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Mia had been correct in her estimation of Detective Sergeant Ishan Hama.
He was decent.
He took no bribes, believed in justice for all classes, and did his best to keep the peace in a city that had been under the cloud of war for over half his life.
Though the war with the Coalition States had seldom directly struck Nike—the airborne blitz that decimated Lower Cadbury had been the worst for the city—it was the indirect effects of war which made policing in Avon’s capital an ongoing challenge.
Effects such as the majority of tax monies going to support the war effort (with no few detours to various wartime committee chairs), along with a significant number of citizens who might have made fine police officers gone to the ranks.
Citizens such as Ishan’s husband, Paolo, lost when an enemy mortar struck his troop ’ship, the UCF Tenochtitlan.
Even years later, Ishan still recalled the numbing cold he’d felt the day he returned to the precinct, fresh from tamping down a potential riot, to see the colonel in his dress greens, accompanied by the regimental keeper.
He was recalling it now, in fact.
Probably because the young man seated at his desk, brought in as a potential witness in Ishan’s latest case, was the very image of a young Paolo.
“You okay, Dad?” Tiago asked.
“I am quite… okay,” he said gruffly, appalled that his son might see the old distress. He cleared his throat, tapped his pencil and shoved his untouched tea a bit to the left (he’d shoved it a bit to the right three minutes past). “So, you believe you have seen the man we are looking for?”
“Yes, like I told Officer Prudawe ten minutes ago, and DS Couerliane when she knocked on my door at home.”
“Home.” The word came out more as a derisive snort.
“Don’t start,” Tiago said.
“Of course not.” Ishan waved his hands in parental frustration. “After all, what business is it of mine if my only son chooses to dwell in a derelict building, putting his life in danger every day for the sake of—”
“For the sake of our neighbors,” Tiago said. “The same people who used to join us for tea in the morning, and to celebrate First Landing Day, and who came to Papa’s funeral—”
“Don’t start,” Ishan echoed his son’s earlier directive. He glanced around at the nearby desks, where other detectives and officers were suddenly very busy with the paperwork they usually avoided like a plague. “This is not the time,” he added.
“It never is,” Tiago sighed, slumping back in his chair as if he were fourteen and not twenty-four.
The two men sat so for another moment before Ishan moved his chair slightly, and the predictable squeak of wood on cheap rehabbed flooring brought them back to the purpose of this interview. “About the suspect. Can you give me the description?”
“Told Prudawe, and Couerliane. I know this, but every time you tell the story, you may include another detail, and so we paint the picture, one telling at a time, yes?”
“I’m sorry. Yes,” Tiago said, then he took a long, slow breath, and began.
Dutifully, Ishan recorded that the man Tiago had seen was tall, and thin (too thin for his height and build, the medical student had pointed out), and looked a right mess.
Riding in a compost lorry after being shot whilst jumping from a second-story window could do that, Ishan thought, and looked up when his son paused. “Is there anything else?”
“Right, umm.” Tiago closed his eyes. “His hair was sort of undecided,” he said at last. “Not quite brown, not quite blond, but with some silver at the temples. I think there was a tattoo, here.” He pointed to the back of his own right hand. “And his eyes were blue.”
At which Ishan couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Were they exceedingly blue? The sort of blue that puts one in mind of sheet lightning? Or crystal? Or perhaps a glacier?”
His son’s brown eyes became quizzical at the uncharacteristic interjection.
“Sorry.” Ishan grimaced. “Many of the earlier descriptions I have taken were given to poetic extremes.” He waved his pencil as if to erase the rhetoric which was, he knew, a holdover from the other half-dozen interviews he’d taken regarding this Quinn person.
The first time had been while interviewing various individuals involved in the Marlboro Avenue brawl, which spilled into the hukka dens of Byron and Wolstonecroft.
Ishan would never have taken that particular call, had he not been meeting Dr. Bayer, one of his sources.
She’d been following his directive to report any unusual activity, and felt it necessary to inform Ishan of a morph transaction with some risto’s butler.
Since he had been near the scene of the riot, it was Ishan who also caught the interviews, after. At first, he’d assumed the descriptions of the man he’d later identify as Gideon Quinn were the side effect of too much of whichever substance each witness had indulged in, but then he’d gotten the call from Carroll Square.
Here, both the alleged victim (twenty years on the force told Ishan that Erasmus Ellison was about as likely to be a victim of a mugging as Ishan was to be crowned Queen on All Gather’s Eve) and the keepers who’d found him had offered descriptions of the suspect that strolled away from simple height, weight, and coloring and into the fields of fancy.
“It’s not so much the color of his eyes that grab attention,” Keeper Bren had told Ishan. “It’s more what those eyes have seen, you know?”
“Moves like a wolf,” Keeper Thalia had offered, with a certain appreciation.
“He owes fifty starbucks for a broken window,” Keeper Donal, the more prosaic of the three, offered before adding, “but there was something about him, something dangerous, like a coiled snake. Or maybe it was just his draco.”
And then there was the widow, Celia Rand, who, to Ishan’s mind, gave a description that said more about herself than Quinn.
“A brute,” she’d said. “Mannerless and rough and—but forgive me—you asked for his physical description, not his personality. Tall, taller than poor Jessup.” Here she’d looked down for a measured beat before continuing. “Tall, and thin in a sort of ravaged way, with a prison code here.” She’d held up her right hand. “And his eyes were blue… a dangerous blue.”
