If Tom knew to do anything, it was to keep his mouth shut. He wouldn’t’ve known what to do, anyhow. Even if he’d been himself, a gun was the great leveller. You could put a bullet in the biggest kov you’d ever seen just the same as someone like Anatole, just as easy. Didn’t matter who you were: as a general rule, when you had a gun pointed at you, you kept still and did whatever the kov holding it said to do.
Still, he reckoned he’d’ve had more options than this. He’d disarmed men before, given patience and cunning, brute strength and a little luck. Binder would’ve been easy to overpower, before. Now, though, he’d’ve put his money on Binder in a wrestling match, and that was sad.
So sad that Tom put it out of his head. He didn’t want that to be the last thing on his mind. Well, not this time.
He dared to shift a little, still showing Binder his palms – dared to glance toward Ava. He recognized her posture, the look on her face, her tone of voice. He’d never seen her with a regular customer, not really, but he remembered how she’d acted around Diana, and he remembered how she’d been the first time he set foot in the shop. Put-together, in-the-know, oes, but still demure, like you weren’t supposed to be sure what it was she knew, exactly. All ladylike, shifting her weight so she was all subtle curves, subtle enough not to say anything direct about what she might (or might not) be playing at. It was all mights and might-nots.
There were some differences. This time, though Tom wasn’t sure how, the way she talked implied she was the one in charge. That was good. If Binder thought he was tekaa, it made plenty of sense; it might very well save his erse. He was thinking about how best to play along when Binder spoke again.
He sucked at a crooked tooth with a loud click. “Wherever you got your recommendation,” he said in a low voice, careful-like, with plenty of thoughts in the pauses between his words, “I’m not here to do business. There’s been a change of plans. You and your friend are going to stand right there, very quietly, while I collect what I came for. If I hear so much as a peep out of the galdor, I will shoot him and then you. In case you haven’t already been acquainted, there is a dead body in that room, and I’m sure you can imagine I have no compunctions about adding two more.”
The floorboards creaked, popping worrisomely, as Binder took a slow step toward the shut door.
As he went through, Tom thought, he’d have to turn his back at some point, and he’d be close enough to – no. But if he was quick, if he got – no, Tom thought again. Ne, ne.
Where did that leave him? Binder wasn’t mung; by now, he knew he wasn’t a wick. He didn’t think he’d get the chance to talk, but if he had to, he didn’t know what he’d do. He was trying to keep calm, but his heart felt like a hummingbird’s. He tried to grasp at threads in his head, fumbling through the fog.
Just keep quiet, he thought, keep still. Even if he’d been himself, this wasn’t the Rose, and this wasn’t Hawke’s work, where the job was more important than the lives you could give for it. He wasn’t going to do something idiotic and get both of them killed. Besides, if Binder left them alive, it was possible he’d leave the accounts anyway; flipping through to the back, Ava’d looked like she might’ve found something. Or could find something, given time and cleaner air. Gods damn it, but he was holding in another sneeze.
Then, suddenly, Binder paused. He turned his blue eyes on Ava again, this time quizzical.
“Hold on,” he said, taking a step back. He seemed to struggle with something in his head; he raised a brow, licked his lips, opened his mouth, frowned – shut his mouth again. Then, with slight edge of reluctance, he started, “I’ve sought my love in the wide-paved streets…”