Soldier of Fortune: Chapter 8

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They had private baths. 

Private baths the size of his cell. 

With an actual tub. 

And doors that locked. 

On the inside. 

Real rain, a bathtub to call his own, or, at least his own for the two nights he’d paid for. If this was a dream, Gideon hoped he never woke up. 

Gideon clicked at Elvis, who flapped over to perch on the edge of the sink, then let his dripping wet pack thud to the tile floor. 

He stared a moment longer, then stepped back into the main room, furnished with the sort of sturdy, utilitarian furniture one might expect of keepers. The place certainly didn’t run to extras, but the low-framed bed with its equally low stand and reading lamp were well made and, with wheat-gold walls set off by tapestries, rugs, and bedding in variegated autumn tones, provided a veritable banquet of textures to Gideon’s sensory-deprived diet. 

The room also featured a meditation nook should the traveler wish to indulge, but Gideon doubted he’d make use of the space. 

His preferred method of stress relief tended to involve less sitting and more punching. 

Dani loved meditation, he recalled. Then again, someone who regularly jumped out of airships with nothing but a slender tether between herself and a fatal splat would need to maintain a certain level of Zen. 

He wondered if she still meditated. Or if she was still in the Corps. Or even still alive. 

“Stop it,” he said aloud, forcing his thoughts away from the woman he’d lost—sent away—and towards something more productive. 

Because if he was going to think about anyone, it should be Jessup Rand and the two mercenaries Rand had set on him the second he stepped off the barge, or John Pitte, who’d been another of Rand’s weapons, or the dodger who’d trailed him to the hotel…

Or, he turned to look at that bathroom again, he could not think of anyone at all. 

For this one night, he could just enjoy the moment, and this room. This clean, private, utterly empty— 

The sound of a fist on wood broke into his determined revery, reminding Gideon he’d asked the desk keeper to have dinner delivered. 

Still, he opened the door with caution, but found only another keeper, this one young and slightly flushed and, most importantly, carrying a tray crowded with filled dishes. 

Gideon could have kissed him. Luckily for the both of them, he restrained himself, and merely took hold of the tray, thanked the keeper, and closed the door. Then he opened the door again and tipped the young man, who was still standing there, looking a bit shocked. Gideon closed the door again, latched it, and then froze in place, suddenly indecisive. 

The food—some sort of soup with a bright, citrusy scent, warm naan, and a plate featuring masala dosa and skewers of roast meat (he thought it might be bison or—no—aurochs, but who cared because meat)— was reducing him near to tears. 

But then there was that bathtub—long enough for even his long legs—begging to be filled. 

He looked at the tray, then at the bathroom door, then back at the tray. 

Several minutes later, Gideon eased into a tub filled with steaming hot water. 

The tray sat on the floor, within easy reach of hungry bathers. 

He could only hope whoever was following him had been a pickpocket, willing to move on to another target. 

Or, if it were one of Rand’s operatives shadowing him, that they would do the sensible thing and wait until he turned out the lights to try anything stupid, because if anyone dared interrupt him now, he would happily kill them.

It was something of a surprise to Mia that she’d been able to use the alley approach after all, but, seeing as the competition had taken the front door, she figured there was naught to lose.

At least, she assumed the gaudily dressed individual prancing out of the alley was the same slick operator who’d entered it, after warning her off. 

The cheek! 

For certain the fop’s height and build matched that of the masked man, even if the clothes and walk were completely different. 

So different that Mia had questioned the instincts telling her this was the same person. Then the man had paused at the inn’s door to scan the street, and the competence belying the frivolous trappings confirmed her suspicions. 

Since he entered the inn with no further admonitions, she trusted he’d not seen her, and made a careful dash to the alley, keeping always to the shadows. 

Once there, she assessed the building. 

Like much of Carroll Square, the Elysium was constructed of granite blocks during the Second Expansion. 

Mia loved Second Expansion buildings. Not because of the design so much, but because the structure’s age meant older, softer mortar. 

Older, softer mortar crumbled, making a good place for a person to grasp onto should this person, for various reasons, need to scale the structure. 

Admittedly, she preferred this sort of climb in dryer weather, but lucky for her, the alley also featured a compost bin directly under the lowest landing of the inn’s fire escape. In a tick she was on the escape’s landing. Another two ticks saw her climbing over the second-floor railing to the narrow ledge, barely half the width of her feet, and her fingers trusting to the lovely, crumbly mortar to keep her from falling.

In the corridor outside Gideon Quinn’s room, Bren, the young keeper who’d delivered Gideon’s meal, contemplated the hefty tip. Keepers didn’t go in for this sort of thing, but the man had simply thrust the money at him and shut the door with nary a word. 

He hadn’t even commented on the soup bowl being not as full as it ought, or that the soup that should have been in the bowl was soaking into Bren’s tunic. 

Not that it was Bren’s fault. 

It was the guest in a horror of a green jacket, not watching where he was going, so that he knocked right into Bren’s elbow and upset the soup. Though it was also true the green-jacketed fellow had been apologetic enough, helping to mop up the mess, mostly by fluttering his handkerchief about so much Bren thought it a miracle nothing else spilled. 

He’d even given Bren a half-star for his trouble, which he needn’t have done, thus making this an unusually profitable night.

Clumsy, and no taste in clothing, but decent enough.

From where he lurked on the stairs leading to the inn’s third floor, Nahmin listened to the young keeper’s whistling retreat before stepping back into the hall outside Quinn’s door. 

Dosing the soup in transit was a calculated risk, but since his quarry chose to eat in the privacy of his room, some creativity was required. 

Now to contact his employer. 

By the time the carriage arrived at the inn, the spiked soup would have done its work. 

Still, as Nahmin made his way back downstairs, he couldn’t shake the sensation that, by leaving the target still breathing, he was in some way cheating.

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