"You're Cordially Invited..."

Whether food, drink, or the ladies who provided their signature room service, there wasn’t a single item on the menu at Padileen’s All Night Diner and Bawdy House that might be considered “good for you.” Dorian attacked his plate of kung pao steak, eggs, and fried rice, all washed down with shots of a relatively youthful bourbon that brought fire to the meal. As he dabbed a napkin to his lips, one of the hostesses approached. She undid a cloth belt, opening her frock for his approval. “Did you save room for dessert?”

“Very tempting,” he smiled appreciatively. “But sadly, Ah must be on mah way.” His coins landed on the table. “If mah friends don’t show, Ah may be back,” Dorian addressed the hostess. “Keep it warm fah me, darlin’.”

Of those mysterious “friends,” he only knew that he’d been followed to Padileen’s. A quick study of the second taxi in the hospital’s line had yielded enough detail to confirm its’ ident as it tracked him to the city’s seedier district. Whoever they were, they’d been in a hurry to keep an eye on his whereabouts. While he hadn’t seen the tailing cab deposit its’ passenger on the next block back, Dorian had dawdled over his meal long enough for a proper reception to be organized.

At this hour of the afternoon, the street was moderately travelled. He made a show of reading his cortex in order to size up the passersby. Two bands of young men ranged about, laughing and jostling one another as they sought adventure. A tattered old woman hunched over a shopping cart crammed with various rags and junk. Two alliance soldiers waited outside Painless Tattoos as a third got her bicep inked. The street whores were beginning to claim their respective corners for the coming night’s trade, while a little man watched, obviously too timid to strike a bargain. From across the street, a dope dealer eyed him suspiciously. Normal, he thought of the scene. Time to shake the tree.

He turned to the right, and set off down the sidewalk in a resolute pace. Dorian spoke to no one, maintaining his grim advance, the one useful eye purposely forward, with only the sounds of his breathing and the rhythmic strike of his bootheels to telegraph his passage.

After two blocks of the rapid stride, the medic upped the ante on his hidden pursuers, turning a corner and taking to run. From behind came a whistle, as commonplace a signal as would be used on the streets every day to hail a cab or summon a working girl. They know their trade, I’ll give them that he thought as he sprinted down the sidewalk toward a beckoning alley. The clop-clop-clop of his boots would offer his new associates plenty of help in maintaining the chase.

The alley was dark enough to force his good eye a moment’s adjustment. As he slowed to a jog, Dorian hefted an overflowing trash can, bringing it to settle directly in the center of the narrow passage. His vision now acclimated, he resumed the sprint, clop-clop-clop echoing against the filthy brick walls as he ran.

Just before he reached the next street, he was rewarded with the rattling crash of the can. A man’s voice cursed in Cantonese, before a woman’s quick “Shhh!” silenced him. Dorian burst onto the street, the tails of his duster coat flying as he turned left at a full run. A pair to run me to ground, he thought. but this doesn’t feel like they were planning that. For all the streets crossed and turns made he hadn’t surprised any flankers, nor heard the desperate engine of a pursuing vehicle trying to cut him off. Maybe his little trot had startled a basic surveillance into hasty escalation.

The train case shifted to his left hand, freeing the dominant right. As he crossed the next street…the one on which Padileen’s was situated, he cast a quick glance toward the diner. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the old beggar woman’s shopping cart, now standing alone on the opposite walk. The woman, he thought as he raced onto the next block.

His breathing came heavy, as lungs sucked air for tortured muscles. Despite the throb of the blood in his ears, Dorian could now hear the light taps coming from behind. A single pursuer, running full out…gaining on him. His lead had shrunk to about five seconds when he ducked right, into another alley.

Hot on his heels, the woman rounded the corner, the blue steel of her pistol leading the way. She skidded to a halt at the sight of Dorian stood before her, his own gun trained upon her forehead. “Why, Kate,” he smiled in recognition. “Yah lookin’ well.”

Despite the greeting, neither lowered their weapons. Agent Katerina Russokova did not answer with a smile of her own. “Hello Dorian,” her voice was deep and rich with it’s native accent. “How you keeping?”

“Tolerable,” Adler responded. “Tolerable.” His pistol remained sighted upon the center of her forehead. “Nice job on tha cover. Ah didn’t give yah a second glance.”

“I read DeMetrius Brown’s book,” Russokova said with a toss of her fiery red hair. “The crazy gray wig really sets it off, yes?”

“Without question. So,” he said easily, “what’s supposed tah happen next?”

“I’m here to invite you to a reunion with some of our mutual friends.”

Dorian smirked. “Does that invitation involve a bag ovah mah head and a ride between two apes?”

Kate offered the barest hint of a smile. “Now that you mention it…”

“Capital,” he rolled his eyes. “Then what say let’s not trade lead?” His pistol locked back onto its’ holster. “How long before we’re whisked off to this soiree?”

“They’re sending a car. Twenty minutes,” she said as her own weapon disappeared into the dowdy clothing she wore.

“Yah know Cornwallis’ Rare Books?”

Kate nodded.

“Meet me there when yah ready,” Dorian said. “Yah should dress like yah belong in tha place.”

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