NP Holding Cells with Disappearance and HoundMan

"Oh darling, please. If I want to read you, I'll read you. I'm the kind of person who gets his kicks from swapping my own cover onto a book, not reading it," the blue diamond navi responded, keeping his wry smile and narrowing his eyes. "But I'm not angry about your refusal. After all, I already made very clear the intentions of my appraisal and the difficulty of raising it. I can hardly blame you for not rising to a challenge that you've already been told is futile."

After that quip, however, AppraisalMan really did get a surprise; for once, the crystalline mask of his face faltered a bit and his his hairless brow raised. Contrary to how he'd read into Pirouette's statement, it seemed his bluff was being called after all. If AppraisalMan was confused, HoundMan was even more so, staying as quiet as a mouse. The depth of his silence and the stillness of his face showed that he was probably expecting that kiss, all told.

Pirouette lay out the contradiction as she understood it; AppraisalMan gave that giddy smile, as though he was fighting his urge to jump in and give more hints, confirming details or shooting them down. He actually clasped both hands over his mouth to stop himself from interjecting.

"You have a point, Pirouette," Disappearance spoke over the other line. She sounded, perhaps, relieved that nothing too crazy had happened in the interviewing room. "It's strange that as AppraisalMan is feeling more loose-lipped, Lady is tightening up. Maybe it's just my interrogation technique."

As for HoundMan, he nodded along with her question, although she could easily wonder what she might see if he stood back up. AppraisalMan's grin showed that he was wondering as well and perhaps trying to ask him to stand up and present to the class, if he was really feeling sexually relieved. Instead, he stayed quiet and let Pirouette continue. Once she did, he just seemed to grow more excited. "Oh, please! Please keep Lady of the Night on the phone as we continue. I think she'll get a real kick out of this game of twenty questions we have going," the man giggled, rubbing his hands together with a scratch of stone upon stone.

"Very well! More hints. I would hate for you to think of me as a liar, of all things." He clapped his palms together with a clang, then grinned shamelessly. "You asked me who has such a stake in his keeping his moonlighting secret, correct? I answered you honestly: that's only him. Ha ha... You talk about bargaining power, but you've given me the ultimate win-win! You see, if you're a woman of your word, you'll owe me something very saucy after this juicy piece of information I'm about to give you. I, on the other hand, will derive terrible pleasure from giving you this same information, dooming our mutual friend in a way far larger than having his blossoming camgirl career exposed!"

"The son of a bitch has gone mad! Don't trust a thing he says-!" a woman's voice came from over the line, but he simply raised his hands and continued talking.

AppraisalMan's eyes were two tightly clenched crescents of sadistic pleasure as he showed all of his diamond teeth in a big grin. "You think I'm NightMan's blackmailer, right? That I somehow found out about his new hobby and then held it over him? False! A certain group of people gave me your superior as collateral, to do with as I pleased, and he willingly submitted to it! I chose a fun new career path for him and in return, they got oodles and oodles of money. Now you know my secret relationship with the lovely Lady of the Night. I think she'd finally gotten to the point she was enjoying herself too... Before you in the Police started really digging your heels in and investigating his disappearance along with my finances, that is."

His gems seemed to flash with light as his breathing quickened; suddenly, he was panting, now seeming sexually excited for the first time. "You said you'll treat me as an honest person, if just for this exercise, right? Then believe me a bit further: one of NightMan's own allies is the one who granted me the use of NightMan! And why did he submit to that order? Because he's a loyal officer! He's not so different from Disappearance, you see? Both such good officers, following orders unquestioningly for so long!" He dug the sharpened points of his teeth into his lip with a quiet moan. "Mmm! Someone tried to tell you to let NightMan take the fall for this, didn't they? That person tried to cut off your means of investigation, didn't they? Remember? Didn't all of that happen?"

HoundMan stared in confusion, while slowly rising to his feet, holding one hand against his wrist as though he was prepared to activate a sword at any moment. The reason was evident: AppraisalMan was quickly becoming a completely different person, no longer a stone-faced sadist, but instead, a quivering wreck of ecstasy. The fact that his body was flashing like a broken LED screen was proof of that.

"Allow me one more puzzle, Pirouette! A hint to a question you haven't even asked me yet! I can't hold it in any longer!" he quivered, his face flushing darker blue as sparkles gleamed off of his body. "Maybe this will be the final piece that lets you put it all together! You were asking me about the wrong secret. The fact that NightMan is posing as a prostitute is hardly critical. It's the kind of hobby someone can enjoy, even. Harmless, victimless. There is a much larger secret, one that affects so many other people! Keep digging at it please! I can't wait to see the landslide-- the avalanche! Carelessly brushing over all the dominoes to clean the floor has the same end result as if you'd flicked over the starting tile! Ask me what the collaborator did with that loan I gave them. Pleeease?" Now it was his turn to beg, as he tossed and turned in his seat like an over-anxious child.

Lady of the Night spoke over Disappearance in the other room. "Officer Pirouette, every moment you spend talking to this lunatic is not just wasted, but dangerous! Look what he did to me! AppraisalMan is a slow, corrupting poison; you don't want any part of this trap he's setting!" It sounded like she was freaking out about as hard as AppraisalMan was. "He's dragging you, Disappearance, and HoundMan into something you won't be able to climb back out of! Believe me as your senior officer, if just on this last point, then lock me up or whatever you have to do. You have to drop it!" Disappearance could probably cut the line or force NightMan to stay quiet, but she evidently thought there might be some value in listening to him.

"Poison?! Is that any way to talk about your master?" the gem-like maniac cackled. "Hey, ask me Pirouette. Ask me ask me ask me. Ask me what they did with my loan, then ask me as many more questions about it as you feel like. You can leave your clothes on if you want. This is the stuff I really enjoy~"
A smile curled at one corner of Pirouette's lips as she listened to the increasing fallout of her open line conversation with patience and poise; she was happy to make NightMan a little uncomfortable and to allow AppriasalMan his little vindictive win, as long as he continued to give her actionable information. She cut her eyes briefly to HoundMan, giving him a collected expression that she hoped would reassure the other officer to keep his peace for now.

In a way, it worked in her favour that AppraisalMan took more from her accusation of lying than was really there; it served the same end, ultimately, as he seemed increasingly eager to give more information; as long as it was causing other people discomfort, embarrassment, or... a thought occurred to the ballerina and she tucked it away... exposing their flaws... those were the reactions that he really seemed interested in. Perhaps the sexual debasement that Disappearance had ended up leaning into was just a means to that particular end – the more uncomfortable, ashamed, or departed from what she would normally be okay with doing, the better, and that was where the appraisals had led her behaviour.

The more dirt he spilled, and the more agitated it sounded like NightMan was getting, as Lady of the night or otherwise, the more excited her house guest seemed to get, and Pirouette was content to let it continue, holding the line open the extra time that it took them to share their exchange. After a while, however, the teasing hints and AppraisalMan's obvious excitement in laying out the trail became a conflicting argument between himself and NightMan, and Pirouette turned to face AppraisalMan with a grin and a raised hand, lifting one finger to her lips as she did. Things were about to get... interesting.

“NightMan.... Aie, it is difficult... You damn yourself with your own words, you know? It is unbecoming of any net police officer to veil threats as warnings... but know this, and understand it, yes? You should not tell an officer from Internal Affairs that they are getting into something they will not get out of. I am interested in the truth, yes? In the facts; in duty and in justice. Right now, you are in a precarious position from all sides, so it sounds, you know. Those around you can be of help, or hindrance, but you may rest assured that they will be fairer than these... trials you have faced already, yes?” Even though there was no video line, Pirouette shrugged her shoulders in a softer motion, turning partially away from the blank direction she'd been speaking towards while addressing him.

“Perhaps much of this was not your fault, but some decisions were. We are, none of us, without flaw... what matters is how we respond in this pressure, when our flaws are exposed and pressed upon. Decide now, who you are, yes?” Her wings ruffled as she delivered her response in as commanding a tone as she could muster. NightMan might well be a victim in this mess, but hesitancy to be forthcoming would not help his case. She continued with a more earnest tone, though it still came out hard.

