"Justice may be blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices."-- - Edgar Argo

161 - 1123.

On El Fahaz to do work with Sister Bridget's clinic, Dr. Anders Jorgensen is staying at the Hotel Metropol. She does quite a bit of work with "Physicians without Borders", and since her husband Reed Darcy can be a bit challenging, occasional trips are in order. (You can't say something you'll regret from four jumps away.) Anders is in the lobby and looks up to see a tall young man who looks familiar, but not from this planet. Late twenties, thinning hair, a bit reedy. He's travelling with two people who don't behave like tourists - a male in his mid to late thirties, and a small female in her twenties. They both enter a room like they're on permanent condition yellow. Then there's the huge trolling bullet-magnet behind them. (Yes, Anders knows Nicolai.) If she hadn't packed her bullet-proof vest, she'd have had to cut arm holes in her luggage. The last member of the group is a Vargr medic who has done some volunteer work at the clinic. Well.

There may be something to the rumor about the metal added to the planet recently. The story has it that an old liner mis-jumped, equidistant between Rupe and El Fahaz for the life pods. When the life pods on El Fahaz were eventually found, the occupants were no longer there and tracks from local riding and pack beasts as well as humans were found. Anders immediately thinks slavery. Chattel slavery doesn't really exist here, but indentured servitude does. Your rights are mostly determined by your wealth. Like most places.

The "tourist" group checks into the Hotel Metropol, then about 15 minutes later the two people Anders has tagged as cops come back downstairs, bullet-magnet in tow. What she doesn't know is that they're on their way to the local cop shop to check on their mission.

Sergeant Hafaz explains to O'Malley and Walsh that their Mr. Tingler had been arrested for engaging in a little free enterprise. Unfortunately it was recreational pharmaceuticals, and eight camel loads does not constitute personal use. O'Malley: "Did you give him the chance to use it?" Frank isn't about to break out any damn drug dealer. Emma: "He's not the principal any way. We're here for the performers. When we leave, we can make sure word gets back to the company, and they can send a lawyer if they want."

Detective Ved Bahuguna, on finding out that O'Malley and Walsh are cops (or at least were), asks if they'd mind "consulting". It seems there have been a number of murders on planet. O'Malley immediately points him to Walsh, the detective.

Nicolai waits patiently outside, sitting on a bench and sipping tea from his flask. He sees Bernie Tingler, the agent, being transferred to the Palace of Justice along with a number of other prisoners. Nicolai watches the lawyers debate outside in the plaza until a distraction shows up. Everyone looks up at the approach of a very old, Solomani grav-vehicle on it's way to the main palace. What the hey??? It looks government issue, about 30 years old. Sort of like the kind one would have assigned to some backwater diplomat. Nicolai makes a mental note. Great; they're following him all the way out here. They don't give up.

The murders on planet sound like the work of an escalating serial killer. Ved: "I've done some reading on the subject. It is most likely a male, and since Vargrs make up a fairly small percentage of the population, the killer is most likely human." O'Malley: "How do you know it's a serial killer?" Ved: "We don't have many murders here. And these all have the exact same MO - the victim is stabbed first in the chest, usually puncturing a lung. Several minutes later the victim's throat is slashed when the victim's blood pressure low, so there is little or no blood spray. All of the killings have taken place between 6:30 and 8:00 p.m., always on weekdays [work days]." O'Malley: "Sounds like your killer has a lot of experience, or has a background in anatomy. Any murders close to this MO but not exactly?" Ved: "Killings, no. Assaults, yes in a manner of speaking. The attack to the lung is called a Sailor's Cut locally." Emma: "And the victims?" Ved: "All female, between 25 and 35 years old. The first two were prostitutes, but the third was a housewife. The killer's last two victims were not prostitutes either." O'Malley: "What about other physical evidence? Fingerprints? Hair and fibre?" Ved: "At this tech level it can be difficult to get fingerprints, let alone the other items." O'Malley: "Quiet places?" Ved: "Yes." O'Malley: "Well, if you don't have any physical evidence, I'd suggest getting a female who fits the type to use for bait, and set her up with a body wire." Ved: "Why would wearing a wire on her body help?" Frank looks confused. Emma: "Take a look outside - camels, carts, a significant lack of high tech..." Ah. O'Malley: "Any time pattern?" Ved: "It's getting progressively shorter." O'Malley: "Have there been any unsuccessful attacks? Before the first one maybe? A person doesn't just appear as a perfect killer. Any animals stabbed in the chest? Maybe he practiced before he started on humans." Could be, but the locals don't report animal slashings to the police, and if the killer was practicing on sheep or whatever, all he'd have to do is buy one (or use one of his own flock) and "practice" before butchering it for meat.

