Two lefts bring me to another hall, running parallel to the one I was just in. The last door is another lift, and inside I scan the buttons. The bottom two are B and G, and I can only guess that G is for garage so that’s the one I press. I don’t think she will ever forgive me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she called a few guards to find me. Zooming down gives me time to re-button my shirt and figure out what I’m going to be asking the crews when I get to them.
The lift stops before I can think and opens up to a brightly lit, white-walled hanger filled with the most modern and expensive machinery I have ever seen. Three walls of the hanger are dedicated to the pit crews, two crews to a wall. The smells of fuel and oil greet me like old friends; I remember my days on Firarrum, working to pay for school, and like in those old days there was a shop manager ready to kill anyone foolish enough to interrupt the work.
“’Oo da fook are you?” he says in a thick accent. “Wut da fook d’ya fink yer doin’ ‘ere?”
“I am detective Papiernik here to interview the crews on the bombing. Surely Mr. Brightmen told you I was coming?”
“He don’t tell me a fooking word abou’ any of it, da cunt.”
“He does come across as an absentminded man.”
“You mean an idiot, I agree. Know wut, I fink I like you.” With that he turns and leads me to the left of the hanger. Nonchalantly I slide my finger on the rim of my spectacles, this time there is no voice only information on the left lenses.
The manager’s name is Luther, four foot even, one hundred pounds. Convicted of drug trafficking all over the universe and tried for the murder of his entire gang and their immediate families. The murder charges were dropped when half of the jury and two judges were found dead; he received a slap on the wrist for the drugs only serving two years in a maximum security prison under solitary confinement. He is believed to have died three separate times, all in the same manner and place but within the span of a decade.
I was expecting more information but that’s all I can find in the O.R.B. database. I stare at the back of his bald and tattooed head trying to picture this man killing anyone bigger than him. He takes me to a large cubical with a pit crew working on their car.
“Them be da Sapphire crew, you can find da res’.” He walks away without another word.
“Who are you? We aint got time for this shit; we have to train new mechanics.” A dark-skinned man with a bushy mustache walks up to me. “Well who are you?”
“My name is detective Papiernik and I am here—”
“Detective, hu? So you here to make sure Brightmen don’t kill more of my team? I’m Hector and this is my team, we are the Sapphires, like the blue rock.” His mustache twitches when he talks.
I take out my notebook and ready my pen. “Ok so we are trying to be the best team in Hell Fire, and we are. I know the boards say we are in fourth but fuck the boards, they don’t know shit. But we were going to make it to number one and Brightmen knew this, that’s why he took out four of my best guys after the bombing. You know what I think? That was his idea, the bombing, I mean. Shit Halum’s Son has been top team for a while and that was messing up his betting, you know? He knew we were going to be the next ones to make it to the top and wanted to slow us down, that’s the only explanation I can see.”
I haven’t written anything down, I just stare at him with my mouth a little open. He continues on his conspiracy theory for another two minutes before introducing me to the rest of Sapphire. “This here is Monster on account that he is so big. He likes to make my car go faster. These are the new guys, I don’t know all their names yet but they are on tire duty for now.”
I stop him and look at the four new mechanics. They mumble their names while looking at their feet, Hugo, Bart, Larry and Bruce. Hector continues, “And this slab of meat is my driver, the best out there and my brother, Pedro Jr.” He too doesn’t look directly at me. I don’t think it has anything to do with me being a detective; I think they are just afraid of Hector.
“Where were you all the night before the bombing?”
“We were in here, like all the rest of the teams. Working on the cars.” Hector looks at me suspiciously and adds, “You don’t think we put the Icktar in the car? I just told you it was Brightmen, and he wanted to stop their winning streak. Anyone could see that, and like I said he killed my chances of winning when he took out four of my team. He is on some kind of power trip.”
The rest of the team nod solemnly, I don’t think I’ll be getting any more from this team. “Alright, well I need to talk to the other crews but I might be coming back to ask you a bit more… I’ll be off now.”
“Yeah, yeah man, don’t bother. We are going to be busy you know, getting ready for a race Brightmen doesn’t want us to win.”
He is still ranting after I leave. I feel a little uneasy, like I watched a snuff film with children’s music playing in the background. I make my way clockwise through the hanger and find the second team, their sign reads Red Giant.
I can hear them arguing and they don’t stop even when I enter. From the sound of it they are arguing about what place to come in at the end of the race. I may not be a race aficionado but I’m sure first is preferable. I try to introduce myself but they aren’t paying me any attention.
