“We’ve been watching them all night,” said Josie as she emerged from the darkness. Phin and Luc flanked her.
“Wicked urban freestyle,” Luc said, nodding. He crossed his arms over his chest. “They’re getting pretty damn good.”
“And their quickening grows fast,” Phin said, and glanced at Eli. “As does the brothers’ rejuvenation. Faster than we thought.”
I moved out of Eli’s grip and stared in the direction Seth had gone. “My brother can barely walk and chew gum at the same time,” I said, mostly to myself, and then looked at Eli. His beautiful features were cast in half shadows, seemingly haunted, as he met my gaze. “I don’t understand why we have to be here. Why can’t we just go after them? Take them away from the Arcoses, and let Preacher get Seth and the others to Da Island.”
“You know why,” Eli said quietly. “We’ve already been over this. I know it’s tempting to just grab them, but it’d do a hell of a lot more harm than good. There are three weeks left in the moon’s cycle.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “No way will the Arcoses rejuvenate faster than a cycle. We’ll be ready.”
“Yeah, and we can’t get too close, Riley,” Phin said, leaning against the wall. “Victorian and Valerian are smart little bastards. They may be weak, but they’re still deadly. We wait.”
I considered that. “Back in Kelter’s office, Riggs mentioned Val being angry that Riggs had been locked out of the office. Then he took a plastic bag and ran.” I looked at the Duprés. “The way it was packaged, it looked like pills. OxyContin probably.” I rubbed my arms. “You crush it, melt it, and smoke it—gives you a high like heroin.” They all looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but I knew what I spoke of. I’d gotten the same bag from Kelter before. “Val is Valerian, isn’t he?”
Eli nodded. “Yeah, he’s sort of the . . . leader, I guess you could say. He’s the eldest of the two. Apparently he’s already zeroed in on Phillips.”
“How has he already established a drug trade?” I asked. “The Arcoses have only been free for—”
“Mind control,” Eli said. “From the moment the tomb was broken both Arcos brothers had complete mind control. They can make Phillips do whatever they wish. They won’t stop until their army is complete.”
“Valerian is as mean as hell,” Luc added, his face grave. “No mercy. He gets off on torture—”
“Luc, enough,” said Eli.
Pacing seemed to help, so I did it, but soon the stench of the alley made my stomach roll. “What am I supposed to do with loverboy in there?” I said, inclining my head to the back door of the Panic Room.
“Go back in,” Eli said. “Let him think you’re interested in buying, but not tonight—not after what just happened. Let him think you’re rattled.”
“What will buying drugs do to help us against the Arcoses?” I asked. “And I think after having his balls yanked into a twist, he knows I don’t rattle easily.”
Luc and Phin chuckled, and Eli glared at me. “It keeps us from getting kicked out. Better to watch who your brother and his friends pick up. Just do it, Riley. And we’ll leave by the front entrance. You don’t want that big Tibetan on your ass.”
“You want access to their supplier,” Phin added. “And to the rooms. It’s apparent that Valerian has your brother and his friends using this place. Not just to gather more kids for his army, but probably to lure victims.” My stomach sank at that last part.
“Did Seth’s friend recognize you?” asked Josie, who’d been quietly watching.
“I don’t think so,” I answered. “He stared at me for a few seconds like I was a pork chop, but that’s it.”
Luc and Phin chuckled; Eli did not. He just stared at me, angry, and I couldn’t understand why he was so pissed off at me.
“Okay, guys, let’s go,” said Josie, and headed up the alley toward the street. She glanced over her shoulder, then stopped and looked directly at me. “Bye, Riley. Don’t worry—we’ll keep an eye on Seth.”
“Peace out,” Luc said, following her, and Phin grinned and hurried up the alleyway. I watched in awe as the Dupré siblings mimicked Seth’s and Riggs’ free-running moves, using every ledge and flat surface to spring effortlessly off of—and at a much faster pace than Seth and the others had. At the rooftop of the building across the street, Josie stopped, turned, and waved, and then the three disappeared into the darkness.
“Come on,” Eli said, his voice angry, edgy. “Let’s get this over with and get out of here. Place makes me sick.” He opened the door and held it for me, and I held his gaze as I walked through. I didn’t look back as I walked to Kelter’s office, and when I got there and turned, Eli had gone. Inside, I found Kelter at his desk, smoking a joint, which smelled just as bad as the corridor.
“That little prick owes me money,” I said, making up something on the spur of the moment to explain why I’d run after Riggs. I leaned a hip against Kelter’s desk. He was pasty white and didn’t seem to really hear what I was saying. Of course he was half lit with liquor and pot, but his tolerance was usually a little higher. “So, what do you got for me?” I said.
He regarded me through a vapor of Mary Jane, but the cockiness from before was gone. He looked genuinely scared, and I felt no pity for him at all. “What do you want, Riley?” he asked. His eyes squinted as he pulled another drag.
“Tonight, nothing. Not after the stunt that kid just pulled. Later? A couple dozen Oxys,” I said, the familiar words feeling dirty against my tongue. “Enough for a party. As long as you’re still in good with your cousin?” Kelter’s cousin was on the SPD, and yeah—a dirty cop.
“Tonight’s a freebie.” Kelter reached into his desk drawer and retrieved a ziplock similar to the one Riggs had taken, only smaller, quart sized, and rolled like a cigarette. He stood and eased around the desk, leaning close to me, and handed me the dope. When I reached for it, he grabbed my arm and held it tightly. I resisted the urge to shove my knuckles into his carotid.
“Room four, babe,” he said, and moved his other hand to my thigh. “That’s our old room, remember? When you’re ready for the seven deadly sins, let me know. You remember the rules, right?” he asked, and slid his fingers along the inside seam of my leather pants. “Or do you need a little reminder?”
Inside I screamed; I wanted to knee his nuts so bad it hurt. But instead I put on a pouty face and nodded. “Yeah. I remember. There are none.”
He laughed. “Good,” he said, and drew another toke from his joint. The scent was making me nauseous, and I wanted out of there. “And here I thought all this time you’d cleaned your ass up and made something of yourself.” He chuckled, and I swear his pale face made him look like a ghost. “Guess I was wrong, huh?” He dropped the bag in my hand. “Once a junkie, always a junkie. See ya round, Riley.”
I didn’t answer him; instead, I shoved the dope in my pocket, pushed away from him, and left his office, slamming the door behind me. It didn’t drown out his laughter. What a nasty freak. I was halfway to the double doors when Eli stepped out of the shadows. Immediately, a protective hand went to my lower back. Within the horseshoe, it was like some seedy club in a movie; two guys were standing close, sharing a joint; another couple was hot and heavy against the wall not two feet away, her laced leather shirt completely undone and his hands all over her breasts. Two girls had staked out a dark alcove near the bathroom, one sprawled across the other’s lap; they faced each other, making out and feeling each other up. The one on top had on a short plaid schoolgirl skirt with her knees pulled up, and her thonged ass was hanging out. Swear to God, people these days had no freaking humility. I wasn’t a prude or anything, but damn. “Get a room,” I muttered, but no way did they hear me, and even if they did, they didn’t care. The pressure of Eli’s hand guided me past all the club lovers and into the main room, where we entered a mob of people dancing. Not once did his palm leave my skin. People bumped and knocked into me as they moved to the music, and each time they did, Eli’s grasp tightened against my flesh. I could feel his entire body pressed against me as we weaved through the crowd, and my body hummed with awareness. I liked it.
Close to the door we ran into Mullet and a tall, leggy girl with a pitch-black bob, straight-across bangs, black pants, and a red tank top with suspenders. Her Goth boots made her an easy two inches taller than Mullet. He made quick introductions; then we left. Mullet had never gotten into the bad stuff, like what went on in the back rooms. He was strictly a partier of music and drink. A really good guy. I sometimes wondered how he remained my friend when I’d been into so much awful stuff.
At the door, Zetty gave me the stink eye; he knew something was up, and although I hadn’t been around him in some time, it didn’t set right with me that he thought I was into Kelter’s shit again. But I couldn’t tell him otherwise. I waved good-bye and felt his all-knowing mystical Tibetan eyes on me until the door closed.
Outside, the heavy, wet air from the recent rain hung thick around us, the salt marsh from the Savannah River throwing off a weighty scent, and I breathed deeply, relieved to be outside. I glanced back at the Panic Room and again wondered how such a nondescript building could contain so much . . . sin. And how easily I had become a part of it, way back when.
“Get on,” Eli said, the anger back in his voice. I looked at him like he’d lost his mind, wondering why he was so mad—especially at me. He said nothing more, so I climbed on and we headed up Martin Luther until we reached Bay.
“Head to Congress Street,” I said over his shoulder. “Molly McPherson’s.”
At the traffic light he stopped and half turned to look at me. He said nothing.