"Absolutely not," repeated Doyle. "If Rance is who we think he is, then he he is spectacularly dangerous. You're not going in there." Kay shot me a concerned look as we walked between buildings. My teeth were gritted and I shook my head minutely at her.
"Doyle, that's my father in there, sparring with him. Antagonizing him. He's... sent me repeated ‘messages’ today. He obviously wants me there. What's he going to do if I don't show?"
Doyle nodded firmly. "He wants you there. All the more reason for you to disappoint him."
I stopped in my tracks. "It's my dad, Doyle."
He looked at me, a trace of sympathy flickering across his eyes. "And there is security everywhere. And Arthur. And soon, myself. Your father will be perfectly safe."
Kay waited a moment, and then interjected. "Uh... not sure what you guys are talking about and it sounds way sinister, but..." She jerked her head at Cavill. "It's not like they're going to let him in chambers. I don't know how you got him past Stan in the first place."
Doyle looked triumphant. "That settles it. I'll go in and ensure that Arthur is aware of the situation. You and Cavill can enjoy the weather."
"I thought you were supposed to keep an eye on me."
He tapped his nose and subtly pointed skyward. "I won't be far."
I crossed my arms. "Fat lot of good that's going to do if anything happens."
"I've already called and half of the Table is headed your way. Try to stay out of trouble for half an hour."
I eyed him sharply. "You don't think that maybe this was part of the plan? He knew where we'd be every step of the way. You don't think he'd anticipate that we brought the dog?"
Doyle smiled, victory in his eyes. "And who's going to do anything with this handsome fellow right here next to you?" he asked, scratching Cavill behind the ears.
My shoulders slumped in defeat. “All right. But what you promised me, it goes double for my dad, all right? Or I swear I will dance in traffic.”
He bowed slightly. “My word of honor.”
Kay gave me a funny look over her shoulder as she led Doyle under the Capitol dome. Miss you, it said. See you soon.
Whatever: they were finally gone. I heaved a sigh of relief.
The game is afoot!
I pulled my phone out of the boot where I’d concealed it before getting out of the car, and sent a quick message to the number that Vivian had given me.
“Do you like dogs? There’s a sad-looking one in front of the LoC.”
“b there in 5. some idiot f’d up the pkwy.”
That was my girl. Woman. The woman.
The Library of Congress sits across a small park from the Capitol Building. Contrary to popular belief, it does not contain a copy of every book ever published in the United States. It does have multiple entrances, making it impossible for an airborne drone to watch them all at once. Highly frustrating should one happen to be over head: certainly something that would occupy a considerable amount of attention, even of an electronic ghost.
However, one other thing the Library has, if you happen to be a Senator’s daughter who knows the right people, is a subterranean tunnel into the Capitol building.
I tied Cavill to a bike stand and crouched in front of him. “A nice lady is going to come and take care of you,” I promised. “I’ll see you soon.”
He wagged his tail furiously. I stood up, and he stood up. He started off in a random direction that he thought that I might head in. As it turned out, he was right, but it was a short leash. Within a few paces, I was hearing a pathetic stream of whimpers and some nails scratching on the sidewalk. A few people looked my way.
“I’ll be back in a minute!” I announced to no one in particular. “Just getting a snack at the gift shop! Jeez.” The last was under my breath, but honestly, the looks I was getting! It was just an eighty-pound dog who was slowly dragging a bike rack down the sidewalk, making a noise like you’d hear if you played pinball with a band saw. Not a big deal! You’d think I’d just neutered him in public.
Honestly, if I’d actually done the deed, I doubt he’d have sounded that pathetic. Poor, neurotic pooch. Vivian would be there soon.
In sixty seconds I was inside the Library, and with a little bit of fast-talking and name dropping and a call on the inside line to Phil - glad to hear from his boss’ daughter as always! - I was standing outside of the hearing chambers in five minutes flat. Vivian would have picked Cavill up by now, right?
My phone buzzed. “oh, so u really meant a dog? love him love him love him soooo cute! keeping him u will never see him again.”
Then, a few seconds later, “he’s a better kisser than my last bf.”
He was in good hands. I turned my phone off and slipped inside the chamber.
It was standing room only today: apparently people actually cared about what was going on. It had something to do with the intelligence… appropriations? But also about what we knew when? Something something money something authority argh I hated politics. I never felt so much like a stupid teenager than I did when my father got that glint in his eye. I just could not bring myself to care. Politics were my sleepy kryptonite.
