“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” Mia prompted herself as she slid through the gap in the row house’s fence, and darted through someone’s handkerchief-sized garden.
It should have been simple, following a low-flying draco that was following a carriage, but neither Elvis nor the carriage had to climb over, under, or through the people, traffic, fences, and various other obstacles that made up a city.
And even as she did her best to keep up with Elvis (with the help of a few unpaid tram and rickshaw hitches), she wondered if the draco really was flying after Gideon, or if he was simply on his way to the nearest fishmonger for an early breakfast?
But then she glanced up to see Elvis circling back—as if to confirm she was, in fact, following—before striking off once more towards the city center, where the rich and powerful of the city dwelt (and far, far, from any fish stalls).
She ducked her head low, and sidled under a gap in the next fence, which brought her to Carroll Square, across the street from the Elysium Hotel’s agri-center and wind farm.
It was also, though the keepers didn’t know, a convenient hide for dodgers working the Shakespeare Circus, just a block away. And in addition to providing sanctuary to dodgers on the run, the wind farm in the middle of the park provided an excellent hide for Mia’s books.
She thought of the novel Captain Pitte had given her, its edges digging into her ribs as she ran, but there wasn’t time for a detour.
Apparently Elvis felt the same, for, even as her eyes tracked towards the grove of energy-producing trees, a high, keening call drew her attention skywards, where the draco urged her onwards.
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” she muttered, picking up speed so that, when she reached the gap in the agri-center’s boundary hedge, she fair dove through the opening.
And came up short against the bulk that was Ellison.
“Figgered you might make a stop ‘ere abouts,” the fagin said, grabbing her arm. “Though I expected you a mite sooner, and wif a draco under your tunic.”
Saying this, he patted down her tunic but found only the book.
“Typical,” he said, tossing Pitte’s favorite Earth author into a patch of winter grains. “I always knew you was trouble,” he told her with a vicious shake, “but trouble can be beat outta a dodger. Disloyalty, though, well, I can’t let that take root, now, can I?”
“Let go o’ me,” she cried, trying to peel Ellison’s white-knuckled fingers from around her bicep. “Let go or… or I’ll lose it!”
“Lose it?” Ellison ignored the young dodger’s struggles and hauled her up high enough she got a face full of whiskey-tinged breath when he asked, “Lose what?”
At which point a shrieking draco came diving down at Ellison, his extended talons raking, and causing the fagin to drop Mia in order to cover his bald head as the screaming, flapping draco continued to torment him.
“That,” Mia said, springing to her feet and literally diving over the cowering Ellison.
As soon as she was well away, Elvis gave one last, remonstrative shriek, and then swooped up and into the night.
Running like she’d never run before, Mia gave up on the dodger routes and kept to the main roads where, even at this hour, Ellison would be less likely to make an untoward move.
She only hoped, in coming to her aid, Elvis hadn’t lost the carriage.
As it happened, Mia needn’t have worried about Ellison following. Thoroughly traumatized by the unexpected attack, the fagin remained where he was, hunched over between the winter wheat and the dead remains of tomato plants for many minutes, until he was convinced the demon with wings wasn’t going to come at him again.
Eventually, when no further claws came tearing at his exposed flesh, he slowly lowered one arm to find that, yes, he was alone.
Or rather, mostly alone.
Just on the far side of the tomato patch, a man of stocky build, wearing the keeper colors of saffron and crimson, and carrying a hoe with the same assurance a soldier carries his sword, was standing. “Might one ask,” the keeper began, his basso voice deceptively pleasant, “what in the comb you’d be doing in my wheat in the wee hours?”
“I…” Ellison’s eyes darted wildly to the sky, and then around him, and then to the sky again. “Didn’t you see it?”
The keeper’s eyes widened and he hefted the hoe suggestively. “See what?”
As he spoke, two other keepers, a woman of middle years, and a youth, came racing up to join their fellow.
“We telephed the precinct. Again,” the youth said. “They’ll be sending someone along, quick as they can.”
“They also said it may be a while.” The woman turned her disapproving eyes on Ellison. “They say it’s a busy night.”
“That’s fine, that is,” the first keeper said. “It’ll give our friend here time to settle, and explain himself in proper fashion.” He focused on the cowering, bleeding Ellison. “Won’t it?”
“It… I… Yes,” Ellison replied at last, still hunching in on himself. For though he was a large man, and strong, most of his confrontations were with people under the age of fourteen.
When it came to facing off with adults, Ellison generally found cowardice to be the better part of valor.
Or, cowardice and bald-faced lies.
Lies produced for the keepers, and reiterated on the arrival of the coppers.
Lies in which he claimed himself a victim of thieves who set upon him as he stepped out of his favorite tavern. Afraid for his life, he’d run roughshod through streets and private yards alike, until he’d finally gone to ground in the agri-center.
The scratches? Received when wrestling through a wire fence, two—or was it four?—streets back.
“And can you identify these thieves?” the uniformed officer inquired.
She was a young one, and Ellison marked her as new to the job, the way her supervisor watched over her.
“Of course,” Ellison said, accepting a mug of tea from young Keeper Bren, while DS Hama and the two older keepers looked on, visibly unimpressed. “Well, two of ‘em, any road. One’s a kid. One o’ them dodgers as works the streets of a night. You know the type,” he added, glancing Hama’s way.
“And the other?” Officer Prudawe prompted, her tongue poking from between her teeth as she transcribed his statement into her spanking new notebook, oblivious of the mug Bren set at her side.
“Tall feller, and skinny with it,” Ellison replied promptly. “Hair’s sorta brownish-gray, not much to look at, oh, and he wears an Infantry long-coat.”
At which point the last mug, which Bren had been about to hand to DS Hama, tipped wildly, sloshing its contents over the floor.
Hama looked at his tea, spreading across the tile, then up at the flushing youth. “Something you’d care to share, Keeper Bren?”
Which was how DS Hama, who with his young trainee had already taken a report on the Elysium’s composter, a case of vandalism at Kit’s Diner, a stolen (or mis-parked) Edsel Comet, and a near riot in the streets along Marlboro, first learned the name of Gideon Quinn.