The Milkman: A Freeworld Novel

The Milkman: A Freeworld Novel by Michael Martineck

Book: The Milkman: A Freeworld Novel by Michael Martineck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Martineck
fan.”
    “Wouldn’t have guessed you were one, either. I’m not. I have a professional interest.”
    “My appreciation is… similar.”
    “I can imagine,” McCallum said. “My beat is theft of material and sabotage. I don’t care about much else.”
    “Nothing else? Nothing on the side?”
    McCallum looked away from the print and found Clement’s eyes. He knew a probing question when he heard one. He should’ve figured Clement would expect some give with the take, he just wasn’t used to it. System Security Operatives took. They usually just took.
    “I knit,” he said.
    Clement chuckled and looked back at his screen. “I’ve got to pronounce this John Raston thing dead.”
    “What?” McCallum sounded more confused than angry.
    “They’ve moved his account from Human Assets to Human Liabilities.”
    “No fucking way.” McCallum inched to the edge of his chair.
    “He retired,” Clement said. “He started living off his pension and savings. He produced nothing. The company pays for healthcare regardless, so he got moved to Liabilities. Now that he’s disappeared, he’s off the books. There’s no budget for a search. The opposite, actually. If you found him, he’d be back on the books. In red.”
    “He’s worth more dead than alive?”
    “We all get that way eventually.”
    “There’s no pool to draw from.”
    “He didn’t have an insurance policy to cover any investigation into his death or disappearance. He’s got no family to foot the bill. The company’s going to get all of his assets.”
    “What about…” McCallum tapped his head. “What about proving his death? Doesn’t the company want to know, so they can seize everything now?”
    “Now, later, the company doesn’t care. You’re right that time is money and the company is so frequently in a hurry. This isn’t one of those times. You may not find him dead. He may have gone to another company, or off line, either of which makes things messy. The company is happy not to know until you’ve got a corpse.”
    “Off line, huh?” McCallum said. He wasn’t in the habit of thinking out loud, but he wondered if Clement had a thought on the matter. “You think Raston decided to go ollie?”
    “You tell me, detective,” Clement said. “I would’ve picked dead or defection. What makes you think ollie?”
    McCallum thought about Raston’s garage and the smell of gasoline and the open space in the middle. The nothing. The place where something had been.
    “Can you give me a run down of Raston’s purchases over the last year?”
    “Sure.” Clement nodded towards the screen. “They’re all here. Looking for something specific?”
    “That would be too easy.”
    Clement tapped his wristband, stared, mumbled, tapped again and turned his screen so McCallum could see the list of transactions. Dates, costs, places, parties involved. He moved closer, putting his arms on the desk.
    “What’s this costing me?” he asked.
    “The first one’s free,” Clement answered. “Once we get you hooked, you can’t afford it.”
    “There,” McCallum pointed to the monitor. “Auto Trade, what’s that?”
    “A solenoid. No idea. 80 bucks.”
    “Me neither. What’s Auto Trade?”
    Clement tapped on the desk space in front of his monitor.
    “It’s an Ambyr sanctioned open market for vintage car parts.”
    “Vintage, like in gasoline?”
    “Lots of people restore them. Collect them.” Clement thumbed the Captain Marvel print behind him. “Bigger, heavier versions of these.”
    McCallum nodded. “Any details on this solenoid thing?”
    Clement tapped again. And again. “Solenoid 12v 3 terminal, 1955 through 1971 Jeep CJ. Seems to be something that helps start a gasoline engine on an off-road vehicle.”
    The men looked at each other. Clement turned in his seat, folded his arms and hunched over the desk, leaning in close to McCallum.
    “I wish I had some funding, Ed,” he said, “I can see what this looks like, but I couldn’t

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