The flames licked higher as the front of the bar became engulfed in fire. For a moment, David lay sprawled, paralyzed by the ancient fear of light. His bodyguard, Cornelius, shifted into Glabro, grabbed his boss, and made for the back door. They were two in a flood of humanity fleeing for their lives. Scipio let out a primal roar, parting the waves of people, and with one great SLAM, escaped through the back door.

            However, the whine of the military police aerodynes created a different problem. As the mob that followed reached the couple, Cornelius slowly reverted to human form, trying to blend in with the fanning crowd. Next thing they knew, the media began to swarm in. Once David found his feet again, it was time to leave.

            A few twists, turns, and a monorail ride finally got them both back to the hotel unscathed. By the time they got there, the werewolf was edgy and his boss was tired. The sun would be up in a short time, so David decided to play it safe. First, he went over to the front desk, flipped him his account card, and said, "100 credits cash, please."

            "Yes, sir." the concierge nodded and disappeared for a moment.

            Scipio looked bewildered; it was something only Depual could have noticed. To others, he appeared as a wall of stone. "A hundred credits?"

            "Never renege on a bet, Cornelius," David replied as the manager returned with the rare credit bills, "not unless you're going skip town."

            Scipio took the cash and placed it in his coat. "We're not leaving?"        

            "No. Someone wants us out of town. That means the stakes are higher."

            "Maybe you picked the wrong bar."

            "Maybe," David looked over at the smiling clerk, still standing beside them, "but perhaps we should consider continuing this conversation upstairs." Without even a nod to the concierge, he took his card back, and walked into the elevator.

            Once the door closed behind them, Depual faced his large friend again. "I don't believe in coincidence. Someone wanted to break up our meeting and it worked. Now we can't meet with those gentlemen again. They're not going to set foot outside their homes for days. We don't have that long."

            "True." the mountain replied.

            "So we've got to hit them beneath the belt. Find their suppliers, especially the desperate ones. Arrange a meeting with them. Your location, your time."

            "If the drug lords find out..."

            "We're playing for five MILLION. We need to take some risks."

            "That'll take time."

            "Take it. I need to sort out some details myself."

            "But you need..."

            "NO!" David inadvertantly screamed. The vampire brought his hand to his forehead and shook it off. He hadn't fed tonight and the blood lust was getting to him. "Sorry, Cornelius, I'm... not myself."

            Scipio stayed silent as the lift opened on the 117th floor. As they both walked out into the vacant hallway, the werewolf managed a whisper. "You need protection."

            "Not for these errands. Later, yes, but not now." David finally came to his door. "But first, I need those smugglers.

            Cornelius nodded once and walked off. Depual went inside and shut the door. The sun would be rising soon and the old vampire had a lot of thinking to do before it set again.


            The next night found David cutting his teeth on the data downloaded from the Cialt mainframe. Even on the secure lines that he had, the Reverend Father still wrote in code, assumed references, and complete gibberish. Maybe he realized that no system was completely safe, maybe he was paranoid; both notable qualities, but they still frustrated him.

            Find the local suppliers was easier then deciphering the cryptic note. However, true to form, most of them had been discontinued. Only two suppliers had remained in the drug trade, and their numbers were so low that it made it impossible for the brothers to distribute, except for their order's personal use.

            However, another list of numbers showed a different story. This form had much higher credits listed; far more than normal drug running. Again, there was the mysterious TI glowing at him. He had found the "generous donation" the Reverend Father had mentioned. The monk hadn't been kidding; no wonder the Brotherhood was so willing to give up their drug empire. Whatever TI was, they were providing Cialt with enough money to easily double their profit.

            Scrolling down the electronic sheet, he found the list of smugglers. Macoure was at the top of his list. Apparently the profits had trickled down to her as well. The question that bugged him was WHY? Lots of money with no clue where it came from. Hmmm, since most of the Cialt monks are vets, he thought, maybe Cornelius could get a hold of his Tech Infantry contacts and...

            That's when it hit him. TI equals Tech Infantry! The damn military was paying off the Cialt Brotherhood! David realized quickly what they were pushing now; guns. Their organization was one of the only private ones legally allowed to possess drugs AND firearms. Now WHO were they selling them to?
            It became a question that only Deidre herself could answer. He had to find her. Shifting through his notes, Depual found where the hired gun had tailed her; Archimedes Orbital Station, Berth 27-B.

            David high-tailed it to the nearest shuttle transfer station and hopped on the quickest flight up the gravity well. Archimedes Station was like a metallic leech, shaped from a hodgepodge of whitewashed cylinders, and attached by umbilical tubes to the naval yard. Unkempt, barely regulated; the perfect place for a smuggler to dock. A slum in space.

            The shuttle docked easily and David made a beeline for M. Macoure's berth. The place had a lingering smell of cooking onions and garlic, probably coming from the fairway, where variety of stands hung their shingle. The vampire tried to move through the mass of people, but he got frustrated quickly, making for one of the side tunnels instead.

