"They say there's a heaven for those who wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun."
-- Billy Joel, "Only the Good Die Young"
"Well, 'bout twelve years ago, Gambit pick up dis scrawny little teenage street rat callin' herself Jordan from de streets o' N'Awlins."
"Street rat? This, coming from a home-grown swamp rat? And I was not scrawny."
"She a pain in the neck, but got good instincts -- we spend a lot o' time hangin' around de Quarter lookin' for trouble."
"And findin' it with a remarkable rate o' success, I might add."
"Jordie pretty much livin' anywhere she lay her head an' Gambit still hangin' wit' de T'ieves Guild when dis weird _homme_ ask us do we want a job. We say 'Why not?' and t'ings started goin' downhill from dere."
"Huh. *You* said 'Why not?'. I just tagged along to watch your back."
"Who's tellin' dis story, _chere_?"
"Looks like both of us; 'sides, everyone's heard your version already. So, there we are in the Vieux Carre, with this strange guy tryin' t' talk us into breakin' into one o' the 'rich folks' houses in Baton Rouge, and Gumbo here says sure."
"Hold your horses, Remy -- what's in this house that you want so bad, mister?"
The stranger didn't appear to notice Jordie's deeply suspicious glare, or maybe he just didn't care. It was actually a pretty impressive glare for a 13-year-old; she'd had a lot of practice in the ten months she'd known Remy LeBeau. "Papers, my dear girl," the stranger answered in a faintly British, extremely upper-class voice. "Personal papers which were stolen from me, and which I need back rather badly."
"So why don't you go to the cops?" Jordie persisted, leaning slightly forward in her chair and ignoring the cup of chicory coffee steaming in front of her. Which was probably wise, since the little cafe was great for private conversations and had a pretty decent jazz band, but was not a good choice for eating. "If these papers were stolen and all, shouldn't they be dealin' with it?"
The stranger 'humph'ed slightly and straightened his tie. The diamond on his pinky ring flashed in the sunlight as he smoothed his black hair. "Because these papers are personal, as I said, and not really for the prying eyes of the police."
Remy grinned. "Translation: dey illegal."
"Does it make a difference?" The stranger shrugged carelessly. "I'm sure two such intelligent people as yourselves understand how easily one can find oneself in the grey area of the law."
Jordie snorted over a beignet, sending powdered sugar flying. "Grey area. Right."
Remy gave her a Look; she made a face but silently finished the beignet as he said, "Grey areas, dey all well an' good, but we more concerned wit' de green, _neh_? How much you willin' t' pay t' get dem papers back?"
"How does $1,000 sound?"
This time, the teenagers snorted in unison. "Like chicken feed," Remy informed him. "Cost you ten grand, plus expenses."
"Five, and you pay your own expenses."
"Deal." The stranger picked up his coffee and downed it in one gulp before reaching into his coat and bringing out a piece of paper. "Here is the address -- you'll need to locate a packet of papers labelled 'Thibodeaux Racetracks'. Those belong to me; anything else you find is yours. Payment on delivery."
"Half up front," Jordie contradicted, looking resigned, if not happy.
"I don't think...."
"We *do* think. Half up front, 'case you decide t' get cute."
"Honor among thieves, my dear..."
"Is a major cultural myth." Jordie smiled, showing a lot of teeth and not much humor. "Half. Now."
He looked at Remy, but the Cajun just leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, in full agreement with his partner. The stranger's eyes narrowed, but he flashed an insincere smile, reaching into his coat again. "You children drive a hard bargain, but I see no problem with your terms." He brought out an envelope and leafed through it, pulling out several hundred-dollar bills and handing them to Jordie, who accepted them with a completely non-commental expression. "Shall we say, delivery in two days?"
"Three; we got t' case de joint. An' you call us children again, we gon' up de price."
The smile became a bit more forced. "Three, then. I'll meet you back here, same time."
"You'll meet us outside the Cafe du Monde where it's nice and public," Jordie corrected.
The smile disappeared altogether, then flashed back on with a visible effort. "I do enjoy working with professionals," he said with forced amusement. "The Cafe du Monde it is."
Without further discussion, the stranger got up and left.
"Now, it didn't take clairvoyance to know that guy was bad news. But did Gator Brain listen? No, of course not."
"You de one insisted on money up front, we couldn't change our minds anyway."
"If you hadn't accepted the job without givin' us a chance t' talk, we wouldn't've *had* t' change our minds!"
"No one drag you along, Jordie."
"Someone had to keep you out of trouble."
"Case the joint? Get real, Remy."
Remy looked down from his lofty six feet of height at the top of Jordie's head, almost a foot and a half below him. She strongly considered kicking him in the kneecaps to bring him down to her level. "Like dat guy gon' know how t'ieves talk?"
"Maybe he does." Jordie shrugged, trying to work tension out of the back of her neck. It wasn't the first time her unpredictable Sight had kicked in without bothering to supply details and she was unhappily certain it wouldn't be the last. But she'd already learned not to ignore her hunches, however vague. "I've got a bad feelin' about him. If he needed a thief, why didn't he go through the Guild?"
