The warm water caressed me, helping to loosen up tight muscles, as I washed the dirt off. My scalp stung and then tingled when I cleaned the area around where Lacey’s thugs clubbed me. Further down my body, a pair of ugly bruises on my leg was the proof that I’d been cooped up in the trunk of that car.
For the first time in many years I found myself wishing this was all a bad dream and I’d wake up anytime. Because never in my life did I ever dream that I’d have to play savior for people I didn’t know or give a shit about. It’s so against my nature to do so that it’s quite shocking to be honest.
Unfortunately, it’s not a dream but reality, which means each minute I spend in the shower is one less that I can use to catch Lacey. And the fact that the little bitch had no intention of paying me for the job also pissed me off because I don’t work for free. Sad thing is that I will end up having to do that now in order to prevent that weapon reaching the wrong hands.
I grab my gun off the shelf in the shower and then dry quickly before dressing and unlocking the door. Nico was waiting patiently in the living area and looks me over as I approach. It isn’t hard to read his mind. He sees an attractive young woman who’s fit and barely has an ounce of fat on her body.
No doubt he’s fighting to keep from getting an erection, which I ignore. It’s not my problem that he can’t keep his raging hormones under control. As long as he helps me make contact with those that can help me, then I don’t give a shit.
“Ok, let’s go to the mall,” I said, “I need to ditch this shit.”
“Glad you said it and not me.”
“Don’t get smart Nico.”
The cloak feels comforting as I slip it on and then take a second to put my gloves back on. Honestly, I hate the times when I have to act normal because it doesn’t describe me whatsoever. I am a killer, someone who can end another’s life without batting an eye, not a regular person and in many ways trying to be one is both taxing and confusing.
When we arrive at the mall it takes less than five minutes before I’m shivering. The rows of shops take the breeze, chilled it further, and then accelerated it into a burst of wind that’d cut right through a person’s soul. Throw in the fact that my hair is still wet and it’s a recipe for getting sick as a damn dog.
“This looks good,” I said before entering a shop.
It took less than a minute for an associate to walk up and start talking. She wants to know what my taste is like, and the sizes I wear; all the information a good employee would need to know in order to help pick out the appropriate clothing.
Twenty minutes later, I’m looking at the outfit in the dressing room’s mirror. The black shirt, matching leather vest and jeans look good on me. They make me look both stylish and non-threatening at the same time, which is how I want people to view me.
“Hmm,” the associate said. “I don’t know if I like the cloak. Seems a bit too dark.”
“It’s ok,” I said as I pay. “It’s cold outside.”
Nico, much to his credit, has stayed silent the entire time and merely raised an eyebrow at the conversation. Of course he knows there’s a gun on my belt, but he still didn’t know who I was, and with any luck he’ll never figure it out. Because the moment he does is when I have to kill him; no way in hell I can afford to have anyone know my true identity whether here or on Achernar.
A gust of wind lifts my damp hair up, exposing my neck, and Goosebumps instantly break out. Christ, it’ll be nice to get back into Nico’s truck where it’s warm and my hair will dry quicker.
In all honesty, I’d like to be able to move about without needing his help, which soon will be a reality. All I need to do now is get in contact with the person who can help me get onto the train. After that, it’s on to Darbytown and hopefully I can get back on the trail Lacey will have left.
“Ok,” I said. “I look presentable now. Who do I see?”
“Quinto Archer,” he said. “He runs this city.”
“Where do I find him?”
“It’s early evening; he’ll be having dinner at a restaurant downtown.”
“Fine, let’s get this show on the road. I really got to get the Darbytown.”
“Does this have anything to do with the Marano family civil war?”
“Damn, because that’s a mess.”
“What the hell’s going on?”
“The daughter’s killed her Dad,” Nico said. “And the family is fighting itself. One side backs her while the other is trying to keep her from leading the syndicate.”
“The word mess doesn’t even begin to describe that situation then,” I said. “I prefer the term ‘fucking disaster.’”
Richmond rush hour traffic isn’t nearly as bad as Greenmist’s, but the roads aren’t designed as well, so takes longer than I wanted to get into the city. Buildings, most no more than twenty to thirty stories tall, make up the city skyline as we drive down the Downtown Expressway. In many ways, the city has more charm and character than does Greenmist, but it’s much too small for someone like me to either operate in or from. Even the greenest of rookie member of the Alliance Marshalls would be able to find me here.
A sign up ahead says “Fifth Street, Downtown Richmond” and Nico takes the exit. The smooth highway changes to rough, cobblestone and the vehicle starts to rattle around me. In fact, the blows are so hard they make the pounding I took in the trunk mild by comparison.
Finally he reaches a section of town where former warehouses and row houses have been transformed into businesses. When asked where we were, all he would tell me was ‘The Slip.’ Whether that meant a person needed to watch their step, avoid con artists, or if it’s just a name given to the area beat the hell out of me.
“Here we are.”