In the heat of the forenoon, the air over the quarry was hazy with dust and the bare rock was painfully bright in the sun.
Jamilah stepped carefully down the zig-zag metal stairs, holding on to the thin railing and trying not to get her stiletto heels caught in the narrow rungs. The dust mixed in the sweat on her skin and left tracks down her face, and she wished she could have dressed in something more appropriate than a business suit. But she was an executive, a representative of her company, and she had to look the part.
At the bottom of the stairs, a drill operator in an orange high-visibility jacket silently handed her a yellow hard hat. She looked it over before putting it on, noting the scuff marks and scratches, and a gash near the crown that must have almost penetrated all the way through the hard plastic. The operator stared back at her, his eyes daring her to make an issue of the quality of the headgear.
They all hated her, of course. They would, at this time of all times. She was the face of the company, and the one to blame for everything that had happened.
Well, screw them. She had enough problems to deal with already, and she wouldn’t let some passive-aggressive drill jockey with a tenth of her education put her off her stride.
The heat down here was incredible. The quarry, a huge semicircle, pale yellow stone honeycombed with tunnels, seemed to focus the entire fire of the sun to the precise spot where she stood. The floor of the quarry was littered with pieces of stone, from boulders the size of houses to pebbles smaller than her little fingernail. When she moved, they skittered away from her feet as though alive.
She thought about asking the lout in the orange jacket where the manager’s office was, but she was damned if she’d be obliged to him for anything, even if it were something as small as that. Giving the hard hat a shake, to rid it of any grit that might be stuck in the lining, she clapped it on her hair and stalked off across the floor of the quarry.
Here and there, among the rocks, she saw piles of miniphant dung, and over on one side the long sheds with corrugated roofs that had to be their stables. A trio of crude haystacks towered over the sheds, and were fenced off with posts and barbed wire. Jamilah’s lips tightened when she saw the wire; the contract for leasing the miniphants specifically prohibited that kind of thing.
She was still looking at the stacks when there was a soft heavy tread behind her, and something snorted deeply, blowing a gust of air at her. Slowly, not making any startling movements, she turned.
The miniphant was pulling along a line of trolleys of crushed ore, a towing harness around its barrel-shaped body. Its short trunk was extended in her direction, breathing in her unfamiliar smell, its large ears held out alertly. She saw the tattooed identification number on its ear, 304x31. It was a 304 series, meaning it must be an old animal, something borne out by the cracks in its toenails and the deep wrinkles in its grey-brown skin. She noticed a small wound in its near haunch, a half-healed double laceration, and wondered how it had managed to hurt itself.
“It’s all right,” she said softly. “Carry on with your work.” The miniphant eyed her for a moment more, and then lumbered past with its train of trolleys. It was big for a miniphant, almost as tall as she was, another confirmation of its age. The newer series ‘phants were equally strong, but tended to be much smaller. She’d certainly have all the details of its personal history in her files. They contained the data of every animal leased to this particular mining company, now and in the past.
Turning to see if she could find any other ‘phants, she finally located the manager’s office. It was a prefab construction on a metal platform, partially built into a niche in the cliff. A stocky figure stood outside, arms folded across its chest, watching her. When the man saw that she had noticed him, he turned and walked back into the office.
She fought down the spasm of irritation. She couldn’t afford to let emotion affect her judgement. She wiped her face on her handkerchief, leaving dirty grey streaks on the white linen, and walked off across the quarry floor towards the office.
The manager was a short, thickset man with a neck as broad as his head. From under his hard hat, a mass of greying hair tumbled down to his collar. His grey-green eyes were bloodshot and peered suspiciously at Jamilah while his hand reflexively stroked his thick grey moustache. The nameplate on his desk read François Dubois.
Fifty six years old, the company’s files had told her. Born in Quebec, mining engineer, has a reputation for being difficult to get along with. No family. No known personal weaknesses. Known opponent of the ‘phant programme. She had sighed when she’d read it. It seemed that all the mining engineers she had ever known were opponents of the miniphant programme.
“Jamilah Torabinejad?” He looked down at her identification as if it were a shoddy forgery. “If you don’t mind me saying so, I didn’t expect someone as young as you.”
“Or a woman,” Jamilah said. She hefted her briefcase on to the table. “We’d better be completely open with each other, Mr Dubois. You didn’t expect a woman either, did you?”
Dubois shrugged his muscular shoulders. “As you say. I didn’t expect your company to send a young woman on a matter of this importance. It frankly worries me. I wonder if your employers are really taking this matter as seriously as they should.”
