They found the back door by the simple act of looking for the kitchen.
“Why the kitchen?” Mia had asked, following Gideon down the back stairs (the front stairs already being occupied by the sound of boots. Very purposeful-sounding boots, at that).
“Because,” Gideon said, leading the way into the Elysium’s cooking area, still redolent with the remains of the night’s offerings, “kitchens need doors for deliveries and to take out the garbage, making them the emergency exit of choice for those in need of a quick and discreet departure.”
Mia, whose attention had drifted to the savory smells of masala from the stove, looked over at that. “You callin’ us garbage, then?”
He grinned, and led the way past the keepers in the kitchen, who didn’t blink an eye—Mia guessed they were used to the odd emergency exit—and kept at their various tasks of dishwashing, grill scraping, and composting as she, Gideon, and Elvis passed through.
One young fellow did look up long enough to ask Gideon how his dinner had been.
“Better going down than coming back up,” Gideon said.
Mia snorted, and dashed past him.
As she darted through the door to the narrow mudroom, she heard Gideon ask the keepers to hold his room for the time being, and then he was behind her, and then in front of her, gently setting her to one side so he could peer out the mudroom door and into the alley which linked Carroll Square to Bard Street.
After a moment, he slipped through the door, waving for her to wait.
She thought that a bit uppity, as it was her supposed to be leading him. Maybe it came from the soldiering?
Either way, even if she wanted to push past, there wasn’t room. She had no choice but to wait until he was fully outside before following through the door, which opened right next to the compost bin she’d used to climb up to Gideon’s floor.
She’d just hit the threshold when she saw him come to a sudden halt, hissing a gutter curse popular among dodgers.
She took it as a warning, and, rather than step straight out, slid to the right, and tucked herself between the hotel’s wall and the bulk of the waste bin, in time to hear a woman’s voice say, “If you or the draco so much as twitch, I will kill it.”
“Understood,” Gideon replied without hesitation.
Whoever this woman was, Mia thought, she was trouble.
She was also still talking.
“I have to say, I am surprised to see you standing upright. We were expecting you to be sound asleep in your room. Nahmin’s dosing isn’t usually so far off.”
Nahmin, Mia thought, that must be the ponce. She had no idea who the woman was, but it seemed the people after Gideon were also aware of the general handiness of kitchen exits.
“Nahmin’s dosing wasn’t off,” Gideon said. “It knocked me pretty well out. Almost drowned me, in fact.”
“That would have been a shame,” the woman said.
Mia didn’t think she meant it.
“I’m not sure you mean that.” Gideon seemed to agree.
“But I do,” the woman insisted. “You and I, we have unfinished business.”
“We do? Oh, you mean because of the thing, back at the airfield.”
Mia almost snickered at Gideon’s exaggerated tone. Was he trying to make the woman mad?
“Yes,” the woman replied, sounding pretty mad, “because of the… thing.”
“How is your brother, anyway? He is your brother, right?”
“My twin, Ronan,” she said. “And I am Rey.”
“Gideon Quinn, but you knew that. Where is old Ronan, anyway?” Gideon continued in a “we’re just mates, catching up on old times” fashion.
Mia wondered if it was a typically Teslan style of conversation, or unique to Gideon.
“Recovered enough to seek you in your rooms.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Gideon said.
“I’m not sure you mean that,” she echoed his earlier opinion.
“Seems to be a lot of that going around.”
Odd, Mia thought, how she could hear the man’s smile.
He was a stranger, a mark, and yet in the roughly half an hour since she’d saved his life (well, she and Elvis had saved his life), she’d come to know his voice, his expressions, as well as any of her mates—not that she had many mates.
“You know what else is going around?” the woman asked, and Mia now heard the distinctive hum of live crystal, which meant a gun.
“An appalling lack of composting in the inner city?” Gideon asked.
Mia rolled her eyes at the unseen soldier because, even if he weren’t facing an angry woman with a live weapon, it was a silly statement to make. Keeper waste bins were the crystal standard of composting, so why…
“No,” the woman was saying, apparently in response to Gideon’s suggestion. “What is going around lately is pain.”
Which was when Mia, who understood Gideon even better than she herself knew, put her shoulder to the corner of the bin, and her feet to the wall, and pushed.
Gideon, standing with his hands out to his sides, Elvis tensed on his shoulder, and facing an armed and angry woman, had no idea if the dodger had gotten his hint until he heard the telltale groan of the compost bin’s wheels.
So, thankfully, did Rey, who instinctively turned her weapon towards the new threat.
She got the hint! he thought, right before the reality of a crushingly heavy receptacle bearing down on him registered.
He spun behind the rolling blockade, Elvis flattening himself to hold on to his perch, just before it squashed the both of them between itself and the neighboring building.
The gouge the metal dug into the brick had him wincing in relief as he turned to the dodger. “You got the hint!”
“Yeah, yeah, I got the hint. Now can we scarper?”
“One second.” He put his Elvis-free shoulder to the bin and gave it another granite-scraping shove, just to make sure the alley was well and truly blocked.
From behind the wall of compost, he could hear Rey’s curses, interspersed with the occasional blast from her shooter. He shook his head at the waste of power.
“Now we can scarper,” he said, making sure the dodger remained ahead of him as they made their escape.
“How’d you know the trash bin was wide enough to block her off?” she asked as they turned onto Bard Street.
