Relying the morning light coming from the open window, Gemma rearranged her notes for the umpteenth time. After the anxiety of Garrett's heist had vanished upon his success, Gemma spent the past couple days solving the mystery that had haunted her since the day she was kidnapped. Ricardo needed the artifacts for a reason, a reason he would still not reveal to her no matter how she sweet talked him.
Garrett personally stopped by to drop off the artifact – one of Ricardo's men would hold onto it until Ricardo returned. Although time was short, the twins took advantage of the opportunity to catch up. Garrett told her about Dynae the maid.
"You did what?!" Gemma had hissed. "Are you trying to put a target on your back or something? We don't know who to trust. Be careful not only of what you say and do, but also of how you treat people."
Garrett looked ashamed. Normally he wasn't the one making bad decisions. "I see, you're right," he replied. "I'll try to fix it. What will you do since you're still stuck here?"
"I'll think of something." Even as she said it, Gemma knew what her course of action would be.
After Garrett had left, Gemma took some paper and pens to her room and wrote down everything she knew about Ricardo, what he wanted, and how he went about giving the Night Ladrones the tools to get the thing he so desired. As she did this, she recalled the conversations they had the night they dined together. Ricardo was too careful for Gemma's liking. Nothing he said gave away much. For the first time, Gemma was competing with someone on the same level as her.
Again and again Gemma assorted and resorted her notes. Ricardo knew his stuff, that was for sure. He knew her past before they even crossed paths, so whatever his sources were, they were reliable. Yet that answered nothing. Too much was left blank, and Gemma knew she wasn't going to fill it the gaps by staying alone in her room.
After slipping on her old clothes – a gray shirt that fit like a pillowcase and worn black overalls – Gemma tied her cloak around her waist and waited until the guards circled past her door as they did every hour. She was allowed to wander the ship as she pleased, but she needed Ricardo's permission to actually leave it. If Ricardo was there, she would talk to him about giving her a day out. However, he was still on his trip, and Gemma had no plans to wait for him to return so she could be allowed to live her life.
When the guards were a decent distance away, Gemma quietly slipped out of her room and followed them down the halls. Even on creaky wooden floors her footsteps were quiet. Gemma's catlike graces came from years of personal training, and she was as good a teacher as she was a student.
Reaching the top of the deck, Gemma surveyed the scene before she exposed herself in it. Moments such as this where were Maybel's ability was its most valuable, but Gemma would not allow herself to be caught again. If she was found sneaking off, Ricardo would never allow her freedom again for as long as she stayed on his ship.
The coast clear, Gemma scurried through the deck like a squirrel and shimmied down the ladder. When her feet hit dock, Gemma donned her cloak, covered her face, and sped walked to the crowded market. She kept her head down as she made twists and turns in hopes to lose anyone who might be following her. After fifteen minutes of this, Gemma beelined to her destination.
Ruby's was only opened at night, but there were still people hanging around the entrance. Migloritas Gemma had danced with during some of her many nights there practiced throwing knives in the otherwise abandoned alley. It wasn't as quiet as Gemma would have liked. However, Gemma had to admit to herself, it was as safe as it was probably going to get.
"Gemma!" the guy of the trio greeted when Gemma raised her head and approached the group as if nothing was amiss.
"Ruffas," Gemma returned, smiling and putting down her hood. To the others, "Sophia. Bonnet. So good to see you! Long time, no see."
"Where've ya been, Gem?" Bonnet, hair a shade of pink so unnatural Gemma often wondered if it was dyed, asked. "It's been ages since we last saw ya."
Shrugging, Gemma answered, "I've been here and there. Keeping busy. You know how it is."
Bonnet agreed, and Sophia, with emerald eyes and sapphire hair, signed to the other girl. Bonnet signed back. The two quickly fell into silent conversation.
"So," Ruffas drawled, "what brings you here?" He threw his knife high into the air and caught it behind his back. Cat-like reflexes were his miglior gift. He would have been a great addition to the Night Ladrones had not Maybel looked into his soul and saw that he was too scared to rob even a jewelry store.
"I need to speak with Clyde," Gemma answered, speaking as much the truth as possible. Sophia may not have been able to hear words, but she excelled at reading body language as well as lips. If anything about Gemma's posture hinted her deceit, Sophia would know it right away. It wasn't that Gemma distrusted her friend, but the less the others knew, the better.
Ruffas, thinking nothing of Gemma's interest with their mutual friend, said, "He's in the basement, but he doesn't want to be disturbed. Another project, I think. You know how he is."
"Yes," Gemma agreed, "but certainly he will take time for sweet little me."
"Look, if you want to see him, we're not stopping you," Ruffas said. "But if he asks, you didn't see any of us."
"Fair enough," Gemma replied before walking past the boy. She smiled at the girls as she passed and began descending the stairs.
The sounds of clashing metal greeted Gemma as she reached the basement. There, Clyde was slamming a hammer against something Gemma couldn't see. He was shirtless, exposing his mostly clockwork torso. Every time Gemma saw Clyde like this, she couldn't help but admire his handiwork in creating a body for himself. During one of the breaks between the hammer meeting the steel, Gemma cleared her throat.
Hearing the small girl, Clyde looked up and smiled at her. "Didn't Ruffas and the girls tell you I'm busy?" he asked as a way of greeting.
"Yes, but I chose not to listen," Gemma answered. Her smile fell. "Can you spare a moment?"
As a response, Clyde put his project – a sword from the looks of it, but it could have been a piece to use in a future arm – back into the fire. He picked up a towel, wiped the sweat from his face, and asked, "What's up?"
Gemma answered his question with one of her own. "You know nearly every Miglorita in Inonvouslee, right?"
"Yeah, I would say that I do." Clyde set the towel down. "Why?"
