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   Chapter 11 Councilor

Councilor: Book Six of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 38531

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:40


Chapter 11

Thomas pulled the car up to the curb in front of her office. As Elena climbed out of the car she realized she would have to stop referring to it as the laboratory. Stephen was quite proficient in breaking things down and with the exception of himself, everything that hadn't been shipped out on the Veil of Mist with Laura, was now loaded on the Stardust with Alice and would soon be entering the Marta Channel.

Stephen was remaining so he could arrange additional equipment to ship skyside and would ship out himself as the season started to close. For now he moved into the spare office where the rest of them worked.

Thomas retrieved their bags as Peter bid them farewell. Elena and Lisa stood on the curb watching the black sedan disappear around the corner.

"I have to say, at least working with you is never boring, " Lisa commented. She picked up her bag and gestured to her car. "Although, the short meeting hardly seems worth all the fuss. Want a lift home?"

Elena shook her head. "I think I'll walk. Give my brain time to sort out things before anything else comes up."

"All right then, see you Monday." Lisa walked over to her car, unlocked the door and was quickly on her way. Elena hoped she made time soon to talk to Bob about whether to back away or dive deeper into the pool. She would miss working with Lisa if she left, but would feel better if she knew her friend was safely away. She shook the thought away as worry for another time and looped the shoulder strap of her small overnight case onto her shoulder.

As she walked, she thought about her meeting, such as it was. While she didn't fully agree with Lisa's assessment of Peter's reactions, she knew that she managed to surprise him a couple of times. He also seemed to think her judgments sound once she had explained them.

"Which could be either better or worse, " she muttered to herself.

"Better or worse than what?" a voice asked causing Elena to jump and let out a startled yelp. She held a hand to her heart as she turned and saw Tina smiling at her.

"Don't do that, " she told her faux friend. "You'll give someone a heart attack."

"Sorry, " Tina replied, looking amused and not at all sorry. "But you shouldn't be talking to yourself out loud in public." Elena used the reaction from the surprise to mask her no longer friendly opinion of Tina. They continued walking towards Elena's apartment.

"So they tell me."

"What's with the bag?" Tina asked. "Going on a trip?"

"Returning from one, " Elena replied, thinking fast. "My graphics designer quit and I had to meet with Peter to decide about getting a new one. Sometimes having business partners slow things down."

"Nothing like decision by committee, " Tina replied. "Were there legal issues? I thought I saw Lisa with you."

"Lisa came because I had no desire to be alone in a hotel with Peter, " Elena told her.

Tina laughed. "But he's such a hottie, " she replied.

"Business Tina, you know I don't like mixing it, " Elena thought she sounded fairly normal as Tina shifted into discussing random things as usual. Somehow the office gossip Tina usually shared sounded off.

"Maybe because I know it's all made up." Elena thought as she added the appropriate comments. She tried not to look for undertones while making small talk. She suspected it would hinder her ability to play along. Elena knew she would dissect the conversation later, for now she just had to maintain the status quo.

"So are you still looking for a graphics designer then or did Peter have one at the ready?" she asked as they approached her building.

"Still looking, " Elena told her. "But at least now I know what he considers acceptable. And I have the leave to interview and choose whoever I think is appropriate. Luckily, we have the upcoming campaigns already flushed out. We just need someone who can take over their implementation and get started on the new stuff to maintain the timeline."

"You know I have a friend who is looking for a change of pace. From what I've seen, he does decent work."

Somehow Elena was not surprised by the turn of the conversation. A wicked thought occurred to her and she smiled. "If you'll vouch for him, then have him send his resume and some sample pieces to my e-mail. It would be a lot easier if I don't have to post the job and sort through god only knows how many applicants. Oh, and let him know that part of the job involves an apartment above the shop if he is wants it. Moving isn't a requirement, just a perk if he is interested."

"I think he'll be very interested, " Tina said with a smile. "He's been talking about moving anyway, some disagreement with his neighbor across the hall. I'll let him know."

