Wolfie and his brother are lounging on a New Washington park bench very early in the morning, waiting for their quarry.
Wolfie was hired to remove the necklace and pendant a certain young woman of the upper classes is wearing as she crosses the park. He has brought his brother along for muscle, even though he was told in no uncertain terms that the victim is not to be physically harmed. If Bro forgets, he'll regret it -- Wolfie will make sure of that.
Bro waits patiently, his face, like his brother's, well concealed behind a woolly scarf. It's a cold, dank, foggy morning.
Jacind has the feeling, which she can't explain, that she ought to go around the park this morning, no matter that it's twice as far that way.
Wolfie: Might be her coming now, Bro. He said a green coat. Look green to you?
Bro: Yeah, think so.
Bro has few talents but unlike his brother he's not colorblind.
Jacind, however, has been brought up to "audacity, always audacity", no matter what. Besides, she may have given her regular guards the slip on her way to see her lover, but the outer defensive perimeter -- whoever or whatever that is -- is presumably still intact.
Wolfie: Okay, follow me, and follow the plan. You hurt this bitch and you'll be hurting a lot longer.
Bro: Right. Gotcha.
Bro is determined not to screw up like the last time.
Wolfie stands and hobbles toward the young woman.
Wolfie: Please, Miz, can you spare a few coins for tea? I'm freezing out here, got no place to go.
Wolfie regularly practices his ingratiating whine.
Jacind carefully doesn't look at the beggar, but shakes her head in the most minimal way possible and mumbles a vague word of apology.
Wolfie: I'm a miner -- hurt my back -- trying to find work I can do here in the city.
Jacind goes on walking. You can't help them all, and if you start with one, all the others know somehow, and go after you as well until you never have any peace.
Wolfie hobbles after her, having no trouble keeping up.
Wolfie: Please, Miz, just a few coins.
Bro follows where the woman can't see him coming up behind her.
Wolfie: God is watching you, Miz.
Jacind doesn't listen. She just wants to get out of this park as quickly as she can, but she isn't going to actually speed up either. She gives another headshake, a little more pronounced this time.
Wolfie signals to his brother.
Layna has cut through a park while taking an early-morning jog through the New Washington fog. She's in New Washington with her new major professor, a Frihill archaeologist who spends far too much time talking to stuffy Gen politicians about artifact theft.
Bro grabs the woman's arms and holds her so Wolfie can do the delicate part.
Jacind struggles and kicks instinctively, though she's been told often enough her life is worth more than any bauble.
Wolfie reaches for her throat. He knows the necklace is there, under all the clothes, even if he can't see it.
Layna considers the case of the Ugly Muggers on the path ahead of her, who have just accosted a young woman. She has her own ideas about what to do with thieves.
Jacind stops struggling and holds still, though that doesn't make her captor loosen up any, as she had vaguely hoped for.
Wolfie: Stay calm, Miz, and you won't get hurt.
Layna has been bored lately, without any other ambrov Dar to practice with, and is practically ~~ itching ~~ for a fight.
Wolfie: Just after your jewelry here.
Layna gives a delighted whoop and sprints for the altercation.
Wolfie fumbles at the top buttons of her coat and blouse.
Bro: Hurry, Wolfie!
Wolfie hurries, cursing his brother who wasn't supposed to mention his name, or alias.
Layna is too excited to take her time, and so she just knocks Wolfie's feet out from under him.
Wolfie has gotten a grip on the pendant, and the chain breaks on Jacind's neck as he goes down.
Wolfie: Got it!
Bro lets go of Jacind and charges at Layna, hoping to give Wolfie a chance to get up.
Layna thinks Bro is building up a very nice amount of momentum, and helps him to continue it -- right past her and into some bushes along the side of the path.
Jacind gets out of the way of the ongoing battle, but she's too fascinated to actually run away. So this is the "outer defensive perimeter"? One young woman?
Bro: Ow! Run, Wolfie!
Wolfie scrambles to his feet and takes off in the opposite direction.
Layna recovers, turns, and trips Wolfie before he can go more than a few feet.
Wolfie retains the presence of mind not to use an appellation.
Bro scrambles out of the bushes and runs. He'll meet Wolfie at home as planned.
Layna sees the necklace in Wolfie's hand and jumps, landing on his back.
Wolfie: Argh! Stop that, you crazy bitch!
Jacind is horrified by this obvious overkill too.
Layna: Now, now. There's no reason to be rude. You were stealing from her, after all.
Layna reaches down and takes the necklace from Wolfie.
Wolfie lets the necklace go, figuring it's a lost cause.
