They stood together in the shadows while the warden finished her rounds. Justin shifted his hands in his pockets. Evie knew he was dying for a cigarette, but for the most part, he kept still and calm. She gestured toward the drug store across the empty street. When the sound of the warden’s footsteps had faded, they put their heads down and shuffled quickly to the other side of the avenue. Evie turned her attention to the padlock. Justin kept his back to her, shielding her from the street, keeping a watch for any movement in the darkness.
The lock yielded quickly. The burglars lifted the gate, wedged open the door, and slid the bars back down behind them. They didn’t dare turn up the lights until they were safely in the stockroom. Evie removed her dark stocking cap and Justin fished the cigarettes from his pocket. They sat across the room from one another and waited for the wolves.
Tom had warned them that punctuality was not one of the wolves’ strong suits.
The hands on the little clock above the boxes of cosmetics dragged across the twelve and then the one, but nothing stirred in the alley on the other side of the door. Justin leaned back in his chair, smoking slowly, hat pulled down over his eyes. It made Evie restless to watch the nervous energy churning in his limbs; she considered the power he was mustering to keep it just below the surface.
“Have you ever met a wolf?” she asked.
“Does it look like I have?”
“No,” she said. ”I didn’t think so.”
He pushed the hat back off his forehead.
“But you have been robbed by one,” she ventured.
“No,” Justin repeated. ”I had a friend,” he said. ”A long time ago. She had her wallet and jacket and shoes taken by a pack down by the river.”
He pushed the hair behind his left ear, casting his gaze away from Evie toward the floor.
“They cut up her face pretty badly,” he said softly. He kept his voice composed. ”I told myself if I ever met one, I’d kill him. When that door opens, it’s going to take a lot of self control to make me a liar.”
Evie smiled in spite of herself.
“Not tonight,” she said. ”Not unless we want an all-out war. And anyway, sometimes you do more damage with a knife in your pocket than one in your hand.”
Justin grinned. His lips could be cruel, when he wanted.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said. He took a long drag. ”Have you always been this ruthless?” he asked. ”Or did you learn it as you went along?”
Evie intended to laugh, but then she realized that she didn’t remember how she had been before. Not anymore, anyway. There had been a time the past had been less vague, but now she reached backwards and grasped only darkness. Her memory was a maze of rooms like this one, crowded and dim, connected by passages like shunts. She had wedged them crudely into place, a surgical insertion of purpose where in truth there was none.
“I suppose I’ve always been this way. But time has it’s own way of bringing us to light.”
“How did it all start, anyway?”
That, Evie could remember.
“I made a bad decision on the wrong night, in the wrong place, in view of the wrong audience.”
“Is it a long story?”
The corners of his lips spread around his cigarette. ”Then tell me about it.”
“I was in the backroom of a store,” Evie said, “Not unlike this, not far from where we are now. But it was a long time ago. Seems longer than it really is, maybe. It’s hard to be sure.”
“I interrupted a robbery in progress. The local wolf pack.”
“It’s never brave, nor wise,” Evie corrected him, “To rob a robber.”
“Ah,” Justin said. ”I thought you picked that lock a little too quickly.”
“Like I said, I’m not the cops.”
“So it would seem. What happened next?”
“I killed one of them. One of the wolves. I’d like to tell you it was self-defense,” she said honestly, “But I’ve been lying about it too long to care anymore. The truth is, it was late. I was tired and they were an unwanted headache. I told myself they were bad men: killers, rapists, torturers. But the truth is, I never bothered to kill one of them until they got in my way.”
Justin nodded. He furrowed his brows, but he didn’t look afraid. Only curious.
“Go on,” he said.
“As it would turn out,” Evie said, “If you’re going to kill a wolf, do it somewhere other than Parson Street.” She sighed. Her fingers ached with exhaustion. ”Other packs will start blood feuds. They’ll kill you to make a statement or to keep you quiet. But Parson Street wolves will kill you because they can. Not only was I suddenly on their radar, but as far as they were concerned, I’d proven I was a worthy opponent. The most dangerous game.”