“If you have even a shred of loyalty to the ideals for which the net police are supposed to stand; if you have any dedication to the duty we are meant to hold to those who cannot protect themselves... then you will sit down, right now, with officer Disappearance, and you will tell her everything you know of this incident. You will leave no detail out, no matter how personally shameful or upsetting, no matter how grievous or damning. I am ordering this of you, now, you know, under my mandate as Internal Affairs, NightMan. You will comply, without complaint, without restraint, and without obstruction or obfuscation, yes? You will name names; you will provide whatever logs of evidence you are capable of providing. Anything less will be considered to be collusion. You understand this, yes? If matters of honour and duty are alien to you in this, NightMan, then I assure you, justice will proceed as it must. If, as perhaps some of us here suspect, your only crime in this is indeed one of following orders and feeling unable to act beyond them when necessary, then, you know, your crimes are not so severe... but you must co-operate now.” With a snap of her fingers that resounded around the small interview room, Pirouette cut the line and turned a steely blue gaze back to AppraisalMan, set in an expression that might have been called dangerous by less charitable individuals; a grim smile was on her lips as she faced him.

“Now... We are not alike, AppraisalMan... I draw no pleasure from NightMan's squirming and suffering, or from the personal devastation he may undergo as a result of all that has happened here... But I think, you know, we might still be able to be friends after all. I will return in just one moment, yes? And then, I will tell you something that I think you may enjoy hearing very much...”

As she stood back and turned from him, Pirouette looked towards HoundMan instead, softening her expression, and reaching out to take his hand in one of hers for the moment. She gave the out-of-his-depth officer a more reassuring smile.

“Come, I must share a word with you...” She quickly led HoundMan back out of the interview room, closing the door behind them, and checking the common room to be sure no-one else was about.

“HoundMan, I have to ask you to remain out here. I will be safe, I promise. I will not be long. I feel this next negotiation... it will work better if I am alone, you know? Please wait... I will be quick.” She paused, wings slowly rising and falling as the nervous warmth she was feeling drew attention to the empty room around her. The ballerina hesitated for a moment, unsure of herself. A moment of unconscious fidgeting saw her holding both his hands in hers as she took a longer breath; her cheeks pinked slightly as she looked for what to say.

After another moment of not finding the words, she neatened his uniform, brushing and straightening, then swiftly took hold of the fabric with both hands and pressed herself in closer to him. Her own eyes closed for the next few seconds as she tilted her head to one side and allowed her lips to press in against his, focusing, just for a lost few moments, on that sensation and nothing else. At the back of her awareness, she felt her wings arch and stiffen as her fingers curled and gripped tight in his uniform. The stolen moment broke eventually, and the ballerina pulled back again, releasing his uniform and beginning to brush and straighten it once more. Her heart raced, thundering madly in her chest and her cheeks felt hot while she tried to calm her suddenly rapid breathing.

“Aei... I... I just... I wanted you to have that, yes? Ah... When this is over, you know... I would like, very much, to get to know you better, HoundMan. I would like... you know... to see you, some time... when we are not on duty, yes?” Her blush was only growing more fierce, and Pirouette desperately sought poise. Her wings settled back to a more neutral position as she willed the blush from her cheeks and watched HoundMan's eyes for his reaction. She only waited a few moments however, before darting past him again, back into the interview room and shutting the door behind her once more.

The more determined Pirouette entered the room again, coming to lean on the desk between herself and AppraisalMan. Her heart was still racing, but she ignored it. Instead she fixed him with a lidded gaze and a small upward curl to her lip.

“We knew you had been paying large sums to someone, it is true. We did not know who to... but we saw that... recently, you know, the amounts, they have been getting smaller and smaller. You mentioned NightMan was growing more accustomed to his new career under your guidance. Growing more comfortable, perhaps? Less satisfying for you then, no? So perhaps you were not so inclined to pay as much as you were initially for his continued use, yes? It is just a small theory. A guess, aside from what matters to me... what matters to me, AppraisalMan... and I think you may enjoy thinking on this...” she leaned in closer, hands planted firmly on the table and her eyes hard.

“The net police is a laughing stock. The people, they have no faith in our effectiveness, or our capabilities. This is from many factors, but they come back to one thing, yes? There is corruption, in the net police, and it runs deep and high.” She paused, watching him, and as she continued her voice was low and serious.

“You know much, and I would do much to know it, if, and you understand this is necessary, if you have indeed got the evidence to back up what you say. There is corruption here, and I do not intend to stop digging until I have rooted it out entirely, AppraisalMan. I do not care who must be uprooted in this process; I do not care how senior or established their tenure. I do not care how respected or shining their image. I intend to rip this rot out of this organisation, and if it should leave a bloody mess behind it... such is often the way of excising a cancer, no? If you know where to look, you will even have a front row seat to watch it happen.” Despite herself, a note of primal savagery threaded its way into her voice as she explained her goal to her house guest; any who might normally mistake her for a delicate flower of a woman hadn't yet seen the iron poise and razor talons that her presence radiated now.

“I would know what you know, AppraisalMan. I would have your help in this matter. It is a cabal; this I know. More than one individual, and positioned well enough to make bringing justice to even their small fish difficult... they must all be found, exposed, and disciplined to correction, or else purged entirely. Eggs will be broken. Will you help me do this?” She drew back and stood upright again, folding her arms and considering the diamond-themed man.

“You would enjoy seeing one as myself, confident, poised, you know.... you would enjoy seeing me debased, broken down... compromised, no? Perhaps you wish to see my flaws lead to my downfall and ruination, yes? I will not be broken, I am sorry, but you are free to push and to try... But consider, AppraisalMan... Rather than just myself, you could be instrumental in much, much more, yes?” She tilted her head and smiled.

“And perhaps, while you help me in this, I can be your... aie... the phrase... vstavnoy nomer... your... little bet, on the side, yes? Over time, you might have many chances push me to places I thought never to fall to... to actions I never thought to take... or allow... no? It is a risk I am willing to take, if your evidence is solid, yes?” She raised one eyebrow then shifted her stance again. Now her body language relaxed, and became graceful flow again as she settled down and rested her elbows on the table, hands clasped to one side as she peeked at him around her forearms.

“Let us play a game, yes? I have told you, there are some hard limits to what I will do to satisfy you, and I have told you that nothing you can do will make me pass those... but I am a performer and an actress, you know... there is much that comes before those lines, which would make me deeply uncomfortable, or hesitant, yes? Things which I am not willing to do... but which I may still, if the reward is proper. I have not told you exactly what the hard lines are... and you know that if you cross them, you will get nothing from me... but I wonder how close to those lines can you press without pushing me too far... no?” She smiled for him and shrugged. “The game need not even remain confined to this question room, if you are mindful.” With a shake of her wings, her expression became serious again.

“I will start with the question you wanted me to ask, because you wanted it so truly, yes? Then we can reach further... who was paid and what did they do with the funds you gave them? I suspect you are implicating miss Bank, but maybe I am mistaken. Information. Evidence. Proof... and your request.”

She didn't have too long, Pirouette knew that. If she was lucky, and NightMan caved in, there might be some time that Disappearance was occupied getting his information, but it sounded like AppraisalMan had far more to offer her than anyone else had yet realised. Even if she couldn't get everything out of the creep right now, if she was fortunate, it might be enough to form the foundation of a new connection.
HoundMan did his best to stay in control at Pirouette's behest, but relying on him for anything more than poise right now would be a lost cause for her; deductive reasoning wasn't his strong point. He was still somewhere back near the start of the interrogation in terms of understanding the mystery.

As for the Lady, Pirouette's words had just the opposite effect upon her. "You're right, I'm already deep in the hole! If you keep going down this road, you're going to throw some innocent people in there with me!" the angry woman shouted, banging her fists on the table as though she was willing to try anything to get Pirouette's attention. Any words that seemed focused on her own redemption were discarded out of hand; she seemed solely focused on encouraging Pirouette to let her take the fall that she'd been set up to take. However, hearing her loyalty questioned caused her to release a scoffing, humorless laugh. "I sure hope nobody else's loyalty to law and order on the net is ever tested like this, that's for damn sure."

If Pirouette liked seeing the officer sweat, there was someone else who liked it even more. The sadistic man sitting across from her grinned wider still; the blocks of his teeth flashed along with the rest of his body as he shuddered with laughter. "I appreciate that dedication to the naked truth, Pirouette. You're a model officer, not like Lady of the Night over there! Let's hear what else you have to say," he goaded her on, while resting his chin on both of his pointy palms. When she asked to dismiss herself, he covered his mouth to stop his own smirk. "Leaving me hanging at this critical juncture? Perhaps we're not so different after all! You seem to enjoy dishing out a little bullying yourself." He squirmed in his seat as he waited to be called upon again.

HoundMan had no idea what to expect when he was led away, but once he heard that she wanted to continue the interrogation alone, it was clear he wanted to object. Even as he questioned that order, he was confused further, receiving a kiss on the lips that caused his tail-like armor extension to stand upright. He was, perhaps, not the ideal kisser; he began hesitantly, as though still waiting on an explicit order to proceed. His hands remained frozen at his side for a moment longer, before moving to grab hold of her shoulders so that he could lean further into the embrace and return the gesture fully. It seemed a bit that if he was let off his leash, the kiss would probably involve a lot of tongue, but for now, he still played the part of an officer.

