Tris stalked down the hall. A man waited at the far end. If somebody so starched and proper could look pissed, he did—a rogue glitter in his pleasant brown eyes. Paul was a Stalling, but his chunky build would have looked right at home on a Barcalounger.
“Tris! I’ve been waiting—”
Or rather, Art had been waiting. Paul was Art’s creature. Technically the company go-fer and in reality the son Art wanted--his yes-man to the nth degree. Paul's softly obese body concealed a razor-sharp mind and the innate goodness of a boy scout, something that made him one of the most conflicted people Tris knew. He kept walking, out past Paul and his bodyguards, down the hall toward the elevator.
“Tris! Please, the situation is—pardon my french—shit. Merlin is closeted with Art. Percival just got back, and Intel is giving me Hell’s own headache. I need answers—”
“I’ll upload a summary.”
Paul ran to grab his shoulder. “Tristran!”
Tris spun and slammed Paul back against the wall—forearm pressed to his throat. “Don't touch me.”
Paul waved a frantic hand at security. “Get back! Jesus—” He shoved Tris off and dropped to his feet with a grunt. “Art wants to see you.”
“Yeah.” Tris knew his uncle could see him. He looked up at the cameras. “I know.”
The elaborately furnished pavilion high perched high on StallingCo’s tallest building. Merlin stood silhouetted against the night sky, one hand tangled in the billowing drapes. He was big and dark-haired, although in him size had translated into a kind of slender height. His suit was ice-green Prada and his earrings were emerald solitaires. “Hands-on leadership,” he drawled, turning to walk towards Tris. “How...colorful.”
The elevator opened on Val. He was a big man in a polo shirt and khakis, his Stalling-black hair cropped close to his head. Security surrounded Val, keeping him centered in their human wall with the ease of long practice.
“Out—” he said, pointing to Merlin.
Tris was vaguely aware of Paul in the background, but the other man had long since perfected the art of the quick fade. Despite being Merlin’s twin, he didn’t go up against the Triumvirate. Merlin in Ops, Tris in Intelligence and Percival—their nominal leader.
“I think not, cousin. You’re behind the curve again.”
Val brushed his hand down and security peeled away. “I’m sorry. Did I say it was optional?”
Tris waited until the elevator pinged before he said, “He won’t forget this.”
Val rubbed his chin. “He tried to usurp my authority. If I let him get away with it, he’ll try again.”
Art Stalling pushed out from behind his desk. He was a big man with graying hair dyed black. “Very nice, my boy.”
Val gave his father a cold stare. “I didn’t do it for you, father.”
Art shrugged and focused his full attention on Tris. “Watanabe?” he barked.
“Not good enough. My daughter is getting married and nothing—do you hear me? Nothing is going to mess that up. You have four days, Tristran. I want results. I want that bastard right there—in that chair—trussed like a goddamned turkey, where I know he won’t hurt my girl.”
Tris turned to leave. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Lots of family coming in--your sister, Elaine. Her husband.”
That caught his attention and Art knew it.
“Ask me how I know,” Art called after him. “Tristan? Ask me how I know--"
Tris slammed the door behind him. The sprawling gardens that centered the StallingCo family compound hulked black in the waning moonlight.
Val followed Tris out and stopped to pick up a pair of garden shears. He glanced at his bodyguards and opened his hand. “Walk with me,” he said.
Security melted back, out of earshot.
Jasmine lined the wide gravel path. The flowers had belonged to Val’s mother, Eliza. She’d died the year Tris turned fourteen, tortured to death in a revenge killing. Val grew the bushes despite Art’s near constant attempts to destroy them. A long granite slab took them up a slight rise. Val lived in the only one of the family buildings to look inward. A long shoji-screened veranda ran the length of the ground floor, vaguely reminiscent of a Japanese castle done up Hawaiian-style.
Val sat on the bottom stair and dropped his shears on the lacquered wood beside him. “The closer it gets to Jen’s wedding, the worse he gets. My father is stressed and your pursuit of Lance adds to that. I want you to back off.”
“Is this payment for saving my ass?”
“A request—and a damned polite one, so dial it back, Tristan—I’m not looking for a fight.”
Tris turned to leave. “This conversation is over.”
Val got to his feet. “I’m telling you, man. Back off. Do I need dynamite and blasting caps to get through the rocks in your head? I won’t let you kill him—”
Tris stopped long enough to look over his shoulder. “Killing him isn’t enough. I want him to suffer. Don’t get in my way.”
Val slammed the gate on the cargo elevator up and stalked out into the room, not so stiff now that he was away from prying eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “God, this has been a fucking day—”
Tris slipped a knife under his makeshift bandage. “Can’t buy omnipotence, Val?”
