Marie slapped her hand over her mouth. Lilo herself seemed taken aback by her own confession. “I mean… it wasn’t deliberate…” she scrambled for words.

“Deliberate? You knew what you were doing!” Haris interjected. His victorious demeanour seemed more suited to the breakup of a drug trafficking gang.

Fire rose inside her, “You think I…” a few heads turned; not wanting to attract unwanted attention, she forced down her infuriation, “You think I wanted to kill her? I was trying to help her!”

Marie shook her head, “You can never help people by giving them something so dangerous,” she explained maternally, “if you really wanted to help you should have warned her of the risks of using illicit mods. Kept her safe.”

Haris shook his head, “She’s a pirate; it’s all business to her.”

“You don’t understand. She was desperate. She couldn’t afford to buy legal mods.”

“So you took advantage of her,” stated Haris.

“Now, let’s not jump to conclusions,” blustered Marie. “People get into these things for all sorts of reasons. I think we should leave this to Inspector Boynton now.” She nodded to the Inspector, “We’ll be sure to keep this confidential until you’ve finished your investigations.”

The waitress arrived to remove the bowls. She frowned at the Inspector’s untouched soup but nevertheless collected it. “Would you still like four main courses?” she asked the table in general. “Three will be fine,” replied Marie, “including the vegetarian. Our friend here is just about to leave.” The waitress nodded, “The main courses will be through shortly.” She carried the bowls away.

“I’m afraid I’m not quite done here yet,” replied the Inspector, waving away imminent protestations from Marie. Before Marie could argue further, the waitress appeared with the main course; endive gratin for Marie and braised pork with pearl onions for Lilo and Haris. The Inspector remained silent as the three of them tucked in; for a relatively small man, he had a certain covert dominance about him as he gazed over them while they ate. The atmosphere around the table had changed; there was an air of reluctance between them, maybe to the point of distrust. Even Haris wasn’t making much small talk.

After a while, the Inspector continued, “Though I now know how Sara Rossi acquired the means of her death, I do not yet know the reason for her death; I do not know why she chose to undergo such a risky procedure.” He turned to Lilo, “Am I to assume you know more about this girl than you were perhaps letting on?”

Lilo, now more accepting of her situation, had settled down. She gave a balanced reply; “Rosa was… desperate. She wasn’t happy with her life or who she was. She always wanted something different for herself. It was like… what people saw when they met her wasn’t the same as who she really was.”

“Identity issues,” suggested Marie, “these kinds of mental health problems have accompanied the huge rise in cosmetic mod use over the past couple of decades.”

“It’s the advertising,” muttered Lilo, with a frosty look toward Haris. It was an accusation more than a suggestion. “It’s good for business if people feel insecure about their identity. And the people who can’t afford the silvergrade and goldgrade mods which actually give them what they want go straight to people like me.”

Like everything else, Haris took the scathing comments all in his stride, “Since when was wanting to improve yourself a mental illness? Why should we just accept the way we are when we can be so much better? It’s human to want to be more than human.”

His grandiose delivery could have called up a revolution, but the Inspector seemed disinterested in the performance, “Yes, very good. In the interests of this investigation I’m more concerned about the supply than the demand.” He took out the tablet he’d used before and placed it in front of Haris; Lilo and Marie leaned forward simultaneously but the Inspector secreted it away before they could get a closer look.

“Do you recognise that man?”

“Yeah,” replied Haris unsurely, or perhaps reluctantly; “he works for me. Runs errands, manages stock, things like that.”

“You’re a senior manager at GCM, yes?”

“That’s right. We’re he biggest – and safest – supplier of mods in the City!” He paused, “Wait… are you accusing me of something?”

The Inspector shrugged, “Perhaps.”

Suddenly serious, Haris leaned forward and put his elbows on the table in a business-like fashion, “Let me just say this; we all know mods are cheaper on the black market. Of course they are, that’s why people buy pirated mods at all. So why would I ever condone selling mods at less than the commercial rate? That’s bad business! That man – if he is any part of this – was working for his own enrichment and not with my knowledge.”

The Inspector reached inside his blazer and brought out the tablet again, this time showing it to Lilo, “Do you recognise him?”

“Yes,” Lilo nodded, “yes I do,” she seemed concerned, “How did you find him? Is he okay?”

“I didn’t find him as such,” replied the Inspector, whose intense gaze was now set not on Lilo but on Haris, “That was an employee picture from GCM. The same picture I just showed Haris here.”

Lilo looked confused, “That man is one of the people who supplies me with mods. Quality mods. Smuggled from commercial suppliers! He works for you?”

“She knows one of my employees. So what?”

Marie shook her head, “I don’t think you realise how serious this is. People from your company selling mods to the black market? This could lead to a full investigation!”

Haris waved his hands in the air in protest, “No, no, no, no, no. GCM supplies the safest, most rigorously tested mods in the City. I’m sorry Inspector but whatever killed Sara Rossi cannot have come from GCM.”

Lilo stroked her chin and pondered, “It’s funny… I’ve been warned about using mods smuggled from GCM. Usually they work just as well as the commercial versions, but every now and then…”

“Go on,” said the Inspector.

She shuffled in her seat uncomfortably, “I’ve heard stories of smuggled GCM mods doing things completely unexpected. Or killing people. I thought it was just a stupid conspiracy; never happened to me before, at least not until now.”

Haris snorted, “Pirate nonsense! You can’t trust her!”

The Inspector looked at Haris dead on, deadly serious, “Haris el-Mufty, I know what you’re doing. We all know what you’re doing – it’s obvious. All I need to know is why.”

STARTER | MAIN COURSE | CHEESE BOARD

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