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What starts as a kindness soon turns to love.

"

"Standards?" I said. "What do you mean your standards? I have been in this job like I - "

"Then you will have no difficulties," he said, "will you. A causal chain or other validator of legitimacy must be demonstrated. Cases of fraud or collusion are punishable, both on the part of the beneficiaries and the investigator."

I'd never seen one of these policies, of course, but that wasn't going to be any excuse. If you got noticed by the Lords, You may aswel go and meet your loved ones. It may turn to be last time you saw them in this life. I'd always heard that the best thing to do was keep your mouth shut and do whatever they wanted, and hope they'd forget about you when you were finished. But what would it take to get finished?

"What if this, ah, investigator can't come up with a definite solution? Sometimes nobody can tie up all the pieces, no matter how good they are."

"Ah," he said."Hmm. Indeterminate cases are not desirable. With proper validation and under special circumstances, they may be, ahem, reluctantly accepted. Quite reluctantly."

"Okay," I said, "I get it. I've got no choice. I'll do what you want, I'm not an idiot. So what kind of Monetary Carrier does Shumack have, anyway?"

"Life" he said, "Of course."

Shit, this meant that if this Shumack guy did not return the money, he will be dead.

"Don't you have ways of knowing whether he's still alive?"

He turned up one corner of his mouth in what might have been a smile, or maybe just a nervous tic. "Searching spells is not one of our patron's virtues. These things take time and energy, and attention." He got to his feet.

"Just one more question," I said.

"Yes?"

"Who took out the Monetary Carrier, and when?"

He gave me the tic again. "The wife," he said, "of course. One year ago."

"Right," I said. "How will I get in touch with you?"

"I will be in touch with you. Good day." The door closed behind him. I opened the desk drawer and took out the unfinished flask, then decided to just hit my head against the wall for a few minutes. I turned around, and while I looked for a spot on the wall that didn't already have a dent the door creaked open behind me again.

"What now?" I said, but this time the man who'd come in was different.

With a cap pulled low enough over his face to rest on the bridge of his nose, and a generally squat frame, the guy looked like no further than second cousin away from a giant toad. "Da time ta see de boose is now," he said.

"Yeah," I said, "da boose." I forgot about the flask and followed after him out the door.

___________________________________________________

We wound around local streets, heading generally back toward the docks, and finally entered a shuttered house where we descended to the basement. Beneath an old rug was an iron grate. The guy rolled up the edge of the rug, being careful not to disturb a slender thread that ran from one frayed corner off into the wall. Then he turned his back, did something behind him in the shade, and waited. Running water gurgled below the grate, gradually growing fainter. Finally the grate clanged and squeaked open. The edge of a ladder was revealed, leading down into a big pipe that I hoped wasn't the sewer. A concealed mechanism drained the last swirls of water away as we reached the base of the ladder. Next to the ladder a section of the stone facing wall had opened, revealing a crawlway. Bending low, I followed the guy into the wall, through several ascending turns thick with slime and algae, and up out of the garbage into a small torch lit room.

Three other exits led down through the floor or into the walls in a similar manner as the one we'd entered through.

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