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One of the few things about being a Fae that was problematic for Lynn was food; over the years her body became less and less human, to the point that she was no incapable of safely consuming it at all. She'd come up with a number of clever workarounds (some of which were rather gross), but even so the thought of being invited to a grand dinner at an extreme extrovert's palace was actually a bit daunting. However, the changeling managed to keep all worries off her face, and even rub her hands together in anticipation.

 

"/Wonderful! I'm looking forward to sampling Val Verde's margaritas as well!"// And then she gestured towards her quieter friend. "/Sadly poor Gretchen doesn't speak a work of Spanish! Let's keep the conversation in English, just for her sake."//

 

Technically this was true; now as far as reading Spanish went, well, that was a very different story...

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@Blarghy

The woman smiled brightly when Warne spoke to her in Spanish, and she responded in kind. /"I'm so glad you're pleased,"// she said. /"And, of course! Who wouldn't want to see more of the island? We have many wonderful restaurants available to satisfy any appetite; theaters to entertain you, and a selection of bars and dance-clubs in which to while away your evenings. Of course, there are also the world-famous beaches, our natural hot-springs, and tours of the jungle -- though I don't recommend them for anyone unfamiliar with hiking. The trails can be rough! If you are a student of history, we have a museum dedicated to the nation's early years from the island's discovery to the rise and fall of former-President Perez and the ascension of President Gallo. As you can see, there is much to do here, and more every day!"//

 

@Heritage

Gallo laughed, a booming guffaw that filled the room. "Yes!" he said, in English. "Margaritas! A round of those to start and then, later, perhaps some of our world-famous rum? We grow the sugar here ourselves, in fields once dedicated to another kind of plant." He winked at Sam, who cleared his throat and turned his head to hide a smile. He turned and shooed the guards. /"Go now,"// he told them. /"Secure the perimeter and then back to your posts."// He turned to Gretchen. "I hope my accent is not too bad. I once had many visitors to practice with, but ever since the Second Revolution things have been too busy to entertain so many foreign guests." He smiled, then turned to Samuel. "But now my friend has returned from his long vacation, and he has brought me new friends to entertain! Today is a good day!" He reached out and grasped Presto by the shoulder. "There is so much catching up to do; we'll have to make coffee! We grow that here, now, too!"

 

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-Please stop.-

 

-Stop what?-

 

-This whole gushy sexbomb act. I know that you think you're 'working', but you kind of make me want to vomit right now. You can suck up to El Presidente without actually, you know...-

 

-I got it. And I'm sorry; Bill and I ran a con or two to catch bad guys back in our day, and it always made him uncomfortable, too. I can take it down a few notches, let a little more of 'me' out.-

 

-Thank you. I'm not trying to cramp your style or anything, but I have to listen to this BS, too.-

 

-It's all good, hon, and thanks for speaking up.-

 

At the mention of her favorite beverage, Lynn brightened up considerably. "Oh yes, please, coffee! I'd love to try the local roast!" A subtle change came over her, one that really only Sam and Gretchen could pick up on; her posture became a bit more relaxed and her gait more of her natural amble as the changeling dropped her mask a bit and let more of her own ease and goofiness peek out.

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Warne rubbed his chin as he thought.  Obviously, he had less chance of stumbling across someone or something interesting at the beach (the jungle actually sounded promising, but only if he had an actual lead; otherwise, trouble would probably find him, if at all).  This museum was an unlikely base of operations for Gallo's enemies, but even so, he decided to check it out.  He might learn something useful, and in any case, it would fit his cover and help pass the time until nightfall, when he wouldn't arouse suspicion by hopping from one bar or club to the next until, hopefully, he found a clue. 

 

"/They are all fascinating options.  I think, however, that I will save nature for another day and enjoy comforts of the city for now.  The museum sounds fascinating; can you give me directions, please?  And afterward I will surely need to think about all of this history over a fine meal, so if you can recommend a restaurant as well, and a few of the dance clubs and bars.//"  He laughed and added, "/Do not be offended if I cannot make my way back to your lovely hotel; the night may slip me by once I settle into Val Verde's many luxuries.//"

 

And definitely not because Warne finds some poor soul with information he needs and flies off with them to the outskirts of town for a nice, long chat. 

