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Chapter 8 : The Word of the Day
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We reappeared with a loud crack on the pavement outside Anita Spiker's building. A homeless man pushing a trolley stopped and stared at us. I wasn't sure if it was the fact we'd materialized out of thin air or because we looked so strange: Mimi in her sequins, me in my pink unicorn t-shirt (slightly singed at the sleeve thanks to that curse Kid Shaw had got me with), and unkempt little Gee who obviously hadn't been bathed in a week or two.
Mimi noticed him and waved him off. “You been drinkin' too much, you look like you're hallucinatin' now.”
He turned his trolley around and took off back the way he'd come, looking over his shoulder at us with wide eyes.
I led the way up to the flat. Gee pushed the door open when I was about to knock, and she ran inside. Anita Spiker had been sitting on the couch, but she leapt to her feet when she saw us, and Gee flung herself into her mother's arms.
“Ain't that sweet,” Mimi said smugly, nudging me.
I was just glad we'd all lived. To be honest, I was a little surprised we'd managed to rescue the kid in the first place. Things had gone swimmingly, except for the throbbing in my shoulder. I decided Mimi was a good luck charm, and began to congratulate myself on a job well done.
And then Anita, still holding her daughter closely, looked up at me. I took a step back without thinking about it. Her face was completely different now. The fear, the timidness were gone, and in its place was rage. I'd seen rage like that before. Normal people didn't have rage like that. Crazy people and criminals had rage like that.
“I can't believe you actually did it,” she said, and her voice wasn't anything like the voice she'd spoken to me in before. “You got her back.”
“Um, yeah.” I wasn't sure what was going on, but there was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Anita's eyes were practically glowing now, ablaze with anger. She gave her daughter one last squeeze and sent her off to the bathroom to wash up. Gee left the room, still sniffling a bit.
Anita waited until she was out of earshot before pulling her wand. “Now I'm going to kill that bitch like I should have done when she first asked me to translate.”
“You what?” said Mimi. She seemed surprised. Guess she didn't recognize crazy when she saw it. Maybe her criminal experience wasn't as extensive as mine. Probably I should rethink my life.
“I'll hunt her down and disembowel her.” Anita rubbed her wand, and a little red spark shot out the end. “She thought she could keep me in line by taking Gee.”
I tried to shake off the bad feeling about this. She didn't seem to be angry with me – I'd rescued her daughter, after all, although I was starting to wish I'd never got involved – and the presence of Mimi at my side was undoubtedly enough to make anyone think twice. But it was the kind of rage where targets didn't matter as much as damage.
“I don't understand,” I said slowly. “I thought you said she threatened you? Forced you to cooperate? You were terrified.”
“I just played terrified in case they were watching,” Anita told me.
My jaw dropped. “But this morning-”
“They weren't watching any more. Meet is tonight. I would've had Gee back by bedtime anyway.”
“Then why didn't you stop me?” I asked in disbelief. “I could have been killed!”
Anita shrugged. “I figured it couldn't hurt to let you try, and it gets me Gee back early. And now I can tell Anastasia to take a long walk off a short bridge. Who knows. She might run into my knife.” And she let out a cackle.
I couldn't believe her. She would have gotten her daughter back by the end of the day anyway? No wonder the security had been so low on Gee – they were nearly done with her. What kind of person was Anita that even Ambrosia had felt she had to chain her up, so to speak, to keep her in line? Just what I needed: another psychopath.
Well, she wasn't a total psychopath, because at least she seemed to legitimately love her daughter.
Hang on though. “The meet is tonight, you said?”
Anita nodded carelessly. “It'll be a cold day in hell before I cooperate with that bitch. She's getting in bed with some of the worst of the worst. I know who she's meeting tonight and I don't want to be within a hundred yards of him.”
“Will you tell me where it is? What time are you supposed to meet?” Things with Anita hadn't gone as I'd expected them to – though the rescue had been a surprising success – but at least it might get me the information on Ambrosia's mysterious meeting.
