In the morning they landed on the western edge of Drop River Forest. After everybody had taken care of certain pressing necessities, and before breakfast, Cameron took a look at Ginger's cut. It seemed to be healing nicely, thanks in part to the acceleration spell he had cast upon it last evening. He redressed the wound and told her there should be no trace of it by the time they reached Shipsister.
Over provisions which Darius would now call continental, Cameron told the others about his brief conversations with the police at the Apple-Spruce. Emma said he should've taken a little time between translocations to discuss such things. After all, there was no rush, and the rest would've done him some good. He just shrugged and mumbled something about not wanting to give InterGang spies time to stake out the rooms.
"There's a good chance they were already under enemy surveillance," said Underground. At this point Tiejo, who had been squirming, keeping unusually quiet, and not eating a thing, gave a meek little yip, and started crying.
"What's wrong?" asked Emma, moving to sit beside the street rat and putting her arm around him.
"No sleeping last night had I," he got out between sobs. "Worries confirmed by detective's maid's words. Must have watched me, nasty little dealer or spy. Learned my friends' places from poor, unwitting Tiejo! Thinking have I always been I was a good sneak. I see others, others not see I. But see last night, I did not! Now gone is monies and beautiful music-maker! Tiejo's fault, all!"
"Oh, don't worry! Nobody was hurt, and little was lost. The money's nothing, and I'll get another duré. I'm sure you're a very good sneak. Just because someone else is better- or got lucky- doesn't mean you're not still very good. You're still very helpful to us. Why, without you, we wouldn't have any breakfast this morning!"
Actually, Underground thought to himself, there were already provisions in the wagon. Plus, we'll probably be looking soon in the woods for more.... But he didn't say anything.
"Angry no one is, or sad?" asked Tiejo.
"It's okay," said Darius. "We all make mistakes sometimes, and it's often impossible to recognize them until later."
Tom clamped a firm hand on Tiejo's shoulder and said, "As mistakes go, in fact, this is damned mild. Probably you did more good than harm."
Tiejo looked up at him, wiped away his tears, and smiled. "Grumbly Tom likes Tiejo? Nice, kind words, yes..."
Stepping away and sitting back down, Tom mumbled, "Yes, well... credit where no shame's due, and all..." and decided to concentrate on his coffee.
While Tiejo picked up a piece of toast and started spreading on some peanut butter, Underground turned to Cameron. "Any idea who's got the wagon?"
"Um... I hadn't given it too much thought. I could divine for it, though." He could see Emma was about to object. "Don't worry, the night's rest and this little meal have been greatly restorative. Besides, it's a relatively simple trick." He closed his eyes and concentrated on the wagon. "Hmmm... doesn't seem to be with the police... Backtracking... InterGang escaped in it, last night... before the police could catch them. Just a few enforcers; they took it back to their headquarters."
"Good," said Underground. "If the police had it, they would have definitely caught you in a lie. From what you told me, it almost sounded like they were baiting you. In fact, they still may have figured out you were less than entirely truthful, somehow. I know those two detectives, and they can be tricky. Tonad is a place where people on all sides of the law tend to say less than they're thinking. Certainly your answers won't have much allayed their suspicions. But at least they probably can't prove anything."
"This is just what we need," sighed Darius. "Police scrutiny. What bloody marvelous conditions for building up a rebellion."
"A rebellion, you say? Is that what you're up to? How interesting! I'm sure my superiors will be very interested in speaking with you," said the spy with a grin.
"Joy," he said, rubbing his face. "On the bright side, it's time for another cup of coffee. Emma, have you anything I might put in it?"
"Sorry," she said with a wry grin, "left it in my other wagon."
"Ah well." He poured his second cup, anyway.
In fact, they all took some time to try to organize their thoughts as they sipped their coffee. After a few centhours of silence, Cameron sighed and said, "This is all starting to seem more serious than it did at first. I mean, of course rebellion is a serious matter, but... until now I didn't really have a sense that it was going to amount to much, at least not for awhile yet. But now that it's clear the authorities are going to be taking an interest in us, I think it's important that I... well, first of all, I should cast an anti-scrying spell over the wagon and everyone in the group. If they want to find us, they'll have to use their own eyes, not magic. Secondly, we should make plans for what to do if we're ever captured by our enemies..."
