The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 16

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What’s past is prologue.”
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest


*Warning: This chapter features references to trauma and trauma induced mental illness. 

By the time they pulled Ray from the van’s interior, he was conscious enough to see a pair of goons load Harry onto another van, this one black and, given it had rammed the shit out of Mollin’s bug mobile, likely reinforced. 

He, on the other hand, had the privilege of being dragged to a black limo, one of those extra-long VIP models. Both the front passenger and main passenger doors opened as he neared the vehicle, revealing a trio of familiar faces.

Oz stepped out of the passenger door while, inside, Sims Al-Kar and Gavin Booth lounged on its long L-shaped couch.

“Did you search him?” Sims asked, not looking at the muscle who’d muscled Ray onto the street. 

There was a moment of awkward silence, after which the two goons performed a clumsy inspection of Ray’s person, coming away with his SIG and a spare clip of ammo. 

They looked, Ray thought, quite proud of themselves. 

“And?” Sims prompted, less impressed, then, when the pair shared a confused look, rolled his eyes. “Tie him up already. Where did you find these idiots?” he asked Gavin. 

“The Man said outside help only,” his blood brother replied with a shrug. “I went outside.”

“Outside and down under.” Sims shook his head. “Put him there,” he ordered the new hires, pointing to the floor between the couch and the limo’s onboard bar.

As soon as Ray was deposited and the temporary help released, Oz joined his colleagues in the passenger section, the doors slammed shut, and the limo took off.

“I told you it wasn’t over,” Sims told Ray. 

“Believe it or not, I feel honored,” Ray said with a smile. “A ride in this luxury limo, in the company of the famous Skidmarks Brothers—Yo-Yo, Sicko, and Fatso.”

“Fats—” Oz growled, and made a lunge for their bound captive, only to be stopped by Sims’s stiff arm.

“Patience.” Sims looked down at Ray. “We can allow our guest a few last minutes of arrogance.”

“As long as they’re his last,” Oz grumbled. 

Gavin, being Gavin, just smiled.

“So, how’d you find me so fast?” Harry asked. He now sat inside another van, this one featuring two benches set along the sides with rails above, from which Harry’s bound wrists were suspended. “You didn’t tail us from the club.” Mollin, he thought, would have spied a shadow. 

Seth, seated on the bench opposite Harry, took a puff of his cigar with obvious enjoyment, which was odd because Seth had never been one for smoking. “Let’s just say you shouldn’t drink everything a pretty girl puts in front of you.” 

Harry’s vision moved back in time, to the lounge and Lyselle, setting a glass in front of him. “On the House.”

“Isotonic in the seltzer,” he said, coming back to the present. Which likely meant Seth was unaware of the tracker the Lady’s people planted on his jacket—the one now in his pant’s pocket, and that he’d shut off long before the crash. 

“Kind of poetic, given how you used an iso on León Enris last night,” Seth said, taking the cigar from his mouth with his bionic hand. He leaned forward, giving Harry a clear view of the rippled scars that made up the left side of his face. “Gajor Lok was fond of poetry,” he added, his voice flat as he brought the cigar up to Harry’s eye level. “Do you remember?”

“I remember,” Harry said, and he did. The Judon Inquisitor in charge of their interrogation had made a lengthy study of the poetry of every species he dealt with, and would recite verse after verse while plying his many instruments of torment. Lok-Kaija had been particularly fond of Yeats. In particular he’d enjoyed The Second Coming, and Harry now wondered, as the heat of the embers warmed his skin, if Seth’s rough beast had come round at last. “I also remember it was your shot that set off the explosion on Ceres.” 

“True for you.” The crooked smile flashed, and the pencil-thin cigar withdrew as Seth straightened. “Then again, it was you who put me on the road to Ceres.”

“And how did I do that?” 

But at the question, Seth leaned back, fading into the shadows on the other side of the van, leaving Harry to wonder.

About five minutes into the drive, Sims broke the silence. “What do you think, Brother?” he asked Gavin. “Were those enough minutes?” 

Gavin’s eyes glittered dark above the smile. “Absolutely, Brother.”

Sims turned his attention to Ray. “Gavin thinks you’ve had enough minutes,” he said, then signaled the driver to activate the limousine’s visual shielding. 

The vehicle’s passenger windows went dark.

Ray understood the main reason for this was to prevent him memorizing the route taken to their destination.

With that, and the smoothness of the limo’s operation, it was as if they stood stark still.

The second reason was to allow Oz and Gavin the opportunity to vent a little of their spleen by pounding on Ray’s, which they did with wordless efficiency. 

The only thing creepier than his abusers’ silence was Sims’s expression, which, when Ray caught sight of it, showed a man so consumed by hatred it had nothing left to feed on. 