“I didn’t.” He almost laughed at her expression of affront. “I figured it’d be enough to have a mammoth-sized composter bearing down on her. The blockade was just luck.”
“You’re a right nutter, you are.”
“So I’ve heard.” Gideon glanced around. Despite the cessation of rain, the street still wasn’t as populated as he’d like, and they didn’t have much of a lead. “They’ll be past, or over, that bin soon enough. We have to get out of sight.”
“That way.” The girl pointed to a brightly lit pleasure emporium on the other side of the street.
Gideon didn’t have to read the sign to know it was the Shakespeare Circus—Nike’s cultural claim to fame, and one of Dani’s favorite places.
Some cities had theaters, others went so far as to dedicate entire districts to live productions, both new and classical, but Nike… Nike had Shakespeare’s Circus, a sprawling, multilevel ode to the theatre.
Built during the first expansion, right after the first agri-centers had been staked for preservation, the Circus was, from its basement black boxes to its open air atrium stage in the center, a place of worship for all things dramatical.
Stages varied in size and shape—intimate cabarets for twenty, or auditoriums to hold two hundred.
Likewise varied were the performances on offer. Earth classics were the most popular—Macbeth and Buffy the Demon Killer were frequently staged—and the smaller houses offered everything from vaudeville to kabuki to belly-dancing.
Such was the Circus’s popularity that tonight, despite the weather, the place was doing brisk business. The stage nearest the open gates had a placard announcing that tonight’s performance was A Comedy of Errors.
“It’s a sign,” Gideon said, catching sight of the placard.
“Yeah, I can see it’s a sign,” she said. “I ain’t blind.”
“No, I meant because it’s the Comedy of Errors and tonight’s sort of a—forget it.”
As they crossed the street, he told Elvis to take the high road, and the draco, with a bitter hiss, jumped off Gideon’s shoulder, flapping his way to the peak of the Circus building.
Without the draco to draw attention, it was just possible anyone spying them would assume Gideon was nothing more than a corpsman on leave, taking his daughter out for an evening of entertainment, and easily forgotten.
What neither Gideon nor Mia took into account was Fagin Ellison, currently lurking in the bowels of the Circus, where he could keep watch over his dodgers, and enjoy a cup of tea.
He’d taken a table between the tea stall and the pantomime’s venue, where he could watch the crowds, and his two dippers working the crowds, at his ease.
He’d just taken a sip of heartily spiked tea when he spied the tall Corpsman he’d set Mia on over two hours past.
The man appeared alert—eyes everywhere, as if searching for something.
He also was without his draco. Ellison took this to mean Mia had succeeded in the challenge of stealing the beast and, in that moment, he utterly forgot the plans he’d made for her future.
Surely, he thought, the girl was the finest dodger he’d raised up. A credit to the shadow trade, a queen amongst the drones, a dodger worthy of the hive of Ellison.
He toasted the air and took a hefty sip.
And then he saw Mia on the far side of the mark, walking with him—and not a draco in sight.
The spit take which followed this revelation struck one half of a couple approaching the panto’s door.
This led to Ellison having to apologize to the doused man, though it was the woman (had to be a sister, from the looks of ‘em) who seemed most offended.
Both were quite the specimens (fit for the Adidas cages, a small, larcenous portion of Ellison’s brain noted, even as he groveled), and armed as well, forcing Ellison to waste precious seconds placating the angry siblings, and thereby losing sight of Mia.
Mia, he thought, that wretched excuse for a dodger, that rotten comb, spoiling the rest of the hive.
Once free from the offended couple, Ellison started off in the direction the pair had been headed when he first saw them.
“This Quinn is troublesome,” Nahmin pronounced some time later, sniffing the air near Ronan, who had a definite eau de cheap whiskey about him.
“An understatement,” said Rey, her face dark with unspent fury.
It was a little over an hour after Rey had lost Quinn in the alley, and she, her brother Ronan, and Nahmin had just met up with their employer at the front gate of the Shakespeare Circus.
“It would have been more troublesome had he died,” the employer said, surveying Nahmin from beneath the hood.
“Who,” the green-clad assassin countered, “eats their dinner in the bathtub?”
“Troublesome sorts?” Ronan guessed. He was, truth be told, enjoying a hit of Ease, as his wrenched elbow ached fiercely, despite the expert wrapping his sister had given it.
“Come,” their employer turned and crossed Bard Street, to the waiting Rolls.
“Where?” Nahmin asked as all three followed.
“You and I,” the cloaked figure said, “are required elsewhere—friends in high places will be expecting us. You two…” And now a hand emerged, indicating the twins, “… will be paying a visit to friends in low places. Those in the shadow trade have eyes and ears everywhere. They will be able to locate Quinn, for the right price.”
Nahmin, thinking his employer’s definition of friends was not the same as other people’s, simply nodded and opened the carriage door.
Rey, who wondered what could be lower than Nahmin, bowed her head.
Ronan, who was on the lovely edge of feeling no pain, smiled.
Their employer, looking at the lot, began to feel the first teasings of doubt.
Or, rather, the second teasings.
The first teasings had made themselves known when news of Gideon Quinn’s release interrupted a quiet night at home.
As you may have noticed, this website is ad free, and depends upon the generosity of its readers (that’s you!), so if you are enjoying, please Like, Subscribe, or Share on your favorite social platform, using the handy buttons below. Lastly, if you have the means, you may buy the authors a coffee. Or buy an ebook. Every little thing helps.