Haris held the Inspector’s gaze and grinned. He began to chuckle and clapped his hands, “Very good, Inspector, very good,” he bellowed bombastically. A few people glanced over from other tables to see what the commotion was about. He waggled his finger, “Oh, you know Inspector. I think you know a lot more than you’re letting on.” The Inspector didn’t react. Haris sighed but kept grinning, “Yes, I knew about the smuggling out of GCM. But understand that it’s not as unusual as you might think.”

Lilo shook her head, “You condoned this? But why?”

“Experimental purposes,” shrugged Haris, “Regulation on mod research is very tight. It’s government policy. That’s politics. Each new mod needs years of safety testing and is very difficult to develop. So what we do is we dribble these experimental mods into the black market and see what happens.” He leaned forward; he seemed proud, almost excited, as if he’d been waiting to share his dealings for a long time; “Of course, we have to dilute them with a lot of genuine products, so as not to arouse suspicion.”

“But think of the harm!” blurted out Marie, “Did you ever think about what you were doing?” She had the hurt tone of a mother telling off her child.

“Of course we thought about it,” shrugged Haris, “but the way I see it, these people who decide to subject themselves to pirated mods have already accepted the risks.”

Lilo shook her head, “But this thing you do with experimental mods, it harms people. It kills people. You killed Sara Rossi!”

“And you killed Sara Rossi,” countered Haris, “You were the one who ‘pulled the trigger’, so to speak.”

“Are we all finished here?” Everyone flinched. The waitress had arrived, but she didn’t seem to have overheard the conversation. The three of them made appropriate noises and she collected the plates, “We hope you enjoyed our main course. I’ll bring the cheese boards through shortly. Can I get you any more drinks in the meantime?”

“Wine,” suggested the Inspector.

“Yes, some more of that white wine, please,” agreed Marie. She seemed preoccupied, unwell even.

“Very good,” nodded the waitress before walking away. Moments later she returned with two wooden boards bearing a cornucopian arrangement of various cheeses, grapes, almonds, biscuits and crackers, along with a bottle of white wine. “Don’t be drinking too much before the big speech!” she quipped.

“Yes, thank you,” said Marie with a half-hearted smile. The waitress left.

Marie took a long sip from her glass, “Thank you, Inspector, for bringing all this to my attention. I wasn’t aware…” she looked over Lilo and Haris, more with sadness than anything else, “I wasn’t aware the rot went so deep in the City. I’ll be sure to put these issues at the top of the agenda at the party convention next week. This will be a long couple of days…”

The Inspector nodded, “Then I’m sure you won’t mind me taking up a little more of your time in asking a few further questions.”

“But Inspector…”

“I’m sorry but I must do my duty. The people in front of me may be holding their ground today but they could easily sink into the woodwork by tomorrow.” He reached into his blazer, “Even in a city sealed under a dome, it’s surprisingly easy these days.” On that note, he pulled out his tablet and showed it to Haris. Haris’s expression completely changed from one of veiled discomfort to open shock. He tried to grab the tablet. The Inspector put it away, “Do you know that woman?” he insisted.

“Where did you get that?”

“Do you know her?”

“Tell me!”

“Do you know who she is?”

“I… I knew her.”

“It’s an old photograph from many years ago. Can you tell me her name?”

Haris nodded solemnly, “Alice Laurent. The love of my life.”

The Inspector nodded, “Tell me about her.”

“Why do you want to know?”

“She may be important.”

Haris waved his hands in front of himself, “No, she wasn’t involved in any of this. I haven’t seen her in years now.”

“Why?”

Haris gave a cautious smile, “You really don’t stop, do you Inspector?” He sighed, “I suppose you can find out about her one way or another, if it’s that important. Alice was my fiancée when I was first entering the business scene; she was… she was quite an extraordinary woman. Into politics, actually,” he gave a nod to Marie, “but that was her downfall.”

“Go on,” said the Inspector.

“She didn’t like doing things by the book. They said she was corrupt. It emerged she didn’t conform with the government’s record-keeping policy for communications so they’re still not quite sure what she got up to,” he chuckled, “She was undone when it emerged she’d been making illegal deals with lobbyists to win support for legislation on the City Council.” He slumped down and looked into his lap, completely deflated, “The police came to bring her in but she disappeared before they could find her… she disappeared on our wedding night.”

The Inspector remained silent.

“I’m sorry, Inspector, but I can’t help you any further than that. I don’t know what happened to her.”

“I do,” whispered Lilo. The two profound words broke through the momentary silence around the table like a hammer blow. Haris, for once lost for words, simply looked at her in confusion, searching for an explanation.

Lilo swallowed, “It was so long ago. If you’d showed me a picture I probably wouldn’t have remembered. She came to me. It must have been the following day. I realised who she was pretty quickly; she said she needed a completely new identity – new face, new prints, new eyes, new DNA – she wanted to start over, and she offered a lot of money for it. Like you said Inspector, you can’t just run away in a city under a dome.”

Haris’s eyes flitted about as he took in the new information, “You met her? The day after the wedding? Do you know where she…”

“I don’t know!” stressed Lilo, clearly distressed herself about dredging up the past, “I just gave her the mods and sent her away. I never…” She stopped. Marie was crying. Not openly, but quietly crying into herself, tears dribbling down bright red cheeks.

The Inspector leaned forward, “Do you have something to say, Ms Durand?”

Marie sniffed and blinked. She brought the wine glass up near her mouth but put it down again.

“Ms Durand, do you have something to say?” the Inspector pressed her, but it was Haris who spoke first.

“Alice? Is it you?”

MAIN COURSE | CHEESE BOARD | DESSERT

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