The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 10

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“Not enough cold showers in the galaxy,” Ray muttered, wondering how in all the hells anyone got anything done around these Rasalkans. 

Jessyn’s head tilted, sympathy and amusement playing across her features. “I believe we are getting off the truck,” she said, raising her cup and taking a sip of the tea. 

“Are we?”

“Yes.” She set down the cup and tapped the table, as if calling them both back to attention. “I spoke truly when I said Mr. Finn was safe in these walls, but neither of us know what waits beyond. Those men who were with him were very angry, and will seek permission to act on that anger. If they receive it,” she said, her expression suddenly grave, “I do not like to think what may happen.”

Ray knew all too well what would happen, and he didn’t want to think about it either.

He sucked in a quick breath before speaking. “All right then, I’m gonna take it on faith that you do have the juice to help me,” he said, shoving his own barely touched coffee aside. “You better have, because I’m all the cavalry there is.”

“In that case,” she said, “I’d best arm myself.” Then she picked up her spoon, scraped the last of the mousse up, and raised it in a toast. “To remaining on this side of midnight,” she said, then licked the spoon clean in a way that was likely going to keep him awake all night. As he tried to quell his surging hormones, she rose and held out her hand. “Shall we, Mr. Slater?” 

“Please,” he said, girding his loins (in the most literal sense) and taking that hand, “call me ‘Ray.’”

Jessyn’s first step was to return Ray to the bar where he’d started. This didn’t sit well with the undercover operative, but she’d assured him, in a quiet way that nonetheless brooked no argument, this was the best way to get to Mr. Finn. 

“Hello again, sweetness.” The bartender who’d served him earlier greeted Ray with a lopsided smile and a readied drink. “Sterling Black, three fingers neat,” she responded to his raised brows. “A good mixer never forgets a generous tipper.”

“Thanks.” Ray smiled, raised her a toast, and downed the scotch in one gulp, then tapped the bar to signify a refill.

“My pleasure.” The bartender deftly plucked his glass up, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder and down the bar to where a well-heeled Human woman and a Rasalkan hostess lounged. “Let me take care of my other customers. I’ll be right back.”

Nodding in acknowledgement, Ray waited until she was sufficiently involved with the couple at the bar’s other end before looking at the jade green door through which Jessyn had passed minutes earlier.

Despite all her assurances, she’d not actually explained her plan. All she’d said was that he should station himself at the bar and be ready—ready for what, she never said—and so far the only thing he was getting out of this ‘wait and see what comes next’ policy was a burning in the gut that he thought might be the beginning of an ulcer. 

Which at least was a distraction from a whole ‘nother discomfort hitting him further south.

Primal attraction to a woman he’d just met aside (though not far enough aside), he’d put his trust—and quite possibly the lives of himself and this Finn—in the hands of a woman he’d known for a hot minute. 

All of which brought him back to the original question of just what should he be ready for?

Rescue, or ambush?

“I hear you are waiting for a friend.” 


Ray looked to his left. There, taking a seat next to him, was the woman he’d seen with Gavin Booth, the one who’d gone through the green door ahead of Finn and company. At a distance she’d been impressive. Up close she was more so. Tall and curvaceous in a muscular way, dark of skin and hair, with deep brown eyes that carried flecks of other colors, so they came off iridescent—and a little crazy. 

No denying the woman’s proximity had an impact. 

But not a pleasant one.

Jessyn’s presence had gotten under his skin, yes, but nothing about her sensuality had been forced. 

What he felt from this woman, and her smile filled with sly, dark promises, was the opposite. 

“I am Neishi,” she continued, not waiting for him to respond. “You are to come with me.” 

“And naturally I’m expected not to go quietly.” Ray looked past her, to where two Human males wearing suits that screamed Security waited. One kept his hand discreetly poised inside his jacket. The other glared. 

“Certainly we’d prefer to avoid any messes inside the club,” Neishi said, eyes sliding down his body in a way that was, Ray had to admit, most definitely not flattering. “But beyond that, you’ll find no threat here. You may even retain your weapons.”

