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Braedon didn’t give Rand the satisfaction of asking what he meant. He only looked at him, one brow lifted, waiting.

Rand’s thin smile faded, and he said, “Carrick and Finley.”

The muscles in his back tightened almost painfully, and he had to fight the urge to squeeze his whiskey glass so hard it shattered. “Go on,” he said coolly.

“They’re working with Seymour now. Or for him. It’s difficult to say but I suppose the distinction doesn’t matter.” Rand sat behind his desk and leaned forward, steepling his fingers. “I believe Carrick is here, in New York.”

Braedon waved a hand. “I know that. He’s been here for almost a year. I can’t pin him down, though. He keeps moving around. You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?”

Rand growled. “You don’t think much of me.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“I don’t like your question.”

Braedon relented, and said, “Is Finley with him?”

“No. She’s running Seymour’s operations in Chicago.” Rand smiled, and this time, his smile wasn't thin. He looked like the fox in the henhouse. “She’s working with General McRae’s Enforcer.”

Braedon mirrored Rand’s smile, and he felt the rigid tension in his back relax, the urge to shatter the glass recede, the sharp stab of anger behind his eyes fade away. “Oh is she?”

“I don’t know if that means Seymour is working with McRae, but…”

That would be something. That would be everything. He could kill all the birds with one stone if he moved with caution, with forethought. An alliance with Prometheus would cost McRae his territory. “Do you have proof?”

“A witness.”

Braedon frowned. “A trustworthy one?”

“Perhaps not by Hunter standards,” Rand said mildly. “But it’s a start.”

“What will the witness cost me?”

Jo could feel a sudden crackle of electricity in the air, unlike anything she had ever felt before, and it hit her suddenly what Tim was doing in the instant before his arm shot out. Tom wasn’t strong enough to stop her from turning, reversing their positions so she could see what was going on. Just as she lifted an arm to shield her eyes, she saw Tim slam his open palm against the wall.

Drywall exploded and scattered like snow, flying toward the woman. Jo put her arm over her eyes, waiting to be showered with debris, but it never happened. She dropped her arm again, and it was as if the cloud of grey-white-dust-wood-metal had hit a pane of glass and could go no further than a few feet before Tim.

“I said get the kids,” he said sharply.

Tom grabbed her by the hand and dragged her through a door into an empty room. She could hear shots ringing in the hallway behind them and startled screams from the children in the next room. For a moment, the tumult drowned out the noise downstairs.

She ran to the window and pushed it open, leaning out. The fire escape was a few windows over and the window ledge was narrow but she thought if the window to the kids’ room was open, she could make it in. Jo looked back at Tom and he nodded and banged on the wall. “Can you kids get the window open? We’re gonna get you out.”

There was sudden silence on the other side of the wall, and then she heard the scraping of a window in its frame, and then one of the kids yelled, “It’s stuck!”

Jo growled and climbed out through the window. Tom went out halfway after her, reaching around to steady her as best he could, but his grip was tenuous. The kids had gotten the window partway open, and Jo eased herself onto the narrow window ledge, moving gingerly. She got one foot into the room and then the other, wriggling in until she was sitting on the ledge.

One of the kids, a boy of eleven, grabbed one leg. “Ash, help me hold her!” A girl who must have been his sister grabbed her other leg and Jo grinned at them gratefully before grabbing the window and pushing it up. It slid up ponderously in the frame and she was afraid to push too hard and break it, but soon she was able to wriggle all the way in.

“Who are you?” the boy asked.

“Jo,” she said, and she spun around and kicked the window with all her strength. The whole frame ripped out, slamming into the wall on the other side of the alley.

Now they had an exit. All they really needed was a plan.

From the corner of her eye, Brigid watched Meatwall the Second scrambling for his gun, saw Wes already aiming his, and then she didn’t bother looking anymore. She focused her attention on the balding man and said, “No thanks. Bastards who kidnap gifted kids aren’t exactly my type. Put your gun down. Nice and easy now.”

