better than to expect new appliances in my new apartment; I was lucky to have
appliances at all. I sure as hell couldn’t afford to buy new ones.
I remembered—and my first memory of my parents was how I, Alexa Zoe Daegberht,
had killed them with a wish.
pebbled surface and its loose handle. The years hadn’t done the damned thing
any favors, and I wondered if the door would fall off its hinges when I opened
it. Then again, they had built things better when I had been a child.
would have been different. It wasn’t my father’s fault no one could touch me
without irritating my sensitive skin. It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t kiss my
cheek like other fathers could with their daughters.
have been itching and burning. If he hadn’t forgotten, I wouldn’t have run to
the fridge, using it as a shield against his touch. If he hadn’t forgotten, I
wouldn’t have parroted what he too often said while fighting with my mother:
wishing on a shooting star that night, I had gotten exactly what I wanted. My
parents had walked out the door and left me behind, never to return.
the water didn’t leave a whole lot to salvage.
did was crunch my toes, and howling, I hopped around on one foot. Through
tear-blurred eyes, I glared at the offensive appliance.
four years before I earned my degree and rank as a Bach, and until then, I was
stuck with it. Once I became a Bach, I’d be elevated to a better caste—a caste
with a future, and a bright one at that. Once I was a Bach, I could afford to
buy my own appliances, and I’d never have to see that make or model of
refrigerator ever again. If I scored well enough on the exit exams, I had the
slim chance of being accepted for Master training.
was no way I’d let a stupid refrigerator take that from me.
couldn’t make things better, nothing could.
leaving behind the devil-spawned refrigerator with a week’s worth of macaroni
and cheese casserole cooling inside. If any of the other students found out I
was surviving on pasta flavored with neon-orange powder, I’d be the laughing
stock of the college.
than the poorest district in the city, and to do that, I needed money.
Merit-based students like me paid off tuition and housing in labor; I was
doomed to at least four years serving as some professor’s slave. At least I had
ranked high enough to have an apartment instead of a closet in the shared
dorms, but unlike on-campus students, I was on my own for the basics.
Harbor. If I had come from any other district, if I had belonged to any other
caste, I wouldn’t have needed to turn to Kenneth Smith for work. But Kenneth
took in those others wouldn’t and made them do his dirty work.
ducked my head, adopted a brisk stride, and headed towards the water.
through the city’s heart, skirting around the fringe I had once called home. On
the surface, it was a clean, quiet place with carefully trimmed lawns, neatly
pruned trees, and flowers contained in concrete planters.
the violence Kenneth Smith and his cohorts had stamped out years ago, turning a
slum into the elite’s paradise.
district of Baltimore, a place prone to rioting, a place everyone, no matter
what caste, could go and gamble away their money or find other pursuits, many
of them illegal. Sporting events were popular—if you could afford the entry
hunting down his non-paying clients, sniffing out dirt on them, and either
luring them into one of his little traps or otherwise acquiring his money. The
method didn’t matter; the money did, and that was that.
hesitated to light one up in the hope of burning the whole place to the ground.
My temper soured the closer I got to the little townhouse located where the
fringe began and the elite’s playground ended.
moment, that Baltimore’s charming, ruthless, and despicable criminal mastermind
lived in such a dingy place, and that was exactly the way Kenneth Smith liked
the dark-painted door a solid kick, jamming my already aching toes. I didn’t
hop around as I had in my apartment.
the misery my boss would inflict if I screwed up. Clenching my teeth to keep
quiet, I waited. I heard the thump of someone coming down the stairs, and
several moments later, the lock clicked. The door opened, and Smith’s favorite
dog answered, glaring at me through narrowed eyes.
know? It is! Astonishing. Can I come in, or are we going to put on a show for
everyone in the neighborhood? I didn’t dress the part. I left my lacy panties
to die a virgin anyway. A kiss on the cheek was enough to give me hives. What
would happen if someone tried to kiss me on the mouth—or do something
far more interesting with me?
back to let me in. “Prissy bitch.”
but instead of telling her to go back to selling herself on the street like I
wanted, I asked, “Where’s the boss?”
for you himself, I’m sure.” Lily glared at me, slammed the door, and stomped
her way up the staircase to the second floor, leaving me to mind my own
business in the entry.
years ago. As always, the parlor made me want a hit so I could forget
everything, right down to who I was and what I had done to get by.
Waiting the hour for him to finish wasn’t unusual, but the fact he hadn’t
brought his client along meant one of two things: the client had either left
through the tunnels, a conceit of the elite, or I was about to be introduced to
Nothing good came out of meeting with Kenneth right after an audience with one
of the elite.
thought themselves above paying back their debts.
on her hands and knees to polish it to perfection. I doubted it; if he had,
neither one of them would have gotten any real work done, and that would hurt
his bottom line.
said, and his soft-spoken words warned me of trouble.
was moderating his voice, it was because he had graduated from annoyed to
murderous, and he didn’t feel like killing me today.
keeping still despite my desire to fidget.
make out the details, the wood reflected my dark hair and bronzed skin. My
heritage remained a mystery, dying along with my parents.
