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Gideon groaned his way to his third uncomfortable awakening of the night.
At least this time there was no water in his lungs.
He did feel something unpleasantly tacky under his left cheek.
Not yet ready to face what was on the other side of his eyelids, Gideon took a slow, deep breath—a breath that caught midway—as a bright, metallic scent coated his nostrils, and thickened in his throat.
He forced his eyes open and yes, the scent was that of blood—a great deal of it—splattered on his shirt, congealing under his cheek, slickly coating his right hand, where it lay directly in front of his eyes.
His right hand, and the knife he held in it.
In his hand.
He made himself look beyond the gory artifact to what he presumed was the source of all that blood, and was on his feet before he knew he’d moved.
Then he stood, stunned, over the recently deceased Jessup Rand.
He looked at the body, then the knife he still held, then the body again.
“Huh,” he said.
This seemed lacking, given the circumstances, but damned if he could think of anything else to say.
“How?” he then asked, which, while not much better, at least was a question. Or a word which happened to double as a question.
It then occurred to Gideon he was having a very difficult time thinking.
This was odd, as, generally, he found life-and-death situations to bring a remarkable clarity of mind. Certainly in battle this had been the case. Maybe it was only murder that lent this kind of thick, cottony fog? A fog not unlike that of the previous evening when he’d been drugged by Nahmin.
Nahmin, who, like Ronan and Rey, worked for Celia.
“Celia,” the name ground out between his teeth, as he at last remembered the woman in red, pouring red liqueur down his throat, dosing him with morph.
There, see, his thoughts sloughed through the cotton, you didn’t kill Rand.
I was drugged, so how do you know what I did and didn’t do? he asked back.
“Because, you moron, you’re left handed,” he heard himself say aloud, holding up his right hand, in which the knife had been placed. “And because I didn’t want you dead,” he added, looking at Jessup, who, not surprisingly, didn’t comment.
True, six years ago Gideon had wanted him dead. Had, in fact, come damn close to achieving that desire.
But the Gideon of six years ago had been blind with fury, standing on the killing field where half his company lay slaughtered because of Rand’s deceit.
So yes, in that moment, Gideon had wanted Rand’s death more than anything.
Now, though, what he wanted more than anything was for the truth of Rand’s guilt to be made known.
He looked down at Jessup, and felt the knife slide from his fingers.
The thud as it landed was unpleasant.
Almost as unpleasant as the sound of one man breathing when there were two men in the room.
More unpleasant still was the pounding of hurried footsteps rising from the street below, followed by the thud of a door being thrown open and the choked, fearful, yet viscerally recognizable voice of Celia Rand, begging those at the door to, “Please, hurry! They’re upstairs… my husband and… and… the man who… he… he tried to…”
“Do not worry, Madame,” an official-sounding voice interrupted Celia’s dramatics, “we’re here now.”
She was a good liar, Gideon had to give her that, but then, Odile would have to be.
She was also, he was certain, framing him for the murder of her husband.
Not just murder, he thought, as he turned from the damning body of evidence in front of him to take in the sumptuous bed.
The red silk drapings were now twisted half on the floor, and spattered with blood.
The rest of the room, which had been in pristine condition earlier, now looked as if a storm had swept through the picture window currently swinging open on its hinges.
A storm… or two grown men fighting over a woman.
Yup, she really knows how to set a stage, Gideon thought, as the boots from outside hit the stairs.
Then he thought—window.
Thirty seconds later the doors burst open, and two of Nike’s finest came rushing into the room, where they pulled up short in front of the body.
“Jessup!” Celia cried out before sliding to the floor in an apparent dead faint, which might also have led to a slight concussion, as the two officers were paying no attention to her, being preoccupied by the presence of the body, and absence of any apparent killer.
One of them was so new to the job that, while Celia was falling elegantly to the floor, young Officer Prudawe was racing to the open windows in hopes the fresh air would prevent any additional mess in the room.
Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Don’t look up, Gideon thought as he pressed himself against the building.
Then he made himself stop thinking that thought, for fear the young officer would hear him thinking, and then she would look up and see the blood-spattered man balanced on the window’s cornice, directly above where she was visibly trying not to puke.
His gaze remained locked on the officer’s deep green cap as she placed her hands on the window ledge, one on either side of a bloody handprint.
Don’t— the thought flitted out, in spite of himself.
She took several deep breaths.
Her hand slid a bit and she raised it, turning the palm upwards to see the red smear.
She looked up.
“It’s not what it looks like,” he told her.
“Got him!” she shouted, disappearing into the room, but reappearing a half second later, gun in hand.
“That could have gone better,” Gideon said.
“Sir,” she said, “please climb down to be placed in custody.”
Gideon considered the request. “I don’t see how that can work out for me.”
On the street below, a compost lorry was steaming its way up the street.
“I’m telling you, you are under arrest!” the young officer called up, wildly brandishing the weapon.
“Have you been trained to use that thing?” Gideon asked, eying the lorry’s progress.
Are you an idiot? his rational brain asked.
Now you’re paying attention? Gideon asked the rational mind. Where were you when Celia was drugging me?
His rational mind had nothing to say to that.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Gideon said aloud.
“Sorry,” he called down to the officer, “talking to myself.”
“My mum says talking to yourself is a sign of mental instability,” she told him. “Really, it’d be best if you climb back down here and let me arrest you.”
Another head appeared in the window, and damned if it wasn’t Mia’s DS Hama, the decent cop, last seen on Marlboro Avenue. “Hallo!” Hama greeted.
“Hi,” Gideon said, with somewhat less enthusiasm.
Below, the lorry had stopped, despite a distinct lack of any bins needing emptying, directly below the cornice upon which Gideon was currently perched.
“Right mess in here,” Hama called up to Gideon.
“Watch yourself, sir,” the young officer said, pulling back as a draco came swooping down off the roof to buzz the lorry’s cab.
“Yeah, about that,” Gideon said, “you’re going to have a hard time believing this,” he leaned out ever so slightly, “but I was framed.”
“Of course you were.” Hama nodded his understanding. “Why don’t you climb back in, and we can talk about it?”
“Or,” Gideon said, “I could do this.”
And he jumped.
The young officer also jumped, and so did her trigger finger.
“Now that,” DS Hama said, staring down, “is not something you see every day.”
“He’s getting away,” Prudawe observed, then turned from the suspect, currently sprawled over the mounds of organic waste in the rapidly departing lorry. “Shouldn’t we pursue?”
“I don’t imagine he will be going very far, at least not without the help of a physician,” Hama said, glancing down at her sidearm.
She followed his gaze and her normally fawn-brown complexion went decidedly gray. The shot counter listed one plasma bolt fired, just seconds ago.
“Oh, no,” she groaned, powering down the weapon.
“It looked like a glancing blow, at worst,” Hama told her. “That won’t help with the paperwork, mind, but at least you didn’t kill the man.”
Both she and Hama leaned out the window.
“Best radio it in,” he said, “and get an all-district alert on this fellow.”
As Prudawe moved to obey, Hama pulled back into the bloody room to see a very unvalet-like valet caring for the vapor-ridden mistress of the house.
Hama hoped she recovered quickly—he had a few questions for the widow, not least of which was why she was wearing an infantry long-coat of a size more appropriate to a very tall man.
A man, he calculated, about the size of the fellow who’d just jumped two stories into a compost heap.