Authors: Sonya Bateman
“You’re digi-what? Can you say that in English?”
you blithering idiot. What you Americans so stupidly call
.” Ian managed to infuse the word with more contempt than he’d shown for me, a feat that couldn’t have been easy.
I laughed. “Seriously. What are you?”
Ian extended an arm, and waved long and slender fingers at my dilapidated coupe. A spot of gleaming chrome burst on the front bumper and spread to become glossy turquoise along the body. Within seconds, a sleek two-door sports car—no brand I’d ever seen and no logo or name to identify it—stood in place of my former heap.
“I am djinn
” Ian repeated.
I shut the flytrap that had replaced my mouth, surprised I wasn’t drooling. “Right. Digie-inn. Got it.”
“Imbecile! Just call me Ian. Surely you can pronounce that, at least.”
“Sure,” I said, not really listening to him anymore. I wandered to the car and ran a hand along the smooth roof. Cool, solid metal. My hand didn’t go through it, and the paint didn’t rub off. Okay, so maybe this Ian guy really had turned my rustbucket into a . . . whatever this was. Cinderella never had it so good. All she got was a lousy coach and breakable shoes. Maybe my luck actually was starting to turn. What could be luckier than having a digie . . . a genie . . . an Ian on my side?
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Sonya Bateman
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Illustration by Gordon Crabb.
Cover design by Lisa Litwack.
Manufactured in the United States of America
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ISBN 978-1-4391-7142-4 (ebook)
For Andrew and Josh,
who give and—I hope—receive the most.
THIS IS MY DEBUT NOVEL, AND ALL FIRST-TIME-OUT WRIT
ers are desperate to thank everyone who ever spoke a word to them in their paranoia that they’ll leave someone out, this might take a while. Go ahead and grab a drink or something.
Everlasting thanks to my husband and son, who have put up with enough insanity to open their own mental institution. And to everyone else on the list, it’s not ordered by importance, so please file your grudges away for something else I’ve done. Thank you so much: Mom, Dad, Rick, Tara, Jamie, James, Chris, Tim, Rissy, Alice, Devon, Laurelei, Tru, Jill, Margaret, Linda, Kathy, Betty, Dave, Mamie, Wayne, Phil, Becky, and they’d run out of ink if I went on to list the rest of my relatives.
Thank you, thank you: The MB4 gang: Aaron (crit partner extraordinaire), Marta and Kim; Mark Henry, J. F. Lewis, and Jaye Wells for the awesome words; the Bradley crew: Gail, Ginny, Martha, Joe, Carol, Rose, Chris, Claire, Lisa, Jan, Nick, Carl, Bill, and Steve; and everyone at Once Upon a Nation.
Huge thanks to Cameron McClure, world’s greatest agent, and Jen Heddle, world’s greatest editor, for helping me hammer and polish this story into something much more than I started with. Thank you to the Design Department of Pocket Books for the best cover ever, and to Copyediting, Marketing, and Publicity, just because you rock.
And thank you, reader, for taking a chance on this book.
Just once, I would have liked to get my shit together. Even accidentally. But I could already see that wasn’t going to happen tonight. After all, I am the world’s unluckiest thief. Ask anybody.
Especially my ex-partners.
The long-abandoned warehouse I’d stumbled across had seemed like a blessing, and the worn canvas bag wedged under my spare tire had been downright serendipitous. That was until I started stuffing my worldly possessions into it and the damned thing split down the seams. Out came everything, all over the concrete floor that was covered with dust and oil and Christ knew what else. The gunk would wreak havoc with my instruments.
As if that weren’t enough, one of the banded stacks of bills popped loose. The draft in the place snatched a handful of hundreds and whisked them off into the gloom in a flurry of papery whispers. Like the building was laughing at me.
“Crud!” My voice echoed in the empty space. I froze, dropped to a crouch behind my car, and listened. Nothing
yet. I’d ditched the tail half an hour ago, but they’d find me again soon. I figured Trevor must have had my ride bugged while he briefed me—which meant they’d been tracking me for a week. They knew I’d hit the place four days ago and hadn’t shown up with the score yet. I might have found the bug if I hadn’t misplaced my scanner on my last run.
Since I hadn’t, my only chance now was to keep going on foot. I couldn’t talk my way out of this one.
