The Shamus Austin Mall-Net

Any wireless jack-in directly to the Shamus Austin's Mall-Net would leave the navi in question at the net space's designated 'landing zone', a wide circle in the middle of the ground floor, near one of the large map-key boards. This early in the morning, Sleuth and Hyde wold see only very, very few navis anywhere in the virtual mall at all, at least, as customers. Most of the shops would be open and lit up, and all but a few had navis manning them with various levels of boredom.

If they took the time to poke around, they would notice that, while most shops were manned by navis, most were normal navis, and a goodly handful were even being fronted by simple, if highly enthusiastic Progs. the decoration of the mall space was done up to look more or less the same as the exterior Shamus Austin, although the lighting seemed to come ambiently from all sources and none, rather than from feature skylights, and the artfully arranged plant life was fr more vibrant and exotic, being in a location that didn't have to worry about bad weather or constant care.

Damson's navi had indicated that she'd meet them at the net-equivalent of the hairdresser's shop, and once the two navis made their way there, they'd find the girl in question waiting for them, jumped up to sit on the shop's counter with one leg crossed over the other.

CurlGurl herself was probably around average height for a navi, but unlike her operator, she was not wearing impressive stiletto heels to give herself more reach, and had apparently opted to remain barefoot instead. Perhaps it was to show off the dazzling rainbow paint-job she had on her toenails?

She was dressed somewhat casually in a loose pair of three-quarter trousers that showed off her calves, and a simple t-shirt, mostly white but with the 'How-do-you-Doo' logo on the front of it. It was fairly tight, and emphasised what could be called a fairly impressive bust for an average girl, but which might end up looking simply lacking when standing beside Sleuth. More noticeably, however, was the fact that the navi had apparently barely taken the time to pull on the bare minimum before saying she was ready; the tightness of her t-shirt made it obvious to the watching eye that the shirt was all she had on in that department. So did the pronounced wobble as she jumped down from the counter and waved to them.

"Hi there! I'm CurlGurl! If you've got the hair, then I've got the flair!" The greeting was no less enthusiastic for being something that she probably said to ever new navi she met in a business situation. At this particular point in time, the phrase seemed a little odd, since plainly, it was CurlGurl herself who had 'the hair'. True to her name, above a bright grin and brighter blue eyes, the navi's head was a positive cascade of small, curling ringlets that washed down over her shoulders, all the way to the small of her back in a free-slowing sea. Any normal woman would have to worry about a nightmare of tangles and knots, to sport a simple, yet striking style like that, but fortunately the net was free of such problems. "You can call me Curly, or Curls. Or Curlz, if that's your thing." It was hard to tell, but there was, indeed, a very slight difference of inflection as she pronounced the last option, but it probably wasn't something worth worrying about too hard.
Having been jacked in before Hyde and honestly not knowing what her partner actually looked like, Sleuth decided that the employer's navi, CurlGurl, would be the easier person to start out by finding. Luckily, the area was pretty quiet right now, as a large crowd would make it difficult to find particular targets and the noise might break her concentration. Rather than waiting for Hyde to show up, she headed immediately towards the net companion of How-do-you-Doo's storefront, where CurlGurl was waiting for them. Her early impression was that CurlGurl was a pleasantly energetic person, although without nearly the same tastes in fashion that Sleuth had; they were clearly from different words. Sleuth didn't think she'd ever worn her hair much further than her shoulders and she may never have worn a t-shirt in public before, let alone a t-shirt without a bra. That said, she had been braless in public before.

"Greetings and salutations, my dear Curl..." she began, then realized that she really, really didn't want to pronounce "gurl" again. "Curly. Miss Curly! Your operator calls you that, right? I hope I'm not being overly familiar," she chuckled, extending her neat, gloved hand for a professional shake. "I certainly understand your namesake! However, as you can see, I'm a bet remiss to admit that I do not 'have the hair,'" she joked. It was true: Sleuth's hair was cut almost boyishly short, curling a bit at the nape of the neck and the bangs, but otherwise quite plain. "I came ahead of my partner, I hope you don't mind. She'll be here very shortly. Now, we may have given you a mistaken impression earlier, but this is actually the first time we've worked together on a case. As a detective, I often find myself working hand in hand with the most bizarre types, and seldom do I work with the same on multiple cases. Such is the life of a detective," the tall woman admitted, leaning casually on her tall, lens-headed cane as she shot the breeze. "I don't quite know what to expect from her. I have a long history of working with all types, however; I'll make this work as well."

She allowed CurlGurl a little time to talk and Hyde some time to arrive. Once they were all there and acquainted, she'd check all corners to make sure nobody was listening in too closely to them, then begin speaking in a quiet voice. "If you don't mind, I'd like to take a look at that digital package you mentioned as soon as possible. Understanding it may provide some clue we can use in our investigation," she whispered. "Also, I do enjoy being on the cutting edge of masturbation technology. One of my many hobbies," she joked, although it would probably be hard for CurlGurl to untangle jokes from truth when dealing with Sleuth. Or Hyde, for that matter.
Hyde appeared on the Net as a shadow cast across the mall floor, out of which her form gradually rose. Even someone who was casually familiar with her might have a time recognizing her, however...

Many had pieces to the puzzle of why Hyde was currently doing what she was doing, but quite likely there were few who could put together the whole story. The Navi had arrived on all fours. Her cape, which normally cloaked her body and gave her some modicum of modesty, was instead pulled up around her head. The result was that a great deal of flesh was on display, as afforded by her usual costume. More alarmingly, she had somehow or another placed her top hat on her head underneath the cloak in such a way as to give the crude impression of a snout underneath the cape.

The Navi simply sat there on all fours for a moment, waving her not inconsiderable shorts-clad behind in the air and making a fairly impressive array of mock-horse noises, before realizing that her partner must have already moved on without waiting for her. "Damn! And I thought that was a pretty good set-up, too..."

The Navi stuck an arm up in her cloak to shift the muzzle-hat to its proper place atop her head. Rising to her feet with the cape still drawn up, the Navi casually went about beating it all back down. The end result was a magical transformation which saw her transformed into something that actually looked mostly like a Navi one might approach and talk to.

As though nothing in particular had happened, Hyde made her way forward to make CurlGurl's acquaintance. She gave Sleuth a small smile, recognizing her with relative ease due to her namesake. She also regarded CurlGurl with a smile, although a bit tighter, as she had taken note of the girl's "free" wardrobe. "Ah yes, Curls." She took a rather alarming bottle out of her medicine bag and sipped from it.

The Navi briefly gestured the bottle towards the two, as if offering them to have a sip, but quickly put it away whether they seemed ready to take her up on the offer as well. "Mm. Curlz. Curlzzzzzz-ah," she repeated, making an extra effort to emphasize the "z's". "Well! I'm pleased to make the acquaintance of both of you." She extended her hand to each in turn for a shake.

"Sleuth!" she began, grinning a very slight grin that showed off just a bit of her scary teeth, almost as if intentionally showing them to her partner-of-the-hour up front. "May I just say, I love that shade of brown on you! There are many other more earthy shades of brown I prefer, but that one is quite darling. I love the way it accents your, eheh, ahem." The Navi shamelessly made an undisguised gesture of tracing hands around her own chest before trailing off and moving on.

"Curlz!" she followed up, turning to the would-be proprietor and offering her hand again if she could have it. "I can see why they call you that! Although I have to wonder if it is doubly-appropriate?" she finished, leaning in conspiratorially to whisper the last word and then laughing as though that were perfectly normal conversation to make with someone you just met.

"Anyway, the pleasure of introductions is all mine." The Navi straightened her hat on her head once again, and the two would probably detect a visual shift in her demeanor and overall level of energy. "I don't meet too many Navis, and I must confess I'm starved for acquaintanceship. That said, we ought to cut straight to the documentation, in order to resolve the unfortunate circumstances of your master."
In the few moments that Sleuth had CurlGurl to herself, the other woman nodded, still grinning, while the detective settled on a way to reference her. She shook wit about as much enthusiasm as the other woman might have suspected, and the gesture showed off that her finger nails were done in the same rainbow patterning as her toes. She giggled softly and wrinkled her nose slightly above her smirk when Sleuth attempted to correct earlier misinterpretations.

"Oh I know what you mean, right? You spend all day and night with someone when you're just together, the two of you, but then suddenly you have to work with them, all professional like, and it's a whole other side of them you never see, right? I totally understand where you're coming from dear. Don't worry, I'm sure the two of you will get on just fine." She winked, then leaned back and seemed to honestly appraise Sleuth for the first time. "Oh I'm sure I could do something to help, though I can't really do much to improve the wardrobe, I know I could find some way to compliment it..." And that could be taken either way, of course. "But that's not why we're here, right, so..."

Elsewhere, Hyde's surprise pony-play did achieve a number of highly confused looks from the few navis that were moving around in the mall space, this early in the morning. A human-form navi, not a problem... a horse navi, no concerns... but a human-form navi acting like a horse? That got looks. Fortunately, the show was over before anyone unrelated could get up the nerve to inquire, and Hyde was moving to join up with her companion for the day.

Whatever curls had been saying, or about to say, it trailed off as Hyde showed up, and immediately began a worryingly alcoholic breakfast. She managed a small shake of her head, which became a far more pronounces sway of her ringlets, before the other woman had retracted the flask. She withdrew from the conversation momentarily, casting her eyes away politely as one complimented the other on her attire and her assets, a small grin tugging at the corner of her lips. The next question was directed more at the woman herself and after a moment to work out what Hyde might be meaning by it, two small spots of colour peeked up in her cheeks. She refrained from giving anything that could be taken as an answer, though, and jumped at the opportunity to bring the conversation back to business.

