The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 11

The Gemini Hustle: Chapter

Chapter 11

“Wait,” Jessyn said, before ƒRay could stand. “Give me a moment.”

Ray looked over and saw her expression had gone distant, as if she were concentrating on something. “I don’t think—”

“I need a minute too,” Harry cut in. Ray turned to see Harry tapping his ear and drawing his Colt. “It’s me,” Harry said to—someone. “I’m coming out hot, and I have guests. Can you bring the cart around—ah, yeah, hold on.” He looked at Jessyn. “Does this joint have a loading dock? Back door. Employee entrance?”

“All of those,” Jessyn replied, though her eyes remained unfocused. “Tell him to take Riverside Drive to the east wing, employee access.”

Harry relayed the information while Ray kept his eyes on the surrounding bodies, noting a sudden dearth of hostesses on the floor.

“Wait five minutes, then haul ass to the door,” Harry was saying to whoever was on the other end of the comm. “We’ll either be waiting or . . . you know, not. Yup. Okay. Thanks, M . . . Yes. I will . . . Uh huh . . . Okay . . . bye now.” He closed the comm. “It’s like hanging up on my mother.”

“Can we go, now?” Ray asked, trying to estimate how many guns Al-Kar and Booth had asked to the party.

“First, tell me what you see,” Jessyn said.

Ray didn’t mistake her words for a request, so he looked. “I see,” he paused, “I see a lot of people staring at—no, aiming their weapons at the lounge floor.”

Harry, also looking, let out a soft curse.

“Then yes,” Jessyn said, “we can go. I will need you to lead the way.” She held up a hand toward Ray. “I am seeing through too many eyes just now.”

“Whatever you say,” he muttered, helping her out and throwing a glance at Harry, who was staring at Jessyn as if he’d seen a ghost. “Time’s wasting,” he prompted.

“Yeah, right.” Harry eased from the booth, keeping his gun pointed down along the seam of his trousers. “Direction?” he asked Jessyn.

“Right,” she murmured, swaying slightly. “Through the saloon bar, all the way to the wine rack, and right again.”

“Got it.” Ray started forward, but Harry stepped out first.

“Stay with her,” he said, and started forward, all pretense of needing a bodyguard dropped.

“Making my life hard,” Ray muttered, but it was clear Jessyn couldn’t walk and continue to do . . . whatever she was doing.

“We should hurry,” she murmured, just before the first bullet spat into the lounge floor, followed by the first scream.

More shots rang out, followed by more screams, and the acrid whiff of propellant began to fill the air.

But not a single bullet struck a living being, nor did they land anywhere near the fugitives, and all three were soon hustling past the huddled guests at the bar, through the wine rack’s hidden door, and down a winding staircase.

On reaching a corridor at the foot of the stairs, Jessyn blinked, huffed out a breath and, with a gentle pat on Ray’s shoulder, took the lead, only slowing when they entered a circular room that featured randomly hung curtains, creating a series of semi-private spaces.

Each curtained pocket included a scattering of plush chairs or pillows and low-slung tables on which trays of food and drink were set out.

Throughout the room, a number of women—off-duty hostesses, Ray imagined—sat or reclined, not the least disturbed by the men invading their sanctuary. He glanced at Jessyn, and wondered if, somehow, they’d had some warning.

Not a word was spoken, but as they passed through, Ray sensed the soft breath of various psionic touches, like petals drifting across his thoughts.

“My sisters will delay anyone who may follow us,” Jessyn said as they passed out of the lounge area.

“Nice,” Ray said. “When there’s time,” he added softly, “I’d love hear how you managed that trick you pulled upstairs.”

“Of course,” Jessyn promised, meeting his gaze. “I look forward to sharing with you.”

“Can we focus on getting out of here, first?” Harry prompted.

Ray rolled his eyes but followed Jessyn through a last section of curtains and into another, shorter corridor, which led to a muscular-looking door with an equally muscular security system.

Here Jessyn entered a code, leaned in, and spoke a few words in a language unfamiliar to Ray, then stepped back as the locking mechanism spun open and several unseen bolts slid back into the thick, metal-plated door.

“Stay,” Ray said, pulling the door open.

SIG in hand, he stepped out onto a low platform, then stepped back in and looked at Harry. “There’s a white ground van with a giant bug on top.”

Harry grinned. “That’s it.”

Jessyn peeked around Ray’s shoulder. “The driver is waving.”

“He worries,” Harry said as Ray skimmed the small lot, which was surrounded by a high hedge. A few high-end personal ground vehicles were parked here. Ray could hear the thrum of street traffic on the other side of the hedges and, beneath that, the soft rush of the Nuph River.

