Chapter Twenty-Eight: Tibo
Pel arrived early the next morning in uniform. Rolly had to look twice to be sure he wasn’t a different Tengu since he just didn’t look right without his bangles and various bts of ear jewelry. Their other regular contacts weren't far behind, all in uniform, all far too serious.
“Okay, so real quick briefing before the cars get here.” Pel pulled Rolly and Tibo aside while the others did the same with their assigned charges. “I’ll be driving your car. We’ll have three others from the castle, each with guards. They’re all Akemi’s, so no issues there. No stopping in the open. We leave the house, we move, right?”
“You’re not going to be our guard for this?” Tibo’s voice held a plaintive note, the fear a little too evident in how wide his eyes were.
“I’ll be close by the whole time but I’ve got other things to secure. Stay. With. Your. Guard. I can’t say that enough. Stay right with him. Pretty sure they gave you Claude. He’s good. We’re coming in at the back of the building and into the lab section. The interview rooms are one floor down. It might feel a little like a police interrogation room but don’t let that alarm you. They’re soundproof and swept for surveillance regularly, so they’re secure.”
“Pel?” Rolly asked softly. “Tell us straight. How much danger are we really in?”
A frown of frustration creased Pel’s forehead. “It should be a cakewalk. But like Akemi says, we plan for the worst possible scenario. If things go all FUBAR, and you’ve lost Claude and I’m not there and you don’t see any of Akemi’s people that you know on sight…” He hesitated, searching first Rolly’s face and then Tibo’s. “You’ve been in the castle before.”
“Yeah?” Tibo said, already bristling.
“You know where the keep is in relation to the lab buildings?”
Rolly nodded. They hadn’t been in the keep but it was hard to miss.
“Okay.” Pel clapped his hands together. “The intel you’re giving the lawyers today will be going up the line to Chumin Delgavelac. He’s the organization’s head of Transport Affairs and he has been for, oh, forever. If everything goes south and you’re in danger, you run for the keep. His office is on the third floor.”
Rolly put an arm around Tibo and pulled him close, needing the contact. “Akemi trusts him?”
“No one high up trusts anybody right now. And that’s probably more than I should say. But Delgavelac is all about the organization’s health and keeping things peaceful. His office is the most impregnable part of the castle. He’ll keep you safe until Akemi comes. She does work closely with him and she’s known him for a long, long time.”
“Best we can do, I suppose, if things go bad.” Rolly let Tibo go and walked to the window.
Their own borrowed car sat by the curb, a sleek black BMW. That had been Edwige’s biggest point of contention, that they have a way out if things went wrong. He shivered as the rest of the fleet started to pull up to the curb. There hadn’t been a psychic in the family for years but banshees still got what his mum called the quakes, that stomach-churning feeling of something bad coming.
Eyes and ears open, McFarland. It might not go well, but you can get him through this.
“Hey.” Tibo must have sensed his mood, coming up behind Rolly to wrap his arms around him tight and lay his head against Rolly’s back. “We’re gonna be heading home soon, McFarland. Just keep thinking about that. It’ll all be over soon now.”
That’s what I’m afraid of. “Home sounds bloody good to me.”
The troops were gathering, each small group with their RL liaison slowly trickling into the front hall, expressions ranging from trepidation to grim determination. Gian stopped in front of the door to address the group.
“You have your order of going out, yes? Please go singly. Do not run, but go as quickly as you can. We do the same when we get there. Ready?”
Most of the party nodded. Mal muttered a hell, yeah. Edwige’s chin went up in brave defiance of anything standing against them. Then Gian opened the door and there was no more time to think or to back out. They hustled to the cars, Rolly’s heart pounding with every person who cleared the doorway. One by one, the cars took off and immediately separated, taking different routes out of the city. Up front, Pel had his earpiece in, constantly talking back and forth in clipped, professional sentences to the other cars. The city fell behind them without a shot fired.
Tibo leaned forward as the car accelerated. “Pel, are we okay?”
