Sean tensed, sitting straight on his stool. “Fatson.”
“Well, crap.” Jaz set her mug down.
Sean turned back to Jaz. “I’m sorry. We got away clean…I really didn’t know they’d send him…”
Jaz shook her head. “The bank didn’t send him. He’s a regular.”
“Best get out of sight,” said Mose, throwing back the last of his coffee and hopping down from his stool.
“Just to be safe,” Margo agreed, setting down her empty cup.
Sean leaned toward Jaz. “I wouldn’t normally ask this, but, you wouldn’t have a storage room or something we could occupy for a couple hours, by any chance? Just until the suits go away.”
Jaz studied the approaching group with a growing frown. “Bracken, take them downstairs.”
Bracken’s mouth fell open. “Seriously? What about—“
“Put them in your room.”
“My room? Are you kidding me?”
Sean blinked, turning to Bracken. “You live here?”
Jaz pulled Bracken aside before he could answer, lowering her voice. “Just keep them out of my office. There’s nothing in your room they can’t see.”
“Or, we could make them leave.” Bracken felt Sean watching them and lowered his voice further.
Jaz clenched her teeth, hissing through them. “Fatson is bad news, kid. Bad news. If you get these nice bank robbers killed, I’ll kill you.”
“That’s a weird thing to say, after the way you’ve been acting,” he returned, speaking softly.
“What way have I been acting?”
“You know…” Bracken tipped his head slightly back, indicating Sean.
“What, because someone finally comes here who knows something about coffee? Fates. Just take them downstairs, alright?”
“That wasn’t what I—Fine. But if they find out all your secrets and this blows up on you, don’t blame me.”
“Don’t let them find out and we’ll be fine.” Jaz glanced at the windows again and pushed him out of the workspace. “Hurry up!”
“Okay, okay.” Bracken threw open the basement door and led the way downstairs. Sean came after him, the twins heeling on either side. J.P. came behind them carrying the hi-fi, which now changed its tune from romantic guitar to a spy theme.
“What did you do before you had the theme-music box?” Bracken asked, coming to the bottom of the stairs.
“J.P. mostly hummed.” Sean looked around the basement at the shelves full of stock, and then along the wall at the bulky roaster hunkered in quiet repose beyond the nearest lights. “Look at that…” He took a step toward it but Bracken checked him with a hand on his arm.
“Right. J.P., come back,” Sean called.
J.P. had already approached a nearby shelf, which was full of vinyl records. He came back to them, thumbing over his shoulder at the records. “Nice collection.”
“Don’t touch anything,” said Bracken, hoping J.P. hadn’t noticed most of the titles were in languages not found in his world. “Jaz is obsessive with her organizational system.”
He began to open his door, and saw the Vasencea binder on his bed, and photos spread across the blanket. He quickly closed the door. “Oh! Um. Hang on. I have to…just a second.” He slipped inside and quickly shoved the binder into his backpack. He gathered up the photos into a loose pile and dropped them in the top of the desk drawer. Then, shoving the backpack far under the bed, he called, “Okay!”
Sean looked at him amusedly as he opened the door again, this time stepping back so they could enter. “Hey, if you need a minute to clean—”
A crash of furniture overhead and sudden yelling made them all jump. Images of tigers and blood splatter on cabinets shot through Bracken’s mind.
Sean spun and would have started back upstairs, but Mose and Margo caught his arm, speaking at the same time.
Sean’s face was pale in the faint light filtering down on them, his arm stiffening as if to pull away.
“I’ll go see what’s up,” Bracken offered quickly. “If she’s in real danger I’ll yell.”
Bracken didn’t trust them alone in the basement, but the crashing continued along with the sound of many feet stomping around. If Jaz died again he would be alone for the rest of the day, which didn’t appeal to him. And even though it wasn’t permanent, dying probably wasn’t much fun for her, either. He opened the door to his room and shooed them inside. “Don’t steal anything. It’s…got sentimental value.”
Sean faced him from the middle of the room and spread his hands. “We won’t take anything,” he promised. “Go help her.”
Bracken didn’t believe they would stay there, but helping Jaz against the unknown assailants was more important than guarding bank robbers hunkered in his room. At least they weren’t performing any demolitions. Bracken sprinted upstairs, expecting to see holes ripped in the floor and rubble strewn about.
There were no holes, no rubble. Just four men in black suits, tossing chairs and shoving tables out the open double doors onto the sidewalk. Jaz sat on the counter with her feet on two stools, sipping from her cracked coffee mug.
A stocky man in a light gray suit stood facing her, lighting a fat black cigar. He wore no hat. His reddish hair was cropped in a flat plane across the top of his skull like a miniature, well-trimmed bush.
