Join Our Newsletter

Read a sample mystery every week


...or Read FREE Stories on Your Phone
The Baker Station Irregulars
About the Author: Eric's fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Analog, Clarkesworld and other venues.

There were crimes that came with a hum about them—certain thefts, certain blackmailings, and murders. You could hear the dark intricate humming, if you listened. If you had reason to listen. Because if you heard it, then he most certainly heard it as well.

Which was why I was bouncing on my toes when Simeon Hauk got killed.

Homicides happened on Baker. This wasn’t a utopian colony; it was a serviceable, ramshackle site spinning in the black. We were home to miners, mercenaries, bureaucrats, farmers, administrators, technicians, engineers and rats like myself. When someone was murdered, it was generally seen as the consequence of two million people jostling each other in the space of a few cylindrical kilometers.

Simeon Hauk’s death, however, was exceptional. It wasn’t just particularly lurid. It was that Hauk was somebody, the great retired grav-fighter. He had traveled to Baker to help judge a local championship match. Instead, he was dead. And mutilated. The details had leaked.

People still managed to be famous, even across the settled worlds and colonies and steppingstone places in the black. Simeon Hauk had made his indelible mark on the sport. It was difficult to absorb the fact that he’d met his end in the grimy bowels of Baker, and that someone had cut off his right arm and spirited it away.

That was one of the remarkable details leaked to the public while the investigation was still ongoing. The other gruesome item was that a name had been scrawled in blood beside the body. scrain. Which could only point to Ethel Scrain, Baker’s resident crime lord. It was common knowledge she had her hands in drugs, gambling, prostitution.

So, the police had called on the very powerful woman in her luxury abode, and they’d questioned her; and she had been very cooperative, they said, expressing personal dismay over the great man’s death and providing airtight alibis for herself and her operatives during the time fixed for Simeon Hauk’s violent demise.

I hadn’t expected her to be guilty. The crime had a hum to it. There would be no easy solution. I was anxiously certain that it was just a matter of time before the authorities called in Heath Minshaw. And when that happened, I hoped to hell that he would have reason to send for us. His rat army.

I watched these preliminaries from the fringes of the station. There is an art to ratting. If all you do is pick pockets, you’ll get webbed. If you only skin, you’ll get dosed with the latest-generation pox. If you can only beg, you will starve. Baker doesn’t have enough charity to sustain every lost child.

That’s the other thing about life as a rat: there is an age limit. I wasn’t over that limit. Yet.

I saw the case unfold on smudged public screens. As I feather-fingered food scraps out of dispensary slots, I soaked up chatter on the concourses—gossip, speculation, conspiracy theories. People understood that Simeon Hauk’s murder meant something. They instinctively wanted justice for the crime. The fate of the grav-fight match Hauk had come here to judge was uncertain. Should it be cancelled, out of respect? Or should it go ahead, to honor the sport and one of its greatest heroes?

That didn’t matter to me. Or it did—but only in relation to the case. Had someone wanted Simeon Hauk dead because of a presumed bias in how he might judge the local championship bout? I worked the possibility over in my buzzing mind while I waited for the police to make their next move.

At last they did, in their begrudging manner. Lt. Carruthers was sent, the unofficial liaison between the force and the consulting detective—

Stop. You may have just had an image of Lt. Carruthers flash across your mind, along with a litany of traits: stuffiness, stiffness, the mannerisms and attitudes of a bitter incompetent. Those are media portrayals. Depictions of the lieutenant are, almost without fail, lazy and unfair. Even the warm fictionalizations of Heath Minshaw’s live-in biographer make sport of Carruthers; I figure this was because the three men shared a ribald camaraderie, and mocking one another was part of that brotherhood.

This story appears in our OCT 2020 Issue
(Visit Amazon for a print version)

Buy OCT 2020 Issue

Buy It Now

Digital Subscription

Price $24.75 Cdn

You will immediately receive the current issue.
Future issues are emailed on the 1st of each month.

Reader Discussion

Add Your Comments

Read stories on your phone