Ollie checked the address. Not that she needed to, she'd been here before, but she was feeling a mite twitchy. This whole thing could go very poorly very quickly and she had only her wits to make sure it didn't.
With that unsettling thought and a deep breath, she ascended the stairs and knocked on the door. A giant answered.
On second thought, she decided, he might not be a giant. Even so, he was by far the largest man she'd ever seen. His chest and arms were so big, it made his head look tiny by comparison. He smiled at her. His teeth looked unnaturally sharp and Ollie suppressed a shiver.
"What you want?" he asked in a deep rumbling voice. She held up her delivery in response.
"For Missus Langley."
He cocked his head, considering her for an uncomfortably long time, "Alright. You come in." He stepped aside and it took all of her willpower not to run past him and out of reach. She sauntered as though this was the sort of thing she did every day.
Once inside, the giant of a man took the lead, lumbering downstairs, through the main room and knocked on the door in the back that Ollie could only assume was the bedroom.
He looked back at her, "You wait here." And pointed a large, stubby finger at the dining table. She did just that, setting her delivery on the table and trying to whistle. No noise, not even offkey, came out.
She was left waiting for quite some time, the clock ticked off only ten minutes as Ollie wiped the sweat from her palms before the door opened again and she finally got to meet Bonny June Langley.
The hired muscle (that was surely what he was) was carrying her as she studied Ollie.
There goes the hope that she's just a trophy wife, Ollie thought glumly as the gnome was seated across from her. There was far too much intelligence in those big, innocent looking eyes to believe she wasn't bright. Bonny June was pretty though, that much was true, although overly pale and frail looking, leading Ollie to believe that the illness wasn't a hoax after all.
Ollie flashed one of her best smiles, the one that set most folk at ease that she was a sweet girl, if a little bumbling, and not at all a threat. "Missus June, it sure is a pleasure to finally meet ya. My name's Ollie Smith, I work for the Grey Tiger Shippin' Company."
Bonny June returned the smile, and hers was even better, far better. One of the best fake smiles that Ollie had ever seen. That's when she started to realize she probably had more to fear of the gnome across from her then the hulk pretending to be unobtrusive in the corner. "Pleasure's all mine, Ollie! I've been hard up for company recently and stairin at four walls can get pretty boring, I have to say."
"I heard about your tumble, ma'am. That's why I'm here, ya see. Your friends at the company wanted to send condolences and hopes that you were recovering nicely." Ollie pointed to the delivery on the table to prove her point.
She took Kya up on her suggestion and brought flowers. Although not the mechanical ones, like those that Talula made for Kya. Ollie had worried that Mister and Missus Langley, being both gnomes and probably rather versed in such things, would see them as a trick on first glance. She didn't want to take any chances.
"Oh, that's why you came?" June gave a knowing smile, "Well, that sure is sweet of you."
Ollie coughed, feeling uncomfortable beneath the gnome's gaze, but plowed on any way. "There's also a small matter of a letter."
"I thought there might be." The gnome smiled again and then continued, sighing, "Honestly, I'm surprised Tai made such a fuss about it. It's not all that complicated. Just stay out of my shipments and we'll be just fine."
Ollie paused for a moment, trying to make sense of that. Finally, she replied, "Excuse me?"
"My rum!" Bonny June said with exasperation. "Sweet Kalimdor rum! Ten crates! Do you have any idea how much money I lost on that one?"
Ollie was adrift, "Er... no, I guess I didn't realize."
"Oh please. I know you people have been taking over the trade routes in Stranglethorn. I just didn't know Tai would be stupid enough to attack MY shipments."
Oh hell, Ollie thought. Out loud, she just replied, "Oh. Well, that was quite a mistake on our part wasn't it."
"Damn right it was. Talk to Tai, tell him I will not taking sabotage lightly. I'm serious here, Miss Smith."
Ollie was in a daze, "Of course, Missus Langley. I'll make sure he knows first thing."
She stood up and bowed a little to the gnome, looking for her part like some small, vengeful valkyrie.
It wasn't Mister Rocketfeller at all! It wasn't Kya or Von or even Litto! It was ME. I'm the one who attacked the shipments. I'm the one who caused this whole stir. Aw hell, Tai's gonna kill me.
Ollie trudged away, these morose thoughts filling her head. She barely even remembered to turn on the listening device that she had Talula install in the flowers.
When Ollie reached the office, Talula was sitting at the coffeetable, wearing an odd set of wire-covered earmuffs. The gnome glanced up briefly as the warrior's shadow blocked her light.
"Oh! Hello Miss Ollie! Everything seems to be working with the bouquet. The sound was muffled there for a bit, but I think it was the position of the arrangement at the time. Every 6.3 hours there's going to be about a half an hour of rough going, but I'll see if I can't rig up some sort of amplifier."