“Pier 11, at seven o'clock.”
I was a little taken aback by how quickly she'd responded. “Erm. Okay. Why are you telling me?”
“Anything I can do to thwart that bitch Anastasia,” Anita gloated. “You're the sort to gum up anyone's works. I can tell. When I was in the Netherlands, there was a detective like you. Always getting in everyone's way.”
The Netherlands. That was where I recognized her accent from. “What happened to the detective?” I asked warily.
Anita's eyes went cold. “She killed Gee's father in a stand-off. I left pieces of her body at every police precinct in the city.”
Oh, holy Kneazles. I could feel the hair standing on end on my arms.
“Let's go,” Mimi said next to me, taking hold of my arm. I glanced over at her; she was watching Anita with a serious expression.
There was nothing else to do, really. I knew where and when the meeting was, and Anita had her daughter back. My shoulder was still killing me, the throbbing more noticeable now I wasn't focused on Anita and Gee.
“Yeah,” I agreed, and we turned to go.
“Rose,” said Anita.
I stopped at the doorway and looked back. Mimi still had a hand on my arm.
“Don't come back here again.”
Mimi and I didn't say a word to each other as we climbed down the stairs. When we reached the street, I leaned against the building and let out my breath.
“Damn girl,” said Mimi. “Where the hell do you find these people?”
“It's not my fault,” I said automatically.
“That bitch was psycho,” Mimi went on loudly. “I thought we were saving that baby! She played you, girl. That was the craziest thing I've ever seen.”
“Is everyone in New York mental?” I demanded wildly.
“Yes girl, are you new here?” Mimi rolled her eyes. “Come on, let's go back to the bar. I need a drank.”
She looped her arm through mine, and I tried to breathe more evenly as we walked back out to the rainy streets. “A drank?”
“I am way past a drink.”
“That was crazy, wasn't it?” Mimi tossed her shot of firewhiskey back with the ease of long practice. “I can't believe how crazy that was. We saved her baby and she didn't even say thank you.”
I was a little more concerned by the fact she'd threatened to kill someone in front of us, but a thank you wouldn't have gone amiss. “I know.”
“So crazy,” Mimi said again. It seemed to be the word of the day.
By the time we'd gotten a few drinks, and one of Mimi's friends at the bar had done a minor healing charm on my shoulder, I felt less stretched thin and was ready for the meeting. It was only an hour away at this point, and it occurred to me that I hadn't contacted Scorpius all day. What with one thing or another (one crazy and another?), it had slipped my mind.
“My boyfriend's probably worried about me,” I told Mimi.
She shrugged. “You didn't get hurt. Much, anyway.”
“I should Floo him, shouldn't I?” I gestured with my shot glass at the fireplace. “It's the polite thing to do. He's probably worried. And pissed. And worried.”
“Is he going to tell you not to go to this meeting?” Mimi asked, knocking back another shot. I wasn't sure how many she'd had now; I'd stopped counting at six. Her capacity for firewhiskey was incredible.
“Are you going to go anyway?”
“Screw it. Might as well wait til after the meet, right? If you're going to have to fight with your boyfriend, I always say put it off until after you did what you wanted.” Mimi waved to the bartender for a refill.
“True. Yeah.” I took a long sip of my drink. The firewhiskey was giving me courage. I could feel the warmth spreading through my body. Mimi had a point, right? I was going to have to fight with Scorpius over this meeting no matter what, so there was no point doing it now. Might as well have the fight after I'd gone and seen what Ambrosia was up to.
Mimi was smart, really.
Mimi got up to dance, and I watched her with a grin. She moved like an experienced performer. Her sequined dress shone in the low lights of the bar.
