Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Fourteen
So back at the office, Toreth is hit with a bit of a seemingly random game-changer, in the form of a message from an unidentified source, advising him that “Lew Marcus destroyed the security records.”
Which, given what we already know about everything and everyone involved in this case, isn’t really like throwing a spanner—but a whole fucking toolbox—into the works.
At first he considers Warrick as the sender—but recognises that it doesn’t really seem like his style.
Waiting for Sara to turn up in his office, he starts thinking about some more interactions he’s had in recent times with Warrick—
It had been an interesting evening. Very interesting. Topping was more fun than he remembered.
Oooh. Yet again, we get a casual mention—almost unnoticeable—about the inner workings of Val Toreth. I guess, like Warrick, he’s used to being in control to a large degree in his professional life so when it’s life to chill out and make with the sexytimes (and already it seems clear that Toreth regards sex as a recreational activity) he prefers to give that up… to a degree. It fits with Toreth’s somewhat hedonistic attitude about sex.
He’d planned for half an hour or so after dinner, and they’d taken nearer two.
Okay, Toreth, he’s a keeper. Already Warrick seems to be *different* to what he’s used to, and one of the important differences he has is that he manages to still remain interesting and compelling after a few sexual encounters. And it isn’t because he’s pretty or rich or overly submissive—it’s because he’s Warrick. (I can’t see Toreth being interested in someone because of their money, by the way: he strikes me as the type who’s happy enough provided he has a roof over his head and enough for some takeaway and to maintain his rather Spartan lifestyle. Unless, of course, that person with money also has power and then they’re compelling more because playing around with that power or headfucking them a bit is some sort of reward. But the money would be a merely correlating side issue.)
Tell me what you want. An entertaining question to ask someone who had so much practice at analysing his own sexual responses and who could produce clear, descriptive requests. Or at least had started off able to.
Maybe that was why it had taken so long—pushing Warrick past that into shuddering incoherence had been the most enjoyable part of all.
I love the way that Manna Francis manages to write about someone’s likes in a way that gives hints about them to the reader, if the reader wants to go all derpy and overly analytical like yours truly –or which just sounds kind of hot otherwise. And I love that Toreth, who we haven’t seen doing an awful lot of reflection (that isn’t about work or about how to acquire someone he’s interested in) seems to be thinking about this.
Kneeling, flushed and panting, cuffs pinning his arms. Everything distilled into one ddesperate need.
Please. Fuck me.
Respectable corporate guy, indeed.
*giggling* I’m one of those people who is fascinated by people in rather “respectable” roles actually being unexpectedly kooky in some way or another. I’ve spent longer than I should care to mention dealing with workplace cretins by trying to mentally envision what their sexual quirks are. It’s sort of like imagining the audience in their underwear only a bit more wrong and personal, I guess.
“Is this a private moment? I can come back later.” Sara stood in the doorway, one eyebrow raised. Fuck. How long had she been there? “Did you want me?” she asked.
Yet again, I love their relationship. Sara is so snarky and sarcastic and thoroughly awesome in her own right, and she interacts beautifully with Toreth as always. I keep thinking of who would play her if this was a TV series and drawing a huge blank, thinking it would have to be an unknown who’d just make Sara’s role her own.
Having had his “private moment” interrupted, Toreth gets down to business and asks where the message came from. Sara tells him that it’s been deemed untraceable by the IT people, and leaves him (smiling and closing the door in a typical display of Sara cheekiness—but also allowing him privacy and dignity in the understatedly caring manner she shows towards him) to move the investigation on. Toreth then pulls up Lew Marcus’ file and finds that no one can confirm when he actually left, including the security guard who saw him leaving. Deciding to chase that lead, he figures he’ll go to SimTech to chat to Marcus there.
And then the subtle games start.
In Marcus’ office, Toreth didn’t take the low seat offered.
Nice. It’s one of those really subtle body language things that most people wouldn’t pick— I mean, offering someone a seat is fairly ordinary, and fits in with what we consider to be good etiquette—yet there can be some serious subtle power play going on, and things can shift with both the offer of the seat or the refusal of that offer… (and the positioning of the seating, too, though that’s a side issue…)
Still standing, leaving Marcus seated and forced to look up at him, he starts asking what the hell’s going on. Marcus is evasive, and Toreth pulls out the big guns.