On the whole, it might be a little surprising, since the business in question a was arguably just as personal, but for some reason the girl didn't seem to be thinking of it that way. In particular, Sleuth's comment about wanting to be on the forefront of of the field was taken with absolute seriousness.

"Right! Ok, you're both going to love this..." Her grin was ever so slightly conspiratorial as she produced from behind herself a plush velvet bag with a silk drawstring. It bore a logo of some sort, in simple black and purple, but it was hard to read amidst the folds of the bag itself. For a moment, CurlGurl looked like she was about to simply pull the strings open and show them, but a glance up made her reconsider. They were right outside the entrance of the shop after all. Another small grin and she turned, beckoning both of them to follow her back into the shop a small distance, and beginning to talk as she did.

"So, it's a 'Dame.Vice' brand custom, and I'm sure you both know that means quality, but when I saw all the specs on what Damson had gotten for herself, I admit, I was very jealous. Then it turns out they give a free digital copy with expensive orders, and let me tell you, it is... just... awesome! I can't even describe how much fun I've had with this beauty in just one night." By the time they had reached the more private back area of the shop, Curls turned back to them, still enthusing happily.

"So, I'm sure you both heard Damson giving your operators some of the design details, and if you want to look at those, they're all here in the documents," here, she tapped the logo on the bag and pulled out a floating holograph sheet that read over in detail all the product's features and how much each extra had added to the overall price, but Curls herself didn't seem overly interested in the paperwork. "But I know you ladies aren't here to do reading, haha. Here she is, take a look... Beautiful, isn't she?"

As she spoke, the girl pulled the neck of the silk bag open and slipped the device in question into one hand. It was a non-judgemental shade of rich purple, at the moment, but in truth it didn't actually look overly phalic, if that was what either woman had been expecting. It was contoured and curved, certainly, with a part that clearly seemed to be intended as a grip point; the way it rested in her hand, two of her fingers sat neatly on a part that looked more or less like a settings dial of some sort, though it blended well with the rest of the device. There was something else in the bag, too, which slipped into her other hand. This one looked a lot more like a control box of some sort, though like the toy, it was smoothed and rounded, with no proper edges. It did, however have a few more soft buttons and two slides on it.

CurlGurl was brandishing the toy and its controller in her hands like a gleeful child, though thanks to Sleuth's comment, her attention fixed more on the detective than the medical professional.
"Here, let me show you how it works!" Which was a statement that might cause any amount of sudden anxiety if taken the wrong way. Fortunately, as it turned out, the girl wasn't exactly about to jump at either of them. Instead, she pressed at a point on the grip she was holding with her little finger, and the toy began to hum very quietly. It was almost too quiet to hear at all, if they hadn't been expecting a response.

"So, the controls on the handle are for manual-mode; one button shifts what you're changing, while the slider modulates that aspect. So, first notch is basic vibration intensity, for example; and you just press up or down a little, to set what you want, see..." On the handle, her second finger applied a very light amount of pressure fir in one direction, then the other, against the bit that looked like a slide dial. If either of the two women were still willing to let her take their hands, she would press the end of the device to a point one each woman's wrist in turn, demonstrating the change. In fairness, it really did seem to have a very broad range, from still, to.... very potent. Curls continued unfazed.

"Next, if you click once, is basic texture setting..." One small press of the button and this time when she slid her other finger over the dial, the toy went visibly smooth, as glass, then progressed through a spectrum of texturing until it was positively rugged and bumpy; the way the surface reconfigured itself so smoothly was actually kind of fascinating to watch, if anyone was interested in such things.

Unless either woman sought to curtail CurlGurl's demonstration, the woman seemed more than happy to continue demonstrating the ranges of each feature in turn, gleefully making the toy grow and shrink, reshape itself, flex, twist and writhe, jack-hammer and pulse, and even change temperature from borderline hot to surgical steel cold. She seemed almost to be treating the interview as a sales party, and by the time she got to the end of her feature list, the pink spots in her cheeks were probably not from embarrassment any more.

"And if you click the slide in at any point, that tells it to put out more lubricant, and of course, the real-world one needs special cartridges for it, but my copy doesn't, hehe... you can just hold down the setting button to make it, heh, shoot. I can show you if you want?"

The result of her demonstration, unfortunately, if either woman wanted to take anything relevant to their case away with them, was that relatively speaking, the toy could be made to look like almost any sort of sex toy you wanted, within reason. Fortunately, though, the grip had remained the same throughout her demonstration, so that, at least, would be a hallmark of the toy in question, no matter what shape or texture or appearance it had elsewise. She hadn't yet gotten around to explaining how the pre-programming of patters and 'session playlists', as it were, went, but if they gave her the chance, she would undoubtedly regale them in full detail. No doubt it was done with the separate controller, which she'd not done anything with, as yet, and chances were, that was all the pair really needed to know about it, unless either of them were particularly interested.

Once all of the explanations and demonstrations were done with — whether cut short by the detectives or allowed to run their full course, Curls took a moment to glance between the two curiously.
"So anyway, where's our first stop?" For the moment it seemed as though CurlGurl was assuming that both she and her new friend were going to be travelling with the two investigators.

Sleuth returned a similar expression to CurlGurl's as the giggly hairdresser gave a sly, gossipy chuckle. "Oh ho ho! You're a peach, but you're really just misinterpreting this, my dear!" she chuckled, finding herself laughing regardless of her attempt to correct the incorrect assumption because the scenario was so amusing. She stopped momentarily when the topic moved to the state of her own costume. "There's no improving on perfection, Miss Curly," she sighed, giving a tut-tut and wagging one finger. "This fine brown ensemble is the result of careful tailoring, of many years of building relationships with the finest fashionistas and taking in all of their various critiques and- okay, it's basically a Sherlock Holmes outfit," she admitted. "But I can't imagine wearing anything else. If I am wearing anything else, it tend simply to be less of this. But I assure you, the each other garment is just as classic as this fine coat you see."

Finally, the detective met up with her new partner for the first time. Whereas Mata had been the ideal companion: stuffy and professional with more than enough ability to be teased, Hyde looked dull at first glance. Worse, she looked drunk at first glance. That could be entertaining, but it wasn't a good first impression to make with one's employer. "Easy on the tonic there! You already look as though you're on the piss," Sleuth criticized, tut-tutting again. "We can enjoy a stiff drink together once our work is done. Or once it gets boring," she joked. Hyde had some more to say; Sleuth grinned upon receiving a compliment. "It's a lovely shade of brown, most-lovely! I believe the finest milk chocolate shade should be worn right on the outer coat, where everyone can see it," she further elaborated. "Now, on the contrary, the brown coloration is actually supposed to help camouflage the girls a bit so they don't get quite so much of a stare, but it's clearly not working." It really wasn't. Hyde also somehow deemed it appropriate to make jokes about their new acquaintance's pubic hair (Sleuth was guessing), but luckily, their hostess rebounded admirably.

CurlGurl managed to find a little breathing room to begin briefing them on all of the lovely details of the massager she'd received and had apparently grown quite attached to. Sleuth echoed the sentiment that she didn't care much to see the documents just yet, but she did find her eyes bulging at the few glimpses of the expenses she saw. She quickly handed the papers over to Hyde and stared at the item that represented the cutting edge of masturbation technology. "Ah yes. Please, do demonstrate," Sleuth encouraged CurlGurl, although she was growing increasingly worried, due to the Gurl's enthusiasm, that she might end up getting more of a demonstration than was kosher in front of new acquaintances or at all recommendable in front of the creepy, exciteable Hyde. "My word! A girl could give herself quite a thumping with one of those," Sleuth remarked, starting to feel mildly aroused herself watching the thing vibrate. Truth be told, she'd never tried something high-end like that... in fact, in some ways, the foreign object was more exotic and exciting than an actual male member. She'd seen quite a lot of those, after all, but she'd never seen a luxury, multi-functional personal massager before.

As Curly continued, Sleuth offered a variety of other observations. "Too small! Dear, come now, it's too large! Ah, that's right-sized... Goodness, who would want a cold one like that? Ho ho ho!" the detective laughed, becoming giddy with all of the features. Finally, she coughed into her hand, sensing that the flashiest parts of the demonstration were over. "But in all seriousness, certainly the one that Miss Damson has is nothing like this, is it? All of these features seem difficult to imagine carrying over to the world outside, save the lubricant and other basic features. I can hardly imagine that hers morphs on such a spectrum, like the phallus of some gelatinous master woman-pleaser, as this one does." That was a relatively unimportant question, though, so she let Curly answer then returned to her line of investigation. "Well, to be perfectly honest, our first destination is something we still have to discuss amongst ourselves. Let's have a seat. No need to rush out."

