Back to Chapter Two
It was a shitty bar.
It was always a shitty bar, the type anyone with sense or options would stay far away from. This was where the sleazy information that hid in slimy pools under the feet and beneath the notice of upstanding citizens could be found.
It was not the first time Fallon found herself in front of such an establishment; even money it wouldn’t be the last. Seeing how she never had options, and that anyone would claim she had sense was also under question, being around such places was hardly a surprise.
The sun was low in the sky but not yet set. If she had timed it right, the information brokers should be there getting set up, while the hardcore nasties wouldn’t be in play yet. Aiko was hidden away from here, decently enough away even a medium strength magic user shouldn’t be able to feel her. It wasn’t perfect, but yeah, that lack of options kind of came into play at every turn. The only thing she could do was get through this quick and get back to the little girl.
No helping it now. Smacking the door open with the flat of her hand, Fallon walked in.
Exhaling a plume of smoke, Marg watched the girl cross the floor to set up shop at the back table, slinging her legs out in front of her and surveying all as if she was Queen Shit, just waiting for her subjects to come to her and give her proper due.
Didn’t matter she was taller than most men here, there was no doubt she was still a girl, still growing from the pretty she was now into the stunner she would be when her features finally settled into their adult shape, that red hair drawing every eye but the promise of what she would become keeping the attention on her. Marg flicked the ash off the end of her cigarette as she kept the girl in her sights. The girl was sitting there, not looking around after that first survey, but no doubt, the girl knew where everyone was, knew who were paying attention to her and who weren’t.
Probably a working girl, young or not, non-descript baggy clothes or not. Not like that was a unique tale. A deep sigh, then a quick clear of throat to stifle the rising cough in her chest. While Marg had nothing but sympathy when circumstances forced that choice, it wasn’t happening here in her bar. She had a hard-enough time towing the line, keeping this place something she could have a tiny spot of pride about. If she started letting that in, it would be over.
The girl’s gaze met Marg’s as soon as Marg made the first move towards her, a gold gaze that held something as hard as the metal that color favored. Maybe those eyes caused a slight shuffle when they caught Marg off-guard, but that was righted soon enough, and by the time Marg got to the table, she was under control enough to pretend her heart hadn’t given a leap. Wanting the girl gone, Marg went for direct. “Honey, why you here? If you’re a good girl, go home, and if you are not, I don’t allow any selling here, no matter how this place looks. Business elsewhere.”
The girl inclined her head, a respectful act that Marg rarely saw these days, but her voice held a firmness that spoke of someone on a mission. “Ma’am. I’m looking for the person here who knows every shitty secret of this town and all the surrounding areas. Need to have a talk with him.”
It was involuntary, the glance back to the pool tables in the corner, and Marg did her best to cover by looking around the bar. This girl wasn’t from around here, not working, not in the way Marg first thought. There was… power here. Power that shouldn’t exist in a little girl. Power Marg didn’t want anywhere near her. She had enough problems without adding the heft of this girl to them. “No one like that around here. We’re nothing here, easy enough to see even for those just passing through, like you. Take my advice – keep passin’.”
If anything, the words caused the girl to laser focus on her, the slightest tilt to her lips as she said her next words. “You got just enough juice to see me, don’t you? Nothing enough to cause anyone’s interest in you, but you know, at least a little, what you’re talking to.”
The twelve hours worn makeup Marg had on was doing nothing to contain the sweat starting to form at her hairline, around her lips. Giving her hands something to do, Marg pulled out another cigarette, bringing it to her mouth even as she was in the process of lighting it. “I don’t know anything,” and she pulled a drag of smoke into her lungs, letting the nicotine do it’s best to steady her.
“If you don’t know anything, you should have no problem with me chit-chatting with some of the locals. After all, I’m not here for what you thought.”
The more the girl talked, the more Marg’s skin crawled, the repulsion, the desire to be anywhere else except in this girl’s presence. “You’re too young to be here. Play grown-up games elsewhere. This is a business, not a nursery.”
The girl had straight white teeth, and her canines were just a little longer, a little sharper, than most other folks. If she was giving a normal smile, it wouldn’t even be noticed, but the smile she gave now was a feral imitation of what a smile should be, and those canines were all Marg could see. “Ma’am, I promise you, I’m all business.”