Remy had acquired a certain amount of faith in his friend's mysterious powers, but he was also 17 and had a much greater faith in his own prowess, however undeserved. "For de money he's payin', dey prob'ly wouldn't have taken de job. So he tryin' t' hire cheap labor, him, so? We too proud t' take de money?"
"We should've been too smart t' take the job." She reached for the small pack of bills in her pocket, curling her fingers around the money. Bad feeling or not, she could eat on her cut for months, maybe even find a place to sleep that had indoor plumbing.
Remy knew her much better than she liked to admit, and saw the telltale signs of weakness. "You want t' know the address, _'tite_?"
She debated silently for another moment, but lost. "What's the address?" She was less than surprised to find out that their target was located in one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Baton Rouge. "Wonderful, we're goin' t' have a good time breakin' in there."
"Yeah, I t'ink we are." Remy's eyes had gone unfocused as he slipped into planning mode, completely oblivious to the small crowd of people surrounding them in the outdoor cafe. Jordie waited impatiently for his brain cells to start rubbing together, fanning away the hot, humid air with one of the napkins from the table. The smells of the city mingled with the rich, earthy taste of the river and the musky aroma of incense burning nearby.
"First t'ing we gon' have t' do," Remy announced after a few minutes, "is check de place out."
"Which means we better leave tonight. You goin' t' bring Belladonna?"
"_Non_, she an assassin, not a t'ief. Best she stay outta dis."
"Good, then I don't have t' put up you two he-in' and she-in' all over the place," Jordie informed him, with all the disgust of a kid who'd been too busy surviving to figure out what the big deal was about the opposite sex.
Remy had the nerve to look amused and patronizing. "No one breakin' your arm t' hang around, _'tite_."
"If the Assassin's Guild catches you two, they're goin' t' break more'n your arm."
The amusement left his face. "Butt out, Jordie, dat's Remy's problem."
She held up her hands in surrender. "Okay, already, don't go gettin' all sensitive on me. Geez." Slumping down in her chair, she kicked her legs out underneath the table, narrowly avoiding her friend's ankles. "So, what's the plan, Gumbo?"
"Don' call me Gumbo."
"Then stop callin' me Jordie. What's the plan?"
"Don' have one yet. We check de place out and go from dere."
"So, we get on de bike an' head up Highway 10. Took us 'bout two hours t' find de house once we hit Baton Rouge --"
"Kinda hard t' stop and ask directions to the place you're goin' t' break into."
"-- And dis place was a pleasure t' crack. Bigger dan de mansion, five stories, but wit' only one person act'lly livin' in it--"
"Which we didn't know 'til later, but you could've put an entire company of Marines in there and it still would've been conspicuous consumption."
"--but dat person hadn't put nearly as much money into de security system as he had into de house."
"We also didn't know why 'til later -- too damn much later. Still, we 'cased the joint' silently and professionally."
"Dammit, get off my foot, you idiot!"
"Sorry, _'tite_, you so little Remy didn't see you dere."
"Keep it up, Gumbo, and I'll throw you t' those Dobermans."
"Don' go makin' threats 'less you gon' carry 'em out."
"I don't. Move, I can't see the house."
"I'm movin', already." Remy shifted to the side to let his partner squirm behind the bushes next to him. She flopped to the ground beside him, staring at the huge brick and glass house a hundred yards across the lawn. They studied it in silence.
"This is nuts," Jordie concluded.
"Remy startin' t' think you right," he admitted. "But we said we'd do de job, so we gon' do de job. Take it step by step -- how we gon' get over de gate?"
Jordie contemplated the bars for a long moment, then experimentally stuck her head and shoulder between two of them. They fit, if not easily, at least manageably; Remy heroically resisted any size comments. "I go through the bars and unlock it from the inside. Next question?"
Jordie made a face. "The dogs. Right. We could tranq 'em."
"How you gon' get close enough?"
She made another face, more hideous than the last. "Details, details.... Skip the dogs, how're we goin' t' get blueprints for the house?"
"Remy took care o' dat 'fore we leave N'Awlins. Dey be ready for us when we come back."
"Neat trick. The Guild?"
He shrugged coolly. "Dere's gotta be some use for dem."
"There does?" Jordie looked unconvinced. Remy took a half-hearted swing at her and she ducked. "Okay, so assume we have the layouts. You know how t' crack a safe?"
She sighed heavily. "Of course."
He tried to look wounded at the disbelief in her voice. "You got t' have faith in Remy, _chere_."
She started to squirm backwards out of the bushes. "I'd have more faith in you if you didn't talk about yourself in the third-person."
His hand connected this time.
"So, we had somethin' loosely resemblin' a plan, all we needed was the damn blueprints. So,w e headed back t' N'Orlins and ol' Remy went to work."
"So did you -- 'least mine wasn't on a street corner."
"You wanna rephrase that, *pal*?"