"Put on a shirt, and we'll talk."
After Clyde was more appropriately dressed, he and Gemma sat across from each other as Gemma told him everything that had happened to her and her friends since that night at Ruby's. She restrained nothing, and Clyde listened without interruption. When she finished, Gemma added, "That's why I need to talk to you. Clyde, if anyone knows anything about Ricardo, it's you."
Tapping his fingers against his chin, Clyde asked, "And you sure this guy's a Miglorita?"
"I don't have any proof of such," Gemma answered honestly, "but . . . I don't know. When we talk about miglior gifts, I feel as if he understands. Either he's a Miglorita himself, or he's super sympathetic. I just had to talk to you to see if you knew anything about him." She sighed. "And if not, I appreciate your taking time to listen to me. I know I ended up taking a lot more than a minute of your time."
Clyde waved a hand through the air. "You, Maybel, and Garrett are the closest things to real friends I have in a dump like this. Gemma, if you ever need to talk, you can take my whole day if you need to. Well, as long as you don't make it a regular thing."
"I'll try not to." Gemma giggled. Face sobered, she asked, "So, know any Ricardos?"
Thinking it through, Clyde answered, "There was a Ricardo who frequent Ruby's a couple years ago. Shifty guy. Rather squirrely. Always acted as if at any moment, someone was going to jump him."
Gemma frowned. That didn't sound like the cool and confident Ricardo she knew. "Did he wear a mask so you couldn't see his face?" she tried anyway.
Clyde snorted. "Nope. I could see the unease on his face plain as day."
"What did he look like?"
"Um, let's see. He had black hair, that I remember. Not black like yours and Garrett's, but an oily black. Skin almost as dark as Maybel's, but not quite."
Gemma waited for more, but Clyde was done speaking. She raised an eyebrow. "That's it? Nothing else? Do you even know the color of his eyes?"
Looking disbelieving at Gemma, Clyde replied, "Trust me, I'm not the person who would look into other guys' eyes long enough to tell you what color they are."
"I suppose I can't be mad at you over that." Gemma chewed her lower lip. "Anything else?"
"Sorry, Gemma, but that's it. However, I can ask around if that'll help."
"It will, thank you." Stretching out her limbs, Gemma asked, "Any ideas where I can go next to try to solve this mystery?"
"Nowhere if you don't want to get caught," Clyde answered.
"I was afraid you'd say that." Gemma huffed. "Now what do I do till you got news for me?"
Clyde grinned. "If I may ask the services of a clever girl like you, I think I may have a suggestion."
The device was no puzzle, but it did challenge Gemma's mind. She studied it at her desk before a knock on the door pulled her away. Wrapping the device back in its cloth and shoving the cloth under the bed, Gemma said, "Come in."
One of Ricardo's younger men entered. Hands shaking, he handed a box to Gemma. "From Ricardo," he said. When Gemma accepted the box, he bowed and quickly scurried off. His actions caused Gemma to raise an eyebrow.
"I guess pretty girls like me are just too intimidating," she muttered as she closed the door. When she opened the box, white candies placed on top of sparkling paper greeted her. There was a handwritten note with the delicacies.
Peanut butter balls dipped in white chocolate. Your favorite, no? I'm sorry business has kept me from properly informing you of the current status of the mission. I hope these express my regret. May God have nothing but good news for you when I return.
Gemma smiled at the note and at the gift. Of course, it didn't make up for her being stuck on the ship, but at least Ricardo hadn't forgotten her. When she bit into the sweet dessert, Gemma knew she would forgive him for leaving her behind.
Then Gemma frowned. Something didn't make sense. Looking at the note again, Gemma mumbled after she swallowed, "No. It can't be." Her brows pinched together. "Or can it?"
After he returned to the de Camilla manor, Garrett confirmed that nobody noticed that he was gone. Nobody was suspicious of anything. Things kept going like clockwork.
When he saw Diana, she was weeding the garden. The actual gardener must have been passed out drunk somewhere. Garrett could think of nothing else to explain away the gardener's absence.
Taking Gemma's words to heart, Garrett decided to swallow his pride and be nice to Dynae. After all, he didn't need any enemies on the inside. Anyone who was after him would be after his companions as well.
Noticing Garrett from the corner of her eye, Dynae muttered, "What do you want?"
Garrett held his hands out, palms upward, as if giving her a peace offering. "To apologize?"
"Why are you making it sound like a question?"
"I don't know. Do you want an apology?"
"I'd like to hear you make one."
"Okay." Garrett took a deep breath. "I know a few days ago was a real jerk—"
"Oh, really?" Dynae scoffed. "I didn't notice."
"You're right when you say Ms. Marionette and I know each other," Garrett explain. "However, we're not . . . lovers. Just really good friends. I'm protective of her."
"And I was not seen as trustworthy in your eyes," Dynae said, glaring at Garrett.
"I didn't like seeing you go through Ms. Marionette's stuff like that. What was I supposed to think except you were trying to find something against Ms. Marionette?"
Dyne glared at him before returning her attention back on the plants. "I won't waste either of our time with petty anger," she said.
"Does this mean you forgive me?"
Laughing without humor, Dynae said, "I wouldn't go that far. However, I'm okay pretending it didn't happen. Nobody got hurt."
"So," Garrett had never felt so uncertain in his life, "we're okay?"
Dynae looked at him from the corner of her eye and smiled. "Yeah, sure. Why not? Of all the other people here, you're the most amusing."
"What does the mean?"
"I'll leave you to figure it out." Dynae stood and brushed her hands against her apron. "I'm going inside now. See you around."
As he watched her leave, Garrett assumed everything went well. Nothing about this woman seemed threatening, but he knew better than to underestimate her. Still, it was nice to have a conversation with her.