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@Blarghy

The woman smiled pleasantly and plucked a brochure from a clear plastic container sitting on the counter before her. She carefully unfolded the pamphlet and, with a felt-tipped pen, began to circle entries. /"The museum,"// she muttered, then flipped the page. /"Two restaurants, one high-class, one middle -- I do not know your spending habits, sir, but both are very good."// Another page. /"Here, a bar. Here, a club. And here... if you like some fun with your drinks."// She folded the brochure and handed it to Agent Warne with a warm smile on her painted lips. /"There you are, sir. Please, enjoy your stay in Val Verde. We will keep your room for you, regardless of whether or not you come back tonight, until your appointed check-out. Have fun!"//

 

@Heritage

Gallo brightened up at Lynn's exuberance. "Ah, you'll love it. Nice and dark, with a fine finish. We have cream, too, and sugar -- all locally sourced." He chuckled. "I'm sorry, forgive my patriotism; I'm nothing more than proud of what's been done." He turned to Sam and spread his arms. "You must tell me what you've been up to, old friend! When I heard of your imprisonment my heart broke near in two. Would that I could have helped, but the reach of my influence goes no further than the island."

 

Sam cleared his throat. "Actually, Lynn is my employer now. I work in her bookstore, cataloguing texts. Gretchen works there, too. When I got out of prison, they took me in and gave me work. I owe them... well, everything, really. They've even found me a better place place to live than I'd managed on my own."

 

Gallo's face went blank for a moment, processing, but then he smiled. "Working at a bookstore. Will wonders never cease, eh? We've both made changes! Big, big changes! I cannot wait to show you." He clapped his friend on the shoulder and turned to Gretchen. "You've been so quiet, little one! Tell me, what's your story? How do you like the island, Val Verde? Is it not a thing of beauty?"

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"/How can one not, on this lovely island?  Thank you again for your help.  Good day to you, ma'am.//"

 

With that, Warne was away.  He relaxed a little after he was out of the hotel--which is to say, he was able to stop smiling like an idiot--and immediately lit up a cigarette.  Now it was onto the museum for a bit of a history lesson, and perhaps, if fate was kind, to see who else around here was still living in the past.

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@Blarghy

The woman smiled, teeth bright against painted lips, and offered Warne a friendly wave. "/Have fun, sir! Enjoy your stay in Val Verde!//"

 

The museum, or rather the National Museum of Val Verdean History, was built on the foundation of a restored Victorian-era plantation. The fields around it had once grown sugar, before they had been converted to other -- potentially sweeter -- crops during the reign of President Perez. Now , under Gallo, the fields were a park -- green and wooded, with winding paths and gently trickling fountains. People milled about with a sort of lazy purpose, reading from the signposts that dotted the landscape and reclining on the benches that rested beside the path. The crowd was an equal division of native and foreigner, a rainbow of humanity enjoying their time of the island and hoping to learn a bit more about the land beneath their feet. A young boy, gap-toothed and bespectacled, approached Warne and reached out to tug on his sleeve. Whether or not he was permitted to do so is immaterial. He blinked up at the pale man and smiled. "/American?//" he asked. And then, in practiced English: "Want a tour?"

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-So I guess there goes our 'magic act' cover story!-

 

-He doesn't want to lie to his friend. He probably would have slipped up and blown it anyway.-

 

-True.-

 

-Regretting your 'leg extensions'?-

 

-A little. I can always ditch 'em when I lose the pumps, or slowly shave off an inch at a time over the next few days.-

 

-Ick.-

 

In response to Gallo's question, Gretch could merely shrug. "It's my first 'island paradise', so I don't really have a basis for comparison. Are they all this hot and sunny? Not really my optimal environment."

 

"Gretchen isn't very outdoorsy by nature," offered Lynn by way of explanation. "But give her time, she may come 'round; actually, a few shots of espresso might do her a world of good."

 

"That is actually true."

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The boy's easy identification raised some questions about how Warne was supposed to pass for a Spaniard around (presumably-wiser) adults, but he'd made such things stick before.  He drew himself up as though mildly indignant and let his false accent make his case for him.

 

"/Perhaps,//" he replied in Spanish.  "/Are you the museum curator, then?  I had expected you to be taller.//"  Against his base nature, Warne forced himself to smile, and took a $20 out of his wallet for the guide (careful to make sure that the rest of his money and valuables stayed where they were supposed to afterward; he knew all too well about those sorts of distraction scams).  "/Lead on, little curator.  I trust you know your history, or else I may have to complain to the museum's director.//"

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@Heritage

"Not to worry!" crowed Gallo. "Val Verde, she makes even the most insular soul open up. You will love this place as I do, I all but guarantee it." He grinned, white teeth behind a black beard, and motioned the group further inward. "Come, now, we eat. I will have coffee made -- hot and fresh for the two ladies -- and I will pour some bourbon for we two men, Presto." The magician nodded.

