Read The Bridge Online

Authors: Jane Higgins

The Bridge (19 page)

‘You heard, madam. You have three days. If you use them wisely you can throw out a lifetime’s rubbish.’ He nodded towards the bookshelves. ‘This furniture, though.’ He patted the arm of the chair and looked around. ‘Stays.’

‘It’s my furniture.’

‘I doubt it. And you won’t have room for it.’

‘Don’t doubt, Councillor. It is mine. Won’t have room where? Where are we to go?’

‘To whoever will have you.’ He stood up. ‘If any will.’

‘And Suzannah Montier? She shares these rooms.’

‘The Montier woman is not my concern. I understand she was not in the Marsh when it was liberated?’

‘No. ISIS have taken her somewhere else. We don’t know where.’

‘You should take more care of your protégés, Sub-commander.’ He turned on his heel and left. The two young guys shuffled behind him.

Levkova called one back. ‘Rémy! Who does Councillor Terten intend to move in here?’

‘Sub-commander Stell, ma’am.’

‘Naturally. His latest woman. On very active service.’

The guy went bright red, bowed, and escaped.

Levkova watched him go, and closed the door. She looked at Max and me. ‘Well, gentlemen. As an opening gambit, that’s impressive. They want us busy in the lead-up to Crossover Day. And they’re making all the running. We need something to hit back with. Any ideas?’

‘I have one,’ I said.

When Commander Vega arrived later that morning, Levkova had a stand-up row with him about being assassin-bait. ‘You are not standing on that platform in full view of an assassin!’

‘I am,’ said Vega. ‘DeFaux takes a pot-shot at me, we seize him, make the links to Remnant and they’re exposed.
Simple. You’re being sentimental.’

‘Nonsense. I’m being entirely practical. If a pot-shot, as you so romantically call it, happens to kill you, CFM in Moldam is leaderless and Remnant have won for the foreseeable future.’

He sat down and rubbed a hand over his face. ‘You lead them.’

She sat opposite him. ‘Sim, you have a deathwish. If you give in to it, don’t imagine Kas would forgive you.’

A small, dangerous silence fell.

‘We need you,’ she said.

He shook his head. ‘What we need is vision, and belief, and someone the people will follow.’

‘Yes. We need Suzannah back. But until that day, we muddle through. And not by losing you as well. Listen.’

She told him my idea. ‘If Goran has moved into trafficking and we can prove it, that’s all we need. I know we can show his links to Terten. Please, Sim. It has to be better than giving DeFaux the satisfaction of killing you.’

Vega looked at me. ‘You’re supposed to be in hiding. Not prowling the district after dark.’ He stood up. ‘All right. We’ll raid Goran’s outfit. But if we don’t find anything there, Crossover Day goes ahead as planned.’

It wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I’d been hoping to find Sol, and now Fyffe, without drawing attention to any of us. Now here we were, going into a place where either or both of them might be, and doing it with
all guns blazing, possibly, for real. What if Goran decided to fight his way out? What if it turned into a bloodbath?

The next day, around dusk, Lanya took a raiding party back to Goran’s. She and I went ahead and were followed in the shadows by Vega, Jeitan and, they assured us, a bunch of others that we hadn’t yet seen and wouldn’t until crunch time. I couldn’t tell if this set-up was the answer to my prayers, such as they were, or just plain fatal.

We got to the corner just before Goran’s place and stopped. The plan was that I would knock on the front door and offer to run a ransom to the city for them, for anyone they had in there who might be worth one. Once they showed an interest, Vega’s squad would step in.

Lanya looked at me. ‘You’re nervous,’ she said. ‘I’ll do it.’

‘I bet you would,’ I said. ‘But that’s not the plan. And what about the guy you crippled last night? You probably shouldn’t meet him any time soon. Wish me luck.’

‘They’ll have knives,’ she said. ‘You won’t see them. Watch their knifework.’

I walked up to the padlocked gate and shook the wire fence. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I waited for a lookout to show – possibly an angry one with a stuffed-up knee. Instead, Goran came out of the building behind the shacks. He peered at me through the gate. ‘Whaddya want? Where’ve I seen you before?’

I put on my best, roughest Gilgate accent. ‘Talk some business? About Citysiders and ransoms.’

‘Don’t know what you’re on about.’ He turned away.

‘I heard you had one here.’ That stopped him. ‘A Citysider. At least one,’ I said. ‘Thought you’d want someone to run the ransom. I got some Anglo. And I know the city, some. Been scavenging there.’

He considered me for a long, nerve-wracking moment.

