June 11th, 2020

_Cool as Ice_ part 20

Ice looked around. Logs had been removed from his stack and were being used as seating. Food was disappearing as fast as it was cooked. Sodas and beer getting taken from buckets of ice. And now music from the ballroom . . .

"This isn't normal?"

Rip, shadowing the president, laughed. "It is if you want to turn this into Black Horse Party Central."

Ice turned around in a circle. Shook his head. "You know? Five years ago I was a perfectly happy IR analyst. So normal it probably oozed out of my pores."

A laugh from Ajki. "No Ice, you were not 'normal' although you've been accelerating in the not normal direction, ever since I sent you off to train with Rael."

"Ah, so it's all your fault. Everyone is pretty well astonished I'm still alive. Including me." Ice grinned. "Keiq has expressed surprise that at one point, you didn't have me shot."

"Tsk! I was too boggled at the time to even consider it." Ajki grinned. "Now? I'm not the one you need to worry about."

"Heh. Indeed."

Ox snorted. "So your task force is going to Embassy tomorrow?"

"Yep. We've all downloaded everything XR has put up on their system, now we'll check for everything else. And if I can I'll haul them all into Disco, so they realize that Wolfson's not hardly even scary, and probably knows a lot more about the Drei Mächte Bündnis and the Free Cyborg Rebellion than he's made public."

Ox nodded. "He's a much better person than I'd thought, before I met him. Stop by Versalle before you go tomorrow . . . or are you headed home after the party's over?"

"No, I'll sleep here, tonight. We'll all be sleeping in, in the morning, by way of pre-adjusting to the time zone changes."

"Good idea. I'll send you a driver and car, just to make sure the Ministry people know we're paying attention."

Nods from the Guards in hearing distance.

Ajki snagged a burger, with Poppy muttering something about a diet . . . he grinned and grabbed a beer to go with it and retreated.

Izzo snickered. "Poppy, even a blissful fifteen years of marriage can't completely overcome a century of bachelor eating habits."

Poppy sniffed. "He's a hundred and fifty-seven. You'd think he'd know better!" She pinned disapproving glare on Ice. "Next time, a salad bar!"

A little smile crept out. "Just to see the look of horror on his face."

General laughter, as Poppy spotted Keiq. "Oh, we need to have a little chat . . ."

Ice eyed the women as they walked off. Hopefully chatting about Ajki.

Chapter Eleven

Girl Talk

16 Emre 1422 yp

"Ajki is worried about the people Encw put into place. Subdirectors and division heads. People he doesn't know."

Keiq eyed the Director's wife. And did he decide to go round about looking for information? "It's a bit wobbly, right now. There's enough resentment of respected bosses getting dismissed and replaced by War Party Bright Boys, that the institutional attitude hasn't osmosised upward. Well, not that that's a real word or anything."

"But quite useful. At least Ajki hasn't received any serious complaints . . . but he says things aren't running smoothly."

Keiq sighed. "As an example, my new division head--dear One! he's been in place over a year now. He's assigned me to investigate Ice. Well, we're discrete, but hardly hiding a relationship. But Alli hasn't a clue we're dating. And when I pointed out that we weren't supposed to be investigating Presidential Analysts, he told me to shut up and soldier."

"Oh . . . well . . . a boss who's secretary doesn't even pass on office gossip? That's not good." She gave Keiq a sideways glance. "Actually Fuyl picked up some gossip about you and some fellow named Ixku?"

Keiq snorted. "When I was a clueless freshman at the School . . . look I grew up on a cattle ranch with four big brothers. I hadn't a clue about dating, or, or . . . well, I tried talking to this really cute guy, just you know, talking to him like a person? I think I said something about football. He decided that meant I wanted to have sex with him. And when I said no, he dragged me off into the bushes with a hand over my mouth. So I shot him."

Poppy choked. Started laughing. "Oh my . . . that part didn't make it into the gossip circuit."

"Thank the One! I was in all kinds of trouble, but the facts were perfectly clear. I got a reprimand, he got a reprimand. The women in my dorm loved it--he was a real problem--so they adopted me as a work project and taught me how to act like a woman, not a wild cowgirl."

Poppy snickered. "You shot him!"

"It was just a flesh wound, on the outside of his thigh. Mind you, if he hadn't let me go, I'd have killed him. But he was pretty shocked and it probably hurt like hell." Keiq shrugged. "Being in the same building with him may get interesting. Thank the One I'm not actually working with him."

"Indeed." Poppy snickered. "I've come to appreciate women who can not only stand up for themselves, but defend themselves. I was such a wet mess at your age. Game wife, you know. Made the mistake of falling for my third husband. Ah, well, I came out of it with a husband who loves me back, and three wonderful kids."

Oh yes. You're well known for dragging Xen Wolfson off to a bedroom in full public view, because your husband was fawning all over his new princess at a party.

"And . . . not that it's any of my business, but you really ought to marry that man before he decides you just aren't interested and goes off after another woman." Poppy threw up her hands. "Sorry, but it's so obvious he adores you."

"I know. At least I think I know. I'm still not any good at this social stuff. And . . ."

"And you had a horrible scare." Poppy eyed her. "Blonde?"

"Yes, very much like Ice, and those High Oner manners and accent Ice plays with are just like that ass's . . . I treated Ice very badly when we met."

A wry smile. "It seems to have worked." Poppy's head turned. "I have to go, but do be careful. You're probably the only woman in the world who can hurt that man."

Keiq blinked, as she strode off to Ajki and their car. The president and Ox were drifting carward, and she walked back for a casual farewell.

The Black Guards were heading out as well, the off duty ones rounding up their wives and girlfriends . . . Ice was telling E-two to pick him up here at seven, and veered off to talk to the Silver Grill people.

