the Cover illo of For-Print VersionNOVELS PAGE

still Sunday, Halgary 21st

19. Dungard Bound

Devrel Sovershend was feeling half naked when he met Jules Sandford alias Sandy. The digital clocks at Landitch Station were showing 16:05. Sovershend's right arm felt unusually light and free without the familiar slight drag of a sleeve gun. But no sane person attempted to take a firearm aboard an aircraft. Not when detection was inevitable and the penalty for a first offence began at three months' imprisonment and a hefty fine, to which could be added a severe beating by law-abiding passengers outraged by an unnecessary delay. Sovershend's gun was locked safely in his case, which was wearing a transit sleeve that was coded for Dungard South International Airport.
   Sandy decided that he too would have his leather overnight bag examined at the ticket centre. Having discovered a legal weapon in Sovershend's case, the baggage inspector spent twice the usual time scanning Sandy's. He seemed reluctant to believe that Sovershend's travelling companion was unarmed. Sandy could only fume impotently at the extended violation of his belongings. It was not unknown for an inspector to disregard the electronic systems and make a visual examination of the interior of alarm clocks and toothpaste tubes out of sheer spite. Sandy was reluctant to upset the inspector in case that happened to him.
   At last, a humming noise burst from the sleeving machine and Sandy's travelling bag emerged, encased in a blue and white plastic sleeve, which would trigger an electronic scream if it were removed before reaching its coded destination. Automatic baggage handling equipment would refuse to touch the case, making human action necessary. The system had a twofold purpose – to deter thefts from passengers' luggage by airport staff and to cut down on delays at the airport by eliminating the need for luggage scans in the routine anti-hi-jack precautions.
   Sandy disappeared behind a news sheet as soon as he was seated comfortably on the train. Sovershend realized that he would have to provide his own entertainment during the journey. Not being in a reading mood, he swallowed a travel green and spent the time staring at stress patterns in the window through polarized shades.
   Sovershend and Sandy drew envious stares from the queue at the baggage counter when they collected their boarding passes. About half a dozen last-minute panickers were waiting to have their luggage scanned and sleeved, and the scanner was acting up. Envy became puzzlement when they noticed that Sovershend's travel sleeve was striped red and white when the usual colours were blue and white. But those permitted to carry firearms still formed a very small minority.
   Sandy seemed intent on trying to work his way through every Sunday news sheet in the world. As a travelling companion, he was about as interesting as a block of fresh concrete. After steering Sandy to the departure lounge for an inevitable wait, Sovershend bought a couple of pints of fort-beer and retired behind a paperback bought from the dispenser by the door.
   Eventually, their flight was called.
   "What?" Sandy looked up with an expression of slight annoyance when Sovershend tugged at his sleeve.
   "They've just called our flight," he repeated.
   "At last." Sandy disowned the news sheets on his right. He had scanned that pile. "Come on, then."
   "Sobok," Sovershend muttered under his breath, damping down the fires of resentment banked by Sandy's casual arrogance. "It's this way," he added when his companion aimed himself towards the exit to the inspection hall.
   They ran into a traffic jam in the flight control section, just before the covered glideway from pier to aircraft. A metal detector had taken a violent dislike to what a would-be passenger insisted was just a pocket knife, used only for sharpening pencils. The weapon, which featured a laser-sharp five inch blade that flew from the handle at the touch of a pressure pad, was confiscated for the duration of the flight amid hostile rumblings from the rest of the queue. Other passengers had already surrendered two pairs of scissors, a corkscrew and a handful of anti-rape gas bombs.
   Then routine took over. Uniforms with empty smiles guided their charges to seats. The aircraft taxied out onto a sun-baked runway. Despite the fears of a number of the passengers, it managed to loft effortlessly into the blue afternoon sky. Within minutes of take off, a beefy steward served Sovershend and Sandy with late afternoon tea and cakes. They became the object of resentful glares from neighbours who had opted for a more economical flight. Sandy consumed his snack with one eye on a news sheet in Belldan. Sovershend buried himself in his book and ignored him.

20. A Hazard Of The Trade

Trouble! Alex Cardinal sensed that all was not well when he reached the side door of the pub. Thirty or so youngsters were clustered in the car park, enjoying the warmth of a pleasant evening in the middle of the year and escaping the smoky atmosphere indoors. Most of them were wearing the spidery E badge of the enselganger – some to show that they had formed a stable relationship and perverse others to show that they were free, unattached and available.
