Our conversation dies off for a bit after that, and we sit and listen to the sounds of the police station gearing up for its day. Williams continues to cast baleful glares in my direction every few minutes, turning away when I look up to make sure I know he’s still ignoring me. I figure I’ll let him think about things in his own time. If it worked to convince the guys at the construction site that they were thinking about me all wrong, it should work here, too.
Peterson walks in the door at 6:30 precisely. His gaze alights on us instantly.
“I hope you’re as eager to follow instructions today as you clearly are to get started,” he says to me, but Regina responds before I can say anything.
“Please, I just want to get this done. I went to see Brian yesterday and he’s — he’s just a zombie. He moves so slowly, like he’s drifting through water, and even with that you can still see the rage burning in him. He’s just too slowed down for it to really activate. I just want him fixed.”
I feel a stab of guilt. I didn’t even think about going to see Brian yesterday. I mean, obviously I couldn’t; the doc flat-out told me not to come anywhere near the hospital, and it wouldn’t do anybody any good to rile him up. But I could have thought about it, considered the idea and dismissed it. I have bad ideas all the time, so I’m used to rejecting them. This one never even crossed my mind.
Peterson looks like he’s feeling a bit guilty too. At least, his expression softens from the thin, cynical smile he had on to something that looks much more like real sympathy.
“Come on back with me,” he says. “You’ll have to give me a minute to get set up, but then I’ll show you the proposed plan of attack for today. Morning, Williams.”
Williams mutters something noncommittal as we walk by. If I hadn’t been looking right at the back of Peterson’s head, I would have missed the almost imperceptible shake he gave as we passed out of Williams’s sight.
“Not getting along with that guy?” I ask. Peterson shoots me a glare.
“Yes, Mr. Everton, there is some tension in this department. I hope to end that with today’s investigation, which is why I’m allowing this only-technically-legal operation to go forward in the first place. I would really like nothing better than for things to go back to the way they were before I ever met you.”
Choosing to ignore that slight, I ask, “Only technically legal?”
“We’re sending officers to go prowl around a civilian’s businesses, in the hopes of finding something illegal enough that we can declare a hot pursuit and kick down the door. It’s a complete fishing expedition. If it weren’t for the fact that I believe this to be the best chance we have to catch Dr. Amun, I’d never go along with it. As it is, it doesn’t sit entirely well.”
Regina and I both start to say something at once, but Peterson holds up a hand, forestalling us. “I’m not looking for you to convince me or give me justifications. We’re doing this. I am convinced of the necessity. I am just unconvinced that it’s good police work.”
We sit down in the chairs on the far side of Peterson’s desk as he unlocks a filing cabinet and takes out a thin folder. He pulls out five sheets of paper and spreads them out facing us. Each has a picture of the front of a building, along with several paragraphs of text including the business name, its address, the general dimensions of the building and so on. I recognize one as the Rossum Medical Supply building.
“These are the five properties owned by Rossum,” says Peterson. ” I went out yesterday to see if anything stood out about them. Whether the location, neighborhood, ease of access, regularity of use, anything like that could give me a hint as to which one was most likely to yield results.”
“What did you find?” Regina asks.
“Absolutely nothing to distinguish one building from another in terms of what we might be looking for. I had nothing but a building sense of disgust that I was on a wild goose chase for Dan here. I wanted to punch a wall.”
Regina sits back in her chair, disappointed, but Peterson raises a finger without lifting his hand off of the desk and continues.
“And as I was heading back, disgusted that I’d wasted my time, I suddenly thought: why am I disgusted? I knew going in that this was a long shot. I was simply going in an effort to improve the odds from picking the right one in five randomly. I should have had, at most, a sense of resignation that I had not found a break.
“Mr. Everton, you told me at one point that Evan Tanger, Jr was meeting with Dr. Amun? That he had arranged a demonstration for him before giving him the nanomachinery?”
