War World X Takeover(9)
Author:John F. Carr

    “Oh yes. Everybody who lives long in Hell’s-A-Comin’ knows the story, and I’ll tell it to you once we’re back on the water. Suffice it to say that if DeCastro’s looking for info to sell, or trouble to cause, he couldn’t have picked a worse spot.”

    “So what’m I supposed to do with this place, Brodski?” Heinrick whined, looking around at the emptied half-dugout that had formerly been known as the Golden Parrot. “I can’t run it as a bar, or even a restaurant, not with you already monopolizing the trade. I dunno what Van Damm expected.”

    “True, Docktown doesn’t need another bar and grill,” Brodski purred, leaning back on the split-log bench against the wall. “But there’s plenty else that it needs. An exchange-shop, for instance, or a drugstore, or a repair-shop. Think you could handle any of those?”

    A series of emotions played across Heinrick’s face in quick order, finally settling on a canny look. “Repairs, maybe. I got…some tools for that.”

    Brodski smiled, remembering that oversize and clanking duffel bag that Heinrick had brought with him. “Very good. And since a lot of your customers will be dealing in barter, you can’t help but run an exchange shop on the side. Hmm, you know anything about repairing—or making—radios?”

    “Simple ones, sure.” Heinrick shrugged. “You just have to find a frequency that’ll work here in the valley, what with all the interference from Cat’s Eye.”

    “I think we’ve got that,” Brodski grinned. “Talk to Sam-the-Ham Kilroy, just a few doors west. By the way, you know how to make saws that’ll cut stone, or steel?”

    “Yeah, I think I can manage that. Why?”

    “Well, you ever hear of a tree called an ironwood, back on Earth?”

    “Think so. …Uh, its wood was supposed to be so hard that you needed a…metal saw to cut it. You mean, there’s a tree like that around here?”

    “Even tougher. It’s called a steelwood, for good reason. A very useful critter, if only you have the means to saw it.”

    “I see!” Heinrick’s face lit up—then abruptly fell again. “But what’ll we do for power? Plutonium batteries last a long while, but you get only so much power out of ’em.”

    Brodski let his gaze wander to the ceiling. “I believe the miners at Hell’s-A-Comin’ have dug up something like coal, and there’s always wood along the forest. There are ways to work with steam.”


    “And if we can set up a water-wheel, there’s always the river itself.”

    “And in exchange for all this foine leaf and upriver brandy,” Himself said, peering narrowly at Makhno, “Yous be wantin’ what, this time?”

    “Brass or good iron,” said Makhno. “I know you can swap for it at Kenny-Camp.”

    “Then why din’cha swap for it there yerself?” Irish leaned forward on the plank table. “Yah know we got nothin’ down here but local produce an’ the occasional shimmer stone.”

    “I’d rather the assayer’s office didn’t know all my business.” Makhno grinned back. “They’ve got too many company men peeping over their shoulders.”

    Himself smiled broadly, showing crooked teeth. “An’ they just might take it into their heads to put an end to the euph-leaf trade, startin’ with yerself, eh?”

    “Something like that,” Makhno agreed.

    Irish leaned back, exuding confidence. “Well now, it just so happens that we’ve got a wee blacksmith’s shop, an’ a few pigs o’ copper an’ tin, and summat more o’ fine-smelted iron. We was hopin’ ta make it inta minin’ tools, but for such foine brandy, not ta mention the leaf, I do think we can dicker.”

    “Coal,” Van Damm put in. “We know there’s plenty of carbon on the planet, or the forests wouldn’t exist. But where can we get usable amounts of it?”

    Himself laughed and slapped the table. “From the black-stump tree, o’ course! What did yah think it made its black core from? Eh, I suppose yah had ta be a miner ta notice. Ah, but for big loads o’ that, ye’ll have ta bring us more than just euph an’ brandy.”

    “I think we can come up with something,” Makhno grinned, “And in larger loads, too.”

    As Van Damm watched, the two of them leaned close over the table and settled in for some serious dickering. Chains of trade routes, he considered. Stronger than steel…

    He wondered idly if he could stir up the kind of trouble Max Cole wanted by setting the free miners against the company’s slaves, but then decided it wouldn’t work. The company “indentured laborers” would desert in a red-hot minute if they knew there was some way they could survive outside the company’s town….

    And right there, a beautiful idea blossomed.

    When Max Cole heard that there was a coded special message for him coming up from the planet, he practically ran to the radio room to get his transcript, and actually did run back to his cabin to decode it. Yes, of course it was from Van Damm, and high time, too. The ship was due to leave in another two hours.

    Have a possibility, the message read. Can get miners to desert Kennicott. K/Co will then go after them and shoot up local farmers in the process. Is this the atrocity you want?

    Cole swore blisteringly, then coded a return message and carried it back to the radio room himself.

    Down on the surface, in Sam Kilroy’s establishment on the outskirts of Castell City, the message was received and then relayed to Hell’s-A-Comin’. Van Damm got the reply and took it off to the storeroom of the Irish Bar to decode.

    Hell, no! Cole’s reply read. Do nothing to make K look bad! Find something else. Stay there until you do.

    Van Damm laughed aloud, drawing Makhno’s attention, and he felt obliged to share the news. Both of them laughed uproariously, shared a pitcher of very good Janesfort beer and settled down to some serious analysis and speculation.

    Two hours later the ship left orbit and headed back toward Wayforth Station, taking Max Cole with it.

    It took a quarter of a T-year for the relocated Golden Parrot to become a successful venture. DeCastro had been obliged to buy raw grains and other seeds from the local farmers, sprout and ferment them himself before he could come up with a passable beer, and his attempts at creating whiskey or brandy had failed dismally. He had built a workable grill and made the Parrot into an acceptable restaurant, and the services of his girls were always a good draw, but for the life of him he could not start a decent drug-trade. A local product called euph-leaf was abundant and popular, but he couldn’t find the source, much less get a monopoly on it. The best he could do was extract the active ingredients with alcohol from his failed distilling projects and get a concentrated liquid form, but even that proved no real competition for the natural product. He could not even get the customers to gamble in his establishment, and that was unheard of.

    Worst of all, he hadn’t been able to contact any of the other company or CoDo agents, or even learn who they were. A bar and grill and whorehouse usually had no trouble collecting information from customers, but for some reason his clientele was remarkably close-mouthed. Some odd reticence seemed to overcome them the minute they set foot through the doorway: a strange solemnity, almost a feeling of guilt, which precluded merriment and small-talk. The relocated Golden Parrot was the gloomiest bar—and the poorest information-source—that DeCastro had ever seen and he had no idea why.

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