Syndicate Files: The Sister - Part 1

Her name was Siarente Ross and the story she told me was a simple one, the kind of simple you get when you skip, eyes closed, straight past all the awkward, embarrassing, unpleasant details. The sister, who'd been 'experiencing some personal difficulties', was overdue back from a business trip to meet 'associates in the area'. The podder was concerned enough to be out here looking. Even with podder resources, she'd realized quick enough that she needed a native guide, and the ad that Sami'd tricked the station channel into running had brought Mademoiselle Ross straight to my door.

If I'd had any intention of taking the case I would have asked some of the obvious questions. Questions like 'Are these 'associates' Serps or Guristas?' for example. Or 'Personal difficulties with gambling, booze or boosters?'

But I wasn't going to take the case - I'd had enough podder trouble to last a lifetime.

I should have said that straight out, but the girl's lower lip started quivering as soon as I shook my head and I tried to soften it a little.

I should have remembered that the ones who don't look like trouble at first glance are sometimes the ones that end you up in the airlock with the wrong door open the fastest. More fool me.

"I'm all tied up with another case right now, Miss," I said. "If it weren't for that, I'd help you, but - " I spread my hands. "Sorry. You know how it is."

"Is this other case going to take you long?" she asked. "Because ..."

"Could take weeks," I said, and I wasn't lying this time, except for where I didn't tell her I'd been about to throw the case in. "It's pretty complicated."

"What sort of case?"

"Recovering stolen property. A ring."

"And it's complicated?"

A big part of my business is discretion, and I'm good at keeping my mouth shut - even when it's a pretty girl asking. Those blue eyes, though, or maybe it was the gentle lilt of her accent and the soft curve of her lips ... she was made to draw out a man's troubles just as surely as a tractor beam draws wrecks. A few details won't hurt, I thought, Fortune help me.

"The guy who's got it is a Serp lieutenant, Voilies Mavare. Few steps below the top of the ladder, but still out of my league. Bases out of a club, The Nest, and security is air-tight."

Siarente blinked thoughtfully. "Maybe you could just buy it back from him," she said.

I shook my head. "My client's bankroll doesn't run to the kind of sums that would tempt Mavare. And mine sure doesn't. Besides, she wants it kept quiet - and throwing that kind of money around would make plenty of noise. Even if he were selling."

"Steal it?" she suggested, with a matter-of-factness at odds with her innocent expression.

"Thought about it," I admitted. "But getting anywhere near him is the problem. Sami says he never leaves his place, The Nest - well, almost never."

"Sami?" she asked.

"My ... assistant."

A faint, delicate raspberry came from my neocom at that. The podder didn't notice, but her bodyguard flicked a glance at the handset and then looked back at me, eyes as grey and hard as the skin of the station, and twice as cold.

"Associate. My very talented, brilliant associate," I corrected hastily, before Sami could make her feelings known any more clearly. "Anyway. The only time Mavare every goes anywhere is to a monthly high-stakes poker game, the Colonel's Table."

"And why can't you steal it there?"

"Security's almost as tight there," I explained. "Only players and their flunkies get in."

She looked puzzled. "Can't you just go and play, then?"

"This is a real high-stakes game," I said. "The buy-in is a million syns."

"That's about 10,000 isk?" The look of bemusement lingered a moment longer before comprehension dawned. "Oh," she said. "That's a lot of money, isn't it." She looked at me for a moment, chewing thoughtfully on that full lower lip, and then went on: "More money than I'm going to just hand over, that's for sure. So I'll tell you what. I'll buy in to the poker game. You can come along as my ... boyfriend? Bodyguard? You can steal this silly ring back and then you'll be free to help me find my sister."

It took me a couple of seconds to grasp that she'd just tossed away 10,000 ISK - more than a million syns - without blinking. Then I realized she'd just solved my most pressing problem and trapped me into working for her in the same breath.

"Do you know how to play poker?" I managed to ask.

She smiled serenely. "I think I had a lesson once," she said. "It didn't seem too hard."

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