Trust is Only Dangerous . . .

A Pink Dormouse Production with Much Thanks to Manna and Donna

 

Chapter One

"Package for . . ." the speaker paused as she checked her hand screen, "Senior Para-investigator Toreth."

Sara looked up. The woman looking down at her was old for a courier: older than Toreth, way older than Toreth acted most of the time, and dressed in brown jacket and trousers made of leather that must have been expensive when new and would cost a fair few euros second-hand even now, when it had obviously seen many years of hard use.

"I'm his admin: I can sign for that."

"It says here that it's to be delivered in person."

"I'm sorry, but he's out of the office right now."

"No problem." The woman fetched a chair over to Sara's desk and sat down, flashing an I-eat-admins-for-breakfast smile. "I can wait all day. The name's Marianne, by the way."

Sara frowned; what gave this woman the right to be a bitch at _her_?

"Look," Marianne said, her smile softening to something far more sympathetic, "I've had to jump through an unbelievable set of hoops to get up here and it's wrecked my good mood for the day. I don't suppose there's any coffee on offer -- I can fetch it myself if you're busy."

***

Toreth was not at all in a good mood. The meeting had dragged on well beyond the point at which he could give a fuck, even if he had in the first place. And that, thinking about it, was unlikely. Did those idiots really think he had nothing better to do on a Friday than listen to them ramble on -- for three bloody hours at that -- about health and safety in the workplace? Hopefully Sara would have had a more productive morning than he had.

Sara was at her desk when he got back but not working as far as he could see. Instead she was talking to a stranger, who stood up as he approached.

Toreth gave the new woman the once-over. Not bad, all things considered: straight nose and high cheekbones but with a jawline too square for her to have ever been conventionally pretty. And tall, only a little shy of his own height, with presumably a shapely pair of legs under those jeans.

"Safe Drop Deliveries," she said, taking a step towards him and holding out an ID and a package. "I'm under instructions to hand this directly to you."

"Whatever." Toreth headed for his office and indicated that she should follow him. Sara had better have a coffee for him about now: it looked like she'd done little other than drink coffee and gossip in his absence.

He took the package and sat down at his desk. Opening it he found a combination of paper documents and data disks. The people over at Justice seemed to have pulled their fingers out for once and actually sent him everything he had asked for. No harm in spinning things out a little, though: it would give him both a break and a chance to check out the courier's attributes a bit further.

"Hmm . . ." Toreth said, "I should really check this carefully before I sign for it. Sit down, this may take some time."

"No worries." The woman pulled up a chair. "I haven't anything else lined up yet."

Toreth kept one eye on the documents and the other on the courier. Seated, her leather trousers were stretched appealingly tight over her thighs. Sara deposited two cups of coffee on the desk and then left quietly.

"So . . ." Toreth glanced at the name-badge: 'Marianne Dubois'. "Marianne, I don't remember seeing you around here before."

"Company I work for just picked up the contract." Marianne shifted slightly on the chair, swung one leg over the other and fiddled with the main zip on her jacket. "Expect you'll be seeing a lot more of me, though: the boss doesn't like sending the kids to do the important drops."

Toreth moved both coffees a little further along the desk to make room for the papers he had already perused, then made a bet with himself as to whether Marianne was wearing more than just a Safe Drop polo shirt under that jacket. It was warm in the office and the jacket that had been zipped all the way up -- as per regulation, he expected -- was now open enough for him to see the edge of the logo on the shirt.

He turned his attention to the screen. The information on the disks was sufficient for him to apply for a much higher waiver than he had so far, and the paperwork seemed to be proving his suspicions as to the identity of the as-yet-elusive top guy of the smuggling ring that was bringing restricted technology into the Administration as well as, Toreth suspected, smuggling people out of it. And anyone who wanted to leave the Administration without going through the official channels obviously had something to hide, so if he was lucky at least one witness would soon give him enough information to wrap up the case -- or pass it over to Political Crimes, should it turn out to fall under their auspices -- and move on to something less frustrating.

Toreth shuffled the remaining papers and placed them on the desk on top of the others; then he picked up one of the coffees and leaned back in his chair. Marianne leaned over to pick up the other mug, the zipper on her jacket coming open a little further in the process. Yes, braless. And probably a C-cup. Toreth owed himself a drink for that. It was a pity he had a full caseload to work on or he would have considered taking the rest of the morning off to get a definitive answer on that. Still, his weekend was clear so far: Warrick was busy at SimTech with the preparations for the first production run and had indicated that he would only be available on Sunday, if at all.

"That all seems to be in order." Toreth held out his hand. "I suppose you want me to put my ID to it before you go."

"Obviously." Marianne stood up and passed over the hand screen. Toreth pressed his thumb to the required part of the form and handed it back.

"Do you have any plans for tonight?"

"Yeah." Marianne closed up the screen and tucked it into her jacket. "I'm entertaining some old friends chez moi. Full house, I'm afraid." She strode purposefully to the door, then turned, her hand on the handle. "I'm roadie-ing for another friend's band most nights for the rest of this week and next."

Toreth looked at her quizzically as she stood there, seeming to weigh something up in her mind. Then she walked back to his desk and, having pulled a wad of papers from her pocket, peeled one off and placed it on the desk.

"You can come along if you feel like it -- they're playing The Marquis, just down the road, on Tuesday -- doors at eight, first band on stage at nine." She opened the door. "Be sure to dress casual and don't tell anyone what you do for a living."

Toreth picked up the paper as the door swung closed behind Marianne. That had been a pleasant diversion. The paper was a flyer listing dates and the corresponding venues in and around New London. He recognised most, but one jarred -- the setting for the warm-up gig the next day was listed as 'The Devonshire Fox' with no street address. Now that was an interesting puzzle, which might be worth looking into if he had nothing better to do at the weekend.

He turned to his screen again, keyed 'Marianne Dubois' and a few other details into the system and brought up her file. There was nothing particularly remarkable in it. Born France, parents deceased, three older brothers still living in their place of birth. Current residence Henley-on-Thames, no registered partner. Three tattoos and a couple of scars were listed and described under 'Distinguishing Features'. He checked out the company she worked for, and was intrigued to note that she held a fifteen percent share. She hardly looked the type to be into investments; that was perhaps something to ask her about one night, if he found himself with nothing better to do than go see this band she said she roadied for.

He drew a blank on the Devonshire Fox as far as venues in New London were concerned and checking further afield brought up a similar set of blanks. There had to be a reason for that and now it was starting to nag at him more insistently. Toreth decided to head down to Pharmacy before lunch: Daedra's timekeeping on Fridays was as erratic as Sara's and she was the one person who might recognise the name without delving too deeply into why he wanted to know.

***

Marianne left the I&I building and pulled out the keys to her scooter. It was still chained to the post where she had left it and the security LED shone green, indicating that no one had tampered with it in her absence.

She unchained the bike and swung her leg over the saddle. There was still time for one more drop before she went home for the day. Starting at dawn on Fridays meant she could get away early and she should make enough money from hauling amps and setting up lighting rigs in the coming evenings to pay the bills for the rest of the month at least. So . . . plenty of time to go to the gym, catch a bit of rest and then prepare dinner before the others showed up.

The guy she had delivered to might be worth keeping in touch with: Dariel had always said that befriending minions of the Administration paid off in the end. And Dariel was right about most things; he always had been as long as Marianne had known him. It was a pity that the band had insisted on including the warm-up gig on the flyer -- much better if she could give out gig information that did not directly reference anywhere that shady -- but at least there was no address for those not in the know to find the place without going to some considerable trouble.

Dariel was almost respectable these days -- if you avoided looking too far below the surface veneer or inquiring too closely into how he made the books balance -- and it had been a long time since he had used the 'Fox, or any other of the bars he drank in, as a venue to conduct business. It would probably be as well to warn him that Toreth might be turning up tomorrow, unlikely though that was, for everyone's safety. She kicked the scooter into life and headed back to the dispatch office.

***

"Devonshire Fox?" Daedra asked as she checked off stock against the list on her screen. "You don't hear that name very often around here."

"You've heard of it, then?" Toreth prompted.

"It hasn't gone by that name for a long time, not officially, anyway. They seem to change the name every time the management changes, so I suppose most of the punters like a handle to hang onto."

"Surely the management can't change that regularly?" Toreth had visited bars where the management -- as well as some of the clientele -- appeared to have been entrenched since the early days of the Administration.

"Let me see," Daedra appeared to be ticking names off on her fingers, "in the time I've known the place it's changed name at least eight times, and maybe had two other managers who kept the name the last guy used. I spoke to an old regular there once, and he reckoned it had changed name once or twice every one of the twenty years he'd been drinking in it."

"Unusual. Rough crowd drinking in there or no profit to be made?"

"Oh, I'm sure it's profitable enough. And some of the drinkers are a little disreputable, but they don't cause that much trouble to the management. The reasons for moving on seem to be different for each manager. I know it's been shut down by Justice once or twice, so the regulars don't take kindly to anyone they think is snooping. I hear a bunch of them laid into a manager that was rumoured to be an informant."

"So where is it?" The place sounded like an unusual haunt for a regular visitor to I&I, unless Marianne was as careful about mentioning work as she had warned Toreth to be.

"A lot closer to the City Centre than most bars of that type." Daedra pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled down an address. "If this is an official inquiry, I hope your team have good medical cover."

"My inquiry is purely off the record." Toreth slipped the paper into his pocket. "But thanks for the warning."

***

Marianne ran over both the conversations she had had at I&I as she rode through the mid-afternoon, just-before-rush-hour streets. The Guzzi was running well at the moment, purring sweetly between her legs, and feeling far more a part of her than the company scooter she used for short runs during working hours.

She and Sara had compared notes on drinking haunts: Marianne rarely did the drinks-with-the-girls thing, unless they were _gals_; she much preferred male company for a purely platonic night out. Marianne had, of course, taken Sara's comm number -- it did no harm at all to keep track of attractive women, no matter how straight they might appear to be, for future reference. And just because Sara was of a purely heterosexual leaning, it was by no means certain that all of her friends would be. It was about time Marianne made new friends; far too many of her current ones were settling down or dropping out of her social circle for other reasons, and she was damned if she was going to do the former, or go without making up for the latter.

There was that artist Sara wanted Marianne to meet for a start. 'She'd love to sketch you' might mean exactly that or it could be a subtle attempt at matchmaking. Marianne was by no means averse to posing; with a photographer living next door she had got used to the whole modelling thing some time back, and acting as someone else's subject could make an interesting comparison study. Cocktails with Sara and her friends on Wednesday should break the week up nicely, if nothing else.

Toreth had been a whole different subsection of interesting again. Sara had said nothing at all about her boss to Marianne, which was intriguing considering how much most admins liked to gossip about their superiors. That implied he was either a good boss or someone that was in no way to be crossed. The third option -- that there was no gossip to mention about him -- Marianne would not even entertain for a second.

Marianne knew Toreth's type all too well, of course, from the trick with the coffee cup, and from the casual way he had tried to pick her up as she was leaving. Hell, some days she came close to being the type, usually when she was getting out of yet another pretence at a relationship. It had been a while since she had played the casual flirtation-and-retreat game, and it might be worth getting back into practice. Stage one was to see if he took the bait and turned up at a gig. Most likely he would hear of the reputations of most of the venues listed and steer well clear, meaning stage two would be seeing how he reacted the next time she made a drop to his work. It would be nice if he flirted with her some more; that happened all too rarely on drops these days.

 

***

***

Chapter Two

The Devonshire Fox -- or whatever it was calling itself this month -- lurked beneath an innocuous-enough three-star hotel on the edge of the corporate district, with its entrance tucked away around the back, by the hotel kitchens. The sign over the door was as unobtrusive as it could be without being missed off altogether, but he would have figured it out anyway from the motorbikes parked in front of it. The heavies either side of the door looked suspiciously at Toreth but made no attempt to stop him entering.

At the bottom of the stairs he took a few seconds to acclimatise to the smoke-filled air. Most of it was dry ice, but he also picked up hints of tobacco, cannabis and several other banned substances. For now, though, he was definitely off duty. He strolled over to the bar and ordered something bottled; no point in testing the cleanliness -- or otherwise -- of the glasses.

"You decided to risk the warm-up instead of a proper gig, then?" Marianne seemed to be covering up her shock rather well at having a para turn up where he would definitely _not_ be welcome. Especially as she could justifiably be accused of having invited him.

Toreth turned to smile at her. She must have had her hair well pinned-up before: let down it was longer than Sara's. And her battered brown leathers had been replaced by a pair of unfeasibly tight black trousers with studs -- or possibly stones -- outlining the seams.

"Risk what?" He leaned back against the bar and drank his beer slowly.

"Well, I'm sure whoever told you how to find us warned you. We're sitting over there." She turned on her heel, an earring reflecting the light from the bar, and strode off with her hips swinging slightly less than in a true swagger. Toreth followed at a deliberately casual distance behind her.

 

 

'We' turned out to be Marianne and another leather-clad individual, who was sitting at one of the tables on the edge of the room. The other drinkers seemed to be keeping at least two metres from him, almost certainly encouraged by the presence of two toughs, standing casually just out of earshot of the table, who were possibly even bigger than those working the door outside. Toreth started to feel distinctly average-sized.

The man stood up to greet Marianne. He was a good half a head taller than Toreth with greying hair pulled back into a ponytail and a heavy gold hoop through his right ear.

"Well," he said, "are you going to introduce me to your companion?"

"Sure. Dariel, this is Matt Haworth. I met him when I was making a drop to his employer." The words 'personal contract' were very much implied in the way she stressed the final word.

"Haworth . . . I don't think I have heard that name. For whom do you work?"

Toreth decided that playing along was good for his personal well-being.

"McClusky." He would have to chase up the I&I records on Monday to make sure that the identity was still active and warn whoever was using it to be prepared for a call from Dariel. "I only just came back to New London. I've been working in the North for the last few years."

"Not Aberdeen?" Dariel pulled a long, slim case from inside his jacket and held it out to Toreth, who shook his head 'no' to both Aberdeen and the cigars. Dariel snapped the case shut and replaced it in his jacket. "Ah, I have associates up there. Dundee too. None in Glasgow or Edinburgh, though."

Toreth could see himself getting in way too deep here unless he changed the subject soon. One comforting thought was that he could always have the whole lot of them arrested at a later date. Preferably for something a little more subversive than possession and use of prohibited substances, though, he added to himself as Dariel slapped him on the shoulder.

"Why not sit down? Any friend of Marianne is welcome here." He smiled widely enough to reveal a gold-capped upper canine.

 

 

"So how was the dinner?" Toreth asked Marianne once they were all seated. He noticed that the two toughs were still keeping a discreet watch on the table. Must be in their contract or something.

"Okay," Marianne shrugged out of her jacket, revealing two of her three tattoos, one on each arm. "So did you do anything last night?" Neat change of subject.

"Just went out drinking." Got drunk, went back to a hotel with a random stranger, had technically satisfying sex . . . None of which compared favourably with his usual Friday nights, of course. Marianne reached across the table and picked up a can of one of those over-caffeinated soft drinks Toreth had always thought only programmers drank. "You don't drink?"

"Not when I'm working." Marianne swallowed a mouthful and put the can back down. "I've got to take everything down and then drive the van back before I can even think about going home." Of course; that was exactly what she had told him when she had laid down the challenge in the first place.

"So what will you do afterwards? Go home to your boyfriend?" He glanced pointedly up the table.

"Dariel's not my boyfriend, I've known him since . . . well, he wouldn't, anyway." Marianne concluded the statement with something that hinted at regret: finally another point in Toreth's favour.

 

 

Marianne eventually excused herself from the game of information exchange and withholding with the excuse that she had to be down by the stage when the headlining band came on. She shouldered her way through the crowd that had formed from those of the younger patrons who were genuinely more interested in music than in getting drunk, and leaned up against an amp. Just asking for permanent hearing damage, as her brothers would probably tell her if they knew, but she was not planning to stay there too long.

The band came on stage. Cassidy, Marianne's dead cert for tonight, glanced across the crowd and nodded to Marianne before striking up a pose with her guitar. In the past the band had sometimes invited Marianne on stage to share vocal duties on a couple of numbers, but that had been before they changed their regular vocalist and tightened up their style. Marianne knew she had never been better than bar-band standard, ability to pull off impressive rock-star moves notwithstanding, so she was better sticking to roadie-ing now the band was actually going somewhere.

 

 

Two numbers in she gave Cassidy one last appreciative look-over and then dodged around the edge of the audience -- now about ten deep, which was good going even for a Saturday -- and headed for the Gents. One of Dariel's personal security guys was standing by the door, ready to inform anyone thinking of going in that 'sorry, but the toilets are closed for cleaning'. Marianne nodded to him and pushed the door open.

For a dive, the Devonshire Fox had remarkably clean facilities, as was often remarked upon by new patrons. There were reasons, of course: no one liked to have sex or conduct business -- separately or at the same time -- anywhere where the floor was hidden by a layer of dirt or water. Dariel was leaning against the large wall-mirror, which was also out of place in some people's opinion, arms folded and a fresh cigar in his mouth.

"You took your time." Dariel lit his cigar.

"I didn't want to make it too obvious." Marianne boosted herself up onto the counter next to the sinks opposite where he stood before continuing the conversation that had been postponed due to Toreth's arrival. "I thought some more about that job you offered me and the answer's still 'no', I'm afraid."

"I thought as much." Dariel sighed. "You know, Marianne, there is far more money in working for me than in what you do now."

"I do know. But I'd rather be poor than dead." Dariel flinched and Marianne swore at herself over the slip; after all these years the subject of Roal got no easier for him. Not that it was exactly something she liked to dwell on herself, either.

"Ah, well. If you ever change your mind, come to my office and we'll talk about it properly."

"And what of Toreth? What do you make of him?" Although Marianne had warned Dariel over dinner the night before that she had made contact with a minion of the Administration -- and a cute one at that -- who might show up at a gig sometime, some fast thinking had still been called for when he had turned up at the one place she had hoped not to see him.

"So far, so good; he stuck to his cover story most impressively and managed not to pry too deeply into my affairs. I like that." Dariel took a long drag on his cigar. At least he seemed calmer than he had been after Marianne told him that there was a vague chance a para-investigator might call on them. Since then Dariel would have had time to do some background checks and hopefully unearth some information he could use as an insurance policy if Toreth made trouble.

"I had my data people look into the few pieces of information you gave to me and they found little of note in any official records. However," Dariel continued, "my contact in Computer Crimes informs me that there is considerable gossip about our friend Val Toreth."

Marianne had never quite plucked up the nerve to ask about Dariel's mysterious contacts. They were obviously one of the reasons why he had so few problems with the authorities, compared to others she could think of, but surely bribes on that level required more money than the amounts she thought the businesses brought in?

"What sort of gossip?" she asked.

"He drinks too much and takes all manner of drugs, not all of them approved; he screws around more than you and I put together." Dariel gave Marianne a look of approval. "And he has about as much interest in politics as any of us do. Not at all what one would expect from a fine, upstanding para-investigator; from that information alone, I could almost like him."

"So I don't need to tell him not to come back?" Marianne did have a sneaking admiration for anyone with a job like Toreth's who dared show his face in a bar like the 'Fox.

"Not at the moment." Dariel removed the cigar and smiled. "I would advise him not to return without a specific invitation, though. It would be bad for all of us if one of the other patrons took a dislike to him. At the very least it would lead to yet another change of management for this place and you know how much I hate mess." He replaced the cigar and re-lit it.

"I'll tell him to call me before he comes back, how about that?" No longer on edge, Marianne realised her energy levels were starting to flag. "Hey, got any stims on you? I was going to have a quiet day today, but Jakes talked me into shifting a load of his equipment over to City Hall. Fuck knows how he plans on getting it back, but that's not my problem."

"Of course." Dariel put his hand into the other inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a screw-top tin. He passed it to Marianne.

"Thanks." She unscrewed the top, took out two pills and swallowed them, then closed it up and handed it back. Two was definitely the most she planned to do tonight; there was no point in looking too wasted in present company. "So what do you make of him? From what you've seen tonight?"

"Well," Dariel blew smoke over Marianne's head, "if I were ten years younger I might make a play for him myself. Although there is the little matter of where he works, and then he does have a regular partner of sorts if the other rumours I hear are true . . ."

 

 

Toreth was about to make his escape from the latest of the apparent queue, who had all attempted to engage him in conversation after Dariel had mysteriously left, when Marianne returned. There were plenty of available partners here as well as her but he needed to watch his step until he figured out where he stood with the people he was drinking with. Marianne was theoretically above-board, as was the delivery company she worked for, but she had an interesting line in contacts, who, she had rightly pointed out, would not take kindly to learning Toreth's real identity. Still, he would bear this place in mind next time he needed information or someone to shake it out of.

Marianne sat down next to him and retrieved her drink from the table.

"You look bored. Band not your thing, then?"

"Not really. I was thinking of moving on, to be honest," Toreth turned to look at Marianne, trying to figure out exactly where he stood with her, "unless you have any objections."

"Your decision." Marianne looked away as an attractive redhead, whom Toreth belatedly recognised as the guitarist from the band, approached the table. She turned back to Toreth. "Of course the sound quality in here's not what it could be, and they generally don't hit their stride for a couple of gigs, which is why tonight was billed as a warm-up. This is Cassidy, by the way." Marianne pushed her chair back from the table and the redhead slid onto her knee. Toreth decided he was definitely leaving -- and soon -- unless it turned out that a threesome was on the cards. Two women could be an interesting concept, although he had his suspicions that Marianne might try to run things a little too much for his liking.

Marianne picked up the can, shook it and then put it back on the table.

"I seem to be without a drink." She looked at Toreth. "You want another beer?"

He nodded.

"Come on, then."

Cassidy took her cue and stood up long enough for Marianne to slide from under her, then claimed the chair for herself. Toreth got up and walked to the bar alongside Marianne.

