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Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 21

She’d guessed that I’d recovered something important. Ivy laughed, though J.C. looked concerned. I glanced at him.

“If she thinks she has what she needs,” he said softly, “we are in serious danger. If you give her the flash drive, don’t go anywhere with her.”

I backed away from Zen, hands still to the sides, until I was against the wall to the building. She studied me. Her gun was probably suppressed, but it would still make a sound. Relatively exposed as we were, she had to be worried about firing.

My heart beat frantically. Control the situation. Get her talking, perhaps? “Who did you get to impersonate the priest for you?”

She frowned. Then she raised her bag and the gun inside. “I asked you politely for something, Mister Leeds.”

“And I’m not going to give it to you,” I said. “Until I at least know how you pulled off the heist. It’s a quirk of mine. I’m certain you’re aware that I’m prone to those.”

She hesitated. Then she glanced to the sides.

Looking for my aspects, I thought. People did that, unconsciously, when they were around me.

“Good,” Ivy said. “Playing the insanity card does tend to throw people off their game.”

Think, think, think. I knocked my head back.

It hit the window behind me. I paused, then began slamming my head back repeatedly, rattling the glass.

Zen was beside me an instant later, grabbing me roughly by the shoulder and towing me away from the building. She glanced in the window—apparently saw nobody there—then threw me to the ground.

“I am not a patient woman, Mister Leeds,” she said softly.

I was tempted to give her the drive right then. But I held back, suppressing my worry, and my fear.

Stall. Just a little bit more. “You realize this is all pointless,” I lied to her. “Panos already gave the information away. On the internet. Free, for everyone.”

She sniffed. “We know that I3 contained his attempts to do that.”

He did? And . . . they did?

She pressed the gun down into my gut. Behind her, the window slammed open.

“Leeds!” the security guard shouted. “You crazy man! Do you want to die? Because I’m going to strangle you . . . Hey! What’s up?”

Zen met my eyes, then threw herself off me and dashed away around the corner. I leaned back as the security guard cursed, stretching out the window. “Was that a gun she was carrying? Damn it, Leeds! What are you doing?”

“Surviving,” I said, tired, looking at my aspects. “Move?”

“Now,” J.C. said.

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We left the shouting guard and made for my car. I scooped up my gun as I passed, and once out in the open, I didn’t spot any sign of Zen. I climbed in the back of the vehicle and told Wilson to go.

I didn’t feel much safer when we were on the road.

“I can’t believe she tried that,” Ivy said. “Practically in the open, without much proof that we even had what she wanted.”

“She was likely told to bring us in,” J.C. said. “She’s a professional; she wouldn’t have moved this recklessly without external pressure. She reported to her superiors we might have something, then was told to recover it.”

I nodded, breathing in and out in deep, desperate breaths.

“Tobias,” Ivy said, taking over for me. “What do we know about Exeltec?”

“Yol’s report included some basic facts,” Tobias said. “Biotech company much like I3, but far more . . . energetic, you might say. Founded five years ago, they soon released their key product—a pharmaceutical to help regulate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“Unfortunately for them, a year later a rival company produced a much better alternative. Exeltec’s product tanked. The company is owned by ten investors, with the largest stakeholder—the one Stephen imitated on the phone—acting as CEO and president of the board. Together they stand to lose a great deal of money on this company. Their last three products have flopped, and they are under investigation for cutting corners in overseas manufacturing. So, in a word, they’re desperate.”

I nodded, calmed by Tobias’s voice. I plugged the flash drive into my laptop, then started the footage at 10x speed and set the machine on the floor so I could watch it with half an eye. Tobias, often the most observant of my aspects, leaned down to watch in detail.

In the front seat, Wilson and Dion began chatting about the youth’s home life. I felt the tremors from being held at gunpoint finally fade, and took stock. Wilson pulled onto the freeway; he wasn’t going anywhere specific, but knew me well enough to realize I needed time to put myself together before giving him any specific directions.

Dion glanced in the rear-view mirror to get a look at me. He caught me looking back at him and blushed, then slumped down into his seat, answering Wilson’s questions about school. Dion had just finished high school, and was prepping for college in the fall. He readily answered Wilson’s questions; it was difficult to resist the affable butler. Wilson could handle me, after all. Compared to that, normal people were easy.

“That must have been some event,” Wilson said to the young man, in response to an explanation of a recent race. “Now, if you’ll forgive the interruption, I should ask Master Leeds where it was he wanted to be going.”

“You don’t know already?” Dion asked, looking confused. “But where have we been driving?”

“Around,” I said. “I needed time to think. Dion, your brother lived with you and your mother, right?”

“Yeah. You know Greek families. . . .”

I frowned. “Not sure I do.”

“We’re a tight lot,” Dion said with a shrug. “Moving out on your own . . . well, that’s just not done. Hell, I assume Panos would have stayed nearby even after he’d married. There’s no resisting the pull of a Greek family.”

The key to Panos’s corpse might very well be at the family home. At the very least, going there would indicate to Zen that we were still looking for something, which might encourage her to postpone another confrontation.

“Let’s head there, Wilson,” I said. “I want to talk to the family.”

“I am the family!” Dion said.

“The rest of the family,” I said, getting out my phone and dialing. “Hold on a minute.” The phone rang a few times before being picked up.

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