the Cover illo of For-Print VersionNOVELS PAGE

still Wednesday, July 02nd

50. A New Job For Ilse Dortmann

A hired car rolled slowly past the bar called The Madrigal and continued along the sea front of Trentec to the flattish area of rocky ground which serves as the town's public car park. An ancient mariner, sunning himself on a wooden bench, struggled to a position of approximate attention then the driver approached. Even out of uniform and wearing a most un-Dortmann curly wig, the Duke of Atmain's security executive was unquestionably military – ortho- or para-.
   "Your car will be quite safe here, sir," promised the old man in passable Belldan for a native of Brivauche.
   "Thank you," Dortmann said with an easy smile. "Is that The Madrigal down there?" She pointed down the street to the collection of tables. The name board of the establishment had suffered from the abrasive effect of many years of violent weathering.
   "A very respectable place," nodded the old man. "The owner is the nephew of my cousin's oldest daughter."
   "Thank you again." Dortmann acknowledged a creaking salute with a nod and a smile.
   As she walked along the cracked, dusty pavement towards the bar, Ilse Dortmann tried to work out which, if any, of the loungers was Alex. Heads turned towards her, partly because she was a woman heading into male territory. The stares switched on and off in rapidly, she noted. The loungers seemed very preoccupied with their toy-like laser pistols and the collections of small, black objects on the tables.
   Dortmann pushed open the door of the bar unchallenged and stepped into the cool, faded but scrubbed interior. Her sunglasses bleached instantly, giving her perfect vision in the darker room. There was an elderly man behind the bar, looking as if he was on the point of dropping off. Six pairs of eyes inspected her. Dortmann ended her scan of the room at a man of her own age. He was sitting at a table on her right, sprawled casually on a bench which ran the full length of the wall. The dark-haired man met her eyes and rose to his feet.
   "Hello, Herta," he said with a welcoming smile. "I was all set for a long wait."
   Dortmann looked at him for a moment longer, then responded to his smile. "Alex Cardinal! It is you!"
   "That sounds like you've been playing guessing games," laughed Cardinal.
   "I could only think of one other Alex, and he runs a small publishing firm."
   "I'm flattered you remember me."
   "I don't think I've met too many people who lived at a pub, Alex."
   "Uncle Ben's pub, right," grinned Cardinal. He took her outstretched left hand in his right and touched it to his lips.
   Dortmann blinked in surprise, then remembered that Cardinal wore a sleeve gun on his left arm. "That's one way of solving the problem of leaving your gun-hand free," she murmured, moving round the table to sit on his right.
   "As far as women are concerned," agreed Cardinal.
   The grey, slightly tubby man behind the bar came to life and brought a bottle of imported Zinder wine and two glasses to their table. He slumped into his former torpor the instant his rump touched his chair again. The other customer had returned to his newspaper. Cardinal took an orange and black striped box from his jacket and placed it in the centre of the table, under the ashtray.
   "We're on our own now," he announced.
   Dortmann's electronic sensor package and her own human senses confirmed that he had activated a combination jambler and hush screen. Cardinal filled the glasses from the dew-covered bottle and pushed one over to Dortmann.
   "Student days and Uncle Ben's pub," he said, raising his glass to a toasting position.
   "And all those parties you gave," added Dortmann. "Nice to know you remember my favourite wine. It's a wig, Alex."
   "I thought it was," said Cardinal, dragging his eyes from her hair. "You look quite different black and curly. But your face is the same."
   "What a good memory you have," laughed Dortmann. "Now it's my turn to be flattered."
   "I always fancied you a lot in the good old days. But you were always involved with someone else. Or I was. We never seemed to be unattached at the same time."
   "And then we went our own ways after we graduated. The last time we met was in Meermond, four years ago. At a trade fair. I'm sure your hair wasn't grey then. Is that real?"
   "A little something for clients," Cardinal said apologetically. "Enough to hint at long experience, I hope, but not enough to make them think I'm past it. Meermond, yes. We had about five minutes together before my client dragged me away. And when I managed to get rid of him, you'd disappeared. I felt like sticking a hand grenade down the back of his neck."
   "The Duke met a man from Mecklen-Sieberg, who insisted on showing him their factory. And then it was time for dinner and a club. You know the routine. I'd much rather have spent the time catching up with you."
   "Not a routine I know as well as I'd like to. And I was disappointed we didn't have more time together. Perhaps we can make up for it now, if you're not in a hurry to get back?"
   "I have the rest of the afternoon," said Dortmann, a shade bitterly. The Duke had been quite happy to let Demirell take charge of his empire in her absence. A couple of days' leave in Beldon for her second-in-command seemed to be lengthening into a permanent home posting.
   "Sounds like what's his name, Demirell, he's making a play for your job," Cardinal remarked casually. "Surely that's not why you're thinking of a move?"
   "Regrettably, I'm not in complete control of security. I have an employer who knows better," Dortmann said angrily.
   "Sounds bad," nodded Cardinal. "So you're really serious about moving? And you haven't accepted another offer?"
   "Yours was the most interesting, Alex."
   "Good! How do you fancy the idea of working as a group security co-ordinator for the Camerlish Refuse Barons?"
   "I should have guessed," said Dortmann, trying to be casual but looking stunned. "They're your clients?"
   "You know what's going on across the Straits?" probed Cardinal. "What Charlie boy's up to?"
   "Not in any detail. But I do have strong suspicions."
   "So you're not involved in Demirell's antics?"
   "I suppose you're asking that for the benefit of your clients? No, of course not."
   "I know you're not. But it had to be asked." Cardinal softened the intrusion of business with a smile. "Here's a copy of the contract. I think you'll find it gives you complete control of everything to do with security. You'll be working for Grantby's nominally, but there's also a consultancy covering the rest of the Refuse Barons. Apart from the usual corruption and medical clauses, you could be made for life in what has to be the top job in the private security field. You'll have everyone in the business hating you. That blank space on page two is for your salary."