"Ma'am... Yes ma'am! When we're off duty, ma'am!" he returned, cracking another sharp salute as she regained her distance. That appendage behind him swung back and forth eagerly, as though he wanted to leave the room and get started right now...

... And why wouldn't he? There was nothing pleasant about the task left to Pirouette. She could hardly be blamed if she decided she wanted to run off with him now, but instead, she returned to her seat.

AppraisalMan immediately broke the silence with a quip: "You're looking about as aroused as I am now." When she continued on anyway, he shut his mouth, regaining some of his old, stoic demeanor as he watched her with half-lidded, bright blue eyes. "Ha ha ha!" he suddenly giggled, covering his mouth with one hand as his eyes bent back into crescents and he squirmed in his sight. "Pffft! One must suspect you're onto something with this corruption idea. If you managed to accomplish that much and drag them all out into the daylight, then I'd actually be some kind of hero for putting you on the trail, wouldn't I? Do you think I could get promoted within Internal Affairs?" he joked, while tapping his feet up and down like a child. "Of course I'll help you! I wouldn't have helped them build up their little sand castle if watching it fall into wet dirt wasn't going to be so wonderfully satisfying! On oh so many levels~"

Pirouette could probably trust that promise as far as she could throw it, but she continued on anyway. "Hehe! As you keep building yourself up as the savior, the one who's going to perform a corruption-ectemy on the NetPolice, I do have to admit, the possibility of seeing you crying into the backs of your hands and sobbing like a child grows more and more appealing. That's why this is such a win-win for me. There is no happy ending; one or the other proud individual will be left a quivering wreck by the end of it. Ah, no matter how it is, I just want to be involved~" he cooed, patting his hands up and down upon the table.

"Oh, dear, I would have told you for free at this point. But if you're giving favors, I'll certainly take one! How about... hmmmm... Why not call Disappearance back up and ask her about her time with HoundMan up to this point? For the past... how long was it? Many months, I think. Ask her what all she's been up to during that time," AppraisalMan clapped his hands together, then shifted in his seat and recrossed his legs. "Ah, or ignore it. We do have juicier topics to pursue."

Nodding eagerly with her inquiry, he folded his hands atop the table, trying to look more like a dignified businessman navi and less like a giddy child. "I have meticulous book-keeping showing funds paid throughout this department. There are some to NightMan, which, of course, trailed off sharply once he agreed to be my collateral. The nature of slave labor is you don't have to pay them. You will, of course, see Bank's name prominently featured there with a very large payout. The one who distributes the money must get the largest, yes? Oh, are you going to weight the sins and worthiness of punishment based on how well or poorly you suspect the recipients used the money?! I'd be very interested to see how that goes!"

He kicked his leg under the table gently, then raised one hand and began counting off his fingers just for show; there was no way a navi, especially not one like himself, needed to use his fingers to count. "Let's see... Beyond those... The other big ones are Aroma, FashionMan, and GolfMan. AlchemyMan used to be a big recipient, but he stopped receiving payments long ago. Have you not met them yet? My dear, if you've yet to meet those ones, then you've flipped ahead to the ending without reading all the chapters!" the glimmering man snickered. "Beyond that, the others are so small-time I can't remember their names, but I'm certain you'll see them all if you keep digging at this. When you do, I hope you remember not to let them put you in Virtucuffs, hm hm hm..."

"Once I'm allowed to access my files and resume work, I'll be happy to hand all of the evidence you want over to you. Though, the fact that I've been bold enough to name so many already must be encouraging, right?" he grinned widely. "Tell me, tell me! What are you going to do next? Should I expect to see them all in the interrogation room right behind me? What's your plan to bring the hammer down on these guys?" he questioned, tilting his head at an extreme angle once again. "If you want to see some really good evidence that I've let you on to something big, go tell Bank that you're on to her! That ought to be good for some laughs. I'd like to see her face when you tell her~"
Pirouette's own smile grew satisfied and ferocious as her eyes remained locked on the man across from her. The rest of her expression was equally focused to give little else away besides her pleased outlook on the information AppraisalMan had decided to give her. She stood back from the table again hummed to herself, letting her hands settle behind her back while her wings rose and fell. After a moment she glanced across to her house guest, still grinning.

“Some of those name... they are on my radar already, yes. Others are new to me. This is... most interesting, no? You did not exactly tell me what was done, or is perhaps, being done... with these funds you have supplied, but the names you have given, and the proof you say you have... this is good, AppraisalMan. Very good. They will stand in, you know... good faith, let us say, yes? I am trusting in this... that the documents you provide will be good records, yes? Legitimate. That they will show the truth of what you say here, and that they will contain with them some of the smaller details you have left out in you.... eagerness.” She turned back to him and leaned onto the table again, letting her body flow with a graceful sway as she did, eyes lidded as she looked him over.

“You made a request, no? So I shall give you this, for what you provide. Good faith, you know, that your evidence will in turn be good. I will speak with Disappearance. I will be sure to record our conversation, yes? I will ask what you have suggested I should, and then, you know... I shall see that a copy finds it way into your possession, so that you may review it at some later time, whenever you feel as though you need another little thrill... you must only trust that I will do this. Good faith, no?” She smiled again, and let one eye lazily wink at him, before standing and walking part way towards the door. The ballerina stopped after a step or two and stretched in a prolonged, luxuriant manner, arching her wings and flexing her arms wide as she lifted to her toe points briefly.

“Beyond this, AppraisalMan, it seems I have little reason to detain you for much longer, no? I see no reason that we cannot allow you to return to your very important business. I will be expecting you to deliver the evidence you have promised, at your earliest convenience, you know.” She paused, mid stretch, then glanced back over her shoulder, wings rising and falling with a flow fluttering.

“Oh... you could, return to your other associates, it is true. Sell back to them, the words I have told to you... I am aware you could do this, you know. Still, I do not think you will, no? What I offer you; the success of my endeavours, yes? This is a much grander prize for you than any result of undermining my efforts, you know. Perhaps we shall make further exchanges in the future, yes? Hmmm... there is... one thing more I would ask you, AppraisalMan... One last detail, before I go...” Here, she turned back to him fully once more, folding her arms beneath her bust and tilting her head to one side.

“Perhaps you can decide if it is worth making one last immediate request of me, for the telling, yes? Before, when you spoke... You suggested that someone had been waiting to pounce upon NightMan. That someone tried to shorten our efforts and simply throw him to the wolves instead. You spoke this, as though it were a truth you knew. You asked me to 'remember' the thing you said had happened but minutes ago... at a time when all assurance is that your ability to communicate beyond this room is locked down, no? I would have you explain this last little detail to me, AppraisalMan, and leave no part of it out... What price would you have right now for this? What discomfort balances that scale for you?” Pirouette watched him, watching to see what the diamond man would say, though she had a suspicion already. It was turning into another one of those days where everyone was guilty, and everyone was a victim as well, more or less. With a few dubious exceptions.
"Good records, yes. All of my pay-sheets and databases are coded to prevent prying eyes from seeing what I'm not ready to show yet, but I can provide the codes as well," AppraisalMan chuckled, easily resting his chin upon the back of his hand and looking pleased by the girl's willingness to accept his guidance on the matter. "What a gaff, that they let someone so straight and narrow sit in the same room as me. I've just been waiting for the right opportunity too, you know?" The appraiser said no more than that about the matter of the revelations timing and instead went back to smiling silently.

At her agreement to pay him another time with a recording between herself and Disappearance, he gave a narrow smile. "My lady, in this business, a vague promise like that is only as good as one's character. If I can trust yours and you deign to trust mine, does that make us equals in the arena of respectability?" he questioned, showing the jagged points of his teeth in a grin. "But yes, that will suffice. You seem to be one to take a promise very literally and faithfully, so I have no doubt you'll make good on it. Even if not, this is a mere bonus-- a side pot I've allowed to grow on the off chance that I get to cash it in some day. It will please me if I get the opportunity, but it won't trouble me if I don't."

He nodded along with that same sly smile, seeming to appreciate that she understood how much watching the house of cards fall meant to him; whatever pleasure the crystalline criminal would derive from disrupting her plan would, supposedly, pail in comparison to how much collateral suffering stood to occur at the larger scheme's failure.

