Even as he stepped out of his office, Gideon heard the telltale squeak of the street door opening, and a breath later, felt the slap of damp air rushing up the stairs
The bruisers from the street had gotten the door open.
Giving Lulu a testing flip, he flicked a glance at the stairs leading to the third floor and attic, then crossed to the top of the stairs leading to his landing.
Here, he caught a series of faint, shuffling thumps from below.
If that wasn’t one of the aforementioned bruisers trying to sneak up the stairs, he’d eat Rolf’s Chicken Tolstoy.
Knowing timing was everything, Gideon held his place.
He counted the muffled thuds and kept a close eye on the mid-flight landing below, where the glossy finish glowed warm under the light of the sconce.
When he got to the ninth clump, and a hint of a shadow slid onto the landing, Gideon made his move.
And it was quite the move, if he did say so himself, as he opted not to descend the stairs so much as jump them.
Pushing off with his right hand on the rail, he reached the landing in two bounds.
By the end of the first leap, he had Lulu cocked back like the bat in a game of net the queen.
By the end of the second, she was swinging round to catch the incoming bruiser across the face with a cheek-opening crack.
Still reeling from the blow, spitting blood on Gideon’s freshly varnished landing, the bruiser continued to bring the small, short-range shooter in his right hand to bear.
Until Gideon slammed Lulu onto his wrist to send the shooter clattering down the stairs.
Five seconds and three blows later, the limp, bleeding bruiser followed, though his musclebound frame made a deal less noise than the palm-sized weapon.
Gideon didn’t have time to appreciate the varying acoustics, however, as he was already running down the steps after the would-be assassin’s tumbling body.
As he neared the foyer, he spied another bruiser, who he immediately labeled Bruiser Number Two, striding through the open door, cosh in hand and murder in his eyes.
Gideon continued to run, leaping over the inert heap of the original bruiser (now, by necessity, Bruiser Number One), to fling himself across the foyer and straight into Bruiser Number Two.
He slammed the guy full on in the gut with his shoulder and felt the impact in every bone as he pushed the opposing body a whopping two steps out the door.
Out in the rain, Gideon heard the distinctive sound of leather splashing, which told him Bruiser Number Two had dropped his cosh in favor of using both hands to grab hold of Gideon’s coat and hold him in the bent-in-half position he’d assumed during the rush.
This gave Gideon the opportunity to notice both the size of B-2’s boots (mammoth), and some torn-up bits of flower petals in the boot’s laces.
Gideon identified the petals as those of a plum flower at around the same time B-2’s hands released their grip on Gideon’s coat and smashed into his kidneys.
Pain clouding his vision, Gideon gritted his teeth and kept his one-armed grip around the guy’s middle while, from below, he punched Lulu straight into B-2’s nethers.
The ensuing scream was both piercing and satisfying.
While B-2 dropped, clutching his favorite bits, Gideon forced himself to a standing position. Once upright, he again brought Lulu to bear, this time in a measured shot to the back of B-2’s head, putting him out of his misery.
He had all of two seconds to enjoy the quiet before Mia’s voice exploded from above.
“Left!” she shouted, her voice pitched to carry.
He spun towards Cornwell.
“Your other left!” she shouted again, then quickly added, “I mean right! Your right, my left… Sorry!”
Since her apology arrived at the same time as the four sets of boots splashing across the pavers, Gideon didn’t have time to send her a recriminating glare.
But he thought about it.
Especially as every one of the approaching quartet was armed; two shooters and two crossbows, respectively.
Not the best odds, he decided, and, as they circled him, held his arms out at his sides, Lulu hanging by the tips of his fingers. “Guess you got me,” he said, focusing on the short, burly fellow Dani identified as her stalker.
Up close, the guy reminded Gideon of a tree stump with a mustache.
“So it would appear,” the tree stump agreed, sounding more like a politician than, well, a tree stump. “A pity I don’t want you.”
“That’s just hurtful,” Gideon said, while the tree stump flicked a finger at one of his cohorts.
At the prompt, Flunky Number One, (she was too slim to merit Bruiser) peeled off and headed for the open door of 9 Doyle.
While she moved, Gideon scanned the street, trying to figure out how the tree stump had produced three more fighters.
Then his eyes lit on the van still parked in front of Sally’s. Its rear doors were open and the quarterstar dropped.
“That’s how,” he murmured, meeting the tree stump’s watchful gaze. “You brought a lot of muscle.”
“I find it pays to have backup available at all times.”
“It’s a sound tactic,” Gideon agreed, glancing to where Flunky Number One was passing the inert form of Bruiser Number Two. Seconds later, she peered inside the foyer of Gideon’s building. “Merlin’s down,” she reported, stepping back, her shooter at the ready.
The stump’s brows rose all the way to the dripping brim of his jauntily angled derby. “It appears Lekan was right about you,” he said to Gideon.
“Lekan?” Gideon echoed, while another of the flunkies, earning himself the moniker Flunky Number Two, yanked Lulu from his fingers. “Hey,” Gideon protested. “Careful with her.”
“Her?” F-2’s lips pulled back in a sneer as he dropped Lulu into a puddle, then aimed his crossbow at Gideon’s chest.
“Finish Solis,” the tree stump ordered, showing a distinct lack of interest in Gideon’s anthropomorphizing his weaponry.
Flunky Number—Gideon did a quick headcount—Number Three cocked his crossbow as he jogged off to join Flunky Number One.
Watching F-3’s progress, Gideon began a mental countdown.
On six, a blaze of plasma shot from the second story, landing next to F-3’s left boot.
Gideon had to give credit where due because F-3 didn’t waste time gawking at the smoking mess of a paver. Instead, with the reflexes of a trained soldier, the man had his bow up and aiming for the window—in time for a second shot of plasma to score him in the thigh.
Which was when Gideon, who also had a soldier’s reflexes, flung himself into a forward roll, avoiding the tree stump’s plasma shot and the arrow loosed by Flunky Number Two.
As he rolled, a flash of motion above formed itself into Dani making an arcing leap from the window.
He got an impression of the billowing green coat, the sinuous flow of the sash she used as her jump line, and the black wings of her hair.
Even as he continued the roll, slapping a hand down to retrieve Lulu on his way to his feet, Gideon experienced the same thrill as he had the first time he’d witnessed Dani in action, back in the Battle of Chrysler Valley.
Judging from the raucous cheer from above, Mia was also impressed.
Then he was on his feet, where F-2 was swinging his empty bow at Gideon’s face, and his focus narrowed to the simple necessity of survival.
Bones jarred, knuckles tore, and Lulu reverberated as he blocked or landed blow after blow.
His breath came fast, and his blood thundered in his ears while he and F-2 struggled for possession of the crossbow in a parody of the argentango Maria and Kinu loved so much.
Gideon thought he might have heard a rickshaw passing over on Butler, but if anyone spied the action on Doyle, they didn’t stop to investigate.
After what felt like hours, though the back of his brain knew it had been less than two minutes, Gideon got in close enough to deliver a head-to-nose blow known commonly as the Epsilon Kiss, sending the other man staggering back, eyes glazing over, blood spouting from his nose to mix with the steady fall of rain.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish