The Warrior’s Knife (Chapters 1-4)

One

 

I’ve always enjoyed the stunned silence triggered by my unannounced appearance, especially when accompanied by one of my most imposing and memorable detectives, Master Sergeant Destine Bonta. As we entered the offices of the Financial Crimes Division, two dozen gray-uniformed Constabulary investigators, many with long years of service, froze in place, their eyes wide with shock.

Though neither Bonta nor I wore a uniform, not even when making an arrest, they knew who we were. And they knew our arrival signaled the end of a cop’s career.

I headed for the private corner office occupied by the division’s commanding officer and entered without knocking. Behind me, Sergeant Bonta shouted, in her surprisingly deep voice, “Everyone stay where you are until Chief Superintendent Morrow is done. No one leaves, no one makes a call, and no one touches their terminal.”

The inspector standing by Commissioner Haylian’s desk, tablet in hand, immediately fell silent. Both he and Haylian stared at me with disbelieving eyes, too stunned for words. I pointed at the inspector and then jerked my thumb toward the door.

“Out.”

When he didn’t move, I glanced over my shoulder at Bonta and said, “Take the inspector to his desk, Sergeant.”

“Now see here,” Haylian cut in, his tone almost rising to a shout, “you’ll not be giving orders in my division and definitely not in my office.”

Bonta ignored the commissioner with the same stoic expression she wore every time we made an arrest and wrapped a long-fingered hand around the inspector’s upper arm.

“Come with me, sir. I’m sure you don’t want to witness this.”

Once she’d hustled the younger man out and closed the door behind her, I turned my gaze back on Haylian, who was staring at me with incredulity rapidly metamorphosing into anger.

“Commissioner Joel Haylian, I am Chief Superintendent Caelin Morrow of the Professional Compliance Bureau, and I am placing you under arrest on charges of corruption, dereliction of duty and behavior unbecoming a member of the Commonwealth Constabulary. Please stand.”

“I will most certainly not. Who the hell do you think you are, Morrow?”

A grim smile greeted his outburst. “I’m the one who invited you for an interview three floors up, in the PCB offices at oh-nine-hundred this morning, to discuss the professional compliance investigation into your conduct. Since you didn’t present yourself as requested and it is now ten-hundred hours, I have no choice but to carry out your arrest in full view of the Financial Crimes Division.”

His face twisted into an unattractive sneer. “This is bullshit.”

Haylian wasn’t wrong. I didn’t need to arrest him. I could just as well have conducted the interview here or used a less drastic method of persuasion. But I’ve found that the higher the rank, the harsher I had to be when they didn’t cooperate.

“You are nevertheless under arrest. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. You have the right to ask that an advisor from the Commonwealth Constabulary Senior Officers’ Association be present during the interview.”

I paused to let my words sink in, then said, “Now that I’ve cautioned you, your choice is to come with me voluntarily or be cuffed and hauled away by Sergeant Bonta. Your call.”

Haylian climbed to his feet, his face turning a lovely shade of red. “This is entirely inappropriate. Someone of my rank or senior to me should be handling this, not a damned chief superintendent with personality issues. I’m a flag officer, for crying out loud.”

“Shall I call Sergeant Bonta in with the restraints, sir?” I asked in a deadpan tone, ignoring his insult. “I’ve cautioned you, and will charge you with resisting arrest if you do not follow my orders. And I’m sure you’re aware the courtesy of being interviewed by an investigator of equal or superior rank doesn’t apply to professional compliance issues. I am the senior PCB officer for the Rim Sector and have full authority to charge anyone, whatever his or her rank may be. The sole courtesy I’ll extend is to let you walk up to the PCB interview room unrestrained and under your own power. Unless you’d rather do the perp walk in front of your staff.”

If eyes spat plasma, I’d be a charred, smoking heap of incinerated protoplasm at that moment, and it took some effort to restrain any show of emotion, such as a mocking smile. Haylian wasn’t the first senior officer I’d charged with corruption, but so far, he was proving to be the most graceless.

“Very well,” he finally said through gritted teeth as he reached for the jacket draped over a side chair. “Let’s sort this out, so I can return to my duties.”

“A wise choice, sir,” I replied. I caught Bonta’s eye through the glass wall separating Haylian’s office from the rest of the division’s desks and nodded once, the signal our suspect would come voluntarily.

We crossed the bullpen in silence, under the incredulous eyes of Haylian’s entire staff. All, that is, except for a chief inspector trying hard to keep a pleased smile from tugging at her lips.

Bonta tossed an “As you were,” over her shoulder before following us out to the seventh floor’s central corridor. A burst of puzzled conversation chased us to the lifts until the closing door cut it off.

The Professional Compliance Bureau owned most of the tenth floor, sharing it only with the Rim Sector HQ building’s environmental systems. Being summoned to the tenth had become a byword for career-ending trouble long before my arrival here. Our isolation from the rest of the staff and the aura of dread it gave us suited me. We might live under the same roof as the other Rim Sector divisions, but we weren’t part of their family. On the contrary.

Bonta took Haylian to an interview room and left him there to wait, alone and without the offer of coffee or juice, while I visited the office kitchen for a quick cup. Letting suspects stew made them easier to crack, and Haylian, with his highly developed sense of flag officer entitlement, should be thoroughly annoyed by the time I started the interview. Irritated, if not downright angry people talked more than they should, even cops. Especially cops.

“That’s one unhappy puppy in there,” Bonta said, joining me by the dispenser. “You should have seen the stare he just gave me when I said you’d join him in a few minutes.”

“Good. If Haylian was putting on a show of confidence, I’d be worried we missed something during the investigation.”

Bonta snorted. “Not a chance, Chief. Do you intend to wait for Inspector Galdi before tackling him?”

I shook my head. “No. It’ll be just you and me. Inspector Galdi needs to secure Haylian’s data files and case repository now we have him in custody. I’d rather not see a repeat of the Grint case.”

“Roger that, sir. I remember Inspector Galdi telling me how someone did a real number on the evidence while Superintendent Rowan tried to bring Grint in.” Bonta raised her cup in salute. “Here’s to another scumbag sitting in your parlor.”

“Try to avoid feeling excessive joy at the sight of a one-star finally getting his comeuppance.”

“The higher they are…” she replied, grinning with bloodthirsty delight.

We sipped the bland brew in companionable silence for nearly ten minutes.

I allowed myself one piece of the morning’s sticky bun offering and then watched Bonta devour the rest with gusto. Granted, she wasn’t a small woman, but with the office almost empty thanks to cases taking my investigators all over the sector, it was still a healthy heaping of sugared dough.

I glanced at my timepiece and emptied my mug. “Shall we?”

 

Two

 

Perps always tried to brazen it out when facing me during the interview that marked the end of their careers. Some blustered, a few threatened, many sat there, smiling as if I had just made the most significant blunder of my life. Now that he had recovered a measure of composure, Commissioner Joel Haylian turned out to be one of the latter.

He ran the Constabulary’s Financial Crimes Division for the Commonwealth Rim Sector, where dirty money ruled, and figured he could reach out to friends in every corner of the Service including mine.

Apparently, over three decades as a cop hadn’t been long enough to teach him that Professional Compliance Bureau officers had no friends. Anywhere. There’s a reason they called us the Firing Squad, and it wasn’t because of our winning personalities, but because of our ability to end the most promising careers, including those of flag officers.

The day they moved me to the PCB without warning, let alone asking my opinion, I thought at first my career had ended. I initially took the transfer as a message from on high that said, Caelin Morrow, it was time to find yourself a new job. But I’ve been in the Constabulary since my late teens, and with no family, friends, or a life outside the Service, I accepted my new responsibilities and soon came to enjoy the work.

Since we investigate other cops, the military, and politicians, we have to be the incorruptibles. That means we’re the ones with nothing left to lose, the ones who aren’t afraid to get on anyone’s wrong side and don’t care about consequences.

We’re the ones who have no qualms about moving from planet to planet and system to system, dispensing justice to those who should have known better than to cross the law.

The bureau won’t transfer me from the Rim to one of the more comfortable core systems anytime soon. I had become highly proficient at finding those who sullied the uniform and was particularly skilled when it came to corrupt senior officers like Commissioner Haylian, who knew all the tricks, something my commanding officer appreciated.