The last question barely changed his expression; he cocked one corner or his thin smile and spread his arms. "I think that one can be easily arranged. I'll answer you on that matter and in return, you can do something mutually beneficial for us both. I've enclosed the answer in this data packet here," AppraisalMan explained, while sliding a diamond shaped packet across the table. "Before you pick it up, I'm going to give you the chance to do something that will make our interrogation here believable. What you've done so far was surprising, but not particularly outside the realm of what Disappearance had already tried, besides dropping the barrier and approaching me. Just give me something a little more... something you don't think she and the dog will have tried yet. That way, I'm entertained and your bases are covered. That sounds fair, right?"

It was pretty clear by this point that the villain derived only a thin sliver of amusement from erotic displays, but the humiliation aspect of it did appeal to him. It was up to her to decide if entertaining him was worth it or if she wanted to just snatch the packet off the table.
Across from her adversary-turned-informant, Pirouette nodded once as AppraisalMan gave his assurances. She folded her arms briefly, tapping a finger on the opposite arm while her wings rose and fell slowly, then relaxed again.

“Da... So it is agreed then. Who you financed, how much, and what, to your knowledge, they did with these funds. This you have agreed to, when you are released and your communications restored. Your reports and records will be verified, you know, and when you are forthcoming with these details, it will, of course, be back checked. I am glad, however, that we could come to this agreement, no?” She stepped up to the desk, her smile creeping across one side of her lips again in that uncharacteristically predatory way, and she listened and watched as the diamond man got around to her final request. Her eyes went to the packet presented on the table, and then flicked back to him as he named his price. Slowly, she nodded.

Something that Disappearance and HoundMan hadn't tried yet. It didn't necessarily need to be something suggestive, she realised... but she knew what made the data-trader tick now; it should be something that would illicit discomfort, or distress. Something done unwillingly, for shame or for personal suffering. What to do...? She held his gaze for an extra few seconds, taking a long breath and letting it out again as she considered; letting him see her weighing up what she could do was a part of the game as well, now – she let him see her struggle with the thought. A firm expression hiding nervousness just beneath the surface; that was the goal. After a moment of letting her wings rise slowly to points of tension behind her back, she took a longer breath and let it out, breaking eye contact with him and standing straight again; she let her hands come together at her waist, and begin to fidget gently. It was easy to make the action authentic when it was only her personal poise that was keeping such feeling from legitimately affecting her. She swallowed.

“This information... it is complete, yes? How you knew these things and why, yes? How you know what people in the net police have done or told me, this day, when I have been assured your communication was cut, yes? The information is good, da?” She let the edges of her accent slip in more deeply as she spoke, still not quite making eye contact with him; she had to sell her uncertainty and discomfort at every step here. And then she had to follow it up with something that warranted such nerves... It had better be interesting.

When AppraisalMan confirmed her double check, Pirouette allowed herself to look back to the data packet, and take a longer, slower breath.

“Alright.” Now, as she spoke the words, she straightened her shoulders from where they had bent to a nervous slump, and looked up to find AppraisalMan's gaze clearly, schooling her face to one of determination. She stepped up, and then around the desk in one swift motion, sliding her hip across the edge of it and arching one leg high enough to flash above and past the witness. It came down on his other side, the bridge of her foot planted firmly on the back of his chair, while she sat on the edge of the desk right in front of him. Her other leg was to his other side, and resting down, creating a pose that was at once both quite obviously dominant, but also afforded AppraisalMan a very clear view up her far too short skirt; she was wearing stockings, of course, though the ballerina herself wasn't aware of the treacherously embarrassing dark spot of damp that was visible from her earlier excitement. As part of the motion, Pirouette neatly scooped the data packet around behind her, scuttling it into one of her belt pouches.

Her wings fluttered, rising and falling nervously, giving contradictory information to the initially intense, confident stare she held AppraisalMan with, while her right hand rested on her raised thigh, and her left reached forward for a moment, as though to brush his cheek – she held off from actually making contact for now, though, and just suggested it.

“Well... I know they will not have tried this... and... aie... and, I am...” she let her voice falter and her dominant expression break slightly. She swallowed, then leaned back instead, putting her loose hand behind her for a moment. Again, she let herself pauses and give all the signs of steadying herself with a longer breath drawn in and out again slowly.

“I... have not, ah...” She trailed off again, then snapped her eyes back to him. “This had better be good, da?” As she spoke, she moved with a renewed drive of impulse, forcing herself to act. Truthfully, the line between performance and reality had grown tenuously thin the closer she got to enacting the rest of her plan. In her mind, the reality of what she was doing wasn't too bad, but the actual act of following through was still making her heart race and a feeling of deep revulsion rise within her.

She cast her police cap aside and then swiftly began unbuttoning her dress shirt. It came open one pop at a time, revealing pale cream skin beneath in an ever-lengthening 'v', before it passed by the white demi-cups of the bralette that was part of the uniform's design. She let her breathing quicken visibly the further she got, until the shirt was all the way undone. For now, she kept holding AppraisalMan's gaze, but by the last button she was letting her fingers shake just enough to cause her to fiddle with it for a little longer than the rest.

“I know that it is not... not the, you know, the tease of the act... but I thought... aie... what might we try... that they would not... that I would not... I... I do not wish to go further with this, but... aie...” She looked away for a moment, and muttered under her breath. “Damn you...” It was quiet, but audible, before she took another breath, then reached back to carefully pop the snaps on the back of her blazer and her shirt, one after the other. With slow, nervous movements, she pulled first the blazer off over her wings and dropped it to the side of the table, then with more hesitation, pulled her shirt free as well, leaving her just in the small white bralette alone. The real nerves began to crash into the performed ones as she dropped the second garment and looked back towards AppraisalMan.

It was fine, really, she knew that; it was a different setting, but it was still a performance, of a sort. She let herself take a longer, bracing breath, fixed her viewer with a long look, then reached up to unclip the front fasten of her bralette, letting it fall into her lap with a whisper.

“I have not ever, willingly, shown any man myself like this... and to know that my body is not even so interesting to you... it makes it worse, you know...” Her heart rate was making her breath heavily now regardless of whether she was acting or not, but Pirouette hadn't finished her play.

“Ah... get this over with...” held his eyes while she spoke, but as she reached down to take one of AppraisalMan's hands in her own, she let her gaze falter and slip away to the side; it didn't take very much effort to coax a small tremble into her hand as she lifted his up to her side, then guided it up further to the softer area. Despite herself, her body shuddered, and obviously not from appreciation of the touch. She looked away to the side, expressions of desperate discomfort flooding across her features as she shifted between wincing her eyes closed with a grimace and trying to keep them at least a little open; she guided the hand against her, pressing in, for another moment, and then relaxed her own grip to give the man free reign. As she did her breathing rose to distressed panting and her discomfited grimace to a clench-jaw wince. A moment later she lifted her hand to her mouth, covering, but not quite muffling an unhappy whimper.

Pirouette continued to look away, breathing hard and stifling whatever small noises of distress he provoked from her with a hand. She gave him time to enjoy her suffering, then, after a few more moment, if he squeezed or pressed with particular attention, she let a small, breathy convulsion pass through her body, followed by a choked back sniffle.

“Enough, enough! I cannot...!” She leaned back and away, pushing his hand down and covering herself as she gasped for breath. In another quick motion, she twisted away and dismounted the desk, standing to the side of it and supporting herself with one hand while she held the other to her chest and breathed deeply. Another moment and she turned away from him, sniffing audibly again, and scrubbing at her face.

Her wings trembled in a constant rustle as she scrambled to snatch up her bralette, as well a her discarded shirt and blazer, holding them in a mass across her chest with one arm.

“This must be enough. You will need... You will need something of very, very great value to my work, AppraisalMan, if you wish to push more than this from me. No more for now. No more today. We will... We will...” She half turned towards him, but didn't let herself meet his eyes, and painted her face with an expression of dread and loathing instead. “We will speak again, da? We will... work together, again in future. You will be released soon. You will be cooperative with your information.” With last few gasped breathes, and still clutching her clothing over her chest protectively, Pirouette made a dash for the door and fled the room, shutting it firmly behind her.

Outside, in the break room, Pirouette leaned on the door for a moment, then drew along, slow breath and stood straight again. The hand holding her gathered clothes across her chest took on a more relaxed, coy grip and she attempted to reassure HoundMan with a grin. The poor boy would probably be worried about her entry, and she swiftly moved away from the door to the other side of the room just in case. Her heart still beat rapidly, but poise reigned on the ballerina's exterior.

“Do not worry, HoundMan. It is well.” She flexed her wings and shook them out, then carefully began to extract her clothing and straighten it out, while still keeping her hand across her breasts for modesty.