“What’s going on?” Bracken came around the front of the counters to stand beside Jaz.
“We’re being evicted.” She gave him a dry look.
Bracken leaned closer. “Is that even possible?”
“You bet it is,” the shrub-haired man answered, gesturing with the lighted cigar as smoke floated in clouds around his head and shoulders. “And this time I’m making sure it happens.”
“Sure, Fatson, sure.” Jaz mimicked his gesture with her mug. “I’m more than happy to vacate.”
Bracken barely caught the laugh that came over him at this, stifling it into a smirk instead.
Fatson’s red skin reddened further. “You said that before. This time, you better scram if you don’t want to eat bullets.”
“You’d shoot a woman?” Jaz tsked and brought her mug to her lips. “Classy.”
Fatson grabbed the mug and threw it across the room. It bashed into a wall and crashed on the floor in pieces.
Jaz clenched her jaw, her chest rising with a deep, slow breath. “That was my favorite mug.”
Fatson stabbed a stout finger at her face. “I’ll be back in the morning. If you’re still here I’ll decorate the walls with your brains.”
He left his henchmen to see that the moving out proceeded as planned. Jaz ignored them and searched the floor for shards of her mug, collecting them in her apron pocket.
Bracken edged close to her and held out part of the curved handle. “We can’t leave.”
“Nope. But they don’t know that.” Jaz took the piece. “Thanks.”
“The furniture they’re throwing out the doors, can we get it back?”
“Nope.” Jaz looked toward the windows. Chairs and tables made large piles on the sidewalk. Her eye twitched briefly. “I have a few tables downstairs that I’ve been hanging onto. Fatson has been coming by every couple days, by his time, and he’s getting frustrated that I’m not complying with his edicts.”
“He keeps trying to throw you out and failing.”
“Yeah. I was giving him Joli’s anti-memory tea for a while, which was pretty nice. Don’t have it today though.” She shot a pointed glance at Bracken.
“I said I was sorry, geez…”
Two henchmen approached, carrying semi-automatic rifles low at the hip, like they meant business but didn’t want to try too hard at it. Bracken felt hopeful, but a look at their faces suggested their only thought in life was to carry out their leader’s orders, over Bracken and Jaz’s corpses if necessary. Jaz of course had nothing to worry about, but Bracken was still mortal.
“Boss wants everything gone,” said Henchman One.
“Everything,” confirmed Henchman Two.
“You mean the stuff downstairs. Sure.” Jaz might have been taking their coffee order. “I’ll have Bracken get started on it.”
“We’ll go with,” said Two.
“He doesn’t need help. I have four more employees downstairs. Bracken, tell them to help carry stuff out.”
Bracken hesitated. “Are you sure that’s—“
“Start with the junk in the back corner. Go on,” she commanded when Bracken continued to hesitate. “It’s time they earned their keep.” She retrieved another shard of her cup from under an overturned chair.
“What are you going to do?” Bracken asked.
“I’ll take care of things up here.” She looked at Bracken hard and nodded.
“Alright. You’re the boss.” He shrugged and went back downstairs.
Sean waited at the bottom, leaning against the wall. He straightened when he saw Bracken. “So?”
“That guy Fatson is evicting us. His guys are throwing the tables and chairs outside. Jaz is going along with it so no one gets hurt.”
This didn’t please Sean either. “Fatson is an insurance salesman, not a landlord.”
“I get the feeling he doesn’t care about details like that.”
“Yeah,” Sean mused. “Banks and museums under his watch are too dangerous for the average thief to hit. He likes to mess people up who try to steal from him.”
“Did you steal from one of his banks?”
“No, I like keeping my life.” Sean glanced up the stairs. “I don’t like that he’s here though. He doesn’t care if he kills a man, woman or stray kitten that rubs him the wrong way.”
“He just left,” Bracken was happy to announce. “Just his guys are here right now.”
“All with guns?”
Bracken nodded. “Jaz said you should help carry some stuff out. There’s a junk pile down here we can use. You can sneak off when you get outside. She told them you’re her employees. They shouldn’t bother you if you hurry.”
“What about Jaz?”
“I’ll watch out for her. Besides, you have loot to worry about.”
Sean hesitated, torn between his career and an underlying streak of honor, then pushed off the wall and went to Bracken’s room where his crew waited. Mose and Margo sat on the bed, legs dangling. J.P. was cross-legged on the floor beside the hi-fi.
“We have a slight change in plans,” Sean said. “J.P., come with me and Bracken. Mose and Margo, you watch the loot. Bracken,” he turned to Bracken, regaining his former commanding confidence, “Take us to the junk pile.”