Commodore Pruitt still sitting in the chair, although he had slumped forward and was pillowing his head with his hands against the wall of the room. I shook my head and spoke. "You think I stopped my investigation to talk to you? That was the AI informing me that something I requested has been completed. Now I have to head out and interview another person. You can leave the room if you want, but you might want to stay available. I might have a few more questions."
"No," the young man said. "I'm going to my own pod for now. I'll lock out everyone except my commander and you from communicating for the rest of the day though."
Linda nodded. "Be careful."
The door to the stateroom opened. I led Linda and the two concubines out and we turned left towards the center of the ship where the medical bays were. As the door was closing the young commodore slipped out and turned right, heading towards one of the teleport rooms in the ship. He seemed in a bit of a hurry and I could hear Fate sigh.
"What's happening?" she asked.
Linda looked around to make sure no one was near enough to hear and spoke. "During a unusual power outage on the ship someone stabbed your former mistress. I'm guessing that Norm believes it has something to do with the case."
Fate gasped and looked at me. I could see her eyes demanding that I deny Linda's words. Instead I quietly nodded. "I don't think she was involved directly. I think she's become a victim of something. I just wish I knew how she relates to the situation. Who would have wanted her injured or dead?"
Fate scowled. "I couldn't say," she whispered. "She didn't talk much in front of me or any of the other concubines that I knew of. I just don't know her well."
I could hear Linda sigh as we made the final turn to bring us to the entrance to the medical bay. As we did I heard Sarah give a sharp gasp and looked up to see both Miles Chandler and Fleet Admiral Tucker standing in front of the door, blocking the way.
'You are blocking everyone from interviewing an assault victim," Fleet Admiral Tucker growled. "Now, the regulations might say that you have the right to do that, but I demand to know why."
Miles added his own warning. "And its one of my people. You military types have no idea how to conduct an investigation and everyone knows you will be biased towards the Navy. I demand to know what this is all about."
Linda paused and spoke up. "You do realize that if we ask any AI, it will back Commander Nelson. After all, his loyalty score on the CAP was perfect."
"What do you mean, perfect?" Miles Chandler snapped. "I have a nine eight. You mean to tell me his loyalty score is higher than mine?"