James Nexis - Betrayal: Part Five
“So,” James said, sitting next to Deirdre in an old, patched tent. Surrounding them were Mikah and a dozen of the cloth-clad natives. “Is this the part where you confess to destroying the warehouse?”
Mikah gave him an odd look. “No,” he said, slowly and clearly. “This is the part where you explain what you were doing in our conference tent, reading a private letter and discussing how you were going to frame me for a crime I didn’t commit.”
A new Shunan suddenly pushed through the tend flaps to stare at them. “I heard a commotion,” he said, identifying himself as Jericho. “What’s going on here?”
“I saw a light in our tent just after leaving it, and went to investigate,” Mikah said, pointing to James and Deirdre. “I found them in there, concocting wild theories about who destroyed our warehouse.”
James squirmed. “They weren’t ‘wild concoctions’; they were more like logical assumptions based on the evidence-”
Deirdre poked him urgently. “Now would be a good time to stop talking, sir.”
“Also,” Mikah held up the letter, “this had been moved.”
Jericho frowned at them. Or, at least, James assumed he was frowning. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself, Mr Nexis?”
Before the Hissi could answer, a sluggishly sleepy Ruki shoved his way into the tent. “What’s going on here?”
“Oh, come on!” Mikah snapped. “I just went through all of that!”
Juhan grimaced. “Sorry.” He turned to James. “Is there any trouble here?”
James briefly explained the events of the past hour, leaving the Ruki rubbing his chin.
“I see.” Juhan turned to Mikah and Jericho. “Don’t take it personally, please. He’s a reporter; he can’t help himself. Can we work this out?”
Mikah and Jericho looked at each other for a minute. “Fine,” Jericho said at last. “I’m willing to accept that Mr Nexis’s culture may be completely different to ours, and that his occupation may require behaviour that would not be accepted amongst our own people. Though I must say, Mr Nexis, your world is in a sad state if spying is considered polite and acceptable.”
James forced a tight grin.
“On that basis, we excuse you and request that you go back to your tent- and stay there- until tomorrow.”
James, Deirdre and Juhan left under the intense stare of almost a dozen cloth-piles.
The Hissi finally risked a smile at Juhan. “Thanks.”
“Hey, no worries. Those nomads can be really tough about their law, but they won’t dare push me around.” He grinned merrily. “The wonders of being an official, eh?”
Deirdre glared at James, tail swishing furiously. “Don’t you ever do anything like that ever again, got it?”
James ruffled the irked Xweetok’s hair. “Relax, Deirdre. It sorted itself out.”
“Sure, we got off the hook that time, but it was only because of Juhan.” The Ruki smiled gleefully at them. He obviously liked being useful. “But now we’ve officially alienated ourselves from the Shunans. Chances are they won’t be too happy about helping us out with our report now.”
“I’ll have a word with them tomorrow,” Juhan offered as the arrived at their tent. The Ruki held the flap open for them as they filed in. “I might be able to smooth it over, who knows. What happened, anyway?”
“Long story,” James said happily, putting their lamp on the table. “Sit down and I’ll tell you everything.”
“I said, wake up.”
James opened his eyes gingerly to be faced with a glaring Mikah. “Wha...?”
“We leave in half an hour to view the ruins of our warehouse. Get ready.”
James mumbled something incomprehensible about it still being dark, and pulled the blankets over his head. Mikah sighed and turned to Deirdre, who was already awake and washing her face in a basin of water. “Make sure he gets up.”
“Yes, sir,” the Xweetok sighed.
Mikah left, and as he pushed through the tent door, a wave of heat washed into the confined space. The temperature overnight had dropped to almost freezing, but now the sun was shining on them again, it was starting to become unbearable once more.
Deirdre stomped over to where her employer was snoring and poked him. “Wake up.”
“No,” he objected groggily. “It’s not morning yet.”
“Yes it is. The sun’s shining.”
James opened an eye to squint at her. “Eh? What time is it?”
“Five in the morning.”
The Hissi groaned and rolled over. “You’re kidding.”
Deirdre smirked fondly. “The sun rises early in this part of the world. The Shunans probably want to make an early start to get to the warehouse before it becomes too hot. Now get up, or you’ll miss breakfast.”
