“So let me get this straight,” Frank said, looking the screen over. “We've got a missing crate of off-worlds. Got that. Carryin' minerals. Boys did a pretty crappy job if you ask me.”
Alan nodded, “That's what I said.”
Frank raised a brow slightly, “And how'd that go for you?”
“Still breathing, so she didn't take it too bad obviously.”
Frank rested backward in his chair, slowly stroking his chin. The table in front of him had been cleaned of plates, and now had been promoted to the position of being the resting place of a number of coffee cups and small tablets, each with some flickering bit of information. Some covered up-and-coming news from around the district, or rather the edited version of whatever had originally been sent to be broadcasted. Others held local sports scores and betting rates for whatever underground movement was going at the moment. To most it was a mess of the highest order, with somewhat interesting or useful information sitting alongside boring statistics and stale coffee mugs.
There was some saying Alan recalled from some documentary he had caught some time prior that went on about the look of animals in their natural habitat, how they knew the territory and how to navigate it by heart. It was that same look one could get when Frank Coban actually put himself to working. Once all the food had been stuffed away, the work finally had room to get done.
Frank picked up each tablet one at a time, flicking through whatever he was looking at with the thumb of the hand that held the device, sipping coffee from the cup he was clutching in the other hand. Every now and then he might pick up another device to make a note or two, before the process began again. Recent movements of merchandise. Security camera feeds. A few black market forums. Everything was at his fingertips with the correct connections, and anyone worth their salt had those connections. Frank Coban just so happened to be well worth his weight in salt.
Alan slowly drummed his fingers on the table, focus firmly on the distant skyway. There had been a time when watching his informant work induced at least some amount of awe in him, but that time had long since passed. By this point he knew fully well that it was far more productive to sit back and let the man do his job. From there, he could start doing his.
A solid hour had passed before Frank put down a tablet for a final time, took one last pull from his drink and set it aside as well. He began stroking his chin again, resuming his leaned back position. Alan pulled himself away from his thoughts, coming back to the café, eyebrow raising. The question was obvious: What did he find?
It was rather obvious that Frank was picking his words carefully. His mouth opened a few times before he closed it again, having not been content with his word choice. He brought a hand up, signaling Alan to remain quiet for a moment, “For the love of God, Al. Please. For the love of God, don’t get all worked up.”
Alan took in a slow breath, leaning forward, his eyes boring into Frank. There was a slight movement in his mouth as his tongue placed itself between his teeth, hands motioning Frank to go on.
Frank rolled his eyes, refraining from commenting on the actions, instead focusing on his findings. He tapped the tablet that held his notes, “There is absolutely nothing on any of these materials.” Across the table, Alan brought his hand to his mouth, a number of obscenities escaping his lips as he stared up at the ceiling. Ignoring the reaction, Frank continued, “And I mean absolutely nothing. No mention of any new black market shipments. Nothing from the security cameras. No big buyer callouts. I couldn’t even find anything to say it might’ve been shoved back off-world. There isn’t anything around that’s telling me that this stuff is on the move, or has even been moved. If you asked me, which you are thank you very much, this stuff practically doesn’t exist.”
Alan blinked a few times, cocking his head to the side to be able to read the numerous notations Frank had made about the phantom goods, “So either we’re working with people who are good at this, or this stuff straight up doesn’t exist.”
Frank shook his head, “Oh no. It exists. Or at least, it did. There is firm documentation of it coming on world and getting shipped, stored, and locked up. Somewhere between here and there, though, it just stops existing. Poof. Gone. Vanished.”
“Let me guess,” Alan muttered, “No security footage of it being moved?”
The other man nodded, pouring himself another cup of coffee, “Nope. There are graveyards with more active camera feeds than that place. Guards are just doing their little lazy patrols. Cross in front of the storage box a few times, but besides that? Nothing.”
Alan held a hand out, waiting for a certain tablet to be handed to him, “Got names for those guards?”
Frank offered him one of his devices, which was snatched from his hand, “Figured you would want them. Managed some of their regular hangout places, too, since I assumed you would want to go harass them about it.”
To say the section of town he had been directed to was shady was an understatement of the highest order. Hidden at the edge of the Myers-held district, the collection of back alleys and side streets were left under the constant shade of overhanging roofs and awnings, leaving all but a few areas in a state of near night. It was a place where the streetlights never went off, and the night stalkers never needed to turn in.
He had popped up his collar to conceal the lower half of his face before he had even entered into the neighborhood, knowing full well that fitting in in this territory meant looking like you had something to hide. He couldn’t count the number of alleys he walked past that had some suspicious looking character, even by the standards of his own field, either in the middle of a deal or looking to make one. Under almost every streetlight he passed by stood some working man or woman, their attire leaving little to the imagination.
