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Rabbithole (TWI ONLY | IC)

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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Menna Shuli
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Founded: Feb 22, 2018
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Rabbithole (TWI ONLY | IC)

Postby Menna Shuli » Thu Apr 19, 2018 6:24 pm



My foot hit the door with the force of long practice. Wood cracked and shattered and the door slammed open with a bang as it swung on its hinges. The handle embedded itself in the drywall in the opposing room, something of a blessing. Doors were known to swing back in your face when you kick them open. My pistol swung up and I swept into the room, the rest of my team behind me.

"Hands up," I shouted. "On your knees! This is a raid!"

"Kêvi! Police!" someone shouted, and there was a panic in the flesh-den beyond. People shot to their feet from their various piles of pillows and blankets. The smart ones dropped to their knees and put their hands up. The stupid ones darted for back rooms and rear hallways, cocks and tits flapping in the breeze. I'd like to say that it was the first time I saw that may sweaty assholes darting for the shadows. I'd like to...

The madame of the brothel, standing to one side at a repurposed music stand, snapped shut the thick datebook on the wooden surface. I saw her hand flick up with practiced ease, the lighter already snapping to life with cold indifference to evidence. A uniform behind me shot forward with quick reflexes and drove the butt of his service pistol into her temple. She collapsed with a meaty thump and the cigarette lighter went out. Thank the grandfathers for small blessings.

We moved purposefully into the sweaty labyrinth of sex. A third of the uniformed officers began handcuffing the whores and their johns who had surrendered, while the rest of us began to comb the building for everyone else. Room after room of sweaty, sinned-up people, fulfilling a well-arrayed menu of perversions. Gaudy furniture and silks adorned every surface, all played to a foreign sensibility. Three quarters of the johns were pasty white too.

“Fucking tourists,” I grumbled as I dragged a college-aged kid but naked from a bed where he had just been plowing a girl who was a bit too young for comfort.

As I handed him off to an officer, not understanding a single word of his shouted protestations but fully understanding the puddle I had to step through when he burst into tears, I heard shouting from another room.

“I need back-up,” someone yelled, then there was the sound of smashing glass. I darted down the hall towards the sound, pushing past a pair of working girls running the other direction. They screeched. I ignored them. My partner, Detective Sha, appeared from around a different corner, all jowls. We made eye contact and swung towards the sounds of violence in a nearby room.

The place was much like the other rooms, but mirrored on three walls. The mirror on the opposite side had a spiderweb of cracks crawling across it like a firework display. The bed in the middle was shaped like a heart, and the sheets had been stripped off by a curly haired Hêvinâwâ girl who was curled in a corner, screaming and doing her best to cover herself. An officer and a white kid were scuffling on the ground. As me and Sha arrived, the pair rolled apart. The kid, maybe a Svalbardian from the look of him, was so jacked up on a chemical cocktail he didn’t seem to notice the blood on the back of his head from where it had struck the glass. Too bad, really, maybe the pain would have stunned him before we got into this shitty situation. As things stood, the kid had managed to disarm the uniform, and was now standing, pupils dilated to hell and back, gun moving from target to target. Sha and I both had our sidearms trained on him. The officer on the ground was nursing what looked like a broken nose and a series of bleeding wounds on his forearm that I suspected were bitemarks.

Woah tere, kid,” Sha said in his best English, so heavily accented it sounded like he was chewing cloth. “You I Tink about tis for a second, yeah?

The kid wasn’t hearing it. What he was hearing was the girl’s screaming. As fucked up on whatever juice he had pumped himself with before trying to get his dick wet as he was, that was not going to work for him. He aimed the gun at her. He screamed something at her that I didn’t know the language of, but I could tell meant something along the lines of “Shut the fuck up, you bitch”. Tone of voice and drug-addled fucktardery went a long way to tear down language barriers, I can tell you that. She shut the fuck up right quick, mouth snapping shut like someone had punched her lower jaw closed. He didn’t turn the gun away or take his eyes off her.

Hey,” I said. My English was better than Sha’s. “Hey man. She shut up. Don’t look at her. Look at me.

I don’t know if the kid spoke English or not, but I caught his attention. I held my hands up as the gun’s sight settled on my chest. Kid wasn’t aiming for heads like most junkies with a piece, he was aiming center mass. Stupid asshole or not, drugged up or not, he had held a gun before.

My name’s Detective Kilu Tashê,” I said, keeping my tone flat as rock. “What’s yours?

The kid didn’t respond. His left eye twitched. Fucking hell, I was losing him. Some new player in his chemical theatre had just stepped onto the stage, and it was not someone who went in for subtle performances. I could see the kid visibly, physically, trying to hold onto a shred of reality. The gun began to drift south. I took a small step forward. Something snapped in the kid for a split second and the barrel rose back up to my chest height. I stopped and made a small spiralling movement with my right index finger. The uniform at my feet scuttled backwards a bit.

Hey,” I said. “Hey. You with me here?

Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. Yeah….I’m with...yeah…

He droned out. I was finding it immensely difficult to not notice that he had gotten hard as stone. Worst part of vice was dealing with naked people with a death wish. His hands were shaking. That was really, really bad. In close quarters like this, if his finger twitched and his hands were shaking like that, I was liable to take a bullet in the gut.

Come on,” I said. “Put the gun down and give up before we have to add ‘copkiller’ to your rap sheet. You know what the Mênnan prison system is like, right?

It didn’t get through. I had officially completely lost him. His eyes were barely focused on me. I tried to take another step forward. His jaw clenched. His finger tensed. He said something foreign. I heard a bang.

The kid stumbled back, blood leaking from his leg in a fountain. It sprayed on my chest.

“Kahat Mi! Father’s name!” I said, stumbling back. The kid dropped the gun and fell onto the bed, eyes wide and blinking at the wound. “Fuck! Sha, I think you hit his femural.”

Sha was already screaming down the hall. “We need a medic here!”

I looked down at my ruined shirt. “Shit,” I said. I looked at the kid and sighed, stepping over and putting some pressure on the wound until the medics could arrive. He didn’t resist. As I did, I looked over at the shattered mirror, where the bullet should have been lodged in the wall. I frowned. Instead of a shattered mirror and a bullet lodged in concrete, I saw a faint glow from a hole in the mirror. When the medics burst in, I stood and walked over.

“What is it, Tashê?” Sha asked, stepping over to me. I dropped to my haunches and squinted through.

“Huh,” I said. I took my gun and with the butt of the grip I tapped away a few larger shards of glass around the bullet hole. They fell inwards with a sharp series of pings.

Beyond was a room, the back filled with a bank of CRT monitors and buzzing computer hardware strung together with thumb-thick cables. One of the cables snaked across the floor to a tripod, upon which sat a heavy video camera. The mirror was two-way glass. I whistled.

“Well shit,” Sha said. “They're pornographers on top of everything else?”

“Looks like it,” I said. “And this doesn’t really look like a ‘consent provided’ situation either.”

“I would have to agree with your detective work there,” Sha agreed.

I looked up at him. “Looks like we have some work to do.”
Last edited by Menna Shuli on Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:12 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Postby Menna Shuli » Fri Apr 20, 2018 9:12 am

"Father's name," Sha whistled between his teeth. "This is a lot of smut."

I nodded. We were scrolling through the hard drives stored behind the false mirror on an old, buzzing CRT monitor. The jury-rigged hard drive bank was spilling heat onto us. There were literally hundreds of hours of illicit files stored here, the file names randomly generated numeric strings that made reading the contents on the drives a real headache. I was not looking forward to scrubbing through the actual video back at the precinct later.

"You think they were selling it?" Sha asked. "Putting it online or peddling discs?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Maybe. What do you think?"

Sha took a moment. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarette case. As he tamped the end of one of his fiddly, handrolled darts, he let out a jowly sigh.

"Probably, but I doubt everything on these drives was worth selling," he said. His face grew suddenly introspective. "Although..."

"Although what?" I asked.

"This is an upscale place," he said. "Well, I mean...relatively speaking. It's not caviar and champagne fancy...it's not a princely whorehouse, after all...but it is top-shelf tequila and designer drugs fancy. Tourist fancy. Businessman fancy. Not a single girl over 30, except for the madame..."

"Sure," I agreed. "Your point?"

"My point," he replied, lighting his cigarette and breathing out a cloud of words, "is that the jokers who come in here to get their rocks off have money in their pockets. Dollars, even. These are trust-fund kids from Covonant and would-be oligarchs from Polar Svalbard, plus fairly wealthy vêkivêv and business-savvy vêshuplishêkâ, right?"

"Grandmother's tits, Sha, it's always a thing with you," I said. "Get to your point."

"I mean that just because the tapes might not be worth selling to someone looking to brew a batch of five-finger batter, doesn't mean it's not worth for nothing, you catch me?"

I scratched my cheek. "You think this could be blackmail material?"

"It's what I would do if I was the sort of shithead to run an operation like this," Sha shrugged. He tapped off a few ashes from his cigarette. "You get these rich tourists coming in here, screwing girls in all the nastiest ways they can think of, but meanwhile back home they've got wives, families, business rivals, political rivals...all people who could make their lives unpleasant if this sort of tape reached their hands. There's lots of ways to make a few xats if you have no scruples and a video camera."

I sighed. "Fuck. That makes this a major crimes gig."

"It's still our case," Sha said. "Extortion or not, this is vice. They're pornographers, prostitutes, pimps and assholes to boot, right?"

"Sure," I said. I walked over to the hard drive bank. "Guess we'll get a uniform to come in here, bag all this..."

I trailed off. The rack of hard drives sat on a repurposed restaurant shelving unit, all stainless steel. The hard drives were set in mounted brackets, blinking lights showing their statuses. Each had a strip of white tape on the side with hand written dates. All the lights were green, except for one. In the second row of whirring disks was an obvious, red dot, a red dwarf star surrounded by the emerald constellations. I reached out and touched the empty bracket. I looked at the dates on either side and frowned.

"We're missing a hard drive here," I said. "Looks like a few days of footage."

Sha came over. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking it took us awhile to get here, and that if someone were back here when that officer scuffled with the junkie, they'd have plenty of time to grab a disk and run."

Sha blew smoke. "Why just one disk? Maybe the footage was corrupted and they tossed it, or they had it out for some other reason and we'll find it around."

"Maybe," I mumbled. "Maybe."

I didn't think so. Not for one second.
Last edited by Menna Shuli on Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Sat Apr 21, 2018 6:23 am

The room was hot, sticky. The air had the scent of stagnant water. The ceiling fan creaked slowly, doing nothing to cool the claustrophobic space. Sweat beaded on my forehead. Sha had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and had a hankerchief loosely clasped in his left hand, ready to dab at any moisture on his face. It was moving there with frequency.

The madame of the brothel shifted uncomfortably. I didn't blame her. The interrogation room was meant to be uncomfortable. This heat was a little outside the norm, that was true, but even at the best of times the space was stuffy and warm. The rainy season had just added a blanket of humidity that had jacked the feeling up to its peak.

I flipped open a folder on the table. "Kiavêvit Haat Mêumêu," I said. "Strange to see a judge in your position."

She looked me dead in the eyes. She had dark eyes, clear eyes. No drugs in her system. The Hêvinâwâ scars on her brows were white lines on teak skin. She looked to be in her early fifties. Her record didn't have an accurate birthdate, that little question mark next to the estimate she had provided at her first arrest indicative of a tribal upbringing. It showed in her complexion, the slight leatheriness to her skin that one got from years in the sun. She'd come to the city thirty years ago, according to her surprisingly comprehensive police records. Normally, people's records were all over the dam place; pages would be lost, stuff mislabelled and misfiled, chunks would be missing or attached to the wrong individual, we'd be missing basic information. This was especially the case with older files like this one. We'd been rallying to get a computer database for a decade, but the brass weren't forthcoming. To pull a file where the only real blank was the birthdate was a small miracle. I hoped it was a sign of good things for the investigation.

"Everyone needs to make a living, Kilu."

"I prefer 'detective', Kiavêvit," I said.

Sha nodded. "A bit of respect goes a long way," he said.

She remained silent. I cleared my throat.

"Right," I said, "here's where things stand. We have you on charges of complicity, trafficking and prostitution..."

She let out a hyena-like laugh. "Prostitution? Detective, I haven't lain with anyone since my husband died, money or not."

Sha tapped dabbed at his neck with the hankerchief. "Shuplishêkâ, with all due respect, a person of your caste should know better than anyone that that doesn't matter. You were working for a brothel. As far as the law goes, that makes you a prostitute, whether you were spreading your legs or not."

"Debatable," she said. "But who am I to say. Obviously I am no ivi."

"No," I agreed. "But nor are you a stupid woman. You don't accrue a rap sheet like yours and stay out of prison without being smart."

She smiled slightly. "I am smart, Detective. Smart enough to know that you haven't dragged me into interrogation for nothing. You have everything you need without pulling me in here. What are you looking for? A confession? You caught us all red-handed officer. There's no mystery here."

"Not regarding your girls and boys, no," Sha said. "But there's a big difference between that and 'no mystery', madame."

I nodded. "We found your little camera set-up behind the mirror room."

"Of course you did," Haat nodded. "It wasn't well-hidden. It had a door into it around the corner. It just needed to be secret from the johns. That being said, a small correction...it wasn't my camera set-up."

I pinched my thumb and forefinger together apologtically. "I suppose you're right. You're just the madame...a glorified secretary, really."

"I prefer to think of it as a den mother," she replied with a smile. A genuine smile, surprisingly soft. "Like an old lioness tending the cubs."

"You didn't own the place," I continued unabated. "But I'll bet no one knew the place quite like you did."

She inclined her head in agreement. I waited a moment, but she said nothing.

"There was a drive missing from the set-up," Sha said. "Seems to us someone snatched it up and ran. The camera was still running when we got there, so it seems to us that they had to have done it when we came in. The question we have is who has that drive and what is on it."

"How should I know what they decided to film?" Haat asked.

"Because," I said, "you manage the books and the planner. Which means you know who was being sent to that room and on what days."

She shrugged. "You haven't given me dates. And even if you did, I would rather not hazard to guess what our clientele were doing at any given moment of any given booking."

I glanced at Sha. He dabbed his forehead and stared at the woman for several long moments. Finally, he spoke. "Who has the drive, Haat?"

She blinked back. "Watch what you call me, Kilu. I am vêshuplishêkâ'at."

"Sure," Sha sniffed. "But ask me if I give a shit. In here, I'm a damned prince. Tell me who has the drive, and we'll let the hitap sentencing you know you were cooperative. I'm sure as a judge you know how helpful that can be."

"I'm no ivi," she replied.

"Clearly."

She sat in silence for a few long seconds. The cieling fan clicked and the incandescents hummed. She crossed her arms.

"He's a kivêv named Kihâtkut Shuâ Ânup," she said.

Sha grimaced. "Great. That only covers about a quarter of the fucking phonebook."

She shrugged. "I'm sorry, detective, but that is his name."

"Do you have a description?" I asked. "Anywhere you would know him to go? People he knew?"

Haat made a small flicking gesture with her thumb, bush sign for giving up. "No. I don't make it my business to socialize with pornographers."

"But you'll work with them?" Sha asked.

"Business is business, detective."

