Chapter 30: Repeat Business

“Clark!”  Deacon beamed as he placed a hand on the man’s shoulder from behind.  “Keep walking, Clark.”

            “Ah, Mister–Iriemon was it?”  The shamed low level salesman showed indignation to the face of danger, and while that amused and impressed Deacon, he simply would not have a scene here.  He tightened his grip and the very reasonable Mister Clark took his point.

            “I’m going to need my ships, Clark.”  Deacon got right down to business.

            Clark laughed wryly, “They know full well it’s you.  They’re waiting to trap you.”

            “Of course,” Deacon said.  “That’s why I require your assistance, for which you will be well compensated.  I note you bring the trap up straight away.  I like that about you, Clark, let’s do a deal.”

 

“I’ve been contacted by that party,” Clark informed Commander Kijé, whom he found with FTF Councilman and company CEO Martin Lockhard himself, newly arrived and conducting his first personal inspection of the completed station.  Lockhard stood with arms crossed and his head tilted back slightly to facilitate looking down his nose at the annoyingly tall Mister Clark.  The worm of a man kept rubbing his hands together and it gnawed at the tycoon’s calm.

            “All I know is that I’m to make certain the ships are fueled and prepped,” Clark said, “on the pretence that the buyer requires additional shunt testing because of the non-standard design.  I was told the details and order to proceed would come exactly fifty hours before the theft.”

            The highly starched Naval Intelligence officer stood, as before, like a pillar of stone.  “You have done well,” he told Clark as though he were a dog.  “You may yet pull something of your name from the muck.”

            Clark smiled amiably.  “It is my purist desire to serve the Federation and the Lockhard Corporation as I may.”

            “I do hope so,” Kijé said with just a hint of an edge to make Clark stop and turn.  “Do as you have been instructed and we shall see about your standing.  Cross me and your head’s on a stick.”

            The junior sales assistant made a stiff little bow and left, very glad to be away.  Commander Kijé obviously distrusted him completely.  Well, Lockhard thought, that’s what he’s doubtless paid entirely too much for.

            As for Clark himself, that was another matter.  Demoted after handing over the Charlemagne’s launch craft to the Rifter scum that had stolen her, they now attempt recruiting him in capturing the frigates.  Why would they trust him if he was nothing but a dupe the first time, the CEO wondered, holding a thin sneer on his lips.  If all goes to plan he’ll get his grade back, but he’ll need to be moved somewhere he can neither do damage nor think all is forgiven.  Forgiveness being an unsound business practice.

            “You don’t seriously believe that worm has either the spine or brain matter to be involved in anything?” Lockhard asked.

            “I’m having him watched at all times,” the dark-skinned officer told him.  “I want to be sure I know exactly what I’m dealing with.  People are often not what they seem in my profession.”  The man’s chest somehow managed to inflate even more as he spoke.  Lockhard was surprised that Kijé didn’t burst on the spot.

            The commander was arrogant beyond words, speaking to him as one might an equal.  None was Martin Lockhard’s equal, certainly not some lowborn ethnic prol, whatever the man’s credentials.  He deeply resented the council’s imposition of the military on him, this was a matter best handled by his own people.   A bridge to burn another day, he told himself.  Right now, he needed to focus on the matter at hand: getting even and turning a profit.

 

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