“We will be releasing AppraisalMan. He has promised to be cooperative when questioned about his financing from now on. Our work here is done; we are cutting him loose. Nothing else.” She watched her colleague carefully as she spoke, doing her best to let him see that she was genuinely quite calm, despite how she had exited the interview room.

“Please do not be alarmed. There is... ah, how to say... There is a great difference, you know, between a performance, and an act of trust offered to another, yes? I am a performer, I have worn many costumes and many roles, and spent much time in changing rooms with others. I am not harmed.” Gradually, she straightened each article of clothing with her free hand, playfully keeping herself covered with the other. “What occurred in there; it was an act, nothing more. A performance, yes? I have not ever chosen to share the view of my body with a man, you know. This has not changed... I...” she raised an eyebrow and faced him, standing on one toe point for a moment and letting her body sway slightly as she relaxed again, then fixed the other officer with a coy smile. “I do not think I am ready to do so, HoundMan, not yet... but I hope maybe soon, yes?” She darted forward a quick step and trailed a finger down his chest with her free hand. “If it is for the right man...” With another small laugh, she stepped back to the break table and turned away from Houndman so she could slip the bralette back on and fasten it up, then pulled her shirt and blazer back on as well, refastening the snaps around her wings with a content sigh. When she was decent again she turned back to him, a warm smile curling her lips.

“So... Shall we go and tell Disappearance that we are ready to wrap up now? I must report to Bayonet once we are clear of all this... I do not know if you should perhaps accompany me in this, HoundMan?” She tilted her heard to see what he thought. Either way, it wouldn't take long to fill Disappearance in on the fact that things were wrapped up in a satisfactory way, and that soon they could all go home.
"I'm glad as well. All that you've asked, I shall provide to you," AppraisalMan returned her smirk; his smile cut a long, thin line across his crystalline face. "You're getting this favor for much, much less than my going rate, you know?" he added with a chuckle, leaning back in his chair slightly and raising the slight protrusions where eyebrows would be on an ordinary human face. As she adopted her chosen expression and drilled him again on the authenticity of the information, he narrowed his eyes, but kept his expression the same otherwise. "'Da,' it's very good. There's no one better suited to give you this information, because I'm the one that engineered each of the deals. These sums were large enough to warrant rigorous record-keeping and you must understand that all of my amusement was tied into how they used them; as such, I demanded very thorough reports and checked every last zenny, hm hm hm..."

His gaze remained bright but unfeeling as her hand reached towards his face; he didn't flinch, nor did he seem to get a rise. He did respond, while closing his blue eyes with a smile that was nearly sympathetic. "You're quite right. Neither one of them ever tried this," he confirmed, then opened his eyes a half-shade to study the private area he'd been offered a view of. "If you're acting, you're doing a very good job, Pirouette. I'd rate it... a solid 51," he shrugged. "Are you classically trained?"

His jokes were more callous than legitimately worrying, in the face of Pirouette's other concerns. "Oh, it gets better. You know how to use just the type of dirty talk I like. Let's bump it up to... 55, since I'm feeling generous," he cackled, showing the tips of his diamond teeth as Pirouette continued the strip-show, showing discomfort at every step of the way. The man's crystalline hands were undesirably sharp-edged and cold as Pirouette grabbed hold of them and lifted him into place. One of his eyes was still covered by an appraiser's monocular lens, which extended back and forth for an uncomfortable degree of close inspection. "Not a lot of folks present themselves to me so fully for my appraisal. I suppose that the low opening score scares them off."

He clicked his tongue lightly inside his mouth while exploring Pirouette's body with surprising delicacy, perhaps a necessity given the jagged edges covering his hands. Each minute motion threatened to cover her pale and delicate skin in red cuts. "Truth be told, I'm fine that way. I told you that my appraisals are low as a matter of course-- I pulled back the curtain on that little fact earlier-- but the other side of it is that I really do find most people's appearances absolutely revolting. Especially without clothing. If you were to ask me my type, I'd say, 'I'll tell you when I find it,'" he rambled on, while flipping his hand to begin running the flat, cool surface of the back of his pointer finger around the exposed area. "But this sort of emotion you're showing me... scared, vulnerable, and repulsed with both me and yourself... I like that quite a lot. Even if it's all an act, I like having the scenario in hand to think back to whenever I encounter you in the future. I--!"

His words stopped short as Pirouette finally rejected her own performance, pushing off from him and shoving his hand down onto the table with a clatter of gems against metal. "Oooh! You might expect you'd lose some points for that sort of behavior, but that's actually just what I was looking for. And look! You've summoned him!"

Before Pirouette even had a chance to make it to the back room, HoundMan was perched in the frame of the window into the next room, wearing an uncharacteristic expression with his lips peeled all the way back from his jagged teeth. His behavior was more Hound than Man, as his ordinarily green visor lit up red and he threatened to pounce into the prisoner's interrogation room. When she ran past and for the door, his protective nature won out over his vengeful one, and he ended up chasing after her on all fours.

"'Da,' yes! I'll be looking forward to how you've thought to improve your evaluation by another 2 or 3 points in our next encounter!" AppraisalMan cackled after her, now wearing a face a bit reminiscent of when he'd barely resisted the urge to masturbate to his own ingenious manipulation of NightMan earlier.

-----------------------

HoundMan was back in his armor, a stark contrast to Pirouette, who was in only a marginally less dire state of wardrobe distress than she had been while entertaining AppraisalMan. The dog-like man stood up straight like a statue, while listening to the newly smiling Pirouette unconvincingly reassuring him that nothing had occurred worthy of a violent reaction. "You really got him to agree, huh? He did a complete 180," HoundMan grumbled, looking like he was half disappointed that he hadn't gotten the go-ahead to execute the guy. At her reassurance, the green lights showing at the ends of his goggles half-shaded; he still seemed worried, like a child (or a pet) having a hard time absorbing a lesson. "He's the one you're giving the act, not me, right?" he questioned, while keeping his posture straight and wearing a despondent frown.

He managed to turn his mood upside down, although not his frown-- even at the best of times, he wore a kind of alert, bated-breath frown, one step away from panting excitedly. "O-Oh, you've got no responsibility to show me-- or the right man-- anything, ma'am! Unless you want to! Respectfully, ma'am!" he snapped his salute once more. Once she was decent again, he nodded eagerly. "Let's go get Disappearance now!"

-------------------------

Disappearance was eager to leave the room with NightMan; the latter went wholly silent and didn't encourage any of them to speak to him any further. Disappearance seemed like she had just about worn herself out trying to pump some kind of new information out of him. "I hope you two found something more than I did. Nightman has clammed up like a [REDACTED]-- well... you know," she murmured behind her blank mask.

"I think Pirouette got something pretty good! I'm going to let her handle the talking, though," HoundMan reassured her.

Disappearance seemed to calm down; she might even be smiling behind her mask. "Well... Are we reporting to Bank?"

"No, Bayonet, aroo!"

At that, she didn't seem quite so excited. Bayonet might be higher ranked than Bank, but Disappearance was still Bank's direct underling. She was probably worried about what sort of sensitive topics they might get in to that Bank would later rant about being kept out of the loop on. "Should I send Bank a direct message...?"

"... I wouldn't," HoundMan answered her with a tight frown, seeming to sense that the information Pirouette had garnered might be meant only for very particular ears. "On that note, we better hurry while we still have the first say in this story, aroo."

With that, the three made their way back to Bayonet's office.

------------------------

When Pirouette arrived, leading the group with the others close behind her, Bayonet was in the middle of a call with an unseen net-navi. "Yes, well, if there's nothing further you need from me in regards to fund-raising efforts, I'll leave you to handle the rest," she finished. "I have a pressing appointment." The steely-faced woman nodded into her view-screen, then dismissed it with a flick of the wrist. At this point, she rose to her feet, then gestured to a low coffee table with, conveniently, four seats surrounding it. "Please, give me your report and any data you've collected immediately. I'll prepare tea and coffee for those of you who wish to partake."

"Just water for me," HoundMan responded. "Ma'am!" He added a salute.

"... I'm fine," Disappearance spoke up.

At this point, Pirouette would likely remember the data packet she'd accepted earlier. It was up to her to decide whether to hand that, unopened, over to the bigwig herself, to analyze it herself first, or to simply keep it as a trump card of her own.
HoundMan seemed to need a little more reassurance and as Pirouette got her things in order and double checked her clothing, she reached out with one hand to lift one of his and place it over her heart; nowhere suggestive or suspicious, but rather high enough that he would still be able to feel the lingering rapid beat through her clothes.

