The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 8

The Gemini Hustle: Chapter

Chapter 8

“Not enough cold showers in the galaxy,” Ray muttered, even as the image Jessyn had planted in his head took root.

“My sorrow,” she said, her expression sympathetic, “especially as we seem to have gotten off the truck.”

“And are we off the . . . truck?” he echoed, confusion and amusement dulling the edge ever so slightly.

“I spoke truly when I told you Mr. Finn was safe within these walls, but I cannot say what waits outside of Ankhar. Sims was very angry with Mr. Finn and will seek permission to act on that anger. Beyond that, there is Gavin who . . .” Here Jessyn paused, not moving, but Ray could almost see the shimmer of fear. “What I mean to say is that they may try to remove him from this sanctuary.”

“All right then,” Ray said, taking another bite of mousse as he thought, “I’m gonna take it on faith that you do have the juice to help me.”

“Juice?” she asked, looking askance at her tea.

“Influence,” he explained, waving the spoon. “And you’d better have some serious influence, because I’m all the cavalry there is.”

“In that case . . .” she scooped up another spoonful of mousse and raised it in a toast. “To remaining on this side of midnight,” she said, taking a last taste before setting the spoon aside. “Shall we, Mr. Slater?”

“Please,” he said, rising and offering his hand, “call me ‘Ray.’”

* * *

Harry had barely taken the first sip of coffee when there was a knock on the door. He looked at Captain Marifanne. “Expecting company?”

“As a matter of fact,” she said and crossed to the door, which opened to reveal one of the house security types and, to Harry’s surprise, the man he now knew—thanks to Mollin’s search—to be ex-Marine and jammer-for-hire, Ray Slater.

Like the night before, in the Needle, Ray’s dark eyes skimmed the room, hesitating over the blood stain from where León had landed, before coming to rest on Harry. One dark brow arched in a way that Harry took to mean, “Trust me.”

Harry’s lip quirked, and he raised his mug in a toast that, he hoped, indicated, “Your move.”

“Captain,” the security drone nodded respectfully. “This is the man Domina Jessyn contacted you about.”

“Thank you, Gao, that will be all.” Captain Marifanne dismissed the man, then stepped aside to let Ray into the room.

“Boss.” Ray offered Harry a glare as the door closed. “You are making my life hard.”

Okay, Harry thought. “Sorry about that,” he said, his head tilting slightly. Your turn.

Ray’s lip barely twitched. “Like I told you when you hired me,” he said, “my SOP is to stick to my client like those bolts they use to keep the hull plating on spaceships. This holding back goes against my grain. Plus, it looks bad when my employer gets sets a bar on fire or gets ambushed and hauled off to the basement. Nice basement, though,” he added to Captain Marifanne.

“We like it,” she replied, her expression bland as cold, white toast.

“If you’ll recall, I had help setting the bar on fire,” Harry pointed out. “And as you can see,” he added, raising his cup of coffee, “the incident upstairs was—a misunderstanding.” He glanced at Marifanne. “Isn’t that so, Captain?”

“Almost.” Marifanne looked from Harry to Ray and back before continuing. “My superior will not step between you and your objective, as long as your actions do not impact her business. However,” she added, before Harry could respond, “she cannot prevent Al-Kar and Booth, nor their employer, from pursuing their own grievances, so long as their actions don’t interfere with Black Rose business.”

“Fair enough.” Harry’s head dipped in a short nod. “But what happens when my man here erases your soldiers and I successfully bring in Booth and Al-Kar’s employer. Won’t that interfere with Black Rose business?”

“You like your chances that much?”

Harry glanced at Ray, who was glowering. “I hired him for a reason,” he said.

Marifanne’s eyes narrowed, then flicked toward the mirror before returning to Harry. “Should such an unlikely event come to pass,” she said, “we will count the loss as the price of satisfying my superior’s curiosity.”

“Sweet.” Ray smiled. “Then I take it our business is done here?”

Marifanne’s response was to touch the room’s control pad, which caused a small panel in the wall to open, revealing a locker from which she took Harry’s Colt, wallet, credit stick, watch, trans-comm unit, notepad, and pencil—Harry saw Ray’s eyes widen at that—and the badge of an Inter-System Marshal.

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

“Unnecessary,” the captain replied.

“One more thing,” Ray said as Harry started to pocket his belongings. “The hostess I had coffee with earlier—Domina Jessyn? I’d like to speak with her again. Do you think that would be possible?”

* * *

At Ray’s brash request, Jessyn, who had joined the Lady on the other side of the mirror, felt her skin heat up.

She also felt a stirring of interest, one she tried to suppress. After all, she had spoken the truth when she’d told Ray that she may not choose for herself.

She was currently assigned to Sims Al-Kar, in hopes of learning more about Sims, his employer, and his employer’s place in the Black Rose. This assignment had proven more successful than expected, as Sims had begun hinting that he wished for a more formal relationship.