Luckily, there were other matters that demanded my attention. Doyle was a few rows up from me, facing the front of the room. He looked agitated: he knew from his eye in the sky that I’d given him the slip. I surmised that he was focused now on Vivian, his only lead to my whereabouts. He’d have another drone flying in to keep an eye on her while he had one watching the Library of Congress, where I disappeared. He hadn’t gone tearing off after me, but I had no doubt that he was instructing Arthur’s people to get on my trail. I probably didn’t have very long before they asked the right questions of the right people and invaded the chamber. They'd lock me down for sure.
I focused on tracking down the other players. My father, wearing a gray suit with an azure tie and a cream pocket square: silver haired, regal. He looked strong and confident. The CIA people, as disappointingly normal-looking as they were at Headquarters. They were senior people, I was sure of that much, but politicians they were not. They didn't revel in the spotlight; they shrank from it. I didn't see a clear Arthur candidate, but perhaps I wouldn't. A King Arthur who had risen to power through espionage might not be so obvious.
And then there was Rance. If he were an evil genius, I had to pity evildoers everywhere. Disheveled, disorganized... he looked like a mop with crooked teeth. He stumbled over his words, and the words, the words, so many! I'd thought Doyle had a stilted way of speaking, but this guy made him sound like a burnt-out hard rocker. He actually asked questions that (a) broke up his points into lettered sub-points, and then (2) got mixed up midway and added numbers in just to drive me absolutely (c) brain-droolingly crazed.
There was no way. No possible way. It was a horrible coincidence.
I closed my eyes. All of the morning's adrenaline, and now this. I was shaking with pent up energy. I wanted to catch a murderer, not listen to old men quibble about the Constitutional scope of surveillance powers, whatever that meant. I mean, I thought the Constitution didn't apply in other countries? God, I hated this stuff.
I opened my eyes and let them wander while I tried to organize my thoughts. I was going to have to get out of here soon: I had maybe another five minutes before Camelot quietly showed up through the doors behind me and I had to either make a scene or make nice. I could get away with only so much on the 'headstrong girl' tactic, and after burning Doyle when I'd convinced him to trust me, they'd shut me down for sure.
There was a murderer to catch... but I was so close to where I needed to be! An opportunity ten years in the making, and Arthur was here in this very room...
I could understand why Camelot was so hot to trot about getting things right. If they'd been maneuvering behind the scenes for centuries to get where they were today, when faced with eleventh hour obstacles it would be tempting to make... compromises. With my life's goal in reach, would I risk letting it slip away?
Gwen. Come now. Failure is a possibility. These murders are certainties.
There was a murderer to catch. And I was the only one who could do it. There was no choice to make, really. I would get another shot at Arthur.
Slowly, I became aware of an... energy in the room. Tension. Faces were drawn; people were leaning in. On instinct I looked to my father, and it took me a long moment to place the emotion on his face: fear.
I'd once seen this man grimly stare down a drunk intent on proving his absolute right to bear arms in during a political rally... at my middle school. He'd started waving a pistol around, on a tear about black helicopters. My father, twenty yards away on the podium, had with quiet finality uttered three words into the microphone: "You're scaring children."
That was all it had taken. No shots fired, no big tragedy, just a head hung low and a ten point bump for my father in the polls. He wasn't the sort to get rattled, ever.
But this time the gun was pointed at him. Rance's sneer exposed teeth whose geometry would have confused Salvador Dali. The pistol in his hand was straight and solid and very easy to understand.
Apparently I had missed something.
"... and now that it's quite clear that all things are not what they seem," the soft, almost feminine voice intoned, "there is a young woman here who is also hiding something. She has a naughty little secret that she is keeping from everyone, absolutely everyone. You may think you know her, but she's always been a master of disguise. She can't hide from me. I've caught her here red-handed. I always find her, and her little dog, too!”
"Red-handed"? My blood froze. He was looking straight at me.
"Surely you'll step forward, my dear, and so we may have the truth out of you. Pip-pip! People are dying to return to their homes."
This is a pale shadow of my old foe, to make such puns. But it makes no sense! He is a powerful Senator, and now he loses everything. He is not one to give up his every advantage for mere spectacle.