Overhead, one of Ócala’s sky yachts drifted, the hull a gleaming rose gold under the pearl of its sails.

“Your enemies will have learned they were shooting at phantoms by now,” Jessyn said.

“Right. Excuse me.” Harry eased past Ray and led the way to the van, where the side panel was already sliding open.

Harry assisted Jessyn into the back, then he and Ray gave the area a last once-over and followed.

Harry hadn’t even closed the door before the van was moving.

“Not too fast,” Harry called forward to the Cherrii driving the vehicle. “We don’t want to draw attention.”

“We’re in a van with a giant scarab on the top,” the driver replied over his shoulder. “How can we not draw attention?”

“I don’t know—drive casual?”

The driver muttered something about misquoting old vids.

Harry ignored him and assisted Jessyn into a swivel chair set in front of a very nice comm and surveillance. “By the way,” he waved at the front, “Mollin, meet Ray and Jessyn. Ray and Jess, this is Mollin.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the driver called back.

“My honor,” Jessyn said.

“Yo,” was Ray’s contribution to the formalities.

“There’s a fold-down seat behind you,” Harry told Ray who, like himself, was standing in an inverted J shape.

“Don’t forget the bug check!” Mollin called from the front.

“I thought the pest-control thing was a cover,” Ray quipped.

“Bugs?” Jessyn looked around her, alarmed, until she saw Ray’s grin. “Oh, you mean—”

“Yes, he means . . .” Harry assured her as he reached past her to open a shallow drawer. After a moment’s digging, he pulled out a slender wand which, when activated, pulsed blue at one end.

The tip remained blue as Harry ran it over himself, until he reached the back collar of his jacket, at which point the wand pulsed orange. He reached back and found a pill-sized tracer stuck under the collar. “Got one,” Harry said, holding it up.

“Hang onto it,” Mollin said. “I’d like to check the make.”

“Cy-techs and their toys,” Harry said, but he switched the tracker off and tucked it into his trouser pocket.

The wand returned to its sedate blue and remained so as Harry finished the scan. He looked at Jessyn.

“Please, don’t hesitate on my account,” she said, so he ran the wand over her, seemingly unsurprised to find nothing.

“I don’t think they’d have tagged you,” Harry said, handing the wand to Ray, “but better safe.”

“Nothing,” Ray announced once he’d run the scan, then passed the wand back to Harry. “So, what’s the plan?”

“Better we keep moving for the time being,” Harry said, then called forward to Mollin. “But try to steer clear of the more populated neighborhoods. I’d like to avoid any more collateral damage.”

“How about a tour of the Seven Bridges?” Mollin asked. “We’re coming up on Taygete.”

“Go for it,” Harry said, then looked to Jessyn. “So, about that little shootout,” he began.

“That was not the Lady’s doing,” she said.

“I didn’t think so,” Harry said, bracing himself on the van’s wall as they made a left turn.

“So, you’re saying we don’t have to worry about the Black Rose coming after us?” Ray asked.

“I am saying you do not need to worry about House Szado, nor anyone sworn to it,” Jessyn said. “But,” she added, “House Szado does not control the Black Rose organization.”

“That sounds suitably murky,” Harry commented.

“My thinking,” Ray said, “is we can keep driving around in your bug mobile—”

“Hey!” Mollin’s affront was audible, if not visible in the usual Cherrii fashion. “Respect the ride.”

“Sorry,” Ray called forward. “As I was saying, we could keep driving, or we go to ground in a hotel. Or,” he continued, “third choice—”

But Ray’s third option—that of heading to the dockyards and the Gypsy Moth—went unsaid, because that was when something struck the right side of the van, knocking it on its side.

The impact threw Jessyn into Ray’s lap while Harry bounced against the van wall and the air filled with the shriek of abused metal.

Before Ray could suck in a fresh breath, their ride took a second hit, and this fresh impact tipped the van a second time, slamming the three passengers against the roof before everything came to a sudden, concussive halt.

For a time, the only sounds were the hiss and snap of frying systems and the steady whine of the van’s collision alert.

From inside a fog of pain, Ray caught the muffled sputter and fwump of a micro charge, followed by the groan of metal being forced open.

A rush of night air chilled his skin and cut through the acrid smell of smoke and biofuel.

A series of heavy thuds, followed by the slither of something heavy being dragged, had Ray trying to move, but his body wasn’t taking calls from his brain just yet.

“Hello, Harry,” an unknown voice filtered through the haze.

“Seth,” came Harry’s hoarse reply. “I don’t suppose you’d consider surrendering yourself to ConFed authority?”

At which point consciousness began to once again fade, and the last thing Ray heard before darkness descended was the sound of laughter.

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