"Look, if I'd known you were showing up I'd have told her to back off for the night. But once she starts getting ready for a gig, she gets really into it -- doesn't like being disturbed -- know what I mean?"

Toreth was not entirely sure that he did but nodded anyway.

"She a regular thing, then?"

"Regular enough." Marianne looked at Toreth and grinned. "She has a twin. An identical twin."

"Had them both?"

She nodded as they reached the bar.

"At the same time?" Toreth tried not to become too distracted by his own fantasies of Warrick and Dillian.

"Now that would be telling." Marianne pulled a card from the back pocket of her jeans and used it to attract the attention of one of the bar staff.

"So tell." Cassidy was cute enough. But two of her, that would be something else altogether. Two identical but separate real people; that was something the sim had come close to reproducing but could never match.

"Some other time. If you make me a good enough offer in return." She was taunting him now; Toreth was torn between walking out this instant and finding out exactly what Marianne wanted from him.

"What did it feel like? Did you do them both or did you watch while they did each other?"

"Another beer? Or did you want something stronger?" She sounded so bloody calm, which was a lot more than he felt right now.

"Vodka."

Marianne nodded to the barman, then passed the glass over as soon as it appeared on the bar. Toreth necked it, nearly choking on an ice cube in the process. Marianne smiled at him.

"The management are none too happy about people bringing offensive weapons into their establishment, didn't I tell you that?"

Toreth raised an eyebrow. Marianne dropped her gaze, then looked straight into his eyes again.

"You might have more luck if you stand closer to the Gents."

Toreth raised one finger. Sit and Spin.

"I'm going back to my girl. What you do is entirely up to you. Oh, and," she handed him a business card, "make sure you give me a call if you ever feel like coming this way again. Give me enough warning and I'll make sure I come unaccompanied -- unless you _want_ me to bring a friend."

Marianne walked off. Toreth had been well and truly played. He turned the card over and read the address and comm details; he knew them already, of course, from Marianne's security file, but it was worth having them officially, as it were. Just in case he ever decided he did want to hear that story about the twins.

 

***

***

Chapter Three

At work on Monday Toreth ran a search for Dariel and came up with a big blank for anyone of that last name and approximate age currently resident in New London. He dropped it and concentrated on more pressing matters.

Two days later it was still bugging him, so he had another look over Marianne's security file. Ah, there it was: moved to New London aged fourteen and was fostered by D. Dickinson and R. Kelsey.

Toreth pulled up the files on those two. He looked at the one on R. Kelsey first since it was much the smaller. Deceased some twenty-two years ago, registered partner of D. Dickinson for the ten years prior to his death. Cause of death: gunshot wound to the head, investigated by Justice but no conviction ever brought. Believed to be a gang-related death due to victim's connections . . . Toreth closed down the screen. So Dariel was a criminal. Maybe not a particularly interesting one, but it might be worth keeping tabs on him for future reference. Now to see how much of his criminality he had managed to cover up.

The security file for Dariel Dickinson was not nearly so bland as that for Marianne Dubois. He owned three hotels -- including the one above the Devonshire Fox -- plus a couple of casinos and a brothel. All totally above-board after a few minor offences had led to run-ins with Justice many years back. The real money seemed to come from property investments and shares -- mostly in companies connected with the entertainment industry -- which explained something that had been nagging at Toreth. Dariel seemed familiar because Toreth must have seen him before at some SimTech event or other, rather than because of any investigation he had been connected with.

What was _really_ interesting, though, was that the file had been flagged 'do not arrest' by a para named Baker, over at Computer Crimes. Toreth skimmed the rest of the file; Dariel seemed to have started out in falsification of identities -- he or someone working for him had managed to access some tough files at the Data Division -- and at some point had turned informant. It probably suited all parties, Toreth thought. CC got to up their arrest stats and Dariel got to have his rival criminals removed. There were a few over at Justice who might complain about allowing one criminal to flourish even if it was at the expense of others, but Justice always needed to complain about I&I over something.

And right down at the bottom of the last section there was a little note about the Devonshire Fox itself. One that could basically be boiled down to 'very useful source of information -- do not raid too often'. Toreth smiled and closed down the file. He would definitely be going back there sometime; what had Marianne said, 'make sure you give me a call if you ever feel like coming this way again'? Well, maybe he would tell her, or maybe he would see about finding his own informant in there.

The file's details were interesting in theory, and it would be worth 'borrowing' Dariel at some point to ask him about the sale of fake IDs as it related to Toreth's own investigations. In fact it would be well worth asking right now, before he got down to the real business of the day.

 

 

"Absolutely not," said Baker, after Toreth had outlined his request over the comm. "We're talking about a long-term informant here and one that needs delicate handling at the best of times. I can't pass him between departments like a misaddressed parcel. Besides," he leaned a little closer to the screen, "he's tied up with a case of mine at the moment."

"Come on," said Toreth, "I've met the man socially; I just want to talk to him a little more officially."

"I'm sorry, but in that case I'll definitely have to say no." Baker cut the connection.

Intensely irritating, but right now Toreth had other, equally important matters to concentrate on. He opened up the file on his less annoying IIP. He would have to be out of town soon to wrap this one up and then he could concentrate on making progress on the other. Give it a few days and maybe he could work on Baker some more, to hopefully greater effect.

***

Marianne took a week off work for spring cleaning. Only two months late this year: she was mightily impressed with herself. The good thing about the Sappho was its economy of space, which meant that everything she owned had its place and there was little opportunity for acquiring too much extraneous crap. The downside was that she had few places to move things to, while she was cleaning each area. Hence spring cleaning usually waited until summer was well enough underway for her to be sure of a run of dry days. Leaving it too late, however, ran the risk of missing the Summer Run: an unofficial pilgrimage of those who thought themselves outsiders to the North, where they would light bonfires on a hilltop somewhere and drink homebrew while telling stories of how things were better back when they first did all this.

Maybe this year she would do something different, though. Heading up-river in the Sappho and mooring somewhere well away from everyone else was a possibility. Not that either option was as much of a blow for freedom as people liked to pretend: location chips meant that all vehicles could be tracked all the time. In theory, anyway; there were ways and means for less-than-honest citizens to tamper with the technology, and Marianne knew the methods even if she refrained from putting them into practice these days. Damn, that was twice in two weeks she had headed towards thinking about Roal. The best thing for it was to go out drinking and meet a few new people. Wednesday night and she was supposed to be meeting up with Sara and friends for cocktails a second time: perfect.

***

Marianne slept in on the Thursday, although not for as long as she would have liked. She could sleep through the dawn chorus and through the commercial traffic passing up and down the river, but not through the pounding on the bulkhead right next to her head. She rolled out of bed and pulled her T-shirt down over her boxers. Smoothing her hair back into its ponytail, she climbed the steps and opened the aft exit-hatch.

She winced at the sunlight. Surely she was too old and therefore too wise to have drunk enough to get hung over? Jakes looked up at her from the bank.

"You're not working today?" he asked.

"Thankfully not."

"I have fresh coffee if that's any help?"

 

 

Coffee helped very much indeed. As did the pain-au-chocolat that Jakes had mysteriously conjured from somewhere, possibly leftovers from whatever photography assignment he had been on the previous night.

"So who is she, then?" Jakes asked over the first cups from the second pot.

"Who is she, who?" Marianne knew damn well what Jakes was getting at, but she was not in the mood for unburdening right now. The wounds needed to heal a little first.

"Whoever broke your heart this time."

"I don't have a heart. And even supposing I did, no one's broken it recently anyway."

"So why the hangover?"

"Presumably because I was having fun." Cocktails had turned into a strip club, which had turned into a vote for more 'sophisticated' entertainment in the form of Dariel's casino and the free drinks that came with it. At least she was starting to feel more human now. "Have you got anything smokeable?"

"I don't know what you mean," Jakes said and beamed innocently at her

"Yes, you do." Marianne was still to decide whether Jakes was genuinely dense or just putting on a good act; as they had been neighbours for four years it had to be a bloody good act. "You go to corporate parties all the time; I just happen to know a few persons of debatable honesty. Ergo you have more access to illicit substances than I do." Not strictly true, but it was amusing to embarrass him.

"All right." Jakes sighed. "There's a tin under the mattress you're sitting on."

Marianne felt around and, in a recessed part of the bench, found a battered steel case of roughly the same dimensions as the pristine silver one Dariel always carried.

"Jakes, you're a life-saver, you know that." She was starting to remember more clearly the real reason she had drunk so much the previous night and would quite like to forget for a little while longer. There were four cigarillos in the tin, so no real harm in her having one for herself. She removed it and ran it under her nose. Pure grass, not cut with tobacco: just what she needed right now.

Marianne lit the joint and inhaled deeply.

"It's not just women, you know." Although the fact that her current problem was one particular woman did not entirely surprise her.

"Might as well be. You've never taken any notice of me." Marianne rolled her eyes ceilingwards. Jakes was so far from being her type he was almost in another country.

"You're practically family."

"And when did that stop you?"

Never, she thought, but avoided saying.

 

***

***

Chapter Four

Toreth had returned from a successful trip to Cambridge, which had wrapped up one investigation, to find that his other big IIP was still going nowhere. Every lead he had one of his team turn over proved to bring in no more evidence than he already had and the paperwork from Justice had proved beneficial right up to the point where his star prisoner died under interrogation without confirming any of it. So still no commendation for successfully wrapping up a reasonably high profile investigation, and no sign of any other department wanting to take it off his hands, either.

Equally frustrating was the message from Warrick to say that -- before Toreth asked -- yes, he was still very busy and no, there was little chance of his being available on Friday. Completely unsolicited information, which only served to make Toreth more pissed off, if that were possible.

Someone had to be passing messages between the various groups under surveillance, but he could not see how at present. He had ruled out just about every likely and unlikely avenue as far as he could tell. All intercepted communications seemed above-board no matter how much scrutiny he had subjected them to, so how were details of who, where and when being passed on to those needing to know?

"Maybe they _are_ using an actual courier service," he mused to Sara over coffee, seeing how the idea sounded aloud. It would have been obvious if any of his suspects had suddenly started receiving any significant number of packages, but a slight increase in the frequency with which couriers visited a multi-residence building might have slipped past both the surveillance team and the evidence analysis systems. Something to look into after coffee, then. If the deliveries were being masked by legitimate visits, then maybe it was time to pull in a non-standard contact or two. "Who was that courier that came to see me a couple of weeks ago? Has she been back lately?"

 

"Who, Marianne?" Sara said. He had not mentioned his little walk on the wild side to anyone, since it had not resulted in anything particularly entertaining.

"Marianne? Yeah, that's her. She's clean. Has to be if I&I are using the place she works. She might know which companies aren't, though. Do you know if anyone's expecting a parcel today?"

"I don't think so," Sara said, looking thoughtful. "I might run into her socially this week, though, so I'll ask her to call in and see you."

"You see much of her socially?"

"Well, she's met the rest of us for drinks the last couple of Wednesdays."

"How come I wasn't invited?"

"You've been busy. Anyway it's been a Girls' Night Out thing both times; we bitch about men -- Marianne bitches about women and Cele bitches about both -- and drink and that's about it, really. But next time I see her, I'll tell her you want to talk to her."

"You do that." Toreth stood up. "I've got work to do."

 

 

There was a knock on the door some time later. Toreth looked up from his revision of the surveillance reports and interrogation transcripts. A pattern was starting to fall into place, now that he had a new theory to test out.

"Yeah?"

The door opened and Sara looked in at him.

"It must be your lucky day; Marianne's here after all, delivering something to Chevril. Did you want to talk to her now?"

Why ever not? He had nothing better to do right now that could not be postponed for a few minutes or even an hour or so.

"Send her in."

 

 

Marianne strolled into the office, trying to look casual about the summons, and closed the door behind her. She glanced around, trying to spot surveillance cameras; there were none she could see, but the room felt uncomfortably close. She hung her leather jacket, the brown one she always wore for work, over a chair, which she pulled up to the corner of Toreth's desk, trying to gauge the man's mood.

"Sara said you wanted a word."

"That all you've got to say to me?" Toreth gave her a smile that was almost but not entirely unfriendly. "No 'hello, Toreth, not seen you for a while'?"

"I'm busy," she said defensively. "What did you want?" Sure he was attractive, sure she was now one-hundred-per-cent single, but she still had some doubts as to whether he was the best of people to flirt with. Or if, indeed, he still wanted to play that game with her after last time.

"Just a little chat; you know people. People who, shall we say, don't _always_ follow the letter of the law?"

"And?" She had her suspicions as to where this was leading, but playing along was a lot better than even _thinking_ about pinning the bastard against the wall by his throat, absence of security cameras being no less reason not to be careful.

"I know all about your Dariel." He leaned back in his chair; Marianne tried to look utterly calm. "But that's as may be. I have bigger fish to fry right now. What do you know about some of the less . . . reputable courier firms in this city?"

"What did you want to know?" Marianne said suspiciously. "Because if you think I'm going to tell you anything that may get my friends hauled in as witnesses or even suspects, you'll have to ask a lot more nicely than that."

"I suppose that would depend if any of your friends are resisters or supply false IDs to resisters."

"Certainly not." Criminals were a fact of her life, but those who thought they could do one scrap of good at changing the Administration for the better (whatever that was) were a whole different can of worms. 'Never mix crime and politics' had always been Dariel's motto and it had served him well for many years.

"So you won't mind dropping me a few names, then. Those courier firms or individual employees who would not be above passing information between subversive elements." Toreth gave her a satisfied smile, obviously thinking he had won this round.

"I need a little time. Let me kick over some stones and see what crawls out. Do you have any names at all?"

"There's one that I seem to be hearing a lot and I can't seem to match the description to anyone of that name: Carter."

"Him?" Marianne could not conceal her surprise at the name. "If he's the one I'm thinking of, that bastard went down years ago." And she had been partly responsible for his assumed demise, truth be told.

"It's not an entirely uncommon name."

"Yeah, but . . ." Marianne decided to keep a few pieces of information to herself for now. "I'll need a couple of days to ask around."

"I suppose . . ." Toreth steepled his fingers and rested them under his chin, obviously noticing that she was backtracking, "that will have to do."

"I'll contact you as soon as I know anything." Marianne stood up, picked up her jacket and swaggered towards the door. That had gone better than it could have, she supposed.

"One more thing," Toreth said. Marianne paused. "Do you fuck in office hours?"

"Only if she's very cute." Marianne pulled on her jacket, then opened the door and left, collecting her crash helmet from Sara's desk as she passed.

 

 

Toreth reran the analyses of courier deliveries to the buildings under surveillance, in case anything new showed up. There was one company that seemed to deliver more frequently than the system predicted from raw data, but it was _just_ within the levels of statistical variation. He sent B-C down to the company's offices to investigate anyway.

He was reading over B-C's report the next day when the comm chimed. It was Marianne, he discovered from Sara.

"What have you got for me?" Toreth asked, as soon as he heard the background noise change.

"Couple of names," Marianne was _trying_ to sound cocky, but she was definitely nervous, "few snippets of gossip. I'd rather not tell you over an open line."

"Come in and tell me in person, then."

"What, now?"

"Yes, now." Toreth said, faux-patiently. He had an investigation to wrap up, preferably before he got too much older.

"Look," Marianne said, "I'm in the complex, what? Once or twice a week at most. I've been asking the questions for you and now you want me to come over and spend longer than necessary in the same building -- the same office -- twice in as many days. People will wonder. It's hardly going to make it easy to be me."

"You know," Toreth said, "it is possible to be _too_ paranoid."

"Yeah, right," Marianne said. "I'll call in to your office the next time someone in the complex has a delivery or a collection. I'm sure you won't have to wait too long."

The connection went dead. Toreth swore at it, which did nothing other than improve his mood by a couple of percentage points.

 

***

***

Chapter Five

When he had heard nothing of Marianne by the Saturday, Toreth took the long taxi ride to Henley, very thankful that it was on expenses. He got out on the edge of the district where Marianne lived, then walked through residential estates of expensive houses for respectable corporates and down a well-managed path to the river.

There he discovered a long line of houseboats in varying states of repair. The moorings were obviously numbered as for the houses, one garden of which backed onto each mooring point. The Sappho, when he found it, was very average: neither brand-new nor about to disintegrate into the river and in the middle of the size range when compared with all the others moored close by. There was a tarpaulin covering something approximately bike-shaped on the deck at the front of the houseboat. The prow, Toreth corrected himself, remembering that bit of information from somewhere.

Toreth paused on the bank. How did one announce one's presence at a houseboat? Climbing onboard and then knocking could be termed trespass, and there was a lot of water to be pushed into. The alternative, knocking on the side of the boat, also seemed impolite, and he wanted to keep Marianne friendly -- at least until he had extracted some information from her.

"She's not in." The speaker was a man, who had been occupying himself with painting the next boat along the bank. Curly-haired and with a nose that was a very good advertisement for why people should have plastic surgery, he was now observing Toreth with what obviously counted as amusement.

"Any idea when she'll be back?" The possibility of 'never' crossed his mind but he dismissed it; as far as he could tell Marianne had as much against this Carter for personal reasons as he had in terms of getting the IIP out of the way. The fact that her bike still seemed to be there was another good sign; she was unlikely to leave without familiar transport if she had the opportunity to use it.

"She said she wouldn't be long -- just getting some food in for her dinner. You'll find her up thataway if you don't mind a walk."

"Thanks." Toreth followed the path along the bank in the direction the man had indicated. The further away he walked from Marianne's boat, the more widely apart the occupied moorings became. The gardens on his left gave way to trees and the sounds of suburban life faded into the background. He came to a bridge over a stream emptying into the river and paused. There was little to indicate which direction Marianne might have taken but a faint splash and a fresh heel-mark in the mud made him turn left and follow the less used path.

It had been a good choice. Rounding a corner he saw Marianne lying on the bank, one hand and the tip of her plait trailing in the water. Toreth paused to assess the situation. Marianne's arm suddenly jerked and she sat up, brandishing a large fish. She hit its head against the ground and threw it into the bucket on her far side, then glanced up at Toreth and grinned.

"Hi," she said, looking a little shifty. "Fancy meeting you here."

Toreth moved closer and crouched down.

"Should I have seen you do that? And are you going to feed me, now I'm here?"

"Check my fishing permit," Marianne said, making a hasty recovery from her surprise. "Nothing on it says I have to use a rod and line. I learnt that trick years ago off an Irish Gypsy, or at least that's what he always claimed he was." She looked into the bucket. "Seems like we've got plenty enough for both of us there; I may as well get back." She wrung the excess water from her hair, then picked up the bucket and headed back towards the Thames.

***

Toreth sat back on the couch that ran down half the length of the bank side of the houseboat, toying with a glass of whiskey, while Marianne gutted the fish. She kept up a running commentary as she did so, all about the importance of fresh ingredients and how living outside of New London made so much sense in terms of what she could buy, barter or obtain for free that it overruled all the contrary arguments about commuting and night life. She finished cleaning the last of the fish, placed them in the refrigerator (smaller than Warrick's but still out of proportion for the cramped cooking area), and wiped the work surface down.

"I'm going to shower before I cook," she said. "You can amuse yourself for ten minutes, can't you?"

As soon as Marianne had closed the door to the shower behind her, Toreth started an examination of her possessions. Not that she owned much: most of the cupboards contained food or cooking equipment. He pulled the drawer out from under the bed and found neatly folded and tightly packed clothes. The shelf over the bed contained books, mostly graphic novels, with a few technical manuals scattered among them. And standing in a corner were three cases: two long and thin, the third guitar-shaped.

"Six-string bass."

Toreth turned around slowly. Marianne had changed into the black leather trousers she had worn at the Devonshire Fox, although the accompanying muscle-T was tighter tonight than the one she had on then.

"You play?" Toreth tore his eyes away from Marianne's chest and glanced at the case.

"Not particularly well. But it's traditional for the roadie to have aspirations of musical fame, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't know." He sat back down and picked his glass up off the table.

"The band's playing my local tonight, if you fancy going."

"Will your girlfriend be there?"

"We split up," Marianne said matter-of-factly. She took the fish out of the fridge, placed a frying pan on the stove and turned a dial on the stove front. She added oil and butter to the pan then did something involving the fish and a plate of flour. Toreth watched the cooking process with interest.

"How did you learn to do all that?"

"Same Irish Gypsy that taught me to fish. He was--" She turned to look at Toreth. "What's the point of pretending you don't already know all this? He was Dariel's Partner." She stressed the word as if it needed capitalisation. Toreth raised his eyebrows. "Look, I was a scrawny runaway, they took me in. Why does everyone always give me that look when I mention it?"

Because you so obviously wish that there had been more to it. Toreth was still a little unsure whether the unrequited thing Marianne so obviously had for Dariel was a one-off as far as men were concerned. "So you and . . ."

"Cassidy. She got a little too serious. Wanted me to stop seeing other people." Marianne turned back to the stove and flipped the fish over, then bent down and removed two bowls from the fridge. "Potato salad and oil-tossed French beans." She divided the contents between two plates, with the fish following shortly afterwards. A few more manoeuvres and she turned to Toreth, brandishing the plates. "Shall we?"

Toreth slid along the couch to sit at the table. Marianne set the plates in front of him, followed them with two glasses of wine, then unfolded a seat and sat down opposite him. She raised her glass.

"Here's to me staying gloriously single." She drank deeply from the glass, then set it down and started on the food.

Toreth poked at the almonds on top of his trout. He disapproved of the idea of cooking nuts with fish.

"You were going to tell me what you'd found out. I got tired of waiting, so here I am."

"Ah, yes." Marianne skinned her trout and ate a small piece of the flesh. "First off, the Carter I knew is definitely dead. But . . ." She speared a chunk of potato. "Someone else has been using the name. I don't know if it's one of his family or just someone trying to trade on history, but there's something going on and it's a lot more underground than my usual contacts."