   Cardinal worked his way through the crowd. Nobody seemed unduly interested in him, but there was an itch between his shoulder blades – a warning that he had learned to trust.
   A young man in a green-biased flame shirt detached himself from a group of similarly attired twenty-year-olds and drifted between the cars, his attention apparently elsewhere but moving towards Cardinal. Pausing to light a slim cigar, the investigator glanced to left and right.
   There were two men on the left – the twenty-year-old with a beehive of dark hair had been joined by a man of about forty, who was hanging on to every last strand of his pale hair. Both were looking directly towards Cardinal.
   Time to be gone, Cardinal thought, dropping his cigar. He bent forward as if to pick it up. Crouching, he started for the shelter of his car. A soft but penetrating whistle whooped from his right. Something moved just beyond the bonnet of his car. Cardinal altered course, muttering a curse.
   What have you got yourself into, lad? he thought, tugging his Noiseless from its waist holster.
   "Put the gun down and keep going," said a hard voice from behind him.
   Cardinal glanced over his shoulder to make sure that he was not being bluffed, then placed the Noiseless carefully on the grey tarmac and took two more steps. When he turned, the youth in the flame shirt was tucking the weapon into his waistband. The small automatic pistol aimed at Cardinal was almost lost in a grimy hand.
   "Do I put my hands up, or what?" Cardinal asked.
   "Just keep them where I can see them, dad," returned the youth, a crooked grin twisting his mouth.
   "I don't have much money on me," remarked Cardinal, introducing a nervous quaver into his voice. It was not one hundred per cent acting. He had been threatened seriously with a firearm twice before. The internal numbing emptiness remained just as shocking despite his previous experience. He felt as though he were one half-step away from the edge of a crumbling cliff and a long drop.
   "Don't waste our time." The new voice came from behind Cardinal. The unidentified gunmen seemed to enjoy creeping up on people.
   "What do you want, then?" Cardinal turned his head to meet the empty, grey eyes set in the seamed face of a third man.
   "We're going for a short drive. Then you're going to tell us why you've been asking questions about our friends." Thin, pale lips formed emotionless words with a minimum of movement. The man did not have to resort to threats to tell Cardinal how much trouble he was in. "The van's this way."
   "Where are we going?" stalled Cardinal.
   Two guns were aimed at him – one at either end of a yard-wide corridor between the parked cars. Cardinal knew that he could draw his sleeve gun and put the older man down before he could react. The flame-shirted youngster, he decided, might freeze, or he might get off one shot from his .30 calibre pistol – which could be fatal, or not. Cardinal had no choice but to find out.
   The two men had to be members of the Popular Socialist Front who believed Cardinal to be an undercover policeman. When they found out that he was a private investigator, the van ride would become strictly one-way.
   "You'll find out where we're going soon enough," said the older man impatiently, making a flicking motion with his gun. "Come on."
   "You can't shoot me here. Not with all these people around," stalled Cardinal. He brought his left hand up to scratch his nose. When it reached waist level on the way down, he intended to shoot.
   An almost deferential snapping sound checked his hand. Cardinal saw a purple glow strike a well-worn safari jacket and merge with the light blue fabric. He spun on his left heel, needle gun flicking into his left hand. The youth in the flame shirt was sliding to the ground, a look of utter astonishment frozen on his pale face, his automatic pistol pointing towards his own right foot.
   "Welcome to Operation Mousetrap," grinned Major Rufus Tarpigan, bobbing out from behind a sheltering car. "Right, lads. Clear them up."
   Three men appeared carrying Boult riot guns. They dragged their unconscious victims over to a grey van rapidly and unobtrusively. Cardinal retrieved his Noiseless before it too could disappear. Uncertain eyes at the pub turned towards the moving figures. Nobody seemed quite sure what had happened, but some nosy person was bound to stroll over to investigate if given enough time.
   "Hello, Rufus." Cardinal managed an air of composure. "I'd appreciate a warning next time you pull a stunt like that. Otherwise I'll send you the bill for the underwear."
