The Pocoto Investment: Part 3

“We only had a small window of opportunity to grab him,” Matilda explained to the client, Count Simond. “The building had multiple exits. If we’d taken the time to get enough bodies together to guard all the exits, we would have lost the chance to grab him. But something spooked him, he ran out the back, and threw himself down a garbage chute.”

“Maybe he got spooked because he saw you coming for him.” The count was seated behind an ornately-carved wooden desk in his office at the Simond Fine Art Gallery on Lothbury Street. Matilda was at the back of the room, but she still overpowered everyone else in the room with her presence.

“She was outside, waiting for him,” Ellison said. “He ran when he saw me and Jerald. Maybe he just has very good instincts.”

The count looked at the two of them and nodded. “You might be right. The two of you don’t look threatening at all.”

Jerald was still wearing his finery from the previous day. He left the grid after Pompas disposed of himself, to check whether he turned up anywhere in the real world. He hadn’t. If he did, it would have been simple to serve him with the necessary legal papers. No, he was still hiding somewhere on Krim, Ellison was sure of it. When Pompas was annihilated in the trash chute and sent back to the Krim welcome area, he must have come right back in again. Probably with a different body, to keep from being spotted.

“Only three days left before the window closes and I can’t get my money back,” said Count Simond. “If you can’t find him, I’m out a quarter million golds.” He sighed. “What do you plan to do next?”

“I’ll watch for him to show up off-world,” said Jerald. “If he does, we deliver the papers, and you’re all set. I also have a list of previous expedition participants that you gave me. Some of them are off-world as well, and I’ll be contacting them.”

“We also found some paperwork in his office last night,” said Ellison. “I don’t think it was all of it. He probably has a bigger office somewhere else. But we have the names of his captain and shipbuilders, as well as the biologist who’s supposed to be coming on this trip. We’ll also be checking with a few other contacts we have around Krim.”

“He won’t be too far,” said Matilda. “The ship sails in ten days, and he’s personally headed up every expedition so far. He’s not going to head for the hills. He’ll be hunkering down somewhere, or meeting with his most trusted team members.”

“He’s probably changed his appearance,” said the count. “How will you recognize him?”

“I got a good look at him before he ran,” Ellison said. “I’ll know him if I see him again.”

“You mean, by his gait, and microexpressions, and speech patterns — that kind of thing?”

“Something like that.”

There was no need to go into Ellison’s ability to see the shape of people’s minds as a kind of aura around their heads. It was a form of kinesthesia that turned out to be very useful on privacy-focused virtual worlds like Krim. Not much use in any real-world context, where identities could be checked easily enough and everyone had access to every one’s entire personal and professional history, nearly, with just a wave of a hand or a subvocalized command.

Count Simond leaned back. “You’re probably wondering why I invested with this guy in the first place.”

Ellison shrugged. People do stupid things with their money all the time. He wasn’t curious in the least.

“He was very convincing,” the count continued, despite any sign that anyone was interested. “Pompas was at every chamber event. Every guild party. He had his ship captain, his scientists, some economics expert with him. “He freely admitted that his previous expeditions failed, but he was sure that with this one, he was finally going to make it. He had the charts, the artifacts that other explorers had brought back…” He shook his head. “I was caught up in the romance of it all.”

“What made you change your mind?” Ellison asked.

“I talked to someone who’d been on a previous trip,” said Count Simond. “And Pompas kept overruling the captain on things that, at first, seemed a little petty and trivial, and then dangerous. He was convinced he knew better. When the captain started ignoring his orders completely, he had him thrown into the brig, and the ship sank soon after.” Simond shook his head. “I don’t know if Pompas is deliberately sabotaging the expeditions, or if he’s just an idiot who happens to be good at fundraising but is bad at everything else. But either way, it started to look like a bad investment.”

The man slumped in his chair. “It’s too bad. I was really look forward to going.”

“What?” Jerald took a step forward and placed his hands on the table to look Simon in the eye. “You?” He looked around for a chair and pulled it over. “Is everything okay at home?” He glanced over at Ellison and back at Matilda, then lowered his voice. “We can talk later, if you’d like.”

“No, no, everything is fine,” said Simond. “It was the romantic adventure of it all. A couple of painters and I wanted to chronicle the trip. Like John White, who traveled to the New World in the late 1500s on some of Sir Walter Raleigh’s voyages. Or like Jacques le Moyne, who was a member of Jean Ribault’s expedition to Florida.”

“You could have gone on a trip run by a reputable historical reenactment group,” said Jerald.

“Well, those would have been reenactments, wouldn’t they? You’d already know what they’re going to find. This is different. This is an actual voyage of exploration. We don’t really know if there’s a whole other continent out there, or what’s on it. Not for sure, anyway. And the early explorers where out to find treasure, and fame, and to discover something new. That’s not why reenactors go on their trips. But that’s exactly why Pompas and his gang were going. To explore, and to get rich. It would have been a true voyage of exploration. It could have been glorious.”

“Even if he’d succeeded, it would have meant weeks, or even months, at sea,” Jerald said. “Then I don’t know how long over there, looking for potatoes. And then the trip back…”

“That’s another reason I got suspicious,” said Simond. “I overhead one of biologists talking about some plans they had for the winter holidays. It sounded as if he expected the expedition to fail quickly. There could have been a reasonable expedition. Maybe he was trying not to jinx things, in a round-about way. But together with everything else…” He looked down at his hands. “I feel like a fool.”

Then Simond pushed himself away from the table and stood up. “If you can get my money back, I’d very much appreciate it.”