When a demon invites you over for a barbeque with her family, it pays to wear your nicest holster. If your nicest holster, and gun, are currently police evidence, it pays to have a spare set.
Leaning on he metal railing, I idly watched the plume of smoke curling up. The numerous sounds of somewhat belligerent young Descended was behind me. Though, it was fairly easy to tune out.
I concentrated on waiting for the tell-tale creak of the grill's lid opening, followed by the hiss of cooking meat and a rather pleasurable, anticipatory smell. I gave a thin smile. Opening the girl also quieted down the rambunctious broodlings.
It did not last. Soon enough the lid was closed, and without fresh meat to distract them, the gaggle of young people went back to their rather noisy play.
There was a creak on the railing.
"Mer Valli was awfully generous," I noted looking out at the side street three stories below the patio.
"Repaying a favor," Camille said.
I heard her sniff.
"I don't know how Helen stands those things."
"That's why I'm smoking out here," I stated, tapping my cigarette on the railing to let the ash fall down.
Camille glanced down a vague look of disapproval on her face.
"No one's down there," I assured. This was her place and I did not want to upset her neighbors.
"The marshal have anything more to say about our little adventure?"
"Vallhun's a bit put out that we're insisting on playing by the book."
The Descended snorted. "I'm not worried about that. It was a good shoot, we were justified."
I held my tongue. That may be true, but the system still had their own say in the matter. And even out here, the system worked at its own pace. There was too much blood, too many bodies, and Vallhun was too straight of a shooter, to pretend that there was no crime. And since there was a crime, there had to be criminals, and there had to be victims. It was in our interest for Camille and myself to take the role of victims.
"I'm worried about the men that left. You know that dandy with the fancy cane has to have more men."
I blinked at her.
"Yeah, you have a personal involvement, but your company does work for the Marshall's office. Research, clerical support. Don't we even help them with payroll validation or something?"
"Medical expense reporting," I shrugged.
"Right, so while you Executive Victoria Fallbrook aren't allowed to work with the Marshals on this account, our little company has other managers."
"Which aren't allowed to tell me anything."
I stood up and turned to lean with my back on the railing. She followed. We spent a moment watching her family, and Helen, enjoying themselves. The patio was rather nice being built from recovered pallet-wood and with the siding helped obscure that the building was made out of stacked container boxes.
"There's more to this. They would have been better off with less flashy mods, or even a few compact pieces, and folding the money they saved in some decent training"
"Quality instructors tend to shy away from gangs of flesh-smugglers. Even ones that, hypothetically, would have connections in Descended Waters."
The grill opened, and the broodlings quieted down. A few moments later, a woman with brown hair in a short bob walked over to us holding a plate with a couple burgers. "This again?" she asked.
I eyed the burger on the left side of the plate.
"Helen," Camille bowed her head and then took the burger nearest her.
"Is it wrong that part of me regrets, asking for your help, Vicky." Helen frowned and looked to my cigarette.
I stubbed it out in a little case I carried in my pocket for that purpose.
"The nickname is," I stated as I lifted the bun and inspected the condiments.
"Mer Valli's glad for your help," Camille said.
"Yes, but it's still so much trouble," Helen pushed the burger into my hand. "Stop. It's red onion, not yellow. Mustard on one side, mayo on the other, no ketchup."
"You're a good friend," I took a bite.
"Covering your butcher costs for a while is the least I could do."
I concentrated on enjoying the burger. I did not want to tell Helen just how many steaks it would take, even out here to equal a weeks worth of our attorney's fees. However, given she worked on the telescope array at the island's summit I was certain she could do the calculation faster than I could.
And given the smirk she was giving me...
"Besides, you were, technically, or fiscally, on company business, no?"
I nodded and took another bite.
"And once the marshals find them it'll be over?"
I shook my head. "Hans and his men look like local distribution and muscle; they're not the type with access to long range shipping."
"That sounds like an awfully educated guess on your part," Helen noted.
"But the other managers aren't allowed to share their research with you," Camille said after she finished her burger.
"Either way, a regular supply needs people on the acquisition end, and I doubt they were only selling in Mooring."
"Ick, so there's another group out there somewhere else killing people for their flesh?" Helen shivered. "Flesh-peddlers, so creepy."
"It's not just that," Camille noted.
Helen frowned and glanced at me.
"If they had gotten off the ground here, they'd be selling to people. Customers, repeat customers."
Distaste welled on my friend's face, but her eyes were calculating. "Blackmail?" she hesitantly ventured.
"Yeah," Camille sighed. "Human customers especially, but anyone that goes to flesh-peddlers could have their culinary tastes becoming public used as leverage."
"They'd be extorted into giving up secrets?"
"Depends on where they work. Someone at the Navy base or the imperial bank, or in working for Victoria could have plenty to offer."
"Someone else might not have secrets but there's always something they could do." I exhaled.
Helen winced. "They'd be ordered to find more flesh... more bodies?"
"If they're ruthless enough."
"Yeah..." Helen coughed. "I'm really sorry for asking you for a little favor."