Wolfie: Yeah, but we didn't beat her up. I should charge you with assault and battery, you violent lunatic.
Layna grins up at Jacind, feeling much better after the activity.
Layna: Is this all he took? We could strip search him if you like. He is kind of cute.
Jacind's outrage finds relief in words.
Jacind: Good God, no. You are crazy.
Layna reaches behind her and pinches one buttock, in a friendly fashion.
Jacind can't believe her father would hire someone who'd hire someone like this.
Wolfie: She is crazy, Miz. Better get out of here before she jumps you.
Jacind: Not without my -- my property.
Jacind picks up the bauble, sees that the chain is broken, and attempts to tie the ends in a crude knot. It doesn't work.
Layna reaches up and removes the thong she's using to hold her hair back.
Layna: Here. I think this would be long enough.
Layna holds out her hand for the bauble.
Layna grins in an open and friendly fashion. She really looks like a normal college student, except for the bit about sitting on a mugger.
Jacind: Umm, it's personal.
Jacind means that the artifact isn't Rittenberg family property.
Layna is unfamiliar with the idioms of the Gen upper class.
Jacind: [condescendingly] I mean, it's mine. Not the family's.
Wolfie: Bought it from a fence. Stolen from somebody else, most likely.
Wolfie hopes to muddy the waters.
Jacind turns her full attention on Wolfie for the first time.
Jacind: Liar! It was a gift!
Wolfie: So your boyfriend bought it from a fence.
Layna looks between Wolfie and Jacind in ~~ bemusement ~~.
Jacind: He did not. I mean, I don't have a boyfriend. I'm too young.
Jacind is still assuming Layna will report all this to her father.
Layna sighs and shakes her head.
Layna: Look, it's nothing to me whether you've got a fellow or not, although I'll admit I'd think it kind of strange if you didn't have one, at your age. Or a girl, I suppose.
Jacind ignores this remark completely.
Wolfie: Look, can I get up now? I'm getting soaked. I'll catch pneumonia.
Layna looks at Jacind.
Layna: Do you want to press charges against this loser?
Jacind is shocked all over again. First her protector seems dangerously violent, now she's dangerously naive.
Jacind: No, no. Let him go.
Wolfie: Thank you, Miz, very sporting of you.
Jacind: No publicity.
Jacind repeats the first words she learned after "Mama" and "Dada".
Wolfie: Not from me!
Layna: If that's what you want, although I still think it would be fun to search him.
Layna climbs off of Wolfie, keeping an alert eye on him while brushing some of the leaves and twigs off her loose pants.
Layna makes a shooing motion.
Layna: Run along, then.
Wolfie gets up carefully, and hobbles off, not faking the hobble this time.
Jacind watches him go, and then, still reluctantly but realizing she has no good alternative, hands the artifact to Layna.
Jacind: Would you mind?
Layna: Not at all.
Layna takes the object with a friendly smile.
Layna: I'm Layna ambrov Dar, visiting from Nivet Territory. What's your name?
Jacind assumes this is a cover name, and responds with her own cover name, somewhat impatiently.
Jacind: Flycatcher, of course.
Layna: Flycatcher? Isn't that a kind of bird? The ones that swoop after bugs?
Jacind waves her hands.
Jacind: Whatever. Can you rethread the -- item for me? I'm late as it is.
Layna, thus reminded, looks down at the item more closely. She had been expecting modern jewelry, and is ~~ surprised ~~.
Layna: This isn't anything made in the last hundred years. In fact, this is Ancient work.
Jacind tosses her head.
Jacind: Of course. I have the certificate of authenticity.
Jacind rummages through her bag, finds it, and hands it over, though she's not sure why she should -- something in Layna's tone.
Layna takes the form and skims it.
Layna: That's very interesting. Because this certificate describes a common type of Ancient coin that we find all over, and that's not what you have, here.
Jacind opens her eyes wide, then scrunches them shut.
Jacind: What?? What do you know about it?!
Layna: I've spent the past few months digging the shenned things up and cataloging them, that's how I know about them. This thing is too large, and....
Jacind doesn't know what she expected, but certainly not that.
Layna rubs some dirt off and squints at the letters, trying to read them in the faint light.
Layna: Shuven! He wasn't lying, after all! This is stolen.
Jacind has now slipped into accepting that Layna actually is an authority.
Jacind: What??? From whom? Or where?
Layna: It was stolen from a shipment of artifacts that were being sent from the Ancient ruins near Shen to Householding Frihill for evaluation and cataloging.
Jacind's suspension of disbelief collapses.
Jacind: And however can you tell that just by looking at it?
