Another story set in the “Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog” universe. Most of my stories since “Honest” have been set in Kabul City since that’s where the original story was set. However, I felt that it was time for a change of scenery.
Plus, the current situation in Sri Lanka made me want to set a story there. So here’s where my mind went given what’s going on in Sri Lanka presently — an alternate, future Sri Lanka set in a post-apocalyptic, post-alien-encounter world…
Note: “Sir” Lanka in the title is not a typo 🙂 You’ll understand the reasoning when you read the story.
“You want me to do what?” DaVic spluttered, trying to make sense of what he’d heard.
The woman sitting across from him stared at him calmly, her brown eyes drilling into his own as if she dared him to look away. She held DaVic’s gaze for a second longer than was strictly necessary and then nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“You heard me,” she said casually, dismissing his reaction as if he was a child throwing a tantrum.
“But … but … the Thieves Guild … they aren’t going to take kindly to me horning in on their territory …”
“Don’t worry about the Thieves Guild, they are onboard with this,” the woman said matter-of-factly.
It had been a slow day. Not that a private detective got much work in the island city of Sir Lanka. [Long ago there had been a lot of debate about the name of the island — some insisted that it had been called Sri Lanka, but others were just as adamant that it should be Sir Lanka. Given the inhabitants propensity to bow down and scrape to those in authority as “Sir”, and the fact that one such person in authority had insisted that the name be Sir Lanka, they’d firmly — some would even say with extreme prejudice — settled on Sir Lanka.]
The whole island city was generally locked down tight by the Thieves Guild and their chairman, RaBlu, who ran the place with an iron fist — in fact, some liked to say that it was an iron fist in a velvet glove, but the velvet had rotted away long ago and all that remained was the iron fist.
What with the Thieves Guild’s license to steal with impunity, and the Cheese (the police, corrected DaVic’s inner voice, but he repeated stubbornly — the Cheese) insisting on clamping down on any freelance stealing by the citizenry, there wasn’t much scope for burglary or petty peculation of any kind.
When you added the Assassin’s Guild — who literally were willing to kill anybody who encroached on their territory — to the mix, the only business that a PI got in Sir Lanka was the occasional case of infidelity or industrial espionage.
But this client had turned out to be something out of the ordinary.
She’d simply walked in off the street just as dusk was falling, almost as if she walked in the shadow of darkness. She had not bothered to give him her name and had simply started off the conversation by saying, “I want you to steal something!”
The Thieves Guild had never been known to let anybody else steal anything. Nor did they let a non-member get away once they’d stolen something. They hunted them down like rabid bloodhounds and stopped only once the offender had been caught and punished.
So the woman saying not to worry about the Guild made no sense. Well, no sense unless …
“You just want me to be the patsy, don’t you?” DaVic asked, staring at the woman with all the indignation that an out-of-work (“almost out-of-work”, his inner voice corrected primly) could muster. “You want me to steal something and then I’ll be left holding the bag while you rat me out to the Guild and then run off into the night with the loot. That’s it, isn’t it?”
The woman shook her head, whether it was in impatience or anger DaVic couldn’t tell. “No you dummy, the Guild won’t mind because you’re doing the job for the Guild!”
DaVic stared at her in confusion while his mind darted around like a tiny rabbit trapped in a cage with a hungry fox.
Was she telling the truth? Why would the Guild have somebody like him steal something when they had so many professional thieves at hand? And if what he’d been told was true, what would happen to him once he did what he was asked — was a visit from the Assassins Guild on the cards next?
“Calm down!” his inner voice counseled him in the tone that his mother used to use with him when he was younger, much younger. “You don’t have to take the job and if you don’t take it, they have nothing to hold against you, right?”
“But then you won’t have any credits either, would you?” countered what he thought of as the counter voice, the angel to the devil (or vice versa) to his inner voice. “Starving artists might make it but the only place you find starving detectives is in the mortuary”
The counter voice could be a bit of an asshole sometimes. But it was true. His bank balance was so low that atoms would have looked like skyscrapers to it. He needed a job. But a job was no good to him if he was dead.
“Why should I believe you? You know how unusual this is. So give me a reason to believe you!” he said to the woman, clinging fast to the hope that this job was genuine.
The woman seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if unsure what to do. But surely she knew this would happen? Or did she think him so dumb that she thought he’d take on the job without any questions?
She seemed to come to a decision. “OK, you can’t tell anybody any of this …” she paused, smiled slightly and then continued, “Plus, it’s not as if you can get anybody to corroborate any of this, right?”
“The job is for the big man …”
DaVic spluttered. “You mean …”
The woman looked at him silently for a moment and then nodded.
DaVic needed to hear her say it, “The chairman of the Guild himself?”
The woman simply nodded.
DaVic snickered, “Pull the other one, lady! RaBlu has enough people to do his dirty work for him. He’s not going to to come to me …”
The woman just stared at him, as if waiting for him to tie himself up in knots now that she’d given him the rope.
DaVic stared back at her in silence, willing her to break the silence. He didn’t have to wait long — “She really must be in a hurry,” his inner voice whispered to him. She shrugged and reached into her pocket.
DaVic tensed. Was she going to kill him, perhaps?
Instead of the expected gun, she pulled out a POD. [PODs, or Personal Omni-Devices had become very popular amongst people on the planet since the arrival of the aliens. They’d just been eking out a living on a planet devastated by centuries of conflict. But now here was humanity, leap-frogging over the cesspit of post-apocalyptic civilization to the full-blown joys of advanced technology!]
She tapped on the screen, scrolled, and tapped again and a holographic image sprang to life above the image. The image showed RaBlu and he was saying something. DaVic leaned closer.
“I need you to steal something for me. Just listen to the lady. She will tell you what needs to be done. And you can do the job without fear. I’ll make sure that the Guild doesn’t come after you for this.”
DaVic drew in a breath and held it for a moment as he mulled over the implications of the message. It definitely had been RaBlu, so that part of the woman’s story at least was true. So what remained was what they intended to do with him once the job was done, and how to make sure that he lived long enough to enjoy his fee.
“Your very substantial fee,” prodded his inner voice. “If RaBlu is involved and he wants things kept quite, you can bet that you can charge a lot more than the going rate …”
The thought of a hefty bank balance cheered DaVic right up. He was on the point of opening his mouth to discuss his fee when the woman cocked her head to the side as if listening to something.
Then, for the first time since he’d met her, he saw a flicker of emotion break through the icy facade that he’d seen up to now from her. DaVic couldn’t be certain, but had that been a hint of fear on her face?
She looked at DaVic with slightly widened eyes and whispered urgently, “They’ve found me. We’ve got to get out of here!”