“What the hell.” Ray shrugged and downed the remainder of his drink. He caught the bartender’s eye, noted the worry, and winked before sliding off his stool. “Lead the way.”

Ray followed Neishi to the green door atop the stairs. The two security types trailed a hot breath behind. 

As she placed her hand on the doorknob, a quiet chime sounded, telling him the lock was probably biometric. From the heft required by Neishi to open it, it was also reinforced, all of which meant he’d never have gotten in on his own.

He reminded himself to thank Jessyn later, for sparing him a potentially painful learning experience. 

On the other side of the foreboding green door waited a short, narrow corridor, which ended in an elevator alcove. The elevator doors split open to reveal a second pair of men, also Human, both with wicked-looking compact automatic weapons carried in plain sight.

“We can handle things from here,” Neishi told the two floor security types as she led Ray into the compartment. 

The elevator doors slid closed with Ray standing between the new talent while Neishi chose one of the three options on the control pad and the elevator lurched downwards. 

For quite some time it lurched downwards.

“No elevator music?” Ray griped. 

All three of his companions ignored him. 

Eventually the doors opened to a long corridor with pale gray walls, industrial carpeting, and recessed lighting.

“This way,” Neishi said, again leading the way.

“If there’s a bald man and a cat waiting at the end of this tunnel, I’m demanding a refund,” Ray quipped.

The muscle on the right, a seven-foot black male who Ray thought might have been a linebacker in his previous life, looked unimpressed, telling Ray he had no clue who Ernst Stavro Blofeld was.

The one at his left, a Caucasian with light gray eyes and a clear sense of style, almost smiled, telling Ray he, at least, had seen at least one Bond holo-vid in his day. 

A win is a win, Ray thought, following Neishi while the armed men followed him.

They passed several doors and three crossing corridors before coming to a halt at the seventh door on the right from the elevator. 

Neishi knocked lightly, and a moment later the door opened to reveal yet another Rasalkan, this one older and with a no-nonsense briskness that fit the decor, from the close-cropped cap of silver hair (not gray, but actual silver—setting off the gold undertones of her fair skin quite nicely) to the clean lines of the black suit, the jacket of which was cut to allow room for a shoulder rig. 

“Captain Marifanne.” Neishi crossed her hand over her heart with a respect her voice didn’t echo. “This is the one.”

Marifanne looked over at Ray, and her lack of expression made him feel he’d been judged and found wanting.

“Very well,” she said, stepping aside in what passed for an invitation. 

As she opened the door further, Ray saw a room that bore the hallmarks of a standard cop shop interview room—or almost all the hallmarks. It had the bland table and chairs, coffee atop the table, vid monitors inset on the ceiling, also had the two-way mirror along the left wall.

Unlike the Sol System equivalent, however, this room did not bear the telltale eau de nervous sweat. Just coffee, someone’s (not Marifanne’s) perfume, and the faintest hint of copper in the air. A glance to the left showed a dark stain on the rug. 

Immediately, Ray checked Harry Finn, who, to Ray’s inexplicable relief, was seated at the table, and while there was a line of dried blood along the side of his face, the scratch was the only overt sign of injury. 

His jacket was gone, as was the gun that would have resided in the rig he wore under his right shoulder. Despite the lack of his weapon, he looked remarkably at home in the environment, if not entirely at ease. Even as Ray entered, Finn was setting down a cup, from which the coffee odor must be emanating. 

“Boss,” Ray said, following Neishi’s gesture and taking the chair across from the man of the hour. “You are making my life hard.”

To his credit, Finn didn’t miss a beat. “Sorry about that,” he replied, his head tilting slightly and mouth quirking in an almost smile. 

“Like I told you from the jump,” Ray said, going all in, “my SOP is to stick to my client like those bolts they use to hold the hull plating on spaceships. This holding back, giving you breathing room, goes against my grain.”