"Follow the queen, keep a sharp eye, don't let her get lost, follow the queen. All right, sir, where's the lady?"
The portly businessman gestured to the folded card on the right, which obviously should have been the queen of spades. But Jordie knew her job, so it was the jack of diamonds instead. "Sorry, sir, looks like the lady escaped from you again. Care t' try it one more time?"
"You've been cheating!" the pigeon blustered, starting to turn red and reaching for the pile of five dollar bills in front of the girl.
Her hand hit the pile before his did. "If you thought I was cheatin', why'd you play?" she asked reasonably, her eyes starting to harden.
"I'm not going to be cheated by some kid," he shouted, attracting the attention of some passersby, most of whom looked amused. Three- card monty was a sucker's game; no one was going to have any sympathy for the businessman.
He realized it and his face got even redder as he started to grab Jordan's wrist -- and found his hand caught in mid-air. He looked up several inches into a pair of red eyes, smiling down at him with absolutely no humor. "You been beaten," Remy informed him charmingly. "Take it like a man and leave de kid alone."
The businessman looked from insane red eyes to cold grey, picked up his briefcase and left, muttering threats underneath his breath. Both of the teenagers ignored him.
"Monty, _chere_?" Remy lifted his eyebrows at Jordie.
"Hey, you taught me," she shrugged, gathering up her cards and stowing them in a pocket with the money before collapsing her small table. "'Sides, if he's dumb enough to play, someone would have taken him for a ride anyway. Might as well be me."
"Fair 'nough. Want some breakfast?" He held up a fast-food bag with familiar golden arches.
Jordie's eyes locked onto the bag, but she shook her head. "I can feed myself."
"'Course you can. But Remy a gentleman, so he brought you breakfast." He passed the bag over. "Eat up, Jordie, we got a busy day."
She eyed the bag as pride warred with hunger. Hunger won, as usual, and she tore into the food. Remy watched her with amusement. "Aren't you even gon' t' ask what else Remy brought you, _'tite_?"
"Don' call me _petite_," she mumbled around a mouthful of hash browns. "What'd you bring?"
"De security layout of de house."
She swallowed and grinned widely. "I never doubted ya, Gumbo. When're we headin' out again?"
"Soon's you finish feedin' your face."
"I have no idea how he got the layout of that place, and I do *not* want t' know."
"Act'lly, it was pretty easy. Gambit just--"
"I *said*, I don't want t' know!"
"Anyway, we hole up at Jordie's latest digs for a while, gettin' all de details of de plan straight, and when we got everything fine-tuned, den we head back to Baton Rouge."
"Okay, _chere_, do your stuff."
"I'm goin', I'm goin', hold on." She checked the gun in her hand to make sure there were enough tranquilizer darts loaded.
"You sure you don' want t' let Remy do de shootin'?"
Jordie gave him a disbelieving look. "You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn on your best day, Gumbo. Leave the shootin' to me, you just worry 'bout gettin' us in the front door."
He started to say something, stopped, and went back to checking the grounds with his binoculars. Jordie looked at him suspiciously, then was forced to hit the ground as the guard patrol came by.
"We got ten minutes, go!" Remy hissed as soon as they were out of sight. Jordie was already wriggling between the bars, shoving her backpack and the dart gun ahead of her. She had one bad moment when her hips threatened to catch on the bars, then she was through, sprawled with great dignity on the ground on the other side. In the bushes behind her, she could hear Remy trying valiantly to stifle his laughter; she threw him a dirty look as she scrambled to her feet and headed for the gate. The lock was hooked to a mini-computer and keypad; with a mental threat to her unpredictable power, she touched the keypad and concentrated.
Her power was kind and the numbers flashed into her mind. Without giving them time to blur, she punched in the combination and watched the gate swing open.
Remy ducked through, closing the gate behind him. "You know, dere be real advantages t' havin' a clairvoyant for a partner."
"Enjoy it while you can, bucko, I got more plans than bein' a street rat for the rest of my life. When I find my brother..."
"*If* you find your brod'er. 'Til den, we make a good team. T'ink about it, _'tite'_, we could..."
She shushed him violently; from the distance came loud, angry barks. Jordie's jaw clenched and she dropped to one knee, aiming her dart gun towards the noise. Three Dobermans rounded the corner of the house, baying loudly. She fired three times, compressed air hissing, and the dogs stopped, staring with drugged confusion at the intruders.
"Go on t' bed now, _mes amis_," Remy said in a low, hypnotic tone. They whined, then, slowly, turned around and wandered back to the other side of the house.
Jordie and Remy exchanged looks. "If you ever try that on me..." Jordie let the threat trail off.
"Try what?" Remy shrugged innocently. "'Come on, we got t' move."
"How we gettin' past the front door?"
"We're not. We goin' over it."
"Over it?" From his backpack, Remy produced a long nylon rope and a grappling hook. Jordie stared at him with utter disbelief. "Are you nuts? That only works on T.V."
