“Oh, that’s a cute one. You should totally get that for your apartment, Wendy.”
“I don’t think cute is even my thing, though. Not really.”
“It can be. I think it is.”
I gave Sarah a sidelong glance. “Now you’re just messing with me.”
Blood-red lips turned from a line to a smirk. I caught her in the act.
“Guilty as charged,” Sarah said, smiling now.
I couldn’t help but smile, too, even if it felt stupid to do so. My eyes moved back to the art again. The other art.
In front of us, a painting was framed, and the visuals, from the brush strokes to the colors to the shapes those two things formed, it was like they were fighting to break out. The painting wasn’t portraying any particular subject, being more abstract in design. Sharp angles, breaking into fractals, splintering off and going up the canvas like cinders, small and quick dashes of white and yellow against a red backdrop to simulate an intense flare. An angry image, jagged shapes stabbing into the thin, dark blue frame, trying to tear itself free from its bindings. It couldn’t, though, being a still image, forever constrained by the border it was encased in. Anger, but I drew some sadness from the painting, too.
Taking a step back, the whole thing looked like a city on fire.
“You call this cute?” I asked, soaking in the image. “Looks… sad, if anything else.”
“But look here,” Sarah said, pointing to a set of shapes on the lower right corner of the canvas. “Doesn’t it look like a puppy?”
A full stop. I didn’t want to admit that it actually did look like a puppy.
Sarah lightly jabbed me with her elbow. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“You’re… that’s not… shut up. I’m going somewhere else.”
I did just that, moving along from the painting and going to another part of the gallery.
The Mazzucchelli Art Gala. It was an expansive space with wide, white walls and bright lights, the perfect setting to display all the paintings and sculptures and photographs blown up to absurd dimensions, some taking up a whole wall to themselves. The majority of the art presented looked to be more modern stuff, with brighter colors and more abstract approaches to the design and composition and illustration. Very little of the skilled depiction of old people doing old people stuff, which was my initial expectation. I had never been in an art gallery before.
I explored the space, my eyes passing over works that must have taken hundreds of hours of effort to create, and I only gave myself a second to take them all in. But none of them were really catching my eye in the first place. But, I had no reference as to what I, Wendy, liked. What specifically would appeal to me.
Everything looked expensive, I could gather that much.
I stopped at another painting. A smaller canvas than the last one, I could imagine it being set on a wall in my apartment. Maybe as a centerpiece in the living room. Maybe.
It was an easier piece to wrap my head around, too. There was a central subject, for one, and the colors weren’t so… violent to my eyes. They were still bright and vibrant, but there was an order to them, filling in the lines and shapes rather than trying to break and bleed out of them. A face, a woman’s face, smiling wide enough that her teeth was showing, her face peeled back in a way that seemed genuine. Shades of lime green around her eyes suggested makeup, giving her a mature look that I could never hope to match. Pink highlights in her hair and cheeks gave the image more life. Just one girl, with a lot going on and around her, yet she was smiling, she was okay.
I gravitated towards the image. My feet stayed in place, my eyes locked on the painting, not passing it over after a second.
“So this is more to your tastes, then?”
Sarah had followed me, moving back to my side. Returning to it.
I shrugged. “I don’t know if I have any taste, honestly. Haven’t taken the time to stop and look at stuff to develop anything. Like, does this suck? I have no idea if this sucks, and I’d hate to put this up somewhere, and, on the off chance I have people over, they come in and see this and they don’t like so they judge my tastes, judge me.”
“You’re thinking too much about it,” Sarah said.
“I don’t think I think enough,” I said.
“Fair enough.” Sarah took a longer look at the painting. “If it means anything, I like it.”
“Do you really, or only because I might?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. She smiled again. “No, but seriously, you could go for worse. This is a pretty modern style, but it’s not too distracting. I could see it hanging up on a wall somewhere, giving the room some color. I wouldn’t judge you for it. But that’s just me. Whatever you get for your room, I’d love to see it no matter what.”
“My room? If I’m getting anything, it’d be for the living room.”
“Oh. I see. I’d still, I’d still like to see your room, though.”
“Why? I don’t have anything remarkable there.”
Sarah touched my shoulder. Her hand traced down to my forearm. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck spiked up.
