Holy crap it’s Tuesday evening in San Diego. This converting from Japan time to US Pacific time bit is killing me. Absolutely killing me. Good thing I’m flying home on Saturday. 🙂
And I just realized I missed my Saturday update as well. I truly suck. *sigh*
Ok, well, on to the next chapter then, and as always you can totally go buy the book if you like it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. I won’t be mad if you do. 🙂
No Tell Motel
Malcolm’s words hit Jo like a prizefighter’s punch. She recoiled, almost feeling a pain in her gut as their impact landed home. He could not mean he would just cast her to the winds! Not after she had…
Jo looked back into Malcolm’s eyes and felt a chill. No, he would not cut her loose. But his associates would feel no compunction about doing so. She was in almost as delicate a situation as when those aliens came aboard Pericles. One wrong move and it could all fall apart. But this time, there would be no getting out of it, she was sure about that.
“What do you want to know, Malcolm?” Her voice sounded wooden, defeated, to her ears.
In a fit of snark, Jo was half tempted to tell him about the time she had cheated on her math test in third grade. But she knew better than that. All the same, she could not completely prevent a little smirk from twisting her lips.
Malcolm raised an eyebrow. “I’m serious, Jo.”
“I know. I just had a random thought is all.” She took a deep breath and nodded.
It took a half hour or so to tell Malcolm about everything that had happened. She started with meeting Reynolds at La Chupacabra and ended in the Parque when she fought off DiStefano. Malcolm listened attentively, nodding in appropriate moments and affecting surprise – genuine, Jo was sure – several times. Finally she came to the end and he leaned back, gingerly she noticed, against the back of the couch.
“I never believed you were on Gagarin,” Malcolm said. “But I didn’t suspect…” He shook his head and blew out a deep breath. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Jo.”
She blinked, surprise stealing her thoughts for a moment. When she found her voice, she only managed to blurt out, “What?”
Malcolm gave a little half-shrug. “Do you think I could wish that on anyone?”
Jo shook her head, not trusting herself to speak again just yet.
Malcolm smiled slightly. “I suppose I can understand why you agreed to cooperate. Given the same choice, I cannot say I would have done differently.” He leaned forward again, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked intently into Jo’s eyes. “So why did you change your mind?”
The question hung in the air for a minute before Jo answered.
“That’s the wrong question, Malcolm.” His eyebrow quirked upward, but Jo continued before he could say something else. “I did not change my mind. I simply allowed myself to accept the decision I made after you dropped me off at home.” She looked away from his piercing eyes, toward the blank vidscreen on the wall opposite the beds. “I could intellectually understand why Chandini and the others took the actions they did, but I knew in my heart it was not right. And once our new friends up there learn what happened…” She pointed toward the sky and left the thought unspoken. There would be hell to pay once the aliens found out what had been done to their helpless ones.
Malcolm nodded. “Fair enough.” He stood then, his long limbs bearing him quickly from the couch and toward the door. Jo gave a start of surprise, at the fact he had moved as much as from the rapidity of his activity.
“Where are you going?”
“Out.” Malcolm looked at her gravely. “I need to make contact with my people, figure out where we can all meet to determine our next move.”
“That can wait. You need to rest, too.”
He shook his head. “I’m ok. And no, it can’t.” Malcolm smiled again, and this time his smile was more genuine, warm. “Get some rest, Jo. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Then he slipped out the door. Jo had more than half a mind to get up and follow him; the rest of her screamed out in outraged annoyance at being left in such an impotent position. But fatigue weighed down on her. She was going on two full days with only a few restless hours of sleep. The command decision-making part of her brain, honed through years of training and study, whispered to her that she was in no condition to be making good decisions right now, and she would need to be if she was to help Malcolm in this. Beyond that, she did not know any of the people he would have to contact. And if he was right, her presence, before he had a chance to smooth things over, might just make a tense situation untenable.
All that flashed through her head in a few seconds. It hurt – not physically, but it hurt her ego – to admit it, but the best thing to do was to let Malcolm deal with things for the moment.
And to get some sleep while she could.
Despite the objections of her ego, Jo felt a deep, relaxing satisfaction as she reclined on the bed. The mattress was lumpy, stiff, and probably half her age. But just then it seemed the most comfortable thing she had ever felt.
She acknowledged the irony of that sentiment with a small inward smirk, then she drifted off.
* * * * *
Jo awoke slowly. At first it did not register to her where she was. She was in a bed, and it was damned uncomfortable. But a bed where? She stretched, feeling her back pop slightly as she moved joints that had become stiff from the mattress’ lumps. Then she sat up and looked around, and it all came rushing back: the events of the previous night, their predicament with both the authorities and the underground, everything. It was almost enough to make her lie down again and go back to sleep.
The thought seemed to generate aches of protest from her back and neck, though. So instead, she stood up. Slowly. She really was sore in the middle of her back; she must have slept wrong.
“Those mattresses suck.” The words were muffled, as though the speaker could not enunciate properly.
Jo turned her head to see Raúl in the back of the room. He wore nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, and he was brushing his teeth at the sink. He had more muscle tone than she would have thought, as scrawny as he was. Whatever points that might have won him vanished, though, beneath the weight of an ugly-as-sin tattoo that dominated the left side of his chest and upper abdomen. Really? A dragon? He could not come up with anything better than that?
Jo shook her head and snorted out a half laugh. The reflection of Raul’s eyes in the mirror met hers and he grinned before spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste. Jo pointedly looked away.
“Where did you find a toothbrush?”
