Shadows (cont)

Head Warden, Richard Zworf of 66 years did not look like a man in charge of five hundred dangerous prisoners in Metron II. Just over five foot tall, frail, and with a distinctive red birthmark on his right cheek, he looked more like a school educator for the middle-agers. His pale pallor, a normal condition for any Thoran spending a long time on Metron, accentuated his bright hazel green eyes that continually flitted from side to side as though he were searching for something or someone.

Craddock was surprised at Zworf’s firm handshake and even more surprised at his soft high pitched voice that made him sound feminine. They left Blink to have a word with some guards.

“I take it you want to know all about Despy.” He shook his head as he led Craddock to his office. “He’s a stupid man. When he’s caught, he’ll have to serve the rest of his sentence plus a year at hard labor. After that, his sentence starts over again. That’s pretty tough on him considering his good conduct record with us – if you can call it that, but we have to get the message through that escape comes with a high price.”

They entered a large drab and dark room through a tall hinged wooden door, the like of which Craddock had only seen once before. A glass partitioned office, lit by two bright neon tubes, filled one corner. Desks lined either side of the room and another door opened into the records store in the opposite corner. A gentle electronic hum accompanied by the click clack of old computer keyboards was the only noise disturbing the peace as clerks sat stoney-faced, staring at bright screens. The place reminded Craddock of office scenes in the old vintage holotapes he enjoyed as a kid. Zworf closed the door and ushered Craddock into a large comfortable chair while he sat at his desk.

“This isn’t what you are used to, Chief Inspector, but here we live on your cast-offs.” If the remark was sarcastic or hostile, Craddock took no notice. The man had a difficult job and probably had World Council investigators on the way to conduct an inquiry. That could be a painful experience.

“I don’t want to hassle you, warden, but I need to know a couple of things. First off, can you check for me and see if he had any visitors the day he escaped?”

“I’ve already been down that road – it’s all in my report here.” He tossed a folder across the desk. “Branden Beaman has already been shouting on the Tri-Net holocall service. The man is impossible.” Zworf sighed and looked exhausted.

“On that, we are agreed, warden. So tell me anyway.”

“No, he didn’t have a visitor and he was in his cell until lights out at 10.00 pm.”

Craddock jerked forward, wide-eyed. “That doesn’t make sense. Elsinda Beaman signed in to see Despy so where did she go?”

Zworf raised his hands. “That’s the mystery. Our internal security camera shows her walking to the visitors hall but as you know, we don’t have cameras inside – just guards. Two of them remember her arriving and sitting at the table designated for Despy. Before he came she left but by then the hall was busy and she could have easily gone to the women’s powder room without anyone seeing her. There is nowhere else she could have gone. All the doors are locked.”

“How many doors are there and what’s behind them?” asked Craddock.

“The entrance to the kitchens – the hall is the prisoners dining area except on visiting day – male toilets, and stairs to the hospital on the first floor. The same stairs go down to the basement which is used as a morgue as well as the incinerator furnace. There’s an exit to the yard and the cell block on the landing before the stairs go down to the basement.”

‘Well, it’s clear she went through one of the doors by unlocking it and then locking it again behind her,” said Craddock. “The door to the stairs would be my bet. I’ll need to take a look at the hall shortly before we leave.”

Zworf nodded.

“What happened when Despy found out Elsinda was gone?”

“Nothing,” answered Zworf. “He didn’t seem bothered at all. His guard that accompanied him said he sat down for a couple of minutes and never enquired where the girl was. After a short time, he got up and requested to be taken back to his cell.”

Craddock closed his eyes and sighed. “Did anyone think to search Despy?”

Zworf shifted uneasily in his chair. “No, the guard said he never let Despy out of his sight.” His drew his lips tightly. “Later he admitted that he had left Despy for five minutes to talk to a guard on the other side of the room but he was still watching Despy.”

“Yeah, right.” Craddock mocked. “Your guards are gonna’ get a rude wake up call when the investigators get here.”

“Probably,” said Zworf. “In the meantime, I’d like to have some answers before they get here.” He stretched sideways and reached for a bottle of Manjo and two glasses. “I take it you do drink?’

Craddock smiled. He couldn’t name one of his colleagues who didn’t. The drinking habit came with the job. His father had introduced him to Manjo, called Lava in those days. It was the one habit that remained untouched by the Senate. There was no tax and no limit to what the brewers could make and charge. All citizens had the right, written into an amendment to the Addictive Substances Act of 2091, to brew Manjo and no right-minded senator dared to talk about changing the law unless he was willing to give up his political career. The reason for this unusual amendment was a historical one.

Lava had been brewed for hundreds of years and as tax laws were introduced at the turn of the new millennium, many people refused to pay tax credits for food and drinks especially. The Senate promised no tax would be levied on the Thorens favorite drink, Lava, provided other taxes were paid. Protest groups demanded the promise be part of an Act, which taxed other drinks but excluded Lava. Most people drank Manjo and tax was levied on the more expensive commercially brewed beers and alcohols.

Craddock remembered his father showing him on his fifteenth birthday how to brew the basic Lava on their farm some fifty miles outside Tranquillity in the farming district of Sorrellice. Behind the store sheds there was a still that brewed every other month. It produced enough for the family. It was the saddest of birthdays for Craddock and on his birthday each year, he toasted his mother with Manjo. She died two days after the celebrations after falling from a trakliner while plowing a field. The ‘liner’ had been hovering four feet off the ground at the end of a run and as it turned, the trailing plow fouled an old buried pipe. The liner banked and his mother had fallen and been crushed as the craft came down on top of her.

“Thanks.” Craddock took the drink and sipped. “Tell me, how do you think Despy got out?”

Zworf yawned. “He got out during the early evening. There was a recreation period in the same hall from eight to nine. At five minutes to nine, there was a role call before the prisoners were marched back to their cells.”

“That means he escaped somehow during the time it took to march across the hall to the stairs and the exit to the yard,” said Craddock. “I take it there’s nowhere to hide in the yard?”

“None,” answered Zworf. “My guess is he somehow slipped the guards and went upstairs to the hospital and made for the roof. On the far side of the building, some windows look out to the central downtown area. That end of the hospital is part of the external wall.”

“Don’t you have locked security doors?”

Zworf yawned again. “No. Escape is highly unusual here. Where is an escapee going to? This is a moon. There’s no way they can get back on the shuttle. They’re better off staying put and they know it.”

“Well, Despy may have got out that way but not the blonde.” Craddock rose to leave. “I’ll go and take a look at the stairs but in the meantime, I’d like to see what holotapes you have got for the visiting day. There has to be a logical answer for both disappearances.”

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The paragraph describing the glass partitioned office is outstanding. I am enjoying the immaginative journey into outer space. I wonder what landmarks there might be. Loved the description of how alcohol was made...first called Lava and then Manjo.