"The sooner the better, " Elena replied. "I have another buying trip scheduled in two weeks and would like to have things settled before I leave."

"Then I'll let him know he needs to rush."

"You do that, " Elena replied. They parted and Elena slowly climbed the stairs to her apartment as Tina rushed off, no doubt to arrange an e-mail from a graphics designer. She smiled to herself. Somehow she doubted that anyone watching her would pass up the opportunity to place someone in the building. It would give them complete access to the records and inventory after hours if they planned to snoop.

"And since everything is on the up and up, with none of the staff from either store knowing about anything off world it would clear them of any involvement should things take a sour turn." She thought. "It also might prolong the wait and watch period." Somehow, she suspected the longer that plan stayed in place the better off she would be.

Elena unlocked her door and found Jennifer and Meghan arguing good-naturedly over which movie to watch next. "Are you two running a marathon?" she asked as she left them more or less in the same position.

"We downloaded a list of the top movies everyone should see and are working our way through them." Jennifer told her.

"Really?"

"Yup, " Jennifer replied. "There was also a list of books everyone ought to read so I downloaded most of them to my reader, for when we leave."

"Ah, " she said pleased that at least someone concocted plans to occupy their free time once back in the wilds. Elena looked around. "Did you sweep?" she asked, gesturing to the bug detector Peter gave her.

"We did, " Jennifer confirmed. "We found one and flushed it."

"After we stomped on it, " Meghan added with a grin.

Elena smiled hoping someone in a van somewhere got an earful of squeals and static when the bug was destroyed. "I'm going to have Victor send a memo out about longer relocation on Monday, " Elena said, her voice low and her words monitored in case they missed a bug. Both girls became serious and nodded. They knew about the military and would know what she meant even if she didn't explain the new threat. "We'll be doing a big clear out here and arranging several shopping trips if you want to make a list of things you might want to take with you. My House will concentrate on new trade rather than stocking inventory for a while."

Both girls nodded their understanding and Elena knew the word would spread. They decided that they weren't going to choose another movie and by the time Elena dropped her bag off in her room, they were preparing to leave. "This is a copy of the announcement Victor will have in the morning, " she said handing them a folded sheet. "Tomorrow afternoon we can go to one of those large bed and bath stores if you would like, " she told Jennifer knowing the girl didn't have a car and was unused to shopping anywhere, but the DF's marketplace. Like the rest of the locally based Guild, she tended to pick up things from the stores located within walking distance of the apartment. Elena wondered how she would fare with the big box stores in the larger scale shopping center.

"Cool, " Jennifer said looking somewhat relieved. "Since a group of us are in town Maria said we could have a sleep over at her place and watch a bunch of chic flicks and order pizza, so I'll be there tonight, but I'll definitely be back by one tomorrow."

"One it is then, " Elena said. The two girls left for Maria's place. She got the impression that given the number of apprentices who would be at Maria's, word would probably spread before Victor even got her notice. "Nothing like an overnight pizza party to spread the gossip."

Elena went into her closet and picked out a duffle bag from the stack that seemed to accumulate in the back of her closet. For a while it seemed as though everyone thought she was duffle bag deprived and decided to help her out. She had bags with the logo from her bank, her gym, and a host of other places, some of which she couldn't remember ever frequenting.

"Of course now they all give you reusable shopping bags, " she muttered to herself, thinking about the stash of canvas under her kitchen sink. Elena took the bag to the front of her apartment and looked around. While most Guild related items were removed, there were a few personal items she kept close and wouldn't want to leave behind.

She took an extra dishtowel and wrapped the picture of her on the deck of the Wind Dancer before adding it to the bag. From her bookshelves, she pulled the two volume set of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare that she toted around several galaxies and added it to the bag. Around the room she went, picking things that meant a lot to her for one reason or another and adding them to the bag. When the bag was filled, she placed it in the corner and picked up a second duffle bag.

