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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
We walked quickly, footsteps echoing, lights flashing off in our wake.
“Where does it come out?” I asked.
Kaufman didn’t answer.
“You don’t know, do you?”
“I knew nothing about the lower prison cells, let alone this escape route. Curry had been to the cells, but he didn’t know about this either. Your brother had to … persuade a retired architect to part with the plans. He didn’t have a hard copy, of course, but his memory was good.”
Or Sean made it good. Bribery or threats. Sean’s a carrot guy, but you can’t rise to his position without learning to use the stick, too.
Curry had said that Sean was in Miami, with Bryce. When he’d learned of our arrest, he would have called Thomas right away. There would have been some back-and-forth as Thomas claimed to know nothing about the operation, until finally he’d have said “Oh, right, that operation. I haven’t heard back from Josef yet.” A few hours would pass, then Thomas would confirm that we’d been taken. A lawful arrest. We were being brought to Nast headquarters, where the Cortezes could meet the Nasts to discuss the matter.
But before Sean or any Cortez got on the plane … Hmm, there seems to have been a processing problem. We weren’t where we were supposed to be. We’d be found, of course, in time. You can’t misplace prisoners. Not for long anyway.
The growing rasp of Adam’s breathing told me he was finding this long uphill trek tough. By the time we made it to the top, he looked ready to keel over.
“Give us a sec,” I said.
“I’m fine,” Adam said. “I can rest when we’re safe.”
The exit door had another blood tester. It opened for me, too, and we came out in a room that looked so much like the entry point that I almost wondered if this was yet another diabolical twist of engineering—make it seem like you’re climbing to freedom, only to put you back where you began. Even Kaufman stood there, gaping around, until Adam tried to push past and the officer resumed the lead with a gruff, “Allow me, sir.”
As we stepped from the secured passage, Kaufman and Curry took out their guns. It seemed odd, seeing weapons in the hands of supernaturals, but I suppose it was our way that was truly odd—the archaic refusal to use anything but supernatural powers. Guns would stop an attacker faster. More permanently, too, which may be why most of us clung to the old ways.
We crossed the room, expecting to find an exit. There wasn’t one, and we kept circling, only to end up right back where we began.
“Um, sir …” Curry said.
“There is an exit,” I said. “We just need to find it. Since the room is obviously empty, I say it’s safe to split up. Adam? Sit.”
He lifted his eyebrows. I took his arm, led him to a sturdy crate, and whispered, “Please. Before you fall over.”
He listened. Playing tough guy was fine if it kept us on the move. It wouldn’t be so fine if we had to make a difficult escape and he collapsed.
As the officers scoured the walls for hidden doors, I turned my gaze upward. The ceiling was at least twelve feet from the floor. I cast a light ball and scanned the darkness overhead. Sure enough, there was a trapdoor.
“They aren’t making this easy, are they?” Adam said as he peered up at it.
Curry shook his head. “It can’t be that difficult. Thomas Nast isn’t a young man.”
I walked over and cleared the old crates and boxes obviously left to make this look like a storage room. Only when I moved my light ball right to the wall did I see rungs.
Kaufman wanted to go up first, but this was where supernatural power trumped firepower. I could cast my sensing spell at the top and make sure all was clear. Or I could if the spell worked. I didn’t tell him that part.
I climbed. Then I cast. I could pick up the faint pulse of life. Faint meant distant. No one was right above us.
I tested the trap door. Below, Kaufman reached up to tap my ankle—he wanted to go first. I was only making sure the door didn’t need an unlock spell. It didn’t, so I let the guy with the gun go ahead of me.
Once Kaufman reached the top, he cracked the hatch open, then slowly lifted it. Curry had his gun raised with one hand, the other flexing beside it, ready to activate some half-demon power—ice, fire, maybe telekinesis. He didn’t need to. The room above us was clear. Kaufman climbed through, then waved for Curry to come next, so he could stand guard while Kaufman helped us out.
