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I started writing Kill Velocity as the sequel to Hot Contract. In the original ending, Fallon got shot and Corlis left to protect him. KV is set seven months later, just before the epilogue. Jen is getting married and a traitor is out to destroy StallingCo. You might call it--"what happens in an alternate universe" because after deleting the firefight and rearranging the sequels, it no longer makes sense to the overall arc. But...I like it.
Tris is on his way to check out Amy--Jen's potential maid of honor, when all hell breaks loose and someone runs him off the road. The crash goes public and the would be killer escapes. Amy brings Tris inside to help. And Fallon arrives at StallingCo for the wedding...
StallingCo Security escorted Fallon through a series of utility tunnels, surrounding him like he was armed and dangerous. He shrugged his duffel up high on his shoulder and tried to ignore the cameras. Everything from floors to walls screamed money--it even smelled like money, all sterile and filtered, like they were afraid he was going to cough in their fancy air.
They stopped at a large, elaborately carved copper door. “This is it,” said the guard closest to the door. “The loft and the bottom two floors are taken, the rooms between are free. This will let you in.” He handed Fallon a black key card with the lightning slash of StallingCo Security. “Swipe twice to pick a room. Mr. Stalling in Ops will re-set the codes.”
Fallon dropped his duffel and shouldered the heavy slab open. The entry soared away from him, atrium tall. “Jesus! How many rooms in this place?”
For a second robo-guard looked almost human. “Six.” He shoved Fallon in over the polished marble threshold, threw the duffel in behind him and slammed the door.
Fallon felt a muscle jump in his jaw. He had to get moving, stop thinking. DalCon was already in place. All it would take was one smirk on Nick’s pretty-boy face and he'd have Corlis’s partner up against the nearest wall, gun jammed down his throat. A bank of elevators centered the far wall, an open stairwell beside them.
Voices echoed from it.
His former partner stepped out into the open. She was laughing and all dressed up in something long and slinky, with long, dangly earrings and high, spiked heels. She had her hand on Nick’s arm, and his arm around her waist. They were touching. In all the years Corlis had partnered with Fallon, she’d touched him reluctantly if ever, and she’d never let him put an arm around her waist.
She didn’t see him until she was out of the stairwell, and even then it took another look for her to process the fact that he was in Honolulu--less than twenty feet away--and ready to kill.
Nick pulled Corlis in close and watched Fallon over her silver pale hair with all the friendliness of a rabid gorilla. Seven months of grueling physical therapy. Fallon was almost a hundred percent. He’d caught a bullet for her, not that she cared. Corlis had no use for a crip and her silence hammered the point home. To be honest, he’d had this totally stupid conviction that if he could only see her—he was so damned pitiful. He’d tried to take their childhood friendship in a new, adult direction, and lost not just his partner, but his best friend.
Nick whispered something in her ear, and her head tipped, cool gray eyes watching Fallon with all the warmth of a stranger.
Beka waved when Amy got back to the common room. “Amy, your mother wants you.”
Like Amy couldn’t tell Rachel was waiting. Amy glanced at the kitchen door and back at Beka “You don’t think you could distract—”
Amy winced. “Guess not.”
She pushed through the swinging door. Steam hung over the kettles and the prep tables were covered with food, but the only people in the room were family.
Rachel was furious, although to her credit she kept it cool. “His name is what...Chris? No last name, darling?”
“Most of the people we help don’t use their last names,” Amy said.
Her brother, Jase, had his arms folded across his chest and his evil face on. No help there. She turned to her father, but with the way he had his mouth squeezed up and brows squinched down, it was obvious he wouldn't side with her.
“Avatar is a youth rescue, honey. And the operative word is youth. That was no child, baby. That was a full-grown, dangerous man, and he was carrying deadly force. Tell her, Jason—”
Jase straightened, black-haired and stocky, still dressed in the aloha shirt he wore as a flight suit. “Trust us, Amy. We know what’s best for you—”
“Last time I checked, I was the only one living in my skin.” Amy’s footsteps echoed on the non-slip tile. She looked down at a bag of carrots and back up at her mother. “Didn’t you tell me not to rely on surface impressions?”
Now Rachel looked constipated. “Yes.”
Amy shoved her hands in her pockets and fumbled for words. “He looks so...alone. I think he could use a friend “
“Oh, God!” Rachel was aghast. “Someone tell this girl she can’t go around making friends with murderers.”
“Mom...” Jase turned away and dropped his voice, hand up over his mouth. “Half the kids out there in the common room have records—”
“I know.” Rachel gritted her teeth.
“Don’t condemn him out of hand.” Amy clenched her hands into fists. “What about our mission statement?”