Years ago a place like this would have made him think. Every single building and street around him was owned by either the company that owned the district, or the person at the head of it, and yet it was allowed to dip into the things that may have been taboo in other parts of the district. Some time ago he had figured out that this kind of thing was allowed for multiple reasons. There were some people who made sure to dig their fingers into it and scrap out a profit for themselves, while other owners might have made a few trips there themselves to take part in some of their favorite vices.
In the case of Allison Myers, it was nothing short of apathy, and it showed throughout the rest of the district as well. The further out one stretched from the view of her tower, the less it concerned her. A very ‘out of sight out of mind’ type of person, and it showed. So this little dark part of town was allowed, and it wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.
The sign of place he was looking for had a fair share of letters out. His hands went into his pockets as he approached it, catching the eye of a few of the people standing outside. Walking through the smoke of the cigarettes he pulled the door open and let himself into, not wanting to take the time to have to deal with some stray drunk who was bound to get uppity about a stranger walking into ‘his’ bar.
Music was drifting out of a few unseen speakers, mixing in with the sounds of whatever programming was being broadcast on the screens to his left, mounted over a number of bottles, in front of a bar of multiple customers. The only people who gave him the time of day as he entered were a few at tables who had been either chatting amongst themselves, or sitting alone. He pulled something from his pocket, a small, flickering device with a picture on it, before sliding it back into its previous resting place. Scanning the crowd, he spotted his mark at the back of the room, having what appeared to be a rather active conversation with what Alan assumed was some work buddy, as the two were laughing their heads off at some unheard joke.
The information Frank had been able to give him had been somewhat surprising, and somewhat discouraging. For the most part the guy, one Hugo Linus, had a near spotless record. Through some stroke of luck, despite guarding some of the most valuable stuff around, the guy had managed to not make too many waves. Aside from getting arrested for a bar fight here and there, usually with the description of “Pointless disagreement” from whoever had done the booking.
He made his way towards the rear of the room, weaving in and out among the tables, grabbing a chair and sliding it up right up to his target’s table. The two already at the table turned towards him, offering only a glare. Alan returned the glare with a casual smile, resting against the table as if he were meeting with friends of his own, “Evening fellas.”
The two exchanged a glance and a grunt, before the one he assumed was Hugo spoke up, his voice a constant slur, “Whatda you want?”
The interloper maintained his friendly demeanor, “To ask a few questions and get out of your hair. You two work down at the shipping yard, right?”
The second man nodded, flashing a smile as he shot another glance at his friend, “Do. And ‘fore you even get to the rest of your questions, we didn’t steal nothin’, we ain’t gonna steal nothin’.”
Alan raised a brow. It wasn’t surprising that they knew what he was going to ask. Maybe if they were deeper into their drinks, instead of still being sober enough to know which side of the bottle went in their mouths. “That a fact. Well how about anything out of the ordinary you could tell me about that night, then.”
Hugo let out a laugh, “You a cop or something?”
“More into private investigation than police work,” Alan said.
The friend let out a laugh, “Retriever.”
Alan gave a shrug, before nodding, “That’s one word, yeah.”
Hugo brought an arm out to wrap around Alan’s shoulder as though he had known him for some time. “Let me tell you, there was nothing off about that night. Didn’t see nobody go near anything, before or after it got locked up. Gone when they did inventory the next morning. Can ask anybody.”
“Then what the hell happened,” Alan said flatly. “Stuff just vanished? Teleported away? Turned invisible? If no one went near it, then what the hell happened?”
The security guard only grinned wider, letting Alan go as he shrugged his shoulders, “Not a clue.”
“Look, pal,” Alan growled, “We both know this stuff doesn’t just get up and scram, so if nobody touched it.” He paused, looking between the two, eyes widening. Hugo sighed, tapping his bottle against the table. Alan slid his chair back along the floor, making to stand, muttering “Well shit.”
There was a dull flash under the table as Hugo’s friend drew a knife out from his pocket. Grinning, he pointed towards the chair, “Have a seat, man. Don’t get up and leave just yet.” Hugo continued tapping his bottle against the table, holding it by the neck now, nodding in agreement.
Alan gulped, taking a small step to the left. The other two stood, neither catching the notice of the rest of the bar. There always had to be moments like this. Moments where someone got ticked off and started resorting to the old classic, violence. He sighed. There were probably worse methods.
Grabbing the table, Alan shoved it backward as best he could, turning as the two grunted, a few curses escaping their lips as he went. He could hear the sound of feet hitting wood behind him and caught the look of a few shocked customers as his two pursuers drew closer.
