The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 26
She grabbed Mindi. “We have to go. Now!” And she hustled the startled young woman out.
“What was wrong?” asked Mindi, once they were on the slidewalk and well away.
“Just a feeling,” said Goth. “After the last time on the sheen clipper, I like to listen to those feelings.”
Mindi nodded earnestly, and they went in search of another delicatessen.
It was late that afternoon when Goth came back to the shop, slipping into no-shape and watching and waiting. She expected to find that the shopkeeper was selling it.
But he wasn’t. He was buying. She had to wait until the shop closed to see that. He sent his employees home, locked the doors, turned off the lights that weren’t in the window display and walked through to a back room. Goth followed, just to make sure he’d left, and to see if he turned on any alarms before she searched the place, using her klatha skill to get the past from its walls. But he wasn’t leaving. He went into what had plainly been intended as a store-room — and still had a few boxes in it, as well as a simple cot, closet and a chair. Two of the boxes had been pushed together to make a table, on which reposed a loaf of ordinary bread on a cutting-board, and a set of very precise scales. The owner cut a slice of the bread, unlocked a small cupboard set into the wall, and took out the odd-shaped bottle. Then, he carefully weighed out some of the pungent spice, sprinkled it on his bread, and started to eat it in tiny, appreciative bites, savoring each mouthful.
Goth stepped back into the shadows and out of no-shape. She took out her Clipe pistol and stepped into view. “Got a few questions to ask you,” she said in her best Hulik-the-professional IS agent voice. “Stay calm and answer them, and no-one gets hurt.”
The man sighed. “Do you have to spoil my one pleasure, my one decent meal of the day? Can’t it wait until I’m finished?” And he took a large bite of his bread.
Goth had expected pretty much anything else as a response. She actually didn’t quite know what to do. So she ‘ported his little spice bottle into her hand. When he stopped his careful chewing and realized it was gone, and that she was holding it. … That got his attention.
“Please. I… I’ve paid for that one,” he said. “And I haven’t got any more money. I’m selling off all the stock I’ve got. I should have enough to settle up.”
“You can have it back if I get the answers I’m looking for,” said Goth. “I want to know where this stuff is coming from.”
He looked at her and sighed. “You’re either from some kind of anti-drug-enforcement agency, or someone planning to muscle in on the trade. So I can’t really tell you. It would stop my supply, and then I’d starve to death. It’s a horrible way to die, especially for a lover of fine food. So just kill me. If you let me finish first, that would be kind.”
“I’m not competition, and I’m not part of any anti-drug agency, and you can finish your meal and have your bottle back. I just need to track the source down. I want…”
“Don’t do it, girl,” he interrupted. “I thought if I got the quantities small enough it would just be a flavor enhancer. But you can’t. I tried. Patham, I tried.”
“I don’t want to eat the stuff,” said Goth, rolling her eyes. “I just need to find the planet it comes from.”
“I suppose that would be the most effective way of destroying it. Anyway I can’t tell you. It comes from somewhere out past the frontier. I just buy it. And if you destroyed the crop, I couldn’t.”
“I’ve no interest in destroying it. I’ve no interest in it at all, I’m just looking for someone who is on that world. A missing person,” said Goth, irritably. “Just tell me who you buy it from.”
“Drymocks. Purveyors of furs, luxury goods, fine liquors and spices. Now can I have my paratha back? Please?”
Goth took a long careful look at the spice bottle, memorizing the details… and noticed that the bottle had been sealed with some kind of hard wax, and that in it, there was a neat little imprint — small letters pressed into the wax, broken by the bottle being opened. Other than that, it was a plain if oddly-shaped bottle. The spice itself was a dusty red.
The man was getting anxious, had gotten up — and still had his breadknife in hand. She could have dealt with that, but there was nothing to gain by not giving it back to him. So she held it out. He snatched it and clutched it to himself. And now he seemed more inclined to talk. “You won’t try it, will you?” he said, anxiously. “It’s not worth it. I thought… I thought it was manageable. It’s not. Not even in the smallest quantities. Now all my food — even Vegtam caviar — just tastes like ashes.”
“I’m not planning to, no. As I said, I’m actually looking for a missing person… or persons.”
“They wanted me to sell it in my shop…” He started to cry. “Thirty years I’ve spent building up the business, the best and finest flavors. All lost to me now. I can’t taste them anymore.”
Goth left him to his regrets. A little more research found the wholesaler, Drymocks. And standing in no-shape she saw a last layer of little bottles on a pallet in their secure store — and overheard that the SS Bolivar was due soon. They hoped that the supply would last…
She had a ship’s name, and, while she was there, she took a bottle of the paratha to examine. She understood, when she looked at it, why Pausert’s mother had dropped the bottle. Because imprinted into the wax in tiny letters was Pausert’s father’s name: Lt.Com. Kaen ISN.
Goth just had to wait for the ship to land at the port. It was, she established, a regular visitor to Morteen. It had a shipping agent, and they had a schedule — at least its official one. It wasn’t a fast ship, plying a regular route between several worlds on the borders of Imperial space, finishing its route on Iradalia, before taking a long run back to Morteen. Goth’s heart skipped a beat seeing that. Iradalia… She knew the captain had been heading toward the long-simmering war between Iradalia and Karoda. Be rather neat if she ended up there…
In the meantime, she had her own pair of lovebirds to settle. That proved less difficult than she had feared. Woton, when he arrived, was a solid young man. He was in initially rather suspicious of Goth having had a role in Mindi’s disappearance and kidnapping — but once the hugging and kissing had eased off and Mindi had tearfully told him her tale, that changed. Then he was just embarrassingly grateful. He was now curious, however, about how Goth had managed it all.
He had, she decided, some of the common sense Mindi lacked. So she gave him a story he could believe. “Let’s just say Imperial Security has a number of agencies, and they recruit people from higher gravity worlds and give us special training and equipment. I can’t really say any more. My superiors wouldn’t be pleased at me saying that much, or… well, I should have left Mindi. That was not part of my task, and I don’t want it trickling back to them. That could have bad consequences for all of us.”
It was amazing how people’s imagination filled in the gaps. Goth was sure she couldn’t have made up all those details if she’d tried for a month. It made leaving quite easy — which was helped by the fact that Woton was a skilled hyper-electronic engineer, a trade much in demand at the Cascades, quite easy.
Goth was very glad to be on her own again. She celebrated by visiting the Cascades and, after wandering around a little in no-shape, being quite glad the Leewit wasn’t here. Her little sister liked to play cards, and had never really accepted that it was probably her klatha skill that made her win. Even when Goth had pointed it out, the Leewit didn’t consider it cheating. She took a serious objection to ordinary cheating, though. Goth did too, but Goth didn’t break things with her ultrasonic whistles. She just relieved the cheats of their own money. She even gave some back to the victims.
Still, there were quite a lot of Imperial maels in her purse by the time the SS Bolivar got into port, and offloaded its cargo. That was just as well, because the agent wasn’t keen on selling her a passage. “It’s a freighter, Miss. They don’t take passengers.”