iMurder 24: Gai Lan

New Asia

Beth waited in front of the ghost screen for Sosa. She had picked New Asia for their lunch. It was big, anonymous, and tasty dim sum restaurant on Pacific Street. She hadn’t had a chance to get a good talk in with Sosa since the closure of the iMurder case.

Sosa and Mikey, his lieutenant, finally arrived. Beth was delighted when the hostess led them to a large table with a lazy susan. She then ordered gai lan- the Chinese broccoli- won ton soup, and chrysanthemum tea. “So tell me all about the final confession. I’ve been waiting to hear the details.”

Sosa played with his chopsticks as he spoke. “First off, I knew his apartment was way too costly for a writer. Then, seeing the furniture, wow, and how much risk he must be floating with a 1+ million house in Liberty Heights… besides, I was just curious, how these dot-com millionaires make their money. You hear about it all the time, but when I meet them, I always want to know. And they dress in jeans and t-shirts, but are worth millions. Anyways, when I started digging deeper, I put it all together and there was no way he could live that way without some big infusion of cash, or, long term debt. And that’s what it was, he had been wading in bills, collection agencies, and then a background check showed years of unpaid taxes.”

A couple of old folks, one with a walker, sat down on the other half of their table. Sosa didn’t seem to mind the company. “The actual specific motive though- not just how Tom was in this pressure cooker of debt- was what you said. Jelly had seen something she shouldn’t have. And, worse, she was in the process of writing about it in an exposé of ValleyIst, and it would have ruined Tom. Jelly had gotten the attention of that famous blogger, Joe Standish, when she exposed GiggleLoop. Jelly kept Joe in the loop on her new expose- ValleyIst. Tom didn’t know that until later, when he hired Elfin to dig around Jelly’s contacts. That’s when he found out that killing Jelly didn’t kill the story- Joe still had it, and was on the cusp of publishing it posthumously for Jelly. So to keep it all quiet, he had to kill Joe, too.”

“What was the scandal about ValleyIst?” Beth asked.

“So it all goes back to that. What was Tom covering up? This is where the photos come in. Jelly showed up at that party- and even you said that she never goes to these parties- and got a photo of Tom paying off someone. Elfin, the ‘Mysterious goth guy‘.”

Mikey piped up. “Tom hired this guy to mine his target’s email accounts. He was spying on tech elite. Totally unethical and illegal.”

“Seems so petty.” Beth said. She started ladling out the soup into bowls.

Sosa continued, giving up the chopsticks and spearing a Chinese broccoli with his fork. “This had been going on since Tom was out here, maybe 2 years. He had said that starting a gossip rag with no contacts was impossible, and nobody wanted to give him dirt. So he had to have an in, and like all things, if you have money, you can make it happen. He found a hacker guy who had no ethical objections, and Tom paid him well for digging out dirt on selected investors, girlfriends, anyone really who struck his fancy. What Tom didn’t expect was how addictive it was. Each bit of information he ‘found’ gave him so much acclaim and respect, that he kept on buying the information even after he started making a network of people who were tipping him off.”

“Thing is, we look into his books and he’s paying Elfin and not seeing material rewards on the gossip rag- nothing is paying off. It’s all still … what do they say? Vaporware. None of his investments have paid off, well, at least not yet. He thought they would in a year or so. But this article would have blown the cover off, and he couldn’t afford it. He was gambling with new startups, and he could never show that he didn’t have the dough or real insight into anything.”

“Too bad he wasn’t as geekie as the guys he wrote about.” Mikey said. He eyed the Chinese broccoli but didn’t take one.

“What about poobar? Tom didn’t kill her, right?” Beth said.

“Yeah, don’t get thrown off by Poobar.” Mikey said. “She was a copycat murder. Her ex- that Mark guy that we brought in- is borderline psychotic and he just wanted her gone. She was ‘taunting him with her new boytoys’ quote, unquote.”

Beth bit off half a spear of broccoli and chewed thoughtfully. “So Mark was framing Tom, but Tom was the real murderer. How strange.” She hailed a nearby dim sum cart server, and had cut them in half spinach steamed dumplings, rolled shrimp dumplings and pork rice noodles.

“Did you guys like the broccoli? I think it’s a good idea to start with that, then we get our veggies first.”

“Be glad you don’t work in police work- we are the Starbucks and donuts crowd.”

Mikey looked meaningfully at Sosa.

“Well, that may change, if you do work with us- the Mayor and the Captain are thinking of bringing you on as a consultant more permanently. As you’re probably aware, we need to seriously upgrade our systems in the office. We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without your help- and Mac’s, if you can tell him that.”

“Do you think you’ll have more crimes that involve this, uh, kind of crowd?”

“You mean the… what did you call it, digerati? Well we try to protect and enforce laws for all San Francisco citizens, including the digerati. You remember the laptop stabbing last year? Seems like one of these things crops up every few months. I guess hte technically inclined have a criminal streak just like the rest of us.”

“I’d love to help out. Let’s talk terms later, if you don’t mind. I’ll email you. Or better yet, I’ll call, if that’s easier.” She smiled as she saw Sosa’s relief at not having to email. They finished their lunch, picking little plates of dim sum off of the carts circulating the room, and even sharing some pleasantries with their companions at the same table.

Beth left the restaurant, entering a bustling and chaotic noontime Chinatown. She started a brisk walk up Russian Hill, to her favorite cafe. As her heart started beating faster and her leg muscles started to protest, she did some thinking about how her life was changing. She didn’t see Mac in her future, but she did see doing this part-time gig with the SFPD. She also wondered if now she could mourn her friend’s death in peace. She had at least helped tie up the loose ends. Now she could grieve.

The end