Jali headed for Tollan’s apartment building but as he had his finger above the security panel he knew he couldn’t face her. Not just yet.
He headed to the bar opposite for a Janx Spirit, then returned to the apartment building. Judging by the sound of Verda’s voice when she let him in from the street, she already knew.
Verda was in tears when she opened the door but smiled weakly at him. Apologising for not having anything ready, she showed him into the sitting room.
“No need to apologise, Verda,” Jali said, sinking into a chair. Could it have been only last night he had been here talking and laughing with Tollan? “How are the kids?”
“Sarwan’s coping, but Kreia refuses to leave her room,” Verda said. “My mother is coming over this evening, that’s a little reassuring…” She was silent for a few moments. “Tell me Jali, did he suffer? Was he lying there and choking?” She gave a sharp little cry. “Oh, I can’t bear it!” The tears started to flow again.
Jali went over and sat next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder but said nothing. He had seen enough of grief to know that this was the best thing to do.
“I only have a few particulars,” he told her when she was calm again. “But as far as I know, it’s like falling asleep. He just…didn’t wake up.” The words seemed to hand in the air for a moment.
“Captain Vantel was here earlier,” Verda said. “He said they’re making enquiries but the official report is it’s an accident.”
“I don’t think so,” murmured Jali. Verda looked up, he hadn’t realised he had spoken.
Jali wished he hadn't said anything, but he could back out now. And after all, she had a right to know. “Listen,” he said in a low voice. “I want you to promise not to repeat what I’m about to tell you.”
“Oh…okay,” she said uncertainly.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Jali whispered. “Last night Tollan was going to give me some important information, something about whoever got me arrested.” He paused for a moment, then rushed on. “And there’s something else.” He told her what the Duro had said about the CO2 tank.
Verda considered this and shuddered. “You mean he was…murdered?”
Verda sat quietly for a moment, her eyes downcast. “Yes…yes…I was wondering the same thing myself when Captain Vantel came by.” She looked up at him. “I asked if there was a way it could not be an accident and he was very firm in his refusal.”
“Sounds just like him,” Jali said dryly. “Do you mind if I have a look in the backroom? I know Tollan kept a lot of equipment there.” He got to his feet and walked towards the kitchen without waiting for an answer.
“But Jali,” Verda pleaded, following him through the kitchen, “I was going to tell you…the Security Force…they’ve already been through and…”
Jali stopped dead; the room had been stripped bare. Whatever Tollan had wanted to give him was no longer there.
Despite Tira’s pleas, Jali didn’t move from his apartment for several days. From his time in the Security Force, Jali had learned from experience to trust his hunches. From there he needed only to gather evidence and he would have proof. But he didn’t have any proof, and given his current situation he didn’t exactly have the means to get any.
Tira came over often, trying to tempt him to venture outside but Jali refused.
“You have to put this behind you, Jali,” she pleaded. “Tollan wouldn’t have wanted you to hide away like this.”
“You’re right,” Jali answered. “He would want me to find who did it, but I haven’t got anything.”
“Even if there was something, you would have found it,” Tira reassured. “I know you, Jali, you don’t miss anything. But this…it’s a kind of obsession with you.”
The conversation was mercifully interrupted by the comm unit sounding. Jali activated it and Verda’s voice was protected into the dark kitchen.
“Jali, I just wanted to let you know that the….” Verda paused as if the very word was choking her, hard enough it was to say “…the funeral will be tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Verda,” Jali said in a monotone. “I’ll be there, thanks.”
The line disconnected.
“Very strange,” Jali muttered to himself, heading off for a shower.
“What’s strange?” Tira asked, following him.
Jali didn’t answer her, but he knew the fact that the funeral being so soon after the death couldn’t be anything but bad.
At the ceremony, Commander Yur T'aug himself gave the eulogy, but the Bothan's low tones were not enough to still the sobs of Verda as she sat next to Jali squeezing his hand. Sarwan comforted his sister’s tears as the flag-draped coffin was taken out of the hall.
Afterwards there was food and drink outside; Verda did not seem disposed to speak to anyone, not even Jali. So Jali took this opportunity to talk to Perel. The young officer seemed reluctant at first to disclose information and kept shooting furtive glances at Vantel.
“The autopsy results came back clean,” Perel told him in a low tone. “No cuts, no marks on him at all. Cause of death is asphyxiation.”
“But how can you account for that blast point?” Jali insisted. “That part can’t be an accident.”
Perel shrugged. “There’s no sign of anyone else being there,” he told Jali. “No skin cells, no hair, nothing. Maybe he tried to shoot his way out and the bolt ricocheted.”
“Unlikely,” Jali said. “What do ballistics say about that?”
“They don’t say anything,” Perel replied. “Vantel said it was a waste of time looking into things like that when the case was obviously an accident.”
He walked off and Jali was left there, watching Vantel out of the corner of his eye. What did he have to hide?