I went last—I wanted to be beneath Adam, in case he lost his footing. He didn’t. He went up and through, and so did I, coming out in …
Another storage room—of some kind of fast-food restaurant, the wire racks around us stocked with boxes of cups and napkins.
Adam pulled a bag from an open box. “After thirty-six hours without caffeine, I’m thinking maybe I’ll take this along.”
It was coffee beans, marked with the logo of a California chain. Reading the label on another box, I ripped it open and tossed him a tiny bag.
“Chocolate-covered coffee beans. Even better.”
We let Kaufman and Curry case the room. We didn’t quite see the point. It was roughly twelve feet square. The hatch had been under a section of tile that lifted when we came out, then seamlessly settled back in place. There was only one door.
That was all just a little too simple for the security guys, who apparently had to make sure there weren’t booby traps waiting to blow up a hapless barista.
“It’s a coffee shop, guys,” I said. “I can sense people outside. Patrons. Drinking coffee. If I listen carefully, I can even hear them talking. As for why the Nast top-secret executive escape hatch exits into a coffee shop …”
“They own the chain,” Kaufman said.
“Seriously? No wonder Sean always takes me to these. Cheapskate.”
Kaufman shushed me politely, then listened at the door.
“Lot of patrons for this hour,” Kaufman said.
“There’s a show gets out at midnight around the corner,” Curry said. “They come here for coffee and dessert. I had to wait twenty minutes for a coffee on my midnight break last week.”
Kaufman nodded and whispered back to me, “I’m going to need to keep my gun holstered as we leave.”
“Once we’re out, we’re getting in a cab. There’s a car waiting, but it’s a few blocks away. Farther from headquarters.”
Kaufman eased open the door and stepped out. Adam followed, then me, with an energy bolt at the ready. Curry whispered in my ear, “It’s going to be okay, miss. Everything will be okay.”
Did I look nervous? Maybe I was. Silly, considering we were sneaking into a coffee shop. A little surreal, too.
In front of us, Kaufman straightened. We did the same. Just four people walking out of the hall marked Staff Only. Two of them in security uniforms and two wearing blood-flecked clothing that looked like they’d slept in it on a filthy floor. We could only hope everyone was too busy talking about the play to notice us.
As we approached the swinging door into the café, the buzz of conversation grew louder. Men and women talking and laughing, forks tinkling against china, mugs clanking against tabletops.
“It’s going to be okay, miss,” Curry whispered again. “Just stay calm and don’t panic, whatever happens.”
From the tremor in his voice, I wasn’t the one who needed the reassurance. Kaufman waved me up beside him. Adam put his arm around my waist. Casual. Just act casual.
Kaufman pushed open the door. We stepped out. And twenty “patrons” leaped to their feet, guns pointed at us.
“You bastard,” I snarled as I spun on Curry. “You set us up.”
“I’ve got kids, miss. I—”
I sent him flying with a knockback spell. As I turned to confront our ambushers, Adam grabbed my arm and whispered, “No.”
He was right. Kaufman had his hands raised and he looked two seconds from throwing up. He was a dead man. If he’d thought he had a hope in hell of fighting his way out of this, he would have, but he raised his hands and said, “I want to speak to Sean Nast. This is his sister—”
“You bought that line of bull, Captain?” An officer stepped forward. “I thought you were smarter than that.”
“No, she is his sister,” Curry said. “Her blood opened the security gate. She’s a Nast—”
A rap at the front door. The shades were all drawn, including the one over the door. A louder knock.
The lead officer waved for his people to move out of the way, walked over, pulled the shade back a few inches, and yelled, “We’re closed.”
An ID badge slapped against the glass. The lead officer winced and mouthed a curse.
“An intra-Cabal security team,” he said. “Everyone maintain position, but lower your weapons.”
He opened the door to admit a grizzled, thickset man. Two others followed. All wore suits and looked more like FBI agents than security.
