Harry took a nap. It seemed like the logical thing to do. He was going to be up late. He was going to have sex with one of the most stunning women he had ever seen and the last thing he wanted to do was yawn in her face. When Harry awoke, he found himself strangely hesitant, as if he were suffering from pre-performance anxiety. He tried to shake it off, but he couldn’t. Back on Earth Prime, he had never had any trouble finding good-looking women who were more than happy to be with him. After all, he was Directorate and had the power of the Directorate behind him.
But here on Magnum-4 it was different. This was not just sex for the sake of releasing pent up tensions. This was sex as part of the ‘job’. He was going to have to keep his head about him. He was after information that could lead to a killer. People were counting on him. He found that strangely disturbing. No one had ever counted on him to this extent before. Sure, he had expectations to live up to. The division of the Directorate that was charting his life expected him to achieve certain goals, and once achieved, he was promoted to the next level. But it did not matter whether he lived up to those expectations or not... not in any real sense. If he did, his life was steered down one road; if he did not, it was redirected down another. In effect, it only mattered to him. But here in Nova-3 things were different.
Harry dressed and then walked through the house to the front door. The place was strangely quiet. There was no one about, and it was a big place to be all alone in. The silence was oppressive. The “night” lights were on. In the muted lighting, everything seemed dream-like. Harry walked through what he was beginning to consider the dining room. There was a small spotlight shining on to a note on the table. It was addressed to him. It was from Lydia. It instructed him to take a cigar case from the cabinet and carry three cigars of his choosing up to the R&R and smoke them when he thought expedient. Harry smiled as he recalled the basic Directorate premise that the perception of image is everything. Lydia was setting him up with a small status symbol that would seal his place in the planet’s pecking order.
Harry chose three Iana leaf cigars and left. The estate’s private cable-car was missing. He assumed that either Lydia or Jane was using it. He took the public transportation to the inner circle and arrived at the R&R just a little after 11 p.m. As he disembarked from the cable-car, he heard someone call his name. Looking around, he saw Quincey standing in the shadows under some large leaves in the greenway across the street. Harry walked over to him.
“What’s the plan?” Harry asked.
“Simple,” Quincey said. “We go in. You order up Diana on the holloportrait that I used last night and then you ask the bartender to see Huntington. My guess is that the staff is already on alert to expect you. They are just not on alert to expect me.”
“Are you expecting trouble?”
“You never expect trouble, but you plan for it,” Quincey said. “It would be foolish of Turgenev to try anything, now, in that building. If Huntington is who I think he is, he will be too smart to start something. If there is a problem it will be with someone who is out of the loop trying to impress his boss.” Quincey paused for a moment to take a look around. Then, he turned to Harry. “Ready whenever you are.”
Harry removed the stimulant bars from a cargo pocket in his pants and wolfed them down. “Let’s do it,” he said.
The two of them crossed the street and entered the same door of the R&R that they had used the previous night. There was a waste container near the door and Harry got rid of the stimulant wrappers. Then, he led the way to the bar and the holographic call box. He dialed up Diana Melville’s image as Quincey had instructed him and discovered that she was free. He made the appointment and then asked the bartender to tell Huntington that he was there. When the bartender walked away, Harry and Quincey retreated to the same box seats that they had occupied the previous night to wait. They didn’t have to wait long.
Parker Huntington stepped out from a curtained doorway on the back of the platform and walked down to their table. As he approached, Quincey stood up. Harry noticed that both men were dressed in black, not black jumpsuits, but clothes that were looser, less restricting. Neither man looked armed to him, but then, Harry was unfamiliar with weapons in general and really didn’t know what to expect either man to be carrying for protection. Huntington was thicker, older than Quincey. Quincey was taller and looked more athletic.
Huntington walked up to the table and moved slightly to Harry’s left keeping the young man and the table between him and Quincey. Harry made the introductions. Neither Quincey nor Huntington offered to shake hands. Huntington took a chair and turned it around so that the back of the chair protected his midsection when he sat down.
“I thought we should meet,” Huntington said.
Quincey sat down and leaned forward resting his elbows on the table. “Well, here I am,” he said.
“They tell me that you ran interference for Steve Somerset while he was alive,” Huntington said.
“I still do,” Quincey said.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Huntington said. “With Somerset dead, Mr. Turgenev feels that it’s time to separate his interests from those of Mr. Somerset and the mine owners.”
“I don’t see that happening,” Quincey said.
“You don’t?” Huntington responded.
“As far as I know, the arrangements that Mr. Somerset had with the mine owners and Mr. Turgenev are still in effect. His death does not negate the founding contract that allows this place to run so efficiently.”
“Mr. Turgenev don’t see it that way,” Huntington said. “He feels that Mr. Somerset’s death makes all contracts signed by him, what’s the term... null and void.”
“He will have to take that up with the mine owners and Mr. Somerset’s heir.”
