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CHAPTER 11

Margrits cell phone trumpeted the William Tell Overture, startling her into a flinch and earning a shift of surprise from Janx. Habit drove her to her feet as she searched her purse for the phone, and sent her walking a few feet away, as though doing so would render Janx incapable of hearing her.

I wouldnt, if I were you. If youre getting reception, youll probably want to stay exactly where you were. Janx nodded to the chair shed abandoned and Margrit came back to it, thumbing the phone on.

Her mothers voice, distorted with static, came through. Margrit put a finger against her opposite ear, trying to hear better, then muttered a curse as the connection dropped entirely. It never rains but it pours. If I dont call her back, shell think something terrible has happened. Can you show me the way out of here?

I can, Janx admitted languidly. Whether I will

Well, your other option is keeping me locked up like Bluebeards wife.

Like Beauty, I should think. Janx collected Maliks cane and pushed to his feet, still more stiffly than she was accustomed to. Are you certain you have to go now? We were doing so well.

Youve met my mother. The grapevines probably told her I wasnt at the trial this morning, and she knows the only thing that would keep me away would be dismemberment or death.

Janx gestured at her. At least you look the part.

Margrit looked at herself again and groaned. I hope I have time to get home and shower before she sees me.

I could come along, Janx offered hopefully. Distract her.

Absolutely not.

I can be very distracting, he promised.

Despite herself, Margrit laughed. Yes, you can be, but you may not be. Just tell me how to get out of here before Mom uproots half of Manhattan trying to find me.

Allow me to escort you, at least. Grace prefers not to have random interlopers wandering her tunnels.

Thats another reason it wouldnt hurt for you to move on. This is her territory. Margrit took the dragonlords elbow when he offered it, matching her pace to his unusually slow one. Hed made deliberate haste in leaving the warehouse, had moved then with all his customary beauty, and now, she thought, he was paying for that arrogant performance.

So concerned with territory and belonging. Are you like this in all aspects of your life, or just when it comes to us?

I think its just you. Margrit frowned down the tunnel, trying to recognize features. The battles I fight arent usually about territory. Theyre about money or power or passion. Its just with you that land wars come into the equation. Grace has worked hard to make a safe place for those kids down here. You and what you do are the exact opposite of what shes trying to achieve.

You could always ask me a favor. Janxs voice was too light, as though the question was a test. I do believe I still owe you one.

Margrit paused, drawing him to a stop, and studied him. One, she said slowly. You owe me the one we agreed on. Then again, I very likely saved your life this morning, Janx. That makes two favors you owe me, and if Ive learned nothing else, Ive learned that the Old Races count coup. You couldve told me how to deal with Albans trial as a balance to the attack this morning, but you handed that over for free. For my Grace, she echoed softly. What would you do, dragonlord? What would you do if I asked you to leave Graces tunnels, to leave New York, in exchange for your life?

Janxs jade eyes grew paler and cooler as she spoke, and when he replied, it was less with anger than a mark of respect Margrit thought she had only just earned. I wouldnt have expected you to call in that marker, my dear. I find myself caught between awe and dismay. Do you really believe my position here can be traded away so easily?

You wouldnt be dismayed, Margrit said, if it couldnt. So now I have my answer.

Janxs lips curled, showing teeth. Youve learned too well for my tastes, Margrit Knight. This is your exit. He stopped shortly, making a gesture of fluid chagrin. Margrit put a palm against the ladder hed brought her to, glancing up, then pulled herself onto the first rungs before looking back.

I havent asked.

No. Janxs expression turned dour. You havent asked yet.

Margrits cell phone rang again as she reached street level. It was midafternoon, a deceptive amount of time having passed with Janx in the unchanging light below the streets. She took a breath and held it, then, hoping her voice would sound normal, answered with a cheerful, Hi, Mom.

Margrit Elizabeth, what on earth is going on? Ive been trying to call you all morning. Are you all right? Why arent you in court? What were you doing in Harlem this morning?

Margrits eyebrows shot up so hard she rubbed her forehead, feeling like shed sprained something. Who told you that?

Tony called me.

Tony called you? Margrit couldnt put enough emphasis on the words and fought off the urge to repeat them with the stress on a different one each time. Anthony Pulcella and Rebecca Knight had suffered a kind of long-running standoff in the years he and Margrit had dated. Disapproval went too far, but for Rebecca, Margrits decision to date a man not of her own ethnic background was as much a political statement as a romantic one. Rebeccas capitulation, only two weeks earlier, had coincided perfectly with Margrit and Tonys breakup, though in her mothers defense, Rebecca hadnt known that when shed finally given up the fight. Still, Tony calling Rebecca was well outside Margrits expectations. Whatd he do that for?

