The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 16

The Gemini Hustle: Chapter

Chapter 16

For Harry, things got foggy shortly after the elevator doors closed, and for a time, he was content to rest in that haze.

Occasionally voices intruded . . . female voices, speaking low in a fluid language that caught at his hindbrain, which automatically translated the words he knew—man . . . help . . . heavy . . . undress—followed by another which, had he been fully awake, would have seen him turning beet red.

Following that last, he felt himself submersed and hissed as warm, silky water slid over the sly hurts Neishi had inflicted.

When a hand came to rest at his temple, he tensed, expecting more pain, but instead the myriad traumas receded into the mists, and Harry soon followed.

* * *

He woke with a start, half-expecting to still be inside Neishi’s hell.

Where he found himself was about as far from hell as he could imagine.

Instead of the cell, he stared at a large room, lit by sconces set in buff-colored walls. The floor was layered with a mosaic of rugs in a myriad of colors.

As he looked over the expanse of the bed upon which he’d been sleeping, his left hand grasped cool sheets.

With a deep breath he sat up, intending to assess the damage, and surprisingly found himself much less incapacitated than he expected.

“Viel is quite skilled.”

Hearing her voice, Harry turned to the right to see none other than the Lady herself, rising from a cushioned alcove.

She still wore the dress of smoke, draped from one shoulder.

It was, he noted, much the worse for having come in contact with him, but no amount of soot or blood could diminish the woman who wore it.

“Viel?” he asked.

“An empath and a healer.” She wandered from the alcove to a small table, on which sat the case Harry had stolen from Neishi. “She coaxed your body into healing the most dire injuries, though it taxed her.”

“I’m sorry,” he said as her hand hovered over the briefcase. “I don’t want to cause trouble.”

“Oh, Mr. Finn.” Here she turned to face him. “Thus far you have proven to be nothing but trouble.”

“Maybe so.” He thought about that. “Probably so. But then there’s you.”

“Me?”

“The puzzle of you.”

“I think we both can claim a certain level of mystery, Mr. Finn.” The cool expression never wavered as she left the table and moved toward the bed.

“Call me ‘Harry,’” he said, “given the circumstances.”

She paused at the edge of the snow-white lake upon which he sat, his arm hooked over one raised knee. “Circumstances?” she asked, her black eyes locked on his.

“The circumstances in which I seem to be naked.”

A brow arched and eyes dipped, rose again. “So you are.” Her hand rose, and one quick tug later, the column of smoke was slithering to her feet. “And now, so am I.”

And then she was on the bed, and then in his arms, and then . . .

“Wait.” He raised his head to look into those eyes.

This time both brows rose. “Wait?”

“I just—listen . . . You do have a name, don’t you?”

Her lips, which had already brought him to the edge, turned up in a smile. “Of course I do.”

He smiled back. “Good to know.”

* * *

Sometime later . . .

“Fayla.”

“Fayla,” he repeated the name, as if tasting it. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It won’t be,” she warned, her hand tracing the smooth line of what had, only a few hours ago, been a burned and blackened streak above his hip.

“I know.” He caught at the hand, brought it to his lips. “But for now . . .”

“For now,” she agreed as he moved to cover her, and they began the dance anew.

* * *

“Why did you bring this—thing—here?”

“Thing?” Harry rose onto his elbow to see Fayla walking to the little table where Neishi’s briefcase sat.

“Ah, that thing.” With a fatalistic acceptance of reality rearing its ugly head, he rolled from the edge of the bed to his feet.

And immediately sat down again as his body explained that upright was not a position it was ready to assume just yet.

“Forgive me.” Fayla’s voice carried a hint of something he guessed might be amusement. “Your healing taxed more than just Viel’s energies.”

“Is that so?” he asked the black spots dancing in front of his eyes.

“Very much so.”

A moment later he heard the sound of water running, and then he felt her warmth at his side, the cool edge of a glass at his lips. “And I selfishly used up what reserves remained.”

He took the first restorative sip. “Believe me,” he said as the glass lowered, “the selfishness was mutual.”

* * *

“You still have not explained the case.”

Harry and Fayla sat opposite each other on the bed, he leaning forward on crossed legs, she in a position that would have confounded a yogi.

Between them sat a platter she’d ordered delivered, on which a few crumbs and half a berry remained.

There had also been a jug of water, and another of some juice he’d never tasted before, but now slugged down with a fervor he had, in a past life, reserved for bottles that came in brown paper bags.

He had to give full props to the telepathic room service, though the looks shot his way by the two young ladies who’d delivered the food were unnerving—as if they knew precisely what was under the sheet he’d flung over himself when the bedroom door swung open.

