III / CRISIS
Monday, Halgary 22nd
24. Sandy Meets Dorry and Tenbright
Wearing his sleeve gun for the first time in what seemed like a week, Devrel Sovershend followed Jules Sandford through a revolving door. They left the Mitton Gardens Hotel and entered the corridor that led to the O/U station. Sandy headed straight for a bench.
"Ten-eighteen," Sovershend read from the digital clock. "Twelve minutes yet."
"Oh, yes?" muttered Sandy in a ‘so what?' tone. When he disappeared behind the inevitable news sheet, Sovershend decided that further comment would be superfluous and took his airport paperback from the side pocket of his jacket.
Jones appeared at 10:29, one minute early. He had forsaken his coverall for a business suit in bold, very un-Camerlish stripes. Sovershend gazed at the suit with veiled amusement, Sandy with ill-concealed envy.
"Been here long?" asked Jones.
"Nah, no more than a week," returned Sovershend in mild criticism of Sandy's idea of punctuality.
"Morning, Sandy," beamed Jones.
"Jones," nodded Sandy. Curiosity got the better of him. "Tell me, where did you get your suit?"
"Place on Circle Street," Jones replied warily. "Like it?"
"Yes, very fashionable," approved Sandy. His own outfit was a very conventional suit in desert tan, a shade which matched his hair fairly closely. "I must take a look along there later on."
The train arrived with a menacing roar and a blast of cold air.
"How far are we going?" asked Sandy, diverging from Jones's lack of dress sense.
"Couple or three stops," Jones replied. "We'll be there in just a few minutes."
Doors whooshed together. The moderately well-filled train began its acceleration dive. A small army of studious types left at Petran Square, steeling themselves for the security searches and identity checks at the city's main library. A different class of student descended at Baron's Drive South, gateway to the city's porn-belt.
"This is it," said Jones as the train ran up to Riverside, the next station, which occupied the site of a former post office near Regent's Bridge.
The trio emerged from the depths into brilliant morning sunshine. Above their heads, muted rushing and rumbling sounds told of passing vehicles on the Dungard Expressway.
"We cross over here," said Jones.
As he spoke, the traffic died away to a trickle. Not stopping to wonder why, Jones sprinted to the island in the centre of the wide road, then across to the far pavement. Sovershend and Sandy managed to follow him before the flood started again. Another dash took them across Water Street and through the shadow of the ramp that connected the middle two lanes with the elevated expressway. Jones led them along Dawson Street.
Four and a half acres of wasteland, according to an ancient and battered For Sale sign, sprawled away on their left. The mixture of rubble, grass and sorry-looking bushes had been wild for as long as most people could remember. There had been talk of landscaping the area into a park, but none of the residents in the area believe that anything would ever develop from the plans.
Jones ducked through the rotting wire just before a padlocked gate. A ruined building of decaying brick became a short length of high, red brick wall. Both hid an artificial branch of the River Dunan for the first few yards of the well-made, single lane road which connected the gate with a two storey building fifty yards away. When it came into view, the water in the cutting looked green, neglected and fairly lethal.
The group's destination was a branch of Easton Security Products. It was the last survivor of the rank of warehouses which the cutting from the main canal had been built to serve. Single-storey huts dotted the area on the other side of the cutting and a huge, cream-painted structure grew in the far corner, beside the railway viaduct, a left-over from a cement works.
Blue lightning flashes adorned the DANGER! ELECTRIFIED! notices on the substantial fence around the site. A gate rolled to the left as the visitors approached. Sandy turned sideways to pass through the two yard gap. A piteous groaning sounded from the steel door on the front of the building. Jones gave it a hefty kick with one of his tyre-soled boots to put it out of its misery. The door screamed open.
"That's the trouble with this spot," remarked Jones as the trio entered the building. "There's always a bit of subsidence. Twists the whole ganar building. You get the bockan doors sticking, windows jamming and so on."
"Are you sure its safe?" asked Sandy nervously.
"Oh, sure," replied Jones airily. "It's not due to collapse for at least twenty-five years, if our tame surveyor got his sums right. We'll be long gone by then."
Their route took them through a receiving bay and then into a central corridor covered with filthy and long-dead scraps of carpet. Steel bracing bars appeared and disappeared at regular intervals up the well-worn, wooden staircase. Sandy found them both disquieting and reassuring at the same time. At the top of the stairs, Jones heaved open a door and led the visitors along another corridor. The carpet on the upper floor was marginally less ancient than the relics below, but the paint on the walls was just as grease-stained and chipped.
The third door on the left opened with a pure horror-film creak into a small office. A strip of bright orange stair carpet in the empty room kinked through a right angle to the right and led to the next office. The communicating door was standing open – a rectangle which would never again fill its parallelogram frame.
"Welcome, vreitei," said one of the men at an old, dark desk. "Did you have a. comfortable night at the Mitton?"
"Excellent," nodded Sandy, dividing his attention between the proprietors of the storehouse and the room.