Talula took off the headset and stood up. "I need to head back to my room at the Rose and pack up my next shipment of crates. I don't think Allison is fooling when she says she's gonna auction off my..."
The gnome's idle chatter came to an abrupt halt as she looked up at Oleander for the first time since the human entered. "Whoa. Are you alright? You look like you're on your way to your own hanging."
Ollie mumbled, "More truth to that then I'd like."
She went straight to Von's desk and opened the bottom drawer, taking out the bottle he keeps stashed there and grabbing two glasses she sat down heavily next to the gnome and related the whole story.
By the end of it, her voice slurred a little, but it didn't take the glumness out of the girl's shoulders.
"So, ya see, Talula... here've been. Inves'gatin' myself. Rum! Fel, I dun even rem'ber stealin th' rum! There's been soooo many shipments though..." She sighed, "'S gonna've m'head."
Talula sipped politely at the rum while she listened to Ollie's story. By the end, the human had consumed most of the bottle herself and her accent had become so thick that the gnome wasn't sure she understood all of the words.
"So, ya see, Talula... here've been. Inves'gatin' myself. Rum! Fel, I dun even rem'ber stealin th' rum! There's been soooo many shipments though. 'S gonna've m'head."
"I'm sure it's not that bad, Miss Ollie" said Talula. "Master Tai doesn't seem as unreasonable as all that. You were bringing in business and if Madam Langley is as good as you say, no wonder you didn't know they were her shipments. Besides, my Uncle Ezra always used to say 'At the heart of all trouble lies a ripe business opportunity.' Who knows what we might learn, provided she doesn't find the listening device in the bouquet. No. I'm sure you're wrong about Master Tai. You should tell him and sooner rather than later so that he's not in the dark." Talula paused and wrinkled her nose at Ollie, the alcohol clinging to her every breath. "Whew! Maybe you should wait until you're sober though."
Ollie smiled lopsidedly at Talula, "Y'right, know that? Mayb'everythin turn jolly in s'end. I'll jes' wait for Tai t'come an'splain it all."
Ollie propped her head in her hand and looked toward the door as though she expected him to walk through any minute.
"S'all gonna b'fine."
And promptly passed out.
Talula frowned. This was the second Tiger to go unconscious on her in this office and she hoped that Miss Ollie would keep her memories once she woke up. She pulled a wool blanket off the back of someone's chair and tucked it around the passed-out human.
She considered Tai Jiang as she left the office. It seemed that so many of the Tong were concerned about facing his wrath that she began to wonder if there was another side to the businessman that she hadn't seen yet. It seemed so unlikely though. He had never been anything but polite and kind. Perhaps it was only that no one wanted to dissapoint him that made them think this way.
The mechanostrider reached a fork in the road and Talula paused. In one direction lay the Guilded Rose and a room full of items that needed to be packed and moved. In the other direction lay the Kilt and Pancake and she figured that Mr. Jackob would have a remedy for the massive hang-over that Miss Ollie was sure to feel when she woke up. "If Master Tai really will fly into a murderous rage when he hears her story, she'll need her wits about her when she wakes." Talula turned Gertrude and crossed the bridge toward the murky streets of the Dwarven District and the K&P.
Von left the lights out in the office. It had been an odd day. Well, any day you bumped into Shame wasn't going to be normal, especially one where the woman gave you a job. No particulars yet, just some talk about a caravan, and Silithus...
The thought of bugs and sand gave Von an itch that a smoke just wouldn't scratch, and as he sat heavily in his chair, he instinctively reached for his drawer. His hands closed around the whisky bottle, but as he lifted it, it seemed light.
"Empty," Von smiled. "Isn't that always the way?"
He left the office, locking the door, and headed to the Kilt for a drink.
It was late but this shouldn't take long. Just grab a couple ledgers and then off to the cabin, Tai thought. Unlocking the door, at first Tai didn't see Ollie's blanket-draped form at the table. Instead, his eye was drawn to the small, quietly beeping device on the coffee table. The hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up, but then he saw the earphones and let out a slow, relieved breath. Judging from the size of the earpieces, this was Talula's work. He'd have to have a talk with her about setting her up in her own space. Maybe they should finally do those 'renovations' below the street level that Von had urged them to do, a set of secret rooms and even an escape route to the sewers ...
Tai's thoughts of construction and tunnels stopped, seeing Ollie sleeping on the table. He smiled a little. Poor Ollie; she'd been working her tail off, juggling their operations down in Stranglethorn as well as chasing a couple leads. She'd offered to help with both Magistrate Nightstone and Mrs. Langley, both dangerous women in their own right. Throw in Miss Shame (the one who'd wanted Nightstone hurt and the clerk for Mr. Langley), and that was one pit of vipers. Tai was, admittedly, impressed. She could go far. He went over to wake her or at least suggest she use the couch ...