"You must know something," I said. "A phone number? A name he mentioned in passing?"

Haat sighed. "I don't know. I think he mentioned living in a flat on Mshik."

Sha looked at me. "Upscale neighbourhood."

I nodded. Mshik wasn't gilded or anything, but it had consistent electricity and running water, and offered good access to some of the richer parts of the city. "How'd he afford that as a pornographer and pimp?"

"No idea," Haat replied. "Fathers know I couldn't afford it, so however he did it wasn't trickling down."

I nodded. It was something to go on, even if it wasn't much. "Well then," I said. "You've been very helpful, Kiavêvit."

"Can I go back to the holding cell now?" she glanced around. "How in hell is it more comfortable crammed in like sardines than in here?"

Sha nodded. He went to the door and poked his head out. "Can someone accompany the madame back to her cell, please?"

Moments later she was gone and Sha and I were alone in the humidity.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"We've got to check out his flat," I replied.

"Even with it narrowed down, I bet there's a half dozen people with that name on Mshik."

I nodded. "Probably. We go door-to-door, then, till we find the right one."

There was a knock on the door. It opened and a uniform popped his head in. "Detective Tashê, the captain's looking for you."

I sighed and stood. Sha dabbed his chin. "I'll get a description of the guy from the whores," he said. "Once you're done with the captain, we'll head to Mshik."

I nodded. "Alright then."

I left the room and went to the Captain's office.
Last edited by Menna Shuli on Sat Apr 21, 2018 6:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Menna Shuli » Tue Apr 24, 2018 4:14 pm

The Captain offered me a cigarette from his slim, brass case. Reaching across the desk, I accepted, lighting with a match from a box on the desk. I held it out and lit the Captain's, and we each took a moment to savour our first draws. Finally, he breathed out in a contented sigh.

"Good work with the raid tonight, Detective," he said. "Well executed, no casualties. That's what I like to see from the vêkimâ'at in my squad."

"Thank you sir," I replied, leaning back in the chair slightly. The noisy oscillating fan in the corner blew the rising smoke into swirls.

"I heard that a few got away," he said. The Captain had a lean face, all dark grooves and heavy eyelids, like a half-eroded inselberg. As he drew again on his cigarette, the inselberg became volcanic.

"Yes sir," I replied.

"Wipe away the red look on your face, detective," he said. "It happens. We broke their operation. Anyone who got away is going to be holing up for the foreseeable future. One or two escaped hookers and pimps isn't going to be a drop in the ocean out there, Tashê. Taking out the brothel removes their foundation. That's good enough for me. It's good enough for Hitap Aska as well. It's good to have the Prince-Constable's respect, detective."

"I understand that, sir," I replied. I brough my left thumb and pinky together, bush sign for a lurking danger. "It's just..."

"This drive I've heard about?"

I didn't know what it was about the drive or the Captain's tone of voice that bothered me, but the thought of both sent a buzz across my teeth. My instructor back at the compound used to say I had a mouthful of hornets, an old saying meaning that I was too tense. I could feel the stinging fuckers inbetween my molars now.

"Yes sir," I said.

"Don't worry about it," the Captain waved the hand with his cigarette, creating curls of smoke like Mâk Na incense. "We have hundreds of hours of footage, we have their girls and boys in lock-up...the worst we have out there is a few gigabytes of mediocre, amateur pornography. There's worse on the streets. We chopped the head off the viper, who cares if its body thrashes for a few more seconds?"

I did.

"It just bothers me, sir," I replied.

The old man sighed and stood with a groan. He came around the desk and placed a hand on my shoulder. "I get it, Tashê. I do. You don't want to leave any loose ends. We've all been there. But this isn't something to waste your time on. You're needed on other cases. A few videos of perverts isn't going to end the world, detective."

He pulled his hand away and leaned against his desk. I took a draw of my cigarette and then stamped it out in his blue, plastic ashtray with the smoking bird logo of Shallow Ibis Cigarettes.

"Are you asking me to drop the case?"

"I'm asking you not to let the details make you lose sight of the big picture," the Captain said. "You did excellent work tonight. Getting hung up on the one missing piece is going to make your job a lot harder. It's not worth the stress. Let it go, move on to the next case. A few more busts like tonight and I can see you getting a commendation...a promotion. But that only happens if you put your nose to the grindstone and work more cases."

I stood. "I just have a feeling sir..."

"A gut instinct?" he sighed in a cloud of smoke.

I made a sign of agreement with my thumb and forefinger. "Yes sir."

"There's something to be said about instinct," he said, his tone one of soft relinquish. "I'll give you forty-eight hours to track down the drive. If you don't have the drive in hand by then, I'm pulling the plug."

I stood. "Thank you, sir."

He took one more pull on his cigarette and then put it out next to the twisted ruins of my own. He waved a hand at the door. "You're dismissed. Can you send in Ihitku while you're out there."

I nodded and left his office.

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:29 am

Even at this late hour, the street was packed with vehicles. The shouting matches between drivers, the ear-splitting tear of horns and the dim growl of ill-maintained engines filled the street with a nearly unbearable cacophony. This was the middle class of Shuhakallu in microcosm, a turbulent rush of dense streets dirtied by belched smoke and choking smog. Rickshaws, both man-powered and motored, shared the roadway with twenty year old automobiles and flatbed trucks. No one seemed to be following any sort of traffic law. No one was asking them to. It would be near midnight before the street cleared and silence fell on the neighbourhood. It would take that long just for the congestion to wash away.

Monsoon clouds piled overhead. The air was sticky with people and humidity, the before-a-storm thickness that people in the coastal areas of Mênna Shuli knew all too well in this season. It would be raining soon, and the street would run with mud. The walls of the buildings were streaked like the eyes of a woman who had worn too much eye makeup before getting sad news. As Sha and I approached the next building on our list, he sighed.

"Come on, Tashê," he said. "It's pushing nine o'clock. I, for one, have a family to get home to."

"You're just looking to go to the Blue Lagoon," I replied.

"Sure, sure," Sha nodded. "But you've met my kids. I'm owed a drink."

I didn't reply. I approached the cracked stoop of the building. 2217 A Mshik. The next Kihâtkut Shuâ Ânup on our list. The building would have once been white, but exhaust and dirt had turned it gray. The rain had cut lines in the grime like a topographical map. Sitting on the stoop was an old man, smoking a dirty cigarette, head wrapped in a loose turban.

"Kihâtkut Shuâ?" I asked him.

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the door with a good-natured mumble. He smelled of gin. Sha and I climbed the three stairs to the door and knocked on the wood. An old woman answered it. Before saying a word to us, she looked down at the old man and shouted.

"Hiku, get your lazy ass inside. I won't ask you again to fix the sink in the kitchen," she said. The old man grumbled, tossed his cigarette on the sidewalk and pushed past us into the carpeted interior. Only once he was safely within the building did the woman turn and look at us.

"Yes?" she asked.

Sha and I presented out badges. "Evening, ma'am," Sha said. "I'm Detective Kilu Sha and this is Detective Kilu Tashê. We're looking for a man named Kihâtkut Shuâ."

"Shuâ Ânup?" she asked, wiping her hands on her apron. They were covered in flour.

I nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

"He's our lodger," she replied. "In the attic room."

"Do you know what he does for a living?" Sha asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know. It's something to do with movies. And the internet. He pays for an internet connection," she said this with something of an air of pride. "We are one of the only houses in the neighbourhood with internet, you know. Sometimes we hold movie nights. Only four xat a head. Eight xat if you want rice pops."

Sha and I glanced at each other. "Very forward thinking," Sha said.

"Is Kihâtkut Shuâ home?" I asked.

"He came by earlier," the woman shrugged. "He was in a big rush. Said that he had a deal he had to close. Left an hour ago."

An hour. This was sounding like we may have found our man. "Can we go look at his lodgings?"

The woman frowned. "I can't just let people into his rooms."

"We're police, ma'am," Sha replied.

She struggled with that for a moment, and finally let us in. She led us up a flight of narrow stairs in the front hall to a narrow second floor. There, she opened a door into an empty closet and pulled on a string that dangled from the ceiling. The hatch there swung open and a ladder slid down, providing access to the attic.

"Up there," she said.

"We shouldn't be long," Sha said, and we ascended.

The room above had low, slanted ceilings. The floor was flaking wood, more a loose collection of splinters than solid boards. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner, a chair under a circular window, a few dimly glowing lamps. That was a ridiculous ostentation, leaving electricity running like that. Cables snaked across the floor. Clothes lay piled around the space. I saw a bra and panties in one pile, and wondered if Kihâtkut Shuâ had a girlfriend, or if he just dipped into his own supply at times. Either way, I tucked the info away.

There was a radio sitting on a low table, and next to that was a boxy TV set with a set of bunny ear antenna on top. Sha walked over and flicked on the radio. A pop song by that new hip hop artist that seemed to be popping up everywhere played. Couldn't remember her name. Sha grunted and flicked off the radio.

"SM1," he said. I nodded in agreement.

We began moving around, looking for any signs or clues of our suspect's whereabouts. There were some comic books under one pile of linens, three stacks of ancient magazines gathering mold (probably the house owners'), and two boxes filled with what looked like children's toys. People who were rich enough to keep this sort of crap always made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Sha made a eureka noise, and waved me over to the mattress. I walked over, and Sha lifted a corner of the forlorn bedroll. Underneath were several worn photographs. I recognized some of the people in them from the arrests earlier.

"Figure this is probably our guy," Sha said.

I nodded. "So where's he at?"

Aside from the photos, the room was somewhat bare of any other evidence. We bagged the photos, then descended the ladder again and met the old woman in the hall.

"Ma'am, is there anywhere in particular that you know Kihâtkut Shuâ to go?" I asked.

"How do you mean?"

"Bars? Cafes?" Sha said. "Anywhere that he has mentioned?"

She thought for a moment. "This neighbourhood doesn't have access to the fastest internet. Sometimes he needs more. There is a cafe in one of the more touristy neighbourhoods he goes to sometimes."

"Do you have a name?" I asked.

"Ihwalakallu Cyber? Something like that."

Sha smiled. "Thank you."

The woman led us downstairs. I noticed the old man in the kitchen at the end of the hall, head under the sink and an array of tools spread around him on the floor. As we went to leave, I stopped.

"I am sorry if this is an uncomfortable question," Isaid, "but did Kihâtkut Shuâ ever bring home any women?"

The woman frowned. "I run a respectable household," she said. "He would have been out on his ass if he had been fornicating."

I nodded. We turned to leave again.

"Although," she interrupted thoughtfully. I turned again.

"Yes?"

"He did have his cousin visit once," she said. "Very pretty girl. I mean very pretty. But it looked like she had had some hard times. Still, I made sure that he slept on the sofa down here while she was here. I know that men sometimes lie to get people like me to let them have their girlfriends stay over as 'cousins' or 'sisters'."

"Sometimes they're not lying," Sha mumbled. "Doesn't stop a fornicator."

I don't know if only I heard or if the woman was just very, very good at pretending. Either way, we thanked her and left.

"So, a cyber cafe where the tourists go," I said.

Sha held up his hands. "You go," he said. "My shift ended two hours ago and I have a barstool with my name on it."

I nodded and Sha left to go to the bar. Not me, though. I had 46 hours to find the drive.

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Wed Apr 25, 2018 3:39 pm

The cyber cafe wasn't in the richest parts of Shuhakallu, but it did live in their shadows. It shared a neighbourhood with strings of boutiques and chain fast food restaurants, and was across the street from a high-end hotel that catered to upper-middle class tourist families. Rental cars pulled out of the nearby underground parking and joined the wide, palm-lined throughfare. I could see a few gussied-up tourists stumblig towards the bars and clubs in the Capitol District, the ivory towers that overlooked all of the Twin Cities. The tourists were going to have a surprise on their hands when they saw what was charged for a drink in the gilded revelries of the princely caste.

As I arrived at the cafe, the clouds abouve decided it was time to open, and the rain began to fall. The sudden, wild shower immedately coated the streets. The neon of the cyber cafe's sign tossed blue and pink light across the night-slick sidewalk. I tucked my head against the downpour and darted into the cover of the doorway. A pair of twenty-something kids smoking outside started swearing and splashed in next to me as I opened the door. I held it for them as they slipped inside, and then followed them in.

It was a nice place, as these things went. Decorated in steel and glass, with modern LCD monitors and clean white walls that evoked walking into some plane of divine light. Apple Store chic.

The two kids walked back to their set aside computers. A few people were playing online battle arena games and first person shooters, but aside from the clicking of mice the place was quiet. There was a counter ahead of me, with rates printed on a black sign over the head of the narrow eyed kid behind the counter. He had piercings in his ears and lip and a tribal tattoo beneath one eye. He looked up from a magazine as I walked in.

"Welcome to River City," he said. "Public terminals are $5 per half hour. Private rooms are $15 an hour. There's a $50 deposit on private rooms. Webcams are an extra $2 a hour, and are only for private rooms."

I shook my head and pulled out my badge. "I'm with the police," I said.

The kid held up his hands. "We're not liable for what people do in the private rooms," he said. "We have a waiver."

I sighed. "Put your hands down, kid. I'm not here to bust the place. I'm looking for someone. Do you know Kihâtkut Shuâ Ânup?"

He put his hands down and shrugged. His face was still tense. "Maybe. It's a common name. What does he look like?"

I put my badge back in my pocket. "He'd be a regular here. Would have been in tonight, we think."

The kid thought for a moment, then shrugged. He pulled out a date book from behind the counter, one quite similar to the one we had rescued at the brothel. I found the low-tech solution incongruous with my surroundings, but such was the way of things. He flipped it open and hsi eyes skimmed.

"I have a Kihâtkut Shuâ in right now," he said. He turned the book towards me so I could see it. "Room 4. He gave his Âkkê Ullu number to charge until he left."

I glanced at the book. Sure enough, there was a scribbled name in Room 4 matching our man. "Can I head back there?"

"I'm not supposed to let anyone through," he replied. I raised my eyebrows. "Come on," he sighed, standing and pulling a ring of keys from a hook behind the counter. "I have keys in case someone causes a ruckus."

He led me to a back hall, a long stretch of black soundproofing material lit by the red glow of an exit sign at the far side, where a curtain covering an emergency exit flapped slightly. There looked to be ten private rooms. He led me to the fourth on the right.

"I can get in trouble for this," he said. "I can't lose my job."

"It's our little secret," I said. He nodded and turned to the door, sliding the key in.

The door swung open and the kid nearly collapsed. The chamber beyond was small, only three feet wide by five feet deep. The majority of the space was taken by a desk with a monitor and a desktop tower. The rest had a swivel chair, which was occupied by a thin, musty fellow. All of that was on the level.

What wasn't on the level was the spray of bloodspatter across the monitor in front of him, and the chunks of bone and viscera clinging stubbornly to the soundproofing on the wall. The man sat slumped in his chair, as if he had fallen asleep in his seat, hands resting on the mouse and keyboard, blood dripping from a hole in his forehead onto his lap. The screen displayed a screensaver of a dancing cartoon crocodile, out of place in the red mist of the exit spew.

"I think," I said as the kid stumbled back, "that I'm going to have to tell some people our secret."