But he also preferred me where I was, dealing with the dirty cops and politicos who took advantage of the Rim Sector’s gray zone to amass enough riches for whatever perversions drove them.

Dirty military? Well, by the time they called us in, it meant they figured their guy or gal wasn’t in the frame but someone in the chain of command or the political establishment wanted to hang them anyway. The Fleet had a more direct way of dealing with those who pled guilty when caught.

The military used us because we were the impartial investigators. When we exonerated them, it meant there was never a doubt about innocence in the first place. While the Firing Squad rarely shot anyone, we’ve left plenty of dead careers in our wake.

That’s why no one ever left Professional Compliance. Once you were in, you retired from it, either on a pension or in a coffin.

I still had a few decades before I could afford to quit. And once I did, then what? No one in the policing business would hire a Firing Squad ‘rat’ as many liked to call us. Rent-a-cop outfits weren’t choosy, but who wanted that after a life spent kicking ass while holding some of the sleekest handguns ever designed. So I took the cases they gave me and worked them through to the bitter end.

Commissioner Haylian might have believed he had enough connections to squirm out of my grasp, but he’d soon realize that even though I’m his junior by two ranks, I held his future in my hands. That feeling of power was one of the few compensations of a job where everyone else looked at me with suspicion if not outright hostility. Seeing the realization I had them dead to rights dawn on their smug faces came in a close second.

The man who sat across the table from us with an infuriating smirk on his lips, faced charges of corruption and a career ending in disgrace. And for no better reason than his inability to keep it in his pants.

It was a familiar story. A cop in a sensitive position forgot discretion and found himself trapped by the wrong people who then used creative blackmail.

He might have been a decent officer, a good investigator once, but now, he was merely another uniformed politician who believed in his ability to write his own exemption from the law.

Considering the amount of wealth that flowed across the Commonwealth’s porous borders, it took someone with a strong sense of morality to investigate financial crimes on the Rim. The morals that kept one from bedding the wives of influential planetary politicians with mob connections.

“Commissioner Joel Haylian,” Sergeant Bonta said, “do you wish to have an advisor from the Senior Officers’ Association present?”

“I do not,” he replied in a brusque tone without looking at her. Instead, he examined me as if I were a piece of roadkill before saying, “Ask your damn questions, Morrow.”

“Tell me, Commissioner Haylian, why did you risk your career for an ordinary piece of ass?”

 

 

Three

 

My opener was deliberately crude. I hoped it would further infuriate a man who professed to believe in esthetic refinement — not for its own sake, to be sure, but as a way to enter the more rarefied strata of society.

“I don’t know what you mean, Chief Superintendent,” he replied in a calm tone that belied the anger I could sense like a physical presence in the room. My ten-minute coffee break had been perfectly timed. “But I deplore your lack of manners.”

“And I deplore senior officers who sell their souls for sordid liaisons. I hope she was worth it. By the time the indictment comes through, you’ll be looking at ten years in a penal colony. The liaisons in prison are equally sordid but a lot less consensual.”

Former cops found life in jail especially hard. Their long-term survival rate wasn’t anything the Correctional Service bragged about, and it wasn’t only because of inmate on inmate violence. After a few years of protective custody — really no better than solitary confinement — many hastened their own demise hoping to make better choices in their next incarnations.

Haylian’s attempt to climb on his high horse was unimpressive. But then, he wasn’t an impressive man to begin with, merely one who’d risen through the ranks by sucking up to the right people and making himself useful to those with power. Digging into his life as we had done over the course of many weeks left little to the imagination and had shattered any remaining illusions I might have held about merit rising to the top.

“My dear Chief Superintendent, you and I know there’s nothing on which to base a supposed indictment. Insulting me won’t make that fact vanish; though once you’re done, I’ll make sure you enjoy the fruits of your discourtesy. And arresting me in my own office? That’ll cost.”

I pulled a tablet from my pocket and placed it on the table. These were the moments I lived for, when a perp stared down his nose at me as if I was a cockroach, seconds before I showed him my evidence. And it was always enough evidence for an early and involuntary retirement to a nice cold cell on the far end of frozen fuck all.

“Those three investigations into Louis Sorne’s business dealings quashed at your orders in the last year are a sound basis for charges of corruption, don’t you think? How did it go? Sorne offered you his wife for fun and games in return for consideration, was that it?”

