Authors: James Wisher
The kidnappers blasted the restaurant door to smithereens, no doubt hoping to intimidate the patrons into behaving. They moved through the wreckage two by two, one group covering the next while the last group watched the lobby. Whoever they were they knew their business. After they shot the cook they took Solomon and the girl out to the van, put stun cuffs on them, and threw them in the back. The van sped off a moment later. The video stopped and the other monitors came to life, brightening the room back up.
“Any thoughts?” Smith asked.
“They’re pros, that’s for sure,” Marcus said. “It looked like they came specifically for Solomon and the girl. They could have been any of a dozen species under that armor. I don’t know what to make of it. Does this happen often here?”
Smith shook his head. “I’ve been working here ten years and nothing like this has ever happened. We don’t have much of a criminal element here. All the vice stuff is legal, so there isn’t much for the syndicates to do for income. We have a few murders every year, lovers’ quarrels, that sort of thing. Some theft of course, but this, professional thugs blasting their way into a luxury hotel and kidnapping a guest? No, nothing of the sort.”
Marcus frowned and tapped his chin. “Just because there’s little illegal for criminals to make money with here doesn’t mean they aren’t here. Plenty of legit businesses have friends in low places. That’s where I’d start looking.”
Smith’s frown matched Marcus’s. “If I go poking around where you suggest I’ll be out of a job in a hurry. I did a little digging about you two before I came up to your suite. You’ve been mixed up in some crazy stuff. Is there any way I can convince you to help me out with this, kind of quiet like? I can provide you access and whatever official cover you need.”
Marcus had no intention of letting Smith handle this on his own so when the officer offered to bring him in officially he said, “Sounds like a good idea. We’d be glad to help.”
o what do
you want to do first?” Smith asked. He seemed eager to get going and Marcus suspected the powers that be didn’t like the sort of publicity two of their guests getting kidnapped brought down.
“I’ll need screen captures of those masked men so I can send them to my contacts. I assume you’re tracking the van?”
Smith shook his head. “We have little hope for that. It’s either stolen and they’ll dump it somewhere or they’ll plasma bomb it so nothing’s left.”
“Do you have satellites for tracking?” Iaka asked.
“No, just the weather control units. Management discovered people don’t like getting tracked on vacation. When they ditched the security satellites bookings went up forty percent.”
“I’ll bet.” Cheating husbands on business trips and criminals making illicit deals most likely. “Do you know where the girl was staying?”
Smith consulted his data pad. “A small hotel called the Glittering Star. It’s one of the lower end establishments, about two miles North. I sent a unit to check it out. When I hear something I’ll let you know.”
The ten eyed alien held out a data chip. “Screen captures.” It spoke with a sibilant, drawn out
at the beginning and end of the sentence.
Marcus pocketed the chip and nodded his thanks. It seemed they’d done about all they could here. He exchanged contact information with Smith then he and Iaka headed out. Security officers blocked the front entrance so they went out the back and swung around to a little cul-de-sac where the security people had sent the taxis that arrived that morning looking to pick up fares. Marcus flagged down a yellow taxi, even out here they painted them yellow, to take them the twenty miles to the spaceport.
He climbed in beside Iaka and slammed the door. The taxi sped away and Iaka asked, “What now?”
“If you’re willing I’d like you to dig up as much as you can on Solomon’s girlfriend. I’ll contact Vlad and send him the pictures. If he doesn’t know who the heavy hitters on this planet are he’ll know who to ask.”
“I’ll do what I can, but I assumed Solomon would have checked up on Emily as soon as he met her. If he found nothing what are the chances I will?”
“Excellent. You know how well men’s brains work when a woman’s involved. Solomon probably did a cursory background check, found nothing incriminating, and left it at that. He didn’t want to find anything bad about her so he didn’t.”
Iaka shook her head. “I see your trust issues remain unresolved.”
They reached the spaceport in time to see a massive star cruiser, easily twenty times the size of the
, take off. Marcus paid the driver, a blue skinned near human with a bionic left eye, who took off in search of his next fare. The drop off point was right in front of a five story terminal made of shinning steel and darkened glass. Thousands of tourists from dozens of species came and went, lugging their suitcases behind them on antigravity sleds. Out on the landing field a second huge commercial transport capable of carrying over a thousand individuals hovered near the loading bays. They hurried away from the crowded terminal and toward the private hangers. The
waited in hanger forty seven. The hanger resembled a giant pipe someone cut in half and hammered into the ground before adding doors on either end. Simple and ugly compared to the terminal, but secure, even more so since Gruesome was on guard duty.
