After another miserable morning in the FRAWD office the next day, Lilly and Imogen head to Grom LLC to meet with Grom the Senior. He is pleased to see them both doing well after whatever events caused them to be on the news. He asks them for updates on the Rose case, and Imogen points out that Grom has recently talked to their boss so they know nothing beyond whatever he would already have learned. It turns out, though, that Grom himself has new evidence he would like to introduce into the case file.
Grom hired some people to poke around at Rose, Inc, and what they uncovered was an incriminating email. It indicates that the competing mining company has hired an assassin to go after the other witnesses to the crimes on Brontes IV. There is sufficient security around Grom these days that they have not bothered to target him, but most of the others who escaped slavery were of lower social class, victims of standard human trafficking ploys claiming good work but then offering no pay and no escape.
The email is from the assassin, responding to the job offer and agreeing to the stated fee. The language seems a little stilted, but the closing is particularly telling. There is just a code name, Lavender. However, the valediction is clearly UED. Imogen’s stomach drops. Ghosts are known to function as assassins sometimes. How many Earth ghosts are we going to have to deal with?! she wonders.
“I tried to warn the other people from the Rose mine—Well, I had someone go. I didn’t go do it myself, I will admit. But my people got there too late. They saw Abdul getting dragged away. They were just snoops, not soldiers, so they didn’t dare interfere. I thought what they described to me was odd because that seems more like a capture operation to me than a kill. But this email definitely says to kill. I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe just a really poor assassin, but Rose would hire better than that.”
“Maybe they’re just trying to get them to change their stories,” Imogen suggests. A ghost might be able to brainwash someone into not just changing their testimony but believing untruths. “There are assassin-type people who have other skill sets as well.”
“I thought this would be useful evidence for you,” Grom says, handing the email to Lilly. “I wasn’t able to find anyone else. All the other witnesses are now missing.” He gives her a list of their addresses. Lilly glances at it; most of them are in the bad parts of town. “Maybe this can help speed along the prosecution. Of course, Rose’s lawyers will just say I fabricated this email, but I tell you, it’s legit. I had some guys hack their networks.”
“We can present it to our boss,” Imogen tells him. “I don’t think he can just dismiss it, not if it is suggesting that other people’s lives are in danger. And if Abdul’s missing, that supports your claim of legitimacy.”
“He is missing. I hope he wasn’t enslaved again.”
“Right?” Lilly chimes in.
His agents have only been able to determine that the other witnesses are missing, but no further details than that. Grom’s resources are not limitless; the company stock did tank while he was enslaved. He even admits that he has had to cut back a lot of his staffing recently. They got some good leads on Redstone III, but starting up an operation there would be capital-intensive so right now he is considering selling the information to a rival company. His own company board is getting on his case about this research project, telling him he should leave things to the officials. He is a CEO, not a dictator, so he does have to answer to the board. “This isn’t really my field. I run a business; I do mining. I’ll admit it was kind of fun to play investigator—But it is not fun that these people are gone. Is there anything you can do? Is this appropriate for your department? This is what FRAWD does, right? This definitely seems like retaliation.”
“We get a lot of pushback when we do things that might be dangerous,” Imogen tells Grom. “Not that we’re personally unwilling to do them, but that our boss is somewhat risk-averse. We’ll present this information to him and see if he’ll authorize us to do anything. If he won’t… we’ll probably do something anyway.”
“Yes, sir,” Lilly agrees.
In the elevator ride down to the lobby following the meeting, Imogen asks her partner, “Do you want to present this to Duke, Lilly?”
“I want to investigate. At least go down to the apartment, see if we can find anything. We freed Abdul once not just so he could be kidnapped again! We fought side-by-side with him.”
“Aye, I remember him shooting out the back of the truck as you drove us out of there.”
“But I could present it, if you think it would help.”
“To get evidence actually in the pipeline, it has to go through Jefferson Duke’s hands,” Imogen says. Lilly nods in agreement. “But I don’t think he is keen to listen to me anymore because he thinks I always have some other agenda.” Nevermind that he is right about that. “And you’re the one with the military experience. If you present something to him and say upfront what danger levels you think it has, maybe he will be more accepting of that than if I try to cushion it and say it really isn’t that bad.”
“Well, he can’t say no if we don’t ask,” Lilly points out. “I say we at least just take a look around, maybe ask some questions. It doesn’t have to be during the workday. I can go,” she offers.
“I’m not going to let you go by yourself,” Imogen objects. It is a bad part of town, after all, and what if there are people to talk to? “Besides, Friday work days end at lunchtime. Or we’ll just say the interview with Grom took all afternoon due to important follow-up.”