Jali kept his bike at an almost leisurely pace, turning over the facts in his mind. To him at least, it was an obvious conclusion that whoever wanted the facts about his arrest had also killed Tollan. Yet despite of the number of people who might have a grudge against a Security Officer, Jali could not connect them to Tollan’s murder.
In his time as a Security Officer, Jali had known several officers who had fallen in the line of duty. Yet those killings had all been clearly done as examples, a reminder to the Security Force of what they were up against. Whoever had killed Tollan had meant it to look like an accident and had taken appropriate measures to make it so.
So the question remained, who would want Tollan silenced? Jali smiled bitterly. The right question to ask was: who wanted about everything else to make Tollan’s death look like an accident?
The answer was obvious. But that answer posed yet another question, why would—
Jali’s train of thought ground to a halt as the red and black speeder he had been unconsciously watching in his rear sensors followed him as he turned. With a racing heartbeat, Jali increased his speed. Was he being followed? He made several seemingly random turns, but the speeder kept on his tail, always following him at a certain distance behind so he couldn’t get more than a glimpse of it.
“Okay, flyboy,” Jali muttered to the image in the sensor, “let’s see how you go now.”
He did a drop shift, his bike almost free-falling through the air into the lane below causing loud protests from those already there. Jali ignored them, putting his bike through a series of turns that weaved through the glassy buildings. After a while Jali ventured another look, the speeder was still behind him.
“What the frag?” Jali shouted, almost turning around to give his pursuer a visual insult.
Jali gunned his bike, passing the Executive Building and coming up to the Senate. The large dome-shaped building gave him an idea. He steered downwards to where the politicians left their personal starships then headed right towards a large, bumpy Mon Calamarian craft, ducking in front of the nose just before it passed him.
He wended his way through the large spaceport, using the ships as cover and causing some annoyance with the pilots. Jali was just congratulating himself on his ingenuity when he could hear the faint thunder of engines behind him.
“Fragging hells,” he swore, “does this guy ever quit?”
It suddenly became less of a game and more of an annoyance. What will it take to lose this guy? Jali wondered And just who is he? Suddenly, the second question became far more important.
For a moment he considered just how he would find out, then increased his speed and forced his bike into a dive. This time he made only nominal effort to lose his pursuer. He guessed that whoever was behind him was slowly gaining confidence, as the distance between him and the speeder was lessening. Jali also deliberately steered to the left, ever so subtly so the speeder was not directly behind him. Then, just as he turned to pass over several low-roofed buildings, Jali acted.
He quickly reversed the throttle of his bike and he zipped backwards, the speeder going right past him but Jali was ready. Then he rapidly changed gears and followed the speeder, getting out his blaster pistol with one hand and blasting a few shots at the departing vehicle. The fourth shot hit something critical and the speeder went down, smoke pouring from the back.
Jali went down after it, watching the vehicle slide over the low roof of a small building with ear-wrenching shrieks. Jali landed his bike as someone got out of the speeder. It was Kian.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you that it’s dangerous to follow people late at night?” Jali asked, setting his blaster to “stun” and training it on the Security Officer. “Let me guess, Vantel set you up on this, didn’t he?”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Kian replied, glowering at the barrel of the pistol that was aimed at him.
“Vantel likes to get little boys like you to do his dirty work for him, doesn’t he?” Jali taunted.
Kian narrowed his eyes. “That's low, even for the likes of you, Dawler.”
“I know,” Jali shrugged, “but it’s true, innit?”
Kian evidently decided to ignore both Jali’s taunts and the blaster aimed at him. “I’m here to deliver another warning, Dawler,” he said.
“Oh, another one.” Jali smiled tightly. “When did I get my first, then?”
Kian ignored this as well. “This is an official message from Captain Vantel: the investigation is closed, stop looking for things that aren’t there.”
“So you’re his messenger boy now, are you?” Jali asked. “Well tell this to him from me: I’m not quitting until I know for sure who killed Tollan and he should know better to try and stop me.”
Kian sighed. “Dawler, I understand you and Antilles were friends…”
“No,” Jali interrupted, “that’s just where you’re wrong, you don’t understand. If you did you would not be right here, right now delivering such a pointless warning that I'm sure as space is cold that I’m not going to follow.”
“The second part of the message is,” said Kian in a dry, emotionless voice, “is that if you do not desist your current activities certain measures will be taken to make sure you do.” For the first time, Kian smiled, and the effect it caused on his face wasn't pretty. “You wouldn’t want to do inside again, Dawler, so soon? With your record you could get more time, perhaps ten years?”
“That's just what Vantel did to me last time,” Jali told him. “Shut me up so no one would listen to me.”
Kian shrugged. “Whatever,” he said. “Well, I delivered the message, I have no responsibility to making sure you follow it.” He turned to examine his damaged speeder.
When he turned around Jali had gone.
It was too late to go to Didi’s to check out Nami’s tip, so Jali returned to his gloomy, dusty apartment. Tira had long gone; no surprise there. Jali wondered if he had been too hasty in leaving Tira the way that he had. There had been no thought or consideration, just the harsh words following her rejection of him. No room for her appeals or even her pleadings, just straight and direct, almost clinical.
I’ll call her in the morning, Jali thought as he eased his boots off and removed his shirt, smooth it over, she’ll come around. He lit a cigarette and sat on the unmade bed. She just doesn’t understand about Tollan, he said to himself.