The room won. Some mad genius had been experimenting with flame paint. A rainbow network of blending lines, writhing and churning in response to a random signal generator in one corner of the room, was making the walls shiver and dance as though in the grip of an earthquake. A different technique had been adopted for the ceiling, which seemed to pulse – alternately approaching and shying away from the floor. Mercifully, the sand-gold cushion-plastic tiles were an island of immobile sanity.
"Here's a chair," said Jones, bringing Sandy out of his mesmeric trance. "This is Keith Dorry," he continued, introducing Sandy to a grey, anonymous man in a dark check business suit. "And Stan Tenbright."
Sandy shook hands all round. Tenbright looked about five times older than Dorry, which made his age around two hundred and fifteen. His coverall was solid black, as were the nails of his shrivelled fingers. The strength of his grip suggested that Tenbright was wearing a cunning disguise – which he was. He was no more than three years older than Sovershend's thirty-two. Where Sovershend's identity documents disagreed about his height, Tenbright's made his date of birth a lottery.
"The heap of excrement behind us is called Rossiter," added Sovershend as Sandy was lowering himself into his chair. "Professional sobok and general pain in the yadren. Don't bother shaking hands, you might not get all your fingers back."
Sandy was still turning to look at such a desperate character when something bright flashed through the spot occupied by Sovershend an instant before.
"His one saving grace is his generosity," continued Sovershend. Sandy watched in amazement as he plunged his hand into the crawling illusion of a wall and extracted a leaf-bladed throwing knife. "He's given me enough of these to start a scrap yard."
The blade of the weapon was as long as an average roller pen, the handle a mere stub. Sovershend took a leather sheath from a pocket and gave the knife a new home. Sandy stared at Rossiter in horror, wondering what sort of maniac was allowed to go around throwing knives at people. He received a vague impression of a tallish, slimish, youngish man with hole-black hair. A viridescent flame suit, which was attempting to respond to the antics of both the office's walls and ceiling, made it difficult to focus on the wearer.
"Get out of here, Rossiter," croaked Tenbright. "Sorry about that. There's a lot of bad blood between them."
"And Rossiter's self-control leaves a lot to be desired," added Dorry. "Anyway, let's get started."
"Coffee, anyone?" said Jones, reducing his status in Sandy's eyes from equal partner in the storage and distribution enterprise to mere minion.
"Just bring the pot and some cups," ordered Dorry. "Those that want it can help themselves."
Jones located a door in the left hand wall.
"And can we have these svozhnar walls off? They're giving me a headache."
"Can't take it, hey?" cackled Tenbright. "I thought that sort of thing appealed to you youngsters?"
"Vyen s'vogan," invited Dorry, heaving himself to his feet. He approached the control box on the floor cautiously. The first button that he prodded with his foot had no effect. The second speeded up the pattern shift of the walls. Sandy closed his eyes and clung to the arms of his chair to keep the world steady.
"Cosmic!" murmured Sovershend, thinking seriously about redecorating his flat in Dungard – which he had not mentioned in case Sandy suggested that they stay there instead of the Mitton Gardens Hotel. Sovershend had a streak of the Jones in him when it came to hotels like the Mitton.
"Chas!" bellowed Dorry, admitting defeat. "How do you shut down this svozhnar zakh?"
"Swearing at it won't help," called Jones from the other room. "Try keying either PN or MP."
Dorry went down on his hands and knees and peered at the control panel. "I've done both. Nothing."
"Hang about." Jones reappeared with a tray. He dumped it on the desk, then joined Dorry at the control box. "Hmmm!" he said significantly after prodding the keys mentioned. "There's something wrong with the bockan zakh. What we need is a more scientific approach. Stand back."
Dorry retreated to the desk. Jones picked his spot, drew back a booted foot and gave the box a mighty kick. An alarming explosion took place inside it. The walls died to an unexciting, rather muddy shade of green.
"Why didn't you just unplug it?" suggested Sovershend.
"It's not plugged in," Jones explained. "It draws its power from the walls with these light cells..."
"Chas!" groaned Dorry. "Is that thing off now?"
"I've only tripped the overload circuit," grinned Jones. "It should be on again in an hour."
"Is this one of your efforts?" Sovershend remarked.
"That's right," nodded Jones. "I think there's a loop in the circuitry. Yogal if I can find it, though. But it shifts from a nice, background ripple to a mad war dance. Then you can't switch it off without overloading it. But there's a steady input trickle that switches the walls on again in an hour and starts it off again."
"Can you two continue your discussion in your own time?" Dorry suggested.
"All right." Jones turned his attention to the coffee, looking deeply offended.
"Now then, Vreitar Sandy...," said Dorry.
"Just Sandy," he interrupted, seeking to maintain an informal and youthful image.
"Sandy, yes. Well, Jones has detailed your timetable. The fuel you need for your vehicles will be arriving this afternoon. I understand you want us to store fifty cases for you and put the rest on the distribution network?"
"That's right," nodded Sandy. He had been instructed to maintain a thread of contact with the northern distributors. He did not know, because his concern was transport not personnel, that Charles Demirell was planning to eliminate Sovershend.
"Jones has explained our storage terms to you?"
"Yes, they're acceptable. And payment on the night?"
