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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
Mom’s old contact lived in a trailer park just off the I-10. I figured he’d been displaced by Katrina and still didn’t have a home, but Mom said no, Toby had always lived in a trailer.
If I hadn’t known this area had been spared by the hurricane, I’d have been sure this particular trailer had been swept away by the floods and dragged back. It certainly looked that way. It even seemed to have mud spatter, until I got close enough to see it was rust. A lot of rust. One window was boarded up. The roof sagged at two corners. A single hinge held the screen door in place. Where other trailers had nice grass front “yards” and even flower beds, this one had mud, with beer cans piled as statuary.
Otherwise it was a decent trailer park. Respectable enough that we felt comfortable leaving the Mercedes in the visitors lot, though Mom did cast a security spell on it.
We didn’t worry about sneaking up on the derelict trailer—the remaining windows were dark with blackout blinds.
“What’s his type?” I asked as we approached.
“Blondes, I think. You’re safe.”
I gave her a look.
“He’s an Aduro,” she said. Midgrade fire half-demon. “You know how to handle that, I take it?”
She walked up to the side of the trailer, put her fingers to the aluminum, and rubbed, as if clearing a peephole through dirty glass. That’s exactly what she was doing, except as an Aspicio half-demon, she could see through more than just glass.
She shaded her eyes and peered through. Then she repeated the process further along.
“He’s home,” she murmured. “Watching TV. I’m going to have you head around the back. If I’m right, another boarded-up window doubles as an escape hatch.”
I found the boarded window and waited while Mom knocked at the door. A minute passed. Then the wood over the window opened. A bald guy with glasses poked his head out.
“Hello,” I said.
Toby stopped. Blinked. Glanced back toward the front of the trailer.
“No, you’re not seeing double,” I said. “My mother is still at the front door.”
“You’re …” His eyes widened, magnified by his thick glasses. “Shit!”
He swung at me, fingers blazing. Those glowing hands would have worked better if I hadn’t grown up around Adam. A sharp sideswipe to his forearms knocked them down and knocked him off-balance. As he tumbled from the window, I grabbed him by the collar and hauled him upright.
“Got him!” I called.
Mom rounded the corner. Toby had been struggling, but he went still when he saw her.
“E-Eve,” he said. “I thought it was …” He glanced at me. “I didn’t get a good look, and I know your daughter is supposed to resemble you, so I figured that’s who was at my door. You know I don’t talk to anyone without an introduction. That’s why I bolted. If I knew it was you—”
“You’d have bolted faster.”
“You thought you got off easy,” she said as she set her sword case down. “I died right after you buggered up our deal with the St. Clouds. You got to keep the money, and I was dead and couldn’t object. Surprise.”
“I—I didn’t renege on the deal. I was going to give you the money—”
“Which is why I hear you already had your truck hitched to your trailer, ready to skitter off for parts unknown. Until I disappeared and you figured you were safe to wait it out.”
“Okay, so you—you’re back. I don’t know how … Wait, you were never dead, were you? It was all a ruse because the Nasts finally caught up with you. Damn it! I mean, it’s good to see you, Eve.”
“I’m sure it is. Now get your ass inside before you finally give the neighbors an excuse to get your shit-box evicted.”
Like many things in the supernatural world, appearances were deceiving. Open the door to Toby’s crappy trailer and you walked into a little mudroom that looked as decrepit as the outside. Close the external door to prying eyes, open the inside one, and it was as if you’d been transported to a luxury SoHo loft.
The place must have been professionally decorated. Postmodern high-tech, which is probably not a design category, but that’s what it looked like to me. Paige would be in heaven. The decor wasn’t her style, but the hardware would set her drooling. Even I felt a little dampness in the corners of my mouth.
It was as if Toby had walked into the top electronics store in the country, plopped down a no-limit credit card, and said “give me the best of everything.” Soft music drifted from every corner of the trailer. Lights clicked on as we walked through. A desktop TV-size computer screen tickered stock prices while a printer noiselessly spit out pages in a growing pile. The lights seemed to lead us in, illuminating our path, then lowering as we sat on the sofa. The TV volume turned up automatically. Toby tapped one button on the side of the sofa and the TV flicked off, the music died, and the lights came on full. I tried not to be impressed.
“Okay,” he said as he turned to my mother. “I—”
He looked down at the bow case, which she’d tucked into the shadow of the sofa. Blue light emanated through the zipper.
“Ever seen those crime-scene shows?” I said. “Where they use glowing devices to detect blood? Makes cleanup a whole lot easier.”
He tried to laugh. Didn’t really manage it.
“Okay, Eve, I owe you money. It was ten grand, right?”
“Twenty. Plus interest.”
He nodded and hit another button. A laptop rose from the coffee table. “So, if we calculate interest based on the past decade’s rates.”
“We calculate it based on my rates. Remember what those were?”
“Th-that’s ridiculous. No one would ever borrow money at that cost.”
“Which is why I never had to lend any. You can go ahead and do the calculations if you like, but I can probably save you some time with an alternate offer. I’ll waive the debt for information.”
He hesitated, clearly trying to figure out what could possibly be worth that much.
“Did you know you have a group kidnapping supernaturals in New Orleans?” Mom said. “Shipping them off to be lab rats?”
“Wh-what?” His eyes bugged. “No. Seriously? I—”
“I know you’ve made a deal to keep them from dragging your sorry ass down there, too. Not like they’d want it anyway. Over the years, you’ve shot yourself full of too many drugs to be a viable subject. But you are useful as another kind of rat. The sort that will turn over any supernatural he owes money to.”
Toby’s jaw worked. Then he said, “I haven’t turned anyone over. They came to discuss the local wildlife and I suggested a few names of black-market entrepreneurs.”