“Suffice it to say, they made my life very difficult. For the next few months, I was sleeping in storm drains, moving only at night, keeping the lowest profile you can possibly imagine. If there was a way out of the city, I would have taken it. But they don’t call themselves wolves for nothing. They cornered me, very late on a Saturday night, down by the river, miles from the edge of their territory. I won’t bother you with the details of what they did to me. They knew how to drag things out.”
“But I think they must have underestimated my tolerance for pain, because after a while, they started to get sloppy. I just remember the laughter and the sound of my own screams, somewhere, far away. And then somebody’s face too close to mine and my knife in his eye. And then no more laughter. I don’t know how I got to my feet, not to this day. But in the confusion, I somehow broke free into the alley. Not that it mattered much, because the alley was a dead end. I dragged myself to the wall and just lay against it. I could hear them behind me and there was a moment I realized: I’m waiting here to die. But I didn’t want to die. The next thing I knew, I was sitting alone in a very cold field. In the distance there were some pine trees.”
Justin laughed. ”I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I believe you.”
“It’s a funny world, isn’t it?”
“What happened then?”
“I got a job,” Evie said. She sighed. ”Or a maybe a prison sentence. I still haven’t decided which.”
“You met your boss.”
“She was waiting for me at the edge of the pine trees. I remember watching her walk across the field in the moonlight, thinking I’d never been so tired in my entire life.”
“What did she say?”
“She’s not very outspoken,” Evie explained. ”Sometimes, I get the impression that’s she’s somewhere far away. I feel like I’m the only thing tying her to the present and she resents me for it immensely.”
Justin smiled. ”I know exactly what that’s like.”
“Anyway,” Evie continued, “This was one of those times. It was strange. She was distant and simultaneously furious. Almost like she was two people at the same time, or maybe one person, but at two times. At any rate, she told me she’d been watching me. She was there, that night in the jewelry store, when I killed the wolf. She’d also been there in the alley. She wanted to know how I got to the field.”
“I had to be sure of what you were,” Evie said and smiled. That first night was probably the only time she’d get to break his nose, after all. ”And of your intentions with my doors. Tara had the same responsibility with me.”
“How did you open that first door, anyway?”
“At the time, I had no idea. What the hell was a door? I thought maybe I was dead, or in a coma or something. Anything seemed easier to believe than the truth.”
“Now what do you think?”
Evie paused, trying to decide how best to explain. She decided on the truth. ”Do you ever get the feeling,” she asked, “Deep in your gut, that the world’s just wrong?”
Justin pulled the cigarette from his mouth and laughed. ”No.” He reconsidered. ”I don’t think so, anyway.”
“That surprises me.”
Justin shrugged. His face got quiet and he let his cigarette hover just for a moment, about an inch from his lips. Something moved behind his eyes but then it was gone. He took a drag and smiled. ”Maybe I’m just too trusting.”
“I doubt that,” Evie said. ”You seem wary enough.”
Justin leaned forward so that his hands rested on his knees. ”How I seem or what I am doesn’t matter,” he said. ”I want to hear the rest of your story.”
“Not if you’re going to laugh at me.”
Justin frowned. ”I never laughed at you. You can’t blame me just because I don’t know the feeling that you’re feeling.”
Evie couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or lying, and it was grating her. She’d spent a long time learning how to interrogate a man. Justin made her feel as though she may as well have been practicing on animals. ”Alright,” she said. ”Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this thing.” She struggled for the right words. ”About the world. Like it’s too convenient to be real. Or alternatively,” she corrected, “Too incredible. It’s inconsistent in the most consistent way possible.”
Justin smoothed the hair behind his ear.
“Give me an example,” he asked.
“Yeah. Make me a believer.”
Evie slid her hand into her jacket pocket and brought out a crumpled collection of lottery tickets.
“Ok,” she said. ”Here’s a good one.”
Justin took the tickets and inspected them, one by one.
“There are a lot of winners here,” he observed. ”And all in the past month,” he said, reading the dates. ”How many losers?”
