Nahum stood outside a general store near the center of Theopolis. Why Vashti wanted to stop here was a total mystery to him. After her major epiphany in the café, she hadn’t been forthcoming with details. Annoying, but what could he do but follow her to this store? Here she’d left him on the street wondering what exactly was going through her mind. She’d be getting a piece of his if she didn’t let him in on the secret soon.
After what felt like a couple months, Vashti came out with a vial in her hand.
He took it from her and read the label on the clear fluid. “Almond extract, huh? And what’s this supposed to do?”
“Don’t you remember? On the news a few years ago, there was a story about our favorite high priest and his nut allergy?” Vashti tapped the vial. “That there is concentrated almond in alcohol. Clear as it is, we could to pass it off as holy water or something else harmless.”
He nodded and pocketed the vial. “Then we can find some way to add it to something he’s eating.”
Vashti shrugged. “Doesn’t have to be that complicated. The article said just being around nuts can set off the reaction. Get it on something he touches, and we’re all set.”
“Well, then let’s get to the cathedral and pay the old man a visit.” He stepped to the curb and hailed a taxi.
The trip to the cathedral took too long for the distance, but Nahum didn’t mind the sight-seeing. He’d never been to Theopolis, and they had an hour to kill before tonight’s dinner. Playing tourist was as good a way as any. The taxi dropped them off at the cathedral with only a half-hour to go. Nahum let Vashti cover the cab fare.
She waved for new to follow. “I saw the catering truck around back as we came around the corner.”
Nahum caught up with her and took the lead. They rounded the corner at a speed he hoped split the difference between urgent and suspicious. An unmarked truck halfway down the block had an ant trail of servers in red jackets and black trousers carting sealed containers into the back of the cathedral.
Nahum glanced at Vashti. They weren’t dressed for their part, but borrowing a uniform from someone shouldn’t prove any more difficult than a whack on the head of a couple workers.
They slowed to a steady walk and approached the catering truck. A couple workers offered a squint-eyed look as they carried a container inside. Moments later a white-clad guard came out and strode toward them.
Nahum smiled and showed both hands empty. “Hey, I know we’re late. We got hung up in traffic.”
The guard’s hand rested on the butt of his pistol. “That’s far enough. Who are you, and what’s your business?”
“We’re part of the catering crew, and–”
The guard scowled. “The catering crew all came together after being thoroughly checked at another site.”
“We were late.” Vashti waved in the direction of the spaceport. “Got there just as the van pulled out then took a cab.”
The scowl darkened. “Turn around and walk away before you find yourself in a cell with an interrogator.”
“Could you just cut us a break?” Nahum took a step closer. “I need the job and–”
The guard drew his gun and aimed.
“Okay, okay, we’re going.” Vashti tugged Nahum’s arm, and they retreated back around to the front of the building.
“That worked well.” Nahum muttered.
Vashti sighed. “Guess we should have expected tight security. So what now? Go spread almond oil extract on every surface he’s likely to touch?”
“Doubt that’ll work any better, but we can try that then come up with some other idea for the blessing of the sick.”
At the front of the cathedral, they joined the line of tourists outside the gate into the courtyard. A gal at the gate accepted payment while a hidden speaker played a continuous loop of instructions.
“Do not leave the tourist areas, designated by the silver pathway. No food or drink of any kind allowed past this point. This is a weapon-free zone.”
At the gate, Vashti paid their admission. As they stepped through, a small, curly-haired dog on a leash sat down next to a guard and howled pitifully until the guard snapped his fingers.
“Empty your pockets, please.” He held a plastic tray as another guard joined them.
Vashti dropped her ID, a few coins, and a data disk in the tray. Nahum left the vial in his pocket but emptied his own assortment of odds and ends.
The guard held the tray under the dog’s chin, but after a cursory sniff, the mutt lost all interest.
The newly arrived guard grabbed Nahum by the arm. “Step over here, please, sir.”
“Stay very still, please.” The first guard released the clasp on the leash and gave a sharp order in a language Nahum didn’t recognize.
The dog sniffed Vashti first then trotted over. Nahum’s shoulders tensed, and he willed himself to relax. What dog could get a whiff of anything through a sealed glass vial?
The fuzzy mutt sat at his feet and howled. When the dog handler snapped his fingers, the dog retreated to his side.
“Are you carrying anything else, sir?” the new guard asked.
Nahum patted his pockets, ignoring the vial. “Nothing.”
“Very well, sir. I will have to ask you to leave. You may return tomorrow and try again.” The guard ushered Nahum to wood an exit gate.
Nahum shrugged away. “What’s this about?”
“You must have handled or eaten nuts today, sir, unless you’re carrying something you haven’t declared. Come back tomorrow, and perhaps you can enter then.”
“This is ridiculous.” Nahum frowned.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s a health concern. I’m sure you can understand. This way, sir.” The guard herded him toward the exit gate.
Vashti followed after collecting their things.
Once they were back in a cab on the way to the hotel, she frowned. “This is going to be harder than we thought.”
“We’ll contact the boss. There might be another way that doesn’t involve getting past security.”
Jer weighed his choices. Some part of his conscience told him he had to stop the assassination attempt, but were Nahum and Vashti really that potent a force? The theocracy had been established a few decades ago. As Tamar had said, Kane was hardly the first to come up with the notion of assassinating the High Priest to win a pardon. The chances of finding a unique idea the bodyguards hadn’t considered was pretty slim. Nahum and Vashti weren’t that smart, and Kane wasn’t rich enough to hire a pro.
Staying here was a waste, too. Ship’s stores wouldn’t last forever, and prices on Shechem were insane. Sure. Kane might slip past the patrols, but he wouldn’t be the first to try that either. Escapes from Shechem were rare. Still, Kane might try, especially if he thought he could get away before Jer mobilized.
He turned to his console and powered up systems. “Ethan, contact flight control and get us a departure time.”
“We’re leaving?” Ethan asked.
Jer looked back over his shoulder and smiled. “I got an idea. Tamar, find us a hiding place.”
Tamar smiled nodded. “Going to draw Kane out?”
“If he’ll take the bait.”
“Flight control says launch when ready. They don’t get much traffic, I guess,” Ethan said.
Jer smirked. “Don’t suppose they do. Tamar?”
“Not much for hiding spots, boss. Backside of a moon leaves us half blind. Gas giant rings are like mini asteroid fields, and not much safer. We could just hover somewhere and kill all our running lights. Long as we stay out of the sun, we’d be pret’ near invisible, but that goes for friendly traffic as well as Kane.”
Help Jer decide where to hide.
- Behind the moon
- In the gas giant’s rings
- Out in the open with running lights off