“Who could reasonably be arrested and disappear quietly, and if they owed you money or had invested with you … Well, then you’ll look after their money until they return. Nice scheme. Too bad it went all to hell.”
“Lab blew up this morning.” I waved at his laptop. “Check the news.”
He did, tapping away as Mom talked.
“So the lab’s gone,” Mom said. “Not like they would have been getting more subjects anyway. You know Officer Medina? Nice lady. Not too bright. Someone switched the sedatives for stimulants or hallucinogens. One of the first supernaturals to get the new batch was a werewolf. Wanna guess how that worked out?”
Toby’s expression said he’d rather not.
“Medina’s dead. So’s the rest of the staff, plus the inmates. Now, I don’t know how long it’ll take for folks to realize an outpost cop shop has been destroyed, but it’s going to happen soon. The question is whether a Cortez Cabal cleanup crew can get done first.”
“Oh, you love the Cortezes, don’t you? And they love you right back. Imagine how happy they’ll be finally having an excuse to haul your ass to Miami. It’s a beautiful city. Not sure you’ll get in much sunbathing, but I hear they have skylights in their cells.”
“Actually, they don’t,” I said.
“They’re underground. Which is never a good place to be in Miami. Benicio swears they take every precaution, but if there’s hurricane flooding, what do you think they’re going to save down there? The archives or the prisoners?”
“True,” Mom said.
“Look,” Toby said. “I supplied Jackie with names, not drugs.”
“Jackie Medina,” I asked to be clear, and he nodded.
“The Cortezes aren’t going to care,” my mother said. “Not if it gives them a chance to get you off the street. You’re screwed, Toby. Or you are without my help. Because the guy who gave Medina the drugs also cast a very special spell.”
She reached down and cracked open her case. Light flooded out. “You see, Toby, you were wrong. I haven’t been hiding out. I’ve been dead. Until a sorcerer crossed me over, I was walking around the afterlife. And I was carrying this.”
She pulled out her sword. Toby jumped back, knees knocking his laptop and sending it toppling as he scuttled onto the sofa.
Mom swirled the sword, the blue steel leaving a swath of light.
“Do you know what this is, Toby? One hint—it’s not a light saber.”
“Take a guess.” She grabbed it by the blade and held it out to him. “Better yet, take a hold. Try it out.”
He reached for the pommel. When his fingers touched it, he let out a shriek and fell back, his hand raised. Blisters popped up on every fingertip.
“Holy Mother of God,” he whispered.
“So you’re a religious man? That’s good. Makes this easier. If this sword just burned a fire demon, I’m sure you can guess what it is. And that this”—she grasped it by the pommel, then tossed it up and caught it by the blade—“is not a party trick. All this is to say that I can protect you from the Cortezes. And that you might be wise to help the cause by giving me the information I need.”
Toby took one more look at the sword and decided he was feeling chatty. Mom settled back onto the sofa, leaving the sword glowing on the coffee table as a reminder.
“I know Roberts,” he muttered when Mom finished explaining and identifying the culprit. “Should have turned his name over to Jackie. I would have, too, except that he has a wife and an ex-wife and a kid, so someone would miss him.”
“You had contact with him?”
“Me and Roberts don’t travel in the same circles. He was one of those guys who pretends he’s too good for us. Squeaky clean. Only he wasn’t, was he? Damn it. If only I’d known. He cost me a sweet income stream. Jackie paid a grand for every name.”
“He cost her a lot, too,” I said. “Her life. I’m sure you’re upset about that.”
It took him a moment to find the right expression of regret. Then he gave us everything he knew about Roberts, which wasn’t much. It wasn’t until we handed over Roberts’s contacts list that we started getting somewhere.
“Oh, yeah, I know a few of these guys.” He rattled off names and supernatural types for a half dozen of Roberts’s entries. Two were in the business of providing basic services for fellow supernaturals.
“This guy’s a doctor.” Toby pointed to a name on the list I was writing. “Charges more than a frigging private clinic, but he’s good. Discreet, too. So’s she.” He pointed to the only woman’s name on the list. Amanda Griffin.
“What’s she do?”
“Hooker. For guys who don’t want to worry about hiding their powers. Amanda’s a real sweetie. Says most supernaturals want to do more talking then screwing. They just like being able to talk freely. Which is a shame. She’s a good talker, but she’s even better at screwing.”
“Uh-huh. Well, Roberts seemed to need a lot of talking. If she’s the A in his calendar, they were chatting a few times a week.”
“Son of a bitch,” Toby muttered. “Amanda never even told me she was seeing him. She knows I would have liked some dirt on the guy. Would have paid well for it, too.”
“You did say she was discreet.”
“Sure, but we could have blackmailed the bastard real good.” I looked at Roberts’s calendar. “I don’t have a lot of experience hiring hookers, but I’m going to guess three times a week is a bit excessive.”
“Bit expensive, too,” Toby said. “Amanda ain’t cheap.”
We continued down the list. There was another possibility or two, but none whose initials matched appointments in the calendar. Amanda it was then. When we were done, Mom picked up her sword.
“Find some rope, Savannah,” she said.
“Wh-what?” Toby said, starting to rise. “Why do you need rope—?”
Mom pointed the sword at his throat and he fell back into the cushions. “I’ve told you my secret, Toby. You know that I’m back and what I am. That’s very valuable information. After you double-crossed me the last time, I don’t trust you.”
“But—but you didn’t need to tell me! I’d have listened to your offer without knowing you’re an angel.”
“Huh. My mistake then. But, since you do know, I can’t have you running around. You’ll need to wait here for the Cortezes.”