   Dortmann scanned the familiar four-page document in silence. Everything was set out very clearly, without the dishonesty of obscurity and legal deadfalls. "I don't think I could do much better than this," she admitted.
   "The Chairman of the Barons told me to get you, so I thought the easiest way was to offer you everything you'd expect to get out of tough negotiating."
   Cardinal topped up the glasses and accepted one of Dortmann's cigarettes. She sensed that he was wielding a very free hand – perhaps going beyond what his clients would approve as an initial offer, but reaching a fair settlement without haggling. She felt flattered. But she was also shrewd enough to recognize that Cardinal could be trying to make an investment for the future on his own account.
   "I hope you realize this isn't going to buy you any favours, Alex," she told him.
   "Perish the thought," protested Cardinal, managing to sound shocked and a little hurt. "I'm just trying to lure you back to Camerland. But if you need any little jobs doing, remember I have a shockingly extravagant secretary."
   "Fur coats and an expensive flat?" asked Dortmann in a neutral tone.
   "Chance would be a fine thing," laughed Cardinal. "More she expects to be paid every so often. And she expects to share my very expensive real coffee."
   "No favours, Alex. There can't be." Dortmann fixed her morning blue eyes on him.
   Cardinal noticed indications of strain and frustration, which had not been there four years earlier, among Dortmann's laughter lines. "Another test passed with honours," he told her. "I'm sorry to keep springing them on you, Herta. Orders from the client. Well, what do you think of the offer? It's for a minimum of five years. A top job with lots of security."
   "You've convinced me" Dortmann wrote in a salary figure and signed the contract and a duplicate on page four. In the space for the date, she wrote: ‘On termination of existing contract.' "I trust your clients will pay that much?"
   Cardinal boggled at the salary figure, which fell just within his negotiating limits, then he stored his client's copy in his briefcase. "It could help to convince them they're employing the best. I won't be offended if you insist on taking me to dinner after you start your new job."
   "What about your secretary?" prodded Dortmann.
   "She has a fianc้ called Jimmy to buy her dinners. And I never get involved with my secretary. That's rule number one. What about this termination?"
   "That's going to take some careful arranging," Dortmann said thoughtfully. "I'd appreciate it if you'd keep both copies of the contract somewhere safe for the moment."
   "Can I tell my clients you've signed?"
   "Again, I'd rather you didn't, Alex. In case someone talks before I get to Camerland. Demirell might make things difficult if he finds out."
   "Can't think why, if he wants to take over from you," frowned Cardinal. "All right, I'll tell Grantby you're thinking it over. That might make him a bit more eager." He was disappointed at not being able to give him client the good news immediately, but he had detected a note of urgency in Dortmann's voice. "Call this number when you're ready to leave and I'll make the arrangements at this end."
   Dortmann committed the videolink number on his business card to memory, then nodded. "I'll try to make it as soon as possible, Alex."
   "Right, that's that." Cardinal switched off the hush screen. "You know, I've just noticed something else. You speak Ferran with a Belldan accent now. It used to be sort of Heitainan-Ferran."
   "Belldan is the language of the castle, Alex."
   "That makes sense. I hope you don't mind me staring at you so much, by the way, I was looking at some old photographs on Monday. It's a bit like talking to your older sister. Oh, bock! I didn't mean..,"
   "It's all right, Alex," laughed Dortmann. "We can't change the fact that we're both ten years older. Let's not pretend we're still twenty-one."
   "Would you like some more wine? Or would you like to go for a walk by the sea?" asked Cardinal, changing the subject.
   "I enjoy a walk on a nice day."
   "Right, Moushe!"
   Having attracted the attention of the man at the bar, Cardinal asked him if he knew where Xavier was lurking. The grey-haired man raised one heavy eyelid and replied in the almost impenetrable local dialect, turning a wrist through a leisurely half circle to aim his right forefinger at the ceiling.
   "Tell him I'm not going back till this evening, will you?" said Cardinal.
   Moushe responded with a heavy grunt and a grave nod, then he came to life sufficiently to fill three glasses with cider for some of the outside loungers. Cardinal and Dortmann drained their glasses and headed for the door. The elderly Moushe drifted over to their table to re-cork the bottle before returning it to the cooler.
   "How did you get here, Alex?" Dortmann asked as they stepped out into the fierce sunshine on a dusty street.
   "By boat. With Xavier – who seems to be gambling the fare away with his cronies upstairs."
   "Remember the time we went boating? The canoe class in the swimming pool?"
   "The time Cliff Ashton nearly drowned himself?"
   "And Jenny Cross jumped in to save him – then found herself at the deep end."
   "And she had to be rescued too."
   "We did some silly thing in those days," laughed Dortmann. "But they were fun."
   "And no one got hurt," added Cardinal reflectively. "Are you involved with anyone at the moment? Ties that have to be severed?" he added as they paused at the landing stage. The South Channel looked grey and rather uninviting, even on a sunny afternoon.
   Dortmann tilted her head to look up at him, trying to maintain a serious expression. "Trying to find out how much of a wrench it will be for me to leave Atmain, Alex?"
   "What do you think?" Cardinal said, looking out to sea across a ribbon of silvery sand.
   "I think it would be nice to have some of the nights out we never got round to when we were students. I take it you're not married or anything?"
   "I had a near miss once," Cardinal admitted. "But I don't have to tell you how unreliable the likes of you and me are. We have keep having to dash off at all sorts of inconvenient moments."
   Dortmann nodded. "And the other people get fed with all the waiting."
   "Ten years ago, we'd have leapt into Xavier's boat and shot over to Camerland. I wish life were that simple today. Can you stay for dinner tonight as our first bit of catching up?"
   "Love to. I can stay until about eight. It shouldn't take more than an hour to drive back to Briauche. Then a quick flight back to Cavenne."
   "I bet that's in one of the firm's planes," remarked Cardinal. "You've done very well for yourself."
   "It's all become rather hollow lately," admitted Dortmann. "But things seem to be looking up."
   "For both of us," agreed Cardinal. "Have you noticed? We could hold hands like a couple of romantic idiots and still keep our sleeve-gun arms free."
   "How very convenient!" laughed Dortmann. "What more could the ideal security consultant couple ask for?"

