“I’ll bet you would, but why? Because I’m ‘efficient’? I didn’t think you thought that highly of me. Deity knows I’ve tried to interest you these past ten years.”
“I’m aware of that. I’m not a complete social idiot, you know. But I’m afraid it _is_ because of your efficiency, because you dedicate yourself totally to whatever project you’re responsible for. I’ll need people like you, in the world of legal commerce.”
“You’ll need more than that. In a year you’ll need loans, and in another year you’ll be begging. You’re not the type, Loo-Macklin, to make it as a legal. Your background is wholly illegal. You’re used to having people broken when they get in your way. The legal world’s rules are stricter. There’s no camaraderie among its leaders, no unwritten codes of conduct and friendship, of mutual respect. It’s a rotten, corrupt, evil place. Give me the clean underworld any day.”
“I take it, then, that you will be leaving?”
“You can take it and shove it you know where, Loo-Macklin, because I’m damned if I’m going to airlock out of a two-million-credit-per-year syndicate to go and work in food services or kiddy entertainment or any other pedestrian legal business.” She turned from him and headed toward the exit.
“I don’t give a damn who’s buying you out. I know this syndicate’s workings inside and out. I think they’ll appreciate what I can do. It will be in their interests to.”
“I can’t argue that,” he admitted. “I still wish you’d cross over with me.”
“Blow it out the orifice of your choice.” She opened the door, turned to face him. “I never thought I’d see you frightened, Kees vaan Loo-Macklin, but that’s obviously what’s happened, no matter how often or strongly you choose to deny it. I’d have thought you’d have fought them.”
“I am making ten million credits,” he told her calmly.
She spat on the floor. “Maggot food. You can make that much in less than ten years here, and still be a young man. And that’s not assuming any expansion of syndicate business.”
“Expansion can be opposed.”
“So you work with them.”
He shook his head. “The people I’ve had to deal with made it clear they covet the business I’ve built up here, not my personal services. Not that it would matter. I wouldn’t work beneath another syndicate. And there’s something else very peculiar about it, but I had the impression they were worried about me.”
“That’s peculiar, all right,” she snorted, “because in selling out you’ve proved just how stupid you really are. You keep your offer and your quick profit. I’ll take my chances with my new bosses.”
“Last chance to reconsider,” he said quickly.
“Forget it. Good luck with your fast-food services, Loo-Macklin. It’s going to be quite a shock for you, dealing with the legal world for a change. And you won’t find a quick route to the top the way you did here.”
“You forget that I made my own ‘route.’ I will do whatever’s necessary to get what I want. The legal world is no different from the underworld. Only the conventions differ, and I think I can cope with them. I’m very adaptable.”
“Except when force is applied,” she said. “Good-bye, Loo-Macklin. You had me fooled for a long time.”
The door closed quietly behind her, humming shut on cushioned rails. He paused a moment, still staring after her, before turning back to the patient computer monitor.
A shame to lose Khryswhy, he thought. She’d done such a fine job for him. But he’d given his word to the new buyers that he wouldn’t compel a single key person to cross out with him. Those who chose to stay with him, like Basright, were all the more valuable because they did so of their own free will. They would form the nucleus of his new organization.
The first thing that had changed following confirmation of the sale and divestiture of all his illegal assets was his official status. He’d fallen all the way from twentieth illegal to seventy-third legal. That didn’t bother him. He expected those ratings to change again, shortly.
He studied the figures displayed on the screen. Ten million credits was a great deal of money. He’d been poised to make the necessary crossover to the legal world for several years now, in case it became necessary, but he’d been reluctant to divert income from the syndicate to finance legal operations.
Well, now he had plenty of income to divert and no syndicate to worry about. His expansion into legal commerce could commence in earnest.
Khryswhy was right about the difficulties inherent in such a switch. Society didn’t accept such transitions gracefully. But he thought he’d found a way to manage it. Events were already in motion to smooth his emergence from the underworld into “polite” society. And there would be side benefits.
It was time for the next step. He touched a control on the desk console. The figures were replaced by pleasantly shifting abstract patterns and a fluid voice.
“You desire outcall, sir?”
“Yes. I wish to speak to Welworth al-Razim, Commissioner of Police for the city of Cluria.”
“Noted, sir. I will enter your call. I should add that such officials rarely reply to unsolicited personal calls.”
“Give my full identity code and name,” Loo-Macklin told the machine. “He’ll reply. And while you’re active, check on the progress of my new business on Restavon and my concurrent application for commercial status there.”
“Very well, sir,” said the smooth mechanical voice. “Anything else for now?”
Loo-Macklin leaned back in the pneumatic chair and regarded the ceiling. “No. I think we’ll be safe for awhile ….”
The big, florid-faced man in the shimmering gray jumpsuit burst unhesitatingly into the outer office and confronted the receptionist there. She was human, which was unusual in itself, but then everything about the office was unusual, from the glittering walls dusted with ruby XL to its location on the 230th floor of Manaus’s largest office building.
“I’m sorry,” she told him, unfazed by his explosive entrance, “the counselor is not seeing…”
“Oh, he’ll want to see me,” said the visitor, staring past her toward the distant doorway. “He’d damn well better want to see me.”
Prax controlled his temper while the puzzled receptionist buzzed for instructions on how to proceed. There was no point in trying to force his way farther. The door ahead was protected by security devices as lethal as they were complex. He’d come for explanations, not martyrdom.
There were a number of other people and two aliens, a tall birdlike Orischian and a celibate Athabascan, waiting in the lounge. They gaped at the stranger, muttered among themselves. One did not act that way in the outer offices of a counselor.
I’ve reason to, he rumbled to himself. He recognized a couple of the supplicants. That one there, she was a famous surgeon. Another represented the Board of Operators who programmed the master government computer that ran Terra itself.
All were here to pay homage to Momblent and to try and get something from him. There wasn’t anything lower than a fifth-class legal in the room. Prax was the only illegal, though you couldn’t tell by looking at him, despite what some people said.
The receptionist was conversing in low tones with the business end of a communicator. Eventually she put it back in its holder and looked up with a startled expression on her pretty face.
“The counselor _will_ see you, sir.” She waved toward the beckoning door. “You can go right in.”
“Thanks,” he said curtly, striding past her.
The door opened automatically at his approach. He stalked into an office paneled in richly carved wood inlaid with semiprecious stones cut in strips, all brought up from the gem state of Minas Geraes.
To his right, a broad rhomboidal window provided a view of the thick cloud cover currently smothering the Amazon basin. It was the rainy season, and the clouds were rejuvenating the vast rain forest preserve that stretched off toward the distant Andes.
Two other office buildings poked tapering spires through the fluffy gray mass, along with the Jorge Amado Memorial. The latter structure, a towering cylinder of native metallic glass, was covered with bas-reliefs of muscular men, voluptuous women, ancient recipes for spicy local dishes, and every word the great native writer ever put to paper. Amado would have approved of the women and the recipes, would have found the scale of the monument and waste of resources that went into its construction appalling. Unfortunately the dead cannot protest their canonization by the future.
Momblent wore a blue and maroon suit, open at the neck, with a ruffled shirt showing beneath. He was standing next to a surprisingly small desk. Both looked lost in the huge, vaulted room.
None of it impressed Prax. His own offices were considerably more elaborate. He supposed a politician needed to affect a little false modesty. Prax had no constituents to worry about.