German-descents I knew had such bronzed skin. I rivaled an Italian, but no
self-respecting Italian I knew had a last name like mine.
to end up just like Lily, serving the boss to keep him from killing the rest of
us when he had a bad day. I had too many scars, and not all of them marked my
probably enjoy knowing he could hurt me with his touch alone. When I left, I’d
have to thank Lily and offer to run errands for her. It was wise to pay back
debts, in advance whenever possible.
weight from one foot to the other. My toes still throbbed from their
introduction to his door and the devil-spawned refrigerator in my apartment.
the direction of the basement stairwell.
been polished almost as shiny as his prized floors. He took the stairs two at a
time while I took the more cautious approach. With my luck, I’d snap my neck
tumbling down the steps.
feat. Someone had been smoking something recently, and the fumes were strong
enough to make my nose sting. I took a cautious sniff.
residue from one of Kenneth’s cocktails. If they ever found out I was one of
his associates, though, I was screwed. I relaxed and, without looking up from
his floor, made my way around the couch closest to the door and plopped down on
it. I heard him sit on his armchair, which squeaked as he leaned back.
boss lit up, and the stench of his cigar choked off my breath. I knew better
than to cough, though. All I’d do was piss him off even more.
of my name and nodded my agreement. At least he hadn’t called me Lassie.
fine—and Lily wouldn’t have any extra reasons to hate me. Speaking only when
spoken to, nodding when appropriate, and always, always addressing him by sir
would get me through the meeting.
of lace panties—in silk. I could get them now, as long as I had the cash for
them. All I had to do was survive the meeting with Kenneth and do one last job
so I drew a deep breath, nodded my head obediently, and whispered, “Yes, sir.”
full-merit?” he demanded, thumping his fist on the arm of his chair. He smacked
it several more times before sighing gustily. “You’re something else, that’s
what you are. I obviously wasn’t keeping you busy enough. I am to blame.”
Kenneth in a bad mood, and his ire was directed at me. Any other day, I would
have told him to go cry a river and fill the Chesapeake. I wanted to tell him
to stuff it, but I needed the work, and he needed me.
through the application process right under my nose without me knowing a thing
until Lily went out earlier to summon you. Your pad’s already been taken over,
if you weren’t aware.”
my mouth shut. If I said a word, it would be something I’d regret. Granted, I
likely wouldn’t regret it for long, but that was a different matter entirely.
I’d been around Kenneth Smith long enough to recognize dried blood when I saw
mouth and make me want to shoot you. You’re right. I want your nose. Son of a
bitch elite backed out on his debt. He’s in Bach studies just like you. Sniff
the bastard out for me. He’s got a taste for crystals and a head for scents. He
also seems to believe he can back out on his debts to me. Get close to him,
learn his haunts, and report to me. I want to know who or what can be used
against him, where he lives, and any significant people in his life—preferably
women. Better yet, make yourself a significant woman to him. You need to
In so many ways, he was an average man; not too tall, not too short, not too
anything, which conspired to make him right in all the wrong ways. My brown
eyes were too dark for any sort of warmth, while his were melted chocolate,
tempting and sensual.
up in a smile.
be like to kiss someone. It was his damned mouth, which could flatten to a line
or curve into a ripe smile, shifting with his mood. I could always tell his
mood from the movements of his lips.
things I couldn’t do and Lily could—and would, probably as soon as I left the
foul man. A smart girl didn’t deal with the devil or take him to her
punch my own ticket if I tried anything with him. If I didn’t die from an
allergic reaction to him, he wouldn’t appreciate me throwing up on him.
reason. He had already slept with all of his other bitches, leaving me as the
one who always got away.
acknowledgment of my question. I waited, lowering my gaze to the floor to stare
at the brown splotch marring the hardwood.
back, paid for three months worth of supplies, and decided he was above paying
the rest of the balance.”
various costs of crystals and scents. Crystals appealed to those who enjoyed
tasting their drugs, slowly dissolving on the tongue, while scents came as
either incenses or other forms of inhaled narcotics. Big league players often
spend thousands a week for the good stuff.
friends. Buying friendships through drugs wasn’t uncommon, especially among
those who were supposed to be too good for the trade.
my chin, defying my boss with my glare. “Small change for you. There’s gotta be
more to it than that. You don’t move against the elite for pennies.” I paused,
sucked in a breath as I remembered I wasn’t supposed to piss him off, and
can I? You’re right. It is small change. Under normal circumstances, I’d let it
get up to at least half a mil. But, he made off with some of my new stuff, and
I want it back.”
a variety of test tubes. They were filled with a red liquid with the same
viscosity as blood. He lifted one out, sloshing it around. “Little Bachs don’t
want to get caught on the tests, so he wanted something for school-year use.
This baby doesn’t register on any of the current tests. You can dry it into a
powder. You can inject it, and you can even drink it if you want. It’s mellow
enough, long-lasting, gives one hell of a nice high, and doesn’t impair
function too much. Best of all, it doesn’t seem to cause much damage when it
the drug world.
shrugged. “How many vials did he make off with?”
he’s paid, I’ll think about it.”
info and retrieve the drugs if possible. Anything else, sir?”
and the drugs.”
sarcastic comments flitting through my head. Any one of them would piss him off
even more, and there was only so far I could push him before he decided to go
for his gun. “I don’t think I can carry that much cash, sir, and I really doubt
he’ll give me his bank account details.”
to places you shouldn’t go—like college.”
my house until you have his info and my drugs. And don’t you even think about
forgetting my money.”