Sleuth found whatever seat CurlGurl would offer her and took it, straightening her cape and coat behind her before sitting with her cane crossed over her lap. Hopefully, the hairdresser navi wouldn't keep playing with the toy during their meeting; it was certainly entertaining and provocative of the imagination, but it was also highly distracting. "The outer world investigation has a guided mission: find the physical item that has been stolen. In our case, however, there is no tangible item to recover. Our job, instead, is to assist the mission conditions in the outer world and also to discover if any of these navis might have picked up on some shady activities of their operators. I'd like to try to work in the opposite order, though, for the sake of guiding the early stages of our mission. While Jocelyn investigates the mall security on the outside, why don't we start with the other P.O.I.s inside? In particular, I'd love to have a talk with Terrese's navi, if she's here. If she's willing to offer your operator a long drive away from the mall, then she's either a very nice person, which is both likely and a lovely thought, or she's a very suspicious person. Either would make her worth questioning as our first lead," Sleuth offered. "Of course, I'm willing to hear alternate proposals. Think of me not as the captain of our voyaging vessel, but as one of many deck-hands, waiting to be commanded however best to serve."
Hyde returned her usual flat-but-amicable smile at the two as introductions were made, likely not catching much of it in the mental haze that accompanied her shifts. As such, she didn't return much of a response, but instead allowed herself to be led by CurlGurl into the back of her shop.

The Navi's lips fell ever-so-slightly from a neutral smile to a neutral frown, a bit of color showing upon her pale face as she realized how enthusiastic their new acquaintance seemed to be about her toy. Hyde did indeed know Dame.Vice by name, but she certainly would have never admitted feeling jealousy at having its product touted to her. She frowned a bit further at the idea they weren't there to see the paperwork. As far as Hyde had understood, that was, indeed, what they were there to do, and she was feeling more and more swept up in the enthusiasm of the other two for...

The Navi was helpless to keep her eyes from the strange-looking thing Curlz had pulled from the bag, as much as she'd been hoping to feign disinterest. She remained quiet, but didn't object to having her wrist taken and being made to feel the buzzing of the device. Hyde was at a bit of a loss for words, and feeling so out of her comfortable conversation element, was feeling desperate to remove herself from the discussion.

She did as much as she could to that effect, taking a sudden and furious interest in the papers in her hands and looking for anything unexpected or out of the ordinary (and, in particular, a zenny price). Unless she found a treasure map or a ransom note in the documents, however, there really wasn't going to be something to distract her from this particular topic, especially given the enthusiasm of the speaker.

Ultimately, she found herself with the papers in a crumpled bundle in one fist, her other hand fidgeting as she stared forward with an unusual level of apparent interest. She really found it impossible to think about their mission at the moment, and moved her hands to clutch the edges of her hat, unconsciously pulling it down around her ears a bit.

Sleuth mercifully brought the demonstration to an end with her interjection, and Hyde appeared glad enough to follow her to some seating and continue to discuss their next course of action. She mulled over what she'd looked at a moment ago while Sleuth proposed their course of action. "I concur. After all, there's only so much time in the day. While Jacky and Jocelyn do their part investigating the possible suspects in the real world, we should focus our attention on the net counterparts. If available, Teresse's Navi ought to be as good of a place to start as any. However, as we do so, we should keep in mind the possibility that the Navi may not be privy to all of the actions of their operator..."

"Still, good thinking!" the Navi cried, clapping her hands together before turning to Curlz. "She's the natural leader type, you know. Very assertive. It's unusual to hear her say she wants the subservient role," she added, turning to Sleuth with a mischievous smile.

Piggybacking off that as if trying to keep up shock value and prevent Sleuth from clarifying much of anything, Hyde raised a hand in the air. "Oh! But, as I think of it, I did think of one more important point about the device that will be crucial to know. Do you have a sample of what the cream packets might look like, just so we can relay it to our operators? Furthermore, would it be asking to much for us to see a demonstration, in case our operators were to somehow find the aftermath of the device's use rather than the article itself?"

The Navi crossed her arms, frowning widely. "Only... we need some target to serve as the demonstration. The culprit wouldn't be just randomly firing it off at walls, after all. I've got a splendid idea! Why don't you simply fire it at one of us? After all, I wouldn't want you dirtying up your own effects or place of business. Please, don't give it a second thought!" The Navi smiled and nodded, apparently happy at her own suggestion. She didn't think she was going to get Curlz to actually go through with her nonsense... Jocelyn had probably been a rare exception rather than a rule. However, a little harassment of one's employer never hurt.
While comments about the superiority of the colour brown seemed to disagree with the overly enthusiastic hair-dresser, Curls let the two strange ladies have their moment in peace, before things got back onto the more interesting tracks.

She continued the uncomfortably amiable discussion as the demonstration progressed, mostly with Sleuth, since Hyde seemed to be trying to take a time out on the matter. She wouldn't find anything in the documents of note, alas; just the proof that it was, indeed, a very expensive piece of luxury equipment, under a two year break-down warranty. Unfortunately, the fine print of the warranty didn't cover theft or loss. That would certainly have made the issue much simpler. While she searched the other girls chatted about what they were examining, with curly giggling back short responses in between changing settings, such as:

"Mmm, but sometimes you only want to start with the tip, then later... hehe!"
"I know, I know! I like it with all the ridges set up high, right near the base..."
"Oh, you'd be surprised, sweety! I knew this one lady who had casts made, so she could make her favourite shapes out of ice! I don't really see the appeal myself, but... different strokes, as they say, hehehe!"
"Well, the physical one doesn't have quite the same range on some of the settings, but aside from that, yes, they're pretty much identical. You'd be surprised how much their miniaturisation has improved in the past decade. Used to be you'd need half a dozen different toys to get all these features... now they can fit them all onto one. Although... Damson's one is fairly heavy, compared to this one."

And so it went on, until she got to talking about the toy's ejaculation simulating capabilities. Her offer to demonstrate had only been off-handed, but when both women seemed unexpectedly interested in seeing it, curly giggled all the more, grinning madly. Her eyes slid across to Hyde with something of a dangerously sly, knowing grin. She was probably drawing some more unfortunate conclusions about the woman who had kept quiet through her demonstration, and now was piping up to suggest that she might like to take a shot to the face... for purely demonstration purposes of course. CurlGurl smirked, the pink in her cheeks brighter than ever. If anything, her giggling was more akin to a school-girl who knew she was doing something naughty, than anything more adult, but she also didn't hesitate long.
"Oh, just a second..." She clicked through the settings, then slid the dial right back. "It's a hold down to shoot at any time, but it's got settings for force and how long it sticks around before fading. Real one can't do that of course, but my copy has a range from 'quick-clean' to... oh... it's got a name... it's an electopian word I can never pronounce... starts with 'B'... but it all sticks around, so you can build up a lot of it, you know? I played around with the setting a little this morning... then I had to shower... Anyway, just setting it to quick-clean, hehe, can't have you going around looking like you've just... hehehe!"

That was about all the warning Hyde was to get, unfortunately, before Curly smirked, giggled again, and pointed the weapon more or less directly at her face. There was a second when it was clear she was holding the setting button down, where Hyde would have no doubts that the girl was doing exactly as requested, before a thick stream of creamy white fluid launched from the tip of the device with a surprising amount of vigour. Hopefully Hyde got her eyes closed in time.

It was mercifully odourless, but if Hyde herself had any familiarity with the substance it was emulating, she'd find that in terms of warmth, texture and viscosity, it was... remarkably realistic. The toy produced enough fluid to splash liberally across the other woman's face over the course of two or three deliveries, before it abated. CurlGurl was doing her best to stifle laughter, but the effort seemed to be more or less incapacitating her for now.

Fortunately, the substance broke down and faded away within a few moments of the toy itself ending its firing cycle, leaving Hyde completely clean again within a minute. Whether she would actually feel clean was probably another question entirely.

Once Curly had recovered herself, she was in a state something more like she had just run a marathon... or possibly done something else more suspect, given the circumstance, and she continued to smirk and giggle while her breath returned and she fanned at her blazing cheeks with one hand.

"Hehe... woo! Hahh... Anyway, um, yes, this one doesn't need the replaceable cartridges, but it's got a slide-in blank that looks just like them. Here..." She pressed her thumb against a panel at the base of the toy, sliding it back and causing a spring-ejection of a small cylindrical capsule, about the length of her thumb. It was clear plastic and pressure-sealed, and seemed to contain a highly compressed volume of the same substance that Hyde had just experienced first hand. Curls held it up for both of them to see clearly. "The order came with a fourteen pack of them, and you can buy more off the store's site pretty cheap." She paused for a moment, then added, "I think you can also get a bulk-buy bottle, and an injector tube kit, that you can hook up directly, instead, if you want a setting that uses more volume than a single cartridge holds." This, of course, set the girl giggling again.

With any luck, things would eventually manage to calm down enough for the three women to actually get back to the serious detective business at hand, and once that point was reached, Curlgurl re-inserted the cartridge, then slipped the toy back into its silken bag, and drew the strings.

"Whew... right... um, ok. Teresse runs the pet shop, which is downstairs in the east wing at the moment. Her navi is..." Spots of cheeks showed up in the girl's cheeks and she put her hands to her mouth. "His name is..." Another ripple of giggles made her mass of curls shake gleefully. Apparently the recent topic of conversation have given Curly a distinct case of the sillies, but she composed herself and shook her head, then stood and waved to the other two.

"Come on, hehe, I'll take you there." She led them out of her own shop, and began to make her way through the mall's homepage equivalent. She jumped up to sit on the hand-rail of the escalator as they descended, knees apart and hands gripping either side of her for balance as she rocked back and forth slowly. The jump, and indeed the following motion, seemed almost like she was trying to show off the effects caused by her lack of restraining undergarments.