"Better work dis time, too, or we toast, 'cause dere's no way we gettin' t'rough de front door. Up and at 'em, _chere_."
They snuck in close to the house, Jordie muttering under her breath in Spanish the whole way, and checked the windows. All of them were dark -- not surprising, since they'd made good and damn sure the owner of the swanky house wasn't at home that evening. The video camera nearest them was disposed of with a few rubs from a rough file, exposing bare wire on the cable, then a spritz of water from a squirt bottle. The camera shorted out with an impressive shower of sparks.
"Go!" Jordie hissed, checking her watch. They had two minutes, max, before the guards came to check the dead camera, and they had to be in the house by then. Remy stood back far enough to see the roof, then started swinging the hook in large circles. He let go and the hook swung into the air, landing in a graceful arc on the roof. It clattered twice on the shingles, then caught.
Remy tugged on the rope; when it showed no signs of coming loose, he looked smugly at Jordie. She glared back. "Everyone gets lucky, Cajun. Climb, and hope they didn't hear that!"
The need to gloat gave way to the business at hand -- he grabbed the rope and shimmied up. The rope swung as Jordie attacked it below him, scrambling up with the skill acquired after hours of military gym class. She almost climbed over Remy before he made it to the fifth story balcony and swung over. She fell to the tiled floor beside him, pulling the rope up after them as the voices came from around the corner.
"So, there we are, perched on the side of the buildin' like sittin' ducks, just waitin' for the guards to put the shorted wire together with the lazy dogs and call out the Marines to bust our butts. Luckily, we hadn't overestimated the laziness of rent-a-cops when the boss isn't around -- they decided fixin' a short could wait until mornin'."
"Just like Gambit predicted."
"Ha, just like *I* predicted. Anyway, then it was up to the Cajun to get us through the French doors--"
"-- which were wired--"
"-- and into the house --"
"-- which Gambit did."
"It's de results dat count."
"Dammit, hurry up with that! We've only got ten minutes 'til the guards come back around, and they're goin' t' notice the damn dogs then! We got t' be outta here!"
"You want Remy t' set dis alarm off?"
"Den shut up."
She said something rude in Spanish, but retreated to keep watch over the edge of the balcony. Remy went back to coaxing a thin piece of metal between the doors, trying to slip the lock without breaking the connection between the doors and the alarm. It took less than a minute to work the lock open, another minute to reroute the wiring. When he finished, he swung the doors open and gestured Jordie through with an elaborate bow. She stepped over the loops of wire, completely unimpressed.
"Some people got no 'preciation for art," Remy mumbled, stepping through behind her and almost closing the doors.
"Stop whinin', where's the safe?"
"Underneath de chair, behind de desk. An' Remy don' whine."
"You're whinin' again." She shoved the heavy wooden chair away from the huge oak desk and pulled up the oriental carpet underneath. The wood floor showed no signs of a hidden panel, except for the keyhole set off-center. "Dammit," she cursed quietly, pulling out a set of picks and setting to work.
Remy prowled the edges of the room, knowing Jordie was a better lockpick than even him -- she had the advantage of being able to See the tumblers. The room was richly furnished, with expensive paintings on the walls and more than one portable statuette just laying around. He resisted temptation for all of three seconds before starting to pick and choose.
"Got it!" He left his work at Jordie's triumphant whisper, looking over her shoulder as a section of floor popped up.
"Any alarms?" He thought to ask belatedly.
"Nary a one, just the main lock on the safe, which is your job."
"What's de combination?"
She shrugged. "Sorry."
Remy muttered under his breath about undependable powers and settled down to work on the lock while Jordie took her turn to prowl.
The safe was a good one -- too good. Remy fumbled with it for five sweaty minutes, feeling the tumblers almost click one second, then losing them in the next. It happened once, then twice. The third time, he lost his patience.
He touched the lock; after only a moment, it glowed an unearthly red. A single sharp blow from one of the statuettes, and the lock exploded.
Jordie jumped three feet, then yelped, "What the hell are you doin'!"
"Breakin' into de safe," he shot back, swinging the safe door open and grabbing for the papers inside, leafing frantically through them.
Jordie leaned over and snatched a single folder from the middle of the pile. Remy was unsurprised to see 'Thibodeaux Racetracks' written on it. She tucked it down her shirt and shoved the papers back in the safe. "Next time, break quieter," she hissed through her teeth, obviously restraining herself from going for his throat. "We got company comin' on three sides!"
"Oh, your power decidin' t' work again?"
"Not as loud as yours," her smile was a sarcastic knife, "but it's workin'. We want out, you better haul your butt over t' that balcony."
Remy snarled at her, but moved, going across the room and through the French doors at top speed. At the last minute, he remembered the wires and tried to step over them--
--a little too late. His feet tangled in the wires, pulling them free and tripping him. As the alarms started blaring, he fell towards the edge of the balcony and over the side.
Jordie shouted behind him as he reached out frantically and, through some miracle, managed to catch the rope. Fortunately, he was wearing gloves so the rope didn't burn his hands as he slid. Unfortunately, he was pointed the wrong way, and made the entire descent head-first.
