Chapter 11

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"No."

The Enforcer slams his mug down on the bartop and turns away, fishing into his pocket for some coins to pay for his drink.

Tawny grabs hold of his wrist to stop him. "Geoff, wait. Just hear me out-"

"I don't need to hear it." Geoff yanks his hand away. "Even talking... even thinking about this crap would cost me my badge. Get out of here, before I turn you in for treason."

Tawny places a slip of money down on the counter between them, waving away the bartender and leaning in so close that she and Geoff are nearly nose-to-nose.

"Come on, old timer." Tawny's voice is low. "I know there's still some fight in there. You weren't always on the Madam's payroll."

"I'm not looking to relive any of my misspent youth," Geoff growls. "I've got a good job, a good life and if I keep my head down and my mouth shut, in a few years I can retire and live out the rest of my days right here, poisoning myself slowly and in peace."

He taps the bartop for emphasis and swivels in his seat, pulling his standard-issue cap down low over his bushy brows. The Enforcer skirts his way around the empty tables and chairs and disappears through the swinging glass doors into the afternoon sunlight.

I shoot Tawny an unimpressed look as she grunts a curse and takes off after Geoff. Sighing, I shove strands of wayward hair back inside my headscarf before following in behind. We pass Luca standing just outside. The Waster is unrecognizable in his Babelonian garb, the well-tailored shirt and trousers effectively hiding the tapestry of blue tattoos beneath. While my skin itches and chafes from the sensation of layers of fabric hindering my every step, Luca wears the garments easily, his stride long and purposeful as he trails us down the street.

I quicken my pace and catch up with Tawny, grabbing hold of her elbow and pulling her to my side while keeping a weather eye on Geoff's retreating figure. The Enforcer cuts an easy path through the crowd of Babelonians flooding the streets, but I notice that his gait is slightly off-centre and think of the stack of emptied glasses left at the bar.

"Are you sure we can trust him?" I ask quietly.

"Of course." Tawny answers, too quickly. "Geoff's a bit... rough around the edges but he's honest. Plus, he's the only Enforcer I am personally acquainted with who has a security clearance high enough to get us close to the labs."

I consider this, gritting my teeth as we follow Geoff out of the busy city centre and down a quieter side street. Here, the streetlamps are plastered with posters of my face, the words Dangerous Terrorist stamped prominently across the torn and peeling parchment.

Tawny scurries to keep up with the Enforcer, catching him as he places a heavy boot down on a footbridge.

"Listen, you haven't heard everything, yet." With surprising fluidity Tawny inserts herself in Geoff's path, effectively blocking the bridge. "We're not on our own in this. We have someone to help us."

"Then why don't you go pester them and leave me be." Geoff crosses his arms.

"Because we can't do this without you. We need someone on the inside." Tawny drops her voice low. "Someone we can trust."

Geoff's toe taps impatiently against the bridge but he keeps his mouth remains shut beneath his bristly mustache.

Tawny takes this as a cue to press forward and speaks quickly. "If we can get into the labs then we can learn how the Brutes work and either disable them or use them to our advantage. Think about it, Geoff: without her army and without her slaves she has nothing."

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