"So, um... can I ask... I've always been kinda curious about the, um, the..." She made a small gesture that flicked back and forth between Sleuth and Hyde. "The lifestyle, you know? What's it like, and how'd you two get into it, anyway?" There was the tiniest, vaguest, minuscule possibility that CurlGurl was talking about partnered detective work. More likely, of course, was that Hyde's various confirming comments and asides, and her quick action to prevent Sleuth adding sufficient clarity, were only fuel to the fire of unfortunate assumption. "Uhh, that is, if you don't mind me asking."

Other conversations aside, they would eventually reach the store in question, Petaffection, which was filled with the various sounds of domestic animals amusing themselves. Mostly bird calls, being the loudest and shrillest sounds, but there were also a strange variety of distinctly electronic sounds too; The virtual store apparently sold modernised versions of far more ancient 'virtual pets', in the form of cute little monstrous creatures. There was a section for pet products and accessories, down an aisle to the right of the counter, but most of the store space was given over to providing comfortable and friendly enclosures for the pets they had on sale.

At the counter itself, there was... a dog. It looked like a traditionally patterned border collie, sitting patiently on top of the front counter, looking about himself, but when the women entered the shop, his ears pricked up. With a small jump, he leapt down from the counter, but seemed to change form as he did, such that what ended up standing before them was a tall male navi with shaggy black hair and pale, creamy skin. His eyes were the same soft brown that they had been as a dog, however, and he smiled and bowed to them. Even in human form, he was still wearing the black leather, studded collar that he had worn as a dog, and it bore a small bone-shaped metal tag, with the name 'BoneMan' etched into it.

"Good morning ladies! Heya Curly." Here he reached out to ruffle the top of her head with one hand, making the girl blush slightly. "Welcome to Petaffection. BoneMan at your service. What can I do for you this morning?"

Sleuth nodded along with Curly's various exclamations and explanations, although she watched Hyde from the corner of her eye during the demonstration. She couldn't help but smile when the girl buried herself in her papers. Hyde was always cute like that... Wait, no, that wasn't right. That wasn't the way Hyde normally acted at all, based on Sleuth's experience. It would be more proper to say that Hyde was cute like that half the time and frankly disturbing the other fifty percent of the time. The reason why would be a mystery for Sleuth to tackle at a later time, when she wasn't already involved with another case. Still, she found herself wondering if she wouldn't need a flask of her own by the end of the night.

That thought was reinforced when Hyde explained that she'd like a personal demonstration of being shot in the face by personal massage cream. Even after walking around in an unknown dead navi's mansion half-naked for a night and groping around the genitalia of statues modeled in his image, Sleuth found that to be an especially bold request to be made in the presence of a relative stranger. She was used to being the raunchy, senseless one in any buddy cop team, so this was a particularly unfamiliar situation for her. "Oh come now... Er, wrong choice of words-" Sleuth murmured, before it became clear that Curly really did intend to go along with it. "Ack! At least give me a moment to gather my cloak!" Thankfully, Sleuth didn't end up absorbing any of it; since Hyde was so enthusiastically begging for it, CurlGurl focused it solely on her, but it was pretty darn bizarre to watch. Sleuth was always excited by new experiences, and this was certainly different, but she had to admit she wasn't the type to enjoy something like that. She was wet and wild a lot of the time, but she was also concerned about the preserved cleanness of her immaculate wardrobe. "That was... something!" she finally commented. "An educational diversion for all. Now, Miss Hyde, please wipe your face and let us get to business."

It appeared that, for whatever reason, CurlGurl had just a case of the giggles that she was unable to name their upcoming contact. She thought of rolling her hand and insisting that the hairdresser spill it, but she decided against it, so as not to be a party-pooper. Sleuth watched the young girl's impressive display of limberness, flexibility, and other such traits that generally inspired only dirty thoughts about her; she found herself feeling somewhat glad that she wasn't a male detective, or else this mission would have gotten pretty awkward from the get go... well, more awkward. On the note of unusual gender relationships, Curly had a few questions for Sleuth regarding her perceived relationship with Hyde. Sleuth shrugged her shoulders and smirked, making a joke out of it. "Oh, well, the detective life is rough. We're usually most active at night, spending a lot of time deep undercover in the hottest of contests, pitting wit against wit and body against body. Exploring every nook and cranny with our fingers, helping each other reach a state of completion in various ordeals, that sort of thing," she responded, spinning her cane around her wrist as she walked, at least until they got onto the escalator together. She'd let Hyde take it from there, probably with more of the same.

The next stop for the intrepid investigators was Petaffection; even the name sounded dirty in Sleuth's mind now, which she blamed on Hyde and Curly, although she probably would have had that thought regardless. She admired the various handsome cats and dogs, as well as the birds and fish, although she prepared the spunky canines and felines. Speaking of handsome dogs, the one nearest the counter was especially handsome and friendly looking, a good herding type. "I like the cut of its gib! It looks like it's watching me, doesn't it? Who's a good chap? Who's a good-!" she began, but quickly realized how foolish she was being when said dog turned out to be the one in the pet store that could transform into an (admittedly, also good and handsome seeming) man. She coughed into her fist awkwardly, a bit of pink spreading across her cheeks in a rare moment of embarrassment. "Excuse me," she apologized. She quickly moved her hand from a polite fist to a necessary palm across the mouth, stopping herself from laughing immaturely at the revelation of BoneMan's name. "G-Good to meet you! I'm Sleuth and this is Hyde," she introduced herself, extending her hand with the palm up without realizing her indiscretion, as if she planned to do a dog-shake.

To most observers, meeting BoneMan would be enough to clear a lot of suspicion that might surround Terrese, if they'd even bothered to harbor suspicions about her in the first place. After all, he appeared perfectly friendly and who could really think of a dog as any sort of aim in a crime? Furthermore, he appeared to be very good friends with Curly; they looked affectionate, even, although Curly might be that way with everyone. Could such a navi really belong to someone who would steal her friend's expensive new personal massager? Layman's logic would say no, but Sleuth was no layman. Wise or not, she always suspected the outlandish until there was no longer a sliver of doubt. The idea of such an amicable navi and good friend of the victim being involved in a sinister plot was too juicy for her to let go of, at least not yet.

"It's nothing too important, sirrah, but I'm doing a bit of snooping around right now, as is my fancy and my calling. Could I trouble you with a few inquiries?" she began, but planned to persist even if he made up an excuse, not that that was likely. "It's nothing terribly important, but as you may have noticed, I'm a detective. We're going around various storefronts, with Curly here as our guide, and asking into an issue that may or may not be related to a recent occurrence over at the Gloria Scott," Sleuth continued, making up lies effortlessly and on-the-spot. "You're free to answer what you like and withhold whatever you want. As a private investigator, I'm not associated with the mall authority here, nor the Net Police, so you have no obligation to answer. I'll appreciate whatever cooperation you can provide, of course, and you'll be doing a service to my client, who must remain nameless by way of confidentiality."

Sleuth prepared a miniature view-screen and a classic pen with which to take notes. "Tell me a bit about your operator, if you would! I'd like to know about her typical routine here at the store and anything she's noticed out of the ordinary as of late, something that might give me a lead in the case I've brought over from the Gloria Scott. Maybe a little something to tickle my memory? Also, could you perhaps let me know if there's anywhere around the mall's human area you can think of where very expensive, high-end trinkets and personal items might be sold to quickly turn profits, like, perhaps, a pawn shop or an open market? Perhaps even a shady smuggling ring who likes to congregate in the restrooms?" she chuckled, clearly meaning to convey that last part was only a joke. "I'm certain you've heard some wagging tongues, right?" Dog jokes. Probably not in good taste, but she couldn't help herself.
Hyde smiled a small smile which was, in fact, a repressed horrific grin at the fact that CurlGurl actually seemed as though she was going to indulge the request. "Well, then! Let's see what you're play-pretty is packing, shall we?" The Navi cleared her throat, an action some might have incorrectly assumed was a statement of last-minute bashfulness. The Navi closed her eyes, a proper action for one about to receive what she was... before opening her mouth wide, revealing her over-sized upper row of teeth and her expectantly out-stretched tongue. She even put her hands palm-up out in front of her chin. Someone willing to give her much more of the benefit of the doubt than she was owed might assume she was simply trying to keep stray strings from ending up on her outfit.

Hyde wasn't waiting long. The sides of her open mouth curled into a bit of a smile as the first load hit. The sticky substance ended up caking a good portion of her face, especially around the bridge of the nose. An unfortunately large portion of it had, in fact, found its way onto her tongue and teeth. Her teeth were actually acting as a slight barrier of entry to her throat, so very little ended up actually swallowed.

The Navi didn't make any attempt to dodge as a second helping came her way, either, although Curly aimed this one a bit higher (probably to avoid making the scene going on with Hyde's teeth any more grotesque). This one probably would have hit her square in the eyes if she hadn't closed them. A few strands also coated the locks of hair around her head, and some remained dangling from the front lip of her hat as well. The force of the ejaculation had pushed it a bit back on her head.

Hyde's lips curled down a bit now, and she seemed to be screwing her eyes shut, as though she wanted to open them. That didn't stop a third thick blast from hitting. Most of this one ended up caught by Hyde's hands, although some ended up in obscene splashes around other areas of her face. Her visage was more or less masked in the nasty stuff.