51. Ambrose Exterminates An Infiltrator

Towards sunset on a July evening, a pearl-grey transiter rumbled up to a pair of dark blue gates labelled Easton Security Products in large, white letters. The gates parted, allowing the vehicle to cross the uneven, metalled surface of a receiving yard to the gloom of a spacious unloading bay in a functional concrete building. A steel door hummed downwards, cutting off long shadows and the red sunlight. Artificial light, blinding at first, burst into life as the door began to enter the groove at floor level.
   The transiter's driver climbed out of his cab and took off his driving gloves. "Right on time," he called to the two-man reception committee.
   "In your case, punctuality is a vice," remarked one of them. "If not a perversion."
   "Is that any worse than saying the same boring things all the time?" asked the driver. "Like you do, Billy?"
   "Best not be cheeky till you've been paid, Johnny," grinned the driver's mate.
   "Yeah, talking of getting paid," hinted the driver. "Where is it? In the office?"
   "No, it's here," said a voice from behind him. A needler caught the light as the owner of the voice limped into view.
   "Come on, that's this?" protested the driver. "Are you hi-jacking me, Ambrose?"
   "No, I've come to settle a debt," replied Mellbury grimly.
   "A debt?" repeated the driver. "What are you going on about? I don't owe you nothing." He put his hands on his hips and stared at the manager of the Easton depot. "Are you in on this too, Charlie?" he asked in an aggrieved tone.
   "A debt you owe Art Summers," Ambrose Mellbury added. "Who you turned over to the CustEx on Demirell's orders."
   The driver's left hand slipped behind his back casually. Mellbury's needle gun whistled twice. His victim shuddered through a violent and painful convulsion as the sound of a modest explosion leaked from his chest. A small automatic pistol clattered to oil-stained concrete behind him. The transiter driver toppled backwards, his face contorted in agony, bounced from the wing of his vehicle and met the floor heavily.
   "You'll never make it, Dave," Mellbury warned the driver's mate, who stopped in mid-draw.
   "I suppose I'm next?" he asked bitterly. "I never thought I'd see the day you started 'jacking your maccars."
   Ambrose Mellbury returned his needler to its holster and took his combined sword stick and walking stick from the retaining loop on his belt. "We're not hi-jacking, Dave. We're exterminating a rat. That's all. Quite a few people in our line of work have had not very accidental accidents recently, thanks to Johnny and others like him. Art Summers was one of them. Let's go and sit down in the office while I tell you about it. My bockan leg's not very good tonight."
   Warily, Dave followed Ambrose Mellbury to the office. Charlie and Billy got busy with the task of stuffing Dave's former colleague into a large plastic sack. A nearby firm had a contract to fill abandoned coal mines with waste from the local Refuse Reclamation Centre's power generation plant. The shaft made a convenient burial ground.

