How Bad Is It?
“Things must be bad if Isadora Brightmorning is after you.”
“That’s the CIT agent that just walked in looking for you.”
“I thought she looked familiar.”
“And that wig isn’t going to fool anybody up close. We need to get you out of here. In about 10 seconds, I need you to walk quickly and calmly to the bathroom. Once you’re in there, press the small green button on the underside of the hand dryer. I’ll meet you outside in about two minutes.”
Liliyet did as she was told.
The bathroom was strangely immaculate for a place like this. She headed for the dryer, located the button in question, pressed it, and waited expectantly. In moments, a small crevice appeared as the wall the dryer was attached to suddenly detached. It was enough for Liliyet to slip through, though just barely.
The crevice opened up to the alley behind the bar, and Liliyet came out the other side to see the woman from before straddling a bike and holding a motorcycle helmet out to Liliyet.
“Put this on. I won’t have my fare dying on me.”
Once again, Liliyet did as she was told.
Liliyet straddled the bike, holding her bag full of stolen loot in front of her, as the woman gunned the engine and put the bike into gear, propelling them forward with intensity. Instinctively, Liliyet put her hands tightly around the woman to keep herself from falling off. It was intimate, made less so because of the bag of money between them, but intimate nonetheless.
Liliyet didn’t look back, she was only moving forward, but her thoughts did stray to the mystery of who had slipped her the note to flee just in time. Were they really a friend? Did they have their own agenda? What was their angle in all this?
The thoughts stayed with her even as the woman driving the bike sped up to pass traffic and lane-split whenever possible and sometimes seemingly impossibly. It was a dangerous ride, Liliyet thought, but somehow she placed her faith in this stranger to deliver them safely somewhere without being followed.
They now crossed the Wallamet River and sped through the diplomatic district of Cascadia. Liliyet watched the bright-coloured flags of different nations appear and disappear instantly as they wove in and out of traffic, making their own path through the embassies. They zoomed past the red, white and blue of the French Empire; the gold and red griffin of the Russian Imperium; the running horse of the Sioux Nation. Soon she knew they would pass the shuttered, defunct embassy of the Duchy of Catalina: her tiny homeland. She absently wondered what her mother and sister were up to, if they had any premonition that she was in imperilled out here in the world.
Liliyet’s thoughts moved on from home musings, and she wondered where they were going.
They sped out of the diplomatic district and into the bohemian area of the city around Cornelia Street. She’d been to this area many times before. A famous dance club, the Complex, was a great place to celebrate after a successful score. There were always well-heeled idiots decorating the complex’s nooks and crannies that were willing to buy a drink for a pretty girl, she knew, and she was more than happy to oblige them and be the object of their desires for a few moments.
They made a sharp right turn onto Cornelia Street, passing right by the Complex and the famous tenant who lived above the club: Sarah Taylor, the heiress of the Paralux fortune. Liliyet had often fantasised about taking down a mark like Sarah, but she had been warned off by associates of hers who claimed that Sarah was too cagey to be taken in by your average confidence scheme. What brought her low would need something bigger, grander, and more unusual, and Liliyet knew her limits. Permitting herself the unusual look back, Liliyet watched Sarah Taylor’s infamous red MG disappear in the distance. They turned down Washougal Street, and the Complex and the car immediately disappeared from view.
Washougal Street was long and stretched if taken to its furthest reaches, all the way to Wy’east and its icy heights. Liliyet didn’t imagine they’d be going all that way,
“I’m taking you to a safe house,” the driver’s voice echoed in Liliyet’s helmet. It felt like her mind was being read, “Until things cool down for you a bit. I’m hearing that there’s a wide search for a woman matching your rather attractive description.”
Liliyet blushed and hoped the woman couldn’t see that in addition to reading her thoughts. She wasn’t in the habit of blushing, but something about this stranger made her uneasy in a way she was unaccustomed to.
The woman gunned the motor and suddenly turned the bike into a driveway, led down an overgrown embankment, and then down another driveway to the door of a garage that was opening for them. The woman brought the bike to a stop next to another vehicle, and they got off the bike.
“We’ll wait here until things quiet down a little, then we’ll keep moving.”
The woman paused briefly and took Liliyet in deeply.
“Most of the gangsters I do this for aren’t… well, they don’t really look like you. What did you do to arouse the likes of the ferocious Brightmorning?”
“I’m a con artist.”
“That doesn’t figure. Isadora gets out of bed in the morning for those with body counts. Have you ever killed anyone?”
“Didn’t think so. You don’t have the look.”
“I got a note under my door, a warning.”
“What did the note say?”
“It said they were after me, that I’d better run. So I ran. Just in time, too. This Isadora and another woman, Summerfeld, I think, came to my door, and I got out just in time.”
“Well, lady, you keep impressive company. They are two of CIT’s finest.”
“The Complex Investigations Taskforce. Cascadia’s white knights. The only law enforcement in the country who actually do their jobs, who aren’t on the take.”
“Any idea who slipped you the warning?”
“Doesn’t add up.”
“Yeah, I’m not a big criminal exactly. I’m really just small-time. I con traders and other assholes.”
“People who have more money than they know what to do with anyway?”
“I guess. I do it for my family.”
“You from the Union?”
“So, you’re like royalty or something?”
“I’m a duchess. Used to be a duchess.”
“Never saved a duchess before. That’s pretty cool. You’re alright now, duchess…?”
“You’re okay, Duchess Liliyet. I’m Ariana. You’re safe for now. Let me show you around.”