The Navi remained entirely frozen for a moment as the product magically vanished. As it did so, she very warily opened her eyes: first the left, then the right after she saw the coast was clear. The experience had left her completely red in the face. She didn't want to look at the others, and couldn't seem to formulate a complete thought on the matter, so she simply reached to her neck and tugged on her collar, closing her eyes. Sleuth might easily associate the motion as reaching for a tie, but of course, Hyde wasn't wearing one: the tie-pattern she bore was simply part of her Navi suit. "Y-yes, I believe... that's quite enough of that. Very educational, though." Hyde didn't express what element of it was educational, exactly, and probably would have been hard-pressed to do so, even if asked. Even though the substance had disappeared, Hyde's hat remained tilted back on her head, a vestige that made it hard to get the image of her shamefully coated face out of the heads of any who'd seen it.

She was a bit hesitant to investigate the packet CurlGurl was showing her, but she did so, keeping a tight frown. "Thank you. I'll take a snapshot for Jacky to view later." It was an innocent gesture intended to aid their investigation (and save whatever face possible as to why she'd been so darn interested in this aspect, in the first place), but one had to hope Jacky would be informed of it later. As it was, it seemed quite possible Jacky would be showing photos to someone one day, and would suddenly have to come up with an explanation for what exactly this was... In any case, after she'd taken her own shot, she saved the data and returned the article to CurlGirl. She also handed back the papers, seeing as she didn't intend to carry them around after she left the place.

Hyde's mind was in the gutter from her experience a few moments ago, and she couldn't help but assume the worst considering the giggling of her friends. "Is it Dick? Please, don't let it be Dick, or Johnson, or Willy..." Unfortunately, it seemed she would be in suspense for a moment longer, as the other Navi began leading the way with little in the way of further explanation.

She moved to the escalator, looking for any other topic to take her mind off the previous events. "A pet shop, you say? Oh, I am so fond of the creatures! I believe everyone needs a loyal companion to accompany them through those nights by the fireplace. There's simply nothing like curling up fireside with your companion's head in your lap, stroking her behind the ears... Ah, but I'm afraid the ones I've had have been rather ill-tempered, and never want to stay in one place for very long. They're such devils for play!" The Navi gave Sleuth a smile, evidently missing any ill-connotations of anything she'd just said.

As they got to the escalator, Hyde watched her new friend's "free" movements with a mixture of embarrassment and bemusement. Truth be told, however, she had no idea what sort of "lifestyle" CurlGurl was referring to. Was it something that had been been said when she was having one of her... less than focused spells?

She listened to Sleuth's response, feeling equally confused until she finally puzzle it out. "Oh, she must be speaking of our professions! Sleuth is simply describing her work in collaboration with other professional private detectives."

"Not at all, dear, I'd be happy to let you know about the ins-and-outs of my typical day... only, I simply don't know where to start! For one in our lifestyle, it simply has to begin at the earliest crack of dawn. After all, I find it not so much a facet of one's lifestyle as a defining feature: one must fully devote themselves to their client and focus all attentions to meeting their every need. It's my job to anticipate their physical and mental needs are met. Needless to say, some of the tools we use and the operations we are involved with are dangerous in nature. As such, a great deal of fortitude and dexterity is required... Ah, but perhaps I'm speaking in too general terms? That is to say, picture you were about to probe a patient... n-needless to say, things get messy quite quickly if your full attention isn't dedicated! That isn't to scare you away from trusting your own professional, of course. In the hands of a skilled technician like myself, most procedures can be over quite quickly and painlessly. The happiest moment for me is when I get to see everything come out all right at the end."

Continuing on mercilessly, Hyde put a finger to her lips. "How did I get into it? Well, I suspect I don't have the answer you're looking for. I was simply programmed for it, you see. That said, we are, after all, learning computers, and I have a great wealth of experience in the field. Should you desire it in the future, I would be more than happy to personally administer your care. I would even be willing to demonstrate on a client, if you'd prefer to shadow me and see it done." She smiled and chuckled a bit... it seemed talking about what she (thought she) was had put her in a good mood again. "I must say, I hadn't pegged you as one with such interest! Ah, no offense... I simply don't get to answer this line of inquiry often enough."

Having finally reached the store that was their target, Hyde entered with good spirits. She didn't have any particular negative disposition against birds and virtual pets, but frankly, dogs were her favorite... as such, she was quite tickled when she finally laid eyes on one at the counter. "Ooooh, just like at this little-" she began, before wisely realizing exactly where she was seeing the one realistic dog she had so far seen on the store. "Ah! Oh my." The Navi clammed up and crossed her hands in front of her. "Good morning, BoneMan. Pleased to make your acquaintance." The previous incidents were so far from Hyde's mind, now, that she didn't even flush at saying the Navi's name.

In order to make his acquaintance properly, the Navi extended her right hand while straightening up her misplaced hat with the left. After doing so, her face almost immediately broke into the goofy grin of someone trying to restrain a laugh. "My, it is early, though, isn't it? I bet you're always up early in the morning, though, eh, BoneMan? You probably stick to a rigid schedule!" The Navi was holding her laughter in, but the madly glowing orange in her eyes would look like laughing even if she didn't.

The Navi listened to Sleuth for a bit, eventually giving her an annoyingly sharp rib in the side. "Oh, come now! I think we're the only two here who go about smuggling things into restrooms, eh?" That little pun aside, the Navi couldn't think of much to add to the conversation... frankly, in her current state, she wasn't much interested in helping along an investigation. She decided to let Sleuth do the inquiries and interject whenever she could best derail things.
As each woman took turns to answer Curly's tentative question, the girl had bitten her lip, the smallest hint of her blush returning. As much as the women had made a stellar, if carefully worded commentary on some of the more physical aspects of their intimate life, to her mind anyway, it seemed they weren't overly willing to say much on the more emotional side of the master-pet lifestyle they clearly shared, and loved. Or maybe she'd been too circumspect in her asking? It was a hard topic to broach really, even under the circumstances, and the bare-footed navi had seemed like she was about to try again, more clearly this time, when they had reached the store. She had bitten off her further questions for later.

Truthfully, having visitors coo unsuspectingly over his canine form was probably something that BoneMan was used to, or possibly even enjoyed. When Sleuth laid out her palm to 'shake', he automatically extended a hand of his own, placing it with fingers closed on top of her open palm and pressing up and down a couple of times. Sleuth might have thought she was making a faux pas of some kind, but clearly the other navi didn't. At the same time, he was also just as quick to give his left hand to Hyde as well, shaking in the more human way as he greeted them both.

"Early in the morning is the best time, I think." His grin showed that he knew full well what Hyde was doing with her comments, and he took it in stride. "Booked quite solid, it's true, although I always find time to play. I think it's healthy, even for we navis. Don't you think so, Curly?" His voice took on a hint of familiar teasing. "Your schedual is always so tight, but you always find time to slip me in, hmm?" CurlGurl made a vaguely shocked sound, blushing brighter at the joke, and made an show of faux-hitting the dog-navi. He laughed and raised his hands, offering a small apology to her, though she continued to pout.

With that, they managed, at last, to get down to something resembling business. As Sleuth outlined her cover story, BoneMan nodded occasionally and leaned back on the counter, listening. With a brief nod, he gave her the go ahead to begin her questions, then put one hand to his chin, thinking.

"Teresse is a kind woman, but she can be a little bit scattered at times. She loves animals, as you might guess, and she doesn't make friends easily, in terms of other humans. She is very loyal to the friends he does have, though, and she'll often go out of her way to help them out, if she can, though between you and me, I think sometimes some of her friends indulge her help, even when it's not that helpful, because they can't bear to hurt her feelings." As he spoke, something a little peculiar happened. CurlGurl wandered over to look first at one of the impulse displays set up on the counter, then turned around to lean against it as well.

Slowly, as BoneMan talked and the other two asked their questions, one of her hands crept out to poke a finger gently against the dog-navi's thigh. In response he lifted a hand to tousle fingers in the ringlets on her head, rubbing and petting slowly. This seemed to count as making up for his earlier jibe, and she was smiling softly again before long. The thing that made it odd behaviour was probably that neither CurlGurl, nor BoneMan gave any sort of acknowledgement to the exchange, or even seemed to notice it at all. The latter continued talking as though there was nothing out of the ordinary.

"Anyway, I think it would be remarkable if Teresse noticed something out of the ordinary, and no-one else had. I mentioned that she was scattered; it took her three weeks to learn how to get back into this shop without her keys, and a month to learn the trick back when Petaffection was up where Curly's store is now." At her name, the girl glanced up, then back down again, relaxing.

"I don't really think I've noticed anything either. Teresse's daily routines are pretty fixed, though just yesterday she was making a run to the charity shop on her way home, and I think she gave Damson a lift home, because she lives out that way. Oh, Damson is Curly's operator, if you didn't know. They're good friends, so Teresse was pleased as punch to be able to help out. She was actually in a little bit of a dither about it, now that I recall. She'd dropped by the store around mid-afternoon, but Damson was away for some reason, so she was fretting that she'd left early, and so she wouldn't be able to offer her a lift. They managed to catch up around closing time, though, so it all worked out in the end." The soft tousling of Curls' curls became a longer motion as his fingers dragged through her wild ringlets while he raised his other hand to his chin to think, scratching absently at his jaw.

"Hmmm, I think if someone wanted to get rid of something quickly, around here, they'd probably have to go down to 'Tickets Please', in the bazaar section. It's an odds and ends shop, but they also accept pawning, and take trade-ins. So, someone had something stolen over at the Gloria? No surprise really, I hear they're right rotters over there..."

