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Mia slouched in the shotgun seat of the “borrowed” Edsel Comet.
As it was too dark to read, she had, with great reluctance, tucked Pitte’s book into one of her tunic’s many inner pockets. She’d need to stash it on her way back to the hive, or Ellison would have her hide. Assuming, that is, he didn’t just dump her in the river for coming back without the draco.
Which was when it occurred to her, this was the first time she’d given Ellison a thought since bursting into an alley to find Gideon at gunpoint. And then there’d been the scene at Kit’s, and the rush to the Errant, and what had happened there and, well, with one thing and another, her fagin’s existence had just sort of faded into the background.
But now that they were clear of folk chasing Gideon, and Jinna was gone (which Mia hated because Jinna was a mate), thoughts of Ellison were creeping back into her consciousness like cockroaches in the brain.
Still, she’d rather Jinna do a runner than stay and be stalked by that other old cockroach, Del. Gideon had been on the starbuck to suggest bringing Jinna to Rory’s people, and since Jagati had taken time to bribe the airfield’s night crew, no one from the government would hear of the airship’s unscheduled departure.
Which was good for Jinna, but now Mia had no choice but to face the reality of Fagin Ellison.
“Problem?” Gideon asked.
She looked to her right, where Gideon, in the driver’s seat, was eying the road ahead, with Elvis nestled around his shoulders like some scaly version of a scarf.
“Just thinking.” She shrugged, and didn’t see the flash of amusement in his eyes at the gesture. “You worked that business with Jinna smooth as honey. Or you did until the…” Here she grabbed her throat and mock-throttled herself.
“Yeah well…” Now he shrugged, and surprised her with a look of genuine shame before he returned his eyes to the road. “Lucky for all of us, cooler, and better-armed, heads prevailed.” He looked to his right, out the window where, as far as Mia could tell, there was nothing to see before he continued. “Anyway, there wasn’t much to work. It was more—facilitating Jinna’s move to a less stressful environment.”
“Oooh, fancy talk,” Mia grinned. “So when you were forking Rolf inna sausage n’beans, you was just—”
“—facilitating him round to your point of view?”
He smiled. “Something like that.”
It was, she thought, a nice smile, and completely at odds with the cold, deadly rage that had overtaken him when he’d first laid eyes on Captain Pitte.
Mia didn't think she’d ever been more scared than in that moment, or more confused when, after everything was done and dusted, both Gideon and Captain Pitte seemed to be getting on just fine.
Grown-ups, she thought—and not for the first time—were all a little swarm in the head.
And some, like old man Del and Fagin Ellison, were just plain mean.
Gideon wasn’t mean.
Angry, sure. Even at thirteen (give or take), Mia could see Gideon carried a bone-deep fury under the kind smiles and twisty sense of humor.
She’d first glimpsed it in the diner (after, she now realized, Gideon had overheard Rory mentioning Captain Pitte by name). And it had bubbled a mite when he’d taken on the three (three!) Ohmdahls. It had iced over his features on coming face to face with Pitte, but now, from what Mia had been told on the Errant, she understood how Gideon might blame the captain for the deaths of his mates.
But not once had it been directed at her, not even when he learned she’d meant to steal Elvis.
Which, again, reminded her of Ellison, and what he was waiting for.
Now she looked out the window, to take in the nothing view that was the drive between the airfield and Nike proper.
“Sure there’s not a problem?” he asked again.
“No,” she said, then immediately added, “maybe.”
He waited, eyes on the road, head tilted to show he was listening.
She sighed. “It’s like this, then. Night’s gettin’ on, right? And it’s great Jinna’s settled, but…”
Here the sentence trailed off and she shrugged again.
“But you’re not,” he said, nodding his understanding. “Because of your fagin, and the draco.”
“Yeah,” she said, leaning back against the chair. “I’d be in comb and crystal if I could figure out how to facilitate Ellison.”
To that, Gideon seemed to have no response, and they rode the rest of the way to the city in silence.