"The usual way is a hundred and seventy-seven ounces in gold and the other four hundred and six pounds in cash."
"Acceptable," nodded Sandy. "I think that covers everything."
"Perhaps you'd like to see over the place?" suggested Tenbright. "Chas?"
"Yes, that should be interesting," Sandy replied, rising to his feet. He looked uncertainly at Sovershend, who remained seated.
"Sovershend will be staying here," said Dorry. "I don't want him to meet Rossiter again. It's almost impossible to get blood out of wooden floors."
"I see," said Sandy in a tone which suggested the opposite.
"This way." Jones waved him to the ever-open door to the anteroom and the corridor.
"Where did you meet him?" asked Tenbright, shedding his old man's voice.
Sovershend lit a Norlish cigarette, then handed the packet across the desk. "He knows Martin from Strode Street. They've been doing business for months."
"There's money to be made there," observed Dorry.
"Thanks for telling me," laughed Sovershend. "I hadn't noticed."
"Nobody likes a young smartok," quavered Tenbright.
"How about an old dummock?" asked Sovershend. "What's he supposed to be, anyway?" he added to Dorry.
"His dramatic group are doing Evening For Vreitar Eastham next month," Dorry explained. "He's working on the make-up for the old man."
"I suppose he can have a hobby," grinned Sovershend.
"Fervoek! It's hot in here." Tenbright shed a thin plastic mask and about 180 years. Then he turned a thumb towards Dorry. "His hobby is making money. And his favourite colour's the red they use for C-notes."
"He spends it too," protested Dorry before he could be accused of being a miser. "Is this Sandy really serious about using hovercraft? Aren't they a bit noisy and messy?"
"True, but they've got speed the flexibility to go anywhere they want," countered Sovershend. "And there's bad weather forecast for the middle of the week. They're supposed to get lost in that."
"Funny no one's thought of using the Ship Canal before," remarked Tenbright.
"There's supposed to be a lot of psychology involved in that," said Sovershend. "If you think about inland water transport, you think of speeds of about five mph. The cargo's exposed for so long, hardly anyone's prepared to take the risk. According to Sandy, he expects to be up and down the canal in a couple of hours, including time spent unloading and refuelling."
"What about the locks?" asked Dorry. "You've got to get past about five or six sets of them."
"He didn't say anything about that," Sovershend admitted. "But Martin reckons he's something of a genius when it comes to arranging transport."
"He better had be for your sake," remarked Dorry. "He strikes me as a bit of a vague sobok."
"Depends how you look at it," Sovershend told him. "His job is to transport twelve tons of cargo in containers of a certain size from Norland to here. He doesn't have to know how many cases of uisge that represents. Just how much space that weight takes up. In fact, he's a great one for keeping his mind free of unnecessary details."
"I suppose you can get away with sloppiness like that down South," said Tenbright scathingly. "We're a bit more organized up here."
"I told him that. But he didn't seem impressed."
"Anyway," said Dorry, "he'd better stick to his timetable. If he's more than an hour late at this end, he can forget it. He's on his own."
"I'll pass that on," nodded Sovershend. "It might cheer him up if he starts running late."
"I'll say this for your funny friend," remarked Tenbright, fortifying his coffee with Norlish Magic, "he's got enough cheek. Coming down the west coast about the time Ambrose of Nottridge has got his Big Job on."
"Ambrose of Nottridge," scoffed Sovershend. "I don't know how anyone can take him seriously with a fervoeking stupid name like that. Are you passing that round?" He held out a hand for the bottle of smuggled uisge.
"It's not as bad as ganar Sovershend," replied Tenbright. "And you shouldn't be drinking. It's not eleven yet."
Sovershend shrugged. "It's not my fault if my dad was a foreigner with inheritable bad habits. And I bet they'd have a good laugh at Tenbright across the Inland Sea in Kraagen."
"His trouble is he picks up bad habits too easily," remarked Dorry.
"And anyway, I don't go round calling myself Sovershend of Great Hovarks, do I?" he added, referring to the district of Dungard in which his second home was to be found.
"Is that ‘of' or ‘with'? asked Dorry innocently.
Sovershend ignored him. "It's all in Sandy's brilliant plan," he told Tenbright. "He's sneaking in from the north while everyone's looking south, waiting for Ambrose to show up."
"Audacity and deviousness, two vital ingredients of any smuggling operation," observed Dorry. "And no showing off, unlike Ambrose."
"And a better than thirty per cent return on capital," added Sovershend. "More or less overnight."
"That's half the fun for Ambrose," said Tenbright. "Telling everyone he's got a Big Job planned and pulling it off."
"Just as long as he pulls it off at the end of the week, we'll be happy," remarked Sovershend.
"Worried he's pulled it off already?" grinned Tenbright.
"No," returned Sovershend confidently. "It's still to come. But what I think's going to happen is he'll start smiling about Thursday lunchtime and going on about what a huge success it was. Then bring his stuff over on Thursday night. He may get up your nose like a bad smell, but he gets eleven out of ten for low cunning."
"Let's hope Sandy can bring off his Big Job," said Dorry. "That's the one that matters to us."