Haylian eyed my tablet for a few heartbeats, but remained silent.

“Or did he catch you between her legs,” I continued, “and offered a choice between a gelding without anesthesia and closing an eye to his more questionable financial arrangements? Or better yet, did you fall into a honey trap with Hannah Sorne as bait? Even though she’s the cheap kind, I bet she knew how to make your toes curl.”

I touched my tablet and called up summaries of the investigations he’d buried and tilted it so he could see the screen. For the first time, I noted genuine worry in his eyes as he realized someone in his division must have squealed to the PCB. Commissioners, even here where the law was sometimes elastic, didn’t always command the respect they wanted.

Haylian had made the mistake of pissing off one of his chief inspectors over a minor disagreement on an unrelated investigation. The words arrogant asshole were used to describe Haylian’s general attitude toward his staff.

Unfortunately for him, the chief inspector in question already suspected Haylian’s good friend, Louis Sorne, one of Cimmeria’s top politicians, of extensive money laundering. When she discovered the commissioner’s sexual relationship with Hannah Sorne through some after-hours sleuthing, I received the call.

Even if Haylian wasn’t dirty, his job as commanding officer of the Rim’s Financial Crimes Division meant he had to make a confidential declaration to my office whenever he began an extramarital relationship. It would have covered his ass in case someone took strong objection to the liaison.

He had violated a dozen regulations; enough to see him relieved of command at the very least and encouraged to take early retirement. Interfering in ongoing investigations because he screwed a rich, criminally connected prick’s oversexed wife was about to earn him a uniform very different from Constabulary gray.

“Who accused me of having an inappropriate relationship with Hannah Sorne? Louis Sorne? Certainly not. We’re social acquaintances and move in the same circles.”

“So he offered Hannah up, did he?” I smirked at him. “Like a common prostitute? Can’t say I’m surprised. Politicians are natural pimps although Hannah doesn’t strike me as having the assets of a successful whore. She’s neither young enough, pretty enough or pleasant enough. But I suppose with the lights out, technique is what counts, right?”

I had the satisfaction of seeing Haylian’s nostrils flare with barely suppressed fury. He glanced at Sergeant Bonta, who sat silently beside me like a bronze statue, her eyes locked on the suspect, doing an excellent job of making him feel uncomfortable with her scrutiny. Then he turned to me again.

“Do you realize you’re talking about one of the wealthiest and most powerful men on Cimmeria and his spouse, Chief Superintendent? Words have consequences where he and his like are concerned, even for Firing Squad rodents such as you.”

I ignored the deliberate insult because I’d heard every variation on the theme. A self-satisfied smirk briefly twisted Haylian’s thin lips. I ignored that as well.

“Actions also produce consequences, Commissioner, and Sorne’s as dirty as they come. We’ll eventually nab him, once HQ appoints a new commanding officer for your division, one more interested in doing his job than plumbing the depths of perversion with another man’s life partner.”

“Oh?” His confident smile returned. “And where am I heading? As far as I know, my tenure here isn’t coming to an end until next year.”

“Do you think we would be talking if I didn’t have enough evidence to see you relieved of command?”

That sublime moment of truth was nearing. Even after years in this job, I could still feel the thrill of cornering my prey. Screwing every Hannah Sorne in the galaxy couldn’t offer a tenth of the pleasure.

“Please don’t take me for a cretin,” he replied, putting on that self-important air the less personable flag officers reserved for browbeating those they considered village idiots. “Your so-called evidence is nothing but unrelated facts, Chief Superintendent.”

The man knew how to bluster, but on a scale of one to ten, he barely broke a seven. I had seen bent cops hit a solid ten, which didn’t do them much good, but watching the dirty bastards try was part of the entertainment.

“So you deny having a sexual relationship with Hannah Sorne.”

“Of course I do.” The aura of self-righteousness he tried to use as a cloak was a nice touch.

I reached for my tablet again and made sure Haylian could clearly see its screen. These were the moments I lived for, considering I found little to entertain me beyond my job.

Haylian’s choleric face turned from puce to a deathly white so quickly that I almost missed the transformation.

