Otis sat still after they landed, letting all the aggressive people who enjoyed jostling each other recover their things from the overhead and elbow their way to the door. The couple behind him were on their feet before the seat belt sign went out, pushing their young boy between them to squeeze past those recovering their things from the overhead..
When most of the crowd had cleared he pulled on fresh sheer gloves. The increased spread of disease made them simply prudent, but he resisted wearing a mask or a nosie in public like many people did now. He recovered his one small carry-on and compact computer, and made his way to the exit.
When he talked to the studio yesterday, they had insisted they would send a driver to meet him. He’d said they didn’t have to bother, but he suspected they might ignored that as they had repeated that they would be happy to pick him up. He refused to play – How many times must I tell you? Sure enough, there was a man in a chauffeur’s outfit standing well back, holding a card that said – Duggan. He was looking concerned, probably because the plane was almost emptied.
“It’s just one G in Dugan chief, but thanks anyway,” he said holding the small case out for the flunky to carry.
“Yes sir, but, uh, close enough for government work,” he said in the oddest stilted manner.
Otis looked around, wondering why the man stood so far from the exit.
“Dead spot for the cameras here,” the fellow said at his inspection, smug at how bright it showed him to be. “Would you follow me please?” he invited turning away. Otis was hard put to keep the fellow in sight as he was still stiff from sitting. But why did he care about cameras?
Outside the terminal, instead of a car at the curb like he expected they walked around the building, to a small lot for employees. The fellow looked once to see Otis was following, but made no effort to let him catch up. Instead of a normal Limo or a simply a full sized car which so many businesses used now trying to look greener, they headed straight for a mildly stretched Jeep Dunestar. The big Grey box had a driver behind the wheel already which surprised Otis. The second man implied they were a security team instead of just a driver. Usually when people were hiring Safety Associates they were getting security for the first time or expanding on very informal in-house arrangements. Otis wondered if they were replacing these men or if he’d be asked to absorb them in his organization. He couldn’t remember the contract addressing any existing personnel. The man didn’t display any hostility, which was quite professional if he was serving his soon to be replacement.
The fellow held the door for him and handed him his case as he entered. The interior was set up with seats front and rear facing each other and the driver partitioned off. Even with the slight stretch it was cozy, although so wide three could sit without crowding on each bench. He hadn’t expected anyone else would be sharing his ride, but there were two men already seated on the rear bench so he took the front. He settled in and made polite eye contact with his companions. He was prepared to ask if they too had business with the studio, but one glance told him they were very tense and expectantly waiting to speak to him. How odd.
Whatever was going on they weren’t just some other businessmen waiting to share the studio limo. Then the fellow holding the door gave a nod to the older of the two that was an obvious Okay, before he went up front with the driver.
Otis suddenly realized with crystal clarity that the misspelled placard and the man’s awkward reply had been sign and counter sign. What were the odds of such a random exchange working? Infinitesimal certainly. His phrase must have been embedded in his statement, certainly the whole thing wasn’t a match, but the fellow accepted it, probably even admired it as slickly conversational compared to his stumbling reply.
“Go ahead Henry,” the fellow who was dressed a little nicer than the other instructed. He hadn’t reached to switch any intercom on, but the Dunestar pulled away smoothly with no delay. His fancy cowboy boots and pearl buttons amused Otis. In other circumstances he’d have asked where the hell he’d left his horse.
“Give us a minute to get away from the terminal,” the same fellow advised. “There are cameras that can see through the tinting,” he said waving a hand at the dark windows, “and there are laser systems that can read sound off the windows of even a moving vehicle.”
Otis nodded agreement, he was aware of such systems, but why would anyone use them on this vehicle, and why there was such need of secrecy? The first thought that had flashed through his mind was that the studio deal had fallen through for some reason while he was in the air, and they had dispatched a couple middle level executives to try to mollify him and make apologies for the wasted trip. But that wouldn’t require such secrecy nor explain the explosive undercurrent of emotion he read in these two’s body language.