I kept my mouth shut and started stowing fistfuls of bills in pockets. The lost cash would have to stay lost. Next came the essentials: cell phone, Mag-Lite, lock jock, cutter, scrambler, electric pick, Bowie, SAK, wire, Magnum—unloaded, of course. I was a thief, not a murderer. Couldn’t say the same for Trevor. He was a vicious bastard, for a fence. Hell, I’d met dealers who were calmer than Trevor. I did jobs for him because he paid well, but I suspected I’d be looking for a new contact to sell my scores to soon. One with a little less psycho in his veins.
I’d have to scratch the clothes, too. Not that they were much to look at. Bland, serviceable, meant for blending in. I’d buy more. Though I didn’t need it for warmth, I shrugged into my windbreaker for the extra pockets and headed for the only point of entry and exit I’d seen in the rundown structure. It bothered me, being in a place with just one escape route. Made it hard to formulate a backup plan other than
. . . two alternatives I’d managed to avoid so far. I hoped this time wouldn’t break my record, but I had my doubts.
Outside, a starless night in Middle of Nowhere, New York, waited for me. I tried to remember how far I’d
driven from the last insignificant excuse for a town to get here. In my professional estimation, it was pretty damned far. The idea of calling someone for a pickup crossed my mind. I laughed at it and sent it on its way.
I didn’t just burn bridges. I incinerated them. Everyone I knew had a legitimate reason to hate me—and none of them was my fault. Okay, maybe that thing back in Albany a few years ago was my fault, but everything else came down to sheer bad luck.
In the distance, a long and low howl rode the breeze, frustrated and almost human. I’d heard enough dogs to know the sound didn’t come from a domesticated breed. A coyote, maybe even a wolf. Terrific. For the thousandth time, I reminded myself that I never should have taken this gig. At least, not alone. But with my reputation, only the greenest punks would agree to partner with me, which guaranteed I’d spend more time babysitting than working. I’d been in this game too long to bother breaking in newbies.
There was another reason I should’ve told Trevor to shove this job. It wasn’t his style. I’d gotten a weird vibe when he laid it out. The flashy son of a bitch always wanted high-end vehicles or fine art or precious metals and jewels. But this score was ordinary. Small-time. Wouldn’t fetch fifty bucks on eBay. He’d said it was for his private collection, but even then, the little voice I never listened to insisted there was something fucked-up about the whole thing.
I considered telling Trevor the truth, but hell, I didn’t even believe it. Who’d believe a professional thief
the item he’d been hired to steal? No way that unforgiving
bastard would buy it. I’d seen Trevor shoot his own thugs for picking up the wrong kind of wine. Granted, it had been five hundred cases of wrong, but that was beside the point.
There was still a good ten feet between me and freedom when the drone and swell of an approaching engine sounded outside. Headlights swept the curve leading to the building and swung around to frame the doorway, pinning me in the glare. Hello, sitting duck.
The engine gunned. Tires screamed as the car shot forward. I darted back into the darkness of the warehouse and took a hard left. The car screeched to a halt somewhere behind me. I turned toward the front wall, held out a hand, and walked briskly until I encountered something solid. I flattened my back against the surface, and waited.
I had a knack for concealment, a trait that served me well on the job. A few ex-partners had sworn I could make myself invisible, especially when they’d gotten caught and I hadn’t.
Car doors opened and closed. I counted four slams. Trevor had sent a lot more muscle than necessary. I almost felt honored, before I realized the son of a bitch probably wanted me taken alive. Should have seen that one coming.
Flashlight beams swept the main aisle. A rumbling bear of a voice delivered an order. “There. Search his car.” I recognized it instantly. Skids Davis, Trevor’s left-hand man. Left, not right, because Trevor only called on Skids when he needed something dirty cleaned up.
So I was dirty now. Fine. I’d been worse.
I held my breath and inched along the wall. The entrance
stood five or six feet to my right, within my grasp. With a bit of luck, I could slip out before the creeping thugs reached my car.
A low shape broke away from one of the goons and headed straight for me with disconcerting clicks. Great. They’d brought one of the dogs. Though I couldn’t make out features in the gloom, its build suggested Rottweiler, and its strut suggested that human flesh was its favorite meal.
I’d never been bitten by a dog during a gig, but they always managed to find me fast. This one was no exception. He padded to within two feet of me and sat down as if I’d promised him a snack. His mouth drew back in what looked like a smile.
My, vicious animal, what big teeth you have. Please don’t bark.