“Fine so far. Sit back for me, please. Everyone’s out and moving. We should see them soon.”
Rolly took Tibo’s hand and held on tight. “There. Up ahead, Ti. That’s probably Mal’s car.”
Tibo tried to crane his head around Claude without leaving his seat. “Why are they so far up there? Shouldn’t we be catching up?”
“Tactical vehicle spacing,” Claude answered. He was human but his voice was deep enough to be troll. “We must have space to avoid too many targets at once. For explosives. Grenade launchers.”
“Oh.” Tibo’s lovely green complexion went decidedly gray.
While it was a tense ride and probably at an unsafe speed, it went quickly and without incident and they rolled up to the back of the castle alongside their three other cars. Maybe all the precautions are just that. A bit of healthy paranoia, that’s all.
The guards whisked them into the lab building, legally this time with proper codes and checks, and down the narrow stairs at the end of the hall. The hallway in which they emerged was industrial and drab to the extreme, made even more depressing by the fluorescent lighting overhead. At least people waited for them, some in professional suits and some in uniform, which helped break up the oppressive institutional feel.
Rolly reached over to give Jaxx, who was closest, a quick one-armed hug. “Good luck.”
“You too. I won’t tell you I’m not nervous,” Jaxx whispered.
He managed to get a nod of solidarity from Mal and from Aegeus before their groups were claimed by suit types. Pel leaned in to murmur that he would be in the operations center as he hurried past. Then they were left with Claude and a pleasant-looking satyr in a business suit.
“Good morning, Mr. McFarland, Mr. Glent.” He offered handshakes to both of them. “I’m Till Ziegenhirt and I’ll be taking your statements today. Come this way please.”
Soft spoken and self-assured, he reminded Rolly so much of the band’s attorney, Ivan Marchen, that some of the tension drained from him. They followed Ziegenhirt into one of the guarded rooms and Rolly made sure to note that Nootau’s group went into the one to his right and Mal’s to his left and Ashe and Jaxx two doors down on that side. Just in case.
The hall guard closed the door behind them, leaving Tibo and Rolly with just Mr. Ziegenhirt and Claude. Tibo slumped in one of two chairs in front of the table, face buried in his hands, while the attorney took the chair behind the table.
“All right, Ti?” Rolly rubbed his back as he took the remaining chair.
“Yeah.” Tibo’s voice came out muffled through his fingers. “Headache. Just feel like I can finally breathe again.”
“Things have been unsettled.” Mr. Ziegenhirt gave them a kind smile. “We do understand.”
He took them through what he called the preliminaries, getting names and backgrounds for the record. Finally he sat forward and clasped his hands in front of him. “All right, Mr. Glent. In your own words, tell me how you became involved.”
Tibo launched into his now much-practiced story and had reached the part where they were breaking into the castle when there was a thump against the door. Claude was on his earpiece, asking for status, and had just stepped away from the door when it flew open and a muffled snee-eek sounded. Half-turned in his chair, Rolly stared at the two men in the hall in confusion.
“Silencer!” Tibo cried out and yanked Rolly from his chair and under the table where Mr. Ziegenhirt joined them, trembling.
Claude toppled like a factory stack undergoing demolition, eyes wide in shock as he hit the floor. Blood spread out from under him, a horrible amount of blood, and Rolly swallowed hard against rising nausea when he realized Claude wasn’t blinking. They’d shot him dead.
“Out from under there!” A voice snarled as the door slammed shut again. “Hands up!”
Slowly they emerged from under the table. The one with the snarl strode over and slammed Mr. Ziegenhirt back into his chair, a pistol held to his head. This one wore a uniform as well, but the epaulets were different from the ones Akemi’s troops had. Spots ran down from his short-cropped hairline to vanish under his collar.
Hyena shifter. He would be hellishly strong and even more dangerous if he did shift.
“Sorry to interrupt the cozy little tea party,” Snarly said. “Either of you move, we shoot the old satyr. Banshee, if you even look like you’re opening your mouth, we shoot you. Len, grab the goblin and ask him some questions nice as you please.”