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Fri May 04, 2018 5:37 am

Detective Kikit removed his hat and ran a hand over his shaved scalp, letting out a long, low whistle.

"Christ, kid, what have you gotten yourself into?"

The homicide detective wasn't old enough to call me kid, but I let it slide. He was one of the rare warriors who had walked off a compound and into service, no period of hiring himself out as security or, worse, sleeping on the street. That meant one of two things; either he had connections to someone important, or he was good in the way that only the best of our kind were good. One way or the other, he wasn't someone to fuck with.

"What's your take?" I asked, allowing that deference to rank to show through.

He shrugged broad shoulders. "Too soon to say much for sure, but I'll bet my last xat on it being a professional hit."

I glanced at him. He was staring at the body with a sort of detached analytical gaze that made me think of a tourist in a safari bus, rolling through the savanna looking at giraffes or zebras with a cavalier disdain for their existence as living things. They were amusements to the tourists, distractions, and that's how Kikit was looking at the body. Either like that or like someone laying out the pieces to a puzzle before putting them together. I wasn't sure which.

He met my eyes and I raised an inquisitive brow. He sighed. "No bullet lodged in the wall. Whoever did this cleaned up anything that would lead to them. He also got through the exit door without breaking anything, and had the good sense to keep his face off the cameras...webcams, I guess. Place is rich but not so rich as to use real security. Either way, that all equals up to a professional. How professional is up to debate."

"So we have nothing?"

Kikit scratched his stubbled cheek with cracked nails. "Coroner might be able to get us calibre of the bullet from the E&Es, but that's a crapshoot. Even if we are able to narrow down the bullet calibre, I'd guess the guy got pegged by a local gun. Smart hitman will buy a gun from some vêkilu street corner arms-dealer and then offload the gun to someone else after the hit. Guns are cheap as dirt and just as easy to get ahold of if you know where to look."

I walked over to the body and stooped down to get a good look at the guy's face. Aside from the gaping hole in his forehead, he was a good-looking man: square jaw, straight nose, no obvious scars or flaws. Soft hands. Clearly not your standard Mênna. He wasn't accustomed to manual labour in the factories or farms.

"How'd you land yourself in this?" Kikit asked.

"You follow the clues, sometimes they land you somewhere," I muttered.

Kikit nodded. "Do you have some idea who did this?"

I shook my head. "No clue. But I have a good idea as to why."

It was pretty obvious that this led back to the drive. You could draw a straight line from the raid to the killing, if you were looking for it. The why for the killing sat right there too. Whoever had killed him was a professional, probably looking for the drive. Aside from 'who', the other big question looming on me was 'how'. How did the killer know about the drive? How did they know that this particular pornographer had gotten away with it? How had they tracked him here before us? Of course, that spiralled out to a million other questions. If they were a professional, who had hired them? What was on the drive? Where was it? Did they have it now?

I had to stop before I got too far ahead of myself. I was making a huge logical failure by assuming out of hand that this had anything to do with the drive. Chances were high, yes, but not certain. Shua was a criminal. Criminals made enemies. There were organized gangs out there who certainly would have had it out for someone working for the competition, especially if they were making bank at it. Since the photographers had already grabbed their shots, I went for an outside chance and fleeced the body's jacket pockets for the hard drive.

No dice. Not unexpected. It still didn't prove anything in either direction, though.

"You going to tell me this mysterious 'why'?" Kikit asked. I jumped, startled out of my reverie.

"Fuck," I said.

Kikit chuckled, an incongruous act with a corpse sitting there. "Spooked you?"

"I was in my own place," I replied. I toyed with his question. "I don't have anything solid on the why. Just a hunch. A really good hunch."

"A hunch you care to share?"

"When we get back to the station," I said. "We're going to need this computer."

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Postby Ostehaar » Mon May 07, 2018 1:25 pm

It's been over a week and my payment had yet to come. I would have left two days ago if I could, but I was the only one keeping these nutjobs there alive. Sure, they could have jumped on their jeep and drove straight back the way we had arrived, towards the 200 and all the way south... but then no one would have stood between them and maybe a pair of hungry Engine Cats. To be honest, I didn't even trust them to find the way back on their own.

One of them raised his head, scanning the horizon. He seemed lost at first, but he eventually found me. His rimless rectangle glasses reflected the blazing sun in blinding white flashes that seemed like a robotic gaze.

"Elan!" he called.

"What," I muttered dryly, in my best attempt at communicating how dissatisfied I was of the entire situation.

He didn't seem to catch my drift. "Can you help us here with something?"

I didn't want to help them with anything. "Sure," I replied.

I stood up and walked as slowly and heavily as possible from my shaded position towards the two scientists. That short walk reminded me how much I hated that place, that country, that weather, and these people. It reminded me why I had only agreed to sign the contract after I specifically made sure I wouldn't have to assist these nutjobs with their stuff. But you know how it works... once I was there, I had to watch over them like children, and that meant listening to their requests and making sure they weren't doing anything too dangerous. It reminded me that I was on the edge of the fucking desert. Haze blurred my view and wind threw sand in my face. Civilization was nowhere to be found and the only thing in my sight was dirt.

"Hey," one of the scientists, a geologist by the name of Joma, said. "We need an extra hand here, for measuring the angle of the slope in several directions."

I looked at him in despair.

"We're trying to save time so we could leave sooner," he added when he noticed I wasn't that eager to do anything. "Three pairs of hands are better than two."

I felt I had no choice but to please these idiots, so I helped. Maybe they were late with the payment, but at least they promised good payment. Thousands of dollars for a few days out in the field, helping a pair of geeks with glasses examine some fucking dirt? I wasn't in a position to refuse such an opportunity.

I helped, and they kept talking about matters that didn't concern me. Something about a sex scandal. A senior director in a company affiliated with OCES - accounting, if my memory serves - was accused of sexual harassment or some other naughty business, and ran away as far as possible. Apparently he ended up in this hell-hole of a country and was spotted hanging out with whores.

The sun was slow to set, painting the sky above the Savanna with layers of red and orange. The haze cleared and I could finally see River Sand far in the horizon. I sat in my tent, getting ready to finally move out, when my satellite phone woke up to life. The half-broken device wasn't broken enough to leave me alone.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Elan Duhnisj?" a voice I didn't recognize tried to confirm my identity.

"Yes."

"I'll be damned," the unfamiliar individual sighed in relief, "I've been trying to reach you for... about a week."

This was starting to sound strange. "Who is this?" I asked in suspicion.

"You can call me Alex," he answered. "I'm calling from back home. We might require your services for something."

I released a frustrated sigh. "Care to elaborate?"

"Not so much, actually, since it's not a secure line. I can only say that it involves the company these people you're escorting are working for, and a financial adviser with a passion for... let's call it dark skin."

"Shit." I could think of no other response.

"Ah, so you've heard the rumors," the unnamed benefactor said. "Let's meet in Shuhakallu?"

There was no promise of money here, but my curiosity took over. Besides, the tone of this person's words implied that he was either well-connected or some government bloke, and people like that usually pay well.

"I'll be there in two days," I said.

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Thu May 17, 2018 8:41 am

Sha was not happy about being pulled away from his drinking, but showed up despite the stench of beer and bourbon on his breath and collar. He was nursing a too-thick cup of coffee in a paper cup when he walked into the bullpen and up to my desk. The night crew scuttled about like insects, Tikutashik shooting me dirty glances from the water cooler. At night, the desk was hers, but I'd pulled rank and requirement on her.

I waved at Sha and he tugged a rolling chair from the next desk over and slumped into it, a bit of his coffee spilling onto his shirt. Kikit glanced over, not feigning any sort of respect to cover his disgust at my doughy partner.

"What do we got, then?" Sha said. He glanced down and wiped at the damp spot on his shirt, a look of twisted consternation on his face.

"I was just bringing Kikit here up to speed," I said. "You know about Shua?"

"Uniform got me caught up in the car," Sha said. There was a tinge of a slur, but not so much that I was concerned. "Someone plugged the fucker?"

Kikit nodded. "Small calibre bullet to the back of the skull. Dead on impact."

"Fucking shit," Sha swore. He took a swig of his coffee and set the cup down on the edge of the desk. "We know the make and model?"

"Forensics is doing their thing," I replied.

Sha shook a palm in a dismissive form of bush sign. "So we're waiting a week to find out a decimal place?" He blew an unceremonious raspberry, encapsulating his feelings entirely.

Kikit frowned. "I'd wager that even if we had it now, it'd be meaningless. It'll be a local variant or some common-as-dirt piece, something that every gangbanger in a worker slum carries. By now, the actual gun will be in the hands of some kid down Iskê way."

"Who are you again?" Sha said. Kikit ignored him.

I wiggled two fingers for calm. "The gun's a dead end," I said, "but we're not nowhere on this. We have a tech combing the computer he was using when he was killed down at the shop."

Sha raised an eyebrow. His jowls jiggled. "Why there?"

"Computer is set up with a DeepFreeze program," Kikit explained. "Every time its restarted, it rolls back to a preset point, removing downloads, history, cookies, all that stuff. Policy at the cafe was to restart the computers after every rental, so that any nasty activities the clients got up to wouldn't be stored. With the sorts of vice that the standard private room user probably gets up to, I can't blame them. The amount of viruses they would have to clean out alone..."

I nodded. "We couldn't pull the computer out without turning it off, which would destroy the evidence."

Sha sighed. "If we were in any other country in the world, we'd have smart enough techs to get around that sort of hackneyed bullshit."

"Well, we're not," I replied. "This is Mênna Shuli. Best get used to the idea that a tourist cyber cafe has better resources than we do."

An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. Sha leaned back with a groan. "So we're not up shit's creek?" he asked.

"Tech shot us a message," I answered. I handed him my notepad. He scanned it.

"What the hell's a dark web?"

"Our vic had installed a piece of software onto the computer he was using," Kikit explained. "A sort of browser software that let's him access parts of the internet...best left alone by polite company."

"What, like porn sites?" Sha asked. The man was a bit too old for this sort of thing.

"Like kiddie porn sites," I replied. "Or online drug emporiums. Or snuff streams."

"Not everything on the dark web is depraved," Kikit said. "But enough of it is to make it a shitty place to be. It raises eyebrows."

Sha nodded. "So the guy was watching beheadings or something?"

"The guy," I said, "was holding an auction."

"The software was still running when the tech logged on," Kikit explained. "Tashê brought me up-to-date on your case. It looks like the vic was trying to get a last payday out of his little brotherl-slash-pornhouse. He was offering the drive to the highest bidder."

"So we know who he sold it to?" Sha asked.

"It hadn't been sold yet," I explained. "Lots of angry inbox messages about that. Even if it had been, we wouldn't be able to track these people down. It's called the dark web for a reason."

"But," Kikit stepped in, "it is one hell of a motive. It's possible someone was looking for...more aggressive bargains."

"So he was shot so someone could get the drive," Sha said. "But if we can't track someone online, how would they have been able to find him so fast?"

Kikit and I looked at each other. "That's what we've been trying to reason out," Kikit said.

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Sat May 26, 2018 11:14 am

It was late by now. The clock had ticked over into a new day and then had crept onwards. I was fuelled by coffee and cigarettes. Sha had gone home hours ago. Kikit had returned to his office and then, an hour later, he had left too. I'd removed myself from the bullpen and had set up in a small multi-purpose room, so I could spread out crime scene photos and reports without worrying that we'd have to march handcuffed pimps and thieves past my menagerie of evidence.

Not that the spread was doing me much good. We had stacks of photos but nothing useful. I let out a noise that was somewhere between growl and sigh, leaned back in my chair and took a pull on my cigarette so long and deep I burned it to the filter. I dropped the yellow tip into the ashtray on the edge of the desk with a half dozen of its brethren and rubbed my eyes.

"Alright," I said to myself. "Alright."

I leaned forward and skimmed my eyes across what we had. Multiple angles of the body. Photos from the cyber cafe, the brothel. Statements. Witness reports. My eyes settled on a slim stack of pictures depicting the pages of the brothel's book, the one that the madame had tried to burn. The real thing was in a plastic bag in lock-up. I reached over and grabbed the glossy sheets. I'd already looked at them, of course, but they were written half in cipher, which none of the prostitutes or the madame were much willing to give up. Even if they did, I knew it wouldn't be much good. I doubted they would have taken real names from anyone. Hell, I could tell from the patterns of letters and numbers on the sheet that they only had four capital letters in place of any names. Probably not even initials, but some sort of Dewey decimal system for dickhead johns.

I scratched my cheek and grabbed a fine tip permanent marker from the table. I flipped through the photos and made a mark at a specific point. I flipped to the next and made another point. The dates were clear enough even without breaking the whole code down, and I knew that that particular gap of time was the missing space for the recordings. I counted things out. Three days of time, with an average of two dozen appointments a day, a total of 73 appointments across the three days. That's a wide number of possible reasons to want the drive. I stared at the 8.5 x 11 glossies and willed them to reveal something.

I set them down when they didn't and leaned my chin in my hand. "Fuck," I said. I reached to my breast pocket for another cigarette. The pack was empty. I was sweaty. My eyes were drooping. I checked my watch. 2:30 in the morning. I sighed, stood and stretched, my joints popping and a shiver of release spreading down my body. I gathered everything together and put it in the brief, then walked out of the room and deposited the brief in my desk drawer. I only got a glance from my desk partner Tikutashik, so I just yawned and walked out to catch a couple of hours of rest if I could.

I left the precinct and crossed the street to the crumbling parking garage where my car was parked. There were only a handful of old, rusting out vehicles within. I hopped into my car and tried to get it started. It struggled to turn over. I sighed and stepped out, walking to the gas cover. I popped it and pulled out my pocket flashlight, glancing within as far as I could to see if I could see a reflection of gasoline.

Some fucker had siphoned my gas. It happened sometimes, but that didn't make it less annoying. Still, give whoever it was credit for balls for doing it outside a police station.

I walked to the backseat doors and climbed in. I removed my jacket to lay over me while I slept and curled up on the back seat, trying my best to get comfortable. It was hard. The stuffing was coming out and I could feel the pressure of the moulding beneath me. Just as I was beginning to drift off, something ricocheted off the back window of the car. I sat up, glancing out into the darkness of the garage. There was a slight pinging noise and a small pebble bounced off the window. I frowned and opened.

"Whoever the fuck you are, I'm a cop," I shouted. "Stop tossing pebbles at my car or I'll put a bullet in your kneecap."

There was a moment of silence from the garage. I could see nothing and no one. A voice responded.

"Detective Tashê," it said, echoing within the empty confines of the space. "You know it isn't safe for a young woman to sleep in her car. Not in this neighbourhood."

I frowned. The voice spoke English, with the fluid upper accent of a well-educated Mênna who had gone to a good boarding school but who was too proud to fully drop the rhythms of home. It could have been male or female. Hard to tell in English, hard to tell with the echo.

"Who are you?" I yelled back. I didn't use English in response.

"A concerned citizen," the voice replied. "Concerned, that is, for your safety. Not much for the outcome of the case you are working. Miss Tashê..."

"Detective," I growled. I pulled myself from the backseat and glanced around. A few places a person could be hiding here. Behind a pillar. Behind a car. The long aisles and longer shadows made it hard to get a bead.