"If he's half as good as he thinks he is, it's going to one for the history books," Sovershend assured him. "Not that I can see him getting away with it more than once."
"It better had be good," threatened Tenbright. "Or we'll let Rossiter loose on you."
"Wow! You've got me really worried," scoffed Sovershend. "I wish all my problems were as trivial as his feeble attempts to cancel my membership card."
"He came pretty close with that knife," said Dorry.
"Close is nothing," returned Sovershend. "The time to start worrying is when he can manage adjacent."
"Are you staying here till the shipment arrives?" Dorry asked, wondering whether he would have to keep Rossiter locked up for a couple of days. It would be very inconvenient to lose either or both of the rivals. Rossiter's father was a respected if not entirely respectable solicitor – and a valued friend, advisor and customer. Sovershend was a man who stuck to his own trade – an importer who did not try to take all of the profit by distributing as well.
"My plans depend on Sandy," replied Sovershend. "If we're not back at the Mitton before noon, I'll be there till tomorrow at least."
Tenbright drew back his left cuff. "By the hairs on my wrist, it's only about eleven. Jones won't be long now. I don't think you're going to be pushed for time."
"Ah, well," said Sovershend philosophically. "Something's bound to turn up."
Sandy arrived back at the office looking impressed. On the way back to the O/U station with Sovershend, he kept up a detailed description of the cellar system beneath the storehouse and most of the wasteland between the cutting and Water Street. Sovershend listened with half an ear for five patient minutes, then tried to tell his companion that he knew all about the cellars. Sandy kept up the flow regardless.
Armed with a map of the city centre, on which shops were labelled with both a trading name and a business category, Sandy abandoned Sovershend when the train reached Mitton Gardens. He wanted to do some shopping. A horrible vision of a duplicate of Jones's striped suit seared Sovershend's mind's eye. He felt a sudden need for a bracer before lunch.
Weaponless and wearing a gold Class 1 (resident) security tag on his left sleeve, Sovershend claimed a table in the mezzanine Rainbow Bar and gazed through golden railings at the Albert Room until a minion arrived to take his order. The hotel's dining room was famous for its quality and infamous for its prices. Sovershend asked for a menu with his drink. People like Sandy, who were armed with a bottomless UniCredit card, did not cross his path too often. Sovershend felt that it would be criminal not to make the most of his good fortune.
25. Postmortem For the PSF
Oscar Brooks, the regional coordinator for the Popular Socialist Front in the north-eastern country of Dunston, was in deep trouble. "I just can't understand it," he protested. "I gave clear instructions to Denton and Murphy. I don't think anyone believes they made a deliberate addle of the job, right?" He looked at the others with a challenging stare.
The PSF favoured open-air meetings in remote locations. Brooks, his lieutenant Bert Shaw and three members of the regional committee were taking a working lunch in the toppled remains of an ancient hill fort. They were sitting on battered stone blocks, one hundred yards from a dirt road and their vehicles. Brooks was pacing up and down in front of the others, waving his arms and half-shouting his indignation.
"I think we're involved in a circular argument here," said Shaw, supporting his leader in measured tones of age and wisdom. "One we can't resolve by just talking."
"Just the same, Brooks is responsible," insisted Helen Lewis, her thin, thirtyish face pinched in anger. "He was co-ordinating Friday's raid on the Mirbank RecCen. And he was well aware of the purpose of the raid – demonstration and certainly not destruction."
"So what are you going to do about it?" Brooks leant forward to yell into her face. "Slap my bockan wrists and tell me I'm a bad boy like one of the little kids at your school? Hold one of your fake seances and get the lads that died to say it was my fault? You ganar dobok! I don't give a bock what you think. You weren't there. You know yog' all about what happened. You were sitting at home on your skinny arse while the real work was going on."
"How dare you speak to me like that!" Lewis aimed a wild swing at Brooks.
He straightened up and hopped back. Robbed of a stabilizing impact. Lewis fell forward onto the grass.
"Pack it in," ordered Trasker. He was big enough and heavy enough to subdue the pair of them without exerting himself unduly. "Honestly! The whole movement's dropping to bits. You're as bad as that lot down South. The mob the Hondos scooped up after a party to celebrate the job they did in Losebridge. Carelessly overconfident. Let's have a bit less scrapping and a bit more thought."
Muttering angrily, Lewis regained her perch and began to brush dead grass from her jacket. Brooks resumed his pacing.
"What about the smoke bombs?" asked Seldon. He was dark, bearded, approaching middle age and puffing at his pipe as calmly as if he were a party to a reasoned discussion.
"What about the madky bombs?" growled Brooks.
"Could they have contained explosives?"
"Of course not!" scoffed Brooks. "Why should they?"
"I was just thinking about the motives of our suppliers," replied Seldon, stroking along his jawline with a finger and thumb to bring his dark beard to a point. "All the damage at Mirbank has put smiles on a lot of faces in the building trade."
"That's rubbish," said Brooks. "They set off one of the bockan smoke bombs to show us how to work them."
"It could have been the only genuine one," said Seldon.