   "Stick it on your client's bill," returned Tarpigan negligently. "I'm sure Sir Nigel wouldn't dream of questioning a legitimate business expense. Right, I think we'd better evaporate before the locals start wandering over here."
   "I wonder if someone spotted what was happening and called the Prots?" remarked Cardinal.
   "Sheer coincidence," scoffed Tarpigan, completely unmoved by the sound of a distant siren screaming towards them. "If you're going into town, you can give me a lift. Our mutual employer wants a report in person."
   "That's my next stop," admitted Cardinal.
   He led the way to his car, fighting against feelings of uneasiness. Recent events indicated that the major was taking the law into his own hands, that he was dealing out summary justice to prominent members of the PSF, against whom there was insufficient evidence to justify an arrest.
   As a licensed private investigator, Cardinal was bound to work within the confines of the law. Were he to become involved in irregular activities, he risked the loss of his investigator's licence and the privilege of carrying firearms for the protection of himself and clients. He also risked the loss of the goodwill of his police contacts and, perhaps, his own liberty for a number of years.
   But the events of the last few minutes underlined the fact that nobody else was playing by society's rules. Alex Cardinal was part of the game whether or not he wished to play. If the PSF knew about him, sheer survival demanded that he either got on with the job or got out of the country. And if he stayed, it would be a good idea to keep an eye out for the squad of PSF enforcers next time he asked a few questions. Major Tarpigan and his cover squad could arrive on the scene a fraction of a second too late the next time. A round from a needle gun took just one thousandth of a second to travel a distance of one yard.
   Taking everything into consideration, Cardinal decided to jump his client two steps on his scale of charges. If his life was in danger, then Class Six charges were called for. And if Sir Nigel Grantby was unwilling to pay them, then Cardinal would be justified in withdrawing speedily from the case.
   Resolving to be much more cautious in future, Cardinal unlocked his car. A tall Centraller, black as boot polish and with eyes of brown in yellow, drifted over to join them.
   "Captain Sam Smith," said the mercenary as an introduction. "He was directing your cover squad."
   "In that case, pleased to meet you," said Cardinal. He received a firm squeeze when he extended his hand to Smith, who had a thoughtful manner and a distinct Norlish accent when he spoke Ferran.
   "We'll get something to eat on the way," Tarpigan decided.
   "I'll let you drive," said Cardinal, surrendering his keys.
   "Still feeling a bit rocky, Alex?" grinned Tarpigan.
   "I think I've got pretty good reason to be, don't you?" replied Cardinal evenly. "You know what they had in mind for me, of course? And what I had to do?"
   "You were going to take on both of them," remarked Captain Smith from the back seat. "And take a chance the man behind you didn't hit anything immediately fatal. You're a very brave man, Alex."
   "No, not brave," countered Cardinal. "Just scared and bockan desperate."
   "But you're still alive to tell the tale, and that's all that matters," added Tarpigan. "You're a survivor, Alex. Remind me to issue you with a set of lightweight body armour to make sure you keep it up."
   "I could have done with that five minutes ago," Cardinal pointed out.
   "It's only just taken a walk from a Ferran Government Testing Centre," chuckled Captain Smith. "It won't be here till tonight."

21. Sovershend And Sandy In Dungard

Sunday flights had a reputation for lateness. Thanks to the splendid credit rating of the card found in his flat, Sandy and Sovershend were spared further delay when they reached their destination. When he stepped off the glideway at the baggage counter, a sometime blonde with large, appealing brown eyes retrieved Sovershend's travelling bag from an armoured locker and stripped off the transit sleeve. Sandy's bag arrived with the rest of the uncommon luggage on the carousel, but with the vanguard.
   Sovershend piloted Sandy along a cool plastic tube to the enclosed terminal of the Overground/Underground system. A bored inspector in an armour-glass box glanced briefly at their tickets, then returned to the slideball match on a portable videolink. As soon as they were seated on the train, Sandy disappeared behind a West Heitainan news sheet, underlining the fact that he could read Belldan.
   The acceleration gong sounded. Then the backs of their seats crept away from them. Sandy lost control of his news sheet and produced a fine string of muttered curses. Sovershend failed to recognise the words, but they sounded Belldan.
