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"I understand you've had some trouble here."
Sal relaxed in the chair in the dining room and sipped at a hot cup of toma as
he regarded his visitors. They had arrived in their own mudder, which
immediately stamped them as independent as well as wealthy. If he played this
right, he might convince them to spend a few days at the lodge.
They had several expensive suites vacant, and if he could place this pair in
one, it certainly wouldn't do his record any harm. Usually, he could place an
offworlder by accent, but not these two. Their words were clear but their
phonemes amorphous. It puzzled him.
Routine had returned as soon as Lauren and her charity case had departed. No
one had called from down south, not the district manager, not anyone. He was
feeling very content. Unless, of course, the company had decided to send its
own investigators instead of simply calling in a checkup. That thought made
him frown at the woman.
"Say, are you two Company?"
"No," the woman's companion replied, smiling pleasantly. "Goodness no, nothing
like that. We just like a little excitement, that's all. If something
unusual's going on in the area, it kind of
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file:///F|/rah/Alan%20Dean%20Foster/Foster,%20Alan%20Dean%20-%20Flinx%201%20-%
20For%20Love%20of%20Mother-Not.txt tickles our curiosity, if you know what I
mean."
"You had a man killed here, didn't you?" the woman asked.
"Well, yes, it did get pretty lively here for a day." No accounting for taste,
Sal mused. "Someone was killed during a fight. A nonguest," he hastened to
add. "Right in here. Quite a melee."
"Can you describe any of those involved?" she asked him.
"Not really. I'm not even positive which guests were involved and which day
visitors. I didn't witness the argument myself, you see, and by the time I
arrived, most of the participants had left."
The woman accepted this admission with a disappointed nod. "Was there a young
man involved? Say, of about sixteen?"
"Yes, him I did see. Bright-red hair?"
"That's the one," she admitted.
"Say, is he dangerous or anything?" The assistant manager leaned forward in
his chair, suddenly concerned.
"Why do you want to know?" the man asked.
"Well, my superior here, the regular manager-Lauren Walder. She went off with
him."
"Went off with him?" The pleasant expression that had dominated the woman's
face quickly vanished, to be replaced by something much harder.
"Yes. Three, maybe four days ago now. I'm still not completely sure why. She
only told me that the young man had a problem and she was going to try to help
him out."
"Which way did their mudder go?" the man asked.
"North, across Lake Patra," Sal informed them.
"They're not in a mudder, though. She took the lodge skimmer."
"A skimmer!" The woman threw up her hands in frustration and sat down heavily
in a chair opposite the assistant. "We're losing ground," she told her
companion, "instead of gaining on him. If he catches up with them before we
do, we could lose him and the . . ." Her companion cut the air with the edge
of his hand, and her words trailed away to an indecipherable mumble. The
gesture had been quick and partly concealed, but Sal had noticed it
nonetheless.
"Now you've really got me worried," he told the pair. "If Lauren's in some
kind of trouble-"
"She could be," the man admitted, pleased that the assistant had changed the
subject.
Sal thought a moment. "Would she be in danger from these people who had the
fight here, or from the redhead?"
"Conceivably from both." The man was only half lying. "You'd better tell us
everything you know."
"I already have," Sal replied.
"You said they went north, across the lake. Can't you be any more specific
than that?"
Sal looked helpless. "Lauren wouldn't be any more specific than that."
"They might not continue heading north."
"No, they might not. Do you have a tracker for following other craft?" Sal
asked.
The man shook his head. "We didn't think we'd need one. The last we knew, the
young man we'd like to talk With was traveling on stupava-back."
"I think he arrived here in a mudder."
The woman looked surprised and grinned ruefully at her companion. "No wonder
we fell behind.
Resourceful, isn't he?"
"Too resourceful for my liking," the man murmured, "and maybe for his own good
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if he backs those you know-whos into a corner."
The women sighed, then rose from her chair. "Well, we've wasted enough time
here. We'll just have to return to Pranbeth for a skimmer and tracking unit.
Unless you think we should try to catch up to them in the mudder." The man let
out a short, humorless laugh, then turned back to the assistant manager.
"Thanks, son. You've been helpful."
"I wish I could be more so," Sal told him anxiously. "If anything were to
happen to Lauren-you'll see that nothing happens to her, won't you?"
"I promise you we'll do our best," the woman assured him. "We don't want to
see innocent bystanders hurt. We don't even want to see noninnocents hurt."
She favored him with a maternal smile, which for some reason did nothing to
make the nervous assistant feel any better about the situation.
Chapter Eleven
The tracker hummed quietly, the single glowing dot showing clearly on its [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]