Layna: I know that because I'm the slob graduate student who dug the thing up, a few months ago. It was the first really interesting object I'd found since joining the dig. See? The script is completely different from the common Ancient language.
Jacind looks at the squiggles on the object uncuriously.
Jacind: Well, I suppose so.
Layna: Where did you get this?
Jacind: Well --
Jacind remembers that Layna said it didn't matter to her.
Jacind: You won't tell?
Layna: This artifact isn't all that valuable, in itself. Well, except to me, because it was so much more interesting than the other things I found.
Jacind is astonished.
Jacind: That you found? You, yourself, personally?
Layna: Of course. I told you, it was my first find of even marginal interest.
Jacind shakes her head. Apparently she's more rattled than she thought.
Jacind: Yes, of course. You dug it up.
Jacind decides to trust Layna.
Layna: What we really want is a lead on some of the other, more valuable artifacts that were in the same shipment. And on the thieving scum who took them, and are doing a brisk trade across the border.
Jacind: Well, my lover gave it to me. But I don't know where he got it, so I can't help much there.
Layna: Who is your lover? Perhaps he can tell us.
Jacind is caught up completely short again.
Jacind: Just a minute! Who is it you work for?
Layna: My House, my Sectuib, and my major professor. In that order.
Jacind hides her face in both hands.
Jacind: So you're not working for my father? As my outer perimeter defense? I thought -- You're so good at defense --
Jacind grinds to a halt.
Layna: I'm ambrov Dar. Hand-to-hand combat is our House specialty. As far as your father goes, I don't work for him. Unless he's an eccentric archaeologist from Householding Frihill?
Jacind laughs for the first time since this whole multilayered nightmare began.
Jacind: Hardly. He's -- a very important person.
Layna: Like your lover?
Layna makes a guess, based on her limited, third-hand knowledge of how insular the upper reaches of Gen society are.
Jacind: Like, yes. Not people to fool around with.
Jacind wants to add "Neither am I", but her helplessness in the face of attack makes that impossible even for her.
Layna shrugs: as a Householder, she is used to the idea that anyone who genuinely threatens her will have to face down her naztehrhai as well, and very few people are that suicidal.
Layna: You were going to tell me his name?
Jacind isn't going that far.
Jacind: I was not. You'll have to find your thieves some other way.
Layna: Well, that presents something of a problem. Because you see, the only real link I have to the original thieves at the moment is you. I'm willing to leave you out of it, if you give me the next link in the chain.
Jacind laughs in Layna's face.
Jacind: Who do you think you are, the cops? I don't have to tell you anything. All I have to do is yell and the real outer defense will come running.
Layna: If you won't, I'll have to publicly accuse you of being in possession of stolen artifacts. And I'm quite happy to spar with your "outer defense". That fellow earlier wasn't any challenge at all.
Layna: Do you really want your love life turned into an interTerritorial incident? I assure you, my only interest is in finding the thieves. If all your boyfriend did was purchase a trinket for you on the black market, I'll be happy to let him rest in obscurity, as long as he tells me where he got it.
Jacind belatedly realizes that their plan to elope to Simeland is going to fall down badly if they wind up being wanted by the Simeland authorities, and that maybe discretion is not the better part of valor this time.
Jacind: Very well, I'll tell you. But first you return the artifact.
Jacind extends her hand for it.
Layna: Sorry. If I'm going to keep your name, and your lover's name, out of things, I'm going to have to keep the evidence. At least for a while. I'll see if I can't get Frihill's Sectuib to release it to you when the thieves have been found, as a token of thanks.
Jacind grits her teeth.
Jacind: But --
Jacind sees that resistance is futile.
Layna: It's the best I can do. Sorry.
Layna really is sorry, not that that changes anything.
Jacind: Very well. He is Senator Burgess. And if you ever reveal that ....
Jacind knows the threat is empty, but she can't help it. She's a Rittenberg.
Jacind: And I'm Senator Rittenberg's daughter Jacind.
Layna: I'm pleased to meet you, Jacind Rittenberg. I wish you and Senator Burgess well. If he is as sensible as you, neither of your names will be associated with the apprehension of a smuggling ring.
Jacind stands silent for a long minute.
Jacind: Thank you for saving me from those men. I think.
Jacind is pretty sure by now that she would have been better off letting Wolfie and Bro steal the necklace after all. She keeps on saying nothing and stalks off in low dudgeon.
Layna: You're welcome.
Layna looks after Jacind's retreating back, shrugs, then puts the coin carefully in her pocket, wondering how best to approach this Senator Burgess.