‘Captain Carina Mitela?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Who is this?’
‘Custodes XI Station. An emergency token with your code has been handed in. We’re holding the presenter.’
I dropped everything and headed for the tunnel connecting our headquarters to the police station. The duty sergeant, with a typical cop’s bland expression but trying to conceal a speculative gleam in her eyes, handed me the token without a word.
As we walked to the interview rooms, I stared at the thirty-nine millimetre diameter disc, made to resemble a casino chip, indigo blue polycarbonate shielding the tiny microprocessor. The last one I’d had in was from an informant handling incoming diplomatic baggage at the airport; her sharp eyes had spotted a very undiplomatic cargo of compact assault rifles. Sure, Roma Nova was a small country, hidden away between New Austria and Italy, but we weren’t stupid or sloppy. Working with the Intelligence section, I’d traced the weapons back to their Balkan Republic origins and led a covert service unit to destroy their warehouse.
The figure I saw today through the smartplex observation window of the public interview room was slumped over, elbows on the table, hands braced her under her chin, her long black hair looking like it hadn’t seen a brush for days. Mossia Antonia. She owned and ran one of the toughest, and most exclusive, training gyms in the country. Right now, she looked like a street vagrant.
I shucked off my uniform of beige shirt and pants and black tee, and pulled on the casuals the custodes duty sergeant had found in lost property for me, ignoring the smell of stale food and cooking fat clinging to them.
Mossia jerked her head up as I entered the room.
‘Salve, Mossia. What’s the problem?’ I plunked myself down on the other chair, crossed my arms and waited.
‘Bruna?’ She blinked and shook her head like she didn’t believe what she saw.
I opened my hand in a gesture inviting her to talk.
‘Aidan has disappeared,’ she said, looking down and rubbing the table with her index finger. Inlaid with coffee rings from careless mugs, the plastic surface reflected the impacts of hard-tipped pens and handcuff scrapes.
‘Are you sure?’
‘How do you know? Aidan has other clients apart from yours. Maybe he’s gone on vacation, or been called away.’
Her head came up at that. ‘His first duty is to me – I pay him a damned good retainer to look after my clients.’
‘So what makes you think he’s not coming back?’
She pulled out a folded piece of paper with black, sloping writing. I read it, laid it down on the table, and leaned back in my chair. Then I picked it up and read it again. I couldn’t believe it. He wrote he couldn’t bear it any longer; he’d had enough of her unfair working practices. He resigned with immediate effect and would make sure her clients knew exactly why he’d done it. I pinched the bridge of my nose to make sure I was awake.
‘He took nearly a thousand solidi from the cash drawer and my gold pen.’ Mossia jabbed the air with her finger. ‘Whatever. What really bugs me are those lies.’ Her face was rigid and her eyes blazing. ‘I could kill him for that.’ Her chair crashed backwards to the ground with the force of her jumping up. She started pacing around the room like a lion in the arena.
I wasn’t surprised at her anger. She worked her people hard, but looked after them. I knew her employment packages were first- class; as an anonymous shareholder, I’d seen her accounts.
‘You’ve reported him to the custodes as a missing person?’
‘I’m reporting it to you.’
‘Why? I’m not the custodes.’
‘Well, you’re something like that.’ Ninety-eight per cent of my colleagues in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces would take offence at that, but I let it pass.
She came to rest by the table and looked down at me.
‘What?’ I said.
‘Were you sleeping with him?’
Her shoulders slumped and she crossed her arms across her chest.
She pulled a small moue.
I stretched over and touched her forearm in sympathy. I shot a side glance at the watch on my outstretched wrist. Hades!
‘I’ll have the custodes log it,’ I said and stood up. ‘You go home now or, better, back to the gym. The custodes will let you know of any developments.’
She took a full stride toward me, so near that she was all but touching me. ‘What do you mean? Aren’t you going to do anything about it?’
‘Okay, it’s bloody annoying, it’s hurtful, whatever, but it’s hardly a case for an emergency token. Leave it with the custodes.’
I stepped away and pushed my chair under the edge of the table.
‘Come on, Mossia, time to go. Think of the money you’re not making while you’re wasting time here.’
She shot me a vicious look. The anger was rolling off her. She took a deep breath, gazed unseeing at the dirty beige walls for a minute or so.
Had I been too harsh? A stab of guilt prodded me. I’d known Mossia for years, but my schedule was crushing and I was behind already.
I knocked on the door which opened inwards revealing a blue-uniformed custos.
‘We’re finished here,’ I told him.
I looked at Mossia’s taut, silent figure. ‘The custos will see you out. I’ll stop by the gym if I hear anything.’
‘Well, screw you!’ She turned her back to me and stalked out without another word.
‘Everything all right, Captain?’ the duty sergeant asked me as I changed back into my uniform.
‘Yes, thanks,’ I said, and pinned my name badge and insignia back on. The Department of Justice custodes were both wary and polite with us. Back in Eastern America I’d grown up in, city cops had never liked feds either. Many of my PGSF colleagues sneered at the custodes and used the public’s name for them – scarab, or dung beetle. I’d been a DJ custos once.
‘Thanks for sending the alert through – I hope it hasn’t been too disruptive.’ I smiled at her as she escorted me back to the tunnel door. ‘I’m not so sure myself what that was about.’
‘No problem, ma’am.’
As the tunnel doors swished open, I felt my irritation at Mossia unwrap itself and flood back. What in Hades was she playing at? By the time I arrived at our end, I was annoyed for not being able to figure out whether she’d told me something significant or not.
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