"Politicals?" Toreth sampled the fish. It was similar to the farmed trout he had eaten in an expensive restaurant with Warrick once, but there was something pleasantly different about it. Obviously the river here was far enough from New London not to be contaminated by industrial outflows.

"Possibly. Of course that would explain why none of my contacts could come up with anything. None of them would risk getting involved with resisters; straightforward crime is dangerous enough."

"Is that why you're legit, because crime is too dangerous for you?" Good food aside, it was starting to look like Toreth's visit would turn out to be fruitless. He should have waited until she visited him at I&I.

"Me?" Marianne asked. "I don't know what you mean. I know people that know people; it's not like I associate with real criminals."

"So Dariel's not involved in any illegal activities?" Toreth would be interested to find out how much Marianne knew about her friend's involvement with I&I.

"You won't be able to pin anything on him if that's what you're asking. Get your people to look over his accounts and they'll find every last Euro comes from legitimate businesses."

Toreth smiled.

"Want to put money on that?"

Marianne said nothing.

"I thought not. So tell me what else you _do_ know."

"I made a list." Marianne pulled a scrap of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Toreth. "Two firms and a bunch of individuals rumoured to be a little less picky than most about who they make deliveries for. I'm sure you can cross-reference them against what you've got."

"Thank you." Toreth unfolded the paper. The script was large, unformed and surprisingly childish. Something else to consider about Marianne. "I'll let you know if this is enough." It was not really enough to justify his trip, but maybe he could apply more leverage to Marianne or some other informer once he had cross-referenced it.

"You do that."

 

 

Marianne was certain that she was playing a dangerous game, which had been why she had put off going back to I&I in the first place. Getting involved with I&I as an informer was as dangerous as getting involved with criminals of the sort she had searched out to get Toreth's desired information. She trusted neither side in this matter; her information was only as reliable as the -- highly unreliable in some cases -- sources she had obtained it from. And Toreth and his bosses at I&I were only likely to protect her from those she had informed on, and their families or associates, for as long as she was useful. Also, she had heard some worrying rumours about what really happened to people who opted for the Witness Protection Scheme.

Of course, if she could only stay ahead of everyone there could be a lot of personal advantages to be gained. The two firms she had named for Toreth were not rivals as such; they operated in far less salubrious sections of the courier business than Safe Drop, but having fewer players on the field would boost profit for those remaining. And Dariel would reward her handsomely if her actions could both remove one or two of his own business rivals and sweep a few with suspect political views out of the more 'respectable' crime echelons. So in an ideal world Marianne would win, Dariel would win and Toreth would . . . win. Damn it, he would have to, or else he would find a way to bring all of them down. She was less than happy with that, but then she had never believed in the concept of an ideal world.

She looked at her watch. The band would be setting up shortly. She had done her bit earlier in terms of lugging equipment and checking electrics, but it was considered courteous to put in an appearance before the audience started to drift in. She stood up and cleared the plates over to the sink.

"Coming to the pub, then?" Jakes knew she had a visitor; it would arouse far less suspicion amongst the other neighbours if she acted like that was _all_ Toreth was. Besides, showing up at the gig with someone in tow would prove she was over the breakup with Cassidy .

Toreth nodded. Marianne ducked into the head to brush her hair out before leaving.

***

The Duke of Wellington was a lot closer to respectability than the Devonshire Fox, in spite of having a similar array of motorbikes parked outside -- even through in the back room, where the band were standing by the stage as Marianne and Toreth walked in. Cassidy waved them over; obviously the breakup had been as amicable as Marianne had indicated.

"Hi, Cassidy." Marianne kissed her on the cheek. Definitely still something there, then. "You remember Matt Haworth, don't you?"

"Yeah." She turned to Toreth. "You a convert? Or did Marianne blackmail you into coming along tonight?"

"I thought I should give you a second chance before I made my mind up." Toreth scanned the room, but no faces were instantly recognisable. Evidently Dariel and his cohorts had better things to do than venture so far from New London tonight.

 

 

The band was better than last time; good, he supposed, if you liked that sort of thing, although he had not bothered moving away from the bar during their set as Marianne had done. More interesting than their performance from his point of view were Marianne's interactions with the various members of the audience. It was easy enough to figure out which women she had screwed, which she wanted to screw and who out of the remainder wanted to attract Marianne. Her attitude towards the men was more ambiguous. Mostly he could pick out drinking companions and those who were attracted to her, but there were one or two he would place a -- small -- bet on having had at least a brief tumble with the woman.

 

 

Second set over, Marianne finished her glass of wine and pulled a bandana from her back pocket to secure her hair -- now messed up beyond salvation -- out of her face. She walked back across the room to where Toreth was still propping up the bar.

"Not seen anyone you fancy? Aside from me, of course."

"And what makes you think I'd be interested in you?"

"You're looking at my tits again." Marianne smiled. She had fitted in some highly enjoyable flirting with Toreth between the band's two sets. Now she predicted that it would take five more minutes -- ten if she wanted to string things out a little -- and she would be sorted for the evening. "But anyway, present company excepted, who in this place would be worth having?" She leaned back against the bar next to Toreth.

"Her." He indicated a well-put-together and somewhat familiar blonde. The woman turned into the light and Marianne swore to herself. Of all the women Toreth could have picked out.

"She's very much married."

"So I gather from the ring and the touch-me-not attitude. Makes the game all the more interesting."

"Not on my turf, and in her case, it doesn't. I do business with her husband and I'm damned if I'm going to be forced to go elsewhere for bike spares just because you can't keep your trousers zipped up."

"Fair enough. I may as well get back, then. There's plenty of places that will still be open when I get into town. Unless . . ." he smiled, "you have any other suggestions?"

"I've got some rather expensive coffee back at the Sappho. Imported -- unless you have any objection to that?"

"Coffee?" Toreth smiled. "That's a little cliched, isn't it?"

"I prefer to call it traditional." Marianne flashed him a smile of her own then turned and walked towards the door.

 

 

Toreth followed Marianne out of the pub. The full moon was bright in the cloudless sky and the air was still pleasantly warm in spite of the light breeze blowing in from the Thames. It smelled a little odd, though -- must be the lower level of pollutants out here. They were a third of the way across the field separating the pub from the river when Marianne placed a hand on Toreth's arm. He glanced at her and she nodded towards a large tree some thirty metres ahead, close to the path they were following. He could almost make out a figure in the shadow of its trunk, then there was a sudden movement from behind it and a shot rang out.

Fuck, but he hated guns. Toreth dived for the ground, feeling his right wrist twist the wrong way as he landed, then scrambled for the cover of a bush.

"I knew you were trouble," Marianne whispered angrily, squeezing in beside him.

"Me?" Toreth whispered back. "Surely it's more likely to be someone out to get you?"

"Who the hell cares?" Marianne pulled the scarf from her head, then scrabbled around under the bush. "With this light they may as well shoot both of us to be sure, no matter who they're after."

"What the fuck are you doing down there?" His wrist was starting to throb. Great way to improve his mood.

"Defensive weaponry." Marianne brought her hands out from under the bush with what appeared to be a half-brick wrapped in the scarf. "Now you go one way, I'll go the other and we'll meet back at the Sappho."

"One thing," Toreth whispered, "at least we'll see him as soon as he moves out from his cover."

"Yeah, and he'll see us the whole time, remember? So if you get shot don't expect me to come back for you. Now get going."

Toreth looked towards the tree one last time before venturing out from his cover. The would-be assassin, or assassins, still seemed to be lying in wait. He stayed close to the ground on hands and knees, calculating how ruined his clothes would be by the time he reached the boat. It took his mind away from how much more damage he was doing to his wrist every time he put pressure on it. No point in tackling the gunmen -- stupid as that idea would be anyway -- when he was definitely not going to be able to throw any sort of punch with his dominant hand.

He reached the hedge that separated this field from the next, and then crawled through it. Crap, these clothes were not going to be remotely salvageable. He would have to go straight back to his flat and change before he even thought of going out again. On this side of the hedge he could at least straighten up a little and make better speed back to the houseboat. Or he could forget about that and make straight for the taxi rank at the Boatyard; he had a pretty good idea where it was located in relation to his current position.

The pause from creeping around left his wrist with the opportunity to throb more insistently. Maybe there _were_ advantages to dropping by Marianne's place first. He set off again, on his feet now but keeping well below the level of the hedge.

 

 

This was all becoming unpleasantly like old times. Running around in the dark, ready to dodge bullets at any second, worrying whether one's companions would make it back in one piece, worrying what would happen if they got themselves picked up alive. Well, she knew what would happen to Toreth; if he got picked up by someone not gunning for him specifically, he would get out just fine. If they wanted him, he stood less of a chance. But she was willing to bet that he was the sort of lucky bastard that would walk away with hardly a scratch ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

Satisfied that Toreth had had time make it to cover, Marianne made sure her improvised cosh was at the ready and sprinted in the opposite direction, hoping to avoid the edges of the rabbit warren she knew was mainly over towards the tree. Two shots whistled over her head and she heard a couple go off in other directions, but none came any closer to her. Then the shooting stopped. Marianne kept running.

She skidded to a walk as her feet touched the smooth earth of the towpath and tried to give off as nonchalant an air as she could muster. Two boats, then she was level with Jakes' home. She briefly considered calling him in for backup, but he would be no help at all in a fight, and she much preferred the idea of getting back to the relative safety of her boat as soon as she could. If she was out of sight, then maybe, just maybe, whoever had shot at her would decide she had been sufficiently scared off and get back down to their real business of the night.

The more she thought about it, the more she was able to convince herself that none of this had anything to do with her. She had obviously been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or -- less likely, admittedly -- she had been with the wrong person at the wrong time. Either way she would be far safer without a para-investigator around; he _would_ be good in a fight, but he was probably likely to be the instigator of such if whoever-it-was did come calling.

Two more paces and she was close enough for the prow-light of the Sappho to flare into life. No Toreth yet, but then he would be taking the long way around if he came back at all. Well, Marianne decided, if he did show up she would do best to pack him on his way back to New London -- no fuck was worth getting killed for -- and then, assuming no more threats from the gunman, she might as well get thoroughly stoned before turning in.

There was a faint scuff as if someone had kicked a twig out of the way, and getting ready with the cosh, she turned towards the sound. Toreth stepped forward into the light of the halogen, holding his right arm close to his chest and looking to be in some discomfort.

"Right, you, change of plan. You can naff off home right now and I might talk to you again in a few days if you're still alive."

Toreth flashed her a pained smile and her resolve started to fade.

"Don't suppose I could beg a couple of painkillers first?" he asked quietly, supporting himself against the boat with his good hand.

"What the heck." One day Marianne would manage to live up to her claim to be a heartless bitch, but it would not be tonight. "Get yourself on board before I see sense again."

 

 

Marianne locked the hatch as Toreth sat down on the couch and then she shot the top and bottom deadbolts as an added precaution. Electronics could be tampered with, but steel and wood took brute force to get through. And that inevitably meant making enough noise, and taking sufficient time, for her to be good and ready to tackle any intruders. Somehow, though, she doubted anyone would be around looking for her. He, or they, had been shooting from a standing position but not given chase. And the more she thought about it the more she was convinced that she had seen at least two figures.

"Any more thoughts on who might have it in for you?"

Toreth shook his head.

"Could be anyone out of a long list. Be easier to tell you who wouldn't be taking pot-shots at me. I don't see that any of them would bother coming out here looking for me, though. How about you? Sure it's not some of the people you've been asking too many questions about?"

"That _had_ occurred to me, believe it or not. But it's too far from home for those people -- and too close to my home. If any of them were out to get me they'd arrange a little accident in town or have me disappear when I made a drop to one of their covers."

"Hmmm." Toreth sounded unconvinced. He got out his personal comm. "I'd better call this in before I do anything else."

Marianne set the kettle to boil, then dug in a cupboard for bandages and pills.

"It's not working."

Marianne turned to look at Toreth, who was fiddling with his comm.

"Damaged when you hit the ground?"

"Must have been." Toreth shook it. "Definitely something rattling in there that shouldn't be."

"Bugger." Marianne handed him a couple of mid-range painkillers, then went to her own comm. She was debating whether to make the report herself or leave that to Toreth when a call came in.

"Hello?" she said cautiously, wondering if maybe the shots _had_ been aimed at her and that this would be the shooter checking up on her whereabouts.

"Marianne, it's me, Jakes. Did you hear the shooting?" He sounded agitated, more possibly than if he had just been disturbed by the noise while safely at home.

"Yeah, I was about to call Justice."

"No need, I've done that already. They're sending someone to check the area now, then Officer Briggs will talk to all of us living along the bank in the morning. They don't think it's anything to do with us, but we're to stay inside out of the way."

"Thanks, Jakes. I'll call round to your place in the morning, okay?" She cut the connection, then turned back to Toreth. "Someone's already called Justice, so that saves you a job."

"I'll need to have a word with them as well," Toreth said. "Hand me that comm."

"If you insist." She brought the comm to the bed, then tuned out Toreth's conversation with Justice as she started to strap up his wrist. This was definitely far too much like old times. Still, it could all have been a lot worse; at least Toreth had got away with nothing more than a bad sprain by the look of it. And at least the case of the unknown gunman had been passed to a Justice officer known by reputation to be keen on a quiet life, rather than some young hotshot anxious to rise quickly up the ladder of promotion.

 

 

"That's that," said Marianne as she secured the free end of the bandage. "Anything else damaged?"

Toreth considered the matter carefully. He was starting to ache over most of his right side but nowhere felt nearly as bad as his wrist. He shook his head again.

"Just bruising; nothing a good night's sleep won't fix." He paused, expecting Marianne to ask about his comm call, but she showed no interest. The Justice officer allocated the case had seemed surprised and not exactly pleased to discover that a representative of I&I had been on the spot for the shooting, but had merely said that he would call on them in the morning and was already sending a patrol over for the remainder of the night. Toreth had demanded to know why he was not being interviewed right now, but had been fielded by a 'short-staffed, mate, we can either patrol or interview,' so that would have to suffice for now. "I'd better wait around here so I can deal with Justice when they show up. Unless . . . well, we had a good start to the evening, but after everything that's happened I assume there's nothing else on offer?"

"You've had enough to drink already," Marianne said. "I wouldn't advise any more on top of those pills. You take the bed, I'll sleep on the couch." Toreth started to make a perfunctory protest, which she cut off. "You hit the ground harder than I did. Besides," she reached across the bed and pulled a scaled-down crossbow and a handful of bolts out of the space between bed and bulkhead, "I'll be sleeping light so I've got time to load this if I hear anything." She stood up and crossed to the stove to remove the now-boiling kettle.

"Wouldn't you be better keeping that loaded?" Toreth asked.

"Horribly bad for the bowstring -- I can load it quick enough if I need to. Besides, I'm not really expecting anyone to come looking for us with Justice sniffing around out there." She turned around, holding two mugs, setting one on the table and holding the other out to him.

Toreth took the mug from her. Shot at, sprained wrist and not even the chance of a fuck to end the evening properly. He hoped that the information Marianne had handed over would make this whole damn mess worthwhile. Then again, he was too tired and stoned to care about the missed fuck right now.

 

***

***

Chapter Six

Toreth opened his eyes and stared at the wood panelling above him. Where the fuck was he? Not in any bed he expected to be in, although Warrick would probably appreciate the decor more than he did. His wrist ached to buggery and there were vague twinges from his ribs as he breathed in. More background noises were filtering into the room than would normally pass through the windows, unless someone had left one open. He rolled onto his side and winced. Not the best idea he had ever had, but at least it brought back the events of the previous evening a little more clearly.

"Coffee?" Marianne appeared, dressed in an over-long, black T-shirt -- yes, she did have nice legs without the trousers -- and bearing a steaming mug. Toreth sat up, figuring that position might be less painful, which it was. He leaned back against the side of the boat.

"Got any more painkillers? Preferably some that won't knock me out like the last lot."

"That would have been the tea. Camomile with a hint of -- well, anyway, I'll get you something different this time." She handed him the mug, then pulled a screw-cap bottle from a small shelf over his head and dropped two pills from it into his hand before sitting down on the edge of the bed with a mug of her own.

"Thanks," Toreth said. He swallowed the pills. "You did a good job on my wrist, by the way."

"One of those skills I've managed not to forget, then." Marianne smiled. "When the guys you live with have a habit of coming home injured you learn fast how to patch them up."

"Dariel and his boyfriend did that a lot?"

"They were bikers; stands to reason they'd come off and damage themselves regularly enough. Anyway, I've told you enough about myself for now. How about you? Is there anyone special in your life that I should know about?" She shifted so her left hand was resting on the bed just that little closer to Toreth's hip.

"If I didn't know you better I'd say you were trying to seduce me." Toreth neatly evaded the question.

"You obviously don't know me as well as you think," Marianne said, as she moved her hand again to rest on the covers over Toreth's leg.

"How so?"

"'Try' implies the possibility of failure." She started kneading his thigh muscles very slowly. "I don't think that comes into this situation. Do you?"

Toreth thought about disagreeing just for the sake of it -- especially given the way that Marianne had been screwing him around -- but his cock was pretty sure that it knew best. Or would, once he had done something about all the drinking he had done last night. He removed Marianne's hand from his thigh.

"Gotta piss."

"Fair enough." Marianne moved down to the foot of the bed, allowing Toreth to slide out from under the covers. He went to use the boat's facilities, being careful to step over the crossbow as he passed it.

 

 

On his way back to the bed he caught a snatch of angry voices outside. He paused, unable to make out the words, then banished any concerns. It was broad daylight out there so he thought it unlikely to have anything to do with the events of last night; probably some local annoyed at being woken too early by the scheduled visit from Justice, who hopefully would not be getting to this boat for a while yet. It crossed his mind that Marianne had changed suddenly from total disinterest to active pursuit, but it was morning and he had a sex drive to answer to.

"You ambidextrous?" Marianne asked. She had moved fully onto the bed and was stretched out on her side like some classical painting Toreth had seen somewhere.

"For all the important things." Toreth joined Marianne on the bed and slipped his left hand under the bottom hem of her T-shirt, encountering a pair of silk boxers.

"Good. Wouldn't want you overdoing things and putting too much strain on that right wrist."

 

 

As stupid ideas went this one was particularly impressive. She had woken up feeling not only seriously in need of a fuck but also with a usefully positioned man to hand, which was no excuse whatsoever for actually taking advantage of the situation. Briggs from Justice would be calling around sometime soon to ask questions about the shooting from last night and, especially if he had spoken to Jakes first, he would know she was expecting him. It was hardly respectful to be fucking someone from one Administration department when a representative of another came to interview you.

Plus there was the fact that Toreth had lied by omission about having a regular partner, which was hardly uncommon in her experience, although not something she ever condoned. But it was, in fact, far lesser an offence than the lies Marianne had told her friends regarding his identity. And it was hardly as if she never screwed around with those who were more seriously attached than Toreth, when she thought she could get away with it. Fuck it. She needed some fun with someone highly unlikely to do a Cassidy on her.

"So, what have you got to offer me?" she asked him, feeling his fingers slowly working their way under the waistband of her shorts.

"I'm surprised you didn't take a peek when you undressed me last night."

"I prefer to see the finished item, not a barely-started work in progress. You were well gone after that tea."

"You gave it to me." Toreth's hand finally started to edge its way between Marianne's thighs.

"You looked like you needed it." Marianne decided it was about time her fingers did some exploring of their own. She slid Toreth's T-shirt up towards his head, noting that he obviously worked out a lot.

'A lot,' she repeated to herself, savouring the phrase and the hard, well-formed muscles that inspired it. As a rule she liked her men more muscular than her women. Hey, she had lusted after Dariel long enough for a start, and how doomed was that? She pulled the T over Toreth's head and off his arms, taking care not to snag the bandage on his wrist. Any extra time _that_ gave her to spend looking at him was obviously a bonus.

"So what's your main exercise?" she asked, running her hands back over him (avoiding the bruised portions of his ribcage) as Toreth returned his good hand to where it had been working before.

"I swim a lot."

"Figures. Upper body strength." Not that it was easy to carry on a conversation with his thumb stroking her clit and two -- no, make that three -- fingers working their way into her. She sat up and removed her shorts, not wanting to stray away from that seriously skilful hand-work for too long. Definitely ambidextrous anyway, thank fuck.

Marianne decided that she needed to be getting on with the serious business of the morning. She pushed Toreth onto his back and then, grabbing his wrist, she rammed his fingers further into her cunt than they had been before as she grasped his cock with her free hand.

 

***

***

Chapter Seven

Marianne felt something bump against the side of the boat and dismissed it as the actions of an inept rower. She was far too relaxed to get up and look right now. Give it another half an hour or so for Toreth to finish in the head and get out, and then she would get up and get on with doing something productive with the remainder of her weekend. The boat rocked slightly, then all went still again.

A few minutes later there was another bump against the stern. Then another. Marianne had the distinct nagging impression that something was wrong outside. She threw back the covers and attained a vertical position before locating and donning her clothes from the previous night, then picking up her crossbow and a couple of bolts just in case. She shot the bolts on the hatch, unlocked it, and then ventured out on deck into a fine drizzle. Something bumped against the boat again; she took a step closer to the sound and spotted clothing, hair, and reddened skin separating them.

"Fuck and damn it to buggery." The crossbow and bolts clattered on the deck as Marianne peered over the stern at the corpse gently bobbing face down alongside the boat. There was something about the back view that tugged at her memory, although she knew from experience that death could alter how one perceived a person, because there was no body language to refer to.

"What is it?" Toreth came up the steps behind her.

"Only some idiot that's got themselves drowned. I suppose I'd better call Jus--" Marianne stopped, realising that Toreth had disappeared back inside. She peered more closely at the corpse, which still looked worryingly familiar. She pulled the boathook off the roof and attempted to lever the body onto its back. Not as easy as films or books would have you believe, but she managed. Then she gasped. Jakes stared blankly up at her, red marks visible on his neck where someone had obviously held him down. Marianne looked away quickly.

