Art Pact 79


"There's the question of the payment," the old man said delicately. Brusca ignored him, but Examiner Folkes nodded gently, her hair bobbing out of time with her head. When it became apparent that the old man was in his turn ignoring her, waiting for some kind of signal from Brusca, she coughed into her hand and made a rolling "continue" gesture with her wrist. "Well, it came in twice."

"Twice?"

"Twice," he agreed.

"That's unusual. From the same account?" she asked. The old man shrugged: how would I know?

She'd stepped forwards to ask her question, and now in the window she could see Brusca reflected from behind her. He was examining the various certificates hung on the wall and fiddling with his cuff-links. Irritated, she wondered how long she would have to drag out the interview to ensure that he would miss his lift.

"If it was from two different sources," she explained to the old man behind the desk, "we'd like to know. Could you please get in touch with your financier and ask him to contact me?" She slipped one of her coins out of the roll on her belt and placed it on the desk between them, keeping her finger on top of it. "It may be nothing, but this is a serious crime, so all cooperation is required."

The financier was unlikely to be swayed by talk of justice and the common good, but it might work on the old man. She split her bet there - perhaps the financier would be willing to risk breaking his anonymity to help her out, perhaps not. But if she hadn't made the request she would never know - and she also wouldn't have been able to read the old man's thoughts on the matter either.

It was plain from his expression that he did not like their financier, whoever it was. That wasn' t unusual - no-one liked their money-man, obviously. But it was usually irritation rather than - fear? hatred? Folkes was irritated that she couldn't distinguish between the two choices. But either would have been unusual. She wondered if that meant something particularly interesting.

-

When they'd left the shop, she quizzed Brusca on his impression of the old man.

"I don't know, he seemed pretty ghastly," Brusca drawled.

"Nothing out of the ordinary? None of your special feelings?"

"Oh, that. Sorry, I wasn't really paying attention. He's not a serious suspect, is he? I thought we were just there to get the details of the night straight."

"God's Ears!" Folkes whispered under her breath - then, louder: "Perhaps in future you wouldn't mind paying full attention to everyone we interview, just in case something interesting turns up. We are supposed to be Examiners, you know." To emphasize her point she tapped twice on the iron worm on her chest. Brusca rolled his eyes.

"Understood, Crowner!"

"Fine, whatever. Listen, there was something weird about him. When I mentioned the financier he looked like he was afraid of him. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but maybe it's something to do with the killing."

"What's so important about the payment anyway? You're not going to hear from that guy. Not in a hundred years."

They got to the town's main road just as a long-distance came through. The vehicle's carriages thundered past them, clipping the edge of the permitted speed limit. It seemed to suck the air from the side-road they were standing in, pulling them forwards so that they had to clutch onto their hats and lean backwards slightly. Finally, twenty carriages later, they were pulled sideways into the wake and then it was gone.

Since the town ordinances required a clear period of half a minute either side of a long-distance, Folkes crossed the road without looking, clutching her hands into fists and trying to put a bit of distance between Brusca's question and her reply. On the other side, she whirled round and saw that he had not followed her - instead he was standing on the far curb, checking his HandyCom.

"Get a move on!" she called.

"I've got a car coming!" he called back. "Party, remember?"

Obviously her stalling tactics hadn't been enough. She dug in her pocket for her own HandyCom, checked the time. The Examinary would still be open to the public, which meant that she would be able to get in the front way and lessen her risk of running into the Crowner.

She opened her mouth, thinking for a moment that she might magnanimously tell Brusca to have a good time.

Sod him, she thought suddenly, and closed her mouth again.

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