52. Dortmann Forces The Issue

Sunset in Atmain was still a few minutes away. The speaker on the back of the Duke of Atmain's office door emitted thumping noises. His monitor screen showed a dark-blonde head which could belong only to his security executive. She was not in uniform, having only just arrived back at the castle after her day out. The Duke touched the door release panel and sat back in his chair.
   "Well, Herta?" he asked in a neutral tone.
   "I'd like to see you about the guard placements, sir," said Dortmann grimly.
   The Duke frowned at her "Demirell showed them to me earlier today. They seemed quite satisfactory to me."
   "With respect, sir, it's not Demirell's job to post the castle guards. As head of security, I am responsible for the defence of the castle, and I have delegated guard placement to Westwood, who knows the local risks and exactly how to manage them. We just cannot do our jobs efficiently if you permit interference without notice by a third party. Especially someone who's been out of the area and who isn't current on our risk assessments."
   "I thought the new arrangements made things less complex, Herta," said the Duke mildly. "They reduce the distance some people have to travel to reach their posts."
   "With respect, sir," growled Dortmann, "they also leave gaping holes in our perimeter."
   "Well, speak to Charles and close them up," returned the Duke impatiently. "I'm a busy man, Herta. I can't be expected to act as a referee for every petty squabble over your war games."
   "With respect, sir." Dortmann took a deep breath. "The matter is not petty. Not when the wrong decision could endanger the lives of people living in and around the castle. There can be only one commander here. The smooth and safe running of my Department depends on it. I must respectfully request you do not approve any more changes dreamed up by Demirell without consulting me first. And I would remind you that the terms of my contract give me complete control over all aspects of security."
   "Now don't be silly, Herta," chided the Duke. "I want you to learn to work with young Demirell. He's a bright lad. Remember, no one is indispensable, or even indestructible. And I notice that even you take time off." The Duke offered her a benign smile. "So don't take things so much to heart. You do a good job here. But I'm quite prepared to terminate your contract any time you like if you can't fall in with the way I want things done."
   The Duke made his final statement in a jocular tone – telling Dortmann that her employer would be quite happy to see Demirell sitting behind her desk if she was unwilling to work with him. Dortmann controlled herself with a mighty effort of will, maintaining her professional mask. She knew that if she were to resign on the spot, then there was every chance that she would have an unfortunate accident before she was able to leave the castle. Demirell would take speedy action to protect himself, unsure of just how much his commander knew of his illegal activities.
   "Is there anything else, Herta?" prompted the Duke.
   "I think we've covered quite enough, sir," said Dortmann in a tight voice. "And I have the guard to sort out." She nodded grimly to the Duke, then she turned and left the office.
   "Stupid woman," muttered the Duke when the door had closed. He returned to Demirell's reports on the situation in Camerland and forgot his security executive's problems within seconds.
   During the walk back to her office, along a corridor on the eastern side of the top floor of the keep, Dortmann burned with inner triumph. She had forced matters beyond the crossroads. The way ahead had become reasonably clear – as long as she kept her head. That she would was a matter of simple fact and not false pride.
   The surveillance camera watched her drop into the chair at her desk and turn her back. The office's holowindow became a plan of the castle and its grounds. Dortmann's fingers roved over the remote console in her lap as she reviewed guard placements, patrol areas and the locations of reserves. She seemed to be conducting a re-assessment of Demirell's plans.
   While she had her back to the surveillance camera, she interspersed other commands to the castle's computer systems. A section of a monitor tape of the Duke's office was copied elsewhere. The tape was then erased prematurely, leaving no record of the security executive's visit to her employer's office.
   Symbols on the plan flickered as Dortmann experimented with her command in consultation with the castle's tactical computer. Just as she was deciding that she was satisfied with her efforts, the printer on her desk hummed for a few moments and several sheets of paper dropped into the basket. Dortmann turned back to her desk to examine them, shuffling the thin sheets of paper until the text of her last conversation with the Duke reached the bottom. Apparently satisfied, she dropped the papers into the middle drawer of her desk and switched the holowindow off. She lit a cigarette and touched a panel on her desk control unit.
   "Communications," responded a voice at once.
   "Is Demirell in the castle?" asked Dortmann.
   "Yes, sir," replied the duty officer. "In his quarters."
   "He'll report to me immediately."
   "I don't think he's alone, sir," said the voice delicately.
   "I believe my order was quite clear," snapped Dortmann.
   "Yes, sir." The duty officer severed the connection, cutting off the beginnings of a laugh from somebody else in the monitor room.
   After making a videolink call to Clive Westwood to warn him of more changes, Dortmann sat back to wait. Demirell arrived five minutes later, radiating ill-concealed hostility. As ever, he looked cool and well-groomed. Every dark hair was in its appointed place to disguise its retreat. His dark green uniform looked crisp and new.
   Demirell often boasted that he could go from bed to battle-readiness in one minute. His quarters were four minutes' brisk walk, with favourable lift connections, from Dortmann's office. She allowed herself to wonder whether he had been forced to put theory into practice.
   "I suppose you know why you're here?" Dortmann faced her subordinate with a tall glass of white wine in her hand, but she made no move to offer him hospitality.
   "That, I suppose." Demirell nodded to the display on her holowindow.
   "In particular, these." Dortmann rose to her feet and indicated red areas on the diagram. She was almost a head shorter than her subordinate, but she dominated him without effort. "What I want to know is how you managed to leave these holes in our defences. And more to the point, how did you get them through the tactical computer?"
   "The TacCom was down briefly for a fault trace," Demirell admitted sullenly.
   "What about the reserve facilities on the main computer?"
   "TacCom was going to be down for about half an hour. I was going to run them through when it was back on line."
   "And?" prompted Dortmann.
   "I was diverted by other things."
   Dortmann resumed her seat and dropped her head to her hand theatrically. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, then she took a sip of wine. "I know you'd like to take over this chair, Charles," she began in a gentle tone. "But I think I'm going to be polishing it for a long time to come if this latest display of your ‘competence' is anything to go by." The shadow of a smile, directed at herself for the lie, slipped through. Demirell assumed that it was aimed at him, but a tightening of his mouth was the only outward sign of the emotions boiling within him.
   "Not only did you exceed your authority by changing the guard placements, you failing to check them with the tactical computer and then you went one better than that by not discussing them with Clive Westwood, our resident expert on the local situation." Dortmann deliberately spoke like a teacher correcting a naughty schoolboy. "We're supposed to be a team here, Charles. Still, we're also supposed to learn from our mistakes. But I won't tolerate any more blunders of this magnitude, especially when you're putting other people's lives at risk. Clear?"
   "Clear," said Demirell with a remote nod.
   "Here are the necessary revisions." Dortmann took several sheets of paper from the middle drawer of her desk. "You will report back to me in half an hour to tell me that our perimeter is secure." She initialled each page, then passed them across the desk.
   "Actually, I'm off duty at the moment," Demirell mentioned, requesting, indirectly, permission to delegate.
   "I gave you an order, Demirell," said Dortmann in the same gentle tone. "And I expect it to be obeyed by the man who created this mess."
   "Yes, sir," muttered Demirell. He picked up the sheets of paper and left the office, towing a trailer of reluctance.
   "After all," Dortmann added to the unseen monitor camera when the door had closed, "castle security is not run as a democracy."
   It was the first time that she had ever acknowledged openly the existence of the automatic monitoring system. Dortmann wondered briefly whether anyone would ever replay the tape before it was re-recorded with more pictures showing her at work, and whether her adaptation of one of the Duke's favourite sayings would be noted. Then she turned her attention to the day's accumulation of business.