She heard them laugh, the head cook waving his spatula. "So many people kept handing us cash cards 'so Ice doesn't have to cover the whole thing' that I'm not only paid, we may have record breaking tips."

Ice laughed too. "Well, thanks for coming so quickly with zero notice."

"Not a problem." While the head chef talked the others two guys were dumping the ice, loading up the buckets, the garbage can's they'd brought, and were off in minutes.

Keiq leaned on Ice. "I had no idea it was so easy to have a party. Wacky sends out invites weeks ahead, and plans out menus . . ."

Ice slid an arm around her shoulders. "More fun this way. Umm, I brought a mattress, thinking I might spend the night up in the dome room can I interest you in joining me?"


Which turned the morning into a mad scramble as Senior Investigator Alli sent her a message that there would be no charges against her and she was to get back to work immediately.

She growled in frustration, drove home to shower and change into a suit and then back to the metro station . . .

Alli frowned at her. "Took you long enough. I suppose you treated your suspension like a vacation?"

"Oh, I've found several odd things about Icka that definitely need to be examined in depth. Shall I get to it?"

"Yes. But first, there's a matter of your reputation."

She raised her brows. What reputation? The Walking Lie Detector? Or Ice?

"I understand an old boyfriend has transferred into CI. Office romances tend to get messy, disturbs the morale."

Keiq frowned. "I don't date co-workers. CI? I have no idea . . . good grief. Surely you don't mean Ixku? Any relationship we had while at Directorate School exists only in his mind, and if he thinks to start one, I will disabuse him of the notion."

"Good. Subdirector Exxi has recommended that he work with you, in case there are more ordinary criminal activities uncovered."

Keiq took a deep breath. Nodded. "It might be more appropriate for CI to take over the investigation altogether."

"No, no. They're used to investigating ordinary criminals. You are the expert at investigating our own people."

Keiq unclenched her jaw. "Indeed. I hope Ixku has investigative experience."

"Go then. He's probably waiting in your office."

She walked out, trying to not growl. Crap. 50-50 chance I wind up shooting him again.

He was not waiting in her office.

He was harassing the group's secretary.

Hoem was not looking happy.

Keiq looked him up and down. "Stop annoying the secretary, or I'll just kill you now and save time. Do you have any investigative experience?"

"Yeah, I was with the SGA police." He leaned and leered.

"Good. I'll copy over the file so you can see what's been looked into already . . . have you read the report on the security leak?"

"Yeah, Honey. Man, you got a real hate on for that guy. I'll get him for you."

"I am not your honey and never have been. You will be professional and investigate the subject honestly and fairly." Keiq stalked into her office. "Sit down, leave the door open."

He reached and started closing the door.

She used a pull spell and jerked it back. "Sit. Down."

"Hey, I don't have to take this . . . " He stepped to loom over her.

The push spell threw him through the doorway and across the hall to smack the far wall.

He sidled in cautiously. She pointed and he sat down.

"You're going to pay for that." His growl had an under-note of shock.

"There are three things that need to be looked into. Icka's finances. The odd occurrence in Makkah on 10 Qadah of last year. Before that, something happened on Tall Trees that wound up in Makkah. Are you qualified to examine financial statements, or is a quick trip to Makkah more your style?"

His eyes narrowed. "I could start in Tall Trees. Shake some truth out of some natives."

"Actually . . . you might just be able to get some information from Oljo and Wrecking Crew. You know, fellow cop, a guy who understands the pressure cops are under, and so forth. Try to be subtle."

"The Wrecking Crew? Ha! I heard they got pretty wrecked the only time they tackled some Purps."

"Probably not a good idea to bring that up. Go see what sort of reception you get." Keiq stared at him . . . "Any hour now."

He snorted, stood up and stepped to the door, stopped and looked back at her. "I'll be back."


She waited until he'd stomped off, then walked out.

Hoem grinned. "Did you just send that creeper off to Oljo?"

"Yep. Wish I had a spy cam and popcorn. If he gives you any grief, report him. Do not, under any circumstances get private with him."

"So he's an ex-boyfriend?"

"No. I made the mistake of talking to him. But if there are any rumors going around that I shot him? Absolutely true."

She walked down the hallway to the groups expert in financial audits. "Enry? How busy are you? I'm going to ask a fellow to voluntarily open his records . . . "

She left the building before she called Ice. "I have opened a huge can of worms . . . that I am already regretting. CI decided to get in on the investigation of that Ice fellow. And sent an ex-Action Teamer with whom I has several negative interactions with at the school. I've sent the ass to Oljo, thinking that sending him to Makkah might be interesting. But all things considered, I wish I'd just killed him and got it over with."

The infuriating man just chuckled. "Ah, a new chew-toy! Shall I drop by and pretend to dislike you? I could turn my glib tongue and manipulative ways loose without restraint."

"Ice . . . And you're going to get the full financial exam as well."

"Excellent tactics. If he gets nasty, find a financial type to explain it to him in small words. At length. Do you suppose Azek would volunteer?"

She choked.

He laughed. "No? Anyway, I'll tell the bank and stockbroker to show all and tell all."

"Ice . . ." She managed to not hit herself on the forehead with her comm. "I'm sorry. I ought to have told my boss where to stick it."

"Nah. Ajki's the only one I'd say that to. Everyone else, you'd need to be more diplomatic. Unfortunately, I'm across on Embassy, so I can't rescue you from the ass immediately. But I will say that Eldon's hand written version of the Free Cyborg Rebellion is mind boggling. For the handwriting, the word choice, and the actions. I'll bring you a copy, to cheer you up."

"I may need it."