Marcus typed his six digit access code in and the hanger doors slid open. His beautiful ship, a fresh coat of gray paint on her smooth hull rested on hydraulic landing gear, the cargo bay doors sealed tight. No one had tried to get in. “Voice recognition activate, Marcus Drake.” The computer hummed and a moment later beeped. “Open cargo bay doors.”
After a clunk and creak the hydraulics activated and the doors opened. Iaka glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. “I thought you got the ship fixed up.”
“I did, everything works perfect, she just a little stiff after sitting for a while.” The door thudded on the concrete and Marcus led the way up. At the top a pair of red lights flared to life ten feet off the floor. “Hi, Gruesome, I’m back.”
The war bot’s eyes flashed from red to green when it recognized Marcus’s voice. Iaka flipped the light switch, revealing Gruesome in all his frightening glory. Marcus grinned at the robot. Shinny, black enamel covered Gruesome from top to bottom, protrusions as sharp as knives covered its shoulders, shins, and forearms. The war bot made his old load handler look as harmless as a puppy.
The cargo door clanked shut. “If you’re done ogling that robot we’ve got work to do.”
Marcus patted Gruesome’s leg and led the way to the cockpit. The hold was empty of cargo and his footsteps echoed in the hollow space. It seemed wrong not to have something in the hold. The door slid open without a sound as they approached the corridor. He glanced back at Iaka and nodded toward the doorway.
She smiled and shook her head. “So you’ve got one door that doesn’t squeak, screech, or clank, congratulations.”
“Thanks.” They passed the doors to the galley and living quarters then climbed the short flight of steps up to the cockpit. The cockpit door hissed as it slid open prompting a shrug from Marcus. One door out of three wasn’t so bad.
He stepped into the cockpit and sighed, home again. The scent of leather and oil washed over him as he sat in the pilot’s chair, settling into the familiar dents, forged from years of sitting. Iaka sat beside him in Solomon’s chair. It felt a little strange looking to his right and seeing her there. Marcus clenched his jaw and fired up the comm unit. He’d get Solomon back, one way or another.
his is a surprise
, Marcus.” Vlad’s familiar face with its white hair, deep wrinkles, piercing blue eyes, and ever present cigarette filled the monitor. “I didn’t expect to hear from you until you finished your vacation.”
“I am finished with my vacation, though not by choice.” Marcus filled him in on Solomon’s kidnapping. “I thought you might know who I should talk to. I’m sending you some images captured on the hotel security cameras. There’s not much to go on, but I thought you might recognize something I missed.”
Vlad frowned, took out his cigarette and flicked off the ashes. “I don’t recognize them or the gear. Everything looks pretty generic. There’s only one person out there that can help you, though if she’s involved it’ll be risky.”
“They’ve got Solomon and I’ve got nothing to go on. If your contact can help I’ll take my chances. Who is it?”
“Her name’s Madam Margret. She runs a strip club slash whore house called the Hungry Kitty. Perfectly legal and above board. She also runs all the illegal and legitimate business on the planet for the Nine Dragons. She’s a powerful woman, Marcus. Best mind your manners.”
“When have I ever been less than a gentleman? I didn’t think the dragons cooperated on joint ventures, much less all nine clans together.”
“They don’t.” Vlad stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. “Pleasure Planet 4 is a special case. They set it up as a safe haven. Somewhere the clans can get together to relax and discuss business. They’ve all sworn to keep the peace and you know how they are about keeping their word.”
Marcus licked his lips as he thought. “If this is a safe place for them the last thing they’d want is to draw attention. Seems like whoever grabbed Solomon must have done it without their permission. They might appreciate me dealing with them.”
Vlad nodded. “That occurred to me as well. It’s the main reason I’m sending you to Madam Margret. When you get to the club ask for her and tell the security team the Silver Fox sent you.”
Marcus raised an eyebrow. “The Silver Fox?”
“What can I tell you, it’s the nick name they gave me when I made peace with the Black Dragons. Good luck, my boy. If I can do anything else just ask.”
“Thanks old man.” Marcus disconnected. Well, he had somewhere to start now. If he had to search, a strip club wasn’t the worst place to go. He turned to Iaka. “Did you find anything?”
