Chapter 16: The Rusted Anchor

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The narrow, dirty streets of Genesi were just as miserable as Cyrus remembered. They were supposed to meet Grice in the eastern district, which meant a long walk through the slums first. Children on front porches stared avidly as they passed — and a group of men smoking on the streetcorner whistled and called to Corra and Leta  — but the walk was mostly uneventful.

Still, Cyrus could not help but feel tense. He’d never done this without his brother.

“So,” said Corra, breaking the uneasy silence. “We have a plan here or…are we just winging it?” She caught his eye and added hastily, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

Cyrus let out a heavy sigh. If he wasn’t already bound to embarrass himself before, now he also was bound to embarrass himself with Corra and Leta as an audience. He probably should have lied, or channeled some of his brother’s dramatic flair and pirate swagger. Unfortunately, his first instinct was honesty.

“The extent of my plan is to meet with the guy and ask for the trade and it’s sunshine and rainbows,” he admitted. “I already laid out the med supplies we need when I contacted him before. And what we have to offer.” Five cases, Ridellian made, virgin heat, he repeated in his head for the hundredth time, determined not to forget the names of what they were supplying. Or were they Rowenian made? Shit. “Ideally we can just look at the stuff. I mean…” He glanced apologetically at Leta, who was watching him wordlessly. Gods, she must have hated him for bringing her along. If something bad happened again… “You can look at the med stuff. Make sure it’s right. Then take him back to the ship to make the deal?”

The skepticism in his voice must have been obvious, because Corra said a little too brightly, “Sounds like a good plan to me. Where are we meeting him?”

“Uh…”

He’d forgotten the name of the place. He could remember the piston configurations of ships he hadn’t seen in ten years, but he couldn’t remember the name he’d been staring at all morning in his notes? There was no way this would end well. “It’s a bar,” he replied instead. “On the corner of 93rd and Collier. Not far. I don’t think.”

Finally, Cyrus recognized the pale neon lights of the shady dive bar (The Rusted Anchor — that was the name. Right). Inside, the room was dark, dingy, and completely empty, except for the bartender who stood behind the counter, wiping a glass with a dirty rag. He stopped when they entered.

“You here for Grice?” he grunted. Then he pointed toward the next room. “Back bar. Past the pool tables.”

Bavette Grice was one of the leaders of the Sons of Saints streetgang. Cyrus had met him only once before, years ago, when Fiearius hadn’t had much of a choice in back-up.

Broad-shouldered and twice the size of a normal man, Grice seemed to take up three bar stools himself. He had black mangled hair and a long beard, partially hiding his ruddy, tattooed face. He sat on one side of the L-shaped bar, poking at a plate of food. Behind him, three men stood silent and ready against the wall, each with long rifles in their hands.

Cyrus felt their eyes on him as stepped from the shadows and approached the bar, Leta and Corra with him, hoping he was displaying confidence he didn’t have. That’s what Fiearius always seemed to do. Actually, Fiearius probably would have swaggered over, swiped the man’s plate for himself and laughed in his face or something equally insane.

But what Cyrus said was, “Hi.”

Well, that was a start. Ignoring the pit of nausea in his stomach, he continued in a more pressing tone, “I’m here about the supplies.” Grice looked up from his plate and stared over at him vacantly, his eyes empty of surprise or any emotion in particular. Suddenly fearing that he wouldn’t remember their discussion, Cyrus clarified hurriedly, “I sent you a message about them yesterday.” Which, of course, he realized, sounded pathetic, so he quickly added sternly, “I trust you brought what I need.”

It was not exactly the typical Solivere swagger. But nonetheless, Grice dropped his fork with a clank. “Hang on. I thought ya — where’s your brother?” He frowned. “He dead?”

“Dead?” Cyrus repeated, unable to help his surprise. Oh gods, did he think he’d been talking to the other Soliveré? Great. Just great.

“He’s not dead,” he continued. “He’s…” On vacation, he thought bitterly. “Busy.” And just to reassert the dominance he was completely lacking, “This deal’s with me anyway, not him.”

Grice’s expression registered no recognition at all. Cyrus suddenly had the sense that this man had taken one too many punches to the head in his life. Finally, he nodded slowly, his small beady eyes traveling to Leta and Corra. “And just who’re you two?”

Beside him, he felt Corra tense, ready to snap at Grice with the poise of someone who’d been in hundreds of these meetings and the perfect cutting response to such a rude question. For some reason, Cyrus thought it would be a better idea for him to cut her off with a hasty, “They’re my associates. That’s all you need to know.”

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