“I have my reasons.” Harry caught the improv’s thread and ran with it. He didn’t look at the muscle behind Ray, or the two women, who’d come around the table to flank his chair. 

Ray adopted a sappy grin. “Do your reasons have anything to do with the hostesses in this joint? I mean, they are something.” He leaned forward and threw in a conspiratorial wink. “I spent some time with this one—Jessyn? Talk about perfection.” He rolled his eyes and planted a kiss to his knitted fingertips.

“I will say,” Harry agreed with a sort of wry amusement, “the Ladies of the House do make an impression.” 

The capital L and H were subtle, but Ray caught them. 

“But I believe we’ve come to an understanding,” Harry continued, looking towards the mirror, and then Marifanne. “Isn’t that so, Captain?” 

“Almost.” The woman, her dark eyes fierce, moved so she stood between Ray and Finn. “Given the events at The Needle last night, you’ll understand my superiors would like some assurances of your continued good behavior.”

“Hold up.” Ray spoke before Finn could respond. “If you’re looking for a promise that I won’t do my job, won’t protect my client or defend myself, let me rephrase something my former coach used to say: ‘Wish in one hand, take a crap in the other, and see which one fills up faster.’”

Movement from the muscle at the door had Ray looking over to see that, this time, it was the linebacker who almost smiled. 

“It’s this level of colloquy that I find separates Slater from your average jammer,” Finn said, with every evidence of a man enjoying himself.

“I doubt there is any reason to fear for your client’s or your own personal safety here,” Marifanne offered after a beat. 

The emphasis on the here had Ray looking at Finn, who was looking at Marifanne. 

“So that was a friendly tap your man Oz gave Mr. Finn up in the lounge?” Ray asked, more to keep up appearances than to start an argument. 

“That situation has already been dealt with,” Marifanne replied with a sideways glance at Ray. “What I speak of is your particular objective,” she added, returning her attention to Harry. “Whatever sympathy my superior has for your situation, she cannot prevent the man you’re looking for, nor Misters Booth and Al-Kar—and Enris and Oz,” she continued with an expression that seemed an equal mix of frustration and admiration, “from pursuing their grievances, so long as their actions don’t interfere with Black Rose business, that is.” 

“Fair enough.” Harry’s head dipped in a short nod. “Except for the part where my man here erases your goons—sorry, guns—and I successfully bring in my objective, which, as I’m sure your superior knows, will seriously interfere with Black Rose business.” 

Marifanne’s eyes widened. “You like your chances that much?” 

“I like to know my staff won’t be held in breach of contract for doing his job,” Harry replied. 

As Ray watched, Marifanne’s expression shifted from cool to vexed to blank and back to cool. He looked at Harry, who jerked his chin at the window, as if that explained everything. 

Not so much. 

“Should such an event come to pass,” Marifanne said, in a tone indicating she had low expectations of such, “we will assume the loss as the price of satisfying my superior’s curiosity.” 

“Sweet.” Ray smiled, thumping the table with the heels of both hands, and pushed himself up. “Then I take it our business is done here?”

Marifanne’s response was a gesture to the suave-looking member of the security team, who stepped to his left, over the bloodstains on the carpet, to the wall in which the mirror was set. 

A touch of the man’s hand to a panel (biometric again, Ray noted), had a portion of the wall sliding upward to reveal what looked like a locker, from which he took a Glock, wallet, credit stick, watch, trans-comm unit, notepad, and pencil—Ray’s eyebrow rose at that—the badge of an Inter-System Marshal, and, finally, the jacket Harry had been wearing up in the lounge. 

“Did you want me to sign for this?” Harry asked as his personals were set on the table in front of him, prompting another almost-smile. 

“One more thing,” Ray said as Harry started to pocket his belongings. “The lady I spoke to earlier—Jessyn? I’d like to speak with her again. You think that would be possible?”

Harry looked up from where he was sliding the Glock into its holster. “Seriously?

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Before Harry met Ray…

Meet Ray and Harry in the dark days before their fateful meeting on Ócala.

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