   Just over a minute later, the first station flashed past. They were on an express. All of the lights came on at Cavener Road, when the train dived underground for the final part of the journey. The duorail system of the suburban overground section continued in the city-centre underground section – an arrangement designed for passenger safety. Anyone who fell or was pushed from a platform was in no danger from live rails and there was a generous clearance should a train arrive immediately. Seven and a half minutes after starting its journey, the O/U train came to a halt beneath Priadon railway station.
   "This way," said Sovershend, guiding Sandy to the tunnel leading to the Centre-Circle line. But instead of boarding the waiting train, he made for a bench on the platform.
   "What's happening?" asked Sandy, looking puzzled and a little suspicious.
   "We're meeting someone here," Sovershend explained.
   The train screamed away, leaving a partial vacuum to hug at them playfully. A youngish, emaciated man sidled up to them ten minutes later. Sandy was just about to tell him that he was not carrying any loose change when he noted that the newcomer's coverall was in fashion, new and not designed for hard wear.
   "This is Chas Jones," Sovershend told Sandy.
   "We're not going to discuss anything here, are we?" Sandy returned warily.
   "Oh, not all," Jones assured him in a husky voice with overtones of a Norton accent, which was scarcely distinguishable from the cross-border accent of the southern counties of Norland. "We'll do that when we get to the hotel. Ah, here it comes."
   The next westbound train arrived. It was a cylinder fitted with double seats set at right-angles to a central aisle, all facing forward. There was a guard in a small compartment between the two coaches. The Dungard O/U system was a private enterprise operation. Routine vandalism could not be shrugged off onto local taxes and it was therefore discouraged actively by arming the guard with a Boult riot gun.
   Descending acceleration became almost immediate ascending deceleration. The train chattered to a halt at Mitton Gardens. Drawing envious stares from those on the platform, Sovershend led his party across to the tunnel route to the Mitton Gardens Hotel.
   A revolving door let them into a rather stark vault. Walls of frigid, polar blue linked a white ceiling and a speckled carpet in solid black and deep-sea blue. There was a long counter on the left, topped by a slab of sapphire blue plastic, which was also the colour of the guard's uniform. The four by five yard area reminded Sovershend of a blue customs hall.
   He opened his bag and surrendered his sleeve gun. Anybody, other than a police officer, who took a weapon into one of the better hotels was expected to leave it in the entry area. Failure to obey the rules resulted in instant ejection and membership of a widely-circulated black list. A minion arrived to take charge of the baggage. He conducted the guests through a double-doored security filter to the lobby. There were no body searches, but the entry area was fitted with a comprehensive selection of metal and explosives detectors.
   Sovershend and Sandy were expected, but it took a few minutes to register Jones as a Class 2 (non-resident) guest. He received a discreet silver disc, the size of a £1 coin, which he attached to the projecting cuff of his bronze-fibre pullover. His hosts received slightly larger gold discs. They followed the minion up to a pair of linked suites on the fourth floor. Their lift had two speeds – dead slow and stop.
   "I thought you said there'd be two people for us to meet?" Sandy called through the connecting door as he unpacked.
   "That's right. But the meeting's tomorrow, remember?" Sovershend replied.
   "In that case, where does he fit into things?"
   Sovershend turned to find Sandy in the doorway, pointing at Jones, who was sprawled comfortably in a lounger, surrounding a stak of fortbeer.
   "He's a sort of welcoming committee," said Sovershend. "And he's here to get details. I didn't go into specifics on the vid." Sovershend decided not to mention that all of the facts had not been in his possession at the time, or that Jones enjoyed a visit to the city's better hotels, if only for a drink at someone else's expense.
   "I see," said Sandy, giving grudging approval. "We seem to have rather a lot of middle men in on this deal. The more links, the weaker the chain."
   "We wouldn't be here if they weren't dependable," Sovershend pointed out. "Anyway, Chas is in charge till the other two get back tonight, so we have to deal with him."
   "Ah!" said Sandy, responding slightly to Jones' smile of contentment when he learned that he was dealing with a partner, not an underling. "I suppose you'd better tell him what he has to know." He flopped into the other lounger and chose a pint stak of fortbeer from the selection in the chillbox below a small table.
   The videolink picked that moment to start chiming. Sovershend glanced at it but made no move to respond to the call.
   "I don't want to rush you," said Jones mildly, "but I'm supposed to be meeting Alison in about twenty minutes."
