Two days later, Jali was back at Didi’s, smoking and looking into his plate with such a miserable expression that even the droid waitress took pity on him.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked him in her irritatingly cheery voice. “You look like you’ve lost your starship and found a speeder bike instead.”
Jali glowered at her and she quickly flitted away.
“Hows its goings Jalis?” asked a familiar voice.
Jali turned away, he was not in the mood to talk to Balor.
But Balor wasn't aware of this. He continued to talk whether Jali liked it or no, and Jali was forced to listen. Finally, his patience at an end, Jali spoke.
“Balor, I’m not interested in anything you have,” he said in a tight voice. “You can go and play in zero-gee without a vac-suit for all I care.” He turned his back on Balor but the Devaronian grabbed his shoulder.
“I’s knows what’s wrongs,” Balor said. “Antilses is deads. Yous sads, I’s cans understands.”
“Well, if you understand so much” retorted Jali impatiently. “you’d realise that I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
“I’s understands,” Balor said, almost amiably. “Anyways, I’s was goings tooes talks tooes Narks. Hes knows somethings thats I’s cans uses.”
With a grin, Balor went off but Jali was completely unaware. His mind raced frantically. Narks… Narks… Narks ran that bar on Vos Gesal Street…the Seventh Star…seven asterisks…seven stars. He slammed his fist on the counter. Why hadn’t he seen it before?
Slamming some currency on the counter, he walked out at a frantic pace and was off on his speeder bike for the underlevels.
The Seventh Star, situated at the lower end of Vos Gesal Street in the Uscru Entertainment District, an area of Coruscant that no one wanted to be in unless they had to, was a tapcaf that one approached for only two reasons: to either hire or be hired as a source of information. The Sullustan proprietor was named Narks and he had allowed this trade—some said encouraged—so his establishment was rather well patronised than otherwise. Yet it had many clones in the galaxy—small, dirty places such as this one where the main bill of fare was information. From Corellia to Tatooine, from Nar Shaddaa to Corulag, nearly every planet had its own.
The cracked, grimy tiles with large chunks missing, the beaten durasteel tables, the stools that would topple over if you so much as looked at them, the large drink synthesiser behind the bar…it was all eerily familiar to Jali.
What was most noticeable was the circle of plasteel stars over on one wall, six stars with another in the centre. They had been there when Narks had bought the place, thus the name. Jali had always thought they looked rather tacky.
Jali sat down at one of the empty tables, leaning on the tabletop on his elbows, and then removing them when he noticed the sticky substance covering the metal. He took a cautious look around, Balor was talking to Narks at the far end of the bar, but neither showed a sign of seeing him. That was fine with him. Jali ordered a drink when the waitress came around, and when she brought it to him he asked if he could see Guren Trell. The Falleen waitress looked at him in surprise, but she did as she said. She returned a few minutes later and escorted him to a small room behind a grubby curtain.
The room was small and had two stools with a table between them. Jali sat on one of them and waited, the room had one purpose only—the exchange of information.
Guren Trell entered soon enough. He was Nautolean, his headtails tied back so they were away from his face. Trell was tall, broad and had a loud raucous voice. He glared warily at Jali.
“When Miarka said it was you I didn’t believe her,” he said, sitting on the other stool so he was opposite Jali. “I heard about Antilles.” His voice showed no sympathy as he had none.
“That’s what I'm after,” Jali said. “Tollan had some information, I want to know where he got it.”
Unlike Bolar, Jali knew that he could trust whatever Guren said. Often in the past he had asked Guren to verify something that Bolar had told him, just to be sure. The only time he would get nothing of use out of Guren was when he refused to say anything at all. That was because Guren had contacts that were far too dangerous to compromise, dangerous for the buyer as well as Guren, as the Nautolean was known for letting someone else take the fall for him.
Jali shuddered, had that happened with Tollan?
Guren downed his drink, a Mad Mrelf, a drink that Jali wouldn’t touch in a fit, and was silent for a few moments. Jali lit a cigarette and waited. Finally Guren spoke. “Well, I can’t help you very much.” He put the tall glass on the table so it was between them. “I might as well tell you the whole story. Tollan came to me about a year ago and asked about Senix Breen.”
“That Zabrak that I arrested,” Jali confirmed, exhaling smoke. “The one that they said I was paid to arrest and I got into the clink.”
“Yeah, so I told him that I couldn’t really help him a lot,” Guren continued. “But I put him in touch with Nami Kotour.”
“Nami Kotour,” repeated Jali, dragging on the cigarette. “Never heard the name.”
“Unlikely, she’s some senator’s Twi’lek love toy,” Guren told him. “Don’t know which one, but they’re all the same to me.” Guren probably knew exactly which senator had the Twi’lek girl; he just chose not to say so. “So anyway, I sent him to her as I know that’s the best way in to the Silver Ring.”
“The Silver Ring?” Jali knew he had heard of it. “It’s a criminal organisation, isn’t it? What can you tell me about that?”
Guren’s face became a closed mask. “Let’s first see your currency.” Jali started to pile credits on the table, when he got to a certain point Guren started talking again. “Yes, it’s a criminal organisation. They have a large slice of whatever contraband comes in to the capital as well as a lot of other stuff.”
This was news to Jali. “What about Black Sun?”
“What about ‘em?” Guren shot back. “Haven’t you heard? Whole organisation blown away, some crazy Zabrak with a lightsaber. They killed Lex, all the Vigos, everyone on top. So the Silver Ring’s here now.”
“So, the Silver Ring,” Jali repeated. “Was Senix Breen one of theirs?”