“Not much.” She looked up from the monitor. “Far as I can tell she is who she claims to be. Maybe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Marcus shook his head. He didn’t trust coincidences, but it was possible. A quick search turned up the address of the Hungry Kitty, the club was in the next resort east, about three hundred miles. He searched for a landing field and found one on the outskirts of the resort, nothing elaborate like the spaceport, just a small facility that catered to people with their own ships.
Two minutes into his preflight check his comm beeped. He tapped the flashing red light on the console. “Officer Smith, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”
“Please, call me John. I wanted to tell you my men found nothing unusual at Mrs. Smart’s hotel. She made no calls with the hotel comm and the staff says she was a model guest, never gave them a bit of trouble and no visitors. I hope you’re having better luck.”
“Too soon to say, but were heading East to check out a lead. I’ll touch base tomorrow if it pans out.” Marcus disconnected and resumed his preflight check. Maybe Iaka was right and the girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then why take her at all?
I’m coming with you, right?” Iaka stood, hands on hips, staring at Marcus while he disconnected the straps that held his hoverbike in place at the rear of the hold. “There’s no way you’re going to a strip club on your own.”
Pained, Marcus looked up at her. “You don’t trust me?”
“To not cheat on me, yes. To keep your temper under control and not get yourself killed if they don’t tell you what you want to know, not so much.”
Marcus worked the last strap free and powered up the bike. If he remembered right she was the one that punched the director in the face the first time they met and she worried about his temper? At least she trusted him not fool around on her, not that he could imagine a woman beautiful enough to tempt him. “I appreciate your concern, but I’ve been dealing with people like this since I was a teenager. I grew up around crooks, remember.”
Iaka frowned. “These people are dangerous and you don’t take them seriously enough.”
He stood up and took her hands. He loved that she worried. “I take them very seriously. One person is less of a threat than two, plus if they know Vlad then they know a little about me. I’m from their world, even if I’m out of it now. You, on the other hand, come from Earth Force. You can see how that fact might make them nervous.”
“I guess. You want me to wait here?”
“Please. I’ll be fine and if I’m not you can come rescue me.” Marcus swung a leg over the bike’s seat and sat down. “I shouldn’t be long. Keep the ship sealed and if anyone gives you trouble fire up Gruesome.”
He tapped a button on the bike’s control panel and the rear doors lowered. Iaka leaned down and kissed him. “Be careful.”
He grinned and gunned the engine. The bike shot out the hold onto the tarmac. The little landing field wasn’t all that impressive, nothing, but a flat paved area with landing zones marked off with blinking lights. Off to his right a blue and white garage with three large bays waited to assist visitors with any mechanical troubles, a tanker truck parked beside it.
Marcus turned left onto a short road that connected the landing area with the main highway to the resort. Five minutes on his souped-up bike and Marcus pulled off the highway into the crowded city traffic. He wove his way through the less nimble cars and trucks, occasionally getting an annoyed honk for his efforts. The ship’s computer automatically downloaded the club’s location into his computer and fifteen minutes after leaving his ship Marcus came to a stop in a space in front of a black and chrome three story building. In the air above it a twenty foot tall hologram of a topless female sporting fantastic proportions and black cat ears jutting up from her head. Classy, this place would fit right in on New Vegas.
He powered the bike down and activated antitheft devices. It looked like a nice neighborhood, brick buildings three stories tall with shops or restaurants on the bottom and apartments above. It was still mid-afternoon, so he doubted anyone would bother his ride, but he also didn’t want to walk back to the air strip, so why take chances? Leaving his bike Marcus climbed a short flight of stairs to a set of closed double doors. A sign said open at eight. He sighed, not wanting to wait until eight.
A wrap on the door brought a bald, beetle-browed near human with enough muscle to wrestle a Gort. The man scowled at him. “Can’t you read? We’re closed. Come back at eight.” He slammed the door in Marcus’s face.
He knocked again. When the ugly man opened the door Marcus said, “I’m here to see Madam Margret.”
“What makes you think the boss wants to see you?”
“Just tell her the Silver Fox sent me. She’ll understand.”
The unfortunate bouncer’s brow crinkled even more, probably debating whether to toss Marcus to the curb or go ask his boss. “Wait here.” The door slammed again.
Marcus sighed, relieved the bouncer asked first. Now he just had to hope Vlad’s introduction would get him through the door.