"Detective, then. Detective Tashê, you are about to tread upon difficult ground. Your safety is very much...in question. If I were you, I would think long and hard about dropping this case."

I pulled my sidearm and began to make my way down the aisles, head on a swivel. "Are you threatening me?"

"[i]Oh, goodness no
," the voice chuckled. "I want your safety, Detective Tashê. I am warning you. Some very, very powerful people do not want to see that drive see the light of day."

"And you're one of them?" I reached a van, parked to one side, paint peeling. I swung around the corner, gun rising. No one there.

"No," the voice said. "I would rather see it found. But not if that means more blood being spilled. Not Mênnan blood, at least."

I turned back the way I'd come. "But foreign blood?"

The voice responded in Mênnan. "If a few tourists die, that isn't very much my problem."

"Who would want me dead?" I began moving again.

"It doesn't matter, not right now," the voice was quiet for a moment. I was low, seeing of someone was hiding under a vehicle. "You won't drop this case, will you?"

"Sorry," I replied. "Before I was just curious. This...this has piqued my interest."

The voice sighed. "C'est la vie. I tried. At least I can tell you this...the Pride are going to be coming in tomorrow to put pressure on your captain to close the case. They will be quite convincing. Matters of national security are at stake. If you want to continue to investigate, contact Lioness Kintukin Ishêta. She will be...amenable to seeing you continue aiding them. Better you work with the Pride than take matters into your own hands."

"Why should I listen to any of this?" I had reached the opposite end of the parking garage and had still found nothing.

"Because we are Mênna, and all Mênna are blood. We are all one people. Our divisions are illusory and temporary, and one day we will see that the real divisions lie out there, with the foreigners who would corrupt us. You and I are siblings, Detective Tashê. Siblings love each other. They help each other. Let me help you."

I heard a bang, a door shutting somewhere behind me. I spun and darted to the stairwell down to ground level. I burst in. I glanced up and down the stairs. No one. There was a window to the street outside. I ran over in time to see a dark figure climb into a nondescript black car. As the door slammed closed, the car pulled away. I holstered my gun.

"Damn."

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Ostehaar
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Postby Ostehaar » Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:20 am

FNN reports key witnesses in serious fraud case escaped to Menna Shuli, the headline caught my attention. It's in the news now.

A few days ago I met that guy - the one who called himself Alex - in a shady tourist bar in Shuhakallu called The Lion. It was a small joint lit by table lamps of various colors, with huge drawings of... well, lions, all over the walls. We found an empty corner table under a drawing of a resting lion, ordered a beer, and skipped right to business.

"Arin Sihvort is the deputy director of a financial management firm called 'Golden Ratio'," he explained. "It handles accounts for some large corporations and government organizations, like OCES... and like the Rural Development Foundation." He went on to explain why they contacted me - Sihvort was spotted leaving a whorehouse that was under investigation by the local police in recent weeks. They wanted some eyes on the ground to sniff around, but without painting it as an Oster operation. I resisted the urge to ask him who were they - I rather know as little as possible about my clients. "The question is simple," Alex summarized, "has the information about his businesses leaked, and if it has - who holds it now." He left me with some information on that whorehouse and a tiny photograph of Sihvort. Of course I paid for the drinks.

Not many people in Menna Shuli remember faces, unless the question comes with at least a symbolic reward. You'd have to pay the equivalent of ten dollars if you want a vague memory, the equivalent of thirty if you need something fresh, and an actual one hundred dollar bill if you want details like names and locations. I wasted about five hundred dollars in a day or two and got nothing of real value. Yes, it's Arin Sihvort. Yes, he is from Ostehaar. Yes, he visited that whorehouse a few times. Thanks a lot for nothing, you idiots.

"Did you ever see him leave with someone else?" I asked an old dude from a restaurant nearby.

"Yes." He really did try to help.

"Someone you know?"

"No."

I sighed but tried to remain respectful. He was an old man, after all. "Did you see where he went?"

The man pointed at a certain direction.

"Thank you."

At least the food was alright.

Asking people was fruitless. I thought about trying to follow the police but decided against it, at least for now. Visiting the whorehouse was not an option, as I assumed the police had already cleaned the place of clues. Tired and annoyed, I found The Lion and went in for a quick drink. It was late and only a few people sat on the bar.

"A beer, please." I dropped my face in between my hands and took some deep breaths. Sihvort's photograph fell from my hand on the counter as the bartender poured my pint.

"Is Faard alright?"

It took me a few seconds to realize the bartender was talking to me. "What?"

"The man in the picture," he said, "is he alright? I've seen him around a few times."

That I didn't expect. I rubbed my eyes and looked straight at the young man. "This guy?" I raised the photograph to make sure. "You've seen... him? Here?"

"Yes. Came in a few times and sat right here where you're sitting. Usually asked for white wine. Said his name was Arin Faard."

I'll be damned. Good things really come to those who wait.

"I hope he's alright," I said. "He's a distant relative of mine and I'm trying to find him."

The bartender gestured outside, towards a complex of residential buildings a few hundreds of meters from the bar. "I think he said he had a place in one of these."

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Menna Shuli
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Postby Menna Shuli » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:53 am

The Pride stalked into the station the next day. Like prey, we all scuttled into shadowy corners and hoped that the Lions' eyes fell on someone else. Even me. I usually tried to pride myself on bravery, a capacity to stand nose-to-nose with authority and say "fuck you", but the Pride was a whole other matter. Their eyes had this cold cast to them, a place beyond predatory and into ceaseless, hungering apathy. Like the eyes of carnivorous fish, empty of anything but the moment. The Lions wore fur trimmed uniforms that imitated manes, had lion-shaped tattoos on their heads, called themselves a pack and named themselves Lions, but their kinship had always been with something colder, I thought. Crocodiles. Sharks. Deep sea things. Who knew? Not me, fuck that.

Still, the conversation the night before loomed on me.

Their packleader had gone into the Captain's office, and ten minutes later hand walked out dragging a cloud of depressed cigarette smoke with him. When the door opened, I could see the captain within clutching his head in one hand and dragging on the near-burned-out butt of his fag like he was hoping that this would be the one that made his lungs give up the ghost. His eyes flicked up and met mine for a moment and some look splashed his face that I couldn't get a handle on. Sorrow? Pity? Anger? I knew what that meant. My investigation was being shut down.

The packleader approached me. He had a face etched with the early lines of middle age, but he stood a solid head taller than me and was made of muscle. His dagger hung in the small of his back, not quite a finishing-sword but not quite not a finishing-sword either. Either way, it had a threateningly real weight to it. When the man spoke, the lion tattoo on the side of his scalp shifted slightly, the muscles of his jaw twitching its paws.

"Detective Tashê," he said, his voice like warm molasses. "Please provide us all of your files and investigatory materials."

He didn't need to elaborate on what the case was. A slim, suicidal part of my brain told me to say something glib. I was smart enough to tamp it down. Lions weren't just warriors. Give them an excuse and you would never be seen again. I'd been to prisons before to interview people. They were horrid places, all cracked concrete and rancid condensation. I knew that there were deeper, darker pits than even those places. Other, more vile rings of hell. I wasn't going to tempt fate.

I gathered everything I had. It took only a few minutes. Then I handed it over. They went to Sha next and Kikit. As they did, I lit a cigarette with trembling hands. This was all off, all fucked up.

"Matters of national security are at stake." That had been what the person the night before had said. What matters of national security? For a few minutes, watching the Pride prowl, I wondered if, maybe, it would be better to let this all slide and leave it to them to handle. Ancestors knew I could keep my head down and probably live a more comfortable existence.

Comfort had never really been in my nature, though. Some warriors got soft when they moved to the city. They left the compound and the compound left them. The comfort leaked into them and made them weak. I'd never say it to his face, but Sha was like that. He'd let the city drain the lessons of youth out of him. He'd let the trials of the warrior, our code, become a background noise that he tried to drone out with alcohol and radio shows and betting on dog fights. Even Kikit, who was all cold angles, had let the city take ahold of him, albeit in a different way. He'd kept a sharp edge, but he was all that urban noise now. I could see the political gears twisting behind his eyes at times. He was tougher than me, I knew it, but he had forgotten the face of his father.

Not me. I still had the roots of the compound in me. Hêluk Kima, the Law of the Warrior, was in my bones. I was a cop, a detective, I took that seriously. But before any of that, I was vêkimâ'at. Vêkimâ'at did not live well in comfort. They put themselves in the hard places. They let the weight of great effort fall on their shoulders so that the softer castes did not have to. They slept alone under savanna moons with the hyenas just out of sight, waiting to tear them apart if weakness revealed itself. I did not forget that. Vêkimâ'at do not give up. On our honour, we do not give up.

Lioness Kintukin Ishêta. That was the person I was to speak to. I had never been put off by lions before, and I would not be put off by Lions now.

I would discover the drive. I'd find out what was happening. As the Pride dragged away our evidence, as my Captain pulled death into his lungs, as Sha lethimself go soft and Kikit estimated the political ramifications, I made that oath on my honour.

This wasn't over.

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Noronica
Ambassador
 
Posts: 1153
Founded: Dec 11, 2015
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Noronica » Thu Jul 05, 2018 5:56 am

"It is another hot day in Shuhakallu, temperatures are rising to above thirty degrees Celsius-"

I groaned as I sank further into my seat, my eyes moving away from the rather overzealous Mênnan weather presenter. She was one of those presenters that would grin when retelling even the most gruesome of news stories, the friendliness not quite reaching her eyes which glared soullessly into the camera. Something I could respect I suppose. A job ain't a party as my father used to say. I was surprised that she was speaking English, but then again, the street was sprawling with various tourist shops in an attempt to get more international customers.

When I thought I could drown out the noise, the screen suddenly switched to the title cards, screeching out a cheery tune that pissed off anyone within a ten-metre radius. There were a few scowls and grumbling from the others in the bar before they turned back to what they were doing.

Nursing my half-empty pint of bitter, I gazed around. The place was a dump, the loveliness long since gone as decoration from the past century lay scattered across the room, old rock paraphernalia placed haphazardly in various odd places, one being an ageing poster of the Oster Aamit Sjeherin. I smirked as a song of his came to mind, playing in my head as I continued my people watching. The people in the bar were certainly interesting as no one was alone. Everyone had a place in some group, allowing for easy compartmentalising: the violent group, the leery group, the old friends catching up, even the kids who were too young to be on the drink.

I let my eyes drift down to my clothes. I was once called a 'traditionalist old bastard' by an old mate of mine, fitting I suppose. In an attempt to fit in in some manner, I was dressed in a fusion between Noronnican and Mênnan clothing, wearing a white shirt my sleeves rolled just under my elbows, a loose tie and a waistcoat decorated with various Mênnan symbols. I had taken care to apply some tribal tattoos, just under my sleeves so that they were visible, just not enough that I was approached by questions. Not that anyone cared enough to do so here, I just had a sneaking suspicion that I would be walking around some of the more conservative areas of the cities, not somewhere to get into a disagreement over tribes.

I jumped when I felt a sharp vibration in my pocket. Taking my phone out of my pocket, I growled when I recognised the number, hushing my voice when I picked up, "Sir."

The voice that returned was abrupt and clear, "Progress?"

I sighed frustratedly, stretching my legs out from under the table, "Look, Sir, I arrived an hour ago and am still adjusting. I cannot find your item if I am travelling without energy."

There was a sigh on the other side of the phone, "Apologies," I doubted that, "I am merely interested in making this as efficient as possible. Anyway, this is a secure line so you can refer to the drive without worry."

I pinched the bridge of my nose, my eyes tightly closed, "The bar would certainly appreciate hearing that. It would be best-"

"Ah. On the topic of 'suspicion', how are you finding integration?" The voice was friendly enough, but I was tired of this topic. I knew what he was referring to, and it sure as hell wasn't my choice of attire. The reason why I was picked for the job was, perhaps due to my abilities, but I had a sneaking suspicion it was due to something else, skin colour. Of course he wouldn't mention it, but he thought he was being clever by sending a black man to a black-majority country. He failed to remember that I spoke with a Nolon accent, something instantly recognisable from one of the old Noronnican detective movies, that, and as much as I could act, no one can ever imitate a citizen fully. There is always something, evidence of practise before a discussion, over-consideration for mannerisms. Being a government bod, he didn't care, he thought he was a smart cookie.

Smirking, I replied, "Yeah, I'm fitting in well enough sir. Ah, I think I've just seen my contact, I need to go." I hung up before the other side could even take a breath. Some might be uncomfortable with lying to an official, but I couldn't give less of a shit. Money is money and it didn't matter who the clientele was.

Taking a final swig of my bitter, I stood up, ready to leave the bar when I was slapped on the shoulder. Turning, I saw that I had garnered some unwanted attention, a group of young men all from the 'violent group' I clocked earlier. The leader of the group was a thin tall man in his early twenties, his manner betraying a threatening character.

In my best attempt at Mênnan, I spoke quietly, "I want no trouble." I suppose it was the copper side of me, as when I spoke the leader looked less confident than he did seconds ago.

As predicted, he evaded by laughing in my face, "Neither do we friend! We just noticed you seem a little out of place and thought we'd show you around." My stomach sank when he continued in English, "You know, we friends of yours. You want help? We help you!" I tracked his eyes to my pocket which betrayed the bulky-outline of my large phone, then to my silver watch. Usually, I would be more careful when it came to appearance, but coming to the bar was an irrational decision after the flight over to Mênna Shuli. I had only just gotten the keys to my new apartment and I hadn't thought to change much.

Transitioning back to English, I tried diplomacy, "Look, pal, I'm not here to fight, I just want to get back and 'ave a kip."

Diplomacy faltered when a fist happened to connect with my stomach.

Falling into bended knees I brought my left fist up to cover me while my right fist slammed into the chin of one of the group, a sickening crack emanating across the room as the boy stumbled backwards. My hands were bound by another behind me while the leader prepared to strike me, allowing me time to swivel my foot around the guy behind me and force him to slip backwards. I ducked and parried the leader's strike, throwing him off-guard which gave me a chance to grab his arm and twist, hard.

Kicking another man in the groin, I was too late to parry a strike from the side when someone slammed into my assailant. Turning to look, a young woman was aiding me, her foot connecting into the solar plexus of one guy who fell to his knees in pain. Grabbing the leader by his arms, I twisted him around to face my supposed ally who returned in kind by punching the guy first in the stomach, then giving an angry uppercut.

As the group lay on the floor winded or unconscious, I gazed around at the bar. Most had evacuated while a few stayed, turning their heads away as if nothing had transpired. Still, no one had tried to contact the police, something which brought a relieved smile to my face.

I felt someone tugging on my arm and realised it was the woman who helped me with the fight. Before I could ask who she was, my mouth and nose were covered with a cloth. Chloroform.
Last edited by Noronica on Thu Jul 05, 2018 12:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Wed Jul 25, 2018 7:40 am

The headquarters of the Pride were a half-kilometer away from the Sâtêp Chambers, right in the heart of Shuhakallu. This was the richest area of the city, with gleaming towers and wide boulevards flanked by softly swaying palm trees and public gardens. The government offices and installations like the Pride buildings were an island of old Mênnan charm in this ultra-modernized district of the rich. Set amongst large parks of meandering roads and carefully tended botanics, they were polished stone halls in a neo-Mihêna revivalist style, all obelisks and columns and subtly sloping angles. The Pride headquarters were comparatively spartan by comparison to the sprawling compounds of the Chambers, a simpler smooth concrete construction unadorned of most pretention save for the flat angles of its corners, like a pyramid with the top sheered off at the half-way point. Aside from that, the only decoration was above the plain doors, a Mihêna-style lion head statue in mid-roar. Naturally.