“Those are all my plays,” Evie said. ”No losers at all.”
Justin whistled. He read off the receipts. ”500,” he said. ”375. 2000. That’s a nice little profit.”
“You didn’t think Tara actually paid me, did you?”
“Well,” Justin said, “That doesn’t seem to matter. You’re doing just fine for yourself.” He collected the tickets back into a pile and returned them to Evie. ”What’s the trick?”
“No trick,” Evie said, stuffing the papers in her coat pocket. ”The world’s just wrong.”
“I don’t understand. What’s the connection?”
“It’s a pattern,” Evie explained. ”Across all the drawings, over all the plays. The randomness isn’t random.”
“The randomness isn’t random,” Justin repeated, raising both his eyebrows. He nodded and leaned back in his chair.
“It’s not like I can predict the winning numbers every time,” Evie said. ”But I watch the papers. After a few days of marking all the wins, I can just tell what’s coming next. It’s the same with the doors. A pattern of places and times that are somehow more than just coincidental. I just listen and watch and sooner or later, I just know where they’re going to be.”
“But you can’t open them yourself?” Justin clarified. ”You just find them and keep them open?”
Evie looked up at the clock. It was getting late.
“Right,” she said, turning back to Justin. ”Except for that first time.”
“What was different about that first door?” Justin asked.
“I don’t know,” Evie said. ”There was a time I would have told you it was the fear, or maybe the pain. But the older I get, the less I believe it.”
Justin leaned forward on his knees again, studying her intently. His face softened.
“I think you know exactly why, but you don’t want to tell me. Don’t you trust me?”
Justin smiled. ”Tell me anyway.”
Evie sighed. It was late and she was tired.
“When Tara found me in that meadow,” she said at last, “She was so angry that I had killed the wolf. I think she was ashamed of why I’d done it. I was ashamed of it, too, but it would be a long time before I was willing to admit it.”
“She punished you,” Justin said.
“That night in the jewelry store,” she explained, “I had been so tired. I killed a man because his life was worth less to me than the promise of sleep.”
Justin was quiet.
“Remember I told you I can still feel how exhausted I was, watching Tara walk toward me across the meadow?”
“Well, I still feel it because I never stopped feeling it. I think it was the door. I think I was never supposed to be able to open it, and it took something from me when I did. I think Tara could have given it back, but she wanted me to remember the thing that I’d done—that terrible thing—and exactly why I’d done it.”
Justin looked at the floor. ”Do you sleep at all?”
“A little,” Evie told him, “But it doesn’t help. I’m just as tired when I wake up as I was when I went to bed.”
She closed her eyes. In the darkness, she could hear the ticking of the clock. Sometimes it felt like it would never stop.
“All I want,” she concluded, her eyes still closed, “Is one night’s rest. God, what I wouldn’t give to really sleep.”
Across the room, Justin stood and moved to the window. He pulled aside the shade and peered into the darkness.
“You never really answered my question,” he said, still looking away. ”Why can’t you open other doors?”
“Because I’m too tired,” Evie said, running a hand dejectedly through her hair. ”Because I’m afraid of how much the first door took out of me and what a second one might do.”
“Maybe you’d finally be able to rest.”
Evie frowned. She’d thought about that, itched for it, even. But the fear held her back.
“Maybe I’d just be even more tired. Forever.” She paused. ”I killed that wolf 75 years ago.”
Justin raised his eyebrows.
“You don’t age?”
Evie shook her head. Justin put a hand against the cold window and let the blinds drop again. He decided to change the subject.
“What do you think the wolves will want when they get here?” he asked. He looked at the clock. ”If they get here.”
“They’ll be here,” Evie said. She stood to stretch her legs. ”Probably they’ll want something. Not even Tom has the power to pry information from them free of charge.”
“Is he really one of their alphas?”
“By birth and by deed,” Evie said, shaking her head. ”Don’t think for a moment he isn’t also paying Tara back for sins of the past.”
Justin sat beside Evie on the table.
