If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, and Part 23.
"So that's it," the woman said. She hadn't introduced herself, but Geoffrey noted it said "Carson" on the tag sewn above her shirt pocket. He checked again for insignia to indicate her rank, but couldn't see anything.
"I'm glad you'll find the recording useful," he said, glancing at the man sitting beside her. The man looked quite a bit older than Carson, which made Geoffrey wonder if he didn't outrank her, but he wore neither name tag nor insignia, and he hadn't said a word the entire session. Geoffrey couldn't decide if he was security or a mentor sitting in and not wanting to pull rank.
Carson nodded. "We reviewed the room recording before we met with you, and the audio you brought in proves pre-meditation. The case is basically closed."
"This is to be considered a hand-off, then," said Geoffrey, refusing to take the hint.
The man opened a drawer in the desk he and Carson were sitting behind and pulled out two envelopes.
"More than that," said Carson, taking the envelopes and sliding them across the desk towards Geoffrey. "Um... Happy retirement. With full honours, of course," she added, as Geoffrey opened his mouth to protest. "For both you and your partner."
"I don't have a partner," Geoffrey said. "I was mostly management, with the odd field gig when I fit the required physical type."
"But you're, I mean your..." Carson thumbed up both envelopes and pulled one back. "My mistake."
The unnamed man stared straight ahead.
"How the hell did I get retired in the space of hours, anyhow?" said Geoffrey. "Todd told me some of us were getting transferred and the rest burned."
"Perhaps you misunderstood," said Carson. "It's more like some were getting burn notices and some weren't. Just because you're not getting burned doesn't mean you're getting transferred." She tapped the envelope left on the table and brightened. "With honours! That means your pension will be excellent. You don't need to worry about it from a financial point of view at all."
"I wasn't," Geoffrey muttered, resigning himself to picking up the envelope. "Am I dismissed then?"
"Yes," said Carson, standing and extending her hand. The unnamed man stood half a beat after she did. "Thank you for all your years of service, and all the best. Enjoy yourself."
Geoffrey hesitated just long enough to let her know he still wasn't happy, then shook her hand. "I'm looking for a colleague," he said. "The one who was held and beaten. I was told she was in the hospital, but not which one."
Carson smiled politely and sat down again as if he had already left. The unnamed man stepped around the desk with unexpected swiftness and took Geoffrey firmly by the arm.
Since it was clear there was no extracting the information from them, Geoffrey let himself be led to the door and shoved out. The door shut behind him. He shook himself, checked he still had the envelope in his hand, and headed outside.
No-one would have known several floors of the Metro Hall complex were being raided from the outside. There were some black SUVs parked on the lawn behind the building, but it wasn't unusual for special events staff to abuse the pedestrian spaces in that way.
Geoffrey sat on the stone bench by the fountain and rubbed a hand over his face. Kicking him out wasn't going to change that he had to find Pepper, and if they knew enough to know he was clean, they had to know "retiring" wasn't going to stop him from doing that.
He scratched his chin and tried to remember the last time he'd shaved. Probably the afternoon before he'd met DeBussy for dinner. He sighed and headed to the shopping mall level underground. He bought a disposable razor and some shaving gel at the pharmacy, paying by cash. Paying for the toiletries reminded him that he wouldn't be able to use his work credit cards anymore.
He walked to a condo highrise two blocks east. The outer door had the option of either holding up a keycard to a reader, or entering a numeric combination. Geoffrey paused at the lock and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing the numbers to come back to him. He pictured the last time he'd had to use this bolt-hole, and winced when he realised how many months it had been.
A series of numbers came to him, but he wasn't sure about the last two digits. He tried one combination that failed, but the second version worked.
The twelfth floor only had two units. Geoffrey went to the door at the southern end of the corridor and held his thumb over the rubbery pad installed into the wall. There was a soft beep, and the red LED in the base of the electronic lock turned green. He opened the door when he heard the lock click open, relieved that his security hadn't been entirely revoked yet.
There wasn't anyone inside, to his great relief. He really didn't want to explain to any colleagues. Former colleagues, he reminded himself.
The kitchen, washroom, and bedroom were all furnished in a minimal but standard way. The living room had a table and chairs in it, but all the walls had rows of safety deposit boxes locked into metal frames. Geoffrey found his, unlocked it with his thumbprint, and pulled the box out of the frame. He put the platinum credit card with his real name on it in his wallet. Then he re-locked the deposit box, undid the folding handle, and carried it out of the building.
Fortunately this was part of the financial district, so he wouldn't look that odd carrying a strongbox around. He briefly considered going home, but decided against it since he knew Todd wouldn't be done yet.
If he remembered right, there was a shop that sold laptops back in Metro Hall. He'd found Pepper once using a computer this week. He could do it again.