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St og rae it = ie : t Re 1 ised Al es for 1 laying Meroe a ae 2ENDEZVOUS: "AUTIONARY TALE “fr is,” Peter Coleman said, “really goddamned dark in here.” He ran his fingers down the lapels of his suit out of nervous habit, checking to see that he was still immaculately groomed, even in pitch blackness. “I don’t see why we have to wait in the dark.” He felt a soft finger on his lips in response. “Hush,” came the voice of his associate from somewhere to his left. “You know exactly why we are here. If we do not stand in the dark, then we are visible to your little friend Kevin. If we are visible to your little friend Kevin, then Kevin may remember our faces and have that memory dragged out of him by any one of our rivals. I for one, would prefer to minimize my risks.” Coleman rolled his eyes, he hoped invisibly. “As you say, Donata. | humbly beg your pardon, and I shall wait in silence until our little friend arrives.” With that, Peter shut his eyes and began mentally fiddling with projections on a few IPOs that were scheduled for the next month and a half. He whistled tunelessly as he did so, feeling, rather than seeing, Donata bristle beside him. “Must you do thar she said, an edge of real irritation coloring her voice. Her words echoed hollowly in the space of the tunnel they stood in. “He'll hear you and get spooked, and then all this will be for naught.” Peter smiled and sat down on a projecting ledge. The concrete was surprisingly smooth and cool to the touch, and he found himself hoping that there wouldn't be too much dust on his suit when he got out of here. “Are you sure it isn’t that I'm offending your delicate sensibilities? I'm sure that you've heard much finer whistling in Elysium.” Donata took a step to the left, gritting her teeth almost audibly. “Whatever you say, Peter, Don't make this more difficult than it has to be. We can go back to hating each other properly once all of this is finished, but in the meantime, I'll do my best to make this endurable if you will. Do we have an arrangement?” “We have,” Peter said, “several. But youare, as always, right.” He checked his watch, which glowed a faint green. “Damn. The boy is late.” “His kind always is,” said Donata, and sat in the darkness beside him. He glanced her way once, barely seeing her silhouette through the gloom, but made no move to acknowledge her presence. Side by side, the two predators sat and waited. It was one of the things that they'd gotten very good at over the years. * * + * Kevin skulked up the storm drain tunnel, his boots making only the slightest of splashes as he trudged through the shallow stream that ran through the conduit. Every 15 steps or so, he paused to look behind him and make sure that he wasn’t being followed, while he let the echoes of his footsteps fade away. He kept to the water because he’d been told that it made you harder to track, and he definitely didn’t want anyone tracking him tonight. (“He's coming,” Donata said, a quarter mile ahead. “I can hear him.” Coleman frowned and said that he heard nothing. “That,” she responded, “is your problem. To me he’s clear as day. Now be quiet. He’ll be here shortly.”) A full 20 minutes later, Kevin finally took the last cautious steps to the meet point. To outside eyes, the place was just another dank section of storm drain, but the instructions he'd received told Kevin that he would meet his contacts here. He looked around. The place was pitch black, and there was no sign of any other presence, human or otherwise. He stood for a minute, then muttered a curse under his breath and turned to go. “That's far enough, Kevin,” came a voice from the darkness. “Stop right there.” “What if | don’t want to?” he blustered, making a big show of splashing back a few steps in the direction he'd come from. “You really don’t want to test me, Kevin,” the voice said wearily. “I’m right behind you, and if you take another step, I'll rip your throat out and go looking for another runner. Kristof recommended you to me because he said you were smart. Be smart now, and stop.” Beside Coleman, Donata could barely swallow her laughter. Kristof the Nosferatu had recommended Kevin, yes — but because he was expendable. Intelligence was never part of the equation. “Okay,” Kevin said. “I’m stopping, but only because I want to.” He turned around slowly. “So where are you? Show yourself. What's your name? Why the hell did we have to do this here?” “Because,” Donata said, “we know how important your friends are to you, Kevin. We know how they feel about us, too, and we know that if they found out you were talking to us, they’d turn on you in a minute. They'd abandon you, leave you to the streets on your own, maybe even try to hurt you.” Her voice was full of loving mock concern. “We couldn’t let that