Big Bol said nothing, just released another trembling whimper.
“All right, I’ll tell you. You’re lazy. I know it. Everyone knows it. So I had to ask myself why my laziest bouncer was getting up early twice a week to walk two extra miles to Cilla’s Fry for breakfast, especially when the eggs are so much better at the Kooperom. Big Bol becomes an early riser, the Black Tips start throwing their weight around Fifth Harbor and then intercept our biggest shipment of jurda. It wasn’t a tough connection to make.” He sighed and said to Geels, “This is what happens when stupid people start making big plans, ja?”
“Doesn’t matter much now, does it?” replied Geels. “This gets ugly, I’m shooting from close range. Maybe your guards get me or my guys, but no way you’re going to dodge this bullet.”
Kaz stepped into the barrel of the gun so that it was pressed directly against his chest. “No way at all, Geels.”
“You think I won’t do it?”
“Oh, I think you’d do it gladly, with a song in your black heart. But you won’t. Not tonight.”
Geels’ finger twitched on the trigger.
“Kaz,” Jesper said. “This whole ‘shoot me’ thing is starting to concern me.”
Oomen didn’t bother to object to Jesper mouthing off this time. One man was down. Neutral territory had been violated. The sharp tang of gunpowder already hung in the air—and along with it a question, unspoken in the quiet, as if the Reaper himself awaited the answer: How much blood will be shed tonight?
In the distance a siren wailed.
“Nineteen Burstraat,” Kaz said.
Geels had been shifting slightly from foot to foot; now he went very still.
“That’s your girl’s address, isn’t it, Geels?”
Geels swallowed. “Don’t have a girl.”
“Oh yes, you do,” crooned Kaz. “She’s pretty, too. Well, pretty enough for a fink like you. Seems sweet. You love her, don’t you?” Even from the rooftop, Inej could see the sheen of sweat on Geels’ waxen face. “Of course you do. No one that fine should ever have looked twice at Barrel scum like you, but she’s different. She finds you charming. Sure sign of madness if you ask me, but love is strange that way. Does she like to rest her pretty head on your shoulder? Listen to you talk about your day?”
Geels looked at Kaz as if he was finally seeing him for the first time. The boy he’d been talking to had been cocky, reckless, easily amused, but not frightening—not really. Now the monster was here, dead-eyed and unafraid. Kaz Brekker was gone, and Dirtyhands had come to see the rough work done.
“She lives at Nineteen Burstraat,” Kaz said in his gravelly rasp. “Three floors up, geraniums in the window boxes. There are two Dregs waiting outside her door right now, and if I don’t walk out of here whole and feeling righteous, they will set that place alight from floor to rooftop. It will go up in seconds, burning from both ends with poor Elise trapped in the middle. Her blond hair will catch first. Like the wick of a candle.”
“You’re bluffing,” said Geels, but his pistol hand was trembling.
Kaz lifted his head and inhaled deeply. “Getting late now. You heard the siren. I smell the harbor on the wind, sea and salt, and maybe—is that smoke I smell, too?” There was pleasure in his voice.
Oh, Saints, Kaz, Inej thought miserably. What have you done now?
Again, Geels’ finger twitched on the trigger, and Inej tensed.
“I know, Geels. I know,” Kaz said sympathetically. “All that planning and scheming and bribing for nothing. That’s what you’re thinking right now. How bad it will feel to walk home knowing what you’ve lost. How angry your boss is going to be when you show up empty-handed and that much poorer for it. How satisfying it would be to put a bullet in my heart. You can do it. Pull the trigger. We can all go down tonight. They can take our bodies out to the Reaper’s Barge for burning, like all paupers go. Or you can take the blow to your pride, go back to Burstraat, lay your head in your girl’s lap, fall asleep still breathing, and dream of revenge. It’s up to you, Geels. Do we get to go home tonight?”
Geels searched Kaz’s gaze, and whatever he saw there made his shoulders sag. Inej was surprised to feel a pang of pity for him. He’d walked into this place buoyed on bravado, a survivor, a champion of the Barrel. He’d leave as another victim of Kaz Brekker.
“You’ll get what’s coming to you someday, Brekker.”
“I will,” said Kaz, “if there’s any justice in the world. And we all know how likely that is.”
Geels let his arm drop. The pistol hung uselessly by his side.
Kaz stepped back, brushing the front of his shirt where the gun barrel had rested. “Go tell your general to keep the Black Tips out of Fifth Harbor and that we expect him to make amends for the shipment of jurda we lost, plus five percent for drawing steel on neutral ground and five percent more for being such a spectacular bunch of asses.”
Then Kaz’s cane swung in a sudden sharp arc. Geels screamed as his wrist bones shattered. The gun clattered to the paving stones.
“I stood down!” cried Geels, cradling his hand. “I stood down!”
“You draw on me again, I’ll break both your wrists, and you’ll have to hire someone to help you take a piss.” Kaz tipped the brim of his hat up with the head of his cane. “Or maybe you can get the lovely Elise to do it for you.”
Kaz crouched down beside Bolliger. The big man whimpered. “Look at me, Bolliger. Assuming you don’t bleed to death tonight, you have until sunset tomorrow to get out of Ketterdam. I hear you’re anywhere near the city limits, and they’ll find you stuffed in a keg at Cilla’s Fry.” Then he looked at Geels. “You help Bolliger, or I find out he’s running with the Black Tips, don’t think I won’t come after you.”
“Please, Kaz,” moaned Bolliger.
“You had a home, and you put a wrecking ball through the front door, Bolliger. Don’t look for sympathy from me.” He rose and checked his pocket watch. “I didn’t expect this to go on so long. I’d best be on my way or poor Elise will be getting a trifle warm.”
Geels shook his head. “There’s something wrong with you, Brekker. I don’t know what you are, but you’re not made right.”
Kaz cocked his head to one side. “You’re from the suburbs, aren’t you Geels? Came to the city to try your luck?” He smoothed his lapel with one gloved hand. “Well, I’m the kind of bastard they only manufacture in the Barrel.”
Despite the loaded gun at the Black Tips’ feet, Kaz turned his back on them and limped across the cobblestones toward the eastern arch. Jesper squatted down next to Bolliger and gave him a gentle pat on the cheek. “Idiot,” he said sadly, and followed Kaz out of the Exchange.
From the roof, Inej continued to watch as Oomen picked up and holstered Geels’ gun and the Black Tips said a few quiet words to each other.
“Don’t leave,” Big Bolliger begged. “Don’t leave me.” He tried to cling to the cuff of Geels’ trousers.
Geels shook him off. They left him curled on his side, leaking blood onto the cobble
Inej plucked Van Daal’s rifle from his hands before she released him. “Go home,” she told the guard.
He cast a single terrified glance over his shoulder and sprinted off down the walkway. Far below, Big Bol had started trying to drag himself across the floor of the Exchange. He might be stupid enough to cross Kaz Brekker, but he’d survived this long in the Barrel, and that took will. He might make it.
Help him, a voice inside her said. Until a few moments ago, he’d been her brother in arms. It seemed wrong to leave him alone. She could go to him, offer to put him out of his misery quickly, hold his hand as he passed. She could fetch a medik to save him.
Instead, she spoke a quick prayer in the language of her Saints and began the steep climb down the outer wall. Inej pitied the boy who might die alone with no one to comfort him in his last hours or who might live and spend his life as an exile. But the night’s work wasn’t yet over, and the Wraith didn’t have time for traitors.