BoneMan seemed in conversational mood, and would probably be happy to answer any other questions either woman had, if they had any more. CurlGurl didn't seem exactly anxious to be moving on right away either.

Sleuth thought to herself that Hyde's oral technique would make some man very happy some day, at least before that man got a good look at the teeth in the mouth that had just opened. Then again, from what she was learning, she had to wonder if Hyde had much interest in men in the first place. She also thought that her partner had an uncanny ability to string together misleading jokes, but she wasn't sure if that was the cute personality making unfortunate mistakes or the unsettling personality being itself. Regardless, she was beginning to feel as though she was suffering from dirty joke overload, like a kid eating their whole bag of Halloween candy at once; she wasn't used to her partners being just as in to dirty jokes as she herself was, and it was almost tiresome trying to keep up with the two of them.

As it turned out, BoneMan was one for innuendos himself (which was probably a good thing, given how many he must experience given his name). Sleuth had already gathered that Curly and BoneMan were affectionate, but she began to wonder if it was a bit deeper than that, given his jokes and just how openly he was delving into skinship with the hairdresser. At this point, she figured her initial hunch was less of a suspicion and more confirmed fact. They didn't look like a bad couple, although... Sleuth found herself distracted by her own relentless imagination as she continued to be answered by and to question BoneMan...

"So, he's vouching for her helpful nature as well... Either they've worked together on the story or I can believe that Teresse is simply the type of person to drive out of her way to take a friend home. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. Just because that would have been a good time for Teresse to steal the toy doesn't mean that she did," Sleuth thought to herself, but her mind began wondering again as she watched BoneMan's hand work through Curly's hair. "But... if he's a dog some times... does that mean that he and she, when they do it... does he turn into a dog?! Could he really be a dog some times when he screws her? That would be so bloody unreal! I'll die if I don't find out!" she thought to herself, biting on the fingers of one of her thick, brown gloves unconsciously.

She was so distracted now that she found herself almost unable to focus on BoneMan's and Curly's words. Still, she did pick up on interesting tidbits. Firstly, Teresse had not been a fast learner when it came to the shutters, but she did indeed know how to break into the storefronts, at least her own and her former location's. Secondly, Teresse had been by Damson's store when Damson herself was not around; that would have offered her a timeframe to enter and learn about the toy, perhaps. Thirdly, there was indeed something like a pawn store in the mall, which could have acted as a way to exchange the device quickly for cash, but that wasn't a guaranteed lead, seeing as the thief may not have sold the device or, even if they did, might have taken it home and sold it online or to another customer.

"Ah, well, the folks on the force at Gloria have the best of intentions and good work ethic, but are under poor management," Sleuth responded, sounding knowledgeable on the situation but not overly as though she cared. "Thank you, BoneMan, that's been helpful so far. Say, tell me more about the shutters that are used for security on the storefronts here, if you don't mind? Are they all uniform, as in, one with knowledge to break into one could break into another? And if they aren't, do they normally change the locks or anything when they assign a new person to the upkeep of the store? As an example, when Curly's store opened up the way, How-Do-You-Doo, was the lock ever changed from the one Teresse used?" she asked, crossing her arms with a thoughtful frown. "I'm just looking at hypotheticals, of course. That seems like it would be a security hole I'd want to make certain the folks at the Gloria are avoiding."

Sleuth half wondered if the two of them expected her to start petting Hyde the way that BoneMan was petting Curly, but Sleuth had zero desire to do that herself right at the moment... if Hyde had been a different sort of girl, someone uptight and self-conscious like Mata, she'd probably go for it to be funny, but petting Hyde would be a little like microwaving an explosive. "Hm, another question. Does that bazaar you mentioned have a net district? I wouldn't mind asking them some questions as well," she continued. "After all, the neighboring mall would be a great place for anyone who stole anything at Gloria to get rid of some goods with fewer questions asked."
Hyde grinned and even offered a big, rude guffaw at BoneMan's retorts, but in all honesty, witty counterpoints weren't exactly what she'd been hoping for. After all, her prime directive was to screw with people. Trying to get on someone's nerves and finding out you they were laughing along with you was not a success, in her mind. Then again, maybe it was getting on Sleuth's nerves, so it was probably all right in the end.

Or maybe not... Hyde frowned, noting with some frustration that Sleuth seemed to be able to keep quite focused on her mission as a detective. She'd entirely ignored the rib Hyde had given her a moment ago, and even though she must surely be wondering about whether BoneMan and Curlz did it doggy-style, she was keeping the question under her hat. Hyde was so sure of this that she would ask it herself, if she thought it would get a rise out of anyone, but she had a strong feeling it might not.

With that in mind, the Navi continued to try and feign some interest in what was going on with the investigation, but really, Sleuth seemed to have that well under control. She did have one question on her mind, and it was direct enough that maybe asking it straight-out would get a rise AND turn out to be useful for the investigation, somehow. "So, I can see the two of you are friends, but is that... friends with benefits? Are you lovers?"

Hyde grinned a bit more widely now, and threw one arm around Sleuth as fast as she could, trying to keep her from dodging what should be a friendly gesture. "We're lovers, you know! Ah haha, dog lovers, I mean. We love every part of our furry four-legged friends. Why, Sleuth has shown me before that she loves nothing more than to give treats to her well-behaved pets. Isn't that right?" she asked her partner, turning to her and smiling with space-disrespecting proximity. She then turned back to BoneMan with her heavy-lidded eyes. "I wonder if there are any pets in this shop that we could take home...?"
While Sleuth was distracted by thoughts of just how much 'doggy' was involved in their doggy-style, Hyde tried harder than ever to get a rise out of someone. Fortunately for her, and perhaps a little unfortunately for others, she made a little more ground this attempt. About to continue answering Sleuth's questions, BoneMan was caught a little off guard by Hyde's sudden interest in his exact relationship with CurlGurl. While he hesitated, Curly blushed a little more, shooting Hyde an uncomfortable look.

"Th-that's not, really..." Relevant? Appropriate? Polite to ask? All of the above? Though perhaps it was a little strange that the girl would be put off by the line of questions given everything else. In retrospect it may have made a bit of sense; her playing before had been something just between girls, and in a way, not exactly a sexual thing, in itself... and while her actions with BoneMan now certainly fell under the category of public displays of affection, it wasn't anything particularly intimate. Now, however, she was blushing again, and looking a lot more uncomfortable with the maybe joking, maybe not, line that Hyde was pursuing. BoneMan squeezed her shoulder softly, and hugged her in towards him very slightly, then released the girl altogether.

"Perhaps I'm just an affectionate puppy with everyone I meet, Miss... Hyde, was it? If either of you are interested in finding a well-fitted collar I'd be more than happy to oblige your search. Purchases of collars costing more than fifty zenny come with a complimentary matching leash. Perhaps you have need of one?" This last comment sent his eyes flicking to Sleuth, as though to imply that she was responsible for Hyde's probing questions. "Is the relationship between Curly and I of relevance to your investigation for the Gloria, miss Sleuth? If not, I'll answer your other questions." His voice had taken on a more serious tone, though given his earlier joking it was probably more because Curly has grown upset by the questions, rather than because he himself disapproved. If Sleuth really wanted to find out some details, it would probably be safer to dig for them in passing girl-talk, later. For now, BoneMan got around to her other inquiries.

"As you know, this net is a mirror to the physical Shamus Austin Mall; if you travel down to the bazaar from here, you'll find the shop I mentioned, amongst several others, and they serve was the online mirror equivalent to the physical mall's own bazaar... though I dare-say the net version is cleaner." As he spoke, curly gradually relaxed again, though she continued to pout softly in Hyde's direction. Eventually her attention shifted onwards and she resettled herself against the counter, enough to rest slightly against the dog-navi, just barely touching him, but doing so all the same.

"As for the shutters, the physical mall has most of its proper security on the actual building entrances and exist, sand the roller doors on the individual shop fronts are mostly a courtesy. They close and latch, but the locks are simplistic, and built in One or two owners have locks of their own that they affix after closing down, but most don't bother. The rollers are built into the store-fronts, and there are a few different makes, but most of them can be opened or shaken loose, if you know the trick to it. I think, between all the shops up there, there's about six different types of shutter, and the trick is a little different for each." He tilted his head. "It isn't particularly secure, but that's because the outer security here is more than adequate for the mall's security. We never have any theft or break-ins here."

Irony aside, what Sleuth could gather from that would be that if Teresse had, eventually, learned the trick of getting into the shop located where How-do-you-doo? was located now, then that wouldn't have changed, and she'd still be able to get in now.

Despite Hyde's speed and intent, Sleuth brought her glass-cane up bust distance to keep them separated as the incomprehensible mood-swinger tried to grab hold of her. "I do like to give treats to well-behaved pets! Unfortunately, my pet's being an insufferable nuisance right now, so she gets nothing," Sleuth sighed. She felt like karma was finally getting one over on her, giving her a partner in investigation that must surely appear to her the way she appears to ordinary authorities: namely, a few biscuits short of a basket and willing to ask questions that were better off not asked. "That said, offer is on the table if you want to fool around later. I'm a free thinker. But, joking aside, I've never actually fooled around with this woman before and imagine it would be a highly unpredictable experience, so I won't be offended if you wish to take a rain check, my friends. I keep an open mind, though; perhaps she's amongst the upper percentile of the world's love-makers. Who knows? That's the great thing about this world: possibilities, irrefutable until ventured. I don't think there's anything wrong at all, whether you're in a relationship, whether you aren't, whether you are simply affectionate towards all," Sleuth rambled, liking to talk. "Let's table the subject, unless you wish to indulge my inquisitive ass further, for whatever reason."