One shot rang out across the room, and then a dull thwack, and then heard Wes say, “Listen to the lady.”

There wasn’t much else to do. The balding guy in the slick suit looked as mean as a snake, but he wasn’t stupid. He let out a stream of expletives that would have made a sailor blush, but dropped his gun.

Brigid resisted the urge to smile. “Hands on your head.”

“I can knock him out for you,” Wes offered.

“Probably should, shouldn’t we?”

“Fuck you,” the man said.

“Unless you have handcuffs,” Wes said. “You cops have handcuffs, right?”

“Not a cop,” she said. “But handcuffs I’ve got. And zip ties.”

“Kick the gun away or I knock you out,” Wes said.

After a moment’s hesitation, the balding guy obeyed.

Brigid could hear a fight breaking out upstairs but there wasn’t time to think about it now. She holstered her weapon, moving cautiously toward the balding guy as Wes took a step closer, covering her as she moved in.

“I wonder where this ‘Jenna’ with the truck is,” Wes said as she zip-tied the balding man’s wrists together.

“Hopefully we don’t find out until we’ve got these guys settled.”

Wes glanced upstairs. The noise had only gotten louder and she could tell he was itching to get up there. She felt the same way, but they had this mess to deal with down here.

Brigid knocked the balding man in the slick suit down on his knees, pulled some thick black plastic tie wraps from inside her jacket and said, “Help me get the rest of these guys secured.”

Wes grabbed Meatsuit the Second under the arms and dragged him over toward the balding guy as she secured the skinny guy.

Meatsuit was still breathing. He was bleeding from one leg and he had a lump on his head where Wes must have hit him, but he was moaning, his eyes fluttering. Wes tore a long strip from the guy’s shirt and said, almost conversationally, “Now, I admit I’m not that committed to your survival, so you should probably cooperate as much as possible so I’m not tempted to let you die.”

“You can start by telling me who the hell you work for,” Brigid suggested.

“Fuck you,” Balding Slick Suit said again, as if this were the limit of his command of the English language.

Meatsuit the Second moaned as Wes tied the strip of clothing above the wound. “I might need help remembering how to do this properly,” Wes said. “It would help me remember if-”

“Prometheus,” Meatsuit said quickly. He clearly wanted to live. “We work for Prometheus.”

“Shut the fuck up, Miller,” the balding guy snapped.

“Prometheus,” Brigid said slowly, turning the word over. “Smells too much like the Institute to me.”

Wes frowned, glancing up at Brigid. “I don’t know what that is. Or the other thing.”

Brigid stared at Meatsuit--Miller--and then at the balding guy. The old rage was bubbling up from deep inside, the memories of the place, the reports, the looks on the faces of people she cared about flooding back, flickering through her mind’s eye like an old filmstrip. She could have killed them both on the spot. It all felt too similar, too close. The men and women who had escaped the Institute had children of their own, now. Children that could be in danger from something like this thing, like this Prometheus.

“The Institute was before your time,” she said softly, still gazing at the men, her eyes hard. “They kidnapped kids with powers, too. In the in the ‘90s up through the early 2000s. We took them down.”

Wes grunted and finished tying off Miller’s leg.

This is bigger than Tim and I--possibly bigger than the Chicago office. “Objections to me calling in some backup to collect and clean up this mess?”

Wes hesitated, but then he nodded slowly, frowning. “Gonna need help with the kids. But we’re not going wherever you’re going. I’m not real interested in that yet.”

“That’s fine. I’m don’t think you’re going to want any part of the paperwork that’s gonna bury me. And the shitstorm.”

“I hate paperwork. I can’t even read.”

“Something tells me you’re lying.” She took her phone from her back pocket.

“I am a very honest person,” Wes said, sniffing. “And basically illiterate.”

Brigid snorted and called it in.

Here is where you will find the next chapter.