There was an entrance to an underground parking lot, but it required a scan pass, so I parked on a nearby street and walked across the park to the building. I could see cameras on the lamp posts and on the building, following my progress. There weren't many people around, despite the sunny day. The tourists were all off taking photos at the Chambers, or the Obelisk, or the Likêwas Lulu a half dozen blocks to the west, looming tall over the city. Not in front of the headquarters of what had once been called "the world's worst kept secret police" by a not particularly clever foreign news pundit with jowls and thinning hair.

I made my way to the door and went in. The lobby inside was wide, marble floored, columned. There was a single desk on the far side of the long hall, no seating area, no busy people moving about. My footsteps echoed around the chamber as the woman behind the desk watched me approach. She didn't have a lion tattoo on her scalp, but she did have cat-like eyes that watched my approach with a sense of predation. She was ridiculously good-looking, a model from central casting established as the secretary role in a spy film. Long neck, flawless skin, her lips full. Her white dress was modest but hugged her form in a way that told you how statuesque she was underneath. I was more than a little surprised to see a person with that presentation seated in the austere hall. I did take a moment to recall that warrior caste women were generally considered some of the prettiest amongst the Mênna. Constant physical training as a child and teenager gave us a layer of muscular definition and physical grace denied to anyone other than princes. Homer had once stated that Spartan women were the most beautiful amongst the Greeks. The compounds were the Mênnan Sparta.

I reached her, my hand already flipping out my badge. "Morning," I said. "I'm Detective Kilu Tashê with the Shuhakallu Police."

The secretary's eyes flicked to the badge and back up to my face, unimpressed. "How can I help you, Detective Tashê?"

"I'm looking for someone," I said, tucking my badge away. "Lioness Kilu Kintukin Ishêta. I was told to ask for her. I assume that she works here."

"Fine detective work," the secretary said, her complete lack of intonation somehow as devastating as all the sarcasm in the world. Fuck if it wasn't sexy though. Shit, I had been in the room for five minutes and I had a crush like a schoolgirl.

"We work hard at the SPD, ma'am," I said. I wasn't good at humour, but she seemed to get the joke, even if it was a bad one. The corner of her mouth turned up nearly imperceptibly as she typed into a computer on her desk. It had a centimeter-thick monitor and I couldn't hear its cooling fan arguing against its purpose with each spin like a worker in a textile plant. I could see where the government's money was going.

She looked up and met my eyes. The predatory look was still there, even if she wore something approximating the shadow of a smile. "Lioness Kintukin's office is number 306," she gestured to a hallway behind her. "Elevators are down there."

I nodded in thanks and made my way away. After a few steps, I glanced back. She was watching me go, knowing I was going to turn my head. We made eye contact. She smiled more broadly, a sharp edge to it. I didn't know if it was a good or a bad thing. I made my way to the elevators.

I didn't have to wait long. An elevator reached me in seconds, and two people stepped out. They were both young, tall, muscular men in white t-shirts that strained under the pressure of their shoulders and chests and factory-defect designer jeans that were missing belt loops or that had the logo missing, letting street side vendors sell them to tourists and well-off low castes for a couple of dollars. They had lion tattoos on the side of their scalps. They'd been laughing when the elevator opened, but the sound halted immediately when they saw me. They prowled out, keeping the corner of their eyes on me as they passed. Normies weren't supposed to see Lions vulnerable, I guessed. I suddenly realized I'd never seen the Pride tattoos on the heads of anyone at any bar I'd been to. They obviously had off hours, the t-shirts and jeans attested to that. They had personalities too, the laughter suggested as much. I wonder what the Lions did to relax, then let the idea slip as I stepped into the elevator and pressed the number three. I could hear them chatting again as the doors closed.

Kintukin's office was on a featureless floor with featureless gray carpet and featureless gray walls. All of the doors in the hall were on the same side as the elevators, and there was a slight slope to the far wall. The interior grade of the pyramid. The only distinguishing features of the doors were the tiny metal plates bearing their room numbers. I made my way down the hall, passing a mail-boy with a cart who didn't give me a second glance. I could see camera bubbles stuccoing the ceiling between fluorescent panels. I reached 306, and had no way of knowing if anyone was there. I knocked.

A moment later, a voice called for me to enter. Raspy, middle-aged tones. I opened the door and caught the surprising sight of an elderly woman, pushing into her sixties, with a full-head of dreaded gray hair save for a portion shaved at the side to reveal the head and forelimbs of her lion tattoo. She wore a sundress for someone thirty years her junior and a shawl so threadbare it must have been forty years her senior. The room was filled with a half dozen potted plants under UV lights. A hydroponic set-up on one side glowed dimly. She had photos and paintings on the walls.

I didn't know what I'd been expecting in the Lion's den, but it wasn't this. The old woman was sitting at a desk, signing a file. She glanced up, and my surprise clearly rode my face like a bronco on a wild horse.

"Don't just gawk," she said. "You're letting the heat out. Get in here."

I stepped in and shut the door. "Lioness...Kintukin?" I said.

She nodded. "Yes. Can I help you with something?"

"I'm Detective..."

Before I finished, she interrupted. "Oh," she said, setting down her pen. "Detective Tashê?"

I nodded. "Yes."

"Damn time you got here," she said. "Our mutual friend said I should I expect you."

"Mutual friend?" I asked.

"The senator," Kintukin said.

And the pieces fell into place.
Last edited by Menna Shuli on Wed Jul 25, 2018 7:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Wed Jul 25, 2018 9:57 am

OOC: I don't normally do this, but trigger warning. This post gets into some rough territory.

The year was 2006. I was 20 and working my first real job since leaving the compound and I felt damn lucky for it. For four years I'd lived on the streets of Shuhakallu, running the slums, taking odd jobs as security for low rent bus tours out towards Kilamkallu and, yeah, sometimes working as muscle for groups I wasn't particularly proud of working for. Getting good work at 20 as an unenlisted warrior was some fucking luck and I knew it, especially when it was security for a fairly reputable princely family. They weren't the richest assholes in the country, but they did make a few million a year in collective earnings and lived in a nice penthouse apartment that took the top three floors of a hotel they owned on the edge of the city center. I was making enough a year to afford to buy a car, the same car I owned in 2018, and it wasn't even used. I was on top of the world.

The family were sort of standard princely dickheads in certain ways. Holier than thou attitudes, especially from their shithead teenage son. In other ways, they were pretty good folks. Got to know the names of the help, gave you time off for the occasional festival, or to go visit family once a year. Paid a good stipend on grave maintenance if you had a family member pass while working for them. I buried my brother on that money. I respected them, liked them. Even the shithead teenage boy.

I was a bodyguard for the girl. She was eight at the time, starting to go to a pretty reputable private school. Before that she'd been tutored in the penthouse, and it essentially constituted the borders of her slim, young reality. This was the first expansion to her bubble that wasn't made out of isolated trips in the family's private plane or out to the fancy parties that the princes threw for holy days. This was a growth to her borders that was only hers, but it also meant danger. It meant a cross city journey twice a day every day but Saturday. It meant making friends and visiting their penthouses or mansions or villas or whatever, which meant more pushing of those tightly controlled boundaries, Cute little hitap girl, all pigtails, parents with cash in their pocket. That was a security risk. The school had tight security. Same with all the penthouses. But that fifteen minute drive, twice a day...

So they hired me. It was soft gig, easy money. I made friends with the girl, drove her to school, waited in the parking lot with all the other bodyguards through the school day, ate street food from roadside vendors at lunch, shot the shit with Hila and Hushi, drove her home. If anything came up, I put the problem down. Nothing ever came up. Easy money.

I worked for them for six months. Then it all blew up. When I get to this part, people always leap to the conclusion that the girl got nabbed on my watch or some shit. But that wasn't it at all. In point of fact, that family still fucking loves me for what I managed. I sometimes get cards from them on holidays, which go in the trash each and every time. I am far from proud of the shit I pulled. The Law of the Warrior is baked into my blood, and I followed it to the letter, but I don't have to be proud.

It was the shithole teenager. Eighteen years old and jacked up on princely privilege and whatever cocktail of stimulants rich cocksuckers like him could get their hands on at the time. Part of my job had been clearing the penthouse of potential threats when we got home at the end of the day. Not a big deal, given the fact that the hotel and the penthouse had its own security, but I went from room to room each day and did my sweep before my ward was free to go about her business. One time, I caught the boy snorting coke and masturbating furiously, ass naked, in the fucking living room. He had some real deviant shit on the sixty inch screen, and when he noticed me the fucker had thought it an appropriate time to proposition the help. I told him his sister was home, and the kid had had the good sense to stop the porn, gather his drugs and retire to the screen in his own bedroom. Needless to say, my relationship had soured with him after that.

That wasn't the incident though. Had it been, my life would have been way easier long term. I could handle drugs and vice and seeing the kid scummy in his own sin. That I could handle. Not what happened though. The blow up was bad enough that I quit and never looked back. Lucky or not for the job, I couldn't handle what I'd done.

There were servants in the hosuehold, obviously. Housekeepers, cooks, that shit. There was this one housekeeper, a girl of fifteen. Pretty girl. Frizzy hair with a line through it. Bit of a gap between her front teeth that was more cute than a dental problem. Good smile. Polite girl, good upbringing from her worker parents. It doesn't take a detective to work out what happened there. Princely kid gets it in his head that the help is hot. She can't really say no, even if she wants to, and a part of her doesn't really want to. The prince is rich, not bad looking. Maybe he helps her out. If she's real lucky, maybe she gets pregnant, and the family has the good sense to cover it up with piles of money. It happens sometimes. Could happen to her.

So this girl, cute as a button and adolesence doing her a ton of favours bodywise, starts letting the princely asshole rail her on the regular. Probably pretty vanilla at first. But this princely kid, he's been exploring some of the more deviant ends of the foreign pornographic libraries. He starts wondering what its like to do more than jerk off to it. He doesn't ask, but just starts slowly escalating his experiences with this worker girl. Nothing bad at first, at least if the asshole had asked. She's uncomfortable, but isn't in a place to say much. So the asshole kid escalates a bit more, and a bit more. Week by week, he pushes towards those deviant ends he watches in his videos. He has a black card in his own name now. He can order toys from overseas. He can push what he can do. And all the while, this girl has had her own boundaries shredded, and she's weak because he has power over her. Money. Influence. Whatever the fuck. That old story.

Me and the other help, we start noticing that the girl with the gaptooth grin stops grinning quite so much. She moves oddly every once in a while, like its uncomfortable to walk around. Then she has bruises every so often. Once, she has a pretty bad gash on her cheekbone. But no one says anything. We all get what's going on, but the kid is vehitap'at. What the fuck are we gonna do?

Then one day I'm getting home with my ward and doing my checks of the penthouse. I get to his room. Door is closed. I hear something on the other side. Crying. I knock. I hear movement, stumbling. A bang. Something breaks. Training kicks in. Foot near the door handle. Door swings open.

And there's the gaptooth girl, lying on her stomach on the bed. She's naked. There are toys scattered about. Her back isn't moving. She's not breathing. Her frizzy hair splays about. There are fresh bruises on her throat and neck. The asshole kid, he's standing on the far side of the room, naked and sweaty and crying in the most hideous way possible. Mucus trails from his nose, forming a yellow sheen on his lips, his cheek. His eyes are swollen red. I see the shattered glass plate and drugs strewn across the floor.

The kid had pushed his boundaries too far. He'd been stupid, real stupid, and now there was a dead worker caste girl on his bed. He'd taken things too far. And there's me, first on the scene.

And something clicks in his head. He's crying, inconsolable, but something clicks. And he speaks. "Help me. By my right as prince, help me."

And there's the Warrior's Law in your blood and you have to obey or be dishonoured and bring dishonour on all of your ancestors. So you take the toys, the body. You find a sheet. You wrap them up. You make a call to his father, who comes back from the office. You explain the situation. You load a sheet in the trunk of the company car you drive the little girl to school in. You take the drugs and the contraband and all of it, and you drive. For hours. Out of the city, out to the ocean. You hire a canoe from a little old woman on the beach who caters to tourists at a nearby resort, and in the sunset you row out out out. Out as far as you can without losing sight of the land or getting tugged away by swells. And down goes the bundle of sheet and sex toy and girl's body.

And you do it all without thinking, because a prince has ordered you to and you are a warrior.

And after that, you go back. And the hitap who runs the home, the asshole's father, hugs you like family. And he makes promises. And he hands you a wad of bills that will pay rent and food for a year without having to scrimp. And for a few days you stay, and the asshole kid is less of an asshole. A lot less. He's applying to foreign schools and there's no fresh coke stains on the leather of the couch or in the laundry. And a few people ask about the girl and vague answers are provided.

And then you quit, but first you swear under blood-oath not to say a thing, and you know if you do you will be dead in a day.

Father's name, it all happened. It all happened and its still there, crawling under the skin of me.

A few years later, I read in the newspaper that the father of that asshole kid who you helped get away with sex crime and murder is running for Sâtêp. And then he wins. And you get a letter saying that you are still owed, but you never cash in on the favour.

And now this woman, this Lioness, mentions the senator. And there's only one person that could be.

"What does Usu have to do with this?"

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Dormill and Stiura
Diplomat
 
Posts: 957
Founded: Sep 19, 2015
Left-Leaning College State

Postby Dormill and Stiura » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:31 am

The deepening darkness of the storm dominated the skyline of Chery, the rain mixed with city famous smog created a disturbing dark grey palette throughout Dormill's unofficial capital. This was typical of midsummer, the warm moist air of the Southern Sea mixing with the cool dry air over the Kaelectias brought near endless days and nights of rain for the southern Dormillian Republics, with a storm breaking through to take on the arctic systems that dominate the northern Argean seascape bringing even more rain down on the north coast. As a kid I used to want to be a meteorologist, the thrill of hunting down storms mixed with the intellectual pursuits of tracking and forecasting seemed to be my life's calling. However, life in the Republics never made things easy, and I soon found myself here, working for the Bureau as one of their newest agents. The walk to the University of Chery, where the Bureau was headquartered, was as dreary as I would have expected, yet I was still excited to be out here. Walking through the doors to the entrance of the Bureau, I made myself known to the desk staff before I was met with a fine fellow from HR, who then directed me to my new office in the building.

The office wasn't glamorous, but it had all the fittings of one, filing cabinets, a computer, so on and so forth. The only unique thing was a file on the desk, stamped in the famous three red words "CLASSIFIED - TOP SECRET - FOR EYES ONLY", indicating either a report or something else. I opened it to read its contents, ordering me to go abroad to Menna Shuli, the backwater of Argus, on a mission to recover some hard drive with "incriminating information". Since this was mandatory, I guessed I had no better option than to follow along, grabbing the plane ticket to the International District and making my way out.

