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"And so I called out, ‘For Queen and nation’, which enraged him to no end.  From that point on, there wasn’t much that I could do but shoot him.”

            Her laughter was soft, chimes in the wind, despite the distinct tang of mockery that lay within.  But that was Lana’s way.  She was a kind, loving woman, to be sure, but there would always be that bit of reality that she’d take and slap you on the head with.

            "And no doubt the rest of Lord Harbinger’s gang fled in terror," she grinned, moving across the room, her delicate and pale hand holding the cup of tea that I had requested.  Naturally, she took a long and slow sip from it.

            I could only grin as I flopped back in the couch, fingers fumbling at the tie about my neck.  Even when working, I insisted on dressing in accordance with my station.  Never mind that, by the end of the day, I would tend to look like a beggar in any case.  "Well, fled in terror might be a bit of an overstatement, love," I chuckled softly.  "Let’s just say that they backed off a bit once their master was lying on the ground with a great gaping hole in his sternum."  I tugged at that bloody tie, distracted a bit by its stubborn knot.

            Shaking her head, Lana dropped the cup into my hands and crawled up on the couch, hitching her skirt, sliding next to me.  Her fingers, always long and nimble, had the knot untied in a moment, and in the next it was tossed to the floor in  a fluttering heap.  "Backed off," the she laughed again, though this time there was no hint of mockery. "Regrouping, you mean.  I’m told there were ten of them, at least.”

            "More or less," I shrugged, sipping the tea.  It was sharp, almost bitter, and cleared my head.  "I could have handled them easily enough… Wait." I suddenly frowned.  "What do you mean, you were told?"

            "Lord Constable Alvers sent a courier," she spoke, her eyes looking into my own.  Over the years, Lana had been employee, friend, constant flirt.  In all the cases that she had worked with me on, I had seen concern in her eyes many times.  But this time, I saw something more, something deeper.  "As a courtesy, you understand, in return for me… sending he and his men to help you."

            Well, bloody hell.  For a moment I simply sat there, looking back up at her, and gradually I began to realize that her hand, finished with the knot of the tie, had come to rest on my chest.  "You didn’t think I could handle him," I slowly said.

            "I knew you could handle Harbinger," she quickly returned.  "But I wasn’t about to have you taken down by his suddenly homeless thugs."  She shook her head, and a long breath came fell from her lips.  "You’ve always come out ahead against him.  But this time he had help, and I wasn’t about to lose you… to simple numbers.”

            It isn’t often that I fell into a loss for words, but this time I had nothing.  I had spent the better part of the day and the night tracking down the city’s worst villain, had finally seen an end to him, and saw his gang rounded up by the constabulary.  The most I had expected for the evening was a long hot bath, and my bed.

            "I’m not going anywhere, love," I managed to say, the tea in my hand quite forgotten.  My other fell to her leg, and I found that I had no more words to say.

            "No," she whispered, "you’re not."  Our eyes remained locked, and slowly she lowered her mouth towards mine.

            Like a clap of cold thunder the door to the office burst open.  Both of us started, and my cup of tea went flying to the hard wood floor.  My eyes were wide, and Lana had twisted around to look back, her own expression, for a moment, like that of a girl caught in a closet with the neighbor boy.  Had I not been so shocked (which was rapidly turning to annoyance), I would have laughed.

            Standing there was the Lord Constable himself, breathing hard, his hat half skewed.  He must have run all the way from the station, and his eyes were wide with something other than the surprise of seeing Lana and I in our fairly compromising position.

            "Begging your pardon," he stammered between gasps of air, and belatedly his hands snatched the skewed hat from his head.  Manners, always manners.

            "Lord Constable," I drawled out, my tone reflecting that burgeoning annoyance.  "To what do I owe the pleasure?  Surely we’ve done enough night’s work.  Harbinger, after all —”

            "Is gone!" he exclaimed, swallowing once, hard.  "His body, gone right from the morticians’ carriage, and not a soul was there to have carted it off.  He… he simply walked away.”

            I stared a moment more, then looked up to Lana, who looked back down to me.  Her shocked face slowly fell into a crooked smile.  "Not going anywhere, you say?" she finally chuckled, that faint mockery back once again.

            I looked deep into her eyes, and slowly a laugh came bubbling from the deepest part of my soul, one of pure joy.  "Never," I answered, then without turning my gaze from her, added more loudly, "Lord Constable, lead on!"

            For Queen and nation, always.

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