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Bartrik Alvan shifted his considerable weight uneasily in his chair. “I wouldn’t have phrased it in quite those terms—”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t. Were I in your position, I would not have phrased it that way myself. Fortunately, I can take the role of the innocent and say whatever pleases me. I’m not the one proposing the commission of a felony.”

Alvan’s eyes gleamed. “But that’s where you’re wrong. Smuggling art onto Duveen isn’t a felony, just a simple misdemeanor. Even if you’re caught, Customs can’t do more than levy a simple fine....”

“Don’t try to lecture me, Squire, I won’t have it. I have a degree in interstellar law and I’m certified by the Confederation Bar Association; I can practice law on any Confederation planet. I know full well how lightly the Duveen government deals with art smugglers. The felony I referred to is theft and accessory to theft. Point: you want a statuette of Bhairavi from the ruins of the Great Temple on Vishnu. Point: no such statuettes are available for sale. Point: removal of all such relics from Vishnu is strictly forbidden. Conclusion: to obtain the desired statuette, it will be necessary to steal it. Do you find fault with my argument?”

Alvan looked away; Mistress diMedici’s gaze was too powerful. He rubbed the sweat from his palms onto his trimslax. “No, but I don’t think you fully understand what I’m proposing.”

“And I don’t think you fully understand my profession. My brother and I are not thieves.”

“That’s not what I want you to do. I can hire anyone to steal for me. What I want you to do is to devise some way of getting the statuette safely to me so I can add it to my art collection.”

“P.S. Add ‘conspiracy to commit theft’ to that list of felonies. We’re not engineering consultants, either. We specialize in the profitable misdirection of pecuniary affairs, and I suggest you remember that.”

“But that’s all I want—misdirection. Some way of getting the statuette onto the planet.”

“Jad and I work to please ourselves, not at the whim of someone else. Why should we help you when there are more profitable and less risky ways to earn our living?”

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