Remy landed on his face on the thick lawn and sprawled there, trying to get his bearings. A long moment later, he heard Jordie's feet hit the ground beside him. "Are you alive?" she asked, her voice strangely strangled.
"I'm alive," he groaned.
"Good. Then get up before those dogs catch up with us."
Getting up sounded like it was going to be too damn much work. "What dogs?"
She pointed. "The ones with the guards."
He managed, with a lot of effort, to lift his head and follow her gesture -- to see two obviously undrugged Dobermans descending on them, followed a few hundred feet back by two shouting guards. Four more were coming from the other side, weapons drawn.
"And it was at that moment that Gumbo here learned the real meanin' of the phrase 'adrenaline rush'. He was on his feet and through that gate in two seconds flat. Didn't even wait for me."
"Gambit covered you."
"Covered me? You threw two lousy cards!"
"Dat was all Gambit had time t' charge. 'Sides, not my fault you laughin' too hard t' run."
"Sure it was, I was laughin' at you."
"Good t'ing de fun didn't end there, neh? Since you havin' such a good time."
"Spot him yet?"
"Not yet, and I'm not goin' to if you keep natterin' at me," Jordie told her partner without letting her eyes focus. "Where'd Belle get to?"
Remy was leaning casually against a lamppost, trying to be as inconspicuous as a six-footer with red eyes can be. Jordie sat at his feet, sheltered from the noon crowd by his legs. "She saw somethin', went t' check it out," he answered without looking down at her.
"Great. Can't you keep her from wanderin' off?"
"You want t' try t' stop her?"
She thought about it. "Good point." He made a smug sound and she went back to scanning the crowd, Looking for their contact with her mind while he took advantage of his height to use his eyes.
The Vieux Carre was crowded with locals and with tourists -- the humidity level was merely terrible instead of godawful, as it had been for the last several days, and everyone in the city was taking advantage of it. A street band played Dixieland a few feet away from the pair at the lamppost; a gospel singer had staked out the corner across from them. It was an odd mix of music, but one Jordie was getting used to.
"Hope this guy shows up soon," Jordie said, still not losing her concentration, pitching her voice over the noise without even thinking about it. "This crowd is easy pickin's. Hate t' miss it."
"Monty, _'tite_? You gon' have four grand in your pocket, you not gon' t' need t' work any cons for a while."
"I was goin' t' get the guitar out, do a little singin' -- that ain't work or a con."
"Dat sound pretty good t' me." Remy and Jordie both jumped as Belladonna's voice came out of the crowd next to them.
Jordie gave her a disgusted look from eyes focused by shock. "Quit showin' off, Belle, we already know you're the Shadow."
Belle grinned and shook her head, her blond braids flashing in the sun. "Jus' tryin' t' keep my hand in," she informed the younger girl, kissing Remy.
Jordie rolled her eyes at the display and went back to surveillance. "Spot anything?"
"_Non_," Belle answered once her lips were free again. "Look like dis place is clean."
"That'll be the day." She suddenly sat up straight as her senses locked on. "Got him, Remy. He's at 11 o'clock, comin' past the jugglers."
Remy stood up straight, all joking aside. "Remy sees him. Belle, you watch our backs, we gon' do a little business."
"You know it," Belle assured them, taking Remy's place against the lamppost as he pulled Jordie to her feet.
Jordie accepted the help, most of her attention centered on the man heading towards the Cafe du Monde. Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, her instincts alerting her before her sixth sense figured out what it was looking at. "Remy, there's somethin' wrong."
"Want t' be more sp'cific, _'tite_?"
Jordie shook her head, concentrating fiercely. "Just... somethin's not right here."
They were frozen a few feet from the lamppost -- Jordie's every sense screamed at them to stay put and, for once, Remy actually seemed inclined to listen to her. Their contact made it to the cafe and stopped, trying to look as if he was only interested in the gospel singer.
Jordie shook her head; it was Belle who answered Remy's question. "Got it. Comin' in from 'round de back, t'ree pieces o' bad news."
Jordie spotted them a moment later -- two men and a woman, dressed casually and walking several feet apart from each other. They looked like ordinary passersby, but something about the way they moved -- or maybe the way they thought -- set Jordie's senses off. "You're right, Belle. Trouble on the hoof."
"For who?" Remy demanded, frustration coloring his voice. His lean, wiry body was tense, looking for the enemy but lacking the skills to find them.
"For our so-called boss," Jordie answered, pulling him back against the lamppost and into the crowd. "Look like a teenager, not a thief."
He obeyed, putting his arms around Belle and leading her in a quick waltz step. The crowd cleared slightly around them and applauded; Jordie nodded approvingly as they drew the correct kind of attention, keeping her back to the small drama that unfolded behind her. But she Saw it all.
One of the men approached their contact, who started sweating as soon as he saw his visitor. They talked for a moment, the contact making assurances, gesturing widely and wiping his forehead with a handkerchief -- Jordie cursed the capricious gift that chose not to provide sound.