   "All right." Sovershend was willing to ignore the videolink. No one important knew where he was. "The story is..."
   "I'll tell him," interrupted Sandy. "You go and answer that svozhnar zakh. I find there's nothing more irritating than an unanswered vid, don't you?" he added to Jones, who just shrugged to indicate that he could turn a deaf ear with the best of them.
   Sovershend went into the bedroom to answer the videolink, expecting it to stop chiming as soon as his hand was within range of the ACC key. Surprisingly, a projection formed, showing him an unfamiliar face.
   "Vreitar Sovershend, Citizen ID Card number 8S-B2-70855?" asked a stern man in a dark uniform, making a statement out of the question.
   "That's right," nodded Sovershend, wondering what the police wanted with him. The immobility of the face in the screen made very difficult an assessment of the thoughts behind the level green eyes. A lack of visible insignia on his dark blue uniform and the plain, pastel green wall behind him gave the policeman a menacing lack of definable status. There was only a vision of close-cropped, iron grey hair surrounding a bulging forehead, challenging eyes, a blade of a nose, a tight mouth and a pointed chin.
   Sovershend decided that the pause between his admission of his identity and the Prot's next statement was designed to prod at his conscience and work loose feelings of guilt for display on his face. As his conscience had long since withered away from lack of use, the pause extended.
   "Did you want something?" Sovershend asked as the policeman started to part his thin lips.
   "Please place your ID card in the slot and place your right thumb on the panel for verification," said the policeman, a shadow of annoyance flickering across his face.
   Sovershend obeyed the instructions with an aimless smile. A momentary tightening of his mouth was the policeman's way of expressing his disappointment when a computer file told him that the card was genuine and in the possession of its lawful owner. His cool, green eyes lifted from an overlay across the bottom of the policeman's screen. They met the base of the stak of fortbeer that Sovershend had just tilted to get at the last few drops.
   "Just a routine check, sir," said the policeman. "Concerning a report made by a CSP Auxiliary the day before yesterday in the Walton South district of Leviton. Could you give me a summary of what happened?"
   The policeman extracted a detailed account of Sovershend's adventure with an armed Robin on Walton Parade.
   "Thank you, sir," he said at last. "The individual concerned has pleaded guilty to the offence, so you will not be required to attend the hearing. Your statement has been recorded and we need your authorization to give it in evidence if required."
   Sovershend shrugged, indifferent to the fate of a Robin. "If you like."
   "Thank you, sir. Good evening." The videolink screen turned an opalescent grey, then became a mirror again.
   "Here he is," said Sandy when Sovershend emerged from the bedroom in search of more fortbeer. "You're just in time to show Vr. Jones out. I think we've covered everything." Jones placed an empty stak on the table and slid a reserve supply into the pockets of his coverall. Sandy responded to his farewell with an elegant wave of his hand, turning to the videolink to key up the evening dinner menu. His thoughts were on higher things.
   "Where and when tomorrow?" asked Sovershend in the descending lift.
   "I'm meeting you at the O/U station here at half-ten tomorrow morning. Bit of a rum sobok, your maccar. You have to drag everything out of him," Jones added.
   "True," agreed Sovershend. "But there's a certain irresistible something about him."
   "Such as what? His charming personality? Or his casual air of masculinity?"
   "His what?" grinned Sovershend. "No, it's his money. He's got enough to drown in, from what I've seen."
   "Just make sure you don't drown," warned Jones. "There's something about him."
   "Is this your ESP giving you spirit messages from your borderland ancestors?" asked Sovershend, mimicking Jones' accent. "Or just envy for his air of casual masculinity?"
   "You can laugh!" Jones pretended to be deeply offended.
   "Thanks, I will," returned Sovershend. "Seriously, though. I know when to duck. And he is a bit too good to be true. I can see that. But he comes highly recommended. So I'm watching and waiting."
   "Oh, well. All you can do is go with a recommendation." Jones shrugged, leaving it at that.

22. Alex Cardinal And Major Tarpigan Report

After dining well and on expenses, Alex Cardinal, Major Rufus Tarpigan and Captain Smith made their way to the high-income residential area to the east of Leviton's Walton Park. Cardinal was feeling like a submariner who had survived his first depth-charge attack. His dangerous experience lay safely behind him and he felt able to face a similar predicament in the future with more confidence. It had come as a great relief to learn that the PSF squad had become interested in him not as a result of his own carelessness, but as part of Tarpigan's operation to flush the enemy out into the open.