Outside. Man: "A flying car! Imperials are here!" Nicolai: <thinking> "In a Solomani grav-car???" Vendor: "Get the best stock out! The pieces we keep in the back!"

Ved: "Are you interested in the Tingler case?" O'Malley: "The drug dealer? Sounds like an open and shut case. If he were on fire I wouldn't waste the urine to put him out." A popular opinion. Ved: "Thank you for your help. Should you need anything, let me or my brother Fahaz know." O'Malley: "No problem. Brotherhood of cops and all that. Well, let's get going, we have more girls to murd - oops." Just a little black humor.

They leave and join Nicolai outside. He's been driving the vendors crazy by not buying anything. O'Malley, on the other hand, merrily buys a few trinkets and chats up the vendors in a relaxed way, gentling easing the conversation onto the topic of the murders. Frank's not worried about Walsh, she's a cop. It's like talking to people at home. These are the little people, and they're worried. The killer has murdered ladies of the evening, not that there's anything wrong with them, but he's moved on from there. The second was also a pro, but since then they've been regular women - housewives, and the like. All in the poorer areas. O'Malley: "Is he taking anything from the victims?" Man: "The whore of course had her jewelry, but one piece seemed to be missing. A small necklace." O'Malley: "Trophy hunting." The locals don't think it's an offworlder, unlike the detective who used to be in charge of the case. Man: "Why would an offworlder be in that quarter? It is one who is touched by the moon."

Nicolai: "I saw Tingler being hauled off in chains." Emma: "There's a difference between personal use and eight camel loads. He's not our primary concern, but we'll let Myron know."

Back in the hotel, some one who doesn't quite fit in arrives. Elegantly dressed in a grey suit, just the tiniest bits of color. And he landed in an aircar. He and another man enter and ask slowly and precisely for a room. Anders recognizes the men as CRB's - Conditioned Reflex Bureaucrats. Aaaahh! The younger one is clutching his briefcase and looking around nervously, while the older one speaks slowly and carefully as he tries to get a room with running water. They get the same sort of room as Anders, which means the water is brought up. And no elevator - how quaint. An older, off-planet woman says "You know, I think those were Solomani. I recognized the accent." She's speaking to an older gentleman with her. Very observant. El Fahaz now has at least three Solomani citizens on it, skewing the percentages rather badly for this part of space.

O'Malley has a good time talking and taking notes. Emma: "We should probably report back to Myron." Nicolai: "And tell him his boss was hauled away in chains?" O'Malley: "I'll break the news to him." They head back to the hotel, Frank complaining about his lack of coffee. Emma: "I'm sure they've got coffee here somewhere." Nicolai is a bit concerned about that Solomani aircar parked out front; the same one he saw earlier. Nicolai: "That's a Solomani vehicle. An old one." O'Malley: "Or... it could be Imperial, or Swordworld." That wouldn't explain the diplomatic plates. A hotel staff member is on the car with a flintlock, guarding it. They go inside and see Kay talking to a small, middle-aged Black woman. Nicolai knows her. And since Anders has treated many people who saw Thumper up close and personal, she looks familiar to him. O'Malley: "She's not a cop, and she's not scum, so she falls into the civilian category. And I recognize her, so she probably isn't from here." Not an immediate concern.

The party meets with Myron in the lounge. Myron: "Were the police helpful?" O'Malley: "Yes. We located Mr. Tingler." Myron: "Oh good. Let's talk to him and get the girls." Nicolai: "You'll need a pass; if they allow that here." Myron: "What?" O'Malley: "He was caught trading in..." He glances at Emma. Emma: "Eight camel loads." O'Malley: "Eight camel loads of illegal narcotics." Myron: "Oh no. Marty's not going to believe this." O'Malley: "The good news is, with good behavior he might be out in 20 or 30 years." Man: "Excuse me, I could not help overhearing." He approaches the group carefully. Man: "There is an offworlder in the Palace of Justice? I suggest if you value him, you move swiftly." O'Malley: "Why is that, friend?" Man: "They are rough on offworlders there." O'Malley: "The guards or the prisoners?" Man: "Both I am afraid. The Vizier, or as he prefers - the Regent, tries to keep the anti-Imperial factions under control, but he cannot be everywhere. You should get your friend out quickly." He leaves. Nicolai: "The vizier?" O'Malley: "That was just a little too convenient. <to Emma> Follow him. Discreetly." Emma nods and leaves. Nicolai: "we should stay close." O'Malley: "Don't worry. She's a big girl. And we're only a call away. You seemed to recognize that woman over there. Find out why she's here." Nicolai chats with Anders long enough to find out she's here doing some of her charity work, then he and O'Malley leave the hotel.