“That’s what worries me,” he said, his brows furrowed again. ”What’s my crime? Sins of the past? Sins of the present?” He sighed. ”Or maybe the future.”
Evie smiled thinly. ”Go ask The Sisters. They’ll have your answer.”
Evie looked at him sitting beside her, Justin the Vandal. His dark eyes were shaded with impossibly long lashes and softened by that redness around the rims that never seemed to fade. He had said once before that he had trouble sleeping. It occurred to her for the first time that his eyes might not be red from crying after all. Maybe he was just as tired as she was.
Evie almost never looked in a mirror. Maybe her eyelids were red, too. Maybe they had been for a long time. She studied Justin. He sat with his hat pushed down on his forehead, his palms pressed together in contemplation. There had even been a time, Evie told herself, that her fingers had looked as comfortable as his around a cigarette. That caustic, confident, lonely man might as well have been her—sometime at the beginning.
“You’ll get your answers on your own,” she said. ”It’s probably better that way, in the end.”
“It doesn’t feel like it.”
“Well,” Evie assured him, “There’s something to be said for making your own mistakes.”
Justin pushed the hair behind his ear and laughed. ”Is this gonna be some bullshit argument about free will?”
“No,” Evie said. ”Only about being alive. If it’s philosophy you want, maybe you’re better off asking the Three Sisters after all.”
He closed his eyes and leaned back his head. His lips were so fine and pale, arching into his cheeks so that they practically bled down his neck. What business did a man that clumsy have mustering that kind of grace in repose?
Justin opened his eyes and looked straight at Evie. The lips curled in satisfaction.
“Got you again,” he said, mouth flashing. ”That’s three.”
Evie flexed her fingers into fists.
“You vain asshole,” she said coldly, trying to mask the heat of embarrassment in her cheeks. ”I can’t believe I almost felt sorry for you.”
“You felt sorry for me?” he asked. ”Is that all?” He cocked his head. ”I think we both know that isn’t true.”
“I will break your face,” Evie snapped. ”See how well you play your little trick then.”
Justin padded the still-tender area around his nose. ”You already tried that. And I thought I made it quite clear: there’s nothing you can do to frighten me.”
“Frighten you, no. Hurt you, yes,” Evie said. ”I’d say that’s an important distinction.”
Justin put out his cigarette.
Before Evie could decide what to do next, the long awaited knock shook the back door. Justin jumped away. Standing a little taller, Evie turned the knob, letting the cold night air rush in to the stockroom. Tom stood in the blackout darkness. Behind him loomed the shapes of four other men. The wolves.
Evie opened the door all the way.
“Sorry we’re late,” Tom said. He came in from the cold, brushing a few flakes of light snow from his shoulders. He looked sharper in the company of the wolves. He stood a little straighter and his hands moved with clearer purpose.
The wolves came in, one at a time, and sat on various boxes and chairs around the room. Well, not sat as much as lounged, like big cats after a hunt or snakes on a hot day. Evie was reminded these were true animals, having shed their human sensibilities in favor of a more ancient social hierarchy. The first wolf to enter the room was thin and slim shouldered, slightly taller than average height. He had long hair shaded by a dark hoodie he wore in a size too large so that it hung loosely around his body. The next two wolves were tall and muscular, with a common gait that marked them as twins, though one wore his head shaven and the other dyed red in a shade that reminded Evie of W.
The fourth wolf was the smallest of the group, but still the most imposing. He had clean, auburn hair, combed gently into a distinguished part to match the tailored cashmere coat whose collar he pulled up around his chin. His hands were long and languid. He folded them with powerful ease on his crossed legs as he sat on a crate across from Evie.
Evie looked at the wolves. She looked at Tom.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” she asked.
“Yes, Euan,” the distinguished-looking wolf said, “Where are your manners?”
So, Evie thought: Euan. Tom’s real name, at last.
Tom didn’t seem at all bothered by the jeering tone of his former companion.
“Evie,” he said, “This is my cousin, Cormack Flynn.” Then he flashed his teeth in a smile Evie had never seen from him before. ”Cormack,” he added, turning to his cousin, the distinguished wolf, “This is Aoibhin Collins.”