The first man left the contact, not looking back to see the contact's barely-concealed relief -- and something else Jordie thought. Smugness, maybe? But before she could be sure, the woman brushed up against him from behind. Relief / smugness changed to shock and pain; Jordie bit her lip as she saw the first blood from the knife wound soak through the expensive jacket. The second man brushed in front of him in what Jordie recognized as a fairly smooth pick, then sniffed and wiped his nose as he walked casually away.
Something in her screamed to run across the street, to use the healing powers she'd had for only a few months to save the man. But the rational part of her brain, the part that had been hanging around the heirs apparent to the thieves and assassins guilds for months, kept her feet firmly in place, her eyes glued to Remy and Belle. It was the part that knew they were in way over their heads, and any move to help would probably get all three of them killed.
So she kept her back to the dying man until someone else noticed, and the first scream split the air.
Remy and Belle had the same set of instincts and looked around casually before letting their eyes settle on their contact, who was sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the Cafe du Monde, a crowd of people building around him.
"The woman killed him," Jordie told them between her teeth, trying to look surprised and shocked. The only hard part was trying not to start crying for real. "Remy, what're we goin' t' do?"
Remy's jaw tightened. "You gon' be my little sister, den you, an' me, an' my lady gon' wander over t' that crowd and see what's goin' on. Den we gon' stroll home talkin' 'bout how awful it is. _Comprends_?"
Belle nodded quickly, Jordie followed a moment later. The three strolled with the rest of the crowd to the contact, where someone had already started working to try to save the man's life. Jordie didn't have to touch him to know the effort wasn't going to work.
"So, we had a body that was sure as hell not goin' t' pay us the rest of our money, a set of papers that were evidently worth killin' for, and one helluva lot of trouble."
"Not t' mention a 13-year-old startin' t' freak out on us over a dead body."
"I was *not* freakin'. Well, maybe a little, but I had it together."
"Sure. Anyway, we decide on a strategic retreat and get de hell out of dere, back t' Jordie's current hangout, an' try t' come up wit' a plan."
"We're in trouble."
"T'anks for the update, Jordie, what kinda trouble?"
"Big trouble. Check these out." Jordie spread out the papers they'd snatched from the mansion, pointing to one covered with figures. "These are tax forms, reportin' how much income the race tracks took in a couple weeks ago."
"Here's another one, for the same day, signed by the same guy. But check out the difference in the numbers."
Remy did some mental math. "'Bout $50,000. Dat's not a racetrack, dat's a laundromat."
"Big time. There's about six more sets of papers like these in here -- someone's either blackmailin' or bein' blackmailed, I bet."
"Bein' blackmailed." They jumped again, then Remy lunged to get a grip on Jordie, before she could lunge for Belladonna's throat.
"Knock it off!" Jordie growled at both of them.
Belle held up her hands in an apologetic gesture. "_Je regret_," she apologized, "but I found out who your contact is, from de news. He be Randall Covin'ton, de owner of Thibodeaux Racetracks, him."
"Natch," Jordie shrugged, taking a long swig from the bottle of water she kept in the tiny excuse for a hotel room she was currently sleeping in.
Belle smiled grimly. "Den I bet you already know dat de hitters, dey work for Laroux."
The water went all over the place as Jordie choked. Remy got out of the way just in time. "How you know dat, Belle?" he demanded.
"Asked my brother -- he recognize de MO. Don' worry, I didn't mention either o' you, just dat I'd seen de hitters an' t'ought dey were Guild."
"The house isn't in Laroux's name," Jordie protested as she got her breath back.
Belle shrugged. "He a powerful man. You make as much money dealin' an' runnin' girls as he make, you put de house in whatever name you want."
"You t'ink Laroux powerful 'nough t' find out who Covin'ton hired?" Remy asked, already resigned to the answer.
Belle gave him the one he expected. "Only a matter o' time. Want t' know de other interestin' part?"
Jordie rolled her eyes. "Sure."
"Covin'ton's body, it disappeared from de morgue."
"Just great!" Jordie lay back on her air mattress, giving Remy a 'you idiot' look that wasn't more than half-hearted. "Told you we shouldn't have taken this job."
Remy didn't even bother to answer, too busy thinking. "Covin'ton dead, no matter where his body be; he ain't our problem. Laroux, though -- if he so sure t' get us, den we better get him first."
Jordie's eyebrows furrowed for a moment, but she apparently let the thought go, joining Belle in giving Remy identical 'you're *such* an idiot' looks, full strength. "What are you talkin' 'bout?" Belle demanded with the polite patience usually reserved for lunatics. "We take on Laroux, we gon' get left in de dust, 'less we bring in de Guilds, which we can't."
"Much as I hate t' say it, dere be other ways t' take him down," Remy drawled. "Bet de fuzz would love t' tie him t' Covin'ton's death."
