Ted wrote down something and put it in front of me: $100,000. It was an exorbitant sum, even for Saiman.
“This is your limit. Call him. Now.”
He showed no signs of moving from my chair, making it crystal clear: he didn’t believe me.
I reached for the phone. Saiman answered on the second ring.
“Kate,” a familiar male voice breathed into the receiver. “I thought I was forgotten.”
Ugh. “No, only avoided.” I put him on speaker.
“You’re as blunt as ever. Shall I save us some time? You’re calling because Solomon Red’s insides erupted from his body and attempted to infect the city’s water supply.”
“Yes.” That was expected. Saiman dealt in information, he paid well for it, and mercs were always short on cash.
His voice could’ve melted butter. “Do you require my expertise?”
“The Order requires your expertise.”
“Oh, but I won’t work for the Order.” He laughed. “They’re too lawful for my taste.”
“My apologies for disturbing you, then. I thought you might be interested. I was wrong.”
“But I’ll work for you. On my terms.”
Here we go.
“In fact, I would be excited to work with you. Your call couldn’t have come at a better time.”
He sounded happy all over. This would cost me.
“Let’s get the simplest things out of the way,” Saiman stated. “For the ease of accounting, yours and my own, I will require a flat fee of fifty thousand dollars for my services.”
“That’s a rather large number.”
“I’m a rather expensive consultant.”
“Oh please, Kate, don’t haggle. Ted Moynohan likely authorized double this amount. I know this because he called me this morning and offered me fifty thousand to consult on the case. Which I refused, of course, given that I dislike him personally and find the Order’s fanaticism constricting.”
Ted’s face was granite-hard.
He went behind my back. My memory served up Mauro, bringing me the box of evidence. Why would Mauro have it? All packages came to Maxine’s desk and he never once carried them down to me. Unless the package was in Ted’s office and Ted told him to do it.
Ted had gone through my evidence and then sat there with a straight face as I recapped my findings.
“Kate?” Saiman’s voice prompted.
I picked up my coffee cup and stirred the coffee with a spoon. I’d read somewhere that doing small repetitive movements like stirring or doodling helped reduce stress and I needed to reduce my stress or it would erupt and smash into Ted Moynohan like a ton of bricks. “I’m thinking.”
“Have you noticed that your criminal doesn’t target women? Either they possess a natural immunity to his power or he simply doesn’t feel they’re a threat.”
“Then you must realize that Moynohan’s options consist of you and Andrea Nash. Moynohan despises Nash—
I’m not sure why, but I’m sure I’ll eventually find out—so you are the only viable solution. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sitting in your office right now listening in on the conversation just so he can be certain you’ve ensured my cooperation. Your back is against the wall, Kate. Under these circumstances, a fee of fifty thousand is a gift. Accept it graciously.”
The spoon bent under the pressure of my fingers. I pulled it out and began bending it with both hands, back and forth, back and forth.
“Very well,” I said. “You will be paid the sum of fifty thousand dollars when we have conclusive proof that the Mary is dead or apprehended.”
“Or left beyond your jurisdiction. I don’t cherish the prospect of chasing him all over the country.”
I bent the spoon some more. “Agreed. What’s the real price, Saiman?”
“You will accompany me to an event, Kate. It will be a public function, you will wear an evening gown, and you will be on display on my arm. Think of it as a date.”
The spoon snapped in my hands. I threw it into the trash can. “The last time we tried that, I ended up covered in demonic blood.”
“I assure you, you will be perfectly safe. In fact, the function in question takes place at one of the safest locations in Atlanta.”
“It’s not my safety that concerns me. It’s your company. You seem very gleeful at the prospect of displaying me. Is there an ulterior motive?”
“There’s always an ulterior motive,” Saiman assured me. “But aside from that, I find your presence delightful.”
I found his presence irritating.
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “I don’t wish to force you into a sexual relationship. I want to seduce you. That takes far more skill. I’m afraid I do require an answer. Yes or no?”
“Yes.” The word tasted slimy, as if I’d bitten into a rotten orange.
“You say it with such distaste. I count myself lucky to be out of your striking range at the moment. Do we have an agreement?”
“Marvelous. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at nine p.m. I shall send the gown to your house. It will be there by eight tonight with a matching pair of shoes. Do you require anything else, stockings, intimates . . .”
Chaperoning sexual deviants to parties wasn’t on my agenda in the near future. “That’s rather short notice. I’m a little busy with an epidemic-spraying maniac trying to break down the city. Can this be postponed?”
“Absolutely not. It has to be tomorrow night or our arrangement is off.”
What the hell was so important? “Fine, but I’m wearing my own clothes.” There was no telling what crazy outfit he’d come up with.
“I assure you, the dress I’ve chosen is exquisite.”
“Perhaps you should wear it instead. I’m sure you’ll be the belle of the ball.”
Saiman sighed. “Do you question my taste?”
“The last time you dressed me up as a Vietnamese princess. I’m wearing my own dress.”
“Having you wear the right dress is infinitely important to me. I’m taking a huge risk.”
“My heart bleeds for you. If you wanted me to wear your gown, you should’ve covered it in our agreement.”
“I propose an exchange.” Saiman’s voice was smooth as melted chocolate. “You answer my question, and I’ll drop the issue of the gown.”