Evie considered her opponent. His expensive clothes and affected speech rested uneasily on his skin, a refined curtain over a poorly disguised animal interior. His expressions betrayed a polished instability that might unravel into madness at the slightest provocation. Here was a sadist in sheep’s clothing, waiting impatiently to show you his claws.
“Who are your friends?” Evie asked.
“Just friends,” said the wolf. ”No need to concern yourself with them.”
The other three wolves kept still. It was the kind of stillness that preceded an explosion, and Evie didn’t care for it at all. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Justin had moved to the other side of the stockroom, far from everyone but the wolf in the hoodie. She could see his brows were knotted under the brim of his hat.
“Let’s get to business, shall we?” said Tom, putting his hands in his pockets and taking a seat between Cormack and Evie.
Evie nodded. ”I’m glad to see Tom convinced you this meeting would be worth your time,” she said, addressing Cormack. ”I was beginning to wonder if you’d decided against it after all.”
Cormack Flynn shrugged.
“I came because I’m curious,” he said. ”Tom—as you call him—had very little to do with it.”
“What is it you’re curious about?” Evie asked.
“You seem to think I have information you need. I can’t imagine what that could be.”
Flattery was an obvious ploy, but Evie decided it couldn’t hurt.
“You know more of what happens in this city than anyone. I can’t think of a better place to come for information.”
In the corner, the hooded wolf laughed. His companions snickered. Cormack unfolded his hands.
“You have an awfully high opinion of my abilities,” he said, face lined with wrinkles of amusement.
“The people you represent, then.”
“Ah, yes,” Cormack said, flashing the same toothy smile she’d from Tom a moment before. ”That’s a bit rich, don’t you think,” he added coldly, “Considering your history with my family?”
Evie smiled. So, he knew about the jewelry store. The Parson Street wolves had a long memory. Tom turned to her, a look of surprise on his face.
“Ah,” Cormack observed, “She didn’t tell you, then? Well, cousin,” he sneered, “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it was your new friend who killed Great Uncle Silas’s little brother. Slit his precious teenaged throat in an ill-advised robbery, left him dead on the floor of a second-rate jewelry store.” He looked at Evie. ”That must have been, what, almost eighty years ago, now?”
Evie said nothing.
“Did you think I wouldn’t do my homework?” Cormack asked. He grinned. ”No,” he said, “I think you’ll find I’m very thorough. And you being such an interesting read.”
Evie suppressed the urge to take out her knife.
“I didn’t know your people were readers,” she said.
Cormack was on his feet in a flash. His eyes sparkled with rage and pleasure, the refined posture giving way to something elemental and hard. But before Tom even had the chance to step in his way, the wolf jumped back, shoulders relaxed again. He laughed at the room full of eyes widened by the ferocity of his feint.
“If you could see your faces!” he said gleefully. The burly wolves chuckled. He slapped his knee, but then the amusement drained from his face.
“Not that Uncle Silas could, either,” he added coldly. ”Not after his good eye went, too.” He smiled dangerously. ”But then, I always liked his eye patch. It gave him more authority when he taught us how to fight.”
Evie clenched her fists. It must have been Silas she had stabbed in the eye, that night three quarters of a century earlier when she had escaped the wolves by the river.
“Do you know what he taught me?” Cormack asked, looking directly at Evie.
Evie raised her eyebrows.
“He taught me not to kill a man slowly,” he said tenderly, smoothing his hair. ”Stick a knife in his belly and twist it. Put a boot across his throat and a wedge under his fingernails.” He cocked his head. ”But I don’t need to tell you that, do I? You know exactly how that feels.”
Without really meaning to, Evie felt her fingers move to her stomach, tracing the scars like a mess of branches under her shirt.
