Mike Plested’s office was austere. The space was certainly large enough, but there were no decorations or comfortable furniture. He was a man that thought on the move. Motion was a near constant for him, much like a shark. Four tables just above waist height held vid screens, models of the station, images of the processing plants and mining operation. Some of them were actual physical models, others creations of light. As they entered he moved from one to the other, tweaking things and thinking out loud.
Music that owed a great deal to the Asian continent on their planet of origin, played in the background, nearly sub-audible. There was also a man speaking in a language she didn’t recognize. Lucky stood watching him and waiting to be acknowledged. That was the protocol and as much as it rankled her, she knew that it would do no good to buck it.
Finally satisfied with whatever it was he was doing, he looked up. “Ah, Ms. Goldstein, a pleasure to see you again.” There was a slightly manic twinkle in eyes that were so brown they were almost black. He crossed his arms. “Jeff, give us a moment alone, would you?”
A swirl behind her was the only acknowledgment that the order was obeyed.
Lucky walked over to one of the tables and looked at a hologram of the processing plant. It was there that they took the gases from the planet below and turned them into the stuff that allowed man to cruise the stars. It never ceased to amaze her.
“So, Ms. Goldstein, I’m glad you made it back to our home. I’m guessing that your latest adventure went less than smoothly.”
Lucky frowned slightly. It wasn’t a surprise that he had caught wind of it already. The information network at his fingertips was considerable. The frown came more from his insistence on using her last name. Her father’s name on his lips wasn’t something she cared for. “Unfortunately, no.”
He came around to the other side of the table from her. “A shame, but that’s the way of business.” The orange light from the model glinted off his silver hair. “I’m just glad that you’re safe.” Anyone who didn’t know him might take his concern as genuine. “You’re in a dangerous business. Maybe you’d like a place in our company. We have a new station we’re putting in place next year and they need a security chief.
She wrinkled her nose at it. Being a corporate cop didn’t appeal to any part of her. Sure in theory it would be safer, but working along side a man like Plested, and in her experience most corporate men were just like him, was not her idea of a dream job. That and it would mean she was out of his hair. “I appreciate that Mr. Plested.” She tried her best to hide the contempt for the offer and the man. She wasn’t sure that she had covered it quite as well as he did his. “I’m perfectly happy doing what I do right her. This is a great base of operations. There are some great people here too.”
A divot between his eyes deepened, the nearest thing his face would come to a frown. “Indeed there are. Well.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I called you hear for more than a job offer. It seems there was a little unpleasantness here tonight.”
“Really?” She cocked her head, genuinely surprised by the tack that this conversation was taking.
He clicked his tongue. “Now Ms. Goldstein, don’t play innocent with me. There was an altercation between you and a few of my employees.”
That’s why he called her here? “Oh that. Yeah it was pretty unpleasant. Your employees need to learn some manners. I saw fit to teach them.”
“Those men will be out of work for a few days thanks to your lesson.” His voice didn’t raise an iota, but the temperature in the room dropped three degrees. “I’m within my rights as the head of this station to put you on the next shuttle out of here.”
Lucky put her hands on the table and leaned in. “All due respect to your position.” Her own tone heightened the chill in the air. “Those men had it in for me and a friend. Had I not stood up to them I would likely be the one out of commission. Permanently. And truthfully, isn’t this a matter for Asplund to handle?”
“Ordinarily, yes. Believe me, were it anyone else and I would have him do just that. The truth is, given the… relationship you two have I decided that it would resonate more if the message came from me. You have gone too far this time. Whatever those men had in mind for you and your friend is your word against theirs. Naturally given our history and the fact that these men are my employees and employees in good standing I might add, I am inclined to believe them.”
She bristled. This whole thing stunk to highest heaven. The trio in question weren’t anything like the model employees he described. The idea that the chief security officer would compromise his morals because of some sort of relationship issue was equally ludicrous. Richard didn’t bow and scrape to this man any more than she did. Thankfully the company did do one thing right. The CSOs weren’t directly under the station chief.
Still, as bad as this smelled he was right. He would be within his rights if he played it this way. Mae and Kent could squawk, but she’d tell them not to. She paused for a moment. He hadn’t actually given her her walking papers though. There was more to this. He had hedged in a few places.
“So what do you want?” She stood and crossed her arms under her breasts.
His eyes flicked momentarily down.
Surely he doesn’t? No, sex wasn’t it. For him that would be more about the power. He would enjoy dominating her in that way, but he wanted to defeat her in some other way first. She waited for his answer.
“I want a favor to be named later.” He locked eyes with her. “You’re mixed up in something interesting. I don’t have all of the details, but I do know that there is a lot of money tied up in it and somehow I’m going to get a piece of it. So when I call in my marker you’ll do it. You don’t and you’re out of here, off my station. Fight me on this and it might get ugly for us all.”