“Just… invite me over next time. I can bring some stuff.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Just stuff,” she answered, coy. “It’ll be great. Trust me.”
Something about that begged for more questioning, but I wasn’t here to mess around. I had to get a sense of the gallery, the space, how many people would be going through here at any given moment. John Cruz’s event was in three days, Natalie Beckham and Oliver Morgan were going to attend, and we had a stage to set. We knew ahead of time where everyone was going to be, and we’d use the coming days to prepare and coordinate until we had full control over the situation, until we could pull the strings, with nothing that could come and cut them. To toss in another metaphor, we had a board, and we knew where the pieces would be. Now, we just had to plan our moves, the play we would make.
Sarah, though? That was a different kind of play, one I didn’t have time for. A small but growing part of me wished that I did.
“We can put that for another day,” I said, eyes on the art. “But, not too far off. Hopefully. If that’s alright with you.”
Sarah was smiling. “That’s great with me.”
Then, I took off to another part of the gallery, Sarah following without a word or any other indication from me. I could almost let myself feel okay, because I was starting to get a better picture of what it was I wanted.
We took one more walk around the gallery, making note of any exits, vents, windows, stairs. It was a lot to take in, though getting a more detailed floor plan was in the works. But, until D came back with those, we could spend some time getting a look around. Exploring our options.
The gallery was big enough to hold a lot of people, it definitely didn’t have a shortage of artwork. We had to, at the very least, gauge how many people were going to be in attendance, and see how they and their numbers would factor into our plans. Crowd control, and we had to know how big the crowd was going to be, and who would be in it.
I spotted Lawrence, not wearing a uniform, talking with an elderly man in a nice looking suit. He was getting that information for us.
“You’re closing the gallery in a few days? I wasn’t aware of that. I had plans to bring a date here, so I was checking this place out ahead of time.”
“We appreciate your interests in the arts, sir, but yes, we will have to close our doors to the public, but only for a short time.”
“What’s happening that you’d need to shut everything down? Maintenance?”
The elderly man looked offended at the suggestion that anything had to be maintained. “No. We’re holding a private event for some very important people. More high profile than a date.”
“Oh? That’s cool, then. What kind of event? Who’s going?”
“Beneficiaries to the gallery and donors to Mr. Cruz. He the one who is planning this event together.”
“As in John Cruz, the district attorney?”
The elderly man looked at him again. “Yes. He is inviting some of his biggest backers, the city’s elite, partly in celebration of his recent win with the election, but also to touch base and introduce some legislature and garner some support for it.”
“Lotta big names, it sounds like. Is it going to be packed?”
The elderly man gave him a third, more curious look.
“More people than we normally get when let this gallery be open to the public.”
He managed to spit out that last word, as if a bad taste was left on his tongue as he said it.
Lawrence twitched, and rubbed his cheek with a hand. Did the old guy actually spit on him?
“Good to know,” Lawrence said. “Thank you for explaining the expressionist piece, and for indulging me for the other stuff. I can take it from here.”
“Of course,” the elderly man said. He nodded. “Have a good rest of your day. And best of luck for your… date.”
“Oh, thank you. Yeah, she’ll definitely love all the art here.”
Lawrence walked away before the elderly man could say anything else, acting like another sculpture grabbed his attention. The elderly man looked as if he was going after Lawrence, but someone else asked for him, and his focus was redirected. Lawrence got away.
Sarah and I kept walking around, studying the art, making brief comments about them, until Lawrence bumped into us while we were standing in front of an installation piece. Long threads of different colored rope were tangled into a mass on the floor. I wasn’t sure if it was legitimate art, or if someone, somehow, left a mess behind.
The encounter was completely on accident. Looked like it, anyways.
“Excuse me,” I said.
“No problem.” Then he dropped the act. “They’re expecting a full house.”
“We heard. It’s going to be tight.”
“Real tight. With so many people, there is that much of a chance for everything to get fucked. More people, more factors to account for.”
“If you’re having doubts, we don’t have to do it like this. We have Natalie’s phone number. We can give her a call and lure her and Oliver somewhere else, and get at them that way.”
Lawrence was staring hard at the art piece in front of us, or rather, he was staring past it. His thoughts were somewhere beyond that.