Some time later, after Demirell had made his report of his mission accomplished, it occurred to Dortmann to pay a visit to the language laboratory. Her Camerlish-Ferran program had not received a booster for over a year, Belldan being the working language of the castle. Ilse Dortmann did not think that her future employers would appreciate a security executive with an Atmain-Belldan accent.

Thursday, July 03rd

53. Ilse Dortmann Decamps

The Duke of Atmain met his security executive at five minutes to noon in one of the corridors of his castle. "We'll be leaving in an hour, Herta," he told Dortmann. He was taking his wife to a business luncheon and then to the races.
   "Yes, sir," nodded Dortmann. "Your escort has been detailed and the flitter is fuelled and ready to go."
   "Good," said the Duke, smoothing his neat moustache with finger and thumb. "I'd like to see you when I get back. I have one or two matters to discuss about the security budget."
   "I had arranged to meet some friends later," murmured Dortmann. "But I could put them off."
   "Well, the matter isn't actually pressing," said the Duke, but meaning the opposite.
   "I also thought leaving Demirell in charge would give him a chance to get more to grips with the problems of securing the grounds. We've had some poachers probing our outer defences. They could give him useful practice."
   "Ah, yes," nodded the Duke. Dortmann had pressed the right button. "Excellent idea. It's good to see you getting on better with Charles. We can always have our chat tomorrow."
   "Yes, sir. Is there anything further?"
   "Not at the moment, thanks."
   Dortmann saluted with faultless precision just before the Duke turned away. Her employer appreciated such military courtesies. She was in full uniform, having just completed an unscheduled tour of the castle's perimeter. The Duke made for his ground-floor map room. His security executive took a lift up to the top of the keep and her office.
   When she had seen her employer and his escorts off on the trip to the races, Dortmann she turned her command over to Charles Demirell. Half an hour later, she summoned one of the castle's service staff and a power loader. Struggling slightly, they lifted a large carton onto the loader and trundled it to the lift.
   The box was a yard square and two feet deep. A mass of instructions surrounding the picture on the front related to unpacking a combined holovision set and music centre. It had been Dortmann's sole contribution to the furnishings of her sitting room. She had inherited an extensive library from her predecessor and an account with a bookshop in Cavenne, but most of her alleged leisure time had been spent reading business papers to a background of contemporary music. She had devoted a great deal of her life to the security of Norman Chatelle's business empire.
   As the lift took them down to the car park, Dortmann felt an urge to explain her mission to the technician. But reason told her that she was not required to discuss her conduct with service staff. Her companion seemed to find the lift's control panel a source of fascination and he spent the descent staring at it. He didn't care why the security executive was taking her holovision set back to the supplier. A surveillance camera swung towards them when the lift doors opened.
   "Green Watch on surveillance, sir," whispered from a wall speaker when Dortmann looked up at the camera. "All quiet."
   "Thank you, Hersten. Carry on," said Dortmann with a nod.
   "Sir!" whispered efficiently from the speaker.
   As anticipated, the camera found something of interest at the far end of the underground garage. Dortmann and her helper loaded the carton through the hatch at the back of car. The first skitterings of nervous tension arrived as she slid onto the driving seat. Dortmann fought a tightening excitement and started the engine. Every sense seemed to be reporting twice as much, twice as fast.
   The steel door split apart as she drove up the ramp to ground level – one half rising into the ceiling the other part sinking into the floor. Dortmann turned right, towards the north gate. Guards at the inner bailey gatehouse snapped to attention and saluted, The road dropped downhill through the killing ground between massive walls to the outer bailey. More salutes followed her across the moat.
   I am the Security Executive, Dortmann told herself. It's normal for people to look at me. It's also normal for them to avoid catching my eye. I affect their lives, so they like to know where I am and what I'm doing.
   She imagined the castle relaxing in a rolling wave as the news of her departure spread. Then she forced herself to ease her foot on the accelerator. It was well known that she never drove through the grounds at speed – so that she could use one eye to check on patrols and the other for the road.
   Five minutes after leaving the castle grounds, she reached her company flat on the outskirts of Cavenne. Transferring her load to a hired car presented a problem, but she solved it by backing the company car up to her hired car and applying some muscle power.
   When she left the company flat for the last time, she was wearing the sort of peasant smock currently favoured by the fashionable middle-class housewife, and her hair was tied up neatly in a plain blue headscarf.
   The staff at the haulage and transport depot gave her the impression that they were doing her an enormous favour when they heaved the carton out of her car. A short, plump, rather plain woman attracts few willing slaves. The bulk of her personal possessions ended up in the warehouse to await transport to the home of Alex Cardinal on the other side of the Straits of Atmain.