“I’m going to ask you again if you remember. Before you answer, I’d like to remind you who you’re talking to, and why. Impeding the conduct of an investigation is in itself a minimum category two offence—higher if the seriousness of the case merits it.”
One thing I like about Toreth is that his dealings with people are well-timed. He doesn’t come across as thuggish (he could very well have been throwing his weight around from the get-go and trying to intimidate information out of people at the start of the case), rather someone who knows when and how to use his authority to get results. He’s smarter than your average bad guy foot soldier, and either in spite of—or because of—his apparent sociopathy (or complex PTSD, I’d argue)—he has an eloquence with people that even a lot of good guys lack.
And it works on Marcus, who is clearly shitty about someone having it over him, though he starts talking. Though there’s another hole in his story, which Toreth quickly jumps on.
“And what time did you arrive home?”
“I don’t—“ He stopped, staring at the camera recording the interview, and Toreth watched as he ran through the lies, failing to find one which would stand up to pressure. Eventually, he looked down to where his hands were clasped together,
A random point I want to make here: nice use of that gesture. Again, it’s subtle body language just showing what’s going on in Marcus’ head and that he’s clearly defeated, and possibly scared. It’s also something that Ana in Shades seems to do a hell of a lot around Grey, and, well, it doesn’t speak volumes of happytimes romance. I see it as a human equivalent of a dog holding its tail between its back legs.
resting on the edge of the desk. “It was about ten fifteen, as I told you before. I honestly don’t remember exactly, so it could have been ten minutes either way.”
Toreth realises he couldn’t have killed Kelly Jarvis, though continues the questioning… clearly Marcus is hiding something. Evasive and not wanting to admit details, Toreth finally gets it out of him:
“I was with a girl. A woman.”
“A regular thing?” Who would hence make a bad alibi, and keep this lead alive.
Marcus shook his head, still not looking at him. “A prostitute.”
Which made her an alibi with no interest in covering up for Marcus.
Well, at least he can tie off this particular end.
Toreth asks if she was registered, and Marcus all but admits that he didn’t ask.
Since money wasn’t likely to be a concern, he considered briefly and picked a likely kink. “How old was she?”
Quiet applause from me: nicely played, Toreth… and it sure as hell explains Marcus’ messing with the security tapes (it wouldn’t look good for a director of a company to have some sort of scandal to his name, I assume) and reluctance to answer Toreth’s questions… especially if he’s worried about getting in trouble for his involvement with the girl—I mean, woman.
From the flash of panic, he knew he was right. Marcus took a deep breath and said, “S—eighteen. She had ID.”
“Of course she did. You checked her ID but not her registration.”
He took a small step sideways, forcing Marcus to meet his gaze. “Listen. I don’t care who you fucked. I don’t care if she isn’t registered. I don’t care which side of legal she is.
That’d be Justice’s job, wouldn’t it?
“I do care that you’re making my life difficult. Give me a name—if you can’t give me a name, give me a place, a time, and a description of whoever the hell you bought her from. Then I can check it out and just maybe I won’t have to go and explain all this to your wife.”
Oh… well done. Marcus is actually comes across as more worried about that than the legal repercussions, and admits he screwed around with the security records.
“I know,” Toreth said, enjoying the dismay on Marcus’ face. “I’m afraid it’s too late in the day for honesty to help.”
“But I have backup!”
Toreth blinked. “What?”
Weirdly enough, Marcus kept records, which are legit and untampered with, and which he offers to Toreth, and then he asks what will happen.
“To you? Well, as I said, what you’ve done is a category two offense. A fine rather than prison, but it’s an automatic revocation of corporate status. And a category four on top, maybe, if the girl comes in underage. The Justice system might issue a re-education order for that, for a noncorporate. If I asked for it, of course.
Basically, Marcus, he could ruin your life. And he wants you to know that.
Or I may not charge you with anything—it all depends on what kind of mood I’m in.” He smiled coldly. “Not very good at the moment, I have to say.”
I probably should be feeling bad for Marcus, but reading that, I was just smirking away to myself: the delivery was perfect, and now we know Marcus is going to drop the attitude around Toreth, even if he’s going to be pissy that he has to.