Burning sensation at her fingertips, and with a yelp Marg dropped her cigarette on the table, the white cylinder rolling across the tabletop. Marg had been so focused on the girl, she hadn’t noticed the cigarette burning down enough to scorch her. She picked it up, the roll just long enough to get another drag before she had to snuff it. “Whatever you want, it isn’t here. You need to go elsewhere to get it,” Marg said, taking a long last draw off the cigarette.
“Is it your son, your younger brother, or your lover?”
Now the smoke choked out of her at the unexpected words, and Marg took several hacking breaths before she got clear of the attack. The girl’s gaze was ice cold as she studied Marg, taking everything in without a reflection of any care. Marg cleared her throat. “I don’t get what you’re saying.”
“Tattoo boy, so many I can’t even make out the different designs peeking out from under that tank top. Playing pool. Cheating with pretty poor skills, but it’s enough the other guy doesn’t suspect he’s getting hustled. What is he that you don’t want me talking to him – son, brother, lover?” The girl smirked then, kicking back and crossing her arms over her chest. “Or is he all three? Not my thing, of course, but can’t say I haven’t seen worse in my travels.”
“You need to get out of my bar.”
Marg started to rise, but the girl’s grip on her wrist was lightning fast and unbreakable. Marg could as soon move an anvil as she could break that grip, and the girl’s gaze was a heavy stone crushing Marg’s chest, that weight more than years of cigarettes causing the quick cough she gave to try to loosen the feeling up. “What are you trying to play at? If you’re here because someone sent you-”
The bones in Marg’s wrist shifted and rolled in painful fluidity under the girl’s tightening grip. “I’ve got nothing against you or him, but I need what I need. If he talks to me, I’m going to leave, and that’s the last of me. If he doesn’t come to talk to me… do I need to spell out what I’m going to do?”
The girl was… thirteen-ish. She was clean enough that it showed she took pride in herself, dirty enough to tell that how her life went, lots of effort went to keeping clean. The wear on her clothes, how they were either too large or small enough they were on the verge of unusable, told of grabbing whatever she could wherever she could. The callouses on the fingers wrapped around Marg’s wrist spoke of someone who used their hands often, and the strength within them told of someone who would do whatever was necessary to keep making it through.
Putting aside all that, though, it was what was in her eyes that terrified Marg, had small tremors coursing through her body that had nothing to do with craving her cigarette fix. Maybe it was that little spark of something that seemed to exist within her once the Great Collision hit, or maybe it was a life spent on the edges, where survival meant knowing who was safe and who by all the hells wasn’t, but inside her everything was screaming this girl needed to move on.
“If he tells you what you ask, you’re gone?”
The girl let go, sitting back, resting as easily as if she hadn’t just threatened two people’s lives within two breaths. “Never to speak to you again.” A small huff of laughter, and then she added, almost more to herself than anything, her eyebrow quirking to emphasize the dark humor, “Maybe to be killed in horrible ways. You can imagine whatever makes you happy as you’re cussing out the memory of me.”
“He’ll speak to you. But he never spoke to you, if you get caught.” And Marg didn’t know why, sure as hells didn’t like the girl, not after their little chat, but she believed it when the girl nodded her agreement to that last. “Wait in my office. Door behind the bar. Give him twenty to finish with his mark, and he’ll be back. After that, you leave by the door behind the desk, and I don’t see your face again.”
Desk was too grand a word for the little side table that held enough books and ledgers it should have toppled over three times over, but as Fallon wasn’t here for décor tips, she stood in the corner, waiting for the – if the photos here were to be believed – son to come back and talk.
She’d give him one thing, he was punctual. Nineteen minutes and fifty-two seconds, and the door opened, with him walking in, bottle of rotgut in his hand. He gave her a once over, the eyes holding a bit too much of a lecherous gleam, but it sure as hell made the probable cover story of how he was in here getting some fun going with a working girl a whole lot more compelling.
As she’d already been here twenty minutes longer than she wanted to be, Fallon started. “Tell me everything you know about the compound.”
“What, we haven’t discussed payment yet,” and yep, his eyes did another once over on her. Fun. Broken bones were looking more probable by the moment.
“Your mother and I already discussed payment, and she agreed to my terms. Tell me.”
His mother had told him something about getting this business out of the way and he didn’t like it, given the way emotions warred across his face. Whatever gift the Great Collision had given the mother, her lumped faced, lumped brained son hadn’t gotten it too… but he must of been conditioned to listen to what mommy told him, because though he didn’t look happy with the winner of the battle of wants over orders, he also didn’t press what he probably thought was his advantage, instead sitting down and keeping his eyes to her face. “There’s a lot to tell about that compound. What do you need more exactly?”
