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Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis

Tags: #Fantasy

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BOOK: Edge of Dreams
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“We had a come-to-Jesus meeting. He wouldn’t tell me what he was up to, but for a few weeks, it seemed to work. The next thing I know, he’s back being gone all the time and I found bundles of cash under his mattress. I’ve been working long hours. I thought maybe I could catch the people he was working for, so I started following him and his friends whenever I could. Most of the time I lost them. Sometimes they’d take a bus or the subway or their bikes. Few times I did manage to follow, they’d pick up a package in one part of town and drop it off somewhere else. Wasn’t hard to figure out they were messengers. Just a couple days ago I realized they were hooked in with some of the people I’d been investigating for manufacturing and selling Sparkle Dust. I didn’t even get a chance to warn Trevor before he disappeared.”

She leveled a tortured look at me. “I’m a cop. I ought to be able to protect my own. I shouldn’t have to come to a civilian for help.”

“You can’t keep people from doing what they want to do,” I said. “Teenagers especially. Don’t worry. We’ll find him.” The question of what shape he’d be in when we did, I left hanging. For now, he was alive.

Patti brought out a deep dish of something covered in melted cheese for Lauren, along with a glass of milk. She set it down and walked away.

“What do you suppose it is?” Lauren asked, looking wide-eyed at her meal.

“Tasty,” I said. My hamburger was gone, but I was still chewing away at the fries.

She picked up her fork and dug in. White sauce bubbled up. With a look of trepidation, she took a bite, and then her eyes widened again and she swallowed. “Oh my! That is good.”

After that, she ate rapidly. I fell silent. With any luck, the five kids had gotten terribly lost inside the mountain and were nowhere near a Tyet drug enterprise. Nobody knew exactly what sorts of minerals made the stuff, only that they were unique to the Diamond City caldera. That meant a monopoly on that particular drug trade, and it also made it incredibly expensive for buyers. That’s why I couldn’t figure out what the surgeon was doing looking for it in the Bottoms. He’d have been better off looking somewhere in Uptown among the über-wealthy.

Diamond City is built on the inside of an ancient volcanic caldera in the Rocky Mountains near Gunnison, Colorado. The caldera spans over a hundred miles in diameter, with the biggest diamond mines on the west side. The bulk of the city clings to several ledges along the eastern side. The highest and most expensive is Uptown, then a step down is Midtown, then Downtown, where most of the businesses are, with the dregs trying to survive in the Bottoms. There was no reason on the planet that anybody would be selling Sparkle Dust in the Bottoms. It simply made no sense.

“You said you’ve been looking into the Sparkle Dust trade?” I asked, twisting my coffee cup on the table. Maybe she had an idea of how the Bottoms might figure in. Sirens wailed faintly outside. Tough day to have to call an ambulance. I hoped whoever was sick got across the roads before they croaked.

Morton nodded and swallowed, eyeing me warily. “It’s an ugly drug.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. Got any idea why someone would go down to the Bottoms to make a buy?”

She straightened thoughtfully. “What makes you ask that?”

“I was working a trace on a guy who turned out to be an SD wraith. I found him down there in a flophouse. I assume he was looking for more drugs, but that’s not exactly where I’d expect him to find any. There’s no money down there.”

“Maybe he was down there for something else,” Lauren suggested.

“Maybe,” I said doubtfully. SD addicts had one-track minds: get more drugs and get them now.

“I can check it out,” she said.

I could tell she was curious. That was probably a basic requirement on the detective test. That and nosiness and the enjoyment of confrontation and the willingness to get shot at. I’ve got the first two covered, but the second two—I’m more of a hide-in-the-shadows sort of girl. Not that I can’t hold my own in a confrontation. I just don’t get off on it.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It doesn’t make any difference to my trace. The guy was probably so fried he didn’t know the Bottoms from Uptown.”

“Sure. You’re probably right.” She wiped her mouth with her napkin and pushed her dish away. “I suppose we should talk about payment for your services before we go any further.”

“You don’t need to worry about it,” I said. “This one’s on me.”

Her chin lifted haughtily. “I can’t do that.”

