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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 76: Kondor 67
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Previous chapter: Chapter 75: Hastings 68
Kondor awoke out of a vague forgotten dream, and took a moment to remember where he was. But there was no hurry; he had no where to go.
Half rising, he picked up the phone and called the desk, wishing to find out whether he was too late for breakfast. It was never too late for guests of the Hendrick, and his breakfast order would be filled promptly. Also, a Mr. Kendall Merrick had called and left a number; he said it was important. Probably they found the Vorgo, he thought, and asked to be connected after ordering breakfast.
Professor Merrick was not in his office, but a recording invited him to leave a message. He kept it simple. He was awake, about to have breakfast, and had no particular plans for the day so please call so he could know whether to leave the hotel.
The return call reached him faster than his breakfast.
"Joseph? This is Kendall." Kondor wasn't quite certain when they had gotten to be on a first name basis, and wasn't entirely comfortable with it yet.
"Yes, professor. Have they found Mitchell?"
"Well, yes, but it's not really good news. They questioned him, and his answers were all reasonable. He had remembered my class, and when he saw I was doing this exhibition he thought it might be interesting and took time to read up on it. But he had an early day this morning and didn't wish to stay too late, so he left when there was a break in the program. He didn't know it was almost over."
"But you're not convinced."
"It's not that, exactly. It's that the police have no other leads, and I think they're going to drop the investigation. 'Man left early from the exhibition' isn't really evidence of anything, and they said it would be stranger had he not been one of my students."
They were correct, of course; nothing they knew suggested the man might be guilty. It was only the best guess they had, and not a very good one. They really couldn't expect the police to stay with something like this. As likely as not they didn't see the theft of the rock to be that significant. But it mattered to Professor Merrick; and in a strange way it mattered to Joseph Kondor, too.
"Do you have any information about him, where he lives, where he works, that sort of thing?"
"I could probably get something. The alumni office tries to keep tabs on former graduates."
"O.K., see what you can get. I've got an idea. Give me a number where I can reach you." Kondor opened the drawer in the table under the phone; sure enough, there was a pencil and a pad of paper there along with a phone directory and some kind of book, this world's equivalent of a Gideon's Bible he surmised.
"You could reach me at this number, in an hour or so."
"Good. But I don't have the number; the hotel switchboard connected me."
Merrick rattled off an eight-digit number, which Kondor jotted down. "Thanks," he said. "I'll call you as soon as I can." He had a lot to do in a short time.
He ate his breakfast more hurriedly than he had intended. Then he took his weapons and left the room, stopping at the main desk to ask to see his valuables for a moment. He took several of the gold diktar from the duffel, and put the rest back. He declined the offer of a car, saying that most of his stops were fairly close at hand, and he would come back before he went far. The next stop was the bank. He still had quite a bit of money left, but wanted to move some of the gold into currency in case this was not enough. It would take a couple hours, he knew, but at least this way if what he needed was going to cost more than he had left (and he had little idea of the cost) the money would already be available to him.
This time Miss Julia Baker recognized him.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked.
"Yes. I have some gold I would like assayed. If Mr. Winslow is available, that would be most convenient."
"Please have a seat, sir. I will find out."
She returned in a moment. Kondor had walked toward the seats, but had not yet sat. He was admiring the old building. He had once heard that banks built grand structures to encourage the illusion of reliability; that is, any institution that is in so expensive a building isn't going to go broke tomorrow. They had done a fine job with this one.
"Sir?" Miss Baker said. "Mr. Winslow is with another customer. He can see you in a few minutes, or if you prefer Mr. Radison can help."
"Mr. Radison will be fine, I'm sure."
"Right this way, sir." And she led to another office, William Radison, Head Teller. She knocked, opened the door, and stuck her head inside. "Mr. Radison? Mr. Winslow suggested that you might be able to help this gentleman essay some gold."
Kondor smiled at the mistake; Miss Baker was not a banker at heart or in mind. Mr. Radison apparently knew what she meant. "Please, show him in." She did.
"I'm Bill Radison," he said. "How can I help you?"
"I'm Joe Kondor," he replied. Mr. Radison had an easy-going friendly approach that made Kondor comfortable. "Your bank assayed some gold for me a few days ago; I'd like to sell some more. I'll be making some purchases today, and I don't wish to run short on cash."
"Very good. Would you like the proceeds deposited in your account?"
A very clever and tactful way to approach that, Kondor thought. He could be equally clever and tactful. "No, give me a receipt for the coins, and I'll be back in a couple hours for the cash. I'm not uncomfortable carrying several thousand around with me. As you might guess, people rarely attack me. If there's any problem, talk to Pete Winslow."
"I don't see a problem. Let me get a scale." And he was gone.