Cormack smiled. His voice was cold and ragged and mad. ”You know what else he taught me?” he said. ”A lesson that he learned from you: never let a dead man move. Stand on his hands, hold it over him.” He was practically shaking with anticipation. ”I remember it very clearly,” he said. ”I was eleven. Uncle Silas found me with blood on my hands. I was crying and he took me aside. He asked me why and I told him I didn’t think I could take a life. He smiled and told me the most important words I’ll ever hear. He said to me, ‘Cormack, men like us don’t take lives. People give them to us.’” Cormack smiled. He looked at his hands, then at Evie. ”Shall we give it a try, for old Uncle Silas’s sake?”
The wolf lunged again, chest out, snarling. Tom was on his feet in a heartbeat. Evie unsheathed her knife. The burly wolves did the same. Evie and Tom were outnumbered.
A harsh whistle broke the tension.
Everyone turned to see the long-haired wolf, his hoodie pulled down so that his full face was visible. Justin stood behind him, holding his arms tightly, shoving a very sharp box cutter under his chin.
“Everybody sits back down,” Justin said, “Or I cut his throat. Not slow and ruthless. Quick and bloody. The bigger the mess, I figure, the better. Stop me if I’m wrong.”
Evie slammed her hand against the table. ”Damn it, Justin,” she said. ”You have no idea what you’re doing.”
“No, Evie,” Tom said, looking with surprise at the long-haired wolf. ”I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Cormack put up his hands and backed away. The burly wolves sat down on their boxes.
Tom nodded at Justin and Justin released the long-haired wolf. He walked to the center of the room, straightening his shoulders. He stood taller from the waist, stretching out as if he’d been hunched in a room too small for him for hours. He was much taller than average height.
“Thane,” Tom said, his lips sounding dry, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
Thane smiled and straightened the hoodie around his shoulders.
“The feeling is mutual,” he said, changing his mind and handing the hoodie to one of the burly wolves. He paused for emphasis, letting the words linger on his lips: “Big brother.” He pulled up a chair and sat in it backwards.
“Excuse my cousin’s rudeness,” Thane said to Evie, gesturing in Cormack’s direction. ”He’s a little rough around the edges, but I’m afraid I put him up to this particular outburst. You’ll understand my need to know who, exactly, I was dealing with.”
“Big brother?” she asked, looking at Tom. Justin slipped the box cutter in his pocket and sat down behind them.
Tom nodded reluctantly. ”Needless to say,” he admitted, “Thane is much more excited by the family business than I ever was.”
Thane smiled. ”Your misgivings are a topic for another time,” he said. Evie studied his face. She could see the resemblance. Tom and the wolf shared the same jaw bone; they had similar searching eyes. But where Tom’s features were heavy and nondescript, his younger brother’s were delicate and emotive, lively and handsome in the cruelest way possible. As Evie was watching him, he pulled a cigarette from a silver case taken from his jean pocket, then padded his shirt absently for a lighter. ”Ah,” he said, realizing his mistake, “In my other jacket.” He gestured to Justin. ”Would you spare me a light?”
A little look of challenge twitched in the corners of Justin’s eyes, but he said nothing.
Thane shrugged. The red-haired wolf tossed him a box of matches. The alpha dragged a match along the leg of the chair and brought it, burning, to the cigarette at his mouth. He took a delicate breath and shook out the match. Pulling the sweet-smelling cigarette from his lips, he exhaled a swirl of smoke through his nose.
“Now,” he said, “Where were we?”
Evie was not happy. Cormack had been bad enough, but Thane was so much worse. The young cousin was a loose cannon, explosive but predictable in his unpredictability. Even through his expensive coat and polished airs, it had been easy to see him for the barbarian that he was. Thane, on the other hand, had no need for affectation; he dressed his jeans and ragged t-shirt with more class and control than Cormack could muster from a wardrobe of cashmere coats. He was cool and calm and rational to the core, though he shared his cousin’s baser instincts.
She looked at Tom and Tom looked at her. They were in agreement.
“You were telling me why the hell that stunt was necessary,” she said coldly.
“It was a test,” Thane said. He sounded very apologetic. ”Your history with my family goes back a long way—for reasons I have yet to comprehend. I wanted to know for certain what was fact and what was… fiction.”