The enormous room contained a futon, a chair and a card table. Val pulled out the chair and sat down. “I have it on back order. When you’re done, I need you to see something.”
There was a body in the morgue. Val slid the tray out and jerked the cover down. “Recognize him?”
Tris ghosted in closer. The corpse had been bagged in all its attendant crap and the stench of bloody shit hung over the corpse like a cloud. “Security?”
Val shook his head. “Perimeter guard. He was patrolling the access road. A patrol found him in the ravine up near the second checkpoint.”
Tris studied the distorted face. “Poison.”
Val pulled paperwork from his pocket. “Yeah.”
Tris glanced at the printouts and handed them back. “I’ll take care of it.”
“The second checkpoint is over a hundred yards into StallingCo territory,” said Val.
Which meant the killer had breached security. “Have we changed the codes?”
“No.” Val pulled the zipper up over the body and slid the drawer back into the wall. “It’s an ops problem. Not family security.”
Val met his eyes. “Yeah--I know.”
Amy let the voice-mail play twice. Hawaiian Electric wasn’t going to give Avatar another extension. If she couldn’t get Izumi to open his wallet, the only power equipment at Avatar would be candles.
She closed the phone and slipped it down in her pocket while her thoughts ran around in little circles. There had to be a way. She pushed out through the double doors into the parking lot. There was a picnic table on the grassy verge near the road. Amy sat down, hands locked around her knees. Every time she slammed up against a wall, it took longer for her to bounce back. She didn’t need an objective opinion to know she was in trouble.
Honolulu glittered across the dark expanse of Keehi Lagoon, a wash of light against the distant mountains.
A hand slipped over her mouth and pulled her head back. “Amy Wong?”
Pale blue eyes met hers, burning with suppressed rage. “Play nice. Tris sent me.”
She threw herself to the side and snapped at him, teeth bared. “Damn it! Let go—”
His lips drew back. “Don’t bite, baby. I bite back.”
If there was an award for scrawny, Amy Wong would win. She was light as a cat and just as skittish. Fallon had seen dozens like her on the streets in Beijing. The only difference was this girl looked like she shopped at Wal-Mart. Probably the accumulated effect of piss-poor and threadbare. What made her so special?
He jerked her to her feet, and she ripped away from him—halfway across the broken asphalt parking lot before he could introduce himself. Fallon followed her through a pair of cracked glass doors into a dilapidated old warehouse. A claustrophobic little room held a couple of chairs and a desk so old it looked like a WWII battleship. Everything that wasn’t falling down was patched up, and it stank like—oh, hell yeah—spaghetti.
Man, it creeped him out. There was nothing Fallon hated more than spaghetti. Some back-brain, gut-level, shit-I-ain’t-gonna-eat-that-crap-again.
A hallway behind the desk. Couple of openings. Staircase. T-junction farther on. Sound and light came from around the corner, nothing panicked. Up then. Heavy treads, thick metal, worn concrete. He hoped they weren’t going to break. Yeah, he could explain that--broke my leg falling through your girl’s staircase.
Caravaggio would shit himself laughing.
He still had problems with the idea of Caravaggio being a covert agent. They’d met in passing over the years, one hot spot or another. He never thought they’d end up working together.
The click stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Put your hands where I can see them.”
Light trickled up from behind him. Now that he was looking for it, he caught the vague outline of a door at the top of the stairs. Damned stupid mistake. Maybe he wanted to die.
“I’m from Tris,” he said, hoping like hell that wasn’t a shotgun.
It was, and deep down, it didn’t surprise him.
The barrel swung to cover him. “Why would Tris send someone?”
Fallon gave her the courtesy of an honest answer. “Don’t know.” The light was getting brighter or his eyes were adjusting.
Amy chewed at her lip. “Can you prove you’re legit?”
“I’m reaching for my phone,” he told her. “Don’t get twitchy.”
If eyes were windows to the soul, this man didn’t have one. Six foot four, black hair buzzed down close to his skull and prison pallor. He was scary with a capital S and he kept looking at her like she wasn’t what he expected. Which was all good, because she hadn’t expected him at all.
He put the phone down and backed away.
“Don’t move.” Amy inched down the stairs, holding the gun steady.
He put his hands back on his head, sat down on the bottom riser and stretched his long legs out across the worn metal grating. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
It rang twice and a voice she recognized said, “Yeah?”
There was silence on the other end of the line. It went on too long before he finally said, “Amy.”
“There’s a man here who says you sent him.”