For the rest, what with the spleen (and kidney, and ribs, and other very favorite places) bruising going on, Ray experienced a certain level of pride that he could pay attention to the trip. Enough to know the limo’s destination was at least three levels below topside, if he could judge by the almost imperceptible sinking sensation of the linkage conveyors—the enormous ferry-elevators that moved civilian and commercial vehicles between the topside and understreet communities.

Upon their arrival, however, Ray was fitted with a hood that cut off his vision, hearing, and even his sense of smell, leaving him wrapped in a sensory cocoon—until he came to a halt and was stripped down to his trousers. At this point he felt the chill of air conditioning and large, clammy hands shoving him down on a cold table, where a series of restraints snapped over his wrists, ankles, thighs, and chest. 

It all reminded him of the Blofeld reference he’d made earlier.

Then, finally, the hood came off to reveal what appeared to be an office or private study, very high-end, redolent with leather and cigar smoke, and featuring a meticulously arranged wooden desk to Ray’s right. 

The wall behind the desk held a painting (a depressing still life of an empty room the color of dried blood) and the wall to his left featured floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with books—physical books—many of them leather-bound. 

Gavin perched on a corner of the desk while Sims stood at the foot of the table. 

“Isn’t this a little extreme?” Ray asked, craning up to meet Sims’s gaze. “I mean, when I get paid to do a job, I do the job.”

Sims hiked his brow and glanced at his brother. “Still sticking to the bodyguard charade?”

“It’s bullshit,” Gavin said, reaching into his jacket’s inner pocket to extract a cigarette case and lighter. “If he’s a jammer, I’m the crowned prince of Nornnacco.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Sims said, turning his attention back to Ray. “But I don’t think he’s entirely what he says.”

“You know, he’s lying right here,” Ray said, causing Gavin to chortle. Which was not a comforting sound. “Anyway,” he addressed Sims, “we both know it’s Jessyn you’re steamed about.” Sure, stoking Al-Kar’s jealousy was dangerous, but way less so than letting Sims speculate on Ray’s real job. 

“You don’t say her name,” Sims said, his darkened features telling Ray he’d hit the mark, and his fists half raised to add to the damage Ray had already taken. “You…don’t…” he echoed himself. 

But the threat choked off, and Ray, for no reason he could fathom, looked at Gavin, where he caught a flicker of what looked like disgust flash over the usual creepy smile. 

“Doesn’t matter,” Sims said, coming around the table until he stood at Ray’s left. “Only thing that matters to you is that the Man is curious about you, which means you have a little time left.” 

Man? Ray wondered. Seth Aliombe, maybe. At least, Harry’s bent partner was the most likely suspect. 

“Of course,” Sims raised a hand to his partner, “it won’t be a pleasant time.” 

Gavin, again with the trademark smile, stood up and took an object from the desktop. Said object was a black glove affair, its fingertips featuring raised translucent nodules. A slender, rectangular control panel was adhered to its back. He tapped the control panel, and the nodules flashed a bluish-white. He then touched the desktop, causing a high-pitched squeal and a show of white sparks.

Son of a BITCH.

“We’ll start this off with one simple question,” Sims said, stepping away from the table as Gavin approached. “Who are you?”

“How do you like the accommodations?” Seth asked. 

They were his first words since that last cryptic accusation in the van, and despite his concerns for what lay at the end of the journey, Harry had found himself relieved when the vehicle jerked to a halt and the two lackeys, who he’d privately nicknamed “Lucy” and “Ethel,” crawled back from the driver’s seat to blindfold him before hustling him out of the transport and into what felt like a freight-sized elevator, going down.

Harry had tripped once as they maneuvered him into the unseen lift, hoping the fall would give him a chance to reactivate the tracker in his pocket. 

Unfortunately, Lucy and Ethel, while large, proved quick enough to catch him, and he never got the chance. 

So now he was alone with Seth, who was waiting for an answer. 

“It’s very evocative,” he said. 

“Exactly.” Seth nodded and continued to pace in front of Harry, now stripped down to his trousers and left hanging by his wrists in a windowless, featureless room the color of dried blood. 

The sole exceptions to the unrelieved rust-brown were a small table, the recessed lighting kept bright enough to press on closed lids, and a small drain in the middle of the center-sloping floor. 

It was, in fact, a replica of a Judon Inquisitor’s cell—a location with which both men were all too familiar.

“I wouldn’t think you’d enjoy revisiting Kelmno,” Harry commented as his feet tried to gain purchase, but failing because Lucy and Ethel had drawn the rope holding Harry to a height that allowed his toes to touch the floor, but his heels remained a few scant millimeters from solid ground. 