“You’re counting again,” Mia said.
Gideon promptly stopped counting.
Aloud. In his head he continued.
It was close to two in the morning, and they’d already dropped the Edsel off, in a space around the block from where Gideon had first found it.
The reason they didn’t return the Comet to its original parking place was because the owner had apparently decided he wanted to take a late-night drive, and discovered his car was missing.
By the time Gideon cruised by the neighborhood around one thirty, it was alive with lights and cops, and concerned-and-or-nosy neighbors.
Rather than explain they’d just been borrowing the vehicle, Gideon continued to the next block, which also, conveniently enough, held the district’s police station.
Mia told him it’d still be sunslight before anyone noticed the extra vehicle parked out front, which gave them plenty of time to stroll away.
They were, in fact, back in the same district in which Gideon started the night, though several concentric streets out from Nike’s city center than the Elysium Hotel and Shakespeare Circus, and three east from Kit’s Place, and the home of the stolen car.
The street they walked now was narrow, barely wide enough for a rickshaw, and crowded with the hard-drinking types who worked the air and the river, along with a goodly number of Nike’s independent businessfolk (the type who did most of their business at night).
“I can see why they call Nike the city that never sleeps,” Gideon said as he dodged a trio linked in either a torrid embrace or a three-way wrestling match.
“Late drinkers make good marks,” Mia said, trotting along at his side.
“Tell me you have not been dipping your way from the cop shop,” Gideon said, then came to a standstill so quickly that Elvis, dozing on his shoulder, almost fell off, and Mia took a few more steps before she realized he was no longer moving.
“What is it?” she asked, turning back.
“Speaking of cops…” He jerked his chin to the corner of Jafa and Thames, where a man with dark skin and a lightly graying beard—and wearing the cheap suit and battered shoes Gideon associated with coppers—was deep in conversation with a woman.
“That’s DS Hama,” Mia identified the man as Gideon tugged her under the nearest awning, conveniently crowded with overspill from a pub bearing the ponderous name of The Old Man and the Sea.
“Isn’t that the same cop we saw taking a statement from the Comet’s owner?” Gideon asked.
“Yeah, guess he’s on the night shift,” she said. “Hama’s decent, for a copper. Not on the take from anyone, high up or low down,” she explained. “If he was, Ellison would be doin’ a lot more business in the Ninth District.”
Gideon nodded, then watched as the cop continued to talk to the woman. Had she witnessed the theft? Was she, even now, giving Hama a description of Gideon, Mia, and Jinna? “Do you know the woman he’s talking to?”
“A dealer,” she replied. “Goes by Dr. Bayer, but I don’t think she’s really a doctor.”
Gideon would bet his last few starbucks that Mia was right. “What’s she sell?”
“Ease, spike, milk’n’honey, morph.” Mia listed the top sellers, before adding, “Whatever’s to hand, really.”
“Wonder if she sold the stuff that put me out,” he said, watching as Bayer put on a show—and it was clearly a show—of the put-upon “just an honest businesswoman” routine.
Hama, his bearded face still revealing an expression of blatant disbelief, was in fact listening closely, nodding on occasion as Bayer’s story wound on.
When at last she stopped talking, he grimaced, then made a slick pass from his pocket to her hand (if he hadn’t been looking for something of the sort, Gideon wasn’t sure he’d have seen it) before delivering a textbook admonishment to clear off the street or face the consequences.
Gideon continued to watch as the woman departed, suitably chastised. “Wonder what she sold Hama?”
“No drugs,” Mia said. “I told you, Hama’s a decent sort. Probably she sold ‘im another dealer.”
“Maybe,” Gideon said. Then, without warning, he ducked behind a riverman waiting entree to the pub.
The man, while not as tall as Gideon, was blessed with a truly explosive amount of hair, thus providing pretty decent camouflage.
“Why are we hiding?” Mia whispered, though she, too, had slid between a pair of women in burn-spattered coveralls.
