Once Bobbie was outside, her height was both an advantage and a disadvantage. Being a head and a half taller than most everyone around her meant that she could afford to stay pretty far behind Soren as he hurried along the sidewalk. She could spot the top of his head from half a city block away. At the same time, if he looked behind him, he couldn’t miss her face sticking up a good third of a meter out of the crowd.
But he didn’t turn around. In fact, he appeared to be in something of a hurry, pushing his way through the knots of people on the busy sidewalks around the UN campus with obvious impatience. He didn’t look around or pause by a good reflective surface or backtrack. He’d been nervous answering the page, and he was being pointedly, angrily not nervous now.
Whistling past the graveyard. Bobbie felt her muscles soften, her joints grow loose and easy, her hunch slip a centimeter closer to certainty.
After three blocks he turned and went into a bar.
Bobbie stopped a half block away and considered. The front of the bar, a place creatively named Pete’s, was darkened glass. If you wanted to duck in somewhere and see if people were following you, it was the perfect place to go. Maybe he’d gotten smart.
Maybe he hadn’t.
Bobbie walked over to the front door. Getting caught following him had no consequences. Soren already hated her. The most ethically suspect thing she was doing was cutting out early to pop into a neighborhood bar. Who was going to rat on her? Soren? The guy who cut out just as early and went to the same damn bar?
If he was in there and doing nothing more than grabbing an early beer, she’d just walk up to him, apologize for the cookie thing, and buy him his second round.
She pushed the door open and went inside.
It took her eyes a moment to adjust from the early-afternoon sunlight outside to the dimly lit bar. Once the glare had faded, she saw a long bamboo bar top manned by a human bartender, half a dozen booths with about as many patrons, and no Soren. The air smelled of beer and burnt popcorn. The patrons gave her one look and then carefully went back to their drinks and mumbled conversations.
Had Soren ducked out the back to ditch her? She didn’t think he’d seen her, but she wasn’t exactly trained for tailing people. She was about to ask the bartender if he’d seen a guy run through, and where that guy might have gone, when she noticed a sign at the back of the bar that said POOL TABLES with an arrow pointing left.
She walked to the back of the bar, turned left, and found a smaller, second room with four pool tables and two men. One of them was Soren.
They both looked up as she turned the corner.
“Hi,” she said. Soren was smiling at her, but he was always smiling. Smiling, for him, was protective coloration. Camouflage. The other man was large, fit, and wearing an excessively casual outfit that tried too hard to look like it belonged in a seedy pool hall. It clashed with the man’s military haircut and ramrod-straight posture. Bobbie had a feeling she’d seen his face before, but in a different setting. She tried to picture him with a uniform on.
“Bobbie,” Soren said, giving his companion one quick glance and then looking away. “You play?” He picked up a pool cue that had been lying on one of the tables, and began chalking the tip. Bobbie didn’t point out that there were no balls on any of the tables, and that a sign just behind Soren said RENTAL BALLS AVAILABLE ON REQUEST.
His companion said nothing but slid something into his pocket. Between his fingers Bobbie caught a glimpse of black plastic.
She smiled. She knew where she’d seen the second man before.
“No,” she said to Soren. “It’s not popular where I come from.”
“Slate, I guess,” he replied. His smile became a bit more genuine and a lot colder. He blew the chalk dust off the pool cue’s tip and moved a step to the side, shifting toward her left. “Too heavy for the early colony ships.”
“Makes sense,” Bobbie said, moving back until the doorway protected her flanks.
“Is this a problem?” Soren’s companion said, looking at Bobbie.
Before Soren could reply, Bobbie said, “You tell me. You were at that late-night meeting in Avasarala’s office when Ganymede went to shit. Nguyen’s staff, right? Lieutenant something or other.”
“You’re digging a hole, Bobbie,” Soren said, the pool cue held lightly in his right hand.
“And,” she continued, “I know Soren handed you something his boss had asked him to take to data services a couple days ago. I bet you don’t work in data services, do you?”
Nguyen’s flunky took a menacing step toward her, and Soren shifted to her left again.
Bobbie burst out laughing.
“Seriously,” she said, looking at Soren. “Either stop jerking that pool cue off or take it somewhere private.”
Soren looked down at the cue in his hand as though surprised to see it there, then dropped it.
“And you,” Bobbie said to the flunky. “You trying to come through this door would literally be the high point of my month.” Without moving her feet she shifted her weight forward and flexed her elbows slightly.
The flunky looked her in the eye for one long moment. She grinned back.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m gonna get blue balls you keep teasing me like this.”
The flunky put up his hands. Something halfway between a fighting stance and a gesture of surrender. Never taking his eyes off Bobbie, he turned his face slightly toward Soren and said, “This is your problem. Handle it.” He backed up two slow steps, then turned and walked across the room and into a hallway Bobbie couldn’t see from where she was standing. A second later, she heard a door slam.
“Shit,” Bobbie said. “I bet I’d have scored more points with the old lady if I’d gotten that memory stick back.”
Soren began to shuffle toward the back door. Bobbie crossed the space between them like a cat, grabbing the front of his shirt and pulling him up until their noses were almost touching. Her body felt alive and free for the first time in a long time.
“What are you going to do,” he said through a forced smirk, “beat me up?”
“Naw,” Bobbie replied, shifting to an exaggerated Mariner Valley drawl. “I’m gonna tell on you, boy.”
Chapter Twenty-Six: Holden
Holden watched the monster quiver as it huddled against the cargo bay bulkhead. On the video monitor, it looked small and washed out and grainy. He concentrated on his breathing. Long slow breath in, fill up the lungs all the way to the bottom. Long slow breath out. Pause. Repeat. Do not lose your shit in front of the crew.