“Hee-hee-hee.” The skinny man slid past, crawled back under his bench, and curled into a tight ball.
Quietly, Darren released his breath.
The guy to his right stood up. Darren chanced a quick look. Over six feet tall, the guy had to weigh more than three hundred pounds. It was amazing the rickety bench had held his weight.
Tattoos covered every spot of his bare upper body and bald head. His black beard hung to the middle of his chest.
Definitely someone Darren did not want messing with him.
The enormous guy lumbered over to the bars. “You looking at me?” he threatened the cop sitting outside the cell.
The cop looked on, bored.
The enormous guy grabbed the bars, gave them a hard rattle, and screamed, “YOU LOOKING AT ME?”
The cop lit a cigarette and checked his watch.
He must see this crazy stuff all the time.
The enormous guy stomped back over to the bench and plopped down. Darren held on so he wouldn’t fall off.
Down the hall a door unlocked, probably another crazy on the way. Darren listened intently, but heard nothing.
A few seconds later, a man dressed in a suit stepped into view. He turned and looked straight at Darren through the spookiest light green eyes he had ever seen.
Swallowing, he stared back at the man. What was going on?
The man handed the cop a letter, and the cop slowly perused it. Then he unclipped his keys from his belt and unlocked the cell. “
Let’s go. He pointed to Darren.
Darren slowly got up, crossed the floor, and exited the cell.
The man extended his hand. “Thomas Liba. You may call me TL. Follow me, please.”
Darren walked beside him down the corridor.
Darren rolled the name around in his brain. Definitely not a Venezuelan. So who was this man? Police? A lawyer? Someone from the U.S. embassy? Whoever he was, Darren vowed to keep his mouth shut. He was only the translator, after all. He definitely wasn’t going to tell TL a thing. Not with the whereabouts of his mother at stake.
The man led Darren through a small waiting room and then into a private office. Indicating two black metal chairs, TL took one and Darren sat in the other.
TL leaned down and took a file from beneath his chair. He opened it and sifted through. “Darren Yote. Seventeen years old. Six feet tall. One hundred sixty-five pounds. Black hair, black eyes. Mother’s one hundred percent Native American. Father was a mixture of everything. Father died in a car accident before you were born. Mother disappeared when you were seven. Your maternal grandmother was your legal guardian for the past ten years.”
Man, this guy knows everything about me.
“You make good grades, but never take a book home from school. The only D you ever got was in Spanish.” TL glanced up at Darren. “Interesting.”
Darren guiltily swallowed. He’d purposefully made that D so no one would know how good he was.
TL closed the file. “I work for the IPNC. Information Protection National Concern. I head up the Specialists, a group of brilliant, talented young men and women.”
What did this man want with him?
“For the past ten years, the IPNC has been following this slave ring. We’ve made a lot of busts, returned numerous boys and girls back to their homes, but we can’t seem to flush out the head of the operation.” TL undid a button on his suit jacket and shifted in his chair. “We were all a little surprised when you popped up on the scene. Russia, China, Venezuela, Sweden. You seem to know how to speak pretty much every language.”
Darren cleared his throat, but continued to remain silent. This was exactly what his mother had warned him about. All people wanted to do was take advantage of his ability. Talon had.
Quietly, TL studied Darren’s face. “Do you know who’s in charge of this slave ring?”
“No,” Darren lied.
“I think you do. Will you tell me, please?”
“I just told you, I don’t know.” Darren kept his gaze steady with TL, trying not to show any emotion.
in charge.” TL raised his brows. “Hm?”
This man knew Darren wasn’t in charge, so he didn’t even bother answering such an outlandish accusation.
Again, TL quietly studied him. Long minutes went by, and Darren kept returning the stare. But . . . this man, TL, wouldn’t blink, wouldn’t swallow, wouldn’t do anything. It was the stillest Darren had ever seen someone be. And it only made him more aware of his own need to blink, to swallow.
More time passed, and with each second, Darren felt, oddly enough, as if he was being pulled into TL’s mind. That TL could read Darren’s own thoughts.
Swallowing, Darren glanced down at his lap, his heart racing with the uncomfortable yet somehow serene air between them.
“Does this person have something over you?” TL quietly asked.
Thoughts of Darren’s mother flooded his memories, and he felt tears press against his eyes. Clenching his jaw, he kept staring at his lap, willing away his urge to cry.
