"While that sounds tempting, I have to put the marinade together for tomorrow's fowl dish," I said. Neidles left shortly after.
"Are we having fowl marinated in something for tomorrow?" Plovel chuckled and pushed his plate over.
"We are now," I muttered.
"Do you mean to tell me that my son is cooking for the Queen of Le-Ath Veronis?" Garek stared at Erland Morphis.
"Yes. I mean to tell you that and yes, your son is cooking for the Queen. My mate." Erland grinned. The grin alone could stop traffic at nearly any intersection.
"Well, at least I know where he is, now. I'm sure he did that because his mother insulted her. The Queen. Your mate." Garek glared at Erland.
"Keetha insulted Lissa?" Erland raised an eyebrow.
"Keetha insults everybody. I've learned to accept her criticism as a compliment."
"And what does she say about me?" Erland asked.
"That you're ugly." Erland laughed so hard he snorted. Garek laughed, too, and slapped Erland on the back.
"Any word on Reah?" Wylend walked in.
"Nothing, love." Erland pulled Wylend's head to his shoulder. "But we're still looking."
"I think about Reah every time I make this," Ilvan dipped into his fish stew. Once he'd learned that he and Edan would be working together, they'd formed a truce of some kind, and even had good conversations. Few of those conversations involved their shared past. Ilvan was surprised that Edan was so patient now. Something had changed in his older brother, who now treated fellow employees as equals instead of hired slaves. The head cook, a man called Silmor, seldom shouted at the help-there wasn't any need for it. Ilvan found that to be a welcome change. And, after a lengthy training day, Ilvan had put Reah's recipe for fish stew together for the staff.
"This is excellent," Silmor tasted his bowl of chowder. "We could sell this." Ilvan and Edan smiled at one another.
"So, they just tore down the building and put a park here." I surveyed the playground equipment. It needed paint and upkeep, in my opinion. Pipes were rusting and swing seats needed to be replaced.
"Probably hauled dirt in from somewhere," Plovel agreed. Our morning had begun extremely early-the sun was barely up and the spring winds were cold that blew across Grithis. I would have to go back and start the breakfast menu. Neither of my helpers had progressed enough to handle a meal on their own.
"I'm surprised they bothered. The way things are with the current politicians, they'd have left the concrete slab and let the children play on that." The more I saw of Grithis' government, the more I hoped the people would rise up and topple it.
"They had to bring in something-All these buildings have basements." Plovel pointed to the other buildings still standing on either side. "It had to be filled in and capped before the dirt is spread over it. That's standard across the planet."
"Ah." Still, I was surprised they bothered. "I wish I could stay but I have to open the restaurant. Good luck." I patted Plovel's arm and turned to go back to the inn.
I spent the rest of the day cooking and working the restaurant, only noticing while I was closing up that Plovel hadn't come in for the evening meal. He always did that, just to check in if nothing else. That had me worried.
"Have you seen Plovel?" I asked after I locked the restaurant, finding Neidles right behind me.
"Seen him? Not recently. I'll tell you where he is if you'll come to my suite." Rat-faced Neidles had done something and my breath caught in my throat.
"You'll tell me where he is now, and I'll not be coming to your suite, now or ever." I always carried my knife with me. Always. That knife was now at Neidles' throat and he was staring at me, frightened out of his wits.
"I had him arrested," his voice quavered, but that didn't keep the contempt out of it. "I've seen you two together. Don't think for a tick that I'd let that happen."
"Why was he arrested? Why?" I backed Neidles against the wall. "So help me, if they've harmed him, I'll cut your balls off." I hissed the threat at him, standing on tiptoe so my face would be in his.
"I-I told the authorities I saw him take a ch-child."
"You fucking moron," I snapped. "Find another cook, Neidles. We're done." If that didn't shock him enough, my skipping away certainly did.
"No one is allowed to see the prisoner," I was told by a constabulary officer every bit as loathsome as Neidles. Perhaps worse.
"You mean nobody sees him who doesn't pay first," I hissed. "Where is he?" I held back from gripping his throat in my hands.
"In the cell around the corner." The man was smiling now-he thought I was about to offer a bribe. He was dressed in a wrinkled uniform and sported oily brown hair. His eyes were washed-out blue, his mouth narrow.