He stopped as he got close. She stank of liquor. His eyes narrowed. Tai was not a monk, but drinking to the point of passing out (if it were a habit) could pose problems for the Tong - and problems needed to be dealt with. Instantly, in his mind he began clicking through his impressions of Ollie, reconsidering, collating, cross-checking ... This didn't feel strange to Tai; one moment thinking fondly of someone, the next considering if they were an informant for the guards, a mole from a rival organization, or simply, as he was doing now, a liability. It was second nature to him, and it never occurred to him that this might be unusual. And in his experience, thinking that way had protected the Tigers and himself too many times to imagine not thinking that way.
He looked down at Ollie, lightly snoring - and smiled. This was likely just a fluke. There was no pattern that made him suspicious. Probably just letting off some steam after working hard. Nothing wrong with that - nothing that needed to be dealt with. He reached out and lightly touched Ollie's shoulder, shaking her gently. In a soothing voice, he said, "Ollie, Ollie ... let's get you to the couch at least, eh?"
Ollie's head was fuzzy. She'd just been having a dream involving a dwarf, an algebra exam and the merits of Sae'jil booze, when Tai entered the dream wearing a clown suit and started singing a few bars of "Stormwind the Beautiful."
"Wossat, Tai?" She asked, blinking.
"I said, let's get you to the couch."
She allowed him to drag her to standing and shuffled her feet in a vaguely walking manner as he led her to the couch in the back of the office.
"Needed to talk to ya, boss. Missus Langley. The mole. I fig'red it out. T'ain't nothin' t'do with Roc'fell'r. I stolen her rum, in th' ... in th' Vale. Sh'wants you to know ain't okay."
Ollie collapsed on the sofa, curling up. "An' why you dress' like a clown?"
Tai paused, not at the comment about looking like a clown - that would take a second to sink in. No, it was the comment about stealing June's rum. Without knowing it, one of his eyebrows had sharped archly. That little nugget was full of information.
First, June Langley was far more than met the eye; it was useful to know that rum running was among the pursuits she dabbled in. Second, it was good to learn the players in the jungle, and putting another piece of the puzzle together was satisfying. Third, it seemed their interactions with Rocketfellers had been kept quiet. Fourth ... crap - it seems the Tong had managed to rob her. If that were the case, they'd have to rethink their strategy in the south a bit ...
Tai chewed his lip, contemplating Ollie as she curled up on the couch and promptly began snoring. She'd made some problems for the Tong - but it wasn't like June was running a flag up on her caravans. And you couldn't make money at a poker game without putting some money on the table ... Tai sighed, unsure of whether he could have done any better. Still, it was his job to keep Tigers sharp so he'd have to grill her about this and keep her on her toes.
While he was at it, he'd need to find out if Ollie had let anything about Rocketfellers slip. That would be bad, very bad. And, he smiled to himself wickedly as he pulled the blanket over Ollie, he'd enjoy asking her about why she thought he was a clown ...
Ollie held her head in her hands to keep it from cracking open. The sun that filtered in through the window was bright and caustic and speared through her eyelids into her brain. Her mouth was dry as Tanaris and her stomach heaved threateningly.
She began to pray to any benevolent deity that would hear her that she would lay off the sauce forever if they just made the pain go away. No hand of god came down and took away her hangover though, which was just as well... she'd lied anyway. (Gambling, you see, lost most of its flavor when unaccompanied by gin.)
"Look, Boss, I'll tell you whatever you want to know. Just please stop yelling."
Tai smirked and pulled out a chair across the table from her. The legs of the chair scraped across the wooden floor and Ollie shuddered, clutching her head all the tighter. "I didn't yell, Ollie," he replied, reasonably. He sat down and gave her a hard stare, "Start talking."
She began, painfully, relating the whole of the conversation she had with June Langley. He stopped her from time to time to ask questions. Specifically how much she let escape about the Tong's suspicions that Mrs. Langley knew about their connection with Rocketfeller and what precisely she had said about her shipments.
Finally convinced that Ollie had never mentioned Rocketfeller or any of his associates, Tai leaned back in his seat and rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "So Mrs. Langley is a player."
"So it would seem," she ground out, irritated at herself for not having known about the gnome's business when it had happened in her own town.
"Alright, Ollie," Tai gave Ollie a fatherly smile as he stood up, nodding at her, "You're free to go."
She stood up, relieved at the idea of wallowing in her excruciating pain in peace.
"As soon as you tell me why I'm a clown."
Ollie blinked at him, trying to decide whether or not he was playing with her. He looked serious enough, "I'm sorry, Boss, but... what the fel are you talking about?"