War World X Takeover(10)
Author:John F. Carr

    Discreet strolls around Kenny-Camp had told him nothing except that the free prospectors viewed the indentured miners with mixed pity and contempt. Everybody hungrily awaited any out-of-town trade, the settled farmers seemed to be prospering and everyone hated Kennicott Metals.

    What he knew from his own sources was that Kennicott had long since made an uneasy truce with Anaconda and Dover, such that they all dug for different minerals, in widely separated and distant locations. Reynolds was left out in the cold, and resented it.

    Perhaps it was time to make a personal visit back to Castell City, just to see what he could learn. His excuse would be buying some decent brandy, since he couldn’t find or make the product locally. The only difficulty lay in trading company scrip for CoDo creds, since the company’s currency-exchange always gave a miserable return and he knew well that nobody accepted company scrip outside of Hell’s-A-Comin’.

    When he heard the news that Captain Makhno was pulling up to the dock, he took the opportunity. DeCastro left explicit orders with his staff, packed up a sack full of CoDo creds and strolled down to the waterfront.

    Instead of the familiar steamboat, there sat the most outlandish ship that DeCastro had ever seen. It had three hulls, all long and narrow, the two outer ones set back from the central—and larger—hull, each carrying a raked mast with double booms and sails made of some thick unbleached cloth. The central hull also sported a paddle wheel at the stern, and the two outer hulls had what were clearly steering wheels attached to rudders hidden below the water. The hulls were joined with angled and arched wings where cargo was strapped. The whole construction was made of a pale gray wood that gleamed with some sort of lacquer. Though smaller than the old Celia, this bizarre boat—sporting the name River Dragon in what appeared to be metal letters on its bow—looked as if it could carry just as much cargo.

    And yes, there was the familiar captain making fast to the dock. Now DeCastro could see that the Dragon was towing a homemade barge loaded with what looked like blackened logs, canvas-covered pigs of metal and crates of odd fruit. In the ship itself sat three passengers, hulking miners or prospectors, two of them guarding the third. DeCastro guessed that the third man had made a good shimmer stone strike down river at Hell’s-A-Comin’ and was taking it to Castell City, rather than the assayer’s office, in hopes of getting a better price. Best leave him carefully alone, he decided.

    DeCastro strolled up to the River Dragon with a smile on his face and his hands in plain view.

    “Greetings, Capitan Makhno,” he chirped. “Could you take another passenger up to Castell City?”

    “I could,” said Makhno, giving him a measured look. “What pay?”

    “CoDo creds. Not a penny of company scrip, I swear.”

    Makhno glanced at his other passengers, who shrugged. “That’ll do,” he said. “I have some business ashore, but be here in an hour and I’ll take you.”

    “Indeed, I shall be content to wait,” said DeCastro, easing himself into the boat.

    The miners looked at him, saying nothing. Makhno climbed out, hauling a heavy sack, and one of the bodyguards followed him. The two of them strolled away, in the opposite direction from the assayer’s office. The central miner, the one who probably had the shimmer stones, smiled broadly and leaned a little closer.

    “Eh, m’good man,” he said, showing crooked teeth, “Mightn’t you be the fella who runs the Golden Parrot?”

    “That I am,” DeCastro agreed. “I take it you have sampled my… beer, once or twice?”

    “Aye, an’ interestin’ stuff it is, too. Yah haven’t any good whiskey, though.”

    “That, sir, is precisely why I am going to Castell City. I’ve heard that a decent brandy, at least, can be purchased there.”

    “So they say,” the miner shrugged. “What with the Kenny-ship gone, folks’re cast back on their own resources. Aye, but then, without yon Official People breathin’ down their necks, they’re free t’experiment wi’ the booze, yah know.”

    “Ah, indeed.” DeCastro considered that he might nudge some workable information out of this one. “It is difficult to experiment so with the Company also peeping over one’s shoulder.”

    For some reason, this struck the lucky miner and his hulking companion as extraordinarily funny.

    “Oh, aye!” the miner wheezed. “Nobody loves Kenny-Co, not at all. Nor Anaconda, nor Dover neyther.” He leaned closer and added in a conspiratorial whisper: “There’s some that say Reynolds would love a piece o’ the action, and ’twould do us no harm if Kenny-Co had a decent rival. There’s another deposit o’ hafnium that the Kenny-boys haven’t discovered, yah know?”

    “Indeed, I did not know.” If DeCastro’s ears had been mobile, they would have pricked up like a hound’s. “And I surely agree that some healthy competition would improve Kennicott’s manners, both here and off-world. But how would you pass the word to Reynolds?” Telephone, telegraph, and tell me!

    The miner leaned even closer, and whispered almost in DeCastro’s ear: “There’s an off-world-reachin’ radio in Castell City. That’s one o’ the reasons we be goin’ there.”

    “If you can give them the exact location of the lode…” DeCastro hinted.

    “That we can, that we can,” the miner chuckled. “Ah, but let’s say no more ’til we be clear o’ the camp, an’ any Kenny-Co ears, me lad.”

    “Oh, to be sure,” DeCastro happily agreed, already considering how he could use this knowledge. Yes, Reynolds would dearly love to know the location of a hafnium lode outside of Kennicott’s knowledge—and mining-grant. The presence of a rival mine would certainly irritate Kennicott and a battle between those two giants might give CoDo the excuse it needed to step in and take over—not to mention allowing a certain Tomas Messenger y DeCastro an opportunity to profit by playing both sides against the middle.

    The voyage upriver would be long, but DeCastro was certain he could wheedle the location of that hafnium lode out of the three miners in that time. He also happened to know that there was usually a Reynolds-loyal ship out near Ayesha, listening for any usable news.

    He could hardly wait for the captain to return and start-up the engine.

    Brodski, hidden in the shadows of the bar, watched the River Dragon coming in with his personal set of binoculars. He noted the surreptitious hand signal from Makhno, and tightened his focus on the passengers. Yes, the first man to get off was DeCastro.

    “Bait taken,” Brodski muttered, watching.

    Sure enough, DeCastro promptly strolled up the dock and turned toward Sam Kilroy’s. The three men who climbed out afterward, grinning, were recognizable from their descriptions. The central figure watched DeCastro hurrying off and smirked widely.

    “Hook, line and sinker,” Brodski chuckled, shoving the binoculars back in their case. He had a few minutes yet before his co-conspirators arrived, and he made good use of them.

    By the time Makhno strolled into Harp’s Sergeant, with one of the two H&C bodyguards and Irish Himself in tow, Brodski had the drinks poured and the sandwiches ready. He smiled at the lot of them, lifted the tray and led them into the back room where Van Damm was waiting for them.

    As soon as the door was shut behind them, Himself—not even waiting to take hold of his glass—delivered the news. “Aye, he fell for it, and he’s a-runnin’ off to radio the Reynolds boys right now.”

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