Home > Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)(6)

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)(6)
Leigh Bardugo

Kaz and Geels discussed the weather, the suspicion that the Kooperom was serving watered-down

drinks now that the rent had been raised – dancing around the real reason they’d come here tonight. In theory, they would chat, make their apologies, agree to respect the boundaries of Fifth Harbour, then all head out to find a drink together – at least that’s what Per Haskell had insisted.

But what does Per Haskell know? Inej thought as she looked for the guards patrolling the roof above, trying to pick out their shapes in the dark. Haskell ran the Dregs, but these days, he preferred to sit in the warmth of his room, drinking lukewarm lager, building model ships, and telling long stories of his exploits to anyone who would listen. He seemed to think territory wars could be settled as they once had been: with a short scuffle and a friendly handshake. But every one of Inej’s senses told her that was not how this was going to play out. Her father would have said the shadows were about their own business tonight. Something bad was going to happen here.

Kaz stood with both gloved hands resting on the carved crow’s head of his cane. He looked totally at ease, his narrow face obscured by the brim of his hat. Most gang members in the Barrel loved flash: gaudy waistcoats, watch fobs studded with false gems, trousers in every print and pattern imaginable. Kaz was the exception – the picture of restraint, his dark vests and trousers simply cut and tailored along severe lines. At first, she’d thought it was a matter of taste, but she’d come to understand that it was a joke he played on the upstanding merchers. He enjoyed looking like one of them.

“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”

“You’re a thief, Kaz.”

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

Now he looked like some kind of priest come to preach to a group of circus performers. A young priest, she thought with another pang of unease. Kaz had called Geels old and washed up, but he certainly didn’t seem that way tonight. The Black Tips’ lieutenant might have wrinkles creasing the corners of his eyes and burgeoning jowls beneath his sideburns, but he looked confident, experienced. Next to him Kaz looked … well, seventeen.

“Let’s be fair, ja? All we want is a bit more scrub,” Geels said, tapping the mirrored buttons of his lime-green waistcoat. “It’s not fair for you to cull every spend-happy tourist stepping off a pleasure boat at Fifth Harbour.”

“Fifth Harbour is ours, Geels,” Kaz replied. “The Dregs get first crack at the pigeons who come looking for a little fun.”

Geels shook his head. “You’re a young one, Brekker,” he said with an indulgent laugh. “Maybe you don’t understand how these things work. The harbours belong to the city, and we have as much right to them as anyone. We’ve all got a living to make.”

Technically, that was true. But Fifth Harbour had been useless and all but abandoned by the city when Kaz had taken it over. He’d had it dredged, and then built out the docks and the quay, and he’d had to mortgage the Crow Club to do it. Per Haskell had railed at him and called him a fool for the expense, but eventually he’d relented. According to Kaz, the old man’s exact words had been, “Take all that rope and hang yourself.” But the endeavour had paid for itself in less than a year. Now Fifth Harbour offered berths to mercher ships, as well as boats from all over the world carrying tourists and soldiers eager to see the sights and sample the pleasures of Ketterdam. The Dregs got first try at all of them, steering them – and their wallets – into brothels, taverns, and gambling dens owned by the gang. Fifth Harbour had made the old man very rich, and cemented the Dregs as real players in the Barrel in a way that not even the success of the Crow Club had. But with profit came unwanted attention. Geels and the Black Tips had been making trouble for the Dregs all year, encroaching on Fifth Harbour, picking off pigeons that weren’t rightfully theirs.

“Fifth Harbour 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 forwards. 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.”

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