“You left so fast--I’m sorry about my father. Why is Fallon here?” Words tumbled over themselves trying to get out. “Is that man still after you? Wouldn’t you be safer—Tris? Damn it—”
“Man, I never thought I’d see the day.” Fallon got to his feet and slipped the phone back in his pocket. “You scared the shit out of him.”
“He hung up on me!”
“Damn straight. Got any food?”
Amy rubbed a hand over her face. “We might have some spaghetti...”
Tris stared out into the darkness. The only people who had ever cared about him were his mother and lately, his cousin Jen. Even his little sister had pretty much cut him out of her life. Amy’s concern felt...strange.
He twisted the top off a bottle of date wine and lifted the squat brown bottle to his lips. What was wrong with him? He flung the bottle away and rubbed at his eyes. Kimo had no reason to kill her.
Security was closing in. The former StallingCo operative had to know his time was limited. A divided target was no target at all. And a divided mind was death. Tris turned away. He had to get his focus back. With Jen’s wedding coming up, Intel was working double shifts. Something was going on. Like a cesspit, it’d deepened until he could almost see the undercurrents. Garbage spinning into a vortex. Stallings stripped of power and isolated. He’d told Val the Stallings at Hale Ohana should have been separated, not just from family, but from each other.
Wealth beyond imagination. Stress fractures deep enough to topple governments. If they ever stopped pulling apart long enough to work together, the world wouldn’t be big enough. Three Stallings were a conspiracy--and at Hale Ohana, there were fourteen.
He grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and eased it over his bandages. Amy was right, he had to let the ribs heal, but there wasn’t enough time. He limped over to the shower. By the time he got out and re-wrapped his bandages, it was midnight. A whisper of sound came from the floor beneath his.
DalCon was loud and obnoxious. Keegan had invited his whole damned team to what was shaping up to be the biggest party to hit StallingCo since Paul’s wedding. Over twenty distant relatives and various connections were due tomorrow. More later. Thirty-six children under the age of eighteen and Guinevere’s friends. Intel was still working through the background checks.
Much as he hated Art, there was logic behind his uncle’s bluster. If Kimo got in, he could wreck serious damage before being stopped. They were dangerously concentrated.
Tris padded over to his closet. There wasn’t much in his loft. More than anyone, he knew how security could be subverted. No hiding places or shadowed corners. Everything out in the open.
His phone rang as he was strapping into another gun harness. “Yeah,” he growled.
Raphael was uncommonly sober. “Brace yourself—”
Tris reached for the table and found himself on the floor with no idea how he’d fallen. The tamachaq word for zone was literally, to faint. He’d started the search for his father with no idea how to get past Val. His cousin understood the potential for violence within their family and as the self-appointed mediator, he went to extreme lengths to keep combatants’ apart.
“Argentina. Deke is on the ground and says the info is good. I’ll need your okay to abort this mission.”
“Do it,” said Tris. “Low pro all the way. I want visuals.”
“And if it is your father?”
Tris cut the connection. “I’ll take care of it.”
Unless Kimo could walk through walls, he was going to have to come up through one of the stairwells. Fallon paced back and forth, quartering the common room. Too early for day, too late for night. What the hell? He wasn’t complaining. The Wongs treated him like a person, fed him and let him hang like they weren’t afraid he was going to knife their daughter.
Rachel had given him the hairy once over the minute Tris was brought into play. But after four months Fallon was used to it. The man was as popular as a new plague vector.
Fallon pulled up a chair and angled the rickety ladderback to where he could cover both doors. It was warm and he was full. He’d suffered worse. There was no way he was going back to StallingCo until the wedding. He could find something to do for six days.
“How long has it been since you’ve slept?”
He’d never heard her coming. If he turned, she’d see his face, and he’d be damned if he’d let Corlis see what she did to him. She’d always had the ability to fuck with his head. He laid his gun out across his thigh, letting her know he considered her a threat.
“Padraic,” she said, impatient now. Like she really gave a shit.
He looked up. There was nothing in her winter-pale eyes. Had he thought there would be? “In default mode, babe? Where’s your partner?”
“We need to talk.”
She hesitated. Strange for Corlis, who was almost as subtle as a falling refrigerator. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was afraid, but shit—when it came to her, his needs played hardball. There was nothing weak about her. She wanted something and this deliberate show of concern was just another way to jerk his chain.
She took a step closer. Fallon held his breath, eyes flicking up to her face. It had been way too long. When she traced the line of his mouth with her tongue, he thought he’d explode right then and there. It felt like a balloon was wedged up in his jeans. He couldn’t breathe. There wasn’t enough air.
She moved to kiss him again, but this time he held her off.
There were tears in her eyes. So fucking fake. She knew exactly what she was doing.