Everyone felt the need to contribute to the ensuing discussion, though no one had quite as much to say as Cameron. Darius greatly appreciated his input, though he was deeply troubled by the thought that he might lead his allies into such danger. Still, he supposed it would be foolish of him to think he could start a rebellion without putting people in danger, so he did his best to hide his concern.
Detective Levitn sat at his desk at TPD HQ, enjoying a cup of strong, black coffee. The door opened, and his partner walked in. "Morning, Lou," said Levitn. "You're a bit late getting in, aren't you?"
"Morning, Joe." Clueseek poured himself a cup of coffee, and grabbed a doughnut from the box on Levitn's desk. "Just been talking with our man watching the Apple-Spruce. Said Piper never left the inn. He got the desk clerk to send room service up to each of the three rooms, this morning. They were all empty. No sign of Piper or anyone else, or any of their stuff."
"Any way he could've gotten away without our man seeing?"
"Not carrying all that stuff; and it hasn't been found anywhere on the premises."
"Outside help? Secret tunnels?"
"No one left the inn all night. And if there are any hidden escape routes, they're well-hidden. Management claims not to know of any, either."
"Could be one of the gangs sent in Sorreters to translocate him and his stuff outta there."
"That's about all I can think of. The question is, did he go willingly, or was he kidnapped?"
"Mmm. Well, does it look like anyone else has been watching those rooms?"
Clueseek shook his head. "No signs of it, of course. Not that that means anything; neither LandOrder nor InterGang employ amateurs. And after our involvement, they'd be sure to assign spies they're pretty sure aren't known to the police."
Just then chief Masonjar came in. "So, any idea yet if we're investigating the Band and their friends, or just the gangs?"
"Well," said Clueseek, "I'm still fairly suspicious of the adventurers. I mean, if Piper was planning on taking their stuff out to their wagon, why'd he take the stuff from downstairs back up to his room, first? Wouldn't that make an extra couple of trips for him?"
"By the way," asked Levitn, "any sign of the wagon he was supposed to be loading onto?"
"No. He might've had it hidden so spies wouldn't find it. But if they were watching him, and he had to make a few trips out to it, that wouldn't have done him much good."
"Y'know," said Levitn, "the first police on the scene said a wagonful of gangsters took off when they saw them coming. Could be they stole the Band's wagon."
"Could be." Turning back to the chief, Clueseek said, "Anyway, he's disappeared, along with all the stuff. We figure he must've been translocated straight from his room. Could be it was by LandOrder, who took their side in the fight, or he could've been kidnapped by InterGang."
"Any chance this Piper is a Sorreter himself?" asked the chief.
The detectives looked at each other, then back to Masonjar. "Hadn't thought of that," said Levitn. "I'll call Sorret Magic Academy and ask if they have him on record as ever having attended. Of course, even if they don't, he could've been tutored privately."
"I've even heard rumors that the Protestant Sorreters somehow got in and stole or erased some records, after they disappeared," added Clueseek.
"Anyway," said Masonjar, "even if he isn't, both gangs seem to have taken a curious degree of interest in these people. According to witnesses, the fight was started by Thom Bipolar, who we have in custody. We can generally count on him to deny any charges he's not specifically guilty of, and to clam up if he is guilty. And this morning, he ain't talking."
"He fits the vague description Piper gave me," said Levitn. "And knowing Bipolar, I don't have any reason to doubt that much of Piper's story."
"Nor have I," agreed the chief. "As I was about to say. But it's LandOrder's getting involved 'for the fun of it' that I don't buy. It's hard to believe either gang had that many enforcers in one place by chance, let alone both of them. It'd be pretty ludicrous to assume their mutual interest in our little band of adventurers is going to end there. I'll get on the bubble to InterVil and have them keep an eye open. ...You think they're really heading to Shipsister?"
"Couldn't say for sure," said Levitn, "but the best way to cover lies is to mix 'em in with as much of the truth as seems feasible. Anyway, we've no reason to assume otherwise." After a moment's pause, he asked, "Hey, Chief... you don't suppose they could all be Sorreters, do you?"
Masonjar shook his head. "Surely not."
"So, if InterGang has their wagon, how're they gonna make it to Shipsister?"
