James Nexis - Betrayal: Part Ten
Juhan’s breath came quickly, snagging in his throat as he cast a panicked glance across the ruins of the warehouse. How could this have happened? It had been going smoothly- almost too smoothly, his mind grudgingly admitted.
He had been so close to a life free from worries, free from the need to endure the patronizing stares of his colleges. He’d only been accepted onto the trades council because his father was an advisor; a galling fact which he was reminded of constantly.
But not anymore. He’d shown initiative, he’d thought on his own, and he had been just hours away from freedom when everything had gone wrong.
Over a cufflink! A simple, stupid, insignificant cufflink.
That secretary- what was her name? Dianne, or something- she had found it. He’d seen her bend over when they were examining the warehouse ruins and pick something up. It must have been his cufflink. The one thing that could tie him to this whole sordid deal.
Juhan knew he was probably bordering on paranoia by now.
But if paranoia was what saved him, so be it.
As soon as he’d gotten the reporter away from his secretary, he’d sent his men to silence her permanently, and search the tent. Bunch of incompetent fools, they’d only half-done the job. She was still alive, and his cufflink was nowhere to be found.
Had she told her employer? He wasn’t sure. How could she have? He hadn’t left them alone together since leaving the ruins. But somehow the Hissi must have figured it out. He’d been edgy that morning.
Juhan had been torn between having him killed and leaving him. As long as he told a story which put the warehouse bombing in a favourable light, he’d been useful. But now that there was the possibility that he’d guessed the truth, there was no way he could be allowed to live. Juhan had ordered his men to wait until the Hissi was asleep, and then knife him. Dratted reporter had never gone back to his tent, however.
Which had left Juhan here. A secretary with a grudge against him, a reporter who knew the truth and a trade examiner whom he’d framed were free, had stolen the Hover, and were gone.
But without the cufflink, they could prove nothing.
Which is why Juhan was here, searching through the rubble desperately, because, if the Xweetok had left it, dropped it back onto the ground, rather than taken it with her, and if he could find it, he would be safe.
It was a one in a thousand chance, but where else could it be? The secretary couldn’t have hidden it in the tent; Juhan had searched that himself. She couldn’t still have it; her pockets had been empty when she was admitted to the medical tent. She couldn’t have given it to anyone else; she didn’t have time. So where could it be but here?
Juhan was tracing his tracks, remembering the night when he’d laid the explosives, nudging fallen bricks aside with his foot as he walked.
The Ruki nearly had a heart attack.
Looking up in terror, he saw a very familiar and very annoying Hissi sitting on a block of the wall. He smiled a particularly infuriating smile.
“What are you doing here?” Juhan was chagrined to hear his voice come out in a squeak.
“Oh, you know, fighting for my life.”
“Heh, aren’t we all.”
James grinned. “That’s what I liked about you. Your humour. You’re a pretty cool guy, except for, you know, the lying and murdering part.”
Juhan swallowed, his mind whirling. So the Hissi did know. How many options did that leave him with?
“What do you want? Money? I have money. Lots of money. You can have it all.”
James scratched his chin, contemplating the bribe. “I’ve never had much use for money, you know. All I need it for, really, is to buy coffee, and I have plenty for that. Especially,” he paused and gave a wicked grin, “if I sell this.”
The Hissi flicked his wrist, and held up a small, round, shiny object. Juhan gawked at it.
“A cufflink, yeah. It’s kinda pretty, don’t you think?”
Juhan felt blood rush to his head, and his vision went red. “Give that to me!”
“Nah, I think I might just hold onto it for a while. Tell me, Juhan, why did you do it?”
The Ruki made futile grasping motions towards the coveted cufflink, but the Hissi was several arm lengths out of his reach. “I-I-”
“Let’s make this easy, shall we? All I want to know is why you did it. I’m curious. Tell me that, and I’ll give this to you.” James tossed the cufflink into the air and then caught it again. “So, tell me, why?”
“Because,” Juhan hissed, desperation flooding his mind, “I’m tired of being a laughing-stock. I only have my job because my father is one of the queen’s advisors. It galls me, always hearing the other senators’ snide remarks, always being talked down to, always being sent on stupid, pointless jobs because they don’t think I can handle anything harder.”
“And destroying the warehouse helped you how...?”
“Money,” Juhan hissed, his eyes losing focus as his mind wandered to a happier place. “I was promised money if I did it.”
James frowned. “Who promised you money?”
James sucked in a breath. “Jericho? The leader of the Shunans?”
Juhan snapped back to attention and he glared at James. “Who else? He’s a genius- the greatest leader the Shunans have ever had- and yet they want to replace him.”
James was doubtful. “He doesn’t sound like such a good leader if he paid you to blow up their livelihood.”
“That?” Juhan snorted. “That was nothing. That was simply a taste of the misery he has planned to unleash upon them.”
“I just told you, didn’t I?” Juhan snarled. “They were going to depose him and appoint Mikah as the new leader. This is Jericho’s punishment for their rebellion.” The Ruki laughed suddenly, a hint of insanity creeping into his voice. “Jericho is a genius.”
