Mystery Stories Home Page

Copyright 2004 by Michael E. Grost

The Election Day Mystery

A Paul Henderson "High Technology" Mystery

By Michael E. Grost

Community policeman Paul Henderson looked down at the body in the alley behind the school, early Friday evening. Paul had just discovered it a minute before. He had thought he'd heard a shot, while in the school gymnasium. Paul had been busy setting up voting machines in the gym, in preparation for tomorrow's election. The man sprawled in the alleyway was around 45 years old, white, dressed in a sweater and slacks. Paul had already called for an ambulance. Paul never used a cell phone while in uniform. He could talk to people through his shoulder radio. If he needed privacy, he could connect it to a small head set.

Suddenly the man opened his eyes. They were startlingly blue. He tried to speak, but only made choking sounds.

"Are you trying to tell us who did this to you?" Paul asked the man urgently.

The man gave a brief nod.

Paul and his friend Ju Jin Trunh bent closer to the man. The school was in a poor neighborhood, filled with refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. This was Paul's district. Ju Jin was a 25 year old Vietnamese-American who worked in a grocery store. He was working with Paul as a volunteer, setting up the election equipment. Ju Jin had just come from his cousin's wedding, and was still in his best suit. He wore an unopened red rose in his lapel, like all of the groomsmen at the wedding.

The man tried to speak again, but only sputtered. Suddenly, he saw the rose in Ju Jin's lapel. He reached a shaking hand, and grabbed the unopened rose out of Ju Jin's jacket. With an intense glance at it, he collapsed back on the ground, in a deep faint.

Paul looked in the man's pockets.

"Nothing," Paul told Ju Jin. "He's not carrying a wallet. Probably who ever did this robbed him."

Paul had arrived at the gym an hour before.

Paul was in his shiny new police uniform. Paul was not what he considered a real policeman. Instead, he was a volunteer member of West Springbok's Community Police Force. He was a civilian who did volunteer work on weekends, under the sponsorship of the city's police department. From Monday through Friday, Paul was a salesperson and expert technician for a computer hardware company. He spent his Saturday's doing volunteer work, something that helped give meaning to his otherwise hectic, high pressure life.

Paul's volunteer work was not that much different from his business career, in some ways. As a policeman, he was trying to get residents to take part in community organizations and activities: neighborhood watch groups, school associations, civic leagues, literacy groups, voter registration drives. This was actually a whole lot like his sales work back at the office. There, he would try to persuade customers to buy computers, modems and network servers. Here, he tried to "sell" civic involvement. Paul had plenty of experience as a salesman. He knew just how to talk to people, to speak to them about their concerns and needs. This stood him in good stead with his volunteer work on weekends. In both activities, Paul was always going up to perfect strangers, and trying to establish contact.

The idea behind community policing was that when people were involved with their community, crime decreased and prosperity grew.

Paul reported to Lieutenant Wanda Grimes, the real, career police officer who was in change of the West Springbok Community Policing Program. Paul had been trained by Grimes, who considered Paul one of her best pupils. Paul had so far spent around four months of Saturday's in uniform on the job.

Ju Jin liked Paul's uniform. The sharp uniform certainly looked official. It was designed to make Paul look like everyone's image of a friendly, good guy, neighborhood cop. The navy blue uniform, traditional in every way, made Paul look like a kind-hearted but firm authority figure, someone who would protect little kids while keeping neighborhood toughs in line. Paul, a muscular man in his early thirties, also looked like a cop, with his short brown hair and confident posture.

Paul's uniform, like those of the other community policemen, had huge Sergeant's stripes on its sleeve. His name tag read "Sgt. Henderson". His badge number was 7194. All the badge numbers were made up of four digit combinations of 1, 4, 7 and 9. There were 256 such combinations, more than enough for the community police. The badges were made of a metal alloy with unusually high reflectivity. Any light shining on them would glitter and glow. So would the insignia on his uniform collar and shoulder epaulettes, and the large silver flashlight Paul wore in his belt. Paul was always glittering like a hero in the movies.

There was a black leather Sam Browne harness worn with his belt, that passed diagonally over the front of the uniform shirt. It matched the huge boots Paul wore.

"Those are the shiniest boots I've ever seen, Sergeant," Ju Jin said enthusiastically. "They look as if you spent hours spit shining them."

Paul grinned. "They always look that way. They are made of some sort of high tech leather, that's really cool. A brief daily polish with a chamois cloth to remove dust is all that is needed to give them that mirror shine look." Paul removed his own cap to think about this, an enormously high peaked police officer's cap, navy blue, with a large silver police badge positioned erectly in its center front, over its curving black vinyl visor. The badge on his cap matched the one on his chest. He scratched his head, then put his cap back on at a jaunty angle.

"You look like the ultimate Good Guy," Ju Jin said.

The community was divided down the middle into two municipalities: West Springbok and East Springbok. The dividing line was arbitrary, and there was really very little difference between the two towns. Yet the difference was ancient - over a hundred years old by this time - and was unlikely to change soon.

East Springbok had its own volunteer Community Police Force. Paul knew a few of the guys on it. His least favorite were the two that walked in the gym door, around an hour before Paul discovered the body. Sam Wilson was a big blond guy around thirty; his partner Isaac Ventner was an equally muscular black man of around the same age. Both men were highly aggressive yuppies in their private lives, Ventner being a sales executive at a food company that processed and canned beans, and Wilson being a human resources director for an HMO. As usual, both men looked aggressive, cocksure, and determined to be in charge. Paul had to admit that Wilson and Ventner were both honest. And they seemed to be conscientious and hard working about their police duties. But something about the arrogant cops seemed to irritate the hell out of Paul.

The East Springbok police uniform was not as friendly looking as the West Springbok uniform Paul wore. Instead, it seemed designed to be dressy and intimidating. It was jet black, worn with a white dress shirt and tie, a high peaked black cap, huge black leather gauntlets and boots. Paul had to admit that both men looked really sharp. However, Paul was secretly pleased that, no matter how much East Springbok's finest shined their boots, that they never quite achieved the luster of West Springbok's high tech leather.

"How's the boy in blue?" Wilson asked, by way of greeting. He always referred to Paul as a boy: "Our boy in West Springbok" or "the new boy".

"Any problems here you can't handle?" Ventner queried. "If you get in over your head, you can always call in the East Springbok Force."

Paul resisted an impulse to kick both men in the shins.

Wilson had an annoying habit of tapping his nightstick against his hand, while talking to you. The gesture looked really intimidating.

"The voter registration rate in our precinct is 78.3 percent," Wilson said with a sneer on his handsome face. "What's yours here?" Wilson plainly guessed it was much lower. Paul had only been on the job here a few months, compared to the year that Wilson and Ventner had to make their East Springbok precinct into a show place.

"It's 56.4," Paul said quietly. "We're hoping to get it higher by next spring's special election."

"Not bad for a beginner," Ventner said condescendingly. "If you need advice, you can always come to the old masters, here," indicating Wilson and himself with a sweep of his gauntleted hand.

Actually, one of Paul's friends who was a newcomer on the East Springbok force had told Paul that Ventner and Wilson had been very helpful to him. They were probably just going after Paul because he was a member of a rival force.

Paul showed Ventner and Wilson his small, hand-held computer. It had a color display, and was connected by wireless to the Internet, and to central computers in the precinct.

"We've downloaded the names of all the registered voters in this precinct," Paul told them, bringing up some names.

"What's that writing used for the names?" Ventner wondered.

"That's what the names look like in the full Vietnamese and Cambodian character sets," Paul said wisely. "The names are stored in Unicode format, and then translated into Cambodian, Hmong or Vietnamese scripts. So everyone has their names in the full character sets of their own language."

Wilson and Ventner looked impressed.

"I've been learning to read the scripts," Paul went on, with a smile of false modesty. "It's not hard to learn how to pronounce names written in the languages, once you get used to it. I've also been watching Vietnamese movies. The Scent of Green Papaya is very good."

Paul had designed the computer interfaces used by the Springbok systems. It was his first volunteer project with the police six months ago, and was the start of his service with the force. Paul's interface was XML-based, so it allowed all sorts of different devices to communicate with each other: radio transmitters, computers, walkie talkies, cell phones. Paul had wanted every piece of equipment used by the police to have a small computer chip, which could communicate by wireless with every other chip. He had also worked with the East Springbok volunteer hardware expert, Peter Winkowski, who had designed the actual electronic equipment. Paul and Peter had ensured that the East and West Springbok systems could talk to each other - Paul was a deep believer in interoperability. There was increasing interest in their work by other police forces, around the country, and there was talk about Paul's XML interface becoming an industry standard.

There was a classroom that had been set-up at a day care room, while the parents voted tomorrow. Paul e-mailed each computer in it a voting game. It let kids pretend they were voting, for all the current candidates. It would also set up tallies of total votes, create pie and bar charts of the voting totals, and play stirring versions of patriotic songs, like "The Stars and Stripes Forever". It was really good at luring people into voting who had never voted before. Paul regularly e-mailed it to families in his precinct. Adults often wound up enjoying it as much as kids. After practicing voting in the video game, it seemed much more normal for people to vote in the real election. The game also sent people multi-media e-mail each week, telling them how many days were left until the election.

Paul also planned to teach his course tomorrow about goal setting. Ju Jin recalled the first time Paul had given it, to a group of kids, during an election day two months before. Paul was standing before them in a classroom in the school, which was being used as a day-care center while their parents voted. Nearby was a white board covered with the words GOALS in big blue letters. He was having all the little kids make up daily and weekly goals, and write them down in a notebook.

The whole idea of goal-setting seemed new to most of these kids. It was a bit easy to make fun of Paul as a typical yuppie, Ju Jin thought, but goal-setting would probably do all these kids a whale of good. The whole idea seemed new to the handful of parents sitting in the room, too. All over, light bulbs were clearly going on in people's heads. Paul also had a computer game for the class, showing people how to set and keep track of goals. Paul had taken advantage of new, low cost software, which allowed people to build simple computer games rapidly and cheaply. Whenever Paul wanted to communicate with people, he built a computer game, like his voting and goal-setting games. They were really effective in reaching people.

After this, Paul squared his shoulders, and went on to tell everybody to avoid cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. He flexed his muscles under his uniform, and told people you could never build up your body if you smoked or drank. Every mother in the room was looking at Paul with dreamy eyes.

East Springbok also had classes, but they were a bit more fierce.

Ventner and Wilson taught a course for new voters. This was run like a boot camp, and was popular with young adults who had never voted before. The two men would stand in front, ferocious looking in their Sergeant's uniforms, and belt out commands to the "rookies" in the class.

"Are you going to VOTE?" Ventner would shout.

"Yes Sir!" the class would shout back in unison.

"I can't hear you!" Ventner would scream.

"Yes Sir!" the class would shout again still louder.

"I STILL can't hear you" Ventner would emit.

Wilson would go up to some rookie and talk right in his face.

"It takes a real man to vote!" he'd yell.

"Yes sir" the rookie would tell him.

Everyone in the class was required to fill out a voter registration application. Ventner and Wilson would go around the class with ball point pens, and scrawl each rookie's registration number right on the rookie's hands. The black ink was indelible, and would remain for days.

Paul once heard two guys talking, one of whom had taken the class.

"It was really intense, Tom," Bill told him seriously. "It was about the most intense experience I ever had."

"I've never been through anything like that." Tom sounded envious.

"It really makes you think about what you can do," Bill said, with the voice of manly experience. "I'd recommend it to anybody, but only if they thought they could take it."

"You have to be ready for a transition like that," Tom agreed.

While working in the gym, Paul saw a man wandering down a school corridor, checking everything out. He stopped thoughtfully to look at things. He stepped into a teacher's lounge. This was to be Paul's last sight of him, before he found this man shot in the alley.

Paul was not concerned. There were still many teachers wandering around the school, although the school day was over and all the kids had gone home. And the stranger looked highly respectable.

Two more visitors showed up at the gym that afternoon. They gave Paul their business cards. Both worked for a foundation of which Paul had never heard.

The fortyish man in the dark suit was Thaddeus A. P. Worthington Kitteridge IV, according to his business card.

"We're planning to be involved in tomorrow's voting turnout," the man told Paul.

"That's great!" Paul told him enthusiastically. "We can use all the help we can get to get the vote out. I'd like everyone in the precinct to vote tomorrow," Paul said, giving his best computer salesman smile.

"This is my associate, Miss Alice Haven," Kitteridge said, introducing a pretty brunette woman in her late twenties. Haven was wearing a blue suit.

Paul quietly entered the names of both Kitteridge and Alice Haven into his contact list on his hand-held. Paul found contacts to be really useful in both his police work and business career. The contact list automatically recorded the time and date of the meeting. And geographical software in the hand-held automatically recorded the place of the contact, as well - Sarah Orne Jewett High School.

Paul turned to work with Ju Jin in moving another voting machine into place. When he looked around, both Kitteridge and Alice Haven had disappeared.

While putting some gym equipment into a large storeroom, Paul accidentally discovered Alice Haven and Sam Wilson together. They were standing close to each other, and talking in a quiet, intimate manner. Alice looked upset, and kept pointing to Wilson's uniform. Paul had the unmistakable feeling that Alice and Wilson knew each other very well. Maybe even as lovers. An embarrassed Paul beat a hasty retreat, before either of the couple saw him.

Paul heard a noise like a shot, while he was working with Ju Jin. He and Ju Jin wasted several minutes exploring remote rooms of the school without success. He finally wondered if the shot might have come from the alley behind the old school.

It was cool outside. Paul slipped on his police motorcycle jacket, zipping it up against the cold. The heavy black leather jacket had his name tag and badge on its chest, and Sergeant's stripes on its sleeves.

Paul and Ju Jin found the body near some trash bins in the alley.

Paul knew his friend had nothing to do with the crime. Paul knew Ju Jin was a person of high moral integrity. Plus, Paul and Ju Jin had been together for the half hour leading up to the shot.

What were Ventner and Wilson doing there at the school? Paul wondered silently to himself. They certainly were not just "dropping by" on one of the busiest days of the year for the Community Police. Could they be involved somehow in the shooting? And what about Alice Haven? And Thaddeus A. P. Worthington Kitteridge IV? Why had they "just dropped in for a look"?

Or was the shooting just another random mugging, by a street thug who had now fled?

Paul and Ju Jin stood above the now fainted man, waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

There was no identification on the shot man. Someone, perhaps the killer, had lifted his wallet. Paul pulled up the shot man's right thumb, and positioned it so the digital camera in his hand-held could take its picture. Then he sent the photo by wireless network to police headquarters, and from there to government databases in Washington DC. Pattern recognition technology categorized the thumbprint ridges as a mathematical formula. That formula was then used for a quick search through a national database for a match. In less than a minute, Paul had a ID on the shot man back on his hand-held, along with a fact sheet.

"We'd like to see that, too," Ventner told Paul, in his deep voice.