“You might have considered just asking,” Tom said.
“But the I wouldn’t have gotten to meet your friend,” Thane replied, looking at Justin. ”Who is your friend, by the way?”
“Just a friend,” Evie said, frowning at Cormack.
“Well, it’s my fault that we got off on the wrong foot,” Thane said, taking the cigarette from his lips and smiling woefully. ”Why don’t we all agree start again?”
There was a long silence.
“I’m the Vandal,” Justin said at last, meeting Thane’s gaze with a frown. ”Or, depending who you ask, the Priest.”
“Interesting names,” Thane said. ”What should I call you?”
“Seems to me that’s your choice.”
“The Priest, then,” Thane said. He adjusted the collar of his shirt where Justin had restrained him. ”You have a priest’s fingernails.”
The favorite son of the Parson Street wolves turned to his second-in-command.
”Well, Cormack,” he prodded, “Don’t be rude.”
Cormack did as he was told. “This is Jasper,” he said, pointing to to red-headed wolf. ”And that’s his brother, Jack.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Evie said. She was angry. She didn’t like the way this was going at all. Thane was after something. ”Now that we’ve taken care of the niceties,” she asked, “Why don’t we skip to the part where you tell me how much it’s going to cost to get the things I need from you.”
“Forgive me,” Thane said slowly. ”In my business, we tend to be… overly direct. Given the chance to mingle with outsiders, I have a nasty habit of relishing the niceties.” His eyes twinkled coldly. ”As to your question, the cost will depend on the information you want.”
“I want to know the movements of some very specific people,” Evie said.
“In my territories or outside of them?”
Evie snorted coldly. ”Everything is in your territory.”
“Flattery didn’t work very well with my cousin Cormack,” Thane said, his voice suddenly cold. ”You can expect it to be even less effective with me.” He looked straight at Evie, his eyes full of teeth.
“Yes,” he continued, “I do have my ways of operating outside of my core neighborhood, if that’s what you’re insinuating. But that’s a question of resources and those resources are at my discretion, not yours. So I will ask you again—are these people you are following inside my territory or outside of it?”
“None of it’s yours,” Tom interjected. ”Strictly speaking. Unless the pack has changed considerably since my time.”
Thane smiled, his gentlemanly demeanor returning as rapidly as it had dissolved.
“Of course,” he said. ”Of course. I’m only speaking on behalf of—” he looked at Evie, “How did you put it, Ms. Collins? Ah yes—on behalf of the people I represent.”
It was Justin who answered.
“They’ll be in the Parson Street district tonight, but they’ll leave again just as quickly. They might be hard to track.”
“Thank you,” Thane said, smiling. ”Now, was that so hard?”
Cormack nodded in agreement. ”That kind of job sounds like it could be expensive,” he added. ”Doesn’t it, boss?”
Thane clucked his tongue against the back of his front teeth and wagged a finger at Cormack.
“Now, now,” he reprimanded. ”Don’t be greedy. Maybe it’s for a good cause.”
“The people you’d be looking for have interfered with my business,” Evie explained. “And may have hurt a friend of the Vandal’s.”
Thane pursed his lips.
“And what,” he asked slowly, “Is the nature of your business, Ms. Collins?”
“Not a part of this negotiation, for starters,” Evie said. That was final.
“For now,” Thane agreed. ”Maybe for now.”
“So,” Evie repeated, “What’s the price?”
Thane feigned offense. ”For friends of my brother?” he asked, “How could I possibly name a price? Do you really consider me that crass?” He smiled and took a drag of his cigarette, chin angled mockingly, studying his adversaries.
“There is,” he added slowly, exhaling an elegant stream of smoke, “One small thing you could do for me.”
Evie squinted. ”What’s that?” she asked.
“Your friend the Priest tells me how he knew who I was.”
Tom looked at Evie and Evie looked at Justin.
Justin stared at his knees, his hands in loose fists beside him on the table. He raised his chin so his dark eyes met the captain of the wolves’.
