Skin Game Page 56

“Gideon. He had three hundred.”

“I thought that was the Spartans.”

“It was also the Spartans,” Karrin said. “Except that they had about four thousand other Greeks there with them in addition to their three hundred.”

“Three hundred makes a better movie. Who had forty guys, then?”

“You’re thinking of how many days and nights it rained on Noah’s ark.”

“Oh,” I said. “I was sure somebody had forty guys.”

“Ali Baba?”

“He didn’t have forty guys,” I said. “He ripped off forty guys.”

“Maybe you’re remembering cartoons again,” Karrin said.

“Probably,” I said. I stared down at the guns. “Forty of those demon suit guys. With Uzis.”

She grimaced. “Yeah. Gonna take me maybe three hours just to load all the clips.”

“What kind of target is tough enough that it needs forty demon soldiers with submachine guns to assault?”

Karrin shook her head. “Military installation?”

I grunted.

“You don’t plan for this many guns if you don’t intend to use them,” Karrin said. “If it comes down to Binder’s goons shooting people . . .”

“We sure as hell don’t stand around and watch it happen,” I assured her.

She nodded. “Good.” She twisted her mouth in distaste. “Won’t that upset Mab, if you bail out?”

“Her Royal FreezePop-iness can get upset—but if she claims to be surprised, I’ll laugh in her face.”

“But it could mean she kills you,” she said quietly.

“Could mean she tries,” I said, aiming for cocky and confident.

Karrin looked away, the motion a little too sharp. She didn’t go so far as to need to blink tears from her eyes or anything, but for a moment she looked about ten years older. She nodded. It looked like she wanted to say something.

“Karrin?” I asked.

She shook her head once and said, “I’ve got to get these clips loaded.”

“Want help?”

“Sure.”

We set to the task of loading a hundred and twenty thirty-two-round magazines with 9mm rounds. Thirty eight hundred bullets or so. Even with speed-loading tools, it took a while, and we worked in companionable silence, broken occasionally by the passing guard or an increasingly gentle, intermittent series of whumping sounds that came from the far end of the factory floor—Ascher, presumably, practicing her breaching spell.

Just as we were finishing up, bootsteps came from the opposite direction and I looked up to see Nicodemus marching toward us, a pair of his squires tromping along behind him. Deirdre walked beside him, in her human form, her expression unfriendly and otherwiseunreadable.

“Weapons ready?” he asked Karrin, without stopping.

“All set.”

“Excellent. Conference table, please.”

“Why?” I asked. My left hand hadn’t been good for much beyond holding the magazine as I loaded rounds, and the fingertips of my right hand felt raw.

Nicodemus went on by and glanced over his shoulder at me, his eyes lingering on my splint. “Grey is back. It’s time to talk about our target.”

Twenty-two

We gathered at the conference table again, and Anna Valmont slid into the seat beside me.

“Hey,” I said. “How goes the grease job?”

She eyed me and smiled faintly. “I am, in this crew, what is known as a grease man. A grease man is the person who can get you into someplace you otherwise couldn’t get into by yourself.” Her voice turned wry. “A grease job is something else.”

“Right,” I said, narrowing my eyes, nodding. “Got it. So how goes the man greasing?”

Valmont let out a shallow chuckle. “Got to admit, I wouldn’t mind being the first to take on one of those Fernucci monsters and win.”

“Can you?”

She nodded slowly. “I think it’s possible.”

Grey sauntered in, looking exactly as he had that morning, and sat down at the table.

“Order, please,” Nicodemus said, as Grey sat down next to Deirdre. “We’ll make this quick and then break for a meal, if that’s all right with everyone.”

“All right with me,” Ascher drawled. She looked sweatier and more smudged than she had a few hours before, but her expression was unmistakably smug. “I’m ravenous.”

“I know just what you mean,” Nicodemus said. “Deirdre?”

Once more, Deirdre circled the table with folders that were labeled simply GOAL.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” I said. “Does this master plan of yours come with health coverage?”

“Dresden,” Nicodemus said.

“Because that kind of thing is getting to be more and more important. I mean, I know the government probably means well and all, but those people, honestly.”

Nicodemus eyed me.

“Life insurance seems like something that would be worthwhile, too.” I looked up at Ascher and winked. “Maybe we should strike until we get a whole-life policy.”

Ascher flashed me a quick grin and said, “I’ve always thought that insurance was more or less betting against myself.”

“Nah,” Binder said. “In my experience, you’re just playing the odds.”

“Children,” Nicodemus said with a sigh, “shall we focus on the matter at hand?”

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