 

"That sounds good," he said, and then looked at his friends. His mood sank a bit, when he saw they were doing that thing they did. He could only tell because he knew what to look for, and even then it was a crap-shoot. What was the matter? What were they thinking, that they couldn't say aloud? We had a cover story, his memory intoned. And you blew it. Oh. Sam bit his bottom lip and smiled wanly at his compatriots.

 

@Blarghy

The boy's eyes widened when he saw the twenty, and Warne could swear he saw the tip of a tongue dart out to lick the top-lip. This was money. This was real money! The boy snatched the bill from Warne's fingers, as though he were afraid he'd change his mind, and nodded his head so that the hair became discheveled. "/Yes!//" he said, desperate to please. "/I come here almost every day; I've seen all the exhibits. What do you want to know?//"

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Warne gestured with one hand toward the museum, indicating that they should head inside.  He answered as he followed his young guide.

 

"/Tell me about Perez, the former president.  One must start at the beginning, yes?  In Val Verde, I am told that beginning is Perez.//"

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The young barista's eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared slightly at Gallo's last comment

 

-'Bourbon for the two men'? I could drink this fat prick under the table!-

 

-Okay, yes, we are seeing some good old fashioned Latin American sexism here; I will grant you that. But you don't change the mind of a guy like this by getting all up in his face. You have to earn his respect.-

 

-F### that s###.-

 

Lynn cleared her throat and spoke in a rather diplomatic tone. "You know, President Gallo, coffee of course sounds delightful, but some of us ladies also enjoy a good glass of strong spirits now and then." She gestured towards her girlfriend. "Our own dear Gretchen being an excellent example; might she enjoy a glass while I savor Val Verde's exquisite roast?"

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@Blarghy

The boy shook his head, fine hair shifting on his scalp. "/No,//" he said. "/No, Val Verde starts with the monks and the Battle of Red Harbor. But Gallo starts with Perez. Come with me.//" With that, he led the foreign agent to a fountain and stood up on one of the benches to pout at the statuary that adorned it. "/This is Perez,//" he said. The man, carved out of a solid block of granite, had hard features and a fearsome mustache -- but he was smiling. "/Perez took control, and told the people we'd be equal; no rich, no poor, just Val Verdeans working together. Good jobs, good pay -- and weapons from the Soviet Union to keep us save from the capitalists in America.//" His face soured, though whether in support or dissent of that message, Warne couldn't tell. "/But the jobs never came, and the pay never came. My father worked on a plantation, farming sugar. But it wasn't sugar -- it was drugs. My mother...//" He looked at the American and shook his head. "/She did what she had to, to keep us fed. She would come home at night and cry.//" He hopped down off the bench and pointed off, into the distance. Warne did some quick geography and realized he was indicating the Presidential Palace. "/Perez made foreign friends, criminals from America who used our banks to hide their money. Perez and his people got a cut, and we got nothing.//" The boy lowered his arm. "/A few years ago, General Gallo had enough. He'd joined Perez because he believed in the brotherhood Perez was selling. He rallied the people, members of his army... he knew where all the weapons were, he knew who would stand with him and he rounded up everyone who wouldn't and he made them leave. Perez, too. He made them all go away.//" The boy smiled, imagining the look on Perez's mustachioed face as he was forced from the country. "/My father's still a farmer, but he grows tobacco. My mother's a cleaning-lady at one of the hotels. I go to school, sometimes, to use the computers President Gallo bought us with the money he took from Perez's criminal friends.//" Warne's young guide sat on the bench and closed his eyes. "/Things are better now. We have jobs, and money, and food. People come to visit, and they like it here, and they tell their friends and they come.//" He opened his eyes and looked at Warne. "/I want to join the army,//" he said. "/I want to fight for Gallo.//"

 

@Heritage

President Gallo stopped, abruptly, and Presto almost barreled into him before catching himself and standing aside. The Val Verdean President turned, slowly, and reached up to run fingers through his beard. "I have embarrassed myself," he said. "I may be an important man, but I am not so removed from normal living that I cannot taste my foot when I shove it in my mouth." He motioned to Gretchen and then to Lynn. "Ladies, forgive me. Val Verde is still... developing, and me with it. Some things you take for granted in America are still strange to us here. But, please; any friend of Presto's can drink as much as she likes of whatever she likes." He spread his arms wide, as though to hug the group. "You are my guests; treat my home as your own. Ask and receive." He looked at Sam, who had turned his head away. "Presto, what's wrong? Have I offended you too?"