“If you had declared your relationship, Commissioner, then this little video of you and Hannah Sorne getting it off would mean nothing. But you didn’t do so and placed yourself in a vulnerable position, thereby violating paragraphs three hundred and forty to three hundred and fifty-two of the Constabulary Code of Conduct. A mere patrol sergeant might escape serious consequences. The head of the Rim Sector Financial Crimes Division can’t.”

“How?” He seemed to have difficulty finding his words. I was always amazed at how quickly they fell off their high horse once I placed the evidence before them.

“An anonymous source contacted the PCB and told us that a commissioner might have put himself in a compromising position, thereby threatening the integrity of the Constabulary. I obtained a warrant and put a recording device in the premises you used for your trysts with Hannah Sorne. We have several recordings, each as damning as the others. They’re great when it comes to unimpeachable evidence, but the entertainment factor is rather low, even for amateur stuff. I doubt either you or Hannah Sorne has much of a future in the erotica business. And with that, your tenure as commanding officer is over, no matter what a disciplinary board may find once it reviews your case.”

Haylian stared at me in disbelief, unable to utter a single word.

“Orders relieving you of command and appointing your deputy on an interim basis should come from Wyvern within a day or two. But in the meantime, I’m suspending you from duty without pay, under paragraph four-hundred ten of the Constabulary Code of Conduct. Of course, we will pursue criminal charges as well. Conspiring with Louis Sorne to pervert the course of justice isn’t something the Chief Constable will overlook for the good of the Service.”

The truth concerning his situation dawned on him, and that look of incredulity turned to one of understanding. A warrant to record his activities would have required at least an assistant chief constable’s sign-off, maybe even the Rim Sector’s deputy chief constable. He no longer had friends in high places. If they had ever existed other than in his imagination.

I sat back and waited. Nine out of ten inevitably came to the same conclusion. Haylian looked up at me after less than a minute.

“I can give you Louis Sorne,” he said, “in return for letting me retire without indictment.”

And just like that, I owned his soul.

 

Four

 

My position as head of the Professional Compliance Bureau’s Rim Sector detachment placed me in a strange situation. I reported directly to Deputy Chief Constable Hammett, the PCB’s commanding officer, through a chain of command hermetically sealed off from every other.

But he was back on Wyvern, several dozen light years away. Here, on Cimmeria, the most senior Constabulary officer was Deputy Chief Constable Maras, commander of the entire Rim Sector Group, and emphatically not in my chain of command.

Since we both reported separately to Constabulary HQ, it made us, in a few respects, quasi-equals even if the size of our respective units varied by a few orders of magnitude, mine being vanishingly small compared to hers. But because a deputy chief constable was a three-star appointment, several levels above a chief superintendent, I found treating Maras with as much deference as I did my real boss was prudent.

Unlike Commissioner Haylian, Maras actually had powerful allies who could make my life a misery. Besides, she and Hammett saw eye-to-eye on many matters, meaning any complaints Maras made against me would find my boss lending a sympathetic ear.

That’s why her office was my first stop after listening to Haylian spill his story. To the annoyance of many officers more senior in rank, I had almost automatic access to the deputy chief constable. But it was mainly because she wanted to hear about dirty cops in her group as soon as I found them and not because she liked me.

I think she tolerated my unit as a necessary evil, and that made her more agreeable than most in her command. She was no rank conscious stuffed shirt either and acknowledged the reality of our relationship.

I could live with that and took pains to keep her happy. Fortunately, I knew her public image didn’t mask the sort of peccadilloes that would make her the target of a future PCB investigation. As a result, I had no qualms about sharing details of my cases. It helped keep her supportive of my work.

Her adjutant looked up from a cluttered desk when I walked in, and a grimace of annoyance briefly crossed his face. I saw that reaction a lot when I showed up, whether or not they had a guilty conscience. You learned to accept the suspicion, dislike, and fear as part of the job. Some PCB officers relished the unspoken power we exercised, but I hadn’t sunk that low — yet.

“If the DCC’s available, I have an update on the Haylian matter.”

“One moment,” he replied, tapping his console screen. We waited in silence for Maras to answer, neither of us interested in small talk, until he received an all-clear from his boss. “You may enter.”