She took a couple of calming breaths, then forced herself to look at him again. Definitely not an accidental drowning if she knew anything about the difference between a person falling in the river and a gangland execution. Damnation indeed. She figured it was probably safer to leave everything in place until she had decided what to tell Officer Briggs when he showed up to ask about last night. Somehow 'while I was screwing this here para-investigator some person or persons unknown murdered my neighbour and left his corpse to wash up against my home' seemed a little over-informative right now, especially given that Briggs was known to have a grudge against I&I. Maybe she should hook Jakes' collar, swing him out into the main current and trust that the river would move the evidence a little further away from the Sappho before anyone spotted it.

"You all right there?" Too late. Besides, would she really want one of her closest friends to go without a proper send-off?

Marianne looked over at the dog-walker standing on the bank; not anyone she knew, fortunately. The dog strained towards the river, possibly catching the scent of the corpse.

"Looks like someone fell in the river and washed up here. I was just going to call Justice," she said, wondering why she could see no sign at all of Briggs or his team anywhere along the bank.

"He's definitely dead, then?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Marianne said as the man took a step towards the boat. "Look, I'll be fine here, you go on with your walk." And how come, if a Justice team was investigating the shooting from last night, they were allowing people to walk their dogs all over the area?

"Well, if you're sure . . ."

"Oh, yes." Move along now, nothing to see here. The man turned and wandered off, tugging on his dog's lead when it did not immediately follow him. Marianne turned, picked up the crossbow and bolts and descended the steps into the living quarters.

 

 

Toreth was nowhere to be seen. Marianne was about to check the hatchway to the prow when he emerged from the head, looking decidedly pale. Marianne filled a pint glass with water while he sat down, then handed it to him.

"Thanks." He drank deeply from it, then glared up at her as if challenging her to ask him if he was okay. Marianne, however, had more important questions for him.

"Do you want to call last night's contact at Justice or shall I hope for the best and call the general number myself?"

"Aren't the team out there now?"

"Not a sign. Thinking about it, I'm not sure Justice have been around at all, or else how come people can get drowned without them doing something to stop it?"

"You knew him." She was obviously not looking and sounding as calm as she had thought if Toreth could pick that up in his current stressed-out state.

"Jakes from next door. You spoke to him yesterday. He was also the one--"

Toreth's breathing quickened and he lost the small amount of colour that had returned to his face. He put the glass on the table, slopping water over the edge, and stood up.

"They were supposed to be sending an Officer Briggs. I'll call him when I--" He made a rush for the head.

Marianne tuned out the sound of retching -- just her luck to find a companion who suddenly turned squeamish at the most inconvenient of moments -- and tried to log how many reasons there were that meant she was now in deep shit. Jakes must have had enemies, of course -- everyone did, in Marianne's experience -- but as his chief beneficiary she would be a major, if not the prime, suspect. And that meant even more awkward questions for her to answer this morning than she had already anticipated.

Toreth could give her an alibi for the entire time following Jakes' comm call. But there was always the chance that he would drop her in it to avoid any backlash onto himself. After all, he only had her word for who she had spoken to on the comm. Jakes had been murdered, of that she was certain, and once again she found herself thinking about the marks on his neck and their suggestion of a gangland execution. It just took Briggs to delegate the case to some over-bright soul over at Justice, and for them to then dig around and find a few 'lost' records. Then not only could they connect Marianne and Dariel with gang-related crimes, but the pair of them, and countless others, would be looking at a long list of charges relating to falsification of records. Not to mention all the other offences that might be thrown in once the investigation team started searching through homes and offices.

Marianne thought of calling Dariel right away, but if the call were later traced it would only add to the evidence against her. She was going to have to trust in Toreth to say the right thing to Officer Briggs and then hope that she could keep him on her side long enough for the Justice team to turn up at least one real lead that focussed on someone not connected with anyone she knew.

Toreth emerged from the head.

"Remind me not to take those pills again."

"Yeah," Marianne said, playing along with the lie. "Now, this Justice officer . . ." She trailed off, hoping she sounded as if she had never heard the name before Toreth used it the previous night. No need to make things any more complex than they already were.

"I'll call him." Toreth picked up Marianne's comm and fitted the earpiece. "Officer Briggs? Toreth here . . . Yes, last night. Where's your team now? . . . Well, get them down to the river, there's a body for them to fish out . . . Just the one . . . No, I don't think it's corporate . . . I'll explain when I see you . . . Half an hour? Okay." He cut the connection and turned to Marianne. "Now talk. I need to know exactly what you and your associates are involved in and why I should care rather than turning the whole lot of you in as soon as Briggs gets here."

"I'm not _involved_ in anything and that's the honest truth. Jakes was a society photographer -- corporate events and the like. He did the odd bit of dabbling in illegal recreationals, but he didn't deal or anything."

"Photographer, eh?" Toreth looked thoughtful. "Could he have been blackmailing someone?"

"Not that I know of. It's odd that they didn't dispose of the body better."

"So you're convinced he was killed rather than just fell in? Maybe they were disturbed."

"It's possible. I'm surprised we didn't hear anything, but then we _were_ a little preoccupied." Her earlier words had triggered a thought process that finally resolved itself as a plan and she stood up. "Be right back." She climbed up onto the aft deck, avoiding looking at Jakes, glanced around for any lurking Justice officers, then jumped across to the towpath and for his houseboat.

 

 

The place was a mess with drawers pulled open and their contents scattered across the floor. Marianne stepped cautiously over the debris, debating whether it was worth checking that the murderers -- she was sure they had done this as well -- had left anything that was worth removing before Justice showed up. They seemed to have done a pretty thorough job of turning the place over, but then she probably knew better than them where to look and it was possible that they had been disturbed before having time to do a thorough job either of disposing of Jakes' body or searching his home.

"And what do you think you're doing?"

Marianne spun around. She had not even opened one drawer yet and Toreth was already here interfering. If, as she suspected, it was not the pills making him unwell, then she would have expected him to take a little more time than he had to work his way past the corpse still floating by her boat.

"Well, I was planning on protecting my inheritance. I thought I'd lift the drugs and such before Justice got here."

"Protecting your--" Toreth sat down heavily on the steps. "Oh, fuck. He left this to you?"

"Unless he changed his will without telling me. Jakes didn't have a family and he wasn't much one for long-term relationships, so I guess I was the closest person to him."

"And that gives you the right to tamper with a crime scene, how?"

"I don't want them finding a couple of cigs and ripping the place apart more than seems to have happened already looking for more. Come on, I'm pretty sure you've dabbled in enough proscribed recreationals to see my point of view."

"Just the drugs," Toreth said, sounding as if he were not entirely up to arguing yet. "You wearing gloves?"

"I was in and out of here all the time; what's the point?"

"Gloves," Toreth said, more firmly this time.

Marianne dug in her pockets for the cotton gloves she always carried in case she needed to make unexpected repairs to the Guzzi. Fortunately they were more or less clean; she pulled them on and started to pick her way through the mess.

She spotted a couple of data disks that the ransackers had missed and which she recognised as more likely to be storing life studies than pictures of socialising corporates. If she was wrong it would be easy enough to return them -- or hand them over to Justice -- later, she thought as she slipped them into her pocket as surreptitiously as she could manage.

There was nothing else of note amongst the items on the floor other than an empty tin, which she knew regularly contained stims of both the legal and illegal varieties. She pocketed that as well, in case there were any traces of powder sticking to its edges, then she made a quick inventory of the rest of the boat.

Finally she felt under the partially removed seat cushion of the couch for the cigarillo case. As she pulled it out her fingers brushed against something else stowed beneath the case. She would have remembered if that had been there before. She pocketed the tin, then slid her hand under the cushion again, pulling out a single data disk. It could hardly have got there by accident, so it could be important. She added it to the other items, then nodded to Toreth.

"That's the lot."

"Good." Toreth stood up, then looked down at his trousers, which Marianne realised somewhat belatedly must have taken quite a battering when they had got shot at.

"You want to borrow something a little less distressed before Justice show up?"

"Yeah, I'd better."

 

 

Toreth went to shower while Marianne stashed the crossbow in what seemed to be its usual place of concealment and found him some clothes. She said she had a pair of men's bike-leathers that should be his size. Whatever she found would probably not be the best attire in which to greet a Justice officer but hell, it was the weekend and he was off duty.

There seemed to be no way the shower could be turned on unless one was already standing under it. As soon as he had dealt with Justice he was going to demand a bloody huge drink. Possibly several. Although he would save getting properly drunk for when he was back in his flat. No point in leaving here drunk and -- he cut the thought off and stepped into the shower stall.

This was ridiculous, Toreth told himself; he hardly even knew the dead man. He had spoken to him once; if anyone were to be affected by the death it was Marianne, and she seemed remarkably -- suspiciously, even -- calm under the circumstances. He turned the water on and cranked the temperature up a couple of notches, keeping his bandaged wrist out of the main flow as much as he could.

 

 

Marianne made more coffee and wondered yet again what Jakes had got himself involved in. A very junior-looking Justice officer had stuck his head around the hatch shortly after Toreth had gone to shower and reported that he would be watching over the body until his boss came down with the pathology team. Whatever time they arrived would be too soon for her liking and she was putting off examining the data disks until after they had spoken to her, preferably until after Toreth had left, too.

God, but he had been looking rough ever since she found the body. She had not swallowed the line about the painkillers for an instant; something about Jake's death had affected him badly and she would love to know what it was, not only because that information would move the balance of power a little further her way but also because she disliked mysteries on principle.

Toreth emerged from the shower wrapped in the largest of Marianne's towels. He looked several orders of magnitude healthier, which was a start, but Marianne would much have preferred him at one hundred percent before they had to deal with the murder investigation team that would be with them any minute now. She picked up the pile of clothes she had selected from the bed and handed it to him. He took them without a word and returned to the shower cubicle. Fine time to go coy on her indeed.

Marianne had never liked buying women's jeans off-the-peg -- the leather never seemed particularly hard-wearing -- and it was expensive to always be buying made-to-measure in hides she selected herself. So her wardrobe consisted mostly of men's trousers. Good thing for her she had long legs and a hip size not _that_ much bigger than her waist. And a good thing for Toreth, too, or she would not have had much to offer him.

He re-emerged a couple of minutes later just as Marianne's coffee had cooled enough to be drinkable. She gave him the once-over. Not bad . . . not bad at all. The jeans were noticeably looser over the hips than they were on her, especially since years of use had moulded them to her shape, but the T-shirt -- XL, like most band Ts -- showed off his muscles nicely. She wished she had thought to swap the death's-head-buckled belt for one she liked less, but she would be getting her clothes back soon enough -- next time she was at I&I, if not before.

"How're you feeling?"

"Wrist's a little sore, but the rest seems to have settled down."

"Glad to hear it." Marianne took his hand and checked the bandage -- still holding fine and he had managed to keep it dry -- then replaced her hand with a mug of coffee. "Drink that. Justice'll be here soon enough. Did the officer say where he's been all morning?"

"He's been up at the site of last night's events; apparently his patrol never saw anyone down here last night, so they've been concentrating on doing a thorough search up there since it got light."

Marianne bit back any comments she could have made about how leaving one officer down here might have been enough to save Jakes.

 

***

***

Chapter Eight

Toreth had just set his empty coffee mug on the table when there was a knock on the hatch. Marianne jumped to her feet. Toreth placed a hand on her arm.

"Yes, you're stressed. You just found a body in the river but don't overdo it, got that?"

Marianne nodded and walked steadily to the steps. She opened the hatch.

"Officer, it's good to see you. Did you want to come in?"

A head with thinning grey hair peered through the hatch.

"Good morning, Ms Dubois, Para-investigator. Why don't you both come onto the deck here and tell me exactly what happened?"

Toreth swallowed, then stood up. No one said he had to actually look at the body and, anyway, it was just another corpse; it would be stupid to overreact again today.

When he got up on deck he found Officer Briggs, standing in front of where Toreth assumed the body was to be found.

"So which of you found the body?"

"I did," Marianne said, pushing past him to stand closer to Briggs.

"And you knew the deceased?"

"He was my neighbour; I've known him a few years. I turned the . . . body over to be sure he was dead, but I haven't touched anything else."

"That's what I like to hear. He lived on the next boat along, didn't he? Do you have access to his home?"

"Yes. One minute." Marianne disappeared back into the boat and reappeared a couple of minutes later with a key. Smart thinking, Toreth thought, not making it at all obvious they had done some snooping of their own already today. They? Snooping of their own? What was he thinking? He would do much better to tell this Briggs about Marianne's tampering with evidence right now, but somehow handing the whole case over to Justice on a plate rankled enough for him to want to see what Marianne had before he decided what to do with it.

 

 

"I've got some of my team searching the upstream riverbank," Briggs explained as they descended into Jakes' houseboat, Marianne putting on a good act of being shocked at the apparent break-in. "He was obviously killed elsewhere and the water brought his body to where you found him, but I don't think it was that far away."

"Any idea how he was killed?" Toreth had to ask.

"It looks like he drowned, all right. But there are marks on him to indicate that somebody had him by the neck, probably held him down until he--" He glanced over at Marianne. "Well, anyway, drowning's our most likely cause of death at this moment, pending the post mortem." He began to search the room. "We're looking at a deliberate killing, so we'll have to take all the computer equipment back for examination. Who's his next of kin?"

"That'd be me," Marianne said. Well, at least she was being open about it.

"Any relationship?"

"Friend. Just a friend."

"And when did you last have contact with the deceased?"

"Last night. I was about to put a call through to Justice to tell them about the shooting when he called me to say he'd already done it and they'd be calling round this morning."

"And what time was that?"

"Don't you have a record of the time he called Justice? From the way he was talking he can't have called me much more than a few minutes after."

Briggs nodded.

"I can double-check the time of the call when I get back." He looked over towards Toreth. "Would you say you called fairly soon after that, Para? What time did you make it then?"

Toreth held up his bandaged wrist.

"To be honest, I don't think I could say. I did this when the shooting started and it can't have been more than forty minutes later that I tried to call Justice on my own comm." He pulled the broken comm out of his pocket. "Here, if you can find out what time this stopped working, then you'll know approximately what time the first shots were fired."

Briggs took the comm from him as one of the other members of the Justice team entered, looking excited.

"We found something, Officer," he looked at Toreth, "Para."

"What have you found," Briggs seemed to be trying to remember his subordinate's name, "Evans?"

"There's an area of the bank up there that looks pretty scuffed up. It might be where they--"

"- Thank you, Evans." Briggs glanced at Marianne, then turned back to Toreth. "I'm going to take a look. You can come with me, or stay on your friend's boat, as you prefer. We'll discuss matters further when I come back."

 

 

Marianne followed Briggs up the riverbank. No one had invited her but they had not told her to sod off, either; Toreth ducked out as they passed the Sappho, claiming that he had people he needed to call. Marianne doubted it was the entire truth but he so obviously had issues that she refrained from commenting. Several members of the Justice team were huddled around a small patch of ground a couple of hundred metres from her mooring -- a space where there would normally have been a boat moored if it and its owners were not on holiday this month.

As she drew nearer, one of the team placed a hand on her arm, preventing her from getting right up to where the others were working. Even from here, though, she could see that the ground was badly scuffed and she could almost picture the scene. Someone, maybe even two someones, holding Jakes face down in the river until he was forced to take a breath and inhale water rather than air. It had been a well-known method of Carter's people back in the day, although others had employed it when Carter had been alive and since his death. Had these people tried to get information out of Jakes first? Or had it been a routine criminal execution for transgressions as yet undetermined?

Briggs was back and firing questions at her again. Marianne gave the standard answers to everything. 'Never incriminate yourself, never say anything that may incriminate others.' And later she would utilise that other great Dariel standard: 'find out who dumped you in the shit and exact vengeance whatever way you can'. Yes, someone was going to pay for this and with any luck she would catch up with whoever it was before Justice did.

***

Toreth needed something to take his mind off the images of Marianne's neighbour being drowned, which insisted on bugging him. Why did he encounter so many people who later insisted on dying that way? Not seeing the body had been a great relief; with any luck he would be all over it well before he needed to get any sleep tonight. He spotted two data disks, which Marianne had deposited on the table after returning from the other houseboat. He picked them up; both disks were unlabelled, which was suspicious for a start.

He heard a noise at the hatch and put the disks back where he had found them, then turned towards the noise as Briggs descended the steps into the boat.

"So do you have anything else to tell me while your . . . friend is outside?" He looked Toreth up and down.

"She's not a friend, she's a witness."

Briggs looked sceptical.

"She had some additional information and it was easier to come out here and speak to her than have her come in to I&I on a Saturday. Then after we got shot at and I sprained my wrist it seemed more sensible to wait here to speak to you--"

"Wait. You were shot _at_?"

"Didn't I tell you last night? We were walking back from the pub when the shooting started. It certainly seemed to be aimed at us."

"Do you socialise with all your informants or just the attractive ones?"

"Look, Officer, I've a lot to do today. I should be back in New London right now, going over this new evidence for my own case." Toreth had planned to tell Briggs about the disks but, now that Briggs was beginning to piss Toreth off, he decided he would hang on to them until _after_ he had had a good look at them himself.

"Very well, Para, let me know if you think of anything and don't leave the area without telling me. I'll probably call on you at work later in the week and we can finish our discussion then." Briggs turned and walked back up the steps.

Toreth picked the disks up again. Well, what did you know? Marianne had not thought to password-protect her computer. Toreth inserted the first of the disks and began opening files. His first thought was that Marianne photographed rather well with _and_ without clothes. His second was that he could see why she wanted to keep the disks out of the hands of Justice until she had had a chance to vet their contents herself. The other models covered a large age range, nothing actually illegal that he could see, but enough barely-legals to encourage anyone wanting extra brownie points to go looking for any other files that might be better hidden.

"Like what you see?" Marianne was back.

"He's got a good eye for character." Now who had he heard say that? It sounded good anyway.

"Had, don't you mean?" Marianne leaned over him and removed the disk he had been examining, placing it in a box. She picked its twin up off the bench and placed that with it. "Justice have finally gone. They took lots of stuff away with them and warned me not to leave the area without telling them. All the usual."

"Want a drink?" Toreth asked, standing up and making for a likely looking cupboard.

"Hey, this is my place, shouldn't I be asking you?"

"Probably." He had been right about the cupboard. "Now do you want one or not?"

"I'd prefer--"

"Don't mind me if you want a smoke. I'm hardly going to take it as evidence that you've got anything else to hide, now, am I?"

"I was going to say that I'd prefer it if you left now, but I guess we don't always get what we want."

"Vodka, whiskey or brandy?" That seemed to be the entire choice available.

"Brandy, and make it a large one," Marianne said, lighting a cigarillo.

Toreth poured two large brandies and sat down on the couch. Marianne claimed her glass and moved to sit on the bed.

"So we're not friends any more?"

"Who said we were friends in the first place? But anyway, I thought you might not want me blowing smoke in your direction."

"Doesn't bother me that much." He made a start on the brandy. Right now the prospect of getting stoned, even on second-hand smoke, was appealing, overlooking the obvious problem that he had to work later. And he was definitely not putting that off; tomorrow was Monday, so he wanted check out the names Marianne had given him yesterday and prioritise which, if any, of those listed merited bringing in the next morning.

"Did Briggs say who was top of his suspect list? Are _you_ under suspicion, for example?" he asked, remembering that she had been worried about the possibility earlier and trying to judge her reaction from body language more than from words.

Marianne took a sip from the glass in her left hand and a draw on the cigarillo in her right before replying.

"How could I be when I have such a fine, upstanding para-investigator as my alibi?" She seemed less worried than she had earlier as far as he could tell. Still a little nervous, but only as much as he would have expected.

"That's _senior_ para-investigator. And shouldn't you be sharing your other finds with me as well?"

"Other finds?"

"Yeah, I saw you lift a third data disk from under the seat when we were on the boat. I said I wouldn't turn you in for drugs, but there's still a 'withholding evidence' charge I could pin on you."

"Touche." Marianne got up and ground the cigarillo out in the lid of the tin. She pulled the disk from her inside pocket and crossed to her computer, then inserted it into the drive and began scanning files. "Now let's see what was so interesting he kept it doubly hidden."

 

 

Marianne could have done without Toreth standing behind her right at this moment. She had no inkling of what might be on the disk but suspected that it was something illegal. She would have preferred to find out for herself what Jakes had got himself into before deciding whether to let the information slip to anyone official. That way she would have more chance of catching up with whoever killed him and making sure that they got what they deserved.

The files were labelled only with serial numbers, which seemed to consist of a date and some form of identifying code. She opened the first. It looked to be a series of pictures detailing some sort of illegal transaction, although neither of the participants was instantly recognisable to her.

"Anyone you know?" she said, turning to look at Toreth.

"Don't think so. Try the next."

She opened it. Similar set-up, different criminals.

"He wasn't working for you guys, was he?" That would both explain Jakes' death and let her right off the hook.

"I could find out." And keep the information to himself in all probability. Marianne continued searching, taking the occasional nerve-steadying sip of brandy.

The next few files showed more transactions, some where packages were definitely exchanging hands. It definitely appeared that there had been more to Jakes than Marianne had ever imagined. He had been running a blackmail racket of some sort by the look of things -- she would never have guessed him capable of organising such a thing. Still, he would have been in a position to overhear conversations about where drug deals were likely to go down, and some of the punters -- or maybe even the lower level dealers -- would have been happy to pay up rather than have the pictures get passed on.

"Isn't that your Dariel?" Toreth pointed to a figure in yet another series of pictures, taken in what seemed to be the same location as several of the other sets. "Because if it is, he seems to be accepting money from one of my suspects."

Marianne zoomed in on the frame.

"Oh, fuck." It was definitely the man himself. "That's him. Who's the other guy?"

"Don't you recognise him? I thought you knew about all the bent courier operators. He's a fixer and a smuggler. Suspected of being," he corrected himself. "Carter, to be precise."

