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Rime of an Old Seaman
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#1
The Old Seaman

One could miss the old days, when life was harsh and authentic and savory, or more honestly relish the comforts of modern times, with their gasoline and penicillin and generous data plans. One could even see the present through the lenses of a fake nostalgia, finding a different type of charm in plastic souvenirs and brightly colored selfie sticks. Whatever one though about it, however, it was a matter of fact: the old harbor, those days, was meant for tourists much more than for fishermen. The History of Fishing Museum, most likely, was a bigger business than whatever edible creature the boats still brought back from the sea. 

The Old Seaman fit rather well in that scenery: an actually quite recent business, craftily designed by savvy decorators to look antique, quaint, rich with tradition and atmosphere. As she got in, Justine could recognize an obvious, but still quite tasteful, abundance of nautical themes. At that hour it was much quieter than at dinner time, however a few patrons were there enjoying their drinks; the owner, a blond guy in his forties, whose thinning hair was compensated by a rather epic beard, was having an animated conversation with an older fellow, who seemed to have some oddly strong opinion concerning seafood.

In a corner, she could notice a few shelves full of multicolored books, most likely the book exchange Theo had mentioned.
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#2
Justine pulled on a pair of tight black gloves as she walks in the door. Anything in here could be evidence, and there were already plenty of people making this anything but a nice, neat, secure crime scene. Still, she wasn't about to add to the mess by failing to follow proper procedure on her own.

She picked out the owner; she'd need to talk to him, as well as to several of the patrons. But the books drew her attention first. She took a moment to pick out titles, to open them and look through them briefly. She looked up, as she did, to see whether this exchange might have been within the line-of-sight of any of the cameras. 

As she did, she also kept her ears open. There was always the possibility someone hadn't noticed the Sheriff walking in there in full uniform and sweeping past the hostess stand to begin investigating a book exchange. Maybe someone would say something of interest, and if so, Justine wanted to catch it while she could. Sooner or later everyone here was going to be a little bit more on their guard, even if they hadn't done anything wrong. Few people failed to tense up when law enforcement unexpectedly arrived on a scene, even people she'd known all her life.
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#3
the old seaman

The Sheriff wasn't precisely unnoticed, however people just went on with their regular business - or with their leisure. As for the books, they were a combination of worn paperback novels, cheap poetry, outdated tourist guides, manuals nobody had good reason to read. There was something to be said about people who perused a book exchange, picked up something entertaining, and left their old washing machine booklet, but, despite what someone could have wished, that didn't count as criminal offence.

As for cameras, there might or might not have been some. They weren't in sight, in any event. Soon enough, however, a voice called for her attention. "May I give you any assistance?". The owner had come closer, superficially helpful, but obviously interested in whatever the Sheriff was doing around his place.
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#4
Justine shook her head and set the washing machine manual down. Classy. But not exactly the kind of thing that screamed 'drugs.' 

"You may," Justine said.

She turned to face him. "There was a young couple in here for the book exchange earlier. Sarah and Theo. Do you remember seeing them?" She paused to describe them both. She ought to have taken a photo, but maybe that would have been a little much, under the circumstances.

This was a townsman she didn't know, one of the few, so she offered her hand. "Sheriff Carter," she added. She knew she was doing that out of order, and didn't particularly care; with a case to solve niceties were more of a tool in her toolbox than something she cared about in particular. And with someone new, someone male, someone perceiving himself to be standing in a place where he held authority, she avoided 'Justine.' He could have been the sort for whom such things were unnecessary, but it was a trick she'd picked up long ago, and she repeated it now by force of habit.

She didn't have time to be dismissed as the little lady playing dress-up, not even subconsciously. She kept her stance broad and powerful, subtly projecting her own authority and lack of patience for foolishness.
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#5
The owner

"Jonathan Percel" He offered a handshake, hesitated a split second, as someone who's normally advise a more informal sobriquet, but reminds the circumstances are, indeed, more formal than desired. "A couple... Well, I've seen more than a few! I can't say I always ask their names, though... Anything that'd make them stand out? Are they in any trouble?"
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#6
Justine takes a moment to describe both Sarah and Theo down to the last detail. 

Then she says, "I think someone might have slipped something into her drink while she was here. Do you have security cameras in here? Footage I could take a look at?"

She hesitates; to say more would be to violate Sarah's medical privacy. 

Instead she says, "It's nothing your establishment would be held responsible for, there were a lot of people in here and if that's what happened it's nothing anyone working here could have prevented." Unless, of course, someone working there did it, but one thing at a time.
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#7
the owner

He shook his head. "No cameras inside here while it's open... However! Yes, I think I do remember those guys... The girl, I must say, was overly impressed by some little old book she just got. She said it was some sort of magic... Tourists, you know? But then that's how I make a living... She was still talking about it as I poured her coke, though, and she almost gulped it straight away, so I can't really tell when one could've slipped anything weird".
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#8
Could the book have been coated in contract drugs? Justine remembered what Erika said, about...what was it? Sensory drugs? She'd have to go back through her notes.