“As you saw in my identification papers, I am the chief investigator for the company, so obviously they are taking it as seriously as they possibly can.” Jamilah smiled without humour. “Could you please let me know the precise circumstances under which this – incident – occurred?”
“I have to be on my rounds,” Dubois said. “I can’t sit here talking. Can we talk as we go along?”
Jamilah kept her expression neutral. It was just petty harassment, they both knew, and in her business skirt and high heels she would have a hard time following him around. But she needed his cooperation, so she would put up with it – for now.
Outside, the heat seemed to have doubled, so intense that she felt as though her skin would blister. Dubois didn’t seem to notice it. “Come this way,” he said over his shoulder, and strode up a narrow ramp cut in the side of the quarry. There was no handrail or guard of any kind, and her stiletto heels scraped and slithered on the stone, threatening to send her over the edge at every step. Finally, she took them off, tiptoeing to minimise the contact of her feet with the baking rock surface. Dubois didn’t seem to notice.
“He was one of my best men,” he said. “An engineering supervisor. Hernandez, his name was, but I’m sure you know all that already.”
“Jaime Hernandez, yes.” Jamilah nodded at the man’s broad back. They had already climbed part way up the side of the quarry, and from here she could truly appreciate how large it was. She felt as though they were ants crawling along the side of a gigantic bowl. “It was in the report.”
“Yeah, well. Anyway, we found him early yesterday morning, over inside the miniphant stables. He’d been dead for some hours by then.”
“You claim the miniphants killed him?”
“Claim?” Dubois stopped long enough to glare at her over his shoulder. “The ground around him was all trodden around with ‘phant prints, and his head and chest had been stove in. Who else but a ‘phant could have done it, you tell me?”
“What was he doing in the miniphant stables?”
“It was part of his duties, to check on stable security. I suppose he was on his rounds at night and those damned things killed him. I always said they’d do something like this one day, and...”
Jamilah interrupted him. “Was it something he did regularly, his rounds at night?” They had turned off the ramp onto a shelf cut deep into the side of the cliff, and she paused to put on her shoes. The soles of her feet were burning unpleasantly. “Did he do them each night at the same time?”
Dubois shrugged. “I delegate it to my staff to arrange their schedules. As long as the work gets done, that’s the important thing.” They had reached a flat platform where a pair of miniphants was working a treadmill which controlled a roller set with toothed wheels cutting into the wall of the cliff. A brace of engineers stood supervising.
“I hate the damned things,” Dubois said, jerking his head at the miniphants. “I know it’s your company which produced and patented the design, but I still hate them.”
“What would you rather that we do?” Jamilah asked. “You know we can’t go back to the Machine Age, not anymore, now that the fossil fuels have run out. Would you rather have human slave gangs do the work?”
Dubois shook his head, his long grey hair swinging. “They aren’t natural, that’s what I’m saying. There’s nothing natural about them.”
“Of course they aren’t.” Jamilah felt bewildered momentarily. Why was she even having this conversation with this bigot? “Natural animals aren’t perfectly fitted for specific jobs, and besides they’re covered by animal rights laws. With miniphants and other gengineered creatures, we tailor them for the work they have to do, and they’re counted as biomachines, not animals, so the laws are a bit different.”
“Meaning your people can make money from them. It still doesn’t mean I have to like them.”
“Your employers are also making money from them, sir.” Jamilah waited while Dubois walked over and talked to the supervisors. The miniphants kept going on the treadmill, and the wheels ground into the cliff, chewing the stone away and spitting out chips. She winced at the thought of having to do this kind of work all day, every day. At least the miniphants were rotated regularly to other jobs. These would probably be pulling ploughs on a farm in three months’ time.
“Let’s get back to the point,” she said when Dubois returned. “Your man Hernandez was found dead early yesterday morning, and you say he may have been on his rounds at night. Was there anyone who saw him?”
“How does it matter, whether someone saw him or not? The facts are clear, aren’t they?”
“To you they may be, but they aren’t to me. And in this case, what I say goes.”
Dubois stopped and stared at her. “Look here, lady,” he began, “let me explain something. I don’t have the time to mess around. We have a death here, caused by your miniphants. Your company guarantees to indemnify us against damage caused by miniphants. I don’t see what your problem is, really. You just have to check over the facts and submit your report, and that’s it.”