"That's Carter?" Toreth had never shown her anything with the man's image on it. In fact, he had indicated that he had no such information. Obviously he had lied to her about that. Now what she needed to figure out -- and quickly -- was how many other lies he had told her. Unless he was lying to her now, for reasons that totally escaped her. But then, very little of anything was making sense to her right now.

She was surprised to see Dariel working with someone who styled himself after his dead arch-nemesis. And no way would he do business with anyone who had not been thoroughly checked out by his data people, so how they had let him get photographed with someone actively under investigation by I&I she would never understand. There had to be some vital piece of the picture she was missing somewhere.

Toreth ejected the disk and pocketed it. Marianne made no comment on that little show of one-upmanship.

"Not as upstanding a citizen as you thought, eh?" Toreth asked. "Makes you wonder what else he's not been telling you, doesn't it? I mean, what do you know about his politics?"

"Dariel's not political," she stated, wondering just what Toreth was asking her, and thinking that surely _Toreth_ was the one not telling her everything. But she could not let Dariel get picked up for something he would never have done. "Hey, I'm more political than he is."

"Something you're not telling me?"

"No. Absolutely not. I mean, it's just a turn of phrase. You don't think I -- fuck -- would I be able to walk in and out of I&I, no questions asked, if I'd ever stated an anti-Administration opinion on anything?"

"You tell me. How _did_ you land the job?"

"I don't like what you're implying." Marianne pushed her chair back and stood up. She turned to face Toreth. "Look, maybe I did a few things back when I was a kid that looking back I'd have been better not to have. But you must know that my record's clean."

"And Dariel? You're saying that he's as honest as you claim to be?"

"Maybe I am."

"What about his dead boyfriend?" Toreth was going to keep on pushing, she could tell. "He was killed in a gang war, did you think I wouldn't have spotted that bit?"

"That's old news." The boat felt far too warm suddenly. She drew a breath. "Find something relevant if you're going to start making accusations against my friends."

"So you admit that much?" Toreth countered. Damn, she was slipping up now. And she could ill afford mistakes.

"It's in his file, so it must be true, right?" Enough was enough. She started towards the hatch; maybe a little air would help clear her head. Then perhaps she would be able to finish this and get Toreth the hell off her boat, if not actually out of her life.

 

 

Toreth managed to reach the hatch at the same moment as Marianne. He reached out with a combination of training and instinct to grab her wrist, wincing as his own bad wrist twisted with her movement.

"And where do you think you're going? I thought we were still talking."

"Discussion over." She struggled against his grip, pushing him away with her free hand and putting yet more strain on his injury. "Now get the hell out of my home."

"It's not over." Toreth said with as much menace as he could muster. Marianne stopped struggling, dropping her free hand to her side, and glared at him as he continued. "There was a dead body out there this morning. The dead body of someone with photographs that could have your Dariel facing a hefty sentence. Now give me one good reason why I don't make a call right now and have him picked up?"

"Those pictures aren't sufficient evidence. What proof do you have that they weren't manipulated?" She tried to pull her other hand away from him again.

Toreth gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on her wrist. Ambidextrous for all the important things -- he should have remembered that when he had grabbed her just now.

"What proof do I have that they were?" None, evidently, but that was not going to matter; the problem would be whether he would able to arrest Dariel without jumping through hoops for Computer Crimes first. Marianne had obviously fallen for the bluff, though, assuming she was in the dark as to Dariel's informant status. "Sit down," he told her firmly.

"Why should I?" she asked, glancing over towards where she had stashed the crossbow.

"Because you might be right." Toreth softened his tone and slackened his grip. Marianne relaxed a little in response. "I need to hear more of what you've got to tell me."

"Okay." She pulled her hand away as he let go and sat down on the bed. Toreth sat down on the end of the couch, fighting the urge to rub his wrist and show her how hard she had wrenched it. "Dariel didn't kill Jakes. I don't know what he was doing meeting with Carter -- or whatever your guy's real name is -- but he sure as hell wouldn't have been so stupid as to break the law and have Jakes snap him doing it. I mean, what would he want to do with your Carter anyway?"

"Maybe he was selling fake IDs?" Toreth seized on the crime that stuck out most from Dariel's file.

"How did you--" Marianne bit her lip and glared at Toreth as she realised her slip.

"So you knew that he was involved in that?" It was becoming more and more evident that what Marianne knew about Dariel, what she believed about him, and the truth were three very separate matters.

"I'm saying that he _used_ to be. I don't know if he does anything like it any more. If you'd asked me yesterday I would have said that he stopped doing that sort of thing years ago."

"But now you're not so sure?" Toreth kept pushing, trying to force her into another careless mistake.

"I don't know. What I do know is that it would be unwise to move against Dariel or anyone in his operation without a lot more evidence than you've got."

"Is that a threat?" Toreth could see that while Marianne's confidence might be misplaced, there was some truth in what she was saying, although not for the reasons she thought.

"It's a warning. You want to keep your job, right? What will happen to your career prospects if you pick up a bunch of suspected crims only to find that their Justice reps can prove they're all pure as the driven snow and the real villains are long gone?"

"Nothing would happen," Toreth said calmly. "I act on the evidence available to me at the time." He smiled at her, certain now that she knew nothing of Dariel's involvement with Computer Crimes. "I'm sure we'll find out a lot more once we have your Dariel and his friends down on the interrogation levels."

"Well, what about the other repercussions? People are bound to know where you live, who you associate with. I hope all your friends have good security."

"That sounds suspiciously like a threat to me." A lot of it was bluff, created on the spot as he forced her into a corner, but that last one he was taking seriously. And that put him in a far worse mood with Marianne than he had been with Briggs.

"I told you it was a warning." Marianne looked and sounded pretty scared herself and probably not just of Toreth or I&I, although that had to be a major part of it. "I don't for a moment think that I'm any safer than you are. I've known these people a long time, remember." She crossed to the cupboard and returned with two refilled brandy glasses. She handed one to Toreth and sat back down. It did nothing to improve his mood, but there was no harm in accepting the drink while he heard the rest of what she had to say.

"You want to know what made me get out?" She downed half of her brandy in one gulp. "Well, it was all because of Roal -- Dariel's brave, handsome, smart, witty Irish Gypsy. I killed him. I shot him in the head before Justice could get their hands on him."

Toreth stared at her, unsure whether her words were a slip-up or the start of an actual threat.

"Yeah, that's right, it was me. He would have died anyway, but at least my way he died with honour, not spilling his life story in some interrogation cell. We were trapped -- like fucking rats -- in a collapsed building. I could climb out, no trouble, but he'd have never made it, the state he was in. There was no way I could have got him out of there -- and I wasn't leaving while he was still alive -- so I killed him." Marianne stared straight at Toreth. "I made damn sure the man responsible for us being there paid, though. And I'd do the same again. To anyone. And don't think you can get away from me." Now that was a threat. "Touch any of my friends without good reason and I'll see that you get what you deserve." She sipped her remaining brandy. "On the other hand, if _you're_ right and _I'm_ wrong, then you're free to do your worst. All I ask is that you keep quiet about the contents of that disk for a few days -- pretend you never saw it, if you like -- and I'll find out what I can for you."

"You do realise you admitted to a murder? Or was that two murders?" Toreth was not going to let anyone get away with threatening him.

"Justice didn't give a fuck about it back then, so why should they now?"

"Because this has gone beyond a Justice matter. You're all of you involved in my investigation and _that's_ an I&I matter. This disk--" Toreth put his hand into his pocket and swore to himself as he realised it had gone missing.

Marianne raised an eyebrow.

"Right, that's it. You're under arrest -- for obstructing an investigation, murder, incitement to murder -- or was that a second charge of murder? -- I don't care how long ago it was, you're still a killer. Then there's threatening a para-investigator, possession and use of prohibited substances, and anything else I can make stick."

"So you're going to officially declare an involvement? I mean, after this morning . . ."

"Any reason I shouldn't?" Toreth asked calmly. She would not call his bluff that easily. "Now give me that disk."

Marianne pulled a disk out of her pocket then stood up and laid it on the table, keeping her hand on top.

"If I let you have this, are you going to let me go?"

"No. But its whereabouts will be one less piece of information we need to interrogate you for. I hope you're planning to come along quietly."

 

 

Marianne sat on the bed in shocked silence as Toreth put through the comm call to I&I. She had no doubt in her mind that if he had brought his handcuffs she would be wearing them now. Instead he was contenting himself with glaring at her, almost as if daring her to make one false move so he could really get violent with her.

His call over, Toreth removed the comm earpiece and turned to smile nastily at Marianne.

"They'll be half an hour or so. Now why don't you do some serious thinking about everything you know and what you might want to tell us back at I&I?"

Marianne swallowed hard. Her weekend just went on going from bad to worse. It was Sunday, so she could look forward to a night in the cells before anyone bothered processing her with no way of contacting Dariel, either to warn him about the picture or to ask him to get her out of there. Somehow she doubted that Dariel's contacts were powerful enough to break her out of an interrogation cell, but he might be able to make things a little easier for her at the very least.

If Jakes had been alive then he might have at least been able to let Dariel know that something was wrong. But then if Jakes had been alive she would not be in this mess in the first place.

"Look," she said, giving it one last try. "If people find out you've arrested me, aren't they going to start playing it safe? Not that I know anything more than I've told you, but they might think I do."

"Save it for later."

Marianne gave up on that idea and thought over what she actually _did_ know. There had to be a way to prove that Dariel had nothing to do with either Jakes' death or the selling of fake IDs to resisters as Toreth seemed to have been hinting. Because, when it came down to it, she could not bring herself to believe that Dariel would go against all that he believed in and mix crime and politics.

Okay, so she had more or less convinced herself these past few years that he was distancing himself from the less legal sides of his businesses, but she had still doubted that he would ever leave his roots behind completely. Selling fake IDs to ordinary criminals she could accept, even if she had turned a blind eye to it; arranging the death of someone who got in his way was a side of Dariel she had lived with in the past. Hell, Roal -- and possibly Carter -- were not the only deaths on her conscience when she allowed herself to think about such things.

She shouldn't have said anything to Toreth about Roal, either. So he had been the only person there, and she had been pretty shaken up over Jakes, but it had been hellishly stupid to forget what he did for a living. And now he had that to hold over her on top of everything else. Well, the only thing for it was to hope that she could hold out long enough to convince the team over at I&I that she had nothing further of any interest to tell them. And how likely was that?

 

***

***

Chapter Nine

Toreth stayed at I&I long enough to see Marianne admitted to the cells and Justice informed, then headed back out of the complex. Justice would hardly break their necks to appoint a rep today, so he might as well take a break for a couple of hours before going over the list of names and the rest of the pictures on the data disk in preparation for making some real progress on the case tomorrow.

In the taxi he almost gave Warrick's address instead of his own. That would have been a bloody stupid idea. Turning up at your regular fuck's flat unannounced, wearing someone else's clothes and smelling of someone else's soap, was probably not playing by the rules.

Besides he had work to do, as did Warrick, who was almost certainly over at SimTech anyway. Maybe once he had showered, changed and got the preparatory work done, he could make a comm call and see about at least eating together later on.

***

Dariel was forced to abandon his soak in the hot tub when the comm sounded for the third time in as many minutes and was followed by a knock on the bathroom door.

"Sir? There's a caller insisting on talking to you. Won't give a message to anyone else."

"Did he say who it was?"

"Yeah, Davies, I think."

"Tell him to hold on."

 

 

"Dariel here," he said re-opening the connection to his unofficial Computer Crimes contact. "This had better be important."

"What does your friend Marianne know about our arrangement?" Davies asked.

"She knows I have a contact at Computer Crimes, nothing more than that." Dariel picked up his cigar from the side-table and lit it before continuing. "You did say this was important."

"I'm taking a big risk here, I need some security."

"You will be paid in the usual way. _When_ you tell me what was so important that you had to disturb me on a Sunday."

"Your Marianne's been arrested." Now that was one thing that Dariel did appreciate being disturbed on a Sunday for. Unwelcome news that could definitely not wait until the next working day.

"What? By whom? On what grounds? And when?"

"She was picked up by I&I a couple of hours ago. Toreth of General Criminal is the para in charge of her case. That's all I know for now."

"Thank you for telling me. Meet me at the usual bar tomorrow and we shall discuss your fee." Dariel cut the connection before the call went on longer than was strictly necessary. He put his cigar down and keyed another number, this time calling his _official_ Computer Crimes contact.

"Baker?" Dariel said as soon as his call was picked up. "I know it's Sunday, but this is important. There's a Marianne Dubois in your holding cells; I need her released before she's processed."

"Dariel, I know I've stuck my neck out for you before, but I don't see what I can do in this case." Baker sounded more displeased than Dariel had been to be disturbed, even though it was common knowledge that the man worked practically every Sunday.

"What do you want from me? I am sure I could make it worth your while." Dariel had to think quickly. What did he have to offer Computer Crimes on top of his usual information?

"It's not a question of money," Baker said, although it had not been in Dariel's plan to offer any financial incentive. "It's an interdepartmental problem. If the para in charge of her case believes her to be important--"

"--How about if I gave you someone more important? Darvil, for example?"

"I thought you said you couldn't do any more with him than you'd already given us?"

"Ordinarily, maybe not." Generally there was only so far Dariel was prepared to go before the risk to his operations -- or even his life -- became too high. "But this time I am prepared to go that little bit further. Have Marianne released and I will bring you your Darvil -- alive, if at all possible."

"Very well, I'll see what I can do. I'm not promising, but--"

"Thank you." Once again Dariel cut the connection as soon as he had heard as much as he needed. Now all he could do was wait.

***

Marianne had started off by pacing the cell. Once her feet had begun to ache she had tried first sitting, then lying on the floor. It was bloody uncomfortable. If she ever got out of here she was going to kill Toreth. No, on second thought, if she ever got out of here she was going to go out of her way never to see Toreth again. The latter was a far more sensible plan, and infinitely less likely to land her straight back in here. And that was the last thing she wanted; she was not even going to _think_ about what would happen to her when that cell door opened again.

There was little to think about other than the events leading to her winding up in here, so she thought about them. Over and over again she wondered what she could have -- should have -- done differently.

 

 

The cell door opened. Marianne got slowly to her feet and turned to look at the guard standing there. This was it, then. She tried to remember what she had been told of the order in which prisoners were processed by I&I. Did she get to see her Justice rep before or after the interrogators got their first chance at talking to her? And how far could she trust anyone working for the Administration anyway, even someone paid to be on her side?

The guard beckoned to her; she stepped forward and held out her hands, expecting to be cuffed again, as she had been when the escort from I&I had arrived at the Sappho. The guard shook her head.

"You're on your way out," she said. "Follow me."

Marianne obeyed, not fully comprehending, taking in the sounds and smells of the detention levels even more sharply than she had on her way in. The guard led her down featureless corridors and into a small room. She indicated a table, the only furniture in the room, where the possessions that had been confiscated on Marianne's entry had been laid out. Marianne checked things over and put her thumbprint to the release forms, then pulled on her jacket and replaced everything else in its correct pocket.

The guard nodded to the door opposite that by which they had entered.

"Right, thanks." Marianne wondered what else, if anything, she was supposed to say to the woman. 'Thank you for having me,' perhaps? She shrugged to herself, then walked out into the night air.

She guessed from the moon that it was around midnight. Not the best of times to be hanging around waiting for a taxi, she thought, as she pulled out her comm and tried to remember the number of the one firm she had used regularly, but maybe she would continue her inexplicable run of good luck.

Better than that, she realised suddenly as she walked out of the grounds of the Int-Sec complex and spotted her Guzzi chained to a post on the other side of the road. There was only one person still alive she had trusted with her security code, so she was no longer in even the slightest doubt as to who had secured her release. The question now was whether she should go straight home or go looking for Dariel to thank him in person and find out exactly what was going on.

On reflection the safest action was to go home and get a decent night's sleep before making any decisions, no matter how safe and sane they might seem right now. She replaced the comm in her pocket, then unchained the Guzzi and kicked it into life.

 

 

The ride out of New London did a lot to help clear Marianne's head. She allowed a small portion of her thought processes to mourn Jakes while using the rest to try and figure out what was going on, who was behind it and where the fuck Dariel fitted into the whole picture. She tried to sort all the various related and -- so far apparently unrelated -- events into some form of order. First she tried chronological order, and then she tried giving each piece of the puzzle a rank of importance and sort them by that. It was too much to think about as the dark intensified outside the city and so she pushed everything to the back of her mind and concentrated on riding.

***

Back on the Sappho, Marianne changed the sheets, then took another shower. It had been cool enough when she was riding the Guzzi, but there was a summer storm brewing and the heat back on the boat was oppressive. Or maybe that was just the mood she was in. Stripping, she looked at the marks on her arm where Toreth had had hold of her -- and where she was going to bruise up nicely in a day or so -- reminding herself how dangerous the man was. A lesson she would do well not to forget again.

Once out of the shower, she pulled on a fresh T-shirt and boxers, then plaited her hair and wrung as much water out of it as she could. She switched her screen on and opened the carefully concealed password-sensitive files and programs. She checked her messages, but no one had tried to contact her since this morning. Her bank accounts were all looking healthy, which was reassuring in case she needed to stage a hurried temporary disappearance any time soon.

She tried Dariel's home and personal comms, but there was no answer. Nor did he pick up at his office, and he did not seem to be at either of his casinos. He was either busy or lying low, which was probably as well since most of what they needed to say to each other was better conducted face to face. She left messages letting Dariel know that she would be calling on him tomorrow, then lay on the bed and tried to let her mind go blank.

Sleep was not going to come easily no matter how late the hour got. Marianne slipped one hand under the waistband of her shorts and tried to select a fantasy that bore no relation to current events. One involving women, for preference; thinking about male bodies ran the risk of them turning mysteriously into Dariel -- or, heaven forbid, Toreth -- at an inopportune moment. Cassidy and her twin was usually a good bet. Yeah, that one would do nicely.

 

 

Her post-orgasmic thoughts drifted to the memory of Dariel back in the days when Roal was alive and she was a naive -- although not exactly innocent -- teenager. Some days she still missed Roal; his death seemed far more real than Jakes' did just yet. If he were here right now, what would he say? Probably nothing of any importance; he would break out the sparkling wine and a tub of ice cream -- 'pain merits luxury more than joy,' he would say -- then sit her down and let her wallow in grief as much as she felt the need to. Looking back as an adult on herself as a teenager, Marianne found it odd that she remembered so much about Roal when Dariel had been her major crush-object. Or maybe that was why; she and Roal had had Dariel in common, even if Roal had had Dariel literally and Marianne had never even come close. Which thought, of course, brought her back down to earth with a bump as it reminded her that tomorrow she had to go see Dariel and find out why Jakes had taken _that_ picture of the Big Guy.

Another thought nagged at her; in all the chaos of finding Jakes' body and subsequent events, Marianne had completely overlooked the earlier problem of being shot at until now. And now she had remembered she was hardly likely to forget again. So much for getting any sort of rest yet; Marianne got up off the bed and pulled on enough clothes to go outside, then found her heftiest torch and left the boat, taking care to lock up securely before she left.

She set off up the path across the fields, re-tracking her route of that night and then cutting across towards the large oak in the centre of the field. Once away from the river she switched on the torch, keeping it pointing down at the ground immediately in front of her feet with every step.

It was easy to find the spot where the gunmen -- and there had been at least two people under the tree that night -- had stood. Not that the ground was noticeably scuffed up more than normal -- under this particular tree was a regular meeting place for lovers and others -- but she knew what she was looking for. Justice had been here too -- there were prints around the edge of the area that had obviously been made by someone taking care not to disturb the evidence.

A further search turned up an empty cartridge that Justice seemed to have missed. That was most unlike what she knew of Briggs and his team, but it looked as if the local rabbits had been doing some digging in the past day or so. Maybe that had pushed it into a more obvious spot. And hadn't Briggs been dragged away from the search here to check out where Jakes had been killed? The problem with living in a respectable, low-crime neighbourhood was that when a big crime did take place there seemed to be a distinct lack of people to deal with it. No wonder Briggs had been in a bad mood that day.

Marianne examined the cartridge, then swore softly to herself; it was from far too common a gun to give her any clue as to its owner without access to a forensics lab. There were no more cartridges or other removable pieces of evidence, but from the pattern of footprints Marianne was able to determine, to her own satisfaction anyway, that two sets had come from opposite directions and the owners had spent some time under the tree together. The implication was plain that she and Toreth had merely come close to stumbling onto a clandestine meeting. They had almost certainly not been in danger of assassination for anything they themselves had done beyond disturbing it.

So now the important question was whether the meeting had had anything to do with what had happened to Jakes. Marianne herself was betting on yes. She felt in her pockets and found the gloves she had worn on her previous visit to Jakes' houseboat. Keeping her hands stuffed into her pockets, she turned and walked back across the field towards the river.

***

Marianne ducked under the Justice tape and cautiously opened the hatch. She crept into the living quarters and shone the torch around; the scene of crime team had actually left everything in pretty good order -- better than it had in been the last time she had looked. The computer was gone -- they would have wanted a better look at that back at Justice -- along with all the data disks and notebooks. Little else looked to have been touched, although presumably it must have been. She took a large book off the shelf, not entirely surprised to find that it was not what it seemed but was instead a folder to hold printouts of some of Jakes' favourite photographs.

There were a few portraits of her in there -- Jakes had hardly made a secret of his attraction -- but also a lot of landscapes and crowd shots. Jakes had been more than just a documenter of people, Marianne realised suddenly; in another age he could have been a great nature photographer. Roal had gone through a phase of fencing art, ended -- or so he said -- when it became too hard for him to let go of the pieces he loved. For months afterwards Dariel had sometimes brought home art that was beyond his price range just to see the smile on his lover's face. Marianne thought that Roal would have appreciated this until-now hidden facet of Jakes' work. It hit her then that Jakes really was dead -- as dead as Roal -- and would not suddenly be walking down the steps asking her if she was planning to stay for dinner or if she had dropped by for a short chat.

