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“Wendell was after his monthly payment,” Tiago, the young man Gideon had theoretically assisted, explained as he poured tea for his guests. “Which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but that the university bursar’s office was closed by the time I arrived yesterday, and now it’s the weekend, so there’s naught I can do until Monday. Wendell didn’t like hearing that,” he added, one hand waving over the bruise on his jaw. “Obviously.”
Forty minutes had passed, and Mia and Gideon were now seated in the closet-sized kitchen of Tiago’s flat, in one of Lower Cadbury’s more habitable buildings.
Or rather, Mia and Elvis were seated. Gideon stood in the doorway, slipping one of Tiago’s shirts over the multitude of wounds their host had cleaned and dressed.
Tiago, it seemed, possessed a great deal of medical experience, along with the spare clothes.
He wasn’t quite as tall as Gideon, but was also not quite as emaciated, so the clothing fit well enough, even if the shirt’s sleeves didn’t quite cover the ligature marks on the older man’s wrists.
For her part, Mia was just relieved Gideon no longer smelled of blood and compost.
She couldn’t tell if Tiago had been impressed or appalled by a savior sporting a prison tattoo, and looking as if he’d just come off the battlefield. Either way, he’d done the needful for Gideon, and in her books that made Tiago a decent sort.
“I’m guessing this payment has nothing to do with rent,” Gideon said, beginning to button the shirt.
“Security.” Tiago confirmed the supposition.
“A security racket? Here?” Gideon asked, looking at Mia.
“There’s more a’ that in Lower Cadbury than the other neighborhoods,” she told him. “People with less to lose being more eager to keep what little they got.”
“From the mouths of babes,” Tiago murmured, laying a squashed packet of biscuits before Mia (and thus unknowingly saving himself from a tongue-lashing for referring to her as a babe). “I run a free clinic, here in Cadbury.“
“You’re a doctor?” Mia asked, crumbs spewing forth with the question, much to Elvis’s delight. “Sorry.”
“Fourth-year student at Yousafzai’s Medical College,” Tiago replied with a small smile. “I am one of the three Tenjin Corporation scholarship recipients for the class of fourteen fifty. This includes a stipend for housing, but I thought the money would be put to better use helping my neighborhood, so I live here, and use the stipend for medical supplies for those in need.”
“Damn,” Gideon said.
“Oy! Language,” Mia chided.
Gideon gave her a look, then sat down at the little table. “Tell me more about Wendell,” he said to Tiago.
It was a story as old as Fortune.
Older, Gideon figured, as every bit of Earth’s history he’d learned supported the notion that crime was as endemic to the human race as war.
In Wendell’s case, it was a simple matter of being the toughest bully on the block, or blocks, in Lower Cadbury’s case. The neighborhood, in the farthest outskirts of Nike’s Ninth District, had fallen on hard times during the earliest days of the war. A rare airstrike in Avon had hit the area hard, and with most of the city funds supporting the colonial Corps, nothing was allocated for rebuilding.
Now only those too poor or too stubborn to relocate remained, including, Tiago explained, a number of veterans, mostly those too physically or emotionally damaged by the wars to slide comfortably back into society, and Tiago himself.
And of course Wendell, who, in Gideon’s opinion, didn’t have the stones to compete with the bad boys in the flusher parts of town, so he settled for being the biggest scum in the little pond that was the Lower Cadbury tenements.
He did this, Gideon learned, by assembling a crew of enforcers, and then promising the honest citizens who lived or did business on their turf protection from burglaries, vandalism, and various other acts of violence.
Those who paid remained (mostly) untouched.
Those who didn’t or who, like Tiago, were late on their payments, found themselves experiencing all manner of difficulties, from broken windows, to arson, to armed robbery, to assault.
“So you can see how it might not look good for me,” Tiago said, “you bashing the comb out of Wendell just now.”
“And if he hadn’t?” Mia, a study in indignation and cookie crumbs, asked. “Wendell would’a bashed you proper, for sure.”
“Physician, heal thyself,” Tiago replied.
“Which might work, assuming Wendell didn’t go for your hands,” Gideon told him, causing Tiago’s face to go ashen. “But I get your point. Wendell isn’t going to go away.” He looked at the young man. “Can you? Go away?”
“And leave my clinic? My patients?” Tiago shook his head. “I’ve got two elders with chronic cardiopulmonary distress, and a child about Mia’s age with asthma. And every day brings a new trauma patient.”
Probably, Gideon thought, because most every day someone’s flat collapsed. Or they forgot to pay Wendell. Or both. “What if,” he said, after staring at his cooling tea for a spell, “someone could make Wendell go away?”
“I…” Tiago seemed momentarily flummoxed. “I can’t condone murder, if that’s what you are asking.”
“He thinks you’re a killer,” Mia told Gideon. “Probably ‘cause o’ your bloody clothes. And maybe the prison tat. And all them scars. And—”
“Yes. Thanks. I get it,” Gideon said.
“But it’s all right,” Mia said brightly, “because Gideon didn’t kill no one.”