Harry fought not to look at Quincey. For Turgenev to set himself up independently, he was going to have to go against not only the Somerset interests but also the mine owners as well. This was going to be a hostile business take over, and the two men at the table with him were literally drawing lines in the red sand of the planet. He was half expecting Quincey to say, “This far and no farther,” but he realized that Quincey was not giving an inch to the Turgenev interests. If Turgenev wanted to set up a rival ‘company’, he was going to have to fight the mine owners for pieces of the grid. But then Harry remembered that Turgenev had one of the mine owners already in his pocket.
The more Harry listened, the more he realized that Steve Somerset had to die in order for Turgenev’s plan to work. But which one of Turgenev’s men could get close enough to Somerset to wield the death weapon? It had to be someone that Steve would not suspect. Could Turgenev have done it? Harry wondered. Of course he could have, but Quincey had sad that he was not the kind of man who got his own hands dirty. He wouldn’t have killed Somerset himself. He would have hired it done. It couldn’t have been Huntington. He had been quarantined in the freighter. Would anyone else on the planet surface have been brave enough to commit the murder?What could Turgenev have offered anyone that they didn’t already possess? All the people here had to do was ask for it and there it was on the next freighter delivery. So far the only person who gained anything from Somerset’s death was Turgenev. Harry wondered if any of the other mine owners gained anything. Maybe we should be looking at one of his friends, Harry thought.
While Harry was thinking, Quincey and Huntington stopped talking and were sitting across from each other in silence. Each man held the other in his gaze. Harry noticed that they weren’t actually staring at each other. They blinked. But blinking aside, Harry was sure that the two men were sizing each other up and by the time that Huntington stood up, both men knew everything they needed to know about each other.
“Thank you for your time,” Huntington said to Quincey. Then he turned to Harry. “I owe you.” He said it loud enough so that there was no mistake. Harry knew that Quincey heard it and that, in his own way, Huntington had just given him his word in a way that no written contract could have ever upheld. Huntington turned and walked away. He did not go back into the inner building. Instead, he turned at the entrance to the box seats and descended into the gambling pit and walked across the room and into the next section of the establishment.
“Did you learn what you needed to?” Harry asked Quincey.
“And more,” Quincey answered.
“The more I see of this, the more I favor Turgenev for Somerset’s killing,” Harry said.
“You do?” Quincey said. A smile played at the corner of his mouth.
“He’s trying to take over the operation,” Harry said. “In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if suddenly Mine-6 began to expand and it’s hub turned into another city which Turgenev and Harlas could control.”
“But then he’d have to move out of here,” Quincey said. “He wouldn’t be able to run R&R facilities out of two different locations especially if one location was hostile to him.”
“You’ve thought about it?” Harry asked.
“Turgenev was one of my first suspects,” Quincey said. “But the timing was off.”
“How so?” Harry asked.
“Oh, he was planning something,” Quincey said. “Still is. That’s why he sent someone to negotiate with Huntington to come on board. He might even have tried to kill Steve after Huntington arrived, but not before. Turgenev doesn’t like to make a move unless he has a string of contingency plans to fall back on. Killing Steve before Huntington’s arrival would have been too far out of Turgenev’s comfort zone.”
“Harry, most men have comfort zones. They will take chances, but only the chances that are inside those zones. There are very few men who will step out into the unknown. Turgenev is not one of them. If he wanted to make an attempt on Steve’s life, he would have waited until Huntington was in place to protect his back and then he would have struck at me first. Right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if Turgenev doesn’t pull his horns in for a little while. Huntington practically told me that his boss is digging in. If he’s going to try to take over, his first move will be to unsettle the mine owners and get them on his side rather than force them to his will. He’s proceeding as if Steve’s still alive.”
“You mentioned Steve’s heir. Do you know who that is?”
“Haven’t a clue,” Quincey said. “But if he’s someone from off planet, we’ll have plenty of time to see him coming before he gets here. No one on the outside is even going to know he’s dead until that freighter gets within broadcast range of the Emerson beacon. After that, I would almost expect a visit from Steve’s ghost ship.”
“Well, Turgenev still tops my list,” Harry said.
“He’s high on mine, too,” Quincey said. “But then so is Mrs. Lehman and the woman you are about to spend the night with.”
“But you said that neither of them could have killed Steve.”
“Maybe they distracted Steve while someone else drove the shard into him.” Quincey saw Diana appear on the first row of box seats. “Here’s you date.”
Harry stood up and walked over to her. He tried not to appear too anxious, but there was something magnetic about her. She was dressed in a loose fitting tunic. The fabric was sheer and she was naked underneath. Harry tried not to stare at her breasts. They were round and firm-looking and moved in the way that only natural, un-augmented female breasts can. “Good to see you, again,” he said.
“I’m glad you came back to me so soon,” Diana said. She placed her arm in his and steered him to the back of the stage towards a door that was partially hidden by the drapes.
“Wouldn’t you like something to eat?” Harry asked.
“We have everything we need in my room,” she said. Her voice was low and soft and it filled Harry with anticipation. She led Harry to the door. He never looked back. If he had, he would have seen Quincey standing there, watching him being led away. And the man was not smiling.