She had not cried since the night of Roal's wake all those years before. Then, she had braved hours of people being equally sympathetic to both her and Dariel, when all along she alone knew the truth of how Roal had died. Eventually she had taken Dariel aside and told him the full story. He had been not only understanding but also forgiving, far in excess of expectations, and that was when she had given way to grief.

This time she was alone and there was no one she could grieve with, no one to absolve her of the guilt she felt at not being a good enough friend for Jakes to confide in her. Hell, she was not even a good enough friend to have thought about funeral arrangements, and Justice would not hang onto the body for much longer. Holding that thought, Marianne got up and washed her face, then left Jakes' houseboat as carefully as she had entered. It was time she put her organisational skills to use.

 

***

***

Chapter Ten

Marianne finally slept for an uneasy three or four hours of Sunday night -- or rather Monday morning. She kept the crossbow on the floor by her bed where she could wake and load it in an matter of seconds, but its reassuring presence did little to prevent her dreams featuring her memories of Roal's death, and how she imagined the events culminating in that of Jakes might have occurred. She was woken by the commercial traffic passing by, and it seemed pointless to stay in bed any longer after her first three attempts at blocking the speculations and worries that instantly crowded her mind.

Her best hope -- possibly her only hope -- of getting back to normality any time soon was to find out for herself what had happened the day before and what else had been going on behind her back these past months. She held out little confidence in Justice doing much in the way of legwork on the case; Jakes was unimportant enough in the grand scheme of things for his death to go unexplained without anyone much caring. On top of that, Marianne knew enough about Briggs -- partly from a fling with his ex-wife, but mostly from pub gossip -- to suspect that Toreth's presence at the scene of the crime would have made the officer inclined to investigate the case no more thoroughly than was absolutely necessary.

Briggs disliked I&I getting involved with Justice cases and would dig his heels in if Toreth asked too many questions. Equally he loved a quiet life -- Marianne seemed to remember that the ex-wife she had been involved with had been replaced by a much younger woman -- and would back off altogether if it seemed worth his while to do so.

She called work up, and giving only the minimum details that were needed, explained that she would be absent for the next couple of days. Then she uncovered the Guzzi and headed into New London to confront Dariel.

***

As always, Toreth checked in on the cells on his way to the office. Only to find that his star prisoner was no longer present.

"She was gone when I got here, sir," the guard said when Toreth had stopped swearing long enough for him to reply.

Great way to start his day. And nothing in the records to indicate who had had the blatant nerve to ignore procedure and let her out without informing him. Before _or_ after they did it. But he would find out. And make that fucker wish they had never been conceived, much less come to work at I&I.

 

 

He got into his office to find a pile of paperwork waiting for him, which, on top of all of today's and the previous day's fuck-ups, did nothing to improve his state of mind. Sara poked her head around the door, caught his eye, then disappeared.

Hoping that Sara had gone for coffee, Toreth thought he might as well make a start on the mountain of official business that had built up over the weekend. Tearing strips off whoever had sanctioned the release of his prisoner could wait until after he had checked what else was urgent. He was interrupted almost immediately by a knock on the door.

"Yeah?"

The door opened part-way and Sara looked in around it.

"Tillotson wants to see you in his office. Now, he says."

Toreth sighed and got up. This had better be important.

 

 

"Ah, there you are." Tillotson looked up from whatever he was working on. "You made an arrest yesterday."

"Yeah, well, sometimes I do work at the weekend," Toreth said, wondering where this was leading.

"I'm afraid I had to release your prisoner."

"You rel -- I mean, why was that, sir?"

"Another department contacted me and advised that her arrest would be detrimental to their case. Apparently they were unable to contact you for some reason."

Now that was a blatant lie, either by Tillotson or by someone over at Computer Crimes. Toreth suspected the latter. He had better have someone go shake down Marianne for more information, whatever Computer Crimes might like to say on the matter. At least he had more to work with than he had before the weekend, which was poor consolation.

 

 

Toreth slammed the door to his office and ran through which of his team would be best pulled off surveillance and sent after Marianne. She might know who had swung her release -- presumably Dariel, but proof would be good for his case. And he needed to be sure that she harboured no more ideas about killing him.

He then tried calling Baker, but the man -- and supposedly all of his team -- was mysteriously unavailable. Or unavailable to Toreth at any rate. This was turning out to be one pisser of a day.

Sara came in a couple of minutes later with coffee.

"Did you at least have a good weekend?" she asked, setting the mugs down on the desk.

"So-so." Toreth shrugged. He was in no mood to talk of anything connected with work and that definitely included his weekend. He was sure that Sara must know by now that he had been in the office yesterday.

"He's still working all the time, then?"

Toreth nodded. Warrick had not been at all attentive when he had called him at the office the day before. Admittedly Toreth had been too busy going over the three data disks from Jakes' boat to leave his flat, but it would have been better to have felt a little . . . wanted.

"Have you finished checking the transcripts from Friday yet?" He would refresh his memory of those initially, then carry on cross-referencing the names on Marianne's list and maybe start matching some names to the faces of the subjects of the pictures on the most important of the data disks.

Sara nodded and took a sip of coffee.

"I'll have them on your desk as soon as I've finished this. Are you going to tell me what you did to your wrist?" She looked at him, apparently still waiting to hear about his weekend exploits.

"How about you get them now? I want to get this case closed sometime before I retire."

Sara got up and walked out. Christ, that had come out harsher than he had intended and was probably another bunch of flowers he owed her. He finished his coffee while running a series of searches for any connections -- no matter how tenuous -- between Marianne and known or suspected resisters. Her record for the past two decades was as clean under scrutiny as it was on the surface, so he turned his attention to Dariel. He might have the protection of Computer Crimes, but if there was something political going on, especially if it related to Toreth's IIP, then he would be able to put the pressure on to have the man brought in as a witness if not as a suspect.

Against all his hopes, nothing showed up, not even when he widened the field to include current and former employees or when he cross-referenced the various property investments with resister hang-outs. Annoyingly, the man seemed to have never so much as rented a room to anyone remotely political. Either Marianne was telling the truth about the man's affiliations or he was remarkably good at covering his tracks.

***

All the way up in the lift, Marianne thought about what she would say. Fortunately Dariel had moved his offices to the penthouse of his newest acquisition, so she had longer to do so than on previous occasions. She was almost too tired to be sharp but had avoided taking any stims -- she was paranoid enough already -- so her only hope was that whatever Dariel had to tell her would remove enough of her tension that she could catch a few hours' sleep whenever she got back to the Sappho this afternoon.

Thinking of the Sappho prompted her to wonder whether she should take the time to seek alternative moorings, at least temporarily. Anyone watching her was most likely watching Jakes' old boat as well, so separating the two would make more work for them and, hopefully, make it easier for her to come and go without attracting attention. Up-river would probably be best, despite also meaning a longer journey into New London in the mornings. She could always cry off work for a couple of weeks, though, liberate some of her savings and lie low. Plenty of people moved moorings for the summer; it would not look _that_ suspicious if she did so as well.

Or she could move out. But that could leave the Sappho as an easy target for anyone to turn over, alarm system and deadbolts notwithstanding. It was a tough choice and one she should not be making until she had managed a decent night or two's sleep. So she would sleep on it for now, but if nothing had been done to resolve the mystery surrounding Jakes' death by next weekend or if anything else suspicious should happen, then she would give the matter more thought.

The lift slowed smoothly to a halt, then the doors slid open silently. Nice tech, Marianne thought; Dariel had come a long way up in the world from where he had started out.

Dariel's admin looked up as Marianne stepped out of the lift. He made no comment as she strode past him, so obviously someone in the hotel's reception had phoned up and warned that she was on her way. Marianne paused at the door, wondering whether it would be more polite to knock.

"He said to go straight in."

Marianne turned just long enough to nod an acknowledgement to the admin, then pushed the door open. The room was empty.

She let the door swing closed behind her, then approached the desk. Everything on it was arranged neatly, so it was unlikely that Dariel was about to come back from elsewhere in the building or that he had been unexpectedly called away. She walked around the desk and noted that one of the three screens was not shut down and had a message-waiting bar flashing. Intrigued, she opened the message and started to replay the recording.

"Marianne," Dariel began, "I am sorry I could not speak to you in person, but you must understand that there are a lot of things about this you don't know, which I cannot explain now." Marianne hit 'pause' while she pulled up a chair.

"Why not?" she asked the screen. "You never kept me in the dark before." She hit 'play' again.

"To tell you would be taking too big a risk. Don't ask me to explain, you know I would never lie to you, but--"

"--This is one of those times when you don't want to tell me the truth?" Marianne muttered as Dariel said pretty much the same thing. Well, she would have to find out for herself, then. She tried to keep her temper in check; it had been years since she had lost it with Dariel and she was not about to start now when he was not even present to argue back.

"I am sure you will want to find out more, no matter what I say to you, but I would advise against it. I doubt you will listen. Just know that you are far safer keeping out of situations that do not concern you. And, since you will not be taking my advice so far, I shall tell you one thing that you do need to know. Val Toreth is not your enemy; if you should happen to find information you consider to be of value, I would urge you most strongly to turn it over to him. Be safe, Marianne, I shall come back as soon as I can."

The screen went blank, then a message flashed up asking Marianne if she wished to replay it. She powered down the screen, uncertain what to make of Dariel's message. There was little else for her to do here; Dariel was unlikely to have left anything in his office that would leave any clue as to where he might be. She stood up and walked out.

***

Days like today Marianne wished that she saw things in black and white the way her brothers did. In their world, the Administration was the only way to keep order and the Agricorps were essential to ensure that maximum use was made of resources and that food was produced in the most efficient manner possible. No matter that there was no place for traditional farmers managing small farms that had belonged to their families for generations. No matter that traditionally reared meat tasted better than the commercial stuff -- though not as good as poached or legally culled game -- the Administration had decreed that this was how things were to be done and the Administration was, quite obviously, always right.

Admitting to having these thoughts would of course be another sign that Marianne's official education had been curtailed long before she reached acceptable standards in Citizenship -- or indeed any other subject -- so she kept them to herself. Roal had hacked into the systems and fudged her a set of acceptable exam grades to keep the authorities off their backs, then taught her letters and numbers himself, even if she did find the letters hard going at times. After that she had learned everything she needed to know from technical manuals. Diagrams were easy to make sense of -- far more so than words -- and figuring out how an engine fitted together was no harder than working out the quickest way from location A to location B through the streets of New London.

"I think you'll find the paperwork is in order." The mortuary technician broke into her train of thought.

Marianne skimmed the form on the screen and then put her thumbprint to the declaration that would release Jakes' body to the crematorium. She would be the official witness to his cremation the next day, after which she would have to find out how long it was going to take for Jakes' boat to be transferred into her name. Carrying on with life as normal was the key -- she should go back into work on Wednesday if she wanted to give that impression. Do nothing to incite suspicion and you were far more likely to learn what you needed to know. And she was going to make people pay for killing her friend. Maybe not straight away, but soon enough they would regret doing what they had done.

 

 

There was nothing at all suspicious about paying a visit to the Justice officer in charge of the case while she was at the department, of course. She was Jakes' next of kin; it was natural for her to want to know if any progress had been made into finding out why he had died.

Officer Briggs looked not at all pleased to be called through to the front desk. It obviously took him a couple of moments to remember who Marianne was, but when he did, he shook his head.

"No news, I'm afraid. There's always the possibility that his death was accidental after all." He drank from an oversized mug of coffee and regarded her with the disapproval most people reserved for vermin caught raiding the refuse disposal.

"What about the bruises on his neck?" Marianne asked. She could have done with a caffeine fix herself but was sure she would go down further in Briggs' estimations if she mentioned same.

"The bruises could have been unconnected with his death. We had one of his other acquaintances come forward first thing this morning, who told us that he was into some pretty kinky stuff."

Marianne was rendered temporarily speechless and barely took in the officer's next few words. She knew the majority of Jakes' friends -- or at least thought she did -- and could not believe that any of them would have told Justice such a thing. Even if it had been true. Removing the drugs from the boat had obviously done little towards enhancing Jakes' reputation if there were others out there prepared to make up lies about his private life.

" . . . So unless any other evidence comes to light, we'll be recording the death as accidental," Briggs concluded.

"Thank you, Officer." Marianne had an idea that Briggs was parroting the lines he had been given -- either by his superiors or by someone offering a hefty bribe -- rather than stating his own belief. She decided to drop the subject for now and maybe try tracking the man down out of office hours in hope of hearing the unofficial version.

"I do hope this unwelcome news won't put you off contacting Justice in the future," Briggs said, giving Marianne a glimmer of hope that he might turn out to be co-operative at that later date.

 

***

***

Chapter Eleven

Jakes' funeral went just as Marianne expected. There was a good turnout by his associates from the press and various others, many of whom she recognised from the parties that Jakes had occasionally thrown at the Duke of Wellington. The ceremony ran smoothly and according to the official guidelines; no long-lost relatives or exes put in a dramatic appearance.

Speaking to the mourners before they went in for the ceremony, Marianne received no indication that any one of them might have given Briggs the information he was using to justify shelving the investigation. Then again it did not have to have been an actual friend who had spread the lies; anyone could have made the claim, especially if it had been backed up with untraceable currency.

 

 

The officiator allowed her some time to herself after he had pressed the button that consigned Jakes' body to the flames and the other mourners had filed out of the room. Marianne sat on one of the benches in the Relatives' Room and planned her next move. Dariel's message had given her the distinct impression that she should be on her guard and it would not surprise her at all to find herself under surveillance by any of a number of groups. So she needed to take whatever steps she could to both keep out of sight and reassure those who did spot her that she was doing nothing at all to justify their paranoia. Of course she was still absolutely determined to find Jakes' killer, but it was not worth getting herself -- or anyone else close to her -- killed in the process.

There was to be a wake at the Boatyard -- more upmarket than the Duke of Wellington and a popular lunching spot for journalists visiting corporates living in the big houses of Henley. After considering the matter, Marianne decided not to attend, choosing instead to head back into New London and begin shaking out a few information sources.

She had glimpsed someone leaning against the far end of the wall surrounding the crematorium as she entered and someone -- almost certainly the same someone -- was in that exact same spot as she left. He turned quickly and walked away, but not before Marianne had had time to take a mental snapshot of him for future reference. He was tall, thin, dressed in grey and wearing a hat that cast a shadow over his face, with enough of a tan on what she could see of his hands and wrists to suggest that he spent a fair amount of time outdoors. There was nothing that proved he had been watching out for her, but she felt perfectly justified in being suspicious of his motives and resolved to take a less direct route into the centre of New London than she would normally.

***

Toreth was in a confident mood as he left I&I for a food break. He had identified some of those captured on disk by Jakes and had reasonable suspicions as to the identities of most of the others. There was a little-used road in one of the industrial districts that seemed to match the location featured most commonly in the background of the pictures and he would know for sure about that one way or the other once his team had finished checking it out for him. Once Toreth knew where the deals had taken place it would be well worth keeping it under observation for a while, just in case contacts were still meeting there.

He walked around the side of the building but came suddenly to a halt as he saw an unfamiliar para talking to a tall, broad man in a blatantly expensive suit. Obviously there was more than one bearded, pony-tailed and built-like-a-brick-shithouse bastard in New London and -- without ever having seen Dariel in a suit -- Toreth was certainly jumping to conclusions.

He took a couple of steps forward, confident that neither had seen him. It was Dariel, all right, although why he had risked coming here was a mystery until it dawned on Toreth that the man was, to all intents and purposes, a minor corporate and not a murder suspect. As yet at any rate, Toreth comforted himself; there was still plenty of time for all that to change.

He was not close enough to hear what the subject under discussion was, but it was clear that a disagreement of one form or another was involved.

A couple more minutes and the men walked away in opposite directions. Toreth turned and headed for a different way again out of the Int-Sec complex. He glanced over his shoulder to see that Dariel had stopped to talk to a goon in a suit, who looked suspiciously like one of the punters who had been sitting near Dariel in the Devonshire Fox. All very odd.

***

Marianne parked the bike up in front of the parts shop and locked it up securely. She used this dealer just often enough for her face to be known -- he charged less than her regular contacts, but his sources were more dubious -- and, while there was only a slim chance that he would know anything of help to her, it was worth asking before starting on the higher-risk information sources.

The owner appeared behind the counter as the doorbuzzer sounded, wiping his hands on a rag that seemed too oily to make them any cleaner by the process.

"Ah . . . Marianne, I haven't seen you in -- how long _is_ it now? -- bike going well, I take it?"

"Like a dream."

"Good, good." He stuffed the rag under the counter. "The only Guzzi parts I seem to get these days are cheap knock-offs from Portugal -- nothing you would want to use on a lovely machine like yours. Is there anything else I could do for you? Something for the weekend, perhaps?"

"It's only Tuesday afternoon."

"Something for the middle of the week, then?"

"What d'you have?"

"All the usual. Grass is your usual, isn't it?"

Marianne made a head movement that could possibly be interpreted as a nod and slid a note onto the table.

"That's for the deal. And this," she placed a higher currency note on top of it, "is for telling me who's been stirring things up recently."

"In what way?" He pocketed the notes.

"In whatever way you choose to interpret it. Blackmail, politics," she paused for emphasis, "murder. People stepping outside their usual areas of operation, you know the kind of thing."

The man gave the matter some thought.

"I never had any trouble myself, but a few weeks ago the word went around that some of my fellow . . . traders were losing custom because people were getting scared off. Rumour was, one of the Big Names was going to come down hard on the troublemaker."

"Any idea which Name?"

"No." The man shook his head emphatically. "Like I said, no one ever bothered me so I kept well out of it. You drink in the 'Fox, don't you? Ever wondered why there've been more deals going down in there recently?"

"Can't say I'd noticed." But when Dariel got back from wherever he had disappeared to she would ensure that he was aware of the situation.

"People are scared. They're meeting their contacts in there rather than their usual haunts. You want to know what's been happening, you ask some of them."

"I might do that." Marianne glanced at the counter as the man brought his hand back out of his pocket. "Keep the deal -- and the full payment. Just let people know that the problem appears to have been sorted. And thank you for your trouble." She turned and walked back outside. With any luck her parting comments meant that by the time Dariel reappeared the levels of dealing in the 'Fox would be back to normal. Before that, however, she should probably have a little chat with a few of the low-lifes who were not regulars.

***

Marianne parked the bike outside the entrance to the Devonshire Fox. She rubbed her arm thoughtfully -- she had certainly bruised up in the places where Toreth had had hold of her -- and wondered what had brought her to this spot. There would have been no point coming here if she had been avoiding Toreth, but she doubted he would come looking for her just yet either. And if he did find an excuse to rearrest her, she was expecting him to do so a little more discreetly than by raiding a pub. No, he was more likely to call on her at home or work with a couple of flunkies, similar to the pair who had showed up at the Sappho to escort her to I&I the last time.

It was definitely the wrong time for information gathering in there. Too loud, too crowded and probably late in the day for the people she was looking for to still be in. Besides, there was too much else she needed to do before she started asking the questions that she needed answered.

Maybe she was subconsciously hoping to run into Dariel, which was pretty futile since he had made it clear that he would let her know when he had decided to resurface. Her New London biker friends -- or a reasonable cross-section of them, anyhow -- would be drinking in there, tonight on as any other, but she was not in a mood for friendly conversation, so that was not a good reason to go in there either.

It dawned on her that she had work tomorrow, unless she called in sick again; if, as she strongly suspected, she was being watched, it was best that she appeared to get on with life as normal. She kicked the bike back into life and headed for home and an early night after maybe one pint in the Duke of Wellington.

***

Walking into the pub, who should she spot but Officer Briggs, drinking alone at the far end of the bar. Their eyes met, then he looked away from her to the screen playing on the other side of him. There were a few others around the room whom she recognised, but all seemed to be deep in conversation, so she positioned herself at the opposite end of the bar by the public comm and waited to see who, if anyone, wanted to talk to her.

She was starting to feel distinctly friendless when a shadow fell across the bar.

"So what's with you and the para?" Briggs leaned on the bar between Marianne and the comm unit.

She stared resolutely at her pint, hoping to avoid giving anyone else in the bar the impression that she was speaking to the officer by choice.

"He told you the other day; I had information he could use."

"I hear he had you arrested after I left. I hope you haven't been causing trouble."

"Purely a misunderstanding. I spent a couple of hours in the cells, then they sent me home again. So you've dropped the murder investigation completely now?" Marianne glanced over at Briggs long enough to see him nod.

"You know what I like about working out here instead of in the city? It's quiet. No more than one or two big crimes in a year. I'd prefer things to stay that way." He straightened up and walked out.

That had not been quite how Marianne would have liked the conversation to go; she still had no idea why Briggs had been so quick to drop the case and it could do more harm than good to go after him and ask. She doubted he would do much to stop her doing some investigating of her own, though, so long as he could ignore it. Or preferably, she suspected, not see it happening in the first place.

Fair enough. There was little more she was likely to find out around here anyway. Time for that early night, and then she would start asking questions around New London after work tomorrow.

 

***

***

Chapter Twelve

Toreth arrived at I&I to find the department in uproar. Someone from Computer Crimes -- a para called Davies, he gathered -- had been found dead immediately outside the Int-Sec complex. He had been killed by a single shot to the head, point-blank was the rumour. For some reason Toreth's first thought was that it must, in some way, be connected to other recent events. His second thought was to call Warrick, which was definitely not something he actually had any reason to do.

He ignored the gaggles of gossiping admins--Sara would tell him all the important details over coffee -- and went into his office.

There was a message from Officer Briggs waiting for him, letting him know that Justice had dropped the investigation into Jakes' death. He skimmed it, then sent a short but polite reply. The phrasing gave him the impression that Briggs had been instructed from on high and was a little resentful about it. There was no mention at all about the shooting in the message, but he assumed that Justice were dropping their inquiries into that as well. Fair enough, he would find out who that had been himself and deal with them. Even if they had no connection to his case. He was not going to let people shoot at _him_ and get away with it.