   The men who had attempted to kidnap him had known only that he had been asking questions about the PSF, and they had not been aware of his identity. Part Two of the operation was in progress as they approached Sir Nigel Grantby's residence.
   The vehicle carrying the prisoners had been involved in a minor collision. Abandoning his still unconscious colleagues, the youngest PSF member had taken his chance to escape. Tarpigan was hoping that he would lead the mercenary's men to other members of the PSF cell. Cardinal had been careful not to ask about the fate of the two older men.
   Their acquaintance was the product of six years' intermittent association, each having made use of the other's abilities in his chosen field. Alex Cardinal preferred to work as a security consultant. But when economic pressures forced him to don his investigator hat, he chose to work within the law because he remained convinced that people like Rufus Tarpigan were bound to come unstuck one day.
   The major, in contrast, believed in getting the most out of life and letting the future look after itself. A mild infection of this attitude was responsible for Cardinal's decision to promote Sir Nigel Grantby two steps on his scale of charges instead of withdrawing from the case. As he had no dependents, a few risks taken for a proper reward seemed justified under the circumstances.
   And the increased revenue would be a useful cushion in leaner times – as long as he exercised proper caution. He saw no point in earning money that he would not live to spend.
   Chuckling at one of Captain Smith's collection of disgusting jokes, Cardinal turned into the entry filter at the entrance to the car park at Sir Nigel Grantby's apartment building. Weapon snoopers chirped a song of alarm when the security guards scanned the car. The disembodied voice seemed ready for an argument when it informed Major Tarpigan that weapons were not to be taken into the building, assuming that he was the leader of the group. Then a burly figure in a dark green, almost-Special-Service uniform confirmed that the visitors had locked all of their firearms in the car.
   "This is practically on your doorstep, isn't it?" Tarpigan remarked to Cardinal as the lift whisked them up to the ninth floor of the high security residential block.
   "I'm only about two or three miles away," agreed Cardinal. "About a million socially, though."
   "Your floor, vreitei," said the disembodied voice at the end of an upward sprint.
   Double doors peeled apart smoothly. The trio found themselves in a chamber not much bigger than the eight-person lift. There was a heavy duty carpet on the floor of the same pattern as the lift's floor covering. Even the walls were the same warm, yellow, cushion plastic.
   Sir Nigel Grantby opened the inner door of the entry porch and ushered his visitors along fifteen yards of picture-infested corridor. Another door placed between a couple of charcoal drawings opened to the left and into a large room which was partly study, partly lounge and partly workshop.
   To the right of the door stood a solid, modern desk fitted with a videolink and the array of computer facilities expected in a modern office. A holowindow behind the desk showed Walton Park full of men in round hats, women in dark clothing and horse-drawn carriages.
   Dark grey filing stores – paper, film and electronic – filled the corner on the left of the desk. The far corner of the room was uncarpeted, outfitted with an impressive workbench and the facilities of a small engineering business. Wooden-doored cupboards lined the walls to head height in that quarter of the room.
   Cupboards gave way to glass-doored bookcases atop display cabinets where the carpet began. A splendid variety of bindings marched as far as a leisure-size videolink and a cocktail cabinet, which faced the desk. Seven swivelling chair upholstered in a hairy, dull yellow-and-black striped fabric were strewn the length of the left half of the room, dotted around three coffee tables with tops of smoked glass.
   Grantby found Captain Smith disconcerting at first. But when he identified correctly each of the paintings in the room, Smith convinced the Refuse Baron that he was dealing with a cultured man and not some freedom fighter who had learned weapon drill instead of reading and writing.
   "Uisge all right?" asked Grantby, halting at the bar.
   "Fine by us, Sir Nigel," nodded Tarpigan, continuing on down the room to crouch in front of the display cabinets. "These are good," he remarked, scanning an array of steam-powered models.
   "My hobby," beamed Grantby, pouring generously. "There's thirty years of spare time there."
   "Do they work?" Cardinal knelt in front of the locomotives.
   "Oh, yes," nodded his host. "They're gas fired, of course, not coal. But otherwise exactly like the originals."
