This chapter's a bit on the long side, but after skipping last week, it's only fair.
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Jo could hear faint echoes of a one-sided conversation as she crept down the hallway. She held a hand out toward the two men behind her, gesturing for them to wait a moment and sensed them stop in their tracks, still and attentive.
“There are four with very strong gifts,” the woman said. Her voice was low and little rough but her tone was clipped and brisk. “Two telepaths, a mage, and a Hunter child. The others are acceptable.” Then silence for a moment. Then something Jo couldn’t quite hear. Then, “Hold on, sir. Go down and tell Leland we’re ready.”
A man replied. “How long do you need?”
“Five or ten minutes with them. They’ll come quietly when I’m through.”
Jo closed her eyes, reaching out carefully. She felt Tom abruptly grab her hand in warning but she brushed him away. “She’ll feel you,” he hissed.
“Shut up,” she snapped, and she reached, slowly, tentatively, and felt…
It was a different sort of nothing from Wes. Wes wasn’t there. Sometimes she felt a flash here or there while he tried to do something, tried to communicate telepathically or move something with his mind. Tried and usually failed. The walls were too strong. And she knew the strong urge to look away, look anywhere but where he was, there was nothing there after all and no reason to look. She knew that urge well, though she wasn’t sure anyone else really noticed it the same way she did.
Brigid felt invisible. It was uncanny, but not uncomfortably so.
And then there was this woman. This was a sort of nothing but pulled everything in. Jo wasn’t close enough to know for sure, but she would have bet good money that the woman would have leeched the warmth from the air around her.
She looked back at Tom and Tim and said softly, “The woman with the kids. She’s bad news. But the guy who was with her is heading downstairs. We wait until he’s gone and then we go.”
Tim nodded, his expression almost blank but for an eerie, feral light in his eyes. She saw Tom’s eyes widen as he sensed what she had, and he whispered, “What is she?”
“Not one of us. Some kind of Mage, maybe?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tim said softly. “When the other guy is gone, we go.”
Braedon waited at the bar of the Mirage, holding a glass of whiskey without drinking it, half-watching the singer on the stage.
Mirage was beautiful. A huge stage was set before dark, heavy wood tables and plush chairs. The bar was long and well-stocked with delights both mundane and magical. The bartender was a beautiful, not-quite-human woman with a mass of heavy black curls, keen chocolate brown eyes and warm caramel skin. Braedon liked her, though he sometimes missed Ashleigh, the slim and pretty bartender from years ago, with piercing eyes and a musical voice.
But nostalgia was the killer of forward movement. He glanced discreetly toward the red-carpeted stairs that led up to the office, looking for Rand’s assistant. She stood at the top of the stairs, leaning on the rail, looking down at the club, doll-like and pretty with auburn hair and dark, dark eyes. Just Rand’s type.
She had told him that Rand was in a meeting but he would cut it short for Braedon. That had been ten minutes ago.
He started to look back to the stage, and if he had looked back a moment sooner, he would have missed it.
Well, well. Jim McCullough strode down the stairs. Braedon turned toward the stage slightly, trying not to draw attention as he studied him but Jim wasn’t looking his way. His expression was tight, almost stony, but with every step he schooled it back toward calm.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who came to Jason Rand for information.
The red-haired doll followed him, walking him to the door before she returned to Braedon. “Mr. Rand will see you now.”
Jason Rand’s office was spare and neat, with light grey walls, a black skeleton of a bookshelf with a few books and artifacts that fairly hummed with magic, and a simple black desk with white chairs. There was a mini bar tucked in one corner. A painting of a grey-blue ocean on a stormy day hung beside a safe on the wall.
The man himself sat behind the desk. He was smallish, thin, and neat, in a pinstriped dark blue suit with a purple handkerchief tucked artfully in the breast pocket. His eyes were very, very pale and his hair ash-blond. He looked otherworldly, which was fitting because he was.
“Mr. Chandler,” he said as Braedon entered, rising to come around the desk and shake his hand. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“Why was McCullough here?” Braedon asked without preamble.
“He was asking about Gabriel Seymour,” Rand replied, going to the mini bar.
Braedon started forward but Rand lifted a hand. “Not specifically. He either doesn’t have a name to stick to Prometheus or he didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up.”
“So he asked about Prometheus.”