“I don’t know,” Gideon confessed, also quietly. “Just a feeling.” He peered through the riverman’s bobbing curls to see Hama staring in their general direction.
The river-man shuffled closer to the door.
Gideon shuffled with him.
The man, likely suspecting Gideon was trying to get into the pub before him, turned to glare, forcing Gideon to bob and weave with the hair.
“S’okay,” Mia told the riverman quickly. “Just duckin’ the filth.” She looked to where Hama was still standing, skimming the street.
“Law on your back, my friend?” The riverman’s Dole accent was as warm as the islands from whence it came. “No problems here.” He held up his own right hand, on which a faded prison code was tattooed. “That your man?” he asked the general air around himself. “In the bad suit?”
“He still looking around,” their new best friend told them as all three shuffled another step closer to the pub.
A few more steps and they’d be joining the party.
“Uniform just joined him, got her notebook in her hand,” the riverman said. “They talking and… it’s all good. Your man and his officer are moving on to Beam Street.”
Gideon leaned around to confirm, and it seemed DS Hama had indeed disappeared. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” the riverman said. “And, friend…” He waited for Gideon to turn back, “You decide you want to take sail from your troubles, the Amber Queen ships out tomorrow night. Just ask for Juban.”
“Yeah. I mean, no. I mean thanks, but—never mind,” Gideon waved off the grinning sailor and, with Mia, headed out into the street.
Mia took one look at him and shook her head. “Come on,” she said, grabbing Gideon’s hand and tugging him onwards. “This way.”
“Where are we going now?”
“Some place quiet,” she said. “Where you can get some rest. You’re knackered.”
“I dunno, I had a nice little nap after Jagati clocked me.”
Her gaze slid sideways. “You absolutely had that coming.”
“I absolutely did.”
It was likely because Mia was right, and he really was knackered, that Gideon didn’t notice when the Ohmdahl triplets came stumbling out of The Old Man and the Sea a few moments after he and Mia had slipped out of the line.
With them came another set of siblings, with whom Gideon also had a very short, very violent, history.
“Look at dat.” Rolf pointed his sausage-like finger at Gideon’s retreating back. “Dat is fellow we told of, the one with Mia the dodger.”
“I am to be limping for week because of that man,” Ulf added.
“He is good fighter,” Freya noted with respect. “And not snooty, like Del. Him, we will not work for again. Wait!” she called to Rey, who had already taken off after the soldier.
Ronan, despite having one arm wrapped to his chest, was on Rey’s heels.
Ulf looked at Rolf, who looked at Freya, who shrugged, and then all three took off, much less fluidly, after the twins.
The Ohmdahls, who’d known Ronan and Rey for some time—siblings in the freelance intimidation business were bound to run across one another—had been pleased to stumble over the twins (literally in Ulf’s case) while drowning their sorrows in the pub.
The Ohmdahls had further been gratified to discover that Rey and Ronan were on a job, seeking information about a man who bore a distinct resemblance to the soldier who’d just deprived them of a night’s pay.
The upshot of this meeting being the three Ohmdahls happily describing the job gone swarm earlier in the evening, as well as the tall soldier who’d changed the game mid-play.
“Though Miss Jinna got Ulf pretty good wid dat fork,” Rolf had explained back inside the pub.
“Almost as good as that dodger got you wid dat teapot,” Ulf countered, grinning.
But Rey was only interested in the soldier. “Blue eyes, you say? And tall?”
“Skinny, too.” Freya tossed back her fifth shot of vodka. “I’m thinking Gideon could use some of Mama’s borscht.”
Rey had smiled at that, but not the laughing kind of smile, before asking if the Ohmdahls would be willing to show the twins where they’d last seen the soldier named Gideon.
Which was when they stepped outside, and Ulf saw Gideon heading down the street with Mia, and first Rey, then Ronan, and then all three Ohmdahls started after him.
And that, as the storytellers say, is when things got interesting.