Chapter 9
I got dressed and my chauffeur picked me up to take me to Hardeman's. He said I could pick up the CDR4000 this morning. We drove down Main street, and I could see the Association's banner spread out across the street displaying their famous logo: the face of a pirate sticking out from under a guillotine. "I'm just glad my head ain't stuck in that thing," I said to my chauffeur.

I got let out in front of Hardeman's and ran up to the door. I had a bad feeling when I saw that the door was already open. Kicked open--- it looked like.

"Hardeman, you in here?" I called out, but it didn't look good. Place looks like it's been kicked apart. "Hardeman. You better answer me, dude. I don't like games like this." I walked down the hallway, turned slowly to my left and, Yikes! There he was. Lying face down in a pile of papers soaking up enough blood to change the oil in my limo. I pressed my back against the wall and walked past him real slow. The whole place was a fuckin' mess. Every drawer in the place was torn out and scattered on the floor.

Against my better judgement I decided to look for the CRD4000. After all he was gonna leave if for me, and he sure as hell ain't gonna need it now. I'll call the police. In two minutes I'll call. I hop-scotched over to his desk and found the stainless steel briefcase. Shit, this is great. It's here. I will call the police in one minute. I will. I snapped open the briefcase. Empty. The damn thing was empty. I better call the police.

The voice came from over my right shoulder. "Hold it right there. Don't move. Not even an inch."

"Wait, you got it all wrong. I was just about to call..." Stars shot out in a spherical explosion, a fourth of July display taking place around my skull. And as my world faded to black, I knew I was gonna have one hell of a lot of explaining to do.

Captain Janice Salaminkski of central police services had a lawn planted on her floor. Her desk was made from a granite boulder and the walls were filled with a continually looping shot of a couple of buff rock climbers scaling El Capitan. A woman who'd rather work outdoors, but settled on using Macrohard technology to bring the outdoors in. She didn't seem to like my face. I knew that must be the case because I hadn't even opened my mouth and she was glaring at me like I'd just snapped the strap of her Hilfigers. I had always been told to think before you start talking. Don't put your foot where your fork ought to be, that's what I'd always heard. Somehow, though, I had a feeling it wouldn't matter what I say. She's not gonna believe me anyway. Yeah, I was just on my way to pick up this star-spangled gizmo. What kind of gizmo, you ask? Oh, just this machine that takes over your body and gives a speech for you. Right, she's gonna believe that.

"Cooper. Lane Cooper. You work in investor relations. Executive level privileges. Class XII operating systems. You served as a lieutenant during the war. Demolition expert. Says you were a minesweeper until a pineapple got away from you sending you straight to a desk job. Hmmmm. What I wanna know is why the hell were you in Dog Town this morning?"

"I was a friend of Hardeman."

"How close were you?"

"Not very. He was a business acquaintance."

"Close enough to know his class?"

"His class? Class thirteen I suppose."

"Class eighteen. If you did business with him, you'd know that. Come on Cooper. What brought you to Dog Town? Decided you needed a little pet?"

"I Hardeman was assisting me...with a speech."

"A speech?"

"I'm speaking before the National Association Against Info Piracy. I needed some technical assistance in preparing the ...audiovisual components of my speech."

"You trying to tell me he was making you some kind a flip chart or something?"

"Not exactly". "Hardman Oxtot was a class 18 research scientist. He had access to layers of the network that you or I don't even know exist. Have you ever seen one of these before?" She gestured to her overhead screen. I could see a close up of a baby doll. The baby's face moved and it began to talk.

"I am a feather for each wind that blows. A feather for each wind that blows. Why are you keeping me here? I have my rights, too!"

"It's a talking doll."

"A talking doll. That's very good, Cooper."

"So? Kids have always had dolls that speak."

"Not like this one. This one converses." She fast-forwarded her tape. An officer was sitting next to the doll.

"What's your name?" the officer asked the doll.

"My name is, my name is, my name is...Dim Bradey!" The doll said back to the officer.

I stared at Captain Janice Salaminkski. "Is this a joke?"

"Ain't no joke."

"Artificial voice intelligence. That's the area he was working in. I know that much from my one visit with him."

"Yes. And you've never seen this baby doll before?"

"Captain, listen, I went to see Hardeman because I understood that he might have some technology to help me give a better speech. I was to come back today to receive the results of his analysis. Come on. Why would I want to kill him?"

"Listen, Cooper. You're not being officially charged. We think someone on the outside murdered him to steal some of his research. You're not a suspect, but we might need you for more questioning. Hang around for a few days, and we'll call you if the need arises."

I let myself out walking across the mini-plot of grass that Captain Salaminkski called her own out into the hallway where my feet hit the honest black rubber that makes up 99.5 percent of police headquarter floor covering. Who would kill Hardeman and why? And even more importantly who has the CDR4000?

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