“You want to talk?” He put down his Glock and spread his legs. “C’mon, babe. On your knees. Show me how much—”
He hooked her ankles and she fell heavily, face down in his lap, shoulders hunched up around her ears. And shit—this wasn’t what he wanted. Not this—what the hell was wrong with him? They had to talk. Now, before—ah, Jesus. It was so fucking good, his head fell back, eyes rolling up in his head.
“Fallon?” she said, cool and disinterested, like her lips and tongue weren’t working away at him.
“Stop, Liss. We’ll...talk. Damn,” his voice dropped and cracked, his entire body shaking. “Oh, damn...Liss, please...”
She smiled at him.
Shit--! Fallon lurched back.
“It really does taste salty.” Corlis stood, kicked the chair out from under him, and shoved him over on his side. “Get up, asshole. It’s only a flesh wound.”
“Fallon? What—” Amy froze, hands away from her body. God, no sudden moves. She didn’t know the woman—pale hair and a face with eyes like chips of ice. There was blood on that tightly held mouth, and Amy had the horrible feeling she knew where it came from. “She bit you!”
Fallon didn’t look so dangerous now, the whites of his eyes showing all around his freaky pale irises. “Right. Let’s not go spreading that around and try to be a little quieter. Jesus—”
“Do you need a doctor?”
He rolled heavily. “It’s stopped bleeding.”
“How can you—” tell? There was blood everywhere.
“Are you worried?” The woman looked down at Amy with a total lack of expression. “I didn’t take it off.”
“Who are you?”
“What do you care?”
The stranger had to be five ten, five eleven. Beautiful in the same way a fer-de-lance was beautiful, with a cold economy of grace.
Amy inched in front of Fallon, giving him what little protection she could. “He’s mine.”
“Corlis.” The woman nodded abruptly. Information as promised. “Residual pain?”
“Fuck you—” Fallon staggered to his feet, hunched over and sweating.
The woman started for the door. “You don't have what it takes.”
Tris panted, trying to wake himself up. Fear—and blood. His mother, as she’d been in the last few days before her death. So damned thin. They both were. At twelve, Tris could have easily passed for nine. Elaine was the baby, the only one of them not all skin and bones.
Singapore glittered in the early dusk, a wash of fairy lights distorted by the familiar thickness of bullet-proof glass. StallingCo was a rarity in that it was held by a single family. Sixty floors up wasn’t enough to distance them from the people who wanted in.
Come on, come on--they had to leave. It was five. Lance would be back soon. Whatever Rainey had in mind had to be done now. Tris had seen the tickets in his father’s briefcase. StallingCo Petroleum was trying to deal with the Libyan government. They had no branches in North Africa. Singapore was the nerve center of StallingCo East.
He finally tugged at her. “We have to go—”
“I have to go—”
For a breathless second Tris felt gutted, all his breath blown out in a hemorrhage of fear. “No!”
Rainey didn’t make the mistake of trying to touch him. Bandages were the only things holding him up. Three of his ribs were cracked and he was badly bruised.
“Bebe, you saw it, too. I’m not a good mother. If I could take all your beatings on me I would, but I’m such a coward. I keep thinking, if I die...there’s no one to stand between that man and Lain. Oh, God—the way he looked at her—”
Tris hated his little boy, I’m-so-damned-helpless voice. And most of all he hated the way it cracked right there at the end. He turned away and felt her touch on his wrist. And then he was in her arms, and the pain didn’t matter, because he wasn’t going to leave her all alone to face the monster.
The door opened and Lain squealed with delight. Only a kid, after all. What did she know?
“Uncle Dart, Uncle Dart!”
Arthur Stalling swung her up into his arms, a big man with cold Stalling-black eyes.
“Is this my little Lainey?” he rumbled. “My, you’ve grown—”
Liar. Even on double rations, Lain wasn’t big. Tris swung out of his mother’s embrace and wiped his eyes on the back of his faded black shirt. Rainey stood silent. She’d obviously talked to Art. Equally obvious Art didn’t like her. But he liked Lain...a fact Tris could use to his advantage.
Rainey stuttered, fumbling for a handle when Tris already had the perfect lever. And in this instance, knowledge was power. He stepped in front of her, forcing Art to acknowledge him.
“He doesn’t care about us, Mom. He cares about StallingCo. And he doesn’t want a scandal, isn’t that right, Uncle?”
Art straightened to his full six feet four inches, Lain snuggled down in his arms. “Are you threatening me, boy?”
Tris threw his head back and looked at Art down the length of his nose. Arrogant like all the Stallings. “Yes,” he said, finding his voice at last. And it was a soft, cold voice indeed. “I am. You’ll protect Lain for us.”