The magician looked over and shook his head. "No! No, Gallo, everything's fine. Must just be a little jet-lagged... you know how it is; I'm used to flying a different way."
 

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This wasn't the first time Warne had met a child who grew up too fast, forced ahead by the foulness of an environment that did not tolerate innocence.  Normally he would take whatever he happened to feel about such things and place it behind a wall of stone with everything else he had seen during his career, but because his cover demanded it, he allowed a little sympathy to show on his craggy face.  Even though Val Verde was supposedly improved now, Warne still put a reminder at the back of his mind to leave a heavy tip for the custodial staff before he checked out of his hotel.  Just in case. 

 

"/I...am sure you will.  And when that day comes, you will serve bravely, not only for Gallo, but for all of Val Verde.//"

 

None of this was really new, and Warne wasn't interested in hearing about even more ancient history, but this kid seemed clever.  They usually knew more than most adults thought, anyway, who tended to say more around them than was probably wise.  If he was so fully aware of Val Verde's previous criminal infestation, all the way into his own family, then perhaps he could offer current information as well.

 

"/You say Gallo sent away all of those bad men?  That is quite a thing.  I assume they were not happy.  Do you know where they have gone instead?  Especially Perez.  Without such people, is Val Verde without crime now, for the most part?  That, too, would be quite a thing.//"

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"There's nothing to apologize for, senor," Lynn began diplomatically as she laid a hand on the president's arm. "To be honest, I don't think we've fully recovered from the long journey here, and the...excitement of our arrival; perhaps it's best if we were shown to our rooms and given a little time to rest and freshen up? Then I think the coffee and bourbon will do their work more effectively."

 

Meanwhile, Gretchen could only look on at the woman she loved in mute admiration, shaking her head slightly in wonder.

 

-How do you do that?-

 

-Do what?-

 

-Make talking to people look so easy.-

 

-I dunno; I guess I get it from my dad? He's always been a charmer. That and literally decades of practice!-

 

-This is true.-

Edited by Heritage

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@Heritage

Gallo's eyes widened slightly at Lynn's touch, then the lids drooped slightly and his smile softened. He looked, with appreciation, at Samuel. "She is something special, my friend." He shifted, reluctantly pulling away from Lynn, to clap his hands together in a practiced, casual way. It wasn't but a moment before a young woman, dressed in a smart little outfit, appeared from around the corner. Gretchen got the feeling she'd been waiting there, standing statue-still in case she was summoned forth.

 

"/You called, mister President?//" she asked. Her voice was like honey, smooth and sweet. Gallo nodded, then motioned towards his female guests.

 

"/These two want to relax a bit before we eat; show them to their rooms and then fetch the bourbon for Presto and I.//" He turned to Samuel and hooked his arm around the magician's shoulders. "Come, my friend!" he boomed. "Let your guests recover from their trip. You and I have years of catching up to do!"

 

Samuel swallowed, laryngeal prominence bobbing, and nodded. "Sure thing," he said, and cast his eyes at Lynn. "We'll meet up later," he promised. "Work up an appetite; nobody throws a party like Gallo."

 

The islander beamed. "Ah, this is true! The fun we used to have was legendary!"

 

@Blarghy

"/Papa says they left the island,//" answered the boy, fishing a cigarette from one pocket and holding it lightly between his teeth. He didn't light it, and appeared to have it only to look more grown up. "/He says they went to... ah..." He struggled to find the words, hidden within an old memory. "/The old Communist countries. In Europe. Old USSR places. It's where they'd be comfortable.//" His eyes hardened. "/Papa says we should have hanged them, but Gallo wanted a clean start -- no blood. So he put them all on a boat with the clothes on their backs and he sent them away.//" He smiled. "/Gallo's smarter than my papa. He was hard with them, but fair. They got better than they'd earned. They should have hanged, but Gallo found a better way. Now they're someone else's problem.//"

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I would not be so sure about that, Warne thought privately. 

 

Aloud, he agreed, "/Gallo was probably wise.  Once leaders start to hang people, they do not always stop.//"

 

The cigarette made him want another too, but he resisted, partly because it would set an unfortunate example here, but also because seeing a child--however mature--partake even in gesture made Warne properly uncomfortable.  Still, he didn't say anything, which hardly gave him any kind of moral high ground. 

