Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
• • •
The cabbie was literally going out of his way to make his fare larger, and it pissed Johnny off, but he said nothing as the man made another turn.
When they pulled up in front of the blue marquee, Plympton, who had been silent the whole way, got out. Johnny handed the cabbie a twenty, letting his hand go furry as the man reached to accept it. He recoiled with a gasp. “Superior to Thirteenth was the shortest way,” Johnny said to the driver, who was cowering against his door. “If you ever drive me again, don’t try to cheat me.” He hurried to catch up with Plympton, who’d already disappeared inside the silver-steel doors.
Inside, the yellow and white checkerboard floors gleamed in the bright lights. The old man was approaching the lockers, checking numbers against the one on the key. When he found it, he stopped and turned, waiting.
To Johnny’s surprise, Plympton offered him the key.
He accepted it, then wondered if the locker might be booby-trapped. Or if Plympton planned to whack him in the head when he was distracted.
. Still, he angled himself slightly away from the
as he slid the key into the lock. Gently, he turned the key and heard the mechanism inside click. Delicately, he opened the door a crack. He did not see any wires or smell anything that made him wary. So he pushed it wider. Plympton moved closer.
Inside lay a key fob, with one key and a paper tag secured to it with a green twist tie. Johnny lifted the key and examined the tag. Written on it in Aurelia’s scripted cursive was:
AKRON-CANTON AIRPORT. Long-term parking. White Nissan Altima.
A license plate number was printed on the tag.
The two men locked gazes. “Looks like we’re a-needin’ another cab.”
Shortly later, a different driver for the same company dropped them at the RTA Flats East Bank station. This one had wisely taken the most direct route to get them there.
Plympton made a comment about Johnny’s “racy-looking vehicle” and grumbled as he climbed into the Maserati’s “low” passenger seat, which explained why they had used the Cadillac Escalade limousine earlier.
Johnny knew it was about an hour’s drive from here to the Lauby Road airport, and about forty-five minutes from there to Red’s, plus the time it took to find and deal with the Altima—it better not send them on to another location. He didn’t have the time to run around
all night. Demeter was on her way. In fact, she should arrive at the farmhouse in an hour. He texted Kirk:
Get an update on the arrival time of the Pittsburgh group for me
By the time they were on I-77, the reply arrived:
ETA 1 hr 23 mins as per their GPS. Took some time 2 reach someone @ Pittsburgh den, have them reply to the request & find 2 wæres 2 take the job, then get them 2 the tattoo parlor 2 pick up the passenger
Johnny texted back:
Good enuf. Thx
So he had to haul ass on the interstate to be able to get to the farmhouse when Demeter did. He locked in the cruise control at 90 mph.
ilo followed Goliath and Menessos across the stage and up. Vinny had followed as well. In the hall outside the theater, three more guards joined them. When they climbed the steps to the first floor there were five guards with thick gloves on their hands waiting for them at the top. With a nod from Goliath, they charged down the hall and barged through a door marked
The next few minutes were a blur of screaming rage from Talto, gloved guards restraining her, and the call for someone to bring smelling salts to rouse the accountant from his stupor.
Ailo was surprised that Menessos and Goliath didn’t immediately jump into questioning the youngest shabbubitu, but their priority was securing the haven’s funds. Everyone here was focused on Talto’s tantrum. Ailo knew if she could slip away, this might be her best chance to abscond with the child.
But dawn was only a few hours away. She would have to find a place to secure both herself and the child for the day . . . a place the Beholders would not discover.
I could call Liyliy. She must have mortals at her disposal . . . she would aid us, and she would have the resources to get us far from here.
But Ailo wasn’t certain she wanted to share the prize with her elder sister.
The guard sent for the medical supplies returned and the accountant was roused. Before he had fully recovered himself, he slid into the seat at the computer, straightened his glasses, and furious typing ensued.
