(52) From the Bar To the Courthouse
The Misha Campaign (288-1121 to 291-1121)
It's evening in the town of Starcom. Edward
"Shark" Teeth plans to visit the bar called The Last Cab, while
Misha Ravanos stakes out the courthouse. Helia Sarina, Kalida Siena,
and Robert Morris are spending the night in the hot tub.
Shark drives to The Last Cab at about 9 or
10 pm, planning to get there before the place gets busy. Using his
hand computer he's combined the map they bought on the way into town with
the index from the phone book, so he can now get directions pretty much
anywhere in town.
The place is in a fairly run-down district just off
the center of town. It's home to warehouses, bus depots, taxi companies,
and so on. It's just a block from the normal nightlife on the main
street -- just right, as Shark observes, for a driver to hang out for an
hour or two while his charges party in the hotspots. It's actually
in what used to be a taxi company building. The bar is located where
the dispatcher used to be. There is still a regular garage door at
the front. Seating is provided in the form of chairs, benches, and
Shark takes a stool at the bar, not at the end but
also not in the center. There is no mirror behind the bar, which makes
it harder for him to watch the other patrons. He orders a whisky
and a beer.
There are some men in scruffy clothes at a table towards
a corner. They're talking in low voices and obviously want to be
left alone. Other than that, the bar is empty.
The bartender strikes up a conversation with Shark.
Shark says he's from offworld, and introduces himself as Roger; the
barman says to call him Ben, and sips on a whisky. Shark says his
boss is trying to find a company to buy, and he's driving him around --
the boss is staying in tonight, and Shark wants to get away for the evening.
He says they're from Mora.
Ben says the bar will liven up later and tops up Shark's whisky on
the house, filling the tumbler halfway. Shark settles in as if he'll
be here for a while, and starts small talk about local enforcement, speed
traps, good/bad cops, and so on.
Ben asks, "Armed?"
"I heard if you don't shoot anybody, you're OK."
"Don't shoot, don't get shot."
"Does it happen a lot?"
"Not around here. We have a rule here. No
attitudes, leave them at the door. Want to do something, take it
outside. In fact, I'd recommend taking it at least a block away."
"Where we can give entertainment to our bosses?"
"The other way, away from the main drag. You
know, the police cruise by here occasionally, but not a block that way."
He pauses. "We sometimes get the odd tourist in here, but you
don't look like a tourist."
"A travelling working stiff."
"I'll drink to that!"
Shark asks, "So how do the police work around here?
You pay them for their services, or are they official police but
they only work if they're... coerced? Or encouraged?"
"No, they're generally pretty good. They got
a pretty fair idea of what's hurting someone and what's not."
"OK. But who pays them? Is it the city?"
"The city pays them, yeah. Your boss could hire
them out for protection or something if he wanted."
"So some of those fancy buildings do that?"
"Yeah, that'll happen sometimes. Or somewhere
that gets a break-in and can't be bothered to investigate it themselves."
"What does the Navy do around here? Do you ever
"No, never see them at all. They're out on that
island, and that's where they stay."
"They don't even get shore leave?"
"Not over here. Now given where the island is,
I bet they've got one heck of a resort down there. I bet they get all
the good stuff there too. But we do a fine line in whisky."
"You guys sell them whisky, or...?"
"I don't. I imagine the company's got an angle.
Everyone's got an angle."
"You said 'the company.' Is there one place
you buy your whisky from?"
"Yeah, this stuff is actually made out in Seaview,
but there's a number of places that sell whisky."
"So. Where can I find some real fine aged whisky?"
"Hm. Well. That depends. Do you
want to get it from a regular place, or one that just... found it's way
out of the crate?"
"I wouldn't be bothered either way. I won't
object to the source."
"OK. There might be a guy coming in later. I'll
see if he's interested."
Shark has managed to slip into his persona perfectly.
He continues the evening that way, asking the taxi drivers about
the high tippers, good routes, and so on. Remembering that the break-in
at the Wonstar Development Corporation was all over the news, he brings up
the subject to fish for information on the company. By now the bar
is full with taxi drivers, and the rest of the chairs and tables are starting
to fill in with local shopkeepers and tradesmen. He finds that the
WDC gets visitors from offworld and from other parts of the world, but none
of the employees take taxis. The WDC visitors don't stay at any particular
hotel, but the offworlders seem to have money to spend and go for the posher
hotels. That's pretty much all Shark wants in terms of information.