“Think about it, Uncle. I promise you, I have—”
Rainey went white. “No! Vous ne saves pas ca que vous dites—”
“Ll est trop tard pour moi.” Tris turned away. It’s too late for me. I’m already dead.
Fallon stared out the window, a muscle ticcing in his jaw. “It’s hot in here.”
Amy smiled. “I’d rather be hot than dead. What happens if I turn off the defroster and we run headlong into another car?”
“That was my space. I hate circling the block. Are you hurting? There’s aspirin in the glove box.”
“It’s a fucking flesh wound."
“It’s a wound. Let me emphasize that with a period. Wound. Bleeding, traumatized flesh. You are, excuse me...fucking hurt. Would you like an aspirin?”
“Girl, you ain’t my mama.”
Rain poured down, turning downtown Honolulu into a stew of dirty food wrappers. Amy slipped into a space and turned off the engine. She felt cold and drained. Mania slipped away leaving her empty. “I care about you, Fallon. And I’d like to be your friend.”
It was obvious from the vicious look Fallon turned on her that he didn’t want a friend. God, Amy. That was the wrong thing to say.
He snarled, “Friends fucking screw you.”
“That is so unfair. You don’t even know me. How would you know what kind of friend I’d be? Everyone needs a friend. Friends help you out when things go bad. Friends—”
“Fucking screw you. Right.”
“How remarkably cynical. Did you get that from Tris?”
“I’m not his parrot.”
It was obvious he was leaving off a few choice words. “You like me! I know you do. So...now that we’re talking, what’s your favorite color?”
Fallon dropped his head in his hands. “Black.”
“Mine is purple. Isn’t that so cool? Quick, do you like liver?” His blink of surprise made her smile. “I don’t like it either. We have something in common. Good, huh? Pocket change? For the meter.” She held out a crinkled green wad. “I only have a dollar.”
“Are you real?”
Amy tapped her chin. “When you close the lid, is the cat really in the box? I’ve never been able to figure that one out. I think I’m real.” She rolled the window down and stuck her head out. “Drop from the sky!”
Fallon leaned forward. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m supposed to visualize my goals, and every day I visualize a big bag of money falling from the sky.”
“The odds on that—”
“Are slim to none. They’re nonexistent if I don’t try. Everything about Avatar costs money. If I can’t get Izumi to fund me for the next six months, I’ll lose power and the health department will shut us down. It’s like dominoes. All the pieces touch.”
She got out of the car, hands over her face. Her makeup was running like a coward and she so didn’t want to do this. “When I have some spare cash, I’m going to buy an umbrella.”
Up close, Fallon was a lot bigger than she remembered. He looked down at her with his hot eyes, mouth twisted up in a sneer and spat out, “You sound like my mother. When I have some spare cash...She died ten years ago, poor as shit. Ain’t nothing falling from the sky, girl.”
“Rain falls from the sky. Planes. Why not money?” Amy tipped her head back and opened her mouth. She could never catch a raindrop. She stuck her tongue out. “I caught a raindrop!” She stuck her tongue out again and licked her lips. “It’s brackish.”
“Jesus, this is too fucking weird.” Fallon started after her, and abruptly caught her arm. “Thanks for what you did. I mean, me and Corlis...y’know, the other night...”
They stopped in the shelter of an overhang. “That woman was wrong, and I won’t let her hurt you again.”
“Hurt me?” Pale eyes met hers, startled into a kind of raw honesty. “Jesus Christ! Has anyone ever called you crazy?”
She grinned, inviting him into the joke. “All the time.” Her hand opened, palm up. “Pocket change?”
His gaze slipped away to something behind her. Amy turned. Tris stalked toward them, the wind slapping his long black coat against his boots. The storm gathered behind him, coming in off the water with the stench of sewage and low tide.
Fallon swore under his breath. “I’m outta here.”
“Honest to God, he’s not that scary.”
“If you’re not scared, baby, you ain’t looked into his eyes.” He took her keys, gunned the engine and ripped her car away from the curb.
Tris stopped, the expression on his face cold and opaque. His jeans were water darkened and his heavy black shirt was stenciled with something in french.
“He drives like somebody who’s never seen a white line before,” she said. “Was he in the military?”
“It’s almost ten.”
“That’s not an answer.” She gave him a smile, and tipped her head back. “How do you feel?”
It was painfully obvious he didn’t want to be here. A chill formed in her belly. Damn it! I don’t want to be your problem. She turned away, arms wrapped around herself.
“I have...bruised ribs...”
She smiled at him. “But you’re wrapped up now?”
“Are you coming in?”
He waited for her to pass him. “Yes.”
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