It was a position designed to promise a relief that could never be achieved, and one the Judon Inquisitors had used to great effect. 

“It was a formative time for me,” Seth explained, pulling Harry’s attention from the screaming of his sockets. “I’m surprised you don’t feel the same. Then again,” he continued, circling the hanging man, “your experience of the Judon was worlds different from mine.” 

“Different how?”

You never broke! The hiss of accusation sounded from behind Harry. “You were all they talked about—the Inquisitor, the zai on the ward, the fucking sek on the slop brigade.” By now he’d circled around to stand in front of Harry. “Finn-Haija is strong, Finn-Haija has honor, Finn-Haija is almost as good as a Judon. Do you have any idea how much Seth hated you for that?”

At that, Harry’s breath, already labored, caught, and he looked into the other man’s twisted features. “Did he?” 

“He wanted to rip your guts out with a hook. And then, what did you do?” Seth rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder, causing a fresh surge of agony in his suspended arms. “You got him out of there. You broke the fuck out, and brought Seth along. Except,” the dark eyes glaring at Harry shone in the too-bright light, “Seth didn’t come out of hell with you. Seth couldn’t take it, so he went away, hid himself deep, deep inside. He was too weak.” 

That this was said so matter-of-factly only made it worse to Harry. 

“Too weak and too—civilized—to survive what they were doing to him, so I took over because someone had to make the hard choices.” 

“What…hard choices?” Harry asked into the expectant silence. 

Kidding!” The man before Harry gave a shrug and a chuckle. “It wasn’t that hard. I just told them everything they wanted to know.” He raised the cigar and tucked it into the corner of his mouth in a jaunty fashion utterly unlike Seth.

But then, the man standing in front of Harry—who could only be the embodiment of Gemini—had made it quite clear he was not Seth. 

“You talked because you had to survive,” Harry said as he realized a response was expected. “No one blames you.” 

“Seth did,” Gemini spat out, and almost lost his cigar. “He hated that I talked. He hated that you didn’t, and he hated knowing he could never be… you.” The condemnation in the burned man’s eyes was palpable as he added, “But that didn’t stop him trying. After the war, he left Bletchley and joined the marshals because of you, and even before he partnered with you he followed every step of your career. It was pathetic. Even if I hadn’t had other plans, I’d have taken over every so often just to get a break from Seth’s obsession with the Mighty Finn.” 

“How often was every so?” Harry asked with a kind of horrified curiosity. 

“Enough to keep the gray cells in shape.” Gemini tapped his head. “A hack here, a cy-bomb there, a couple leaks to poke the Judon for old time’s sake. Then I decided to monetize operations, which led to bringing Al-Kar and Booth into the fold, which was when I started making some serious scratch. And all the while, Seth was on the job, working cases, taking down bad guys, building a rep—a rep so iced he’s the first cy-tech they go to when ISM puts Gemini on their Most Wanted list.” He smiled, took another puff of his cigar. 

“And whose idea was it to bring the case to me?” Harry asked. 

“The brass made that call,” Gemini said, flicking the cigar so a bit of the ash struck Harry’s chest. “But Seth was happy enough to play your lapdog again, and I was happy enough to lead you by the nose, planting leads to Gemini that Seth picked up and passed to DI Finn, like the good puppy he was.

“And it all worked, up until the Ceres job went tits up—thanks for that, by the way,” Gemini said, poking Harry in the gut. 

“Sorry,” Harry grunted. 

“No you’re not.” Gemini shrugged off the apology. “Any more than you’re sorry for taking Seth out of Bletchley in the first place. And really, it’s all water under the bridges now. Now it’s a matter of—well, you know—revenge.” He took another puff of the cigar and exhaled in Harry’s face. 

“Don’t tell me you shipped in an Inquisitor?” Harry asked once he’d done coughing. 

“If only,” Gemini replied. “Sadly, we’ll have to rely on a more local talent, someone I’m told you’ve met.”

On cue, the room’s single door opened, and in walked Neishi Fabria, the same woman who, in their first encounter, had opened Harry’s cheek with her fingernail. 

She still wore the shimmering excuse for a dress and killer heels. This time, in the near solitude of the room, Harry noticed her perfume, a heady musk that fought with Gemini’s cigar for control of the small cell. 

She carried a briefcase with her, which she set on the lonely table, then turned to the scarred man to bestow a kiss so deep and sensuous Harry figured they’d forgotten they had an audience. 

Then the kiss broke. “Gemini,” her voice was full and throaty as she eased back. “Thank you for asking me to play.” 

“I wouldn’t deny you this for worlds,” he told her as both turned to look at Harry. “Not for all the worlds.”

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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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