"Well, possibly it was LandOrder that took it, and met up with them somewhere outside town. Or, according to reports, at least two wagons took off about the time police got to the inn. Might be unrelated, say an innocent guest trying to escape the violence; or it might have been a LandOrder wagon with the adventurers aboard."
"Ah-" and the detective was interrupted by a chime from the transcommunication bubble on his desk.
"Incoming call from Anonymous for Detective Joe Levitn," it said. "Audio only."
"Untraceable," replied the bubble.
Levitn looked to the chief, who sighed and said, "Wish we could get the budget to upgrade our trace spells; these old ones are totally ineffective against the newer trace-blockers. In fact, I hear the major gangs aren't even upgrading themselves anymore, because they know how far they've already outpaced us, at least in less affluent villages like ours. ...Oh well, though. Might as well answer it."
The detective nodded. "As you wish." To the bubble: "Open."
An unfamiliar voice emerged. "Detective Levitn, I have an anonymous tip for you. Can't say who I am, too dangerous. Don't want them to find out, they might kill me. I dunno, I guess that's the kinda thing they do, huh?"
"Those gangs! Kill people for stuff like this."
Levitn sighed. "Stuff like what?"
"Yeah, so like, I overhear things sometimes. Normally I don't do nothin' 'bout it, 'cause it don't concern me. Nothin' much concerns me. Street rat, I'll say that. That ain't sayin' anything. I'm concerned with findin' food an' shelter, not much else. My friends an' I, sometimes we can save up some money we scrounge, maybe takes months, and we can afford a decent room an' a meal fer a night, specially places like th' Apple-Spruce, sometimes give discounts to the, um, less privileged, y'know? Me an' a friend was there last night, mindin' our business when th' fight broke out. Tried to get out, get out, yeah? We're comin' out the door as more a them gangsters is gettin' there an' headin' in. They must takes us for enemies, 'cause they stabbed my friend dead!" He stopped for a coughing fit. "Then quick they realize we're nobody, an' without another thought push past us inta the inn. I drags my friend away, away, but he's dead, no reason."
"I'm very sorry for your loss, sir. Unfortunately I don't think there's much we can do about it, unless-"
The tipster coughed again and said, "You forget, I'm callin' ta help you! No, nothin' you can do, but I can strike back, anyway. Like I says, I don't normally do or say nothin' 'bout things I hears, but last night before all that melee action, I hears folks nearby talkin'. Things 'bout that band, an' a few others, one clearly a fellow street rat, sad ta say. Bad business, gettin' involved in stuff like that, but life's tough. Well I hears some them talkin' an' spies, too. Gettin' involved with LandOrder. Dunno much 'bout it, don't think they'd talk any important talk open-like. But clear enough they're together brewin' somethin' real big that'll be bad news for everybody. Not that things can get much worse for folk like me, but then I'm just doin' this for my friend, like I says. Bastards! Don't suppose anythin' I say'll be much help to ya, 'cause like I say I don't really know nothin', just I think you should look inta these people."
"Well, thanks... but do you remember anything specific that anybody said?"
"Uh, well now, let me think..." Cough! "Mmm, headin' ta Shipsister, but headin' much farther... think they're gonna head fer the LandOrder headquarters, wherever that is. Gonna talk with the capo. Big, big plans. What? No, can't think a nothin' else. Sorry."
"Well, let me know if you think of- or overhear- anything else. Maybe I can arrange for you to have a decent meal a bit more often. I'm always in the market for a good pair of eyes and ears."
"Well now we'll see, detective." And he closed the connection.
Levitn's bubble disappeared, and a new one rolled into place on his desk. Chief Masonjar looked at the detectives with a raised eyebrow and a quirk to his lips. "Care to dissect that call, gentlemen?"
"Too convenient," offered Levitn.
"I know stereotypes come to exist for a reason," said Clueseek, "but I mean that was just too stereotypically street rat to be a real street rat. Also, where's a street rat gonna call from but a public t-mail booth? And how can one of those be untraceable?"
"Overly contrived excuse for calling us."
"Besides, he didn't have time to get that far from the scene, especially dragging a dead body."
"And if he was already gone before we got there, how'd he know to call me specifically about this case?" asked Levitn.