“That might be your understanding of the situation, Mr Dubois.” Jamilah suddenly felt a bubble of laughter rising inside her, and pushed it down. “But that’s not my job description. I’m here to make a proper investigation, and if you check out the terms of the lease – which, as you say, indemnifies you against damage caused by the ‘phants – you’ll see that the terms also specifies that a thorough investigation must be conducted first, and that unless you provide your entire cooperation, we’re within our rights to refuse payment...and also to terminate the agreement. In other words, work with me, or you may lose even these miniphants you claim to despise.” She paused. “That reminds me, I saw that you’ve put up barbed wire around the haystacks. That’s a violation of the lease terms, because the miniphants can get hurt from that wire. I’ll have a look around to see whether I find any other violations.”
Dubois’ lips were compressed in a thin white line. “Go down to the office,” he said, “and wait. I’ll send someone to talk to you. She knows more about the Hernandez affair than I do.”
“The problem is,” Jamilah said, rubbing the blistered soles of her feet, “that minipants have never, ever, hurt anyone before.”
The young Vietnamese woman sitting opposite her in the office nodded. “I’ve heard that they’re the safest gengineered creatures, for their size,” she said. “I’ve never felt scared around one.”
She had introduced herself as Nguyen Phuong, and said she was an engineer on the site. She’d worked with Hernandez, as part of his team, she said. It was she who had discovered his corpse.
“They aren’t supposed to be capable of aggression against humans,” Jamilah agreed. “Can you show me where he was found?”
“Yes, come along.” Phuong waited while Jamilah put on her shoes. She was so short that she barely came up to the other woman’s shoulder, but was pretty and had wiry strength in her limbs. “I found him between Stable Blocks A and B,” she said.
“Between the blocks?” Jamilah peered at her. “The manager said he’d been found inside the stables, not between blocks.”
Phuong raised her hands, palms up. “Dubois, he doesn’t really run the place hands-on, you know? He leaves all the day-to-day work to everyone else. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this? But he didn’t even bother to come check the spot where Hernandez was killed.”
Jamilah looked up at the top of the quarry. Up there, the banks of solar panels glittered, sucking up the sun to turn its power to electricity. To one side of the panels, something else glittered, a tiny point of light, as of sun reflected off binocular lenses. Jamilah nodded to herself. Someone up there was watching them.
“Don’t worry about what you tell me,” she said to the Vietnamese girl. “I won’t get you in trouble over it. But you said you found him. How did that happen?”
“I was on the early shift yesterday, starting at three in the morning.” Phuong pointed across the quarry floor. “My quarters are over there, on the other side of that rock pile. I came to the stables to pick out the miniphants for the shift. The roster said numbers thirty-one, forty, ninety-two and a hundred and twenty were to go with me.”
Jamilah nodded. “I saw thirty-one a while ago. You found them all in place?”
“Yeah, they are all from Block B, and they were all in their stalls. All the ‘phants I saw were in their stalls.” She hesitated. “Well, I ordered them out and checked them on the duty list – it’s kept in the stable block – and I was walking with them towards Shaft Nine, that’s where they’re posted. Then, while I was passing the space between the stable blocks...”
“Wait,” said Jamilah. “You said it was three in the morning. Is it dark at that time?”
“Yes, of course, it’s night, but the quarry is lit by floods. Standard safety regulations.” Phuong pointed. “There are the stable blocks, all four of them, twenty stalls per block.”
“According to my records, you have only fifty-eight miniphants here.”
“That’s right. Block D is vacant, and locked up.” Phuong fell silent as a small group of men walked past, accompanying a trolley loaded with long heavy oxygen cylinders and hauled by a miniphant. The animal lifted its trunk and blew a friendly snort at her, but the men stared them up and down with a coolly hostile expression on their faces.
“Not people who like you?” Jamilah asked when the group had passed out of earshot.
Phuong shook her head. “They don’t like women on the job, especially women who are better qualified and in authority positions. For them, women are good for one thing, and one thing only.” A note of bitterness had crept into her voice. “They resent every order they have to take from us.”
“Are there other women here?”
“Not at the moment. I’m the only one.” Phuong pointed again. “Look here, this is Block B, where my ‘phants were. And this is A. I was passing by here, along this path, when I happened to look into the space between them, and I saw a body.”
“Did you see at once that it was Hernandez?”
“No, how could I? It was dark between the blocks. The floods don’t penetrate too far in there. And, besides, he was so battered about that I couldn’t have recognised him even if I could have seen him clearly.”
“I suppose there isn’t any doubt that it was Hernandez?”
“No, we found identity papers on him, and I believe that they conducted a retinal scan down in town, later.”
