"I believe you dropped this, sir."
It was a girl, no more than thirteen years old, with a grubby face and dark, glimmering eyes. Kris jumped, her hand dropping automatically to her hip holster before she spotted the speaker.
"That's not —" Kris began, but I nudged her to quiet her and took the proffered envelope.
"Thank you," I murmured to the girl, but she was already gone. Two streets over, I inspected the envelope in the shelter of a large liquid hydrogen tank.
"Do you think it's from the Raven?" she asked as I opened it.
"I know it's from the Raven," I said, letting my eyes wander down the short note scrawled inside.
The Remington Casino at 5:40. Come unarmed and with only the woman you travel with. I shall be at table 14. You will not recognize me.
I passed the note to Kris.
"I don't like this," she said immediately. "I don't like this at all. A casino? There'll be cameras and security and hundreds of people to recognize our faces and report us to the police. We can't, Gavin. It's too dangerous."
"This is the Remington," I said. "Not the Royal or the Silverman. The police wouldn't walk within a block of that place. Why? Because they practically own the place. They know that as long as they don't go poking around in it, the money'll keep flowing out onto their bankcards."
Kris didn't look convinced.
"That doesn't mean we can't be cautious," I assured her. "Look, we'll make sure we get some new disguises, and I'll get us in through the back door."
"The back door?"
"Yes, the door where you pay a little hush money and get to slip past the bouncers no questions asked."
"But we don't have any money," said Kris.
"No," I agreed. "But the Raven will have paid them off already."
* * *
We got to the Remmington by five o' clock. I caught sight of my reflection in the smoky, tinted-glass windows as we made our way around the building. I was wearing dark glasses, a bandanna, and a new jacket I had found dumpster diving. I could barely recognize myself. I smiled. So did the man in the glass.
Through a rusted gate and a graveyard of trash cans and storage crates, we discovered the back door, which was flanked by a couple of men having a smoke.
Kris seemed very nervous beside me. She had not liked the prospect of giving up her gun, but I had insisted that we simply were not going to get an audience with the Raven otherwise. Or else, it would be a very short one, culminating in our bodies being dumped into the canal.
The men stopped talking and looked up as our footsteps crunched across the vacant yard. I twisted my thumb and finger into a circle and held it at my side for the men to see. They squinted at me suspiciously.
"'The hell're you?" one said without preamble.
I didn't say anything. I just handed him the envelope we'd been delivered earlier. The man read it, then passed it to his fellow. After receiving a nod of approval, the man grabbed my shoulder roughly and pinned my hands behind my back. Kris let out a cry, but I promptly ordered her to shut up as the other man began viciously combing my body with a metal detector.
He took a little longer on Kris, but thankfully he didn't get too thorough.
"You's free to go," said the man after completing his search. He unlocked the door for us with a swipe of his security card.
In the dingy casino interior, Kris finally got her voice back and began to utter an impressive stream of profanities in rapid succession under her breath.
"Gavin, we can't do this," she moaned after she'd gotten some control over herself. "We can't. We have to leave. Now."
"Too late for that," I said, taking her hand and steering us through the rowdy throngs of gamblers, waiters, showgirls, and shady characters who were somewhat more difficult to categorize.
I sat us both down at table 14, where I ordered Kris and myself a drink from a passing waitress. She slipped me a wad of feds with the glasses (which only barely surprised me) and I used it to buy us both into the blackjack game.
I scanned the table for the Raven, but he had warned me that I wouldn't recognize him, so I was not surprised when I saw only a group of quiet strangers.
"Gavin!" Kris hissed at me as I lost my first hand.
"Listen," I muttered back, trying to allay her paranoia, "I don't like it any better than you, but we're in too deep now —"
"No, shut up, there's someone watching us over there."
I followed her eyes and gently turned my head to observe a dark-skinned woman with maze-like braids coiling over her scalp. She was standing in the corner, staring pointedly at us.
"Sir, hit or stand?"
"Uh, stand, sorry," I said, turning back to the table. Kris raised her eyebrows at me.
"Okay, I see her, too," I murmured, "but it's almost five-forty. She could just be . . ."
I didn't really know what else she could be, but it didn't really matter, because I was suddenly distracted. The dealer had just dealt me a new hand, his fingers curled subtly into a familiar shape. I looked up at him. He winked.
"Good to see you, Mr. Ryder," he said.