Written in Red Page 128

“Costs an arm—literally—if it’s lost or damaged, but the benefactor who finances these assignments believes in giving his people the highest-quality equipment, since there are rarely second chances.”

“How can something like this be manufactured without the Others knowing about it?” Asia asked.

He gave her a feral grin. “You can hide all kinds of things from them if you know how. Now. Give me that storage card, and let’s see if what you’ve got is worth that late-night phone call.”

Stung by the implied criticism that she had annoyed an important man for a pittance of information, she popped the storage card out of the camera and handed it to the messenger. He slipped it into one of his little boxes, then clicked on the program that would open the pictures.

He studied them for a minute. Then he whistled softly. “I stand corrected. These are worth a late-night call.” He looked at her with new interest. “Where did you find this?”

“In the Liaison’s Office.”

“How fast do they respond to threats?”

“Fast. And the police respond almost as fast.”

“Damn. They usually drag their heels when a call is about a Courtyard.”

“Not here.” She hesitated. This whole assignment was a lot riskier than anything else she’d done for her backers, and doing work for this benefactor and her backers had its own kinds of risk. But, damn, it was exciting and just the kind of thing Asia Crane, SI, would do.

“I think some distractions, some false alarms, would be smart,” she said, slipping into the role of her alter ego. “Give the police a reason to slow their response time. Create distractions that are nothing but annoyances.”

He began printing the pictures, studying the overall map of the Courtyard while the enlarged images printed. “Small distractions and annoyances close to the gates.” He moved a finger around the area that contained the shops, consulate, and Liaison’s Office. “Activity mostly during the day?”

“And early evening. They don’t keep regular hours like a human business, but most of the businesses are closed by nine p.m.”

“What about this place? The Utilities Complex.”

Asia shook her head. “Don’t know. I’d guess more activity during the day, but I’m not sure if humans are allowed in there.”

“We can find out,” he said absently while he continued to study the map. “Distractions. We can keep them stirred up so they don’t recognize the real threat when it comes.”

“But nothing until after Moonsday.”

He turned his head and studied her. “Why is that?”

“Because I already put the first distraction in motion. And I figure it will happen on Moonsday.”

He finished printing the pictures, even printed out one extra of the overall map for her to keep. After putting his equipment back in its case and sliding the pictures into a manila envelope, he gave her a thorough look—and smiled. “I was told you also needed something more personal.”

“Not that,” she said. “I don’t want anyone’s scent there except the man I was with tonight.”

“Then what are you looking for?”

“Rough me up. Not enough to need a hospital or report it to the police, but enough that other women would understand me wanting to break up with this man—and not come around where he might see me. I need a reason not to be around the Courtyard on Moonsday.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You setting him up?”

“Let’s say he’s going to act as insurance for all of us.”

The messenger gave her body a coldly professional study while he pulled on a pair of thin leather gloves. “Then let’s get started.”

CHAPTER 20

“Are you sure?” Simon asked, after closing his office door and returning to the desk.

“I’m sure,” Vlad replied. “I followed them from the Green Complex. And this morning, Blair confirmed that the BOW should have been fully charged, since he connected it to the energy source yesterday afternoon, and it isn’t.”

“Then why didn’t you take care of it last night?”

“Why didn’t you take care of it this morning after Nathan told you he’d found Darrell’s scent in the back room and sorting room?” Vlad countered.

Simon glanced at the comfy Wolf bed in the corner of his office—an item several of the Wolves now had in their work spaces—and knew he and Vlad had the same reason for not killing Darrell right away.

He didn’t care what the police or the human government or the whole damn city of Lakeside thought about him tearing out the throat of a human who broke trust with the terra indigene. But there had been the possibility that Meg had asked Darrell to deliver something to her at the Green Complex, and he’d gotten scared when he saw Vlad because he’d allowed Asia Crane to come with him. And there was the slightest possibility that Meg had asked Darrell to help her with something in the back room or in the sorting room. The Business Association wasn’t as strict about keeping known humans out of those rooms since Meg started working for them, mostly because she needed human company to be happy, and the Others wanted her to be happy so she would stay.

Couldn’t eat Darrell if the man really had been doing something for Meg.

“We can’t allow a monkey to break our rules,” Vlad said.

“No, we can’t. But Darrell works for Elliot. Since the man didn’t do more than drive to the Green Complex without permission, I’ll let Elliot decide how to deal with him.” Simon thought for a moment. “After I talk to Elliot, I’ll call Chris Fallacaro and have him change the locks at the consulate and on the Liaison’s Office.”

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