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Erasmus Ellison had had a very bad day.
He was willing to take some of the wax for it, as it was him that put Mia after Gideon Quinn in the first place.
That had turned out to be a bad move on his part, no getting past it.
But for the rest? That was on Mia, as the little hornet had cost him his hive of dodgers, his retirement fund, and quite likely his freedom, should the coppers catch up with him.
It was also, a very small voice pointed out, on Quinn, but Ellison ignored that little voice because listening to it would mean facing up to Quinn, and that was far, far outside Ellison’s comfort zone.
Dealing with Mia, however, that was spot in the middle of his comfort zone, and that was why he’d followed the coppers here, to the poshest neighborhood in all of Nike, where something mighty important seemed to be going down inside the estate on Chaucer Street, if the military presence meant anything.
Not that he could see much from the stables, which he’d slipped into while the coppers and soldiers had been busy storming the front of the house, but he could hear the rush of footsteps and voices.
Some were angry, some questioning, but all were excited.
The most excited voice was also higher than the others, and younger, and one he knew well, even though he wasn’t used to the sound of Mia’s laugh.
Just hearing it made his innards tie up in angry knots, and it took every bit of his limited self-control to remain hidden with the stinking horses while the coppers and soldiers finished whatever they were up to in the big house.
Eventually, things quieted some, then a few sets of boots left the house, and some vehicles started up and drove off.
But he didn’t hear Mia’s voice among those departing, and there was still a deal of noise coming from the main house.
The suns lowered.
More vehicles arrived, with more voices, which also headed indoors.
Ellison hunkered down between the stalls and waited.
“I don’t know whether to commend you, shoot you, or send you back to Morton,” General Satsuke told Gideon.
“Due respect,” DS Hama said, “but I believe there are a few civil matters for Mr. Quinn to answer for first.”
The two, along with Gideon, had retired to Jessup Rand’s study, while a fresh influx of police officers worked the crime scene upstairs, and a handful of recently arrived CIOD officers processed the rest of the house—paying particular attention to any and all confidential data Celia Rand had in her possession.
Celia herself had already been removed by a pair of eager young Corpsmen, with the hastily deputized Ohmdahls as backup.
No charges had yet been declared, but Gideon figured there were enough to keep both civil and military law enforcement agencies busy for some time.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” Gideon said from where he sat—legs stretched out and eyes closed—in the leather armchair that had once been Jessup Rand’s favorite.
“Certainly,” Hama replied. “Would you care to hear the charges in chronological, alphabetical, or statute order? Both myself and the Chief of Police are particularly curious as to why you had a ruffian from Lower Cadbury break into Minister Del’s home.”
“Someone broke into Minister Del’s house?” Gideon’s eyes didn’t even open. “I’m shocked.”
“Perhaps this is a matter best dealt with at a higher pay grade,” Satsuke cut in. “In fact, I am quite certain your chief and I will be able to facilitate the more complicated aspects of Mr. Quinn’s—situation.”
“And won’t that be fun?” Gideon asked, suddenly opening his eyes and pushing himself from the chair with a surprising amount of verve. “In the meantime, if you don’t mind, I’m going to find my coat. And my draco.”
With this he strode from the room, intent on his purpose.
Hama looked at Satsuke, who shook her head at the ex-soldier’s whimsy.
They’d both started for the study door when Gideon popped back to ask, “Has anyone seen Mia?”
Mia was outside, perched on the step used by the gentry to climb in and out of their carriages, watching Elvis chase pigeons over the rooftop as the suns broke free of the clouds, just in time to drop below the skyline.
She didn’t think the draco was hungry. It looked more like he was having fun.
For sure he was enjoying himself more than Mia.
Oh, it had been exciting enough earlier, when she’d been huddled with Officer Prudawe and DS Hama at the front door, waiting for the general lady to say it was okay to go in.
And when Elvis had gone stiff and still on her shoulder, then flown straight up to the second floor, she’d gone all tingly with fear, and raced out of hiding and onto the street to see the draco hovering outside the same window Gideon had jumped from that morning. She hadn’t been able to see anything amiss, but if Elvis was keening, Mia knew something bad was happening inside.
She’d raced back to the others, to tell them they needed to get inside, that Gideon was in trouble, but by then the general lady was with them, telling Gideon over the radio to unlock the door.
Her heart didn’t even think about slowing down until Gideon opened the door, and handed the fancy lady-murderer-spy over to the police.
After that, it had been a rush of coppers and soldiers pouring in and out of the house. Gideon had managed to give her a quick grin and a raised fist of triumph before being herded off by DS Hama and the general, leaving Mia and Elvis to their own devices.
She supposed she could just scarp.
It wasn’t as if Gideon owed her anything.
One might have said he owed her his life, but having facilitated the hive out from Ellison’s control, she supposed they were dead even now.
Still she remained, making designs in the gravel with her heels, and watching Elvis perform a series of aerial gymnastics, until the moment Ellison’s shadow crossed her line of vision.