“I’m sure he is,” James muttered, looking disgusted.
Juhan seemed to remember something, and his eyes flashed to James’s hand. “The cufflink,” he breathed. “Give it to me.”
James glanced into his hand, looking surprised. “You want it?”
“Yes!” the Ruki snarled. “Hand it over!”
“Well, alright, then.” James hurled the incriminating evidence towards Juhan. It landed in the ash at his feet, and the Ruki dropped to his knees and scrabbled until he found it. He held it up, letting the moonlight glimmer off it, and sighed in relief. It was the right cufflink, and he had it. He was safe. Now the only problem was the irritating Hissi, and he didn’t look too hard to get rid of.
“I don’t need it now, anyway,” James said, breaking the silence. “I think everyone’s pretty convinced.”
A sudden light flashed on, dousing the entire ruin in a harsh light. Juhan stood up, blinking, and felt the colour drain from his face.
James turned, grinning broadly at his audience, which had been hidden in the shadows. Deirdre, standing next to the massive spotlight, with Lee grinning and nodding beside her. Behind them, Mikah, looking absolutely stunned, and at least half of the Shunan camp, many of whom couldn’t understand what had happened, but realised it must have been pretty important. The ones that could understand English were staring at Juhan and Jericho with a burning hatred.
Or, rather, they were staring at the place where Jericho had been.
“Drat,” James muttered, frowning. “This can’t be good.”
“I don’t believe it...” Mikah said, still staring at Juhan. The Ruki shuddered and dropped the cufflink.
“Arrest him,” James said simply. “Jericho’s gone; we don’t have time to waste around here.”
“Of course. Guards!”
Juhan looked like he wanted to run, but it was only a matter of seconds before he was surrounded. “No!” he howled as they shackled his hands behind him. “You can’t do this! I’m an ambassador!”
James grinned as he strode towards Deirdre. “Not anymore, mate. Get over it.”
Juhan started to scream something incomprehensible, but James ignored him. “That went pretty well.”
“You were brilliant,” Deirdre admitted, grinning as she handed her employer his coat. “I’m just wondering what we’re going to do about Jericho.”
“He would have left as soon as Juhan let the truth slip,” Mikah said. “I don’t know where, though. He may have gone directly to Sakhmet to hide until he can slip away. Or it’s possible he went back to the Shunan camp; he would be trying to race us back. The Shunans there don’t know about his betrayal, and they’d let him take his possessions and leave without asking questions.”
“What’s our best bet?” James asked.
The cloth-clad native stared at the stars as he thought. “We should cover both options. I’ll take half of the guards with me to Sakhmet. Mr Lee,” Mikah turned to the Kougra and spread his hands. “My men and I owe you an apology. We are truly sorry.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault.”
“In that case, how would you like to take the other half of the guards and travel to Sakhmet, to see if you can pick up Jericho on the way?”
A grin swept across Lee’s face. “Nothing would give me greater satisfaction.”
“Good. We should leave immediately; Jericho already has a head start. Guards! Six of you take the traitor Juhan. The rest of you divide in half and follow us. Let’s go!”
James sat down on part of the collapsed brickwork and watched in satisfaction as the Shunans and Lee raced out of the ruins. Deirdre sat down next to him and crossed her legs. “Do you think they’ll catch him?”
“They’d better,” James said. “I put too much effort into this whole crazy business to let him get away.”
Deirdre smiled. “Who would have thought? The leader of the Shunans paid Juhan to destroy his people’s livelihood.”
“He must have been very bitter about the leadership changeover. He may have even thought that with a disaster of that scale on their hands, the people might want him to stay.”
The Shunans had disappeared out of sight. Silence enveloped the reporter and his secretary and a mild breeze blew through the ruins, stirring up the soot at their feet.
“I suppose this is it,” Deirdre whispered. “We get to go home now.”
“That’s right. We have access to the Hover, so we could leave tonight. Unless, of course, you’d like to stay for a few more days.”
Deirdre raised an eyebrow and pretended to think. “Hmm, so, what would I prefer? Beautiful Shenkuu, or an ugly patch of sand in the middle of nowhere? Tough choice.”
“Tonight it is.” James grinned. “I can’t wait to get home and write this episode up. Mr Marcus should be pleased, at least; we have a proper headline for once.”
“What will you call it? ‘Shunan Leader Destroys Own Warehouse’?”
“No, actually; I was thinking of something along the lines of ‘Super Brave, Handsome and Incredibly Smart Reporter Saves the Day!’”
Deirdre rolled her eyes as they stood up. “Good luck impressing Mr Marcus with that one, sir.”
“If you’re lucky I might even be able to slip in a by-line about you.”
“Wow, don’t I feel special?”
“You’re welcome. Now c’mon, let’s go home.”
“Not quite yet.”
James and Deirdre froze at the sound of an eerily familiar voice. “Was that...?” Deirdre hissed.
“Yep,” James replied, slowly turning around. “Jericho.”
To be continued...