Sensory drugs made no sense.

To cover her utter bafflement, Justine pulled out a notebook and started jotting things down. "Any chance you remember the name of the book? Any chance someone besides Theo got close enough to jab her with a needle or anything like that?"

Could the drugs have been delivered before they ever got to the book exchange? That might explain a bunch of rambling about magic, but it meant she'd have to call Theo up and retrace his steps a lot further back. Which she was certainly willing to do, if that proved to be necessary.
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#9
the owner

"I don't think there was a name on it. It had a green cover, it looked as if someone had... you know, when a book's falling apart, and you cover with some old gift's wrapping?" Justine could probably remember something like that appearing out of Theo's rucksack. Something greenish, at least. "Nobody got close to her, not that I can tell at least... However... Now that I think about it... I have half an idea who might have brought the book, not that I know his name, though".
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#10
Justine pauses to text Theo, holding up a finger to the proprietor.

Do you still have the green book on you? May be evidence. -Sheriff Carter

Then she returns her attention to him. 

"A description is a great start," she says. She can ask the other patrons too; after all. "And if this fellow bought anything and you can remember what, maybe we can match up a credit card receipt, if he didn't pay in cash." 
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#11
the owner

"He was... not a real customer, just one those curious guys who wander in and look around and maybe hint they'll buy something next time? When their friends join or something? You know that type. Except, this one said nothing, just wandered in - looked around, then headed to the book shelf, took nothing, left something there. I remember I went and checked, and found that new book that was not like the others. As for the guy... Sort of a young dude, small, blondish, kinda nondescript overall, except he had something like a snake tattooed all around his arm. Do you think it helps?"
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#12
"Very much so," Justine assured him. The identifying mark in particular. That was something she can type into the database, and something people would have noticed. Now she just had to get a few more details.

"Was the snake's mouth opened or closed? Was it biting its own tail? Was it stylized or was it rendered realistically?" Of all of the details, the tattoo was the big identifier. There were plenty of small, blondish men in town, after all. And tattoos would be in the criminal database if this guy has a record. It might bring up a big list, but maybe not if she restricted the search to, say, the state. It might bring up a ping, it might not.

But this guy was definitely her suspect now. Chances were he left this book. Which she was going to have to go reclaim from Theo for lab testing. It could have been a contact poison, she supposes.

She felt a headache starting just behind her eyes. This case was not proceeding like a normal drug case in any way, shape, or form. That bothered her, far more than she wanted to admit.
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#13
the owner

"Hm... it was like... all wrapped around his arm?" He made a gesture, as if wrapping a tape from his shoulder to his wrist. "Can't say I paid too much attention, I mean, tattoos are one of those things I neither love nor hate, so... However it was quite big. May I ask what it has to do with the issue, though? Do you mean the book was... drugged, or something?" He looked suspiciously at the other books. "Could they be all contaminated or have such issues?" Speaking in a softer voice, now: obviously, not something he wanted to advertise.

Meanwhile, a text came in: If you mean Sarah's book, yes I have it with me.
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#14
Well that tattoo would be hard to miss, at least. 

"I doubt they're all drugged or half your patronage would be at the hospital," Justine murmurs softly. "If it was, the contact agent would most likely have been spread on the interior pages, not the exterior." Theo was fine too, after all. 

She texted back:

Please bring it by the station as soon as possible. Don't handle the pages. I'll need it for awhile so the lab can run tests.

Poor Theo. All she had to offer him right now were weird requests. Well. Weird requests, and the knowledge, at least, that she had a person of interest, once he got there. She could dust the book for prints, too. On the interior of the thing; the exterior would have been handled by way too many people. It was possible the interior had been overly handled as well, but she'd see what came up. Either she'd luck out there or she wouldn't. The Eternal Way of Police Work.

"At any rate," she said, "I appreciate the help, Mr. Percel. May I get a fish sandwich to go?"
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#15
The Owner

Mr. Percel seemed relieved - by his book exchange being relatively safe? Or by they conversation being possibly over? He nodded. "Well, good to know. I'll tell you if I see anything, but... And sure! Would you like to take a look to our menu?" He handed her a folded paper, printed with an aesthetic pretend-simplicity; if she bothered checking, she could see how a "fish sandwich" was a more sophisticated matter than it looked like, a few options being available.

Meanwhile, a text from Theo had come almost immediately: Fine. I'll be waiting.
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#16
"The fried cod sandwich," Justine clarified, taking out some money to pay for it. "And a large Coke."

Not exactly healthy, but it was shaping up to be a long day; she was going to have to wolf it down on her way back to the station. Which, once armed with said sandwich, was pretty much what she did. She didn't want Theo to get impatient and wander off before she got her hands on the only piece of physical evidence she might get. She had follow-up questions for him now, too. And she still had to do research on Erika's angle.
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#17
to be continued...

And so a fish sandwich was produced from the kitchen, juicy enough to provide, beside nutrition, a small sample of comfort. Greetings were exchanged, alongside promises to help if needed. Politeness and common sense being a decent replacement for enthusiasm, after all.
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