The Road Of Danger – Snippet 73


          Tovera stepped onto the platform. It was four feet square and supported by a cast iron double yoke; a chain hung from each arm to a corner. The cord that the foreman mentioned ran up through the hole in the ceiling and presumably to a switch at the roof level; it didn’t move with the platform.


          Adele got on also. Tovera held her attaché case half-open with her right hand inside on the concealed sub-machine gun, so Adele tugged at the cord. For a moment nothing happened; then the elevator began to rise with a series of individual jerks as though it was being hauled up on cogs instead of a cable drum.


          Tovera was trying to look in all directions, not forgetting straight up through the hole in the ceiling. Adele was determined not to let her servant’s paranoia make her equally nervous, but it was only by effort of will that she kept herself from gripping the pistol in her pocket.


          Adele looked outward as the elevator rose, viewing the warehouse. The second floor looked the same to her as what she had seen at the ground level, and the third as well when the platform rose into it. The warm, nutty odor of pink rice permeated the big building, though Adele didn’t identify any storage hoppers.


          Men–and perhaps a few women, as genderless as spacers in dim light and their loose outfits–worked among the vast array. They reminded her of ants, absorbed in their business, and seemed as oblivious of her scrutiny as those insects would have been.


          The platform rose into the arched cover–it had no front or back, so it couldn’t be called an enclosure–on the roof. It seemed silent after the cacophony within the warehouse proper.


          Adele pulled the control rope firmly. In all probability the elevator would have shut off automatically at the top, but she saw no reason to trust the quality or even the good sense of the engineer–or mechanic–who had designed the system.


          Turning to Tovera as they stepped off, Adele said, “I’m sure we could have jumped clear if it hadn’t stopped.”


          “Yes,” said Tovera. “But if the elevator destroyed itself, we would have been faced with starvation since we couldn’t have gotten down again. Life is filled with dangers.”


          She cocked her head toward the penthouse–actually a shed of structural plastic, large enough for two rooms. “Of course, we could hold out for a little longer,” Tovera said, “by eating Brock and any office staff he has here.”


          Adele smiled as she followed her servant to the door. Tovera had no more sense of humor than she had a conscience, but by observation and analysis she had learned to imitate the sort of jokes that ordinary humans made. The problem was that a sociopath finds cannibalism just as funny as she does anything else.


          So, fortunately, did her mistress.


          Adele stepped in front at the door. “You can avenge me if I’m shot down on the threshold,” she said.


          Does Tovera realize that is a joke? she wondered. Not that it mattered, as her servant would find that response as natural as breathing.


          The secretary at the console in the outer office was male, though young and attractive enough, Adele supposed. Instead of asking the newcomers’ business, he turned his head toward the open door behind him and called, “Hey boss? That Sunbright lot’s here to see you. They’re women.”


          “Well, send ’em in!” said the man within, also shouting through the door. “And tell Herrigord that I’ll get back with him in ten minutes.”


          “You heard the man,” said the grinning secretary, jerking his thumb in the direction of the door. “I’d say he doesn’t bite, but I’d be lying.”


          Tovera grinned at him as they went past.


          Adolph Brock was as squat as a fireplug. If he had been standing, his breadth would have made him look shorter than he was, but even so he probably wasn’t as tall as Adele. He still had his hair, but it was white and cropped so closely that he would have looked bald at any distance.


          Tovera closed the door behind them. Brock barked a laugh and said, “You needn’t have done that, because you’re going straight out again. I’m seeing you to tell you to your faces that I’m not giving you a loan. I don’t consider lining the pockets of a monkey from Kostroma to be a good business decision. Now, out!”


          Adele sat on one of the straight chairs facing the outfitter’s desk and took out her data unit. The room’s furniture was wooden and attractive, though of a heavier style than the appointments of her own townhouse in Xenos. She had expected functional, mismatched pieces of metal and plastic.


          “Since I’m here, Master Brock,” she said, “I’ll explain the aspects of my proposition that I didn’t choose to state on the phone or put in electronic form.”


          “You’ve nothing to say!” Brock said. For the moment, he appeared to be more nonplussed than angry. “Look, I know people in the shipping business and ex-Fleet folk too. I put your proposition to them and they say–every bloody soul of them, I mean! They say you wouldn’t stand a prayer against the Estremadura. She’s bigger, better armed, and she’s got top Fleet officers and a crew they picked themselves from pirate-chasers when the Peace of Amiens was signed and two thirds of the ships went into ordinary.”


          He snorted. “I figure you’re a con man,” he said. “But if you’re not, you’re bloody crazy.”

          “I’m sorry I can’t convince you that investing in my proposal will rid you and your fellow… entrepreneurs, I will say, of a serious overhead expense in the form of the cruiser,” Adele said. “Still, I accept that the only way to change your opinion will be to demonstrate the fighting ability of my yacht. Before you give your final opinion–“


          “Listen, bitch!” Brock said; he was angry now. “I’ve given my final opinion. You couldn’t change it if you offered to suck me off right here in my office! Now, get out or I’ll throw you out. And you’ll be lucky if I don’t throw you right off the roof!”


          He isn’t speaking to Mundy of Chatsworth. He’s speaking to a Principal of Kostroma, a group of people for whom I have no more regard than he does.