Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 35
Chapter 11 – Trinity
Hawthorn came to Cambridge on the world of Trinity unannounced and in civilian clothes. He travelled on a one man frame that had seen better days. The casual observer might be forgiven for dismissing him as another itinerant attracted to the war zone either as a potential combatant or profiteer. The careful observer would have noticed that the frame might be battered but was entirely serviceable and that the well-used hunting rifle slung over his shoulder was an expensive import from a master gunsmith of Brasilia. Fortunately there were no careful observers.
Cambridge was a college town a few kilometers out of Trinity’s commercial capital, Oxford. It possessed all the refinement one associated with such lofty aspirations. It boasted a theatre and a concert hall where intellectually stimulating and improving works were performed by painfully serious people. The town houses were tall three-story buildings clustered tightly together with tiny gardens given over to flowers and decorative shrubs. Once the town had been restricted to an area inside an earth berm but that era had long gone. Nevertheless, families clung to their prestigious town addresses, building upwards when they needed more room for servant’s quarters.
College buildings rather than shops or business premises formed the focus and heart of the town. Presumably food and other goods were brought in from outlying demesnes and villages. Nothing as sordid as a bar polluted the streets of Cambridge but there were dram shops where customers could taste expensive imported booze before making a purchase.
Hawthorn made for a dram shop called Sament’s Fine Wines and Liquors. Inside, racks of bottles in a variety of colors hunched draped in cobwebs. Web-spinning spiders were uncommon in the ‘Stream. Hawthorn assumed the webs had been sprayed on as a marketing device. Nothing so uncouth as an actual bar brought down the tone of the establishment but tables and chairs were discretely set out in one corner of the large carpeted room. A small open kitchen off the main room contained glasses and bottle opening devices.
Two customers in the dark clothes of Ascetics sat smoking and tasting wine at one of the tables. From the glassy eyed stare of the one facing Hawthorn, they had “tasted” for some little time. Presumably, they were having problems making up their mind what to purchase. A man in an apron bent over their table running his finger down a catalogue. After some discussion he carefully selected a bottle from low down on one of the racks. He fetched two glasses from the kitchen and set them down in front of the customers. With a theatrical flourish he poured an inch of purple-dark liquid into each glass.
The shopkeeper managed to ignore Hawthorn throughout the entire ritual. In return Hawthorn ignored him back, flicking through a catalogue suspended from a rack. The shopkeeper replaced the bottle slowly but was eventually forced to accept that Hawthorn was not going to go leave even when he saw the extortionate prices.
“Can I help you?” the man asked in a most perfunctory tone.
He was bald on top and the hair over his ears projected out at forty-five degrees giving him the appearance of a nervous rabbit.
“I don’t see any tonk in your catalogue,” Hawthorn replied in the accent of a Port Trent dock worker.
The man froze as if Hawthorn had made an obscene suggestion involving lead piping and lubricant.
“No, we don’t stock it. I don’t imagine anyone in town does but there are taverns in the outlying villages that might have products more suited to your palette,” the man suggested.
“Pity, oh well, one must make do,” Hawthorn replied, adopting the more normal drawl typical of a Manzanitan gentleman.
He dropped the catalogue which swung on its chain.
“I’ll try your Sanja Berry distillate.”
The man gaped at Hawthorn.
“You do have Sanja?”
“Uh, yes sar, but it is rather expensive.”
“It usually is,” Hawthorn replied, cynically. “Well, run along.”
Hawthorn seated himself, as no one had offered him a table. He dropped the laserrifle on the top and pulled out his datapad, immersing himself in the latest scandal concerning a generously endowed socialite lady in Port Trent. He ignored the shopkeeper when he returned, forcing the man to cough discretely to get his attention. The shopkeeper eyed the laserrifle, obviously considering asking Hawthorn to remove it but lacking the bottle. He poured a measure.
“Wait!” Hawthorn said when the man went to leave.
Hawthorn rolled the oily liquid around in the glass, holding it up to the light to check the color. He inhaled the bouquet before taking a sip.”
“This is Sanja Nouveau. Personally, I can’t stand the muck. It’s suitable only for clerks and politicians. Don’t you have any vintage?”
“Yes, sar,” the shopkeeper said, looking as if his world had turned upside down. He could not have been more surprised if his dog started quoting Cicero.
