"So everything is settled?"

Nick didn't turn his eye sockets from the man who sat behind his desk lighting a cigar.

"Absolutely, Mr. Martonza. We still have some of Maximino's papers to take care of, but I will be able to send them to you within a month and a half," he promised.

"That is quite long," Martonza stated lifting his legs on his desk and breathing smoke inside him. "I may not have the needed patience."

"I'm sure it's worth it," Nick said and hoped that he could have moved his chair farther away from the desk. The cigar Martonza smoked was of a brand he couldn't stand, and the lawyer didn't want to be too close to the man's legs either.

Martonza blew out a small cloud of smoke. His skull was very asymmetrical and looked like someone had cut a piece of it. The man did nothing to hide it, but seemed to enjoy the suspicious way everyone treated him.

"If Maximino says so. My predecessor liked to work with him."

"And it was very profitable for the both of them. You will get as many boats as you need and a safe hideout from our docks, and we get our share of the guns you smuggle," Nick said repeating the basics of the deal. It wasn't the first time, but he knew how important it was to make sure that this man agreed.

Smuggling guns was never safe if you didn't work for Hector. The man had soon become a monopolist and everyone who was even suspected of dealing with illegal guns was immediately sprouted.

"Hm, we shall see about that. If something goes wrong you take the hit. Here in Puerto Zapato we have countless ways of escaping Hector's wrath, but Rubacava is practically his territory," Martonza stated.

"You underestimate Maximino. The town still belongs to him," Nick heard himself say.

They talked for another while about the details of the deal before Nick collected his papers and started to leave. The trip back to Rubacava would take at least a week and he wanted to get back as soon as possible. He hated ships and the sea, and the sooner he left, the sooner it would be over.

Nick slammed the door to his office shut, and the sound echoed through the corridor. He knew he looked angry, but that was one of those things he couldn't have cared less at the moment.

"Going somewhere?" Alberto asked with no worry as Nick swirled past him. The slightly taller lawyer had stopped at the door to his own office when Nick had left his, and a small smile played on his face.

The only reply Nick gave was a short growl. It made Alberto snort and shrug before returning to his office.

"Is Chowchilla Charlie still outside?" Nick asked the first tolerable person he met. It was a woman who worked in the kitchen, but Nick didn't think he had ever heard her name.

"Uh... I don't... " she mumbled completely bewildered that someone like Nick actually talked to her.

"Fool!" the lawyer snapped not staying to wait for a better answer. He wanted to meat Charlie immediately without having to search half of the town for him. The little man had the most annoying habit of disappearing when he was needed.

It was still raining outside and when Nick arrived to the murder scene he noticed that the crowd was gone, most likely to drink and gossip. Margarita's body was gone as well, and nothing revealed that something horrible had happened the previous night.

Maybe I will let him wait for a while; Nick thought and decided to take a look around. He didn't trust the police force in Rubacava -- they were nothing but bribed crooks who acted like they were actually doing something -- and he guessed they must have missed something.

But there wasn't much to investigate. The area was very plain and with several glances anyone could see that nothing interesting was around. And even if there were, the excited crowd had managed to stomp it under their feet.

The water that poured from the sky had made him completely wet and Nick couldn't help but feel extremely uncomfortable. He decided to pay a quick visit to his apartment to get dry clothes on and find something that could serve as an umbrella. Once he was in decent clothes again he would find Charlie and make the man tell his story.

Perhaps the con artist wouldn't be able to tell him more than useless rumours, but Nick was ready to hear them too. Something had to be done before he ran out of time.

The easy way was to tell it all to Maximino, but Nick didn't want to do it. He was the man's lawyer and the papers had been his responsibility. He had given them to a mere secretary only because he had been too tired to leave them to Maximino's desk himself. It was not needed to ask who would take the blame.

Nick wasn't that disturbed by being guilty -- he knew Maximino would never punish him because of something like this -- but he didn't want his reputation to get stained. Alberto would never stop laughing and mocking him.

The streets were deserted as he hurried home. It was not too long to the docks and there were usually several dead seagulls flying around. Now they were nowhere to be seen and Nick suspected that they too were hiding from the rain.

Well, at least Olivia gets new inspiration, he thought dryly. He could already imagine the woman reading with her bored voice about how dark and painful rain really was. She was not as rebellious and noble as her poems made her seem, and Nick didn't always know why he bothered to listen to her.

He had a strong hunch that he wouldn't have much time for her until this was over.

When he got to his apartment the rain had become a mere drizzle. Nick paid a quick visit inside, got a new suit and came back out. It looked like it would not start pouring again, but he decided to be careful and took an old newspaper with him. He didn't have any other clean suits at the moment, so he couldn't afford getting the one he was wearing wet.

The short rain had made the air fresh and it was pleasantly cool. It didn't look like the clouds would clear any time soon, and Nick suspected the following night would be more or less rainy.

He also suspected that he knew where to find Chowchilla Charlie. After the con artist had been kicked out of all the places owned by Maximino, he had been forced to find other places to suit his tastes. At first he had spent time in Manny's café, but after the placed had been closed he had had to move again.

Nick's feet took him to the docks and he looked around in contempt. The streets were dirty and not even the rain had made them look any better. There was rusty junk everywhere and a dark atmosphere lurked around the pubs. Now that it was still daytime they were very quiet, and Nick thanked his luck for that. He definitely didn't want to be seen in such places.

I hope most of them are so drunk that they won't remember seeing me, he though to himself as he stepped inside the first pub.

