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The fingers Ressa was holding the file folder with felt numb. "Taleffi," she said faintly. She hadn't been under any illusions that the madam considered her a close friend, but she wasn't sure what she could have done to earn the kind of ire that resulted in being framed for murder. For murders. This document implicated her in the entire string of Railrage murders. "Taleffi and Olarali," she added. "This must go deep in the Carnal Guild. But why would they tangle me into this mess? Why me?"Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite:
Urti was holding out something else, and Ressa took it automatically, nearly dropping one of the gloves as it unfolded from the other. "My gloves? Did Alikara find them?"
"No," Urti said grimly. "The monitor found them."
Ressa looked at him without understanding, and he added, "He found them next to Dramanar's body."
Ressa laughed then, because everything about the situation was so unreal. "So I'm to blame for that, as well? I thought they ruled it natural causes?" She twisted the gloves in her hands.
"They found a fresh pin prick near his neck, when they inspected the body at the Medical Guild." Urti's voice sounded far away, though he was standing close enough to touch the place on Ressa's neck where she had been drugged herself. She flinched away from his fingers, and he frowned.
"Why do you have these?" she thought to ask. "Are you here to take me in to the Monitor's office?" The idea terrified her; before, she'd been confident that the Carnal Guild would provide her with legal protection, and the evidence against her seemed clearly choreographed. But if the Guild were against her... She shuddered. There was a reason that 'don't cross the Carnal Guild' was a popular catchphrase.
"None of this has to go further than me," Urti said.
Ressa blinked at him. "Why haven't I been questioned further?" she said with sudden clarity through her panic. "What did happen to the statement that I made? Urti, what do you know about this?"
"Maybe I made sure that certain things didn't make it into the official files," Urti said slyly, and Ressa was struck by how pleased he sounded.
"Urti!" she scolded. "You can't do that! It's not legal!"
Urti sounded sulky. "So?"
"So, the system is there for a reason. You'll be caught, and get in trouble."
"I don't need you to protect me," Urti snarled back at her, all the pleasure gone from his voice. "I don't need anyone to protect me. You think you're better than other people, you and Bai. You think you can tell everyone the right thing to do, the ethical thing, and stick your nose in the air like your shit doesn't stink." He took her by an arm and shook her, while Ressa remained frozen in surprise at his sudden outburst. "I don't need you telling me what to do," he said fiercely. "I don't need Bai to tell me what to do or get jobs for me. I have better friends than him, more powerful, and he can't lecture me about the right thing to do."
The hatred in his voice when he said Bai's name was a shock to Ressa's ears. She'd always thought of Bai and Urti as close friends, and knew that they'd been close since their early forms together. And at the same time, it explained some of the odd behavior of Urti; the sly comments he would sometimes make about Bai's high-placed family, or the way he seemed to think that his own position within the Monitor's Office was due to Bai's influence. Bai had denied it, many times, but Urti had always seemed to think that was only some kind of charade, and winked and laughed.
"He gets everything he wants," Urti continued ranting. "He thinks the system works because the system always works for him. Laws don't follow what's right, Ressa, they follow who has the money, or who has the power. This time I have the power. I have the friends. You have to do what I say, for once."
"Urti..." Ressa tried to pull away from his hand on her arm and he tightened it.
"There's only one thing he's ever wanted that he couldn't have," the monitor said, and his mouth flashed into a smile as he used his other hand to touch Ressa's face. "But I could have it."
Ressa pushed his hand away with her free arm. "Don't be ridiculous," she said, in her best chiding voice. Too much of her fear bled into it, and it sounded weak and helpless.
"If you don't do what I want, you'll be hung as a murderess," Urti said calmly.
"Fine," Ressa said with all the strength she could muster. "I'll go turn myself in," she offered, hating the waver in her voice. She tried again to back out of his grasp, and found an aisle of drawers behind her.
Urti scowled at her, his face shadowed in the poor light. "It won't be just you," he hissed. "I'll see that Bai's hung as your accomplice. We've got his statement from the night of Yeff's murder, and one from Dramanar's murder. You've been seen socially in public. A few 'witnesses' of your kiss - you didn't think that would go unnoticed, did you? - and he's as deep in this as you are. The jealous lover angle is powerful motivation, you know. Not even his family could protect him."
"I... the Guild has legal protections," Ressa said desperately.
"The same Guild that wrote the evidence against you?" Urti's swings between anger and glee were dizzying.
"I don't have any of the money Yeff gave me left," Ressa said, knowing it wasn't what he was after. "I gave it all to Alikara for her charity."
"I'm sure you can think of something else I'd want," Urti said suggestively, and he let go of her arm at last. Feeling tingled back into it.
Ressa wanted to flee - to bolt past him and run for the door, but quiet despair held her in place. She had been quite right reading the grayrags at lunch - things could have been worse. She just hadn't imagined they could be this much worse. One of his hands was toying with the buttons of her office robes... the other was unfastening the buckles of his belt.
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