Emma disappears into the crowd while Frank wanders that direction. The man they're following is walking around like someone who's taking precautions to avoid being followed, and goes into a narrow alley with shops. Emma sees him walking quickly upstairs to a small manufacturing section - jewelry and brass mostly. She chats with some vendors then heads up two flights. She doesn't see him. She heads down one level, thinking about the man. He wore no jewelry at all when she watched him with O'Malley, and that's unusual around here. One floor up the stairs has manufacturing and one or two clerical offices (to record transactions, witness documents, etc.). No sign of the man, but he looked about a decade younger than anyone else in the area wearing the same type of clothing.

Nearby, Nicolai and O'Malley are outside the shops. It's a fairly prosperous part of town, and a beggar comes around who is rebuffed by the others. Someone seems to be encroaching on other peoples' territory. The other beggars are looking askance at him, shooing motions are made, and then a fairly stout man with a walking stick approaches the interloper. Something is dropped into the bowl, then the man stands there. This is interesting. The man starts tapping his stick impatiently. The beggar starts to thank him profusely. Frank, too curious to do nothing, he walks over and bumps into the big guy, being a stupid offworlder who's looking at the buildings. The big man is definitely carrying, at least two weapons. Frank apologizes, and is answered in the local dialect, then "It is...all right." Very accented. Frank: "Say, can you tell me where I can find the House of the Iris? I seem to be lost." He just picked an exotic sounding place from Regina. Man: "I do not know this place, but perhaps you would be better looking in the landward section." O'Malley: "Are you a gentleman of the sea?" Man: "Oh no, landward and seaward are common expressions here." O'Malley: "Hey Nick, come here! <hands Nicolai a digital camera> Oh hey, Shirley will love this. Take a picture. You too." He drags the beggar into the picture against his will and over his protests. The beggar goes into fits of coughing while the pictures are being taken. Frank: "You sound awful man. Here, I have this talisman given to me by a holy man from Regina." He fits the beggar with a body wire. The beggar protests, but Frank insists he wear it for a week then "pass it on to some one else who needs it." Frank mentions in a loud voice that should anyone remove the talisman before the week is up, very bad things will happen to them.

The beggar takes off and is accosted by several other mendicants. Voice: "Split the gooey, you selfless hove! Come across!" Voice 2: "Begone!" Voice: "We are members of the guild. You have violated the law." <click> Voice2: "Back off." The other beggars come back to where Frank and Nicolai are. Frank hears all of this over his commo, as does Nicolai. They keep listening, and for about 5 minutes there's crowd noise. Voice: "A problem, perhaps?" Voice2 (the beggar): "Perhaps. I cannot tell." Voice: "Alright Sanchez, what is it?" Voice2: "I don't know. Fletner came by. First the girl came into the jewelry shop, then the big guy and the other man." Voice: "I don't know..." A pause, then another voice, familiar - the concerned man from the hotel. Fletner: "Did he give you anything?" Voice2: "He made a big thing of giving me this, but I think it was the coins that were bugged. I gave them away." Voice: "Right. We'll have to consider that area blown. Last thing we need is intelligent Imperials." The voices don't sound local, but they don't sound Solomani either. That's a relief. Frank: "I think we should talk to one of these guys. Or better yet, reason with him." Nicolai: "I'm with that."

Emma is on the 2nd floor, and sees two people come out with wooden boxes. File folders it looks like. Perfectly uniform manila file folders. They came out of one of the offices with the boxes, one of them carrying a canvas satchel. They lock the door behind themselves, sling the bag and leave.

Nicolai gets a direction from the carrier wave, and gives the info to Emma, quietly. The target is out of the building, at least a block away. Some how he got out of the building. Damn.

New voices from the wire. Voice: "Hey, what is it?" Voice2: "Hey! IT'S REAL PLASTIC! AND METAL!" Young voices, planning on taking whatever it is to the Hotel Metropol where some offworlders may be interested in buying it. They'll say they found it.

Emma heads in the indicated direction. (Nicolai does a good job of giving directions, even if he is a man.) Nicolai sees four men in their 20's dressed like locals, moving away from the area; one is carrying a box and has a slung satchel. Nicolai would have to push people aside to get ahead of them. They go together for about a block then peel off one by one. Nicolai follows the one with the box and satchel. Emma catches up and sees Nicolai, and then she sees the man she was following originally, crossing on the perpendicular but looking over the wrong shoulder. She picks him up again. It's not easy. He's good, and he's in a crowded city that he knows. He goes into a building with a "Men Only" side, women are going to another entrance. Damn. Emma radios in. Nicolai hears her as he comes up on the person with the box, but he doesn't remember the box having a chicken in it. Oops. Wrong box. Nicolai: "I lost the guy I was following." He'll head over to Emma's location with O'Malley.