   Dortmann surrendered her hired car, holding her face in a demi-frown of concentration to discourage conversation. She had her two suitcases strapped to a small trolley. Five minutes of towing through the crowded streets of a summer afternoon brought her to the northern sweep of the city's ring road.
   The railway station lay 150 yards further on, on the other side of an inconvenient pedestrian bridge. The dumpy housewife coped bravely with the stairs. Blending with the crowds, Dortmann bought a ticket to Morency, the main gateway to Camerland, then she dragged her luggage over to a coffee stall. She felt in need of refreshment.
   Apparently intent on a magazine article which covered recent advances in nuclear fusion technology, she felt some of the tension draining from her body as the train began its electric dash to the northern coast. An hour and a half had elapsed since her departure from the castle. Demirell would be enjoying his authority – and hoping that his boss decided not to return in the morning. But his reaction would not be entirely joyful when his wish was granted.
   A sudden shower gave Dortmann a reason to hide her padded dress under a light raincoat as the train neared the end of its thirty mile-journey. She exchanged her blue headscarf for a plastic rainhood, putting her curly, black wig on display.
   Trying to look as Camerlish as possible, and painted with ill-chosen make-up, she showed a Camerlish identity card – taken from the stock created by Demirell for his agents abroad – and bought a ticket for the shuttle-train. The credit card with which she completed the transaction drew on one of Demirell's Camerlish accounts.
   Dortmann struggled to bite back a smile as muttered Belldan sneers passed between the clerks as she turned away. Despite the convenience of language programmers, which could insinuate the rudiments of the more common tongues into a person's memory painlessly and with very little effort on the student's part, the Beldans clung to their belief that the Camerlish had a genetic bias against attempting more than their own barbaric mutterings.
   A bored Customs official whipped her identity card through a verification slot without bothering to look at the picture. Its owner was clearly Camerlish – every Belldan male knows that the women from the northern island dress like impoverished scarecrows.
   The weapons snooper raised no objections when her cases were passed through it. Dortmann had taken the precaution of dismantling her sleeve gun and distributing the component parts near metal reinforcements. Right on time, the train hissed out of the station and onto the first of five monumental bridges which link the mainlands via the four islands in the Straits of Atmain.
   Joan Mary Spencer's identity and credit cards spun out of a window between the second and third islands to plunge into the chilly waters of the Southbound Deep-Water Channel. Dortmann shed her black wig and the padded peasant smock, and washed away the uncomplimentary make up. By the time the train had completed its ten mile journey to Duddling, her dark blonde hair had been restored to its usual riot helmet style and she was wearing a smart, dark blue business suit.
   Dortmann had expected a few question when she reached the Customs hall, but she was not prepared for suspicion that amounted almost to hostility. Before she could explain that she had a permit valid in any country in the continent of Ferrogyn, the official who had found the holster for her sleeve gun had called a superior and rushed her into a side office. The senior official took control of the problem.
   "We seem to have a slight irregularity here, Vreitan," he began, behaving like a policeman who had stumbled across a master criminal. "Your identity card has an entry code for Belldan but not an exit code."
   "Yes," nodded Dortmann.
   "That is somewhat irregular," frowned the Customs official.
   "But not an offence under Camerlish law," Dortmann returned patiently.
   "And you appear to be travelling armed."
   "As a licensed security consultant, I have an international permit for the weapon. Which your officer has verified."
   "I see!" said the Customs official significantly. "And what is the purpose of your visit to this country?"
   "To take up a post as a security executive," Dortmann said patiently. "The occupation stated on my identity card."
   "I see. Do you have a letter of appointment and the necessary documentation?"
   "Not with me. But I can produce proof of my appointment if you'll let me make a videolink call."
   "And who might your prospective employer be?" frowned the official, prepared to cast doubt on the tale.
   "Grantby Disposal and Reclamation Industries," said Dortmann calmly.
   "I see!" The Customs official had been confronted with a name big enough to make checking advisable. He began to realize that the problem had an unsettling air of authority, and that he was tampering with forces powerful enough to crush him. The Refuse Barons wielded considerable influence in official circles, and upsetting a senior employee of GD&RI could have an adverse affect on his future promotion if someone dropped a wrong word in the right ear. It was unfair, but that remains the nature of life.
   "Shall I make the vid call?" Dortmann suggested.
   "Yes, I think that's the sensible thing to do," agreed the Customs official, implying that he was carving a path through tedious routine.

