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|Following the Rails
|Creators: Ellen Million (Writer)|
|Rai and Bai consider the evidence they've been gathering.|
|Posted: 01/04/13 [No comments yet]
~ 1368 words.|
"Alikara's looking for you."
Bai didn't ask how Rai knew it was him, and not a customer, as the bell at the entrance tinkled its warning and the door swung shut behind him. "I'm avoiding her," he said honestly. He spared a glance for Karii, the deaf girl that assisted Rai in the shop. She felt his steps on the floor and turned to smile at him in greeting, then gave a nod of recognition and turned back to the display she was dusting when she saw that he wasn't a customer.
"I'm surprised you got out of her house without answering her questions. Our sister is a better interrogator than most Monitors." Rai was pulling bright colored silk scarves out of a shipping box, folding and sorting them by texture. He was making marks in a wax tablet on the counter next to him and Bai knew without looking that it would be utter gibberish, inventory notes that only Rai could read by fingertip.
"The dead body was a good distraction," Bai said wryly. He pulled his fingers through the irresistible dangling windchimes by the counter.
"You'll have to tell her what's going on eventually. You know how she gets when she smells a story, and she worse when she thinks she's being left out." Rai continued folding and marking as the sparkling sound of the windchimes slowly faded.
Bai groaned and slumped against the counter. "How much did you tell her?" he asked.
"Nothing," Rai said primly. "I said it wasn't my story to tell and that she'd have to get it out of you."
"Thanks," Bai said sarcastically. "That probably made it even worse."
Rai stopped folding and looked at Bai seriously. "You should tell her what's going on," he said grimly. "You should tell our parents. This isn't just about your first form crush on a pretty girl - she's been framed for a murder. You've been blackmailed. This whole thing stinks."
Bai's frown turned into a genuine scowl. "It does stink," he said, glancing at the back of Karii's head. "And I don't know what they could do, if I told them. This isn't a legal matter, or a social affair... and pulling more people in just means more people at risk."
Rai scowled back at him. "It's their risk to choose," he said. "And we're family. That trumps your stupid, self-righteous pride."
Bai didn't answer, just stirred a bowl of cheap, semi-precious, polished stones. Rai's shop catered mostly to blind people, so they'd been chosen for their appealing feel and many of them had visual flaws.
Rai, sensing he'd have no luck pressing the issue, asked, "Did you have any luck with Olarali? I double-checked with my supplier, and he continues to swear that he's the only source for that scent Ressa ended up with - licensed or not - and promises he hasn't sold it elsewhere."
Bai grunted a negative. "I snooped a bit, at our last appointment, but couldn't find anything. She keeps a journal, but I only had a few moments alone with it, and it was all mundane entries about clothes and jewelry and hair stylists. I... I think she might have caught me with it."
"You aren't very good at sneaking," Rai said with a shake of his head.
"Well, I don't have the awesome advantage of being disabled so that everyone underestimates me," Bai said sharply. There was a tense pause in the conversation that could have turned into an argument, but they were both wise enough to let it pass without pursuit.
"Did you ask who she came to Alikara's party with?" Rai asked after a moment.
"Yes," Bai said, subdued. "But she didn't answer directly, and I couldn't figure out how to bring it up again without being obvious."
Rai pursed his mouth thoughtfully. "There was one person..."
Bai looked up hopefully. Sometimes his brother observed things about people that sighted people missed. "Someone who didn't belong at the party?"
"He might have looked like an old man - he smelled old, and a little drunk, and he sounded old..."
"That doesn't narrow it down much," Bai said wryly.
"He was very talkative without saying much of anything," Rai elaborated. "I heard him talking with you after your speech."
"Oh, him." Bai chuckled. "He was a character. Urti says he teaches fourth form and is from an influential family in Tiffirf. Ressa thought she might have had a class with him; she said he seemed familiar."
"He's not an old man, though, and he wasn't drunk."
"He was 90 if he was a day," Bai said skeptically. "And reeked of spirits."
Rai shook his head, looking more convinced of his suspicion rather than less. "He wasn't. I tried to bump into him accidentally, because something seemed off about him."
"I missed him."
Bai tried to figure out how to remind Rai that he was blind, and might have actually just missed someone he was trying to collide with.
Rai glowered at him, guessing the meaning of Bai's skeptical silence. "I didn't just miss him, he dodged me. The kind of reflexes a sober, athletic young man might not be able to hide, even if he was doing a pretty convincing limp and wavery voice, and he thought to mask his scent because he's someone who knows how powerful and underestimated that sense is."
"Urti vouched for him," Bai said, disbelieving.
This time Rai was thoughtfully silent, and Bai didn't have to wonder why that was; Rai had never trusted Urti like Bai did.
"Ressa thought he was familiar," he said, more weakly.
Rai's eyes narrowed. "What did you do?"
"What do you mean?" Bai asked as innocently as he could manage.
"What did you do?" Rai demanded again.
Bai squirmed. Even if he didn't know how Rai guessed he was hiding something, he knew better than to try to deny it. "I kissed her," he mumbled.
"Fool! Idiot!" Rai brought both hands down on the counter and the bowl of stones and the box of scarves rattled. Bai glanced at the deaf girl, who was still organizing a display on the other side of the little shop, but she didn't turn at the racket.
"I didn't mean to," Bai said defensively. "It just... happened. And it won't happen again. We agreed it couldn't."
"If you're that helpless with her, why don't you just simplify your life and get a waiver to be with her?" Rai asked.
"I'd like to," Bai said. "You think I haven't looked at the paperwork a hundred different ways trying to figure a way to make it work since that night - since I found out she cares for me too?"
"Why couldn't it?"
"When I took that job, I tightened all the fraternization rules in the office. That was my big accomplishment - clean up the corruption, stop the favoritism."
"You're the one who's always saying there's paperwork to bypass any rule if the reasons are good enough..."
"It would have to be approved out of the office. At the local Licensing Office across town."
Rai was silent, considering. "Maathu."
"Maathu," Bai agreed. He didn't have to explain further. Maathu was the License Master of the local office - the mirror of Bai's position in the regional office and ever so slightly lower in rank because of the scope of their respective offices. They had competed for his position, and when Bai had been promoted above him, Maathu had made it quite clear that their rivalry was not over. A questionable justification form like a waiver for fraternization rules - there was no chance that Maathu would approve it. Quite the opposite.
To Bai's chagrin, Rai began to laugh - that light golden laugh that charmed women and won hearts. It had considerably less effect on Bai. "You're a luxury class dolthead," Rai said with amusement. "You really ought to be more sensible than this. You should never have fallen for this woman." His tone was irritatingly condescending.
"Just you wait," Bai told his twin sourly. "Someday, you'll fall in love with someone complicated, and we'll see how useful it is to be told you shouldn't have done it."