Nicolai: <looking at the sign> "It's based on a Solomani language, but it's not." Well, duh. Nicolai: "Is it gender based?" Emma: "Yes..." Fairly obvious if you watch who enters where. O'Malley: "Well, this is more promising than before. They're not locals." Frank can admire the streetcraft of the bad guys. O'Malley: "Well, I can go into the male side, because I'm a male. Wanna see? Just kidding." Emma: "Do you want me to stay outside?" O'Malley: "No. Stay with him <Nicolai> and see about recovering the body wire." Nicolai: "Sounds like kids have it." O'Malley: <to Emma> "Then you should be able to buy it off them for a couple of creds, or flash your baby blues and thank them for recovering your grandmother's necklace. Or you can beat it out of them."

Frank goes into the bath house, and has an interesting time. He sees a young man in Felton's clothing, and arranges for a little meeting out back that ends up with the kid very quickly and efficiently cuffed and faced up against a wall. Frank: "So, did you see what the previous owner was wearing when he left?" Kid: "It was brown and grey. So dull." Frank turns the kid around. Frank: "You know the streets pretty well. You've got a nice set of clothes there, and <cuts a bill in half> half a $20 credit note. You're going to stay close to your new friend, and report back to me at the Hotel Metropol." He undoes the maglock cuffs and the kid takes off.

Nicolai and Emma are in pursuit of the bodywire. Emma spots two kids darting away from a couple of bigger kids. They end up near the Metropol, being shooed away from the shops. According to the carrier wave, the small kids have the wire still, and at this distance if Nicolai's not careful he'll be getting feedback. The bigger kids are looking around, but not too close. Nicolai: "Do you want to approach them? I would, but they'd probably run from me." Emma: "If they're bright, yeah. Why don't you see if you can scare off the 'competition'." Nicolai: "I can do that." The kids let Emma approach - it's not like she looks threatening. Two kids, big eyes, watching warily. Nicolai goes over to the bigger kids, who see large male, dangerous-looking and exotic, versus a small female, not dangerous-looking and exotic. Nicolai: "Can I help you boys?" Boy: "You can get out of our way." Nicolai: "I think I hear your mothers calling." The kid moves his shirt and shows his knife. Nicolai moves his coat and shows his 12mm automag. This is followed by the sound of running feet.

Emma intercepts the younger boys. Boy: "Miss, we have found this. It has come from far away. Did you perhaps lose it?" Emma: "I don't think it's mine, but it might belong to one of my friends." Boy: "Oh? We would not wish to see such a valuable thing lost. If you show us your friend, we can return it." Emma: "They're not here right now, but I'm sure they would want you to be rewarded for returning this, and I can take care of that." They are happy to take the two Credit coins and run off. Everyone converges on the Metropol.

Emma: "Here you go." She passes the wire discreetly back to O'Malley. Then it's upstairs to meet Myron. Kay lets them into the room. Myron is drinking a strong cup of coffee and is telling the Vargr that "yes, the headache is getting better." O'Malley: "What's up?" Myron: "I saw Mr. Tingler." O'Malley: "And he attacked you psionically?" Myron: "Good lord, I wish I could yell 'Zhodani' and have him tarred!" Nicolai: "So what's up with Tingler?" Myron: "Mr. Tingler, in an extremely misguided effort to 'protect' his travelling companions, and having heard that women were 'treated like property' here, told the authorities that the women belonged to him." Emma: "He's not very bright, is he?" O'Malley: "So they confiscated them?" Myron: "Yes, and to pay off part of his debt, they were sold." O'Malley: "If they're lucky, we'll find they've been sold to some one for their talents, rather than someone who bought them for their talents." Nicolai: "You seem to have formed a good relationship with the local police. Perhaps they can tell you to whom the women were sold and we can get them back." Myron: "The sooner the better." O'Malley: "We've been sort of abusing the hospitality of the locals. We should bring something." Nicolai: "Like what?" Ideas are tossed around, and since the locals are predominantly Muslim, it's decided to go with some really good coffee.

