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Authors: Ioana Visan

Tags: #espionage, #science fiction, #genetic engineering, #cyberpunk, #heist, #world war, #circus, #genes, #prosthetics

Broken People (26 page)

BOOK: Broken People
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Nicholas turned to Cielo and gave her a long
look. She held his gaze, obviously waiting for him to make a
decision

“I don’t have time to wrestle you,” he said.
“There’s a lot to do if we ever want to leave this town.”

“Speaking like a manager already.” She
grinned. “Yes, of course, you are right. I wish I could help but …”
She nodded at her left leg. The contraption was designed to allow
her to walk, but it wouldn’t be easy for her for a while.

“That’s all right. You stay here with him in
case he needs anything, and I’ll see to everything else.” He
started for the door. “We can discuss the rest while we’re on the
road later.” They didn’t have to decide tonight.

“Nicholas…”

He stopped.
Uh-oh. What now?
“Yes?”

Cielo fiddled with the skirt of her dress.
“He wants to take us to Paris.”

“He
knows
I can’t return to France.
I’d get picked up before we even crossed the border.”

“He said he’d clear you with the drafting
committee. It’s one of the things he’ll negotiate in exchange for
his help.” Cielo bit on her bottom lip. “I believe him. He needs
you.”

Sure he did. And the thought of seeing his
family again was so tempting. He couldn’t think about this. Not
right now. He had work to do. “I’ll think about it.”

 

51

With a cup in her hand, Anya waited for him
outside when Nicholas left
Big
Dino’s car.
“What did he say? Did he fire you?”

The cup in Anya’s hand trembled slightly, so
Nicholas took it and drank from it. Hot coffee was exactly what he
needed to get him through the rest of the night. “No, actually, he
promoted me …”

She blinked. “Oh?”

Nicholas frowned, still puzzled by the
recent turn of events. “He made me manager.”

“That’s wonderful!” A genuine smile lit up
Anya’s face before suspicion filled her brown eyes. “Did you accept
it?”

She knew him so well.

“He didn’t leave me much choice.” Nicholas
laughed, shaking his head.

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll do great.”
Anya patted his arm, her long fingers gliding up and down the
jacket sleeve as if wanting to prolong the contact.

Nicholas wasn’t so sure, but for once, he
didn’t mind the challenge.

“Will you keep your magic act?” she
asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t have time to think
about it … Of course, all of the acts will have to go through a
strict revision. We’ll make it a class act, less of a freak show.”
If he wanted to do it, this was the proper time. Big Dino would
spend most of his time sleeping, and he had access to the funds. It
would be less stressful for the Nightingale, too.

“Then you and I have lots to talk about,”
Anya said. “I’ll make a list with my demands.” Her eyes glinted,
but she kept a straight face.

“I’m afraid the circus’s finances can’t
accommodate your needs. Trust me, I know. I used to be the
accountant, too. But tell you what. I’ll be busy tonight with
packing up the circus, but in the morning, after we take off, I’ll
be in my car if you want to … discuss your acts.” He smirked. “Hey,
if you’re convincing enough, we might get rid of the blasted
butterfly act.”

The grin that curled up the corners of
Anya’s lips, probably at the thought that it was one of their
games, turned quickly into a pout. “Don’t tease a poor girl, Nick.
It’s not nice.”

“I wasn’t joking about the butterfly act.”
It was the first thing to get rid of on his list, whether she asked
him to do it or not.

“I wasn’t talking about the butterfly act.”
Anya’s gaze held his, daring him to acknowledge the challenge.

Still holding the cup, Nicholas’s arms
slipped around her delicate waist, and he pulled her closer until
only a thin layer of air separated them. “I know.”

Her hands rested on his chest, making no
attempt to push him away, and dark chocolate eyes peered up at him,
waiting for his next move. Her lips parted as she inhaled.

What the hell? He was doomed either way. He
lowered his head and kissed her. Anya melted in his arms.

Some kisses were worth waiting an eternity
for, and this one had been due for too long. He marveled at the
softness of her lips. Why hadn’t he tasted them before? He’d been
such a fool.

