Spy Glass Page 18

“It’s not a matter of usurping the man.” Finn leaned forward. “It’s a matter of outliving him.”

The Lieutenant was serious. Yikes. “That bad? I thought Wirral is a maximum security prison.”

“It is. You’ve seen the fortifications. However we house the worst offenders from all over Sitia. And some of those guys are amazingly creative and intelligent. It doesn’t happen very often, but in Wirral’s long history, there have been a few escapes and riots and warden assassinations.”

Icy dread climbed up my throat. “Even from the SMU?” Tricky had escaped from Ixia—an almost impossible task. Would this prison be easier?

My obvious unease caused Finn to rush to assure me. “SMU is escape-proof. See those guys?” He pointed his mug toward a trio sitting at a far table.

They kept a distance from the others. Absorbed in conversation, the average-sized men didn’t evoke any warm feelings of safety in me. Plus I had learned words like impossible and escape-proof never worked. Someone, somewhere, at some time would prove it wrong.

“They’re the best of the best,” he said. “When we finish our training, we’re all locked inside the prison for thirty days. Those of us who escape or manage to outwit the COs in some way are given another year of training and assigned to the SMU.”

Impressive. “Thirty days inside must have been—”

“Not fun. And since I transferred in, I still had to do thirty days in Wirral despite my other time behind bars.”

“And?”

“I managed. And with my prior experience, I was assigned to the SMU.” He relaxed back in his seat. “So don’t worry. No one’s escaping on my watch.”

Finn asked me a few questions about my life and from them I learned he knew I had been involved with Councilor Moon’s rescue, but not all the details. Good.

As we talked, I kept an eye on the other SMU officers, trying to memorize their faces. At one point during our conversation, magic brushed me. A light inquisitive touch. I scanned the crowd, but, besides the two drunken soldiers glaring at me, no one paid me any attention. The drunks’ hostility didn’t match the magic, but making eye contact with them was a mistake. They approached us.

Finn stiffened and said, “Don’t say a word.”

Anger radiated from them. A sheen of alcohol and malice glazed their eyes. And they kept their hands on the hilts of their swords. They were a mirror image of each other, except the bruiser on the left had braided his hair into rows along his scalp and his companion’s lank hair hung straight to his shoulders.

“Hey, LT, do you know who you’re cozying with?” Braids asked Finn in a loud voice. “That’s the Councilor’s new assistant.”

“Why ’ja bring the bitch here?” Lank asked, slurring his words.

Finn placed his hand on my arm. A not too subtle hint to keep calm. His gaze never left the men.

“She fired my cousin, LT,” Braids said.

The tavern quieted.

Braids, sensing he had a larger audience, raised his voice and addressed the room. “She put my cousin and at least a dozen others out of work.”

Lank said, “And why ’ja think she was sniffing around the prison? How many of us are gonna be fired?”

Not good. I glanced around. Others nodded in agreement, siding with the drunks. No stopping it now. This was probably going to turn ugly.

6

MY RECENT STREAK OF BAD DECISIONS CONTINUED. What had I been thinking when I agreed to a drink with one of the prison officers? The rumblings of discontent over my presence in the Spotted Dog tavern increased. A couple men moved closer to the two drunks who had started this confrontation, and one of the elite officers joined the growing mob.

Tossed out would be the best scenario for me. Beaten to a pulp the worst.

“She cleaned out the riffraff,” Finn said to the two in my defense. “Did us a favor, and you know it. Besides, you hate your cousin, Cole. Said he couldn’t guard a baby.”

Not the right thing to say. Braids…Cole drew his sword. “You takin’ her side, LT?”

Finn stood in one fluid motion. The tension thickened the air, making it hard to draw a breath.

I rose to my feet, being careful not to make any sudden moves. “Gentlemen, Councilor Moon has no intention of changing anything at the prison. I was merely delivering a message for her. I’m sorry about your cousin, Cole. If you tell me his name, I can try to find him another job.”

He blinked at me as if trying to make sense of my words. Before he could respond, Finn said, “The government will be hiring construction workers to build an addition to HQ when the weather’s warmer. Lots of jobs then.”

The friction eased. A voice announced that a barrel of special ale was open and most of the crowd disbursed. When a few more COs entered the tavern, cheerful calls to a rookie hotshot erupted. Knowing a good distraction when I saw one, I grabbed Finn’s hand and headed toward the door.

I didn’t release my hold until we were a few blocks away. The setting sun cast long shadows along the street.

“Sorry, I didn’t think anyone would recognize you,” Finn said.

Confused, I asked, “Why not? You did.”

“I’m naturally nosy.” He quirked a smile. “Actually, knowing who is who in town is part of my job. A new arrival might mean someone is trying to aid a prisoner.”

“To escape?”

“Escape, or just to smuggle in supplies. Trading goods inside is very lucrative and every single item in there has two different uses at least. I keep track of all the merchants and delivery people. If I see a new face, I’m automatically suspicious. When I heard the Councilor hired a new assistant, I made sure to get a good look at you.”

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