“If I tell you,” he asked, raising one eyebrow, “You’ll do this for us for free?”
“Yes,” Thane replied.
“No tricks. You have my word.”
Justin licked his lips. ”How much is that worth?”
Thane smiled, his own lips slightly parted, tongue pressed mischievously against the back of his teeth. ”If you have any misgivings,” he said, “Why don’t you ask Tom?”
The room fell silent. Everyone waited for Tom’s reply.
“You have his word,” Tom said at last. That was all.
Justin nodded. He sat on the edge of the table, eyes cast down. Like the falling of a curtain, calm spread through his limbs. A twitch in the right corner of his mouth grew into a half-smile.
“When you came in,” he began, his voice richer than it had been a moment before, “You were the first one through the door, after Tom. Everyone waited for you, like you were their date—or their master.”
He cleared his throat and his lips bled out into a grin. It was a performance, and he was enjoying it.
“But that could have been a coincidence,” he said, voice full of false modesty. ”Except—Ah, except,” he wagged his finger. ”Except that you came in and you sat down in the only chair. Everybody else leaned on boxes or against tables.”
Thane’s eyes betrayed no response. Just a calm flicker of his long lashes.
“But the clincher,” Justin explained, “—That was your laugh. Nobody laughed unless you laughed first. Next time you want to blend, you’d better pick some yes men who are a little less afraid of you.”
Cormack scowled. Thane nodded. He seemed amused.
“Well done,” he said. ”Very well done indeed.”
Justin smiled and shrugged. On someone else, it might have been a self-depreciating gesture. Justin wore it like a medal of honor.
“Just find us the people we want,” Tom said, turning to his brother.
“Ah,” Thane said, “But who are these people you want?”
“Three young men,” Evie said, “Almost certainly chain smoking foreign cigarettes.”
“How young?” Cormack asked.
Evie looked at Justin.
“Eight?” Justin guessed. ”Maybe ten?”
Thane laughed. ”Curiouser and curiouser,” he remarked with satisfaction. ”But,” he added, “I am a man of my word. Consider them found.”
“There may also be a woman with them,” Justin added, “Possibly not with them so much as near them.”
“Well, which is it?” Cormack asked. ”With them or near them?”
“I can’t be sure.”
“What does she look like?” Thane inquired.
“Tall, red-headed,” Justin described, “With far-away eyes.”
Thane took a drag of his cigarette. His eyes flickered.
“Is she of some… significance,” he asked, letting the word linger on his lips, “To you?”
Justin’s brows furrowed. His whole countenance grew dark.
“If you hurt her,” he said, “I swear to God, I will kill you.”
Thane smiled. ”You might find that difficult,” he said.
“You might find that I don’t care.”
The alpha wolf laughed and clapped his hands. He stood cheerfully. ”Well,” he said gaily, “It’s only hypothetical, anyway.” He gestured for the Cormack’s coat, which he was given off his cousin’s back. The red-headed wolf passed Cormack Thane’s disused hoodie.
“This has been delightfully illuminating,” Thane added, addressing Evie and her friends. ”But I’m afraid to confess I have other, more pressing, appointments.”
He turned down the cuffs of the coat, then dropped his cigarette and snuffed it out on the floor with the heel of his shoe. He moved for the door, but stopped in front of Tom.
He opened his arms wide.
“Don’t I get a farewell hug?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, brother,” Thane said, opening his jacket and running his fingers along the lining. ”I don’t have any knives.”
Tom embraced him reluctantly.
“The pack wants you back, you know,” Thane said softly, drawing close to his brother’s ear. ”They weren’t very pleased to discover you haven’t actually spent the last few years in a coffin. Something about dereliction of duty.”
“Euan is dead,” Tom said coldly. ”I’m out now.”
Thane looked at Evie and Justin. He smiled and patted his brother on the arm. ”Yes,” he said. ”I see that you are.”
The other wolves waited as the Alpha strode out through the doorway. Then they slammed the door behind them, leaving Evie, Tom, and Justin to the silence of the blackout.