Skin Deep Page 15


The car rolled down a waking urban street, lamps flickering off now that the sun was fully up, like servants lowering their heads before their king. The city morgue was near the hospital, situated in a spread-out office complex that could have easily held three or four exciting internet start-ups. We passed carefully-trimmed hedges and trees with last year’s Christmas lights still wrapped around them, dormant until the season started up again.

“All right,” J.C. said to me. “You ready for this?”

“Ready?” I said.

“We’re being tailed by an assassin, Skinny,” he said. “That feeling between your shoulder blades, that’s the knowledge that someone has you in their sights. She could squeeze the trigger at any moment.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ivy said. “She’s not going to hurt us as long as she thinks we’re leading her to important information.”

“Are you sure?” J.C. said. “Because I’m not. At any moment, her higher-ups could decide that you working for Yol is a very, very bad thing. They could decide to remove the competition and take their chances at finding the key on their own.”

The way he said it, cold and straightforward, made me squirm.

“You just don’t like being followed,” Ivy said.

“Damn right.”


“Look,” J.C. said, “Zen has information we’d really like to know. If we capture her, that alone might give us the proof we need. We know where she is, and we have a momentary advantage. How well do you think you could pull off a quiet evacuation?”

“Not well,” I said.

“Let’s try it anyway,” J.C. said, pointing. “See that turn right ahead, as we move into the parking lot? The hedge there will hide us from the view of the car following us. You need to bail from the vehicle there—don’t worry, I’ll help you—and have Jeeves park in front of the building right beside the hedges. We can get the drop on Zen and turn this chase on its head.”

“Reckless,” Ivy said.

It was, but as the turn approached, I made a decision. “Let’s do it,” I said. “Wilson, I’m slipping out of the car at the next turn. Drive as if nothing has happened; don’t slow more than normal. Park right in front of the morgue, then wait.”

He adjusted the rear-view mirror so he could meet my eyes. He didn’t say anything, but I could see that he was concerned.

The turning of the mirror gave me a good glimpse of the dark sedan behind us. I felt under my jacket for the sidearm J.C. had insisted I bring. This was not how I liked missions to go. I’d rather spend ten hours in a room trying to figure out a puzzle or a safe with no lock. Why, lately, did guns always seem to get involved?

I moved to the side door, then crouched down, grabbing the handle. J.C. moved over behind me, hand on my shoulder.

“Five, four, three . . .” he counted.

I took a deep breath.

“Two . . . One!”

I cracked the door right as Wilson turned the car around the hedge. J.C. heaved against my back, somehow pushing me in just the right way so that when I left the car, I hit in a curling roll. It still hurt. The momentum of the car’s turn clicked the door shut and I rolled up into a crouch beside the hedge, where I waited until I heard the car behind us start to turn.

I slipped through the hedge to the other side right as the car turned around it, following Wilson. This meant that I was separated from Zen by the squat wall of densely packed foliage. It ran all the way along the parking lot here.

I scurried along the hedge, head down, keeping pace with Zen’s car. It passed Wilson as he parked, then continued on in a presumably nonsuspicious way toward another section of the parking lot. I caught brief glimpses of black car through holes in the hedge—a shadowed driver, but nobody else visible. The car pulled into a parking stall a short distance from where the hedge ended.

Ahead, the leaves rustled, and J.C. slipped through, handgun out, joining me. “Nice work,” he whispered. “We’ll make a Ranger out of you yet.”

“It was your push,” I said. “Sent me tumbling exactly the right way.”

“I said I’d help.”

I said nothing, too nervous to continue the conversation. I was manifesting something new, an extension of my previous . . . framework. What else could I learn to do by having one of my aspects guide my fingers or steps?

I peeked through the hedge, then took out my handgun. J.C. motioned furiously for me to hide it in front of myself, so cars passing along the street to my right wouldn’t see. Then J.C. nodded toward an opening in the hedge.

I took a deep breath before scrambling through and crossing the short distance to Zen’s car. J.C. tailed me. I came up beside the car in a crouch.

“Ready?” J.C. asked.

I nodded.

“Finger on the trigger, Skinny. This is for real.”

I nodded again. The passenger’s side window, just above me, was open. Palms sweating, I threw myself to my feet and leveled my gun through the open window at the driver.

It wasn’t the assassin.


The driver was a dark-haired kid, maybe eighteen, wearing a hoodie. He cried out, dropping the pair of binoculars he’d been using to look toward my SUV, his face going white as snow as he stared down my handgun.

That was most certainly not Zen Rigby.

“In the car, Skinny,” J.C. said, looking around the parking lot. “Back seat, so he can’t grapple you. Tell him to keep quiet. Don’t look suspicious.”

“Hands where I can see them,” I told the kid, hoping he didn’t see that my gun was shaking. “Don’t say a word.” I pulled open the back door, slipped in, but kept the gun on him.

The kid remained quiet save for a whine in the back of his throat. He was either terrified, or was a very good actor.

“Where’s Zen?” I said to him, lifting the gun up beside the youth’s head.

“Who?” he said.

“No games. Where is she?”

“I don’t . . . I don’t know anything . . .” The kid actually started weeping.

“Damn it,” J.C. said, standing by the front window. “You think he’s acting?”

“No idea,” I said back.

“I should fetch Ivy.”

“No,” I said, not wanting to be left alone. I inspected the kid’s weeping face reflected in the rear-view mirror. Mediterranean skin tone . . . Same nose . . .

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