Nicolai: <to Frank> "What happened in the bathhouse?" O'Malley: "The man we were following changed his clothes and lit out. But I may have found a new source of info." Myron is briefed (the condensed version) on what has transpired through the day. There's some concern that the idiot Tingler has gotten everyone involved in something bigger than anticipated. O'Malley: "There's no chance that he was set up in order to make the girls available, is there?" Myron: "I doubt it. Bernie has a bad habit of thinking he's much more clever than he is." O'Malley: "Okay, I just wanted to make sure we weren't dealing with some local poobah who was just trying to get his hands on some off-world babes." Nicolai: "And we're not? Once we find out who has them, do we just go in and take them?" O'Malley: "I was thinking maybe we could try to buy them first before shooting up the place." Nicolai: "I'm just the big gun." O'Malley: "Don't worry Junior. If things don't go well you'll get your chance to play Superman." Nicolai: "I never said I was Superman." O'Malley: "Personally, I have a hard time understanding half of what you say." Myron: "What do we do now?" O'Malley: "First thing is to see what we can find out about the slave trade. Myron, do you know when he was arrested, or when the adjudication took place?" Myron: "About three weeks ago." O'Malley: "Then they've probably already been sold." Nicolai: "They may not even be in the city." O'Malley: "The sale of four off-world women is not going to be something that happens in complete secrecy." Myron: "No, there's no reason for it. It's completely legal here. And I suspect that the slave owners are a small percentage of the population." O'Malley: "Shall we go bar-hopping? So to speak." Emma: "Might be a thought." Nicolai: "We could ask our concierge. Maybe ask about acquiring a servant." O'Malley: "I don't want to be tarred by the same brush. We don't want word to get out that we're slavers." They do speak with the concierge, just phrasing things differently. O'Malley: "If someone were looking for someone who had found themselves in the grasp of indentured servitude, who would one ask?" Concierge: "Probably Gamal. You could ask in the morning. He would not be there this evening. He's well-off. I don't know what his habits are."

Once the concierge has left, the details are worked out. O'Malley: "We'll take care of this Gamal character in the morning. <to Nicolai> Do you have a suit? Something non-military? I need you to be muscle." Nicolai: "Nope. Sorry." O'Malley: <to Emma> "I'm guessing you can be a moll? <Emma rolls her eyes> Hey - I'm doing the undercover detective thing for the first time here." Emma: "It's not you. It's just you don't know how many times I've heard that sort of thing. At least you didn't say 'cheap'." Nicolai wonders about finding local clothing. Emma: "We're in an expensive hotel that caters to wealthy offworlders. Just send for a tailor." Ah - of course.

O'Malley: <to Emma> "Want to get a bite?" Emma: "Sure." Nicolai: "That sounds good. If you were including me, that is." O'Malley: "Oh! I'm sorry, I thought you'd need your superman food." Nicolai: "I was thinking of a thick steak." It's decided to go downstairs to the hotel restaurant. Myron isn't feeling well, and he stays upstairs with Kay (just in case)- they'll order from room service.

The restaurant has a fairly good menu, and food is ordered. Frank: <to Emma> "It's just occurred to me that we caught up on all the work-related stuff, but I never asked you how the home life was going. You still seeing that guy? What's his name..." Emma: "God no!" Frank: "Really? So, you're not hooked up with anybody right now?" Emma: "No. You know how it is. You can't go out with some one on the force, because it gets...awkward. And you can't go out with some one off the force because it gets -" Frank: "Awkward. Yeah, if they're off the force, they don't understand." Emma: "Exactly." Nicolai gets a table nearby, not wanting to intrude in the primitive bonding ritual, or whatever.

Frank has just realized that Emma isn't just a brother officer, she's a... what the heck is that again? Oh yeah - a girl! Food arrives, along with wine. After the bottle of wine, Frank tells Emma "I'm not looking for a long term commitment...But it's a shame to waste body heat... I could have another bottle of this wine sent up to the room. If you want." Emma: "I'd like that." Frank: "How convenient that we're in a hotel."

Nicolai, meanwhile is chatting up a fit offworlder, when two grey suits come in and demand gin and tonics. Then the younger one goes off about the horrible conditions on the planet. Evans: "Mr. Caldecott, please. Pull yourself together. There's a Solomani resident on this planet who is being held against his will. Maybe it's justified, we don't know." Nicolai excuses himself for a moment and walks over. Nicolai: "Excuse me gentlemen." They look up and the older one looks around the restaurant, in a confused way. Nicolai sits down at their table. Evans: "I don't see your partner. Very good." (Indicating he recognizes what Nicolai is, and that he should have a partner.) Nicolai: "You really should be more careful." Evans: "You're quite right. In our defense, we were given very little information, and were just stuffed on the next transport. I haven't even had a chance to present my credentials to the Duke." Oh, that means Evans is probably the new Solomani ambassador to Rhylanor. Does he know what happened to the last one??