"Why would they talk in the open at all, if they're trying to hide things?"
"He didn't actually tell us anything. At least nothing we wouldn't obviously already suspect. Well, aside from meeting the capo, which to me sounded like a tacked-on guess or pure fabrication, designed to make sure his information would be of real interest to us."
"Conclusions?" asked the chief.
"InterGang," the detectives said in unison.
Levitn continued, "Clearly InterGang. We already suspect the adventurers are in league with LandOrder, and that makes them InterGang's natural enemies. They figure the police would make very handy allies, I mean, having us take care of their problem for them. Make sure we stay suspicious and interested in these people. It'll definitely make a hell of alot less work for them. And make things alot harder for their adversaries, if they have to avoid both InterGang and the authorities."
"And anyway, even if the call was genuine, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to nab capo Primus," said Clueseek, "as InterGang is well aware. All we'd have to do is trail the adventurers, and we'd be sure to find him. And if the call was fake, as is almost certainly the case, InterGang's lost nothing, because they knew we were already suspicious. And letting us know they're interested enough in these people to try a stunt like this can only serve to increase our own interest in them. So whether we fall for it or not- and of course, whether it was real or not- InterGang gets what they want."
"Quite." The chief sighed. "Well, keep working on things on your end. Like I said, I'm gonna call InterVil." And he left for his own office.
Levitn and Clueseek finished their coffee and doughnuts, hit the rest room, then headed out to their squad carriage.
The InterGang spy closed the connection with the police, and don Illuminatus thanked him and dismissed him from her office.
After he left, she reflected upon last night's t-mail conversation with capo Mysshroudedtery. "My capo," she had said, "I'm dreadfully sorry to have to call you so late, but I must report a complication in the project you had assigned of observing those adventurers. I had sent some of my enforcers to join my spies, who were watching them at the Apple-Spruce Inn."
"But why ever would you do a thing like that, don Illuminatus?" the capo asked, in a tone suggesting that she had strong suspicions as to why she'd done it.
"A simple precaution. Surely some of our spies and LandOrder's may recognize each other. I did not think LandOrder would take kindly to realizing that we were watching the same people they were watching. I wanted to provide my people with a degree of protection, in case LandOrder should attempt to eliminate the competition."
"I see. And are you shorthanded of enforcers? Do you perhaps need to consider budgeting for some more?"
Illuminatus hesitated; she didn't see where the capo was going with that question. "I... no, capo. Why do you ask?"
"Did you have more enforcers than usual on duty tonight, and on call? Surely not all of your on-duty enforcers were sent there immediately upon discovering the whereabouts of the adventurers in question?"
"Well, continue your report."
"Of course. It seems one of my enforcers got drunk, my chief enforcer, actually..."
"While he was on duty? Surprisingly unprofessional; dreadfully poor leadership skills, on his part. One should always present a good example for one's subordinates. ...I'm sorry, did you say he was on duty?"
"I don't believe that I did, but it is a natural inference."
"Well? Was he on duty? Or was it mere coincidence that he happened to be there?"
"He..." and Illuminatus paused, momentarily unsure of what to say. Probably the truth was less dangerous than allowing Mysshroudedtery to possibly catch her in a lie. "He was on duty, capo."
"This would be Thom Bipolar?"
"Yes, my capo."
"Hmmm. Possibly we shall have to contemplate disciplinary action against him, for such a lapse of judgment. Pray, continue."
"Well... you will be aware, perhaps, of his emotional troubles. I fear the alcohol did little to help; on the contrary, in fact. And it seems the songs the band was playing were, some of them, of rather a melancholy nature. It was enough to very much depress him, and his depression often leads to anger. So he was, unfortunately, unable to refrain from... unwittingly instigating an incident.... Well, there was a brawl, and his enforcers decided to come to his aid, as he was outnumbered on his own, of course."
"How unfortunate. I can't imagine such a thing would go unanswered by LandOrder's own spies."
"It didn't, capo." Illuminatus was by now convinced that the capo had already been fully briefed on the night's events, but she could do nothing but make her report, as if it were the first time Mysshroudedtery was hearing any of this. "They called their own enforcers, who soon arrived to aid the adventurers. Still more of our enforcers headed for the inn, but the police were by then not far behind."
