On the second story of the Exchange, she hoisted herself onto a window ledge just wide enough to perch on.
done his best to teach her, but she didn’t quite have his way with breaking and entering, and it took her a few tries to finesse the lock. Finally she heard a satisfying click, and the window swung open on a deserted office, its walls covered in maps marked with trade routes and chalkboards listing share prices and the names of ships. She ducked inside, refastened the latch, and picked her way past the empty desks with their neat stacks of orders and tallies.
She crossed to a slender set of doors and stepped onto a balcony that overlooked the central courtyard of the Exchange. Each of the shipping offices had one. From here, callers announced new voyages and arrivals of inventory, or hung the black flag that indicated that a ship had been lost at sea with all its cargo. The floor of the Exchange would erupt into a flurry of trades, runners would spread the word throughout the city, and the price of goods, futures, and shares in outgoing voyages would rise or fall. But tonight all was silence.
A wind came in off the harbor, bringing the smell of the sea, ruffling the stray hairs that had escaped the braided coil at the nape of Inej’s neck. Down in the square, she saw the sway of lamplight and heard the thump of Kaz’s cane on the stones as he and his seconds made their way across the square. On the opposite side, she glimpsed another set of lanterns heading toward them. The Black Tips had arrived.
Inej raised her hood. She pulled herself onto the railing and leapt soundlessly to the neighboring balcony, then the next, tracking Kaz and the others around the square, staying as close as she could. His dark coat rippled in the salt breeze, his limp more pronounced tonight, as it always was when the weather turned cold. She could hear Jesper keeping up a lively stream of conversation, and Big Bolliger’s low, rumbling chuckle.
As she drew nearer to the other side of the square, Inej saw that Geels had chosen to bring Elzinger and Oomen—exactly as she had predicted. Inej knew the strengths and weaknesses of every member of the Black Tips, not to mention Harley’s Pointers, the Liddies, the Razorgulls, the Dime Lions, and every other gang working the streets of Ketterdam. It was her job to know that Geels trusted Elzinger because they’d come up through the ranks of the Black Tips together, and because Elzinger was built like a stack of boulders—nearly seven feet tall, dense with muscle, his wide, mashed-in face jammed low on a neck thick as a pylon.
She was suddenly glad Big Bolliger was with Kaz. That Kaz had chosen Jesper to be one of his seconds was no surprise. Twitchy as Jesper was, with or without his revolvers, he was at his best in a fight, and she knew he’d do anything for Kaz. She’d been less sure when Kaz had insisted on Big Bolliger as well. Big Bol was a bouncer at the Crow Club, perfectly suited to tossing out drunks and wasters, but too heavy on his feet to be much use when it came to a real tussle. Still, at least he was tall enough to look Elzinger in the eye.
Inej didn’t want to think too much on Geels’ other second. Oomen made her nervous. He wasn’t as physically intimidating as Elzinger. In fact, Oomen was made like a scarecrow—not scrawny, but as if beneath his clothes, his body had been put together at wrong angles. Word was he’d once crushed a man’s skull with his bare hands, wiped his palms clean on his shirtfront, and kept right on drinking.
Inej tried to quiet the unease roiling through her, and listened as Geels and Kaz made small talk in the square while their seconds patted each of them down to make sure no one was carrying.
“Naughty,” Jesper said as he removed a tiny knife from Elzinger’s sleeve and tossed it across the square.
“Clear,” declared Big Bolliger as he finished patting down Geels and moved on to Oomen.
Kaz and Geels discussed the weather, the suspicion that the Kooperom was serving watered-down drinks now that the rent had been raised—dancing around the real reason they’d come here tonight. In theory, they would chat, make their apologies, agree to respect the boundaries of Fifth Harbor, then all head out to find a drink together—at least that’s what Per Haskell had insisted.
But what does Per Haskell know? Inej thought as she looked for the guards patrolling the roof above, trying to pick out their shapes in the dark. Haskell ran the Dregs, but these days, he preferred to sit in the warmth of his room, drinking lukewarm lager, building model ships, and telling long stories of his exploits to anyone who would listen. He seemed to think territory wars could be settled as they once had been: with a short scuffle and a friendly handshake. But every one of Inej’s senses told her that was not how this was going to play out. Her father would have said the shadows were about their own business tonight. Something bad was going to happen here.
