Chapter 23—The Prime Minister’s Plan
Two nondescript cars slid through Mandalay’s sleeping streets, the tires throwing rain behind in a white susurrus.
“The Summerfall rains,” Mara mused, watching runnels on the windshield. Streetlights illuminated them in strobes. “So soon.”
“Not soon enough for me.” Jed Cabot shifted on the seat next to her. “I’ll be glad to see this cursed season end.”
Mara looked at him, saw Willa’s full face and Collier’s wild hair. And even in the dim light, she could see the determined set of his mouth. But when he met her eyes, it turned into a familiar wry smirk.
“Do you have any questions, Ma’am?”
“Robby took Lydia back to Yvette’s house?”
“Yes, along with Mother. She said she was too nervous to tag along.”
Mara smiled a little. “She’ll be nervous there, too.”
“Why bring the others?” Francisco asked. He sailed the car through a blinking traffic light. “We look more like a parade than a covert maneuver.”
Jed shrugged. “Dad didn’t say. Just that everyone else should wait out of sight.”
Francisco grunted, thinking. “And you’re sure about Captain Mendoza?”
“He’s a good man in a tight place,” Jed said. “He’ll help us all he can.”
“Any surveillance outside the Station?”
“Surveillance?” Jed smiled at the joke, but when he saw Francisco’s serious expression, his eyes widened. “I don’t know.”
“Then, we’ll leave both cars in the park. Make our way to the back of the Station through the alley between the Commerce building and the City Archives.”
“I think there’s a streetlight at the end of that alley,” Mara told him.
He nodded. “I’ll knock it out before we cross.”
The cars entered Elise Park and crunched gravel. It sounded too loud to Mara, like someone trying to tiptoe through popping Champaign corks. The brief rain had stopped. Stars once again dotted the night sky, but the air was damp and heavy. Leaves dripped on them as they gathered under a big Cannis tree.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?” Gregor pitched his voice low. He and Boris stood close to Francisco, who was checking his gun. The younger man shook his head.
“Watch the Station. If something goes wrong, we may need help getting out.” He ducked his head at Deborah and Adrianna. “You two wait by the cars. If Gregor whistles, you bring them to the back of the Station in a hurry. Understand?”
Both women nodded. By then, Gregor and Boris were checking their own guns.
Jed Cabot ran a hand through his hair. “Majesty…”
“Don’t worry, Jed.” She slipped her arm under his and steered him toward the park gate. “I’m sure everything will go exactly as you explained. We’ve just learned to be careful.”
Mara watched him take in this information and find a place for it in his civilized reality. Moonlight through the trees played over his face.
“Yes,” he finally said. “Of course.”
She smiled to herself. Just like Colli, she thought. Minds quick enough to spin on a penny. The next thought drained her amusement and forced her free hand to her belly. Linny, Linny, Pretty Penny.
“Wait,” Francisco ordered, jogging past them.
He slipped through the park gate, dashed across the empty street and into the mouth of an alley. Mara could barely make out his darker shadow running down the City Archives side of the night-filled space. In the tight corridor, puddles gleamed with the light of a distant street lamp. They waited, then heard a faint pop and titter of broken glass. The alley puddles turned black. In a moment, Francisco reappeared and motioned them forward.
Jed pried the old gate farther open to allow Mara’s bulk through, then he took her arm and trotted her briskly across the street. In the alley, she leaned a hand against the Commerce building, panting.
“Speed is off my itinerary for now,” she gasped. “Could we creep instead? I’m great at creeping.”
They made their way more slowly down the alley. Across the now-darkened side street, the back of the Home Guard Station butted up against a small parking lot. A lone patrol car slumbered there. They crossed the street, cut through the lot, and approached the Station. Jed hurried past several doors, then stopped.
“This one,” he whispered.
Francisco tried the latch. It opened.
“Captain Mendoza is making his surprise inspection now?” he verified with Jed.
The young lawyer checked his timepiece. “We’ve got about twenty minutes.”
Francisco opened the door into a dark hallway. Faint voices echoed deep in the building. Jed led them in.
“This way,” he whispered.
The corridor turned past a dark kitchenette that smelled of fried sausage, and turned again past closed office doors. Mara could distinguish Uri Mendoza’s voice now, faint but rasping in a steady drone. It sounded like the Small Hour shift was getting lectured about filing paperwork properly.
“Here,” Jed said at the door of a nameless room. He grabbed the knob and pushed in.
Collier Cabot and Javier Juarez sat at an interrogation table, their white jailhouse jumpsuits blinding in the stark overhead light after the darkness of the hallway. When they saw Mara, they rose to their feet. She crossed the room and clutched the Prime Minister in a strangling embrace. He felt thin, his back boney against her hands.
“I’m sorry to make you come back,” he muttered.
“You could never make me do anything…” She kissed his cheek and released him. “… so, shut up. We don’t have much time.”
Governor Juarez smiled and took her hand, his touch warm and gentle as always. She sat in his chair. Francisco and Jed stayed by the door. The Prime Minister pulled his chair up to the table.
“Back in June,” he started, “Horatio and Delilah went to Holyoak to question the Alliance for Callinda leaders.”
Mara nodded. “I remember.”
“The party’s accounts were handled by a financial house in Maya, so he went to Javier for permission to look at their records.”
“Specifically, he wanted a copy of the finance house’s client list,” the Governor added, leaning back against the wall. “General Jones hoped there would be a connection between the Alliance and other clients the house served.”