Paul set up his police flashlight on a table in a school room, so that its beam could project on a nearby white wall. The flashlight also served as a computer projector. Paul radio transmitted the fact sheet from his hand-held to the computer chip in his flashlight, which in turn projected it on the wall. It was just like looking at a slide show. Ventner, Wilson, Ju Jin and Paul could all study the shot man's record together, as it appeared in large, full color letters and pictures on the wall.

The man was not a Springbok local. He was David Goldberg, a reporter for a New York newspaper. Goldberg had a long career as an investigative reporter. He mainly covered political scandals. He had a record of exposing election frauds, and hidden secrets of political candidates.

"This is clearly not any ordinary mugging" Ventner said. All three of the officers and Ju Jin were standing there jaw dropped, looking at Goldberg's enormous record. Paul had gone on to find a list of Goldberg's newspaper publications in an on-line database.

"What is a national reporter like Goldberg doing in a town like Springbok?" Paul wondered with quiet awe.

The four men just stood there looking at each other.

Paul soon got the pager number of Goldberg's editor in New York City, and sent him a page through Paul's hand-held. The editor soon phoned Paul. Paul set his shoulder radio up so that all three of Ventner, Wilson and Ju Jin could share in the voice conversation with the editor. Paul also got the editor's permission to record the conversation for evidential purposes.

Goldberg's editor was shocked to learn about the shooting. He did not know any details of Goldberg's current investigation.

"David's always been something of a lone wolf," he told the community police.

Paul also e-mailed the editor Paul's credentials. They immediately came up on the editor's computer in New York City. They included a full color picture of Paul, Paul's rank and status in the department, and contact information for Paul and his superiors at the West Springbok Community Police. People liked having this information. When Paul had met with the principal of the school the week before, to arrange the setting up of the voting equipment, Paul had e-mailed the principal his credentials during the meeting in the principal's office. The principal could look right between Paul and the photo on his computer screen.

Lieutenant Spitz was Ventner and Wilson's superior, a tough, grizzled looking veteran of around fifty. He'd been notified of the attempted homicide at the school, and hurried over to supervise the crime scene. Spitz was a "real" policeman, and head of East Springbok's Community Police program. Around the station, the program was popularly known as the YIU, short for "Yuppies In Uniform". While the volunteers got some kidding, everyone had to admit that they were efficient. The yuppie volunteers who staffed the Community Police were loaded with job skills which they brought to their work. They were endlessly resourceful. They also would not take no for an answer - if one approach did not succeed, they were always right in there trying another.

Spitz called out "Attention!" Ventner and Wilson stiffened, and saluted Spitz with extreme snappiness. Wilson had been on a precision drill team in high school, and he had taught Ventner and many other volunteers of the Community Police everything he knew. The Community Police all loved drill. Uniforms, drill, saluting: all were clearly a big part of the appeal of joining the Community Police. Spitz made sure they got a chance to salute him as frequently as possible. It kept his volunteers happy.

Politicians had started paying attention to people in poor neighborhoods, after they became more involved due to the community police. The city council had once come to a meeting of the neighborhood watch group Paul had organized in his precinct. The president of the group had asked everyone who voted to raise their hands. Everyone in the school auditorium where the meeting was held shot up their arms. You could see a new respect dawning in the eyes of the council members. Politicians always paid attention to folks who voted. It was a proud moment for Paul, who was watching from the sidelines. The Cambodian-American president had gone on to make a speech, about how much better it was live to live in a democracy like the United Sates, than under a Communist dictatorship.

There was nothing more to do at the gym. Paul and Ju Jin had only planned to work there an hour, setting up the voting machines. Tomorrow would be the big day. Paul would be there during the whole Saturday election, helping his precinct residents vote.

Like much of Springbok, Paul was going that night to a new show at the local art gallery. Paul wasn't sure what to wear for the gallery opening. He slipped on a black leather suit, a shiny black stretch tee shirt, and a well shined pair of black shoes. The suit was shaped like a well-tailored business suit, and made of a soft, highly glazed black leather.

Paul ran into his old friend Peter Winkowski at the gallery. Peter had worked with Paul, designing the equipment the Community Police used. Peter was in his mid thirties, shortish, and dressed in a bright blue suit.

"I found a reporter named David Goldberg today." Paul told Peter all about the case.

"I've met him once," Peter replied. "He asked me questions about computer security - he was interested in how public key cryptography might interface with voting through the Internet. This was at a computer conference in Boston."

"Did Goldberg try to contact you in Springbok?" Paul asked Peter.

"No - haven't heard from him since Boston," Peter smiled.

Ventner was also at the opening, along with his wife Claudia. Claudia, who was an official with the local board of education, was in an elegant chartreuse evening gown that set off her stunning beauty and elaborately braided black hair. Ventner was in a formally styled jet-black tuxedo. The couple had inveigled Wilson into coming, and had set him up with one of Claudia's schoolteacher friends. Claudia was always trying to marry Wilson off.

Wilson was also in a sharp black tuxedo that bulged with his huge muscles. Both Wilson and Ventner were always dressed up to the max.

