Sven and Kate had been presented with a real dilemma. They couldn’t rub Nina out before she betrayed them, both because it went against their own ethics and because two of her brothers living back East were connected. Button men, maybe more. The girl hadn’t been in touch with her people since changing identity and leaving EC with the Jensens, but her people did exist…and they weren’t forgiving types.
Neither could they boot her out of Nevada and be done with it. That female was vindictive, secretive, and not about to give up on the biggest potential pile of money she’d ever seen in her life. Plus, most importantly, she simply knew too much to be safe on the loose.
In the end, Sven decided to simply stick a couple of diversion tactics into her emotional worlds on the astral plane and her memory banks on the causal plane, things that couldn’t actually cancel her nasty plans but which might create a few delays. To this were added enhancements to her drive for alcohol, not creating something out of nothing but rather shortening the time line her breakout would take.
Then he double checked his original safeguards in the etheric realm and got the hell out of Nina’s inner worlds, never to return.
Kate slept with her bedroom door locked, a chair against the door, and her right hand atop the Neoprene butt of a loaded splatter pistol. Rather, she tried to sleep. Insomnia ran rampant in the Jensen household for more than a month and a half before Nina did finally break out.
Her method was simplicity itself. She just didn’t bother to return from an afternoon stroll down the hill to the Hungry Gulp.
Going out alone was hardly a general practice at Sandfire, especially afoot, but Sven had advised Homer not to impede her progress. Said progress added up to three hard days and nights of heavy drinking, entertaining stray mutts in back alleys and other wondrous surroundings in return for drug money to add to the mix, and an impressive finale: Busted on the main drag for solicitation, then trying to nut the cop who cuffed her–and, by all accounts, nearly succeeding.
Since the ossifer considered his privates to be private, she was charged with AIOL (Attempt to Incapacitate an Officer of the Law) instead of the relatively benign RA (Resisting Arrest). That took her well into felony territory. If convicted on that one alone, she faced up to twenty years of hard time in one or more of the hundred or so women’s prisons around the state.
The public still didn’t realize that nearly five percent of the entire U.S. population lived behind bars. The smugglers knew, of course. There were more joints in the felons than there were felons in the joints.
Downstairs, Kate knew, Sandfire’s inner circle manned battle stations on full alert. Ordinary employees knew nothing of this, but except for the two men over at the courthouse and little Mrs. Jensen up on the fifth floor nervously singing and vacuuming, every key player was in the SCR watching monitors and waiting for the verdict.
Sven came in the side door at 3:15 p.m., tipping his cap back and scratching his head in the signal that all was well. Two minutes later, Pete Boulder walked in the massive front doors and pulled his nose with the same message. Kah called Kate on the intercom, which fortunately had a flashing red light on top to catch her attention; she certainly hadn’t heard a thing over her own singing and the high hum of the dirt-sucking machine.
Once they were all settled in the SCR, Pete began–with an ear-to-ear grin on his boyish face. “You were sure right about my effect in there, Dad. They all locked onto me like I was the second coming of Eddie Murphy. Sven, he was plumb invisible, I’d say.”
“So would I.” The Seeder took up the tale. “”I’d have liked to been wired for this one, but Pete can correct me if I got anything wrong.”
His decoy snorted. Loudly. “S**t, man, you don’t ever miss nothin’!”
“Would that were true. Anyway, when they swore her in, she gave her name as Tina Terrio.”
A collective sigh made a mobile in one corner of the room dance; they’d all been holding their breath.
“So, that meant the first causal implant must have taken; she no longer remembered ever having been Nina Gohn. So far so good–more than good. Okay, then. After that, it took the Public Defender and the Prosecutor more than an hour to establish the basics. To sum up, she told them she’d gotten out of prison in EC about a year ago and for a while lived with this rich dude as a housekeeper somewhere in Sector Six. Then she got ticked off because the guy was also keeping this little slut who thought she was hot stuff.
“Which, over time, added up to our miss Tina wanting to off the stuckup little bee. But rather than do something dumb like that, she finally decided she’d had enough–so she stuck out her thumb and headed west. Caught a ride with a trucker who promised to run her all the way to Vegas, a fine shiny place for a fine shiny player like her. Only, the driver dumped her in Tono-effing-pah. Um, she didn’t really say effing, if you know what I mean.”
A brief pause for a long swallow of Kah’s finest jasmine tea, then he continued.