Elena moved from room to room. When she was done, she was surprised to find that out of the entire apartment, only three small duffle bags worth of items made the cut. She looked around at the rest of her things and shook her head. "Well at least it won't look abandoned when I leave, " she thought. Still the three small bags looked like a somewhat pathetic accumulation. "I can add clothes, " she thought remembering how fast everything seemed to wear out when she was on Haven. The rather rough world was not exactly conducive to garment longevity. "And I didn't spend nearly the same amount of time outside the others did."

Adding clothes to the mix seemed like a good idea. She also thought seeing the extra contents of her closet packed might give her a better understanding of what personal items she needed to pick up in order to make her transition more comfortable. At the moment her mental list included a large amount of extra toothpaste and deodorant, but little else. As she turned to begin her foray into the depths of her closet a knock sounded on her door.

Elena frowned. Despite her increased social level, recently she found the only people who ever knocked on her door were Smith and Johnathan. According to Peter, both men were now far away. "Technically Smith is retired, but somehow I can't see him sipping mai tais on a beach somewhere." Elena moved towards the door. "Or playing golf."

She paused and realized she could see him throwing a putter at someone while bellowing in frustrated rage. As such an event, involving a newspaper delivery instead of a putter, precipitated his heart attack and subsequent triple bi-pass, Elena hoped he took up something solitary like knitting or crosswords instead.

At the door, Elena rose on tiptoes and looked through the Judas hole. She frowned when she saw Thompson standing i

Ah, well then we're just aping our betters." He smiled. "Just out of curiosity, if we're a family, would that make Benjamin our adopted son?"

"While I think he would be amused by the designation, I'm voting for no."

"Fair enough, but it does help my point, " Thompson continued.

"With Benjamin being amused or as an adopted son?" she asked.

"With Jennifer, " he clarified. "If she thinks we are together than chances are a lot of the others do as well. Therefore dating is reasonable and your whole not a good time bit is nonsense."

"Well done bringing that back around, " Elena complemented him. She took a sip of her water as the waiter returned to remove their dinner plates. "You know there are those like Therese who think of you as a man with, shall we say, negotiable virtue." During one of Therese's tirades she had more or less referred to Thompson as a whore.

Thompson laughed. "Negotiable virtue?" he repeated.

"It's a term, " she told him. "Although I think it was paired with the term ladies of the night when I heard it. Perhaps you would prefer gentleman of the night?" The waiter returned with their deserts and left again.

"Well, " he continued. "Your cousin may consider me to be a whore, but at least I would be one who doesn't attempt to kill his own family."

"This is true, " Elena agreed. "Admittedly she has been quiet since the Council investiture." Elena thought of her cousin when she saw her at Dockside Annie's. "She perfected her death glare though."

"And made some troubling new friends, " he reminded her.

"Yeah, " Elena sighed, her humor fading. She shook her head and dipped a spoon into her panna cotta. "It doesn't make sense though. She wants grandfather's seat on the Council. Being caught making those sorts of friends isn't going to gain her power. In fact, it could reduce her power because it shows her lack of control."

"Maybe she doesn't know." He suggested with a shrug.

"That would be even worse, " Elena told him. "It shows lack of foresight. Anyone you do business with has to be investigated thoroughly. Even if they are Guild and have been for generations, you have to look for family agendas and personal vendettas that may affect your business. Not knowing who they are because you didn't bother to look would be just as bad as knowingly working with people like that, if not worse."

"Is that why you are so careful with your friends?" he asked.

"Not careful enough, " Elena said with a sharp laugh. She shook her head and looked at Thompson. Despite everything, she realized she trusted him and if she were honest, if he were to get involved with her, it would only be fair that he know what he was getting into. After all, everyone should have the option of backing away from something that would put them on a governmental watch list. She took a deep breath and realized that she really hoped the new information didn't change his mind about dating her. She actually missed having him around.