The crowd hadn't figured out who Rance was looking at, and my father's eyes were locked on the muzzle of the gun. I had a second to think, but what choice did I have? Rance was a hundred feet away; he might as well have been a mile. Damn, damn, damn! The only thing I could do was play for time.
I started to push forward through the crowd.
Rance's eyes were trained on me, but suddenly they flickered. Too slow.
With the speed of a serpent, a man rose from just behind the table where the CIA people were sitting, arm outstretched. He exploded from his seat, leaping with a single bound onto the table, and from there towards the podium. Rance staggered back, clutching his neck, and a shot rang out, just wide of my father. The man's leap took him to the edge of the podium where the Senators sat, and with a smooth motion, he planted a hand and vaulted it. He pivoted a hip, turning the move into a kick that slammed into Rance's puffy midsection and bent him in half. The two went down, and disappeared from sight behind the low wall.
There was a raspy choke, and then a wet thud. Two, maybe three seconds, from start to finish, and then it was all over but the shouting. Everyone was on their feet, and a name raced around the crowd in a low rumble.
He rose up from behind the podium wall with casual grace, and my heart skipped a beat. He was tall, like Doyle, but light where the other man was dark. His hair was blonde fading to platinum, and his beard was little more than close-cropped stubble framing a jaw set for battle. His high cheekbones underlined eyes that shone with anger. With a look of distaste, he pulled a handkerchief from a pocket and wiped blood off of his knuckles, and then from the fountain pen that he'd flung into Rance's neck.
I faded into the hubbub as Doyle began to look around for me: it must have been obvious to him who Rance had meant. I evaded his searching gaze, but with more difficulty than normal.
I could hardly take my eyes off of Arthur. It took several minutes for security to sort out who to point guns at, but he bore it with an easy smile. He was handcuffed, then released, and Rance was carried out on a stretcher - hastily enough to mean he was still alive. Cameras were everywhere, the constant strobe of flashes and the press of bodies making the place seem more like a nightclub than Senate chambers. I saw my father close to Arthur, shaking his hand and then pulling him in for a hug.
The Capitol Police had cordoned off the room immediately: no one in or out. Instinctively, I tracked the doors, and when I saw them admit a pair of men wearing dark suits, I stiffened. They were scanning the crowd, not the spectacle on the podium.
Bors. Percival. They were here for me. Time to leave.
But there was only one way to go.
I strode forward and let my Persona come to life. Normally, we were indistinguishable from the bit players, but when we wanted to take the stage, we stole the show. My dress fluttered around my knees despite the still air. I tossed my hair, and every unmanageable piece fell perfectly into place. A pimple that had been threatening to punch out of my makeup cringed and faded from existence. I cleared my throat, and every ear in the place heard it as if I’d been standing right next to them. It was as if the universe were shining a spotlight from the heavens down onto me. For a moment, all eyes in the room turned my way.
The floor was a confused tangle of senators, police, press, public, and a king. I walked unimpeded through it. A bubble in the crowd opened up before me, and closed as I passed. Subconsciously, the bit players stepped out of the way as if the lead actress had strode onto the stage.
Doyle and the others saw me, of course. For the moment, they were dumbstruck. They could see what I was up to, but they hadn’t expected me to pull a major glamour off so soon.
Then again, it was exactly the sort of thing Guinevere would do. Maybe they were reminding themselves exactly who it was they were dealing with.
"Gwennie!" my father shouted, meeting me as I made it to the end of the aisle. A tense Capitol Police officer stood his ground there against the press of the crowd. He was faltering in the face of my glamoured appearance, but I let it drop, and felt the attention of the room suck away from me. I’d made my entrance. Practically shoving the policeman aside, my father grabbed me up in a huge hug. The pistol in his hand was straight and solid and very easy to understand.
I shivered, and felt a tear slide down my cheek. I wasn't sure whose it was. So many things I could do, but still he almost...
"Dad..." I hugged back fiercely. "Oh my god, I was so scared."
"It's okay, sweetie, it's okay. I'm fine. You're fine. In fact… you look great! How’d your mother convince you to wear a dress out in public?” He smiled and shook his head, taking a deep breath. He was talking without thinking - a mortal sin in the DeGrace household. Politicians and their sometimes too-clever-for-their-political-parents-careers daughters had to think before they spoke, always.
He got his thoughts in order. “But what are you doing here? Didn't you have work?"
"I told them I was sick. I... I know this was a big day for you." My gut twisted at the lie, but I had no good reason to be here.