Her father slapped his forehead. “You’re taking us in a whole different direction. Avatar is for children. You can’t save everyone—”
Amy felt her phone vibrate. “Hold that thought. Thanks for calling Avatar. This is Amy--hey, Mr. Thomas. Yes, ten would be fine.” She forced a laugh. “Only if you bring your checkbook. Thanks again, I’m looking forward to it.”
Her mother leaned across the prep table. “Was that Izumi Thomas?”
Amy slipped the phone back in her pocket. “The philanthropist? Yes, it was.”
“He’s not safe.”
“He’s rich, and he wants me to have breakfast with him.”
Rachel reached up and tossed her hair back. The setting sun poured through the windows at the far end of the kitchen and carved lines in her pale white face. “He wants more than that.”
“I know.” Amy made a quick note in her day planner.
Amy looked up, her gut clenched on a wave of anger. “No, Mom--I won't sleep with him. He didn’t make an appointment.”
Tris held on to his shoulder and swung his legs out over the edge of the bed. The girl’s bed was soft. Amy, he corrected himself. Amy’s bed was soft. It was obviously her bedroom, but there was nothing to show a woman lived here. A desk, books stacked in milk crates. Schedules, folders and calendars. Three kinds of highlighters.
With Val in Beijing, it was one thing to be laid out—another to remove himself from the game entirely. Since when have I become a bargaining piece? He owed no favors. A window at the head of the bed looked out over a service alley. Asphalt, dirty water and more sunlight than he’d seen in weeks. Wood paneling reflected in the thin glass made the room look like an afterthought. His closet was bigger.
The door slammed back.
Amy stood in the doorway, hands clenched on the frame. Light spilled out from behind her like fire. “There’s nothing wrong with my language. There’s something wrong with their—” She shook her head and disappeared behind a door squeezed into the corner.
After a second, he followed.
The tiny bathroom was barely big enough for a shower stall. Amy sat on the toilet with a worn blue towel flipped over her head. “Leave me alone.”
Tris leaned against the wall and threw his head back.
A splotch of liquid appeared on the cotton. “Would you say I’m scrawny?”
“Stop being polite, damn it.” She swore under her breath. “Stupid fudge brownie. Men--it’s all a power trip. He doesn’t even want to sleep with me.” The towel flipped down and she glared at him with red-rimmed, really intense eyes. “He wants to say he did. He wants to add me to his collection. It’s like a game. A big dirty game, and I’m caught right in the middle of it.” Amy stood. “No matter what I do for Avatar. It’s not enough—and it’ll never be enough. There’s something coming. Like the monster in the closet, only it’s up in my head and every day...it gets bigger.” She jerked at the towel and somehow it was over her head again. “Nobody understands," she whispered. “I think I’m going crazy....”
“What would you know?”
“Towels don’t work,” he said, looking at her, willing her to understand what he couldn’t put into words. Memories crowded him. Like ghosts, he carried them still.
Amy pulled the towel down and stared at him. “How old were you?”
His eyes closed. “Twelve.”
“How about blankets? You think blankets work?”
Laughter loosened something in his chest. "No."
Fallon swiped his key card. StallingCo based out of Honolulu. The huge multinational occupied almost an entire valley in the Koolau mountain range. The buildings themselves were a series of interconnected structures built on varying levels with family occupying the uppermost plateau. DalCon was quartered in the smallest building, cantilevered out over a sheer green drop with a view of one of the last watershed forests left on Oahu.
He swiped the card again and locked the door. He'd left DalCon. Nothing said he couldn't find somewhere else to crash. His cell vibrated.
Scary didn’t begin to describe Percival Stalling. There was an entire lock-down devoted to Stallings who’d come down on his bad side. He’d invented Security, not to police the vast Stalling Empire, but to keep a lid on his crazy relatives. And for all the time Fallon had spent in Beijing, he still couldn’t figure the man out.
“Yeah,” he said warily.
“I need a favor,” said Val. “...missing.”
Fallon didn’t want to be caught between his new boss, Tris, and the head of StallingCo Security. “What—?”
“For security reasons, whenever one of us is out of the country, we talk once a day. He missed check-in. Find him. I’m downloading his files. Everything he was working on for the last week. I want him yesterday.”
Tris held out his plate and Rachel filled it with spaghetti. To her credit, she didn’t spit in it. At Amy’s request, he’d tied his hair back and put on someone’s old polo shirt. From the expression on Rachel’s face, he didn’t look any better than he thought he did.
Amy studied him from her place farther down in the serving line. Their eyes met and her mouth curved in a smile that was gone all too fast. For a second the room disappeared. He had things to do and places to go--and yet here he was, with a crazy woman who didn’t know any better than to help him. She was a handle. How he’d allowed it to happen after so many years didn’t matter. Common sense told him to assign her to someone else.
He followed a steady stream of people out the side door. Avatar backed on the airport and the door lead to a long concrete patio. Runway lights starred the darkness beyond the fence. Tris put his plate down on a worn table in the farthest corner and sat.
