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“I want out. That’s all I want. Just that.”
“And I want the power back on in the city five minutes ago,” Brigid said, giving the strange young man a grim smile. “We don’t always get what we want. Put the gun on the floor, slow.”
There was a part of her that didn’t expect him to comply and he didn’t disappoint her. His nose wrinkled as he answered. “I’ve got nothing to do with the power going out. That’s an unfair accusation.”
“I didn’t say that you did. Put the gun on the floor. Slow.”
“Listen, lady, I don’t have the first clue who you are and like you said, I pretty much saved at least one of your guys. So you owe me, right? Do me a solid and step aside, okay? I just want to go.” He gave her a smile that she was sure had sapped the will of many a girl—hell, probably many a teacher, parent, other authority figures.
She wasn’t buying it.
“Can’t do it,” Brigid said. I couldn’t even if I wanted to at this point—not that I want to. This is all too strange. “There’s too many people behind me and I don’t know who you are. All I know is that you managed to duck into a secure area—an area, I might add, that was being cordoned off by the Chicago PD and patrolled by my people. You’re too big of a wild card for me to just let waltz out there.”
“Then I won’t waltz,” he said. “I don’t waltz anyway. I’ll tango. Or foxtrot.”
Brigid barely suppressed a snort, not quite sure if he was mocking her or trying to win her over. Or maybe distract me from the fact that he still hasn’t put the damn gun down. “Cute. Put the gun down, please.” She studied him for a moment, her aim unwavering. “You’re not freaking out about what you saw in there, which makes me think you’ve seen shit like that before.”
“You’re a blank spot,” he fired back. “Makes me think you’re like me. And I’m not too far removed from the thing in there. I should be expressing the same interest in you, but I’m choosing not to.”
“Yeah, well, I’m guessing it’s not your job. For the record, I have no idea what you are, but from what you’re saving about me being a blank spot, I’ll guess some flavor of psychic something. That’s what they tell me I feel like.”
He seemed to consider that for a moment, eyes gleaming in the dim. They were pale, she noticed, lighter than most, almost eerie. “The way you move, I’m guessing government.”
Sharp. One corner of her mouth twitched. She killed the smile before it could bloom. “Go on.”
“Here’s the thing. I really can’t afford to be taken in by you,” the young man said, shifting his stance slightly—non-threatening, but shifting nonetheless. “There are people that will find out. Honestly, it’s better if you shoot me because then at least I’ll be too busy being in the hospital or dead to notice right away and you’ll be busy getting in a lot of trouble.”
I can’t tell if that’s a threat or a warning at this point. At the same time, she wasn’t sure if she should be amused or worried—though her gut certainly tilted her more toward the former than the latter. “And who, exactly, would be getting me into trouble?”
Two thuds echoed against the metal door. “B! What’s going on in there?”
Your timing sucks, Tim. Her gaze never wavered from the young man in front of her. “Stow it, Merlin. Stay where you are.”
“Tell your girlfriend to let me go,” her quarry called to her partner beyond the door. “I did you guys a favor and now I just want to get out of here.”
“Nice try,” Brigid said, a hint of admiration in her voice. “Nice dodge. Answer my question.”
“Then I suppose we’re at an impasse, because I’m not letting you go.”
He sighed. “Damn. Oh well.”
“Them’s the breaks.” Brigid smiled briefly as the young man made a thoughtful sound, his stare as unwavering as hers.
Both were silent for a few long moments before Brigid said gently, “Put the gone down. I really don’t want to shoot you but I want to get shot even less. It’s an unpleasant experience I’m really not keen on repeating.”
“I can’t trust you. Just can’t.”
“I told you. You take me in, you ID me and the wrong people will notice.”
She frowned. Paranoid much? “You think I’m a cop?”
“You might not be, but you’re close enough.”
Her brow arched. “And if I tell you that I’ve got no intention of running your prints or anything like that?”
He matched her arched brow for arched brow. “Then what’s the point of not letting me go?”
Brigid shook her head. “You’re a wild card. I can’t afford to let you out of my sight right now, not when we don’t know what that thing was or where it came from.”
His brow furrowed. “You think I know what it was and where it came from?”
“I think you know enough about it to decide to follow us down here.” One corner of her mouth quirked upward into a wry smile she didn’t bother to suppress. “I’ve got half a mind to offer you a job, but something tells me you’d say no.”
“Maybe I just don’t like that the power is out and my beer isn’t cold and got bored and noticed some monster-hunting.”
It was getting harder and harder to suppress the grin that threatened. There was something about him that reminded her of people she’d known when she was younger—people she still knew now, ones who had mostly mellowed with age—but in some ways stayed the same. “Let me guess. Usually this works.”
“Actually, it’s really not far off the mark. I was bored and my beer was warm and I was reading poetry to my girlfriend. I really wanted to be making out with her instead, but you know. Monsters.”
“So you and your girlfriend came out here to hunt monsters.” Brigid shook her head. “College kids these days. Makes me glad mine are still little.” Though I can’t say it’d surprise me if Connor and Roiya and the rest are out monster-hunting instead of hitting the books a few years from now.
“Technically, I’m out of college,” he said. “She never went.”
Brigid didn’t bother to hide her smirk.
“B?” Tim must have been getting nervous on the other side of the door. “You okay in there?”
She rolled her eyes. Enough. “Bring some handcuffs, Merlin.”
“No handcuffs, Merlin. Stay out there with King Arthur.” He exhaled quietly. “Really, you can see why I can’t trust you.”