"You disgust me," I snapped at him and skipped away. I heard his scream even as I appeared inside Plovel's cell. They'd beaten Plovel already-he had a black eye and a broken nose. His clothing was dirty, too, as if he'd been knocked into the dirt several times.
"Reah?" Plovel sat dejectedly on a rusty bunk that had no mattress. How anyone was supposed to sleep on that was beyond my comprehension.
"Plovel, can you stand?" I asked.
"I think so, why?"
"Because I'm getting you out of here. We have to hurry." I grabbed his hand and helped him up-I could hear shouting and running feet as I placed my shoulder beneath Plovel's arm and skipped away.
"Where's your office-where you work, Plovel?" I'd skipped us to the capital city of United Bardelus. It was called Bardelus Prime, for the Prime Minister.
"What? How did we get here?" Plovel peered around him, confused. "Am I dreaming?"
"No, hon. Tell me where to take you. I think you need help."
"Office on Lawgiver Street," he muttered. I had to ask three people who passed us before I got good directions. Skipping is only an exact science if I know precisely where I want to go. I did the best I could with what I had to work with.
"Where's your office?" Plovel's feet were dragging and I was taking much of his weight as we walked across marble tiles toward an elevator.
"Third floor. Anybody there will help," his speech was slurred. They'd hurt him worse than I thought.
"All right." I didn't bother with the elevator; I took him directly to the third floor by skipping. As soon as we got inside a reception area, people were shouting and calling for medical assistance.
"This may be the armpit of this section of the galaxy," Gavril muttered, looking around him. Lendill had given coordinates on where the children were disappearing. Gavril, Astralan and Stellan had brought Lendill along to look for their quarry.
"You think we need a place to stay, boss? There's an inn over there." Astralan jerked his head toward a two-story hotel that looked less run-down than its surroundings.
"Sure. We'll see if they have rooms and then we'll ask questions," Gavril agreed. There didn't seem to be anyplace that might meet his expectations as far as places to stay went.
"He looks like a rat," Stellan muttered to his oldest brother as Gavril approached the front desk and the clerk who stood behind it.
"We need two rooms with two beds each," Gavril said.
"I have two that just came open; I'll move in the extra beds right away," the clerk replied. "That will be one hundred silvers per room each night."
"Out of the question," Gavril snapped. "You will take fifty for each room and you will tell me anything you know about the child disappearances and any other criminal activity that you know of." Compulsion dripped from his voice, causing the clerk to go blank-eyed immediately.
"Harm Reah," Plovel's words were forced, "I'll fire all of you." That caused the female agent to take her hands from my arm. Did she think I'd done this to Plovel? Why would I haul him in if I'd beaten him? Some people just didn't think in times of crisis.
"He needs medical attention now," I snapped. Someone was already communicating on a comp-vid. I rode with Plovel to a nearby hospital, too, along with three agents.
"What happened? He didn't say we couldn't question you," the female agent said as Plovel was hauled into an emergency ward.
"The constabulary in Grithis happened, after some moron said Plovel had something to do with the child disappearances," I said.
"That's eight hundred clicks away," she scoffed.
"I'm not local," I said. "I can get around quickly if I must."
"I don't believe you. You're involved in this."
"Sure, and the moon is made of yogurt," I said, grabbing her arm and skipping right back to Grithis. "See-they're still having a fit over his disappearance." We stood outside the constable's station in the moonlight, staring at the window of Plovel's cell. I could see the shadows of people still milling around inside it. "If you don't mind, I'd prefer not to stay here." I took her arm and skipped her back to the hospital.
"How did you do that?" The agent stared at me, just as the two men we'd left behind were also staring. They'd seen us disappear and reappear.
"Do you have your head buried in the sand all the time? You should know that some races are capable of this."
"Yes, but, none of them ever come here," she said.
"I'm here now. And I want to know if Plovel is getting good care." I walked up to the reception desk. I heard all three agents whispering furiously behind me as I asked the aide what was happening.
"He won't let us treat him until he speaks with someone named Reah," a nurse or assistant walked toward us.
"That's me." I was led into a treatment room.