Obediently Cidra halted, taking in the scene with a quick glance. Overcash was transferring the carton of ExcellEx sensors from his skimmer to a second craft that had been made fast alongside. While he labored Cord Racer kept a pulser trained on Severance. The pulser Severance had been wearing was missing from its holster. Racer had taken it.

Severance stood with his customary ease. If there had been a chair nearby, he probably would have sprawled in it as usual. Nothing except the contempt in his expression gave any indication of his tension. But Cidra sensed the leashed fury in him so clearly, she thought for an instant that she had almost read his mind. The sensation was disconcerting.

Racer showed his tension much more visibly. It radiated through his body as he faced Severance. His eyes were narrowed, and the hold he had on the pulser seemed far too tight. When his gaze flicked briefly to Cidra, she knew he had already dismissed her as a source of trouble. She knew that in his mind she occupied the status of a “harmless Harmonic.” And at the moment she did feel harmless. The frustration was enough to push aside some of her fear and allow anger to take its place. But as she stood silently beside the tent Cidra kept all of her emotions sheltered behind a serene facade.

“We’ll make this short and sweet, Severance,” Racer said. “Wouldn’t want to take up too much of your valuable time. You’re going to need it to try to walk out of this jungle by sunset.”

Overcash finished loading the cargo and jumped to the bank. “There’s no way he can walk out by sunset. I made sure we came far enough yesterday to make that impossible for anything but a zalon. Want me to collapse the tents?”

“No need,” Racer replied. “They won’t do him any good. That lightweight armor isn’t enough to do any more than keep the bandini off him. And I don’t want to waste time. We’ve already wasted too much as it is.”

Severance looked at him with idle interest. “Those were your men at Lovelorn? The ones who posed as port security?”

Racer shrugged. “A couple of incompetents. But I didn’t have time to be too choosy. Quench moved unexpectedly when he commissioned you to make the run with the sensors. I’d been expecting him to delay for another few days. As it was, I barely got word of it in time to make any kind of try at all. I’d like to know what you did to those guys, Severance. They were almost incoherent when I finally found them.”

“You should have told them that coming aboard Severance Pay without an invitation wasn’t going to be a simple slide-in, slide-out job.”

“I figured two of them could handle it. Especially with you running around Lovelorn trying to pick up some extra credit from one more patron. A good postman like you couldn’t resist just one more commission, could you?”

Severance nodded. “I wondered about that deal at Lovelorn.

Especially yesterday, when I couldn’t find the man who was supposed to be waiting so eagerly for the case.”

“Good help is hard to find,” Racer drawled. “And getting harder all the time. Didn’t have much luck with the renegade I hired to pick up Cidra the other night, either. After I met her at the Bloodsucker it occurred to me that she might be a handy sardite chip. Thought if I had her, you might be more amenable to a little bargaining.”

For an instant Cidra felt her outward control slip. “That was your man in the lab? The one who hurt Desma?”

Racer gave her a short, wry glance. “He wasn’t after Desma. But he figured she would head for the lab when she got the malfunction alarm. The idea was that you would be alone in the house. Easy pickings.”

“But she followed Desma to the lab instead,” Severance said.

Racer shrugged. “It still would have worked if one of those bugs Desma keeps as pets hadn’t gotten loose. The way Payne told it, he was lucky to escape alive. This time I decided I’d better handle things myself. My clients are getting impatient.”

“I’ll just bet they are,” Severance murmured. “You’ve missed twice so far. What makes you think you’re going to have any more luck this time around?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Severance, my luck is running very high today. Thanks to some advance planning.” Racer spoke over his shoulder to Overcash. “Is the skimmer I brought ready?”

“All set. I’ll take the deflectors.”

“No, we’ll leave those behind along with the tents. The screens have already been used all night, haven’t they?”

“Sure, but…”

“Then they haven’t got more than a few hours’ charge left. Without the skimmer’s fuel cells there’s no way to recharge them.”

“What are you going to do with the skimmer I brought?” Overcash demanded.

“It’s going to be in a severe accident. And that’s what this whole scene will look like in a couple of days. An unfortunate, but not untypical, Renaissance river accident. Skimmer sinks and the crew is left on shore with failing equipment. By the time another skimmer heads up this far, there won’t be much left. Renaissance will see to that for us.”

“You’re a fool, Racer,” Severance said wearily.

Overcash moved uneasily, his hard face knotting into a frown. “I don’t know, Racer. Might be better to make sure of ‘em before we leave.”

Racer shook his head. ‘Too much chance another skimmer will be along in a couple of days. If we use the pulser, there’ll be evidence. I’ve heard too much lately about that renegade named Quench who runs ExcellEx. He’s trying to build a reputation as a company owner who looks after his own. If he hears that his handpicked mail pilot got shot trying to deliver the sensors, he’ll demand an investigation. And he’s getting big enough to force one. Hell, he’ll pay for it out of his own pocket if he gets really mad. No, this has to look like an accident.” A terrifying screech sounded from the jungle followed by a bitten-off scream. Racer smiled. “Come on, Overcash. We’re not leaving anything to chance. No one spends a night in a Renaissance jungle without equipment and lives to tell about it. Everything will be over by morning.”

Overcash looked unconvinced, but he obviously wasn’t going to argue. He turned and jumped on board the second skimmer and made ready to loosen the moorings. Twin dracon eyes emerged briefly in the river as if curious. They disappeared again with barely a ripple.

Severance studied Racer as if he were looking at the man through a microscope and didn’t like, what he saw. “Think it will work this time?”