The clocks were chiming fourteen noon when Ishan Hama, Mia, Tiago, Officer Prudawe, and four other officers from the Ninth Precinct house stepped onto the sagging Riverside dock.
Ishan, breathing through his teeth, found it amazing that, despite over a decade of disuse, the place still reeked of fish.
“Not much left of it, is there?” Officer Prudawe asked, eying the slumping excuse for a boathouse which sat midway along the finger of rotting wood Mia had led them to.
“Puts me in mind of an ancient abstractionist my husband was fond of,” Ishan replied. “Any second now, and it will melt into the river.”
At his side, Mia shrugged, upsetting the draco, Elvis. “It’s not so bad as it looks,” she said, a bit defensively.
Ishan imagined she was right. He imagined it was a great deal worse than it looked. “Why would Quinn choose this place for a meeting?”
At the question, she shrugged again, but her eyes weren’t on the boat house, they were scanning the surrounding area, as if she were looking for something.
Quinn? Ishan wondered. He also looked around, but there was no one, and nothing, to be seen. Only the river, gray in the overcast winter light, and the length of dock, strewn with rotting bits of hemp and upended fishing boats with their hulls staved in.
And, of course, the boathouse which was, at Mia’s urging, their destination.
“He don’t want to cause no trouble,” Mia had explained, looking remarkably at ease in the Ninth Precinct’s detective pool.
The girl was now seated in the chair Tiago had been occupying, while the draco perched on the chair’s back, and added the occasional chirp or hiss to the conversation, like a reptilian chorus of sorts.
“If last night is an example of Quinn not wanting to cause trouble,” Ishan said, “I shudder to think what would happen if he did want to.”
“I already told you, he didn’t do no murder,” the girl protested.
“But he did, at your own admission, do damage to private property, commit at least one theft, and instigated public mayhem.”
“The damage weren’t on him,” she said, loyal to the last. “And it was more borrowing of private property.”
Ishan smiled thinly. “And the mayhem?”
“Depends,” she said, scritching the draco under its chin.
“On what mayhem means.”
Tiago, standing over the young pair, smiled at that. “It means to cause a commotion,” he told the girl. “Among other things.”
“Oh,” she said, biting her lip as she thought. “Yeah, I suppose he done that.”
“My point,” Ishan said, “is that whatever your Mr. Quinn meant, his presence has caused all manner of trouble for the citizens of Nike.”
“Except it ain’t Gideon’s bein’ here that caused the troubles,” Mia said, her eyes glimmering with determination. “The troubles was already there, hidin’ like, until he come in and turned on the lights.”
Ishan still wasn’t certain he agreed with Mia’s assessment of Quinn’s presence in Nike, but he had agreed to accompany her here, to a section of the Avon docks that had been abandoned for many years.
The party was perhaps twenty paces from the boathouse when Ishan spied movement through an open sliver of wall.
He held up a fist, and around him, the other officers drew their weapons.
He gestured in a circle, and they peeled off to surround the building.
“Stay here,” he ordered Mia and his son.
Mia looked ready to protest, but Tiago put a gentle hand on her arm—not too close to the draco—and she settled back.
Ishan started for the boathouse door, his own weapon charged and ready in his hands.
Despite Mia and Tiago’s assurances to the contrary, nothing he’d learned thus far of Quinn indicated he was anything but dangerous. Because of this, when the door he approached began to creak open, it took an act of vigorous will not to shoot first, and apologize later.
He was particularly relieved he’d resisted the urge when it was Hive Master Donal’s head that appeared around the door.
“DS Hama.” Donal’s face split into a grin. “We’ve been expecting you.”
“That is very interesting,” Ishan said, carefully easing his finger away from the trigger, “as I was in no way expecting you.” Then he paused. “We?”
In answer, Donal swung the door further open, allowing Ishan to see who else was inside the boathouse.
“Sir?” Prudawe called, from his right.
“Weapons down!” he called out, then looked at Mia, who was trotting up to join him. “I don’t suppose you would care to explain.”
“It’s complicated,” she said.
“And best discussed inside,” Donal added, opening the door, and gesturing expansively within. “As I believe more company will be on the way, shortly.”
“And Quinn is not here, I take it?” Ishan asked.
On the other side of the room, Tiago spoke with the handful of children who’d been waiting inside with Donal.
Every one of them, Ishan noted, appeared to be suffering from malnutrition, and varying levels of abuse.
“Mr. Quinn had other business to see to,” Donal explained. “But he did ask me to deliver a message.”
Ishan turned to Mia, currently digging through the rubbish at the far end of the boathouse.
“I never said he’d be here,” she told him, not looking up from her labors.
He shook his head and looked at Donal. “And the message would be?”
“The message was to be delivered in three parts,” Donal said, clearly enjoying his role. “The first being, ‘You’re welcome.’”
Ishan had never been a tooth grinder, but even now, he could feel his teeth beginning to grind. “For what?”
It was Mia who answered. “For this,” she said, emerging from the rubbish pile with a lock box, which she proceeded to drag across the floor.
From the looks of it, the thing was so heavy, Ishan feared it would crash through the questionable flooring.
“I already unlocked it,” she added, a bit breathless as she stopped next to the detective and the keeper.
Ishan looked at the box, then at the mass of children, then at Donal.
None of them looked worried about what one might find in a locked chest, but then, none of them were coppers.
Please let it not be… anything to worry over, he thought.
Holding his breath, he opened the box.
He let out the breath, and stared down for a moment, then looked at Mia.
“That’s just the small stuff,” she said, rocking back on her heels as she also examined the contents. “Easy to stash, easy to fence, if need be.”
“I could retire on this,” Ishan said numbly.
“I could finally get the underground agri-center finished,” Donal added with a huff.
“Gideon thinks we should give back as much as we can,” Mia said with only a hint of disgust.
“Gideon thinks?” Ishan looked up.
“It was his suggestion,” Donal inserted, “that the children, having suffered under a cruel and corrupt influence, be offered sanctuary and an opportunity to rejoin society under keeper protection.”
Ishan felt a bit weak at the knees. He almost sat on the lockbox but for the certainty the floor would give way beneath their combined weight. “And does this corrupt influence have a name?”
“Ellison,” Mia said, the name falling from her tongue like acid. “Erasmus Ellison, our fagin.”
On the other side of the room, a small child of undetermined gender cursed the sounding of that name.
“And that would be the same Erasmus Ellison who claimed Gideon trounced him in your wheat field?” Ishan asked Master Donal.
“It was Elvis here what trounced Ellison,” Mia said proudly.
Ishan looked to the rafters, where Elvis was observing the proceedings. “Good on Elvis,” he murmured, wondering how on Fortune he’d write up this report. “Keeper sanctuary is your privilege, and the children’s choice,” he told Donal. “Though I will wish to take their testimony against the fagin.”
“We’ll give it, right?” Mia looked at the dodgers, small and solemn and hungry, who all nodded—some enthusiastically, some fearfully—but all most definitely.
“Bravely done,” Ishan said to the children, then looked at Donal. “And what is the second part of the message?”
“The second part is more in the way of being a favor,” Donal said.
“What sort of—” Ishan began, only to be interrupted by Elvis, swooping down to Mia’s shoulder with a low keen.
It was the same haunting noise he’d made when the Rand carriage pulled up in front of the Elysium the previous night.
“I believe,” Donal said as Mia’s eyes, wide and frightened, met his, “you’re about to find out.”