Now, finally sated, he followed Fayla’s gaze to the briefcase where it now sat on the bed.

Cold, dark metal, more the size of a small suitcase than an attaché, it was an incongruous and ugly intrusion to the sanctuary of Fayla’s room.

“Why?” she asked again, though she made no move to touch it. Hadn’t since bringing it to the bed at his request, and even then, the way she’d held it—with as little contact as possible—told him how distasteful the object was to her.

He could relate.

“I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted. “I think . . .while I was in that room with Neishi . . . I think I saw something.”

Her eyes narrowed at that. “What did you see?”

“I don’t remember. It was an eventful couple of hours. Anyway,” he added, pulling the case to his side, “it must have been important, or I wouldn’t have taken the thing.” Under her watchful eye, he pressed open the clasps and raised the lid to see the tools of Neishi’s craft.

Barbed hooks, needles, blades, and vials, all tucked safely into the case’s foam padding.

Very organized, very professional and, unfortunately for Harry, very well known. But they weren’t what had prompted him to steal the case.

No, what prompted him to steal Neishi’s toolkit were the small, clear, carefully labeled and dated containers, snugged into transparent pouches inside the case’s lid.

There was even one, still empty, with Harry’s name on it.

He ignored that and picked up the flask next to it, which bore a date two days prior. The name on the label was Kaneth Sooks, and inside the clear flask, floating in some form of preservative liquid, was a single human eye.

Goddess.

At Fayla’s exclamation, he looked up. “I don’t think She had anything to do with this.”

* * *

“What do you know about your hostess . . . Neishi?”

“Neishi Fabria is neither a hostess, nor mine,” Fayla said, watching Harry stalk the room from her place on the bed. He reminded her of some great, caged animal, the way he moved, parsing the room in increments.

“Sorry,” he said, halting. “I should have known better.”

He shook his head and ran a hand through his disordered hair with visible frustration, promptly making it worse.

It was an endearing gesture, so she hardened herself against it. “I don’t see why.”

“Because she told me what she is, or part of what she is. Seth’s opiate,” he explained, pausing in front of the table to which he’d returned the briefcase.

Fayla’s eyebrow rose. “Opiate?”

“She helps him live with the pain,” he explained. “By making him need it.”

And while she did not attempt to read him, Fayla would have to have been psi-blind not to sense how Harry’s thoughts flashed back to the cell.

More specifically, to Neishi’s demonstration of her hold on Seth Aliombe.

She was on her feet and halfway to his side, meaning to dispel the echoes of Neishi’s perversion, when he muttered a curse.

“Where did you learn that word?” she demanded, coming to a halt.

“What?” He looked up, confused. “What word?”

Azfylnja, she repeated the expletive. “Which you just now spoke, and which is a particularly descriptive obscenity in the Sima tongue of Northern Rasalka Majora.”

“Huh.” He shrugged. “Must have heard it somewhere. Maybe from Neishi. Wouldn’t surprise me if she had a potty mouth to go with her other talents.”

She knew he was lying.

Why, she did not know.

Then again, so much about Harry Finn confounded, as Fayla had discovered in the interrogation room when she’d walked through his past.

Of the countless sapients she’d read in her time, Harry was the only one with the will to step out of the memory.

And not only step out, but to challenge it.

And then there was the twisted integrity that would object to Eineen killing León Enris, a man who would gladly have put a knife in Harry’s throat.

The man was a paradox, to be sure.

“A piece of work, that Neishi,” the paradox was saying. “A piece of work,” he repeated, looking at the case, “and more than Seth’s pacifier.”

“Neishi serves a high-ranking House,” she told him, warning clear in her voice. “For all that will mean to you.”

“It means she thinks she’s untouchable.”

“And so she is,” Fayla said. “As is your Mr. Aliombe.”

Not . . . mine,” he said, echoing her earlier sentiment. “And no one is untouchable.” He locked those shocking blue eyes on hers . . .

Azfylnja,” she hissed the curse.

And then he was at her side, and then his arms were around her, and then he was pulling her to the floor.

“The bed . . .”

“Too far away,” he said, already breathless. “Way too far. The rugs are good. And soft. And good.”

“Yes,” she agreed, finding it difficult to breathe herself. “Very good.”

* * *

They had, eventually, made it back to the bed.

Harry was again asleep; his hurts, the healing of them, and . . . other activities . . . had left him exhausted.

Now Fayla knelt at his side, wrapped in a robe white as the sheets upon which he lay, studying his face at rest.

She considered doing more.