It didn’t take him long to discover Avatar was something between a vocational school and halfway house. The kids around him had the air of rival gangs enjoying an uneasy truce. Some of them had assimilated, but a handful sat in virtual bubbles. Tris picked up his fork and stabbed the spaghetti. He had to eat. If he didn’t put himself back together, someone would take him apart.
“You stay away from my daughter.” A middle-aged man with a bad comb-over threw himself down on the seat across from Tris and slammed his palm on the table. “Listen to me, boy—”
Tris lunged, caught the man by what was left of his hair and threw him backwards. Amy banged through the decrepit screen door and called out, but Tris didn’t stop, down the alley away from her before anyone thought to move.
Tris heard the motorcycle long before he saw it, a deep throated roar racing up Lagoon Drive. The headlights flashed in and out between the guardrails, coming around the curve on the far side of Keehi Lagoon. It was big and flashy, a red and chrome monster with enormous flyaway tassels like a kid’s tricycle.
Raphael Caravaggio had re-invented his old ride with a vengeance. He stopped beside Tris and pulled off his helmet to reveal an elegantly boned face and sweat-matted hair caught back in a dark ponytail. “I’m going to need some cash—”
“How much?” They were both speaking Tamacheq. Not a language Tris expected casual listeners to understand.
Rafe swung a leg over his bike and dropped to his feet. “I’ll upload my demands tomorrow. My gear is still in transit.”
“Draw a check from Ops. Whatever you need.”
Tris went still. “Do you answer to him, Caravaggio?”
Rafe sneered. “Yeah, call me that, okay? Give me that look. We know your cousin plays us. It gives me a pain, right here to talk to that sanctimonious cretino. I know this isn’t one of your ultra-secret Seth projects, but damn, T—can’t you run Intel through the Seth paymaster and get us away from the Merlin?”
“Intelligence is part of StallingCo Security. Seth is mine.”
Rafe crossed to where Tris leaned against a guard rail. A recovery boat stood twenty yards out, holding steady over the spot where the Viper Diablo had gone down. Rafe turned to look at the skid marks.
“Still doing your own stunts, heh? Per Dio,” he said, lapsing into his native Italian. “I’d kill for a cigarette. These patches don’t work worth a damn.” He scratched his arm.
“You have news for me.”
Rafe’s Italian was pure, aristocratic Tuscan. “Your hunch played out. Kimo showed four days ago.”
“Find him. And give me everything Merlin’s done for the last ten days.”
“You suspect the head of Ops?”
“I suspect everyone.” Tris rubbed a hand over his forehead. “Tell me about Avatar.”
“Avatar? The youth rescue Avatar? What the hell brought them to your attention? You think they have something to do with Kimo?”
“Nah, Kimo doesn’t share his toys.” Fallon walked out of the darkness, dressed all in black—black fatigue pants, black t-shirt and a mood black enough to peel paint.
Tris watched him through narrowed eyes. “Fallon.”
Rafe brushed his coat back, double holstered for a cross draw. “Man, time is money. Can’t you just shoot yourself?”
The big Southerner moved like he was strung on trip wires, eyes glittering. “Yeah, I could, but that’d just make you happy.” He flung a backpack across to Tris. “Clothes.”
Tris stripped the polo over his head. “Amy Wong, protection. Around the clock.”
Rafe straightened. “Amy Wong?”
“Are you questioning me?”
“Hell, yeah—you care about, what? Two people and I don’t include myself. So why are you worried about Amy Wong, the Mother Teresa of Oahu? She’s nice, she’s going to get hurt. It’s only a matter of time—”
Tris spun around. “I’m buying her time! Protection. Around the clock.”
“Tris, I’m telling you--it’s a bad idea!”
They both realized they were yelling at the same time.
“You want protection?” Rafe pointed at Fallon. “You got it. Bokhra—” He slung a leg over his bike and buckled his helmet. Tomorrow.
“And he what? Damn it, Daddy! I don't buy it. You did something to him—”
“I told him to stay away,” muttered her father.
Amy felt sick. “What did you think he was doing to me?”
Her father threw his hands out. “Amy-girl...”
If she didn’t know just what a manipulative person he was, she’d have felt sorry for him. His nose was bleeding. She’d swear he was spreading it around, trying to make it look worse than it really was. “Stop it,” she said. “Just stop it. You’re trying to force me in the direction you think I should be headed, and I don’t like it. This isn’t about Tris, it’s about me. Isn’t it, Daddy?”
She slammed back into the common room and crossed to her room. Tris was gone.
Her door rattled. “Baby? We meant well.”
Amy wanted to run, but there was nowhere her mother wouldn’t follow. “I know.”
“He...seemed like a nice person.”
“Don’t lie to me, Mom.” Amy raked the hair out of her eyes, shoulders hunched. “He wasn’t nice.”
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