The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 28

The Gemini Hustle: Chapter
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Chapter 28

Ray was following Jessyn through the lounge when Rizzo’s voice came over the comms, delivering the bad news.

“All right,” Ray spoke to the team on comms. “Time to call an audible.”

/A what?/ Caris asked.

/Now you’re talking my talk,/ came back from Maynard, one of Eineen’s protectors—who Arrion said had once played football for the Bradbury City Martians.

“Change of plan,” Ray translated for the Rasalkans in the group. “Rizzo, meet us at the bar . . .”

You at the bar,” Jessyn cut in, her voice cool but her emotions mixed. “I must continue to circulate, to help keep the peace.”

Ray didn’t like it, but he turned to Arrion, who was a discrete five steps back. “Looks like you’re up.”

“My pleasure,” Arrion replied, sliding up to offer Jessyn his arm. “Mademoiselle.”

She smiled at the protector, as if this were simply another party, but Ray, unwillingly privy to her emotions, sensed the turmoil bubbling beneath.

“I’ll get him out,” he promised.

“I believe you,” she replied before she and Arrion drifted toward a pack of bristling Draconis soldiers who, almost on seeing her, began to relax.

Amazing.

Ray watched her for another heartbeat, as if to assure himself she was real, then shook himself. “All right, Team Szado . . .” Ray entered the comm stream as he strode to the bar. “Time for Plan B.”

/Do we have a plan B?/ Caris asked.

“We’re improvising,” Ray told Fayla’s cy-tech.

But, woohoo, it looked like luck was finally on their side when he spied Ziio, the bartender he’d met at Ankhar, manning the lounge bar.

In fact, watching Ziio pouring drinks sparked the first glimmers of what could be Plan B.

He made eye contact with the bartender, grinned at her thumbs up as he continued to speak to Fayla’s people. “First, can anyone tell me where they—”

* * *

/—took Harry?/

Third floor dining room, Harry thought, but didn’t say aloud. Not with Mariska’s two protectors standing nearby.

Since he couldn’t communicate with the team, he’d just have to trust them.

Meanwhile, he took stock of the room, which was obviously designed for small parties or private dates.

Round table, two chairs—and a bottle of wine, breathing, on the table next to two goblets.

And of course, the two protectors, flanking the door, watching Harry with extreme prejudice, which meant a hard pass at trying for the blade Rizzo had planted up his shirtsleeve.

Hells, even if Rizzo had managed to get the lock pick into Harry’s possession, it’d be impossible to use it before the two armed guards could take him out.

Still, there was a chance to pull the plan out of the fire. All he needed was a few minutes with Neishi—

Even as he thought of the murderous Rasalkan, the door began to open, and Harry had the space of a heartbeat to hope it would be Neishi walking through that door.

Then he saw who did, and his next heartbeat tripped.

“Leave us,” Gajor Lok ordered the protectors, his voice as smooth and cultured as it had been years ago, when he’d been Kelmno’s most successful Inquisitor.

* * *

/He was taken to the third floor,/ Mollin’s voice came back to Ray.

/Third contains a series of private dining rooms,/ Caris’s voice followed. /Searching now. No internal feed inside the rooms, but corridor video shows two guards stationed outside one of them./

Ray was about to respond when he heard-slash-sensed the soft brush of a psionic voice.

Mr. Slater.

Lady? He thought back, not a little chilled by the idea of talking to someone inside his head.

While your care is admirable, I trust you keep in mind that no one can see a member of my House assisting Harry. Death would, as I believe your people say, be the soft option.

Ray grimaced. I get that, but Mariska and this Judon have changed the game. If we don’t remove Harry from the situation, and he talks, things will definitely get bad for all of us.

There was a moment of internal stillness before her voice returned.

I think, even after so short a time, you know him better than that, Mr. Slater.

Ray stifled a curse, realizing what Fayla meant.

Harry, possibly better than anyone, knew how to keep a secret.

Even if keeping it meant taking it to the grave.

And Rizzo had delivered the means when he gave Harry that knife.

But there was another way, Ray thought. Had to be another way.

What other way? Fayla’s question reminded him he wasn’t alone with his thoughts, so rather than slow the process, he walked through the plan as it formed, trusting Fayla to see it.

Interesting, she granted. What do you need to make it happen?

To start, I need two Rasalkans with serious mojo.

There was a moment of disconnect, and then, They are on their way. And Mr. Slater? Best you know now that if your Plan B blows up, none of us will live to regret it.

* * *

Gajor Lok crossed to the table, on which he dropped the bag he carried with a metallic clatter.

He folded himself into the second chair, took hold of the wine, and poured a goblet full of the burgundy liquid before raising his veil to take a drink.

Harry inhaled the dark, berry scent of the wine, the dusty odor of Judon scales.

Rizzo’s switchblade pressed against the flesh of his left forearm, a cold comfort.

“They want me to prove you guilty of murder,” Lok announced, setting the goblet on the table.

“So I heard,” Harry replied.

“An absurd accusation,” Lok observed, then crossed his gloved hands one over the other on the table. “Tell me, Finn-Haija,” he asked, the yellow eyes unblinking, “did you ever wonder what followed your departure from my care?”

“Can’t say I did.”

He had to imagine the other man’s grimace, as the only thing he could see was the flat stare, the dip of the nictitating lid over the eyes.

“The Sovereignty, in their infinite wrath, removed me from my position as Sector Chief,” Lok explained quietly. “Discharged in disgrace for having allowed the only successful escape from the Kelmno Internment Station.

“They left me with nothing. No name, no honor—no home. Only my skills remain to me, and these I must offer to these Draconis Haij. But I do not blame you for this,” Lok assured Harry, one hand rising to wipe away the idea. “Were our positions reversed, no doubt I would have done the same.” Here he stood, rising effortlessly from the chair, putting Harry in mind of a cobra, rising from its coils.

Lok eased around the table, coming to a stop behind Harry. “Remember that,” he said, his breath whispering through the veil. “That I do not blame you for doing what a soldier should.”

Harry felt Lok’s gloved hand—no Judon would willingly touch haij flesh—take hold of his right pinky finger.

“I do not blame you,” Lok repeated, calm as ever, “but I do hate you.”

And then he snapped the finger’s middle phalanx with a brutal expertise Harry remembered all too well.

“So, know this . . .” Lok said, his breath escaping the veil to slide across Harry’s cheek, “I no longer care if I break your will. I only care that I break you.” As he spoke, the ring finger snapped. “One . . .” the middle finger, “. . . piece . . .” and finally, the index, “. . . at a time.”

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