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“I’m hurt,” Nahmin said to Gideon Quinn, moving away from the buxom blonde as he spoke.
He didn’t mind that she was a foot taller than he, or that she smelled as if she’d just bathed in a vat of vodka, but he did mind that she was blocking his view of the proceedings.
All of the proceedings—such as the way in which Quinn was planted so firmly in front of a curtain that, from the odor, he took to be covering a privy—and Rey’s predatory expression as she looked on Quinn.
“Did you bring the carriage?” Rey asked with the resentment he’d come to expect from her.
A ridiculous resentment, as Nahmin was not a rival to the twins.
His skill set barely overlapped theirs.
“It is outside,” he told her. “Though the street is so narrow, it is possible I left some paint on the wall of this charming bit of local color.” He gestured expansively around the room.
“Is not so bad,” one of the blonde males said, looking around. “A little paint, maybe some of Mama’s wall hangings, it could be nice, yes?” he asked, giving Quinn a clap on the back, so hard the man stumbled into Ronan’s injured arm.
Ronan cursed, then spun Quinn around with his good hand, allowing his sister to haul Quinn’s arms behind his back, where she proceeded to bind them.
At least she’d learned from her two previous encounters with the ex-soldier, Nahmin observed. Although, he further observed, those same previous encounters made Quinn’s complacence in his current circumstances somewhat curious.
The Gideon Quinn of Rey’s description would never have allowed himself to be taken so easily.
Admittedly, the odds were significantly against Quinn this time, but still…
Nahmin again looked at the privy curtain.
“I thought you were looking for a higher class of employer,” Quinn said, addressing one of the blonde giants.
“You’ve met one another?” Nahmin asked Quinn.
“I facilitated an understanding between the triplets and a young lady.”
“Nice girl,” Rolf agreed. “Friend of Mia the dodger.”
Nahmin watched Quinn’s expression blank at the mention of the dodger. And where, he thought, did this Mia the dodger disappear to? “Small world,” he observed aloud.
“Things got off to a rough start,” Quinn admitted.
“Our new friend give us enough for many drinks,” another of the blonde oafs agreed, looking on happily at his brother and Quinn.
Apparently enough drinks to render them oblivious of their new friend’s predicament.
“Well,” Quinn replied, “I did cost you a job, so—”
“Enough!” Rey cut Quinn off with a blow to the head that had him staggering towards the curtain. He didn’t fall into it, but the expression on his face at the possibility told Nahmin he was worried about more than a whiff of privy air.
At the same time the triplets were beginning to look less oblivious.
“Thank you for your assistance,” Nahmin said to the three giants, before they came to any conclusions that were not in his favor. “But we can take over from here.”
The Ohmdahls, however, were not eager to shuffle off the stage. “We are happy to be helping,” one of the males said, and both his siblings nodded.
Amateurs, Nahmin thought with a mix of amusement and despair.
It was the only sour note in his current employment, that he was called upon to work with individuals such as Rey and Ronan, for whom violence was no more than an outlet for innate aggression.
For the twins, it was all rage and pain, but for Nahmin, violence was only a means to an end, and that end was best achieved with simplicity, efficiency and—with the exception of Quinn—finality.
Yes, he, Nahmin, had botched the initial drugging (again, who chose to take their dinner in a bathtub?), and that failure was on him.
But his failure had occurred only after Rey and Ronan had botched their first attempt at collecting Quinn, a failure they mistakenly blamed on their quarry. And it was Rey who’d wasted time, and breath, talking to the man in the alley outside the Elysium, thus allowing his unseen ally to create the means for Quinn’s escape.
Amateurs, he thought again. And now they’d brought their little—their very large, he corrected himself—playmates along.
But Nahmin, for reasons so personal even he barely dared examine them too deeply, had sworn allegiance to the House of Rand, and it was not only the House of Rand’s pleasure that he deliver Quinn alive, but that he allow the twins to participate in the collection process.
But no one had told him he need allow these blonde buffoons to join in.
