“Who’s our contact?” Naomi asked quietly.
“I assume Fred has people here,” she replied under her breath as she smiled and nodded at a passing group of men. All of them openly carried weapons, though most were of the stabbing and clubbing variety. They stared back at her with speculative looks on their faces. Holden moved his hand under his coat and toward his gun, but the men moved on, only giving them a few backward glances before they turned a corner and disappeared from view.
“He didn’t arrange for us to meet someone?” Naomi finished in a normal voice.
“He gave me some names. But communication with this moon has been so spotty he wasn’t able to—”
Holden was cut off by a loud bang from another part of the port. The explosion was followed by a roar that gradually resolved into people shouting. The few people in the corridor with them began to run, some toward the noise, but most away from it.
“Should we …” Naomi said, looking at the people running toward the commotion.
“We’re here to see what’s going on,” Holden replied. “So let’s go see.”
They quickly became lost in the twisting corridors of Ganymede’s port, but it didn’t matter as long as they kept moving toward the noise and along with the growing wave of people running in the same direction. A tall, stocky man with spiked red hair ran alongside them for a while. He was carrying a length of black metal pipe in each hand. He grinned at Naomi and tried to hand her one. She waved it off.
“’Bout fookin’ time,” he yelled in an accent Holden couldn’t place. He held his extra club out to Holden when Naomi didn’t take it.
“What is?” Holden asked, taking the club.
“Fookin’ bastahds flingin’ the victuals up, and the prols jus gotta shove, wut? Well, fook that, ya mudder-humpin’ spunk guzzlas!”
Spiky Redhead howled and waved his club in the air, then took off at a faster run and disappeared into the crowd. Naomi laughed and howled at his back as he ran. When Holden shot her a look, she just smiled and said, “It’s infectious.”
A final bend in the corridor brought them to another large warehouse space, looking almost identical to the one ruled over by the Supitaya p**n s, except that this room was filled with a mob of angry people pushing toward the loading dock. The doors to the dock were closed, and a small group of port security officers were trying to hold the mob back. When Holden arrived, the crowd was still cowed by the security officers’ Tasers and shock prods, but from the rising tension and anger in the air, he could tell that wouldn’t last long.
Just behind the front line of rent-a-cops, with their nonlethal deterrents, stood a small clump of men in dark suits and sensible shoes. They carried shotguns with the air of men who were just waiting for someone to give them permission.
That would be the corporate security, then.
Looking over the room, Holden felt the scene snap into place. Beyond that closed loading bay door was one of the few remaining corporate freighters loaded down with the last food being stripped from Ganymede.
And this crowd was hungry.
Holden remembered trying to escape a casino on Eros when it went into security lockdown. Remembered angry crowds facing down men with guns. Remembered the screams and the smells of blood and cordite. Before he knew he’d made a decision, he found himself pushing his way to the front of the crowd. Naomi followed, murmuring apologies in his wake. She grabbed his arm and stopped him for a moment.
“Are you about to do something really stupid?” she asked.
“I’m about to keep these people from being shot for the crime of being hungry,” he said, wincing at the self-righteous tone even as he said it.
“Don’t,” Naomi said, letting him go, “pull your gun on anyone.”
“They have guns.”
“Guns plural. You have gun singular, which is why you will keep yours in your holster, or you’ll do this by yourself.”
That’s the only way you ever do anything. By yourself. It was the kind of thing Detective Miller would have said. For him, it had been true. That was a strong enough argument against doing it that way.
“Okay.” Holden nodded, then resumed pushing his way to the front. By the time he reached it, two people had become the focus of the conflict. A gray-haired port security man wearing a white patch with the word supervisor printed on it and a tall, thin dark-skinned woman who could pass for Naomi’s mother were yelling at each other while their respective groups looked on, shouting agreements and insults.
“Just open the damn door and let us look!” yelled the woman in a tone that let Holden know this was something she was repeating again and again.
“You won’t get anything by yelling at me,” the gray-haired supervisor yelled back. Beside him, his fellow security guards held their shock sticks in white-knuckled grips and the corporate boys held their shotguns in a loose cradle that Holden found far more threatening.
The woman stopped shouting when Holden pushed his way up to the supervisor, and stared at him instead.
“Who …?” she said.
Holden climbed up onto the loading dock next to the supervisor. The other guards waved their shock prods around a little, but no one jabbed him. The corporate thugs just narrowed their eyes and shifted their stances a bit. Holden knew that their confusion about who he was would only last so long, and when they finally got past it, he was probably going to get uncomfortably intimate with one of those cattle prods, if not just blasted in the face with a shotgun. Before that could happen, he thrust his hand out to the supervisor and said in a loud voice that would carry to the crowd, “Hi there, I’m Walter Philips, an OPA rep out of Tycho Station, and here as personal representative of Colonel Frederick Johnson.”
The supervisor shook his hand like a man in a daze. The corporate gorillas shifted again and held their guns more firmly.
“Mr. Philips,” the supervisor said. “The OPA has no authority …”
Holden ignored him and turned to the woman he’d been shouting at.
“Ma’am, what’s all the fuss?”
“That ship,” she said, pointing at the door, “has almost ten thousand kilos of beans and rice on it, enough to feed the whole station for a week!”
The crowd murmured agreement at her back and shuffled forward a step or two.
“Is that true?” Holden asked the supervisor.
“As I said,” the man replied, holding up his hands and making pushing motions at the crowd as though he could drive them back through sheer force of will, “we are not allowed to discuss the cargo manifests of privately owned—”