“It was unpleasant, I did not like it... Aie... I was uncomfortable, it is true. But you know, HoundMan, that it was not so much a trauma as I was making it seem, yes? Do not worry.” She shared a last less-than-professional warm smile for him before heading out.

By the time they collected Disappearance, Pirouette was fully composed again, though there was no hiding subtle hints that part of her performance had involved a sniffle and tearful eyes – the hints of out of place red would still take a few minutes to fade. She gave the other woman a firm nod, wings flexing up and down once as she did.

“We have enough for now. This much I can confirm. Beyond this, I will say that calling in Internal Affairs was the correct course of action in this matter... It is only unfortunate that it took different people coming at it from different angles to crack it open. Do not distress, Disappearance. I am certain that I would not have made the progress I have without your ground work, yes?” At the question of Bank, Pirouette glanced to one side, unconsciously letting her eyes flick towards HoundMan as he answered, then looked back to Disappearance with a slightly grim twist to her lips.

“Aie... It has become very sensitive, I am afraid. For this particular investigation, Bank is now too involved to be the direct report. Her conduct may be innocent, but you know, not it is not certain enough, yes? If she is clean, then she will understand the necessity, no? I am sure that Bayonet will bring her in on this as soon as she is cleared of any suspicion. Come, let us finish this.” She spared Disappearance another brief, supportive nod as they headed out together but took the time to send the other woman a private message as they walked.

Quote

This may be personal, and so I apologise and ask in private, but is there anything else that is bothering you or upsetting you now, Disappearance? I would not wish to put you off-side with my own behaviour, if I have stepped on your toes, no? I was charged with resolving this matter efficiently, you know, but I feel as though some concern is preying on your mind still. Have I acted poorly?


For the time being, she kept the data packet that AppraisalMan had provided her a well-kept secret, as eager as she was; haste was needed in reporting to Bayonet, but if it contained the information that it promised, she desperately wanted to take a look. Finding a convenient excuse to delay wasn't that easy when they were already on their way, however. It was almost a shame, she caught herself thinking, that as a navigator she didn't have the ever convenient excuse of a bathroom stop to avoid suspicion, like the humans in crime shows could always use. Before they arrived, she sent another brief message ahead to Bayonet to let her know they were arriving.

Quote

Bayonet. Myself, HoundMan and Disappearance are en route to report to you now; the matter is resolved. There is pressing information that I will wish to discuss with you after this report is made, in private. It would be best if the others do not know this, or if it looks as though you are taking the initiative in keeping me back, yes?


When they entered the office, Pirouette waited until she was addressed before giving her superior a formal greeting – not quite as vigorous or sharp as the one she was sure HoundMan was doing, but correct all the same. She relaxed afterwards and rolled her shoulders, flexing her wings slowly and taking a long breath.

“I would not say no to a good cup of tea, after this, thank you Bayonet.” She smiled and moved to take one of the chairs, her normal behaviour leading her to turn it sideways by unconscious rote so that the back wouldn't interfere with her wings.

“To begin, the matter of the many week delay is resolved. AppraisalMan has agreed to be cooperative with NetPolice questioning, and to not withhold himself any further, as soon as his communications are restored and he can resume his business, you know. He has made an official statement to me that he is not Mafia affiliated, but has agreed to cooperate fully with further questions from officers more prepared to take and record such statements and collect the offered evidence, which he has also agreed to furnish upon request. This is... the good news, yes? There is a lot more.” She took a moment to sigh and raised fingertips to her temples as though collecting her thoughts.

“We have reason to believe that this situation was being deliberately drawn out, with NightMan's own misconduct setting him up to take the blame for it. The only solution was to first press AppraisalMan where it would hurt him the most – his business – and follow after with some more forgiving negotiation, which I would not have been able to direct without all that I learned from officer Disappearance's efforts up until now, officer HoundMan as well, of course. Their efforts and assistance in this has been exemplary. In particular, their efforts provided me with the understanding I needed to draw what was important from the house guest. I have recommended now that he be released, but held to his word on his promise of cooperation. If he returns to resisting now, it will place him under much more warrant-worthy suspicion.” She paused, thinking on AppraisalMan and what she'd learned from him.

“He is... a distasteful individual, but potentially a useful asset as well, no? He cannot, of course, be trusted in himself, you know. I have no doubt that any information, personal or otherwise, that he learns or knows about anyone within the NetPolice will stand chance of being sold on to whoever it pleases him most to trade with. But knowing this, I believe the information he provides, it is good. It may be very valuable indeed.” Pirouette paused again and glanced across at her companions, then nodded to herself. She reached to her belt and pulled out the slim black notebook that she used as much as a prop as she did for taking notes, and flipped it open.

“To the meat of it, yes? AppraisalMan is not specifically a Mafia financier, so much as he considers himself a neutral party who finances and loans money to many people. This may include people who we know to be mafia agents, you know, but also people who are not, and also, I fear, people who are members of our own organisation. This becomes a terribly sensitive matter.”

“Aie... where to begin... AppraisalMan. Before any of this can make sense, the first step is knowing what it is, truly, that excites AppriasalMan. It is not a comely form, or a teasing voice... net...” again, her disgust showed through in the twist of her expression and the use of the far more satisfying Sharoan word, as she explained. “It is suffering. It is disgust, shame, anxiety and discomfort. It is self-loathing, disgrace and the feeling of defilement.” She turned an apologetic look towards Disappearance. “The more you pushed yourself to do things that you did not want to; the further into your discomfort you pushed, the better he rated... but, you know... over time, you would grow used to the same things, and you would be less uncomfortable, less ashamed... and the rating, it would stagnate, yes? So... you reached further, and got a marginal improvement, because you only make yourself a little bit more uncomfortable than the first time. Even to win at that game of his, you would have to lose more than you would gain, every time. It is foul and disgusting... but it is what makes all of this spin as it does.” She shook her head, dropping her eyes back to her notebook and drawing a breath.

“It is a game about suffering, and I fear many of the movements of pieces here, they are for the sake of causing more. NightMan called in Internal Affairs; I do not know why specifically, but there are several possibilities, you know. He has been negligent, yes? But also, he is a victim as well. This situation has been set into motion to leave him as the one to suffer. To take a fall, so to speak, no?”

“Either NightMan involved Internal Affairs in the vain hope that we would save him from his situation... but if so he never did believe it. Or he called us in because he was told to, even though he knew it would bring him further suffering. Also perhaps, it was not him who made the call, but one posing as him, but, aie...” she waved one hand to the side, dismissing the last phrase. “This one, it is much the same as the second, no?”

“He was bound by orders to obey AppraisalMan's instructions.” For a moment, her eyes flicked up to Bayonet, just enough to indicate to the other woman that the matter of high-ranking corruption was one of the more private topics. Her gaze returned to her book a moment alter as she carried on without pausing. “As it turns out, NightMan was prepared to put up with a great deal of personal discomfort and shame in the name of following his duty. It has cost him much because of AppraisalMan's... tastes. I was not able to uncover why he requested officer Disappearance in particular. This is a question that he will need to answer himself.

“Bank also has much to answer for in this situation. As I understand, she is normally very strict in her duty, yes? In this case, her negligence has been very... at odds with her character. She could have ended this very swiftly, but chose not to. It may be petty; perhaps she was hoping to... aie... what is your phrase... to, ah give NightMan enough rope, you know? If she stood to gain from his disgrace, perhaps. The other possibility... is that until AppraisalMan has provided his documents and they have been checked, it is possible, perhaps likely, that Bank herself may be one of his... ah... the word... beneficiaries, yes? NightMan was, until the need to pay him at all ended.” Here, Pirouette closed her notebook and set it in her lap, looking about Bayonet's office with a thoughtful expression.

“If I may... I believe that AppraisalMan became cooperative with me only because in voicing my goals to him, I promised more suffering and more shame for more people than continuing his current game. He does not care who it is who suffers. NightMan was growing... aie... not content, but... jaded perhaps? Jaded, with his situation. Our intervention promised a new level of disgrace and torment for him, if he then took a fall for it all.

I wish to be clear, yes, about the level of leverage that AppraisalMan had over him... in itself it is a reflection, you know, of the dedication to following his orders that NightMan has. AppraisalMan had him serving his business, and also...” Pirouette cleared her throat with a small cough. “Also... was compelling him to work as... as an adult actress... with... with other talent, in the flesh, you know?” She looked away, unable to stop the uncomfortable blush that reached her cheeks. “And it would seem that he truly felt he had no choice but to do this. I would keep this information in confidence for now, but I expect it will escape soon. AppraisalMan knows it, can prove it, and will wish to see the damage the information can do. We cannot keep him from selling it to the people he thinks it will do the most damage in the hands of, when he chooses.”

