“You monster! You set that up? You could have killed him!” Kaylene felt like she wanted to rush forward and crush him herself, but Altman was leaning too heavily on her shoulder.
“Come now, it was little more than a demonstration of … bad luck.” Mitchell seemed unphased by Kaylene’s anger. He almost seemed to take satisfaction in it.
“Why? What do you stand to gain? What do you hope to accomplish?” There was something tugging at a corner of his mind, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.
“I simply thought you’d be easier to deal with in the absence of your work crew, of course. I have a business proposition for you, Mr. Dolet, and it is not for the ears of others.” He radiated supreme self-confidence. “Your lady-wife is free to stay, of course.”
She nearly did break away from him then, and he found he had to hang on to her before she subsided.
“You have some nerve Mitchell,” she growled.
“Indeed you do. I’m afraid I’ve very little interest in doing any sort of business with unknown men who start their bids with crude traps and attempted murder.”
“Unknown men? I am insulted! Why, Mr. Dolet, we have done business before.”
Altman looked closer; the tugging at the corner of his mind grew more insistent. He did look familiar, though the clothes were wrong, the manner, and — the face! He wore a short trimmed beard now, with the mustache shaved off. Take the beard away and … Yes, he was the spitting image of his last electrite client.
The pieces clicked and clattered in Altman’s head, tumblers falling one by one into place. “Of course. You’ve changed; you were so much better dressed the last time we met. I like the beard, it’s a nice touch.”
Mitchell nodded with a sardonic smile and Altman began to pace up and down what would soon be the road. “May I assume you’re dissatisfied with the quality of the electrite? Feeling overburdened by the safe handling and storage of it? You’ve come for a refund?” He didn’t buy it for a second of course, but he wanted to keep Mitchell from leaving, or from doing anything rash. With just a little luck, he thought, mouth twisting at the irony.
“Mr. Dolet, please. You’re brighter than that. You know as well as I do that I want more. A lot more, in fact.” His words were pleasant and his mouth was smiling, but his eyes were cold.
“And you expect me to give it to you, just like that.”
“Yes, I do.” The voice had followed the eyes; flat and cold. Now we’re coming to it. “And as to your next question, no, I won’t be satisfied with more samples, Mr. Dolet. I want it all. I want to know where you get it from.”
Altman froze and tried very, very hard not to let his shock show on his face. Kaylene openly gaped, but thankfully Altman’s pacing had taken him to Mitchell’s far side and he wasn’t facing her. He didn’t know! He was standing less than 500 meters from a potential mother-lode and he had no idea!
He cleared his throat. “That’s a pretty big request, Mr. Mitchell.”
“You misunderstand. It’s not a request. It’s a demand, and I’ll have it met.” His dark eyes were ice as he spoke, his posture threatening. It would have been intimidating but for the faint but familiar sound of footsteps coming around the path from the clearing. Waldon Sias and his men.
“You seem confident, yet here you stand, unarmed, and you’ve given no reason why I should—”
Mitchell dipped a hand into a pocket then, and Altman found himself facing a tiny pistol that looked no less deadly for its size. Kaylene dropped into a half-crouch, an odd sight with her long dress. The look on her face as her eyes focused in on Mitchell would’ve kept the strongest man from laughing.
“This should do for the moment, Altman. You don’t mind if I call you Altman, do you? As for the longer term, it would be unfortunate, don’t you think, if the Conclave were to learn of your little enterprise?” Sias’ footsteps were a bit louder now but still too distant for him to be of any help, and neither he nor his men would be armed.
Altman frowned. He’d half expected the Conclave threat; they were the highest scientific order in the land, and held a monopoly over most vital resources. That included the one other large source of electrite known, and all but the smallest other known sources as well. They wouldn’t be happy to learn of a source of this magnitude less than a week’s journey from their citadel in Holdswaine if it were already claimed, and worse, Altman had not yet legally claimed it as that would have drawn the Conclave’s attention firmly onto him. Mitchell might not know the source was right here, but with the Conclave actively investigating, they’d find it in no time.
“The Conclave’s attention would be unfortunate, yes, but that’s as true for you as it is for me. You could tell them, but you’d never see another scrap of electrite from my source if you did.”