“Anyone,” Gideon said.
She rolled her eyes. “Gideon didn’t kill anyone,” she said. “But you can see how he facilitated the comb outta Wendell. And he did the same with the Ohmdahl triplets, last night, and some wanker named Ronan and his sis. Gideon’s Alpha Grade crystal when it comes to facilitating.”
Both men found themselves staring at the chipper young dodger.
“What she means is, what if Wendell were to be… facilitated… out of the neighborhood?”
“Well,” Tiago said, clearing his throat, “as long as there’s no killing.”
Which, of course, was when the first sirens started to sound.
“Police?” Tiago rose from the table. “They never come out here.”
“Funny, that’s what she said.” Gideon glared at Mia.
She was already climbing out of her chair. “May be they take murder more serious than liftin’ wallets?”
“Probably,” Gideon agreed as he, also, rose, reaching automatically for his coat, which would normally have been draped over the chair.
“Wait,” Tiago said, “you said you hadn’t killed anyone.”
Gideon’s hand closed over his chair’s naked back. “It’s complicated.”
The sound of vehicles coming to a halt had them all freezing.
Sure enough, the next thing they heard were boots on the street, followed by some fairly vigorous thudding.
“They’re knocking on doors,” Gideon observed.
“They won’t get a lot of answers, ” Tiago said. “Not too many folks living here, and those who are have little use for coppers who won’t even walk a beat in this neighborhood.”
“Time to scarp?” Mia asked.
Gideon looked at Tiago.
“If you head down to the basement, there’s a gate to some old keeper garden tunnels that are stable. I often use them during winter to get around.”
Gideon looked at Mia, who nodded. “I’ve used ‘em. We all have.”
We, Gideon assumed, meaning her fellow dodgers.
“You’ll need this, though,” Tiago said, turning to pull a hand torch out of a drawer.
“Thanks,” Gideon said, then clicked for Elvis.
Mia nodded her thanks, and dashed for the front door of the flat.
Once the draco was settled, Gideon followed. He could hear Mia’s feet racing lightly down the stairs, but he paused and looked at Tiago, still standing in the kitchen archway, “Assuming I don’t get sent up for a crime I didn’t commit in the next few hours, I’ll come back and—facilitate—your situation.”
It was a big if, and Tiago’s expression wasn’t terribly optimistic.
Gideon couldn’t blame him. “Until then, be smart and let these cops get you out of Cadbury. Tell them you saw me. They’ll want you to come in and swear out a statement.” He held up a hand as Tiago began to protest. “Your patients need you, I get that, but how much can you help them if you end up crippled, or a corpse?” He waited just long enough to see his argument take effect, then dove through the door, down the steps, and into the basement, hot on Mia’s heels.
The tunnels were stable, as Tiago said, and the cops apparently didn’t know they existed.
Or the cops knew they existed but didn’t want to deal with the chill, the dark, or the vermin that had taken over when the gardens were abandoned.
Gideon didn’t particularly want to deal with them, either, and since the bombing had collapsed the light shafts which had once illuminated the tunnels, their progress was hampered by the limited vision Tiago’s torch provided.
Still, he figured it was better than dodging the coppers above ground.
“Why’d you stop?” he heard Mia ask.
“You stopped moving,” she said. “You were counting again, and then you stopped.”
“Did I hit seven thousand eight hundred fifty-two?”
“I think… yeah. Why?”
She looked as if she wanted to ask about the long story, but Gideon started moving again, leaving her little choice but to follow.
Eventually (another 223 steps) Mia came to a stop.
“Here we are,” she said, pushing through a permanently half-open door.
“And here is?” Gideon asked, following into a basement that looked pretty much like Tiago’s, except here there was a sliver of window letting in just enough light to see all but the most distant corners.
Not that there was much to see. Mostly just dust, rat droppings, and gnawed-up bits of paper and wood.
“Old school,” she said. “Ain’t been used since the blitz.”
Something in her voice had him looking more closely at her. “How do you know about it?”
She looked at him. “Long story.”
Had that coming, he thought. “How safe is this place?” he asked, peering through the window to see any feet that might be passing by. There were none.
Mia found a dry spot on the floor and hunkered down. “Safe as houses.”
He looked at her. “Have you seen the houses around here?”
“Double double ain’t no trouble gonna find us here, safe,” she clarified.
He decided that would have to do. “In that case,” he said, crouching down in front of where she’d folded herself into a small, hunched knot, “it’s time to come up with a plan.”
“For everyone.” He looked down at his hands, bruised and scraped and marked as a traitor, then up to see her watching him, her dark eyes uncertain in the dim light. “Starting with Celia Rand.”
“The one who’s a spy?”
“The one who’s a spy. And then, of course, there’s Killian Del, and the Fagin Ellison issue is still pending.”
There was a silence as she stared, then looked down at her own grubby hands. “I thought you said you was done.”
“Were done, and I thought I was.” Had thought so, for too many years. “Guess I was wrong.”