Curry whispered, “That’s what I meant, miss. I told the Nasts. I had to. I’ve got kids. Helping you escape—it’s treason. But I made sure you’d be safe. That’s why I called the intra-Cabal office. I sent Sean a message, too. He’ll know what happened. You won’t go back to the cells. They’ll have to do this fairly. You’re okay.”
I glowered at him. “I’d be a lot more okay if I was in a cab right now.”
“I—I’ve got kids, miss.”
“Stop whining,” Kaufman hissed. “Sean trusted you, Frank, and you screwed him over. Do you think you’ll get your golden handshake now? Both sides will consider you a traitor.”
Curry paled. I turned away from him. The grizzled man in the suit walked over to us.
“Miss Levine? Mr. Vasic? Bo Stein. I’m going to accompany you back to Nast headquarters for a proper hearing into these allegations.”
“That’s funny,” Adam said. “I could swear that was where we were headed twenty-four hours ago. Before we got locked in a filthy cell with no bed and a pail to piss in.”
Stein’s lips tightened. “Those allegations will be heard as well, sir. I’ve been told the Cortezes have also been notified and they are on the way with their legal team. This will be handled properly from now on.”
“We’re not going back into a cell of any kind,” I said.
“You won’t. We’ll be with you until—”
“And I want my mother.”
Stein stared at me, as if the shock of my incarceration had scrambled my brain.
“Eve Levine was with us,” Adam said. “Captain Kaufman can attest to that. She was brought over from the afterlife. Manifested.”
Kaufman nodded. “It’s true, sir.”
I said, “I haven’t seen her since we were put on the plane in New Orleans. I want her found. If they try to say she passed over again, I want Jaime Vegas of the interracial council brought here to make contact.”
“We’ll begin investigating—”
“Before we take one more step we also want to speak to Lucas Cortez,” Adam said. “You say you’re with intra-Cabal security, but I don’t know you.”
Stein handed Adam his cell phone. Adam passed it to me.
I called Lucas. He answered on the second ring.
“Hey, it’s me,” I said.
A pause. Then a sigh, so soft it was more a whisper. “Savannah. Since you’re calling on Agent Stein’s line, I presume the extrication attempt was thwarted.”
“We’d hoped otherwise. Sean only learned of Frank Curry’s intentions thirty minutes ago, making it too late to warn Captain Kaufman. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. So’s Adam, though they beat the crap out of him when we were arrested. Mom’s missing, but they say they’ll look into that. Stein’s okay, then? We can go with him?”
“You’ll have to, I’m afraid. But yes, he is a legitimate representative of the intra-Cabal agency. We’ll have this mess sorted soon. Sean is already on his way. He was staying near the airport, so I had him take the jet. I’m following with the legal team on a commercial flight. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
And that was that. Nothing more to be done except submit to Nast custody and trust that this time we’d get our due process.
They took us back to headquarters. To the executive board-room, no less, where Stein said we’d rest—under his guard—until everyone arrived for the hearing.
While we waited, we were allowed to take showers in the executive wing. Then a Cabal doctor tended to Adam’s injuries and confirmed that, yes, his ribs were cracked, but already healing nicely. We were back in the boardroom, getting ready to eat, when the guards brought Mom in.
She walked in with her usual confident stride, her hair sleekly brushed, the sword on her back, gaze fixed on me, her smile genuine. When I hurried over and hugged her, she didn’t wince, gave no sign she was hiding injuries.
“Hey, baby, you okay?”
I nodded. “You?”
“Better than you, I bet.” She kissed my cheek, then checked out my rumpled clothing and shot a glare around the room. “Seems the company advisers decided that while they weren’t convinced of my angel-hood, it was best not to take any chances by mistreating me. They locked me up in a lead-lined cell, but I was comfortable enough. I think they were hoping the Fates would spirit me back and they could wash their hands of the matter.”