The crowd really picks up around midnight. The
taxi drivers have been in and out all evening, but now some of the entertainers
from the nightspots are coming in -- everyone from actors through exotic
dancers. Mostly it's an older crowd, very few people in here under
the age of 30. At one point a taxi driver gets up from his seat as
soon as the person he's been obviously waiting for enters the bar -- there
is an immediate argument, very heated, and the two of them walk outside.
This is Shark's kind of place -- even the fights are polite.
At about half past midnight, Ben hands Shark another
whisky on the house, and says that the man over there in the flat cap is
the one to have a word with about whisky. Shark walks over to the table
-- he's at a small table by himself -- and when invited, sits down. He
introduces himself as Roger, and the man in the cap says he's Andy.
Andy gets straight to the point. "Ben tells me
you're from offworld and looking to perhaps take some stuff off."
"Absolutely. Aged whisky. Real whisky."
"I've got the good stuff here. The best whisky.
You won't find better than this."
"When could I maybe sample some of this? Just
a taste -- I'd even buy a bottle just to taste."
Andy pulls out a business card, writes something on
the back, and hands it to Shark. He says, "Let's say, in about two
hours. Bring cash. My guys will be watching the street, so you'll
Shark walks over to the bar, drains his glass, and
says his good-byes to Ben and the other customers he's met. A couple
of the working girls smile and wave at him. He says he'll be back
in tomorrow, and leaves.
Back in the car, Shark calls Misha on the commdot.
Misha is still staking out the courthouse. Shark tells him he's
buying some aged whisky -- a not precisely open transaction -- to transport
offworld. He tells Misha the address on the back of the card, and
also sends it to Robert (who has a copy of Shark's map database). The
place is about three blocks from here, into the warehouse district. He
tells Misha that if he wants his help, he'll have to delay it until after
At the courthouse the traffic is easing down, but there's
still enough groundcars running through the street. The building is
close to the heart of downtown, so Misha won't see the street empty until
the nightlife eases off. He sees no reason not to wait.
Shark drives back through the main drag, which is
still hopping at this time of night. He finds the place where the
drivers park, pulls his cap over his head, and lays back for a nap for a
couple of hours.
Back at the Grand Imperial Regency Hotel, the hot tub
crew call for room service. Drinks, meal, dessert -- chocolate fondue
-- and a good time is had by all. Robert has been distributing their
bill amongst all the other guests at the hotel -- the amounts should be small
enough not to be noticed on the other bills.
At the appointed time, Shark drives off to his appointment
with Andy. He notices that he is being watched from several windows,
and up there on the roof a man with a rifle is clearly silhouetted against
the sky, obviously intending to be seen.
The address is a warehouse. Shark goes up to
the door and waits. After a moment, the door opens and Andy invites
him in. It is indeed a warehouse -- Andy leads him to an office within
the building. They sit down; and Andy produces a bottle and pours
Shark a sample.
It's good -- very good -- well aged and smooth. Shark
says, "You implied you have a quantity."
"It's aged 25 years. It's from North Whipsnade.
You won't find it anywhere else. It's in bottles, packaged in
crates of 20 ready for shipping. Say a thousand credits a case."
"Sounds reasonable. Can I take one bottle tonight,
and talk to my boss to see how many he wants?"
"Sure," says Andy. He hands over a bottle and
refuses Shark's 100 Cr note. "Consider it a gesture of a good business
deal to be concluded," he says.
Shark mulls over the value of this whisky offworld.
He figures he could sell it in the officers' club at a Naval Base for
an easy ,150 Cr and they'd think they were getting a good deal. At a
major place like Mora,
he could get even more. Or Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead could just
use it to impress his friends.
Shark says he'll be back at The Last Cab tomorrow
night, and walks out with his bottle. He buckles it into the seat beside
him, and calls Misha as he drives. "Boss, you want some 25 year old
When Shark arrives at the courthouse, not quite glowing
from the evening's consumption, it's about 3 am. The street is now
quiet. There are still some nightclubs open downtown, but the traffic
is clear here.
The security at the courthouse will be trivial to circumvent.
Misha will defeat the alarms, and Shark's job is to read what they
They enter the building easily through a ground floor
window on the west side. Misha opens it so quickly that it might as
well not be locked. In the office on the other side of the window,
Misha again picks the lock and gets them into a main corridor. The records
room is right opposite. The door is locked, but it too presents no
The room consists of a mass of filing cabinets. Misha
and Shark work together to figure out where the information they need is
located. Misha can't read, but he knows about administrative bureaucracies.
