Rishards called ahead, and the section supervisor was waiting for them.
“I’ve already given all the testimony I had.” The man told Rishards as she entered his office.
“Yes, we know. This case is now being handled a bit differently.” She said.
“Oh,” his eyebrows rose.
“This is Detective Dales.” he motioned. “He received his training on Earth. The chief wants his input on this.”
“Yes,” Matt said. “I’ll need access to the crime scene, and if you could please make yourself available for questions after I’ve looked it over, I would appreciate it.”
“An earth detective?” He looked Matt over and then offered him his hand. “A no shit real detective, not one of these glorified computer nerds.”
“Trained in the good old United States.” He took the hand and shook it.
“I can’t tell you how much better I feel.” The supervisor said. “No offense Missy. I know you folks do well enough when you got the right programs. But hell, a detective. Murder ain’t rational and no computer anywhere ain’t ever been able to think outside of rationality.”
“Then he’s your man,” Rishards said under her breath.
“I hope that means I can count on your assistance.” Matt smiled.
“Absolutely. Carmen!” he called back over his shoulder. “You’re in charge for a while. I gotta show these folks around.”
“Yeah,” A gaunt-looking redhead stepped out of her office and looked the group over. “Don’t be too long. It’s not my job to cover yours so you can go running off with your friends. If you’re going for beer, I’d better have a bottle waiting for me.”
“This is official colony business,” Matt informed her. “We thank you for any inconvenience this causes you.”
“Well if that’s the case.” She smiled. “Just don’t be gone too long.”
“Thank you very much, ma’am.” He smiled pleasantly. “We are ready anytime you are.”
The supervisor took the lead with a spring in his step as if this was the most exciting thing he’d been asked to do in years. It may have been.
“Dales?” Rishards asked softly.
“You know we have the authority to compel cooperation, don’t you?” she continued.
“Yes, of course.”
“Then why beg these people for their help. They have the responsibility to give it anyway.”
“Are you serious?” Matt was stunned. “People aren’t computers. Have you ever received personal interaction training?”
“Not detective, that’s patrol officer training.” Her tone was indignant.
“It wouldn’t hurt you to sit in on a training session.” Matt retorted. “Computers always answer every question correctly. Criminals will most likely lie. Witnesses and civilians will give aid in proportion to how well they like and trust you. If you build a good rapport with them, they will even sometimes volunteer information that you never thought of asking.”
“So why go out of your way to appease the woman?” Rishards asked. “How can she be of help?”
“I don’t know maybe she can’t, or maybe she saw something she didn’t think was out of the ordinary. We’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle — every piece, especially corner ones, can help the image come together. I’d rather be polite and gain some goodwill than to treat people like a computer and lose it. Call my personal detective style.”
“And the fact that she was pretty had nothing to do with it?” She continued.
“Perk,” he said. No wonder the man was glad to have a real detective here. Work with computers long enough, and you started to act like one.
“Just be aware the sexual harassment laws are stricter here than in Texas.” she walked out.
“I read them when I got here.” For a detective, Matt thought Rishards was thin-skinned.
“This is the maintenance suite.” The supervisor said as the sealed door slid open. Every inch of the room was corroded by protracted exposure to the atmosphere. The tools on the walls and work areas were all spoiled. The few that could be salvaged were piled on a table on the left side for refurbishing. Along the far wall were two doors, a light security door with an unreadable brass plaque. Matt knew from Rishards’ files that this was the pressure suit locker. The other one had a glass viewport embedded into it, etched opaque now. The panel next to it broken and shorted so that it would remain open when the lethal atmosphere came pouring. “This is where Mark worked.”
There were only two exits. The one Matt was standing in and the one that led to the airlock. Just past the newly repaired hatches was where the victim was found nailed to the ground without protection in the deadly acidic air. Matt would never have walked out willingly without a suit. He suspected the victim hadn’t either. Rishards brushed past him to get into the room and look around. “How often did anyone other than the victim come back here?”
“It’s an external workshop unless there were some repairs to do outside, we all just used the main shop.”
“Did he often come down by himself?”