“No. If we try to pull them somewhere else, it might raise their suspicions. They might try something, too, move with precaution. We could try to work around that, but… I think Mrs. Carter gave us this art gallery for a reason. Remember, they’re investigating John Cruz. If we do anything before this event, they, and anyone those reporters talked to or worked with, are going to start asking questions of their own, many of them directed to Cruz. If we do something during, though…”
“It would be harder for anyone make a connection,” I said. “No, yeah, you’re right about that.”
“With enough smoke and mirrors, we can blur the lines, put the devil in the details, and hide you in them.”
“That was a lot of phrases in a short amount of time,” Sarah said.
“Hush,” Lawrence said. “The point is, we’ll use this space, and the insurance is just that, a last resort. But we make sure we can pull this off, without a hitch, because that would look a lot more impressive to those who know what to look for.”
“You really want to have a seat at that table,” I observed.
“And you don’t? This is everything we’ve been working towards, Wendy. Most gangs never get a chance to move up, to expand their operations. And we’ve been doing that on our own, with no sponsors, and we’ve been doing it fast. Mrs. Carter was right, there have been a ton of changes happening in the city, especially once you came onto the scene. And now, the Fangs are an embodiment of that. Donnie’s gang, too, if Styx hadn’t… slammed him through multiple tables.”
Lawrence paused. He reached into a pocket. A small bottle. He popped another pill. Lawrence massaged a shoulder, grunting, before he could talk again.
“What I’m trying to say, is that we have a chance to be the real face of that change. Represent it. And if we can do that, our seat suddenly becomes worth a lot more. Because change will keep coming, and with it, a lot of power.”
That stab of guilt again, this time through the heart.
“Change,” I said, at the appropriate volume for an art gallery. “Yeah. You’re not wrong about that.”
Lawrence reached into his pocket again. His phone, this time. He raised it, and took a photo.
“D just texted. She’s secured the floor plans.”
“I can go get the van and go around the back for her,” Sarah said. “I’ll pick you two up afterwards?”
“Do that,” Lawrence said, putting his phone back. “Best if we leave separately.”
“Okay. I’ll be right back, Wendy.”
Sarah touched my arm again, then left to go get D.
I had my reservations on leaving D to her own devices again, and so soon, especially considering the last time we had asked her to go off and do something, she didn’t. It was part of the reason why I wanted Sarah to come along with us this time, so we could have someone watch D when we couldn’t. Not a matter of distrust, just accountability. But, D really wanted to set things straight with us, with Lawrence, and D was the only person we had available who could tackle this job, and after texting Lawrence, she proved herself again.
Sarah left to go get D. I could still feel where she had touched my arm.
I rubbed my arm.
“When you said ‘date,’ who were you thinking of bringing?”
Lawrence didn’t answer right away, and when I looked for him, he had already started to walk elsewhere, having only stopped because I had spoken up. He was facing me, half-turned.
“Date?” he asked. It didn’t sound like a word when he repeated it back.
I frowned a bit. “You won’t be able to go around by yourself, you’ll need someone with you, to give some more cover, make it more, uh, believable.”
Lawrence turned back.
“Are you going to be mad if I ask Sarah?”
That was blunt. I threw me off, made me take longer to formulate a response.
Lawrence spoke up before I could.
“Look, Wendy, sometimes I forget you’re only a teenager, so believe me when I tell you that… I don’t give a shit. Seriously. Outside of this, the job, you can do whatever or whoever you want. Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll probably need to ask Sarah if she’s up for it. It was bad enough that you had to share my last name when we went to the Lunar Tower. I wouldn’t entirely hate it if you were joining me instead, but again, you’re closer in age to D than you are to me, so, no. And, besides, I’ll need you elsewhere.”
“That wasn’t… that wasn’t what I was getting at,” I lied.
“Sure it wasn’t,” Lawrence said. He turned back. “I’m heading out first. Give it five more minutes, and then you can leave. Tonight-”
“Tonight,” I said. “Yeah. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“Cool.” Lawrence paused. “You’ve been doing good, lately. Keep it up.”
I wasn’t used to hearing that from Lawrence. Maybe there was more change going on that I had thought.
I gave him a victory sign with my fingers.
“Will do,” I said.
Lawrence was already walking away, leaving the gallery. He wasn’t used to giving out praise.