Frank sees where Nicolai's wandered off to, while waiting for the bottle of wine. Frank: "Looks like Nicolai's found some new friends. I guess he's too good to eat with us." Nicolai: "Who are you looking for?" Evans: "A Jeremiah Williamson." Nicolai: "What was he imprisoned for?" Evans: "We don't know yet. It was my impression that he was wrongly imprisoned for his off-world status, or that there was some sort of mistake in the arrest procedures." Nicolai: "Should you need my help, just leave a message at the desk." Evans: "Thank you citizen. And your name?" Nicolai: "Frank. Frank Sinclair." [Nicolai's dead ex-partner.] Evans: "Thank you citizen Sinclair." Nicolai: "I would be interested in finding out how your negotiations come out." Caldecott: <to Nicolai> "And what are you doing -" He's cut off by Evans' glare. Caldecott: "They haven't developed listening devices yet!" Evans: "They are not the only ones here. <to Nicolai> Thank you citizen Sinclair."

Nicolai returns to his new friend. He notices the cops have gone, and he figures he's going to need a new room since he was sharing one with O'Malley. Miss Curtis offers to share hers. She's not bashful. And her name is Angelique. It's been a while for Nicolai, and apparently for Angelique as well. Nicolai doesn't say what happened to his last girlfriend, Christie (murdered by one of the Blaeloks). Angelique is on planet hunting. Some sort of Terran animal - a Cape buffalo. Angelique complains that Rhylanor is dead, and Regina is tacky. Angelique: "At least on low tech planets you can get out and feel alive." Nicolai isn't that interested in conversation. That's okay, she's only interested in talking during the breathers. Nicolai is the distraction of the evening. A nice distraction.

Frank has only had sex once since his divorce, a couple of years ago, and he doesn't remember much of that - a lot of alcohol was involved. Since Emma wasn't sharing a room, they end up in hers. A bottle of wine, Frank lights a couple of candles... He reads the women's magazines. Maybe he should have started doing that before his divorce, or maybe he should have only been getting it from his wife. Not that she was the poster child for fidelity. But never mind. Once things start to get interesting, Emma has a confession to make to Frank: she's never actually done this before. Oh. Oh! Frank is surprised, but well, honored.

162 - 1123.

Some one comes to the door and taps politely. Frank answers it - it's a member of the hotel staff. Staff: "Sir, you have a caller downstairs who says you want to speak to him. Shall we send the ruffian away?" Frank: "No, send him up." He gently nudges Emma awake, and suggests she freshen up as the informant is on the way up. Frank: "About last night...uh...He should be up here any minute. We'll talk later." Emma: "Okay." He gives her time to get dressed properly, tossing on his clothes from last night before letting his new snitch, Halal, in.

Frank's new association has paid off. The kid's found the man in brown. Frank: <to Emma> "That's the man from yesterday. <to Halal> Where did you find him?" Halal: "Several blocks above the seaside docks." Frank: "Alone?" Halal: "No, there were three men with him." Frank: "Did you recognize them? Were they offworlders?" Halal: "They were offworlders." Frank: "Did they have funny accents?" Halal: "Oh yes. That is how I knew they were offworlders." Emma: "Were their accents like ours?" Halal: "Yes. A bit different." Frank: <to Emma> "Could be Solomani then. We might want to keep an eye on Nicolai. Just in case." Halal: "I followed one of them." Frank: "And?" Halal: "He went to a different location and met with several other men." Frank: "You know the local area pretty well, yes?" Halal: "Yes." Frank: "Well, I want to contract your exclusive services. For the next week you work for me. $20 a day." Halal: "Plus expenses?" Frank: "$20 credits a day. Unless you want to provide me with itemized receipts." Emma: "He means it." Frank gives Halal the other half of the $20 credit note he got yesterday. Frank: "That's for today. Find out who owned the building, what kind of business it is, and what are they saying about us. Plant the wire if you can, but don't take risks." Frank gives him the body wire. Halal: "What are you seeking?" Frank: "Four off-world women who were sold to cover a debt." Halal: "I have heard that Tyree has one." Frank: "Who is this Tyree person?" Halal: "Tyree? She owns the Velvet Orchid. It's a place of unimaginable delights! Not that I have been there myself." The name pretty much says it all. Halal: "And there is a new girl who dances at the Red Sail. She is supposed to be incredible." Frank: "Does she look anything like these girls?" He shows Halal the pictures, but he doesn't know; he hasn't seen her in person. Halal is sent off on his mission.

