The City pt.2 – the meeting
“Kenneth!…”, the slender woman stood from the table, looking aghast. Kenneth was smiling at them with an expression like an aristocrat that just had legal charges against him dropped. Leah noticed that the woman was trembling slightly. She raised a hand to her throat as she spoke. “…but you got mitted… by the Patrician authorities.”
“And here. I. Stand”, Kenneth didn’t miss a beat. He was still standing there, smiling with his hands out as if he were waiting for a group hug. The teenaged boy and Juliette glanced at each other briefly before suddenly starting away from the table; heading for opposite sides of the room. Leah pivoted sharply and headed back for the stairwell she came through. As she darted, she honed her senses to detect movement near the exits.
Each of the people in this room was an accomplished thief. As far as each of them knew, they had never fallen under suspicion of the common authorities. The Patrician Force, however, was a more dangerous matter entirely. The Patties were an elite network of taskforce investigators employed by the very wealthiest citizens of the New Democracy. They were notorious for their brutal policies and sting operations. If someone were arrested (or “mitted” as it was commonly called because of the glove-like clamps used during arrests) by the Patties, there was a good chance they would never be seen again.
The fact that Kenneth was standing here, seemingly unharmed, strongly suggested that he had betrayed the group and that there was a Pat force outside even now, ready to bust the whole group. Besides the bustling market overhead, Leah couldn’t detect any indication of people waiting in ambush. If there is a task force up there, she thought, they must be remarkably well hidden. No one else in this room knew about Leah’s augments; by her reckoning, a group sent to ambush a handful of thieves in the poorest district of Koster shouldn’t be prepared for what she could do.
“Wait!”, Kenneth called out, raising his hands, “They don’t know I’m gone.”
Reggie was standing now, “It’s true Lads. Let’s hear him out.” Reggie seemed to address any group of people as “Lads”. Why he did that was beyond anybody. His family had been in Koster for several generations, and he’d spent his entire life here. He was well known, and had family all over the city, deeply entrenched in Koster’s social ecosystem. Addressing the long-haired woman, “I checked the place good. I got here two hours early and I got guys watching the place.” Over time, Leah had realized that Reggie had a penchant for hyperbole. She guessed that “guys watching the place” meant a couple of cousins outside only barely inconspicuous.
“How did you know I’d be here?” Kenneth had dropped his hands and was glaring at Reggie, “Are you always so cautious?”
“Please!, I knew you were missing before you did.” Reggie was tossing his cane back and forth between his hands, almost mindlessly, as he chuckled lightly.
“Kenneth frowned comically, not even the guards know I’m missing…” The rest of the room had remained frozen, but after glancing at Leah (who had turned back to the group), Juliette returned to her chair. Lajuana turned back toward the table but didn’t sit.
The woman eyed the two men cautiously, “You were mitted by the Patties…”
Reggie’s expression turned to real concern, but Kenneth said, “Easy Zinf… It’s not like they were after me. I got pegged on someone else’s scene. You were there!” Rumor had gotten around that Kenneth had gotten picked up a few days ago for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some crew of thugs had conspired to steal a rare jewel coming into Carver by ship. Apparently, they had planned an elaborate ambush at the East dock, but it had been foiled by Pat Force agents who’d been waiting in an ambush of their own.
Local constables, part of the operation but not in the inner loop, had picked up Kenneth for “looking suspicious”. It wasn’t uncommon for the Patties to order anyone mitted this way to be held until they were satisfied with their related investigations, regardless of how innocent or even relevant to the case they were. Such people were often forgotten about, and many had been held for weeks or even years.
Kenneth’s story checked out in the minds of all who were present (the local jailers were in no way a brilliant security force), but that didn’t explain how Reggie was able to get out. After a moment’s thought, Leah addressed Zinf, “Were you two together when he got grabbed?”
She nodded once, “We were scoping out something else… didn’t pan out… We were making our way out of the area when six Patties walked in with a flood of Badges.” Local constables were commonly referred to as “Badges” because of the forest green and sapphire metals they wore on their chests.
“How did Kenneth get mitted?” continued Leah.
“We hadn’t gotten far from where we were… We were waiting for a small caravan to go by. Turns out the caravan was the sting. Some of the guys working the score got into scuffles with the Badges, so we tried to shuffle away with the crowd…”
“…But one of those baby amateurs! Pushed a Badge into me and we both hit the ground. They mitted me for looking suspicious!” It was clear that Kenneth was highly annoyed by the entire affair.