“The family that rules. What about them?”
The guy huffed, settling in, crossing arms over his chest and making the tattoos into weird new shapes. The tattoos weren’t exactly clear this close either. So, the tattoo artist was shit at his job, or this guy thought he’d be different and unique, which had meant a mishmash of designs that, in the end, looked like a pile of ink puke. “They arrived three years ago. Some sort of gangsters in Japan before the Collision. They don’t exactly hang out with us locals. Lots of travelling, lots of people coming around from all over. Expensive cars.”
“They have powers though, right? What types?”
He took a quick swig of the liquor, some of it dribbling from the corners of his mouth. Lovely. “No one knows for sure. Animals act weird around here. Fires start without any warning, but…” and here his gaze went distant, and another quick swallow of liquor filled the silence.
And this was where it was going to get interesting. “But?”
“There’s a kid there, a son.” The guy shrugged, acting unconcerned, while the truth was he was anything but. “It’s said he can fuck with your mind. Dig in deep. Cause you to live in your nightmares rest of your life. Tear out your memories, your thoughts.”
Fallon shifted through the brief impressions she received walking past, but nothing along the lines of psy powers had stuck out. Granted, she’d stayed far away, but something like this guy was talking about… Either that son was hyped to throw fear into their enemies, or…
Yeah, or would suck mightily. A psy master of the kind of power needed to hide from her…not at the top of her list to deal with right now.
Move on. “There’s a little girl there, a daughter. What about her?”
The guy snorted. “Affair kid. Not very honorable or something. Don’t think they minded him getting his dick wet with the other ladies, just that proof caught and had to be brought home.”
“Why she there, then, if no one’s happy she exists. Why isn’t she with her mom?”
This was the question that caused the guy to get uncomfortable, and an extra-long pull of the garbage he was drinking was needed before he continued. “Look, people who get curious about her tend to get themselves misplaced, sometimes pieces being found afterwards in multiple locations. She’s off limits.”
Fallon walked over and grabbed the bottle from his hand, focusing him on her. “I’m putting her back on limits. Her mom?”
“Never been seen. No one knows. Half think the mom gave her up for a big payday and booked out, and half think the guy took her out, to grab up the kid. I mean, makes sense, right? If his son is some kinda super powerful wizard because of the Collision, chances are the daughter would be too. She’d be valuable to a guy like that, one who thinks he’s some type of feudal lord or something.”
That wasn’t exactly how it worked. Plenty of families had only one person affected by the Collision to develop any kind of powers, this guy’s being a perfect example. In this case, it was true, though did her father grab Aiko because he knew, or was just covering all possibilities. “You know nothing about the mother? Even a hint? I don’t care if it’s confirmed, I’ll take any rumors.”
The guys lips went tight, and he looked around the room as though expecting someone to jump from the shadows. “I had a buddy,” he began, and by tone of voice, said buddy was probably the one who had been found in pieces. “I don’t know if this is true. He worked there, doing odd jobs for the man. Said a woman came one day, said he thought she was French, same accent as TV. She was screaming at the boss about the child, about wanting her child. He said they took her away, and she fought with them every step towards the car that was waiting. Said the boss and the son were there watching the whole time, no emotion. Said it was the creepiest thing he ever saw. Can I have my drink back?”
Fallon handed it back and the guy finished it in several long gulps. He would certainly not be happy in the morning, but it wasn’t her area to worry over. “Last thing. Any information on the boss’s right-hand man, maybe from your buddy?”
Wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist, the man stood. “Yeah, that’s one’s easy. Said he was one of those who was just waiting to get his and not to be trusted, but he and the boss had gone back since they were kids, and the boss wouldn’t see it.”
The door behind the desk was small, well-hidden, an alternate escape route should it ever be needed. Fallon grabbed the handle and turned, the door groaning with the unfamiliarity of opening. As she ducked through she said, “Tell your mom no worries, I’m keeping my end of the deal. And tell her, if she needs help imagining anything, tell her to think happy thoughts on how there’s a chance my brain is going to be liquified in my skull and start leaking out my nose. Have a good night.”
Posted with permission from the author.
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As usual you books evoke a keen sense of interest and burgeoning fondness for the characters. Who’s the voice?
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