“It’s gone. All gone. Can you believe that?”
Floyd Gundy didn’t look up from his accounting book, but he knew that Hershel Friedgen was pacing back and forth in the motel lobby.
“How could something like this even happen?” Friedgen asked. The fat man was wearing a brown western suit with a bolo tie that had a large turquoise stone set in it. Expensive, if real, and knowing Friedgen, it was. The motel lobby contained several glass cases displaying silver and turquoise jewelry. Most of it was fake because there was no way that Gundy’s clientele could afford the real deal.
“What should I do?” Friedgen asked, coming to a stop at the front desk. “Do you know how much copper, how much money, I’ve lost?”
Gundy held in a sigh and looked up. “Mr. Friedgen, I am attempting to attend to my own business by checking my books.”
“This is important, though,” Friedgen said. “Those copper mines could be a major boom for this part of the territory!”
“You mean the illegal copper mines?” Gundy asked.
Friedgen wiped sweat from his brow. The motel lobby was air conditioned, but the fat man was still drenched in sweat. Set off from the lobby was the motel’s restaurant, a 24/7 dinner that served a mix of traditional Arab cuisine and the traditional American greasy spoon. “Those mines are very rich in the metal, and it’s not right that they’re covered by federal land,” Friedgen said. “I needed this shipment to show the investors that I was for real.”
“And then what?”
“I have connections with legislators so that we can get land set aside and mining permits.”
“Connections? Certainly you mean bribes.”
Friedgen waved his hand. “Such a dirty phrase.”
“How do you know something has happened to your copper?”
“Because the mules were supposed to arrive in Galahad two days ago, but it hasn’t. At first I thought they were just slow, but then the bodies of one of the men I’d hired washed up in the Huvasu a few hours ago.”
“Perhaps he fell.”
“Dead of a gunshot wound,” Friedgen said. “I had them take a back route specifically so they wouldn’t have any issues.”
“You know the back country is filled with tribals and raiders.”
“Tribals you say?” Friedgen looked past Gundy at the orc sitting on the floor in the back room. Odima was sitting on the floor with a disassembled hunting rifle in front of her. “I haven’t seen her for a few days.”
“Are you accusing Odima of something?” Gundy asked. Odima looked up at the mention of her name. The right side of her head was shaved and there was a hand print tattoo across her face. “Odima was hunting in the Black Hills all week.”
“The Black Hills, huh?” Friedgen asked. “You knew where the mules were going. What about her?”
“What about her?”
“Does she understand English?”
“Understand little, speak littler,” Odima said in a thick, husky voice.
“You speak less,” Gundy said. “And you’re being paranoid, and racist. Odima is one of the good ones.” He tapped his pen on the table in annoyance. “It could have been anyone. 6,000 pounds of copper is a lot of money. One of the men you hired could have betrayed the others.”
Friedgen shook his head. “I don’t know. Anything’s possible, I suppose.”
“Are you going to send another load?”
“I have no other choice.”
Gundy looked back down at his books. “Then I guess that’s what your next step is.”
“There’s no other choice.”
“No, there’s not,” Gundy said.
Friedgen sighed heavily and took his leave. The bell above the door jingled as he left. Gundy watched the door for several moments before turning around to look at Odima.
“Where have you been, Odima?” Gundy asked.
“Hunting,” Odima answered flatly.
“I shoot elk.”
“Where’s my cut?” Gundy asked.
“Soon,” Odima said.
“You don’t have to talk like a savage around me. I know you know more English than you let on.”
Odima merely shrugged and picked up a piece of the rifle to oil it.
Gundy watched her work. She’d grown up on what was now the Lumpong Agency to the west, but had been working for Gundy for several years now. The Carbonate Roadside Inn catered to middle class tourists from Samawa or Sharqiah to the south, and natives like Odima served as guides and scouts for them. Guests who came from the orbital states and skyhooks stayed at The Carbonate Manor Lodge paid more for less competent human guides, but at least they didn’t look like they would rob you blind and leave you for dead in the high desert.
Not that Odima had ever done anything like that.
“Hunting,” Gundy said. “Well, I owe whoever did this a favor or two.”
“Friedgen thinks the copper will be a boom, and it will be, but not the boom I want. You know what miners bring? Hookers, blow and lawlessness. We’re a tourist town. If we become a mining town, what’s in it for me?”
“It is what it is, I suppose.”
The sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to the noon prayer could be heard through the lobby’s closed door.
“Aren’t you going?” Gundy asked.
“Prayer. I thought all you orcs were Muslim.”
“Prayer wastes time,” Odima said. “Not going.”
Gundy nodded his head. “Well, take this someplace where guests can’t see you. They’ll be coming in for lunch and I don’t want them getting the wrong idea.”
Odima gathered the pieces and cleaning supplies and went into the back room, closing the door behind her. Gundy returned to his books, but he could only focus on one question: what reason would Odima have to hijack Hershel Friedgen’s copper?