As all this transpired, Talto resisted her captors. She ranted, spewing vile insults, threats, and phrases of hatred at Menessos. “My treachery will never cease, Menessos. I will loathe you for eternity and I will gnaw at you until I taste vengeance!” She jerked loose and launched herself across the room at Ailo. “And you, you bitch!” she cried. “You exposed me! I was only trying to ensure
escape!” The guards recovered Talto, but she jerked one arm free. She slapped her sister hard before she was brought under control again.
Menessos must have had enough of her taunts. He walked over, pushed her head to the side, and bit into her neck. She squirmed and screamed—tearing wider the wound his fangs made. He drank and drank. When she slumped in the arms of the guards holding her, Ailo cried, “Master! Please, show mercy to my sister.”
Snarling, Menessos spun around. His thin beard was covered in blood. In a flash he was before Ailo, his hand wrapping her throat, pressing her to the wall. “What she sought to steal was mine, and it is my right to exact compensation!”
“Yes, Master. Yes,” Ailo pleaded, holding her reddened cheek. “But do not kill her. Please.”
Even as she spoke, the blood he drank affected him. The dark circles under his eyes vanished, his cheeks were no longer sunken. She knew he had gifted the child, but she wondered what else he had done this evening that had drained him so.
He was touching her.
Even as her eyes fluttered shut to search for the answers in their physical contact, he jerked away. “No!” he shouted and raised his hand as if to strike her.
She cowered before him and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. “I helped you!” she blubbered pitifully, her hands defensively raised above her head. “I helped you again!”
Menessos held his pose, rigid, breathing hard, then lowered his arm. “That you did.”
“I’ve almost fixed it,” the accountant said.
Everyone’s attention transferred to him and the computer screen.
With every back turned to her, Ailo eased along the floor and silently exited the room. She headed directly for the suites beyond the theater.
• • •
The gloved guards held Talto as she struggled, and their hands flitted about her body in their efforts to keep her contained. She had to be mindful of the fabric of her dress moving and resituating repeatedly to keep the phone from being discovered.
The anger was so easy to show because it was real. The struggle was easy to make because she didn’t want to be restrained. It was shouting at Ailo that was hard. But Talto knew when the guard’s grip loosened a little that she could break free, that she could fling herself at her sister and scream her condemnation. She knew that would be convincing to the audience at hand.
She did not expect to actually slap Ailo. She thought the guards would pull her back before the attempt succeeded. It hurt her greatly that she was able to get that strike onto her sister’s face.
But it hurt her more to read in that brief touch that Ailo’s concern was only about fleeing and stealing the powerful child. There was nothing in her sister’s thoughts that betrayed a concern for Talto’s plight. In fact, there was a measure of pleasure in it for Ailo.
Talto was subdued again, and she felt as if she was the one who’d been struck.
Then Menessos drank of her.
It weakened her as much as it strengthened him. Her world became hazy, her knees weakened. She heard Ailo beg for mercy. She heard Ailo say she’d helped Menessos again.
Though someone held a compress to her neck, darkness swirled at the edges of her vision. She fought to keep her feet under her, then gave up and let her full weight pull her down in their grip. For several minutes, she heard the chatter of the men like the buzzing of bees. She heard the clack of typing, she heard the accountant triumphantly announce he’d corrected all her attempted thievery.
The ambiance of the room shifted from tense and angry to relieved. The guards patted the accountant on the back. Through the forest of legs that were moving about before her eyes, Talto realized they were all wearing pants. No gray silk.
Ailo’s gone. She left me. She left me here to die in his wrath. She’s taken the girl.
With a scream of anguish she began to sob. “Ailo’s gone,” she said.
Everyone turned to check the room.
“She made me do this,” Talto wept. “She made me
read the accountant. She made me steal from you so there would be a distraction.”
Menessos crouched before her. “Why?”
Talto looked up into his eyes. “So she could steal the girl-child.”
eople say water is crisp and refreshing when they are hot and the liquid is cool. I don’t think I’ve ever been that hot. To me, if a drink has the same adjective as, say, a cracker, something is wrong.