“Just to satisfy my curiosity, you understand, can you tell me just what made you look into that space in the first place? Were the miniphants acting any different?”
Phuong shrugged. “Not that I could tell. They seemed pretty much as usual. I can’t give any particular reason why I looked in there. I just did.”
“And what did you do then?”
“I ordered the miniphants to wait and went closer to have a better look. I didn’t go right into the space between the blocks, where it was dark, just far enough that I could tell that whoever it was had to be dead. Then I returned the ‘phants to the stable block and called for help.”
“Called for help from whom, the stable block attendants?”
Phuong stared at her. “What stable block attendants?”
“I see,” Jamilah said, mentally adding up another violation to the list. “You called whom, then? The manager?”
“Not him. He doesn’t live on site. I called the assistant manager, D’Souza. He was sleeping, and took a while to get up. By the time we came back, with some other men, it was almost dawn, but the body was still there...in exactly the same position.”
“And you found miniphant prints around the body?”
“All around the body, and on it. ‘Phant dung, too. D’Souza took photographs, and then we sent the body down to the morgue in town.”
“Where is this D’Souza now?”
“He must be on duty on the rock face somewhere. I don’t know for sure. I’m not on his team. I could find out, though.”
“All right, I’ll talk to him later.” Jamilah paused. “All the miniphants were in their stalls, locked in securely, I take it?”
“All of them were in their stalls, yes.” Phuong hesitated again. “Actually...”
“There’s something you aren’t telling me, isn’t there? You mean the miniphants weren’t locked into the stable blocks?”
“You promise I won’t get into trouble over telling you this?” Phuong looked around quickly. “The ‘phants are never locked in at night,” she said. “They know their stalls and they can be trusted to stay in them, but it’s considered too much trouble to lock them in. Every shift, some of them are taken out and some come back from work, and there are no attendants so it would be a major problem to get the stable blocks unlocked and relocked. The doors are closed and latched, but that’s about it.”
“Huh. And miniphants can operate a latch without trouble, with their trunks. You know that, don’t you?”
Phuong said nothing. Jamilah walked into the space between the two stable blocks. It was rather larger than she had imagined, and the rock splashed with the rusty stain of dried blood. She could still make out the prints of miniphant feet, like irregular discs.
“I was wondering how they managed to get to him between the stable blocks,” she said. “But if they weren’t locked in, well...” She poked at a small pile of debris, pieces of wooden planks, a heavy iron crowbar, metal nails and scraps of paper. “What’s this?”
Phuong glanced casually at the pile. “Just trash,” she said. “It accumulates.”
Jamilah curiously examined one of the pieces of wood. It was a heavy slab of wooden plank, with a couple of long rusty nails sticking out of one side. “I wonder where this came from,” she said, throwing it down, and picked up one of the crumpled scraps of paper. It seemed to be a list of paired miniphant numbers, and was soaked in dried blood. “Let’s have a look inside the stables.”
“Tell me about Hernandez,” Jamilah said.
The assistant manager, D’Souza, eyed her mistrustfully. He was balding, in late middle age, and was probably aware that he had advanced, professionally speaking, as far as he was ever going to go. “What do you want to know about him? His job and so on?”
“I know the basic career details,” Jamilah said. “I want to know the other stuff; what he was like personally, what his interests were, what made him tick. Was he popular with the other men?”
“As far as I know.” D’Souza’s face was closed like a fist. “I don’t really associate too much with his sort. They’re...not my kind of people.”
“I see.” Jamilah looked around. They were in a deep hollow cut into the quarry face. A miniphant treaded the power plate of an ore crusher, which pounded monotonously away, battering the stone down to chips. “And are there men here who would know more about him?”
“Sure.” D’Souza glanced at Phuong, who was waiting discreetly out of earshot. “I’ll have her take you to the off-duty men’s mess. You can talk to them yourself.”
“It’s a lonely place here, isn’t it?” Jamilah said, changing tack. Getting information from this man was like pulling teeth. “Far from town, no facilities for amusement that I can see. What do you people do for relaxation?”
“I, you mean? I have my books, my meditation music.”
“Uh, not just you, sir. I meant the other men.”
D’Souza shrugged. “I imagine the men do what they’d do anywhere in similar circumstances. Drink a lot, gamble over anything that catches their fancy. Does it matter?”
“It might. I don’t know.” D’Souza was beginning to display distinct signs of impatience, and Jamilah decided to quit while she was ahead. “Thanks for the help, Mr D’Souza.”
