The pair led me to their bathroom and pointed out Matthew's toiletries. I collected his toothbrush and a few hairs from a comb with the tissue kit, and I heard the students whispering behind me. "What?"
They stopped and Kramer rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. Polder said, "I dunno. His stomach pills aren't on the shelf there. Maybe he took them with him though, who knows."
"Did he normally?" I asked. Both shrugged. "Where was he last night?"
Kramer said, "He went out, prob'ly to Whistler's, with Stephie."
"His girlfriend," Polder injected.
"We were studying all night though. He never came back," Kramer finished.
"Stephanie Waller. Astrophysics," Polder supplied.
After resealing the tissue kit I thanked the boys and left, admonishing them to let me know if they thought of anything else.
Back in the corridor, I sent the kit to Dr. Phineas via crobot along with a note asking him to compare the samples and let me know if they matched. I'd started out thinking it a mere formality, but now I was pretty sure the result would come back negative. If Conway had managed to wound his killer, Phineas might be able to point me toward recent patients, but given confidentiality rules I'd have to get that information under the table, not via courier.
Ninety percent of the Grey Haven's residents worked for the Terran Space Authority, and the other ten percent were called IOs, independent operators, pronounced like the moon (and the lover of Zeus who was turned into a cow -- isn't Tolkien mythology much less bizarre?). Even the IOs worked for the TSA indirectly by providing services to it or its employees; in an economy as small and remote as the Rock's, everyone was interconnected. Plus, the ship was wholly dependent on shipments of food from earth, and those all passed through the Whit's hands.
Whistler is an IO who runs a tavern that caters to the Observatory geeks and some of the younger folks from the Port. Unsurprisingly, Whistler's is located between the two locales and near airlock seventeen, the scene of the crime. If Conway was there last night before his death someone must have seen him, so that's where I went.
It was still a bit early in the afternoon but the place was open, although barely. I'd been in a few times before out of curiosity, but now none of the three buxom waitresses who normally circulated through the crowd were on duty and Whistler was handling the bar himself. The lights were low but so was the music, and there were only a few scattered clusters of customers in the booths against the far wall. In between the bar and the booths is a stage, empty then, and a couple of platforms for dancers I'd never seen used. Whistler noticed me as soon as I came in and waved me over.
"Hey Chief, figured I'd be seeing you soon. What'll it be?" Whistler is a good bit older than I am, with a shaved head just to spite his baldness, and he didn't make any effort towards the fashion of the youth he catered to. I sat down on the stool in front of him and the tall, thin man loomed above me from behind the bar.
"Too early for me," I said. "Besides, as they say, I'm on duty."
"Here about the kid who vacced himself, right boss?" he asked, leaning forward and lowering his voice completely unnecessarily considering the noise and the scarcity of nearby patrons. I nodded. "Well he was here, but you know that or you wouldn't be."
"Regular?" I asked.
Whistler nodded. "One of my best. Maybe too good, if you know what I mean. But who'm I to judge?"
"Not at first. He must've been hittin' it harder than usual though. He got in a fight with his girl and she ran off. Seen it a thousand times."
Whistler shrugged. "He was hanging out with some other kids I didn't recognize -- from the Perseus? I didn't see him leave."
"Have you got receipts?"
"Sure do, Chief." One for Matthew Conway, and one for a Harris Simon, Perseus. "Huh, I guess he wasn't drinking that much after all."
Next stop: Stephanie Waller. I thought she might be in her quarters, given the circumstances, but when I didn't get an answer I went to her laboratory. Rather than let me in -- and risk having me disturb her computers, as if I didn't have a Ph.D. of my own already -- she pushed me back out into the corridor and spoke to me there. I could see she'd been crying, and her pretty face was flushed and her eyes were red. She shoved it all aside mentally and spoke before I did, very matter-of-factly.
"I didn't think he'd really do it. If I did, I would've done something."
"You know who I am, right?" I asked, and she nodded. "Tell me whatever you can about the last night."
She stared past me at the corridor wall. "When we left the Fishbowl everything seemed fine. We got some dinner and went to Whistler's for some dancing, you know, whatever." The Fishbowl was what the students had taken to calling the Observatory, after the nickname of its illustrious leader. "He started drinking though and just kept on going. I'd never seen him get like that before. He was complaining about the Fish and the data they'd collected from the Oromë, just normal stuff, but he seemed crazy last night. I tried to calm him down."
Waller started crying but didn't bother wiping the tears away. She was still staring off into space and I didn't say anything, waiting for her to continue. "I tried to calm him down, but he didn't want to listen. He said I didn't understand, but who could understand him better than me? I've worked for the Fish as long as he has, I know what it's like. But he didn't want to hear it. He said he was done with it all, done wasting time. He said he was going to kill himself. I didn't believe him, and I left. I mean, come on, I didn't think he'd do it. He was drunk!"
I let her gather herself together for a few moments and then asked, "How long were you together?"
She sniffled. "Three years. Since he got here, I guess."
"Is there anything else you can tell me?"
Waller shook her head and wiped her face on her sleeve. If she had been wearing any makeup that morning it was long gone. "What else is there to say? What else do you want to know? That's it. I don't know. That's all there is."