Frank: <to Emma> "I want you to be redirection. I don't people to look at you and think cop." Emma: "Not a problem." Frank: "But I want you packing." Emma: "Always." Frank: "And about last night...I think we should talk about it. <pause> Later. When we have more time." Frank is more effected than he thought he would be; he's never been anyone's "first" before, and it was so different than it had been with his wife. (The woman used sex like a weapon.) Emma: "Okay." The somewhat pregnant (oops - bad choice of words) - awkward silence is broken by someone pounding on the door. Frank opens it to find Nicolai, resplendent in his newly tailored, local suit. Nicolai: "What do you think?" Frank: "That it should come in handy when we visit the whorehouse. You'll blend in with the staff. <pause> It was a joke. Sorry, I keep forgetting you Solomani have that removed before birth." Nicolai: "Not at all, I know several SolSec agents with very sick sense of humor." Frank: <to Emma> "You get changed, and meet us downstairs." Emma: "Give me ten minutes." Frank: "Will that be enough?" Emma: "Yes. Trust me." The men leave, and Emma changes into a skirt and clingy top, going the feminine route. Very feminine, and harmless. At 5'2", she can look defenseless.

Nicolai stops to check in with the front desk, and there is a package for Frank Sinclair. It's a high tech cell phone. A present from his new diplomatic friends, no doubt. Frank asks the concierge about buying some good coffee in bulk. The hotel has it's own private blends, and after a quick consultation, he tells Frank that the hotel can spare 100 kilos of their reserve. Frank: "I think 10 kilos will be sufficient. And could you have it packaged in a nice basket? I'd like to send a gift to some people who have been very helpful." He dashes off a quick thank you note from himself and Emma, cop to cop. The concierge will take care of everything.

Emma joins the boys downstairs for breakfast. Emma: <to Frank> "Is this okay?" There's a brief pause as Frank's eyes click up and down. Frank: "What? Oh! Yeah. Perfect." Emma: "Should we check in with Myron before we go?" Frank: "Yeah. He can stay here and act as our clearing house." Myron is brought into the loop, told what they know about which girls, etc. Frank: "Do we have ready cash to use to purchase the girls if need be?" Myron: "Some. If it gets too costly I may have to send to Rupe for more. If at all possible I'd prefer to do this legitimately, and without resorting to force." Frank: "I agree. We may not like or approve of the local laws, but they are the laws." Kay will remain with Myron, keeping the group's principal and their doctor out of immediate harms way.

Frank: <to Emma> "I'd like you to be a bit restless. Flit around the place, see what you can find out about guards, and anything else." Emma: "All right." Frank: "Be careful." Nicolai: "Are you expecting trouble?" Frank: "We can expect some one who deals in the buying and selling of human flesh isn't going to be a nice person. If everything goes to hell, meet back in the hotel in two hours. Don't go there directly, take the whole two hours. If things are really bad, use your radio. Ready?" Emma: <straightening her shoulders> "Ready." Frank: <to Nicolai> "You know, I could just sit here and watch her breathe."

They go to Gamal's place and bribe their way into a meeting. They're eventually led in through the hallways, including several sections of the house that are obviously designed for killing zones. Heavy doors and stone in most of the areas. Emma looks at all the "pretty" parts of the home on the way in. They wait in a nicely appointed room before being brought in for their audience.

Gamal is a large man in white, with a shaved head. He has a very calming tone. Gamal: "Mr. O'Malley, please, come in." Tea is offered. Everyone is polite and calm. Nicolai stands near the door, in the bodyguard position. Gamal notices and appreciates Emma, but doesn't let her get any closer than he lets O'Malley. Frank tells Gamal why he's come, more or less, stating that the brother of the imprisoned offworlder wants to purchase the women back, as they're old family retainers. Gamal: "Their medicine must be very good if they are old retainers." O'Malley: "It's all relative. If you've had someone with you over a certain amount of time, you become fond of them. That's neither here nor there." Gamal: "True." O'Malley: "We're not saying you have the women, we're just here because your reputation indicates you'll make a good intermediary, and you know people. I don't expect you to do this for nothing, of course. We're businessmen." Gamal: "And resourceful ones, I have heard." O'Malley: "I see, are the streets already talking about us?" Gamal: "Let's not waste our time. I have my sources of information. They speak of insightful and intelligent offworlders. I have no intention to make enemies I cannot afford." O'Malley: "We're just here to get the four women and get off planet." Gamal: "I simply wish some bona fides. Perhaps a senior detective, perhaps an officer of the court... But then again, you yourself are a policeman." O'Malley: "I was a policeman." Gamal: "Can anyone really retire from that profession? Well, no matter." Frank sets $10,000 credits on the table. Gamal takes half. Gamal: "The women were purchased by very well-off individuals. You would have found out through the courts eventually." O'Malley: "I want you to know that I don't want to have any problems. I'm a cop, and cops don't like to start trouble. But I'm going to protect my principal's interests. I'd like to make sure word gets out that he's interested in acquiring these women in their original condition." Gamal: "I can provide information, make introductions.... I believe they are being well treated." O'Malley: "I'm glad to hear that. And I don't want anyone trying to jerk me around when the time comes to deal. Let's just say that my large friend there lacks people skills. But he's good at breaking things. We had him imported specially, from the Solomani Rim. <sotto vocce> Genetics, you know. Not too bright, but tough as hell. I understand he's got four assassins bullets in him right now." Nicolai is confused; he's had all those removed, and besides - it was more than four. O'Malley: "As long as the original amount stays below the cost of sending my large friend and his gene mates in after the women, then that's what we'll do." Frank is distracted a bit by his sudden desire to be Emma's sweater, but he can multi-task. Inquiries will be made, so the group leaves Gamal to it.

