(52) From the Bar To the Courthouse

The Misha Campaign (288-1121 to 291-1121)

56 / 2876 local (288-1121 to 289-1121) : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    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 picnic tables.
    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 see them?"
    "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.

57 / 2876 local (289-1121 to 290-1121) : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    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 be OK."
    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 his meeting.
    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 whisky?"

    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 find.
    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 problem.
    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 in Starcom.
    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.

58 / 2876 local (290-1121 to 291-1121) : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    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 FarSpace Service?
    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.