"Do you know why you're here?"
Capitaine Elienne Desorlay took out a cigarette and lit it, ignoring the wrinkled nose of the man across the desk. "We'll ask the questions, M'ser Proleque," she said on a gust of smoke.
Beside her, Lieutenant Charles Etay coughed politely. "What my partner means to say," he said smoothly, "Is that we're eager to hear how we can assist the F.I.O. in this matter of ...?"
Tomas Proleque ran his hand over his bald head. "You can assume I'm more than immune to your provincial good-cop bad-cop routine," he said, and genial as his tone was Eli felt the hair lift on her arms. "And you should assume that the last thing, the very last thing, Capitaine Desorlay, that you want, is for me to answer your questions."
Eli couldn't bring herself to nod. She drew on her cigarette instead, started at Proleque through the smoke, and waited.
Been waiting all Fortune-fucked day, after all.
Called back to the Fed on five minutes notice for a consultation, that had been the first sign something was wrong. S.C.I.D. didn't spring for interbus tickets when a comm call would do.
The only reason to haul us over here is so we're in arm's reach when they decide they don't want us leaving again.
That hadn't been good, no.
Discovering that S.C.I.D. had yanked them back to hand them over to the F.I.O. with a bow on top, just about ...
Eli had been searching her memory for what she or Charlie might have done that had the F.I.O. sniffing after them for the hours they'd been cooling their heels in a blank grey waiting room. The Eletta business, maybe, had been the best she could come up with.
Until Proleque looked at her, looked at Etay, and smiled. "You know Ciarente Roth," he said.
Fortune fuck me and fuck him and especially fuck all podders everywhere, good and hard.
I knew that girl was trouble.
Etay made a mild, non-committal noise, and Eli was impressed despite herself by his restraint.
Proleque's smile widened. "Captain Roth is not the subject of today's discussion, Lieutenant Etay. Nor are her children. Your children." Unspoken, That could change hung in the air. "I simply need to know how her father is doing."
Her ... "Father?" Eli asked. Well, clearly, she had one, Eli, good thinking there.
Had one, has one ... a father the F.I.O. care about.
"I'm afraid I can't help you," Etay said. Proleque opened his mouth to speak and Etay went on, his slightly raspy voice mild and even. "I've never met the man. I don't think I've heard Captain Roth mention him more than once or twice."
"And what did she say?" Proleque was equally mild and even. Nonetheless, the air in the room seemed to chill a little. Eli felt as if she was watching a particularly fierce mindclash match, the opponents testing each other's weakness. And the first mistake will be the last.
"That he was travelling," Etay said. "That they were estranged. That she didn't know where he was and didn't care to find out."
Deep undercover, more like.
Proleque looked at something on the screen of his terminal, touched a key. Probably his shopping list, Eli thought. Trying to make us think he has some sort of incriminating transcript. She might be provincial but police-work had its universal patterns. "Has he been in contact with her?"
"She hasn't mentioned," Etay said blandly.
Proleque looked at the screen again. "That wasn't what I asked."
Don't lie for her, Charlie, Eli willed him. She's safe from men like this. You aren't.
Nor am I, for that fucking matter.
Etay shot his cuffs and folded his hands on one knee. "I don't believe he's been in contact with her, no."
Etay smiled, very slightly. "Estranged."
Proleque matched the smile. "Do you know why?"
"It's not something we've discussed."
"Again, you answer a question I haven't asked," Proleque said. "Do you know why Captain Roth and her father are estranged?"
"I don't, no," Etay said, and Eli felt her heart sink as she heard the flat note of a lie in his voice.
"Would it surprise you to learn that it is due to her membership of Sansha's Nation?" Proleque asked genially.
"It would surprise me to learn that Captain Roth is a member of Sansha's Nation, yes." There was no inflection to Etay's voice.
"But not that her father objected to such an allegiance?"
Etay smiled, bland and sunny. "I imagine many fathers would."
"But you still say you have no knowledge of Captain Roth's contact with her father," Proleque said.
"I have no knowledge that Captain Roth has had any contact with her father," Etay corrected. He smiled again. "Does M'ser Roth say they have?"
"M'ser Roth - " Proleque said, and stopped. Eli saw the faintest flicker in his gaze, and knew, and felt Etay know beside her as well.
The match was over. And farmboy wins.
"You've misplaced him, haven't you?" Etay asked kindly.
Like he's slipped down behind the couch cushions, Eli thought, and then, on a fresh chill, they haven't 'misplaced' him.
They think the podder has.
Not by accident.