TL reached across and grabbed his shoulder. “Son, I want you to know you can trust me. I’m the good guy.”
No one had ever called Darren “son” before. He lifted his gaze and stared into TL’s intense eyes and knew, without a doubt, that he could trust this man. “His name’s Talon, and he told me if I’d do this for him he’d reunite me with my mother.”
TL nodded, taking it in. “Talon’s an evil man. And evil people don’t keep their word. The reality is that he never intended to reunite you with your mother.”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Darren had known that all along. But holding on to a thread of hope had kept him going, kept him doing what Talon wanted.
“And the truth is,” TL continued, “
have the power to find your mother.”
Hope surged through Darren at those words. Did this man really have the power to find his mother? He probably did if he worked for the government. They had access to all kinds of things Darren never would. But, what did TL want in return?
“In return for her whereabouts, I want you to testify against Talon,” TL said, answering Darren’s unspoken question.
Immediately, Darren shook his head. “No. Not until my mother is safe.”
With a thoughtful sigh, TL propped his elbows on the chair’s armrest. He tapped his fingers together, thinking. “Okay.”
“Okay? You’ll find my mother?” he asked in disbelief.
TL nodded. “Yes, but on one condition.”
“What condition?” Darren asked, his hope slowly slipping away.
“I want you to come work for me.”
Darren paused for a split second and then nodded. “Okay, but I have a condition of my own.”
“I want to bring my horse with me.”
“GiGi,” Bruiser yelled. “Get your butt out here. We’re dying to see you!”
Ignoring my lovable pest of a friend, I slipped a tiny silver hoop through my left earlobe and took a step back. I scrutinized my appearance in the oversize mirror mounted above the sinks.
I went down the list that Cat had taped to the corner of the mirror.
Blond hair, loose. Check.
Clear lip gloss. Check.
Shine-proof powder. Check.
Black eyeliner on the bottom lid. Check.
Low-rise dark-wash jeans. Check.
Black ballet flats. Check.
Black leather belt. Check.
Light blue, snug, sleeveless sweater, not tucked. Check.
Matching bra and thong, the tan set. Check.
Cat and I had argued about the last item. What did it matter what color underwear I wore? I didn’t intend on David seeing it. But Cat insisted it was more of a confidence booster.
Loosening my belt a hole, I took a deep breath. David and I were about to go on our first “official” date. My first date ever.
Was that sad?
Although David did take me to the fair for my sixteenth birthday last year, the night before I got busted by the IPNC. But the fair thing hadn’t been a date. I didn’t even know he liked me back then. His taking me to the fair had all been a setup leading to my arrest. It truly was hard to believe it had all happened nearly a year ago.
It seemed as if we’d been trying to get to this dating point forever. With school, the Specialists missions, bad guys, training, and any number of other things, David and I barely had time to say hello to each other.
I’m exaggerating, of course, but it sure felt like it sometimes.
Wait a minute. Back up. Lip gloss? I ran my finger over my bottom lip. This stuff would totally come off when we kissed. It’d get all over David. He didn’t want slimy lips. No one wanted slimy lips.
I rushed across the tile and wrenched open the door. “Cat, my lip glo—” My kissing issue trailed away as I took in the crowd in our bedroom.
Bruiser rolled off her bed. “It’s about time. I was going gray waiting on you.” She whistled. “Yowza, babe.”
Smiling, I stepped into the room.
Mystic sat on his favorite spot of carpet at the foot of Bruiser’s bed. He always sat there when he hung out in the girls’ room.
He gave me a quick once-over. “I do believe the moon is in the second house and Jupiter’s aligned with Mars.”
“Don’t listen to Psychic Guy. That’s from a song. He’s being a goof. You’re hot.” Bruiser bopped Mystic in the back of the head. “Tell her she’s hot.”
Mystic rubbed his head. “All right, all right. You’re hot.”
Stretched out across her bed, Beaker brought her nose out from her chemistry book. She stopped chomping her gum and playfully smirked her black lipstick-covered lips. “Yeah, you’ll do.”
After all the rockiness between Beaker and me, we’d gained an appreciation of each other. Our mission a month ago to Barracuda Key, Florida, had shown me a side of her I never would have guessed existed. Plus, I’d learned to dig her ever-changing hair. Orange was this week’s color. It matched the gem in her nose and the ones in her dog collar.
And I still found it amazing that she and David were half brother and sister. Which meant if David and I ever got married, Beaker and I would be . . . sisters?