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By the time Mia and Elvis were on their way to see DS Hama, Gideon was on a mission of his own.
“And while I’m makin’ nice with the filth, what’ll you be doing?” Mia had asked, watching Gideon pace back and forth across the basement.
“Same thing, different people,” he’d said, then explained, then waited for her to stop laughing.
He supposed it was a bit bonkers, but there really weren’t a lot of options.
Fehr would likely have agreed to help, but he was aloft with the Errant, so Gideon had to go for the next best option.
Okay, so maybe not the next best, or even the next after that, but at least it was an option, right?
Are you talking to yourself again?
Maybe—but hey, I’m not counting.
Then why do you know you just took step number 1,012?
His self shut up, but Gideon kept counting.
It was a distraction, he supposed, from both the second-guessing of his choice of allies, and the fact he’d just stolen an untended tram driver’s uniform jacket from the back of a chair in a sidewalk cafe, and a fedora off a street vendor’s rack. The jacket, he was pleased to discover, not only fit, but provided the unexpected perk of free rides on the city’s tram system.
The hat was just cool.
For a little extra anonymity, he added a subtle hunch to his posture that changed his gait, and shortened him by several centimeters. It was a trick he’d learned from Horatio Alva, the grifter he’d befriended in Morton.
It proved very effective, as Gideon walked by no fewer than six cops en route to his destination.
It was also swarming painful.
So painful that, by the time he reached the address Mia had given him, Gideon was basically a walking cramp, and had to spend a few minutes un-crimping himself before stepping up to the door of the Ohmdahls’ flat. Once there, he raised his hand and then hesitated, uncertain.
“It’s not that crazy a plan,” he reminded himself, and knocked.
“Here.” Sonja Ohmdahl, mother to the Ohmdahl triplets, pressed a cup of tea into Gideon’s hands.
He took the cup, still recovering from the greeting Rolf had given him (vigorous enough to loosen the dressings Tiago had only recently applied), before assuring his suspicious Mama that the ragged man with the prison tat really was a good guy, and inviting him in.
Now Gideon was seated in the parlor of the Ohmdahl flat, a medium-sized, high-ceilinged space chock-full of husky, durable furniture he imagined necessary in a room inhabited by Rolf, Freya, and Ulf.
“Thanks,” Gideon said, still trying not to stare at the Ohmdahl matriarch, who was just—not what he was expecting.
To start with, she was short. Add to that her slender build, dark hair, barely touched with silver, and wide, highly intelligent eyes, and Gideon was left staring in turns at herself and her three strapping offspring.
Staring and wondering… well… mostly wondering how.
Apparently, Sonja was used to this sort of speculative ogle. “They don’t come out that big, you know,” she said with a knowing smile. “Especially triplets.”
“I’d hope not,” Gideon said, looking to where Rolf, Ulf, and Freya all stood in various states of bedhead—a wall of sleepy blonde muscle at their mother’s back.
Nope, he just couldn’t picture it.
Good humor aside, Sonja was still standing in front of Gideon, obviously waiting for him to drink his tea.
He raised the cup and smelled an abundance of lemon, typical of Stolichnayan tea, and took a tentative sip.
Bitter, bright… tasted like tea.
Just like the soup had tasted like soup, and the liqueur had tasted like liqueur, he reminded himself.
Yeah, but these are the Ohmdahls, his self said back. If any one of them wanted to knock me out, they’d just tap me on the head with their pinky finger.
He drank half the cup in one swallow. “It’s very good,” he told Sonja.
“Of course it is,” she said. “There is nothing like Stoli tea to cure what is ailing you. Even if what ails is too much vodka, yes?” This last she addressed over her shoulder, to her offspring.
“Yes, Mama,” Freya replied, hefting her own cup and slurping enthusiastically.
As far as Gideon could tell, there was nothing Freya Ohmdahl did unenthusiastically.
“But it is not too much vodka ailing you, I think.” Sonja turned back to Gideon. “I think what ails you has more teeth?”
“Actually,” he said, setting the cup aside and leaning forward in the comfortable chair, “that’s what I wanted to talk to your children about.” Sonja’s head tilted curiously and the triplets, as if tuned to their mother’s mood, became very attentive. “I wondered,” he said to the three of them, “if you’d be interested in a job.”
“A job?” Ulf perked up.
“What kind of job?” Sonja asked, giving her son a quelling look.
“Possibly a dangerous job,” Gideon admitted. “One that’s unlikely to pay anything, but if it goes well, will put some very bad people away for a long, long time.”
“This sounds like a terrible job,” Sonja said. She looked at her children and sighed. “And you had them at ‘dangerous.’”
“When do we leave?” Freya asked, confirming her mother’s suspicions.
Gideon smiled. “Two things first,” he said. “One, do you have a city directory, and two, would you happen to know where I could get my hands on a two-way-radio set?”
In an unprecedented instance of good luck, they not only had the directory, but also the radios—a holdover from their days in the Stoli infantry—which, on inspection, proved to still function.
“Solar pack is pretty old,” Freya said, putting the radios in a carryall for Gideon. “Might only work for a few minutes.”
“If this works out,” he assured her, “a few minutes is all I’ll need.”
