The Recluse Hunter

9 Jan

Eng Digue scanned the latest list of unlocated suspects until he stopped at one name that surprised and shocked him.

What was Nue Vrai doing on this notice of persons being sought after?

With fifteen years experience looking for and usually finding fugitive hermetics who had isolated themselves in the infinite warrens of World City, Eng had come across all types of characters. It would now be his first case of hunting down someone he had known in childhood. That would make it something new and unprecedented for him.

Of all areas of police investigation, this appeared to be the most demanding.

How was one to bring into custody someone hiding alone in a megalopolis of 125 million?

It took a long time and a mountain of work, Eng had long ago discovered.

The nature of the state of being reclusive presented a tangle of difficulties. There was nothing easy about such sleuthing. Few tasks in the Ministry of Police were as hard or demanding.

Following long-established procedure, he fed the name of Nue Vrai into his memory monitor connected to the central police mnemonicon. Onto his desk view screen came the information he already knew: parents’ names, date of birth, childhood address, school records, place of employment, last known address. The important point was the lack of any current address.

As his next step, Eng placed Nue’s name through the files of the Tax Ministry. Here more disappointment struck. There had been no returns filed or taxes paid in his name for the last five years. He might as well not have existed.

Hospital records were the next electronic destination, but they also proved dead ends.

The investigator sat a long time behind his desk, thinking and remembering. Was there anything about Nue that might point to where he now was?

Eng suddenly remembered that his old childhood friend had studied music and was a proficient clavier player. That was a promising lead to follow. A few movements by his fingers produced linkage with the records of the Musicians Association of World City. Indeed, Nue was registered here as a member of a maxixe dance band. That was a possible clue. It was easy to make phonic connection with the man who had been the orchestra leader and question him on what he knew about the present whereabouts of Nue Vrai.

“I have not seen the man for a couple of years,” said the conductor,” but I know that he was living in an apartment in the Songwriter Section. The guy had a huge ambition to make himself into a song composer one day, when he got around to it.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Eng, recalling that his chum had attempted to set down his own romantic tunes and lyrics years before.

Yes, the Songwriters Section would be a promising ground for him to explore next in his hunt.

Its gigantically large population made World City a concentric circle over two hundred miles across and eight levels in height. Specialized sections were dedicated to particular industries and activities. Within the boundaries of Musictown was the centuries-old Songwriters Section where creative imagination was concentrated.

Eng rode a sky-tunnel bus to the top of the music-producing region, going directly to the white metal building holding the district police center. Identifying himself as a recluse hunter, he was allowed to go immediately to the office of the local commander. The latter, a fat man wearing the bright yellow uniform of a constabulary captain, told his visitor to take a chair and asked him what his business there was.

Detective Digue briefly outlined how his search for a recluse had brought him to the Songwriter Section.

The one in uniform made a sour face. “Yes, this is a place where composers stay in their flats as they create, but then they have to play, promote, and sell what they produce when alone. Their lives are a combination of the private and the public. How do you think a recluse can write songs or longer works successfully without person-to-person contact?”

“I have been thinking a lot about the matter,” admitted Eng. “Perhaps through use of electrical mail, a hermit could maintain complete physical solitude. Who can say?”

“All my people are at your disposal,” promised the uniformed officer. “One of them, perhaps, has information that can be of benefit to you.”

In the following hour, Eng talked to half a dozen foot patrolmen. It was the last one who recalled a certain isolated apartment on the sixth level of the city. “Nobody goes in or comes out, yet the place is occupied. Food deliveries are put in the mail slot by grocery boys. The neighbors have no knowledge of who may be living inside.”

“That could be the recluse I am after,” the hunter told himself with a smile.

Eng faced a problem when no one answered the chime bell or his hard knocking on the door.

The flat was not listed anywhere as a vacant one, but neither was there any electronic record of a resident there. Mystery surrounded the place, intriguing the detective deeply.

He reached into the inside pocket of his heavy wool coat for the plastic universal wrench he always carried. He pushed on the power lever, turning the battery on. In seconds Eng had the bolts around the door lock removed. Reaching a hand in, he unlocked the copper apparatus, then shoved the door open.

There was very little furniture visible in the living room he had entered.

But a short figure in rags, with long, shaggy hair, stood in the opposite doorway that led into the kitchen. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want in here?”

“Don’t you remember me, Nue? It’s been a long time and we both look different.”

The resident stepped close to the intruder, stopping only a yard or so away.

“Eng Digue!” cried the startled little man. “What are you doing here? What do you want from me?”

“You are aware of the Anti-Isolation Law, Nue? It forbids anyone in the World City living a hermetic life, completely and always alone. Social intercourse is considered necessary, and anyone who avoids all human contact can be arrested. The courts are empowered to give heavy fines and sentences. Then legal orders can require special classes in socialization and affiliation of the guilty.

“I am working now as an investigator for the Ministry of Police, in the Recluse Department.”

The face of Nue Vrai grew pale. “You think I am a law-breaker, then?”

“Your name has been listed as a possible suspect,” murmured Eng. “I tracked you down to learn what the truth is. It was an extremely difficult task to perform.”

The pair stared at each other for a time, until suddenly Nue spoke with unexpected assurance.

“You seem to be convinced that I am a recluse, Eng. Why would I become that?”

“How can I say? Perhaps you find human contact too painful to maintain.”

“But that is not true,” asserted the other. “Aren’t you, at this moment, providing me with social interaction? Aren’t we about to enjoy a long-delayed reunion, old friend?”

The detective thought a few moments. A sly smile crossed his mouth, as he took a step forward. “You were always a clever one, Nue. Do you write songs?”

“Indeed, I do. But I keep them in an unpublished collection folder there.” He pointed toward the rear of his apartment.

An idea struck the mind of Eng Digue. “Why don’t you let me become a sort of agent for you? I could take your works to music publishers. There are thousands of them nearby in their own special sector. If the songs are good, someone may want to buy them.

“And my coming and going would qualify you legally to be a non-recluse. Does that make sense to you, Nue? I won’t be imposing much on your time or privacy, I promise. But such an arrangement would place you beyond the definition of criminal isolation.”

The musician wrinkled his forehead in thought.

“My visits would come only once a week. Not too frequently at all,” said the hunter of recluses. “But often enough to take you over the legal line.”

“Okay. Once a week to pick up my manuscripts.”

The two shook hands. Then, Eng turned around and made a quick exit from the apartment.

Things came out better than expected, he said to himself.

He had stumbled on a way not to arrest his old friend from childhood, and that seemed a fair solution for both of them.

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