Look, Marcus, he tried being nice.
Marcus simply stared at him, all arrogance gone.
Toreth picked up the camera, wringing what little satisfaction he could from the situation. “I promise I’ll let you know when I make my mind up.”
Oh, burn. Now we know that Marcus’ cooperation is ensured for awhile, but that he’s not the murderer, we still don’t know who sent the note, and that basically, Toreth’s not much closer to working out what the hell is going on. Still, he managed to do what he did with flair.
Toreth goes back to the office and considers what could be going on (after getting one of his team to check out the alibi). Wondering if there was some sort of blackmail plot involving a workplace affair with either Kelly or Tara and Marcus, he wonders if the tampered tape could have shown Kelly being murdered by Marcus.
Superficially attractive as the conjecture was, he found it hard to get excited about. A liking for fucks of dubious legality didn’t make a murderer, and he’d have a hell of a job getting a damage waiver from Justice with that as his only evidence. Worse, it didn’t provide Marcus with a motivr to kill Teffera.
I like that: the logic and the idea that yes, Marcus is kind of a shit, but that doesn’t make him a murderer. And that the system is in place: it would be a royal pain to get the paperwork and authority to bring him in for interrogation.
And he realises that there could be other possibilities: like the fact that there might be more than one murderer and that the whole thing could be “an unlucky coincidence.”
He decides to drop the idea and forget about the waiver unless there’s something more concrete linking Marcus to the murder.
So what were the options? Tillotson was right—he had nothing. Thanks to the anonymous tip-off, he had less than he had on Friday, as the possibility of murder had receded even further with the resolution of the lost security records. Proving the culpability of the sim seemed unlikely.
You can feel the frustration, can’t you? Especially since the techies looking at the code and hardware haven’t given him an end date either. But Toreth is still convinced that it’s corporate sabotage and that unfortunately, with the rate things are progressing for him, and the impending refinancing of SimTech the killer will have won when everyone pulls out and someone else buys the company.
After that there would be no more fresh corpses. A pity, since another body or two could only help.
You really get that Toreth wants to solve this because it’s a puzzle and because it’s his job, not because he’s some sort of superhero who cares about the integrity of humanity and justice, don’t you?
Toreth leaned back in his chair, considering that idea more carefully. More bodies… Maybe he could do something about that, and at the same time test the theory that the deaths were an attack on SimTech. A little provocation might bring him the evidence he badly needed.
I get the line of thinking, and I realise to him it’s little more than a game, but… wow. It’s a bit like that riddle about the sociopath who attends a funeral and meets someone he likes there, so he decides he wants to meet her again… so he kills her sister. The logic holds, but it’s brutal (and risky).
At coffee time, he caught up with Sara and said, “I’d like something dropped in the admin network, please.”
She grinned. “Sure. What?”
“The sim didn’t kill our corpses—it’s just a very odd coincidence. Two cases of natural causes. We’re sitting on our hands for awhile to annoy Justice and then closing the whole thing down.”
Now she looked disappointed. “It’s going to be hard to float that one. It’s not exactly gripping, is it?”
“It doesn’t need to get very far—just round the section.” Any corporate sabs big enough to tangle with LiveCorp would have friends at I&I to pick it up from there.
I love the plan! And I love the way he utilises Sara’s knack for office gossip… and I love that she has the knack for it but it anything but your stereotypical office ditz: she’s socially astute and able to appear harmless at times, but she’s, well, not.
The downside is that, yeah, people might get killed. Or nothing might happen. But still, it’s something, and right now Toreth’s in a complete pickle of a situation.
Meanwhile, a rather sheepish Lew Marcus pays Warrick a visit and coughs up.
“Warrick, I’m afraid I’ve done something stupid. Very probably unforgivably stupid. Do—oh, God.”
He squared his shoulders. “Do you remember the trouble six years back? The girl?”
“Your amateur blackmailer?” He tried to keep his tone light, although dealing with the incident had been one of his less enjoyable lessons in corporate management.
Oh, fuck. He might be good at what he does and driven to see the sim succeed, but not only is Marcus a creep, but he’s a liability, too.
