The Road Of Danger – Snippet 11


          Before he could speak, however, the car hopped forward another twenty feet, putting them about as far beyond the pedestrian door in the center of the facade as they had been short of it on the first try. It looked as though Tovera was trying to shift into reverse.


          “Stop!” Daniel said. “That is, thank you, Tovera, but this is quite good enough.”


          He slid his door back–it telescoped into the rear body-shell–and got out of the car before Tovera could back up anyway. He was fairly certain that she wouldn’t take direct orders from anyone but Adele, and he wouldn’t have wanted to bet that even Adele could be sure her order would be obeyed.


          Tovera was a pale monster. She was a frequently useful monster, but a monster nonetheless.


          The legend painted in bright orange letters above the doors of the building was Bernard Sattler and Company. Tovera had disadvantages as a driver, but her navigation was consistently flawless.


          Adele walked around the car to join Daniel. She carried her data unit in her right hand instead of putting it away in its pocket. Tovera followed; Hogg already stood beside the office door.


          “Both of you wait in the street,” Adele said crisply to the servants. “You’ll attract too much attention.”


          “I–” Tovera said. She held her attaché case before her, closed but unlatched; inside was a small sub-machine gun.


          “I won’t have you jeopardizing the task by turning this into a procession,” Adele said. She didn’t raise her voice, but the words snapped out. “Anything beyond Captain Leary and his aide will make them wonder.”


          She glanced at Daniel, who had been waiting for direction. He noticed to his own amusement that his hands were crossed behind his back as though he were At Ease before a superior officer.


          “Captain,” Adele said. She nodded to the door.


          Daniel, smiling faintly, entered the offices of Bernard Sattler and Company. Rank didn’t have to be formal to be real, and he had no doubt as to who was in charge here. It wasn’t him.


          A clerk looked up from her console on the other side of a wide wooden counter. Another female clerk was talking with animation to a pair of warehousemen wearing leather bandoliers from which tools hung. From the door to the left came the sound of a heavy load clattering along an overhead track.


          “I’m Captain Leary,” Daniel said, pitching his voice to be brusque but short of threatening. “I’m here to speak with the honorary consul on RCN business, and I’m in a hurry.”


          All four employees were now looking at him–and not at Adele, as he had intended. The clerk at the console flicked a glance at the frosted glass panel in the wall but returned to Daniel and said, “Ah–may I tell him your business? He’s pretty busy and I–“


          “I am an RCN officer on a Cinnabar possession,” Daniel said, speaking a hair louder but not shouting yet. “I have RCN business with a resident alien here, and I’m about to stop asking politely.”


          The clerk’s jaw dropped, giving her the expression of a gaffed fish. The workmen turned and strode into the warehouse area without looking back. The clerk at the counter started toward the glass door, but it opened before she’d taken a full stride.


          The burly man who strode out was beardless and nearly bald, but his full moustache met fluffy sideburns. He made a quick bow toward Daniel and said, “Sir, will you come through please? I am Bernard Sattler, and I am at your service.”


          The clerks got in each others way as they hopped to lift the gate in the counter. Daniel nodded to them as he stepped through; Adele followed, as silent as a shadow.


          Sattler waited to close the office door behind them, then seated himself behind a desk of gray metal with an engine-turned surface. He smiled wryly at Daniel and said, “They’re really good girls, you know; my nieces, both of them. But they were born on Kronstadt, and they don’t appreciate the subtleties of my being a naturalized citizen who was born on Bryce.”


          “No harm done,” said Daniel. He appreciated the delicacy with which the merchant had claimed to be a Cinnabar citizen, not a resident alien. They both knew that it was a distinction without a difference when dealing with an RCN officer on a Cinnabar regional capital.


          The office was windowless, but large holographic cityscapes gave depth to three walls. The shelves on all sides contained a mixture of hardware and paper–loose, in binders, and as books. Some of the hardware could be samples of warehouse stock, but the lengths of worn chain and greasy pulleys might better be on a scrap pile.


          Daniel grinned. The room reminded him of the days he had spent as a child in his Uncle Stacy’s office at Bergen and Associates’ Shipyard. Commander Stacy Bergen had been the finest astrogator in the RCN, then or now. Daniel’s high reputation for slipping through the Matrix in the swiftest and most efficient fashion rested on the training he had received from his uncle before he even dreamed of joining the RCN.


          Sattler opened a drawer. Without looking down, he said to Daniel, “If I didn’t think it would insult you, Captain, I would offer you a drink.”


          Daniel didn’t move, didn’t even breathe out for a moment. Then he let a slow smile expand across his face.


          “I’ve drunk some of the worst rotgut ever brewed in a barracks,” he said. “I don’t guess anything you’ve got in that drawer has the chops to insult me.”


          Sattler laughed from deep in his chest and up out a fat, double-tapered bottle covered by an upturned glass. He set the glass on the desktop, then paused with the bottle lifted. Nodding toward Adele, he said, “Will your aide…?”


          Daniel followed his eyes. Adele sat on one of three straight wooden chairs, engrossed in her display. The edge of her seat had been whittled into a procession of cherubs buggering one another, apparently the whimsy of someone with a jackknife and a great deal of raw talent.


          “She will not,” Daniel said dismissively. He took the glass and the chair on the other end from Adele’s; it hadn’t been embellished, but one leg was enough shorter than the other three to click on the floor when he moved.