Harry powered down Keith’s console and left the Communications Building. He walked around the inner circle to Lehman Trading. He wanted to see Allyson again and the success of his errand provided him with the excuse. But she wasn’t there. Her mother was. He found her sitting at one of the desks behind the counter gazing at a cargo manifest floating in the air slightly above her seated position. She was looking up. The holographic image lit her eyes with a glow that reminded Harry so much of Allyson’s. Harry found himself fighting strange feelings that he had never before encountered. He had been attracted to women before, but he had never been enthralled by one. Maybe it’s lucky that she’s not here, he thought.
“It’s all here,” Mrs. Lehman said without looking at him. “Every widget and waggle. And the guy that accompanied the shipment even apologized for getting it misplaced. You sure must have put the fear of God in them.”
“Apparently I’ve grown two heads and fangs since I arrived,” Harry said.
Mrs. Lehman smiled, hesitantly. Harry noticed the corner of her mouth twitch. “It might have something to do with the company you keep.”
Harry thought for a moment. Lehman’s husband had been getting things for the miners for a while before he was granted an export/import license. Maybe he wasn’t getting everything through the proper channels. “Can I ask you something?”
“How easy is it for someone to get off this planet?” Harry asked.
“Why? You thinking of leaving already?” Mrs. Lehman teased.
“No,” Harry said getting all serious. He leaned on the counter and lowered his voice as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was saying, not that he had to worry since Mrs. Lehman was alone in the office. “What if someone wanted to leave the planet without being seen?”
Mrs. Lehman stopped what she was doing and looked at Harry. It was a deep, penetrating look and Harry felt uncomfortable in her gaze. He did his best not to show it.
“It wouldn’t be easy,” she said getting up from her desk and walking over to Harry until only the strip of counter separated them. “You’d somehow have to smuggle yourself on board the freighter. I mean, you might be able to hide in the back of one of the shuttles. It’s no secret they’ve got all kinds of nooks and crannies to tuck things into. But then you would have to hide from the crew of the spaceship.”
“I suppose you could pay them off?”
“I suppose you could. But why would you want to? I mean anyone who wants to leave can.”
“But what if you had business you didn’t want anyone on this planet to know about?”
“Then, the person would be returning?”
“No, too complicated. You’d have to hide yourself twice. Once for getting on the freighter and once for getting off. And even if you could get on, how would you live until you made Emerson-5 and then how would you get off there. And the return trip would be just as complicated. It would be easier to request a leave of absence for some phony business, fly away in plain sight, do what you have to do, and come back. No one is going to be checking up on you.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Does this have anything to do with Steve Somerset’s death?”
“In a round about way,” Harry said. He was going to leave it at that, but then decided to tell her the truth. “Quincey wondered if the Directorate had sent an assassin to kill Steve and I was trying to figure out if anyone could smuggle himself in and out without being seen.”
“But Somerset was killed when you were in quarantine. There were no shuttles to or from the freighter until the next morning.”
“What if he came in on an earlier freighter?”
“Only people with specific jobs are allowed to come here. He would have had to been hired and have been working for a mine since no one is allowed to stay who isn’t working.”
“So he comes in two or three shuttles ago, works at a mine, kills Steve and then plans to make his escape as someone who requests a leave because of personal problems two or three freighters in the future.”
“Now that’s possible.” There was hesitation in her voice.
“But not probable,” Harry said.
“It’s just hard to fathom why anyone would want to leave,” she said. “Suppose an assassin did come here. Figure that he had to kill at least two people...”
“Remember you have to be hired to come here. Your assassin couldn’t just hop on a freighter. He would have had to take someone’s place. He couldn’t risk that person showing up. He would have to have killed him and gotten rid of the body. And then, having taken that person’s place, he would have had to work here as that person to avoid suspicion, which means that he would have had to have been qualified for whatever job he was assuming. Which begs the question about leaving.”
“And what question is that?”
“Okay. Suppose he did what you say. His working here under his assumed personality would qualify him for a share of the production. It wouldn’t take him long before he realized that he could make more money working here than the Directorate could pay him for killing a planet full of people.”
“So the Directorate gets rid of Somerset and manages to lose their assassin all at the same time.”
“That’s Directorate business. You’d be in a better position than me to answer that one.”
Harry thought for a moment. There was no way he could answer that question from here. Only Lydia could. Harry looked at Mrs. Lehman. She seemed to know a lot about smuggling and killing people. And there was still the question of why she wanted to see Steve on the night he was killed. “About your business with Somerset...” he began.
“It’s still that,” she interrupted him, “ my business. And that’s just how it’s going to stay.”
Harry realized that he was not going to get anywhere with her on that topic unless he had some kind of leverage. He thought that the threat of death by the Vigilance Committee might have been leverage enough, but obviously either Mrs. Lehman wasn’t afraid of death (which he doubted) or what she was hiding had nothing to do with Somerset’s death.
“You seem to know a awful lot about moving things around unseen,” Harry said after a moment.
“Let’s just say that I haven’t always been in the export/import business,” Mrs. Lehman said.
“What business were you in?” Harry asked.
“Let’s just save that for another time and place,” Mrs. Lehman answered. “If that’s all you need, I have to get back to work.” She turned and walked back to her desk.
“It must have been difficult,” Harry said.
“What was difficult?” Mrs. Lehman asked.
“Having to take over this business after your husband was killed.”
“What makes you think I had to ‘take over’ the business?” Mrs. Lehman asked.
“I just assumed...”
“Well, you assumed wrong,” Mrs. Lehman said.
“Sorry,” Harry said. If he wanted more information, he was going to have to try a different approach.
“Now, go away,” Mrs. Lehman said. She turned her back and walked away from him. Their interview was over.
If he wanted to know more, Harry realized that he would have to approach Mrs. Lehman differently. “Thank you for your time,” he said and then left. As he closed the door behind him, a quick thought burst into his brain. Damn. I should have asked her where Allyson was.