Then, I was by myself. Alone. Something I wasn’t unfamiliar with, but I didn’t miss it, either.
Five minutes. I waited, my thoughts more tangled than the art piece in front of me. I rubbed my arm again.
D bumped into my shoulder. I had to put my hands back down for balance, or else I would have tumbled over the roof and onto the cold, slick cement.
“Watch where you’re going,” I warned, more for her than for me. If I fell, I would have been able to walk away just fine. D… wouldn’t be as lucky.
D repositioned herself so she was perched over the edge of the building. She sat, instead, setting her butt down and letting her legs dangle freely. We were several stories up, watching people as they went about their business, maneuvering through hallways with wide windows, going through the doors at the front of the building. More left than they entered, which would make sense, given the late hour. As the police started to clock out, we were getting ready to start.
The Pupil. It was a nickname for the new police headquarters that was built a couple years ago. Housing the newest equipment and technology for forensics and other criminal investigations. One of the biggest and most expensive tool boxes the Stephenville Police Department had at their disposal, and we were going to get a chance to play with those tools ourselves.
The building itself wasn’t that big, the old police headquarters was more impressive in scope, but it was the Pupil that had all the good stuff.
“So this is where you tracked your texts to Tone?”
“Yes. Right there. That place. Over yonder. The building you’re pointing to right now.”
“I’m not pointing at anything,” I said.
D made a squeaking noise, then coughed. Her legs knocked together as the breeze kicked up some more. We were high up, after all.
“You sure you’re up for this, D? We still have a few days left, we can give this another night.”
D crossed her legs so the constant knocking wouldn’t bother her.
“It’s fine,” she said. “It’s better we get this done now so we can concentrate on other stuff later. Once we start finalizing the details of what we’re going to do for the art gallery, it’ll be harder to walk away to tackle a side thing.”
“A side thing,” I said. “If we can track Natalie Beckham now, that’ll save us a hell of a lot of trouble. Lawrence might want to put on a show for Mrs. Carter, but I’d prefer we actually get this done rather than try to look good while doing it, then failing. And if nothing else, we have that much more insurance.”
D shuffled next to me. She leaned in, then forward, her hands gripping the edge. She leaned so much that it scared me. Her bangs fell to the front of her face.
I reached and pulled her back, hard. Harder than I’d needed, because she fell and landed on her back, facing the sky. But she had tested her balance too far for my comfort. I reacted like any sister would.
“D, what the hell?” I said, admonishing her, like any sister would. “I know it’s late, but you need to stay alert.”
D stared at the sky, dark clouds in her eyes. The rain had finally taken a break, but from the expression on D’s face, it looked like the water might start falling again.
“If I fell, no one would miss me. It used to be like that for the longest time.”
There was no life in her words. Hollow. It scared me in a different kind of way.
“What are you saying?”
“But now, it’s not like that anymore. It’s not easy. There are too many things that keep me here. So many that it would start to slow my fall, now. El-Boy, you…”
D’s mouth was hanging open, like she was going to say another name. She didn’t. She did, however, keep going.
“If I fall, it wouldn’t be easy, or quick, or painless. I’d break first, and collapse there. Hurting. Cold, getting colder until the hurting stopped. But it would be like that for the longest time.”
“D,” I said, unsure of what to make of this or where it was coming from. It seemed like a tender, raw topic, because it was, but I wasn’t prepared or even equipped to handle something like this. It wasn’t what I came here to do. But it was the most important thing now.
“D,” I said again, still unsure but with a conviction I thought we both needed to hear. “If you ever fall, I’m going to catch you. And that’s not a promise. That’s what will happen.”
D blinked. Her face contorted into an expression I didn’t want to look at. It wasn’t the D I had come to know.
Rain started again, falling down the side of her face. Her cheeks.
“Come on,” I said, putting a hand on hers. She didn’t grab it, but she did let me intertwine our fingers. “We’ll both get soaked if we stay out here.”
She accepted my tug as a gesture to get back up. We both moved, getting to our feet, and into position. I shifted so I could balance on a knee. D was behind me, her arms wrapped around my shoulders, her hands close to my neck.
“I’m sorry,” D said. She hopped onto my back, holding on with a tight grip. Her full weight was on me, but I had the strength to support her.