"We've still got one," Brooks recalled. "Bert was fooling around with one. He stuck it in his pocket. He didn't find it till after. Just sit tight." Brooks ran down the hill to his mid-blue van.
"We're going to have to do something about him," hissed Helen Lewis. She was thirty-one, three years younger than Brooks, but she looked as if she had a ten-year start on him.
"He reacting perfectly normally to what he sees as unfair criticism," said Seldon, releasing billows of smoke. "He's sure he did a good job. And we're by no means sure that the people who actually carried out the raid weren't persuaded to go farther than planned."
"I still think he's unreliable and should be replaced," snapped Lewis.
"That's something for the next full meeting, not now," said Bert Shaw, becoming irritated by her persistent venom.
"There you are," panted Brooks, returning to the rough oval of stone blocks. "One smoke bomb." He threw it to Lewis, who caught it clumsily. "See anything wrong with it? Or have you never seen one before? You ought to try doing something for a change instead of sitting on your skinny arse, bocking out words and getting yog' all done."
"I still say you're responsible for the whole madky addle." Lewis threw the smoke bomb back at Brooks after giving it a cursory examination. "It could contain explosive."
"All right, we'll find out," Brooks challenged. "Bockan green wrapper off, give me a count in, Bert."
"Four, three, two, one, go!" said Shaw, activating the stopwatch part of his wrist chronometer.
Brooks twisted the activating ring through a quarter turn. "There, that's set the sobokandar fuse going. Thirty seconds from now, smoke or a bang. Want to hold it?"
Brooks thrust the neat canister towards Helen Lewis, who recoiled in horror. Laughing with demi-demented glee, Brooks threw the smoke bomb over her head. It bounced and rolled down the hill, on the opposite side from the vehicles.
"Twenty eight, nine, thirty!" counted Shaw.
Green fog jetted from the smoke bomb, hiding it from view and forming a curtain which began to drift with the breeze.
"There you are!" said Brooks in triumph.
"We've only got your word it's from the same lot," Lewis pointed out.
"You have my word as well," said Shaw with cold dignity.
"Oh...yoge' vars!" Brooks bit out in disgust. "There's no telling you bockan anything, is there? You'll be telling us we put explosives in the smoke bombs next."
"That's enough," interrupted Trasker, exerting his authority as his patience started to wear tissue-thin. "Fighting among ourselves will achieve nothing. We're going to have to investigate the whole matter thoroughly. And I'm going to recommend we reduce our campaign to harassing tactics only until we can be sure of achieving the agreed aims when we raid a Reclamation Centre."
"Well, I'll vote against it," said Lewis angrily. "There's no reason to assume everyone's as incompetent as this pair."
"You can cast your vote as you think fit, Helen," said Trasker. "But you'll be expected to abide by the majority decision."
"They ought to send you out on a raid," said Brooks, stabbing a finger at Lewis. "Then we'd see how to make a real yadrast of one."
"Flitter!" exclaimed Bert Shaw urgently, cutting across the acrimony to point beyond the hilltop to a black shape drifting towards them from the nearby expressway.
"That's your ganar smoke bomb!" screeched Helen Lewis. Her monster handbag rattled as she dragged out a Heitainan-made Zinder sub-machine gun. She was so intent on unfolding the stock and working the first cartridge into the breech that she failed to notice that Shaw, Trasker and Seldon were running down the hill towards their vehicles.
Unsure of Lewis's intentions, Brooks raced across the oval and took cover behind one of the massive stone blocks left over from ancient fortifications. He drew a needle gun from a waist holster and replaced the clip of solid shot with incendiary, wishing that he had a clip of explosive. A line of shocks ran across the armoured belly of the helicopter as it reached the fringes of the green smoke. It reared away as the pilot gained height and pulled back out of range.
"That's not very friendly," murmured Senior Inspector Lyra Chappell as she pulled what she called her hunting rifle from the retaining clips on the left hand door. "Can you get the numbers of those vehicles, Steel?"
Helen Lewis was struggling to change the clip of her Zinder, her fingers an unco-operative tremble of fear, rage and excitement.
"No, sir." In the helicopter, Patrol Officer Steel lowered her binoculars. "The plates are covered with mud. Which is an offence."
Inspector Chappell opened a firing port in the helicopter's door. "Put a description on the airwaves for an intercept. There's not too many places they can go in a hurry."
Steel's lips moved behind the visor of her riot helmet.
"Down, down, Carson," ordered the inspector.
The pilot swooped towards the hilltop. Lewis sprayed a burst in the general direction of the helicopter, loosing off half of the magazine in less than a second.
Inspector Chappell took a microphone from the control panel and held it to her mouth. "This is the police," boomed from the broadcast speaker on the side of the helicopter. "Put that weapon down and walk away from it with your hands in the air."
Lewis stood her ground and began to fire off the last of the clip as three round bursts.
"No telling some people," remarked the inspector. She took careful aim and fired one shot. Helen Lewis crashed backwards as though hit by a runaway transiter, firing her last three rounds straight up into the air.
"Right, down and land," ordered Inspector Chappell, keeping the still figure on the ground covered.
