Darryl was not up to teasing and gave him a sour look. “You remember when I kept pushing you to get us some more customers? You can stop now. I mean it.”
Another large group was waiting by the door, and Fort saw Darryl’s eyes flick to them. “I’m off Sand monitor duty. Need some help?” He stood, knowing what Darryl’s answer would be.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Darryl pulled off his apron, tossed it at Fort and aimed him toward the kitchen. Then Darryl headed over to greet the newcomers.
Darryl found seating for the newcomers and gave them some of the new menus with less than his usual attention. His thoughts were elsewhere. His worried gaze lingered on his daughter Effie as she wiped a bussed a table.
He was concerned for his daughter. Little things about her behavior had started to percolate to the front of his consciousness. She was spending way too much time with the new people from March Enterprises and Kempcon. He’d thought nothing of it at first, since she was a gregarious, inquisitive child, and the newcomers were certainly a nice break from her routine. Hell, he was happy that she was spending time with people instead of her animals or her crazy inventions.
But now he suspected some funny goings-on at the March Enterprises area. Just now he’d overheard someone talking about the errands Effie did for the new Kempcon crew. Darryl’s skin had crawled at the few words he was able to make out; something about a gun. He was going to forbid her from going over there any more. He only hoped she’d listen.
Now that the rush in the kitchen was finally over, way after midnight, an exhausted Fort finally sat down. He was about to head home. “Will I ever sleep tonight!” he yawned as Claire put a box of take-home chow (his usual payment) on the table beside him. She was starting two new employees tomorrow, and in Fort’s opinion that was not a moment too soon.
Just then Darryl reappeared through the dining room door. He reached out and clapped Fort on the shoulder, weakly, and then sank into the other chair by the back door. “Don’t know how we would’ve made it without you tonight, buddy.”
Claire’s tired eyes danced. “Otta be sainted, that’s what I’m thinkin. Saint Fortran Stark of Mime Co. Got a ring to it, it does.”
Fort grinned, yawned, and started to gather his things and get up. “Well, I’d better be heading back. Big day tomorrow. Another tenant moving in.” Then his voice-link chimed, so he set down the package to get a hand free. The voice on the other end was frantic.
“Now, right now! I can’t believe this. Oh God … Fort? Is that you? Oh my God …” Shandra’s voice was shaking.
“What? Shandra, calm down! Are you all right? What’s happened?” Claire and Darryl could hear her and froze in place, eyes wide.
“I can’t believe it!” Shandra wailed. “Blood all over. It’s horrible!”
“Get…a…grip, Shandra — try to tell me what’s going on!” His link chimed again. “Calm down. Hold on — I’ll be right back.” He put her on ‘wait’ and took the other link channel. A third link-channel lit, it looked like Don calling, but Fort answered the second one first, fully expecting to put that person on hold.
The second caller was Collin Wetherill of March Enterprises, his usual calm demeanor shattered.
“Mr. Stark? I — I have t-terrible news.” The words were bitten off in the clipped manner of someone with a tenuous hold on his emotions. ”One of our senior people has been Sanded. Sanded to death.”