On the positive side, at least Toreth now had no obligation to tell anyone at Justice about his movements. That _had_ pissed off him when Briggs had thrown it into the conversation.

***

Marianne squinted at the delivery address, but the words made no more sense than if they had been displayed upside down. She tried turning the hand screen around, in case she happened to be wrong about that, but no such luck. It had been months since she had been stressed to the point where her dyslexia kicked in big time and she was damned if she was going to say anything that could give her away to anyone in the depot. Asking a passer-by for help would be just as big an admission; she turned the screen off and back on again, but it stayed infuriatingly incomprehensible. Sighing, Marianne turned and walked back inside.

"Mal," she said to the guy behind the desk, "I really don't feel so good. Maybe it's the weather; maybe I've got a migraine coming on, but I think you'll have to give my drops to someone else for today." She handed the screen to Mal, who gave her a sympathetic look.

"Didn't I hear that one of your friends died the other day? Why don't you take a couple more days' compassionate leave? I'll clear it with the boss for you."

"Yeah," Marianne said, "I might just do that. Thanks, Mal."

"Any time. You okay for getting home?"

"Yeah, I'll walk the Guzzi over to a friend's place. If I don't feel any better later I can leave it there and get a taxi." She actually planned to walk the Guzzi a few streets away, then ride home and consider whether getting on with life as normal was really the best plan.

 

 

As she walked, Marianne had the uncomfortable feeling that she was being followed. She quickened her pace and then slowed again, trying to look behind her as surreptitiously as she could. The trouble was that the streets were getting busy now and there were too many people around for her to keep track of any one pedestrian. She turned into a side alley and walked far enough up it to get a good view of the main street as she turned the Guzzi around and started the engine.

Riding the bike slowly back up to the main street she spotted a man who could easily have been the same man she had seen at the crematorium, getting into a plain white van. She pulled out into the traffic and glanced back to see the van pulling away after her.

Four random direction changes later, Marianne knew for certain that the van was tailing her. She pulled out of her designated lane and cut through the corporate cars in their lane, then flung the bike hard one-eighty and headed back the way she had come. Hoping that she was far enough from the van not to be spotted doing so, she rode down a narrow opening and into an empty yard behind a warehouse.

She could not stay here long. Either someone from the warehouse company, or their security contractors, or those tailing her would be on top of her all too soon. She switched the engine off and wheeled the Guzzi into the most sheltered corner of the yard, then pulled her toolkit from under the saddle.

There were a variety of ways to disable a location chip, some cruder than others. Marianne chose the least time consuming, employing brute force and her largest screwdriver to destroy the damn thing. Then she cut the wires going in and out of it and hastily reconnected them to each other.

She crossed her fingers and held her breath as she tried the ignition, but it sparked into life on first try. So far so good; now to work out where she was and how best to get home without picking up another tail. If she could make it home in one piece, she was all for calling off work for a while. There were plenty of places she could stay for a few days, away from the boat, and that was probably a safer option than simply shifting to new moorings.

***

"So," Toreth said, offering Sara first choice of the new biscuits, "this guy from Computer Crimes . . ."

"Davies." Sara took a biscuit.

"Yeah, him."

"They found him this morning outside the main entrance."

"And it was a single shot to the head?" Something sounded familiar about that method of murder.

"Yeah, apparently it happened sometime between midnight and three this morning, which is why no one heard anything. They've suspended the whole security nightshift pending an investigation, but from the rumours going around there was nothing to see on the tapes either."

"What does Bevan have to say about it?"

"He's on holiday until Monday."

"Typical. So what does whoever is currently in charge of security have to say about it?"

"Nothing repeatable."

"Fucking idiots. Bevan goes away for a few days and they let something like this happen. He'll have a few things to say about it when he gets back, I expect." Toreth suddenly remembered what this murder reminded him of. He pulled up the file on Roal Kelsey to double-check. 'Single gunshot wound to the head'. Probably a coincidence, but there did seem to be a lot of _those_ bugging him of late. Maybe if he could clear a little of his official work in good time -- offload a little more onto his team -- then he would see what, if anything, connected this Davies to either Dariel, Marianne or the late Jakes.

Toreth accessed the personnel file on Davies and was only slightly surprised to recognise him as the man who had been speaking to Dariel the day before, which was highly suspicious especially since he had been killed in much the same way as Dariel's long-dead boyfriend. The evidence was certainly mounting; with a little more information behind him Toreth would be able to get Tillotson to back him up against Computer Crimes and move in on the man, who was turning out to be a definite suspect in several crimes. He would mention his suspicions to the para running Dariel now, but Davies had been on Baker's team and so there was no real reason to suspect that it had not been an authorised meeting except Toreth's hunch. And a hunch was not any justification for an arrest -- worse luck in this instance.

***

Marianne ate an early lunch, then changed into a pair of lightweight cotton trousers and set off up the towpath heading out of Henley. She crossed the bridge over the stream where Toreth had found her tickling trout and then over two more to cover a couple of kilometres in total. She always missed the river when she was away, so she wanted to take a walk as a way of saying 'good-bye' to it for the time being. Besides, if she stayed home waiting for darkness to fall, she would only make herself more stressed than she already was.

It might be worth keeping an eye out for new places to tie her boat up while she was out here -- somewhere very different from her current moorings. No neighbours, preferably off the main waterway and, ideally, sheltered by the odd tree or three. Eventually, depending on how much she got from selling Jakes' boat -- and however many years he had to run on the mooring -- she was considering buying a fifty-year mooring lease on another spot along the river. Dariel had bought the lease on her current mooring and, while she would always be grateful, it was time for her to be a little more self-sufficient.

Another kilometre and she found what she was looking for. Not a tributary as such, but a widening of the river where several small streams drained into the Thames at the same point. The trees overhung enough to shelter the Sappho from casual observers on the river at this time of year, which was plenty enough privacy for her needs. Marianne made a mental note of which landmarks would be easily recognisable from the point of view of a helmsperson, then, realising that it was getting late, turned and headed back to her houseboat.

 

 

Four hours later, as dusk approached, Marianne prepared to move out. The river and its banks were surprisingly quiet for such a balmy evening, so there were few witnesses to her departure and none that were likely to find it remarkable. Or so she hoped. It had been two decades -- give or take a year -- since Marianne had tampered with a location chip, but she had done that today. So what if failing to report -- and indeed concealing -- a change of residence was also illegal? Right now she was far more concerned about protecting herself from whoever had killed Jakes than she was about running foul of the authorities.

She threw some clothes into a pair of saddle-bags and a few other essentials into a backpack, then programmed the Sappho's housekeeping systems to mimic her normal lighting usage and play music at the times she would usually be home. Then, once full dark had fallen, Marianne wheeled the Guzzi off the boat and stashed the plank she had wheeled it down back on the boat. She double-checked the housekeeping systems, alarm and locks, then walked the bike through the woods and fields to the main road.

She kept walking for another half-hour, stopping or changing pace every so often to try to detect whether she had picked up a tail. Then, as certain as she would ever be that she would know by now if she were being followed, she started the bike and headed for the home of friends who had never met Dariel or Jakes but would be happy to put her up for a couple of days without her having to file a Temporary Change of Residence.

That night she slept far better than she had on any night since Jakes' death and she woke naturally at a respectable hour, some time after dawn for once.

 

***

***

Chapter Thirteen

On Thursday morning security had been significantly upped at the Int-Sec complex, much to Toreth's annoyance. He tried to ignore the extra guards -- all over the grounds, it seemed -- but brightened a little as he saw B-C up ahead; it would save looking for him later, anyway. Toreth caught up and fell into step with him as he entered the building.

"Any news on the stake-out?" They had rightly identified the main location from Jakes' files and now it was down to Toreth's team to find out whether Carter and his associates were still using it or whether Jakes' interference had scared them off altogether. Toreth suspected the latter, but at least it was one of a number of leads rather than the total blank he had had at the beginning of the preceding week.

"Nothing definite," B-C said as they reached the doors. "Quite a few people use that spot for one activity or another, but most of those are Justice-level offences by the look of things. No sign of any of your suspects so far, although we're keeping logs of everyone just in case."

Not the best of news, then, Toreth thought, and still no further evidence that would warrant his overruling of Computer Crimes' protection of Dariel, but there was plenty of time yet.

"I don't suppose you heard any more about that guy that was killed the other night?"

"Nothing so far, Para."

Now why was Toreth unsurprised? Further evidence or not, it was about time he had words with the guys over at Computer Crimes.

***

Marianne arrived at the 'Fox within ten minutes of it opening for the day, which was only six hours after it had closed the night before. The barman looked surprised to see a customer at this hour but handed over a bottle of spring water as requested. After thanking him, Marianne retreated to the darkest corner of the bar, which none the less afforded her a splendid view of the steps leading down into the room.

No one expected drinkers to turn up this early, much less those carrying a grudge and with the means to do something about it. Hence there had been no bouncers on the door to search Marianne's backpack or person and, even in two hours' time, the barman alone would be the person in an official capacity for breaking up fights. This was, of course, why she had timed things as she had, knowing also that some of those she was hunting would arrive a good hour before their contacts to ensure that all was safe for the deal to go down. And lunchtime contacts tended to be those in respectable positions, for whom a weapons charge would be as disastrous as a prohibited substances charge. Unarmed junkies and off-guard dealers -- perfect for her purposes.

 

 

She had a long wait, but eventually her patience was rewarded -- as all virtues should be -- by the entry of a man she both knew to be a small-time dealer and remembered seeing pictured in one of Jakes' files. The man looked around the room -- Marianne paid him no more attention than she would any other punter -- and then he crossed to the bar and bought a drink. He was a skinny little weasel, only a minor dealer and unlikely to bother involving anyone else in case he needed backup. Not that he would expect trouble from his sort of clients; they would want to hand over the money and get out with the merchandise before anyone noted their absence from the staff canteen at lunch.

First drink finished, Marianne's target got up and crossed to the Gents. She gave him a few seconds' lead, then followed. Letting the door close silently behind her she leaned back against it, blocking the only exit, then waited, closed knife in hand, while the man finished using the facilities.

He turned and noted her presence for the first time, standing still while he tried to place her in the scheme of things.

"Hello," Marianne said conversationally, "I believe you knew a man called Jakes." She took two long strides across the room and grabbed hold of the man, swinging him around and holding him tight against her chest with one arm. She opened the knife with a casual flick of her wrist and brought its point up to rest against the side of his throat. "Now tell me what you know."

"Jakes? I met him once or twice, that's all."

Marianne stepped slowly back towards the door, pulling the man along with her. She leaned against it, giving herself some leverage in case her prisoner struggled and also preventing anyone from walking in on them.

"And?" She rotated the knife a little, still not pressing hard enough to actually draw blood.

"Here, didn't I hear he died? Well, if it was off some bad shit he didn't get it off me."

"That's the word on the street, is it? Funny, I seem to have heard a different story altogether around my way. Something about an execution after he upset some important people." She moved the knife again; a drop of blood welled up where its tip dug into the man's neck. She had never slit a man's throat and had no intention of doing so now. So long as he believed she was capable of it things would keep going her way. Marianne twisted the blade, allowing the blood to run off it and drip onto the floor.

"Would those people be friends of yours?"

Marianne said nothing.

"Look, I told them already, I knew nothing about what he was doing until some of my clients started getting edgy. I stopped meeting people under the railway bridge long before he took those other pictures."

"So you did know what he was doing?" Marianne moved the knife away from the man's skin but kept her hand resting over his shoulder.

"Only afterwards. After your . . . associates paid me a visit, I did a little asking around. Seems he'd been inconveniencing quite a few business people. If your lot killed him, then good riddance, I say; it's hard enough to make an honest living these days without some wanker scaring off my customers."

"I'm surprised you'd know anything about honest living. Now tell me about these people who came to see you."

***

Marianne approached the railway bridge on foot and cautiously. Toreth -- with both Jakes' files _and_ all of I&I's resources available to him -- would have found the location long before she had encouraged it out of her snitch. She had finally had to ditch the knife and resorted to a little bending of fingers and other threats that, while not leaving any obvious marks, had managed to reinforce the impression that she meant business. Hopefully she had kept up the act of working for -- rather than against -- Carter, so her snitch would not be snitching on her in turn. She still suspected that a variety of unfriendlies would be looking out for her, though, so she was keeping on her guard and would not be returning home via any of her usual routes.

She was not exactly certain what she hoped to find in this place -- maybe some clue as to Carter's real identity or perhaps another opportunity to feel that she was doing _something_ to avenge Jakes.

There had been a van parked part-way along the road leading to and passing under the bridge. It seemed somehow out of place -- too new to have been abandoned -- since there was no particular reason it should be parked there. Marianne felt in her pocket for the bag of cat treats she had stopped off to buy on the way here. If she was being watched then she may as well make a convincing show of searching for a friend's lost pet.

"Here, puss!" She ripped the top off the bag and shook it, then crouched down to examine the ground under the bridge. It had been a mostly dry summer and too many people had passed this way on a regular basis for her to distinguish any footprints, but she did get a good feel for the lie of the land.

There was a clump of bushes, which would make an ideal hiding place for a photographer -- or a cat -- and the ground within it was certainly disturbed as if someone had regularly crouched inside. Continuing to call out to the imaginary feline, Marianne edged towards the bushes.

Jakes had hidden his traces well. Other than the tramping down of the ground, which Marianne would likely never have noticed if she had been looking around from her normal eye level, there was nothing to show that the spot had been used for numerous stake-outs. It was still a little early in the day for crims to be holding assignations at this spot so, satisfied that she had done as much as she could by visiting the place, Marianne headed for the less reputable pubs of outer New London.

***

Baker's office was neither noticeably larger nor smaller than Toreth's, which was strangely reassuring. Baker himself looked to be under a great deal more stress than resulted simply from losing one of his team to an unknown killer.

"We need to stop tripping each other up," Baker said as Toreth made himself comfortable in one of the unoccupied chairs.

"Quite possibly. You can start by explaining exactly why you had one of my prisoners released without so much as letting me know."

"I needed the co-operation of my informant."

"Would this be the same informant that I believe has been doing business with one of my suspects? The manufacture and sale of fake IDs is hardly something you and your team can continue to overlook, not if it turns out that they are being used to help resisters flee the Administration." Toreth pulled a picture out of his pocket and handed it to Baker. "That is the man we're talking about, isn't it?"

Baker examined the printout.

"That's Dickinson, all right. But the man he's dealing with is one of my suspects, a man going by the name of Darvil."

"I know him as Carter." All was starting to become clear. "You tell me about your case and I'll tell you about mine."

 

 

So both Toreth and Baker were investigating the same man from opposite directions. That was one hell of an organisational fuck-up, but maybe between the two departments they would be able to wrap up both investigations before either of them got much older. The stumbling block, however, was the disappearance of one Dariel Dickinson. His last contact, officially, with anyone from Computer Crimes had been the day before Davies had been killed. Davies, who incidentally seemed to have been on the take from just about everyone, had, according to the pathologists, been killed some hours after Toreth had seen him in conversation with Dariel, which cut down on the likelihood of pinning the murder on Toreth's favourite suspect.

Computer Crimes had already checked out all of Dariel's main haunts and spoken to virtually all of his known contacts -- Marianne had also disappeared by all accounts -- to no avail. Baker was reluctant to pull too many people in, even on witness-level waivers, as he believed that it would make Dariel even less keen to resurface. Toreth would have liked to argue the point except that it was not his department that had been running the man for over two decades.

 

 

Back in his office, Toreth glanced over the latest reports from his team's stake-out and was justifiably irate to discover that Marianne had been seen but her current whereabouts was once again unknown. She had been followed when she left the site but had managed to give B-C the slip. Not his fault; she had got away from him in heavy traffic and then his attempts to track her bike by its location chip had thrown up a big blank.

Toreth called up his team and instructed two of them to go down to the river and see if they could find Marianne there or, failing that, evidence of when she had last been home and anything that might indicate where she was currently. The rest he told to stay put in hope of finding Carter or any of his associates.

 

***

***

Chapter Fourteen

Toreth went back to his flat to change after work on Friday to find that Marianne was waiting for him outside the entrance to his block.

"Hi," she said, taking a couple of steps towards him. "I thought my coming here would save you the hassle of finding out where I'm staying."

"You know I could have you taken in for questioning again, don't you?" Toreth turned and started to walk away from the doors. "And don't assume you'd get out as easily the second time around."

Marianne followed him.

"Actually," she said, "I thought I owed you an apology."

"Really."

"Yeah, there I was assuming that you were one of the bad guys, when all along we were on the same side. I had no right to sound like I was threatening you and I'm sorry about that. Look, let me buy you a drink and I'll tell you what more I've managed to find out since we last met."

"So," said Toreth, "you know what the penalty is for failing to register a change of address?" He stopped outside a likely looking leisure complex that he seemed to remember had a half decent bar on the second floor.

"Oh, I know," Marianne said, walking past him into the building.

 

 

"Of course, that was just an oversight," Marianne said as she placed the beers down on the table in front of Toreth -- one drink would hardly affect her control of the bike -- and grabbed a chair for herself. "With all the stress I've been under and then Justice dropping the investigation into Jakes' death, it clean slipped my mind to tell people I was moving in with friends for a while. They asked me to help decorate their new flat, if you must know."

Toreth raised an eyebrow.

"You know your bike's location chip has stopped sending? You'll have to get that fixed."

"I did mention that Justice dropped the murder case, didn't I?" Marianne took a long swig from her bottle.

"They told you that?" Toreth asked calmly, seeming surprisingly unsurprised. He drank from his own bottle, then set it back down on the table.

"Yeah, I contacted the Justice officer in charge the other day and he told me that the case is closed." No further steps to be taken unless additional crimes or evidence came to light -- in other words, the file was unlikely to be seen again. Marianne took a breath, and then another gulp of beer, before continuing.

"Not only that, but Dariel seems to be avoiding me. I went round there--" again "--this afternoon but when I got there his admin was very insistent in telling me he was out of the office and uncontactable."

"Probably better for you that way."

Marianne blinked and nearly asked Toreth to repeat his words.

"I saw him the other day," Toreth continued. "He was inquiring into the Computer Crimes Section of I&I. Funny thing is, one of Computer Crimes was . . . assassinated the following night."

"And you automatically jumped to conclusions?" Damn it, she had been so sure that meeting with Toreth was going to help her get her life back into some form of order.

"Isn't that something you've been doing a lot of lately?" Toreth smiled, which was not reassuring. "Now, I hope you have something to tell me to justify your being here."

"Yeah, well, Dariel seems to think that the pair of us should work together. He left me a message before he vanished." Marianne put on her most sincere expression. "But if you can't admit that he might not be your main suspect, then I'm not sure if we can do this. Pity," she said, before taking a swig of beer, "because it's probably easier for me to ask certain questions than for you to--" she chose her next words carefully, "than for you to extract that same information under more formal questioning methods."

Toreth smiled -- a slightly more reassuring smile this time.

"You may have a point there," he said. "Much as it pains me to admit this, I found no evidence so far that your Dariel is political."

"So possibly Dariel had a perfectly legit reason for visiting Computer Crimes?" Marianne suggested. "He might not be a big operator, but he does like to keep ahead of the game when it comes to tech. If he picked up someone hacking his systems he'd want to go straight to the top to report it."

"Even though he's a crook?"

"Have you found any proof of that?" Marianne took another long swig of her beer. "Anyway, other than the fact that you saw Dariel, what gives you reason to suppose that this dead guy has anything to do with him?"

"Call it a gut feeling if you like, but somehow I think he does." There was something about this that Toreth was keeping from her, but she would keep it towards the bottom of her problem list for now.

"So, you've got no evidence as such?" Marianne put the empty bottle on the table. If she had been in Toreth's position, she would in all likelihood have been reaching the same conclusions. In fact, from where she was observing, knowing little about this new dead guy, it still looked like a bet well worth placing money on.

"I've told you what I know." Toreth left her to consider how far she believed that, then reappeared a few minutes later with another pair of beers. He placed them on the table and sat back down; Marianne reached over and took the bottle that was nearer to Toreth, although there was always the chance that if he _had_ spiked one drink he might have risked a double bluff. Or he might have spiked both drinks for all she knew -- probably safer not actually drinking from it at all.

"So," Marianne said, "if we were to help each other out . . ." She turned the bottle around in her hand, unwilling to drink right now but keen not to act like she was ungrateful for the hospitality, either.

"It would be _your_ turn to tell _me_ something." Toreth said, "Or we could continue this back at my office."

"Some of it you probably already know." Marianne continued to toy with her beer bottle while studying Toreth to try and judge how much of her information came as a surprise to him. She was far from trusting him, but she needed him to trust her enough to let her walk away from this meeting by herself, even if that then meant reporting in to him, or to one of his team, more often than she would have liked.

"Jakes seems to have had a nice little earner going blackmailing minor corporates -- drugs, adultery, maybe tax fraud -- all fairly minor stuff. Then it seems he got ambitious and thought he'd try blackmailing some of their dealers." So far it seemed that she was telling Toreth little he would not have been able to work out for himself. "The big problem, of course, was that the place he was staking out was used by more than just drug dealers. People like your Carter tend to have their people watching a spot long before they show themselves and don't take kindly to having their picture taken." The same could also be said for Dariel, but Marianne still refused to believe that he, rather than Carter, was responsible for her other friend's death.

"Anyway," Marianne set her bottle -- still un-drunk-from -- on the table next to her empty one from earlier, "I was out today talking to people and there's bad feeling building up about what's been going on. Like I told you before, criminals don't like getting mixed up in politics and, with all this going on, some of them are thinking twice about getting involved with Carter's lot. I get the feeling that some of those involved with him already want out, too."