Pirouette tensed her shoulders and then relaxed them again, letting her wings ruffle and shake briefly as she settled.

“No matter; after I conducted my interview and spoke with him, AppraisalMan has agreed that he will cooperate now, and he will supply information with evidence that we may check, of everyone that he has financed, including net police members, how much he has given them, and what they spent those funds on. He was quite willing to agree to share this in the end, in light of our meeting and what was discussed. There is another issue. In the course of our meeting, AppraisalMan, you know, he let slip some small details without meaning to... he revealed that he knew things he should not have known or been able to know. Things that were said in other meetings and discussions – things said at the time when he was meant to be completely isolated, yes? This is another reason why I did not wish to notify Bank ahead of you.” She reached back to the pouch that she had stored the slim data packet in and produced it.

“An extra deal. I gave incentive, and he provided; this contains data, so he assures, as to how he was able to know what was being said in the meetings that happened around him, when he was meant to be isolated. Somebody in the net police most certainly had to have allowed this... So, this data, if it is sound, you know, it cannot be reviewed alone. I suspect it is good data, and correct... I gave incentive enough that AppraisalMan knows he has more to lose and less to gain by betraying me in this. If you will allow, I can unpack this now, yes? Unless I have forgotten any other important things? Do either of you wish to add anything I have missed, Disappearance? HoundMan?” She looked between them, then back to Bayonet, to check for her approval on opening the extra data packet.
By the time they reached the office, HoundMan appeared to be satisfied. For whatever reason, Disappearance remained either sullen or at the very least quiet-- it was hard to tell given the mask covering her face and her silence. The only thing for now was to assume she was slowly writing a heavily considered message in response to Pirouette's concern. Pirouette would realize that she probably wasn't going to receive the response until the meeting was already underway.

On the other hand, Bayonet was quick to respond in the affirmative.

Quote (Bayonet)

Very well. I'll ask you to hold on after the meeting.


Once they reached the office, Bayonet appeared to take an unbiased pleasure in having her tea accepted by at least one of the mission participants. She lifted the teacup opposite hers to decanter, while Pirouette began. She nearly lost her composure at the news that AppraisalMan had not only broken his silence, but had also agreed to fully furnish the information he'd been withholding. "I'm surprised to hear that he's not tied up with the Mafia-- at least not yet, that we can prove. Still, I suppose there are criminals everywhere, even outside that organization," she sighed, not realizing how appropriate her words would turn out to be once more information was presented.

Clearly, of greatest interest to Bayonet was the idea that AppraisalMan was actively financing people within their own organization, to the point that she quickly wished to return to that point, rather than dwelling on AppraisalMan's techniques. Disappearance, on the other hand, was affected by the information. "I really should have put that together. Well, on some level, I knew it. But I guess after all of that time I sunk in on my assignment, I wanted to think it was a puzzle with an answer," the masked woman muttered, clutching one hand to her mask irritably.

"NightMan and Bank were under his thumb? That's Internal Affairs and one of our chief handlers of finances, all in his pocket," Bayonet clicked her teeth, completely forgetting the tea as she adopted a sour expression. It was no secret that she'd been on the hunt for traitors within their organization for a long time. "We've been made to look like absolute fools. The very core of our organization has been corrupted. Even those not in the know have been relying on the fruits of that dark deal," she growled, narrowing her eyes. "I'm being too hasty... Please, continue. I'll try not to draw any conclusions until you finish."

The corners of her eyes twitched with greater irritation as she attempted to calm herself with a sip of her drink; hearing that NightMan had been moonlighting as an adult actress clearly didn't sit well with her either. "Well, there seems to be an epidemic of unfavorable adult situations that we aren't proud of ripping through the Netpolice as of late. Those we can manipulate to our advantage. Would that his doubling as an adult actress was the worst of his crimes, this would be a much easier matter to resolve," she spoke quietly after setting down her cup.

Pirouette ended by placing the data packet onto the table and explaining its origins. "Yes, let us open it. There is virtually no one I trust in this organization now more than those assembled in this room, until I can put my finger on everyone that AppraisalMan's got dancing on his strings," the commanding officer spoke grimly, allowing Pirouette to open the packet. The files that stacked onto the table were nothing more than AppraisalMan's own writing, done up in flowery cursive, outlining the current going on in more specifics than had perhaps been clear to this point:

Quote

NightMan-- or Lady of the Night-- is set up to take the fall as the one person inside the NetPolice with connections to me. He does this for the perceived good of preserving the entire structure of the Netpolice. With his suspicion and imprisonment, he wishes to draw suspicion from others within the group who have been accepting my loans with the questionable terms I set.

Several big names-- which I may or may not have supplied to you already-- are poised to fall if you blow the lid on my scheme, which could conceivably send half the house of cards that is the NetPolice tumbling in on itself. The domino effect will be splendid and glorious! I will perceive as much of it as I can.

In particular, Bank is well-informed and supports the plan to have NightMan take the fall. Her hope is that you have gathered enough evidence to support that outcome and that I have guided you there as well. It is unlikely she suspects that I have a greater plan in all of my reckless financing. My strong belief is that she thinks I'm driven by money and although I have my thumb on the detonator of a metaphorical bomb, I have no reason to push down on the trigger. By this point, you may know that I am positively giddy for the opportunity to press that button! Her incorrect assumption is going to cost her everything.

Go ahead and throw the two of them-- my Lady and Miss Bank, that is-- in the slammer together! I'm always giving you folks nice gifts. Consider this just another on top of the pile.


Bayonet grimaced even harder and clutched one hand to the armrest of her chair. "This insufferable lout realizes exactly the position he's put us in. He's talking like he's a chum of ours in this message, but in reality, he's forced us into a terrifying position: he's saying we can either leave cancerous tumors inside of our organization and live comfortably on a deadly timer, or we can excise them and suffer. In NightMan's case, his long absence was an inconvenience in the grand scheme of things-- a drain on resources, but one easily managed. If Bank were to take the fall along with him... we would lose proprietary knowledge and experience, not to mention the faith and loyalty of Internal Affairs agents who have worked with her for a long time."

"I don't get it. This means she's a criminal, right? It sounds like the right solution is to take her in, aroo," HoundMan pointed out, looking at things through a simpler lens.

"It's not that easy. We're already suffering through various hits to our reputation as of late. He was right to state it as though it's a house of cards. If new recruits begin to doubt our virtue... If long-time members begin suspecting all of their allies as I have of late, allowing it to consume all of my waking hours... If other beneficiaries of those same funds begin to scramble away from the NetPolice or covering their tracks in a discrete manner...!"

"You're saying we have to let Bank get away with it..." Disappearance spelled out, sounding displeased.

"It's a tough choice, at least until we have the names of all of the other major actors in this plan," Bayonet admitted. "I want justice dispensed more than anyone, but it's clear that this is just another of AppraisalMan's tricks. He's given us information we can't actually act on without doing irreparable damage to our own organization. Damn it..." Her brow knit in consternation. "I can already guess how far it goes. My own close friend, Aroma, must be in his snare as well. Blast! The amount we stand to lose if we take her out of the field and out of finances...!"

"I understand your position. However, after looking into the situation for all of this time and being manipulated by Bank, who knew what was happening all along, I'm not going to report back to work under that [REDACTED] [REDACTED]. At the very least, Bank has to go down now. She looked me in the eyes and told me to debase myself for that [REDACTED] for months..." Disappearance argued back. Her face was hidden behind her mask, but her voice stern.

"You're right, of course. Yes. We will take Bank into confinement-- discretely-- and pump her for information. We'll also extract what we need to have someone take over her role in an official capacity. How would you feel, Disappearance, about slotting into that role? This is not a bribe-- it is simply that I have no one else I can trust there at the moment. You've been an assistant to Bank for quite a while, haven't you?" Bayonet offered.

"Yes... I wasn't expecting a promotion, but I'd be happy to take it, just to make sure nobody else just as bad gets slotted in there," she agreed.

"Congratulations!" HoundMan piped up, clapping his hands in a tone-deaf expression of pleasure that didn't acknowledge the dismal attitudes of everyone else in the room.

"Pirouette, it goes without saying that I'm thankful for this information, but it's more than that. I must ask you to be my right hand going forward. Everyone inside the organization already knows I'm on the hunt for traitors and the cockroaches will begin to scurry once they notice Bank and NightMan are both in lockup. You may be my best weapon for continuing to handle the situation," Bayonet explained, leaning forward with her gloves folded beneath her chin. "I may not be able to directly order you to look into the matter going forward-- not without rousing more suspicion-- but I ask that you keep wary and vigilant in all of your actions. Report anything that seems suspect, no matter how small. I'm asking Disappearance and HoundMan to do the same."