He laughed, a little of the tension draining from him. "Not the way I'd expected. No idea what happened just now. But I'm glad to see you, you wouldn't even believe. Here," he guided me past the crowd, "let me introduce you to someone. I think we've decided not to arrest him."
I took a deep breath.
I'd been readying myself for this moment for almost a decade. Minutes ago, I thought I had lost the chance at it, but here I was. I’d lived for this next sixty seconds with every fiber of my being. I'd thought I was prepared.
I didn't feel prepared. I felt terrified. It could all come crashing down if I didn't get this just right...
He had been in conversation with the other CIA people, but he seemed to feel us before we even got close. His back straightened, and I saw him slowly inhale and exhale. He was... what? Steeling his nerves? He'd just leaped across a room towards a gun and saved a man's life, surely he wasn't worried about...
"Gwen." A firm tenor, filled with warmth and passion. Pain flickered behind his hazel eyes, but he wore kindness on his face. “I hadn’t expected you to be here today. I’ve heard so much about you." He paused. "From your father."
I didn't wait for Dad to introduce us. Protocol and age would normally dictate that I should call him by his last name... but I was Guinevere, dammit. I met his eye and held out my hand, and he took it.
His grip was definitive. It made my skin tingle.
"Very pleased to finally meet you, Arthur. I'm so glad you were here today. Thank you for doing what you did. And..." I hesitated, "I'm sorry for your loss."
A complicated array of emotions played out behind his eyes. Sadness, mostly, but I saw surprise, and admiration. The first name was the right choice, then. The wash of relief that came over me at his approval was palpable... and surprising.
"Thank you. I..." He trailed off, lost in emotion. "I'm sorry. You're just so like - you took me by surprise."
My father remembered Gwen Drake's death all of a sudden, and exclaimed, "My god, I forgot myself in all the craziness! Arthur, it's horrible. Reem and I were so sorry to hear. Please let us know if there's anything, anything you need."
Your daughter, for instance?
Arthur held my hand just slightly too long, and his fingers slid along mine as we parted. He looked old, all of a sudden. The memory of his dead wife was too fresh.
"Thanks, Leo. I apologize, I... I think that I should go and sit down. With everything... I..." He looked at me, and I could read conflict all over his face.
My father shooed him off. As they turned away, I breathed a sigh of relief. I'd see him again. I knew it. I had evidence.
I looked down at the small slip of paper that Arthur had left in my hand when we'd parted.
The handwriting was hasty and masculine, from a pen dipped recently in blood. "He said to tell you: 'Miss you. See you soon.'" There was a small figure drawn as a signature: a chess piece. A king. Then an afterthought, underlined: "STAY WITH DOYLE."
A message from Rance, delivered to Arthur, to give to me. Arthur read it as a threat: the Red-Handed League was coming for Guinevere. He wanted to protect me from another assassination attempt. I didn't think that his sudden withdrawal was completely an act - those were real emotions behind his eyes - but surely at this very moment Doyle was getting explicit instructions to lock me away in a tower for my own safety. Just in case he hadn’t decided that all on his own.
I looked up. Bors and Percival were talking animatedly to the policeman my father had pulled me past. It would be child’s play for them to draw him in, make him part of the Legend for a moment. They were heroes: he would do whatever they asked. And then they’d have me.
But Rance had known Arthur would want to keep me safe. One step ahead, every step of the way: he'd known exactly how Arthur would react. He'd known how I was about to react.
He'd known that I was going to run.
Which meant that this whole charade was a feint. What was Rance going to accomplish, calling me out in public? There was no way he was walking away from this with his Senate seat intact. He’d given up power for nothing. It was a throwaway, a complete waste.
Unless the whole reason was to deliver that message to me, via Arthur. He knew Arthur would be here, knew Arthur would save my father, because that's how the story went, didn't it? Arthur rode in to save Leodegrance, his faithful follower, when rival King Rience came after him? It's where he met Leodegrance's daughter Guinevere for the first time.
It hadn't been a gamble: Rance had known how things would play out, because it had been written that way a thousand years ago. He'd known that Arthur would stop him... so he turned it to his advantage.
He wants you to run. If he hadn't upped the ante, maybe you would play the long game with him, but that's not how he wants it. This is speed chess. He doesn't want you shuttered away: he wants you out there, playing the great game, without tripping over Arthur and his people. Guinevere wouldn’t run. He knows it. Arthur knows it. He’s making you choose between Camelot and himself.