   "I used to go to school by steam train," remarked Tarpigan. "For a couple of years. All the train spotters thought it was the end of the world when they started with the whole system electrification."
   "I don't think I've ever seen a steam train in action," remarked Cardinal. "Apart from on the vid."
   "You youngsters don't know what you've missed. Ah, thanks." Tarpigan accepted a drink and aimed one of the striped chairs at the middle table..
   "You can see plenty of steam engines in my part of the world," remarked Smith. "Northern cast offs, mainly. Apart from the Ferrans developing their Advanced Coal-Fired Train."
   "Not just the Ferrans," remarked Sir Nigel. "We have an interest in that project too. Anyway, gentlemen, you efforts have been more than satisfactory. There's been an almost tangible release of pressure. And Simon Lake was in raptures this morning about the success of the police raid in Losemoor National Park."
   "That's the thing about terrorist organizations," said Tarpigan. "They think they've got a divine right to strike their blows for the cause. It tends to come as a devastating shock if the victim does more than scream in protest."
   Cardinal wondered briefly what their employer would say if he found out that Tarpigan was going beyond supplying information to the police and striking secret blows of his own.
   "What progress have you made on identifying the people hiding behind the PSF?" asked Grantby, cutting across the investigator's thoughts.
   "A small amount," replied Cardinal, meaning precious little. "We have to tread pretty carefully."
   "What he means," grinned Tarpigan, "is he nearly became heavier by a few grains of lead earlier this evening."
   "You mean he was nearly killed?" asked Grantby, a large area of white appearing around his blue pupils.
   "As near as I'd ever like to come," Cardinal admitted.
   "I'm sorry, I've always assumed you were exaggerating the dangers you've mentioned," Grantby said awkwardly. "To build up your professional image."
   "Well, the lad's still alive and drinking," laughed Tarpigan. "We're still trying to trace the history of captured weapons and equipment," he continued, coming back to business. "But they tend to be used as currency in certain circles. Counting weapons captured in raids on police stations abroad, sales by foreign police more corrupt than our own and raids on political opponents' armouries, the armaments of the average terrorist group tend to be an unholy mixture."
   "That's about what the police said," nodded Grantby.
   "But we're not completely beaten," Tarpigan added. "I don't know whether you watch the vid much, but an increasingly popular weapon for the bad guys is a Heitainan sub-machine gun called the Zinder, after the, quote, ‘picturesque river-valley setting of the factory.' The first generation, the Z-100, didn't move too well. Which gives us more of a chance of tracing them. I have someone working on that."
   "Hmmm, good," nodded Grantby. "Cardinal?"
   "The PSF has three layers," said Cardinal. "The upper echelon, who make up a sort of respectable set of spokesmen, the rank and file, who do all the dirty work, and a group of middle men who really run the whole show. Our unknown opponents are supplying these middle men. The middle men tend to be rather elusive, but the ones we've caught up with have mentioned two blokes in a van. There seems to be some sort of trouble between the suppliers and the PSF middle men at the moment. Which is why they've been some help in putting together composite physical descriptions and identity pictures. I think the best way of summing up is to use the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. We've got most of the straight edges assembled into a border, and we're starting to build up the centre to find out what the picture is."
   "And what can I tell my colleagues?" asked Grantby.
   "The pressure from the PSF will slacken quite significantly over the next few weeks as the police roll them up," said Tarpigan.
   "But we can't count the threat as over until we identify whoever's supplying them with arms and advice," added Cardinal. "Your real enemies could quite easily dump the PSF and link up with a similar movement. Which would put us back to the beginning again."
   "I see," nodded Grantby. "Cautious optimism?"
   "That and beefing up your defences," agreed Tarpigan. "Did you know that's one of the PSF's aims? Forcing you to put your profits back into the pockets of the workers by making you spend more on security?"
   "I have heard something along those lines," nodded Grantby. "But it doesn't make much sense. Instead of paying taxes to the exchequer to support public sector projects, and PSF members, any spending will be going to private security firms. And I can't see them having many PSF members on their books. Is there anything further, vreitei?"
   "I think that covers it." Tarpigan exchanged glances with Cardinal and Captain Smith. "Are you in a hurry to throw us out, or can I have a closer look at your models?"