To calm Hyde down, she reached her hand beneath Hyde's hat and began gently stroking her hair, in almost a parody of what BoneMan had been doing earlier. "So let's see... I should pay a visit to the online equivalent of the bazaar and see if they have any leads as to whether someone might have pawned off the item in question. Again, I cannot specify which item," she explained, although BoneMan hadn't asked, "due to the promise of confidentiality owed to my client. "That bit about the shutters is interesting to know. If you'll pardon my asking one more question along those lines, for a frame of reference that may help my own investigation over at the Gloria Scott, how connected are navis to their operators, in terms of regular contact, communication, and so forth? Take you and your operator, for example: do you find that the two of you are always keeping eyes on one another? Or would there be times where, for instance, you might not see your operator for an hour or, say, a half an hour?" Sleuth asked again, now that she wasn't using her cane to block Hyde any further.

She didn't mention it, but another very important clue had come up: the outer layer of security, unlike the inner shutters, was apparently worthy of praise and the primary reason why store owners felt secure, even with the flimsy defense of the shutters. That gave her one key realization: that the theft was, indeed, an inside job. Whether it was a security officer, a cleaner, or a coworker was hard to say, but with the outside locked outside and the inside locked in, and barring further interference by a security officer, it seemed safe to say that the robber had gone through the easy defense of the shutter, rather than the tough obstacle of the mall doors.

Overall, she still thought Teresse seemed like a somewhat promising suspect, if just for the juicy conclusion that such a possibility could offer, but she thought it'd be hard to follow that lead any further unless she got Jacky or Jocelyn to investigate the girl herself. That meant that she really ought to motor to the next location. "Don't worry, sirrah; we'll be out of your not show-worthy hair if you'll answer that last question for us. Well, and whatever my friend here might deign to ask, but don't force yourself," she laughed, tugging on Hyde's hair beneath the hat to emphasize that she didn't want to get hung up in any kind of drama here. Once BoneMan answered that last question, she planned to start over towards the bazaar further in the shopping complex.
"I'm sorry, I seem to have screwed the pooch with that last one!" Hyde commented, smiling broadly and not looking at all apologetic. "But, of course, it's as Sleuth said. Don't answer any questions that make you feel uncomfortable... Let's move on, shall we? You're not going to share your saucy bits, and my girl here seems intent to avoid sharing any of ours."

Getting her head rubbed did seem to calm Hyde down and put her in a different mood, although probably not for the reason anyone thought. Coming out of her fuzzy-headed state, Hyde first stared blankly at the two Sleuth was questioning, then shifted her eyes to Sleuth herself. She stayed quiet, reddening and avoiding eye contact as she tried to figure out what Sleuth was attempting to do. The one part of her hair which was ordinarily straight was getting frazzled, removing the duality of good and bad hair hygiene that one normally got when looking at her. Then again, the completely-off look was probably closer to their actual perception of her. Overall, it gave her the look of being a good number of years younger than her actual modeled age.

Although certain select details were felt elusive to her as always, she found she had a pretty good grasp on the investigation-pertinent details that had been discussed. She couldn't think of much else worth asking, but she felt like she had to say something, just to break the strange atmosphere she'd found herself in with Sleuth.

"Ah, BoneMan, this is just my curiosity. How is the business of selling virtual and physical pets? Do you and Teresse make plenty to get by?" She felt like that was a bit of a rude question when she wasn't in to buy anything. "I do apologize for taking up your time with the inquiries."

The Navi winced as her hair was (perhaps unjustly, perhaps not) tugged, causing the hat to fall even further out of place. A wide, perverse grin spread across her face as color rose in her cheeks. "Ah, I do love pets, so I'll offer you my patronage some other time! Woof! I especially love these wild, rough pets! It almost makes me want to grow my hair out, to give her a little more to hang on to...~"
BoneMan's expression remained more or less unreadable as a certain level of chastisement and inter-partner feuding passed back and forth between Sleuth and Hyde. For her own part, Curly seemed just as fascinated to watch the exchanges between the two as she had been unsettled by the question before. Her blush remained, though, and he various not-so-subtle canine and sex related jokes didn't do anything to lessen it. If anything, where your average person might get agitated or impatient with continued jabs and jokes about what they did with canines, Curly only seemed to get progressively more shy. The detectives could take from that what they wanted.

The offer of potential future messing about brought a startled look from CurlGurl, and a raised eyebrow from BoneMan, and it seemed as though neither were quite sure what to take it as. As an actual offer it seemed far too forward to be openly and honestly suggesting, given that there'd just met, but with the rest of the conversation so far it was getting really hard to tell what was serious and what was meant to be joking. In particular the jumping between serious questions and far more personal D/S related matters, both by Sleuth and by Hyde, led BoneMan to shake his head and opt for the middle ground.

"Perhaps we should arrange dinner and an evening out together first, before jumping right into bed. For now..." He cleared his throat. "Business is fine. Humans always want pets, and some want an electronic substitute, because they can't have, or haven't the time for managing live ones. More and more, as well, custom and advanced navigators themselves desire similar companionship, so we get business from many angles. Of course..." Again that small smile and raised eyebrows. "Some do not go to a pet shop for such things." He stretched for a moment, then shrugged.

"On the matter of communications, it's quite variable, you understand. Many store owners don't use their personal navis for manning their net stores, or else have a net store that acts as nothing more than an online shop for their own, physical world shop. You'll see many fronts around here run by progs, I imagine. Others have far more regular contact while running their stores together, and others still run their shops separately, often having little to no contact." His head tilted slightly, and his features shifted to something, not exactly displeased, but vaguely put out.

"If you don't mind my saying, miss Sleuth, it begins to sound more to me as though you suspect the perpetrator of your crime over in the Gloria came from here, or might be someone here, and you could have said so from the beginning. Since you want to know, it's somewhere in the middle for Teresse and myself. We sometimes contact each other over various products or client questions, but generally we don't speak much during business hours. I have my store to run, and she has hers. Whenever she steps away from her own shop for a time, we are out of contact completely, since she leaves the PET there, under the counter; I know that she went to visit Damson and found her shop closed yesterday only because that is what she told me she did, and as sweet as Teresse is, I really don't believe she has the mental clarity to lie coherently." As much as his voice sounded highly unimpressed as he spoke, he calmed again once he was done. Assuming they were done questioning, he nodded to them each in turn.

"Good luck with your investigation, ladies. You giving them the rest of the guided tour, Curls?" This last was delivered with his attention shifted over to the girl still leaning against him, and she looked up and nodded, standing straight again. "Alright, give my love to Effy when you see her."

CurlGurl nodded and rejoined Sleuth and Hyde, but as they were heading away from the shop, a loud bark followed them. Curly turned around and giggled to herself, before darting back to the shop entrance. BoneMan, now a border collie again, barked again, his tail wagging as he sat at the shop front.
"Silly..." CurlGirl grinned and dropped to her knees long enough to give the dog a proper hug and ruffle his fur, while the dog in turn took the opportunity to lick her face thoroughly, as most dogs are wont to do. This elicited another peal of giggles while she fended him off. "I'll see you tonight, ok?" Another quick burying of her face in his neck fur, before she stood up and darted back to the other two quickly, hair bouncing in a mad spray as she ran.

"Right, sorry. Ok, so, where did you want to look next?"

"Oh, I enjoy a good wine-and-dine more than your average navi, my good man! I'll attend events such as those, so long as you don't begrudge me acting the way I do in any and all social settings," Sleuth chuckled; she might seem worse than Hyde for bawdiness, considering at least the other navi could rationally have her loony behavior blamed on her alternate personality or drunkenness. "I understand your feelings, though, both of you. Just remember that my offer is always on the table for folks that I like. And I like both of you!" she chuckled, smiling wide with a look that would be amiable if her message was not so promiscuous. "Oh, but em... if I wasn't clear, I'm one for shagging with man and possibly one for shagging with wo-man, but not one for shagging with man's best friend. That's just me personally!" she specified, being that the the subject of dog-on-woman seemed to still be hanging uncomfortably in the air.

Unfortunately, BoneMan was beginning to harbor some suspicions about Sleuth's line of questioning. Hearing others criticize her line of questioning always brought a trollish smile to Sleuth's face, which was another bad tick of hers. "Oh, come now, old bean! You're a delightful chap and I'm sure your operator is no less loveable. Why, this whole bloody place is so delightful! I can't imagine anyone perpetrating anything untoward against anyone at our mall, nor at your mall!" the detective chuckled, leaning her elbow on her vertically oriented cane. "Oh, and you've been extraordinarily helpful in this investigation. I'll bring you a biscuit next time I visit," she finished, looking somehow standoffish despite her pleasure as she stuck her other wrist through the empty lens frame, moved it up to hang at her elbow, and turned to walk out. She was ecstatic to hear that the window was still open for Teresse to somehow be involved, just because it would be so gosh darn juicy. On the other hand, it sounded like the operator and navi had plenty of success with their pet shop and weren't particularly poor off, so the girl didn't necessarily need the money from the sale of stolen goods, though lack of necessity didn't tend to stop robberies, in Sleuth's experience.