Mr. Radison's office was much more functional than Mr. Winslow's had been, or at least that was the word which came to Kondor's mind. There were stacks of papers on most surfaces, including the top of an old radiator and the large recessed sill of the window above it. The clutter on the desk included several machines, among them an electric adding machine, a calculator, and a computer, as well as stapler, multi-hole paper punch, a rack of rubber stamps, and a printer. There were several file cabinets against one wall, and beside them a stack of thick hard-cover binders. This office was definitely used for operating a business; the other was more for conducting one.
Also the chairs were less comfortable, hard wooden seats without cushions. But they served their function, and Kondor had opted for speed over luxury on this visit.
Radison returned with a cart on which were a scale and a stack of weights. Odd, Kondor thought, that they didn't use an electronic scale for these measurements. On the other hand, this was really only a rough estimate of the weight, something to use to get the right weight for the receipt. And in a strange way a balance scale made sense. After all, an electronic scale would measure pressure, and therefore weight, which would vary with altitude and probably other factors Kondor had forgotten. A balance scale measured mass, and would read the same on the moon.
Radison obviously did not do this often. He moved slowly and uncertainly, having Kondor put the gold on one pan, and then making an entirely wrong guess for the first weight. With a bit of effort he finally came up with a satisfactory balance, and told Kondor the weight. Writing it on a receipt which he handed to Kondor, he carefully collected the coins, examined each one, and packaged them in a plastic case which had been under the cart.
I suppose, Kondor thought, when you're the vice president of the bank you don't have to pay so much attention to the procedures as when you're only the head teller.
They thanked each other, and shook hands. Kondor indicated that he wasn't certain when he would be back, but if he wasn't back by five he would pick up the cash in the morning.
He had been to the sporting goods store and the army surplus outlet. He wasn't sure which was more likely to have what he wanted, but decided to try the army surplus store first. The clerk was alone when he entered.
"I'm looking for surveillance gear," Kondor said. "High tech stuff, parabolic mikes, infrared and starlight vision, that sort of thing. I have no idea what's available, but I've got enough money to get decent quality."
"You've come to the right place," the clerk said, although Kondor was not entirely reassured by that statement; it seemed the sort of thing a salesman would say when he was about to tell you that you didn't want what you came for, but instead wanted something entirely different which he was about to show you. "We've got a selection of spy gear, and most of the private dicks in the city buy from us."
"O.K., show me what you've got."
The man was as good as his word. He had a complete collection of snooping gear, including wiretapping equipment, cellular and digital phone interceptors and jammers, ranging binoculars, metal detectors, portable radar, night vision in several variations, signal amplifiers, bugging devices, listening equipment, photographic gear, drug sniffers, money sniffers, chemical sniffers, and things Kondor couldn't even name. If he was going to be able to find what he wanted, it would be here.
He remembered, in a somewhat disconnected way, that he didn't need infrared goggles. His left eye could be adjusted to see in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges. The Meritronics Cybereye had become so natural a part of him that he often forgot that he had lost his own to a space pirate's grenade a decade before. It had been in this world, centuries ago, that he had used it for just that purpose, to see the advancing armies of so-called undead under the black skies of the overcast night. He could easily do that, save himself some of the money (not a big issue) and reduce the amount of gear he would be carrying (much more important). It wasn't always easy to retune it to match his natural eye, but if he stayed in this world he thought he wouldn't have too much trouble. If Lauren's theory about biased worlds was correct at all, this one favored technology.
He selected an excellent set of ranging binoculars. Then he looked over the night vision gear. He'd decided exactly what he wanted: something on the order of what he had come to call starlight vision, but for the right eye only, and still hands free operation. There were quite a few starlight vision systems, headgear which used a high-sensitivity electronic television-type camera to compile images from the faintest differences in darkness, but they were all designed for binocular use. If he was going to use the infrared capabilities of his left eye, he couldn't have it covered with a screen.
But the clerk proved helpful. There was one system that allowed you to uncover one eye. He had never understood the reason for that, and never known anyone who thought it an advantage. He asked why Kondor would want it that way.
"Let's just say," Kondor began, and then wasn't sure what to say. "Let's just say that I'd rather not lose both eyes at once if something goes wrong with the gear."
"Hadn't thought of it that way before. I assure you, this is reliable stuff; but I guess if someone hit it hard enough they could damage it."
Kondor wanted to change the subject. "Is there a decent parabolic amplification system here that can be operated hands free?" he asked.
"Um—yes, I think I do have that. I think you'll like this one," and he produced a rather strange bit of headgear with headphones and a pair of parabolic dishes which stuck off the side like Dumbo's elephant ears. "Although forward facing in its array, it preserves some sense of stereolocation by putting the mikes to either side of the head. And it's from the same company that makes the nightscope you like, so they were designed to work together."
"That is a plus," he said. "Do they make anything else that's part of the same set?"