“Look, Murdock, whoever the bomber is he wants to win! We should take third again.” A man with a handlebar mustache and no sleeves yells.
“I need someone to give the car another look. I don’t want to be the only one responsible for it,” a black man says coming out from under the car.
“I’ll take a look Rick, but show me what you noticed so I can put it in my report, too. I don’t want shit for something you may have missed,” a blond man says sliding under the car with him.
“Rah, don’t be such a pussy, second will do just fine.” Apparently the one with the handle bar mustache is Rah, so that makes this man with the gray scales for skin Murdock. Good thing I’m a detective or I would have missed that.
“Second will get me killed, if you’re so confident then you drive,” Rah says tossing the helmet at Murdock.
“Hey I’m getting some weird readings on this fuel,” says a small man jumping out from behind the car. Interrupting the conversation he walks around and hands a glass tablet to Murdock. I can’t help but notice his clawed feet; what kind of mechanic paints his talons?
“Damn it who put the good fuel in the car?” Everyone answers that it wasn’t them. “If Bur hadn’t caught this now, Rah would be on first for sure.”
“Hey thanks little man.” Rah says, patting Bur on the shoulder.
“Who are you?” Murdock and the rest of the team are staring at me. Having been ignored for so long it takes me a bit to remember who I am.
“So you’re here to catch whoever put the bomb in the car?” Rah asks, then takes me by the arm and leads me to his black racer with a red star painted on the side, “Can you check and see if there’s one in here?”
“I mean I worked on cars before but I wouldn’t know a bomb from a hyper-cylinder,” I say, peering into the engine compartment. “Anyway I just wanted to ask a few questions.”
“Well Murdock here is the head mechanic you should ask him,” Bur says, going back to the tablet.
“Yeah I can answer anything you got,” Murdock says.
“Where were you all the night before the bomb went off?”
“Here, working on the car. A three day race is going to take its toll on any engine.”
“Did anyone suspicious come into the hanger while you and the other crews were working?”
“Not that I remember. It was just another day in the shop… Hey are those new tires? Put that back, those’ll give us extra horse power. Sorry, I have to fix this.”
I’m back to being ignored. Again I give another half attempt at letting them know I’ll be coming back to ask more questions and make my way to the next crew. The sign outside the next cubicle reads Golden Hour; I wasn’t expecting a gold car.
More to my surprise was the fact that when I walked in the team stopped working, and the head mechanic walked up to me and shook my hand.
“You must be the detective. Now don’t get your britches tangled, we heard you with the last two crews.” His gray hair is in stark contrast to the youthful glint in his eyes. “Name’s Benny. I’m the head mechanic and the driver fer this here team.”
“Pleased to meet you. My name is detective Papiernik.”
“That’s an odd name for your folks to have given you aint it?” a portly woman asks from behind a tool trolley. There are more grease stains on her skin than there are on the rag she uses to clean the tools off.
“Detective Leonardo Papiernik,” I say slowly.
“Well Leo, hope you don’t mind me calling you Leo, I guess you have a few questions to ask us about what happened a couple of weeks ago, take a seat and ask away.”
“For starters, I need to know where you all were the night before the bombing.” Looking around the team they all seem to be older them I am, except for a set of twins, they look to be my age. I also notice they are giving my very dirty looks.
“Let’s see, that night we were here in the shop working on Goldie Locks here, that’s what I call the car,” Benny says sitting on a tool box. “Though me and old Red stepped out and got some eats for the team around three in the morning.”
“That we did, didn’t we Benny?” Red is an older man in a stained jumpsuit, with a cigar in his mouth and an old cap on his head. He looks too tired to be any sort of mechanic.
“Them poor souls over on Halum’s Son where ready for another day at the track that night too. They had won the last six races by close to a minute lead, I was sure they had that one sunk in the basket, then old Metri got blown to kingdom come, rest his soul.” Red pulls off his cap and places it over his chest in a silent prayer.
“Were there any rivalries between the crews outside of the track?”
“Son, there aint really an outside for us racers, but I think what you’re asking is if there was any bickering outside of the script that devil Brightmen gives us. To answer that I have to make myself look bad for a moment. We all had our troubles, and mine was with the Dark Moon. Them boys took this game a little too seriously.”
“How do you mean?” it’s hard to keep my focus on Benny when the twins are staring a hole in me.