“Then get me some, at least ten years old, mind.”
The shopkeeper disappeared to locate a bottle from a back room. Hawthorn repeated the testing procedure, to the intense fascination of the two onlookers.
“Acceptable, leave the bottle.”
Hawthorn returned to his pad, the perusal of which took up his attention for the next half an hour until the inebriated tasters tottered out. The shopkeeper shimmied over to Hawthorn.
“I’m afraid we’re closing, sar: if you wouldn’t mind settling the bill.”
“You must be Master Sament.”
“Which is odd because I thought you were called Grenvil. That was the name you gave the Paxton Proctors was it not when they nicked you for pimping out your wife to prominent citizens before blackmailing said pillars of respectable society?”
Sament went white.
“If you think you can come in here making accusations…”
“Sit down, Sament.”
Hawthorn kicked a chair towards him.
“There’s still a warrant out for an unpaid fine. I imagine the Proctors would love to know your new name and address.”
“I have powerful friends in Paxton. You wouldn’t want to cross them,” Sament blustered.
“Powerful friends, no less? That knocking sound you hear is my knees,” Hawthorn replied in a tone that suggested he was singularly unimpressed.
“Bishop wouldn’t be one of those friends would he? He was the man who smuggled you out as I remember but that was surely for money rather than undying friendship. For more money he’s sold you to me.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” Sament asked, in a whisper.
“Now that is the issue. Where is your wife by the way?”
“In Oxford, she was trapped when the Brasilian army sealed off the town.”
“That is what I heard. I take it she is, ah, pursuing her old profession?”
Sament didn’t answer which was a sort of answer in itself.
“Quite an upmarket operation you and she ran. I would imagine that she would have little trouble getting intimate with Brasilian officers?”
“What do you want?” Sament repeated.
“To pay for my bottle of Sanja, of course.”
Hawthorn took a hundred crown chip from his wallet. It flashed gold to indicate authenticity when he placed it on the table.
“I will have trouble finding change for that,” Sament said, licking his lips
Hawthorn switched on the laserrifle and angled the weapon towards Sament so that the red sighting dot lit up the center of the merchant’s torso. His finger caressed the trigger as if it were a lover’s breast.
“I want good, accurate information on Brasilian military activities and intentions. I will pay generously if what you tell me works out then. If it doesn’t, well, the substantial bounty on your head back at Paxton is payable dead or alive. You really upset some important people, old son.”
Hawthorn waved his free hand over the chip and the rifle
“Your choice, sunshine, I make a profit either way.”
Sament picked up the chip which flashed gold, triggered by the chemistry of his hand
“I will make the necessary arrangements.”
Hawthorn stood up, putting his rifle over his shoulder.
“I’ll see myself out.”
He picked up the bottle as he left. He’d damn well paid enough for it.
Allenson and Todd arrived in Cambridge some time later but rather more conspicuously in a limo pedaled by two chauffeurs. The beacon guided them in to one of the college buildings that had been requisitioned by the Oxford Assembly in Exile. It was late afternoon local time and gloomy. Black clouds hid the sky like portents of bad tidings.
Two men in business suits emerged from the central three-story, brick-built structure to greet them. It was the only place to show lights at the windows. Darkness draped the surrounding stabilized earth and wood chalets. Allenson was a little surprised that the welcoming committee was so low key. They were supposed to be expecting him and he was the captain-general of all the colonial militias. The only pan-Colonial official in the entire ‘Stream might have expected a little more pomp and ceremony.
He discovered from the initial introductions that the men were middle ranking clerks. His ego was not hurt but the lack of respect for his office was a matter of concern. He was shown to a waiting room and offered café, which from the stale taste had been reheated several times. He sat drumming his fingers for some five minutes before one of the clerks returned.
“Council Leader Inglethorpe sends his regards but regrets he is running late with important business. If you’ll wait he’ll try to see you as soon as he’s free,” the clerk said.
“Will he indeed?” Allenson asked, clamping down hard on the white fury that leapt trough his veins. “Will he really?”
He pushed past the clerk. Todd followed in his wake like a frigate in convoy with a battleship.
“Sar, sar, I really must insist…” the clerk squeaked.
Todd checked the clerk with a finger to his lips. Allenson strode down the corridor deeper into the building until he met a woman carrying a stack of papers.