Her small sigh brought him back to reality,
and he checked her eyes for signs of sadness. What was wrong? He
caressed her soft cheek and pushed the brown locks behind her ear.
She still wore the show earrings, which were shaped like orchid
stems in full bloom, wrapped around her ears—a reminder of her
former life. Those weren’t decorated with colored glass, but
precious stones. Like him, Anya hadn’t been poor before joining the
circus.

“I wish I could give you all of those
things, but you know my situation.” Being appointed manager didn’t
instantly make him rich. Most of the time, magic barely paid enough
to get him through the day.

“Nick, it’s true that I want a lot of
things, but I don’t
need
them. I live in a train car with a
traveling circus. I’m used to little. But what I
do
need …”
She snuggled in closer to his warmth.

“You have that. You’ve had it for a long
time. I wish I could give you my name to prove it, but I don’t have
that anymore.” He’d left it behind when he left France.

“I don’t need your name to be happy, Nick.”
Her fingers fisted in the lapels of his jacket, and her smile
warmed his insides.

The door at the distant end of the corridor
opened, and Jacko stood in the doorway. “Are you coming? They’re
waiting for you.”

“Who?” Nicholas asked, reluctant to let go
of Anya.

“Oh, I forgot!” She bounced on her toes,
agitated. “Serioja’s ribs are shattered, and Rake and Spinner want
you to hold his organs in place while they replace the ribs with
temporary ones. It’s supposed to be less invasive or something
…”

“So you didn’t come just to bring me the
coffee.” Nicholas handed her back the empty cup, already walking
along the corridor towards Jacko. One of his crew members was
injured and needed his help.

“Just go and see what you can do.” Anya
waved him off with a smile. “I’ll bring you a sandwich later
on.”

“Thank you. Jacko, go into town and get
Armstrong. Big Dino wants to see him.”

The clown saluted and moved out of the
way.

 

52

The bag closed with a snap. Dale’s hands
lingered on top of it as he took in his surroundings. The halogen
lamp in a corner left the rest of the attic in near darkness—as
dark as his life. There was no light at the end of the tunnel
anymore. Not here. He should have fled. Instead of wasting time
packing his things, he should have taken the first ride out of town
before anyone came after him. He’d made a lot of people unhappy
tonight.

First, there was the mayor for breaking into
his precious vault and trying to steal the power source. Then
Aurore for torturing her and failing to get her what she wanted,
even if what she wanted wasn’t there. He bet Renard wasn’t happy,
either, as his relationship with the townspeople had been severely
damaged. Was he even paid for his work? Dale didn’t know. He’d let
Aurore handle the money part. He owed a great debt to her. And then
there was Cole. The forger had been paid in advance, but losing the
use of his limbs and ending up connected to a machine hadn’t been
part of the deal.

So, what next? Could anything still be
salvaged from this fiasco? Dale doubted it. It had been a desperate
attempt from the start, and he’d reached a dead end. He couldn’t
take the power source by himself. He’d probably need an army now.
And the European United Nation Council fooled itself into thinking
the situation wasn’t desperate enough and refused to give the
order. His hands were tied.

Dale stepped over to the window and looked
into the deserted street below. No shadows, no lights in the
windows, nothing. Everyone slept at that late hour. Only one light
remained on at the end of the street, in Aurore’s office. He didn’t
reach for the binoculars to take a closer look. He imagined her
crying and throwing things around, and that was one sight he’d
rather not see. Because, even if indirectly, he was responsible for
her pain. And underneath the prosthetics and the cool façade, the
Golden Lady was human, too. He’d seen it; he’d even felt it. But
that fleeting moment had gone, and she hadn’t thrown him one glance
when the guards escorted him out of the Hrad. He should be glad she
hadn’t sent her goons after him. Well, there was still time for
that …

Someone knocked on the door, and Dale
stepped away from the window with a grim face. That was fast. When
Rosie knocked, it sounded like a light scratch. It wasn’t her, so
which one of them was out there?

He unlocked the door with one hand while
with the other reached for the gun behind his back.

Jacko stood in the corridor. Alone. “Big
Dino wants to see you,” the clown said, blinking his kohl-rimmed
eyes in the dim light. “Can you hurry? I don’t want anyone to steal
my bike.”

