I got there at six, which is four hours earlier than I usually like to reacquaint myself with the world of consciousness. I guess Honeycomb took the exact same view of mornings; the proprietor of Frederick’s turned up at quarter past nine, by which time I’d casually chatted with all eight of the regulars and greeter staff who rezzed by.
“Mr Luck,” she said. “I’m surprised you turned up so… obviously. Don’t you have an alt you can use for your snooping?”
“Hardened private detectives like to go dancing too, sugar,” I replied. “Deep down, we’re just as soft and fluffy as anyone else.”
“Really, Mr Luck?”
“Not even remotely,” I said. “But it makes a great pickup line.”
“I’d rather hoped that you were at least here to work on my case,” she said, her use of the past perfect injecting somehow that air of professional disappointment, “not just looking to remove yet another of my guests from the premises.”
“Calm yourself, honey,” I told her. “I’m just waiting for newbie 47 to show up.”
“You think I’ll get a visit?” she asked. “I told him rather unambiguously not to return to this place.”
“That was before you lost half your customers,” I reminded her. “He might think you’ve warmed to the idea since then.”
“I’ll never pay, Mr Luck. Never. He can run me into the ground for all I care.”
“All I ask is you keep him here long enough for me to get a fix on his IP.” I rezzed a new pair of sunglasses and pointed them out to her. “Picked up these babies last night after our conversation. A friend of mine just invented them. Portable IP detection. When I say ‘friend’, of course, I mean associate. When I say ‘associate’ I mean someone who really wants what I know about his love-life to stay locked up in this cynical head of mine.”
“Portable IP detection?” she repeated. “I never knew such a thing was possible.”
“I didn’t know myself until last night,” I told her. “Only the cutting edge when you hire me, sweetheart.”
“So you can tell what my IP is?” she asked. I read her off the numbers. “That’s amazing. You’re quite correct.”
“Just remember to promote me to all your friends,” I said, knowing she wouldn’t.
“Well in any case,” she commented, “I don’t think he’ll show up. Hang around as much as you like, but I think it’ll just be time wasted. Why don’t you go over to Dominoe’s and make some enquiries there?”
“Already on it, sugar,” I replied. I had one of my oldest alts perched on the piano stool there, making conversation with a camper who’d ‘cleaned’ at the joint for nearly a year. “Honey?” he was saying. “Yeah, we see her from time to time. Her and the boss have been at war over punters for as long as I can remember. Between you and me, pal, I think they’re more interested in destroying each other than getting any actual custom. The word is things aren’t so good for her place right now. Rico must be laughing himself sick.”
“But I think you might be surprised,” I told Honeycomb. “Few extortionists expect the first meeting to go well. Demonstrating the effectiveness of their product is fairly standard practice.
“Look by the door,” I told her, before she had a chance to reply. And it was a case of perfect timing.
A day old newbie was entering the establishment. His name was Alton74.
Part seven (the final installment) will be published on Friday...