Paul had once had to go to Ventner's office on a weekday morning, to discuss Community Police business. The two forces, of East and West Springbok, were working together on a charity drive to collect books as Christmas presents for poor kids. Paul had been awed by Ventner's office at the bean company. It looked like that of a successful lawyer, with wood paneled walls, and a huge mahogany desk for Ventner. Wilson had been there too. Instead of their police uniforms, both Ventner and Wilson were dressed for business, in forceful, authoritative looking gray suits. Of course, Paul had been expecting this, and had worn his own dressiest suit, a double-breasted charcoal pinstripe, that made him look like a top Wall Street investment banker. In the contest to see who was best dressed, the representatives of the East Springbok or West Springbok Community Police, there was a general sense of a draw.

The three of them had also made a pitch to the local manager of a discount chain, to donate left over paperbacks from his book department. The three had worn business clothes to that meeting as well. Paul wore a navy blue pinstripe suit. The business suit was exceptionally dressy, and was cut and styled to look like something the chairman of a board of directors might wear. But the navy blue material had an extra feature. Somehow, a high tech glaze had been added to the material, so the suit was shiny and even a bit reflective, like a dark blue mirror. The material never failed to fascinate people - everybody wanted to ask Paul questions about it. It gave the otherwise corporate looking suit a party air. Paul loved everything high tech.

Paul wondered if the West Springbok Force could develop a formal evening wear version of his police uniform. Something he could wear in place of a tuxedo, at dress up affairs like the gallery opening.

Paul envisioned a midnight blue mess jacket, fastened by a gold chain in front, and worn with a stiff white evening shirt and black bow tie. Special high-peaked midnight blue uniform caps would match the jacket, with unusually large black visors. The jackets could either be worn with conventional black evening trousers made out of cloth, or shiny black vinyl trousers that had a leather look. Paul decided he would speak to Lt. Grimes about these, next week. One of the first principles of being a good salesman was Always To Look Your Best. The Community Police volunteers all paid for their own uniforms out of their own pockets, and Paul thought these would be popular with members of the force.

Paul could easily add a description of such uniforms to the XML scheme he had devised to represent the different kinds of uniforms already available to the force. This scheme allowed any police uniform to be specified with extreme precision. When officers were summoned for group duty, the notice could specify precisely what sort of uniform to wear, right down to details of badges, insignia, caps, and police equipment. This would guarantee that the officers would be dressed exactly alike, except for their insignia of rank, of course. Because the specification was XML based, the summons could be sent through e-mail, automated phone messages, printed documents or the Internet. Paul discovered he enjoyed being dressed to this degree of precision; so did the other officers on the force. It gave him an extra degree of panache. It also helped ensure that the community police officers always had the right technical equipment for any special assignment.

Because all of the police badges and equipment had computer chips inside them, an instant, automated check could run to see if the equipment an officer was wearing matched the description sent in the summons. Paul always ran such a check using his hand-held, before leaving for police duty. This ensured that his uniform was precisely correct. The check was amazingly precise, validating the tiniest details of the officer's badges and insignia, and verifying that he wore the right kind of handcuffs and matching keys on his leather police belt. It would even certify that the officer's chest ribbons were correctly worn in the precise order specified by the computerized Police Uniform and Decorations Manual. The officers all knew they faced such a potential check every time they reported to a superior officer, or to lineup duty. Any infraction during a uniform check by a superior officer would become a permanent part of their computerized police record. The officers all expected such checks. They knew in advance from their own computers that they would pass such an official inspection.

There were even computer chips in the zippers of Paul's black leather police motorcycle jacket. They could tell if each zipper were open or closed. Paul's hand-held could check these chips through wireless transmission, just like his insignia and equipment. If the line-up summons specified that his chest pocket was zippered shut, while the two cuff zippers were fully open, the computer check would confirm that Paul was in compliance. When Paul and the other officers appeared in the line-up, all their zippers would be fastened exactly alike.

The forces already had their own sports uniforms. Every year, there was a big touch football game between the two Community Police Forces. The guys on each force had their own special football jerseys. West Springbok's were a navy blue, just like their police uniforms, while East Springbok's were black. Both teams frequently wore their jerseys while off duty. Each shiny nylon jersey had the officer's name and football number on it, as well as insignia of the Force. The football jerseys were a familiar sight at hardware stores and movie theaters around town.

Paul was number 7194 on his team, just like his badge number. His jersey sported a huge silver 7194 on its chest and sleeves. He usually wore the blue jersey with a pair of blue track pants and matching blue gym shoes. Paul, who came from a poor background, and who had been an unpopular, socially ignored nerd in high school, loved being dressed as a football hero as a grown-up.

Paul was in touch via e-mail with volunteer police in Canada. He knew that hockey uniforms were popular there.