Ilse Dortmann's watch was showing 17.09. She had been sitting in the VIP lounge reading a discarded newsheet for fifty minutes. The empty coffee cup on the table at her side had been filled twice and the ashtray contained five cigarette ends. She had formed the impression that the attendant at the service counter was also there to keep an eye on some of the patrons. Her resignation had popped out of the castle's computer message system onto the Duke of Atmain's desk nine minutes earlier. What would happen when he found it was anybody's guess.
   "Hello, Herta." Alex Cardinal breezed into the room just as Dortmann's watch was changing to 17.10. "Sorry to keep you hanging around here, but I was expecting you to contact me before you left Belldan. But it's amazing what you can achieve if you can throw a Refuse Baron's name around."
   "Hello, Alex," Dortmann said with a smile of welcome and relief. She was glad to see a familiar face. "It seemed better to do it this way."
   "Oh, well, you're here and that's all that matters. I must say you look quite different without that curly wig. In fact, if you'd done something different with your eyes, I don't think I'd have recognized you." Cardinal reached into an inside pocket. "Your Heitainan ID card, visitor ID card, GD&RI employee's card, company UniCredit card and a keycard for your new empire. Your luggage is on the flitter, ready to go when you are."
   "No more hanging around?" asked Dortmann in surprise.
   "No more," agreed Cardinal.
   They left the lounge and travelled by electric cart to the helipad. The helicopter waiting for them was jade green, striped in gold and it featured prominent GD&RI logos. It bore a certain resemblance to a police helicopter, which could prove useful at times.
   "Why all the mystery, anyway?" asked Cardinal when they were in the air. "There was a story floating round down there that the Customs had caught either an important spy or a major smuggler."
   "Demirell's reaction to my resignation might not be rational. So I wanted to be safely out of the way," Dortmann told him.
   "Surely he couldn't get away with cancelling your ticket?" protested Cardinal.
   "It would be a very convincing and convenient accident, Alex. Charles would see to that. And I doubt anyone would realize anything was wrong."
   "Hmm, yes," nodded Cardinal, admitting to himself that Major Tarpigan would not have the monopoly on convenient accidents. "But you were a bit too clever for Charles. How do you like the flitter, by the way? It's yours."
   "It looks very splendid and new," approved Dortmann.
   The machine staggered through an updraught. "So's the pilot," added Cardinal, tightening his seat harness. "When they find out you've gone, are you going to need a guard for the rest of your life? I'm not doing much at the moment."
   "Only until Charles starts thinking," smiled Dortmann. "Say an hour or two. You're looking disappointed, Alex."
   "I can dream, can't I?" laughed Cardinal. "Tell me a bit more about His Dukeship. I've never had much to do with the nobility before, even phoney nobility. Just how seriously does he take himself?"
   "Well, he's a very shrewd businessman," Dortmann began thoughtfully. "But he has his blind spots."

