I clicked on the JAPES icon. A second picture appeared on the RAN-7X workstation screen next to the digitized original, said original being a pretty blurry picture of two men exchanging something. At first the two pictures looked identical, as always, but then rippling changes started: colors brightening and darkening, objects becoming so sharp as to look almost animated, a dozen things at once. I controlled the process with a mouse, pointing and clicking in places that were either doing very well or very poorly. JAPES (Jason's Automatic Photo Enhancing System) was a specialized plug-in program module I'd designed, which combined many of the standard photographic enhancement techniques into a single complex operation controlled partly by me and partly by a learning expert system.
The computer-enhanced version, on the other hand, was crisp as a posed photo; except that I don't think either the Assemblyman or the coke dealer had intended a pose. Yeah, that ought to give Elias Klein another nail to put in the crooks' coffins. I glanced at my watch: eight-twenty. Time enough to enhance one more photo before Sylvie came over. I decided to do the last of Lieutenant Klein's; drug cases make me nervous, you never know what might happen.
I inserted the negative into the enlarger/digitizer, popped into the kitchen for a cream soda, sat down and picked up my book. After seventeen minutes the computer pinged; for this kind of work, I have to scan at the best possible resolution. I checked to make sure the scan went okay, then coded in the parameters and set JAPES going, then went back to Phantoms. Great yarn. After the automatic functions were done, I started in on what I really get paid for here at Wood's Information Service ("Need info? Knock on Wood!"): the ability to find the best "finishing touches" that make enhancement still an art rather than a science.
A faint scraping sound came from the back door, and then a faint clank. I checked the time again; nine-twenty-five, still too early; Sylvie's occult shop, the Silver Stake, always closed at precisely nine-thirty. "Lewis?" I called out.
Lewis was what social workers might call a displaced person, others called a bum, and I called a contact. Lewis sometimes did scutwork for me—as long as he was sober he was a good worker. Unfortunately when he was drunk he was a belligerent nuisance, and at six foot seven a belligerent Lewis was an ugly sight. Since it was the first Friday of the month, he was probably drunk.
But I didn't hear an answer, neither voice nor the funny ringing knock that the chains on his jacket cuffs made. Instead I heard another clank and then a muffled thud. At that point the computer pinged again, having just finished my last instructions. I checked the final version—it looked pretty good, another pose of the Assemblyman alone with his hand partly extended—then downloaded all the data onto two disks for the Lieutenant. I sealed them in an envelope with the original negatives, dropped the envelope into the safe, swung it shut, pulled the wall panel down and locked it. Then I stepped out and turned towards the backdoor, grabbing my book as I left. Just then the front doorbell rang.
It was Sylvie, of course. "Hi, Jason!" she said, bouncing through the door. "Look at these, we just got the shipment in today! Aren't they great?" She dangled some crystal and silver earrings in front of me, continuing, "They're genuine Brazil crystal and the settings were handmade; the lady who makes them says she gets her directions from an Aztec she channels—"
There was a tremendous bang from the rear and the windows shivered. "What the hell was that?" Sylvie demanded. "Sounded like a cannon!"
"I don't know," I answered. "But it wasn't a gun. Something hit the building." I thought of the photos I was enhancing. It wouldn't be the first time someone had decided to erase the evidence before I finished improving it. I yanked open the righthand drawer of the front desk, pulled out my .45, snicked the safety off.