“Yes. I did…” Lew looked down at his hands, long fingers clasped together, knuckles white. “I’ve been doing it again.”
I’m so torn here because he makes my skin crawl, but at least he’s finally owning up to what he’s doing when he realises that Warrick is probably going to go completely apeshit. Also, is it just me or is anyone else wondering what Marian Tanit makes of Lew Marcus? (And his relationship with his mother.)
Oh, hell. Lew’s predilections weren’t a subject Warrick had any wish to discuss, even when there was a legitimate concern as to how they impacted on SimTech. On the other hand, Warrick had spent a fair portion of Saturday night kneeling on the floor of a hotel room in front of the para-investigator in charge of the case, discovering how good it felt to have to beg for every touch. He was hardly in a position to take the moral high ground over sexual practises occasioning threats to SimTech’s image.
Hmmm. I wonder if Warrick only knows part of the story and assumes that Marcus’ scandalous behaviour concerns seeing sex workers as opposed to teenage girls. Also, I find this interesting: Warrick works with people describing fantasy and sensation in the sim; he gets glimpses into other people’s personal thoughts and a somewhat intimate look at who they are on a deeper level than most people get… yet when it comes to one of his equals, he’s avoidant.
He tells Marcus that he should talk to Marian about it (heh!), and when Marcus said he did, then he admits to having dicked around with the security footage on the night Kelly died, admitting that his wife threatened to leave if he did it again. Warrick considers telling Toreth about that, and tells Marcus he needs to come clean to I&I, but
“That’s what Marian said. And I’d been thinking about it, trying to work out how. But it’s too late; the para-investigator already found out, somehow. Here was here today.”
I love how Marian actually knew this—at some point—but the readers didn’t know, and that there’s so much more going on at SimTech than we’re seeing. Secrets—smaller ones than the big obvious one—still make things complicated—and compelling, and it’s just utterly delicious. (This is one of those books I wish I could read for the first time again over and over. In a way, writing the read-through recaps actually makes me feel like I am, in a way, so I’m getting to rehash my love for it on a new level, if that makes sense.)
Marcus explains how that went.
“He made a lot of unpleasant threats and thoroughly enjoyed himself, as far as I could tell. The man’s revolting—I’d always heard that that place employed sadists, but I didn’t believe it until now.”
Oh gawd. I’m thoroughly amused because clearly Marcus has no idea about Toreth and Warrick, or about his workmate’s predilections, and also because he was thoroughly pwned in the best way possible by Toreth and it’s likely he’s still shitty about that. Then there’s the fact that, well, dude: you screw underage prostitutes. Not really your place to be all judgmental.
Warrick is relieved when he realises that Toreth knows that Marcus didn’t kill Kelly, and even moreso when he admits to having backups which he’s handed over, though he’s still unimpressed with what’s happened.
“I don’t need to tell you what this could do to the finance renegotiations.”
Lew returned his gaze, all traces of humour gone. “I know. That’s why I had to tell you what I’d done. In case—“ He sat up straighter, his shoulders stiff. “In case you wanted to invoke the founders’ clause to remove me from the board. I think you could legitimately consider me a fatal liability to the corporation at this point. I won’t fight it, if you do, and I’ll give up my shares right away.”
Wow. That’s actually kind of honourable of Marcus, though the timing is awful: the last thing SimTech needs is more drama, and Warrick realises that. And despite his anger, he calms himself and asks if Marcus has talked to Asher. When he says he hasn’t, Warrick assures Marcus that they’ll stick by him, and if there are charges, SimTech will provide him with legal counsel.
Relieved, Marcus apologises, and Warrick wants to be snarky, but can’t.
“We have to stick together,” Warrick said. “If someone is trying to kill SimTech, the last thing we need is for the directors to fall apart. That would be the last straw for our chances with the sponsors.”
I love the way he’s so pragmatic about it, because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that I know what I’d have done in his situation.
He then offers Marcus a thoroughly non-subtle lift home, and thus concludes the chapter.
And I’ll admit: this is where things start to really heat up for me; I actually found myself with a few reading hours sans laptop and kind of read ahead nine chapters without even realising it after this point. I had forgotten how wonderful this book is. It’s nice to remind myself.