Through Fire – Snippet 24

Clash By Night

I proved I was faster than most people — if not smarter — in the next few seconds, as I checked my weapons, closed the door behind me and ran after Brisbois as fast as I could.

As I got close to him, I slowed down, favoring silence over speed and knitting myself with the shadows, so as not to call his attention.

Following him, I walked down the street and into what looked like a walled open air market. The streets were more deserted than they’d been, possibly because a nighttime of burning things and looting had taken its toll. There were people asleep in the open air market, legs protruding from beneath stalls, or cloak-wrapped bodies huddled in corners. I guess looting and burning really took it out of you.

Towards the back of the market was a gate that I surmised led to loading docks. It was closed and held so by a mechanism that involved a code pad. Brisbois typed a code into the pad, and as the gate opened, stepped through. I lagged behind, trying to give him a head start, so I could step through unnoticed. As the gate started closing again, I squeezed in.

The other side was darker than the market, so dark, in fact, that I couldn’t see more than a palm in front of my face. I stopped, afraid to give myself away, and heard Brisbois’ voice coming from my left, “–Here.”

It sounded like a response to someone, and I dropped back into the shadows and looked around to find him a hundred steps away from me, no more than a glimmer of clothing and movement in the gloom. There was a suggestion of someone he was speaking to, but the someone was even more distant and lost in the gloom, visible only when he moved and only by the movement. Strangely, I was sure it was a man. I could not hear him, though. He must be using a whisper so low it was close to sub-vocalization. But it was clear that Brisbois was answering someone, as he said, “No, she’s asleep. Yes, I’m sure.”

There was a pause, as though he were listening to his interlocutor, and then, “I didn’t bring her. I followed her. It was Keeva and his plans. No, I’m sure of it. Yes, I know.”

Another pause. “I’ve tried, but short of drugging her and dragging her, I don’t know how I’d accomplish that.”

Another pause, this one long. “I see. The palace? Yes, that could work.”

I felt my hair stand up at the back of my neck, and wondered what could work and what was being planned for me. It was clear, whatever else was happening, that Alexis Brisbois was not on the up and up. Look, Simon, his supposed boss and the center of his loyalty, was in prison. He couldn’t be out here and speaking to Brisbois. But Brisbois had left the hotel room in the middle of the night to come and confer with someone in secret.

That they were talking about me was obvious. That my being here discomfited them was also obvious. I wasn’t sure why that might be, except, of course, that Brisbois knew I was enhanced and might be afraid I’d figure out what he was doing.

Brisbois was talking again, “Yes,” he said. “It would be best for the execution of the Good Man to happen as soon as possible and as publically as possible.”

I was so shocked by these words that it took me a moment to focus. It was all I could do not to run from cover, and not to shoot Alexis Brisbois. But even as my mind processed that the “execution of the Good Man” had to refer to Simon — while there were a lot of people killed, it was hard to think of a single one that could be dignified with the name “execution” particularly a planned one. Attack, maybe, or assault. But execution had to be Simon. Which meant not only that Alexis Brisbois had never been as loyal as I thought, but that he’d been playing a double game all along. Which meant…

“Yes, I think she’s behind this too,” Brisbois said, clearly answering something. “I’ll do my best to neutralize her.”

I took a deep breath. And I’d do my best to stay not-neutralized. With that thought, I reached for my burner.

I was drawing a bead in the middle of Alexis’ back, when the world exploded. I have no way of explaining it, except that way. Suddenly the area was full of sound, light, flying debris, and I was jumping backwards, out of instinct more than thought, huddling against the gate while debris pelted me. First seen in that explosion of light, was Brisbois, looking startled, shocked, and someone talking to him — a male in a dark brown suit, with a liberty cap on his head. Something about him was familiar, but in that sudden startling glimpse, there was no way of knowing for sure who it was.

And then Brisbois stumbled over me, catching at the gate to hold himself, dealing me a kick in the ribs by accident, and said, “You!”

His hand grabbed at my back between my shoulders, hauling me up, even as I heard the sound of his punching the code into the gate pad, then pushed at the automatically opening gate, forcing it open, scraping me against the gate at both sides, the opening was so small for me. How could he have fit through it, when he was much larger?

And then he pushed my back against the wall, pushed himself close to me, and bent to kiss me. His mouth sealed over mine, as I pushed ineffectually at his shoulders. His mouth tasted of wine and something sweet, and he put his arms around me, immobilizing me, turning his body just so that I could not knee him in the groin.

I struggled to free myself, but he was holding me in such a way that even my scrabbling would be invisible to anyone walking by. He was so large and had engulfed me so completely that only a trained observer would notice my reluctance. And he must be enhanced for strength because my fighting wasn’t accomplishing anything, though it didn’t stop my trying.

The glow of the explosion moved away, and the commotion caused by the people sleeping in the market rushing out, and then he pulled away and let me go.

I wiped at my mouth, glaring up at him. “What was that in the name of?” I asked, my voice close to a growl, even though it was little more than a furious whisper.

“What are you doing here?”

“I followed you!” I said.

He frowned. “Did you hear–” Then, as though realizing I wasn’t likely to tell him the truth. “Oh, never mind. What in hell possessed you?”

“Me? What possessed you? And who were you talking to, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, planning Simon’s execution?”

“Simon — What? The Good Man is not–” He gave every appearance of biting his tongue. “You just put yourself at risk for no reason. Let’s get out of here.”

“You kissed me!” I said.

“A wonderful way to hide our faces without seeming to,” he said and started pulling me along the closed stalls, seemingly without direction, but in a way that betrayed its being intentional. I tried to pull my hand from his. He held it tight.

“Your face,” I said. “Because mine–”

“Well done,” he said, and dragged me through what seemed like a little tunnel cut in a poured ceramite wall. We came up against a small gate. It was chained shut. He grabbed the chain and twisted. Then he pushed me out the gate and onto the road.

I was about to ask why that way, but instead looked the other way, towards the entrance we’d used before. There were men in liberty caps in front of it.

Brisbois muttered something that might very well have been “merde”, but he had been talking to a man in a liberty cap, himself.

I couldn’t trust him. I’d been willing to go along with his trying to protect me, to an extent, while I thought he was being blindly loyal to Simon and trying to keep me safe, stupid though the idea was. But now I wasn’t even sure he was loyal, or trying to keep me safe.

I let him lead me by the hand down a narrow lane, until I realized he was taking me back to the hotel. And then, the first time he relaxed his grasp on my hand, I pulled my hand away and ran madly into the night, taking blind turns until I was sure I’d lost him.

The last thing I heard him say, somewhere behind me, was “merde.”