“He called him Amici, but yeah, it was the same guy. And the email said something about how he’d want to go on with it as soon as possible once he saw the demonstration, yeah. But where are you — oh.”
Regina says, “You think you were picking up some of Tanger’s cast-off disgust, still being carried by the nanos. Like at Tanger’s building!”
Peterson nods. “Not Tanger’s, necessarily, but the ones from the demonstration. We’re not certain how long the suggestion nanomachines can lie dormant, but several of these businesses were in fairly low-traffic areas of town. It seemed possible that that’s where this seemingly irrational emotion was coming from.”
“So how did you figure out which one it was from?” I ask.
Peterson offers a small smile. “I went back to each in turn and walked closely around the building, touching the walls and kicking up any dirt or trash that had gathered in the gutters. Anything that looked like it had been undisturbed for some time. As soon as I started feeling disgusted and like I really just wanted to punch a wall, I knew I’d found the place I was looking for.”
He slides one sheet of paper closer to us. It’s a warehouse with a roll-top door, set in a row of similar warehouses. It looks like a giant garage, dingy and utterly unprepossessing.
“This is it?” I say, unimpressed.
“What did you expect, Mr. Everton? A villain’s lair?”
“I mean, it would have been nice.” I study the picture. “All right, so this is what we’ve got. So what’s the plan?”
Peterson looks uncomfortable. “We’re going to go ask to take a look around.”
“That’s it?” I scowl, and Peterson matches my scowl with one of his own.
“There’s still no evidence of illegal activity. We can’t just barge in waving guns and confiscating machinery.”
“Oh, come on! You know it’s the building!”
“Which is why we are going to investigate it, and hopefully something will turn up!”
Peterson puts an odd emphasis on the word “we,” which interrupts my budding anger. I’m reminded of the way he answered my request for tips on a stakeout. He never acknowledged the question at all, but instead told a seemingly unrelated story about long drives. Coincidentally, his tips for staying awake on long drives were extremely useful for staking out someone’s home, too.
It’s taken me a minute to catch up, but I think this is the same thing. Peterson can’t, in good conscience as an officer of the law, ask me to snoop around while I’m there. And if I offer, he can’t accept. In fact, he’ll have to tell me not to. But if I just happen to do something without his request or approval, and it reveals what we need to catch Dr. A, then that’s just him being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you’ve got to set up your own right place and right time, is all.
I take a deep breath. “Okay. We’ll investigate. Got it.”
Peterson fixes me with a gimlet stare, then nods. “Good.”
“Wait here for a moment,” he adds. “I’m going to make sure everything’s in order, and then we’ll be ready to go.”
Peterson walks off, and Regina leans over to me. “So basically he’s counting on you to do something stupid once we get there,” she says quietly.
“Okay, I would not have put it like that,” I say with indignation.
“But he is.”
“Yeah, fine, basically.”
Regina smirks. “It’s your time to shine, Dan!”
I glare at her, and she says, “I shouldn’t make fun of you. I’m zorry.”
Then she cracks up as I continue to glare. And they call this friendship!
The police car pulls up in the alley outside of the warehouse, and Regina and Peterson step out of the front. Peterson opens the door to let me out of the back, and we walk over to knock on the normal-sized office door next to the large roll-top that covers the front of the building.
I’m tensed for action as the door starts to open, but the man opening it is not Ichabot. He’s average height, short sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, in standard button-down shirt and khaki pants office wear.
“Can I help you?” he asks, looking the three of us over.
“I’m Officer Peterson,” says Peterson, showing the man his badge. “If it’s all right, we’d like to have a look around inside.”
“Of course, Officer!” says the man, stepping back from the door and gesturing in. “Come on in. I’m Zane. Would you like some coffee or water or anything?”
That was significantly easier than I expected. I’d almost think Peterson had gotten the wrong place, if it weren’t for one thing. There’s a faint but nagging desire in the back of my mind. A feeling like I’d really like to punch a wall.