“Why?” Juliette spoke in a voice with high resonance. She tended to blend her words together in such a way that it often seemed she was imitating song when she spoke. Leah had included that in her report. “Why’d they even bother to look at you?”
“I barely had time to hit the ground before the locals were all over me. They helped the Badge up and started wailing on me. You know how those animals are.” Kenneth grunted in derision. Lajuana looked at Leah and they both glanced at Zinf, who was nodding mildly at Juliette.
Reggie tapped his cane twice on the floor, “He’s here because he bribed a few guards.” He said this while glancing from Juliette to Leah, then pausing a moment on Zinf before continuing, “Apparently no one thinks he’s worth anything to the investigation, and they don’t think any Patties will want to see him. Just thought I’d throw that out before anyone asked…” Juliette was about to speak, but Reggie held up a hand as he continued, and the green-clad teen frowned in annoyance, “But I think he and Zinf would disagree on how the job panned out.”
“No!”, Kenneth extended a hand in a gesture of warning, “I came here to make sure you didn’t go after it.”, he was looking at Zinf now, “Knowing you, you were gonna get this whole group after it.”
“Actually, we were about to discuss something else…”, Juliette said, suggesting that this discussion be closed.
“Fine, fine… I need to get back to my cell before I become an actual suspect.”
Kenneth began to turn and leave when Lajuana asked, “What were they after?” Kenneth paused and turned back to glare at Lajuana, but the young man pressed on, “What was the score they were after? I mean, to get the Patties involved, it must-“
“They were after some jewel. A brown crystal or something. …not that you should worry yourself about it.” It took everything in Leah not to visibly quicken at the mention of the stone. “It wasn’t there anyway…”
“What?!”, Zinf almost hummed in surprised dismay, and everyone turned to look at her. Leah thought she had never seen the woman look so surprised. She looked more shocked at that moment than when Kenneth had first walked in.
Kenneth turned to Zinf, his face softening but taking on an expression of resignation, “The Patties replaced the thing with a fake. The real one is supposed to be on its way here some other way.”
“If you know that,” Lajuana chimed in, glancing at Juliette, “then others know it too. It might be that…”
“Best not worry about it, boy.”, Kenneth’s face now took on a strange, fatherly expression of disapproval. Having been interrupted for the second time, it was Lajuana’s turn to frown in annoyance. Kenneth went on anyway, “The Pats are all over that score, and they’re not gaming a bit. I doubt those amateurs will see a trial.” Lajuana said no more, and Kenneth waved the room goodbye, glancing once at Zinf before he left the room.
Leah let her senses follow Kenneth down the hall before he left through a stairwell that opened onto another alley. “I came here to make sure you didn’t go after it.” His words stayed with her as she waited silently for Juliette to resume her proposal.
The two teens who were not Leah outlined a job that would have them working in the upper-middle-class district. An old shed on an empty residence was used to smuggle stolen goods into the market, where a wealthy merchant sold them to high-class clientele (at a heavily discounted price, of course). The plan was to hit the shed just after a delivery when the score was the greatest. The way it was planned, it should be a simple “smash and grab”, and Zinf had agreed to help Juliette with a preemptive recon.
Leah was characteristically quiet during the meeting but agreed to help if Zinf and Juliette’s recon confirmed that it would be a worthwhile job. Of course, she’d be watching the other thieves for their intel anyway. Learning who this “wealthy merchant” was would likely be more useful information to Leah than the score itself.
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
chapter 4 < > chapter 6
Special Author’s Note
Feeling more confident about Leah’s role in the story, I began dropping hints about her treachery in this chapter. She’s already established as a cautious and secretive loner; Leah’s dubious nature is beginning to be revealed.
I mentioned in the last post that this meeting would help to establish the stone as a possible McGuffin. While the dialogue suggests that it may be an object of incredible importance, it also presents a case where what people are chasing isn’t what they think it is. Clever readers may notice the signs of parallelism.
The last major purpose of this chapter is to continue the mystery around Leah by raising the stakes a bit. The group is talking about other jobs, while every conversation just makes Leah more interested in the stone. Also, who is Leah reporting to? Is Leah a thief or a spy?
I’m especially interested in criticisms of chapters like this one, since they kind of dance on that edge of being interesting or asanine. Let me know what you think of this chapter in the comments below.