Ventner's company had provided the hors-d'oeuvres for the gallery opening, free of charge as a good will gesture. The company processed every kind of bean, and the gallery dishes were all made out of Lupini beans, something Paul had never eaten before. The brilliantly colored curry was Paul's favorite, with yellow Lupini beans, red tomatoes and carrots and orange peppers. The dishes were served on a large table, decorated with potted Lupin plants, the kinds of flowers which produced the Lupini beans. Many of the Lupins had columns of bright yellow flowers. These were a kind that had been grown since the days of Ancient Rome. There were also purple Peruvian Field Lupins. Others were the blue-colored Lupins known as Texas Bluebonnets, which were pretty but not edible. Ventner's company offered a free cookbook, One Hundred Things You Can Make with Lupini Beans.

Paul waited until the ladies had retreated to the powder room at the art gallery. Then he cornered Wilson and Ventner.

"All right, you two!" Paul challenged them. "Tell me what you know about this. Why were you both there in my precinct this afternoon?" Paul looked both men in the eye.

Wilson turned bright red. He looked to Ventner for support.

Finally Ventner explained.

Thaddeus A. P. Worthington Kitteridge IV was a representative of a right wing foundation. His mission was to see that as few non-white people voted as possible. He had computer print-outs of alleged felony commissions of registered voters in Paul's precinct. His foundation planned to challenge Asians and blacks as they went into the polls to vote tomorrow - convicted felons were unable to vote in Paul's state. Paul's precinct was to be a pilot program. If the foundation were successful at stopping large numbers of non-whites from voting there this year, then a year from now the program would be extended to the entire state - maybe the nation.

The foundation's program was dynamite. No wonder Goldberg had been out to Springbok, presumably investigating it. And someone had shot Goldberg.

Wilson's personal involvement was a bit more embarrassing.

It had all started when Sam Wilson met pretty Alice Haven in the supermarket last week.

Alice had not known Wilson was a member of the community police. She had just seen Wilson in his gray business suit, picking up some last minute groceries last Friday night after work. The next thing Wilson knew, Alice had him at her place for dinner.

"Girls have been after me since high school," Wilson said casually. "I'm a hunk."

Paul felt a bit nauseated. However, he suspected that what Wilson said was largely true.

"After a romantic evening," Wilson looked a bit embarrassed, "Alice started talking about her work. She was all enthused about her foundation's plans to keep minorities from voting. I've never been involved in politics at all, and I kept getting distracted by her body anyway. It wasn't till the next day that it all started sinking in."

Wilson had told Ventner about what was going on. Neither man had known what to do. Both decided to show up at Paul's precinct on Friday, and head off any trouble that might be brewing. As an African-American, Ventner was appalled.

"Alice really hates anyone who isn't white and Christian," Wilson said in a troubled voice. "That's why people become right wing, I guess."

Most of Kitteridge's money had come from the now defunct Kay-Co Corporation. Kay-Co had been one of the most famous companies in America. It did nor actually produce anything; all it did was juggle financial transactions. It had made billions for its board and top stockholders, before going bankrupt. Its employees were now out of work, and most had lost their pensions and life savings. Kay-Co stock was now worthless. But the big guns like Kitteridge's father had gotten out with billions. Everyone suspected there was a lot of fraud. But because Kitteridge III and other Kay-Co board members had top political connections, all of them had escaped prosecution.

The foundation where Kitteridge now worked also had most of its money provided over the years from Kay-Co transactions. The well-funded foundation was treated as a charity, and paid no taxes. It mainly supported radical right wing causes. It was especially devoted to preventing non-white people from voting. It also worked on such causes as lowering or abolishing the minimum wage, and ending affirmative action. These were all causes dear to the heart of the Kay-Co millionaires who ran its board.

"Could Goldberg have been fooling around with one of Kitteridge's girl friends?" Paul wondered. "Or crossed a jealous husband?"

"I doubt if Kitteridge was involved with women," Wilson replied. "Alice told me Kitteridge was impotent, after years of cocaine abuse."

"I thought these right wing guys were always preaching morality," Paul said.

"That's for other people," Ju Jin stuck in. "They don't pay any attention to it themselves. Look at all the right wing leaders involved with gambling or drugs."

"I would never do drugs," Wilson said seriously. "When you have a perfect body like mine, you treat it like a temple. And you always start the day by eating a healthy breakfast."

Paul just glared at him.

Actually Paul didn't drink, smoke or use drugs either.

"So Goldberg was almost certainly shot because of the foundation activities," Ventner concluded. "It would just be too much of a coincidence, anyway, if he were killed for something else, on the first day of the voting project."

"Thaddeus A. P. Worthington Kitteridge IV," Paul said with a grin. "I wonder what his friends call him."

"Bud," Wilson replied. "I heard Alice talking to him on the phone."

"I think that Kitteridge made a visit to our precinct a month ago," Ventner said, "to check on a voting registration drive we made there. He pops up in a photo we took at the time. It's in one of my chest ribbons," he continued a bit elliptically.

Paul understood.