International District


I was never told exactly where to go once I got to the ID, other than that I would meet with another agent while I was here. After spending a few hours mulling around, intuition got the better of me and I made my way in the direction of the Dormill-Stiuraian legation in the International District, no sooner than when I got to the door that I was stopped by the Dormill-Stiuraian Ambassador to the League. Roger Van Adrichem, fresh from the successful resolution to condemn and sanction Samudera and Thuzbekistan.

"Mr. Van Adrichem, it's a pleasure." I began, gesturing in a weird fashion that wasn't quite a bow, not much a genuflect either.

"The pleasure is all mine, good sir. Would you tell me why you're here?" the Ambassador replied, confused as to why a man like me, somewhat scrawny but definitely a Dormillian, all packed up in a full suit, would be standing in his front door.

I had to think fast, either he was my contact or he was oblivious to the entire situation and I was about to blow my cover to a very dangerous man.

"Mistress sent me." Mistress being the new code-word to refer to Director Lovel, to differentiate her from her international peers and, if necessary, throw off anybody who shouldn't know by hiding her and the Bureau behind a taboo. I was nearly agape with his response, "Come with me.", he must be my contact now. Didn't expect the League Ambassador to double as a Bureau agent.

"I wasn't expecting the next agent to come here to be as young as you, Volt." the old man began as he walked me through the Legation.

"I wasn't expecting the League Ambassador from the Republics to be an agent." I replied sheepishly, nervous of his presence.

The man chuckled as he reached the wardrobe, "Well then, I guess I still have a healthy cover for me.", he opened the wardrobe as soon as he finished, revealing a healthy amount of equipment.

"This is all customized for your mission, and your preferences. Everything you'll need is here. If you need a resupply, contact your office and inform them of what you need, they'll send you what you need at the next drop-off." the Ambassador droned out as he walked away from the wardrobe, turning briefly before leaving the room entirely to say one last thing, "Good luck, Agent."

And so I was off once again, this time to the real foreign territory.

Shuhakallu, Menna Shuli


The landing at the airport was smooth as usual, my equipment was sent straight to Shuhakallu Office a few hours earlier. The sights and the sounds were nothing like I heard before, it was a mesmerizing experience being out there, foreign enough to feel unique yet familiar enough that I could figure out where I was going after a few moments. After a quick meal of Ush, a local seafood dish, I went on to find Shuhakallu Office itself, wherever it might've been hiding in the city. As I walked deeper in, the noxious stench of cigarettes was made all too well known, but I resolved myself to look slightly less than a complete sore thumb, as if anything could cover up the fact that I was a scrawny white kid that spoke little more than French to everybody, and walked through as if I was undisturbed.

It was with great luck that I actually found another agent, code-named "Silver Quad" who eventually dragged me through the streets to the actual office. I recovered my stuff there and received my final orders from the HUMINT director before I was sent to an apartment in the merchant section of the city.

The apartment was quaint, not far from most places in the city and didn't have a terrible look on it. The front door even had my name "Cédric Roux" on it, I was amused and disturbed around the same time. I got some looks as I walked in, but I don't think many people will mind too much my work out here, so long as I wasn't an idiot and kept my head down.
Last edited by Dormill and Stiura on Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Fri Jul 27, 2018 6:54 am

Kintukin didn't answer at first. She stood, opened a drawer to her desk and pulled out a set of handheld trimmers, a tad rusty around the spring. Then she moved over to a plant in the corner and began to snip some dead leaves. Only then did she begin to speak.

"The senator says that this is a favour to you," Kintukin said, her back to me. She grunted as she knelt to get some lower branches. "I'd hazard to guess that's half bullshit, but who am I to argue."

That exact question had been rattling in my head. Who was this woman? Why had the voice in the parking garage sent me here? I verbalized the question in a way that felt flaccid even as the words left my lips.

"Who are you?"

Kintukin stood and turned to face me. Her old, lined face shifted like she was chewing on something. Then it went still, her eyes bright and dark. "Who do you think I am?"

"A Lion, obviously," I said, nodding at the half-visible tattoo on her head. "Beyond that...well..."

"Not what you were expecting, hm?" Kintukin shrugged and proceeded to another plant. "Can't say I'm surprised. People tend to never have the imagination they need to deal with reality."

"You just don't look like the Pride's norm."

Kintukin snipped a few leaves, her trimmers clicking. "How old do you think I am?"

I quickly took in the details. Her skin was lined, leathery, her fingers gnarled and crooked with a hint of arthritis. Her muscles weren't sagging but remained tight under skin that had grown tight, like overwashed wool, as opposed to loose. Her eyes were clear. Her hair was gray but not white, and still run through with red-black hairs.

"Sixty," I said. "Sixty-five, maybe."

"I'm eighty-one years old," Kintukin said, glancing over her shoulder with a smug grin. "Clean living, plenty of exercise and plants in the office for fresh air. A walk every evening for the past fifty years. It'll do wonders to shave the years away."

I blinked. This woman wasn't old, she was ancient by Mênnan standards. And here she was, trimming plants in the Pride headquarters, in her own office.

"I've been with the pride for as long as the 'uhitap has been alive, give or take a year or two," Kintukin continued. "In that time, I've gotten a good sense of the way things work. I've made a lot of friends in high places. In low places too. Not to mention an enemy or two. If anyone tried to tell me how to dress or cut my hair, well, I'd tell them that Grandmother had earned her freedom, and to take it up with any one of the vêkivêlâ who have a special place in the first ring of my Rolodex. Or my contact list, as we have nowadays."

She made her way back to the desk, trimmers in one hand and a bundle of dead leaves in the other. She dropped the leaves in a trash bin and put the trimmers back in the desk drawer. Wiping her dirty hand on her shawl, she shut the drawer and opened another. From within, she withdrew a clear plastic bag containing something I recognized. The datebook from the brothel. She placed it on the desk.

"How'd you get that?" I asked, more inquisitive than accusatory. I was starting to form a mental map of the situation, and could predict the twist of the road ahead well enough from the patterns of conversational topography.

"You asked who I am," Kintukin sat down with a huff. "I'm the packleader who got put on this job."

She tapped the book with two fingers. The plastic crinkled. I nodded. Things were making sense.

"And you're friends with Usu," I said.

"Among others," the old woman nodded.

"Someone came to me the other night," I said, "they hid themselves, but they told me to come see you if I wanted to stay on the case."

Kintukin smiled slightly. Her wrinkled face crinkled like the plastic. "Curious, are you? That's good. An excellent trait to have in an investigator. I think, Detective Tashê, that I'll have you help."

"Didn't Usu tell you to have me help?"

"What a senator wants and what I will do are two very different things," Kintukin said. "Sod Usu. Sod the whole Sâtêp. I'm a Lion, not a housecat. But in this case, Usu may have made a good call."

I looked around. "The person last night didn't mention Usu at all."

"Well, they wouldn't," Kintukin shrugged. "Besides, like I said, I don't think that the senator is doing this from the goodness of their heart. There's more at play here than a disk drive from a brothel and a dead pornographer."

"What do you mean?"

Kintukin opened the plastic bag in front of her and withdrew the date book. She flipped it open and wet her thumb with her tongue, then began leafing through the pages.

"Shouldn't that be in the hands of a cryptographer or something by now?" I asked.

"It is," Kintukin replied. "Second third of my career, when doing field work became too much, I was a translator and analyst. I specialized in dialects."

She turned the book and tapped an entry in the sweep of days covered by the missing drive. I looked at it. A string of numbers. A few letters. It didn't stand out. I shrugged. Kintukin sighed.

"Patterns, detective, patterns." The old woman flicked back and forward through the book, pointing out similar coded strings. No. Identical. Except for the dates. My eyebrows knit together. "Are you seeing it?"

"A repeat customer?" I said. "So?"

Again she sighed, like she was dealing with an obstinate client. "The letter combinations. They don't reflect a translation into Mênnan. Or English, for that matter. The pattern reflects a different language."

I looked up, confused. "A different language."

Kintukin leaned forward. "Oster, Detective Tashê. If you translate the cipher, using the same pattern as the rest of the book, this entry, this repeat, is an Oster. Using a nom de plume, of course, but it's obvious. And that stands out."

I still felt like I was missing something, but I could make connections. "Because the senator is dealing with the Osters?"

Kintukin smiled.

"You think Usu wants me to deal with the situation because it will interfere with whatever he is working with the Osters on?"

Kintukin nodded. "And maybe he really does think its a favour. Who knows? Regardless, I think you could be useful."

"Unfortunately," I said, "I'm off the case. And the captain will be sure to load me up with cases to stop me from getting curious."

"The Pride is allowed to commandeer necessary police resources," she replied. "You're a necessary police resource. I'm commandeering you."

I didn't normally look gift horses in the mouth, but the question begged asking. "Why? You have your pack at your disposal."

"This modern generation of Lions," Kintukin frowned, "they have all the subtlety of rhinos. They use their authority like blunt instruments. They can't skim under the radar, especially where foreign states are involved. Not like a lone detective..."

I looked down at the book. This old woman had made more headway in a couple hours than I had staring at these damn pages for nearly twenty-four hours. I considered the implications. Was Usu trying to get the looming spectre of the guillotine blade that was my knowledge away from his neck? Probably. Did that matter? Probably not. Curiousity may have killed the cat, but it hadn't killed me yet.

"What do you want me to do?"

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Fri Jul 27, 2018 7:43 am

I rode the elevator down from the office, confident in what to do next. As I entered the lobby, I noticed the secretary's desk was empty. I glanced around, and for a split second a strange, unbidden part of me thought of hopping on the computer and getting as much information on the Pride as I could before leaving. I ignored it. Between the cameras everywhere and the sheer ridiculousness of thinking I could get anything useful from the terminal without leaping through eighty rings of security, it was a stupid thought. I crossed the lobby to the doors, heels clicking on marble with each step, and went out.

I found the secretary outside, leaning in the recess that the entrance occupied. She was smoking a cigarette, a thin veil of smoke in the air. As I stepped out, she breathed out a thin cloud and tapped off the ash from her fag. A slight twitch at the corner of her mouth as she saw me suggested a smile or a laugh.

"Detective," she said. "Did you get what you came for?"

I waved a hand vaguely. "I've got more work to do. I'll be around."

She took another drag, then knelt to a purse between her feet and pulled out a box of cigarettes. She stood fluidly, and for a moment I got a full, glorious look at the length of her legs and the shape of her ass under the tight, white fabric of her dress. I glanced away as she turned her head towards me. She held out the pack of cigarettes and offered me one.

"So you'll be around then?"

I glanced at the pack of smokes and waved a hand in dismissal. "I will be," I said. "I've got business with Kintukin."

The secretary smiled, her predatory eyes flicking up and down my body. "Good," she purred. She dropped the butt of her cigarette on the ground and put it out with a toe. Then she offered me her hand. "I'm Kilu Ishu Kiti."

I shook her hand. Her hands were surprisingly uncalloused for a warrior. "Detective Kilu Tashê Lila," I replied.

"A pleasure," she smiled. The word implied a whole other kind of pleasure. I shifted slightly, hoping my face was passive.

"All mine," I said.

She laughed. "Of course. So, what business do you have with Grandmother?"

I glanced back towards the lobby. "Not at liberty to discuss."

"Of course," she said. There was a silent moment as I felt her eyes study my face, then she spoke again.

"Forgive me for being forward, Lila," she said, "but I think you're a very pretty woman and I'd like to go to dinner with you."

Well, fuck me, I thought. Without hesitation, my hand slipped into my pocket and pulled out the battered, metal cardcase there. I flicked it open and handed her my card. "I've got somewhere to be right now," I said on automatic. "But give me a call."

She took the card without glancing at it, her eyes still on my face. "I will," she said. She glanced at the thin watch on her wrist. "That's my time."

She turned to go inside and nearly forgot her purse. I stooped and handed it to her. She smiled as she took it, her fingers brushing mine. "Leave dinner open," she said, and left.

"Father's name," I swore as the door swung shut behind her. I needed to get the shit at the embassy done ASAP. There was no way in hell I was missing out on that.

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Noronica
Ambassador
 
Posts: 1153
Founded: Dec 11, 2015
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Noronica » Fri Jul 27, 2018 5:03 pm

My head pounded like a ram, greeting my returning consciousness with open arms.

Groaning loudly, I opened my eyes slowly, blinking away the blurriness enough to see the pair of eyes staring back at me. A woman's face was at least six centimetres above mine, her long breaths lightly touching my skin. She looked young, around mid-thirties, and my eyes would have been drawn to her figure had it not been for the expression which stared back at me.

Nothing.

I have always been quick to make a judgement about a person. People are easy to read, especially after serving as a Copper for so long. You become used to seeing the reclusive podgy old man in the pub becoming the whackjob with his wife and kids in the basement for some minor transgression. So colour me shocked when I could not for the life of me match this face to the common denominator. This was something else. The most I could describe the face was 'intense'.

Her full lips were straight as a ruler and her eyebrows slightly bent downwards, but the most interesting features of all were her eyes. They showed no shock, emotion, nor movement when I opened my eyes. They merely studied my movements with cold indifference. We did not break eye contact for at least a painfully long minute before the woman stopped straddling me and stood to her full height.

No words were exchanged as I pushed myself up onto my arse, my arms shaking from their lack of use. By the feel of my body, it appeared that I had been sedated for longer than chloroform would allow. A feeling of dread sank into my stomach as I realised that I had been unconscious for as long as the woman desired.

"Peter Laethner." It was not a question. The woman knew me and I was sorely unprepared. She broke eye contact again to walk towards the nearby kitchen counter, "I have taken the liberty to move your items from your flat to mine. I paid off your landlady. Oh, and if you are perhaps wondering where our little friends got to, I had to take care of the stragglers who tried to track me - you are not exactly lighter than you look so it was made easier for them. Perhaps we shan't be getting into any more unnecessary conflicts? Yes?" At that, she poured Mênnan tea into a nondescript cup.

I nodded, knowing that she didn't need verbal confirmation. Instead, I took to gazing around the place. The flat was very open-plan akin to my previous one, save for two doors. Bedroom and bathroom I surmised. The room I stood in was extremely sparse. It contained a small bookshelf filled with books and various stones, a television, a glass coffee table with a small potted rose sitting dead centre, a sofa, and a laptop placed squarely on the floor.

The woman stood in a smaller kitchen area which was populated only by its utilities, no decorations or personality to it. Both rooms were kept to a ridiculous standard of cleanliness, my eyes widening at the total lack of any imperfection other than the slight crack in the ceiling.

The woman approached with the tea, locking eyes with me again. I attempted a half-arsed smile before deciding to speak, "Are you not concerned by us conversing here together?"

A tinkling laugh left the woman's lips. It was not attractive, but rather cold and demeaning. She pointed her fingers in each direction, "Behind us is a drunken slob who cares only for those who use 'his' pub. To the left of us is a deaf elderly lady from the warrior caste who keeps to her code very seriously, above us and to the right are flats that are still being finished by the HDS."

That caught my attention. "The HDS?" I queried carefully, trying to make sure I wasn't mistaking this for some Mênnan construction company.