I had to end this. If I stayed, I would just be letting Arthur and his men chase after ghosts, or worse: I’d piss off Rance and he’d start sending me more messages written in corpses. There was no delaying for the sake of appearances. And I wouldn’t want to, either. The thought of sitting on my hands while one of Arthur's lapdogs...
I always find her, and her little dog, too!
"Dad!" I caught him by the sleeve. He turned, and I staggered into him. "I... I need to get some space! I don't... feel... so..."
All right, I was hamming it up, but if I gave him any choice, he'd try to do what was right and make me stick around for a witness statement. Camelot would have me for sure. I clung to his arm for support.
He didn't even hesitate. I loved him for that, and felt like even more of a shit for lying to him yet again.
"Come on," he soothed, pulling me behind the Senator's podium. "You can use my entrance." He led me to the door that the Senators used to enter the chamber and handed me his security badge. "There's a few more doors to get out of here, but this should get you through them. Head back to my office; Phil will take care of you."
I could imagine how thrilled Phil would be if I followed my father's instructions. Lucky for him, he didn't need to worry. Much.
I kissed my father on the cheek and waited for the door to close. Then I was sprinting down the hallway.
I rounded a corner and practically crashed into Doyle. He put a small keycard back into his pocket. Electronic skeleton key. Another of his toys.
“Leaving so soon?” he glared. “You know you can’t do that.”
I took a deep breath. Nerve strike to the temple, inducing temporary blindness. Incapacitate.
“You’re not going to stop me, Doyle,” I told him.
“Why are you doing this?” he pleaded. “I’m just trying to keep you safe. You heard the message that Rance gave you. The League is coming for you tonight. We have to get you to safety!”
I shook my head. “You’re freaking out and trying to control everything. You believe you’ve got a safe place where all variables are measured out and defined and held within acceptable tolerances. But you thought so this morning, too, didn’t you? And then the dying started. And it’s going to continue… until I stop it.”
“You found out you were a Persona two hours ago. How are you going to stop anything? You can’t possibly hope to do this alone.”
I bristled. “Why? Say it.”
He hesitated. “You’re eighteen. You’re inexperienced with your Persona.”
“Really? Let’s see: Luke Skywalker. Harry Potter. How about… some kid everybody called Wart, because ‘Arthur’ had too many syllables? All of them were younger than I am when they were first tested. Nobody doubted them.” I put a finger theatrically to my lips, as if pondering. “What could possibly be different between them… and me?”
Doyle gritted his teeth. “You want me to say, ‘because you’re a girl’. But it’s not about that. You’re Guinevere. She’s not a fighter.”
Fire extinguisher seven feet down the hall: spray in his face to discombobulate. Disable drone uplink while he is down.
“Maybe someone should give her a fucking chance!” I shouted. “If she were a boy, someone with a beard would give her a magical phallus and expect her to vanquish darkness by teatime!”
“I know it isn't fair. This isn't about sexism,” he spat, exasperated. “It’s about what’s written. The stories don’t prepare Guinevere for battle. We are what the world believes us to be. You’re talking about pitting - forgive me - a supporting character against one of the most dangerous men ever conceived.”
False agreement to lull him, then pick pocket: remove keycard. Evade while he is trapped.
Oh, for- Look, that is exactly the sort of thinking that’s making me ditch this guy. Fighting. Conflict. Control. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Doyle wasn’t a bad guy. He was just scared.
I squared my shoulders and pointed a finger at him. “You know and I know that this isn’t a battle that’s going to be won with a sword. Not with him. The stories don't prepare Arthur for Mordred's treachery; how do you think New Camelot will do against this enemy? And before you start to tell me what a simpleton Guinevere is, hey, message received. But times change. What if I’m smarter than you expected? Me: Gwen, standing in front of you right now. What if I’m not so helpless? What if I’ve been a Persona all along?”
“Impossible. Gwen Drake was Guinevere. My algorithm matched her with a probability of ninety-seven percent.”
“Did I just get lucky with the glamour back there? Fine. How do I know that it was Bors and Percival who showed up here looking for me? I can identify Personae on sight. Otherwise how would I know that it was Sir Kay who stuck a knife into his own neck?” His eyes widened: Watson’s analysis of the scene must have come back. He hadn’t expected poor Guinevere to work it out on her own.
