The Night Chats

The night chats were announced with a key and a location. No words were ever exchanged. No maps were ever printed. There’s no painted sign hanging over the door or bunting strung to draw attention. There was just a new place in the shadows where one did not exist before.

Lani entered at the arranged time, through a doorway at the back of the day market. The air still smelled of spices and dyes and dung in the fading light. The aroma of trade.

The pushers met her first on the other side of the door, while her eyes and her skin adjusted to the cool air.

“Hey. Hey you. You wanna sleep?”
“Hey, wanna dream?”
“Nightmares! Quality nightmares here!”

She brushed past them with their somni-pills and their potions. Their oily promises left a residue on her skin.

Past the drugs came the sex. Flirtations were free but validation came at a cost. Anything else and …well consenting adults could manage their own negotiations. Lani kept her head down on the way past, breathing in the heady scents of sweat and love.

There was nothing that wasn’t available in the Night Chats if you knew which dark corner to search. And Lani had searched most of them when the Chats arrived. Politics. Murder. Sex. Drugs. Debate. Music. They all had their niche. Lani was looking for a group that kept to the shadows even in the darkness of the Chats. They were always in the back where they kept to themselves and the experienced knew not to wander.

A whisper drew her attention. She had to dart past a merchant pushing stolen goods to find them. They’d carved a nook into one of the stone walls, outfitted with a small table and chairs. Dark curtains kept the space warm and had the added bonus of keeping eyes off of them.

“Did you bring it?” Josephine asked as Lani slipped into her seat.

She flashed her robe aside, showing the blue gem tucked into her belt. Josephine dropped the coins they’d negotiated on the table.

She jerked her robe closed. “Not until I see her,” Lani said.

Josephine sighed. “She doesn’t want to see you.”

“I don’t care. There’s no deal if I don’t see her first.”

“Fine,” Josephine agreed. Lani noticed she took the coins with her when she disappeared through the curtains. She’d thought there was stone on the other side of them. Maybe there would be if Lani tried.
The world bent where Josephine walked.

Soft sandals and a perfume of jasmines announced Sharl. Lani felt her stomach clench before the curtain parted again.

“What do you want?” Sharl asked.

Suddenly Lani’s demand to see her seemed smaller. Petty. Sharl had a way of making everyday concerns seem insignificant. Her precious revolution came before everything.

“I wanted to see you again,” Lani said. “Before it starts.”

“Well you’ve seen me now. I need that gem.”

“How have you been?” Lani asked in a desperate attempt to feel normal in this moment. Sharl’s perfume tickled her neck with remembered kisses.

“I need the gnarled gem,” Sharl said.

“Can you just pretend for a moment?” Lani asked, rubbing away the heaviness on her neck.

“The gem, Lani. We agreed.”

Lani reached into her robe, careful not to show her figure for some reason she couldn’t define. She dropped the gem on the table. “Fine. Get on with your precious revolution.”

She didn’t feel any better about seeing Sharl again as she pushed her way through the curtain. If she saw her again, it would be on the execution block if they failed. Revolutions were messy. Lani hoped Sharl’s would be easier to control than their rocky relationship had been.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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