Everyone thought Seven’s idea was a good one. After all, each and every one of them had felt the bite of being hunted, in a very real sense cornered, besieged in their own homes and places of business. You bet it was about time to bite back! Though it did take some days of muttering and vacant stares before Gene Trask solved the how of the thing.
“Set me up as bait,” the crusty 88-year-old suggested. “It’s about all I’m good for.”
They’d been doubtful at first. “Could be dangerous as Hell,” Jeremy Boulder advised, stating the obvious.
“No way!” That was Kate’s blunt input. She loved Gene deeply. The thought of putting him at risk pushed at least 20 or 30 panic buttons in her paranoid schizophrenic brain.
Sven, however, considered the idea inspirational as all get-out. Operation Seaboard would require his absence from Nevada for some time. Kate needed to go with her Master; a prolonged separation would ratchet up her anxiety attacks to the point of bursting her mental bolts. Plus, if Gene stayed in the apartment while they were gone, one of the Boulders or Arbogasts would have to check on him several times a day.
An hour after Trask made the suggestion, even Kate agreed. Technically, her wholehearted support was not precisely required–Sven being her Master and all–but mental health requirements transcended Master/slave considerations…big time.
By February first, they were on a commercial flight from Las Vegas to Old Newark in Sector Nine, EC Megalopolis. Their party numbered four, Pete Boulder having insisted on coming along. The other three were more than glad to have him, and since two of the six new employees in Sandfire Security were working out extremely well, his Dad could spare him for a few weeks.
They set up shop in a wealthy neighborhood just over the line in Sector Ten, purchasing a two acre estate on lease option. Sven had studied real estate investing intensively at one time and, having owned a similar upscale place before going black, knew a truth few recognized: It was actually easy as falling off the wagon to buy a really expensive place directly from a desperate or “motivated” seller without so much as a credit check. Easier by far than buying some dinky little two bedroom starter home; all you needed was a decent suit of clothes, a fresh shave and haircut, and a believable line of B.S. Go figure.
So they did that.
Once settled in, they rehearsed their roles. Gene became Burberry Mansk, a retired inventor who not only feared death but had begun dropping things. He called the Guild in desperation to see if a Seeder could help. Not certain all of his problems related to old age, he suspected certain “feelings” he had were caused by something that might be fixable…and price was no object; he would gladly pay double the standard fee if it could be done quickly–within a week. At 88 years of age, he was not prepared to be patient.
Kate, dressed in butt-enhancing designer cutoff jeans that also made her awesome gymnast’s calves stand out dramatically, added a forest green fringed leather blouse, a platinum blonde wig, and sky blue contact lenses. She would be Penny, Gene’s young, mind-distracting “nurse” who gave him his meals–and his sponge baths. Money talks.
Pete was now Big John, bodyguard to Mr. Mansk. Sven would hopefully not be seen at all by anyone who mattered, but just in case, he was prepared to use the same pseudonym, Martin Tenace, under which he had persuaded the mansion’s seller to part with a five hundred thousand nud home for virtually nothing down–and, as predicted, no credit check.
They dressed up a few of the downstairs rooms, grateful to the seller for having left so much furniture on the premises. A quick online order had triggered a ComEast contract, connecting the necessary puter. Then it was time for a quick riffle through the phone book–still called a phone book despite the puter comm takeover. Guild contact numbers varied, but with a pattern; Central Switchboard reports were regularly studied by management for various (A.S.P. would say nefarious) reasons. This organizational detail, Sven told his co-conspirators, was one of the very few things most front line Seeders knew about the Guild’s inner workings, and a key to their plan.
After two days of setup and rehearsal, they were ready. Gene punched in the number. His voice sounded old, and he was calling from a wealthy area. So he was new in this Sector; rich old dudes moved when and where the whim took them, didn’t they? As always, the first 15,000 credits (for the first client contract) would be transferred from “Mr. Mansk’s” bank to a Guild trust account prior to any actual work being done. A Guild Rep could call on Mr. Mansk the following Monday; would that be acceptable? Yes? Good.
No, fasting was not necessary, though limiting fluid intake was always a good idea as Mr. Mansk would be sitting or lying in one spot for the duration of the Rep’s inner work–unless Mr. Mansk was on a catheter? No? Okay, then.
How long would it take? From the symptoms described, Call Number One might require up to two hours. Call Number Two–scheduled a few days later to allow Mr. Trask any needed recovery time between visits–might perhaps take just a bit longer.
The old man hung up the phone with an undeniable air of satisfaction. “Like clockwork, Sv–Martin, I mean. You could hear the operator salivating all over her keyboard. Kind of suprised it went that easy, myself.”
“I’m not, Mr. Mansk.” They called each other by their scam names in order to prevent slipups during the actual operation. This seemed most difficult for Kate; the tiny, redheaded Hoelringer tended to forget and go back to first-in stuff. In fact, she’d been known to blow it badly enough to call the Seeder either Master or Garrett, depending on how badly her not-quite-right brain was misfiring at the moment. Another good reason, obviously, for “Martin” to keep out of sight during the actual operation if at all possible; it prevented the possibility of their cover being entirely blown.
Not to mention “Penny’s” habit of hating herself whenever she fell short of perfection. Tough gig, that. Her solution worked, though: She started calling all men “Sir”…and that was that.
Pete never slipped; the tall young man adopted any guise needed as if born to it. He was in fact a natural con man…uh…actor. Sven was almost–but not quite–as good as Pete, with Gene a notch down the scale from Sven but well aware of the importance of his role.
“Well,” Mr. Mansk admitted, you did tell us it ought to easy as pie if the old ways were still in force. Appears they are. But what’s that crap about fifteen thou for each visit? Didn’t you say it was ten? A fifty percent hike is some kind of inflation, boys and girls–excuse me, boys and girl.”
“Don’t call me Boy!” Pete aka Big John the bodyguard deadpanned. Not that he was serious; this was part and parcel of the roles they’d worked out between them.
“Oh. Almost forgot. The operator chickie said to expect a gentleman by the name of Ay Hoot Awj-Kee, if you can spell that one.”
“Ahot AJki.” The Seeder got up from his chair at the kitchen table and went to stare out the front window. It was a beautiful view, rolling lawn in its finest spring greenery, even a small duck pond hidden among the early flower beds–though without, at the moment, any ducks in residence.
“And that worries me.”
“Ahot Ajki?” Pete lifted an eyebrow. “Haven’t you mentioned that name?”
“Yeah. He’s another one of the Guild people who were present at my last meeting in Sector Sixty. Why are they all showing up in our lives? Eh? This location is jumps away from Sixty, and Tonopah wasn’t exactly on that Sector’s map, either. So, why Ahot? I mean, he’s a good guy, or at least he used to be. He’s capable, and I’ve never known him to stiff a client or anything like that. But why here, why now? Homer told us about those two visits he got, you know, from an obviously worried Superintendent Harlan Johnson. Then Wonny and Jenny show up at Sandfire–well, I guess “show up” isn’t exactly how it worked with Jenny, but you know what I mean.
“Now Ahot. Karma, destiny, or part of a plot? I don’t know which–and at this point, I don’t care.
“I don’t trust any of it.”