“Yes, just give me a minute, and I’ll tell Ms Nguyen where to take you.” D’Souza had bent down to fiddle with the mechanism of the ore crusher. Grateful of the rest, the miniphant stopped its treading, and Jamilah stroked its flank gently. The miniphant watched her keenly out of its small eyes. Jamilah’s fingers found a knot in the skin, a pair of parallel scars, left by wounds not long healed. She frowned, remembering the wounds she had seen on the other miniphant earlier.
“That’s done,” D’Souza announced. He called Phuong over and spoke to her briefly. “Ms Nguyen will take you to the men’s mess and let you talk to them,” he told Jamilah when he had finished. “But you understand that the men here may not exactly be cordial or helpful?”
“Thank you,” Jamilah said with a tight smile. “I’ve met a few and I know what you’re talking about.”
They had walked halfway down the ramp leading from the work area when D’Souza called to Jamilah. “Ms Torabinejad,” he called. “Wait!”
She turned to see him hurrying down to her. Coming up to her, he leaned close to murmur in her ear.
“Jaime Hernandez was one of the vilest bastards I’ve ever known,” he said.
“You may be interested to hear that I’ve completed my investigations,” Jamilah announced.
It was evening. The shadows cast by the setting sun lay long and purple across the quarry, and the air was much cooler. The noise of the machinery went on, but less loudly, as if even pistons and gears were getting ready to turn in for the night.
Sitting opposite her in the cramped office, Dubois stared at her without changing expression. “”And?” he asked at length. “When does your company pay the indemnity?”
“It doesn’t.” Jamilah let the words drop into a pool of silence. She watched the angry flush rising slowly in Dubois’ face and raised a hand. “Listen to me,” she said.
“My company leases these miniphants to yours under strict conditions. While I was conducting my investigations, I found just about each and every one of those conditions violated. Those violations alone would be grounds for terminating the contract and pulling our animals out of here. But that’s not the reason I’m going to recommend against paying the indemnity.”
“Then what are your grounds?” Dubois asked belligerently. “Those damned things killed my man, and you’re liable for that.”
“If you’ll listen,” Jamilah said quietly, “I’ll tell you what I found.
“The first thing is that the dead man wasn’t exactly a nice person. From all accounts, he was sadistic, not only to his fellow workers but to the miniphants as well. And did you know he was a compulsive gambler?”
“What does that have to do with...”
“Please let me finish. Apparently, Mr Hernandez hadn’t much luck with cards. I’ve talked to your men, and they said he’d lost big, and then lost again. In the end, he tried cheating, and was caught, and after that the others stopped playing cards with him altogether, but he couldn’t control his gambling streak. So he thought up another game, one in which he apparently did rather better.”
“Oh?” Dubois looked bored. He tilted his chair back against the wall, and crossed his legs. “What?”
“Betting on miniphant fights.”
“What!” Dubois’ chair slammed back down on the floor. “What the hell are you telling me?”
“I knew something strange was going on already. On at least two of your ‘phants, I saw strange wounds, parallel lacerations. Not deep, but they would’ve hurt like hell when new. I couldn’t imagine what might have inflicted them, at first.
“But then, between your stable blocks, where the body was found, I discovered something strange. A piece of wooden plank, through which two nails had been driven so that the end protruded from the other side. A blow from that would have produced almost exactly the wound I’d seen on those two ‘phants.”
“A wound means nothing.”
“No? If I ask you to parade all the fifty-eight miniphants you have, do you want to bet I won’t find the same wounds on all or at least most of them? Do you want to try it?”
Dubois said nothing. His bloodshot eyes glared at Jamilah, and turned away.
“That’s not all. I also found a piece of paper with miniphant numbers there, arranged in pairs. Care to explain to me what that might be except a match-up of fights?
“It was easy to organise, of course. ‘Phants are genetically programmed and trained to obey humans, and there wasn’t even a lock on the stable block doors. It would have been so easy to bring them pair by pair into that space between the blocks, where the floodlights don’t reach well. And since the manager doesn’t even live on the site and is known to have a completely hands-off administrative style – so long as nothing goes wrong enough to attract official attention, of course – they hadn’t anyone in authority to fear.
“It must have been difficult to goad the miniphants to fight, even with that weapon. They are from elephant stock, of course, but they’re sterile and bred for mildness of temperament. But push them far enough, beat them till they’re in a frenzy, and they’ll fight. That’s what your Hernandez did, and that’s how he got killed.”
“I assume you mean those beasts trampled him during the fight? But wouldn’t there be witnesses?”