They can't find the location of the deeds, so they then look for information
on the construction of the building. The filing system is difficult,
but they remember where the clerk had gone to find the WDC records. They
find the "W" cabinet, and Misha unlocks it.
The folder for the WDC is painfully small. It
contains just two sheets of paper. The first is an Imperial document,
a certified official copy of the assignment of tax exempt public service
company status. The second is a confirmation of that status from the
government of Wonstar,
exempting the company from filing anything here; it's dated six months after
the Imperial document.
The folders for other companies contain all sorts of
documents -- financial records, property owned with deed numbers, references
to building plans, references to various employer status records, nature
of business, whether they have a license to export, tax records, and so on.
Misha and Shark leave the records room, locking everything
behind them, and go looking for the deeds office. Fortunately it's
just at the other end of the corridor.
This room too is a mass of filing cabinets. The
index book is at the far end. It's organized by area of the town,
according to the map in the front of the book. Shark scans it into
his hand computer, and soon finds what deed would correspond to the WDC
building. Misha quickly opens the file cabinet. The deed indicates
the land has been owned by the WDC since 43 (Imperial) years ago.
The previous owner is listed as a real estate company. This
just covers the plot of land on which the headquarters is built -- there
is nothing here covering their other sites around the world, just the land
Shark goes back to the index, and looks at the book
that lists deed by name of owner. Against the Wonstar Development
Corporation is the notation "not listed."
There is very little else to investigate here. There
are apparently no security guards in the building, so they would have free
reign in here if there was anything else to find. They leave the building,
locking everything and putting it all back in its original place.
Back at the hotel, Shark tells everyone about the whisky
deal. Misha has sampled it on the way back, and gives it his approval.
They could keep some, but it would be good for their future financial
well-being to start finding sources of profit. They can certainly
make money off the whisky. The GrandAm will probably want some himself
for his own consumption. The whisky is distinctly Irish in style,
mellow, full of complex flavors, and very fine indeed.
Morning dawns in the town of Starcom. It is
grey and raining lightly. Helia has ordered them a full interesting
breakfast. Morning passes in relaxation.
At lunch, Shark tells everyone what they found out at
the courthouse, and expounds on his theories about the WDC. He is
of the opinion that the WDC getting the land 43 years ago might well correspond
to the time when the Imperium set up the black ship. They don't know
how long they sat on the black ship, but they do know that they knew it
had something to do with psionic activity. They don't know that the
WDC has anything to do with the black ships, but there is a lot of circumstantial
evidence: the Navy, or at least some portion of the Navy, was connected
with the project; the Navy controls this sector, lock, stock, and barrel;
WDC is based here with Imperial proxy; WDC is funding Marquis
Marcus Crestworthy's research -- and other stuff besides. They don't
know what else the WDC is involved with, but it's spending four billion
credits a year through the basement of the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer
at the University of Mora. That wasn't all going to the Marquis, so
they're doing some other stuff as well. Now if twenty years ago they
had some idea how it worked, and in the following twenty years they apparently
haven't done any more research, but that doesn't mean they haven't figured
anything out, and they might have other ships working. They might not
be alone in the universe -- they know about the one black station already,
but there might be other black ships operating by pseudo-Imperial proxy.
They know that WDC is performing psychic research at
the desert site. It's clear that the WDC has a major operation totally
out of proportion to the world -- there is no way such a company should
be exporting 4 billion credits in cash every year. So the WDC is a
front for something much bigger -- probably the Imperial base. Now
who's funding that? They could go over and search the island that has
the Naval Base -- the WDC
could have a totally secret installation there that none of the Navy guys
know about. Or are they connected with INISO, or even the Imperial
The WDC is one of the players in their mystery, and
that justifies their continued investigation.
That concludes Shark's outburst of conspiracist paranoia.
In the meantime, they have a transaction to arrange
concerning whisky. They could hire a truck and take the load out to
link up secretly with Nightshade
-- that seems the best solution. Alternatively they could rent a warehouse
and have it delivered there, and then transfer it to the ship. Whatever,
the first step is to go to The Last Cab tonight. Shark describes
the place, and gets everyone's interest -- except Misha, who decides he
won't join them. They will, of course, have to bring lots of cash.
Shark says he'll buy 37 cases himself.