A band of women approached the checkpoint. They all wore matching uniforms, short sleeved, pale blue janitorial dresses that dropped to mid calf over whatever shoes they happened to own. Their hair was bound beneath matching peasant scarves. From his seat at a dingy cafe across the street, Yuri trained a monocular toward the guards’ station, zooming in to the glow of a large data screen. As the women passed through an archway, , he noted lines of text, flashing onto a growing column of data.. “Looks like names,” he whispered, “and some sort of ident code. I’m guessing a chip registration.”
“Waiter’s coming,” Edina cautioned. As Yuri slipped the little device into his breast pocket, her face blossomed into a grin. “Why, yes, honey,” she laid a hand upon his, “I’d love to. Friday?” She’s good at this,
he thought, his own face lighting in reaction as their fingers twined. “Friday’s good,” Yuri’s own smile was tempered as the waiter arrived. After ordering sandwiches and drinks, they played the role of the smitten couple, planning their romantic getaway until the server moved out of earshot. “Nice,” the first mate nodded approval as he resumed his surveillance.
“When you’re a spy,” she quipped, a soft laugh escaping her lips at his confusion. “Something Abby taught me. She’s quite the little secret agent.”
“Do I want to know?”
Yuri watched more of the uniformed night shift women passing through the checkpoint. “The good news,” he whispered, “is no photo ident pops up onscreen. The system tracks chips, not people. Ohhh man,” he muttered, “there’s a child.” As he watched, a mother led her daughter to the guards’ station. The little girl, perhaps eight or nine, he guessed, wore the same pale blue work uniform. She stood nervously by as her mother beseeched the guard’s favor. After a moment’s obvious pleading, the guard lumbered away from his station. He took the child by the right arm, pressing a pistol-like device to her upper bicep, before squeezing the trigger. The little girl flinched, her face registering shock and sudden pain. As her mother crouched before her, Yuri could see the child nodding, her lip quivering as she fought to “be a big girl and don’t cry.” Meanwhile, the guard concluded his efforts by spraying something onto the fresh wound, which he then bandaged with a piece of duct tape ripped from a roll. “Like animals,” Yuri’s eyes blazed as the mother led her child off to a life of servitude. “The bastards treat them like fucking animals.”
Edina, mindful of her role, hadn’t turned to witness the spectacle. “But if we do our job,” she laid a hand upon his cheek, “at least forty of them will get a shot at their own lives.”
Her eyes offered him calm. “Thanks,” Yuri put the monocular away. “We understand how it works. Now it’s all up to the doc.”
“You promised me a drink,” Edina teased. They strolled together, arm in arm to keep up appearances as a pair of lovers.
“And I promise I’ll make good on that,” he replied. “After we find this place.” Though quite serious about their plan for the night, Yuri was coming to find this particular bit of theatre to be very pleasant. “Besides,” he gave her hand a gentle squeeze, “after that lead brick of a sandwich, the walk’s feeling pretty good just now.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?,” Edina asked. “Is that the only reason?”
“Um…our mission’s going well?” He feigned a playful ignorance. “Did our friend ‘Abigail the Spy’ offer any tips of the trade about distraction?”
“Is that all I am?” she asked. “A distraction?”
“The more beautiful the woman,” Yuri fixed her with a smile, “the more unnoticed is her counterpart. Thanks to you, I’m completely invisible.”
“Aren’t you smooth?” She leaned into his arm. “Keep that up and I might force you to take me dancing.”
He laughed. “You can’t scare me…well, maybe you can.” He stopped, confusion evaporating his smile. “Thirteen-twenty-three,” he pointed toward a small corner market. “And thirteen-nineteen. I don’t get it. His shop should be right here.”
Edina gazed into the empty lot, an illicit dumping ground for trash and discarded furniture. “You sure of the address?” she cast a dubious eye toward Yuri.
He checked Hekubah’s business card once more. “1321 Wright Street,” he read off the address. “This is the place.”
“Maybe he moved?” She offered. “Why don’t we step in there and ask?”
The little market was universal in its’ appearance..tidy enough to pass community standards, but not entirely clean. Some of the overhead lighting cried for replacement, casting a generally dim, gap toothed illumination upon the cramped space. Narrow aisles led them past overflowing shelves toward the lone clerk on duty, a man who barely looked up from his cortex as Yuri stepped forward. “Beg pardon, sir,” he extended the card through the gap in the anti-crime partition. “I’m looking for this place, but the address must be wrong. Do you know where it is?”
The clerk passed the card back. “Seen that before,” he didn’t bother lifting his eyes. “Never been a clothes shop next door, but every now and again, somebody comes in with that card.”
“Curious,” the first mate remarked. “He gave it to me this morning.”
“You don’t say.” The clerk shifted back to his capture show. “Sounds like a con to me. Watch your back, son,” he offered before restarting the comedy.
“Looks like the joke’s on me,” Yuri muttered. The program’s audience erupted into laughter as he turned toward Edina. “No dice,” he tilted his head with a weak smile. “Sorry for the fire drill.”
Once back on the street, she took his arm again as they retraced their footsteps. “I saw three men’s clothing shops on our way here,” she volunteered. “We’ll get you spiffed up to play your role just yet…and not just the suit. I insist you buy yourself some new day-to-day clothes.”
As they walked, Yuri’s mind whirled over the nature of Hekubah’s deception. Just doesn’t add up,
he thought of the little man’s tale, a purveyor of fine men’s clothing with a distinct fear of flying. He was interested in getting a tour of the boat,
the first mate recalled, a pretty sketch move as he thought about it, but then… He saw the Sister,
Yuri remembered. He was really curious about her business aboard.
His eventual conclusion offered no comforting thought. Could make him out for a slaver…or a cop…
“...and some denims,” Edina said. “You could use at least two pair.” Derailed from his thoughts, Yuri caught sight of the glowing sign ahead.
Work Attire For White Or Blue Collar Professionals
“Looks like the place!” she offered brightly. “And after we’ve had our drink, you’re gonna let me trim that beard.” I need to get to the captain
...”what?” Yuri’s brows lifted. “What’s wrong with my beard?”
“It’s getting sort of…patchy,” Edina’s fingers went to work, gently tugging at the little bits of uneven growth along his jawline. Despite himself and his concerns, Yuri found himself gazing into those brown eyes. Close as she was, her fragrance filled his nostrils. He smiled at the sweetness, his expression revealing a quiet pleasure, until she suddenly realized the way he was looking at her. “What?” Edina asked, her smile softening as she met his gaze.
“Nothing,” Yuri chuckled. “I’m just glad you’re looking out for me, is all.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Somebody’s got to.”