I had to keep pushing. “If you think that this is my first time in the saddle, if you think I’m some maiden-in-a-tower ‘supporting character’ who doesn’t know what she’s doing, then ask yourself why I took my bra off back on the Parkway.”
He froze. “What do you-?”
Alternate strategy showing signs of success. Persuasion: possible.
“You did a great job with the dress, Doyle. You made it appear like magic. It was even perfect for the bra I’m wearing. The straps are just right - nothing showing, see?" I did a little pirouette. "So why did I take it off while I was changing? That would be pointless, because I would only just have to put it back on. What reason could I have had to take it off?”
The gears were turning. “You… you wanted them to see you. You wanted them distracted by your body. You had a plan.”
“You’re damn straight I had a plan!” I shouted. “You were about to bomb the GW Parkway! You were so convinced of yourself that all you could see was the first thing that came to mind: the easy way. The same way Lancelot chose in the Library: violence. Someone comes for you, you get them first, consequences be damned. Well guess what? I know another way.”
His eyes narrowed. “And this ‘other way’ is going to work when trained killers come for you?”
“It already has. How’s your way working out? Gwen Drake is dead. Someone got to Sir Kay so hard that he’d kill himself at their say-so. The Red-Handed League traipsed into the CIA Library right under your nose and came after us. Instead of any captives we could interrogate, New Camelot's way just left a pile of bodies to hush up. Do you imagine that you’ve seen every variable here? Do you really think your safehouse is safe?”
He clenched his teeth. “What are you going to do if I disobey a direct order from my king and let you walk out of here?”
“I’m going to put a stop to the League once and for all. I’m not telling you how. I’m going to keep you safe by keeping you out of it.”
He was wavering. He could tip either way.
I let the name hang in the air between us. He didn’t look surprised to hear me utter it.
“Come on, ‘Doyle Holmes’? Really? And you have all the toys. You can do things that no mere mortal could dream.”
“Funny thing,” he said carefully, “that really is my name. The old Merlin foresaw my coming, and he knew how Arthur Drake felt about him. The next Merlin would have to be hidden. He… suggested the name to my parents. I've known the truth for, what, a decade already? Arthur knows who I am, but none of the knights do. It’s our agreement. No one else must know.”
“I think,” he said carefully, “that you’ve known all along.”
I nodded. “There’s one Persona I knew you couldn’t be.”
He sucked in a breath. "Why are you telling me this? You didn't have to."
"Because you're basically a decent guy. Because I think you can learn. Because it's better than kicking you in the head until you fall down."
He smiled. "Considerably."
I smiled back. "I don't want to control you, Doyle, even with a boot to the temple. When you try to control everything, people push back. It makes you ugly. Sometimes you have to trust someone first, so that they can prove themselves worthy of trust." I shrugged. "I guess I'll find out with you. There's always the boot if I'm wrong."
“Well.” He let out a long breath. Then he stepped to one side.
“Good hunting, Gwen,” he said. As I stepped by him, he put a hand ever-so-lightly on my arm.
His eyes twinkled. "You fight like a girl."
I nodded. "You never stood a chance. Neither will he."
Then I took off at a run. It took me three minutes to get outside to the Library.
"Gwen?" Vivian spotted me immediately. She had been storming around in front of the building. Her eyebrows were darkened in anger.
"Some red-haired bitch snatched my phone right through my window!" she exclaimed. "I was coming to pick you up, like you asked, and this skinny little cock-guzzling slut-whore just reached in my window and grabbed it out of my hand! I was doing thirty-five! The window wasn't even all the way down. She came outta nowhere! Ducked behind a box truck and then she was gone."
"She... reached into your speeding car and grabbed your phone?" I gulped. "Was this before you picked up Cavill?"
"Cavill? The- You really meant that you wanted me to come pick up your dog?"
She had no idea what I was talking about. Cavill had been gone by the time that she'd arrived.
Kay gave me a funny look over her shoulder as she led Doyle under the Capitol dome. Miss you, it said. See you soon.
I took out the piece of paper that Arthur had slipped me. "Miss you. See you soon."
I crumpled the piece of paper and tossed it on the ground. Then I pulled out the final poker chip, and handed it to Vivian with my phone. "Sorry about your phone. You can have mine."
She eyed the chip. I'd shown the letter on the front to Doyle. I hadn't shown him the back.