The Community Police forces regularly awarded medals their officers, to recognize public service in voter registration, literacy campaigns, neighborhood watch programs, and other police activities. They were highly prized by the officers, and worn as chest ribbons on their uniforms. The official looking ribbons came in a dazzling variety of colors and vertical line patterns. Each ribbon had a small computer chip in it. The ribbon computer chips, like the rest of the insignia on Paul's uniform, were in touch with Paul's hand-held through wireless communication. At the push of a button on his hand-held, Paul could automatically generate e-mail, showing color pictures of all his ribbons, and the activities for which he was honored with them. If Paul were complimented on his ribbons, he could send this e-mail explaining all his decorations. The same was true of the other Community Police officers; it was easy to create one general computer program that could handle any combination of ribbons they wore. Each ribbon also stored photos of the award ceremony in which Paul received the ribbon, souvenir photos of the recognized service activity itself, dates of the service the award recognized, and his official citation from the force for the ribbon.

"Here's an e-mail showing my ribbons," Ventner continued, keying in instructions on a small portable computer he pulled out of the jacket of his double-breasted, jet-black tuxedo. The small, flat computer did not affect the elegant hang of the jacket.

Ventner's voter registration ribbon was red, white and blue. Paul could see a picture of it on his hand-held. Paul hoped that he, too, would someday be awarded this decoration. Paul planned to keep working on his precinct's voter registration effort. He really respected Ventner for winning this medal.

"I'll open up the voter ribbon's computer chip so you can see it," Ventner said. He sent a wireless message through his computer to the ribbon on his uniform at home. It changed the security codes on the ribbon. Even though the ribbon was some miles away, Paul, Wilson and Ventner could now search its computer chip and see the photos in Ventner's voter registration ribbon. The photo of Kitteridge, in a crowd near a voter registration booth, soon appeared on all three men's portable computers.

Paul began to get ideas. He stood stock still under a large purple and gold abstract painting. He went over and started talking to Ventner and Wilson.

"Goldberg was a reporter," Paul told them. "But he was not carrying any notebook. Or a computer or hand-held or PDA. A reporter would probably have a hand-held computer."

"Maybe the killer took them, when he stole Goldberg's wallet," Wilson suggested.

"Or maybe Goldberg stashed them somewhere, before he talked with his killer in the alley," Paul said slowly. "He might not have wanted to have them on him, in case his killer tried to rob him."

"In that case," Ventner said, "his hand-held or notebook would still be hidden somewhere around the school."

"It will be easier to search," Paul said quietly, "If we use our police equipment. I'll meet you at the school in half an hour, after I run back home and change into my police uniform."

Paul was biking to the school. He called the hospital through the shoulder radio on his uniform. Goldberg had done well in his emergency surgery. The bullet was out, and he was expected to recover. But Goldberg would be unconscious for days. Maybe weeks.

Paul wondered what Goldberg's message with the rose meant. It was just like a dying message in a mystery story. Ellery Queen was Paul's favorite mystery writer. He was always solving dying messages. Only in this case, thank heaven, Goldberg was not going to die.

Paul had a long walk uphill from the school parking lot where he left his bike, to the school itself. The last traces of a pink and purple sunset lingered in the sky. Paul put on a recording of William Cornysh's "Stabat Mater". The amazing voices of the Tallis Scholars flooded his ears, with the soaring music from Renaissance England. Paul began to think long and hard about the meaning of the rose. Suddenly Paul understood...

Paul had keys to the deserted school. He met Wilson and Ventner at the side door, and entered, turning on the dim night lights in the deserted old school building. The lights glittered faintly off the badges on the three men's high-peaked uniform caps. No one was there but the three of them, on this late Friday night. As far as they could tell...

The three went into the cavernous school gym.

Ventner had stopped on the way, and obtained a search warrant from a judge, to search the school building and grounds. Paul was looking for the reporter's missing hand-held. He turned on the metal detector in his flashlight. He also picked the rectangle-shape out of the command panel on his hand-held. It was set to look for rectangular metal objects, using invisible infrared radiation. It would not pick up on keys or eyeglass frames or other non-rectangular shaped metal objects people carried. Pattern recognition software in his hand-held would filter these out, and only signal him if any rectangle-shaped objects were found. The detector told him that no such objects were anywhere in the school gym.

The three men next went into a teacher's lounge. Paul had recalled seeing Goldberg in there earlier in the day.

Paul wanted to look along the floor, without lifting the heavy couches in the lounge. He switched on miniature cameras in the heel buckle of his boots. Soon he had views of the lounge floor under the couches on his hand-held screen.

Paul could talk to his computer through his shoulder radio. "Heel On!" he told it. The computer's voice recognition software was trained to the sound of Paul's voice. It would ignore commands from other people, unless their voice sounded a lot like Paul's.

There was nothing under any of the couches.

Paul, Ventner and Wilson went out to search the alley. It was now completely dark outside.

Paul turned on his flashlight. The flashlight was unusually bright. It provided nearly as much illumination as a supermarket. The whole alleyway lit up. It was a great crime deterrent. By turning a wheel at the end, Paul could cause the light to fan out in a wide angle, as he was doing now. Or he could focus the beam with blinding intensity on a single point.

It was at this moment that they heard noises from within the school. Someone else was also in the building.

Paul hastily shut off his flashlight, and the three moved into the shadow of a doorway near the building.