“That,” Sonja said with what Gideon considered remarkable intuition, “is a very big ‘if.’”
Once in possession of the radios, and the addresses he needed from the directory—one belonging to a high-ranking member of the city government—Gideon laid out the Ohmdahls’ portion of the plan.
Once he had, and Sonja had promised to reinforce both the instructions and the timing, repeatedly, he took his leave.
Outside again, he tugged the stolen hat down and resumed the hunched walk as he made his way, via tram, to the southern intersection of Carroll Square.
From there he hunched-slash-limped to the alley next to the Elysium Hotel where, the night before, Rey had threatened to kill Elvis.
He didn’t spend a lot of time reminiscing, but he did let out a low whistle at the gash in the hotel wall caused, no doubt, by the compost bin.
Once inside, he doffed the hat and jacket, and strode into the kitchen, where preparations for tea were underway.
He looked left, to where the young keeper who’d delivered his dinner was up to his elbows in potato peelings.
“Hi,” he said brightly. “Keeper…”
“Bren,” Bren filled in automatically, shaking peel from his hands. “And that’s Keeper Thalia. Or it was,” he added, as Thalia, the middle-aged keeper who’d been sautéing onions at the grill, had left the room.
Hopefully not to teleph the coppers, Gideon thought.
“Keeper Bren,” he said, smiling. “I don’t suppose my room is still available?”
“What? Oh! Yes. You’re paid up through tomorrow, but—”
“Great, that’s great. With any luck, I’ll be needing it tonight.”
“Only did you—”
“I also wondered if there’s a Hive Master in the hotel I could speak to?”
“There is, and he’s here,” a deep voice boomed across the kitchen.
Gideon turned to see a man of medium height, burly build, and a no-nonsense expression enter the kitchen, Keeper Thalia at his side.
“I’m Master Donal,” the Hive Master gave his name. “And you’d be Gideon Quinn, would you not?”
“Yes, sir.” Gideon bowed respectfully.
Donal took note of the bow, and the tone. Definitely at odds with the impression Mr. Ellison gave of his alleged attacker. “Tell me,” he asked on a hunch, “what were you doing in my winter wheat last night?”
“I don’t think I was in your winter wheat last night,” Quinn said, his expression confused. “I did mess with your composter, so I guess I owe you some damages to the wall. And then there was an issue with my bathroom window for which…okay, I don’t have any cash left, but maybe we could work something out?”
“Never mind that, for now.” Donal waved it aside. He’d had doubts of Ellison’s story to begin with and, though he wasn’t a sensitive, and had no particular reason to believe Quinn, he wasn’t quite ready to pass judgment on the man. “Are you aware that the police would be looking for you, Mr. Quinn?”
“I am,” Gideon said, “and it’s my intention to let them find me. Eventually.”
“Eventually?” Donal’s brow arched in curiosity.
“Yes, sir,” Gideon said. “But before then, I wanted to ask a favor. I’ve been out of the world a while, but I’m hoping keepers still offer sanctuary?”
“We do,” Thalia said before Donal could respond.
“As my wife says,” the Hive Master echoed, giving Thalia a look. “Though if you’re requesting sanctuary from the police—”
“No—well, yes—but not for me,” Gideon said.
Donal was finding the man more interesting by the minute. “All right,” he said, arms crossing over his barrel of a chest. “Let’s hear what it is you’re wanting.”
“You have to be sure,” Gideon had said as he crouched in front of Mia. “Once we start things moving, there’s no going back; not for you, and not for any of the other dodgers in Ellison’s hive. We bring keepers into the picture, and that life is over.”
She looked down at her hands, soft hands, excellent for dipping, and then at her wrist, still bruised from one of Ellison’s tantrums the previous week.
She thought of little Antonio, already too small for his age, and put on short rations by Ellison for not bringing in enough loot.
She thought of pretty Cara, drawing the wrong kind of looks from Ellison, and Marcus with a limp from the leg their fagin had broken with a kick last year, which had never healed properly.
She thought of the lot of them, all hungry, all frightened, and all starting at their own shadows most nights, because you never knew, did you, if you’d still be in the hive come morning.
She thought of all that, and then of Leigh, her best mate, who’d gone missing just after she turned fifteen.
“Went off to join the Corps, she did,” Ellison had said, but Mia never believed him.
More, she knew that wherever Leigh went, Mia was more than like to follow, the second Ellison was done with her.
“I’m sure,” she said. “Let’s get ‘em outta there.”
Less than half an hour after Gideon entered the hotel, Keeper Donal, bearing one half of the Ohmdahls’ radio set, departed the Elysium.
With him went Bren and two other keepers, all four boarding a tram for the North Riverside docks where, according to Gideon, they’d find a hive of dodgers in need of sanctuary.
Gideon followed a few minutes later, with the other half of the radio set, and the vaguest hope the plan—which really was exactly as crazy as Mia had suggested—might just work out.
If, that is, Mia had been able to persuade DS Hama to follow her lead, and if the Ohmdahls played their roles effectively, and if the targets responded as Gideon hoped.
A lot of ifs, he told himself.
If you have any better ideas…
Not surprisingly, his self had nothing to offer.