He brought his arm up to brace himself as he bit the door, sending it swinging right into one of the people who had been standing around it when he had entered. Glass broke as it made contact, and what was left in it hit the ground alongside the shards. Amongst “Heys” and “What the hells” he made his way to the street, breaking into a sprint before he had a mob on his tail.
The other two exited shortly after he did, as told by their raised voices as they told him to stop, probably directed to him by whoever he had just squished behind a door. Footsteps echoed down the street, one man having his lead on the other two swallowed by their hot pursuit. A few of the idle working people took the opportunity to watch them go by, others not seeing it as worth their time to get caught up in anyone else’s problems but their own. If he were paying them any mind he would have given them credit for how dedicated they were to their job.
A few blocks were all he needed. A few blocks and he would enter back into the section of the district that had fewer decaying buildings and cracked streets and more security cameras. Based on how close the footsteps behind him were getting, that wasn’t going to happen. As he felt a hand get a grip on the back of his coat, he dropped forward into a roll, pulling his arms from its sleeves, hat flying off somewhere onto the street.
Allison gave a coy smile as her eyes scanned over the report that had just been handed to her, waving off the messenger as though he didn’t even exist. When she was finished she set the report aside, resting forward against her desk, “Under our nose the entire time.”
Alan nodded, seated in one of the two chairs, “All one big scam.”
She nodded, “We’ll be looking into taking those involved in.” A smirk made its way onto her lips, “I imagine there are a number of ways we can get them to inform of their cohorts.”
“I’m sure there are,” he deadpanned.
Her smirk widened, “But that isn’t what you want to talk about, is it.”
“Not particularly, no.”
She rolled her eyes to feign annoyance, “Money money money. That’s all it is with you Alan. You skip all the fun parts.” She began flipping through her report again, “I don’t recall posting a price on this.”
“Three,” he said, no change in his tone.
Allison looked up at him, an eyebrow raising, “Three thousand?”
He nodded, leaning forward in his chair, “Three thousand. That’s combining labor, contacts, and all of that. Plus counting in the price of the goods.”
For once her expression hardened as she considered his words. Despite what he just said, he knew that it wasn’t his place to be making any sort of demands. Especially since she could snap her fingers and have someone toss him through her window without batting an eyelash, with no repercussion against her. A few moments passed, before she nodded, waving him towards the door. Her voice resumed its teasing tone as she spoke, “Fair enough, I suppose. I couldn’t sleep tonight if I told you no.”
He set his coffee cup off to the side, instead deciding to focus on the blurs zooming by on the skyway. Whatever was done to produce coffee here, he was more than certain it needed to be made illegal, as to force them into finding a way that was less terrible. Alan had managed to dig out an old green shirt to replace the one he had been wearing the night before. Aside from that, and the fact that his coat had been left behind on some scummy city street, nothing about his attire had changed.
Frank was, once again, late. But that was just bound to happen. Frank Coban worked in a separate time zone than everyone else, whether from having lived in one place for too long, or from a natural tendency to sleep in. When he did show up, Alan would complain. The two would exchange a few verbal jabs, Frank would order whatever large amount of food he was going to shove into his mouth for the morning, and then they could get to business.
This morning’s business was going to be quick and clean, though. There was no job offer on the table, at least for the time being. There was no evidence to poke through, no shady people to investigate, and nothing that needed tracked down at the moment. Instead, there was money to be split. Enough money that he would be able to afford a way off of this rock, something that Frank would likely opt to do himself. Their destinations would likely align as well, since the both of them had ventured out from the same set of planets in the past year or so.
In spite of what he might tell someone else, especially someone he didn’t know, that was a good thing. It meant that when he started taking work there, he would already have a contact. He would already have someone who knew the territory, just like Alan did, and knew who to call, poke, or listen in on for the sake of information. Which made his job all the easier, even if it meant splitting the profit.
The bell over the café’s door jingled as it opened. Frank made his way to his spot, grin already on his face. “Well aren’t we looking rough this morning,” he stated, waving down the waitress. “Get mugged or something?”
“Close enough,” Alan replied, “Nothing that I can’t replace, at least.”
Frank nodded, laying out his order to the waitress who then retreated back into the kitchen, probably to converse with the cook while he worked. Once she was gone he looked back to Alan, “We’re gettin’ paid though, right?”
“We’re getting paid.”
“And how much are we getting paid?”
Alan took his turn to grin, pointing towards the skyway, “Enough to get off out of town.”
Frank managed to grin even wider, “Oh really now? And what’s the plan after that.”
“Get another job."