"Charlie, you're a fool." Capitaine Elienne Desorlay hunched her shoulders against the draft whistling out of the ventilation duct, gaze steady on the door at the end of the alley. "This exchange program - that no-one's ever heard of before - just happened to pull your name out of the hat right when your capsuleer conceived more than a fancy to have you closer to home?"
Lieutenant Charles Etay, his thick coat more than a match for the breeze, more podder bribes, shrugged. "A job is a job all the same."
"A job that's a podder's grace and favour, for you to lose as soon as you lose her fancy?" Eli snorted, fumbling in her pocket for her cigarettes. "That's not a job, farm-boy. That's a polite way of offering to turn you into her putain.."
That got her no more reaction than a faint smile. "Such a way with words, you have," Etay said, leaning forward to cup his hands around her lighter as the draft made the flame flicker and dim.
"Oh, and how's it going to be, then, you tell me, when she tires of your pretty face?" Eli drew on the cigarette and when it lit, puffed smoke in Etay's face. "When you tell her no when she wants to hear yes? When you think yours when she's thinking hers?"
Etay took a step back and turned to watch the door again. "There's a job there. There'll be one here, if I need it." He shrugged a little."Do you think this asshole's going to show?"
"He'll show," Eli said with flat certainty.
"He's got to know we'll be watching his girl," Etay said. "The smart thing would be to -"
Eli flicked ash downwind. "You're forgetting something."
"One, he's a criminal. And crime makes you stupid," Eli said, holding up her thumb.
"Well, that explains a great deal," Etay said mildly.
"And two," Eli said, raising her forefinger to make the shape of a gun, "He's in love. And love, farmboy ..." She aimed at him. "Love makes you dumber than dumb."
Etay glanced sideways at her, long lashes half lowered over his limpid gaze, the breeze ruffling his hair into artless disarray, leaning against the wall as if he belongs on the cover of a holo, not that he knows it, which is almost more annoying, Fortune fuck him. "I recall you saying something along those lines once or twice before."
"A pretty girl crooks her finger, and a silly boy goes running. And then discovers he can't go wandering off again so easily."
Etay laughed soundlessly. "You think Cia plans to keep me chained up and captive?" he asked. "To father the rest of her children?'
"Stranger things have fucking happened, farmboy, most of them in podder's hangars."
Etay took a step sideways as a passer-by obscured his view of the door. "She's not like that, Eli."
"Oh, not like that, not like that, says the man so head-over-heels in love with her he can't see her any more clearly than he can the shadow behind the sun." Eli burnt the cigarette down to filter on a single ferocious inhalation and dropped it. "Fortune fuck me, and Robert just finished repainting the bathroom."
"Painting the ... " Etay stopped, eyes steady on the end of the alley. Not a stupid boy, no, Eli thought. Just a foolish one. "Eli ..."
"Someone has to keep an eye on you, farmboy. Someone with a clear head."
The corner of Etay's mouth that Eli could see twitched upwards. "And you're volunteering?"
"Partners, remember?" She took a wide step around him as a face familiar from the squadroom holoboard showed at the end of the alley. "So you tell your pretty podder mama-to-be that this exchange program needs to have room for your senior partner. Flutter your eyelashes at her, or something."
She jerked her chin towards their target. "You going to argue with me or you going to make this arrest?"
Etay's head turned, his eyes narrowing, and he reached for the PRD on his belt. Cop trumps love-sick fool, Eli thought to herself.
For now, anyway.