“Didn’t take her long to decide she’d had enough of this hick-ass town. Her words, not mine. Judge Weathers, you ought to’ve seen his face when she said that. His Honor doesn’t much appreciate any drunken drifter dissing his district, if you know what I mean. He might have given her a break, but not after that. Hung herself with a green rope.
“Though he did ask her if she’d tried to find work. Even told her that she must realize–everybody in town knew it, even the newest arrivals–that Sandfire was hiring if nobody else was. Which of course we are, when we can find good people. And you know what that marvelous little sweetheart said? She said that Sandfire place was the dumbest thing she’d ever seen, people playing with glass dollars in a place that didn’t even serve real drinks. I surely never implanted that stuff; she hung herself all by herself. Even went on to say that she’d had a drink or two. Probably twenty, of course, but they always say one or two. While doing that, she hooked up with yet another trucker, volunteered to blow him like a tuba in return for a ride on down to Vegas.
“Except, naturally, the trucker was actually one of Nye County’s industrious undercover vice busters. End of story.”
“I’m impressed.” Jeremy’s cigar had gone out. Again. He looked at the tip, decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and let it be. “Sounds like your mind control programming worked out right on target.”
“Well, I’m highly hopefully and cautiously optimistic; let’s put it that way. How about you, Pete?”
“F***, Jensen, I’m going to hire your ass to sneak up on my ex-girlfriend and ger her ass to forget me!”
They laughed, an explosive release of tension. Kate joined in…but fervently wished she could escape these tight quarters and stop her head from spinning with a thousand unwanted thoughts. It had always been this way; she couldn’t let things go and just be done with it. It always took her a few days. Or weeks. Months? Not so much, not lately. There was that.
She tugged timidly at Sven’s sleeve, looked beseechingly up into his eyes.
“May I go upstairs and drink my coffee and get a couple of drags?”
“You’ll be okay, baby?”
“Okay. Don’t fall, now.”
Kah stood at that, gesturing for her son Ben to take her seat at Monitoring Console #2. “I’ll go up with you, Katie, if that’s okay. Wouldn’t mind a cup myself.”
“Sure!” The tiny redhead was immensely relieved. After having been the subject of a murder plot and also having had to worry about the possibility of a whistle being blown on her whole world, she more than welcomed the tall woman’s company and comfort. Kah, she knew, loved her. Not like that Tina Nina Gohn Damn Terrio who had broken her heart.
The departure of even two people made the Security Control Room seem much less crowded. Sven did want to get going himself, though; he needed to wind down with a video game, maybe. It had been exhilarating but also extremely dangerous, going to that courtroom today. He really needed to take a leak, and if he wasn’t mistaken, his bowels were about to demand attention before long.
But first…first he had to mention one more thing before he forgot to bring it up at all.
“You know, it was interesting. I mean, the directive I plugged into the data bank on Ni–Tina’s etheric plane worked perfectly, or at least it seems that way. Now the mandatory DNA scan will match with the authorities already know of her, and all that. But the way her subconscious got the job done, that couldn’t have been predicted from what little I did. For example, I didn’t put anything in there about insulting either Tonopah or Sandfire. I wonder if she exaggerated like that with the memory erasures and replacements, too? It kind of seemed that way, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe Soul was just glad to get back to the Tina Terrio persona….”
No one else had any theory on that one. Well. Since they weren’t going to have to evacuate this fine day after all, Homer handed Sven back his original Box and returned the spare–lifted from Won Ton Sampson’s corpse–to its usual repository in the cellar vault. Sven excused himself, feeling suddenly worn to the bone. An hour or two on his couch usually took the edge off, but some days drained him more than others. This had been one of the worst.
It wasn’t over, either. Katie would need lots of hugging and reassuring this evening. She’d be trying to quit telling herself she was somehow to blame for Tina’s incarceration. Guilt-ridden little deadly Hoelringer. Didn’t matter that the older girl had turned out to be a low-consciousness, homicidal piece of work; Katie was just…Katie. And only he could help her get through the night reasonably well.
Not that he minded. He didn’t; not at all. In fact, he felt a bit guilty, too. He shouldn’t have ever been careless enough to take on an insufficiently vetted slave girl; it wouldn’t happen again.
At least Tina was the last of it; they had a clean crew now. Old Gene Trask was hanging in with them still, though with only Kate to care for him when Sven was busy, it could get rough over time. But that was for another day. For today, he was content.
Except for one thing. The courthouse men’s room mirrors had forced him to recognize an ugly truth: His male pattern baldness was still advancing, and swiftly.
That really ticked him off.