Kaz stood with both gloved hands resting on the carved crow’s head of his cane. He looked totally at ease, his narrow face obscured by the brim of his hat. Most gang members in the Barrel loved flash: gaudy waistcoats, watch fobs studded with false gems, trousers in every print and pattern imaginable. Kaz was the exception—the picture of restraint, his dark vests and trousers simply cut and tailored along severe lines. At first, she’d thought it was a matter of taste, but she’d come to understand that it was a joke he played on the upstanding merchers. He enjoyed looking like one of them.
“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
Now he looked like some kind of priest come to preach to a group of circus performers. A young priest, she thought with another pang of unease. Kaz had called Geels old and washed up, but he certainly didn’t seem that way tonight. The Black Tips’ lieutenant might have wrinkles creasing the corners of his eyes and burgeoning jowls beneath his sideburns, but he looked confident, experienced. Next to him Kaz looked … well, seventeen.
“Let’s be fair, ja? All we want is a bit more scrub,” Geels said, tapping the mirrored buttons of his lime-green waistcoat. “It’s not fair for you to cull every spend-happy tourist stepping off a pleasure boat at Fifth Harbor.”
“Fifth Harbor is ours, Geels,” Kaz replied. “The Dregs get first crack at the pigeons who come looking for a little fun.”
Geels shook his head. “You’re a young one, Brekker,” he said with an indulgent laugh. “Maybe you don’t understand how these things work. The harbors belong to the city, and we have as much right to them as anyone. We’ve all got a living to make.”
Technically, that was true. But Fifth Harbor had been useless and all but abandoned by the city when Kaz had taken it over. He’d had it dredged, and then built out the docks and the quay, and he’d had to mortgage the Crow Club to do it. Per Haskell had railed at him and called him a fool for the expense, but eventually he’d relented. According to Kaz, the old man’s exact words had been, “Take all that rope and hang yourself.” But the endeavor had paid for itself in less than a year. Now Fifth Harbor offered berths to mercher ships, as well as boats from all over the world carrying tourists and soldiers eager to see the sights and sample the pleasures of Ketterdam. The Dregs got first try at all of them, steering them—and their wallets—into brothels, taverns, and gambling dens owned by the gang. Fifth Harbor had made the old man very rich, and cemented the Dregs as real players in the Barrel in a way that not even the success of the Crow Club had. But with profit came unwanted attention. Geels and the Black Tips had been making trouble for the Dregs all year, encroaching on Fifth Harbor, picking off pigeons that weren’t rightfully theirs.
“Fifth Harbor is ours,” Kaz repeated. “It isn’t up for negotiation. You’re cutting into our traffic from the docks, and you intercepted a shipment of jurda that should have docked two nights ago.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know it comes easy, Geels, but try not to play dumb with me.”
Geels took a step forward. Jesper and Big Bolliger tensed.
“Quit flexing, boy,” Geels said. “We all know the old man doesn’t have the stomach for a real brawl.”
Kaz’s laugh was dry as the rustle of dead leaves. “But I’m the one at your table, Geels, and I’m not here fo
r a taste. You want a war, I’ll make sure you eat your fill.”
“And what if you’re not around, Brekker? Everyone knows you’re the spine of Haskell’s operation—snap it and the Dregs collapse.”
Jesper snorted. “Stomach, spine. What’s next, spleen?”
“Shut it,” Oomen snarled. The rules of parley dictated that only the lieutenants could speak once negotiations had begun. Jesper mouthed “sorry” and elaborately pantomimed locking his lips shut.
“I’m fairly sure you’re threatening me, Geels,” Kaz said. “But I want to be certain before I decide what to do about it.”
“Sure of yourself, aren’t you, Brekker?”
“Myself and nothing else.”
Geels burst out laughing and elbowed Oomen. “Listen to this cocky little piece of crap. Brekker, you don’t own these streets. Kids like you are fleas. A new crop of you turns up every few years to annoy your betters until a big dog decides to scratch. And let me tell you, I’m about tired of the itch.” He crossed his arms, pleasure rolling off him in smug waves. “What if I told you there are two guards with city-issue rifles pointed at you and your boys right now?”
Inej’s stomach dropped. Was that what Kaz had meant when he said Geels might have the guards in his pocket?
Kaz glanced up at the roof. “Hiring city guards to do your killing? I’d say that’s an expensive proposition for a gang like the Black Tips. I’m not sure I believe your coffers could support it.”