Hes worried about you, Margrit. So am I. He said he saw you leaving the site of the dockside fire this morning. Did he?

Margrit found herself staring sightlessly down the street, humans and vehicles a blur against the backdrop of tall buildings. She heard her own thought distantly: humans and vehicles. Not people, but humans. Some morning she was going to wake up and not quite recognize herself anymore. Maybe this morning, in fact, though she hadnt been to bed and therefore morning hadnt been properly introduced. The recollection made her yawn and heated her eyes with tears, helping her shake off her stupor. Mother, what would I be doing at the docks?

I dont know, Margrit. What would you be doing not in court today?

Trying to stop the mess at the docks, Margrit said, more honest than wise. Tony was right. I was there. Im fine, though, so dont worry.

Dont worry? Margrit, how can I not worry? Your behavior has been erratic since Russell died. I dont want to pressure you, sweetheart, but I think you should talk to someone.

I talk to people all the time, Mom, Margrit said, a smile starting, and then the expression was choked off in a burst of absurdity bordering on offense. You mean, a psychiatrist?

I was thinking a psychologist. You dont seem to be depressed, but someone to talk to about this sudden decision to change careers and going to work for Eliseo Daisani, of all people, and missing court dates, and this delusion of being able to stop fighting and striking workers at the docks

Mom. Mom! Mother! Im fine, Mom. I really am. Look, Im working on something bigger than I am, and thats all I can tell you. I know it seems as if Ive been acting strangely lately

Seems?

Margrit blew her cheeks out. All right, I have been. But I have reasons, and if I ever can, Ill tell you. Okay? She bared her teeth as she recognized the promise as one shed given Tony too many times. Im sorry I cant tell you now, she added more quietly. I wish I could. But Im being as careful as I can be, and everythings going to be all right. She sounded confident and reassuring to her own ears, and hoped that her mother, at least, would believe it.

Margrit, does this have anything to do Rebecca fell silent a long moment, then let go a quiet breath. Never mind.

It does. Margrit swallowed, hoping shed interpreted her mothers unasked question correctly. Rebecca Knight had twice seenor experiencedDaisanis inhumanly fast ability to move. Unlike Margrit, she seemed reluctant to pursue the how behind his talent, even when she owed her life to it. That she and her mother lay on opposite sides of such a narrow divide made Margrits chest ache with loneliness. Mom

I see. Rebeccas voice turned to a professional briskness that told Margrit shed once again lost the moment to pursue a thread of connection between them. Please be very careful, sweetheart. Ill tell your father I spoke to you today. We both love you.

I love you, too. Margrit folded her phone closed and directed a frustrated glare at the street, as though somewhere below, Janx would feel its heat. If I havent made my choice, Id like to know what the hell else this is.

The consequence of living, an auburn-haired woman replied as she brushed past. Margrit blinked and the woman threw a bright smile over her shoulder. Never could resist a rhetorical question. She disappeared into the crowd, leaving Margrit still blinking after her.

Tony Pulcella was waiting on her doorstep when she got home.

Margrit slowed halfway up the block, unexpected cheer from the womans comment fading as she saw the detective. There was nothing she could say that would satisfy him. For a moment she looked around for an escape route, but by the time she looked back, hed seen her and was rising to dust off his pants. Margrit sighed and joined him, itchingly aware she was still grimy from the encounter at the warehouse.

Tony looked exhausted, though he was cleaner than Margrit. For a moment they stood there looking at one another, before Margrit shrugged and tilted her head at the buildings front door. Want to come up?

He nodded silently and Margrit opened the door, and, out of consideration for his weariness, took the elevator to the fifth floor, neither of them speaking until theyd entered Margrits apartment. Then Tony said, Youre okay, and, You know where he is, as though the two commentsnot, Margrit noticed, questionswere related.

Im fine. You look like hell. Margrit toed her shoes off and padded into the kitchen to open the fridge so she could offer Tony a Coke. He accepted and drained it without speaking, then turned an expectant gaze back onto Margrit, who shrugged and addressed the other half of what hed said. I know hes down below the city. I doubt I could find where hes staying. Im not much help there. Sorry.

How longve you known?