I remembered what Sarah had said. D wasn’t an asset. She was just a kid. A kid in a world of mobsters and monsters. Of Styx and me. This was no place for kid, yet she was here, having her fun, before I had ever even become aware of it.
It should have occurred to me much sooner then, that it wouldn’t always be fun and games. Like with powers, being super, it allowed for higher reaches, to scale taller heights. But the inverse was the same, as well. The valleys were much lower, the shadows more deep and more dark. D was just as super as I was, but in a different but still very real way.
I had to keep that in mind. Another thing to keep in mind. The gang, Mister, what I really was, Sarah… That list kept growing. I could see the cracks starting to form. The doubts, as they took deeper roots.
“You’ve apologized enough. You don’t have anything to be sorry about anymore,” I said. “Now hold tight, it might get slippery. Are we good to go?”
D’s head bumped into mine as she looked ahead. “We are.”
I took a leap. It was enough to get me moving.
Wind blew into my face, and I could feel how it made my mask cold, how it flapped my hood into my ears, knocking out any other sound. It was soothing, to have one of my senses dulled like this, in a way that didn’t put me on alert or on edge. I could focus on other things, rely on other sense, putting me in a more level, meditative mood. A flow I could get into to just take me to where I needed to go, without worries or doubts to bog me down. D was on my back, or rather she had it, giving me an anchor so I didn’t lose myself completely.
The leap took us across the street, across the roof of an office building. Then, the old police headquarters. It was a larger building, so it was a longer distance to cross. I crossed it in only a few steps, the strength of each individual stride getting me there rather than speed. We weren’t in a rush, and I wasn’t trying to make D sick.
I could recalled the time I had met with Gomez, here. I had asked for his assistance in helping me find Benny. He refused, and I met with D and Lawrence soon after. Now, he was hardly a consideration, a factor in our plans. If he was still in his office, it didn’t matter, and he wouldn’t ever know that we were here.
More roofs, alleys and streets, until we made it over to the Pupil. Funny, that we were about to break into a place with that name, undetected.
My feet hit the roof, a firm impact. I stopped to lower myself and set D down. No one else around.
D got a move on.
“Through there,” she said, pointing. She indicated a roof access door.
“How hard are we expecting this to be?” I asked.
“Not hard at all. I did this by myself, last time, and that was in the middle of the day. But now that you’re here, and so is the moon, this should be a walk in the park.”
I didn’t comment on her choice of words, there, but if she was willing to make a joke, I wouldn’t begrudge her of that.
“Alright,” I said. I grabbed her hand and took the lead. “You still have to stay close. Let’s not take any chances.”
We took to the door, finding it unlocked. We descended down some stairs, until we reached a corner, leading into a short hallway. Harsh lights hit my eyes, harsh only because they took away any cover I could have used. We were out in the open, immediately spotted should someone be unlucky enough to make the wrong turn.
D went first, peeking her head into the hall, checking both sides. She jogged to the left.
“No one’s around, here!”
I dashed out into the hallway after her. I still had to keep an eye on her.
She stuck to one side of the hall, as far away from the windows as possible. I followed suit, staying close and staying low.
We didn’t have to go far to get where our destination. D stopped at a metal door, while pulling her hand out of her bomber jacket. She had a keycard in hand.
“And there we go,” she whispered, pleased with herself as she swiped the card into the reader by the door. A light by the reader turned green, and metal locks tumbled out of place, allowing us in.
D pulled the door open for me. This time, I went through first.
The room was dark. A lab, upon closer inspection. Devices and machines sat there, quiet, with only the soft whirring of a computer or the occasional beeping lights of some equipment I wasn’t familiar with and definitely didn’t want to touch. I’d let D handle that part.
I saw some microscopes, boxes that were labeled for test tube storage. I could probably use a place like this to study my own blood or something.
“All clear,” I called out. Had to keep moving. D let the door shut behind her, following me into the lab. She immediately passed me, heading elsewhere. She knew where she was going.
D pushed a chair from one table to another, letting it roll over. She plopped herself into the seat, pulling the lever adjust the height. The chair lifted her up more, her feet leaving the floor, and I didn’t think that was her intention. She swiveled around in an attempt to move closer, but all she did was spin in place.
I pushed her the rest of the way.
