Part 2: Fire - Chapter 5

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Nancy heard Jake singing as she approached. An empty bottle lay beside him, and some of its contents were splashed across his clothing. Sirian rum was almost like treacle, supposed to be drunk diluted with water. Jake apparently hadn't bothered with that. He sat with his back to a stone wall, his feet protruding beyond the edge of the canyon that divided Uruk. At the bottom were dry, warm rocks. Above his head, the Twisted Bridge spanned the gap. Occasional traffic made the girders thunder and rumble.

Standing on the precipice, one hand pressed against the rock wall, Nancy kicked the man in the leg.

He didn't move. She kicked him again, harder. 'Up.'

His face turned to look at her. He was beyond drunk, into that state where consciousness had begun to fade. There was no way he would be able to stand, much less walk.

Nancy kept away from the ledge. The dark depths of the chasm were like a magnet, drawing her gaze, both irresistible and repelling at the same time. One slip of her feet and she would tumble down to smash on the rocks below. She feared almost nothing—fear had been removed from her like a number of other useless emotions when she was a little girl—but the horrible drop into oblivion kept her clutching the stone wall. It felt clammy under her hand as she pulled her gaze back to the pathetic man at her feet.

'You're a fool, Jake.'

He said nothing.

'What were you thinking? Did the whole thing just go to your head?' she asked, really talking to herself now as Jake's head lolled forward on his breast and his eyes closed. 'Did you put on a policeman's uniform and think, "Hey this is cool. How about I arrest someone?"'

The plan called for them to make their way to the spaceport, to leave the planet as quickly as possible, to disperse and hide until the whole thing died down. But no, Jake had to get out of the car and shape up to a Sirian, just like he had threatened to.

He was Franco's man. Maybe she should be mad at Franco, but right now he wasn't here, and Jake was.

The man opened his eyes and raised his head, one hand groping feebly for the bottle.

'You're a fool too,' he managed to mumble.

Almost, Nancy kicked him. But he was right. For a moment, in the confrontation with the Sirians, she'd let her guard down and called Jake by his name. It was a regrettable slip, but not a serious one. How many Jakes were there in the galaxy? And it probably wasn't even his real name. Hell, Nancy wasn't even her real name.

'Get up.'

'Fuck off.'

There was no need to think about what to do now. The problem was how to do it. She was still armed—still in her police uniform for that matter. A quick shot to the head. There had been a riot, after all. People were killed in riots. But if it was supposed to look like Jake was killed by a Sirian, chances are he would have been stabbed with one of those daggers they all carried, or beaten to death. A plasma bullet would create more suspicion than was safe.

Nancy kicked his bottle away. It tumbled over the edge of the chasm and the sound of its smashing was lost in the depths. Of course, that was the answer. Jake was drunk—no surprise at all that he might take a wrong footing.

She let go of the wall and knelt down to prod him in the chest with a finger. He was out. She hoisted his legs up and turned him so he lay down parallel to the ledge, close to the drop. It was easy then to stand with her back to the wall and shove him with one foot so his body rolled over. The canyon walls were steep and hardly slowed his fall as he crashed to the bottom twenty metres below. In the dim light she could just make out his crumpled form. With any luck his neck was broken. An autopsy would reveal the extent of his drunkenness, and the broken bottle would be further evidence of an unfortunate accident.

Her long blonde hair hung across her face as she sat down where Jake had been. Looking down into the canyon roused feelings of vertigo that would have had her following the man down. It took a few moments of gulping air to settle herself.

All right. Jake was taken care of—that was fine, she'd intended to kill him anyway after the mission. Rix would have expected her too. But how much had those Sirians told their people? Would they have suspected they were not real cops? It might be difficult for her to leave Eridu. Damn the fool! Damn Rix!

The best thing to do would be to re-join the other Sape police who were now leaving the planet, just depart as she'd arrived, brazen it out. As she rose and backed along the wall to the narrow set of steps that led to the street beside the bridge, she started to feel better. Jake's murder had revived her. It wasn't the Sirians who were the immediate problem, of course, but the Sapes, who would be interested in finding Nancy Jong once investigations into the assassination had started. The Nuncio's death had been just her style.

By the time she reached the street all qualms had vanished. The burnt and blackened buildings left over from the fire were a few blocks ahead. It had been a good night. At least twenty Sirians had been killed in the blast, and that was a good thing, too. Nancy smiled as she surveyed the destruction one simple bomb had caused.

It was good to be alive.

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