Episode 5: Unexpected Encounter
Jer shook his head and stepped back from the cab. “Thanks anyway.”
“Suit yourself, mister.” The driver tapped a button on his dashboard and the door swung closed.
A quick look down the block in both directions confirmed what Jer already knew. He’d talked to all the taxi drivers. The cheapest rate had been the cost of two week’s supplies for a ride in a cab that smelled of old tobacco, which was only marginally better than the ambient air
Jer tugged a handkerchief out of his pocket and held it over his mouth and nose. Looks like I’ll be walking this time.
Normally he wouldn’t have minded. The shortest trip was only a few blocks, but with his gimpy leg acting up and air that smelled worse than a caged skunk in a sewer, a ride would have been much nicer.
“Throw hay bales in one pile and wishes in the other and see which one get the tallest,” he muttered.
That was one of Pa’s favorite sayings whenever one of them got to belly-achin’ about what needed to be done.
Jer sighed and recalled the shortest map path on the map in the courthouse. With his back to the building, he got his bearings then started off to the left.
Many of the locals he passed walked hunched over. Their clothes were serviceable but plain, and the looks on their faces resembled their clothes. They went about their business without making eye contact. Most were silent, and the few who weren’t grumbled incoherently as they moved along. Although the majority of inhabitants either breathed through a cloth like him or used nothing at all, a scattering had some sort of breathing device that fit in their noses like a plastic moustache. Whether it actually filtered the air, got rid or masked the stench, or just made a fashion statement, Jer couldn’t say. The folks he saw with them didn’t look like they’d be up for an interview.
He turned his attention from the people to the environment. The area near the courthouse was in relatively decent repair. Buildings were clean and well maintained even if the people looked more like the most destitute of a major city’s homeless population. What sort of intelligence lurked behind the tired, lonely expressions? How many were doctors, engineers, or scientists stuck here because of an accusation? How many were parents separated from their children? All of them waited for the death of the High Priest, which signaled an automatic pardon to all Shechem’s temporary residents.
Two blocks away from the courthouse the scenery changed as abruptly as flipping a switch. The people all shared the same drab appearance and joyless demeanor, but the buildings around him changed from clean and orderly to pockmarked stone, broken windows, and graffiti.
Jer’s stomach turned as he began to consider whether forgoing the cab would prove a mite wise and a shekel foolish. What good would it do him to save money on the cab fare only to get mugged or killed when while walking?
He dismissed his fears as foolishness. No one was even looking at him, and the hangar was only a couple more blocks away.
When Jer turned the corner, the sight of the hangar buoyed his spirits. He grimaced and adjusted the grip on his cane as he renewed his speed.
A man stepped out of a shadowed doorway and blocked Jer’s path. When Jer stepped aside, the man moved with him.
“Excuse me,”Jer moved the other way.
The man blocked the path again and another moved up behind.
Tension radiated down Jer’s back from his shoulders. “Now look, fellas, I ain’t carryin’ much of value, and I don’t want trouble.”
“Hand over what you got, and there won’t be trouble.”
Jer gripped the head of his cane more tightly. They didn’t know who they were messing with, but they might have friends, more than Jer could deal with.
Nahum was watching out the transport’s window as the ship entered the Jebus system. A yellow-white main sequence star herded only a few planets. The two outer gas giants in the system might provide an interesting mining opportunity or two, but that would have to wait until they got the boss out of his current jam. He should have left the mess with Dave Baruch alone, but get a pretty girl involved and the boss’ wits went lightyears away.
Vashti tapped his arm and leaned closer. “Your plan account for Ol’ Man Baruch being in Theopolis somewhere?”
Nahum rolled his eyes. “Four billion people on this planet and you’re worried about running into one old man? You this paranoid all the time?”
“Just wondering how far you thought this out is all.” Vashti shrugged. “If this were as easy as you make it out to be, why hasn’t it been done already?”
“Because people like you jump to the conclusion it can’t be done!” He squinted at her. “Go home if you’d rather.”
Vashti snorted. “Oh no. I’m dying to see you pull off this caper.”
The transport captain came on the PA. “Prepare for landing.”
Nahum leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes as the ship rumbled through re-entry burn and settled on its gear scant minutes later. The ship had no sooner touched down than most of the passengers were on their feet, rooting through bins for their carry-on luggage, and shuffling for the exit.
Nahum stayed still. No sense herding like cattle through a gate. Five minutes later the line cleared and Nahum and Vashti collected their things before disembarking.
The spaceport wasn’t as crowded as Nahum had hoped for. Crowds offered a form of anonymity, a way to get lost from security cameras. Maybe Vashti was right. Maybe this would be harder than he thought.
Someone grabbed Nahum’s arm and spun him around. He jerked free and stepped back.
Old Man Baruch beamed a huge smile. “Well, if it ain’t Nahum Rotenberg and Vashti Osgood. Didn’t expect to see you here. What brings you to Theopolis?”
- Should Jer talk his way out or fight his way out or hand over whatever he’s carrying?
- Nahum and Vashti need a cover story. What do you think they should use?