One thing he’d learned was not to run his mouth when he didn’t understand what was going on. He’d wait for them to explain what they were doing and why.
He leaned back in the seat and tried to have much more than a poker face, working at looking bored, and managed after thinking about how a yawn would feel to trigger a real one. That produced a blink that shouted disbelief from the number two man. Whatever had them so uptight, they expected him to share their tension, not yawn.
Whatever was going on Otis was starting to think it was going to be very, very bad when he finally did figure it out.
Pretty Boy, as Otis had tagged the leader, waited until they were on the expressway ramp to speak again.
“Damn, you are good,” he admitted. “I was shown a picture of you. Not that great a pic, you have a reputation of being camera shy, but I have to admit if I was holding the picture in my hand I’d have let you walk right past me at the gate.”
“You should see me as a she,” Otis adlibbed. “When I do the transgender thing with a blond wig and heels I can glare at everybody, daring them to say something, and they all look down afraid to make eye contact.”
The fellows laugh seemed genuine, not strained. He shook his head, probably trying to get the image out of his head, and addressed his underling. “Okay, give Mr. ‘Dug-gan’ his things,” he ordered, giving Dugan a sarcastic double pronunciation. The second fellow, who Otis had already decided he’d designate as Loyal Minion, dug in a case and produced two pistols in clip holsters. One was a .22 with a long old fashioned suppressor, and the second was a modern silent 9mm with the special oversized long cartridges that used a binary powder.
When the bullet was well on its way down the barrel, the cores of the powder grains were uncovered, and the chemicals exposed caused an abrupt termination of the propellant burn and a quick drop off in chamber pressure. The stubby can on the barrel end held a silicone rubber bladder and silver wool heat sink that finished off what little of the pressure wave that wasn’t suppressed behind the bullet.
“Whichever pleases you,” Minion offered.
“You can never have too many guns,” Otis informed him, and took both tucking them away comfortably like old friends. That didn’t raise any objection from the men. He took the time to make sure each had a round up the snout, even shaking a round of the 9mm by his ear to make sure it was the proper compressed load that went with the late model gun.
Taking both meant these fellows had one less weapon than whatever they were personally carrying. Handing guns back to them seemed a bad idea. If he got arrested carrying these in California he was dead meat, but at this rate that didn’t seem likely to be his biggest worry.
“IWI,” Otis said patting where the 9mm had disappeared, “Very nice.” he complimented them on the silent Israeli weapon. “A recent serial number too, so it isn’t as temperature sensitive as the early models.”
“Always glad to meet a connoisseur,” Pretty Boy quipped. “Here is your deposit slip and account number for the up-front fee. This is a debit card associated with the account.” The red card with a gold cross had a taste pad. Once you pulled the Mylar tab and touched the square it could only be swiped thereafter by the person who was imprinted on it.
“There are no other signatories to the account, and I assure you the other half will be deposited within minutes of word you were successful. In the event you are not successful, well, we all assume you won’t be concerned about it,” he smiled.
Otis didn’t say anything, certainly didn’t ask, “Successful at what?” He did give the man his standard new recruit stare just to cover up his own inner turmoil. It had the desired effect. No matter how they tried to be nonchalant it was written on their faces these two were afraid of him. Or who they thought he was anyway.
“Really,” the man said visibly regretting the word as soon as he said it. “Not that we expect you to fail or we wouldn’t be here. I understand it would be foolish to stiff you.”
Otis looked at the printed teller slip. It was dated two days ago at the Bern Branch of Credit Suisse Bank for twenty million EuroMarks. He tried to think of the exchange rate and couldn’t. It was – one hell of a lot of USNA dollars.
“Here is your key card for the Sheraton. Your room is directly across the hall from a room that will be vacant when President Wiggen is making her dedication speech tomorrow morning. It’s a clean shot just under two hundred meters to where she will enter at the back of the building. This is a master key card for the entire hotel,” he said offering another. “Wiggen’s security may scan the building for thermal sources before or during her speech. Everything above the third floor on that side of the Sheraton is supposed to be kept vacant tomorrow.”