Brooks crouched behind his block of stone, peeping at the approaching helicopter through a frost-splintered slit in the edge of the rock. Deep shadow swallowed him. He had decided that the wisest thing to do was to stay put and hope that the traffic police patrol failed to spot him. Their defence systems would be scanning for objects in motion but Brooks felt that he would not be detected if he stayed perfectly still.
Patrol Officer Steel climbed nimbly out of the rear of the helicopter and crabbed through the turmoil of rotor wash to Lewis's body. She checked the throat for a pulse, drawing the obvious conclusion from pale eyes, which were gazing from a shocked expression directly at the high and bright sun.
Steel made a wash-out signal, an out-and-in double chop of her hands, toward the helicopter. Inspector Chappell continued to scan the area, rifle at the ready for ambushers, and told Steel to bring the Zinder sub-machine gun and the dead woman's bag.
The helicopter set off in pursuit of the fleeing vehicles in a storm of dust and dead grass. Brooks waited in his pocket of shadow until the police helicopter had reduced itself to a comfortably small dot on the horizon, then he slid his needler back into its waist holster and took stock of his position.
He had no choice but to head westwards, towards the shelter of the dense woods through which the expressway sliced. Open farmland with very little immediate cover rolled away from the hill in all other directions. He began to trot, imagining that he could hear a siren in the distance. The Traffic police in the helicopter were sure to have called for an ambulance to pick up Lewis's body, but Brooks felt confident that he would be safely screened by trees in mid-summer leaf before it reached the hill.
Trasker and Seldon in their much more powerful car had almost reached the Bylstock, the county town of Dunstan, by the time the helicopter caught up with Bert Shaw in the battered Roydon van. Patrol Officer Steel relayed a position report to the ground forces, then switched to the broadcast speaker. Senior Inspector Chappell took her rifle from its securing clips again.
"This is the police," said Steel in a precise voice. "You in the van. Stop immediately and get out of your vehicle."
Bert Shaw decided to ignore the helicopter.
"Must be deaf," remarked Inspector Chappell.
The helicopter swooped down to a parallel course on the right of the speeding van, skimming at thirty feet over a field of ripening corn. Inspector Chappell took careful aim, then fired two shots at the van's engine compartment. A cloud of steam gushed fiercely from beneath the short bonnet and pieces of shattered metal clattered the length of the vehicle before bouncing freely into the lush grass on either side of the dirt road.
"About time too," muttered Inspector Chappell, spotting a flash of blue light in the distance.
The patrol car rounded a bend half a mile away. Pink fluorescent striped on its flanks identified it as a Special Service vehicle. By the time the Traffic helicopter reached the first buildings of the residential fringe of Bylstock, Trasker and Seldon had disappeared.
"Where the fervoek are they?" muttered Patrol Officer Carson, the pilot, fighting an updraught as the helicopter burst across the width of an elevated section of the expressway.
"What do those soboks down there have to say for themselves?" demanded Inspector Chappell. She could see four white patrol cars cruising the streets below them in a rather lost fashion.
"No sign of them, sir," replied Steel. She paused to listen. "Message from Senior Inspector Fowler, sir. She says thanks for your assistance, and her people will take over the hunt now."
"Fer-voek!" Inspector Chappell bit out the word in an undertone. She rammed the rifle back into its clips with careful force. "All right, my compliments to Inspector Fowler and tell her if she's not caught them by now, she's wasting her time. No, forget it. Just sign off. Patrol pattern again, Carson."
"Yes, sir," replied Steel and Carson in chorus.
Trasker stopped the car on the fourth floor of a car stack and climbed out. Seldon emptied a small aerosol spray into the vehicle before he closed his door. Both of them were wearing gloves and old clothes, which would be disposed of as soon as possible to break their trail. The aerosol would destroy any chemical signatures from their bodies, if the claims of the Ferran manufacturers were to be believed.
They walked down the concrete stairs slowly, scanning the graffiti, attracting no more attention than any other users of the car park. A police car ground past as they stepped into the cool, dense shadows on that side of the street. Half-way down the block, they stopped at a Belldan restaurant.
While Seldon ordered a light snack to top off a meal of tartines and tinned beer consumed during their meeting, Trasker made a videolink call to a local number. He arranged for someone to pick them up in half an hour, allowing sufficient time for their light meal and the pursuit to be abandoned. Even if all three of their colleagues had been taken into custody, Trasker and Seldon were confident that they would be out of the area long before the police obtained anything useful from their prisoners.
26. Ambrose of Nottridge in Brivauche
The Department of Brivauche takes in the centre of Belldon's northern coastline, extending between the tusk of Dura and the peninsula of Atmain. A cooling breeze from the sea was sweeping the one-sided main street of Trentec, a small town in a bay opposite Tann's Head, the westernmost reach of the Camerlish mainland.
Shifting dunes of dust were creeping along the sides of the stone buildings, but they were not rising high enough to inconvenience drinkers at the tables outside the town's only bar. Several squadrons of summer flies had taken over the role of mischief makers at glass level.
The conversation was broken by occasional cries of triumph. In a bid to reduce the fly population, the bar's owner had invested in two dozen low-powered laser pistols. The weapons had an effective range of about two feet and a pulse duration of half a second.
