Joe broke the connection with Hyle and stood looking thoughtfully at Kirsten for a few moments. He was wrong to be angry with Hyle.
He had 'sold' Tuki to her because he knew that she would take on the devil itself to protect her... as she was now proving by going to Aunt Lucy's lair. On her own, no back up.
Where she would likely run up against the two most evil clones, Joe knew.
Kirsten saw it in his eyes even before Joe spoke and the breath caught in her throat.
"I have to go."
But Joe was already opening the big steel door.
"You stay here with Annie. Don't open this door. Harvey and Archie will keep you safe."
He stepped through the portal and turned, pushing the heavy steel door closed again. Before the door sighed into place, Joe locked eyes with her.
"I love you."
Then he was gone, and Kirsten was left looking at the shiny steel door and feeling torn by a swirling mixture of emotions.
Fear, love, maternal protection for Annie,
and most of all burning anger not only at this Brown woman for her arrival in their lives but also at Joe for his involvement in whatever it was that had led her here.
Joe was talking as he was moving, sending what men he could to find Hyle and support her in any way she needed.
Then, with growing dread, he changed frequencies to one he had not used in a long time. The voice, that voice, spoke in his ear.
"Why, Joseph, what a pleasant surprise. It must be what, two years? Tell you what, let's meet. We have such a lot of catching up to do."
Hyle was pretty much asleep when she felt the side of the bed sag and the weight of a person move beside her.
"Mhhhhh Reavy....." She murmured, smiling.
'Reavy' put her hand over Hyle's mouth and pressed down hard. Reality gushed into Hyle's consciousness.
She tried to scream, but the hand stopped any sound, she tried to fight back, but the duvet had her arms and legs trapped.
The dark figure in the gloom above her spoke. It was a harsh deep whisper, almost hissing.
"Shhhh, Miss Troy. It's okay. We are with Mr Spivey. Quietly now."
The hand remained in place until Hyle's struggling stopped and she nodded.
The figure released its grip, and the light came on, revealing half a dozen surly-looking men grouped around the bed. The first guy stood up off the bed and Hyle hurriedly covered her breasts.
"Sorry about the frightener Miss Troy. Only Joe said we 'ad to find you as soon as we could." The first man said, very apologetically.
"For helvede! Du skraemte lortet ud af mig!"
"Never mind!" Hyle yelled.
"Shhhh please, Miss. You don't know who's listening."
Hyle sat up in the bed holding the cover around her nakedness
"Can I at least put some clothes on?"
There was a general shuffling of feet, and each of the men dutifully turned and face the nearest wall they could find.
"Thank you." Hyle slid out of bed and quickly put some clothes on."
One of the men had at least brought some breakfast. Only rough 'doorstep' sandwiches and stewed tea from a thermos. But it was good enough under the circumstances.
Hyle and her new motley crew sat around on the bed, chairs, table or floor. Discussing the matter in hand while also bringing Hyle up so speed on what Joe was up to.
During the night Hyle had formulated some ideas, but at this point, there were so many unknowns and imponderables and certainly did not include a bunch of burly thugs,
no matter how welcome they were.
One by one, Hyle dispatched Joe's men on various tasks with strict instructions to be contactable.
To one of the men, she gave her pink leather jacket and a note, telling him to visit the tailor on North Street.
Only Ned was left, the one who had startled her awake and whom it seemed was the senior member of the bunch. Ned insisted he would stay with her.
"Mr Spivey's orders, Miss. Said so himself. Like 'err... your bodyguard an' that."
During the morning everyone who left Diamond Lil's had a tail. Hyle and Ned watched through binoculars from a useful upstairs window nearby.
People left, people returned. Nothing much else happened.
Miss Brown's choice of time and place for their 'meeting' surprised Joe.
He had expected, in fact, he would have chosen,
an out of the way place like a derelict roadside store with clear vision all around so that ambush or betrayal of any kind could be better detected. But no.
In their brief communication the night before, Joe heard the smile in Brown's voice.
"Let's do lunch. How about that nice little underground bar in Flag? The one that smells ever so slightly of damp from that dinky little pond.
Shall we say twelve? No, make that one, I have a few things to do. Oh, and if you are feeling a bit vulnerable then, by all means, bring along some of your friends...
But I suspect you won't want anyone overhearing what we have to discuss. Anyway, up to you. Toodles."
So here he was. In the busiest part of town, an hour after noon, standing at the door of a crowded bar looking for, Her.
That oh so familiar face which haunted his desk, his bureau and even his wallet. The familiar face that now housed a hideous cuckoo soul. And Joe was afraid.
For his family, for Tukiko and for himself.
Despite what she said about this being just a meeting and despite the men he had positioned above, there was still a very good chance he would become her prisoner, again.
Joe was approached by Marvin, glass collector and sometimes waiter.
"Hey, Joe. There's a lady waiting in a booth downstairs fer ya."
Joe's gaze swept the booths until he saw her. His surprise meter flickered at what she was wearing. He had to give it to Miss Brown, she could even make LifeNet fatigues look elegant.
"Thanks, Marvin. And just so you know, she ain't no lady."
Joe made his way downstairs, looking all around for henchmen. Being in his line of business, it was relatively easy to spot such from 'joe public'. His surprise meter kicked again.
As far as he could tell by the time he reached the booth, She was on her own.
Joe slid into the seat opposite.
"What do you want?"
Miss Brown's eyes glistened.
"Ohhhh, what don't I want? Power. A world where the natural order allows clones to achieve their rightful supremacy. My own petting zoo? Where do I start?"
Joe had forgotten the teasing, the snarkiness. He sighed.
"What do you want from me in return for the safe return of Tukiko Troy?"
Miss Brown pouted.
"Such a mundane question, but oh well. If that's all your domesticated little mind cares about." Her expression changed to one of hard annoyance. "What I want, Joseph is what you took from me.
When I gave you power of attorney over my interests, I didn't expect you to steal them from me."
She sat back and studied Joe's face. The man who had been her underling so many years ago had always been hard to read. A poker face, they called it.
But the thin trace of sweat beading Joseph's upper lip told her all she needed to know. He was scared, or at the very least, worried. Miss Brown didn't have a poker face.
Her discovery showed on her own face in the broadest of smiles.
"For your doctor friend, Joseph, I want one million chips..."
Joe's eyes widened fractionally, and he held her own with his glare. But she wasn't finished.
"Just some cash to set me up. I also understand from my little caged bird that you now own an ammunition factory. In these troubled times, I imagine that is quite a profitable asset.
So, I'll take that too, along with its associated warehouses of course."
The cold dread of fear about what handing his factory over to the likes of Brown would mean for the kids that were employed there worked its way up from Joe's stomach to squeeze his heart in
an icy grip.
"That, dear Joseph," she went on. "Should put you roughly back in the position you were in just before I took you under my wing and taught you how to thrive in this wasted land.
" She placed her hands demurely one atop the other on her lap. "Do we have an agreement?"
Joe's body betrayed him at last as the rising mix of anger and dread wound his muscles up so tightly that he shook. Miss Brown's eyes blazed in triumph, and the pout returned to her lips.
"Oh, look at you. All cross and upset. I'm being kind to you, Joseph, really, I am.
For what you did to me, I should flay you alive, and the little doctor and your wife and your little human spawn. You put me in a hole to rot!"
The rising anger in her voice turned a few heads, so Miss Brown dropped to a whisper.
"Sign those things over to me, or I'll show you just what I'm capable of and make you watch every second of it."
Joe didn't trust himself to speak. He knew from personal experience what she was capable of. He nodded, just the once. Miss Brown stood up. Joe stared at the empty seat, unable to look at her.
She paused, looking disdainfully down at him.
"There's a good boy, much more like the old Joseph." She straightened her jacket. "Now then, I'll go and give the good news to your doctor. Pay for the drink would you Joseph. I'll be in touch."