 

"/Why don't you show me through the full museum?//" he suggested.  He thought he'd gotten about as much of use about Perez and his ilk as was likely, yet he still had time to kill before moving on.  It would be suspicious if he left now, anyway, if anyone was keeping tabs on him, which Warne assumed just as a matter of professional habit.  Plus, he might always learn more during the tour; sometimes the best clues were the ones you hadn't actually searched for.

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-And once again, it's sexism for the win.-

 

-True, but this does mean we'll have a chance to sneak around a bit if we play our cards right.-

 

-That's...okay, that may actually be worth the casual male dismissal.-

 

-See? Sometimes we get oppression to work for us!-

 

Lynn turned to their guide with a warm smile. "/Thank you so much! I hate to keep the gentlemen waiting, but if you could see to it that we are both drawn a bath, I would be eternally grateful! Nothing washes away the weariness of travel like a good soak. It will give the men a chance to unwind and reminisce."// Then she paused to gently lay a hand on her arm. "/By the way, my name is Lynn; what's yours?"//

Edited by Heritage

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@Blarghy

The boy nodded and motioned for Warne to follow after him as he jogged towards the building. "/Perez hanged people,//" he said. "/My cousin Ruiz went to a protest once, to complain about the price of bread and toilet paper. The police came and arrested everyone, and we never saw Ruiz again. The government sent my uncle and aunt a letter letting them know where he was buried.//" He opened the doors to the museum and pulled Warne inside. It was a large building, and brightly lit. The exhibits in the main hall seemed to focus on Val Verde's founding, and there was a scale model of the original ship that carried the Spanish missionaries to the island. Other displays showed the missionaries interacting with the natives, the construction of the mission, the original disagreement, and then finally the battle of Puerto Rojo. Native art and artifacts lined the walls, covered in glass cases, and people milled about, chatting aimlessly as they browsed.

 

@Heritage

The servant looked at Lynn's hand on her arm -- the color of their skins clashed in a pleasing way -- and smiled. "/I am Camila,//" she said. "/Please, follow me and I will draw you a bath. You both must be very tired; it is a long way to Val Verde from Freedom City.//" She led the two women down another hallway, and up a short flight of stairs to the visitor's suites. The room she showed them was, as Samuel had promised, exceptional. It appeared that despite having stripped much of the opulence from the rest of the palace, Gallo had recognized the importance of pampering his guests and had left the suites alone. "/This can be your room, miss,//" she told Lynn. Then she looked at Gretchen and indicated the room next door. "/And that can be yours. We have no other visitors, so please feel free to make yourselves comfortable. Shall I draw you each a bath while you relax?//"

Edited by Sophistemon

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For once, the tone of the conversation matched his typical scowl, so Warne was able to relax his cover for a moment.  He then used the rest of his time in the museum to think.  A strong sense of professionalism and duty would've kept him motivated anyway, but worthy causes never hurt.  Warne couldn't yet say from personal experience what kind of a leader Gallo was, but clearly Perez was worse.  If he and his hired killers tried to retake power, they'd find an unpleasant surprise standing in their way.

 

In all the excitement, Warne almost forgot the main reason he came here in the first place.  He still wasn't any closer to capturing Steiner, and while this little tour and history lesson was enlightening, he didn't have real leads yet either.  Unless he saw something of interest, he tried to speed along through the museum; once he and his guide looped back around to the entrance, he gave the boy another $20. 

 

"/Take care of yourself, little army-man.//"

 

Then it was onto one of the high-class restaurants on his list to see if the menu included some nice, fresh treason. 

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"/Yes, thank you so much, Camila! That would be lovely.//"

 

The two women began to unpack in their separate rooms, as always using their mental link to stay in contact.

 

-We are not taking separate baths.-

 

-Oh, of course not! You've got enough bits of me that I can join you the minute Camilla leaves.-

 

-Whst about hidden cameras.-

 

-Mmm; you could be right. My gut tells me El Presidente is too much of a gentleman to spy on his guests, but even if that's true, his security team might not be so honorable. We should probably check our rooms; they might not go in for cameras, but a bug or two seems likely.-

 

Once the water was running, Lynn offered Camilla a generous tip (real US dollars, not glamoured) and sent her off. The minute she was out the door, both heroines began their respective searches, checking in with each other mentally from time to time.

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