"Ta ta for now, Mister BoneMan, and thank you so much for your help! Curly, thank you as well for your assistance in my wanton investigation and for putting up with the habits of me and my silly, silly assistant here. Let's head to that bazaar, on the double. Assuming you're ready, of course?" she finished, pondering what they might discover in their next set of inquiries. She couldn't help but smile again watching Curly and BoneMan play together, now that the creature was again in dog form. "You two are similar! Both cute and snuggly types," she laughed, spinning her cane around her wrist as she walked, her shoes tapping loudly against the mall's surface. "Is Effy involved with the bazaar? Or is that someone else you know? If you don't mind my asking," the nosy woman further inquired, turning her eyes back down to Curly as they made their way across the shopping center.
"Ah, ah, ah! Bad doggy!" Hyde retorted, finally tugging herself free of Sleuth's grasp on her hair. "Doggies aren't allowed up on the bed, but they're free to lie about on the rug...~" With this statement and a giggle, the Navi went about righting the state of her hat and hair, which immediately put her in a good mindset for listening to BoneMan's response for her actual question.

"Well, I'm glad to hear your business is thriving, friend. All of us have a calling profession in our lives, and I do so hope I will be able to return to mine soon..." The Navi gave a wistful sigh as she mourned her status as a medical professional, and obviously wasn't stating her desire to get back to pet play with Sleuth as soon as possible. "T-then again, maybe you don't consider yourself so defined by your work. I didn't mean to imply that was the case, my apologies."

The Navi detected that the seemingly personable (and, frankly, charming as man or beast) BoneMan was cross with them for some reason. Ironically, having no recent clear memory other than Sleuth tugging on her hair and asking questions that bordered accusatory, Hyde attributed BoneMan's mood to her partner. "Then again, who am I to say that this isn't all part of the usual misdirection tactics employed by a detective?"

In any case, it looked like the two were scheduled to move on. "I thank you again for your time, good sir," she replied simply, giving the Navi a nod. She had already turned to leave, but found herself smiling back at the two Shamus Austin Navis getting along. She couldn't help but find herself a bit jealous, as well... "I really ought to get myself a canine companion at some point, I think. What about you, Sleuth? Are you interested too, now that we've 'boned up' on them a bit?" Hyde intended that as a perfectly clean pun, and giggled just slightly as she gave it.
Truthfully, it seemed as though neither of the resident mall navis had been expecting any further follow-up to the bedding proposition, and Sleuth's reaffirmed invitation drew a quizzical and uncertain look from both of them, in the brief moment before things moved along. One might be forgiven for thinking, then, that the telling off from Hyde was to say that Sleuth didn't have permission to make offers like that. Either way, it wasn't until all three of them were moving well away from the pet shop that CurlGurl cast an eye upwards towards Sleuth. She was grinning, and still blushing slightly, but there was a vague note of told-you-so in her voice as she spoke.

"You know, you really shouldn't bid on things you don't actually want... You'll confuse people." It was cryptic enough that one could assume that she was taking Sleuth's offer on the whole as a joke... or possibly talking just about her final caveat on the proposition.

Either way, as they moved back towards the wing of the net mall that represented the physical complex's bazaar section, the broad walkway with shop fronts on the sides was replaced by several narrower paths, divided by smaller stalls and shops, creating something of a waist-high maze of kitsch items, knick-knacks, do-dads and whatsits. There were still more fixed shops along the actual walls, but most of these were of similarly miscellaneous purpose; key-cutters, tool repairs, a belt-maker, a traditional iron blacksmith's that looked to make their show of being able to watch the smith work, burly, broad-chested smithing-navi included.

the overall colour theme of the mall continued, in the tiles and the small spaces of wall that remained between store fronts, but on the whole this section seemed a little bit dimmer and darker than the rest; the ceiling was a full cover, with no gaps looking up to the upper floor, and there were none of the mall's favoured sky-lights here, so the overall light level was perceptibly lower.

The shop that BoneMan had mentioned, "Tickets Please", was a pawn shop located towards the back left of the bazaar, and was marked in blue, red and yellow neons, forming the icon of two claim tickets and a large padlock over the entry-way. If they looked, they'd see a normal navi inside at the main desk, themed in shades of blue and green. He seemed to be quite contentedly doing his job, looking about and waiting to be approached by anyone interested in pawning or claiming. As they picked though the area, Curly went on to answer Sleuth's other question with a small shrug, in between pausing to glance at this or that amongst the stalls.

"Oh, ah, Effy is FleetFoot, she's the navi that runs Pedi-joy's online bookings and scheduling for Janette, back up in the health and beauty section. She's um, she's..." fibbing to a detective didn't seem to agree with her, so while her blush crept back she pushed on. "She's BoneMan's partner. Like, his, um, actual partner, not just his... you know..." Her gaze dropped a bit and she scuffed one foot, playing with a curl of her hair in one hand. " 'good friend' " It seemed as though her discomfort discussing relations had only really come up strongly when the target of the question was present. She was acting shy now, but as long as it was just the three of them, she seemed perfectly willing to volunteer that kind of information freely. Maybe it was more about how she wanted to be seen by people who knew her, rather than actual unwillingness to share? Either way, she brightened a moment later. "If I'm showing you two around, we can swing by and say hello on the way back, if you want."

Sleuth smiled with a clear impatient tick, turning her eyes over to Hyde. She wasn't entirely sure which Hyde she was speaking to, but it seemed the meaning of the sentence was profoundly different depending on which. "I've always wanted a fine hunting dog, to try my hand at training and domesticating! But my career keeps me far too busy," she shrugged, thinking it was a fine answer to good Hyde's question and an off-putting answer to bad Hyde's. Curly had concerns of her own; Sleuth turned her head down to look at her with a quizzical frown. After thinking it over, she re-adopted her usual, mildly annoying smirk. "I haven't had a good shag in longer than I care to admit, really, and I certainly hope you don't assume I've any aversion to men simply because I keep company such as Miss Hyde! Then again, if you're talking about the 'shagging a dog' bit... ahem, yes, perhaps that was a mistake, if I had given any indication that I was interested in that portion," she coughed, not wanting to sound too judgmental in case that was a real thing that BoneMan and his partner(s?) tended to enjoy. "But perhaps it was a bit rude of me to try to muscle in on Effy's partner. I apologize if I overstepped by boundaries there. There are just so many handsome gentlemen across the net who are willing to arrange a shag if I simply ask, I find, and I can't help but ask when the mood hits me!" That sounded like something she might need to cut back on.

The trio arrived at the mall's bazaar, which was immediately exciting to Sleuth. With so many unknown items all around them, many with unknown purposes and all with unknown origins, the detective felt as though she'd walked into a treasure trove of mysteries, just waiting to be examined more closely and extrapolated upon. She took it all in as Curly answered her other question. "Hm... I believe I understand," Sleuth murmured, although her curiosity was nagging at her to dig deeper. How did Effy feel about her partner having a 'good friend' like Curly? Presumably she didn't take it too hard, as Curly and Effy didn't appear to be on bad terms. Did Effy and Curly and BoneMan ever go at it together? Was Effy the type to appreciate shagging a dog? If Effy wasn't fond of Curly, could that provide some motivation for Janette to steal Damson's massager? That seemed unlikely and as though it would be moving the mystery's outcome from "juicy" to "totally unpredictable," so she didn't think she had much to go off of there. Still, she couldn't help but want to meet Effy later... Perhaps if her other leads ran out. Also, she might want to get away from Curly first if she was going to do that... if there was any bad blood between her and the partner of her "good friend," she probably needed to speak to one while the other wasn't around.

About 80% of Sleuth's theorizing went out of the window when Curly revealed that she must be on pretty good terms with Effy, seeing as she'd willingly volunteer to arrange a meeting later. Knocked out of her wild speculation, Sleuth grinned awkwardly and adjusted her hat down on her head to shade her eyes. "Y-Yes, perhaps I'll take you up on that if no other leads present themselves, just to get a full picture of the situation," she thanked her guide, feeling somewhat guilty now, faced with Curly's innocent and forth-coming smile.

Sleuth's bright eyes glanced this way and that as she attempted to scope out one important piece of information about Tickets Please: namely, whether the net component appeared to be pawning anything like boxed personal massagers or any other such sexual paraphernalia. Then again, even if they had them, they might be kept out of the public eye somewhat. If kids' navis strolled in, the store-owner would probably want their business, but he wouldn't want them looking at anything like that. She decided to head straight to her best source of information, moving to the normal navi while tapping her cane against the floor with her steps. "Excuse me, sirrah!" she announced, flourishing one hand in a short wave, her massive chest slinging itself along with the motion, although her short cape and coat flapping might draw attention away somewhat. "Might I trouble you for a bit of information? You see, my partner here is interested to know whether you might have anything like... oh, you know, the sort of stuff not suited for children, for sale? Gadgets for lonely girls or toys for playful couples?" she asked, putting on her most winning smile and one made her fake lesbian relationship with Hyde clear; she wrapped one hand around Hyde's lower-back, fully embracing her role and encouraging her to do the same. "And does your outer-world equivalent carry them?" She'd need this information as a starting point for any other inquiries; after all, the whole thing would be kind of pointless if it turned out they wouldn't accept any such goods. Furthermore, this might provide good insight into where the real-world equivalent store would keep the sold, previously-stolen good, if the designs of the two matched. Knowing that would allow her to direct their operators to physically verify whether the item was there or not.