The woman's smirk indicated that she enjoyed having the upper hand in knowledge, "Oh?" She spoke softly with faux surprise, "Didn't you know that our mutual friend had taken an interest in real estate? In an attempt to sweet-talk various members of the Sâtêp to hopefully expand his dear company into Mênna Shuli, the HDS underwent a deal to fund a few housing projects around the two cities, these flats being a part of the said initiative."

I nodded in understanding and took a sip of my tea, allowing the room to descend into silence once again. "Story?" I asked, my voice impatient.

"Abigail. I like my tea with one sugar and I sometimes collect stones." The smirk widened into a grin, her eyes glistening with a dangerous mirth. "I was also involved in several tragic cases back home." She spoke again, catching me before I tried to speak. "Tragic being that my best friend was kidnapped at age fifteen and never found and my parents were murdered when I was twenty-four." The smile had gone, but I did not feel the need to console her due to her flippant attitude.

Her eyes widened, remembering something, "And you are Peter Laethner! Divorced, (although you still keep the ring) estranged from the family, close associates being one Alan McToth and your dog, and expelled from Nolon Riverside Police due to alleged corruption and extrajudicial usage of violence against a suspect," she grinned, "Ooh, naughty!"

My fingers had curled into fists as my life was torn open by this 'Abigail', a woman who had kept me captive to her whims for what I could only assume were days.

I could not query any further when someone knocked at 'our' door. Abigail's visage was transformed, her playful grin turning into a demure smile, her stature seductive as her hips swayed. She opened the door revealing a man dressed in a plain shirt, trousers and a pair of dusty trainers. His view was immediately turned to Abigail, giving a passing glance to me at most.

"Oh! Officer Têtê, how lovely it is to see you." Abigail's voice was rich with seduction and friendliness, a complete change from her cold demeanour of before.

The man was short, but he wore a confident air about him. Both due to his Napoleon syndrome and his obvious desire for Abigail. I watched with my own smirk as the man was allowing Abigail to spin a web around him quite easily. Hell, all I needed to do was get some work done of my backside and the guy would've blindly followed me.

Abigail brought the man in, introducing me as her friend before sitting us all down on kitchen stools. I only noticed that 'Officer Têtê' was carrying something when he laid a small packet on the polished kitchen counter. The packet was a small envelope containing what looked to be photographs of some description. Not one to give into voyeuristic urges, I waited until they were introduced to me.

It was Abigail who took the envelope into her hands, a flicker of a predatory gaze returning to her face as she glanced at it. She opened the envelope daintily, her eyes barely concealing her desire to rip it open. She then took the photos and sifted through them, her grin widening as she did so.

The officer spoke up, "She has been sighted near the 'ukustu." My translation was quick this time, which made this all the more interesting. The Pride was involved? He continued in a conspiratorial tone, "She was taken off the case according to office-talk, but seeing as she is talking with the pack, she might still be of interest."

Abigail's eyes were wide with interest, "Well done Officer Têtê, your wholly flawless work," the irony was not lost on me, "has made a gal happy." She wrapped her arm around the guy's neck and left a kiss on his right cheek before handing him a small envelope of her own which bulged with Mênnan bank notes.

Officer Têtê left, leaving Abigail and me to sit in silence. Abigail was staring at me again, a grin on her face. She began whistling a cheerful tune before speaking again.

"We shall let the elusive fish elude our line again. We shall let it thrash and swim, but once the day is done, the line shall be cast and the fish will be ours."
Last edited by Noronica on Fri Jul 27, 2018 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Fri Jul 27, 2018 5:28 pm

The embassy was neither a large nor impressive building. Nestled among the skyscrapers and towers of the central districts of Shuhakallu, it seemed basically diminutive. Compared to the standard Shuhakallu home, even in a nice merchant neighbourhood, the place was effectively palatial. Sitting in a waiting room, I had a windowed view overlooking the nearby Museum of Mihêna History, the stacked form of its building framed by a pair of carefully tended baobab trees. Cars flashed by in the sun below, the reflection from their windshields sending watery splashes of light skimming across the matte ceiling. I shifted uncomfortably in a chair that was not meant for extended use and reached for the pack of cigarettes in my pocket for the fourth time, again seeing the no smoking sign and gritting my teeth. What civilized place didn't let you smoke when you needed to? It was like those places that banned breastfeeding in public or didn't let same-sex couples marry. Barbarism.

An intern entered the room, all plastered-on cheer, blonde bun and affectious glasses. "The attache can see you now."

"I'm supposed to see the ambassador," I said. English slid around in my mouth like a soup.

"You can't just walk in and see the ambassador," she replied. I sighed and stood up. The girl smiled and turned on a high-heeled dime. She led me down a hallway, her heels click-tapping with each step, that salesperson smile stuck to her face with pins.

She opened a white door in the eggshell hall and gestured me in. There was a smallish, balding man with glasses behind a desk inside. He wore a modest but half-expensive suit and a watch that would have cost a year's wages for most workers out there. Of course, by the paychecks of half the world that meant a week's work. He stood with a kindly smile wrinkling his cheeks and held out his hand.

"Detective Kilu Tashê?" he said in fair-but-accented Mênnan. I shook his hand. "I'm Sihaar Sjihnerlind. It's good to meet you."

"You as well," I said. "Thank you for meeting me on such short notice."

"It's no problem whatsoever," he gestured at a seat on the far side of the desk. I took a seat and he followed suit.

"So," he said, "what is this all about?"

I let my hand fall to the empty holster at my hip. It was odd to think that a holster was less comfortable to sit with when it was empty than heavy with a gun. "Well," I said, "there's been a crime."

"I had assumed as much," he said. He leaned forward. "I'm certain I don't have to remind you about the fact that all of the people who work in this embassy are protected by the laws of diplomatic immunity."

"Of course," I said. "I'm just here because our investigations have raised some questions. No one in this office is a person of interest."

Yet, I added mentally.

"Well then," Sjihnerlind leaned back with another broad smile, "what can we do to help your investigation, Detective?"

I quickly did ran a mental flowchart of how to approach the conversation. I checked and double-checked possible paths for the interaction and landed on my best option for the investigation.

"Mr. Sjih-ner-lind," my tongue stumbled on the foreign sounds and I cleared my throat in embarassment. "I apologize. Mr. Sjihnerlind, there's been a murder."

His face washed over with a wave of concern. I immediately decided the man had nothing to do with anything and probably didn't know anything about anything either. The microexpressions in that looks spoke volumes. Concern, yes, but confusion as well. No fear, no self-questioning. A look asking "what does this have to do with me" at the same time as it said "how upsetting".

"A murder?" he said.

I nodded. "A merchant caste man. He was shot in the back of the head while using a public internet cafe."

The attache nodded and adjusted his glasses. "Tragic, to be sure," he said, not knowing that the only real tragedy was the missing drive and not another dead pornographer. "But I must ask, what does this have to do with the embassy or the Oster government?"

"We believe that he may have had connections with an Oster national," I lied seamlessly. "I know that you don't keep track of every Oster in the country, but we have reason to believe it may have been someone important."

"Someone important? Do you have a name?"

"That's why we've come to you," I replied. "Do you know of anyone on your staff or working alongside your office who may have frequently made visits to the Ishikapala neighbourhood over the past several weeks?"

"Ishikapala? That's a little outside the central district, isn't it?"

"It's not too far," I said. "Lot's of bars and clubs out that way."

And high-end brothels, I thought.

"No, I don't know of any of the staff who go that way on a regular basis," he said. "Of course, I don't keep tabs on everyone's social lives."

"Of course," I said. "I understand, I do."

I deliberately glanced away, biting my lip as though struggling with a thought. I turned back with a sigh. "Look, Mr. Sjihnerlind, I wanted to avoid bringing it up, because this can be a...sensitive topic..."

I trailed off. I waited, hoping his curiousity would catch him. That he would ask the question and we could become co-conspirators in some micro-secret built by my deliberate evasiveness.

He took the bait. "Sensitive topic?"

"Alright," I said. "Alright. I'll cut it straight with you. We know that this merchant caste man worked in a brothel out Ishikapala way. We believe that this Oster may have frequented this particular...institution, and that they may have overheard or witnessed something that could help us find the killer. Now obviously, there's layers here. Not only is frequenting a prostitute a relatively dire crime here in Mênna Shuli, but it would be embarrassing for your office if a dignitary or businessperson were to be caught in this act, right? We were hoping to keep this pretty quiet, pretty hush-hush...for the sake of everyone involved."

Sjihnerlind frowned. "No, I understand entirely."

"Frankly, we don't care about the prostitution," I said, half-lying. "The murder on the other hand...we have no reason to believe that one of your people is involved, but if they could help us find who did...well, let's just say I know a lot of princes who will look the other way with help on something like that. And I know one or two, who if they heard an Oster helped us solve murder case, might be a bit more amenable to current discussions..."

Sjihnerlind shot me a look. "What do you know about that?"

I took a chance. "Just that Kivêlâ Hitap Usu cares about one thing more than anything else and that's the Mênnan people. Help protect those people and he's a very generous man."

Sjihnerlind was quiet for a few moments. He leaned back. "I don't know anything specific," he said. "But I do know the neighbourhood. I know that a few of our people frequent institutions there. In Ostehaar, a few of the vices they indulge in aren't considered improper, of course..."

"Of course," I agreed. "Do you have names?"

"Just a few of the younger kids...but I know a few of them go to a place to...pre-game, is that the phrase? A bar called The Lion, I've heard them talk about it."

The Lion. That seemed like an odd coincidence, given the Pride's interest. But lions weren't an uncommon theme in Mênnan art and culture. "Do you have an address?"

"Ask the interns, they'll know."

I nodded. "Thank you so much. You've been very helpful."

I stood and he rose to meet me. We shook hands and I gave him one of my cards.

"In case anything comes up."

Moments later, the fake-smile intern led me out. As we went, I asked her about The Lion. She seemed momentarily startled, but after some minor assurances that the place was fine, no, don't worry, no one's in trouble, I had an address and a next destination.

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Sat Jul 28, 2018 11:07 am

The Lion was a small bar, lit by various coloured lamps that sent psychadelic colourations dancing across the murals of lions painted on the walls. The centerpiece was a painted recreation of a famous photo of one of the Engine Cats standing atop a rusted-out steam locomotive, gazing directly at the camera from it's steel perch. The painting was of only moderate skill and was partially flaking, a fact half-hidden by the low lights and the thin haze of smoke in the air. It was early afternoon, so the only people who were in were regulars who probably rarely left. A trio of old men with deeply lined faces playing dominoes in the corner, a couple of warrior caste drifters with torn jeans and too thin faces sucking at battered cigarettes, a lone, foreign woman flipping through a newspaper and drinking coffee from a hefty mug. There was a bartender behind the abused wood surface to my right. I walked up, grabbed a stool and sat down. The young man came over, wiping the bar as he moved over. There was no rush to him. He had his head shaved and a thin amount of facial hair curling on his cheeks and chin like dark wires. His pastel blue cubavera shirt had a beer stain on the right breast pocket.

"What can I get for you?" he asked with a grin. He had very white teeth, although his right incisor was chipped off halfway.

"A beer and a shot of sikusiku," I said. It was always good to order something if you were going to ask questions at a gin joint.

He turned and a moment later he brought me a tall, cold pint of something light and pissy, and a shot glass of cloudy white liquid. I took the shot glass, raised it, and said the traditional line:

"Mêu!"

The bartender nodded. "Mêumêu!"

I downed the liquor. It was nearly flavourless until the second it was out of my mouth, at which point I got the thick, banana-and-coconut backflavour that tourists hated and locals only pretended to stand for. Sikusiku had been compared to what happened if you mixed sake and coconut milk, and that wasn't a bad description. Needless to say, it was an acquired taste, particularly since if it was kept badly it tended to form a bit of a sediment that had to be shaken in. Most places kept it badly.

Strangely, The Lion had clearly sprung for a sikusiku cooler, so there wasn't an ounce of grit in my mouth. I set the shot glass down and cleared the flavour with a mouthful of pissy beer.

"Haven't seen you around here before," said the bartender conversationally, although also clearly curious about this random person coming in in the middle of the day and ordering a drink that was only ever considered as a peace offering.

"Yeah," I replied. As I sipped my beer, I pulled out my badge and set it on the bar casually. I set the beer next to it with a breath of contentment. The beer was shit, but it was beer. "I'm a detective."

"A detective?" the young man's eyes shot around. The warriors glanced over at me.

"Yeah," I replied. "No worries, friend. I just have a few quick questions. No bother for anyone here."

The bartender nodded but clearly looked uncomfortable. His easy smile was gone.

"I'm wondering, do you get a lot of Osters in here?" I asked.

The man shrugged. "Yeah, sure. Lots of foreigners," he nodded at the woman. "We're close enough to the tourist districts to pull good business from partyers who want to get cheap drinks before going to expensive clubs and stuff. Some like to feel like they are slumming it, you know? 'Look at us, in the Mênnan low caste bar! We're so edgy!' They take selfies with the paintings and in the bathrooms and with me. Not one of them would survive fifteen seconds in a real low caste bar."

"Damn right," I said, and I meant it. I'd run security for a few real low caste bars in my time, places made of clapboard and steel siding in the slums. The extent of security in those places was making sure the bar didn't get robbed, a harder job than it sounded like, and making sure fistfights didn't break anything, which was rarely worth the effort. If someone pulled a knife or gun, the job was to look the other direction and let them finish business. If a foreigner decided to wander through the slums, if they even made it to the bar, the smart thing was to hold them still while the mugger got the wallet and then to split the proceeds. Sometimes throats got slit. That was life.

I took another swig. "Any Osters stand out to you? I'm looking for someone..."

The bartender looked at me. "Actually," he said, scratching his cheek, "that's sort of interesting. Not long ago, I had an Oster come in with a photo of a regular who lived nearby."

"A photo of a local?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Another Oster. A regular, guy named Arin Faard."

Arin Faard. I filed that away.

"This Oster came in, saying he was family of Faard and I pointed him in the right direction," the bartender said.

"Where's that?"

The bartender pointed out the front windows at a complex of residential buildings not far away. "Over there."

I filed that away. It seemed promising. Someone else out on the hunt for an Oster, carrying photos and everything. It was interesting, even if it was unrelated. I downed my beer, wiped my lips, and tossed two whole dollar bills on the counter.

"Keep the change," I said, and walked out.

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Ostehaar
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Posts: 1775
Founded: Jul 08, 2015
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Ostehaar » Sun Aug 05, 2018 12:14 pm

The residential complex was rather large, and it was getting late that day when I left The Lion. I figured I'd return there and search for Sihvort's place the next day, but... Let's just say I got a bit lazy. Drugs were easy to come by around here, and I felt like I needed that break. I knew my "clients" weren't really following my actions or waiting anxiously for my reports, so who would know, right? And so almost a week had passed before I decided it was time to carry on with the investigation.

The buildings in this complex were all built the same. Each of them was built around a rectangular inner yard with all apartments facing outwards. Rusty iron staircases that looked like fire stairs, accessible through that inner yard, connected the floors. As I began searching through the neighborhood I first climbed up a few stories and looked around, surveying the corridors. Some doors were open and the residents were standing outside, leaning against the iron railing and looking down at the yard.