“I reckon,” Guren said. “And let me tell you one thing, Dawler, they’ll have found out by now that you’re out. If you know what’s good for you, you know that no one will trust you. That means if it comes to them or you…” He snapped his fingers and Jali tried not to stare. He had known that he had been onto something with Breen’s arrest, but something like this… “And how will this Nami get me in?” Jali asked.
“She won’t,” Guren told him. “She’s more like the next stop, if you can get anything out of her.”
Jali looked at him carefully. “What do you mean?”
Guren winked one of his large black eyes. “You’ll find out,” he said. “Here’s the address.” He scribbled something down on the back of a receipt and gave it to Jali. “That all you want to know?”
“Yeah, this should get me somewhere,” Jali said, stubbing out the cigarette. He left the room, paid for his drink, and then was on his way back to his apartment.
When he arrived back at his apartment, Tira was waiting for him outside.
“Were you waiting long?” Jali asked as he prised his arms from around her and tried to remove her purple lipstick from his mouth.
“Long enough to wonder where you were,” she replied.
Jali opened the door and held it for her. “I was out, and I just got back.”
When they were inside she put her arms around him again. “I know you’re still upset about Tollan, Jali, I’m sorry,” she buried her face on his shoulder. “It must be awful, to lose someone like that.”
Jali frowned. “From what I can recall, Tira, you lost two of your friends at your last job.”
Tira looked at him. “It’s not the same,” she protested. “It just…happened if you found out too much. Not like what happened with Tollan.”
“I’m not so sure,” Jali murmured.
Tira stared at him, shocked. “What are you talking about?”
Jali shook his head. “Nothing, nothing.” He gave a small smile. “Well? Do you?”
Tira smiled back at him.
Somehow it seemed wrong, given that Tollan had died only the previous night, so it was over sooner rather than later. Afterwards Tira was sleeping and Jali had a cigarette, the ash falling on the sheet and making tiny holes.
“Jali?” Tira’s voice was very faint, as if she was still asleep and dreaming.
“What was it you meant before? About Tollan?”
Jali paused, the cigarette halfway to his mouth. Should he tell Tira what he had found so far? When he was in the Security Force he had made it a policy not to discuss his cases, except with Tollan perhaps. But now…
“I don’t think that his death was accidental,” Jali told her.
“What?” Tira sat up, the sheet on her chest falling down into her lap. “But that’s impossible!”
“No, not at all,” Jali replied calmly. “He was found in a CO2 tank, he could just as easily have been pushed and then locked in.”
“Or there could be another reason why he was in there,” Tira suggested.
“Such as?” Jali prompted, staring at her with an amused smile.
“Such as he could have thought he heard someone in there and went in,” Tira said. “Then they could have sealed the tank, and filled it without knowing he was inside.”
“You seem to know quite a lot about this,” Jali teased, taking a drag of the cigarette.
“My father was a gas prospector,” Tira told him, crossing her arms against her bare chest.
“Oh, so that explains everything, then?” Jali mocked.
“I'm just trying to make you see things differently,” she said defensively. “You used to see a lot of murder, so you think you still do see it.” She bundled the sheet around her bare body.
“I never said anything about murder,” Jali reminded her gently, waving the cigarette towards her.
“No, but that’s what you meant, isn’t it?” Tira chided.
“True,” Jali said, stubbing out his cigarette and crossing to the refresher.
After a moment Tira followed him, placing her bare arms around his bare shoulders. Jali looked at her strangely. Didn’t she notice he was kind of busy?
“Do you mind?” he asked her. “I’ll be finished in a moment and then you can use it.”
“Sorry,” she said, draping a towel over her shoulder and leaving the refresher.
When he was done he pulled on his trousers and looked for her. She was standing at one of the windows looking out; he went and stood by her. It wasn't much of a view, all they could see was the next apartment building a few hundred metres away.
“What’s wrong?” Jali asked, attempting to take the towel off her shoulder.
“Oh, nothing,” she whispered. She looked up at him for a moment, and then back to look out the window. “It’s just…nothing.”
“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” Jali said, his hand on her bare shoulder. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about us…”
“No, don’t say it,” Tira said rather sharply walking away from him.
“What?” Jali followed her. “Every time I bring this up you always avoid it, we need to talk.”
“No, we don’t,” Tira said, hugging the towel close around herself. “I’ve been thinking too, and…what you’re talking about.” She shrugged. “It’s just not something I can see myself doing.”
“Why not?” Jali asked.
“Well, I like it how it is,” Tira replied. “No strings, no attachments…I don’t see why we should change it.”
“So now I see what you’re really like,” Jali said, his voice having all the finality of a slamming door. “So I was wrong, I thought you’re waiting for me actually meant something.” He gave a bitter laugh. “Well, it’s been fun, show yourself out.” He walked away.
“No, Jali, wait!” She ran after him. “Jali, it isn’t like that at all!”
Jali froze in the act of putting on his shirt. Then he seemed to come to a decision and continued buttoning. “I thought there was something in you that wasn’t there,” he said, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth slightly altering his voice. “It’s my mistake, not yours.” He pulled on his jacket.
“Jali, don’t go,” Tira pleaded, taking his hand. “We can talk about this.”
Jali lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. “This is it, Tira,” he told her. “What I want from you, you can’t give me. There’s no point in arguing.” He took out the cigarette. “You can see yourself out.”
He went out, the door shut and Tira was left standing there in the sheet, blinking away tears.
“I wish I had told him,” she sobbed, collapsing on the bed.