This is the first time Ive seen him since you raided the House. Both true and evasive, the same kind of answer shed been giving Tony since shed first encountered the Old Races. Hed been more than right to make a final break in their relationship. Margrit released her hair from its bonds and scratched her hands through it.

So what were you doing there this morning?

Cara Delaney was hurt in a fight down there yesterday. She asked me to go reassure her people. I had no idea Janx would be there. That, at least, was true.

And you left with him because?

The corner of Margrits mouth turned up. Because I didnt want to sit through the third degree, I guess. She hesitated, then admitted, Because I figured youd cover for me.

So you did see me. Neither surprise nor anger colored Tonys voice, cool professionalism in place instead. Regardless, recrimination stung Margrit as she nodded. I thought you had. Youre right. I did cover for you. Maybe you can tell me why.

Margrit drew breath to answer and Tony held up a palm, stopping her. Better yet, maybe you can tell me why damned near every security camera weve found dockside is fritzed out and why on the handful that arent, the images are smeared.

Smeared?

Like in the cameras from the Blue Room.

Oh. Vivid memory played up as though she watched the videos again. Pixels had stretched and distorted behind Alban, making shadows when nothing was there. Only later had she realized that the camera had picked up some hint of Albans true shape, and that she had been looking at his obscured wings. Janx would presumably generate such a blur of raw pixels that the man at their center would be rendered completely invisible. Then curiosity straightened her spine. Daisani did regular television interviews, and Kaimana Kaaiai had been filmed, neither of them with the distortion shed seen in the dance-club camera recordings. She would have to ask the vampire how that was. Maybe something to do with converted mass. Though shed only seen a baby selkie transform, Deirdre Delaneys size had seemed comparable in both shapes. Perhaps vampires and selkies had less to hide, so to speak.

You going to share that thought with me? Tony folded his arms over his chest, brown eyes dark with anticipation of disappointment. Margrits answer caught in her throat and Tonys expression shuttered further. You said al-Massri could disrupt electronics, Grit.

Margrit tilted her head back, swallowed and reversed her gaze. He could. He had one of those weird electric fields you read about. He fritzed my cell phone out.

Thats not what you said.

Oh, come on, Tony, I said a lot of crap that night. I was upset. In frustration on both her own behalf and Tonys, shed laid out the alliances and natures of a group of gathered Old Races amongst whom she and Tony had been the only humans. That every word shed spoken had been true made no difference in Tonys ability to believe her.

Tony shook his head. You think fast, Grit, and I know youre a good liar. But youve never made things up.

Margrit eyed him. Isnt that what lying is?

Sour humor quirked his mouth. Technically, yeah, but Im talking about the kinds of things you said that night. Dragons and vampires. Thats not the kind of lying you do.

Alarm rooted Margrit to the floor, making her feel heavy. Tony was right: it wasnt the kind of story she told, but shed never dreamed he might invest himself in considering that. Pursuing what shed said in a moments heat could far too easily cost the detective his life. So I was telling the truth? Tony, that puts at least one of us up for some new and exciting kind of lunacy charges.

Does it? He studied her for long moments, eyebrows drawn down before he sighed, shrugged and looked away. I guess it does. But theres something wrong when you spouting fairy tales is the only way to make sense of anything, Grit. I want to know whats going on, and youre the only piece Ive got access to.

So why arent you arresting me for obstruction of justice?

Tonys mouth soured further. Because youre about to go work for Eliseo Daisani and theres no point. Hed get you walked out of there and the stupid son of a bitch who walked you in would be busted to traffic duty for the rest of his career.

I wouldnt let him do that.

You volunteering to be arrested?

Margrit ducked her head. Not when you put it that way.

So help me out here. Anything. Theres got to be something.

Nothing thats going to help you understand. Margrit pressed her lips together. But if things havent settled down at the docks in forty-eight hours, Ill give you everything you need to settle it yourself.

Tension lanced through the detective, bringing him to attention. Like you handed me Janxs bust?

Margrit wrinkled her face, unwilling to argue her place in the House of Cardss downfall. A little like that.

If you can do that, Grit, why not do it now? Why wait another two days? People are getting killed out there.

Because I made a promise. Margrit winced again, far too aware of how little weight her promises carried with Tony now. Its the best I can do.

Tony, jaw knotted, turned toward the door. Fine. Two days. Just remember, any deaths between now and then are on your head.


CHAPTER 10 | Hands of Flame | CHAPTER 12