"Yes ma'am," HoundMan agreed, though if anyone was lacking the eye for picking up sensitive tells from suspicious people, it was probably him.

Disappearance nodded as well.

"You two are dismissed. Pirouette, please stay behind. I'd like to discuss the matter of what to do with Bank a little more, before we part," Bayonet spoke evenly. Her face, all business, made it look as though she probably would have wanted to speak with Pirouette further, even if she hadn't been instructed to.

HoundMan snapped a salute, then smiled gratefully towards Pirouette. "Even if things are getting confusing, I'm glad I can still trust you, ma'am! I'll be looking forward to working with you again in the future! Or going out like you talked about! Either way, respectfully!" he finished, stumbling over his words a bit at the end. With a chipper attitude that didn't match the rest of the setting, he left first.

As usual, Disappearance was slower to move. She nodded towards Pirouette, indicating she trusted her to handle the rest of the matter, then walked to the door. As she opened it and moved her caped form outside, she also shot Pirouette the message she'd been composing:

Quote (Disappearance)

I'm sorry if I seem despondent. I was mistaken about the relationship that I'd formed with HoundMan over the last few months. It was probably just the situation we were both trapped in that made me think things were more intimate than they were. You and I both have too much on our plates for me to compete with you and I think I already lost, anyway. Please don't worry yourself over it.
Pirouette listened as the report was broken down and the details covered over. She had done her best to commiserate Disappearance on her work and give the other woman the credit she was due, but her fellow officer still seemed down-trodden, despite the solution. Instinct told the ballerina that it wasn't just disappointment at herself for not solving the issue sooner and the concern meandered the back tracks of her mind while she listened to Bayonet process the information they'd uncovered.

Initially, she had considered that only Bayonet should hear the packet's contents, but by the time it came to producing it, she found that she agreed with the other woman's assessment; besides which, HoundMan and Disappearance had both more than proven their loyalty through the suffering they'd been put through already, so it was only fair to include them. She scanned the notes along with the others as the file unpacked. She found herself feeling sorry on Disappearance's behalf, when it came out that Bank, as she'd suspected, was indeed responsible for allowing AppraisalMan inside information. It almost would have been a relief to clear the woman of ill dealings, but it seemed as though it was not to be.

As much as Bayonet was angry and dismayed at the revelations, and Disappearance still seemed dejected over something else – and she did agree with her colleague that Bank couldn't get away with the unpleasantness she'd deliberately inflicted on her – Pirouette's expression remained cool and serious. What Bayonet was seeing as a threat to their integrity and information they couldn't act on, the ballerina saw as something else entirely. Her wings had risen to a subtle tension, despite the calmness of the rest of her body language.

“I would recommend that we do act, and with haste, but not, you know, with hastiness, yes? We must be decisive, but not... aie... Rash, no? To remove a cancer truly, it must be cut out all at once, with nothing let to fester or regrow. To do so, its limits must be known before the incision is made.” there was a hard coldness in her response – like she was observing something unpleasant from afar.

“Of course, I will assist you, Bayonet, but if I may? As you say, you are known. The rats, they are well aware to be cautious of the cat that hunts them, you know. I am still quite new. I am unknown to most, yes? This is a benefit. If I am associated with you, they will know to watch me too. It must appear that I am nothing to you, but another officer of occasional acquaintance, yes?” After a moment, she grimaced slightly.

“Tch... Although, you have had PatrolMan watched, no? If he went crying to his contacts about me... and they denounced my involvement, then there is a chance, it is true, that he may think you put me to the task, you know. Aie... hopefully he just thought I was some upstart new recruit playing games, no?” She shook her head and relented as Bayonet wrapped up the rest of the meeting, standing to leave with the others as per her acted expectation, and then turning back with a deferential nod to Bayonet when she was held back. When they were alone, Pirouette flexed her wings and folded her arms.

“Thank you for seeing me further. At first I had thought it might be wise to keep AppraisalMan's extra information between just you and I, but, da, I agreed, the others should know as well. It seems there are few enough we may trust. The extra information I will–” As she spoke, Disappearance's message came through and Pirouette felt a small stone of guilt and dread drop through her gut. Her cheeks flushed as she paused to put one hand to her temples and lower her face.

“Aei, yolki-palki... I did not see! I must fix this...” She paused and took a longer breath then looked back to Bayonet. “Ah, I am sorry. I was worried it may have been my fault, if officer Disappearance was... out of sorts. It is... that is, I was right. Aie... and HoundMan's...” her expression softened; even now, she couldn't really hold his lack of subtly against him, not when he meant as earnestly well as he did. “His forthright nature... it has not helped. It is personal, I will handle it out of duty, yes?” After another breath she cleared her throat, trying not to think about the mess she'd inadvertently made with her flirtations as she willed the blush out of her cheeks.

“So... The extra detail that I did wish to share with you alone for now. It is more names. You mentioned that you feared for one called Aroma... I am sorry, but this was a name he gave, yes. FashionMan you already suspect, but he too was named. He mentioned GolfMan as well, and also... He said that AlchemyMan used to receive his money, but no longer does. What to make of this, I could not say. NightMan was a recipient, and stopped when he became so compromised that AppraisalMan no longer had to pay him. The way he spoke, however... I do not think the situation is the same for this AlchemyMan... he is also a high ranked officer, is he not?” Glancing about the other woman's office, Pirouette rested her hands on the back of the chair in front of her and set her shoulders; the look she fixed Bayonet with would be a strangely familiar one to the senior officer; perhaps on a younger navigator, and a less experienced one, but definitely with every ounce of steel that she herself possessed.

“We spoke once before, about my goals, yes? I was maybe not clear enough. The Net Police are already a joke to many. The public, they have little to no confidence in us. This is why I joined. I intend to leave no shred of corrupting influence here; I will not stand to see it remain and fester further. If half our senior officers are on the take, as it were... I do not care. They must be disciplined, corrected, or else excised if they cannot be. If this snaking black vein of vileness weaves its way through our whole organisation... I do not care. It will be ripped out. If this goes up to Montag, Keys or even Liege himself: I. Do. Not. Care. Bayonet, the public has no respect and no confidence in us now already. If this be a house of cards, and if it may all fall if we rip out the cancer and leave it bloody, then it is better that it does so, and we rebuild something stronger. If this is what must be done to truly renew our public image and the confidence of the people, then it is what must be. There is a story; I do not know if you know it, but it is from an old fable. It is of one who brought hatred and loathing upon himself for selling out his friend to justice... and I tell you, if I must be this organisation's Iscariot, I will. This is my purpose.” She held her gaze for a moment, then blinked slowly and sighed, letting her body relax.

“But, yes... we cannot be reckless. We have many tools that may be of use to us in unearthing everyone involved. AppraisalMan knows that blood will spill and people will suffer, one way or the other. He relishes it. He is something of an ally, for now. He cannot be trusted with information, but he will be useful if we ask the right questions and give him the right incentive. We must also consider... Receiving money from AppraisalMan alone, it is not in itself criminal or even corrupt. It will depend on what they used the money for, and what conditions he placed upon them for it. If they have acted against the people, or against the net police, or compromised either, then yes, this is what we can focus on... but, if he helped an officer finance a new swimming pool, and asked only that they debase themselves in some ridiculous erotic stunt as the deal, and it was nothing to do with the net police itself, well... it is no crime. The details, they will matter.” She paused for a moment, then let a small grimace of satisfaction slip across her lips.

“If nothing else, it would be wise to never forget that we have AppriasalMan's own confession that he had stopped paying NightMan, and yet was still coercing him to engage in sexual violations of his body against his will. He seems to think that he is safe, and that his money loaning is not criminal in itself, and maybe it is not... but this confession; this is all that is needed to put him in irons and ruin him entirely, when he is no longer useful, yes?” With that took a moment to stretch, then glanced back at the door, thinking of Disappearance again.

“I believe that is all for now. I will always be available if you need to contact me, of course... but if I may, I would like to hurry and repair things with officer Disappearance as swiftly as I may, yes?” She bowed her head and gave a polite salute, holding her cap in front of her waist now as she waited to see if Bayonet had any further comments before dismissing her. As she waited, she hurriedly sent Disappearance a return message.

Quote

“Please, do not leave at once! I was indelicate, and I must apologise for this, but I wish very much to speak to you properly, face to face, once we are both released from duty. I would make this right, please.”