“But… you’ve just sentenced them to forty years in the Kaba mines.”

Ah. He was rather mistaken as to who Goth was. Well, she wasn’t going to change that. “The locals did that for us, yes. But I haven’t — yet — told them about you. So: you tell me all you know and I’ll leave it that way.”

Franco nodded eagerly, and started to spill his guts.

“See I get things, some things that are just too hot, or too distinctive to sell here. I got a contact from my days on the freight run…I send stuff to this dealer on Arc’s world. In the Republic of Sirius, see. He also ships into the Empire worlds. Different laws and not a lot of talk between their police and ours. I sell things he can’t get rid of because their cops have a treaty with the Imperials. It’s mostly small stuff. He’ll take gems and he pays top Mael for antiquities. Not many of them come my way. But I got some bits from the kid’s mother. He was happy to take stuff like that off my hands. And then there was this odd-shaped goblet.”

Franco chewed his lip. “About three weeks after I sent it through with my usual courier, I got a long-distance subradio call. They needed me to track that seller. They said the information was worth a lot of money to me. I knew who it was, of course. It wasn’t a secret. So I told them I could find the seller for a fee, see. Money for old rope. Next thing Mebeckey and his ship came here. And Mebeckey wasn’t shy about parting with a cool ten thousand Maels for that information. I thought I was onto a good thing. I don’t make that much of a living at this,” he sniveled. “Not a lot of hot stuff here.”

“Concentrate on going on living,” said Goth.

“Well, see, I knew where the woman works. I just had to ask a few questions and it turns out she’s the niece of that Threbus — the explorer-captain who caused a lot of uproar here. They had me follow up the ships he’d used for his voyages. So then they wanted to get hold of the logs. I got scared. Said they could do the digging themselves… That Mebeckey told me I’d be digging my own grave. And he came up with more money. Gave me some rough dates — about twenty imperial years back. Turned out he was using an old pirate chaser — a ship called the Venture 7333, back then. So then they wanted to break into to the ship registry, and try to get hold the ship’s logs that way. But turns out the boat’s been moth-balled and was sitting in that old crook Onswud shipyards, and Patham alone knows what had happened to her log.”

“And then?”

“They pretended that they wanted to buy her. Onswud was all over them. They had their ‘engineers’ check out the ship — which was just me and Mebeckey and two of his crew. They searched the ship from stem to stern, but they never found what they were looking for. They wouldn’t tell me what it was back then either. But when they couldn’t find anything there they dropped out of the deal. Onswud was spitting, offering them a cut-price deal. The old shark hadn’t had a lease on the ship since Threbus last used it. But they sloped off and started on checking out Threbus’s niece, seeing as that was where the goblet-thing came from. I don’t see how any human ever drank out of it… Anyway, they tell me to find them a cat-burglar. So I got Mirkon for them. He isn’t the best, but he was available for a bit of rough stuff — and I wanted him involved see. He owes me. And I thought maybe, seeing as they’re looking this hard, it must be really valuable, see. Only now Mirkon’s doing ten to twenty in Kaba, so I guess I am not going to get that money,” he said disgustedly. “Anyway up to then, they’d been being very cautious. Ruthless but cautious. And then this woman arrives. Marshi. Seems like it was Marshi, not Mebeckey, that was in charge. And once she got here… well, she stopped at nothing.”

“Not at first. She was cautious at first.”

He nodded. “Scary woman. Even before she tried to kill me. Almost not human. There is a sort of desperation to her, like I’ve seen with drug-addicts who can’t get their drug.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t cross her. She didn’t really care about anything else. She just wanted that map.”

“My organization has a history of dealing with desperate and dangerous people,” Goth had reassured him.

He’d looked warily at her. “How did you get in here?”

He’d earned some sort of misleading comfort — which would help to protect her too, Goth decided. “Your bathroom window.”

He’d actually looked faintly relieved. “So… What are you going to do to me?” he asked warily, the little weasely eyes looking for a way out.

“Tie you up and leave. You have told me what I wanted to know. Or rather confirmed it. We’ll deal with the rest of them. But just one word of warning. You take one step out of line with Pausert or his mother, and…” she drew a finger across her throat. “He has some very powerful relations.” That was the best word she could come up with on the spur of the moment.

Franco took “relations” as meaning something entirely different to the grand-nephew of Captain Threbus. “Oh. I didn’t know,” he said sweating anew. There were some powerful crime families in the Empire. The Shinn-Borozo were almost a law unto themselves.

“Now you do. Leave him alone. We’ll be watching. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

He did. Goth tied his hands with some rope from his own stock. She did a good job of it, and gagged him with a piece of cloth, before tying his feet. She then went through his pockets. By the way his eyes bulged he assumed he was going to be robbed, but all she did was to remove his blaster and the key. She unlocked the door. “You should be able to wiggle your way over and kick it,” she said. “At the moment you are worth more to us alive than dead. Better hope neither I nor my friends have come to see you again, because that may mean that that has changed.”

She stepped into the noisesome bathroom and assumed no-shape. Franco was already frantically wriggling his way across the floor to the door.

It took a little while to get clear of the building — she had to wait until the bodyguard left to go and fetch someone to repair the bathroom window — and then she still had to walk home. But she felt that it had been an evening well spent. And she had got part of the way through the set-work book! Tomorrow she would be the good little school-girl Vala again. But for tonight, she was back to being Goth of Karres. All that was missing the captain.

Then… she’d have to brave the Nikkeldepain central records office. She had a feeling that dealing with that creep Franco might be easier. She was getting some idea of Nikkeldepain’s obsessive bureaucracy by now.