“There are counters for that,” Otis assured him. So that’s it, he thought in wonder. The bastards are going to put Wiggen out of office in two years, but they can’t wait for a sure thing and want to kill her now. He was disgusted. She was just another politician, and probably a flaming jackass like most of the big shots they guarded turned out to be. But at least she’d had the guts to surrender to Home last year when the orbital habitat had waged war on them. Certainly she wasn’t the mental case the previous President Hadley was rumored to have been.
“These are vital to leave behind,” Pretty Boy said, giving him a transient alien ID card on a neck chain. It was the black sort that indicated a citizen of Home. He had a small zip seal bag with used tissues and other trash. “This is to be emptied in the room waste basket. It has DNA linking to the ID of the Home national taken when he was a USNA citizen.”
The spacers weren’t using those ID cards anymore. Did these fellows really not know that? He decided not to ask, instead he said: “Will the ID show on the computers when the press hack or bribe their way in and check the name to see if there really is such a file? Somebody will do that, sure as hell.”
“Don’t teach Grandma to suck eggs,” Pretty Boy chided him. “It’s all scanned in as a valid ID with long and detailed history.”
That confirmed the two sitting there were Patriot Party. It was sort of amusing they didn’t – couldn’t wear party pins. Wearing a party pin in public today would be suicide. They had recently tried to pull a coup on Wiggen and been handed their butts. But nobody else who would have the assets and nerve to push through such an assassination, or would really benefit from it. Even those opposed to Wiggen were happy she was in office instead of the Patriots by coup.
This meant they plain didn’t give a damn who knew it was them after the fact, which said a great deal about how they intended to rule. The realization of what danger he was in swept over him like a wave, and he was shocked to find he enjoyed the adrenaline jolt. He hadn’t felt this alert and alive since he was in the Trans-Arabic Protectorate, being shot at. The feral grin that came to his face didn’t have to be faked, and made his welcoming committee uncomfortable.
“Everything you requested is in the rear of the Dunestar. My driver will drop us off at a different parking deck and you can proceed with the Dunestar to the Sheraton. Here is a map, and the key card works for the parking entry too. I’m sure you have resources, but here’s five thousand in used bills. Consider it a tip so if you have need of any small items today you don’t have to risk using any cards, just a little extra protection for both of us.”
He knew military personnel from all over before his recent retirement, and despite the government’s efforts to cover up it was painfully obvious a lot of his friends could not be tracked down any more. With one of them serving on a carrier that likely meant about four thousand of his fellow crewmen were missing with him. Entire bases he used to receive supplies from and route traffic through were just missing now from address lists.
The United States of North America had gotten its butt royally kicked, and these Patriot Party creeps were in denial about it. They were covering up the full extent of the damage, but anyone in the service knew too much to piece together to be fooled. The new party’s intention was to take the USNA back to war with Home as soon as they could, and get even more of Otis’s buddies killed. Otis somehow found that a bad idea.
“That should be sufficient,” Otis agreed. “Please don’t try to have me watched. If I suspect someone of being a tail I will kill them without hesitation,” he warned.
“That’s not my job,” Pretty Boy shrugged. “I won’t be contacting anybody who would give a shit until after this is all over. If you see anybody, what the hell, whack ’em. If they are that easy to make I doubt anybody would miss their services.”
Otis made up his mind right then he was going to screw these guys. Not just turn them in and help the government run them down, but take their money and humiliate them. They were the worst sort of every creep he’d ever seen playing hard core like a game, and indifferent to those under them who they regarded as just stage props – spear carriers. With the kind of money he was getting he could immigrate off Earth and not worry about having a job lined up. With that kind of funding he could even start his own firm easily.
“Nice doing business with you gentleman,” he said as they pulled in a parking deck and stopped. “Now go away,” he snarled.