Most of the drinkers had a row of crisp, wingless trophies in front of then. The one with the greatest kill did not have to chip in when a group required another round of locally produced cider. Most of the twenty or so drinkers were fishermen, filling in an hour or so before the rise of the evening tide refloated their boats.
Two men were not playing the game. One of them was a local and unarmed. He was wearing a black peaked cap, a thick, much darned, off-white jersey despite the season, thick, balding, corded trousers and seaboots. As a concession to summer and a hot evening, he had pushed the sleeves of his jersey up to his elbows, revealing dark brown, black-haired, indecipherably tattooed arms. His companion, clearly a foreigner, was sitting upwind of Xavier to avoid the faint odour of well-aged fish, which the wind plucked from his outfit.
Ambrose Mellbury of Nottridge, who thought of himself as the only Camerlish smuggler with any style, had a laser pistol but he was not keeping track of his successes. Unscrupulous neighbours had been observed dropping things near his table in order to scoop up a few of the raisin-like objects on the dusty pavement.
At rest, Ambrose Mellbury looked a picture of good health. His tight hunting-green coverall bulged in all of the right places and none of the wrong ones. His limping arrival at the bar had told a different story. A car crash at the beginning of the year had left him with a reconstructed left leg which would not be back to full strength much before Year-End. By playing on his vanity, his wife Lillith had managed to persuade him to use a sword stick as a much-needed walking stick.
Ambrose and Xavier were speaking the coastal dialect, which differed from standard Belldan almost as much as Ambrose's native language.
"Yes, it's all ready," Xavier assured Ambrose for the ninth time. "The goods are waiting for us. I've seen them myself."
The goods in question were Belldan liqueurs which had been transferred already to Sanvo, the largest of the scattering of small islands off the western coast of the Camerlish county of Stanton.
"Our unknown friends are still trying to sell us their protection," remarked Ambrose. "Yogar! You should have seen the krovan they sent with their last offer." He pantomimed mopping his waxing brow. "It took me all my time to say no to that, I can tell you."
"I don't think we're in any danger." Xavier took time to jet a stream of saliva towards the gutter. It missed the nose of a passing dog by a fraction of an inch.
Ambrose downed two flies with his laser pistol and burned a wing from a third. A brace of beams from the adjoining table struck the spiralling fly a moment later. After much discussion, the laser gunmen agreed to bisect the unfortunate insect as a fair settlement of their joint claim.
"As long as they're watching you, not me, we should be safe," continued Xavier, He took his cap off to wipe his forehead with a piece of grey rag. The wind tugged at the slender bridge of black which connected the two arms of his U-shaped hair. Xavier ran a hand across the top of his head absently, re-pasting the strands back into place across his brown dome. "It was a new one that came to see you?"
"A krovy blonde with a tan you could dive into." Ambrose released a deep groan of thwarted passion. "Lilly would kill me if she knew what I'm thinking now."
"I thought you Camerlish are cold blooded?" grinned Xavier. "Especially Camerlish wives."
"Don't you believe it," laughed Ambrose. "Something like that really warms you up. I might have tried my luck, but there was something wrong about her." Ambrose refilled his glass with a delicately green southern wine and held the bottle up to the light to check the level through the dark brown glass.
"How do you mean?" invited Xavier. "Something wrong?"
"Hard to explain, really. She just struck me as the type to try and seduce you wearing a bra full of plastic explosive and fitted with contact detonators." Ambrose glanced along the street, towards the apology for a car park at the eastern end of the row of buildings. "Here comes the lad."
Xavier turned and squinted over his shoulder. The spare figure in a cotton tee-vest and white yachting trousers waved a greeting and continued to approach at a leisurely pace. Ambrose moved a chair away from the table with his foot. Armand Rivaud threaded a path through the evening drinkers. He sat down with a sigh, flapping his sweat-stained, blue and white hooped tee-vest.
He was Heitainan and came from one of the western departments where Belldan was the first language. He was slightly built, with hole-black hair cut to frame a delicate, almost feminine face. Regular and brilliantly white teeth, a vivid contrast with his deep tan, filled to overflowing a mouth set in a smirk of satisfaction and self-congratulation.
"This weather is much too hot for me," he puffed. Belldan spoken with a distinctive, sibilant, Heitainan accent drew hostile glances from the surrounding Brivauches. Ambrose leaned over to the window of the bar and flagged a signal to the owner, who produced a frosting mug of cider with commendable speed.
"Everything set?" Ambrose asked in Camerlish when Rivaud had taken the edge off his thirst.
"The boats are tuned and fuelled," Rivaud assured him.
"Are you sure you want to lead the decoy fleet?"
"It's a job for someone young," returned Rivaud with a quick sidelong glance at Xavier. "And anyway, nothing is going to go wrong, is it?"
"I almost wish something would, just to teach you a lesson," said Xavier. "A man of my age isn't old." He was fifty-four, exactly twice Rivaud's age.
"We know," grinned the younger man. "You just look old."
