Kurt pulled into a driveway that wrapped around an old row house in Milltown. The old manufacturing district was trying very hard to reinvent itself and regain its former glory as the commercial heart of the city. Most of it was like this row house – worn and ragged. Anne felt remembered pangs flow through her heart. Her grandparents had lived in a house just like this on the other side of Milltown. Grandpa had worked in the old textile plant until it finally killed him twenty years ago. After that, Grandma just sort of, went away until she died a few years later. Anne’s momentary nostalgia died as Kurt expertly relieved Anne of her sidearm.
“What the hell?” Anne demanded.
“Detektivin, right now, you are our guest,” Kurt said, “I don’t want our guest shooting my employers. At least until after I get my pay.” Anne planted her feet and stared at the smiling German.
“What is going on? Who are you? Who are your employers?” Anne asked.
“Well, at least you haven’t become indignant that we’ve taken you,” said melodious voice behind her. It had the same strange accent that Erik used. Anne turned to find two women standing at the rear door of the row house. One was a tall, lithe brunette with calm and warm blue eyes. The other woman looked Hispanic, with dusky skin and jet black hair. That one’s dark eyes flashed with amusement.
“After those monsters at the warehouse, I figured if you wanted me dead, you’d just left me to them,” Anne said, “And Erik and this one were just too smooth not to be something more than common criminals. There’s something strange going on in my city, and I am going to get answers.”
“Where’s Erik?” the brunette asked Kurt. Her tone was calm and collected, but Anne could see the tiniest flicker of terror flash in the woman’s eyes. There was an emotional connection there. Good. Anne could use that if needed.
“He stayed behind to deal with someone named Arem,” Kurt answered. The brunette tensed as her blue eyes widened in shock.
“That’s impossible. Arem died nearly a decade ago. There’s no way he could be here,” she said. Anne had heard that tone before. The woman was trying to convince herself that the boogeyman hadn’t come back to hurt her.
“Tall male, about six-three? Thin with dark hair? Eerily handsome? Appears out of thin air with orcs in tow?” Anne asked. The woman nodded slowly. “That’s the guy that Erik called Arem. Right before he shoved me out to meet Kurt. Now, who the hell is this Arem and who the hell are all of you?”
“This is best told inside,” the brunette answered. “We will answer your questions, Det. Hearst. Please, we need to get inside where it’s safe.”
“Those things I saw at the warehouse could tear through the side of that house,” Anne said, not surprised these people knew who she was, “You expect me to be safer in there than out here?”
“Walls are not this house’s only protections,” the dark woman said, “Besides, if Erik stayed to stop this Arem, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it.” The brunette shot the dark woman a reproachful look, which the shorter woman blithely ignored. The two women turned and walked in the house. Kurt motioned for Anne to follow them. She didn’t move.
“Give me back my gun,” Anne said. “I’m not going to shoot those two, but I’m not going into an unknown house unarmed.” Kurt gave another of his radiant smiles. Damn it. Maybe if she’d met him some other time and some other place. With a flourish, Kurt produced her Glock. Anne snatched the handgun from his proffered hands. A quick check showed it was still loaded with a round in the chamber. Satisfied, Anne walked into the house. Kurt followed whistling some tune that tugged at Anne’s memory. She’d heard it long ago, but couldn’t remember where.
Just beyond the door was a well-appointed, if dated, kitchen. God, it reminded Anne of her grandmother’s kitchen. She followed the two women through a narrow hall into a side room. It was decorated like a family room with comfortable, aged furniture and pictures of smiling people on the walls. Kurt motioned for Anne to sit in a cushioned chair as the two women sat on a couch across from her. A steel carafe sat on the coffee table between them with four china cups. The dark woman started pouring a rich coffee by the aroma.
“My name is Samantha Hart,” the brunette said, “My companion is Veronica Patel. We, along with Erik and Kurt, have come to this city looking for you.” As Samantha talked, Anne felt cold pricks in her mind. Well, that was the best description of the sensations. Her face hardened as she stared into Samantha’s face. Anne was sure that the woman was the cause behind the pricks.
“What are you doing?” Anne asked dangerously. The brunette gave her a warm smile.
“You can feel that?” Samantha asked. Anne nodded. “That is very interesting. Most people can’t feel when I do that. As to what I’m doing, I’m reading your thoughts.”
“What?” Anne blurted in shock. She didn’t know how, but she knew Samantha was telling the truth. She’d always been able to tell when someone was lying to her. “That’s impossible. There’s no such thing as telepathy.”
“No one born on this side of the gate can do it, that’s true,” Samantha said, “Which makes you all the more interesting. You have a touch of the power. I can feel it in your mind, but I can’t find where. I’m very sorry. This is going to hurt. Kurt?” Anne had the barest moment of realization she was in trouble before the German had her restrained.
“Relax fraulein, and it will hurt less,” Kurt whispered with a tone of personal experience. Intense pain flashed through Anne’s head. The cold pricks were now one large stab. She tried to fight, but Samantha was unbelievably strong. Memories flashed through Anne’s head. The day she became a detective. Comforting a victim after Anne had shot the man raping the poor girl. Joining the police force. Graduating the police academy. Moments of passion with her old high school boyfriend. Her mother and father watching her dancing as the lead ballerina in a recital. God, she was ten. Even older memories flashed by. Then it felt like she hit a wall and the pain stopped. As the memories cleared away, Anne could see the room. Samantha was on the floor, holding her head in pain.
“What did you just do to me?” Anne screamed at the woman. Maybe she could still reach her pistol.
“I tried to find out why the Dark Towers were after you,” Samantha answered, staggering to her feet, “To see if you were already in league with them, even without you knowing it. Possibly even why you have a touch of the power in you. To see whether or not we could recruit you, have to protect you, or have to kill you.” Anne’s body went cold at the matter-of-fact tone Samantha used.
“And?” Anne asked. Before Samantha could answer, the door behind her slammed open. Anne could smell blood and gunpowder waft in. Samantha’s eyes lit with relief and worry.
“I would kind of like to know why Arem wanted her as well,” Erik said, walking into the room before collapsing.