Founder’s Landing, Day Zero, 2300.

Side Streets, Distant Thunder

“Unhand her, you brutes! I’ll have you know, that is no way to treat a lady!”

I knew that accent from my Militia days — a Confederate! This was about to get political — and no place for the likes of me. Carmody was still distracted with his capture; trouble getting the cuffs on, looked like. I didn’t stick around to watch.

Most people, when escaping the cops, make the same mistakes. And because the cops do this for a living, they know exactly what to watch for: someone running, or maybe trying to look inconspicuous. Skulking around nervously in the shrubbery is a dead giveaway, and you can be sure any redcap with a high-powered flash is gonna use it on every doorway he can.

So, instead, you look like you belong. Don’t walk away from the activity; walk toward it; maybe rubberneck a little, or ask an annoying question. Be one of those people they tell, “Nothing to see here, mister; move along.”

I couldn’t quite manage that; no knowing who’d seen me with Carmody, or who he’d told. But I could do the next best thing. I walked up to a knot of redcaps posted at the corner, jerked my thumb back toward the alley, and said, “I think the Lieutenant could use a hand back there.”

Their corporal picked two and sent them off, then looked back at me expectantly. I was an honorary officer again. Best make the most of it.

“When you get a second, tell Carmody that I had an appointment. I’ll call his office tomorrow to check in.”

I didn’t wait for an answer; no real officer would, because it might just be no. Instead, I strode on down the street, Militia boots clicking on the concrete, heavy coat swirling in the rising mist. The next block would be behind the brothel; there’d be a half-squad down there. No sense pushing it. I moved on two blocks before turning off.

It was different now; there’d just been a raid at a brothel. Being a Militia officer would draw the wrong sort of attention — after all, it’s soldiers and sailors that are known to visit such places. Fortunately for me, there’s another group of people that wears Militia overcoats and boots. As I rounded the corner I turned up my collar against the chill, stuck my hands deep in my pockets, and hunched down. My stride turned into a quiet shuffle, and just for good measure I began muttering to myself. Combat’s tough on a fellow; there’s a thousand homeless vets on the streets, and now I was one of them.

I grimaced at the thought; it was too near the truth. I really needed this fee. I moved as fast as I dared without breaking character.

My destination was a decaying manor house in what had once been the fashionable part of town. Old money still lived in the neighborhood — the kind that kept private security. There were at least half a dozen watching the obvious entrances to the grounds, and I was sure my employer wouldn’t want me seen so the front door was out. No problem.

A wrought-iron fence looks forbidding, which is fine; that’s exactly what it’s there for: to look forbidding. Any determined trespasser can get past a fixed obstacle. Guards, cameras, and motion sensors — those are your real threats. But I figured my employer wanted me to make it in, so if I could get past the fence I’d be fine.

I figured right.

There was a light in a ground-floor study, the flicker of a fireplace. Solid construction; the floors didn’t squeak and the door opened silently. My employer didn’t look up from the papers he was studying at an old-fashioned desk; I decided not to bother him. I quietly sat in a comfortable-looking chair, trying to look like I’d been there all along. Then, I gently cleared my throat.

The effect was all I could have hoped for. His eyes bugged as he stared at me. “H-how–?!” he gasped.

In my line of work, it’s all about making a good first impression.

Who is our mysterious employer, and why does he want a private operative to appear at his house two hours past curfew? Tune in next time to find out!

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