It took every ounce of control Rolly had to sit still and quiet as the other intruder, a human the size of an expensive refrigerator grabbed Tibo by the throat and slammed him up against the glass wall with his feet several inches off the floor. Tibo clawed at the human’s hands but couldn’t get any purchase through the gloves.
“Where’s the laptop, gob?”
“Fuck you,” Tibo spat out, struggling for all he was worth.
“Gentlemen,” Mr. Ziegenhirt said softly. “Collette asks if all is well. I need to answer her.”
“So do it,” Snarly said with a laugh. “Just remember Len can hear you.”
This confused Rolly for a moment until the intense concentration on Mr. Ziegenhirt’s face registered. Psychics. Probably the attorneys had been chosen for this reason.
“Everything is fine, Colette,” Mr. Ziegenhirt said aloud, apparently letting them all know what he was sending. “Just a chair falling over.”
“It’s the only question we need answered. Just that one,” Len insisted, lifting Tibo higher. “Where’s the fucking laptop?”
Someone’s betrayed us. Pel immediately came to mind but Rolly didn’t want to believe it. If the corrupt element knew about Shandi, they might have known other things. Maybe it just took this long for the baddies to catch up to them. It didn’t matter. Right now, they had to get out of this whole and he couldn’t even open his mouth to tell Tibo...something. Anything.
He caught Mr. Ziegenhirt’s eye and a whispered thought barely brushed his mind. Wait for it…
The elderly satyr had spied something Rolly had missed. Tibo’s fierce little booted feet were now even with Len’s crotch and by the fire and brimstone in Tibo’s eyes, he knew it. Rolly tensed, pulling a slow breath in through his nose. Tibo pulled his left knee up and planted his foot against the glass. Wait for it...
With his right boot, Tibo kicked out hard. Len cried out and dropped to his knees, hands clutching his nuts. Mr. Ziegenhirt grabbed Snarly’s gun hand and yanked down. The silenced gun went off and Mr. Ziegenhirt slumped to the side. Rolly, already up and ready, opened his mouth and shrieked, practically point blank in Snarly’s face. The hyena shifter only had time for a look of horror before he went down hard with his ears and eyes bleeding. Before he was out of breath, Rolly turned in time to find Tibo scuttling away from his captor on hands and knees. Another shriek and Len fell over, stone still, the glass wall shattering around him.
Tibo knelt by Claude. “Oh gods. Claude’s dead. Rolls…”
Gasping, leaning on the table, Rolly fumbled his way around until he reached Mr. Ziegenhirt. “The poor old lawyer’s gone, too. Ti, I think I’ve killed them. I’ve never...I’ve never…”
“I know, sweetheart.” Tibo was suddenly at his elbow, ducking under his arm. “I know. We can’t fall apart here. We gotta go. Now.”
Tibo stopped to snatch up a gun and chivvied Rolly to the door while his sight wavered in and out. I can’t faint. No, sweet mother of rocky coastlines, I can’t.
“What a right hash,” Rolly muttered, managing to get his feet under him a bit. “Shouldn’t we be after waiting for Pel?”
“Got a bad feeling Pel’s not coming.” Tibo had his ear to the door. “He’s either dead or bleeding somewhere or he’s sold us out. We’re gonna have to run.”
Tibo flung open the door to chaos, people running everywhere. people down in the corridors, uniformed people grappling in small skirmishes. There was no way to know which color uniforms they should trust and Rolly sure as salmon swim upstream didn’t see anyone they knew. None of their own party was anywhere in sight, though all the doors were open. He gripped Tibo’s hand and they crept out along the wall, past open doors, past bodies, past a room with a bank of instruments and panels he assumed had to be the Main Operations Room. Pel lay on the floor. There was blood.
“Oh fecking hells,” Rolly whispered and started to go to him but Tibo yanked him back, pointing.
A trio of armed guards were struggling through the melee in the hallway toward them, their intent obvious.
Out of time and out of options, they ran.