“A generous offer,” Nahmin said to all three, “but our business with Mr. Quinn is just that, business, and dull business at that. There will be no need for your particular skill sets.” As he spoke, he drew an object from the pouch at his back, turning enough to let Quinn see the matte black stiletto in his hand. “I’m sure Mr. Quinn wouldn’t want to keep you from your pleasures. Would he?” He looked at Quinn, then at the curtain, then back to Quinn, making sure the prisoner understood he wouldn’t be able to stop Nahmin killing whoever Quinn had hidden in the fetid privy beyond.
Quinn’s eyes met Nahmin’s and his head dipped a fraction. “Absolutely not.” He turned to the triplets with admirable calm. “You all go and have a good time.”
“You are being sure?” the woman asked Quinn.
“Very,” Quinn said firmly.
All three looked then at Ronan and Rey.
It was, to Nahmin, very like watching a panto at the Circus.
“We’ll join you tomorrow,” Ronan said, with a measure of tolerance Nahmin felt due more to the painkillers the man was taking than any innate patience.
“You see? Everything is honey in the comb here,” Nahmin said with a smile, gesturing towards the door with his left hand.
To both Nahmin and Quinn’s relief, the triplets finally accepted the dismissal.
Still, Nahmin’s blade remained low and ready, and not until the Ohmdahls were well on their way through the rumpled pallets, pillows, and screens did he turn his attention back to Quinn. “Now, if you don’t mind, the carriage is waiting.”
“Wait.” Rey held up a hand. “I was promised retribution.”
“Is that what we’re calling it these days?” Quinn asked, then grunted as Ronan’s good fist buried itself in his gut.
“So I’ve been informed,” Nahmin said to Rey, not bothering to hide his distaste. “But perhaps you can restrain yourself until we move to someplace less odiferous?”
* * *
Mia, who’d remained as close to frozen as she’d ever been, waited until the sounds of footsteps faded to a safe distance before daring to peek through the heavy curtains.
The angle wasn’t good, but she could see Gideon, his hands bound behind him, being escorted in the direction of the Wolstonecroft door between a man and a woman who had to be the twins.
Coming up behind was the little man she’d first spied close to eight hours and half a lifetime ago, following Gideon. This time the chameleon of a poisoner was dressed in the black and white togs of a high-end servant.
Just as he was about to round the corner, the ponce/ninja/butler turned in Mia’s direction and, even though she knew he couldn’t possibly see her through the sliver of space between the curtains, she watched him once again raise his index finger and shake it back and forth in warning, exactly as he had when she’d spied him outside the Elysium, earlier that night.
He held the position for a beat, then turned away and continued on after Gideon and the others, leaving Mia, for the second time in the same night, discovering there were people way scarier than Ellison.
The first had been Gideon himself, on spying John Pitte.
Elvis was apparently worried as well, because for the first time since she’d laid eyes on the draco, he’d not moved so much as a talon while she cowered behind the curtain.
Either he was as afraid as she, or Gideon had trained him exceedingly well. Either way, Elvis had remained with her, allowing his person to go into what looked to be some pretty deep fertilizer.
“But we’re not gonna leave ‘im in it, are we?” she asked the draco, still perched on her shoulder.
Elvis apparently knew she was addressing him, because his neck snaked around so they were eye to eye, and his head shook back and forth, back and forth, in what appeared to be both echo and denial of Nahmin’s forbidding finger.
Moments later, Mia and Elvis were outside.
Wolstonecroft street was empty, but for the echo of a carriage and four rattling over the cobbles that made up most of the streets in this district.
“If you can find ‘im, I’ll keep up,” Mia said to Elvis.
Again the draco proved himself keener than any birds Mia had ever seen as, rumbling low in his throat, he launched himself from her shoulder, taking flight above the rickety housetops, and flying in the same direction as the receding clomp of hooves.
“Wicked,” Mia judged, then took herself after the draco by routes used only by the dodgers of Fagin Ellison.
It didn’t occur to her, at the time, that it was Fagin Ellison who’d first mapped out those routes.