As I watched her, the smile slipped from my face. She was very noticeable. If Mimi was anything, she was not unobtrusive. How the hell was I supposed to sneak into this meeting with a six and a half foot talk woman in a sparkly dress and giant hair? I wasn't even sure how I was going to do it solo. I knew I couldn't let Ambrosia see me, or she'd probably try to kill me on sight. She was already going to be pissed when her translator didn't show up.
I was going to have to ditch Mimi. That wasn't going to make her happy. But she was pretty distracted right now with dancing, maybe she wouldn't notice the time. Besides, bringing her along would endanger her. Ambrosia was mental. I didn't want my new friend getting killed over me. It was bad enough I'd let her come along to rescue Gee, although to be honest she'd come off better than I had in that. I was the one who'd got hurt. Still, I wasn't going to bring her to the meet, for both our sakes.
Nothing today had gone according to plan. If spying on Ambrosia's meeting didn't go according to plan either, I didn't want anything to happen to Mimi. She had been helpful, yeah, and held her own well enough, but we hadn't been able to cast a Memory Charm on anyone who'd been part of the kidnapping. I'd thought I'd be able to get the kidnapper with one, but Kid Shaw was free and in full possession of his memory. That wasn't good, but hopefully he wouldn't go straight to Ambrosia and tell her everything. I glanced down at my pink unicorn shirt. All he had to do was describe my clothes and she'd know exactly who had got Gee out of there. All the horrible possibilities spun through my head, and I knocked back another shot to tamp them out. I definitely had to go alone tonight.
At a few minutes to seven, I slipped quietly out the back door of the bar, where the dark alley made a perfect unobtrusive Apparition point. I hoped the name was enough, since I'd always been able to Apparate that way in London, and fixed Pier 11 firmly in my mind.
I reappeared outside the docks, the rank smell of the Hudson River filling my nose. The sun had nearly set, and everything was bathed in a thick golden light. It would have matched Mimi's dress perfectly. I took in my surroundings quickly: large crates, metal containers, cranes and assorted Muggle equipment I didn't recognize. I took a moment to Disillusion myself (I'm not terribly good at that spell, but when my cousin Victoire isn't around to do it for me, I have to make do) and slipped behind a row of stacked wooden crates. I made my way further down the pier, walking in silence.
I began to hear voices when I got closer to the end of the pier, and slowed my steps. I crept closer to the stacked crates, ducking down. They were only stacked one high here and didn't give me much cover. Carefully I glanced over the top of the last one. At first I only saw a few large men in Muggle suits or leather jackets, many wearing caps low on their foreheads. Then one of them budged aside and there was Ambrosia, in a tailored black pantsuit and pinstriped shirt, her blonde hair swirled up into an elegant knot. She looked very professional. If I didn't know she was a criminal, I'd have thought her an executive at a large financial company. I ducked back down behind the crate then, crouching with my back against it, and listened.
There was an air of distrust about the voices, as if something were about to go wrong. And then I heard the goon closest to my crate mutter, "She shoulda been here by now."
They were only just realizing that Anita Spiker wasn't going to turn up. That meant Kid Shaw hadn't gone to Ambrosia yet, so she didn't know I'd been involved. A bit of the tension left me, but Anita's desertion wasn't going to go well with this group. Ambrosia was good at keeping an impassive face, but she was bound to be angry by now. I glanced at my watch; it was just after seven.
I could hear more muttering about the missing translator, then Ambrosia's voice with the ring of authority, "It's too late to do anything about it now."
The buzzing of a motor was growing louder, and I looked out to the water and saw a run-down old tugboat approaching at speed, leaving a faint trail of purple through the water. Ambrosia's goons were standing more at attention now, watching the boat as it pulled up alongside the dock. Two of them were still scanning the perimeter, so I mentally assigned them to the Security Detail Goon category. The other seven all appeared to fall under General Henchmen. I realized then, my stomach dropping a bit, that someone was missing.
Where was Heckie Shanahan? He should have been here by now. I was getting a bad feeling about his absence. He might have gone and turned himself in to MLE custody, I told myself, hoping it was true.