“Mr Dubois. I told you this man was a cheat. He wouldn’t bet on anything unless he had a fair idea in advance of the outcome, of course.” Jamilah stood up and collected her briefcase.
“He was playing off the next night’s contestants against each other,” she said, “to see which the better fighter was, so he knew the one on which to place his money. That’s why there were no witnesses.”
She turned at the doorway of the office and pointed at Dubois. “If I were you, I’d forget about the indemnity altogether and start fulfilling the terms of the contract. I’ll be back in a month, and if things aren’t better, I’m pulling the miniphants.”
She closed the door quietly behind her, leaving Dubois sitting there and waiting for it to slam.
“I kind of thought I’d find you waiting for me,” Jamilah said.
Phuong smiled slightly. “It all went well, I hope?”
“Well, yes, in the sense that Dubois won’t get any indemnity and that the miniphants will be looked after properly.” Jamilah took off the battered hard hat and hung it on a hook at the foot of the steps. The last of the afternoon light lay on the quarry floor, while the upper parts of the cliff were still bathed in ruddy sunlight. Jamilah turned towards the metal stairs, and then, almost casually, turned towards Phuong.
“Of course,” she said, “I had to act out a lie. I had to pretend the miniphants killed him accidentally, during the fight. But of course he wasn’t killed accidentally, he was quite deliberately murdered. And he wasn’t killed by a miniphant. He was killed by you.”
Phuong’s face froze for a long moment. “Why do you say that?” she asked at last, her voice too casual.
“Before I tell you that,” Jamilah said, “answer this question. Why?”
Phuong was silent so long that Jamilah thought she wouldn’t speak. “He raped me,” she said at last. “He threatened me with a knife, and raped me, and made sure to tell me that he’d rape me again, whenever he wanted. Of course,” she added, “I have no proof of this. None whatsoever.”
“I believe you,” Jamilah told her. “From what I’ve heard of him, I’d have believed it anyway. But the proof was when you made no attempt to deny it.”
Phuong shrugged. “I didn’t have a choice. I had no proof; it was his word against mine, and in this line of work, they hate women anyway. If I’d accused him, who do you think would’ve suffered, he or I?”
“Yeah. I get that. I completely understand you there.”
“Why do you think it was I?”
“I’ve seen you with the miniphant,” Jamilah said. “I saw how it reacted to you. They only do it with people they really like, and people miniphants actually like are very rare on the ground. When they find someone like that, they obey without question.
“Also, you were the only really vulnerable person here. The men obviously club together and wouldn’t have to kill Hernandez; a beating at the most would’ve sufficed. But not one of them would have lifted a finger to help you.
“Besides, I let Dubois believe the ‘phants trampled Hernandez to death during the fight, but that’s ridiculous, of course. Miniphants are conditioned not to hurt a human, even by accident, whatever happens. If Hernandez had fallen under them while they were fighting, they’d have stopped their combat instantly. They’d rather do anything at all, literally, than allow a human to come to harm.
“So this is what I figure happened. You went along to the miniphant stables, and Hernandez was there waiting. I think you knew he’d be there, probably because he’d told you so in order to make you tremble, and you took a weapon with you. I’m pretty certain what the weapon was, too. I found it there, didn’t I? A crowbar. Like everything else, it was covered in his blood, so it wasn’t especially noticeable.
“So when he came to you, you went with him into that space where he held the miniphant fights, and then you killed him by hitting him over the head with the crowbar. He wasn’t expecting it, and you’re strong. I’ve seen the muscles in your arms.
“After that, it was simple, really. You called the miniphants, and made them walk over him and jump on him a couple of times, so the crowbar marks were obliterated. Without a lock, and with no attendants, it was easy. Also, he was dead already, so the miniphants wouldn’t refuse. After that you just stabled the miniphants, went back to your quarters, waited a few hours, and when your next shift was due you ‘discovered’ his body precisely as you described. No, don’t say anything. I know that’s what happened, and you know that’s what happened, but I don’t want to hear it. OK?”
“OK,” Phuong nodded. “I won’t say anything.”
“I’m not going to get you in trouble.” Jamilah touched the younger woman on the shoulder. “Besides, I’m only a company investigator, and not a policewoman. Only the miniphants are my business, not people. All right, I’ll be going. I hope and expect you’ll be all right now.”
“Wait.” Phuong’s hand reached out to clutch Jamilah’s sleeve. “I couldn’t have done anything else. You know that, don’t you?”
Jamilah gently freed her sleeve from the younger woman’s grasp.
“I know,” she said.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12