The looks they gave him this time were verging on real fear for his sanity. "Remy," Jordie started carefully. "Even if we wanted t' go to the cops, they ain't exactly goin' t' listen t'us. 'Sides, what're we goin' t' tell 'em -- 'We broke in an' stole these papers from some guy's house, and his girlfriend recognized a legbreaker.'? Get real."
"Cops ain't gon' hear our names, _'tite_ -- Remy crazy, he not completely nuts. But what if de cops just happen t' find dose papers on Laroux?"
Jordie raised an eyebrow. "An' just how do you intend t' get them onto him, always assumin' you can find him?"
He grinned. "Are we de best pair o' t'ieves in N'Awlins or ain't we?"
Jordie's head dropped to her chest. "You are out of your ever-lovin' mind."
"Tell me again how you talked me into goin' along with that plan?"
"Reminded you who was gon' track us down if we didn't get t' him first."
"Oh. Right. Anyway, ol' Remy was off t' the races -- literally -- an' he dragged me an' Belle behind."
Thibodeaux Paramutual Racetracks was a recent addition to the area, located a few miles outside New Orleans. It had been touted loudly as a provider of hundreds of jobs for the area and, more quietly, as a place to win a fortune. Or lose one, but that was spoken of even more quietly, and the betting that went on officially was nothing compared to the books being made in the stands.
Jordie disappeared into the crowds two seconds after she walked through the front gates. Remy and Belle were already there, getting lost in the masses of people until 4 pm, when Laroux's horse would run in its first race. The horse, Pride Goeth, was heavily favored, Jordie noticed. Not a good omen. The other two horses in the match race were Cajun Moon and -- she made a face -- Texas Tornado.
It didn't taken much legwork to find Laroux's box -- it was a good one, right behind the finish line, furnished with comfortable seats, plenty of shade, and a mini-refrigerator and wet bar. Normally, a big wig of his stature would have been in one of the air-conditioned skyboxes, high above the track, but Laroux apparently liked to be closer to the action.
A guard stood casually next to the box in plainclothes, trying hard not to look like a guard. Since he was wearing a jacket in 105 degree heat and 80 percent humidity, and sweat was molding the fabric to the hoster underneath his arm, the effort was more or less wasted.
In her shorts, T-shirt and battered sneakers, Jordie looked like a typical horse-crazy twelve-year-old and she took advantage of it, pulling her cap down low over her eyes and hanging over the fence just far enough away from Laroux's box to keep the guard from getting paranoid. Her Sight was on and scanning, looking for Laroux and, more importantly, for the New Orleans cops who made it their business to follow Laroux whenever he went out in public. At least half of those cops were probably on the take, but most of them could be depended on to bust Laroux as soon as he stepped a foot out of line. It would make their bosses happy, regardless of who those bosses were.
The first race ran at 2 p.m. -- Jordie watched, enthralled in spite of herself, and tested her powers by trying to predict the winners. She lost 2 bets, started to get the hang of what to Look for, and won the next three. "Man, I could clean up here," she grinned to herself, waiting eagerly for the next race.
A sharp two-note whistle pulled her out of her enthusiastic spectating. She looked up automatically, but couldn't spot Remy, much less see the ironic grin she knew he was leveling at her. "Mind on business, kiddo," she told herself, annoyed, and turned around just as Laroux made his appearance, flanked by a very expensive- looking woman, two bodyguards and at least three flunkies. Jordie recognized one of the bodyguards -- it was one of the hitters from the day before, the man who had talked to Covington before the woman had killed him. She breathed a sigh of relief -- they were on.
With fierce concentration, she kept the horse-crazy enthusiasm on her face and made the run up the stairs at a breakneck pace, bumping heavily into the two bodyguards. She and the hitter lost their balance, falling to the concrete stairs.
"Watch it," he snarled, raising his arm to backhand her.
"Sorry, sir, didn't see you dere," she cowered with a Cajun accent as good as Belle or Remy's. "Pride, she runnin' next an' I needed t' go t' the bathroom 'fore she won. Don' want t' miss de race."
The hitter still wasn't impressed, but Laroux's voice stopped him before he could land the blow. "That's enough, Leroy," he told his legbreaker in a rich Southern accent. "Can't blame the girl for wantin' t' see my Pride run. You go on, honey," he told Jordie, with a smile that oozed over her skin. "Make sure you get back 'fore I blow all these other suckers off the track."
"Yessir," she answered, without meeting his eyes and letting him see the contempt behind her awed voice. She slipped past him to the top of the stairs.
Remy met her there. "Did you do it?" he asked in Cajun French, his grammar mysteriously better in that language.
"Did it," Jordie responded in kind, slipping her hand against his in a discrete handoff before rubbing her arms to try and get off the filth Laroux had left on her skin. "Papers are in his left inside pocket; the rest is in the left front pocket. Do it quick before he finds them."
"Belle spotted the cops -- they're the two tourists in the Hawaiian shirts, down next to Laroux."
"I know, I saw them too. She ready?"
"All set, _chere_."