“I’m still trying to figure out what you’ve got to hide. Like I said, you probably saved my partner’s life—this, of course, assuming our ghost didn’t deal with that thing in just about the same way you did.” Brigid shook her head slightly. “I can’t let you go just like that. Need to know why you gave a damn—and how you knew how to kill that thing and why you weren’t scared shitless.”
He arched a brow. “I shot it in the head. Your boys were doing something. Made it die faster. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I didn’t think they could wait much longer so I took my shot.”
“No, I don’t think they could have.” Her lips thinned and she suppressed a shiver, thinking of the look on her partner’s face, the sudden sick feeling in her stomach. “My psychics can’t sense you. I’ve got two telepaths with me and they can’t find you. You want to know the only other person I’m aware of that they can’t find?”
He watched her for a long moment, then seemed to come to a decision. “Are you a Hunter?”
Brigid shook her head. “No.” But the term’s familiar somehow. I wonder why? She filed that away for later research as the young man in front of her shook his head, too.
“Government, then. Back to my first guess and square one. If I go with you, I will end up with more trouble than you’re worth. I should’ve let it eat you.”
Brigid smiled humorlessly. “We could work together on this, you know.”
“I have no proof of that.”
“Of what? That we could work together?”
The door creaked open behind her. Tim ducked in, shutting the door quickly behind him with an ominous thud. She got a good glimpse out of the corner of her eye, seeing his sword sheathed but his sidearm ready, his gaze as wary as hers had been at the start of all of this.
“Burn’s on the door,” her partner said quietly, then turned his gaze to the young man, giving him a probing look that she’d seen make more than one suspect squirm in the past.
The young man didn’t seem phased at all. “Merlin or King Arthur?”
Tim quirked a brow, half glancing toward her. “Who’s the kid?”
“You should thank him,” Brigid said, her tone vaguely chiding. “He’s the one who took the shot.”
“Your version of thanks sucks,” the young man snapped, losing his grip on his temper for the barest of moments. “Thanking me would not involve handcuffs.”
“If you’d agree to come with us, I wouldn’t need them,” Brigid fired back. “I told you, we’re not interested in running your prints or handing you over to the cops. I can see something’s starting to go sideways and I’d really like to prevent that.”
You might have to let him go. Is that a chance you’re willing to take?
I might not have a choice.
He shrugged. “It was just a monster. Monsters happen. Just last week I killed one that smelled like rotten grapes. Sprayed slime. Kind of acidic slime. It was gross.”
Tim’s eyes narrowed abruptly. “Out near the University of Chicago?”
The young man shrugged, his expression schooled into one of perfect innocence. Brigid almost laughed out loud.
Tim glanced at her. “AJ was looking into that. She said something didn’t feel right. I guess now we know why.”
“What are you saying, Tim?”
Her partner shifted uncomfortably, letting his sidearm’s muzzle drift toward the floor. “Maybe you should let him go.”
Brigid stared at her partner for a long moment. The boy was smiling at her. Brigid tore her gaze away from him for a moment to focus on Tim, the man who’d watched her back for the better part of their adult lives. “Are you sure?”
“He saved my life,” Tim admitted, rubbing at his temple. “Let him go, B. If he’s going to be trouble, I’m sure we’ll run into him again.”
Brigid sighed and nodded, smiling a wry, lopsided smile. “Right. Get the team cleared out and call in a containment team to scrape up the remains. Sanitize the place. The last thing we need is an incident on her hands. Don’t need Jim crawling down my throat.” This is already bad enough as it is.
Her partner nodded, then tipped an imaginary hat at their young quarry before he ducked back out again, spitting orders as soon as the door clicked shut.
“Jim?” the young man asked curiously.
“My boss,” Brigid said, trying not to sigh. What a cluster this has turned out to be.
“Yeah, figured that with how you said it. Jim what?”
Something tells me he already knows what I’m going to say. “McCullough.”
That must have been what he needed to hear. The young man lowered his gun. “I’m not one hundred percent certain what that means for me specifically, but in general, we’re not enemies.” He paused. “If that makes you feel better.”
“Vaguely.” She gave in to the urge to sigh and lowered her sidearm. “Just give them a few minutes to clear out, then you’re free to go.”
“Sure.” He gave her a faint smile. “You’re probably going to try to follow me, aren’t you?”
“Probably not me,” she admitted.
“Someone else, then.”
“Maybe. I haven’t quite decided yet.” She smiled wryly. “I might change my mind.”
He tilted his head to one side. “Do you have a card or something?”
“Unfortunately, no,” she said. Sometimes I think I should have one, though. “But if you look up Professor McConaway O’Brien at U of C, she’ll be able to find me.”
“So you don’t follow me and I promise I’ll find you. Sound fair?”
She smiled and nodded. “Fair enough. Tell her you’re looking for B O’Connell.”
“My parents weren’t that cruel. Brigid.”
He nodded. “Yeah. That’s way better than Beatrice. You know, I don’t have to wait for your guys to clear out. I could clear my own self out.”
“Better to be safe than sorry.” She lifted a hand to tap it against her earpiece, the one hidden by her red hair. She caught enough of the chatter going on to know that her teams had withdrawn from the area and nodded to herself. “Better hurry,” she said as she tugged the door open. “Mind the police topside.”
“They’re not a problem for me,” he said, giving her a wide berth as he headed for the door. He lingered for a moment, then said, “Wes. But keep it to yourself. If you don’t, I’ll know.”
Brigid smiled faintly. “Go on, before I change my mind.”
Wes grinned at her before slipping into the shadows and vanishing.
She lingered only a moment longer and slipped out herself, already trying to figure out how she was going to explain all of this to New York and James McCullough.
Just another day at the office, right?