Then, while waiting for the onboard terminal to come online, I called Fast Eddie, our resident console jockey.
"Wotcher, Kat," he said in his cheery Cockney-laced tenor.
"Need an infodump," I said.
"Oy! Is that a plane I hear?"
"Heading to a run."
"Don't sound like a commercial flight. Private jet, yeah?"
"Corr! You ladies turning glitterati on me? That mean I need to wear a tuxedo when you come to call?"
"If I must, your ladyship."
"Don't make us hunt you down and kill you."
"All right, all right. Keep your hair on. Who's the mark?"
"Matthew Beck," I said. "Works for Lux Technologies."
"Five, ten minutes. I'll call."
I hung up. The onboard terminal was online by then, displaying the AstraNova logo. I slid the data disk into the slot.
A few seconds later, a personnel file appeared on screen. Taken from Lux Technologies.
Mouse and I looked at the narrow-faced man with wide-set eyes, dark curly hair, and a lopsided smile.
Beck, Matthew James. Age, 27. Born in the Redding-Chico Metroplex. Parents deceased. Raised by maternal grandparents in Oakwood. Went to Bay City University. Two months with Lux as a systems programmer at an R&D site just outside Chico.
Mouse gestured to the screen. "That's it?"
"I know," I said. "There's gotta be more." I hit a few keys.
Another file opened listing a series of numbers.
"Map coordinates," said Mouse.
I hit a few more keys and another file opened.
Another photo, this one of a lantern-jawed man with dark eyes half-hidden by a grease-stained khaki ball cap and sporting a day's worth of stubble. The caption on the photo identified him as Sam Cutter, our hired pilot. We were supposed to meet him at the Airpark Cafe, right near the landing field.
"That's all we got," I said.
"Is it me," said Mouse, "or does this look like another cake-but-not-cake run?"
"Cake-but-not-cake," I said. "Let's see what Eddie has for us."
Five minutes later, Eddie called.
I put the phone on speaker.
"Tell us you have something good," I said.
He repeated what we already read from the personnel file.
"Yeah," I said. "We've got the same info. Was hoping you had more than that."
"How about this," he said and I heard the sound of keys tapping. Then Eddie said, "Know about his cabin?"
"Know he got a bonus when he was hired at Lux?" he said.
"How much bonus?" said Mouse.
"Half a mil."
Mouse gave a low whistle.
"Helluva bonus," I said.
More tapping of keys, then: "I think I might know why. You know what Lux does, yeah?"
"I figured electronics," I said. "Tech gear, that sort of thing."
"Right. Consumer goods, mostly. High-ticket goodies for the techheads out there."
"So where are you going with this?" I said.
"There are two West Coast megacorps fighting for the same crowd. Lux is one. The other is Paragon. Paragon's parent company is AstraNova."
I straightened in my seat. "That's more like it," I said.
"Gets better," Eddie said. More key tapping, then: "Beck's cabin? Not by choice. More like forced corporate exile."
"Say again?" I said.
"According to some private correspondence I'm looking at, Beck wasn't being helpful in providing information to his superiors."
"What kind of information?"
"Anything on AstraNova."
"How would Beck know?" said Mouse.
"Because Philippe Renaldi is his uncle."
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
Then the hairs on the back of my neck saluted.
"Eddie," I said. "How long is Beck supposed to be in exile?"
"Let me check. Give me a few."
I sat back in my seat.
"Kat," said Mouse, and I heard the tone in her voice.
"You, too?" I said, looking at her.
She nodded, frowning.
Something was way off.
* * *
It was almost fifteen minutes later when Eddie said: "Bloody fuck!"
Mouse and I leaned toward the phone.
"You okay, Eddie?" I said. "We were getting worried."
"Hardcore ice," he said, sounding out of breath. "Bastard had me bang to rights, but I kicked his arse."
"Got it," Eddie said, "and it's not good. Exile ends today."
"They're retiring him."
"Greased?" said Mouse.
"Bang on," said Eddie.
"When?" I said.
Eddie said, "1300 hours."
(to be continued...)