"Quite a few bits, actually. They specialize in mercenary gear, I think–sell a lot through Weekend Warrior and Combat Adventure magazines. There's a radio set with mike that can hook in to the same ear piece, a tactical array which can assist targeting through the eyepiece, an array of different light sensors including infrared and telescopic, and a sniffer that detects impurities in the air and tries to match them to an expandable database. Those are the ones I carry in stock. I can get you their catalogue and special order anything from it you might like."
It all sounded like wonderful stuff, but none of it would be particularly useful to his present mission. Still, he liked the sound of the sniffer; it might be useful somewhere somewhen. "How does the sniffer work?"
"Oh, I don't know much about it, really. Some kind of molecular analysis of gasses and particulates."
"No, I'm sorry, I mean, what's it like to use?"
"Oh, right. You clip it somewhere in the open, usually a backpack or a collar or something, and run the wire to whatever eyepiece you're using. When there's a problem, a red light flashes in the corner. Push the button on the box and it displays inside the eyepiece what has been detected. Then when you clear it, it will flash again whenever the air changes significantly."
Kondor frowned. "Does it work without the eyepiece?"
"Oh, yes. It has a screen built in which can be used to access it. It also lets you name anything detected which isn't listed, change the names of things if it helps you remember them better, and create a hazard list from benign at any level to immediate hazard if detected. And it constantly monitors your Oh Two, so you'll know whether you've got breathable air even if there isn't anything dangerous in it."
"I'll take it. And that should do. What does this come to?"
The four items came to something just over three thousand, and he had just enough money for it. But he knew he still owed the hotel, so he was glad to have more at the bank.
On his way to the register, something caught his eye.
"How much is this?"
The clerk looked up. "That? That, sir, is one of the finest bullet proof vests made. They advertise elsewhere for four hundred, and worth every bit. But for you," he looked at Kondor, as if assessing his worth.
"I just wondered," Kondor said.
"Look you're a good customer, and this is a big order. You want that vest? It's yours. You can make it up to me on your next purchase."
Although he didn't like to owe anyone even a favor, the vest seemed a good idea. Lauren had her plastic armor, and Bob Slade always wore that leather suit. There was some sense in having a layer of protection against whatever might hit him. If it would stop a bullet, it would probably slow a sword, maybe an axe; he'd fought against such weapons before, and probably would again. He tossed it on the pile.
There was an extra fifty in his wallet. "Look, I have to stop at the bank to pick up some cash on my way home. Could you be so kind as to have this delivered to me, Joseph Kondor, at the Hendrick Hotel?" As he said this, he placed the money on the table.
"Certainly, Mr. Kondor. It will be a couple hours, though, as I'll have to wait for the afternoon clerk to arrive before I can leave the store."
A couple hours was more than he wished to wait. After all, it was by now late in the afternoon–after three, by his watch–and he wanted to pick up Mitchell's trail before nightfall. "Never mind," he said, leaving the fifty on the counter. "Just hold it for me here, and I'll have the hotel send someone to pick it up. They'll ask for the order for Joseph Kondor."
"Certainly sir. I'd be glad to."
Reaching the door, he stopped.
"Forget something?" the clerk asked.
"Not exactly; there is something else, though." Stepping back inside, he drew out his blaster. "I picked up this–" Kondor paused, not wanting his words to say too much– "this toy in my travels. It has an unusual battery pack in it, and I'm hoping I can match it, or recharge it somehow."
"Well, let me take a look." Kondor removed the battery from the blaster, and placed it on the counter. "Hmmm...no, I've not seen one like this. Probably this is a custom power pack. You'd have to contact the manufacturer."
Both stood in silence for a moment, then the clerk spoke again. "You know, sometimes there will be a plate in the gadget that gives tech specs. Maybe I can get something like it. Could I–?" His outstretched hand completed the thought. Kondor paused only a moment before handing him the blaster.
"Yeah, see?" the clerk said in a moment. "The battery is designed to fit such that it becomes the battery compartment cover. Clearly a custom system. Mark Seven, it says; that must be the manufacturer. Looks like it's designed so you can drop the whole thing in some kind of charging rack. This indicator would show the battery level, and you would aim and fire it–" He abruptly stopped, staring at the alien weapon.
Clearly, Kondor realized, the man has seen enough variations on the weapon concept that he knows one when he sees one. "Well," Kondor said, "as I say, it's an interesting toy."
"Yeah. It is interesting."
The stood a moment in silence across the counter from each other. Then the clerk somewhat awkwardly handed the blaster and power pack back.
"I'll," he began, "I'll have your stuff ready for pickup."
"Thanks." Trying to look casual, Kondor smiled, packed up the blaster, and left.
He got back to the bank before the money was ready; he sat in the lobby, but rose and paced impatiently several times, going over in his mind what he was going to do next.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #104: Novel Learning. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: