Call For Help: A snippet from Joining in the Round

It’s Sunday, I feel like doing a share. Here’s an excerpt from the second story of my Partners novella pairing.

When Felicity reached the security office, the twins were working behind the counter. Dee Geary kept an eye on the flocks and the guests by remote camera while Cee sorted through package deliveries. Both men had coal-black skin, broad cheekbones and hooked noses, and today they wore white poufy shirts under long brocaded jackets. Head scarves topped off the costumes, but the modern work boots and wrist comms were distinctly anachronistic touches.

“Doing Peter Pan for the spawn’s play this year?” Felicity asked.

“Narrr, don’cha know yer classics?” Cee’s grin showed off a gold tooth cover. “Treasure Island. Rehearsal after work.”

Dee waved. “Hi, Flee. You were on Bald Ridge when I pinged your beacon this morning. Did you sprint the whole way back?”

“I might’ve rushed a little.” Apprehension sizzled through her. “I’m not expecting vistors. What’s going on?”

“We’re hoping you can tell us.” Dee said, and Cee said, “I’ll bring them in.”He was out the front door in three seconds flat. Felicity went to Dee’s desk and took a look at the security monitor over his shoulder.

Two women were waiting patiently beside a utility vehicle parked in the visitor’s lot outside the gate. They were dressed like twins in thick gray coats, which was a lot more coverage than the weather warranted, unless they’d come from someplace higher in the mountains.

Dee said, “They won’t give IDs. Do you know them?”

Felicity didn’t recognize either of them. Physically the women had only stick-straight black hair and pale gold skin in common. One was nearly as tall as Felicity, but far less substantial. She was all narrow bones and lean muscle like a wolfhound. The shorter woman had twinkling narrow eyes above high round cheeks, and she was as delicate as a pixie. Together they made quite an eyeful.

When Felicity shrugged, Dee sighed in disappointment. Outside, Cee waved the pair towards the gatehouse with a swashbuckling bow. The short one gave him an impish grin in passing. The tall one watched everything else with a worried frown and made Cee go first up the walkway. Dee said, “I can tell you one thing: that one’s a Combined Forces discharge with trauma issues, or I’ll eat my hat.”<

That comment made Felicity think of someone else she’d met recently: another edgy soldier with an ambiguous identity. He’d traveled with a mischievous partner too. She’d taught the twitchy one to knit, and the partner had shown Felicity how amazing an ordinary life could look to someone who lived a dangerous one.

Thinking of that pair and the precautions she’d taken, she said, “Did you ask Henry to run the biometrics past his civvie contacts?”

“Of course. He said they didn’t have Bureau files.”

That was impossible. The government stored biometric identification on everyone, even foreign tourists. Felicity’s confusion must have been obvious, because Dee said, “It means he doesn’t have clearance for an inquiry. Either these two out-rank his civilian liaison or they’re running under false IDs for an investigation. Or both. All they’ll say is that they have news about mutual friends. Does that mean anything?”

Fear raised a cold sweat all over Felicity’s body and left her mouth dry. “Oh, no. No, no, no.”

She couldn’t think of a single good reason for government spies to be looking for her, but a bad one sprang to mind immediately. Her summer lover had been a meticulous, careful man as well as a caring one. No promises, they’d said when they parted, but he might’ve left instructions to find her.

Dee pushed his chair away from the desk and leaned back so he could see Felicity’s face. “There’s a story,” he said in a threatening tone. “I expect to hear every detail eventually.”

A moment later Cee was inside with the visitors. He made a flourishing gesture. “Anonymous mystery women, meet Felicity Chen. Felicity, meet your enigmatic admirers.” He withdrew behind the counter and conspicuously stood listening. Dee joined him. Together they waited with folded arms and watchful eyes. They ignored Felicity’s glare.

“Very menacing,” the short woman said. “I’ve never been menaced by pirates. I like it.”

She had a sweet soprano voice as delicate as the rest of her, and she wasn’t acting like someone with bad news. That was hopeful. She stepped forward and stuck out a fragile-looking hand. “Hi there. I’m Naomi Kwan. This is Serena Nguyen. It’s good to finally meet you.”

Cee ducked into the office, no doubt to run a background check. Naomi’s name sounded vaguely familiar. Felicity kept the handshake as brief as possible. “Is it good? I mean, is this about Carl and Parker or whatever their real names are? Did something happen to them?”

“No, no.” Naomi flexed her fingers, looking bemused. “They’re both fine. Alive. Whatever. Oh, I’m so sorry. Parker should’ve known you’d jump to conclusions, but he made us promise to meet in person, and maybe I should’ve left a message, but this is so awkward already…”

“Babbling, Naomi.” Serena’s voice was a brusque alto, every syllable clipped short. “Parker said to lead with this.”

Metal glinted between her fingers, and she flung something at the front door. Two long, thin rods hit the wooden jamb one after the other and stuck there quivering. Serena nodded at them while looking at Felicity. “He says that if you still like a challenge, then you should come home with us and teach Carl the same lesson you taught him.”

Her wide, dark eyes were disconcertingly direct. Felicity glanced away. Warm memories of helping a short-tempered man redevelop lost dexterity flickered through her mind. “Parker was always doing that when he got frustrated,” she said, looking to Naomi. “That’s where I heard the name Naomi. You were his physical therapist. For his hands.”

“I was.” Naomi’s eyes danced. “And you’re the reason he knits doggie boots when he’s stressed out. Do you still like a challenge?”

Dee was staring at the door. “Those are knitting needles?”

From the safety of the office Cee said, “Yes, and Flee usually has, like, three sets on her. Makes you look at her hobby a little differently, doesn’t it?”
“It’s a craft, not a hobby, and I—” Felicity sighed. “Never mind. I’m never going to convin-”

Serena spoke over her. “You will help, won’t you? Carl is healing with crooked wings, and he snaps and scratches and doesn’t listen. You’re all feathers and claws and big and solid too. You could make him fly right. Say yes, please?”<

That bizarre string of remarks defied response. Naomi cleared her throat to break the silence. “Let me try. Carl got injured, and he’s sabotaging his own recovery. Parker thinks you can get through to him. He’s away on a job he can’t leave, or he’d be here to convince you himself.”

“Convince me, or kidnap me?” Parker wasn’t the persuasive type. He was more the ‘hit things until they cooperate’ type.<

“Good point. Maybe it’s better he’s not here. Talking doesn’t come easy.” Naomi put a hand on Serena’s arm. “He isn’t the only one with that problem.”


Joining In The Round
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