 

53

Despite being the middle of the night, the
arc lights made the fairground as bright as day while the crew
dismantled the giant circus tent and the side attractions. Dale
followed Jacko to the big wheel that Rake and Spinner were turning
into small, easy to maneuver pieces. Dark glares followed their
advancement. By now, everyone knew who he was and, more than
likely, blamed him for the hasty departure.

Dale kept his back straight and his eyes
ahead, not about to start a conflict.

“I brought him,” Jacko said.

Renard appeared from behind a pile of boxes
and waved a hand. “Come with me.”

Dale complied, and they headed in the
direction of the train.

Once they distanced themselves from the
agitated crowd, Renard said, “You didn’t ask about your
friend.”

“You would have told me if something had
happened to him,” Dale said.

“Fair enough. He had crazy luck with that
landing.” Renard shook his head. His walk was steady, but
restrained. He hadn’t had an easy night, either.

“And your people?” Dale asked.

“Not so lucky, but there’s still hope
they’ll all make it.” Renard paused as if unwilling to go into more
details, then added, “They better. Otherwise, holding their heart
and lungs in your bare hands is so not worthwhile.”

That had to be a metaphorical description,
but even so, it would only increase the debt. Dale eyed the bare
ground and train in front of them. Once inside, getting out might
be problematic.

Renard placed his hand on the panel on the
side of the purple car, and the door slid open. “After you.”

Dale climbed up and stopped in the brightly
lit corridor. Renard waited for the door to close before walking
ahead. The second door to the left opened into a room with two more
doors, and Renard reached for the one on the right.

More bright lights and a giant bed built to
hold the mountain of a man lying on it greeted him. This had to be
Big Dino. Compared to his size, Cielo looked like a child sitting
by his side with her bandaged leg propped up.

“You caused quite a stir tonight, Mr.
Armstrong,” the creature on the bed said in a throaty voice.
Despite his green complexion, he was clearly human.

“That wasn’t my intention,” Dale said and
took a couple of steps closer.

Renard crossed the room to lean against the
wall on the opposite side of the bed and folded his arms.

“I heard you want the power source,” Big
Dino said. Since it wasn’t a question, Dale settled for a nod.
“Cielo also told me why. While I commend your initiative, you
obviously can’t have it.” Wrinkles covered Big Dino’s forehead.
“But this causes me a big problem. If you could get so close, there
are no guarantees they won’t send more people after it.”

Not impossible, but it wasn’t going to
happen too soon, either. Those who made this kind of decision had
rarely seen any combat, so there was no rush. The front line was
still stuck behind the Ural Mountains.

“I’m an old man, Mr. Armstrong. Oh, I’ll
probably live past a hundred and outlive most of you here but,
chances are, Aurore will live longer than that. She’s my legacy.
She’s the best thing I ever created, and I’ll do everything I can
to protect her.” Big Dino licked his lips. “So, I’m willing to
offer you a deal. You make sure that power source stays where it is
now, and anyone interested is informed it’s no good. In exchange,
I’ll give you a newer, stronger,
better
source.”

Based on Renard’s shoulder twitch and
Cielo’s small sigh, it looked like not everyone agreed with the
terms.

“Why would you do that?” Dale asked. There
had to be a trick.

“I already told you why,” Big Dino patiently
said. “When I gave the first one away, I didn’t know exactly what
it was and how it worked. Now I do, and I’ve got a new one. It’s
powering the circus right now. You can see it if you want. And, the
best part is, it can power not only one plane, but a whole fleet.
Wouldn’t you like that?”

He would, but he found it hard to believe
Big Dino, or anyone else, would give up such a treasure. “Does
Aurore know?”

“It’s not her call,” Big Dino said. “This is
a deal between you and me.”

There had to be a catch, he just didn’t see
it. But the promise of a source was better than no source at all.
“Fine. I’ll take your offer. Where’s the source? How fast can you
give it to me?” He checked the time. He’d be running behind
schedule soon.

“Not so fast,” Big Dino said. “
We’ll
take the source to Paris.
You
stay here and make sure Aurore
and her source are safe.”

“I’m not a bodyguard.”

“No, you’re something better. Ternchiev ran
a background check on you and was impressed with what he found. He
said you’re on sick leave until the new implants take hold, so you
don’t have to hurry back and report to duty. Bratislava is not a
bad place to spend your vacation.”

BOOK: Broken People
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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