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Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 4

“You’re jumping to conclusions.”

“I’d better be,” Ivy said. “We had an equilibrium, Steve. Things were working. I don’t want to start worrying about aspects vanishing again.”

My limo finally pulled up, Wilson—my butler—driving. It was late evening, and the regular driver only worked a normal eight-hour shift.

“Who’s that in the back?” J.C. said, jogging up and trying to get a clear view through the tinted windows.

“Yol Chay,” I said.

“Huh,” J.C. said, rubbing his chin.

“Think he’s involved?” I asked.

“I’d bet your life on it.”

Delightful. Well, a meeting with Yol was always interesting, if nothing else. The restaurant valet pulled open the door for me. I moved to step in, but J.C. put his hand on my chest and stopped me, unholstering his sidearm and peering in.

I glanced at Ivy and rolled my eyes, but she wasn’t looking at me. Instead, she watched J.C., smiling fondly. What was up with those two?

J.C. stood back and nodded, removing his hand from my chest. Yol Chay lounged inside my limo. He wore a pure white suit, a silver bow tie, and a polished set of black-and-white oxford shoes. He topped it all with sunglasses that had diamonds studding the rims—an extremely odd outfit for a fifty-year-old Korean businessman. For Yol, though, this was actually reserved.

“Steve!” he said, holding out a fist to be bumped and speaking with a moderately thick Korean accent. He said the name Stee-vuh. “How are you, you crazy dog?”

“Dumped,” I said, letting my aspects climb in first, so the valet didn’t close the door on them. “The date didn’t even last an hour.”

“What? What is wrong with the women these days?”

“I don’t know,” I said, climbing in and sitting down as my aspects arranged themselves. “I guess they want a guy who doesn’t remind them of a serial killer.”

“Boring,” Yol said. “Who wouldn’t want to date you? You’re a steal! One body, forty people. Infinite variety.”

He didn’t quite understand how my aspects worked, but I forgave him that. I wasn’t always sure how they worked.

I let Yol serve me a cup of lemonade. Helping him with his problem a few years back had been some of the most fun, and least stress, I’d ever encountered on a project. Even if it had forced me to learn to play the saxophone.

“How many today?” Yol asked, nodding to the rest of the limo.

“Only three.”

“Is the spook here?”

“I’m not CIA,” J.C. said. “I’m special forces, you twit.”

“Is he annoyed to see me?” Yol asked, grinning behind his garish sunglasses.

“You could say that,” I replied.

Yol’s grin deepened, then he took out his phone and tapped a few buttons. “J.C., I just donated ten grand in your name to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I just thought you’d like to know.”

J.C. growled. Like, literally growled.

I leaned back, inspecting Yol as the limo drove us. Another followed behind, filled with Yol’s people. Yol had given Wilson instructions, apparently, as this wasn’t the way home. “You play along with my aspects, Yol,” I said. “Most others don’t. Why is that?”

“It’s not play to you, is it?” he asked, lounging.

“No.”

“Then it isn’t to me either.” His phone chirped the sound of some bird.

“That’s actually the call of an eagle,” Tobias said. “Most people are surprised to hear how they really sound, as the American media uses the call of the red-tailed hawk when showing an eagle. They don’t think the eagle sounds regal enough. And so we lie to ourselves about the very identity of our national icon . . .”

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And Yol used this as his ringtone. Interesting. The man answered the phone and began speaking in Korean.

“Do we have to deal with this joker?” J.C. said.

“I like him,” Ivy said, sitting beside Yol. “Besides, you yourself said he was probably involved with that assassin.”

“Yeah, well,” J.C. said. “We could get the truth out of him. Use the old five-point persuasion method.” He made a fist and pounded it into his other hand.

“You’re terrible,” Ivy said.

“What? He’s so weird, he’d probably get off on it.”

Yol hung up his phone.

“Any problems?” I asked.

“News of my latest album.”

“Good news?”

Yol shrugged. He had released five music albums. All had flopped spectacularly. When you were worth 1.2 billion from a life of keen commodities investing, a little thing like poor sales on your rap albums was not going to stop you from making more.

“So . . .” Yol said. “I have an issue I might need help with.”

“Finally!” J.C. said. “This had better not involve trying to make people listen to that awful music of his.” He paused. “Actually, if we need a new form of torture . . .”

“Does this job involve a woman named Zen?” I asked.

“Who?” Yol frowned.

“Professional assassin,” I replied. “She was watching me at dinner.”

“Could be wanting a date,” Yol said cheerfully.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Our problem,” Yol said, “might involve some danger, and our rivals are not above hiring such . . . individuals. She’s not working for me though, I promise you that.”

“This job,” I said. “Is it interesting?”

Yol grinned. “I need you to recover a corpse.”

“Oooo . . .” J.C. said.

“Hardly worth our time,” Tobias said.

“There’s more,” Ivy said, studying Yol’s expression.

“What’s the hitch?” I asked Yol.

“It’s not the corpse that is important,” Yol said, leaning in. “It’s what the corpse knows.”

3

“Innovation Information Incorporated,” J.C. said, reading the sign outside the business campus as we pulled through the guarded gate. “Even I can tell that’s a stupid name.” He hesitated a moment. “It is a stupid name, right?”

“The name is a little obvious,” I replied.

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