Sihvort's neighbors were cooperative. I found my way to his apartment, in the 3rd floor of one of these buildings, in about two hours. The apartment had two windows facing the inner corridor, on both sides of the entrance door, which was locked. Interesting... Either Sihvort was still hanging around, or someone else had access to his place.

I glanced around. There were no other people nearby. I took off my jacket and folded it around my fist in order to break one of the windows. The glass shattered easily so I quickly shoved my hand inside and opened the window.

Damn, the place was ugly. It smelled like a mix of medicine and dry rot. Window shades were all down, creating a gloomy and quiet atmosphere, as if they were there to keep the busy city noises outside. Several artifacts - two tall lamps, a TV, and a strange-looking wooden totem - cast long shadows on the floor and the walls, making the entire living-room look like it was composed of black-and-white stripes.

The door to what I figured was Sihvort's "office" was slightly open, and I could see his work-station inside. I noticed folders and papers scattered on the floor as I carefully stepped inside, some with logos I recognized - OCES, Golden Ratio financial management firm, GCK law firm from Keverai, and the RDF. It was indeed Arin Sihvort's place.

I could always grab some papers and head outside if I needed to, but further access to the computer wasn't guaranteed. It was turned on, but the user was logged-off, unsurprisingly. Shit. I didn't have any hacking tools on me, and I sure as hell wasn't going to take the hard-drive with me and examine it on my own laptop. I mean, this guy was probably under scrutiny by several law enforcement and intelligence agencies - his hard-drive was probably bugged to the death. No, I had to find a way to access the information right there and then.

"Hey, Klark, how're ya?" What are friends for? More specifically, what are local Svalbardian friends with hacking skills for?

He didn't even insist on me explaining my situation to him - a mark of a true friend. "So it's your standard Windows something-something system," he began guiding me through the process, "with a password only and not a key-card or a fingerprint, right?"

"Yes. Imagine I'm a guy who simply forgot his own password." I sat down in front of the screen, preparing to follow Klark's instructions.

"Good. Do you have that flash-drive I gave a you a while ago with you?"

"Sure." I shoved my hand into my pockets and found it. "Inserting it in."

It took a few minutes, but eventually I could access some of the information through some program that was automatically activated by the flash-drive and was able to bypass the system's security. I didn't have access to system files, though, so I hoped nothing important was hiding in those.

"Fuck," I exclaimed as I realized Sihvort had a huge amount of files and folders on his computer. It would take weeks to search through all of that. I tried to scout through some names or titles I recognized, but each folder only led to some more folders with vague and obscure names.

"Cam_Rec_Jul_18," I read aloud. What was he recording and where? The sub-folders were named according to the days of the month and there was no folder for August 2018. The last recorded day was July 19th - about a week after it was published in Ostehaar that key witnesses in the RDF fraud case escaped to Menna Shuli. The sub-folder of that day contained several video files. I clicked the most recent one.

I recognized Arin Sihvort in the frame. He was sitting on his computer - The camera was in this room. I turned around to look for it in the place it should have been according to the video - but there was nothing there. I kept watching the video. Nothing happened for about an hour of run-time - it was just Sihvort working or leaving for a few seconds to get a drink from the other room.

He read something disturbing, I think. That's how it looked like. He held his head in shock. He then jumped out of his seat to grab some of his papers, knocking many others while doing so, and rushed outside. He never returned to the frame.

The video file was probably saved automatically. It means that someone had turned the camera off and taken it that same day - otherwise it would have kept filming the empty room. The unknown intruder must have thought the information was stored in the camera and not on the computer.

Shit. This was getting really strange.
Last edited by Ostehaar on Sun Aug 05, 2018 12:30 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Menna Shuli
Chargé d'Affaires
 
Posts: 461
Founded: Feb 22, 2018
Ex-Nation

Postby Menna Shuli » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:36 pm

I crossed the road and made my way towards the residential block. It was a pretty standard merchant caste situation from the '80s, and not one of the one's that had been consumed by the slums and turned into one gang or another's personal iron fortress. I lived in a similar place, although one that had been subsumed by the on-rush of city growth more than this one had. I knew, more than a few, how good of a location one of these blocks could be for hiding out.

There I went getting ahead of myself again. I reined myself in. For all I knew, this Faard fellow and the one who had been asking for him had nothing to do with anything. I was chasing a lead, but like most leads it was likely as not to turn up nowhere. Still, I had a tingle in my guts, that feeling that cops get after awhile that told them that they were on to something, that they were close.

I passed into the inner courtyard and glanced around. A trio of drongos blinked down at me from an iron railing to my right. One squaked irritably and nipped at a fellow as they passed by, their cigarette leaving fumes that the birds disapproved of. A small cadre of kids suddenly swarmed out of an apartment and the birds flew off in a huff as a soccer ball whiffed over my head and smashed into the iron bars of the railing. A thin rain of rusty paint flakes fell on my shoulder and the railing buzzed like a tuning fork. The ball bounced down next to me and the children charged forward. With the tip of my toe, I flicked it into the air and tapped it over to them with the other foot. The largest boy, more lanky limbs than any mass, caught the ball on his chest and let it drop to his feet.

"Thanks," he said as they began to pass.

"Hey," I said, "does an Arin Faard live around here?"

The boy stopped, holding the ball under his foot. "Who?"

"Arin Faard," I said. I shrugged. "White guy?"

The boy scratched his chin. "Weeeellll," he drawled. "I might remember better for a few vêxat. I have a condition."

He grinned at his friends. I chuckled good naturedly. The boy had sense. I dug into my pocket and handed him the small change there. Maybe ten xat. The boy snatched the coins and grinned.

"White boy lives over there," he said, jerking a thumb at one of the buildings. "Third floor."

I nodded in thanks and made my way towards the building, leaving the kids to set up their game. I made my way up the clanging metal stairs and glanced down the corridor. I frowned. About halfway down the length, there was a pile of glass on the floor. Not super uncommon in a place like this. But...but...

The detective sense in my gut flared and I reached to my sidearm. I withdrew it and flicked the safety with my thumb. I edged closer to the smashed glass and saw that there was a broken window to one of the apartments. I pressed my back to the wall and angled my head to try and get a read on the inside of the room. A basic apartment layout. Single room combining kitchen and living space. Dark. Another door kitty-corner to me and, if I were to guess, one on the far side of the wall my back was glued to. The door I could see was slightly ajar. I slid further sideways and pressed on the front door with the heel of my boot, hoping it wasn't latched and I could slip in without any noise. No such luck. I reached over and twisted the handle as slowly as I could. The door clicked and I pushed into the front room.

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Dormill and Stiura
Diplomat
 
Posts: 957
Founded: Sep 19, 2015
Left-Leaning College State

Postby Dormill and Stiura » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:26 pm

I took the week getting used to the city, it was a hard environment to get used to what with the grime and the wildly different layout. Shuhakallu was a far cry from Kapolder or Chery, and the people prided themselves in that fact when they learned I was from the United Republics, and then subsequently began to haggle their prices up by a bit to fish out the guilders in my pocket. Beyond that, I kept to myself, exploring the city and mapping things out mentally in case I needed to get somewhere quick.

It was today, however, that I found the man I was looking for. He wasn't in a police uniform like I had thought, but he was wearing the one distinct thing that I knew was meant for me, a Dormill Union football patch. The Shuhakallu Office wasn't particular on the fact that it was the 2003-2005 seasons badge, I was mildly annoyed at that fact, since Dormill Union went to the Union Cup twice in that stretch. At least it isn't a Veldzicht badge I thought to myself before I began to tail my informant, who had slipped into a nearby bar.

He was sitting at the bar once I got inside, the music was quiet for day drinkers. As I walked up, I couldn't help but feel dangerously out of place, but I continued anyways so I can get some progress done on my mission here. When I got to the bar, I found a shot glass in front of me, filled part-way with a slightly cream-white liquid. I sat, and reached for the glass, keeping the man in my periphery without drawing attention as to why I am sitting beside him.

"Where do you come from?" the man asked in a very thick accent

"Chery, good sir. In the United Republics." I slowly responded, trying not to show my nervousness.

"You know. I've never seen a Republican in these parts." the man replied, drinking his beer between every other word.

"I didn't expect to see a Mennan watch the Union League, much less Dormill. I retorted.

"That's a good point.", he answered before pointing to the shot glass in front of me "You ever hear of sikusiku? It's a famous local drink, used to show camaraderie between strangers."

I looked back at that drink, thinking on the meaning he gave to it, "I suppose it's customary to toast each other before taking the shot? I've had a drink with similar meaning in Kaelectiastadt, I'll hope it goes down as good as that did. I chuckled at the thought of what I said, now almost certain that I was not going to like where this led.

"Before we drink, I should let you know something." the man interrupted, "There's another bar out here called The Lion, from what I know, you should expect to find someone of importance to your job here nearby, you could probably find some young Republicans out there pre-gaming if you need to differentiate it from other bars of a similar name., raising his glass as soon as he finished:

"Mêu!"

I had pretty much no clue what that precisely meant, but I felt that I could only respond in kind "To you as well!", and I downed the glass, only to nearly send it flying in my newfound partner's face before I covered my mouth. The banana hit the hardest for me, and I did not enjoy it for a moment. I stood to get going before the man's hand reached my shoulder.

"It's 'Mêumêu' if you do that again, most people here would not be as kind to not hear that back.", he let go quickly afterwards, and I made my way out, the taste of banana and coconut still lingering in the base of my throat.
The United Republics of Dormill and Stiura
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Noronica
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Posts: 1153
Founded: Dec 11, 2015
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Noronica » Mon Aug 06, 2018 6:24 am

"I'm fine thanks."

"You really have to try some, it is the best in Mênna Shuli!"

"No, really, I am absolutely-"

"Here you are! That will be, ehm, two-thousand xat! A bargain sir, only around..."

"Seventeen bloody dollars. For a bag of hêukê. I believe sir, that is called daylight robbery."

"Ah, but if you do not pay, I will inform the police of your robbery. You have my produce in your hand and you are refusing to pay!"

I growled before wrenching my right hand off of the steering wheel to fish around for my wallet, the brown leather feeling a lot more weighty in my trousers as I fought against my indignation to pay the grinning traffic merchant, his arm lazily draped over my open window. When he eyed the cash in my hand, he was ready to rip it out of my hand before a voice piped up from the back.

Abigail had managed to roll down her window and was pressing something into the man's gut, "Listen, sir, you are happy to give tourists a taste of one of Mênna Shuli's famous treats, you are happy to gift this to us as a friend. Like any good friend, you will not ask us to pay, will you?"

The grin had been wiped off the man's visage, his face pained, "I have to get some form of payment, this is my jo- ah!" Abigail pressed deeper, I could see a glint of steel through the side window, her knife now perilously close to penetrating the man's clothes and eventually his skin. The cars behind us began blaring their horns, and the man took that as a sign to move back, cursing us under his breath.

Lurching the car forward, I glared into my rear-window, watching as Abigail slunk back into her seat, her metaphorical claws retreating as she slid her knife into a holster under her shirt. She turned to face me with a mocking smile, "What?" She breathed, her hands reaching for a half-empty packet of long cigarettes, "I was merely trying to save you from financial ruin." Lighting her cigarette, she opened the window and let out a small cloud of smoke, her eyes staring off into the distance.

Wringing my hands around the steering wheel, I resigned myself to watching the road for all the good that did me, what with the vast volume of traffic lining the road.

I felt that we were losing grip on the case. Others would be here, and we were neither Mênnan nor did we have the backing of the BIS. Had we been BIS feds, we'd have a vast wealth of information we could rely upon, but we were just having to work on our own, our benefactor trying to give us the resources while also making sure to keep his own back secure.

We needed a proper lead soon, I was a copper at heart and I knew the score. I wouldn't let my Pa down.

"Turn right here, the alleyways will get us there quicker," Abigail said, her eyes now focused on the road ahead, a small cloud of smoke lightly covering her features.

I nodded, pulling an aggressive right at the lights before other cars could stop me. Away from the traffic, I allowed the car to glide through the streets, the tall buildings on either side blocking much of the sunlight.

Behind me, I could see Abigail load a magazine into a Mênnan black market pistol, her fingers working deftly on the weapon. We were close to the strip club then. Eager to get this over with, I pulled the car into the side and screeched into a parking space, making sure to park as carelessly as possible.

Pulling my own pistol out, I looked in the rear-view mirror to see Abigail checking the windows, "Four guards, three have noticed us, one is turned away. Concern? No, panic, this will be easier than we thought." Both of us fitted our balaclavas on.

On a count of three, we slammed our doors open and ran to the rusted steel door of our target. I kicked the door down, police-instinct kicking in immediately, "Everyone get on the fucking ground!" I blared, using my practised Shuhakallu city accent. Much of the clientele in the lobby ran screaming, while a man behind a desk reached down for something. Two shots to the body from Abigail sent him to the ground.

I grabbed as many valuables from clients and the bewildered dancers in my satchel while Abigail subdued two of the guards, wasting several rounds on them. We had to make us look like amateurs, panicking as we aimed for anything rather than clean shots to the head.

Two old wooden doors slammed open, and an older man stepped out, his voice hoarse and his eyes wide with anger, "What the fuck is this?" He was a very large man, wearing a cheap dress made to look flashy, his hands carrying rings twice the weight of his chubby fingers. He took a look at us and growled, "What are you doing in my establishment? Did that fucking snake Haat put you up to this? Tell him that he can suck a big, fat, fucking- ARGH!"

Abigail had kicked him hard, her patience running thin. "Help me carry him." She requested, still speaking in Mênnan. I nodded, helping to carry him back into his office. Abigail ran back out to keep the place in order while I circled the man as he sat clutching his crotch, pain etched on his face.

I spoke to him calmly, trying my best to speak in Mênnan, "We understand that you are quite the important man in Mênna. Brothels, bars, clubs, a lot of people are in your debt. If I wanted to, I could post a few pictures online, get some interest for one of the most hated men in Mênna Shuli, cradling his balls."

He spat at my feet, "I hope you get rabies." That earned him a punch to the gut.

"Be cooperative and we will be on our way. I want to know if there's been anyone snooping around any of your places. Also, there are a lot of tourists here, especially in the summer, as part of our- survey, we'd like to know who frequents it the most. Any, classier clients you might have, perhaps?" I said, bending down to meet his eyes.

He took a while to answer, still wheezing from the pain, "We get many fucking clients here, how am I to know-" I pulled my hand back, "Fine! Fine, I have heard from the grape-vine that there have been quite a few officials visiting some of the more well-known brothels. Businessmen, politicians, that sort. There was a police raid recently on one of my acquaintance's brothels, informants told me that there was a lot of chatter on the dark web about that, something big is going on there."

I was frustrated, but I couldn't let him catch on that we knew about the hard-drive, so I let him go on. "Then there was a- a shooting in a private internet cafe, not usually interesting but this guy was the victim of a professional hit." That got me interested, "You can't blame me, I was interested - like anyone would be if their territory was a playground for assassins, and so I decided to have a little investigation. Turns out, the same woman in the brothel raid was working on the case, police files call her Kilu Tashê. However, she isn't on the case anymore thanks to the 'ukustu." He paused, leaning in, "So colour me surprised when she ended up a foreign embassy."

"Whose?" I asked, my eyes wide with interest.

"Ostehaar's."

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