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   Chapter 6 Alliance

Alliance: Book Three of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 16838

Updated: 2018-02-26 14:59


Chapter 6

"I so do not have time for this, " Elena said, half under her breath.

"Good evening Ms. Calabrese, I see you are home. Does this signal the end of the season?" Smith said.

"It does, " she replied. "And I do hate to be rude, but I am in a bit of a rush tonight." She stepped between the two men flanking her door and fit her key in the lock.

"We do not wish to take up more than a moment of your time, " Smith said. Elena stopped turning the key and looked at him. Smith was never this polite. He threatened and bullied. He did not issue polite statements. She stared at him, not sure what to say. "We merely wish to arrange an appointment."

"Peter is your contact." She replied. She almost smiled as she saw the vein in Smith's neck start to throb. Now that was the Smith she knew.

"Mr. Baranov is not answering his phone, " Jonathan said quickly, apparently hoping to help Smith regain control.

"The season just ended for him as well, " Elena said. "You might try him again now."

"We did try him this morning when we noticed your return. He has yet to respond."

"Did you actually leave him a message and a phone number or did you call him like you called me and get upset when he didn't answer an unknown caller?" Elena asked. The tips of Jonathan's ears turned pink. "I'll take that as a, you followed protocol, answer." Elena sighed. "I'll call Peter and let him know you are looking for him." Both men stared at her blankly.

"You would do this for us?" Jonathan asked.

"Why?" Smith asked, barking out the word in a more familiar tone.

"Because I'm in a hurry and it gets you to back off. Besides, " She added with a polite smile. "It's protocol. I have to report every time you approach me."

"I see, " Smith said. "If you could let him know we wish to set up a meeting as soon as possible it would be of great assistance. We will leave you to your evening." Smith turned and started to walk off. Jonathan reached for her hand and shook it, as though they had just completed a business deal.

"Thank you for your assistance, " Jonathan said. He let go of her hand and followed Smith down the stairwell. Elena let herself into her apartment, locking the door behind her. Slowly she uncurled the hand Jonathan had shaken. In the center of her palm was a folded scrap of paper.

"You have got to be kidding me, " She muttered. Well aware that she had not scanned her apartment for electronic bugs since returning, Elena clamped her mouth shut to stave off further comments. Elena unfolded the paper and read the hastily scrawled message.

"The Watering Hole in the Spring St. Shopping center, 11pm, Thursday. Please." Elena read the note twice. The message didn't change.

"Damn, " she said softly. Nearly everyone she knew had a plot of some kind, they just usually didn't include her in them. Elena glanced at her watch and realized that she needed to hustle if she was going to make the two hour drive out to Consuelo's and be on time for dinner. Elena dropped the slip of paper into her bag.

"Just one more secret to keep, " she told it. She changed clothes quickly and was on her way. As she drove, she thought about Jonathan's note. "It could just be a sneaky way to get a date, " she mused. Personally she didn't think she was such a prize that people would set up elaborate spy games just so she would meet them for a drink.

"Actually, I can't think of anyone who would rank that sort of attention." It was the please at the end that got her. Jonathan was careful not to let Smith see the traded paper. "It could just be a ruse. But I suppose us peons need to stick together." Elena shook off the thought and when she pulled up to a stop light she connected her hands free device and managed to dial Peter's number before the light changed. She pulled away as the light turned green.

"Hello, " Peter answered on the second ring. Clearly, he was taking her calls. However he sounded vaguely out of breath.

"Good evening, " she said politely. "I hope I'm not interrupting something."

"Not really, how may I help you."

"Well, I had a visit from Smith and Jonathan and was asked to pass a message along as you appear not to be taking their calls. They want to set up a meeting with you as soon as possible."

"Ah, " Peter said. She could hear the smile in that one syllable. "I received a number of unidentifiable calls but there was no number left for me to return them." Elena laughed.

"That is pretty much how they operate."

"I see. My apologies for forcing you to serve as messenger."

"I actually volunteered, " Elena told him.

"Really, why?"

"First of all it seemed like the easiest way to get rid of them and second was that I needed to call you anyway."

"Oh?"

"I will more than likely be adding new people to my …, " Elena groped for the appropriate word. "Venture, " she finally came up with.

"And you will need them vetted, " Peter guessed.

"Yes, " she confirmed. "Would it be possible for you to do this?"

"I

ey sat Mateo leaned forward and winked.

"Not a bad speech, " Mateo told her. "Not exactly in grandfather's realm, but still not bad." Elena laughed and accepted a bowl of something that smelled of red chilies and desgran from Benjamin.

"It could be worse, " she said. She took a spoonful and passed the bowl. Around the table people chatted and the atmosphere was casual and easy. "The trick is to keep it that way, " she thought as the tightly formal dinner at Grazos played in her mind. Here, bowls were being passed and there was laughter. Beside her, Kiera was listening to explanations of the food being passed as Mateo explained both what it was and where it came from. Benjamin joked with Consuelo and after a time she joined them. Consuelo only spoke about the food, deflecting the more personal questions with ease. As the meal wound to a close and the coffee course was served, Kiera looked over at Elena.

"Will you accept applications for employees who aren't tied to the Guild?" She asked. Elena took a deep breath. She was expecting the question, after all Kiera no doubt worked with many people specifically qualified for the positions they would need to fill. With the recent university downsizing and eliminating many of the non-tenured positions, Elena could guess that many of those people were currently looking for work.

"We will give preference to Guild members mostly for the sake of secrecy, " Elena said. "However we will look at non-guild members provided they have the skills and can be trusted. If you are willing to vouch for them they will be trusted. However, no matter where they come from they will still need to be vetted through our internal process. I can give you a list of what is considered a disqualifying element on record if you'd like." Elena paused in thought for a moment. "And we may have to establish some sort of security levels with not everyone knowing everything." She added. Kiera nodded as if she expected as much.

"So it is a possibility?"

"Yes, " Elena replied. Beside them Mateo snorted. Both women turned to look at him.

"Most of the people with the skills we would need are tied to other Houses and are more or less contract bound. While we are just setting up the lab, most Houses have kept a lab set up for generations. It just wasn't needed by us due to the way our family operates. Or operated I guess I should say. Most of those who staff those labs didn't start out Guild raised. They and their kids just became that way after a few generations. As new Houses split off from the older ones they generally took a section of staff with them. We don't have that option." Mateo explained. "It will be hard to find Guild raised staff."

"You would know more about the inner workings than I would, " Elena confessed, knowing that even though Mateo always worked as an independent contractor, he spent a lot of time with the various labs. "I never spent much time with the technical staff, but we will still have to move carefully. Especially with folks like Smith, Jonathan and Thompson running around."

"I had forgotten the military aspect, " Kiera said thoughtfully. "Hmm, that might prove interesting." Her thoughts seemed far off but she shook them away. "We will move carefully, " she promised. Elena nodded but she wasn't quite sure the promise was meant for her.

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