This was an impossibility, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was standing next to her.

“Slater interests me,” the Lady said, as if in tune with Jessyn’s thoughts, though Jessyn knew the Lady avoided “reading” her people.

“He is intriguing,” Jessyn agreed.

“Then let us not keep him in suspense. You have my leave to join him.”

“And what of Mr. Finn?” Jessyn asked, watching the Lady’s black eyes come to rest on the older of the two men.

“He is also intriguing,” the Lady said. “Go to Slater, learn what you can of both men.” She paused, and added another instruction, mind to mind, that had Jessyn’s eyes widening.

Still, she made no protest but crossed both hands over her heart as she said farewell.

Leaving the anteroom, Jessyn was both delighted and dismayed, for now she had permission to enjoy Ray’s company, but only so she could discover whatever secrets he or Mr. Finn might hold.

Someday, she hoped the Mother Goddess would forgive her transgressions.

Even after so brief an acquaintance, she doubted Ray ever would.

* * *

Slipping out of the jade door he’d been surveilling earlier—which, as it turned out, was hiding an elevator—Harry took a breath of relief.

There was, he decided, no place more crowded than an elevator holding three people, when two of those people were virtually undressing each other with their eyes. Stepping out onto the mezzanine, he leaned on the rail and studied the lounge below.

“Think you can find us all a place to sit?” Ray asked Jessyn as they joined him. “Something private,” he added, before brushing a curl from her cheek.

Harry braced himself for another round of googly eyes, but Jessyn merely smiled as she stepped away from Ray. “I will make the arrangements,” she said. “In the meantime, I recommend both of you keep your heads on a swizzle.”

Harry waited for Jessyn to get out of earshot before saying, “I’m almost certain she meant swivel. Almost.”

Ray just shook his head. “Listen, before we have company again, are you up to telling me what you’re doing on Ócala?”

“Quick and dirty?” Harry angled to face Ray. “I’m looking for the guy Sims and Gavin work for.”

“Both of whom are supposedly recruiting for the Black Rose,” Ray murmured, no doubt recalling the intel León had unknowingly given them the night before. He turned from watching Jessyn’s progress to look at Harry. “So, their boss works for the Black Rose?”

“At least one of them,” Harry agreed. “Which means Captain Marifanne’s promise of amnesty only lasts up to Ankhar’s door. As long as I’m in here, no one can touch me without repercussions from House Szado. But once I step outside, Finn season starts.”

“Not on my watch, boss,” Ray said.

“Listen,” Harry began.

“No, you listen.” Ray turned to face Harry. “As of about ten minutes ago, you are my cover. As far as these people are concerned, I’m your jammer. I let you walk out on your own, my cover is burned, which means my mission is burned. You have your objective, I have mine,” he added. “Besides, Detective Inspector Finn, you still owe me for last night—after your pirate cosplay went south.”

“That was nice work, with the booze,” Harry admitted, before giving up. “Fine,” he said. “You can be my jammer,” then added a sharp, “Lt. Slater,” proving that Harry’s team could run a personal data search, too.

“Sir, yes, sir!” Ray replied, with a full-on salute that had Harry rolling his eyes, then both men turned their attention back to the lounge floor, where Jessyn was looking up. She smiled, gestured to an open banquette.

“Smart assedness aside,” Harry said as they headed for the stairs, “I’m committed to a specific course of action, and you’re committed to another. If you need to opt out, I’ll fire you and make sure your cover remains intact. You opt to stick . . .” he paused, as if giving himself time to change his mind, “. . . if you decide to stick, I’ll read you in.”

“Between the Needle last night and both of us ending up here,” Ray gestured for Harry to precede him down the stairs. “I’m starting to think somebody already made that decision for us.”

“And if that someone doesn’t have our best interests at heart?” Harry asked, but before Ray could respond, a waiter slid up to hand Ray a coaster before gliding off on his business.

“Friend of yours?” Harry asked.

“Never seen him before,” Ray said, then flipped the coaster over so both men could read the note scrawled on the blank side.

The bar. Whenever you get a minute, gorgeous.

Ziio

Both men turned to the right, toward the saloon bar, where Ziio sent them a smile and a thumbs up.

“That one looks like a friend,” Harry observed, waving back.

“Maybe,” Ray said, shaking his head as Ziio blew Harry a kiss. “You go ahead. I’ll catch up,” he said, then headed off to the bar.

Harry might have made a comment about Ray’s whole, ‘sticking with the client,’ but he noted the younger man settled himself in a position to keep watch over Harry’s movements.

He rolled his eyes and joined Jessyn at the edge of the dance floor, empty now that the band was on a break, and offered her his arm as they continued to the booth Jessyn had staked out for their use.

 

This single chapter used to be two chapters, which involved a lot of walking down halls and going up and down elevators. No disrespect to the halls or elevators, but they added nothing to the plot, nor did they reveal any further character, and so they, along with a couple of under five players, were removed.

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