In theory, he would be less resistant to a read while asleep, but even after so short an acquaintance, Fayla believed the only theory to which Harry conformed was that of chaos.

Did she dare?

A knock, followed by a tentative psionic brush from the hall, interrupted Fayla’s internal debate.

She gave Tahna permission to enter and rose from the bed as the young Rasalkan came in carrying what looked like a large canvas sack.

“Sorrow for the disturbance,” Tahna spoke the apology softly, “but Mariska has called an emergency Council meeting.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Fayla said, looking back to where the reason why sprawled, sound asleep. Then she turned her attention to the bag Tahna held.

“What is that?”

“Mollin brought it along when he and Jessyn reported to Ankhar.” Tahna set it down. “He said it contained clothing and personal items of Mr. Finn’s. I believe he called it a goody bag. Or maybe it was a go baggy?”

“Go-bag,” Fayla murmured, remembering a conversation from long ago. “When is the meeting?”

“Twenty-three minutes.”

“Very well.” Fayla nodded her dismissal and Tahna left the room.

Fayla glanced at the bed, where Harry slept, head turned away, one arm over his stomach and the other outstretched. A soft psionic touch showed him to be deeply asleep.

Confident she had at least ten minutes, she took the go-bag into the comfort room, closed the door, and proceeded to go through Harry’s things.

She pulled out clothes, weapons, toiletries, and various forms of identification papers and currencies. And, though she wondered about the round wooden object on a string, she doubted there would be any real surprises.

Then she pulled out a picture, an Earth-style image of a young woman with terracotta features and a crooked smile, and Fayla realized she’d been wrong about finding any surprises in Harry’s belongings.

Dead wrong.

“Find anything interesting?”

Careless, she thought. So taken was she by the image in her hands, she hadn’t noticed the door opening behind her. “Less than I would have expected,” she said, surreptitiously slipping the photo back into the bag before she turned to look up at Harry. “For such a complicated man, you have remarkably uncomplicated luggage. Except for that,” she nodded to where the wooden disk sat on the tiled floor. “What is it?”

“Therapy,” he said, stooping to retrieve the object before leaning so close she could feel the heat rolling off him and tossing it back in the bag. “Mind handing me my pants?” As he spoke, his breath tickled her ear.

With a sigh, she tossed him an armful of the clothing from the pile at her side, then rose to her feet, leaning back against the marble vanity as he began to dress. “You seem much less angry than I would expect.”

“Why?” He slipped a pair of rugged-looking trousers—jeans, she recalled—over the brief-like undergarment. “I figured an invasion of privacy was going to happen one way or another. Frankly, given the company?” He met her eyes. “A luggage search is the least invasive option I’d have expected.”

“You are a strange man, Harry Finn.”

“Thanks.” He smiled and slid a black, short-sleeved shirt over his head. “I do have a question, though,” he announced as he settled the shirt. “Why’d you—”

A knock, followed by the click of a door opening, interrupted him.

Harry was already reaching for the gun Fayla had pulled from his bag when Fayla placed a hand on his arm. “Be calm,” she told him, touching a finger to her temple to indicate she’d already assessed the intruder’s identity. “It is only Captain Marifanne, reminding me I have a meeting to attend.” Then she paused as Eineen, with the ease of long familiarity, shared another thought. “She also says Mollin would like to speak with you. As soon as possi—”

“Knock knock!” Mollin’s voice pulled both Fayla and Harry out of the comfort room to see the cy-tech standing next to the ever-cool Captain Eineen Marifanne.

On spying Harry, shoes in one hand, weapon in the other, Eineen’s cool expression chilled another few degrees.

Mollin just shook his head, gleaming copper next to the silver of Eineen’s hair. “Sometime,” the Cherrii said, “I’d like to come into a room without worrying you’re going to shoot me.”

“I pulled a gun on you one time,” Harry said.

“Twice, if you count right now,” Mollin pointed out.

“Am I aiming this thing at you?”

“No, but—”

“Gentlemen,” Fayla cut in, before Eineen drew her own weapon to end the spat, “perhaps you would like to take your discussion elsewhere so I can prepare for my own meeting?”

“Oh,” Mollin said. “Sorry.”

Harry just sent Fayla a sideways glance before nodding and crossing the room to where Mollin waited.

“Mr. Finn?” Eineen held out her hand.

He looked down at her open right hand, then at the gun in his left, sighed, and handed it to her.

“Thank you.” Eineen took the weapon and checked that the safety was on before pocketing the gun.

“If you really want to thank me,” Harry said, “you’ll point me to the coffee.”

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