   "Of course, yes," beamed Grantby. He heaved his large frame out of the swivel chair and headed for the cocktail cabinet to fetch the uisge decanter. Someone showing a genuine, rather than a forced, interest in his life's work was always guaranteed to put him in an excellent mood.

23. Ambush for Ambrose of Nottridge

A deferential buzzing noise attracted the attention of the Duke of Atmain. He turned from a glazed, cross-shaped firing slit and his contemplation of the lights of the provincial capital as seen from a distance of just over a mile and an elevation of sixty yards. The videolink on his functional-modern desk showed him a side view of the caller as picked up by the monitor camera in the corridor. He touched a panel on the control unit with his left index finger. His right hand was fully occupied with his pipe. The door peeled open smoothly and silently, and the lights in his tower-top office brightened from a background glow. "Well, Ashley?" asked the Duke eagerly.
   "His answer is still no, sir. He refused to co-operate," replied the tall blonde woman. She was highly attractive in a predatory sort of way, physically fit and in her middle twenties – exactly half the duke's age.
   "Just what I expected," nodded the Duke, sinking into the well-padded chair behind his desk. "Drink?"
   Ashley padded over to the bar and mixed orange liqueur, chinchon water and lemon juice. She brought the drinks over to the desk and perched on the edge of a black plastic and steel office chair.
   "I think we're going to have to teach him a severe lesson, sir," she announced. "Vreitar Ambrose Mellbury of Nottridge is too sure of himself."
   "What about warning him of the ambush Demirell set up for his second in command, Bekker? Wouldn't that prove the value of our partnership?"
   "No, sir. And Demirell agrees."
   "I'd reached much the same conclusion," nodded the Duke.
   "We thought a few indiscreet words dropped in official ears would be appropriate," Ashley said with a malignant smirk.
   "Agreed." The Duke held out his glass for a refill.
   Ashley had barely tasted her own drink but she returned to the bar immediately with both glasses. A deep tan, which made her hair seem even paler in contrast, disappeared intriguingly into her dark green uniform. A single glance was sufficient to motivate most men to find out whether the tanned areas met in the middle. The first contact with her ice-blue eyes generally dispelled the ambition. Ashley picked her own company.
   "While you're in Camerland," the Duke continued to her back, "you can collect Demirell's special reports. Should save him time hopping backwards and forwards across the Straits. I'm sure he has better things to do."
   "Yes, sir." Ashley returned the Duke's refilled glass, smiling inwardly at Demirell's reaction to missing a trip home. Ashley was not one of his admirers and Demirell had a tendency to treat her as a servant if she failed to assert herself.
   "Take Hudson with you," added the Duke. "I think she's about ready to see the other side of the Straits."
   "Yes, sir. Her personality profile suggests she's not yet achieving her full potential here. I think she needs a good push to get her started."
   "You make her sound like a car with a flat battery," laughed the Duke. "Come to think of it, flat is the last thing you'd call Hudson."
   Ashley smiled dutifully.
   "When do you expect to hear again from your contact in Mellbury's organization? From what's his name? Rideau?"
   "Rivaud, sir. Armand Rivaud. We have no further contacts planned unless Mellbury changes any of his plans. It makes for better security."
   The Duke nodded wisely. "One final point: if the Camerlish Customs intercept Mellbury's shipment, there should be some sort of reward. It's to be paid in Dungard, to someone who answers this fellow Sovershend's description."
   "We can pick it up at the same time as the reward for turning Bekker over to the CustEx, sir." Ashley drained her glass to indicate that her report had been concluded.
   "Keep up the good work," smiled the Duke. "Good night."
   "Good night, sir." Ashley exited efficiently.
   When he was alone again, Norman Chatelle dimmed the lights and returned to the tapered padding in the firing slit. Very soon, the night view from his study window would be of the lights of a Camerlish city. The thought made him realize that he had better warn Westwood, the commander of the castle guard, that he would be losing another of his staff. Ashley's abrupt transfer a week earlier had upset his routines out of all proportion and the Duke wanted to avoid another lecture from his security executive on the subject of manpower planning. Herta Dortmann annoyed could be five times as intimidating as Gail Ashley at her haughtiest.

previous section
next section

Created for RLC by HTSP Web Division, 10 SK6 4EG, Romiley, G.B. © Philip Turner 2005.