Claire gave an excited squeal and applauded. "That is so wiz!"
Joshua turned to Rachel. "Wait a minute. Hire them for what?"
"To help us get out of town," said Rachel.
"We can do that ourselves," he said.
"Not if my father decides to come after us," Rachel said. "And not if..." She gritted her teeth, as if biting off her next remark.
"Not if what?" said Joshua.
Rachel made an annoyed gesture at Isaac. "Him."
Joshua looked at Isaac, frowned, and ran a hand through his hair.
"So what's the deal with Sleeping Beauty?" said Mouse.
"Why don't we ask him?" I said and started to turn toward Isaac.
Rachel reached out for him.
Bonnie leaped into my hand from my shoulder rig and aimed herself at Joshua's face.
Joshua went wide-eyed, put both hands up, palms out, and fell back into the couch.
"Slow," I said, looking directly at him.
Joshua nodded, hands still up.
I shot a quick glance at Mouse.
She was re-sheathing a pair of throwing blades, still watching Joshua.
I turned back to Rachel. "I think you two better start talking," I said. "We're not taking your job until we know who he is"--I nodded at Isaac--"and what's going on."
Rachel let out a long breath.
"Rachel," said Joshua, a warning tone in his voice.
Rachel held up a hand. "Might as well tell them."
"But it--" Joshua began.
"No, Josh," Rachel said. "They need to know. Especially if they're going to help us."
A chill gathered in the small of my back and started to slither up my spine.
I didn't like where Rachel was trying to go but I didn't say anything.
Joshua's frown deepened. Then he nodded. "Okay, Rache."
I nodded at Rachel.
She let out another long breath, then said: "Joshua and I are leaving. We're getting out of Bay City. For good. My father will probably try and stop us. That's where you two come in. Get us as far as the airport and make sure we get on our flight."
"Which is when?" I said.
"21:30 tonight," said Rachel. "Bay City International."
I checked my optic clock.
A little less than eight hours left.
I gestured toward Isaac. "And what's his story? We know your dad didn't send him."
Rachel looked at Joshua. "Tell them what you told me."
Joshua glanced at Isaac, then sighed. "He's with me."
"What do you mean 'with you'?" I said.
"He's..." Joshua frowned, made a face, then went on: "We're part of a cell. With four others."
The chill on my spine continued its upward slither.
"What kind of cell?" said Mouse.
"Alliance," said Joshua. "Church of God the Redeemer."
"Sonofabitch," said Mouse.
The Church of God the Redeemer was the Alliance's state church. Its members had been the ones who tried to bomb the Palladium hotel while Jake Steele and I were there to meet a client.
The chill slithering up my spine now spread across my upper back and I fought back a shudder.
"And what are you doing in Bay City?" I said.
"I'm here because I wanted out," said Joshua. "I'm not one of their damn sheep. I hate the Alliance and everything they stand for."
"And you're in an Alliance cell," said Mouse, "because why?"
"Because I was born in Atlanta," he said. "And because my parents are devout Church members. And officials. You do the math."
"Forced into it," I said.
Joshua nodded, his face darkening. "It was the only way I could get out of there. Join up and leave Atlanta. It's how I got here to Bay City. And how I met Rachel."
I looked at Rachel. "We're supposed to believe this?"
She frowned. "Why not?"
"He could be playing you," I said. "Using you. To get to your dad."
"They already got to him," said Joshua.
"How?" I said.
"Blackmail," said Rachel. "Joshua told me."
I shot Joshua a prompting look.
"The Vice Mayor has an illegitimate daughter," he said.
"Don't most politicians?" I said.
"The mother is eighteen and pregnant. And she's the youngest daughter of a ranking Alliance official."
"How ranking?" I said.
"Second Elder," said Joshua. "Think Vice President."
Mouse gave a low whistle.
"Isn't that considered against the law in the Alliance?" I said. "Having a child out of wedlock?"
Joshua snorted. "Happens more often than you think. And it's usually our esteemed bishops and overseers and councillors. But the Guard never touch them. No way. It's 'do as I say, not as I do.' Frickin' hypocrites."
I quirked an eyebrow at Rachel.
"It's true," she said. "I've heard the recordings. Phone calls between my father and somebody in the Alliance."
"Got a copy of the recordings in that backpack," Joshua said, inclining his head at the packs in the foyer. "For insurance."
"Got him dead to rights," said Mouse.
I thought for a moment, working it out in my head. Then said: "So in exchange for not going public about the affair and pregnancy, the Vice Mayor is letting your cell set up in the city. That about right?"
I said to Rachel: "And the blackmail? You telling me you're okay with this?'
Rachel eyes narrowed. "I don't know who he is anymore. So what do I care?" She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "So are you two going to help us or not? We're wasting time."
"What's the rush?" I said. "You've got under eight hours until your flight. And we still have to get you back to your dad."
Rachel pulled back the right sleeve of her sweatshirt and glanced at the tat clock on her inside wrist. "We have to meet someone in half an hour."
"New IDs," she said and glanced at Joshua. "For a new start."
Something else was bothering me about the story Rachel and Joshua gave but I couldn't figure out what it was. I dismissed it for the moment and turned to Mouse. "What do you think?"
"Already told you," she said. "Trouble."
"Biz," I said.
"True," said Mouse. "And there'll probably be shooting and screaming and blood, right?"
She thought for a moment, then let out a sigh, grinned, and said, "If we must."
I looked at Rachel. "Ten grand and you've got a deal."
"Done," she said.
I shot her a lopsided smile. "Just like that?"
Rachel returned the smile. "Hurray, college fund."
"What about Isaac?" Joshua said, jerking a thumb at the passed out driver.
"I have an idea," I said, then pulled out the phone Jeffries had given me at the park. "But first, I call your dad."
(to be continued...)