“Thanks,” she said, getting right to work. She moved herself over to a computer, moving the mouse, the screen waking up. A green flash hit us in the face, and the rest of the lab behind us, with it being the only source of light. I checked behind us. There weren’t any windows peeking into the halls on the opposite side of these walls, so we were still good.
Good, in the sense that we hadn’t gotten caught. Breaking into a police headquarters and using their very expensive equipment without any permission was absolutely outside of anything that could be considered good.
The screen displayed fields for usernames and passwords. Every tapped key clacked as D filled them both in. She logged in without any issue.
“I’m… I’m in,” D said. “You have the number?”
I slipped my hand into the side of my bag I had strapped to my back. Part of my costume. I got the slip of paper with Natalie’s number on it. I gave it to D.
D was clicking through folders, as she said, “Could you… keep a lookout for me? I can handle this part from here.”
“I told Lawrence that I’d keep an eye on you. I can’t do that if I’m not… looking at you,” I said. “That came out weird.”
“I’ll be right here,” D said, hurried. “It’s not like I can go anywhere else. Come on Vivi, pleeease.”
She was pleading with me, but she was using that higher register tone that I was familiar with. I didn’t hate having to hear it.
“Alright, You win,” I said. I turned to go to the other end of the lab, where we had come in from. “You better behave yourself!”
“I, I will!”
I took her at her word. I had no other choice.
I moved into position, crouching by the metal doors that let us in here. D was right, I wouldn’t be much of help to her, not with the technical side of things. But if anyone were to wander in here, I could work to subdue them.
Which made me wonder how D managed to assist me with finding Tone and our passengers when they were taken by the cult. It was the middle of the day. How did she not get caught?
“D?” I called out. I had to keep myself hushed, but she was still able to hear me.
“How’d you get in here the first time?”
“It definitely wasn’t easy. I had to sneak into the back instead, the roof would be impossible to get to by myself. At first, I was a teensy bit nervous because I could’ve ran into a officer I pulled a prank on once before so that was really scary but it turned the few I ran into thought I was just some lost kid so I’d ask where the nearest restroom was so then I just ping-ponged my way down different halls and restroom until I got to where I needed to go. Just like that!”
“Right,” I said. “Just like that.”
“Why, that wasn’t believable enough for you?”
“No, it was, I mean I don’t have any real reason not to believe that.”
“Oh. Okay. Cool.”
This was more of what I was used to. D being weird, me accepting that weirdness and going along with it anyways. Familiar, routine even.
And of I could keep her talking, I could keep tabs on her, even from here.
“D,” I said, reaching for her voice. Not because I needed to hear it, but because she needed to hear mine.
“Do you like… doing this?”
“Doing what, you need to be more specific.”
“This, D, the gang stuff, leading one. I know you’ve been playing around in this world for some time now, but I’m guessing you never had a direct hand in things, not like how we have it now. I was just curious, now that you’ve had time doing both, if you do prefer being on your own or not.”
No answer, not immediately. Just the clacking of keys. Clicks.
“It can be fun. It has been fun. It’s been getting a little harder to find that fun, though.”
“It can’t always be like that,” I told her. “We’re in a position that requires us to get work done. There might be some fun to be found during that, but a lot of it is just that. Work.”
“I know that. I’m just not…”
“I’m not very used to it.”
“You’ve been doing pretty well so far, better than me.”
“But we both know this won’t last forever. And I don’t want Lawrence to hate me, because I like him. And I like you too, Vivi.”
This wouldn’t last forever. We both knew that. D was feeling that guilt, as well. Lawrence.
“And I like you, D, that won’t ever change. Can’t speak for Lawrence though.”
That part was mostly a joke. Mostly.
“We’re doing this so we can get to that table. If you want to rethink what we do when we get there, we can do that then.”
“Like how we’re putting off what we’ll do to Natalie and Oli when we get to them?”
No answer. Not immediately. I let the question hang.
“We can’t kill them, Wendy,” D said. “We can’t.”
“We have a job to do,” I answered. “Let’s focus on that.”
“Oh,” D then said, in a way that suggested a change in topic. I took it.
I went back to D. She was still at the computer, still typing. I watched as she scrolled down on some program.
“The number, all I’m getting from it is an address.”
“An address? You can’t text the number and see where it leads from here?”