“Not unless he was inspecting some gear. External jaunts are always done in teams of at least two in case there is a mishap.” The man pointed to the door. “The body was found out there.”
“The airlock takes an access code I assume,” Matt regarded into the room intensely.
“Yes, records indicated that the access code in the victim’s palm chip opened the hatch, and closed it afterward,” Rishards said.
“How can that… Oh, dear god!” the supervisor’s hand went up to his mouth. “You don’t mean they cut his hand off.”
“Please keep this between us. If certain aspects of this case were to be made public, then all the freaks come out of the woodwork, and we spend our time sorting them out rather than finding the killer. Even one small fact in the hands of an attention grabber can muck things up.” Matt looked hard into the man’s eyes. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, detective.” The man responded. “Don’t worry about me. I can keep my yap shut.”
“So, do we suit up and look for clues outside?” Rishards indicated to the pressure suit locker.
“No, that’s a secondary site. The attack happened in here.” Matt said.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to find clues from inside the room?” Rishards asked
“I can see the whole room from here,” Matt said.
“Was there any situation in which the victim would have let someone inside this room?”
“That would be against policy.”
“Even so, there is no sign of struggle outside. I think the victim let someone in and they attacked him, knocked him unconscious and, after putting on his pressure suit, drug him outside.” Matt said, thoughtfully. “You can’t hurt his reputation any longer; he’s dead. Was he selling contraband of some kind?”
“No, he wasn’t like that?” The man said. “Look, he had a wife and family, but he liked women. I mean really liked them.”
“Do you think he would have brought one here for a sexual encounter?” Rishards asked.
“It’s cheaper than a hotel room,” Matt commented. “So we might be looking for a woman.”
“She’d have to be a really strong one; he nearly caved his forehead in,” Rishards said.
“All those tools were inspected?”
“Yeah,” the supervisor said. “We just got them back. Not that they’ll be good for much after being left to corrode like that.”
“Good way to cover your tracks.” Matt mused again. “No prints, no DNA. I don’t see any digging equipment in here.”
“No, there wouldn’t be. The shop is for electronic and plumbing repairs.”
“The coroner thought the victim might have been struck with a shovel. Something large and flat.”
“Maybe they took it with them?” the supervisor suggested.”
“Why go through all this trouble to destroy all evidence and take the most incriminating piece with you. How about outside?”
“No. A search team came up with nothing.” Rishards stared at him. “What are you doing?”
“Thinking. Detective? How did the coroner say the victim received the head wound?”
“Blunt force trauma to the front of his head with a heavy flat object.” She replied.
“Like a shovel?” Matt moved his hands around as if trying to work out a puzzle in the air. “Can you come out here for a second both of you. I want to do an experiment. Sir, you will be our victim and Rishards you’re the killer and have a shovel.”
“Okay.” she moved into position in front of him.
“Now swing at him.” she pretended to swing, and the man’s arms went up to defend himself. “There he instinctively blocked. There were no defensive wounds on the victim.”
“What do you think he got hit with?” the supervisor broke in.
“Well, the attack was either from behind or so unexpected that he had no chance to defend himself.” Matt mused.
“Which meant that he trusted his attacker,” Rishards added.
“Oh, Mark. Bad choice.” The supervisor said, half under his breath.
“What if the weapon wasn’t a shovel?” Matt asked himself as he felt the medication take the edge off his apprehension. Walking into the room no longer felt like a trap. He stepped in and looked around.
“What then, nothing else is flat and heavy,” Rishards said.
“That wall looks pretty solid.” Matt turned to the supervisor. “Why expose an entire compartment to the atmosphere unless the compartment its self was the murder weapon.” he turned and looked more closely at the walls. “Too many bangs from years of careless tool handling to notice one more dent. An acid wash to remove DNA or tissue evidence. Suppose the killer was behind the victim and then suddenly, pushed his head into the wall. Could that account for the wounds?”
“We’ll have to check with the coroner, but maybe,” Rishards said.
“Thank you,” Matt said to the supervisor. “I think we’re done here.”
“Well if you need any more help, just ask,” he responded.
“I will have a good day.” He turned and walked out, Detective Rishards on his heel.