Things were suddenly getting even more interesting. If he had caught wind of what she was involved in then there were some bog things at stake. She already knew that there was a big deal around these shipments, but more than that there was something deeper than just a few thousand Vregonian embryos. The fact that Plested didn’t know the details, if he was telling the truth, was even more interesting. There wasn’t much that went on here that he wasn’t privy to. Even more interesting was his last statement. If he was really willing to go to the mat on this one, then there was blood in the water.
She nodded. “One favor to be named later.” She reserved the right to refuse of the favor was too much, but she kept that to herself. She did have a sense of honor and even if the favor in question was somewhat excessive she’d still do her best. A promise given to a man like Plested didn’t trump her life or her dignity.
The placid face moved again, this time surprised. “Very well. For now your place on this station is safe, but no more incidents or I may forget myself.”
“Now there’s something I need to do.” She began to walk from table to table scoping things out. She wasn’t comfortable with where all this was going and the motion kept her from thinking about it too much. She wondered if this was why he moved constantly. The guilt couldn’t catch up with you if you moved fast enough. “I need to pay a debt.”
“Hmmm. I see. Mr. Minkus’ debt I presume?” He practically purred. “He does owe a considerable sum. Do you have the money on hand? I won’t take a marker from you or shift his debt to your back. Cash only.”
She nodded. “Oh I’ve got it.” Absolving Dave of the debt would take nearly all of the liquid capital she had, but it was there to be used. “I can transfer it to your accounts whenever you’re ready.”
“You’re a good friend, Ms Goldstein. A better friend than he deserves.” Plested moved to one of the tables and retrieved a small glass full of dark liquid. He sipped at it.
Lucky was excellent at reading folks. She thought she detected a note of jealousy in the man’s voice. “I guess that’s for me to judge Mr. Plested, not you. Maybe you’d have friends like me if you weren’t,” such a snake, “so closed off.” She wasn’t sure that her spoken words were any softer than the ones she thought.
“I like the friends I have well enough, thank you Ms. Goldstein. I’ll take those funds now.” He waved a hand at the table and pulled up a number. “Transfer them to this account.”
Lucky pulled the e-harp out and used it to get him the money. It was easy enough to go through the motions, but watching the numbers change pained her a little. Dave would pay her back every cent. “There you are.” The smug look on his face as the money showed up under his control made her skin crawl. The amount was probably nothing to him. This whole business left her tempted to pull up stakes anyway. There was no way she would though. She’d stay here just to spite him, though there was more to it than that.
“A pleasure doing business with you Ms. Goldstein.” He extended a hand to the door. “Now if there’s nothing else I have some business to attend to.”
“No. That’s all I have, for now.” She walked to the door and it opened as she approached. Jeff waited for her on the other side. The door slid shut behind her as the killer escorted her out. This time she was careful to stay abreast of him. She doubted he’d cause her any trouble since it sounded like his boss wanted her to continue drawing breath, but better safe than sorry.
He didn’t say a word as he walked with her out of the building. When they reached the exit door he stopped. “You should join up with us. I could use you.”
The thought of working with Plested or someone like him made her skin crawl. The though of working with Jeff nearly made her want to vomit. The various connotations of that final sentence weren’t lost on her, though his tone of voice was neutral. “Not today Jeff.”
“Maybe not today, but soon. You’re gonna need to make a decision. Either you stick with the kinds of friends that just milk you dry, the week, useless ones. Or you find some real kindred spirits. Maybe you and me can’t ever be friends, but you’re like me. Got a killer’s eye. Riding security is a waste of your fine abilities.” His eyes crawled over every inch of her.
“That’s a decision for me to make, Jeff, and I’ve made it. Nothing you or your boss can offer will change that.” She worked hard to keep her tone as flat as his.
“Don’t know ‘bout that. If the boss calls in his favor it could mean a change of heart is called for.” He smiled, a disturbing sight.
It surprised her a little that he would risk eavesdropping. Why would Plested ask the man to leave if he knew that his office was bugged? So she could be pretty certain that he was doing it without the boss’s knowledge. On the one hand that didn’t seem smart. Still a hired killer like Jeff could never assume that his employers had his best interest in mind. The kind of person that hired a man like Hite wasn’t exactly a font of loyalty.
“We’ll see. Now be a good little cur and head back to your master.”
Jeff balled a fist. He wasn’t used to taking abuse like that and letting the person live. His smile disappeared replaced by a hungry look. “Be glad you’re wanted in one piece for now.”
She didn’t wait for him to finish the thought, if there was even any more to it. She left the lobby of the corporate offices and as soon as she was out of site began double timing it for Mae’s. There was a lot to consider and not much time to consider it in.
This time she actually made it all the way back to the bar. She was exhausted. Her nerves were more than a little frayed and she was ready for a good night’s sleep. Mae’s was at its lowest ebb. No one paid her presence any mind.
Once in her room and changed into some comfortable bed clothes, she crawled between the sheets. It was so good to be home, even if the circumstances were far from ideal. Sleep wasn’t long in coming and mercifully there were no dreams.