From their doorway, they saw a dim shadow emerge from another door at the other end of the alley.

The intruder was far down the alley, searching in trash bins.

"He's looking for Goldberg's hand-held," Paul thought.

Paul set his flashlight on infrared. He also put on special glasses that allowed him to see infrared light. The flashlight flooded the alley with infrared radiation, highly visible to Paul now through his glasses, but dark as pitch to anyone not similarly equipped. The glasses looked like a pair of ordinary police sunglasses. They had mirror shades on them, and looked like the sort of mirror sunglasses traditionally worn by motorcycle cops to hide their eyes. Paul looked less friendly wearing the glasses, even downright intimidating, but the hard as nails mirror-shade look did disguise how functional the glasses were. Paul also set his held-held display to infrared. He could see it just fine, with his glasses on, but it would be dark and invisible to most people in the alley.

Paul could see Wilson and Ventner down the alley. Their badges were highly reflective at infrared wavelengths, not just at visible light, and were designed for maximum visibility in the infrared. So were the metal zippers on the front and sleeves of their police motorcycle jackets. Paul would be well aware of where his fellow officers were at all times.

Wilson and Ventner had also switched their radio-locator broadcast buttons concealed in their chest badges to "on". These emitted radio signals that were received by Paul's hand-held, which displayed their location on maps. Paul always knew where Wilson and Ventner were. Paul made sure that Wilson and Ventner could "see" him too on their computers. First he turned his own badge on to broadcast. Then he pinged Ventner and Wilson's computers with his hand-held, and confirmed that their computers were receiving Paul's radio-locator signal.

If for any reason an officer's badge were taken from him, he had other alternatives. There were computer chips with wireless transmitters in all of Paul's badges and equipment. Paul could switch on radio signals from the badge on his uniform cap, from the badge he carried in his wallet, from his metal collar insignia, the buckle of his Sam Browne harness, or his flashlight. All of these could be tracked from any other officer's hand-helds, or from the central computers back at headquarters.

Shots rang out from down the alley. In the infrared, Paul could see a figure far down the alley, hiding in a doorway. Paul, Ventner and Wilson all ducked for cover. None of the officers was armed.

Paul turned his shoulder radio into an amplifier, and aimed its microphone at his lips. It converted Paul's speech into a huge booming sound that could be heard over several blocks.

"Now hear this," Paul's voice boomed over the alley.

"Kitteridge, we know you're out there," Paul announced, his voice echoing off the alley walls. "We know you shot Goldberg. He told us so himself, in the alleyway. Your nickname is Bud. And Goldberg grabbed an unopened rose - a rose bud - while he was identifying his killer. Everyone at police headquarters knows you did it. Even if you shoot all of us, it will do you no good. The police will hunt you down. Surrender now!"

There was a long wait.

Kitteridge came out from a dark doorway. He had his hands raised. Paul, Ventner and Wilson cautiously moved in and handcuffed him.

Paul set his radio to record. Everything heard in the alley would be transmitted back to the central computer at headquarters, then recorded in permanent form. Paul wanted everything Kitteridge might say recorded, after Paul had read him his rights. Paul was also concerned that some accomplice of Kitteridge might be lurking in the alley. The small microphone on the radio was remarkably sensitive. Paul could pick up sounds of anyone throughout the alley. Paul's hand-held in turn displayed maps, showing the location of major noise sources in the vicinity.

It looked as if Kitteridge were all alone.

Paul turned on the metal detector in his flashlight. It found Goldberg's missing hand-held computer, hidden under a trash bin in the alley. The hand-held eventually revealed Goldberg's news story, on which he had been working before his shooting. Most of the alleged felony convictions created by Kitteridge to prevent minorities from voting were deliberate forgeries. The whole project was founded on massive fraud. The forgeries would never stand up in court, but they might have served their purpose in keeping members of Paul's precinct from voting tomorrow.

The documented voting fraud eventually sent several board members of Kitteridge's foundation to prison. When Goldberg recovered, he and his paper stirred up huge public anger against the right wing foundation's attempt to take away non-white people's voting rights.

The real police had come up, and taken Kitteridge away. Paul was saying good night to Ventner and Wilson in the school's parking lot.

Paul was thinking about how much he had enjoyed working with Ventner and Wilson. Maybe they weren't such bad guys after all.

Ventner stripped off his gauntlet, and shook Paul's hand.

"I have to be going now," he told Paul. "Claudia and the kids will be waiting."

Wilson slipped open a panel at the base of his heavy black metal nightstick. A miniature but functional keyboard was revealed. The nightstick doubled as a remote control device. First Wilson held the nightstick up to his eye. It scanned his retinal pattern, and logged him on - Wilson did not want anyone else to be able to use his nightstick computer. Wilson aimed his nightstick at his shiny black racing bike, and pushed some keys. The bike promptly unlocked in four different places.

"Bet your flashlight can't do that," Wilson told Paul with a grin. Wilson gave his nightstick a traditional policeman's twirl, before thrusting it back in its holster on his belt. Wilson gave Paul a sharp salute, and seated himself on his bike, before pedalling out of the school lot into the night.