‘Or,’ I said, ‘I could go and talk to someone up the hill about it.’

‘Ha! Kid, you wouldn’t get to the end of this road. And even if you did, they wouldn’t believe a word up there, filthy accent like that. But I could do with a bit of Anglo. Talk me some.’

So I repeated what I’d just said, in Anglo, with as much of a Gilgate accent as I could muster. He smirked. ‘Horrible. But not bad. Know the city, do you?’

I nodded.

‘Flat rate.’

‘Sure.’

‘All right, kid. Come in here. Let’s talk.’ He unlocked the gate, peered up and down the alley, and nodded me through. He locked the gate again.

There was a loud whistle, boots clanged on iron above us and suddenly there were figures with guns on the rooftops. Vega’s squad. Goran pushed me towards the shacks,
yelling, ‘Sett! Sett!’ I stumbled, heard Goran shout, ‘Grab him!’ and saw Stumphand charging towards me. I stuck out an arm to fend him off but he swung a knife at me and ripped open the palm of my hand. A blast of pain shot up my arm and then he was at my back, his stump round my throat and the point of his knife pressed through my coat. I clenched my bleeding hand and tried not to yell.

‘Goran!’ Vega stood outside the gate, Jeitan beside him. ‘Open up.’

‘Commander Vega,’ said Goran. ‘What’s brought you here?’

‘News,’ said Vega. ‘And how unsurprising that it turns out to be news of you.’

‘What do you want?’

‘I want in. Open this gate.’

‘Well now, all in good time. This kid one of yours?’ He peered at me. ‘Too scruffy to be one of yours, isn’t he? And recruited from Gilgate – you’re scraping the barrel there. What line’s he fed you about me? Bet he hasn’t told you he’s dealing. Tried to sell me some stuff a few days back. I threatened to turn him in, so he’s turned on me instead.’

I watched Vega. He wouldn’t buy that. Come on, I thought. Hurry up. Get in here before they smuggle their city kids out a back way.

Vega’s gaze flicked to me and back to Goran. ‘What’ve you done to him?’

‘He tried to attack old Sett here. It’s a scratch, is all. Better than he deserves.’

‘Let me in. I want to talk to you.’

‘Got a warrant?’

‘I don’t need a warrant to talk.’

‘Come on in, then. Course, I’ll have to tell Council you’re doin’ illegal searches. That all right with you?’

Vega outstared him. ‘Open up.’

Goran looked at the guns above us and opened the gate. The knife dropped away from my back and Sett sped off into one of the shacks. I went after him in case he was planning to hide whatever, or whoever, was in there.

The room we went into was nearly dark, but the reek of it made me retch. When my eyes got used to the gloom I could see five kids sitting or lying on filthy blankets. They stared up at Sett, mouths open, eyes rolling. They looked drugged. None of them spoke. Sett walked round them, touched their heads, bent down, and whispered at them.

Fyffe wasn’t there. And none of them looked like Sol. I was almost relieved.

‘See?’ Goran came in with Vega and Jeitan. ‘Just my kids. They’ve been working all day, scraping a living, like all of us.’

‘Yours?’ said Vega. ‘In what sense, yours?’

‘I find ’em on the street. Give ’em a home – some shelter, some food. Without me they’d be street scum.’

‘Did you find any of them over the river?’

Goran screwed up his face, pained at the accusation. ‘Some of ’em might’ve drifted over the bridge from City. I don’t notice. I just see hands to work and mouths to feed. What’s wrong with that? It’s a public service, that’s what it is. We got a recycling business going here –’

‘Scavenging.’

‘Call it what you like –’

I pushed past them and went back outside. I peered into the second shack. It was almost completely dark in there. A woman lay on a camp bed near the door and beyond her in the shadows were piles of furniture. I couldn’t see any kids. The woman moaned at me and shooed me out or beckoned me in, I couldn’t tell which. She was deep in some disease or other – skeletal, haggard. I backed away and went to the third shack. I found kids there, four of them. Same deal as before: eyes staring, mouths open. Silent. Like they were spellbound. Vega and Jeitan arrived in the doorway behind me.

‘They’re drugged.’ I said. ‘Or drunk.’

‘They’re hungry,’ said Goran, pushing through us. ‘That a crime? Never seen hungry kids before? Look!’ He walked up to one of them, a boy maybe eight or nine, skinny and filthy. Not Sol. Goran pulled him to his feet and gave him a little push. The kid stumbled forward and stood in front of the Commander, like he was waiting for inspection. Vega looked him over and said something to him and the kid replied in Breken, then turned away and
sank back to the floor. ‘See?’ said Goran. ‘Free to move around. You’re a Campaign for Free Movement man, Commander – you should appreciate that.’ He sniggered at his joke. ‘Only thing they’re not free to do is eat, ‘cause we got no food. You could help us, Commander. What d’you say? A little charity’d feed a hungry tribe. Then maybe I wouldn’t have to go to Council about your illegal search.’