"Do you remember hearing about Tina? She's a mutual friend of Lisa and mine?"

He nodded slowly. "The one who has been traveling a lot recently?"

Elena smiled. "Technically the same could be said for all of us, but yes." She took a deep breath. "It turns out she isn't who she says she is, or who she appears to be on file. She moved here a week after I did with the intent of keeping an eye on me. At least that is how it appears."

"I'm sorry, " Thompson said. "That has to hurt."

"Yeah, " she admitted.

Thompson frowned. "Wait, did you say a week after you moved here?"

"I did."

He appeared to be thinking it over for a moment. "That does explain a few things."

"You are thinking…" she prompted him.

Thompson smiled. "I'm thinking we need a lighter topic of conversation, especially for the second part of our date. Are you finished?" Thompson gestured to her plate.

"I am, " Elena told him and he signaled the waiter to take care of the check. "The second part of our date?"

"Yes, " he told her. Check taken care of, they rose and headed towards the door. A short drive later, Thompson parked and Elena found herself at the entrance to a large sculpture garden.

"There is a new installation, " Thompson told her. They entered the garden and began to slowly meander down the long winding paths. Thoughts of governmental agencies, spies and homicidal family members were pushed aside and they talked randomly. Elena found herself relaxing as she discussed and argued good naturedly with Thompson about art, music and other random topics as they walked. The garden was lit, but most of the light went to spotlighting the sculpture, making the sprawling garden feel very intimate. The other patrons were scattered around and kept their distance adding to the illusion that they were the only two people in the entire place.

Eventually they left and headed back to Elena's apartment. Elena unlocked the door and pushed it open. As though she had been waiting on the threshold the entire evening Spin darted out as soon as the door was wide enough to squeeze through. She wrapped herself around Thompson's ankles, meowing loudly at him and looking up at him adoringly. Thompson laughed and bent down to scoop her up. She butted her head against his chin as he scratched her head and along her spine.

"And I missed you too, " he said. Elena opened the door wide and led everyone back inside.

"I certainly don't get that sort of welcome, " she said shaking her head. "You'd think I beat her as soon as you are out of sight."

"You could learn to fish, " Thompson told her.

"But then who would pilot the ship?" She countered.

"This is true, " he conceded. "I guess you will have to settle for being second favorite." Thompson put Spin down and she trotted to her bowl. The bowl was still filled with food, but Spin placed herself beside it and stared at Thompson. She mewled loudly and continued to stare at him with wide eyes.

"Sorry, hon, " he told her. "No fish today." Spin swiveled her gaze to Elena who held out her empty hands. Realizing that no delectable treats were forthcoming, Spin rose, turned away and with her tail in the air, walked into Jennifer's room. Elena had the feeling that if she possessed the ability to slam the door behind herself, she would have.

"I guess that told us, " Thompson said with a laugh. "I suppose I'm not the favorite anymore."

"Well Jennifer has been giving her treats. The cat is turning into a regular butterball. Of course going into Jennifer's room won't help her out any since tonight's movie fest has been taken elsewhere. I'm afraid Spin is doomed to disappointment tonight."

"Apparently so, " Thompson replied. "So Jennifer is out?"

"Yup, chick flick fest and sleepover."

"Does that mean we are actually alone?" he asked affecting a shocked gasp. "No apprentices or pilots or sailors or family members?" Thompson placed his hands on her hips and edged in close. "No merchants looking to make deals or evacuations to stage?" With each word he edged closer.

"It would appear not, " Elena said. She placed her hands on his arms near his elbows and tilted her head up. His lips were only a few inches from hers. He closed the gap and Elena felt an electric thrill run through her as his lips met hers. He deepened the kiss and her hands slid up his arms to encircle his neck as his arms went around her waist. After a time he pulled back.

"Well look at that, " he said, giving her a lazy smile. "No Guild members jumped out of the closet or anything."

"We should probably lock the door just in case, " she told him, returning his smile.

"Definitely a good idea."

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