Kian’s threats from Vantel about keeping his silence more or less confirmed Jali’s suspicions: that Vantel had something to do with Tollan’s death and the “accident” story was a cover-up. Furthermore, this meant that Vantel had something to do with Jali’s arrest, and the Silver Ring that Guren had mentioned.
Does this mean that Vantel’s involved with the Silver Ring? Jali turned the thought over in his mind several times as he finished the cigarette, and though he didn’t like it very much he knew that he couldn’t rule anything out. And he knew, that if Vantel was involved with the Silver Ring, a lot of things would make sense. The transfer of credits to his account…Vantel confiscating the equipment in Tollan’s apartment including the information Tollan had wanted to give him.
It all makes sense, Jali thought as he stubbed out the cigarette, but why do I have the feeling there’s something missing?
He fell asleep, the question still unresolved.
Jali dreamt he was watching Tira dance at The Seventh Star the night he had first seen her. The jeers and catcalls of the customers, the slow, steady beat of the music and her feet against the metal counter, the close-fitting red, dancing-girl costume, her soft smile as she turned his way…
But Tira’s face was immediately blocked by Balor’s. The Devaronian looked rather agitated and shook Jali by the shoulders.
“Jalis, wakes ups nows,” Balor shouted. “Wakes ups, there’s ahs bombs ins this buildings!”
At the word “bomb” Jali was awake; he opened his eyes to see Balor looking down at him, shaking him by the shoulders.
“What…where…?” Jali asked, sitting up. “Did you say there’s a bomb?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Balor shouted, pulling Jali by the arm and dragging him out of bed. “Jalis, we’s leaves nows!”
Jali picked up his blaster, boots and wallet as Balor pulled him out the door and into the corridor. As they passed several closed doors he tried to stop Balor.
“Hey, shouldn’t we let people know that the whole building is about to go up?” Jali asked.
“Nots wholes buildings,” Balor lisped, “justs yours places.”
“How did you get in, Balor?” Jali demanded. “The door was locked.”
Balor laughed. “Yours locks, theys likes jokes fors mes!”
They came to the end of the corridor just as the explosion happened. Jali felt the building shudder and saw several jets of flame shoot from the open door of his apartment. He stood there for a moment, even ignoring the other residents who had been roused by the noise.
He looked at Balor. “How did you know about this?” Jali asked.
“I’s heards what’s youse doings,” Balor said, shaking his head. “Thiss warnings froms Nuadas.”
“Nuada?” Jali asked. “I’ve been looking for him, but how—?”
“I’s knows thingses,” Balor told him. “Yous don’ts looks fors Nuadas, Nuadas finds yous. No, no, no…” He laughed again. “Nuadas don’ts finds youse, he’s finds yours bodys.” Balor laughed louder, enjoying his joke.
“Listen, Balor, I need to find Nuada to get the proof I need for Tollan’s death,” Jali told him, willing to use any source in order to get this.
“Whose tolds yous that’s?” Balor asked.
“Guren,” Jali said. “He sent me to get the name from a wasted Twi'lek named Nami.”
“Namis tolds yous?” Balor looked very surprised at this. “Listens, we’s needs toos goes nows. Ifs Namis tolds yous, nots goods fors hers its is.”
Against his will, Jali found himself being pulled into the turbolift and then pushed out of the building, still wearing his undershirt and carrying his boots.
Balor had no trouble finding Nami’s apartment building and even less trouble opening the thick door so they could enter. The living room was empty, but when they entered the mirror-ceilinged bedroom the mauve Twi'lek’s naked, spread-eagled form on the bed told them all they needed to know.
Jali pressed two fingers against Nami’s carotid artery. Nothing.
“Jalis” Balor pointed to the several empty vials on the bedside table.
“Ryll,” Jali said, wrinkling his nose. “I knew she used, I just didn’t think she’d go this far.”
“She’s didn’ts,” Balor said pointedly, leaving the room.
Jali did the right thing and called the desk to report the death, within a half-hour the Security Force was processing the scene and asking Jali questions.
“I tell you, I've got nothing to do with this,” Jali pleaded with one of the officers. “I saw her earlier, and I was afraid she might have…done something to herself.”
“You really go out of your way to get in our way, don’t you Dawler?” asked Vantel as he walked into the room. “You better tell us everything, or you’ll go back in for interfering with an official investigation.”
“Just like you want,” Jali said under his breath. He turned away from Vantel to look at Nami, someone had courteously draped a sheet over her revealing parts, yet something in the way that the way that her neck was positioned made him examine her closer. He took a glove from the forensics team and ran it along Nami’s mauve flesh.
“What are you doing there, Dawler?” Vantel asked. “You’re a witness, not part of the investigation.”
“Whether I am or not is immaterial,” Jali snapped. “You missed something, look here.” He drew his finger along Nami’s neck. “You can’t see it because of the colour, but the skin’s uneven here and heavy like it’s bruised.” He lifted up one of her leku and examined it. “And look, here as well.” He compared her other head-tail and both showed signs of bruising. “Someone has some very practical ideas.”
Vantel came closer, so did one of the medical examiners. Both of them confirmed what Jali saw.
“But this is just Hutts in space,” Vantel retorted. “These marks could have been made yesterday, or last week.”
“Incorrect, Captain,” disagreed the medical examiner. “In my opinion this woman was strangled, and not in a very nice way.” With gloved hands he picked up both of Nami’s lekku and crossed them over her neck. “They probably crossed them like this when she was unconscious,” he paused, his voice faltering at the idea of it, “then pulled them back to close her windpipe.”