“Well when they started in this circuit, Brightmen put in the script that they were a ball of lighting ready to take the lead on the scoreboard and by golly they did. After a few wins, Brightmen wrote a script where they lose to Halum’s Son for the next twelve races, and they were supposed to become the dark horse with only one thing in their minds, taking back their place on top.” Benny sighs and takes a flask out of his pocket. I pull out my cigarette case and offer one. Taking it, he continues, “Saying they’re good actors is an understatement. They know how to work an angle like no one else, crowd loves to hate them. They even took to some dirty driving, bumping the cars when taking position, minor sideswipes in the corners, you know, the easy stuff.”
“You know Benny, I’d love to ask you more, but your boys seem to dislike me for some reason,” I say blowing smoke in the twin’s direction.
“Looks like he don’t like being looked at Ray,” One says to the other.
“I don’t think he does Roy,” Ray responds.
“Boys, a little respect for Leo here, you hear me. He has a tough enough job dealing with crap like bombs without you two ruining his day.”
“Papa, me and Roy here think it was the detective and his people who planted that bomb.”
The rest of the team shows their anger towards the accusation; Red even throws his cap on the ground. But Ray continues where his twin left off, “It only seems logical that them Outer Reaches Bureau folks took out that car to show us racers they don’t like the sport.”
“That’s right, and we know it was them because only the O.R.B. can make an Icktar bomb with a Localized Directional Detonation Switch. Not many people knew that the president of Frodon was going to be watching the race, let alone where he was sitting, but I bet my hat they did!” Roy stands and tosses his hat at my feet to make a point.
“That’s right, not only did they use an LDDS but they also made sure that the track’s Random Terrain Motherboard was on during a three day race, which never happened before.” Roy adds.
For the second time in one hour I’m left stumped by a conspiracy theory. “I think that’s all I needed to know. Thank you for your time Benny.”
He stands and shakes my hand, I wave at the others and turn to leave, the moment I do I hear. “Yeh run away with the truth like you did when Jarlon Fin Kroonan was assassinated.”
I walk cautiously to the next team, Raging Dolthar. This team is also loud, but not with argument, instead there is laughter and cursing coming from their cubical. When I enter they all great me with applause and a pint of dark beer, I take it and they cheer louder.
“How you doing, mate?” says a large blue man, well the largest of the blue men. Saying he looks like a body builder is like saying the great barrier of Trydon is a brick wall. “Welcome ta Raging Dolthar, the hardest driving and hardest drinking race team you’ll ever meet.”
“It’s good to be here.”
“Says it’s good to be here,” they all laugh at my apparent joke. The man who greeted me points to his shirt, “Name’s Thor, I drive this bucket around the bends of Hell Fire.”
He points to a brown and green racer with a Dolthar on the meanest front end I have ever seen on anything other than a bulldozer. The rest of the team sits around it drinking and playing a card game, I think I bet on them back at the cathedral. “My name is detective Papiernik, and I want to ask you a few questions about the bombing.”
“Mate, that bomber is a right arse. If he were here I’d give him the old how-you-doing from around the back,” another blue man says; the name stitched to his shirt says his name is Rex. Looking around the other men have their names stitched on too, Ace, Bear, Meat-head and Kenneth.
“Is your name really Kenneth?” I can’t stop myself.
“That’s right, it is, Papiernik.” Well that shut me up.
“I know what you’re going ta ask, and I know what you’re trying ta find out,” Thor says, spilling a bit of beer on my feet. “We had nuttin’ ta do with the bombing. We love this god damn sport more than drinking ta filth it up with those tactics.”
They all go quiet and stare into their glasses; their silence is only interrupted with the occasional hiccup. I think I have everything I need to know about this team, but I’ll keep drinking for a while. It doesn’t hurt to dig a little deeper even if I know they didn’t do it.
“Who do you think it was then?”
“We don’t have a fucking clue who the cunt is. We’ve been racking our brains since it happened, even got in a fight with the Golden twins because they wouldn’t shut up about how the bomb was made, but their old man Benny is a respected man, so we let off them when he asked.”
“Yeah those two boys do seem too smart for their own good.” I pull up a bucket and have a seat. A wild idea crawls around in my head, “What they are doing here I don’t know.”
“Mate to build and run these cars you need to be at the top of your game. Don’t let our rugged good looks fool you, there isn’t a thing those boys can do that we can’t improve. Take the rotation amplifier, in their car it helps them not fly off the edge of the track in a near ninety degree turn, in this beauty I can cut off the lead car by doing a corkscrew in one of the tunnels.” He nods at me as if to say, how about that.
“Oy, blue fooks, ya got the wind tunnel first.” Luther sticks his head in. “Give us a pint while I’m here.”
“Sorry detective, we need to get back to work,” Thor says, filling a new glass.