“Sure you can. It’s easy. I don’t charge you anything and you don’t pay.” I liked that she didn’t want a handout, but finding kids was something I’d been doing anonymously for a long time. I hadn’t had a chance in more than six weeks to even breathe, much less help save a child. I wasn’t going to pass up this chance, and anyhow, Lauren seemed to be a decent cop. That was a rare thing in Diamond City.

“Is that supposed to be funny? I’m serious. I pay my own way and I don’t take bribes.”

“I get that. I’m still not going to accept any money from you. But you could do something for me.”

She braced herself against the table, her hands fisting. She scowled at me. “What’s that?”

“You can let me know if a kid’s in trouble and if I can help. Anonymously. I don’t want anybody else knowing.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t.” Because sometimes I couldn’t get there soon enough. Sometimes the best I could do was help find the body. If I had to face the family after that, it would put a hole right through me.

Lauren was still scowling as she considered what I was asking. “It’s illegal to reveal details about an ongoing case.”

I shrugged and didn’t say anything.

“And this is what you want in exchange for finding my nephew?”

“Nope. I’ll find him anyway.” I grinned because there wasn’t anything she could do about it, and it clearly pissed her off. Okay, maybe I do sometimes like confrontation. I still would never have made a good cop. I don’t follow rules well at all, and I really don’t like getting shot.

“Why?”

“Because I can and because kids don’t deserve to be pawns in Tyet games.” I hated the way the Tyet used kids and families to leverage people to do what they wanted. They left a lot of dead bodies and broken families littering the city. I couldn’t do a lot to stop them, but if I could keep the kids from dying, it helped me sleep at night. Sure, a Tyet faction wasn’t involved in every case, but nine out of ten of the kids I’d looked for had been taken by or because of the Tyet.

“Even though my nephew is trying to commit a crime?”

“Sure. Don’t get me wrong—there’s no worse drug than Sparkle Dust. As far as I’m concerned, the dealers and the creators of it should all be dumped into a vat of boiling oil. Trevor is stupid, but then so are most teenagers. He shouldn’t have to die for it. He deserves a chance to learn better. He just needs a good kick in the ass. I’m willing to bet you’re going to make sure he gets one.”

“Good Lord willing,” Lauren murmured as she thought over my words. Finally, she sighed. “I’ll think on what you’ve asked.”

“Take your time. I’m going to go upstairs and collect a few things. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

I ran up to Patti’s apartment. She had a bedroom set aside just for me. I decided I had time for a quick shower. Actually, I didn’t care if I had time, I was taking one. I needed to wake up and get my brain moving better. I wrapped the bandage on my arm in a plastic sack I found under the counter and hopped in. Despite the glory of the hot water, I was in and out in five minutes.

After dressing in jeans, a long-sleeved green shirt, a brown fleece vest, and heavy wool socks, I slid out the box of nulls that I kept under my bed. I’d been working on upping their power levels, but had been pretty hit or miss about getting that done. Recovering from my near-death experiences had taken a lot of my strength, and then I found myself unable to say no to all the paid work suddenly coming my way. The truth was I’d been in full-on avoidance mode. I was trying to pretend that everything was normal and all that death and murder stuff had been a fluke. But reality kept poking at my pretty little fantasy. I was on the wrong end of danger way too often.

I groaned, rifling through the bin. It looked like a thrift store “Free” box. It was full of Legos, marbles, polished rocks, glass figurines, and a variety of other knickknacks. Plastic, stone, glass, and metal were best for making nulls. They held magic best. The more magic they held, the bigger the object needed to be, though I was pretty good about cramming a whole lot of power into a small thing. I picked out some of the strongest nulls. Most of them were cat-eye marbles and a few ball bearings.

Tracing tends to be a defensive sort of talent. I can null out magic, but there really is no good way to attack an enemy beyond that. I can take an enemy’s magical weapons away, but that does me precious little good if he’s still left with all the normal ones like guns and knives and whatever else he might be carrying. At least, that’s the way things have always been. I’ve got some theories on how to target someone and kill them. I just need to make time to figure it out.

