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The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.

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Monday
Jun242013

Week 22

Kitty, The Cub Reporter

I didn’t wake up so much as my mind and body reconnected at some point. My body must have been running along fine without the thinking part of me for a while, or at least I was already sitting up and clutching a heavy mug of acrid-smelling tea.

The fair-haired man was talking, and from the sound of it had been for some time. “…So if we can keep enough Midway-grown rosemary and juniper in you, we can buy you a little while, at least. A nice joke to play on them, after what they’ve done to you, if you ask me. Not like they were ever a bunch to play fair. You should be snapping out of it soon.”

My entire skin felt hot and itchy, like I’d been bathed in nettles. There was a cool, damp cloth on the back of my neck. I took it off.

The man pulled it out of my hands and replaced it. “Not yet, Kitty. Feeling the tea, are we? Be a good girl and finish it.”

“Where am I?” I asked. I looked around. We were in a small room lined with metal lockers, and with grates for floors. It rattled faintly as something massive moved outside from time to time. Sea air and oil smoke drifted in from a barred window, but it was too dark outside to see anything.

“Underbelly of the city, near the freight lifts,” he said. “A seldom-used maintenance closet. We should be safe enough for another half hour, so take your time.”

I took a sip of the tea, as long as I was holding it. It tasted much more vile than it smelled. “And who — who are you, exactly?”

His smile was dazzling but distant. “An old friend of your father’s,” he said. “Practically your uncle. Call me Miles.”

“Miles. And are you a— a military person, or a journalist?”

He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and shrugged. “I’m a man who knows too much to explain and not enough to sleep at night. I’d say I’m a retired spy, but once you play that game they never let you cash out for good.”

“A spy?”

He gave me that flashbulb smile again. “Don’t tell me you never suspected your father went in deeper than just any reporter.”

I shook my head. “Are you saying he—?”

He averted his gaze and looked out the window. “Mostly we didn’t talk about work,” he said. “And I always had the feeling Sam had gone in deeper than me, which is why he and I— why we—“ He pulled his hands out of his trousers and banged open one of the lockers. “Let’s not dig up old skeletons. Let’s worry about you, and how to get you safe out of the web you’ve flown into, poor little fly.”

He pulled a mechanical device out of the locker, all spinning gears. When he set it going on the table, it rotated and clicked with hypnotic precision. I scratched at my palms. “And what web have I flown into, exactly?” I stuck my chin out. “I am so tired of being the one who doesn’t know what’s going on.” He succumbed to a short, loud peal of laughter as he rummaged through the locker. “It only gets worse once you know,” he said. “But look, why are you even here?”

“I’m on my way to Brussels,” I said, proud. “I got a job as a reporter, just like father.”

“To Brussels?” “Yes. Mr. Cooper assigned me to meet one of my father’s old contacts there. I had a letter, before they took my papers—“

“Cooper.” It sounded like an epithet on his tongue. “The old bastard must have sold you out. I wonder what he got out of the bargain.”

“Sold me out?”

“Sending you to Brussels? Absolutely. Your father had lots of enemies there, and any friends are fifteen years dead. So what papers are these that were stolen?”

“Mr. Cooper gave them to me. They belonged to my father. Old postcards, notes, photographs. I was trying to make sense of them. What do you mean Mr. Cooper sold me out?”

Miles rubbed his chin. “I’d bet a queen’s ransom those papers have wound up exactly where he wanted them.”

“The thief didn’t get all of them, the Midway militia have some now.”

“Good.”

“So you… don’t get along with Mr. Cooper?”

“He’s the reason your father isn’t alive today.”

I set down the empty mug of tea, turning that morsel of information over in my mind.

“Listen, Katherine. I can’t really teach you how to play the game in the few minutes we have left, but I can give you a few tips that might help you get the upper hand.”

I nodded.

“First, don’t trust anyone from now on. Assume everyone is out to use you for their own end. Even strangers, passers-by, people you have no reason to suspect.”

“Even you?”

He chuckled. “How quickly they learn. Next, keep everything you’ve learned to yourself. Don’t let on that you know a thing about juniper tea, poison, spies, nothing. The more they think you know, the less safe you’ll be.”

“What else?” He hesitated. “The poison they’ve put in your blood… it requires regular doses of an antivenom. There’s a cure, but it’s extremely unpleasant and you probably won’t be able to do it on your own.”

“So what can I do?”

He took my face between his hands and looked at me for a long moment. “If he were a woman,” he murmured. “Curse me for a fool, but I’ll get together what’s needed and get it to you as soon as I can. Then you can decide what to do next yourself. Keep your eyes open.”

The roaring in my ears was coming back. “I don’t feel so good,” I said.

He nodded. “The tea doesn’t work for very long against such a powerful toxin. I think it’s time you head back to your jailers, little fly.” He gave me a little chocolate. “Eat this so your breath doesn’t give you away.”

After I did that, he led me out of the room and to an elevator. “Press M to get to the main deck,” he said.

“Are they going to kill me?”

“I wouldn’t send you back if they were. Kitty, if they were planning on killing you, you’d be dead already.”

“Thank you,” I said, and hugged him as hard as I could.

He patted me on the shoulder. “Go on, now. Head straight out from the elevator and I’m sure you’ll find a squad looking for you in three blocks or less.”

It was a block and a half, actually.

The soldiers who found me called for my captor-by-way-of-escort Charles on the wireless; he materialized mere moments later. “Kitty! We’ve been searching everywhere for you, do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused?”

“I’m so glad I found you!” I cried. “I feel truly awful, I think I’m coming down with the flu. Can you please take me back so I can rest?”

Charles studied my face, a transparent blend of relief and suspicion writ all over it. “Where have you been this whole time?”

I tossed my hair. “Sometimes a girl likes to be on her own,” I said. “I wanted to feel a little free for a while.” I leaned in a little closer and lowered my eyelashes. “Not to say you’re not a perfectly charming chaperone.”

“But where have you...” By the time he got to the end of the sentence, the roaring had completely drowned him out.

I’d like to say I contrived to fall into his arms, but my vision closed so dark and fast that I think I just crumpled into an undignified little heap. Just as well; it was probably a lot more convincing that way.

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