“I have enough. Thank you all for your time.” I drain my glass and leave it on an empty counter.
“Papiernik,” Kenneth calls out. “I was wondering, say you got the bomber in the old how-you-doing, would you give the cunt a reach around?”
Taking a bit to answer I give them all a last look, “If it was the war maybe, not with this shit.” I leave to cheers for a joke I don’t think would be that funny with fewer pints.
The next team, Dark Moon, is hard at work when I walk in; all I get from them are dirty looks and a swift dismissal. As I leave I can hear them talking about the honor of the race and how outsiders should stay outside.
I make my way to the last team, Halum’s Son, where they too are working, all except one. He is a tall thin man with a full beard and silver skin, his small round glasses rest on the tip of his nose. He walks up to me, takes my hand and shakes it vigorously.
“Detective Papiernik, how are you? My name is Baldwin, and I am the head mechanic of this team,” he says in a gentle voice. “I hope you don’t mind if I answer all your questions, but rebuilding a race car is not an easy feat to accomplish in two weeks.”
“I understand… These walls are mighty thin aren’t they? everyone seemed to know I was here since I talked to Sapphire.”
“Well voices carry in a hanger.” Baldwin chuckles.
“So my first question, where were you all the night before the death of your driver?” He doesn’t flinch at the question.
His eyes sadden but his smile prevails, “Well as we all were, here working hard for the upcoming race. The engine was already in and the fuel lines were all attached so we would have been in the wind tunnel testing out a new body style.”
Looking over at the team I notice them all staring into the engine compartment, making suggestions and taking notes. Baldwin half whispers, “Yes they all like to have input in all the decisions that go into the car, same as it was when Metri was alive. There are no real specialties among us, we all know enough of it all to have won six races so far.”
“So you all agreed the car was tip top after you all locked up for the night?”
“Yes of course.”
“Who is the new driver now?”
“That would be Erica, the one with the horns. She was substitute for Metri, she was the one that gave him the six mile lead on the day it all happened. Poor girl felt terrible after the accident, blamed herself and to make matters worse her father was in the very stands that were taken by the blast.”
“Who was her father?”
“He was Donner Wright, the president of Halum. She didn’t find this out until a day after the blast. Seeing as the whole team is from Halum we all shared in her pain, obviously not to her extent but we all mourned.”
“Is there anyone who you can think of that may have had a grudge on Metri, either on the track or off?”
“Well not any of the other teams, not in the way you are implying anyway. No we all had a structured, if not healthy, competitive spirit. I think, to be honest, whoever did this was an outsider with a political agenda.”
“That seems logical seeing as the President of Frodon was killed in the blast too, and from what I know they were both of the same side of the Rangor rebellion.”
“What has the universe come to when peace is an enemy of man? I lost my wife and oldest son to that war, have you lost anyone to violence detective?”
I almost answer him but catch myself at the last moment. “Is there an overall inspection of the cars before the race begins?”
“Yes but only a preliminary one. We check liquids and the computers in here and give the body and wheels a once over out on the track. Sadly none of us looked hard enough to have found the Icktar.”
“I was shown photos of the wreckage and it looked like the explosive was under the driver’s seat. Surly that would have been visible when you did your last looks?”
“The only thing not bolted down before the flag drops is the steering wheel and the driver. I wish we had the foresight to look, but we really had not intended on an explosion. Seeing as we were top billing for Brightmen we were under the assumption we would merely be bumped around by Dark Moon.” There is a small amount of annoyance in his gentle voice, he must have been asked this countless times.
“Understood, this is my last question. Have you or any of the others received any sort of threat before and after the accident? Seeing as this may be political, anyone associated with Halum would be a prime target for this terrorist.”
“Thankfully we have not.”
“Good, and I’m sorry but I have to comment on the car.” I walk over to the beautiful crimson racer, with the constellation Valcor painted on the side – the constellation that holds the sun of Halum. “You have a Hyper-cylinder attached to the O2 regulator for more air flow, but the Cylinder is much too unstable in hard turns. If it were me I would go back to the reliable Fusion cylinder and maybe put a nitrogen injector to keep the heat down and in turn the cylinder will work at maximum capacity the whole time.”
“You know if our lenses weren’t the best for this line of work I’d say you were cheating with yours.” Baldwin says, walking up behind me. I look around and sure enough they all have spectacles on, more like safety glasses but mine can detect anyone using V.I.E.W.
“Do all the teams have those?” I ask Baldwin. He nods, a bit perplexed, but with a smile.