I was going to have to work on it quick, though, because now that the word was out on me, sooner or later some Tyet asshole was going to come after me. Probably more than one. When I refused to do what they wanted, they’d go after my family to force me. I wasn’t going to let that happen. Or at least, I didn’t plan to, but the way I was taking jobs and ducking my deadly magic project, I was going to run out of time before I had a solution. I’m betting a psychiatrist would have plenty to say about avoidance or sticking my head in the sand or whatever.

“I’ll get to it as soon as I find Trevor,” I promised myself. I’d hole up at home for a week or so and do some experimenting.

“Talking to yourself?” Patti asked from the doorway behind me. “You know that’s a sure sign of insanity, right?”

I twisted to look at her. She leaned against the doorjamb, hands hanging at her sides. Darkness shadowed her eyes, and her brow furrowed. She chewed her upper lip.

“What’s wrong?”

Patti never loses her cool. When she worries, she snaps and snarls. It’s only when things get really bad that she starts to look uncertain.

“I don’t know if I should show you,” she began.

“What?” My voice sharpened.

She drew a breath in and blew it out. “You know that since you got caught up in that Tyet business, I’ve been keeping an ear to the ground for news. I keep feelers out for information on Savannah Morrell and her Tyet buddies, Gregg Touray, the FBI, and of course, Price.”

I breathed slowly to calm the sudden fear curdling the food I’d eaten. I clenched my fingers on the bedspread. “So?”

“So I get an alert when one of my search terms pops up somewhere interesting.” She held still for a moment, then said. “There’s been an explosion.”

My heart clenched, and I could barely breathe. “Not Price,” I said hoarsely, as if saying it could make it true.

She nodded. “A house that belongs to his brother. That’s all the news is reporting.”

I leaped to my feet and staggered a few steps and stopped.
Where was I going?
The next thought almost dropped me to the floor.
What if he’s dead?

No. I wouldn’t go there. Price was tough and smart. He wasn’t going to let himself get killed easily. But I wasn’t worried about the easy; I was worried about the hard. Like getting blown up.

“Where?”

“Uptown.”

“How bad?”

She held out her phone. The video didn’t show much more than clouds of billowing smoke, emergency vehicles, and emergency personnel.

I dug in my pocket and typed out a text:
Are you all right?
I tapped
Send
.

I stared down at the screen, silently begging Price to reply. The bastard phone refused to do anything but lie there like a corpse.

“Maybe he doesn’t have his phone on him,” Patti suggested, taking pity on me.

“He should be out investigating crimes. If not for me, he wouldn’t have become a partner in his brother’s syndicate,” I said hollowly. “He only did it to force his brother to stay away from me.”

I’d wanted—I still wanted—to stand on my own two feet. Now that my secret was out, I needed to learn what I was capable of without relying on someone else to protect me. The irony that I was letting Dalton and his team do just that wasn’t lost on me. I hoped that once I was able to protect myself and my family, I could find a way to fully trust Price. That I could protect myself against him if—when—he chose to turn on me in favor of his brother.

The words rang hollow in my mind. They’d made so much sense a month ago, but now the flaw in the logic stuck its tongue out at me with overflowing disgust.

It
had
come to a choice for Price, and he had chosen me. He’d blackmailed his brother into letting me go, and he’d sacrificed his police career to join the Tyet. To buy me time. What more proof of his loyalty and love did I want? Why the hell was I spending so much time feeling crappy about being apart and wondering if he was falling for someone else? Lately my dreams had been divided equally between erotic images of the two of us together that left my thighs aching and the rest of me more frustrated than an impotent priest on free fuck night at the local brothel, and erotic images of Price tonguing some other woman to screaming ecstasy, which left me wanting to skin him alive. I really have mental problems, I swear.

Interrupting my thoughts, Patti snorted at my charitable interpretation of Price’s choice to join his brother. “Don’t go rewriting history. He was always a part of his brother’s organization. With or without you, Price could easily have been in that house just now. If he was, which there is no saying he was,” she added, apparently by way of reassuring me. “And it’s not like being a cop isn’t a dangerous job, especially in Diamond City.”

That was true enough, but I wasn’t ready to be done tripping on guilt or wallowing in self-pity. “Still, he could be dead and it’s all my fault.”

“You are fucking kidding me. How could you possibly be responsible for some jackass setting off a giant weenie-roast in Uptown?”

BOOK: Edge of Dreams
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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