Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 02

I stepped back as Cady dived forward on his nose. He’d been trying to grab me with his left hand and just overbalanced when I doubled him up. He wasn’t hurt bad, but he’d remember me every time he sat up for the next few days.

Cady got his feet under him but didn’t stand. “Cady!” I said. “Let’s quit now and it won’t go any further!”

I wasn’t sure what to do next. Hitting Cady on the head wasn’t going to do anything but break my knuckles, and there was no way I could keep punching him in the gut without him getting a hand on me. Then it’d be all she wrote: It’s not like there was a referee to call him for fouling me, after all.

Somebody’d been opening crates at the edge of the loading dock. When Cady finally stood up, he had a crowbar in his right fist.

“Hey, kid!” called the big woman with Miranda. I let my eyes flick toward her. She tossed me the length of high-pressure tubing that she must’ve been holding along her right leg. I hadn’t seen it behind Miranda.

“Hey!” said Cady as I caught it. I cut at his head. He got his left arm up in time to block me, but I heard a bone break when I caught him just above the wrist.

Cady swung the crowbar in a broad haymaker that would’ve cut me in half if it’d landed, blunt as the bar was. I stepped back and smashed his right elbow so his weapon went sailing into the trackway, sparking and bouncing on the packed gravel.

I guess I could’ve stopped then — yard personnel were swarming around, most of them carrying a tool or a length of pipe. I had my blood up, though. Cady’d given me a chance to get back not just at him but at the way the world had gone in the past three months.

I cracked him on the forehead with all the strength of my arm. He went down on his face, bleeding badly from the pressure cut.

I moved back and hunched to suck in all the air I could through my mouth. People were talking — shouting, some of them. I could hear them, right enough, but it was like hearing the surf: There was a lot of noise, but my brain wasn’t up to making sense of it. I started to wonder if Cady had connected better with my head than I’d thought he had.

The big woman walked up beside me and shouted, “All right, spacers! Two of you get this garbage out the gate and into the gutter, all right?”

I straightened; I was all right now. “Wait!” I said. “He’s been injured.”

“You got that right,” chuckled a man holding a ten-pound hammer. “Nice job, kid.”

“Look,” I said, not sure how to say what I meant. For that matter, my brain wasn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. “He needs medical attention. This yard’s got a Medicomp, doesn’t it?”

It must. Bergen and Associates were too big and successful not to.

“Yes, bring him in,” Miranda said. “That’s all right, isn’t it, Master Mon?”

“If you say so, Mistress,” said the man in a suit who’d come out after the fight started. “Tapley and Gerstall, get him into the unit.”

He looked at me, friendly enough but sizing me up just the same. He added, “It looked to me like he was getting about what he deserved, though.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but I don’t want to kill him. I didn’t even want to fight him.”

I’m out of a job. The sudden realization almost made me vomit. Knocking Cady out wouldn’t hurt me for getting another job particularly, but I’d had trouble enough getting in with Petersburg. Maybe being out of the news for three more months would help this time.

Men were hauling Cady inside to where the Medicomp was. I started to give the length of tubing back to the woman who’d loaned it to me, then realized the tip was bloody. I wiped it on the leg of my trousers — I’d have used Cady’s shirt if I’d thought about it soon enough — and handed it to her. “Thank you, ma’am,” I said.

She chuckled. “I guess I’d have done more if it seemed like I needed to,” she said. “Which I sure didn’t.”

“What’s all this about?” said the fellow Miranda had called Mon. He must be the boss, because most of the folks who’d come over to watch were going back to their work.

“Sir, nothing, really,” I said. “We’re just here to pick up three High Drives for Petersburg Chandlery and, well, Cady took a swing at me because I was chatting with Mistress Dorst.” Which she wasn’t, but it was too late to change even if I’d known Miranda’s married name.

“That’s right, Mon,” Miranda said. “Roy and I are old friends. Our mothers are cousins, you see.”

Mon shrugged. “No business of mine, then.” He looked at the workmen still present and added, “Raskin, get this truck to Bay One and load it up. Weiler, Jackson, you give him a hand.”

Then to me again, “You just sit for a bit, Master. Come into the office and we’ll find you some cacao — or a shot of something if you’d rather. I don’t want you driving until you’re doing better than you are right now.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “I’ll be all right by the time they’ve got the truck loaded, but my throat’s dry, that’s a fact.”

“Roy, I’ve got to run now,” Miranda said, “but drop in and see me some time soon, please. Miranda Leary at Chatsworth Minor in the Pentacrest District.”

She waved and went off with the big woman — Miranda’s bodyguard, obviously. She looked able to do that job, no question.

I followed Mon inside and down a short hallway to his office in back. There wasn’t a clerk or receptionist. “So…?” he said, pouring cacao for both of us. “You know Mistress Leary pretty well?”

It was obvious that there was a right answer and a wrong one to that question, at least in Mon’s mind. I took the mug and said, “Her twin and my older brother Dean Junior were best friends right up and through the RCN Academy. They were both killed in action. I don’t think I’ve seen Miranda in two years.”

That was the truth. What I say is generally the truth. When I was a kid I learned that I’m not a good liar, and I’ve never tried to get better at it.

Mon gestured me to a couch and sat behind the desk. I drank. I figured I’d finish the cacao and go out to the truck. They’d probably be finished loading it by then, and if not, it’d still give me a chance to work off some of the tremors.

“Six always had an eye for the ladies,” Mon said with a nostalgic smile. “He sure picked a different one to marry, though. Mistress Leary is sharp as sharp. Not that she’s not pretty too, I mean.”

“I’ve always thought that about Miranda,” I said. “At any rate…”

I look a long swallow; the cacao had been sitting awhile and wasn’t over warm.

I stood and set the empty mug by the pot. “At any rate, she was too smart to let my brother get any further than good friends. A lot of girls weren’t. Junior was a fine man and a fine RCN officer, but he wasn’t the marrying kind.”

Mon chuckled as he walked me out of the office. “To tell the truth,” he said, “I’d have said the same thing about Six. But he found a good one when he changed his mind.”

As I crossed the trackway, I noticed that the Bergen yard seemed a happy place as well as a busy one. I was pretty sure that if I asked Miranda to have me put on here, she’d make it happen.

I’d rather swab latrines than do that. I hadn’t tried in two years to see her. I wasn’t going to show up as a beggar now.

But the rent was due at the end of the week, and I wouldn’t bet Fritzi was even going to pay me for time worked. He didn’t treat Cady like much, but Cady was still family.

Oh, well. One thing at a time.