Frank asks Nicolai to take the flat photos to the market, and make inquiries, see if anyone has actually seen any of the girls. Frank: "I don't think we have anything else scheduled for this afternoon, unless you want to check out the place of ill repute?" Emma: "Someone should check it out." Frank suggests that Nicolai go there, and see if he can get a look at the "new girl", after making his inquiries. One vendor thinks he may have seen one of the women, but he doesn't know where. He does seem to recall her wearing a scandalous red outfit. That would be the one who had a small recurring part on Jenghe Rescue.

Dressed as nicely as he is, Nicolai looks good enough to be a patron of the Velvet Orchid, but he has to present a couple of pictures of Strephon first. And he has to check his gun and his knife. He goes in and his hunter's instinct is set off by a big female who's eyeing him the same way - it's debatable which one of them would get in the first hit if it came to that.

Nicolai speaks with the manager, and he'll be staying for lunch if he can find what he's after. He speaks with his waitress, and browses, asking about certain types of girls - eye and hair color, etc. The waitress comments "Ah, you're looking for the Diva. I'm jealous." The music comes up and an electric spotlight comes on. A female Nicolai recognizes from her photo comes out and sings in a breathy voice that makes her appear 16, but during the course of the song she 'matures' to her real age of 25 in a matter of minutes. Nicolai inquires as to her availability. Waitress: "Not likely. She hasn't been yet." Nicolai: "Who would I ask?" Waitress: "Tyree." Speak of the devil - the lady comes out from the back in a slinky outfit. Very female, from her head to the tip of her tail. Aslan. There's a certain amount of dancing about between her and Nicolai, about a contract. Tyree: "That depends on who's inquiring. If it's the man who owned her contract before me and he's broken out of jail, tell him to keep running." Nicolai: "No, it's not him." Tyree: "Then I'd be interested in meeting your principal, so I can look him in the eyes." The large girl watches their exchange carefully. She's definitely an AP - pleasure model, maybe. Maybe something more. Tyree: "Will you be staying?" Nicolai: "You wanted to look into his eyes." Tyree: "Yes." Nicolai: "Then look." Tyree: "No. We don't have to do this here, but I don't think you're the administrative type. I'm not letting her go without a contract." But Nicolai has admin! He can discuss contracts. Tyree is concerned for Kelly's future, and she has to agree to the contract. She does bring in a lot of money for the club. Nicolai can imagine, and he doesn't know why she's been wasting her time with that pop music crap when she has a voice like that.

Tyree: "You're a long way from home. Tell me, Mr. Volkov, why would anyone want to know of your whereabouts?" Nicolai: "For any number of reasons." Tyree: "There is a standing inquiry about you, a Vargr, and a small human male. Be careful." That would be Ghaer and Mikie. Nicolai: "I believe that particular situation has been resolved." Tyree: "I believe there is some one on planet who thinks otherwise." Nicolai: "Well, they may find me eventually." Tyree: "I'd rather it not be here. We like to maintain a peaceful environment here. More tea?" They've stopped baring their teeth and are ready to talk in a more civilized way. Nicolai: "I believe your bodyguard is a long way from home too." Tyree: "El Fahaz is a place where people can get their bearings." Nicolai: "Well. Be that as it may..." Things wind down, and Tyree is convinced that Nicolai is on the up and up, but not that he's the principal. The contract may be available, to the right person. She admires Nicolai's skills and thinks he should broaden his horizons. Maybe look into other employment opportunities. The Solomani diplomats would no doubt disapprove of their fellow citizen getting chummy with an alien, especially while allowing an AP to be in the same room and not dead.