“Dangerous?” Ishan had asked, looking up from his notebook.
“Like crystal,” she said, her own eyes gleaming, perhaps with tears, but Ishan thought not. “His eyes are the same shade as living crystal, right before it explodes.”
Yes, he’d heard Quinn’s description quite often, by now.
So often, in fact, he doubted there was any way Gideon Quinn would be able to live up to the hyperbole.
Of course, the only way to find out was to locate him, and that was where the trouble lay.
As much of a stir as Quinn had made over the past night, he was still one man in a city that held over a hundred thousand.
“… with the tattoo, he didn’t seem like a bad sort.”
“I’m sorry?” Ishan said, realizing with a start he’d been doodling rather than listening to his son’s statement.
Tiago’s mouth quirked in a slight smile. “I was saying, the man I saw, he was a mess, but he didn’t seem like a criminal. He seemed decent.”
“Perhaps he is,” Ishan said, taking a sip of tea that hadn’t been hot for nearly an hour, “but decent sorts are seldom found on the windowsill of a murder scene.”
“He could have been framed,” a new voice cut in.
Both men turned to see a young girl dressed in a roughly made tunic.
Ishan’s eyes narrowed as he recognized her as one of the dodgers the Nike police were forever chasing. Before he could ask what she wanted, his eyes fell upon the draco riding on her shoulder. The beast had done an admirable job of camouflaging itself in her coiled hair, but was now peering out of the dark curls, and tasting the air with quick licks of its forked tongue.
It took everything Ishan had to suppress the childish glee the creature’s presence elicited.
Tiago, meanwhile, was hopping out of his chair. “Mia,” he said, staring down at the ebony-curled moppet. “What are you doing here?”
“Did you get it?” she asked, ignoring his question as her eyes darted from Tiago to Ishan. “About him bein’ in the window, so’s maybe he was framed. Window? Frame?”
Neither man said anything.
“Pfft.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Why do I bother?”
“You want me to go where?” Mia had asked.
“It’s not that crazy,” Gideon replied.
“The only thing more crazy is the fact you think it’s not that crazy.”
“Maybe it’s a little crazy, but it’s an important part of the plan.”
“I think I changed my mind,” she said, sitting back on her heels. “You’re better off quitting. Take your draco and run for it.”
“Ha,” he said, and continued to study the rough map of Ellison’s hive.
“I’m serious,” she said back.
He looked up, and yes, she was serious. “Okay.” He straightened, mostly because he’d been hunched over so long, then pushed himself to his feet and started to pace the basement in which they’d taken shelter. The light seeping through the small window had thinned some, as the suns rose above the nearby rooftops. “What, in particular, worries you?” he asked her.
“Listen, even if Hama’s not as decent as you supposed, he’s going to be more interested in getting to me than giving you grief. It’ll be honey in the comb.”
“Promise?” she asked.
He looked at her. “If I promised, I’d be lying, and I won’t lie to you.”
“Good,” she said. “Then I’ll do it.”
And while Mia wouldn’t say DS Hama’s reception was particularly honey-like, at least he wasn’t looking to clap irons on her. And finding Tiago here had been a nice surprise.
“You know this girl?” Hama was asking Tiago.
“I—it’s complicated,” Tiago offered weakly.
“Funny.” Mia picked up the noticeable slack. “That’s what Gideon always says.”
“Gideon?” Hama looked at her.
“Does Gideon know you’re here?” Tiago asked her.
“Gideon?” The detective echoed himself, rising to stare at Tiago. “You know Gideon Quinn?”
“Not know so much as… we’ve met.”
“When Gideon saved Tiago here from a thug what was asking protection money,” Mia said brightly.
“Not helping,” Tiago murmured. “Dad,” he began, turning to Hama.
“OY!” Mia jumped on that. “DS Hama’s your Dad?”
“Stop! Both of you! Be silent,” Hama snapped.
Mia and Tiago shared a glance, but they remained silent.
“You,” Hama pointed to Mia, “wait your turn. You,” he said, turning to Tiago, “why did you not say you’d met Quinn? You know he is dangerous.”
“You’re right about that. He is dangerous,” Tiago said, ignoring Mia’s warning hiss. “But I don’t believe he is a murderer.”
Hama closed his eyes for a moment and his lips moved.
Mia, staring at him, realized he was counting.
“Very well,” he said upon reaching the number ten, “what makes you believe, despite having been found at the scene, covered in blood, and the murder weapon bearing his prints, that Quinn is not a murderer?”
“Because he’s…” Tiago seemed to flounder a moment before landing. “Because he really is decent.”
Hama stared at his son for a moment, his face devoid of expression, then he turned to Mia. “Your turn,” he said. “Why did Quinn send you to the police?”
“Not the police,” she shook her head. “To you.”
“Me?” Though why that should surprise him more than any of the other revelations, he didn’t know. “Why?”
“Because,” she said, looking from Hama to Tiago and back, “you’re decent.”
Hama stared. Possibly, she thought, he was counting, again.
Then Hama sighed. “Perhaps,” he said, “you should tell me what your Mr. Quinn wants.”
At which point she realized Gideon had been right.
It wasn’t that crazy a plan.