Raúl gargled some water before answering. “The front desk has a few odds and ends for sale.”
“Really?” Jo was surprised. That was the sort of thing one expected from a more upscale hotel, not a dive like this place.
“I know, right? Who would have thought?”
Raúl finished up at the sink and walked out into the room, where he stripped off his towel and bent over to pull his pants on. Jo turned her back on him; that was something she definitely did not need to see. Instead, she picked up the plasma pistol from where she left it on the nightstand and tucked it into her belt at the small of her back.
“So what’s Robert’s deal?” Raúl asked. “Or Malcolm? Which is it?” He sounded curious, but his words also had a probing quality to them, as though he was hunting for some lever he could use to his advantage here.
Jo rolled her eyes, but did not look back at him. “Malcolm.”
“Ah.” There was a brief pause, punctuated by the ruffling of fabric. “It’s safe to turn around.”
Slowly, with no small amount of trepidation, Jo turned back toward Raúl. Thankfully, he was true to his word, and almost dressed as he had been last night; he was lacking his shirt still but at least he had his pants on. His expression was amused as he met her gaze again.
“I would not have figured you to be so shy,” he said.
Jo snorted. She did not need to answer that, so she just changed the subject. “How’s the arm?”
Raul’s amusement faded as he looked down at his arm, which hung limply at his side. It must have been a bitch to shower and get his pants on with the broken limb hampering things, but clearly the shirt was not going to happen without help. “Hurts a bit less. I can move my fingers a little, but…” He gave a little helpless shrug that ended in a wince.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Jo said. She stood and picked up his shirt.
Getting Raúl into the shirt was a delicate operation that involved a lot of grunting and muttered curses. Jo winced sympathetically as she helped guide the broken arm into its sleeve, but Raúl managed to be at least slightly stoic about the whole thing. After the shirt was in place, Jo grabbed one of the bath towels and helped him create a makeshift sling. It was not much, but it would do until they were able to find real medical attention for him. Although where that would come from, Jo had no idea.
“How did you get into this line of work, Raúl?”
He sniffed softly and shrugged. “Which line of work is that? I don’t normally do high speed chases through the city, if you know what I mean.”
Jo just looked at him. After a moment, he lowered his gaze. “Yeah. Well, I never was very good in school, y’know? But I could tinker. And I knew computers. People just sort of started asking me to do little things here and there for them. Before long, it became a steady business.”
Raúl shook his head, his eyes flashing with…irritation? Jo must not have succeeded in keeping the disapproval out of her tone. “Most of the stuff I do is legit. But sometimes someone like Robert…Malcolm…needs a little somethin’ extra. It pays a bit better, so I figure no harm no foul, right?” Raúl sighed, sank down onto his bed, and leaned forward, his eyes focusing on the floor. “After last night, tho…” He shook his head. “No way I can go back to legit work now.”
Jo winced. Another person hurt because of her secret. The numbers were beginning to add up. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
Raúl looked up, surprised. “What you got to be sorry for? I knew what I was getting into soon as Malcolm mentioned the tracker.” He grinned again. “Not the first time I’ve had to duck to avoid the long arm of the law. I’ll be ok.”
“I hope so. But this is…”
The doorknob rattled. Jo spun toward the door, her heart in her throat. Behind her, Raúl leapt to his feet. She could feel his tension almost as acutely as her own. Jo glanced around quickly, and just as quickly ruled out flight. If it was the authorities at the door, there was no way they could make an escape. She flexed her hand around the grip of the plasma pistol, and waited.
The door opened and Malcolm stepped into the room. Tension flooded out of Jo in a rush. She let out a breath she had not realized she was holding and took her hand off the weapon. Behind her, she heard Raúl blowing out a breath as well. Malcolm looked quizzically at the two of them.
“Expecting someone else?”
“Just thought for a second you were the Feds.”
Malcolm’s eyebrow quirked upward. “They don’t know the ID I’m using. We’re clean, for the moment.” He smiled then and kicked the door shut behind him. Only then did Jo notice he carried two large bags. She recognized the name on the side of the bags: Lerotte’s. A high-end department store.
“Doing a little shopping?”
Malcolm nodded. “You had to leave quickly. I figured you could use some clothes.”
Jo’s eyes widened and she grabbed the bags away from him. She pulled their contents out and spread them on the bed, her spirits rising higher every second. Two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts, two nicer collared shirts in subdued colors. A light leather jacket. Socks. A pair of sneakers; those would be much better than the dress shoes she wore to the meet in the Parque. And undergarments. All in her size. Finally, down at the bottom of the bag, were deodorant, lipstick and blush, a hair brush, and soap. Real soap, not the crap cheap motels throw in the bathrooms.
She looked back at Malcolm, a surge of emotion welling up. Right then, she could have kissed him. A part of her mind recalled how good he was at it, all those years ago. She suppressed that thought ruthlessly, but not before she felt a little flush run through her.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling it was a bit too little to say.
Malcolm returned her smile with one of his own. “I hope I remembered your size correctly.” He settled down onto the couch and leaned back, weariness written all over him. “I managed to make contact with my colleagues. They’re sending a guy over to pick us up. He’ll be here in half an hour,” he glanced at Raúl and added, “with a first aid kit. That should get you through until we can get you to a doctor.”
Raúl made a little half-shrug, then sat on the edge of his bed.
Jo stood and grabbed fresh underwear, a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt, and was mildly annoyed to realize she was grinning almost like a schoolgirl as she did so. “In that case, I’m going to go change.” She paused, then grabbed the soap and deodorant as well. “And take another shower.”
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.