“Can I just tell you something?”
The detective removed his rain-soaked wide brim hat and plunked it on top of tall shipping crate. Water pooled and soaked into the splintery pine. The crate held an ancient statue that most would consider priceless. But Viktor wasn’t most: he set the price at $480 million.
“I would never presume to stand between you and your ambition, Detective,” said Viktor.
Detective Ogawa scrunched his face and sucked his bottom lip. “I fucking hate you. That’s all. I hate what you do, and how you justify it, and the fact that you’re more useful as an informant in the free world than as a popsicle in a prison ship cryopod. But mostly I just fucking hate you.”
The whiskey on Ogawa’s breath burned Viktor’s eyes.
“While I am of course offended, I cannot say I am surprised. You are a black-and-white man in a world of a million grays and you’ve never tried to hide it. We may often disagree, but I have always admired your straight-forward way of thinking. Inherently honest in all your dealings. In that way, we are not so dissimilar—”
“Don’t you fucking say it.”
Viktor held up his hands in a pose of surrender and apology. “How may I help you expedite your departure this evening?” Lightning showed the tattered seems of the sky and briefly illuminated the darkened storehouse, and the thunder that followed knocked against the walls like a desperate stranger in the darkness of the night.
“Do you know Martin French?”
“Do I know the asteroid mining magnate and wealthiest person in the Jovian Alliance? I believe everyone knows Martin French.”
“I cannot say I’ve ever had the pleasure of—”
“‘Cause he’s dead.”
Viktor narrowed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and held his breath for several moments before responding. “I’ve heard no such reports. I imagine this will come as a great blow to both Mr. French’s family and the Hyperion Corporation, though I fail to see how I might be affected or of interest. Surely you know I’ve not left Earth in many decades.”
“He had a private collection,” said Ogawa.
“As many wealthy individuals do.”
“Not like his. He was into Martian antiquities. Exopendent artifacts unique to the Arcadia region. Second era.”
“Such a thing would be quite illegal, Detective, and also extraordinarily conspicuous. More attention than I could tolerate, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Exopendent works are a separate market entirely.”
“Yeah? Well the market’s about to open right up, ’cause French’s collection was stolen. Probably accounts for his murder.”
“Yeah. See, we knew all about his collection years ago. Had it all cataloged and tagged and dusted with nano-tracers. The only reason he was still living the life of—well, Martin French—was ’cause he was just like you. He was a talker. He didn’t know many buyers, and certainly not the looters, but he knew the brokers. The dealmakers. People like you, Viktor. And when you take out the middle-men, the market collapses. So I’m going to ask you just one time. Where’s French’s collection now?”
“As I said, Detective, I have always admired your straight-forwardness. And I hope you have appreciated the value of my cooperation on so many occasions over the years. You must believe me when I say that in this matter, I have no information to share.”
Ogawa said nothing. His face was hard as Mercurial steel. At last, he took his damp hat and stormed out into the thundering night.
Viktor regarded the dark spot of wood where the detective’s hat had rested on the crate and considered the Exopendent statue within.