“Do you think we need to cancel?” Kate asked, brittle with nervous tension.
He thought a moment. “No, we’ve come too far. But I think our backup plan needs a backup. Pete, can you quietly shop around for a second car–no flycar, just a cheap, inconspicuous grounder?”
“A stealth mobile? I can do that. Speed’s not important?”
“Nah. Just something that seems like it ought to last a few thousand miles. Leave the paper plates on it so there’s no real trace. We’ll be out of here long before those expire anyway.”
They had four days to wait, during which they took in a play titled Venus over Jupiter and sampled several upscale restaurants. It relieved the tension, and they didn’t expect to be back in the big city any time soon. Except for Sandfire Cuisine and the Chinese restaurant down the street, Tonopah didn’t exactly have boasting rights on a whole lot of food. Kate went nuts on shrimp scampi and lobster tail while Sven introduced Pete and Gene to albacore tuna steaks and good red shark. All declared themselves satisfied, come what may, but of course–with the possible exception of Gene–they were all lying rat bastards and knew it.
On Monday morning, precisely at 10:00 a.m., Ahot arrived in a sleek gray turbo coupe. He’d flown in under autopilot; Sven could tell by the way the car parked itself. It was good to see the AA man, even if the Eurasian was here as a potential enemy. Sven stepped behind his privacy screen, which of course looked like a wall but had no more substance than a silk curtain. Gene leaned back in his brown leather recliner. Kate hovered over her supposed employer, resplendent in platinum hair and blue eyes, not to mention that Surgis Rally quality ass. Pete, as Big John, went to answer the door. They were ready, and if the weren’t, it was too freaking bad.
Since the living room was well lit and Sven’s hiding place behind the silk wall wasn’t, he could see well enough without being seen.
“Good morning,” Akji said as he entered the room. His charm was impressive. Lighter than Sven by twenty pounds, his dark eyes radiated confidence, good humor, and reassurance all in one.
“Good morning, Mr. Ajki,” Gene replied in his role of wealthy retiree Burberry Mansk. Like good servants whose two cents worth has not been asked for, Pete and Kate remained silent. A fan hummed quietly, stirring furnace air around the room and covering any small accidental noises that might otherwise attract the Guild man’s attention. It would take some minutes of conversation before it was time to launch in.
That time seemed to take forever and never. Sven needed desperately to piss, having forgotten to do so prior to his former friend’s arrival. There was more to it, of course. Mostly fear. Fear sweat ran down the undersides of his arms and slicked his palms. Going inside a fellow Seeder without permission terrified him. Like the rodeo bulls he’d mounted in his youth and, more often than not, dismounted violently. Like the street fights around that same age, especially when preliminaries took a while, most especially that dustup with the town kid in Belle Fourche who’d had his fancy antique hubcaps stolen from his fancy antique car, it had been a turning point for courage.
He, Sven–well, Garrett then. Hey, that rhymed. He’d actually been the one to pick the fight with a cranky nineteen year old full of bad attitude. The fellow had outweighed him by a good thirty pounds, but it had been a good fight…for Garrett. The townie’s blood ended up splattered from wrist to elbow on the cowboy’s long sleeved western shirt. Not only that, but he of the shattered lips had gotten busted by the local cops for fighting while Garrett and his friends had slipped through the back door of a nearby café and out the front, exiting on the other side of the block.
Damn. He’d gotten road hypnotized, staring at his own memory pictures and almost missing the launch window. Soul might be indestructible, but it could be mesmerized in a heartbeat.
His thumb hit the center stud smoothly, launching him into Ahot Ajki’s inner worlds from the right rear. Barely one tenth of a second later, Ahot thumbed his own box and vanished from the room as well, hopefully unaware that he carried a stowaway.