Spy Glass Page 17

“Fine. Fine.” I waved him away. “Just lost my balance.”

He knelt next to me. “It’s brutal the first time.”

I squinted at him. “What?”

“You were in Wirral. I thought you looked…shaky.”

Recognizing the man from the warden’s office, I pushed to my elbow in alarm. “You followed me?”

“Of course. Your face was whiter than a full moon, your eyes were bugged out and you wobbled when you left. What was I suppose to do? Let you fall and crack your head open?”

“No…sorry. I’m just… That was horrible!”

“It’s a punishment. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

“But it seemed…cruel.”

“What did?”

Was he teasing me? A cool humor lurked behind his grayish-green eyes, but it didn’t spoil his genuine interest in my answer.

“The smells, the shrieks, the darkness, the…”

He waited. When I didn’t continue, he said, “Did you actually see anything cruel?”

“No, but—”

“Your imagination filled in the details.”

I wanted to correct him. Not my imagination, but my experience.

“I won’t lie to you. It is bad, but not cruel. They’re fed, given water, exercise and fresh air. No one is tortured or harmed by the COs. And considering what most of them have done to others, it’s more than they deserve. Here…”

He hooked his arm under mine and helped me to my feet. I swayed, but regained my balance, trying to remember the last time I ate.

“What are COs?”

“Short for correctional officers. We abbreviate everything.”

The man still held my arm.

“Thanks for the help,” I said, trying and failing to subtly break his strong grip. “I’ll be fine.”

He gave me a skeptical look. “You need a drink, and I know just the place.”

Instinctively, I gauged his skill level. About six inches taller than me, he had a lean, wiry build. Buzzed black hair showed a few scars. I guessed he was five or six years older than me. Long, thin face that could easily get lost in a crowd, but those hazel eyes… Amusement filled them, and a slanted smile transformed him from common to unusual.

“Think you can take me?” he asked.

I laughed. “That obvious?”

“Yes.”

“Can you blame me? I don’t know you, and shouldn’t you be returning to work?” I pointed in the direction of the prison.

“My name is Finn. I’m off duty. And I’m wearing a lieutenant’s uniform and not a prison jumpsuit. Shouldn’t that be enough to trust me?”

“No.”

He laughed. Letting go of my arm, he stepped away with his hands up by his shoulders. “Smart lady. No wonder the Councilor hired you as her assistant.”

Alarm flashed through me. “How do you know?”

“COs like to gossip. Besides, I was consulted before they’d let you in.”

“But I had a message.”

“Doesn’t matter. No one enters. No visitors. No messengers. No deliverymen. Not even Councilor Moon can visit her sister, and for their safety, the Councilor and First Advisor are not even allowed inside. Authorized personnel only.”

“And you authorized me?”

“Yes. Now are you going to stand here all day, or are you going to let me buy you a drink?”

Finn must have quite a bit of power within the prison. I chose the drink. He led me to a tavern a few blocks away. Called the Spotted Dog, the utilitarian decor lacked warmth, but the patrons didn’t seem to mind. They generated their own coziness, acting like one big family. It made sense since almost all of them worked at the prison.

My arrival with Finn sent a ripple through the tavern. The hum of conversation died for an awkward moment before spiking back to life. In that time, appraising glances, surprised stares and hostile glares were aimed at me. A few women mingled with the men. A couple of the women wore uniforms, but the rest were in civilian garb. Finn and I sat at a table away from the general crowd.

If this group learned to trust me, then I’d hit the jackpot. Finn had said the COs liked to gossip, and since I had no idea whether the warden would deliver the names to Faith or not, perhaps I would overhear information about the SMU or discover the names of the elite officers. Big if.

Would I be welcomed here without Finn? Doubtful. How much did Finn know about me? Did he know about Kade? And was I really considering using him to obtain the information I needed? How different was this from the story I spun for Faith? I was sure these questions didn’t bother Valek and his corp. Perhaps I should wait for the warden.

But the thought of waiting any longer sent nervous darts of fear through my body. The desire to find my blood before…What? My imagination created all kinds of scenarios. Spilled. Used. Lost. Hidden. Far better to be proactive than not.

“How long have you been working at the prison?” I asked Finn.

He swallowed a gulp of ale and flashed me his slanted smile. “Feels like forever. Actually, I recently transferred in from a Bloodgood prison.”

“Do you plan to stay?”

“This move was a promotion and I’m hoping to work my way to be a warden someday.”

A strange gleam shone in his eyes, and I couldn’t tell if he joked or teased or if he told the truth. “You seem too nice to be a warden. And I can’t imagine anyone ousting Grogan.” I shuddered, remembering his fierce demeanor.

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