Jer studied the spaceline worker through narrowed eyes. Paying up front for unknown information sounded like the perfect way to separate a fool and his money. Jer didn’t have any delusions about being the sharpest spine on the cactus, but he knew better than to buy from a stranger without inspecting.
He tugged his wallet out of his pocket and withdrew twenty-four shekels. The would-be informant’s eyes lit up like a spaceliner’s running lights. He came forward with his hand extended.
Jer put his wallet away and closed his fist around the money. “Information then money.”
“Now look–” He propped his fist on his hip.
“No, you look.” Jer jabbed his care at the other man’s chest. “For all I know, you’re running some kind of hustle. If your information is worth it, you’ll be paid.”
The spaceline worker glared for few moments before he turned and walked away. He only managed a few steps before he stopped. He sighed and stared at the ceiling before he turned and came back. “All riqht. I was working at the security checkpoint. Two men and a woman approached. The woman and one of the men had tickets for Theopolis. Their IDs said Vashti Osgood and Nahum Rotenberg. They addressed the other fella as Kane told him to sit tight and he’d be free in no time.” He extended his hand. “Pay up.”
“What’s any of this to me?”
“Your brother’s killer is sending two people to Theopolis.to secure his release. There’s only one thing they could do there that would get Kane and almost everyone else on this planet a free pass off world.”
Jer nodded. The current high priest notoriously refused to grant pardons or appeals. By law, only the priest’s death would release Shechem’s inhabitants. “So why are you talking to me instead of the priest’s bodyguard?”
“Who said I didn’t, they don’t pay for tips, and I got rent due. Just thought you’d like to know what they’re planning.”
Uh-huh. Somehow I don’t believe your altruism came first. Jer pocketed half the money and tossed the rest to the informant.
He snatched it out of the air and counted the coins. “Where’s the rest?”
“That’s all it’s worth to me. Take it or leave it. You’re lucky I’m carrying any real money.”
Another hard glare threatened to incinerate Jer. He left the man standing there and turned into Yireh’s landing bay.
The ramp lowered as he approached, and Ethan stood at the top. “So, how’d it go?”
Jer stepped down into the lighter gravity of the ship. Within a few steps, he went from leaning hard on his cane for support to just needing it as a reminder to be careful. The pain in his leg lightened up gradually, but after so long in normal gravity, the ache would be a while. Maybe tomorrow.
At the top of the ramp, Jer smacked the button to close up the ship. “Let’s find Tamar, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Ethan darted ahead to the bridge, each step launching him further up and forward in the low gravity. Jer followed with extra springs in his step, too, but not nearly as exuberant as his little brother.
On the bridge, Tamar sat at the communication board and watched the external cameras. She greeted them with a smile and an unspoken question in her eyes. Jer settled into the pilot’s chair and swiveled it around to see the others. While Ethan found a spot to lean against the back wall, Jer began his explanation of the court case and the informant. He skipped over the account of the muggers. No sense in worrying folks without cause.
He rested his cane across his lap. “So, that’s where we stand. We can stay here and keep an eye on Kane or head home and wait for the court to send us word that he fled the planet.”
Ethan pushed off from the wall and came a few steps closer. “What about the high priest? Shouldn’t someone warn him?”
“I reckon we could.” Tamar shrugged. “But what could we do that his whole collection of bodyguards can’t?”
Ethan thought for a moment. “Pick Vashti and Nahum out of a group.”
“So we send a picture along.” Tamar smirked and leaned forward. “You don’t really think Kane’s the first guy to come up with an assassination plot against the high priest, do you?”
Jer shook his head. “No. I ‘spect several have tried that particular gambit.”
“The priest will be fine.” Tamar leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. “The real issue is whether we sit here counting our hair and burning through resources waiting for Kane to make a run for it or do we head home, get back to useful work and probably lose Kane when he does take off.”
Jer l nodded once. That just about summed up their options.
Nahum ordered some fancy kind of coffee for Vashti and a good, ol’ fashioned iced tea for himself. Once his thumbprint had paid for the order, a slot in the wall opened and a tray slid out. He left the tray and took both cups. That was against protocol, sure, but someone else could deal with the tray. He scanned the cybercafe and found his partner waving from a computer for in the back corner, a perfect spot for their afternoon chore. By the time he made it to her chosen location, the coffee-heated ceramic had become unpleasantly warm on his fingers.
He set her cup next to her and slid his in the cup holder next to his seat.
.”Am I flying this thing or you?” Vashti pointed at the computer.
Nahum fished his most recent purchase out of his pocket. “You are, unless you want to be here until next week.”
“Right.” she sipped the coffee and looked at the tiny chip in his hand. “You sure that thing works?”
He shrugged. “They say you get what you pay for, so this should work flawlessly.”
After a quick glance around the café, he inserted the chip into the data port on the front of the computer. Now, if the thing behaved the way it was advertised, they could look up whatever they wanted without triggering any warning systems.
Nahum sat back and watched Vashti navigate to the high priest’s official page. Next she tapped a link to his personnel appearances. The list showed location, date, time, and purpose.
“So, dinner with Earth’s ambassador is out unless you have diplomatic credentials you haven’t mentioned before,” Vashti whispered.
Nahum sipped his coffee. “Blessing the sick might work. Think you could fake bein’ deathly ill?”
“Sure, but then what? Say we successfully manage what we’re here to do.” Vashti swirled her coffee cup. “How’re we gettin’ out of there? I ain’t lookin’ for the gallows. Are you?”
“Wasn’t part of my plan.” Nahum chugged a couple big swallows of his tea. “We need something with a time delay. So when he keels over, we’re nowhere around at all.”
Vashti grabbed his arm. “I got it!”
- Should Jer go after Nahum and Vashti, stay on Shechem to watch Kane, or go home?
- What’s Vashti’s great idea?