Anne’s cellphone woke her up with its incessant chirping. Still groggy from little sleep, she reached over to the nightstand and picked it up. The screen was filled with text messages from her partner Dale, along with several missed calls. The text messages were all some version of “Call me,” but the last few were in all caps. Damn, if he was doing that, Anne couldn’t ignore them. Yawning, Anne sat up and hit the speed dial for Dale’s cell.
“Anne, where are you?” Dale asked with an unusual urgency.
“Chesterton Arms hotel on Eighth Street,” Anne answered. Lady Maritza had arranged the hotel room, along with some replacement clothes and necessities to last Anne while she was still on this side of the gate. “What’s up, Dale?”
“It’s the Mendez crime scene. The house burned down last night,” Dale said. “Arson investigator is on scene, but he’s baffled. He can’t figure out what happened. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all night.”
“I was out with some friends, and then crashed pretty hard when I got home,” Anne answered, “I didn’t hear my phone until just now.”
“Were you with this Kurt guy?” Dale asked.
“Yeah, why?” Anne shot back.
“Relax, Anne. I just don’t trust this guy,” Dale answered.
“You barely know him,” Anne said.
“So do you. You’ve only known him, what, a couple of days? I ran a check on him, and there’s something wrong. He’s too clean,” Dale said. Anne’s first reaction was to rip Dale a new one for doing a background check on Kurt. A voice in the back of her head reminded Anne that Kurt had not only been the person who’d “found” her after what happened at the docks, but had come to visit her in the hospital after her apartment exploded. Dale would’ve been negligent to not run at least a basic background check.
“What do you mean ‘too clean’?” Anne asked.
“He says he’s a security consultant, but with no record for any police or military. He has no arrests anywhere. Yet, he has one of the city’s best defense attorneys on retainer when we question him? Something’s off about him. It’s not just me. Jason thinks there is something odd about Kurt as well. You might want to think hard about whether you want to be seeing him for a bit.”
“I’ll think about it,” Anne said. Dale let out a long exasperated sigh. Well, he should have known better.
“Well, at least you weren’t in the hospital last night,” Dale said, “How’d you swing getting a room at the Chesterfield?”
“Mrs. Holland arranged for me and a few others to stay there until we can find new places,” Anne answered.
“Mrs. Holland? The Mrs. Maritza Holland? The society lady?” Dale asked, his voice rising in surprise. “How did that happen?”
“She’s just playing the society philanthropist,” Anne answered dismissively. The last thing she needed was to cause trouble for Lady Maritza.
“Well, enjoy your stay. Just do me a favor and stay out of trouble while you’re on medical leave. I don’t want to go and have to break in a new partner.”
“Was the burning of the house necessary?” Lady Maritza asked. Erik was letting his team try to get some rest after the night’s activities. As fatigued as he was, Erik decided he needed to at least give Lady Maritza an overview of what they had found. She might have some idea on the identity of who those bargainers his team fought. Since the corpse they collected last night hadn’t vanished from the body bag, Erik was sure that their opponents were from this side of the gate.
“It closed that point from being used to contact the Dark Towers,” Erik answered, trying to keep his frustration out of his voice. From the annoyance in Lady Maritza’s psi-scent, he didn’t think he was succeeding. He took another sip of the tea. If there was one good thing about being forced to work on Earth, it was the tea. The plants just didn’t grow right on Avalon.
“For a covert team, you haven’t been very covert. The battle at the river docks, Detective Hearst’s apartment building explosion, and now this fire,” Lady Maritza mused from behind her own cup.
“I’ll be the first to admit that things have not gone as planned,” Erik replied. Lady Maritza let out a harsh bark of laughter.
“I see you have managed to capture a noble’s use of understatement,” Lady Maritza said. “I’m sure your mother and stepfather would be proud.”
“Do you want to discuss my heritage or how you can help me finish my mission and leave your city?” Erik asked. Lady Maritza sat back and was silent for several long minutes. Erik could feel the war of emotions in her psi-scent.
“I have not heard of a new group of bargainers in the city,” Lady Maritza finally answered. “Whoever they are, they haven’t made any contact with any of the small cults in the city. I’ll have my agents start to ask around. Is there anything else that I can do to assist the Saint and his pet Blackguard?”
“Actually, yes,” Erik said, “I need a lab room to examine a body. Something like a morgue or anthropology lab. And it should be secluded so that no one will disturb us.” To her credit, Lady Maritza didn’t even bat an eye at the request. Curiosity and anger were roaring in her, but she didn’t even let it touch her face.
“I will see what I can do.”