James did nothing but groan.
“There’ll be coffee,” Deirdre added persuasively, grinning.
James rolled over to face her again. “How much coffee?”
“You’ll have to be careful or you could drown.”
“Fine. I’m up.” James heaved himself out of bed, yawning loudly. “Wow, I’m tired.”
Deirdre held out a basin of water. “You wouldn’t be so tired if you hadn’t stayed up past two in the morning talking with Juhan.”
James took the bowl of water Deirdre offered him and started to wash his face. “Where is he, anyway?”
Right on cue, an exhausted Ruki pushed through the tent flaps, yawning loudly. “Good to see you’re up,” he said, flopping into a chair. “I’ve just spent the last hour arguing with Mikah. He didn’t want to let you two go to the warehouse today, but I pulled a few strings and, well, pack your bags.” He grinned triumphantly, obviously thrilled with his success.
James’s face broke into a huge grin. “That’s brilliant. Say, what’s my chance of eating non-poisoned food for breakfast?”
James had been dreading having to eat under the fierce stares of the Shunans, but as it was he was spared- their food was brought to the tent for them. The three of them sat around the table, crunching through old, chewy food marinated in a liberal coating of sand, and discussing the letter.
“I should have guessed something like this was coming,” Juhan said. “The officials at Sakhmet don’t like having to wait- they probably will switch to the Ammans. I really don’t blame them, either.”
“What do you know about the Ammans?” James asked, flipping out his notebook and scribbling.
“I was in charge of a couple of trades with them last year. They’re decent people and, if truth be known,” he lowered his voice confidentially, “a darn sight less scary than these guys.”
Deirdre picked up their plates and stacked them neatly by the door. “Cancelling the trade like that- isn’t that a bit harsh on the Shunans?”
Juhan shrugged. “Depends on how you look at it. It’s horrible that their warehouse was destroyed, but the people of Sakhmet can’t wait indefinitely for their produce. The contract specifically specified a day the trade needed to be completed on- if they can’t make it by then, well, it’s not our fault.” The Ruki pulled an official-looking gold coat over his shirt and began to button it up. “Just the luck of the draw. In my opinion, they should have guarded their warehouse more closely. And, if what you think about Mikah is correct- that he did actually sabotage his people’s warehouse- then it’s for the best if the trade is moved.”
Deirdre didn’t look convinced, and started to say something along the lines of a whole community can’t have their livelihood taken away because of one person, when Juhan snapped, “Drat!”
“What?” James had been looking at some maps but glanced up to see the Ruki pacing furiously.
“I lost one of my cuff links,” he said miserably, scrabbling through his suitcase. “This is bad. This is really bad.”
James and Deirdre strode to him and peered over his shoulder. Juhan held one ornately carved gold clip in his hand. James had a sneaking suspicion that it alone was worth more than his entire wardrobe.
Deirdre raised an eyebrow. “What’s so important about it?”
Juhan sighed and attached his clip to one of his sleeve cuffs. “Official Sakhmet ambassador wear. I have to be in full uniform every time I leave Sakhmet, or I face a fine.”
James squinted at him. “Wait- even if one cuff link is missing, you’ll get fined?”
“And you have to wear all that gear every time you go anywhere?”
“And if it’s not complete, you get in trouble?”
“Or if it’s wrinkled, or has more than the maximum amount of sand allowed in the folds.”
James and Deirdre stared at each other.
“You know, Deirdre, all of a sudden being a reporter doesn’t seem like such a bad job.”
“Amen to that.”
A voice suddenly called to them from outside. “Ambassador, Mr Nexis, ma’am, we’re ready to go.”
Deirdre picked up a bulging backpack and began to drag it towards the tend entrance. James frowned at it.
“What in the name of newspaper headlines is that?”
“Remind me to never leave you in charge of packing ever again.”
The Xweetok huffed as she tried to brush the sand off her blouse. “With all due respect, sir, leaving the packing to you would result in three crates of notebooks and pencils, and absolutely nothing even remotely useful.”
James was about to retort when the tent flaps were thrown open. Mikah frowned at them, silhouetted by the dazzling light glinting off the sand behind him. “Ready?”
They looked at each other nervously and nodded. “Ready.”
To be continued...