Lost in the Crowd — Part 3

PART 3***

Troy knew he had to spend the next several hours on the move, lest Peace Branch catch up with him. His evasion of the officer sniffing at his heels caught him some time, but the security force of Trestleway was relentless in its pursuit.

He boarded an autobus painted bright yellow and green at the corner of Haupt and Kinner. It was a tall, wobbly vehicle that seated twenty passengers on chairs of wood slats and wrought iron. He paid the driver the fare and selected a seat close to the back, where a secondary exit and entrance allowed egress onto a small balcony, much like the caboose of a train.

“Next stop, Lenetz!” The driver cranked the drive handle and the bus, clanking and wheezing, surged into traffic.

Lenetz Avenue would be far enough, for the time being. Troy pulled out his pocketwatch. Nine thirty-three. Very good. On a Sunday morning, after the early Telru religious services, there was one other place the Tirodani of Trestleway gathered en masse—the Antonis Museum of Art and Antiquities.

The trip to Lenetz Avenue was uneventful, though Troy did his utmost to read his book and pay no mind to the passengers around him. Old men smoking pipes—young families with squabbling children—a pair of overly romantic young couples—any among them could be informants for Peace Branch. It was said a man could not ride the rails of Trestleway without passing by a person on the payroll of the city-state, for good or ill.

He hadn’t been down to Lenetz at all this winter or since the ice and snow had melted. The cherry blossoms had faded some, but they were still a soft hue of pink. They lined the entire length of Lenetz Avenue, softening the edges of brick and stone structures while adding color to the plain white homes.

The fog of early morning had completely burned off, and the sun warmed the air nicely. Troy strolled down Lenetz with the model railroading book tucked under his arm. He saw only an elderly couple on a walk on the other side of the street; otherwise the avenue was devoid of pedestrians. A trio of militia on branter-back came trotting down the road behind him. The branters’ hooves clacked along the paving stones. Each one had a pair of pearly horns, a long tail and powerful legs that made for fine riding mounts. The lead officer astride the brown mount waved as he passed.

Troy returned the gesture. The militia did not cause him any alarm. They were the brawn. Peace Brance was the brains, and far more dangerous.

The Antonis Museum was a long, narrow edifice with a white marble front and sandstone walls. It was a story taller than most of the buildings around it, but did not loom so much as appear to watch over its surroundings. The decorations along the edge of the roof included statues of Consularian deities and woodland creatures.

Inside the main entrance was a round vestibule a hundred feet across, lined with paintings of all kinds—portraits, vistas and fantastical representations of mythologies. The floor was stone tile and amplified footsteps sharply. Troy greeted the clerk at the front desk and paid the entrance fee. He didn’t bother to look at the map of the museum layout hanging from the wall behind her—he knew it by heart.

Troy took the corridor to the east wing. He spent a good ten minutes perusing the Guiliani frescos and LeMay portraits. There were a few people here and there, some of whom were close to his age. The men all wore light colored suits of grey or tan.

He’d fit in well.

No Peace Branch men made an appearance. Troy allowed himself a breath to relax. He took the next branching corridor to the conservatory. Glass ceilings slanted high overhead. The morning sun heated humid air, but not warm enough to make a man sweat. The conservatory housed greenery from all across southern Galderica—violets and vines, trees and shrubbery. Beyond the rows of pots and shelves was the rear door to the museum gardens.

Troy nodded a greeting to an elderly man sitting at a black metal table, reading the newspaper. He found a chair in an alcove formed by miniature weeping birches. Here would suffice.

He propped open the book and started into his scone, crumbs or no.

* * * * *

The sun moved overhead, the shadows cast by the trees shifting upon the pages of the book. Troy paid scant attention—his attention was fixated on the doors at either end of the conservatory. He could see well enough between the branches of the birch to spot people coming and going well before they noticed him.

It proved beneficial when the Peace Branch officer walked into the conservatory.

Troy made immediately for the back door. He did not stop to apologize when he bumped into a woman and her child. Nor did he pause when the officer called out in a smooth alto, “You, sir—stand where you are!”

“I think not.” Troy fled to the gardens.

Hedges enveloped him in all directions. The gardens took up near the same area as the museum, and many citizens of Trestleway were fond of the winding paths that took strolling pedestrians past four fountains. Right now what Troy remembered most was that he could not get across the Cobalt River winding along the east side of the garden—far too wide and fast-moving.

He turned a corner and found another Peace Branch man walking toward him.

Confound it.

This one was shorter, stocky with a broad chest. His expression was far less tolerant than that of Troy’s pursuer. “Troy Keysor!”

Blame it all, they knew his name and face. He dodged right down a narrow path. Footsteps pounded on the walkway behind him.

Which way? Left.

He ran. Skidded to a halt. Turned right down another branch of the oaths. Pushed between a couple who’d decided this would be a find place for a discreet kiss.

Shouts echoed behind him. A detached part of his panic-stricken mind told him neither officer had drawn a weapon, or fired warning shots. They doubtless wanted him alive.

Alive to confess.

There was a groundskeeper up ahead, raking leaves from the path. He had on a shabby, brown coat stained with dirt and a wide-brimmed hat of beaten, worn leather. Troy smiled his broadest smile. “Good day, sir.” Troy dug into his pocket for the most coin he could find. This was turning into a rather expensive outing. “I have a proposition for you.”

A few minutes later, he slipped out the west side of the garden, rake propped over his shoulder. The coat was ill-fitting, and the hat stank of sweat and beer. But Troy could care less.

Because he walked by one of the Peace Branch men without them taking the slightest noticed of him.


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