Once the ship was once again secure and all the important system functions had been restored, the core crew who had been in on the initial heist—minus Handy and the Nick Bradleys—met back up at forward command to take stock.
Long range scans showed the necroship was still on their tail, but falling further and further behind. It was continuing to accelerate, but at a considerably reduced rate. The bomb had evidently had some beneficial effect there.
They’d escaped with their lives and the ship. That was about all they’d made off with, though.
“Kinda wish we’d stoled the paintin’ for real now, don’t ya, The Gypsy?” Regan asked.
“Don’t start,” Lilliana said. “How bad are things in your department, Leo?”
“It’s going to be impossible to tell how much of the cargo’s been damaged or destroyed until we put into port somewhere and have a chance to clear the hold,” Leo said. “But, rough guesstimate? Somewhere between ‘a lot’ and ‘all of it’.”
“The gold we got’s essentially a wash, since it just replaces what we blew,” Lilliana said. “And I think we can forget about getting any more payment from our employer.”
“So, basically, we did this job for nothin’, like?” Regan said. She shook her head. “I hate workin’ cui bono.”
“That’s pro bono, you twit,” Galatea said.
“Actually, I think Regan has the right idea,” Lilliana said. “Who benefits?”
“Wasn’t us, that’s for sure,” Leo said.
“Who wanted to blow us up in order to destroy the Donna Stella?” Lilliana said. “Who stood to gain from the senseless destruction of a valuable art treasure?”
“Petrus,” Galatea said. “That’s who we were working for, wasn’t it?”
“That’s who Roquelaire claimed to be representing,” Lilliana said. “I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”
“That’s pretty far, if memory serves,” Dick said.
“It might be easier to work out who, if we could figure out the why,” Lilliana said. “Though we probably won’t know that until we figure out who… it’s almost a paradox.”
“No, The Gypsy, we answered the why,” Regan said. “Militant dadaist. Remember?”
“Perhaps it was Petrus after all. This could be the councilman’s way of liquidating a contested asset,” Dick said. “He could not sell it while the ownership was in dispute, but if it were insured at full value and then destroyed…”
Lilliana shook her head.
“There’d be no way to prove the painting was on board our ship,” she said. “No, I’d bet anything that Roquelaire was still working for Fortunato, no matter what he said. Though this still leaves the question unanswered: why would Fortunato want us to steal a painting only to blow it up?”
Galatea cleared her throat.
“Perhaps the theft was only a pretext to get the bomb on board?” Dick suggested.
“That’s an awfully elaborate and expensive pretext,” Lilliana said. “It turns a personal matter against us—or me, rather—into a crime against a powerful man and a sovereign world.”
Galatea stood up and cleared her throat again, more loudly.
“Someone caught in your throat?” Lilliana asked her.
“Excuse me,” Galatea said, “but although I am hardly well-acquainted with the subject under discussion, I feel that I would be remiss in my duty if I did not make clear my opinion on the matter, regardless.”
“Yes, we noticed your mouth was open,” Leo said.
“You are posing the two questions as if they were merely two questions,” Galatea said. “Who would want to steal and blow up the Donna Stella, and why… when in fact, it’s four questions. Who would want to steal the Donna Stella, and why, and…”
“…and who would want to blow it up, and why,” Lilliana said thoughtfully. “Yes, I see your point… there’s more than enough ‘toady’ in Roquelaire for him to serve two masters.”
“Or maybe he really was working for Petrus but thought he could get back in Fortunato’s good books by blowing you up?” Leo suggested. “I mean, it doesn’t sound like you guys parted ways amicably.”
“That could be,” Lilliana said. “But I’ve never known the little wart to show that kind of initiative. No, if this was on Fortunato’s behalf, I think it must also have been at his direction.”
“Yes, but he’s been content to ignore you for this long,” Dick said. “And before that, he was satisfied with merely bedeviling you. Why would he attempt to simply kill you, after all this time?”
Lilliana said nothing for a while, but simply stood there, curling her lower lip back over her teeth and sucking on it thoughtfully.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Let’s go ask him.”« « 43: Final Score 45: The Fickle Finger » »
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