“Did you see that?”
One of the Normal girls blinked several times.
Nix held his breath. He’d only lost his fade for a second.…
“You said you saw something.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, did you?”
Words, words, words. Solid people and their incessant talking. Nix tried not to think about the rest of it. About what Abigail Sykes held in one hand.
About that other kind of wrong.
“Hey, Abby? If your dad … if taking this made him all … cold and stuff—”
“He did that on his own. This makes it better.” Abigail sounded intrigued. Addicted. Drunk on power, just by looking at the vial she held in her hand. The needle. “It’s mine.”
“Okay, okay, I get it. Your drug. You want to have its narcotic babies. Whatever. Just … save some of it for Justin, ’kay? You promised you would.”
“Abigail!” Someone other than the girls spoke the name. Mrs. Sykes, Abigail’s mother, yelled up from downstairs, reminding Nix that the girls weren’t the only Normals in the house. “Answer me, Abby! I’m not kidding, young lady. I’ve had just about enough of …”
The girl in question rolled her eyes. She stuck the vial and the needle into the band of her skirt and rolled it over twice. “Mother calls,” she drawled. “You better duck out the back, Court. You know how she gets after her afternoon nip.”
“Abigail Andrea Sykes!”
“Gotta run.” Abigail Andrea Sykes haphazardly slung the top to the hidden safe, setting it on the path to closing, and, Courtney on her heels, flounced out of the room. Moving more quickly than Nix would have believed possible, Claire leapt to catch the hidden drawer before it closed, nothingness melting off her body just in time.
“Gotcha.” Claire’s word echoed in the now empty room, and Nix’s body tensed. If the Normals heard, if they turned around …
They didn’t. Of course they didn’t. And a moment later, he and Claire were alone.
Nix shuddered and let go of his own fade, coming to stand beside her in the real world—in front of the desk, looking down into the hidden safe.
Tiny, tiny tapes and an old-fashioned Dictaphone.
Claire met his eyes. “How much do you want to bet that these have something to do with The Society?”
Nix nodded. “How much do you want to bet that whatever drug Sykes was pumping was their doing, too?”
Now that he was solid, Nix couldn’t keep himself from thinking about what they’d seen.
That drug is wrong. There are two types of wrong.
It was impossible. Ten kinds of impossible. And yet, as Claire slipped the first tape into the recorder, turned the volume down low, and pressed play, the unthinkable wormed its way further and further into Nix’s thoughts.
This stuff is killer strong. The second it hits you, you don’t feel anything.
Abigail’s words echoed in his mind, until they were replaced by the voice of a dead man, coming from the Dictaphone.
“You have to give me something to work with here, Ms. Casting.”
“I have given you something to work with.” Ione’s voice. Nix would have recognized it anywhere. “The Society has provided very well for you, Mr. Sykes. Or do I need to remind you just how well?”
“Your previous efforts have been appreciated.”
“Without us, you’d be malingering in the state senate.”
“And without you, I wouldn’t have this pretty, pretty voice. I wouldn’t be so very convincing. And I wouldn’t be poised to make your little proposition happen.”
“You do not want to threaten me, Senator.”
“I’m not threatening you, ma’am. I’m simply … requisitioning new resources. Persuasion alone won’t be enough to get me appointed to the head of the oversight committee. That’s what you want, isn’t it? I need to prove that I take a hard line on domestic terrorism. I need to offer the three-letter men something.”
“Our deal was for you and you alone.”
“You misunderstand me, Ms. Casting. I’m not asking for … refreshments for the CIA. What I’m asking for, well, let’s just call it reconnaissance and threat-removal supplies.”
“I don’t take your meaning, and you should probably count that as a blessing.”
Nix could hear the tension in Ione’s voice. He’d never gotten this kind of reaction out of her himself. He never would.
Not even if he found her in a back alleyway.
Put his gun in her face.
Tried to make her beg for the mercy she never showed anyone else.
“What I need to become integral to the CIA is a weapon, ma’am. X-17 would suffice.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your, shall we say, operatives aren’t as closemouthed as you think they are, Ione. You’ve been holding out on me.”
“We’ve been providing you with power and influence. A word from me, and that ends. You saw what happened to Madsen when he resorted to blackmail. Very messy business, that.”
Jacob Madsen. Seven. Ione had told Nix to make it messy, and he had. Knife in his hand. Blood everywhere. The realization that it was a message—a warning—shouldn’t have surprised Nix, but it did.
“If you cut me off, Proposition 42 will fail.” Sykes sounded confident. Clearly, the warning had gone to waste.
“There will be other propositions,” Ione said, her voice light and cavalier. This was a tone that Nix had heard before; this was the Ione he recognized.
“You don’t want to play with me, Ione.”
“I made you. I can unmake you.”
“Bribery. Murder. Illegal experimentation. Human slavery. I know the location of your little institute. I know what you’re hiding in the lower levels there. You will continue to provide me with the serum, or I swear to God—”
“No need to swear, Mr. Sykes. We’ll take care of you.” She paused. “We always have.”
And then there was a dial tone. After a moment, Sykes’s voice came on. “If I die, even if it appears to be of natural causes, send an investigative team to 446 Nesturn Avenue, 62145. This is Evan Sykes—and that woman doesn’t know who she’s messing with.”