"And what, I wonder, happened to the object of everyone's attentions?"
"The... adventurers... apparently escaped in a wagon provided them by LandOrder. We'd taken their own wagon, you see. That is all I can think to say, except that chief Bipolar, as well as many of our enforcers, are currently being held by the police. Oh, and there are unsubstantiated reports that don Breakhead may have been killed. Certainly he was greatly hurt, but I expect if he now lives, he will continue to do so."
"Hmmm. Well, it seems things have come to a head. Clearly, we have our proof that LandOrder is more than slightly interested in these adventurers, though we don't know why, as yet. Perhaps if we could have continued observing them longer, we might have learned something useful."
"It... may well... have been so, my capo."
"Now, as to the matter of your need for more enforcers..."
"Begging your pardon, capo, but I believe I said I didn't see a need for any more enforcers."
"No? But if you have enough, cannot you afford to allow your people to take occasional time off?"
Illuminatus was now feeling greatly shaken. But she retained her outward composure and responded, "Of course I can, capo."
"Really?" She glanced down at her desk, and picked up a sheet of paper. "But I have here a copy of an official grant of leave for chief Bipolar, to have begun today, signed by you, and dated two days ago."
"I... must have forgotten, when I assigned him tonight."
"Didn't he mention it to you? Don't you think it would be rather important to him. In fact, mightn't he have a medical need for such a leave?"
"I, I... no, I mean, he didn't mention it to me. He is of course a very dedicated leader, he would do whatever he thought best for his men. Perhaps I made the potential danger from LandOrder sound greater than I should have, and he felt it too important. Perhaps he felt his leave could wait another day or so, if the safety of our people was at stake."
"Perhaps he did, don. Perhaps, too, he was merely drinking tonight in an effort to calm his nerves, so that he wouldn't present a danger, himself. A calculated risk, but a well-intentioned one. Perhaps no disciplinary action against him will be necessary, after all. Send a lawyer down to the station in the morning, and once he is at liberty, extend his leave to two weeks, with our thanks for his dedication, and our apologies for our forgetfulness and insensitivity."
"Yes, capo," Illuminatus said with some relief.
"As to more practical matters, now that LandOrder's hand has been at least partially forced, they will surely be much more cautious, even while advancing whatever timetable they may have had for whatever it is they are doing. We must also pay greater attention to these adventurers. We must do what we can to find them, learn of their activities and plans, and attempt to thwart them, should they pose a threat to us. Therefore, I'll be alerting all our dons to increase their surveillance measures, have enforcers ready to intervene at a moment's notice, and keep in constant contact with each other and with me. You may start, because of course, you're the one I'm talking to right now, and they're closest to you for now."
"Also, to make things harder for them, make sure they can't seek protection against us from the authorities. Surely the police will already be suspicious of the adventurers after tonight's incident, but make sure they don't lose interest. Try to implicate LandOrder's new friends with the gang. It shouldn't be hard. I'll also have my spies in the various villages' police forces keep me informed of any information the police may acquire concerning the adventurers and their connections with LandOrder."
"Excellent idea, capo."
"Now, I'll let you go, don Illuminatus. I must contact the other dons, as I said. First, naturally, will be don Manager, as it was his idea to watch these adventurers in the first place. And while chief Bipolar may have inadvertently cost us the opportunity to gain more information," the capo added with a smile, "he has also unwittingly proven that don Manager was absolutely correct; his interest in these people was clearly well-placed. Yes, most wise and insightful of him.... Well, good night, don."
Through gritted teeth, Illuminatus said, "Good night, capo," and closed the connection.
Coming out of her reverie of last night's discussion, the don said to herself, "Very well. That was intended to needle me. She's very clever, and knows me well. Of course, she could have said what she knew, and officially reprimanded me, but of course she knew that her last remark would sting more. Well. And of course, it's not like I supposed she didn't have her own personal spies within the organization, in every village. Fine." She activated a t-mail bubble. "Chief Milkman, come at once. I have a job for you." She closed the connection, reclined in her chair, propped her feet on the desk, and smiled. Steepling her fingers, she continued talking to herself. "We'll find any spies she has here, and we'll think up some delightful game to play with them, we will. Oh, yes," and she tilted back her head with laughter.
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