DCC Maras’ office could have easily held the annual garrison ball, an event I did my best to avoid. Not that I didn’t look fetching in my formal mess uniform, but I was about as socially inclined as a Sister of the Void. Besides, who wanted to be seen partying with the local Firing Squad CO? Just walking up to her desk at the far end of the sprawling room gave me my daily dose of physical training.

Our HQ building had been the previous government house, the seat of the colonial administration before Cimmeria gained its independence. When the Cimmerian bureaucracy moved into newer accommodations, the Constabulary had inherited a ten-story structure with offices designed to impress the hoi polloi back in the old days. Fittingly, the sector commander ended up in the former colonial governor’s reception room.

A dense stand of flags backed Maras’ desk, while various awards, commendations, and paramilitary scenes decorated the walls. There were days when I thought we remembered our origins as a branch of the Armed Services with an unseemly amount of reverence.

The infantry training we still underwent as part of our recruit course didn’t help sever the link. But more than a few colonies had nothing other than a Constabulary regiment as its sole police and defense force so that connection to our past wasn’t about to evaporate.

Since I seldom wore a uniform, I rarely bothered with the military-inspired drill when reporting to a senior officer. However, I made an exception for Maras and executed a credible halt three paces from her desk before standing rigidly at attention while reciting the age-old words the Constabulary shared with its Fleet cousins. “Chief Superintendent Morrow reporting to the DCC on the Haylian investigation as ordered, sir.”

“I gather you’re here because he’s spilling his guts,” she said by way of greeting after she waved me to a chair. “Well done.”

“His former division will soon have a significant amount of evidence to support Louis Sorne’s indictment.”

“And I’m sure they’ll do it right this time so we can finally extinguish his destructive influence on Cimmerian affairs. Did you make a deal?”

“Early retirement, effective the moment he’s told us everything. He avoids jail, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Sorne’s friends caught up with him one day. At the very least, Haylian will spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. As punishments go, it fits the crime, especially since he came clean in the end.”

Maras nodded. “Agreed. Why did he go bad?”

“He claims they trapped him with a honeypot scheme. I think he simply lost control of his senses one evening. Hannah Sorne is known for her appetites and he’s her type — the successful, arrogant asshole with influence. Plus, he’s thirty years younger than her husband. Either way, Haylian will see a massive idiot stare back at him every time he shaves. There’s no sugarcoating what he did.”

The DCC shook her head and sighed.

“He would have received his second star and a plum assistant chief constable post at HQ next year without this complaint.”

“The Service dodged a bullet there. Owning a mole at the heart of the Constabulary would have delighted Sorne. Might I suggest the chief inspector who lodged the complaint receive a reward commensurate to the harm she prevented by speaking up?”

“Hard to do without people wondering. You know what the regular members think of rats, even though Haylian was an egotistical, vain, and corrupt sonofabitch, hated by most of his officers. But I will make sure her name is at the head of the list for the next promotion board. She should be a superintendent this time next year, which will put her well ahead of her peers.”

That was one thing I liked about Maras. She gave a damn about her people, which wasn’t as prevalent among the high and mighty as it should be. The Constabulary had a full complement of fools with stars on their shoulders who paid nothing more than lip service to the principles of leadership, and then only when necessary to help in their own advancement.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy with early promotion, sir. Especially if she gets to stay with Financial Crimes in a supervisory role.”

“Indeed.” Maras nodded. Then she touched her display and turned it so I could read a new case summary.

“Your next job,” she said, signaling our discussion of the Haylian case was over. Once I signed the investigation report, our soon to be former commissioner would no longer be my problem.

“The Cimmerian Gendarmerie has arrested a Navy commander on suspicion of murdering a Shrehari trade envoy on Aquilonia. Vice Admiral Kingsley, the flag officer commanding Sixth Fleet, kicked the case over to us the moment word reached him. Since it involves both a high-ranking officer and has a diplomatic angle, I’d say this is a Professional Compliance investigation and not one for the Major Crimes Division. The details are on their way to Wyvern via a special subspace transmission, but it’s a given DCC Hammett will want you to take the job. I suggest you book a seat on the next shuttle to Valerys Station and catch today’s ferry to Aquilonia. The Fleet thinks this one is a high priority, and considering the circumstances, I can understand them wanting you on the case as quickly as possible, before it becomes an interstellar crisis.”

 

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