It was dim inside and the air smelled of old and cheap cigarettes and booze. Nick was careful where to place his steps as he walked in, he didn't want to step on anything unrecognizable. It was almost silent, only the faint clink of glass against glass and a quiet conversation in a dark corner told him that he wasn't completely alone.

"You want something?" a very edgy looking skeleton asked him behind a bar table. He wore a dirty sailor's shirt and his bones were decorated in such a way that Nick guessed he was a regular at Toto's.

"Tell me where Chowchilla Charlie is," he suggested. The bartender shot a sharp glance at him, and nodded towards the tables.

"You'll find him there."

Nick didn't thank, but turned on his heels in the direction the man had showed him. Even in the dim he could see that most of the tables were empty, and there were people only in the ones that were in the dark. Charlie was a short man, and the lawyer saw him immediately.

The con artist lifted his eye sockets as Nick stepped next to his table. He didn't look surprised, but there was a confused expression on his face.

"But Nick, what are you doing in a place like this? Did they kick you out too?" he asked in mock pity.

"You were going to tell me something about Margarita. I have time for that now," Nick stated as he took a chair opposite the man.

"Really? Why such an honour? I thought you wouldn't be interested in the stories of one like me." Charlie drew a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. Nick didn't bother asking where the man had got a new lighter.

"I don't need to tell my business to you. Just tell me everything you know."

Charlie sighed. "Nick, Nick... Don't be so... aggressive. I will tell my story, I love telling stories, but first I want to know what I will get."

"You would have done it for free before," Nick pointed out.

"Yes, but now you need me and it costs."

Nick glared at the man. "I despise you."

"Oh, who doesn't?" Charlie said sounding almost sad. Nick knew it was just the man's way to act harmless and stupid. When it came to business Chowchilla Charlie could do anything.

He pondered the situation for a moment. Charlie was a crook who somehow always managed to find out everything about everything. The man had no power and no powerful friends. He had success only because he could be sly. Nick knew he was going to need the help of someone like that if he wanted to solve this mystery.

"Fine," he agreed reluctantly. "What do you want?"

"Hmm, an interesting question. I would like you to talk to Max for me and make him take me back to Cat Track. The docks are not very good for my business," the con artist said.

"It will take a miracle for that to happen. You are not good for our business," Nick stated as a reply.

Charlie shrugged.

"Someone is always suffering. Maybe it's you if you don't care enough about my story," he said.

I must be very desperate, Nick thought. "Fine, I'll see what I can do. Now tell me everything you know about this event."

"I don't know why you are interested in this and I would love to hear that. I won't ask anything now, but maybe later," Charlie started. Nick said nothing, merely stared coldly at the con artist waiting to hear something useful.

"You asked about Bogan's presence at the murder scene. Usually he wouldn't bother to arrive on such weather, but this time..." Charlie snorted as if he knew a private joke. "You see Nick, Bogan and Margarita knew each other very well."

"That's it? You don't have anything else to say?" Nick asked and an angry tone crept into his voice.

"What? We never agreed on what I was supposed to tell you. My, Nick, did you think I would tell you Margarita's whole life story? I'm sure you know more about her than I do. You worked in the same building after all," Charlie said and spread his hands in an apology.

Nick only growled as a reply and stood up so quickly that his chair made a loud noise against the floor. He was more than aware of the curious glances shot in his direction from the shadows.

"If you think I will do anything for you, you are clearly mistaken!" he snapped in Charlie's direction before turning around and marching out. That snake!

"Hey Nick, wait!" the con artist shouted after him, but Nick was not on the mood to hear. Charlie didn't leave after him, and the lawyer guessed that he didn't have anything important to say.

Nick decided to go back to work and get something done. Maybe he would get an idea if he thought about something else for a while.


The day was starting to turn into night and Nick hadn't come up with anything that could have helped him with the case. He still didn't know anything but that someone had seen it necessary to steal the papers of the Martonza case. Margarita's murder could have something to do with it, but the woman's fate had most likely been a mere coincidence.

No one could do anything with just the papers and Nick suspected that not a finger had been lifted against the real victim yet. He was sure someone wanted to ruin Maximino's business.

But that was all he knew. Anyone of Maximino's countless enemies could be behind it all.

"I always knew you are an untidy person, but this is too much," an amused voice stated from the door, and Nick turned around. He had returned to his office to clean the mess he had made, but had ended up sitting behind his desk and thinking about the events.

"And I thought that I closed my door," he said to Alberto who didn't bother to step in, merely eyed the messy room with a grin on his face.

"Don't be so grumpy, Nick. Or maybe you have worries? Trouble with work, perhaps?" Alberto asked and Nick eyed him more carefully.

"Why do you ask?" he asked on guard. Was it possible that Alberto knew? And if he did, why and how?

The other lawyer shrugged and straightened from his leaning position against the wall. "Just trying to make a conversation. But it looks like you have other things to do." He kicked several papers sending them flying to Nick's direction.

"You can say that. But how about you, how has your work been lately?"

The question made Alberto look at him in confusion and it took a while before he replied.

"Fine, thanks for asking," he said suspiciously. "Of course it would be better if a certain lawyer I know wouldn't get all the important cases."

"There are only winners and losers in this world," Nick stated.

"How deep. Excuse me, even if I am not as messy as you I have work to do as well," Alberto said mockingly.

Nick nodded and the other man left closing the door after him.

Nick sat there for a moment and thought. Had his colleague had a reason to visit him? They didn't really spend time with each other and it was a rare occasion that one searched for the other's company.

He sighed angrily and rubbed his temples. He could already sense the nearing headache. Maybe he would have to visit Olivia. The woman would certainly make him feel better.

Chapter 3