“I…” D started, then she lifted her phone to show me the screen. A message log with only one text. “I sent a test one that looks like a spam message, but nothing. I don’t want to send more or else it’ll look too sketchy.”
“Why isn’t it working this time?”
D tugged at her choker, then moved her mouse again. She closed the program.
“I don’t know. Could be a glitch, or, with it being so late the system might be doing some background maintenance. I don’t know.”
“Do you have time to restart it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe? I took a picture of the address, so maybe-”
The one time I turned away from the door, it opened.
I grabbed D and yanked her out of the chair, scurrying to hide under a nearby table. I pushed her head lower so she wouldn’t get clipped by the corner of the table as we rushed.
“Ow, my head still hurts,” D whined.
The metal door made a lot of noise as it opened, and we were able to use that brief moment as cover. The rolling chair had banged on the side of the desk D was using when I grabbed her, but the intruder didn’t seem to hear it.
Then, the door closed, the same noises again, and I used that to get lower and push the tangle of wires out of the way so I could peek through. I saw legs.
From the angle we were at, the desk and the door, there had been enough equipment to block their view of us as they entered. From how they were walking, they didn’t seem alarmed.
They were, however, walking over to where we had been, seconds ago.
“I’m back in, but I can’t take too long.”
Talking, but not to us. It sounded like a man, a voice I’d heard before.
“I’ll see if there’s anything else I can find on him.”
It’s James Gomez.
I exchanged a glance with D. That was enough to confirm it.
What was he doing here?
He continued to talk to no one. He had to be on the phone, then. He didn’t turn the lights on as he came in, was he trying to sneak in as well?
What the hell is he doing here?
“Hold on, let me… No, it’s nothing. It’s this damn chair. I think someone was just in here. Close call.”
I held my breath. From how still D went, so did she.
James Gomez was in here, in this lab. We weren’t supposed to be in here, and from what I could gather and guess, neither was he. Which only made me repeat the question in my head a third time. What was James Gomez doing here?
We were in the dark, hiding in the shadows. He didn’t know we were in here. If we stayed long enough, me might be able to find out what Gomez was after.
D tugged at my arm.
Careful with my movements, so I wouldn’t bump into anything and make sound, I shifted to look at her.
D pointed to the door, stabbing a finger in its direction.
She wanted to leave? Now?
It was a risk, sticking around. But if Gomez was up to something, it wasn’t a bad idea to learn what that might be.
D kept pointing to the door, bumping into me to nudge me forward. I hesitated.
“Give me a second, I’m not really familiar with the system. And… there. What did you want me to cross-reference again?”
I hesitated for too long, apparently. D burst out from the underneath the table, sprinting to the door.
Panicked, I got out from the cover, going after her.
The door wasn’t that far, D was already opening it, pushing all her weight into her shoulder to open it faster. I caught up with her as soon as she slipped through the crack, the light.
Not my voice.
I picked D up as I kept running, throwing her over my shoulder. It wasn’t a comfortable position for her to be in, but she left me with little choice.
A corner, then the stairs to the roof. We weren’t that far.
A cop that looked vaguely familiar. Young, caucasian. Maybe someone I had acquainted myself with in a previous life. Was he on lookout for Gomez?
He was standing between us and the stairs. Just one cop, and we were free.
I was running fast, his reaction was one of surprise, but delayed compared to my speed. I reached out with my hand.
No time to go for a knife. I swiped at him.
I aimed for his collarbone. Under his uniform, I felt as the bone shifted, depressing into a lower position, into his body.
The man winced, the pain sudden and too debilitating, and he folded over, letting us go free.
Still not my voice.
We were up the steps and out the door in a flash. The door almost flung from the hinges from how hard I pushed it.
I turned, jumping. To the other side of the access door. I set D on her feet. She gripped her stomach. She looked nauseous.
“D,” I said, stern, “Now that I don’t like-”
“This was just a side thing,” D snapped, “We didn’t get want we wanted but I did get an address, that might work, but we’re still on track for the art gallery. Now hurry, or Uncle J is gonna catch up to us!”
I couldn’t argue with that. I wondered if she was purposefully not giving me room to argue.
Silent, I put D onto my back, and took off into the night, escaping. The weight on me felt different, now. Less of an anchor, and more of an overall sinking feeling.