If he wasn't with the MLEs or the Aurors, I hoped he'd gotten away. If he wasn't where he was supposed to be with Ambrosia...
Before I could let myself flesh out that horrible thought, the boat had pulled up to the dock and two of the General Henchmen goons trotted down to tie it up. They were obviously experienced at it. I wondered how often Ambrosia used the docks as a drop point for whatever she was doing. The tugboat seemed to be tethered securely, and a couple of new goons stepped off. I could just see a few more staying on board, on the deck. They seemed to be on watch. Security Detail again, I guessed.
A man stepped off onto the dock then, better dressed than his goons. His black hair was cut in a way that I knew was expensive, and his suit probably cost more than I make in a year. I recognized him immediately as a real bad guy, not merely a henchman. I normally only saw real bad guys in photos that my dad and uncle – or Dino Agnelli, the real bounty hunter on staff at Agnelli's Magical Bonds – had of their bad guys. My bad guys barely qualified as henchmen. They henched part-time, on weekends. It was pretty rare for me to be around real bad guys.
But I knew them when I saw them. And this man was a Bad Guy.
Ambrosia stepped forward and offered the Bad Guy her hand. He shook it warily, still flanked by two of his Security Detail goons. He said something in a language I didn't recognize. It sounded Russian to me, but I'm not up on my Eastern European linguistics, so it could've been anything really.
One of the goons rumbled in a thick accent, “Where is translator?”
“She was unable to make it,” Ambrosia said smoothly. Her voice and face didn't betray any emotion. Damn, she was good, I thought grudgingly.
Bad Guy said something else, and I distinctly heard Shanahan. Now the Security Detail goons were looking around with the unhappy look that law enforcement and security people get when things that should be tightly scheduled go off-course. One of them drew his wand.
One of Ambrosia's goons drew his as well, but she held up a hand quellingly.
“We can still do business,” she said. “This doesn't have to prevent us both from getting what we want.”
Bad Guy asked distinctly then, in even more heavily accented English than his goon, “Where Shanahan?”
Something flickered in Ambrosia's face, and Bad Guy must have recognized it, because he drew his wand as well. Suddenly everyone else had their wands out too.
Oh, holy Kneazles. They were all going to kill each other and I was going to be stuck in the crossfire. This was so not good. If I got killed because of Ambrosia, Scorpius was going to kill me. And then my parents would kill me too. I wondered if I could sneak away without being seen.
And then a green light splashed against the crate beside me, and I knew it was too late.
The fight seemed to break out instantly, and spells were everywhere. The air buzzed and crackled with hexes and curses, and I huddled behind the crate and hoped it would be over soon. I could hear them all yelling, and the occasional sound of flesh hitting flesh. Even wizards resort to Muggle brawling when things get really hairy.
I had no idea how long it had gone on – it felt like hours – when suddenly the crate I was hiding behind disintegrated. I scrambled sideways automatically, behind the next row, but as I moved, I caught Ambrosia's eyes through the duelling wizards, and a cold shiver went down my spine as her eyes followed me.
I wasn't invisible enough.
Hiding behind the crates, I tried to calm my racing heart, and drew my wand. She was bound to come over here, or someone else would, one of the goons. I was about to Disapparate when I heard the distinct crack of someone doing exactly that. Several more followed, and the sounds of battle tapered off. I risked a peek around the side of the crate and saw one of Ambrosia's goons turn over his shoulder and disappear.
Why were they all suddenly leaving?
Footsteps thudded down the wooden pier, and I realized the American MLEs were here. For a moment I was relieved, and then I remembered that they didn't know me and I should probably get the hell out of there. I inched backward, still crouched down, and moved to Disapparate, but someone grabbed my arm and cold metal touch my wrist.
“Don't bother to fight back,” a voice growled from behind me. “You have the right to remain silent...”
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