Assembling a Team

Kris and I were quite glad to leave Lucatz's house the next day. Disguised, and armed with the fake IDs that Lucatz had gotten for us, we wandered about the Underurbs, doing our best to keep a low profile.

Neither of us had any real idea how we were going to rescue Vengeance. What had seemed like an attainable goal in the far-removed strongroom a week ago was now starting to look impossible. Kris and I had escaped on — if not pure luck — then with at least a hefty dose of it. Security would no doubt be doubly tight since our escape and Vengeance in particular would be under close guard since Wayne would no doubt suspect what we intended to do.

"We need an inside man," I muttered as we crouched under a bridge in the Canal District one evening. "We need an easy way in and an easy way out and a way to pass information in and out of the Arena."

"Gavin, there's no one, no one in their right mind, who would help us," Kris reminded me. "We're both dangerous criminals and the price on our heads is high enough that anyone would turn us in, given the chance."

"Lucatz didn't," I said.

Kris laughed scornfully. "Lucatz is a wanted criminal in his own right. And we had a powerful bargaining chip, something we no longer have. He couldn't have turned us in without exposing himself."

This was true. But I knew Lucatz, and where there was money to be made, he could always find a way around any potential complications. No, Lucatz had helped us because somewhere, deep down, he still remembered that I was his brother, and that still mattered to him. But I kept my thoughts to myself.

"We're going to need a team," I said, staring into the gently swirling blackness of the canal. "We can't do it alone this time."

"Gavin . . ."

"No, listen, I know some people. Lucatz knows some more. There are people who'll help us, people too afraid of being caught themselves to turn us in. Lucatz will help us. And I know someone else."

"This is ridiculous, Gavin," Kris protested. "I said I would help you, but it's impossible. We have no resources — there's no one we can trust. Not Lucatz, not anyone. You do realize what he and his gang just did to us? They locked us up in a strongroom for days! I don't care if he's your brother, Gavin. I'm sorry, but he's a slimeball."

I watched a whiskey bottle drift by, bobbing like a ship lost at sea, and thought of the proverbial message in a bottle: the last hope for a shipwrecked sailor. I said nothing.

Kris seemed to realize she had taken it a little too far. She put an arm around me.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice soft. "I only meant . . . why would anyone help us? Even if they didn't decide to claim the price on our heads, we don't have anything to give in return."

I hesitated. I was afraid to voice the thought that had been fermenting in my mind over the last week. But it was the only option I could think of. Kris could either go along with it or try to come up with something better herself.

"We can pay them," I said. I expected Kris to object, but she didn't; she knew there was more.

"Do you know how much the Arena rakes in on bets and tickets each night?" I asked. "And how about on a really good night? A really big match?"

Kris' mouth was starting to open as she realized where I was headed. I plowed on before she could say anything.

"And d'you know where that money goes afterward? To the owners, the guards, government bribes. But not until the next day."

"Gavin —"

"We can do this, Kris! Me and Lucatz will assemble a team. My share will be to break Vengeance out. Everyone else will get a cut of the profits."

"I still don't see how this could work," said Kris doubtfully. "It would have to be a really big match to be worth their while."

"That's why I'll turn myself in," I said. "Me and Vengeance ought to draw crowds."

"No," said Kris. "No, they'll kill you before they even throw you into the ring. I should do it instead. I'm a bigger name over at the Arena anyway. And Jeremy Wayne won't kill me on sight."

"I'm not going to let you —"

"Gavin, if you want this plan to succeed, this is the best way," said Kris. Her voice was steely and there was a hard glint in her eyes that could have cut a diamond.

"You'll be more useful as part of the jailbreak team. You have the skill set for it. Plus," said Kris grinning, "you've already had a go against Vengeance. It's my turn now."

This was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn't deny that Kris was right. I looked her in the eye.

"You're sure you want to do this?"

"Of course I am! Now get on with the rest of the plan. Who's your team?"

"Well, I know I can rope Lucatz into this," I said. "He has plenty of friends in low places. And then there's the Raven. He was leader of the Blood Hawks before they were shut down. He's the only one of the gang who never got rounded up. Ironic, really."

"Well, where is he now?" asked Kris.

"He lives on the surface. We're going to have to make a trip back to the light to see him."

"I'd like that," said Kris, leaning against me. "I miss the sky."

"I do too," I said, and we both watched the bobbing whiskey bottle float on down the canal, until it finally sailed into the thirsty mouth of a drain pipe and was swallowed by darkness.

The End

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