“Don’t fret, old boy,” Rand said, taking out two glasses and a crystal bottle. “I only gave him more questions.”
“More questions like what?” Braedon settled in a chair.
“Oh, the usual. Prometheus never worked alone. They always had help from rogue Hunters. Oh yes, there are rogue Hunters, but the General keeps the city fairly clean of them but there is a nest of them in Baltimore.” Rand poured two glasses. “Baltimore is, of course, very difficult to control and it is one of the independent cities, regardless of how it falls into Chandler territory. And has he heard the stories of the missing vampires? Three have gone missing. Could they all be explained by running into Hunters at the wrong time?”
“As a matter of fact, they can be,” Braedon replied.
“Oh, I know that,” Rand said, handing him a glass. “But McCullough doesn’t. It will keep him busy for a little while. Not long, I expect, but I couldn’t think of another way to buy you time.”
Braedon took the glass and sniffed the amber liquid experimentally. “Do I need time?”
Jason Rand smiled thinly. “It’s good you came to see me.”
The hole on the floor wasn’t quite big enough, even when Wes leaned over sideways. He could hear the guy who came downstairs but he couldn’t see him. “They’ll do,” he said simply.
Balding Slick Suit glared at Foster with suspicion, but addressed the new guy. “They’ll do or they’re what we’re looking for?”
“A few seem particularly gifted. The rest are good enough.”
Foster crossed his arms. “Are we done here?” he asked.
“Yes.” Balding Slick Suit tossed a slim black case at Foster. “The doctor will be in touch.”
Wes suddenly realized he was still holding Brigid’s hand. He glanced sideways at her when she gave his hand a squeeze and saw that her expression was nearly placid. Dead calm. She let go of his hand and stood up carefully, avoiding the weak points in the floor.
Wes looked down through the hole, watching Foster turn toward the door. Four people followed him, and Wes shifted a little to see who stayed behind. He glanced back at Brigid and held up six fingers, and then shrugged. Maybe.
The calm gave way to a particularly nasty smile.
Wes forced a grin and started creeping down the hallway, avoiding other holes in the floor. Downstairs, Balding Slick Suit said, “Have Jenna bring the truck around. The doctor is in town and he’ll want to inspect them.”
Brigid lingered near the hole in the floor, drawing her weapon, listening to the men below.
Wes moved toward the stairwell door and froze, backing away quickly toward the wall. He could hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, not in any hurry, and it made that moment of waiting slow and stretch. He pressed up against the wall, waiting, waiting, and then he was a blur of movement, pulling a man out into the hall, one arm tight around his neck, cutting off air and blood as he brought him to the ground.
He froze, holding, waiting, loosening his hold only when the man stopped struggling and then he still held and waited until he knew no one heard him but Brigid. She stared at him and he shot a triumphant grin at her.
She met it with a crooked grin of her own and nodded slightly, creeping toward him. She mouthed, “Cover me,” before heading for the stairs.
She crept down and peered through the door, and then she signaled four up at him with a frown.
Wes pointed toward the unconscious man in the hall and held up one finger.
She nodded, still frowning. Then she held up two fingers once more and held her arms out, looking back at him. Two big guys. Then she pointed at her hair, shook her head, and gestured one. Balding Slick Suit. Then one more finger, and then she held her hands close together. One skinny guy.
Wes nodded and started downstairs, but then a wild thought occurred to him so suddenly that he couldn’t help but grin, and she quirked a brow at him, creeping back upstairs.
Wes whispered, “We need to split up the big guys. They’ll be sure to have guns.”
“I’ll take right, you take left?”
Wes’ grin broadened. “I was thinking of dropping their friend through the floor and freaking them out.”
"Sounds good to me."
“Are you saying that because you think it’s a good idea or because you’re mad at them so you think it’s a good idea?”
"A little of both."
“Fair enough.” He moved back into the hallway and picked up the guy he choked out, looking for the biggest hole in the floor nearby, and he dropped him through it. It was an awkward fit. His ass didn’t quite go through and he started to wake up but Wes gave him a knock upside the head and he was out again.
The ploy did its job, though.
“Max?” Balding Slick Suit called.
“The fuck?” someone else shouted.
Wes looked to Brigid. “Shoot whoever comes up.”
He turned and darted down the hallway.
The fight continues thusly.