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 she paused, and though she remained still, Ray could almost see the shudder of fear. “What I mean to say is that they may try to remove him from this sanctuary, however temporary.” 

“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 took 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 barely had time to take the first sip of coffee when there was a knock on door. 

He set down the coffee and looked at Captain Marifanne. “Expecting company?”

“As a matter of fact,” she said, and crossed to the door and palmed it open to reveal one of the house security types and, to Harry’s surprise, Ray Slater.

As he had 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 toast that, he hoped, indicated, “Your move.” 

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

Hearing that name, Harry’s eyes narrowed. He hadn’t been aware of anyone contacting anyone about anything. 

How long had he been lost in that memory? 

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

“Boss.” As the door closed behind him, Ray eased into the room and offered Harry a glare. “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, giving you breathing room, goes against my grain. Plus, it looks bad when my employer 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. 

“And as you can see,” Harry said, raising his cup of coffee, “the earlier incident was—a misunderstanding. Or the prelude to a real understanding,” he amended, glancing at Marifanne. “Isn’t that so, Captain?” 

“Almost.” The woman turned her attention to Ray. “Given the events at The Needle last night, you will understand my superior would like some assurances of your continued good behavior.”

Uh oh, Harry thought as Ray turned to face the captain. 

 “If by ‘good behavior’,” Ray echoed, “you mean don’t do my job, don’t protect my client and don’t defend myself, let me rephrase something my former coach used to say: ‘Wish in one hand, take a crap in the other, and see which one fills up faster.’” 

“It’s this level of colloquy that I find separates Slater from your average jammer,” Harry tossed in. 

“I doubt there is any reason to fear for your client’s or your own personal safety here,” the captain said.

“So that was a friendly tap your man gave Mr. Finn up in the lounge?” Ray asked, more to keep up appearances than to start an argument. 

“As Mr. Finn said, that situation has already been resolved,” she replied, then turned to Harry. “What I speak of is your particular objective. Whatever sympathy my superior has for your situation, she cannot prevent Misters Al-Kar or Booth, or their employer, from pursuing their own grievances, so long as  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?” 

“You’ve read my jacket,” Harry said, tapping the palm comp still sitting in the middle of the table. “What do you think?”

Marifanne’s eyes widened, then flicked towards the mirror before returning to Harry. “Should such an event come to pass,” she said, “we will assume 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 was observing 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.

As of late, her assignment had been to develop an attachment with Sims Al-Kar, the better to keep tabs on Sims’ employer. This assignment had proven more successful than expected, as Sims had begun intimating he would favor a more formalized relationship. 

This was an impossibility, for a number of reasons, but more, for Jessyn—a woman who took pride in her ability to negotiate from patron to patron without so much as a bruised ego—Sims’ single-minded focus indicated a failure on her part. 

It was also why she dared not hope for anything more—more—with Ray.

“This Slater person interests me,” the Lady said, immediately raising the very hope Jessyn had just squashed. 

“He is intriguing,” Jessyn ventured, knowing full well the Lady would sense her own interest in this Slater person. 

The Lady’s cocked eyebrow confirmed her supposition. “Then let us not keep him in suspense. You have my leave to do as he asks.”  

“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. “Or would be, if I expected him to survive until morning. Go to Slater.” The Lady glanced at Jessyn, her black eyes as unreadable as her psyche. “Make him comfortable,” she said, before adding the unspoken directive, Make him ours.

“Lady,” Jessyn replied, crossing both hands over her heart, delighted and dismayed both—for now she had permission to enjoy Ray’s company, but only so that she could discover whatever secrets he 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 club’s private elevator, which was housed behind the jade door he’d been surveilling earlier, Harry took a breath of relief.

There was, he decided, no place more crowded than elevator holding three people, when two of those people were virtually undressing each other with their eyes. Pushing through the door to 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 cozy,” he explained, before brushing a curl from her cheek.

Harry braced himself for another round of googly eyes, but Jessyn simply smiled. “I will make the arrangements,” she said, stepping away from Ray. “In the meantime, I recommend 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, you up to telling me what the hells you’re doing on Ócala?”

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

“Sims and Gavin, who are now 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. “Is their boss one of the Black Rose sisters?” 

“No.” Harry shook his head. “He’s—something else.” 

“But he works for the Black Rose sisters.”  

“At least one of them,” Harry agreed. “Which means Captain Marifanne’s promise of amnesty only lasts up to Ankhar’s front 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, you still owe me for last night.” 

“That was nice work, with the booze,” Harry admitted, before giving up. “Fine,” he said. “You can be my jammer.” 

“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 the two men headed for the stairs, “I’m committed to a specific course of action, and you’re committed to another. If you’d prefer to opt out, no harm no foul. I’ll fire you and make sure your cover remains in tact. 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—all the way 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 your best interests at heart?” Harry asked. 

Ray was spared answering by a waiter who caught his eye and flagged him down. 

“Go ahead. I’ll catch up,” he told Harry, and veered off toward the waiter, who handed him a bar coaster before zipping away.

Turning from any potential observers, Ray studied the coaster. One side was emblazoned with the club’s name, and the other scrawled with a hastily written note. 

The bar. Whenever you get a minute, gorgeous.

Ziio

Turning to the right, and the saloon bar, he was greeted with a smile and a thumbs up from the bartender.

Curious as to what she wanted, he waved to get Jessyn and Harry’s attention, then pointed to himself and to the bar, and flashed his open palm—fingers spread—to signify the estimated length of time he’d be away. 

Jessyn smiled, Harry rolled his eyes, but both offered Jessyn his arm as both continued to the booth Jessyn had staked out for their use. 

Watching them together, Ray felt something poking at him, like an annoying kid trying to get attention, but movement at his left had him turning to see Ziio holding up the bottle of Sterling Black, and he told the annoying kid to take a number while he went to discover what the bartender had to say.

 

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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