Jordie Saw Laroux's guards finish checking the box over, as thorough as Secret service agents. Leroy went in first, then Laroux stood aside to let the woman seat herself -- a tricky job for a woman wearing three-inch spike heels on a planked floor. "_Allez_!" she hissed.
Remy went, strolling down the steps covering much more ground than he seemed to. A few seconds, and he was next to Laroux's crowd, only a few feet away from the plainclothes cops. Then it was his turn to stumble; with careful calculation, he fell into Laroux, knocking him away from the box and back against the cops. They, in turn, fell against the young blond woman sitting behind them.
No one apologized -- they were too busy staring in collective silence at the small plastic bag of white powder that had seemingly fallen from Laroux's pocket, right onto the lap of one of the cops.
"Well, well, well," the cop said slowly, with a dawning smile, picking up the baggie and standing. "Mr. Laroux, what a surprise runnin' into you here. And what a great birthday present."
Laroux regained his balance physically, but couldn't quite get it back mentally. "I don't know what you're talkin' about," he blustered. "That's not mine, one of you two dropped it!"
The second cop shrugged, exchanging a not-so-discrete look of delight with his partner. "Easy enough to find out. Please hold out your arms and turn around."
Laroux blustered for another minute, but lost the fight. As two uniforms came thundering down the stairs -- alerted to the scene by a wide-eyed Jordie -- the detectives frisked Laroux, coming up with the Thibodeaux papers and a baggie with three ounces of cocaine.
Laroux gaped in absolute shock at papers and drugs. "How did those...? Those are not mine! I'm bein' set-up!"
"Now where have we heard that before?" The cops grinned, the first one pulling out his handcuffs. "Mr. Laroux, you are under arrest for illegal possession of narcotics. And I'm sure that when we look over these papers, and your offices, we'll find lots of other things to arrest you for."
Laroux waived his right to be silent all the way out of the track, screaming curses and threats at the top of his lungs. Behind him, the shot to start the race sounded, and Pride Goeth lunged out of the gate to an early lead.
Remy retrieved Belle, who had dropped the bag he passed her into the detectives' lap, and escorted her up the stairs to Jordie, who was lurking next to the concrete watching the race. "You comin'?" Remy asked as they passed her.
The announcer's voice echoed crazily over the loudspeaker. "... comin' into the final stretch, it's Pride Goeth, followed by the Texas Tornado and Cajun Moon. "
"Just a sec," Jordie said absently. "I want to See who's goin' t' win."
"Got news for ya, _'tite_," Remy grinned smugly, "we just did."
Jordie tilted her head in momentary confusion, then turned to follow the sound of Laroux's voice, echoing off the walls as the cops finally got him out of the building. Then she smiled, widely and with enormous pleasure. "No, we didn't," she informed her partner sweetly. "We never got the other half of the money."
"Tornado's comin' up the side, she's takin' the lead -- the Texas Tornado wins it! Cajun Moon in second, Pride Goeth a disappointin' third...."
Belle started laughing at the look on Remy's face as the announcer continued going crazy. "_Mais yeah_, it look like de Tornado won dat one!"
Jordie made a face and silently cursed Belle. "I ain't no horse, and that's a stupid name anyway. Don't even think about it, Remy."
Remy started laughing, ruffling his partner's short hair. "But it oh-so- 'propriate, _neh_, Tornado? Remy t'ink it suit you." She tried to kick him and missed, then stalked towards the gates, leaving the two Cajuns to get control of themselves before they could follow.
"And dat is what happen in Baton Rouge."
"Well, our version, anyway; I bet Laroux's tellin' a different story in jail. They used the drugs we planted on him t' get a search warrant for his digs, and found all those papers we left behind -- enough evidence t' tie him t' half the drug runnin' and prostitution in four states. He's goin' t' be in the stir 'til he's ninety --"
"-- Screamin' de whole time 'bout how he was set up."
"Which he was, at least with the coke. Fun part is, we didn't even have to buy the powder -- I lifted it from ol' Leroy the Hitter, then planted it at the same time I planted the papers."
"Didn't take a clairvoyant t' know dat homme was stealin' from de company store -- couldn't take a breath without his nose runnin' all over de place, even when he makin' a hit."
"Laroux was too distracted t' connect the pickpockets who set him up with the thieves Covin'ton hired in the first place, so we got off pretty much scot-free from him. Never did find out what happened t' Covin'ton's body--"
"Yes, we did."
"You goin' t' share?"
"... Okay. Anyway, the only trouble *I* got out of that was never bein' able t' shake that damn nickname again. Everythin' else settled right down."
"Good t'ing, too, 'cause all hell broke loose few months later, after Jordie take off wit' her bro'der an' de Guilds start goin' crazy --"
" -- But that's another story entirely."
"And damned if we gon' tell it now."
But it was fun sending him down that rope face-first... < g >
This one's for my favorite partners in crime, Diane (as usual) and Cath. Lots of thanks to my great beta readers, especially the Neon Queen, RubyLis and Amethyst (who read something in I hadn't intended and solved a plot point).