James Nexis - Betrayal: Part Seven
James paced furiously, wringing his hands, eyes focussed on the ground. Vague voices came from the tent behind him, but he couldn’t make out any words.
James had made an important discovery that day: the Shunans actually had something they liked to call a medical tent. When he’d sounded the alarm about Deirdre, he’d been hoping for something a bit more dramatic and official- a hover craft to take them back to civilization, maybe, or at the very least a Uni sent to Sakhmet.
But, no. The Shunans had carried Deirdre to a tent which sported an sloppy plus sign on the side, and had a doubtful collection of colourful bottles in a cabinet. James, reluctant to leave his secretary with them, had hovered around anxiously, making suggestions and asking questions until they’d shoved him out of the tent and told him not to come back on pain of death.
And so he stood here now, staring forlornly at the ground, his mind racing for answers.
What had happened? He’d been away talking to Mikah for less than fifteen minutes. Sometime during then someone had come into the tent and attacked his secretary. Why? Would he have been mugged too, if he’d stayed with her? Surely they hadn’t offended the Shunans that much?
James’s mind was buzzing with questions, and all of the answers that came up with made no sense. It was a relief when one of the Shunan nurses appeared behind him and told him that he could see Deirdre now, if he wished.
James sat down heavily and stared at his secretary. She lay on a bed, a peaceful smile on her face, chest rising and falling with every breath. It was hard to believe she wasn’t just asleep.
Concussion, the nurse had told James. She’ll probably wake up in a few days.
The Hissi leaned forward slightly and poked her, just to make sure. “Deirdre?”
She continued to sleep, and James sighed. In all of the time she’d worked for him, he’d never seen her look so peaceful.
“Why?” he asked softly, eyes flicking over her face. “Why’d they do this to you? Did you know something, Deirdre?”
James hated keeping still. He stood up, walked around the bed, and looked at the cabinet of medications. He couldn’t understand any of the names, so he marched back to his starting point and looked down at Deirdre.
She hated sand, he remembered, and tried to brush some specks of it off her sheets. He was fighting a losing battle, but he didn’t care; he needed to do something while his mind tried to comprehend the new, coffee-void situation he found himself in. He relied on Deirdre for everything; he wouldn’t even know how the filing system in his office worked anymore.
James’s hand accidentally brushed over Deirdre’s, and he glanced down. The Xweetok’s paw was clenched into a tight fist.
“Poor Deirdre,” he mumbled. “You can’t even relax now.”
He glanced at her other paw and had a double-take as he saw it was perfectly relaxed, lying flat on the sheets. “That’s odd...”
James looked from one paw to the other as his mind clicked over. And then, glancing at the tent entrance to make sure no one was there, he leant down and tried to prise the fist open.
It now became quite obvious just how stubborn Deirdre could be. James struggled with it for a minute, afraid of breaking bones but too curious to stop, until he managed to tease her fist open. A small, round and shiny object fell out, and James felt the colour drain from his face as he picked it up.
It was waning toward evening, but the sand was still releasing pent-up head into the air, making everyone feel sticky and exhausted. James didn’t care.
He sat on a rock outside the medical tent, having been turfed out again by the nurses, and slowly turned the small, golden object over in his hands, trying to re-construct a series of events that made sense.
The object, which Deirdre had been guarding so stubbornly, was Juhan’s cuff link.
Or, more accurately, the missing cuff link.
James stared at the desert sand, thinking for all he was worth. Where would Deirdre have gotten it? He traced back over the events of the day: Juhan had first mentioned it was missing during the morning. They’d travelled to the warehouse, spent maybe half an hour there, and come back. In retrospect, Deirdre had been quieter than usual on the trip back, but James had just assumed she’d been tired.
Deirdre wasn’t the sort of person who would steal something; if she’d found it in the tent before leaving for the warehouse, she would have certainly given it back. Therefore, she must have found it afterwards. It was possible that she discovered it lying around the tent when they arrived back, but somehow James doubted it. Fifteen minutes just didn’t seem long enough for her to both find the link and be mugged. It was too much of a coincidence, and James didn’t believe in coincidences.
The only remaining possibility was that she’d found it at the warehouse. Digging into the dark recesses of his memory, James did recall seeing her bend down to pick something up.
But what had it been doing in the warehouse, unless...?
James felt a cold chill wash down his back, and resisted the urge to shudder. The pieces were starting to fall together, creating a picture which he didn’t particularly like. The only logical conclusion was that Juhan had organised the sabotage. He was the sort of person who would do it himself; there would be no complications with corruptible helpers. As trade official, it would have been a piece of cake to purchase explosives.
He would have been wearing his official robes in order to leave Sakhmet, and losing a cuff-link while hauling explosives through a warehouse wouldn’t be such a hard thing to do. James glanced at the shiny gold piece in his hands. It was made to last, like the rest of Juhan’s attire, and, as long as it hadn’t been directly in the heat, it would have survived. The Hissi brought it up until it was scarcely an inch from the tip of his nose, and looked at it intently. On close examination, one side was slightly warped, and there were flecks of soot caught in the back. Deirdre must have wiped the rest of the grime off.
Jericho had said that hardly anyone knew the location of the warehouse, and James had naturally narrowed his suspects to those in the camp. But Juhan was the official in charge of the trade; Sakhmet had virtually paid for the goods, so it wasn’t so hard to believe that they would know the location of the warehouse.
But why would Juhan have done it?
Slipping the cuff link into his pocket, James dropped his head back into his hands and thought some more. Phrases began to float back to him. “...I was in charge of a couple of trades with them last year...” Juhan had been talking about the Ammans. He’d seemed very partial to them. It would be quite feasible to expect him to have a material interest in their trade.
The picture was clear now: Juhan had sabotaged the warehouse, perhaps for a bribe from the Ammans, knowing that he wouldn’t be suspected. James was useful; as a reporter, he controlled the public’s opinion. Juhan was very much aware of this, and had befriended him with this in mind. He and Deirdre had been welcome as long as they thought what they were supposed to, and didn’t start looking in the wrong directions.
But then Deirdre had found the cuff-link. James couldn’t remember if Juhan had been near enough to see her pick it up- but then, he must have been on the alert, constantly watching them for suspicious behaviour.
James hadn’t noticed Deirdre’s change in attitude, but Juhan must have. And so, he’d sent someone- not himself, because he’d been with James, possibly to give himself an alibi- but he’d sent someone to knock Deirdre out, to erase the evidence, and to search the tent for the missing link.
They hadn’t found it, though, because good, faithful Deirdre hadn’t dropped it.
So now what? He had a crime, a suspect and a motive. Now would normally be the time to wrap everything up; hand Juhan over to the police, prosecute him, whatever. But this time everything was different. This time, there were several key things stopping him.
Deirdre, for one.
His location, for another.
He had no idea who he could trust, for a third. The Shunans were hostile to him, and for all he knew they could even be working for Juhan, not aware that he was playing for a different team.
The Hissi took a deep breath, trying to decide on what to do. He had to get in contact with the outside world somehow, but...
“How are you, James?”
James felt a shiver run up his spine as Juhan stepped out from behind a tent, smiling warmly, eyes darting over his face keenly.
To be continued...