Vega nodded at Jeitan. ‘Talk to them. Find out where they’re from. If they’re here willingly. I’ll start on the others.’ He headed for the door.

Goran put a hand on Jeitan’s arm. ‘That’s a big step without a warrant. Wouldn’t you rather do some business?’

‘What business?’ said Vega.

‘I hear you’re looking for DeFaux.’

‘Where do you hear that from?’

‘Ah, well. Word’s about.’

‘You’ve seen him?’

‘May have. May have. Can’t help you though, if you destroy my little operation here.’

Vega hesitated in the doorway and I saw my chance slipping away – they’d take this deal, they had to. DeFaux was what they wanted, not some crook they might or might not be able to pin a trafficking charge on.

I went back into the yard. If Fyffe was here, I had to find her now. The Commander was going to leave at any moment and I was going to be left with nothing.

My hand dripped blood on the ground and hurt like a burn. What if she was here and hurt? Or drugged like those kids? I couldn’t leave without knowing. And I’d run out of time.

I put my head back and yelled in Anglo. ‘
Fyffe! Are you here? Fyffe!
‘ The Commander turned in the doorway to stare at me and Sett came out of the first shack, knife in hand. I yelled again, turning a full circle. In the doorway of the middle shack where the sick woman was, a figure appeared on hands and knees, wearing ragged clothes and with a mess of fair hair. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked across the yard at me.

Goran strode over to her. ‘That’s my niece. She’s sick. You can’t come in here and harass my family.’

‘She’s not your niece,’ I said. ‘Get out of the way.’

‘I got her papers.’

‘You can’t have her papers. She has no papers.’

‘Then you can’t prove she ain’t mine.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I can.’ I pushed him out of the way and knelt in front of her, brushed her hair back from her face. Her eyelids fluttered, almost opened, closed again. ‘Fyffe,’ I said, and in Anglo, ‘Talk to me. Come on. Wake up.’

‘Nik?’

‘Yeah, it’s me. Come on, wake up. You’ve been drugged. We need to get you out of here.’

‘Where’s Sol? I can’t go without … I’ve lost …’ She started to cry.

‘Fyffe, please. Try to stand up. You can do it. Come on.’

‘I saw him. I saw Sol. He was here, then they took him away. Nik …’

‘Come on.’ I helped her stand.

She put her arms round my neck and her head on my shoulder. ‘He was here.’

‘Good. Because you know what that means? That means you did it. You found him. And he’s still alive and in Southside. We’ll track him down. I promise.’

Commander Vega was staring at me, narrow-eyed. Then he turned to his rooftop gunmen and shouted, ‘Round them up! Dig deep. They’ll be hidden, most of ’em.’

The squad jumped down and began kicking in doors and herding out kids. Vega snapped his fingers at two of the squad. ‘Stefan and Marena, work out who’s local, who’s city. Feed them all. Put them somewhere safe – and watch them. I want to talk to them once we’re done here.’ He looked round and saw Lanya standing by the gate. ‘You! Go with Marena. Make sure this one gets to the infirmary.’ He nodded at Fyffe, then he looked at me. ‘Jeitan! Benit! Lock him up.’ Jeitan and a pale, thin young guy stepped forward to stand on either side of me. Vega scanned his squad to make sure everyone knew what they were doing and said, ‘Go!’

We went.

CHAPTER
30

They took me back to HQ
and stuck me in a cell below ground. It was windowless, concrete, and narrow, with a mat a thumbnail thick on the floor and a jug of water in the corner. Benit was enjoying himself. He snapped his fingers at me. ‘Boots.’

‘What?’

‘You heard me. Take off your boots.’

‘You’re kidding.’ I looked at Jeitan. Nope. Not kidding. They were going to do this by the book. I took off my boots. Felt the cold seep through the mat.

‘Coat.’

‘No.’ I stepped back, hit a wall.

Benit marched up to me, stuck an arm against my throat and his face in mine. ‘Everything you’re wearing is ours. We could take all of it. We’ll take the coat. Be grateful.’

Grateful, no, but I could do the sums. I took off the coat and he tossed it to Jeitan.

‘Better,’ said Benit. ‘Right. Name? Full name.’

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