And it all made sense. I thanked her for her help. "Can you come by the Port office this evening at six? I may need your help identifying some of the men from Whistler's last night." She nodded and I took my leave.
I stopped at the hospital and pulled Dr. Phineas from an exam for a quick palaver. "The tissues don't match, do they?"
"Certainly not. The blood belongs to a man of Asian extraction, and Conway was Caucasian." He lowered his voice and continued, "There weren't any patients with blade wounds today. Not that I see many, mind you."
From there I hurried to the Port to talk with Mister. He let me into his office and sat me down.
"What is it, Bill? What's going on?" he asked, anxious for an answer.
"I need the entry logs from last night. Who came over from the Perseus with a guy named Harris Simon?"
With no more than a curious glance he pulled up the records and printed them off. I scanned through them quickly. "Get the Whit and the Fish over here," I told Mister. "They're gonna want to see this."
By six o'clock everyone had gathered in Mister's office. Waller was the last to arrive, and the others were impatient at being kept waiting. Rather than making explanations -- and eager for a dramatic conclusion -- I didn't tell them anything more than that we were going over to the Perseus to visit Alan Chen.
The Perseus and the Mithlond were mated by a magnetically sealed corridor wide enough for a small parade. It had to be large enough to allow cargo loading under pressure, and it was always fairly busy. Most of the traffic consisted of goods moving from us to them, and passengers from the Perseus going back and forth. The guards at the other ship's airlock weren't too keen on letting us pass without badges until Mister threatened to cut their ship loose into space. They let us by, but not before summoning the captain to escort us.
He introduced himself to me as Captain Jalloman, and he didn't give me a first name. He was skeptical at first, but he'd spent enough time with Mister and the Whit that he was willing to take us to Alan Chen's stateroom without much coercion.
The six of us nearly filled the cramped hallway outside the metal door of room 11187-D, and Captain Jalloman knocked on it firmly, like a man in his own home. "Open up there, Chen. There's some men here to see you." Within a few seconds the door slid open and revealed a slightly disheveled Asian man halfway through the process of undressing.
"Yes sir?" he said, apparently surprised to see his captain standing in his hallway.
"Well?" Captain Jalloman asked, turning to me.
I was taken aback.
The Fish spoke up first. "This man isn't injured," he said flatly, reaching for his pipe before stopping himself. Chen looked back and forth between them all before grabbing a discarded shirt from a nearby chair and pulling it over his head. "You think he killed Matthew?"
"I didn't kill anyone!" Chen said immediately, and I pushed closer.
"I know you didn't. Sorry for the trouble. Was there another Asian man who went with you last night to Whistler's bar?"
"Yeah, Mark. Rodine. What's this about? I haven't even seen him today."
"I'll bet you haven't," I said. "Where's his stateroom?"
"Right down the hall. M."
I thanked him and hurried down the hall toward door M. The others trailed behind me, and I could sense their growing irritation. I hoped the prize would be behind door number two.
Without waiting for the captain to do the honors I rapped on the metal, but there was no response. "Captain? Can you open it?"
He grunted and wordlessly punched a code into the keypad beside the door, which then wooshed open. The room was small, and from the doorway we could see all of it. A figure lay huddled under the blanket on the narrow cot. When the door opened he slowly peeked out.
"Matt!"" Waller screamed and tried to push her way into the room. I grabbed her arm.
"Stay back, Stephanie. He's the killer."
She struggled against me. "What are you talking about?"
Conway cringed on the bed, and I turned to see the faces of my other companions before explaining. "It's simple, really. He fooled you Stephanie. He wasn't drunk last night, and he never planned to kill himself. He may be depressed and frustrated, but his escape wasn't death. He wanted to go to the stars.
"He set you up to think he killed himself, but his roommates were ready to believe it was foul play. They didn't think he'd commit suicide, and neither did you, really. It was all an act.
"After you left Whistler's he hooked up with Simon, Chen, Mark Rodine, and the rest of their group. Maybe he planned on murder from the outset, or maybe he only planned on getting some help stowing-away, but either way he ended up luring Mark Rodine into airlock seventeen, stabbed him, and evacuated him into space -- all while remembering to bring along his heartburn medication."
I turned to Conway who was still sitting on the bed, now shaking his head. "The airlock was the perfect place for a murder. It's almost soundproof. After you killed Mr. Rodine you stuffed him into your spacesuit in the heat of the moment, but then you realized he'd be easy to find if you left him with the helmet beacon. You vacced his body and then went back in and wedged your helmet between some pipes.
"The rest is trivial. You used his badge to sneak back onto the Perseus and hide away here. The guards stopped us, but I doubt they look that closely at confident people with proper badges. But then what? How long did you expect to fool people? Eventually his friends would have noticed Mr. Rodine missing."
Conway just shook his head. "I'd've disappeared into the ship by then," he said. "It's only a few years. A few years to a whole new world."
I turned away. "Well Captain? I'm sure you won't mind if I take him into custody. Mr. Conway will be traveling to some interesting places, but I don't think any of them will be very pleasant."