Xavier spat into the gutter to show his contempt for youth. The exchange lacked heat. Trentec was a very pleasant, relaxing place in summer. Ambrose of Nottridge took a swallow of wine and checked his watch. The yellow-on-black dial was showing 18:40. Their evening meal would be ready in a few minutes. One of the greatest attractions of The Madrigal was the excellent cooking of Angeline, the co-owner.
27. A Night Out For Sovershend and Sandy
A vision of dancing dreadfulness breezed into Devrel Sovershend's suite at the Mitton Gardens Hotel as he was preparing to go out for the night.
"Like it?" asked Jules Sandford, alias Sandy, revolving on his axis several times to give Sovershend a demonstration of a blue-biased flame suit.
"Very decorative," Sovershend replied, keeping his face straight. If you're crazy enough go in for that sort of thing, he added to himself.
"The Camerlish say least when they're most impressed," Sandy quoted, as if reciting a mnemonic to his full length reflection in the mirror on Sovershend's garderobe.
That's not the sort of remark you'd expect from a native of these shores, thought Sovershend. But if he's a foreigner, that could explain his total lack of dress sense.
Sovershend filed the matter of Sandy's origins away in his memory as an interesting but irrelevant mystery.
"Going out?" asked his employer of the moment with devastating perception.
"The thought had crossed my mind," Sovershend admitted, smoothing his very reserved jacket in mountain green.
"I'll go with you," offered Sandy.
The things you do for money, Sovershend mocked himself.
"All right," he said aloud. "I was thinking of getting something to eat, then going on to a club in the Complex."
"Sounds fine," nodded Sandy, having caught the words ‘eat' and ‘club' while basking in the flickering blue magnificence of his reflection.
They left the hotel at street level, stepping into a warm., dusty, summer evening as a clock some distance to their right was striking eight. A walk of a few minutes brought them to the chosen restaurant – an island of lights in a street of gap-toothed office buildings. The area was being heavily re-developed, mainly to provide huge buildings for banks trying to show off how much money they had.
Sandy's off-hand, almost casually arrogant manner in the restaurant set the doorman and then the waiter bristling with a desire to knee him in the yadren or to drop a plate of something hot, wet and sticky onto his thick rug of pale hair. But he emerged from the restaurant unassaulted. Sovershend attributed the miracle to Sandy's habit of distributing too-large tips to handy members of the hired help. Just the same, Sovershend marked the establishment down as one to avoid until memories had had a chance to gloss over.
As they retraced their steps, heading for the city's central gardens, the chiming clock was counting out nine. Sandy was feeling quite pleased with himself, having resolved by purely intellectual means a problem that had been nibbling at him since his first meeting with Sovershend. He had noticed that Sovershend's eyes roved his surroundings constantly – scanning, checking, rechecking, taking in such a mass of data that they had to be looking for differences from moment to moment rather than a mass of details.
Sandy's flash of insight had told him that his initial diagnosis of a low attention span was a mile wide of the mark. In fact, Sovershend was constantly on the alert for danger. His smooth, rapid movements were fuelled by a nervous energy, which held him in constant readiness for trouble – such as the attempt on his life by the man Rossiter at the storehouse. Sovershend was a survival machine in what could be a dangerous world – a world that Sandy and others gifted with UniCredit cards hardly ever glimpsed.
The streets were starting to fill up again. In about an hour and a half, 'lensters would be out on their nightly patrols of derelict areas, looking for diversion. Thanks to efficient policing and a system of monitor television cameras at street corners, the city police maintained an irregular 'lenster-free area in the centre of Dungard.
Knowing the fact but not believing it, Sandy began a vigilant survey of their surroundings as Sovershend led him into the back streets beyond Mitton Gardens. Sandy was more used to driving, or being driven, than walking.
Their destination was the web of gently rotting buildings which formed the city's neo-expressionist, neon-culture, arts complex. The city council wanted to level and redevelop the area but it had been held in check by a perverted guilt fuelled by the words ‘culture' and ‘arts' – a hypocritical reluctance to destroy part of Dungard's architectural heritage combined with a lack of money.
The complex was untroubled by cars, thanks to the inhabitants' charming habit of strewing sharp objects on the streets to discourage vehicled invaders. Most of the buildings had been four and five storey warehouses and office buildings built in darkening sandstone. They had become a confusing jumble of craft centres, art galleries, pubs, clubs and cafés. Each establishment boasted its own distinctive sign-sculpture in flame paint and neon strips. At night, the displays were so bright that street lighting was unnecessary.
Perhaps intimidated by the open curiosity of pavement loungers, Sandy kept his flame suit on ‘low' until they reached the chosen club. His spirits and the flicker of his suit rose in proportion to the volume of the music rolling from a four-piece band on a minute stage. Despite the crush of bodies, the interior of the club was distinctly cooler and more pleasant that the closeness of the evening outside.
Sovershend stayed with Sandy for the first half of a pint of fortbeer. Then he moved away to join a trio of friends, leaving Sandy deep in discussion with a group of fellow youth-recapturing fifty-year-olds. That was one area in which Sandy excelled – getting on with people whom he perceived to be his social equals.