"Do tell me more," Toreth said. "How about giving me a list of names for a start?"

Marianne looked around the bar, trying to judge who was capable of overhearing the conversation. The bar had been quiet enough when they arrived, but now it was filling up with after-work drinkers. Maybe she should have had a little more say in where she discussed matters with Toreth. She had, after all, gone to his flat rather than to I&I because she had thought that it might be safer and less likely to lead to her being labelled an informer. If she were to mention her fears there was always the chance that Toreth would offer her a way into the Witness Protection Scheme.

Her heart sank. Much as she valued safety and the continuation of her life, she wanted that on her own terms, not on terms that would mean abandoning her former friends and -- in all probability -- being forced to live in a flat and take a job with way less freedom than her current one offered. She needed to sleep on this before giving any more information away.

"It's long list. People who are pissed off at Carter for one reason or another, people who might know where he is, people who might know _who_ he really is. But if you were to start working your way down the list yourself, then there's a fair chance that Carter will get wind of what you're up to and go to ground."

"So what are you suggesting?" Toreth asked. "That you go after all of them yourself?"

"No," Marianne said. "I'll go over the list tonight, see which are going to be the easiest -- the best bets -- for me to go after, and which are more in your line of work. Then we can meet up tomorrow, and I'll update you before I do anything. There's a bar near your work called Puzzles -- I'm sure you've heard of it -- how about we meet there at ten?"

"Two things you can do for me, in that case," Toreth said. "One, you can tell me where you're staying, and two, you agree to wear one of our locator-transmitters. That way if anything should happen to you while you're getting our evidence, then we will be able to use the recording. If you're really lucky, we might even be able to pull you out before you suffer any permanent damage. And then, when this is all over, maybe everything you've done will be enough for me to forget certain other lapses in your behaviour."

Marianne thought over everything he had said, then nodded and pulled one of her hosts' address cards from her jacket pocket.

"Here," she said, handing it to Toreth, "that's where you can find me. And I'll wear a wire if I have to." Hardly ideal, and it meant that she would have to lose it before she challenged Carter -- assuming she could get to him before I&I did -- but if it meant she was still free to choose where she lived and who she worked for, then it was not too big a sacrifice.

Besides, it was not something she would have to do forever.

***

Riding back down in the lift, Marianne tried to figure out the current score. She had picked up more information that she had let slip -- or so she hoped -- and given Toreth enough of a taste of what she knew to encourage him to tell her more the next day. At this point she was still unsure that she could trust him. Her contacts had not mentioned the death of this Computer Crimes guy when she had been asking around before, but maybe dropping his murder into conversation with them would yield some results, and give her more of an idea as to how truthful Toreth was being with her. Alternatively, she could go to the Devonshire Fox and see who she could pick up to take her mind off recent events for a couple of hours at least.

As she stepped out of the lift it crossed her mind that the building's entrance hall seemed awfully quiet, but she dismissed that thought as undue paranoia. She left the building and stopped at the curb, waiting to cross the road to where she had chained the Guzzi.

Two pairs of hands seized her arms forcefully from behind. Being paranoid is no guarantee that no one is out to get you. The street was strangely empty all of a sudden -- where the fuck had everyone got to?

"Get your fucking hands off of me!" she yelled, hoping someone, somewhere would hear. Not that anyone would have been likely to come to her help, had they been within earshot. She twisted one way and then the other, trying to catch sight of her captors -- and to get at least one arm free. They both tightened their grip on her arms and she cried out in pain, then stilled -- for the moment.

Marianne's heart was racing nearly as fast as the thoughts crowding into her head. This could not possibly be happening to her. Not when she was ordinarily so cautious. Her first instinct was that Toreth was somehow to blame, but surely he would be waiting until the case was over before having her arrested. Of course, that would mean he was lying to her when he implied that she would be off the hook for all her misdoings once this was all wrapped up. Besides, she had been careful to avoid any possibility of his trapping her and he had never been out of sight long enough to make any comm calls. Unless he had passed word to the barman -- or made the call while she was at the bar the first time. Damn it -- he _had_ had plenty of opportunities.

She thought she caught a glimpse of someone towards the end of the street, and turned her head to try and get a better look.

"Hey, you! Kidnap in prog--" She gasped back the last word as she felt a something solid dig in under her ribs. Whoever it had been was gone, anyway.

"Going to come along quietly, then?" the man with the gun asked.

Marianne nodded, assessing the situation, and trying to remember if -- and where -- she might have heard that voice before. The men flanking her were close enough for her to judge that they both had a good ten centimetres in height over her. They would be younger, heavier and stronger, too -- no matter who sent them -- and she knew that they would have been given a full rundown on her fighting abilities. If they were just two she could probably get away from them long enough to reach the Guzzi.

She pulled towards the bike and felt the gun jam deeper into her flash. Then she heard the safety click off. Fuck. There was no point in making a break for the bike, if all it got her was a bullet in her lung -- or worse.

There was more point in running in the opposite direction -- back towards Toreth. If he had nothing to do with her present predicament, then there was a good chance that he would step in and protect his information source. The Witness Protection Scheme could surely not be all bad.

Marianne twisted away from the man on her left, knocking the gun away from her side and then hearing it clatter on the pavement. She kicked out at the other. He evaded her without slackening his hold at all, while the first tightened his grip with the hand on her arm, and moved the other to her fingers.

Marianne screamed as she felt one of the joints of her ring finger give way.

"Shut it," the first man growled, exerting similar pressure on the little finger of her right hand.

Marianne gritted her teeth and quickly tried to spot a different means of escape. Maybe she was not too far from the gym for _someone_ to hear her. She screamed -- as loudly as she could this time.

The man on her right slapped his hand over her mouth, slamming her lips into her teeth.

"I said, shut it," the other growled, pulling on the little finger of her left hand. It gave way and she sagged at yet another source of pain to add to her collection, noting that this guy knew a little more about inflicting injuries than his companion. The men hauled her up, practically off her feet, and started to drag her swiftly away from the gym.

So were they Justice? I&I? Criminals? Marianne suspected the last, especially since the men seemed to have no intention of identifying themselves. She hoped she would get another, better chance to make a break for it once she knew exactly what she was up against and before anyone tried anything too unpleasant with her.

They hustled her along the street and then down the side of the building Toreth lived in. She saw the back of a van ahead. The doors swung open, she felt a sharp localised pain on the side of her neck, and then there was the hiss of an injector before she pitched forwards into the back of the van and everything faded rapidly to black.

 

***

***

Chapter Fifteen

Marianne lay still, curled into a tight ball, trying to keep her breathing as regular as she assumed it had been in her sleep. She listened, making out the low steady hum of an air conditioning unit, the persistent drip of water and -- further away, she assumed -- muffled voices. Tuning out the other sounds, she tried to make out the words, but nothing clear came to her. Slowly she opened first the eye closest to the floor, then, seeing no one who could be looking back at her, she opened the other. Wherever she was, it was dimly lit and she seemed to be alone.

Cautiously she uncurled, wincing at the sharp pain from her dislocated fingers when she tried to move them, and rolled onto her back before sitting up. She looked around at four unpainted concrete walls, the heavy-looking -- and handle-less -- steel door and the metal bucket in the corner with the dripping tap above it.

Her captors had stripped her down to boxers and T-shirt before dumping her, but -- she catalogued her injuries -- besides fresh bruising on her arms, the nagging pain from those two fingers, metal cuffs digging into her wrists a little and a dull throbbing where the injector had pierced her skin, they had done nothing worse as far as she could tell. Yet.

A door slammed somewhere beyond her cell and she heard footsteps, getting louder as someone -- two someones -- approached. She shuffled backwards as quickly as she could into the far corner. Heart pounding as she fought the nausea left over from the drugs her captors had used, she pushed herself upwards, using the walls for leverage, until she was standing and ready to defend herself against whomsoever was coming to get her.

***

Toreth was sitting at his desk looking over B-C's latest case report. Nothing much in there that particularly justified his coming in this early on a Saturday, other than that his team had also lost their weekend, he noted irritably. He was still wondering if he would have been better to have arrested Marianne again -- he was royally fucked off with her for jerking him around, but he had to agree with her that she could do more for him free than she could locked up. And the sooner he got the case wrapped up, the better. Immediately he did he was going to take a holiday, maybe even go away somewhere rather than just take time off work to hang around New London doing nothing.

The door opened. Toreth looked up to ask Sara -- who was equally unhappy about working another weekend -- if she had got any suggestions for where he could take a break this time of year at short notice. Two paras and a trio of juniors looked back at him.

"Peterson and McDonald, Political Crimes," said the nearer para. "We'll be needing everything you have on the Carter investigation."

"The Carter investigation?" Toreth repeated, trying to figure out what was going on and whether the shit had hit the fan for reasons he was not even going to _begin_ to worry about yet.

"Yes," Peterson said, "we'll be taking over the case from here on in."

Well, that was a relief in some ways, although aggravating in others. He had been struggling with the bastard case for weeks, finally starting to get somewhere -- albeit with help from Computer Crimes -- and now yet another department thought they could waltz in and take it away, probably getting all the credit in the process.

"Why the sudden interest?"

"We have a new information source. Of course if you co-operate then there won't be any need for us to probe too deeply into the fact that two teams managed to work on the same case for so long without conferring with each other."

"Fine by me." Toreth leaned back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head while the juniors collected up his files and data disks. Presumably this meant that he had been right after all about Jakes, Dariel and the rest of that whole sorry mess. At least he could take that holiday a little earlier than he had anticipated.

***

"I'll ask you again. What did Jakes tell you?"

"Nothing. He told me nothing." Marianne set her teeth as she prepared herself for the slap that had invariably followed each refusal to answer a question so far. Her interrogator was not exactly subtle, although so far her refusal to tell him what he wanted to hear had not provoked him into anything approaching anger or uncontrolled violence. The control aspect strengthened her belief that she was dealing with a professional -- or at least a highly-skilled amateur. The fact that he stuck with straightforward violence reinforced her other conviction that she was dealing with a member of an unofficial group. Justice and I&I had a far wider repertoire of methods for extracting information and neither organisation was exactly renowned for holding back from using them.

"You'll tell me eventually. So why not make it easy for yourself by telling me now?"

Marianne thought not. By itself, pain was something she was very good at dealing with. She had come off bikes enough times and broken enough bones in other misadventures to have learned how to block out the worst of it. And the longer she held out the longer it would be before they got around to killing her.

Her wrists ached from supporting most of her weight, chained to the wall as she was with the balls of her feet barely touching the floor. Just another sign that her captors lacked imagination, she supposed. She was going to die here and it stupidly crossed her mind that the last person she had had sex with had been herself. What sort of epitaph was that? At least she would try her hardest to go to her grave -- unmarked, she assumed -- without betraying her friends.

"You told your I&I boyfriend, I'm sure. Why not tell me?"

"He's not my boyfriend." Marianne fixed the man with a defiant glare, imprinting his features on her memory in case -- against all the odds -- she survived this. She recognised him anyway -- he was the man passing himself off as Carter, the man Jakes had photographed with Dariel.

"Of course, how remiss of me. You don't like men, do you? Or is it just that you can't get one?" He stepped forward and ran a finger gently -- too gently -- down her cheek. "Now. Do you like that or not? I've heard so many different stories about you since you started asking about me."

Marianne tried to pull away from him instinctively before realising that she was playing the game he wanted her to play. She forced herself to stay still, then blinked twice to clear her eyes.

Carter reached out and someone in the periphery of Marianne's vision handed something to him.

"Recognise this?" He held up a flick-knife. "My men found it in a pocket of your jacket. There seems to be a little dried blood on it; what _have_ you been up to?" He extended the blade and held its point to her cheek.

Marianne hissed through clenched teeth as the blade bit in and sliced down. There was a drawn-out moment in which she felt nothing, and then the wound began to smart, more so as the pain made her eyes water still more and saline ran into the wound.

Carter reached around her and took hold of the collar of her T-shirt. She twisted in the manacles as he sliced it all the way down the front, then ripped the two halves away from her shoulders. She tensed, wondering whether he would go for the shorts next or maybe get in a quick grope at her tits first.

Instead he brought his knife hand up to her collarbone and slashed down diagonally between her breasts. He paused a few seconds to stare at her cleavage, then repeated the move on the opposite diagonal.

"Ready to talk yet?"

Marianne shook her head. Carter raised her left breast in his right hand and brought the blade down towards her nipple.

Marianne spat in his face.

He blinked and stepped back.

"Turn her around."

She kept silent as two other men stepped forwards and grasped one of her arms each. They were both keeping well to the side, she noted; she had got in a couple of reasonably well-aimed kicks at the men who had dragged her from the cell earlier. But right now she felt too tired and ached too much to put up a struggle. It seemed somehow pointless and would only give them more reasons to hurt her before killing her. They released her wrists from the manacles and she sagged down to rest on her heels. Then they turned her roughly around and pulled her wrists back up to take her weight once again. Much more of this and passing out would be a most inviting prospect.

"Bastards."

"Yes, that's right. Now why don't you tell me what I want to know and I might let you rest?"

Back in her cell, she expected; the man was going to keep her alive only so long as he thought she was useful. And if he felt threatened he would kill her all the sooner, so there was no point at all in her telling him that she had friends outside that cared enough to come looking for her. If indeed she did; right now even that was an uncertainty. If Dariel was still looking out for her, he would never have allowed this to happen. Marianne leaned her head forward against the rough wall, breathing in the mould spores that came off it.

She heard Carter step forward and then one of his underlings step back from her towards him. The boss man muttered something that sounded like 'Thank you', then shifted again. Marianne tried to turn her head and see what he was doing, but no such luck. She started to count in her head, hoping it would calm her enough to figure out what was happening and prevent her imagination coming up with scenarios she was sure only happened in her graphic novels.

Crack! The sting of the whip's tails came immediately after and she jerked against them, biting back the tail end of her scream.

"Noticed that, didn't you? I think another nine, then I'll ask you again if you want to co-operate." The real Carter had used a whip on his prisoners too. Maybe this one thought he could intimidate her by the similarity.

"Git," Marianne breathed to the wall. She hoped that she could do take any amount of beating; it was just a matter of blocking out the pain by thinking of something else. And there were far worse tortures that could be visited on her. That, after all, was what she had saved Roal from all those years ago, and she had at least the grim satisfaction that she was now unlikely to meet the same fate. Thinking of Roal helped her mind ignore the pain, no matter how her body might respond.

Roal . . . and Dariel -- Dariel and Roal -- they had been part of her life for so long and now she would never see either of them again, in the flesh or in pictures. She concentrated on the images in her head as her body jerked against each stroke of the whip and she heard herself crying out without caring enough to choke back the screams. But she would hold out a little longer yet, for the sake of those memories if nothing else.

"Five." The whip bit deeper that time, tearing Marianne away from her thoughts as her body jerked upright. She sagged in the chains again, her nose grinding into the brickwork. Not that she would ever need to worry about her looks now.

"Six." Marianne forced her muscles to relax, absorbing the blow. In her light-headed state she imagined that she heard footsteps pounding down a staircase somewhere and then a door bursting open.

"I think that is quite enough," a new -- and familiar -- voice commanded.

Hands reached up around Marianne and released her wrists. She fell backwards into comforting arms and caught sight of two figures in black uniforms before her vision blurred. She overheard a few muttered expletives, then her hearing tuned out as well and there was nothing.

 

***

***

Chapter Sixteen

Marianne lay still and listened. It was difficult to concentrate fully when a soft mattress and practically frictionless sheets were distracting her. Her back and chest throbbed and she had to make an effort in order to breathe through her nose, but that did not detract from the fact that the bed was astonishingly comfortable. She could hear music playing softly somewhere and there were other sounds that could be those of cooking, especially when added to the unmistakable smell of frying bacon.

This had to be a dream. She was still asleep, possibly in a coma considering the all crap her body had been put through in just a few hours. She heard footsteps approaching, which meant that any minute now she would probably have to wake up and discover where she really was. The footsteps stopped and the mattress behind her sagged as someone sat on it. Marianne rolled onto her other side, swearing under her breath as the abused skin of her back came into contact with the sheets. She settled herself into as comfortable a position as she could find, then opened her eyes.

The lights were low, but tastefully muted rather than merely dim. Dariel smiled down at her.

"Tea?"

Marianne sat up slowly, feeling groggy but in far less pain than she would have expected, and took the offered mug with her right hand. Her left was strapped up, which would explain why she had not felt anything from it.

"How long was I out for?"

"Long enough. Any longer and I would have called the medic back to take another look at you." Dariel looked at her with a concerned expression.

The events of the previous days flooded back. She should be angry with him for lying to her, but then he _had_ come to her rescue -- eventually. And she had only needed rescuing because of what he had done in the first place . . .

"You bastard! Why didn't you tell me you were working for I&I?"

"Because I am not. We share some similar interests, so at times it suited me to pass on information to certain individuals there. Besides, you must have realised that any information from contacts at Computer Crimes would not come free of my doing something in return."

"I thought you paid bribes like everyone else."

"Marianne! You make me sound like a common criminal. Now drink up and I'll tell you all about it later." Dariel patted her gently on one shoulder, then got up and left the room.

***

It could be worse, Marianne supposed as she looked at herself in Dariel's bathroom mirror. She saw two black eyes, a long, straight cut across one cheek, split and bruised lips, and a nose that had miraculously escaped being broken. Once the bruising had gone down and her cuts had been healed, she would look as good as ever.

She turned around, then slipped Dariel's dressing gown down her back to hang at her waist. Looking back over her shoulder she could see that the deep cuts from the whip were clean enough but would still scar up if left to heal in their own time. Dariel, being Dariel, would pay for her to have full re-gen on them -- and on the cuts on her chest that she was avoiding looking at for now -- so she would have nothing to show the next time she wanted to go topless.

Trouble was, it would not feel like her any more, so maybe she would get a nice big tattoo across her back on top of the healed skin. She had done the same with her upper arms after Dariel had talked her into having the gang tats removed for the sake of her job prospects.

Thinking about Dariel reminded her that he was yet to explain his exact role in the utter fuck-up he had landed her in, but right now she was far more interested in having a long soak in a hot tub -- complete with oils she had found, which claimed to speed healing, added to the water -- than in challenging him about it again. Besides, while helping her through to the bathroom, he had assured her that one of his people had retrieved the Guzzi and seen to the 'malfunctioning' location chip. Someone else was watching over the Sappho, so no worries there either.

Marianne let the dressing gown fall to the floor and crossed to the sunken bath, which was easily big enough to host a small orgy. She kneeled at the edge and trailed a hand in the water, testing the temperature. Satisfied with that, she slid slowly in and lay back, cushioned on the jets of bubbles beneath the surface.

There was a knock at the door.

"'S unlocked."

Dariel entered and leaned against the wall, arms folded.

"I hope you will not think too badly of me," he said.

"I wish you had trusted me enough to tell me sooner."

"It was not about trust; I honestly thought that you were safer not knowing."

"So now what?" Marianne rolled over to float on her stomach and rested her forearms on the bathroom floor. She looked up at Dariel, hoping he was going to give her a full explanation at last.

"The authorities are rounding up resister cells as we speak. If all goes to plan my name will never be associated with the operation. And you, if you are mentioned at all, you will be reported as an innocent victim who was simply unfortunate enough to get caught up in a case having nothing to do with you."

"I take it you knew Jakes was running a blackmail scam?"

"Yes. Unfortunately I found out too late, otherwise we -- my former associates and I -- would have warned him off the more ambitious plans."

"Toreth told me that a para-investigator had been killed."

"Yes, Davies," Dariel said thoughtfully. "He was another who was too ambitious for his own good. I tried to warn him, but it seemed he had debts to pay and gambled upon being able to extract the money from our target in exchange for withholding certain pieces of evidence. Of course, the man that I believe you knew as Carter had him silenced also."

"And what will you do now that all this is over?" Marianne asked. It seemed to her that too many people now knew that Dariel had been an informer all along, for him to simply carry on as he had before.

"It depends on how wide the repercussions are; I may move my base of operations to another city. My new associates are keen that I should continue my work for them -- but somewhere where my former allegiances are even less known about than they are here. You are, of course, welcome to come with me if the idea appeals."

"I'll think about it." Marianne turned back over, rested her head in the curved side of the bath and closed her eyes. She could quite happily stay here all day and there was no need to make any sudden decisions. Or if there were, Dariel would let her know about it.

 

***

***

Epilogue

Toreth had not been expecting to see anyone he had encountered during an investigation dining at this restaurant. Warrick had picked it as the venue for a pre-fuck dinner to celebrate (less dramatically this time) SimTech's successful production launch, hence it was outside the budget of most suspects and witnesses. Including her, he would have thought.

"Just thought I'd say good-bye."

Toreth looked up. The redhead standing behind the chair, to which he expected Warrick to return any minute, was wearing a one-piece black trouser suit that bared her shoulders but covered her upper arms. He took in her height, the length of her hair, the bone structure of her face and everything slotted smoothly into place.

"What's with the dye job?"

"I needed to cover up a lot of new grey hairs." Marianne ran her hand over it self-consciously. "Anyway, I can't chat long; Dariel's treating me to a farewell meal."

"You're leaving town? Or he is?"

"Both. We're going our separate ways; I'm moving to Paris, he . . . isn't."

"Hence good-bye?"

"Well, you could call it 'au revoir' if you prefer. I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding me if you want to."

"I'll bear that in mind," Toreth said.

"Be seeing you, then." Marianne turned around, flicking her hair away from the plunge-back of her suit as she walked off and revealing a large tattoo of entwined lovers that Toreth knew had not been there a few weeks previously.

Toreth smiled to himself, wondering if he should have told Marianne that her Carter had died under interrogation, and that two of Carter's men had met with unfortunate accidents in the holding cells. But Dariel would have heard that from Political Crimes -- Toreth had had to do a lot of paperwork for them over it. He hated people who took pot-shots at him.

 

***

***

Dormouse

 

 

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