            Through the dingy, badly-lit passageways, he avoided the people scurrying about to finally reach the far space docks. However, once he got to Berth 27-B, the place was empty.

            "You're too late," a voice said behind him. David turned and saw a grungy old mechanic standing in the open airlock. "She jumped out-system yesterday... or a couple days ago, I forget which."

            "Did she say where?"

            "New Paris system... I think. Hell, I fixed her hyperdrive engines so well, hell, she could be halfway to the frontier by now!"

            New Paris was hardly the place for a shipment pickup. If the Tech Infantry were involved, they'd be near a military base, and that suburb system of Avalon was devoid of them. Of course, Phoenix system, largest base in the Federation, was only one or two jumps away. With an entire legion planted there, who would notice a missing crate or two of plasma rifles? Still, that left a problem; from Phoenix, you could go _anywhere._

            David went to leave. Flipping the mechanic a two credit coin, he said, "You never saw me."

            The grungy man faked a puzzled look. "Who are you again?

            Depual smiled. "Remember that."


            Once dirtside again, Cornelius had caught up with him. He had arranged the meeting with the smugglers. It hadn't been easy, David figured, since he knew what it meant to cross a crime boss. However, Depual had the perfect plan.

            They went to a bar of Scipio's choosing; a nice, quiet establishment in downtown Andersonville, another suburb of the capital city. The minute they walked in the door, the three smugglers became rather conspicuous, sitting at a table in the corner. They were using David's generosity, feasting and drinking heavily; Cornelius had done well. The werewolf had truly found the three poorest smugglers in each of the rackets.

            The couple made their way over to the threesome. Their eyes lit up once they saw Cornelius, moving to make room at their table. David looked at them and said, "I presume you know why I called you here."

            The fat smuggler opened his mouth first, "Yeah, 'cause big and black came over to my ship!"

            The man with the slicked back hair answered, "He said you had a lucrative offer."

            "Indeed I do." Depual smiled, "But let me first ask you this: how much would you get for say... bringing a small box of fairy lace."

            Slick tensed up; he probably feared they were Light Infantry making a drug bust. However the third smuggler, a cross-eyed blonde man, didn't seem to care. "That's easy, a hundred grand."

            "Which your dealer sells for double that, yes?"

            "Sure," Slick replied.

            "But you don't make too much off fairy lace, do you? After expenses, you maybe get... what, 10 grand profit?"

            "Yeah, right!" Fatso blurted out between eating a club sandwich and drinking his ale. "If the space is clear and you have a sucker for a grower! Lace is expensive, man, and the shit only grows in the back of some disease-ridden swamp, so that adds more fuel cost. You're lucky to break even!"

            "So how much does that box cost you?" David inquired.

            "75 grand if it's in season." Cross-eyes answered. "If it's not, you won't find it for less than 90."

            "So," David made his move, "what would you say if I said I could offer you that same box for 50 grand, in or out of season?"

            Pause. You could see the credit signs appearing behind their eyeballs. Fatso pointed to his beer and said, "I'd say you should lay off these!"

            "And not just lace," David continued, "but phenol barbituates, gene-spliced hashish, blue rollers, and all those exotics that you can never make a profit on. We'll guarantee that we can sell them to you 25% to 50% cheaper than what you're paying now. Plus, your pickup's in Proxima, not Van Diemen or St. Michael's Star. That'll save a lot of fuel."

            Slick nodded and smiled, "Well, I'm in."

            Fatso swallowed his sandwich. "Me too."

            Cross-eyes wasn't so certain. "What if your guarantee is a piece of shit?"
            "Then you'll go back to your normal suppliers, I'm just a businessman, gentlemen, I'm trying to undercut my competition. They sell to you. I want to beat them at their own game."

            Cross-eyes relented and Cornelius started filling them in on their comm frequencies and drop sites. Personally, David was surprised that he hadn't thought of this before. Him and Leonardo had always acquired large qualities of product when the drug was in season. Then they sealed in air-locked containers and filled them with inert gas. They were good for eternity so they could be sold whenever. The growers never had enough rubes to buy at their inflated prices, so they sold their excess at harvest to them. Always at very reduced prices, since the growers didn't have the facilities to house them. In a sense, they were the wholesalers of the drug industry.

            However, Depual still knew that they'd lose a million this year, since Cialt's demand was far more than what these smugglers could sell. Still, that was better than losing half their profit anyday. Besides, after this year, word would spread (because these smugglers weren't the tightest of lips), and soon ALL the smugglers would come to them. Then they would start making a lot more than with Cialt.

            Now with this problem solved, David could move into other ventures of his own. For instance, gunrunning; to get that far, he needed to find Emme Macoure or her Tech Infantry contacts. The Cialt Brotherhood was playing a new game, a dangerous one with great possibilities. Now David just needed to find a way to be dealt a hand.




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.