“Fifth Harbor is ours,” Kaz repeated. “It isn’t up for negotiation. You’re cutting into our traffic from the docks, and you intercepted a shipment of jurda that should have docked two nights ago.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know it comes easy, Geels, but try not to play dumb with me.”
Geels took a step forward. Jesper and Big Bolliger tensed.
“Quit flexing, boy,” Geels said. “We all know the old man doesn’t have the stomach for a real brawl.”
Kaz’s laugh was dry as the rustle of dead leaves. “But I’m the one at your table, Geels, and I’m not here for a taste. You want a war, I’ll make sure you eat your fill.”
“And what if you’re not around, Brekker? Everyone knows you’re the spine of Haskell’s operation—snap it and the Dregs collapse.”
Jesper snorted. “Stomach, spine. What’s next, spleen?”
“Shut it,” Oomen snarled. The rules of parley dictated that only the lieutenants could speak once negotiations had begun. Jesper mouthed “sorry” and elaborately pantomimed locking his lips shut.
“I’m fairly sure you’re threatening me, Geels,” Kaz said. “But I want to be certain before I decide what to do about it.”
“Sure of yourself, aren’t you, Brekker?”
“Myself and nothing else.”
Geels burst out laughing and elbowed Oomen. “Listen to this cocky little piece of crap. Brekker, you don’t own these streets. Kids like you are fleas. A new crop of you turns up every few years to annoy your betters until a big dog decides to scratch. And let me tell you, I’m about tired of the itch.” He crossed his arms, pleasure rolling off him in smug waves. “What if I told you there are two guards with city-issue rifles pointed at you and your boys right now?”
Inej’s stomach dropped. Was that what Kaz had meant when he said Geels might have the guards in his pocket?
Kaz glanced up at the roof. “Hiring city guards to do your killing? I’d say that’s an expensive proposition for a gang like the Black Tips. I’m not sure I believe your coffers could support it.”
Inej climbed onto the railing and launched herself from the safety of the balcony, heading for the roof. If they survived the night, she was going to kill Kaz.
There were always two guards from the stadwatch posted on the roof of the Exchange. A few kruge from the Dregs and the Black Tips had ensured they wouldn’t interfere with the parley, a common enough transaction. But Geels was implying something very different. Had he really managed to bribe city guards to play sniper for him? If so, the Dregs’ odds of surviving this night had just dwindled to a knife’s point.
Like most of the buildings in Ketterdam, the Exchange had a sharply gabled roof to keep off heavy rain, so the guards patrolled the rooftop via a narrow walkway that overlooked the courtyard. Inej ignored it. It was easier going but would leave her too exposed. Instead she scaled halfway up the slick roof tiles and started crawling, her body tilted at a precarious angle, moving like a spider as she kept one eye on the guards’ walkway and one ear on the conversation below. Maybe Geels was bluffing. Or maybe two guards were hunched over the railing right now with Kaz or Jesper or Big Bolliger in their sights.
“Took some doing,” Geels admitted. “We’re a small operation right now, and city guards don’t come cheap. But it’ll be worth it for the prize.”
“That being me?”
“That being you.”
“The Dregs won’t last a week without you.”
“I’d give them a month on sheer momentum.”
The thought rattled noisily around in Inej’s head. If Kaz was gone, would I stay? Or would I skip out on my debt? Take my chances with Per Haskell’s enforcers? If she didn’t move faster, she might well find out.
“Smug little slum rat.” Geels laughed. “I can’t wait to wipe that look off your face.”
“So do it,” Kaz said. Inej risked a look down. His voice had changed, all humor gone.
“Should I have them put a bullet in your good leg, Brekker?”
Where are the guards? Inej thought, picking up her pace. She raced across the steep pitch of the gable. The Exchange stretched nearly the length of a city block. There was too much territory to cover.
“Stop talking, Geels. Tell them to shoot.”
“Kaz—” said Jesper nervously.
“Go on. Find your balls and give the order.”
What game was Kaz playing? Had he expected this? Had he just assumed Inej would find her way to the guards in time?
She glanced down again. Geels radiated anticipation. He took a deep breath, puffing out his chest. Inej’s steps faltered, and she had to fight not to go sliding straight off the edge of the roof. He’s going to do it. I’m going to watch Kaz die.
“Fire!” Geels shouted.
A gunshot split the air. Big Bolliger let loose a cry and crumpled to the ground.