“He researched the businesses on the list,” Cabot continued, “and discovered that Ang Chan’s wife sat on the board of a firm called Callinda Investments.”
A chill ran up Mara’s spine. Callinda Investments. The same firm that financed the Yangtze drill tests. The same firm that financed the Crown Mountain retool. She kept her mouth closed and listened.
“You know Horatio.” Cabot smiled a little.
“He did not care for General Chan,” Javier said tactfully.
The Prime Minister’s bushy eyebrows jumped. “You’re a kind man, Javier. Horatio called Chan a lying bag of clam squirt who’d sell his family to rule the world. He asked the Juarez Elder—Alonzo—to dig into Callinda Investments.
“While he waited for Alonzo’s report, he returned to Holyoak. This is where my information starts to get thin. I know he wanted to talk to Covenant and Moira Kelly.”
“He did,” Mara told him. “He asked Covenant to keep Chan in place, even though she wanted to fire him.”
Cabot glanced at Governor Juarez. “He was setting a trap, then.”
The governor nodded.
Cabot went on. “The last time I talked with Horatio, he was on his way to Inverness, a little village in the Eastern Pass Mountains. He was excited and hurried and, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t catch everything he said. Something about Chan and Callinda Investments, something about Griffen Kelly’s family. He told me to be careful. He thought Javier and I were being set up and that others were probably in danger as well. But, he also said not to worry because he had the evidence to clear us of any wrongdoing.”
Cabot sighed. “When I didn’t hear from him after our arrest, I told Captain Mendoza and Delilah everything I knew. They couldn’t find Horatio or Chan. Covenant couldn’t help much—she was overwhelmed by the hearings about her husband.
“We have to find him. And if we can’t find him, we have to find out what he knew. Our trial starts next week, and if Javier and I go to prison, so will Covenant’s husband and maybe Covenant, too. Delilah says there’s talk in Congress of dismantling the Underground and taking leadership away from the Singh sisters. If we go to prison, that will probably happen.”
The Prime Minister peered at the Queen, his dark eyes weary, but sharp. “You know Horatio better than anyone other than Uri Mendoza or myself. You know how he thinks and how he works. If anyone can find him, it’s you.”
He reached across the table for her cold hands. “Start at The Erin Lodge in Inverness. That’s where he was staying. Take your people…” He looked up at Francisco. “But, please be careful.”
“You don’t think General Jones is alive, do you, Prime Minister?” Francisco asked.
“No, I don’t. And I think sending you after him puts you all in mortal danger.” He looked at Mara, started to speak, then just shook his head.
Jed spoke quietly. “It’s time. We need to go.”
“We have to know.” The Queen squeezed her old friend’s hands. “You’re absolutely right. Maybe Ang Chan is the mastermind behind this horrible plot. We have to find out.”
She stood up from the chair. “We’ll leave for New Dublin tonight, pick up the things we need on the way.” She gripped Governor Juarez’ hand one more time.
Cabot seemed to crumple. “If anything happens to you…“
“Stop,” she told him firmly. “Remember what Father used to tell us. When the decision is made, don’t fuss with it…“
“… or it will fuss with you.” A ghost of a smile lifted the Prime Ministers lips.
Francisco cracked the door, then slipped out. Mara paused there.
“I’ll see you soon, Colli,” she promised, then hurried after her Security First, Jed Cabot right behind her.
Uri Mendoza’s rough voice chased them through the Station. They hurried back the way they had come, certain the Home Guard Commander and the Small Hour shift officers with him would round a corner before they did. Mara tried to step lightly, but like her father used to say, that ship had sailed. Still, they made the back door without being seen, and slipped through. Then, Jed and Francisco each grabbed an arm and half-carried the Queen across the parking lot and into the alley. There, Jed stopped and waited, watching the Station. A loud click carried across the street like a gun shot—the sound of Captain Mendoza locking the back door.
“He’ll get Dad and Javier back to their cells,” he said, turning to his companions. “Are you all right, Majesty?”
“Yes,” she said, catching her breath, but she hung onto Francisco’s arm.
“Mr. Cabot,” he said, “would you bring the cars up?”
Jed nodded and ran up the alley.
“Let me carry you,” Francisco said.
Mara shook her head, the dizziness finally slowing to a manageable spin. “If Deborah saw that she would chain me to a bed. I can walk.”
“Now I know why the Prime Minister wanted Gregor and the rest with us. We’ll need them in New Dublin.” He matched her slow pace. “But, I’d sure like to have another Guard with us. Do you think Mr. Cabot could get word to Naveen?”
“His absence might be noticed. We’ll see.”
Mara sighed in the dark. Her back ached and her legs still trembled, but for the first time since Massacre Day, she felt sure about her path. She felt a plan taking shape.
“We’ll drive as far as Saguaro tonight. There’s an Overnight on the southern edge.”
“I know it.” Francisco peered at the car pulling up at the end of the alley.
Figures boiled out of the car and rushed toward them. Mara could feel Deborah’s scowl in the darkness, but to her credit, the doctor did not scold. Maybe she finally understood it made no difference now. Mara hoped so. She pulled Jed aside as the others gathered around.
“We need to contact Naveen.”
“I can do that.”
She looked up at Francisco. “He could bring supplies. What do we need?”
Her Security First took a long, slow breath. “Besides a miracle? I’ll make a list.”
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To read Chapter 24, click here.