But the water in the goblet Hades gave me hit my tongue like a brittle frost. It was so sweet and so cold at once that it hurt. It seeped through my teeth, infused my tongue. It crackled into my jawbone like magic. And I could feel it moving higher.
“What have you done?”
Hades smiled. “You agreed that I might satisfy myself two ways. You are too suspicious, too
of me, for me to find that satisfaction easily. This”—he indicated the goblet—“will make the transaction smoother for both of us.”
My mind raced. The river. He told the man to fetch the water from the river. “Lethe.”
“You double-crossing bastard.” It was the river of forgetfulness. “This wasn’t part of the deal.” The magic in the water had risen to my temples. It was reaching its arms—no, its tentacles—of static across my cranium, and fingers of fire curled around my eye sockets. I covered my face with my hands. My knees weakened and buckled.
“Don’t take my mind,” I cried. “Not my memories.”
He crouched beside me and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “There’s only about a minute left now. It will be all right. I will care for you.”
He was erasing from my mind all the people I knew and cared for, wiping away what little I knew about being the Lustrata. “You’re stealing who I am!”
“I must be paid, dear Persephone. When I am, I will . . . ” He snapped his fingers and the stone of our deal appeared. He read: “ . . . secure the safety of all those you hold dear, without harming others, and without taking anything from others be they innocent or guilty.” He snapped his fingers and the tablet disappeared. “As promised.”
The world swam before me. I felt like I was floating in a river, bobbing on the surface and feeling the current pulling at my feet. I put my hands down to the ground to steady myself. “They’ll be safe, you swear?” I choked on the words.
I could tell my torso was leaning this way and that. I was trying to tell which way was up, where my balance was, but I kept overcompensating. I widened my arms and dug my fingers into the ground. “What of my destiny?”
His warm hand cupped my chin. It was stabilizing. I was grateful for it and I loathed him for it all at once. “Who am I to interfere in your grand destiny?”
I held on to his promises as parts of my body numbed. Inside my skull, my brain grew cold. Darkness swirled at the edges of my vision. Consciousness, I knew, was leaving me.
“Hecate,” I whispered.
Would I remember Her?
“Hecate cannot help you,” he whispered back. “Our deal is struck.” Hades put his lips to mine and I could not fight, could not speak, could not see.
Despair was the last thing I knew as his kiss pushed me under the surface of Lethe’s oblivion.
ohnny and Plympton arrived at the Akron-Canton Airport shortly before three in the morning. They followed the overhead signs marked
, and cruised up and down the long rows of parked cars, searching for a white Nissan Altima. Halfway down the third row, they found it. Stopping the Maserati behind it, Johnny cut his engine. He had time to peer inside the front and back seats of the car before Plympton managed to maneuver out of the “low” seat and join him.
“The interior seems empty,” he said.
Plympton patted the trunk. “Check here.”
Johnny put the key into the lock and turned it. It clicked and the lid opened slowly. They stood back as it rose by itself. A light inside flashed on.
Inside the trunk sat five plastic cases. Four were black with opaque tops and gray handles, and sized to hold folders and documents. One was red. It sat nearest the bumper and still had stickers on it indicating the price and the case’s features.
“My situation with her is newest,” Johnny said. “I bet this one is mine.” He flipped the latch and opened the top.
Beside him, Plympton pulled one of the black files closer to him and did the same.
Inside the red case were two dozen files with unmarked
tabs. A few in the front sat slightly open and there were pages visible within them. He lifted the front file and glanced through it. It looked like a transcription of his and Toni’s conversation on the way to New York.
The fob was bugged
. He glanced up at the fob dangling off the key that was still in the lock of the raised trunk lid.
“Yup. This one’s mine.” He put the file back and pushed the files around inside the case to see if there was anything like a bug or homing device inside there. Finding none, he relatched the top, searched the exterior and bottom of the case, then removed it and sat it in the backseat of the Maserati.