“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked Honeycomb. “What do you mean by you thought I’d think you a drama queen?”
“You know how things work in the metaverse, Mr Luck,” she said to me. “I start talking about my customers leaving due to an extortion racket and the next thing you know the blogosphere is lit up with talk of the paranoid rationalisations of a failing manager. Gossip is the true currency of the virtual world.
“This group is very secretive,” she continued. “It of course does not officially exist. The guy who visited me was a one day old newbie and the very next day his account was deleted. He told me I’d be visited on the third day of every month by another newbie – a different one every time – with the characters 4 and 7 somewhere in their name. I was to pay them without any conversation, and within five minutes of them entering the venue.”
“And you told him you wouldn’t pay?” I asked her, grateful for the long remark because it gave me time to express my appreciation of Burnished’s lip work.
“I told him to fuck off,” she replied after a pause, during which time Cassandra ran her fingers down the front of my shirt at Dominoe’s and Burnished just removed my shirt altogether. “He was asking for 25% of my takings.”
“Do you have a log of this conversation?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “The conversation was conducted entirely in voice. He told me at first he’d broken both his wrists in a fall in RL and couldn’t type, and then asked if we could go into a private call so he could ask me something.”
“Not so newbie that he didn’t know how to operate voice, then,” I commented.
“So tell me, honey,” I said, quickly switching viewers to type some repeated ms into both of my other windows, “what exactly do you want from me out of all of this?”
“Proof that these people exist!” she exclaimed. “Proof that they’re ruining my business! Then I can go to the authorities and not fear being laughed at for inventing conspiracy stories to hide poor management skills. This is my reputation in the metaverse, we’re talking about, Mr Luck. I’ve invested too much in my identity here to see some wannabe mafia group destroy me.”
“My fingers find the hook and clasp of your bra strap,” I typed into Burnished’s box whilst Honeycomb wrote all that out. To Cassandra, I typed, “My fingers gently trace the contour of your jaw.” A busy night for fingers.
“This is likely to be a long case,” I told Honeycomb. “I should warn you, I don’t come cheap. It might be more cost effective to accept their terms. I’m just saying.”
“Over a year?” she replied after a moment. “Over ten years? After they put their demand up to 50%? In any case, I don’t care. If this brings those bastards down, it’ll be money well spent.”
But I wasn’t paying attention to what she’d written. Instead, I was preoccupied with what Cassandra had just written: “Go ahead and unhook my bra, baby.”
Cassandra. Not Burnished. An accidental crosspost. Cassandra and Burnished were the same person.
And that was mistake number two.
Part four will be published on Sunday...