54. Demirell Triumphant

The Duke of Atmain was both annoyed and surprised. His security executive's massive disloyalty had wounded him deeply – as well as doing serious damage to his campaign in Camerland. Charles Demirell had recalled his network of agents on the other side of the Straits between bursts of violent language at the waste of time, resources and sheer energy spent planning operations that had been junked. And then Demirell had calmed down.
   After ordering a team of service personnel to transfer his personal possessions to the quarters of the security executive, Demirell took over Dortmann's office. Despite the set-backs in Camerland, he had achieved his main ambition. He was in charge of the security of not only the castle but also of the Duke of Atmain's entire chain of refuse reclamation centres.
   Demirell opened a cupboard and took a bottle of wine from the rack. He drew the cork and filled a glass, then he moved over to the desk and took a cigarette from the box. The holowindow was showing a view of number three firing range. Duke Norman of Atmain was working off some of his anger by blasting away at dummies dressed in Dortmann's discarded uniforms.
   Sipping white Heitainan wine, Demirell began to feel almost grateful to Dortmann. In her letter of resignation, she had stressed that an efficient security department could have only one commander – which could only serve to strengthen Demirell's position. Of course, Demirell told himself, there would have to be a number of staff changes to weed out unreliable elements. And one of his first official functions would be an intimate dinner with Jenna Lindstrom, the communications chief, to reinforce cordial relations with his chosen second-in-command.

55. Alex Cardinal At Work And At Home

The jade green helicopter deposited Alex Cardinal and Ilse Dortmann on the roof of an office building to the north-west of the business heart of Leviton, then fluttered away. Cardinal showed his guest the roof garden before he took her down the fire escape to his office on the sixteenth floor.
   "Here we are," he remarked, lifting cases through the office window. He looked up as Dortmann slipped inside, to see a surveillance camera tracking mournfully away in search of something else worth watching.
   "Hello, boss." Cardinal's secretary strolled into the main office as if the working day had just begun.
   "Hello, yourself," replied Cardinal. "I didn't expect to see you here at nearly eighteen."
   "I'm standing by, boss."
   Cardinal assumed an expression of bafflement.
   "Remember?" continued Doris Bedworthy. "You told me the Major was going to call, and to stand by to make sure the sobok didn't run off with the coffee."
   "And did he? Call, I mean, not run off with the coffee."
   "About an hour ago. I gave him the reports."
   "So how come you're on overtime?"
   "Jimmy's going to pick me up here. And I had one or two things to do."
   "Such as getting your hair done. Sorry, Herta." Cardinal realized that he had been ignoring his guest. "This is Doris Bedworthy, my secretary."
   "And you must be Va. Dortmann, the SecEx the boss had to spirit away from under the nose of the Duck of Atmain," said Bedworthy. "Pleased to meet you."
   "Good evening, Va. Bedworthy," Dortmann returned with a slight questioning inflection.
   "A little something to help people remember us," laughed Doris Bedworthy. Even in flat heels, she was a good four inches taller than the visitor. "That's Jimmy," she added when the videolink in her office began to chime. "See you in the morning."
   "On time, I hope," remarked Cardinal, picking up two suitcases. "Would you care to join me in the cupboard, Herta?"
   "You're not one of these Camerlish eccentrics, are you?" Dortmann asked uncertainly.
   "A cupboard-freak?" laughed Cardinal. "No, nothing like that. As a matter of fact, it's a lift."
   Double door peeled apart on the floor above to show a comfortable lounge/dining room. The rooms of his flat had the same lay-out as his office suite but, apart from the toilet/bathroom, different functions. Behind the lift was a kitchen instead of a combined storeroom and photographic darkroom. Bedrooms took the place of Doris Bedworthy's office and the storeroom on its left. Windows, double-glazed with unbreakable laminate on the outside, looked out from the kitchen and the lounge onto rooftops across Liston Grove.
   "I thought you might be safer hiding out in the offices of Julian Legion And Company instead of a hotel," explained Cardinal. "Even the best ones can be breached, if you know how to go about it. Just till you get yourself organized."
   "You mean you live in an office suite?" marvelled Dortmann.
   "Very convenient for work," Cardinal told her. "And there's all sorts of shops, restaurants and so on on the first couple of floors of this place. And before you warn me to behave myself, I remember you always did well in the unarmed combat classes."
   "I do respond to a reasoned argument, Alex," said Dortmann, fighting to keep a straight face,
   "I was thinking about plying you with drink if you were doubtful about staying here," Cardinal admitted. "So it's all right?"
   "It's fine by me, Alex," Dortmann told him with a smile.
   "That's great! Are you hungry, by the way?"
   "Come to think of it, I am. I only had a sandwich for lunch. I could do with a shower and a change too."
   "Right, I'll show you your room and where everything is. You know, I keep assuming we know each other so well. But we're virtually strangers really. To each other, and to who we were ten years ago."
   "Yes, we have a lot of catching up to do. You might not fancy who I am now," Dortmann added with a smile.
   "It should be fun finding out," said Cardinal. "But if you come to the conclusion this is a mistake, don't be too polite to tell me."
   "My eyes are wide open, Alex," Dortmann assured him. "And I'm hardly a wide-eyed innocent. Let's not worry about making mistakes. We're both old enough to know it wouldn't be the end of the world if things didn't work out for us."

After a meal, sitting in an incredibly comfortable lounger with a piece called Midsummer Dreams whispering all around her, coffee and a glass of orange liqueur on a low table within easy reach of her left hand, Ilse Dortmann realized that the orange-flavoured cigarette balanced on the ashtray was her first since Cardinal had rescued her from the clutches of the Customs and Immigration Department at Duddling – her first in over two hours.

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