"The Diogenes Club." All five of the ones I'd found had the same inscription.
I nodded. "Meet me there tonight. Wear something hot. Red hot. Eleven o'clock. Don't. Tell. Arthur."
She grinned. "Clubbing on a Tuesday?"
I nodded. "Play your cards right, and you'll be clubbing a cock-guzzling slut-whore over the head."
"Red hot? You sure you're ready for that?"
"People keep questioning my competence today. Don't be my next victim."
"I'm still waiting for that pat on the backside," she grinned. "I'm just worried that you're going to hold back."
I shook my head. "No more holding back. That bitch stole my dog." I rolled my eyes up and to the left. "And, uh, killed a bunch of people. She's bad news."
"And we're doing this without Arthur?"
"They'll only get themselves killed. They don't want to let you play with their toys? That's because they only know one way to use them. This needs something more subtle than Iceman McStabbins. This needs a woman's touch."
"Yes, please," she bit her lip. "I'm getting turned on just thinking about it."
"A woman's touch, or clubbing a slut-whore?"
I grinned and shook my head. "You're horrible. Eleven o'clock."
I started back towards the Capitol.
"Won't that place be swarming with Arthur's people by now?" Vivian called after me.
"I'm a master of disguise. I've got to go get my invitation," I called back. "See you tonight!"
I bent over at the corner and picked up the briefcase that the woman standing there had put down while she played on her cell phone. I had to pause mid-step a little longer than I wanted behind a trash can while she finished fiddling; then she looked down and around frantically. I resumed my stride, appearing to walk naturally behind the trash can that obscured my purloined case. Her eyes slid over me.
Next came the cream shawl sneaking out of the backpack that a passing tourist was basically offering to the world. She was looking at an actual, honest-to-Betsy physical map, and I pretty much thought she was adorable and had great taste in scarves. A natty-looking man walking opposite me a moment later found himself divested of his pocket square with a wink and a blown kiss.
"It'll make a funny story," I called back to him. "Also, is that perfume your wife's?"
He didn't come after me.
The shawl wrapped around my shoulders, pocket square tied up in my hair like a kerchief, and - the briefcase resisted momentarily, until numbers are smoothed on zeroes except for the last digit, try each number until it popped open on the fourth try - a pair of glasses on my face and a security badge around my neck: now I was just another Capitol Hill staffer. I waved the badge around, palmed my father's senator's badge over readers, and within six minutes I was walking up to his office.
I deposited my pilfered goods two doors down, and pushed though into Senator DeGrace's chambers.
"Gwen, oh my god!" Phil cried. "Were you there?" The entirety of the office was crammed around a television in one corner, watching the 24-hour news networks rebroadcast Arthur's flying kick a dozen times per minute.
He will trap you with pointless inquiries.
"Yeah, uh, yeah. Super-scary. Speaking of, I'm kind of having an, er, lady emergency, and Kay said her purse was here somewhere?"
Phil's back straightened to mathematical perfection, and he wordlessly threw a finger out towards the desk where I'd seen her working. I raced over and snatched it up. Phil's voice echoed behind me as I crashed back through the door, "No, the ladies' room is to the left..."
Kay's purse had just the thing that I needed for my "lady emergency": cash. I dashed outside.
"Georgetown," I told the cab driver. "I need a new outfit."
The poker chip Kay had given me, and the ones that had been left as messages for me all morning had the name "The Diogenes Club" on them.
So did the dozen or so more that were in Kay's purse.
Her phone was in there, too. It had a password lock - lots stronger than your typical 4-digit string - but I didn't even need to guess at it.
If the password hadn't confirmed what I already knew, the phone's contents certainly did, all the way down to the receipt for syringes in Kay Moira Tanner's email account. One of those had made its way into Stan the security guard's neck, while sweet little Kay had distracted him.
Kay Moira Tanner. Moira-T. Moriarty. The head of the Red-Handed League
The address for the Diogenes Club was helpfully marked in her calendar, under an entry for this evening. "Duel." My name was listed under "Invitees." Not Gwen DeGrace, though; my other name.
And just in case I felt like not attending, there was a text message waiting on the phone. It had been sent from Vivian's cell, by a hand that had plucked it out of a moving car window. It had a picture of a sheepish-looking Cavill on it, along with a message.
"Miss you. See you soon. Missing you is..."