Sequel to Ruby Red (click link to read the 1st story, or read a summary)
by Kevin Koch
edited by Maureen Basta and Mia Forney
The Steam Pump was a small bar on the fifth story of a rickety building near the Docks. This high up, the smell of the sea was masked by smoke from the factories upwind rather than garbage and emptied chamber pots rotting in the alleys below. The bar was filled with a constant press of bodies looking to drown out their memories of work, or home, or both, making even the regulars instantly forgettable.
One of the crowd stood up from leaning against a wall and walked towards one of the booths. Remarkable only for the scarf that was wrapped all the way around the head rather than just the mouth, the figure melted in and out of knots of people, pretending to belong.
You wouldn’t notice it, not if you didn’t know what to look for, but the figure kept drifting back over towards two men sitting in a nearby booth. The pair leaned back against the cracked leather. They had more than enough room, even though every other booth had at least four squeezed in and many people were standing. The two men talked to each other, not particularly caring if they were overheard.
“What makes you think he’ll show?”
“Nobody disobeys Sturgeon, especially after you screw up. Not if you want to live.”
“They don’t call him the Ghost for nothing. They say nobody’s seen his face. Sturgeon had to handle all the particulars through dead drops.”
“Rusted cogs, you’re gullible. I heard Three-Thumb Pete made the connection.”
“I heard the Ghost almost got caught, but he disappeared into the sea fog.”
“He could’ve disappeared with the ruby that Sturgeon was looking for if he knew what was good for him.”
The listener drifted farther away from the pair and lost the thread of the conversation. A stray shaft of sunlight somehow made its way into the gloom and flashed across brown eyes. In the light, the figure was thin and delicate. It didn’t show because of layer after layer of clothing, but the figure was a girl.
When Dido first became a thief, it’d seemed strange when everyone assumed she was a man. She never spoke to her clients, only communicating in coded notes. She only let them see her in disguise, and preferably in places so dark that they couldn’t even see that much.
Her careful ways and ability to get in and out of places unseen had earned the nickname Ghost, and that was stranger still. But that was all starting to come down around her ears. Her last job had gone south. The Natouri family has a ruby the size of her fist. The problem was, they still have it. She’s been hired to steal it by Sturgeon, a crime boss from the Docks who thought he could pass as a respectable businessman. The only people he managed to fool were himself and the inspectors and watchmen he bribed.
Dido had tripped an alarm and barely escaped being caught. She’d lost the ruby and the only thing she had to show for almost getting arrested was a pouch of coins from Officer Scipio, the would-be arresting officer. None of this mattered to a man like Sturgeon of course. Dido had been content to lay low for a couple months, but then word had started circulating around the street the Sturgeon was willing to give the Ghost a second chance. Since no one suspected the Ghost was really an almost seventeen year old factory worker who lived with her brother down by the Docks, it was easy for Dido to figure out the details of the meeting.