Upper Cliff Drive
Dina and her mother took a short stroll down the road, where all the excitement was still showing no signs of abating.
The cliff houses were all around century old, each one individually designed to fit onto the natural niches in the cliffs that ringed much of the Malta Massif.
They all tended to be of moderate size, her parents' house with three bedrooms was about average. Next door, Axel's house was fairly large, although four of the five bedroom were rather small. And two rooms off the garage could be two more bedrooms for servants . . . The next two houses were mid sized, the third, one of the largest.
But it wasn't its size that was causing the commotion.
No, it was that everyone was convinced it was Igor's house. "Stolen" from him by the brutal Inquisition just yesterday. The real estate investment firm that had bought it from the Inquisition was going to make a killing on it when the bidding stopped.
A steady stream of gawkers had started early in the morning . . . and now it was worse, tearful women reverently placing flowers on the neglected landscaping.
Lady Kysusha Gargarin shook her head. "Well, he's rich. If he wants to buy one house to save another . . ."
"It must have been Pauli. He's amazingly good with computers." Dina eyed the big building. "I heard it was a wreck inside, with structural issues. Someone will regret buying it. I just hope they can afford to lose money."
A man walking past caught that and frowned. "You think Igor will lose popularity?"
"Umm, I don't think he's ever actually lived there. It's a wreck and has been vacant for years." She shrugged. "Although he probably did own it." But not for more than a year, when he turned fifty. And most likely he set it up as a decoy when Stuttgart got pushy . . . except they knew the right house to search and strip and vandalize. So . . . this house must be a recent acquisition?
The man narrowed his eyes in thought, and she could pick up flecks of it . . . We searched the wrong damned house . . . he was just a few houses away . . . this is the retard I ought to have . . .
She shivered. "I suppose he might have left it looking like a wreck and had a safe room inside? Like in spy movies?" She tried to look like she was ogling the house. She shook her head and stepped away. "Well, c'mon Mom, I think maybe we should head the other way for our exercise, for a few days, until all the excitement dies down."
She steered her mom away and felt the man walking the other way. Pulled out her phone and bit her lip. Put it to her ear and aimed the camera by the slimy feel. Tapped in her brother's number. I don't know who else to call.
"Vlad? There's a Stutten agent hanging around down the street. Looking over the house that isn't Axel's. Let me see if the picture's any good . . . oh yeah. Sending."
A moment's silence. "That's one of Schweiger's men. Leave the area now, and if he follows you . . ."
"Good I'm turning this over to Fast Response, since the Alliance office is going to be involved anyway."
"Right." She clicked off and looked up as an aircar dropped to the road and armored Cyborg leaped out. She turned back and spotted the Stuttgartian agent. "It's the man up in the weeds peering through the window."
A grin from the big Cyborg running past, then the Agent was pulling a gun . . . and folding down to the ground.
"Aww Murph! Now you're just showing off!" The second Cyborg slowed his advance, scanning the crowd. People looking alarmed, but no one running away.
"Well, Mom, we should . . ."
The big Cyborg was back, pulling off his helmet. "Dina, right?"
"Yes? And you're Axel's friend Murphy?"
"Right," a grin. "So how did you spot him?"
"I . . . picked up his thoughts? That they'd searched and trashed the wrong house, and he recognized me, so he was one of the Stuttens who searched our house, thinking we'd be hiding Axel."
"And did you?" A new voice behind her.
She turned, a man in a business suit. Tall, dark haired which gray at his temples. "Director Rasputin?" She winced at the nervous squeak in her voice. Swallowed. This is like a policeman from the Alliance, not a local cop. And Vlad always said . . . "That would have been highly illegal, sir!"
They both grinned and her mother looked alarmed.
The Director pulled out a card and a pen. Wrote on the back. "If you find another call this number, and read off this. Also call if you feel threatened."
She took the card and watched them walk back to the stunned man. Looked at the aircar. How did they get here so fast? Vlad must hace started calling them as soon as I said Stutten agent. And . . . Up Top is right up there, nearby, when you can fly. I guess they really are on a hair trigger.
"Dina? Sweetie? Those men searched the house, so you couldn't have been hiding that nice young man . . . could you?"
"Oh, Mom, don't be silly."
Mom sighed. "Well, that was after I sampled your medicine, so I probably would have noticed."
Dina grinned. "Or maybe I was just extra sneaky."
Mom eyed her but did say anything else as they continued their three mile walk.
Her phone buzzed. Natasha's number. "Oh good. Are you all right? We spotted the FRT activity by your house."
"We're fine, I spotted a Stutten agent looking over the house that isn't really Axel's and Called Vlad, he called the FRT. Are you four still all right? Are you free?"
"Yeah, apart from all of us wanting to hoist the pirate flag and go find the boss. Pauli's deep into . . . something. He says he's saved everything Axel cares about, and maybe a quarter of his money."
"Umm, he never does seem to care about the money, does he? I think you four and the Rehab Center are what he'd really worry about. Even the house is less impotant."
Natasha sighed. "Yes, he only cares about people. Things can be replaced. But I hope he comes home to something like normal. And you. I . . . have never seen him react to anyone the way he softens up and smiles when he sees you, or someone just mentions your name."
He does? "His life is so complicated. And he . . . compartmentalizes." But he is showing me things, bit by bit.
"Oh, God, yes! And I swear every walled-off box of it is complicated! The lazy cousin at Vingradov House! A job as a Fast Response Team Mentalist! Up Top! His own little house with a girlfriend! The Rehab Center!"
Dina giggled. "The forest. The horse. The cows."
"He has a horse? I mean, I know about the forest . . . did you say cows?" and more faintly off mic, "Did you guys know Axel has cows?" a few mumbles, then loud and clear. "How many cows does that man have?"
"He said three thousand. I only saw four."
"Three . . ." Natasha sounded a bit stunned. "How about I come pick you up for lunch? I want to hear about these cows."
"And you can tell me how the Executioner got the wrong address."
And I want to hear about the lazy man. And Up Top, but I'll bet we'd have to get one of his Cyborg buddies drunk to hear about that.
Will I ever know everything about that man?