Devils Bargain Chapter 10


’’O w,’’ Jazz whispered. ’’Don't make me laugh, okay? It hurts to laugh.’’

Borden, his arm swathed in approximately a mummy's worth of bandages, smiled at her and shook his head. ’’No, I'm completely serious. You and Mooch are all moved in. Manny said he'd give you the alarm code the next time he drops by, because he can't trust it to anybody else.’’

’’Not you?’’

’’I'm guessing especially not me.’’

Jazz, propped up on two pillows, squinted at the morning sunlight and pulled her hospital gown away from her neck to take a look at the spectacular bruising. It looked better than it had yesterday, the blacks turning a sickly dark blue-green, the reds fading. But still.

Colorful.

’’Manny for a roommate,’’ she said sadly. ’’My life is really not turning out the way I'd hoped, Counselor. I think I might have been better off drinking my future away at Sol's.’’

He didn't smile at that one. He leaned forward and captured her hand in his, rubbed a thumb over the scraped and bruised knuckles, and said, ’’If you'd done that, at least three more people would be dead right now. Including me and Marla.’’ Marla had dropped by earlier with her mother, a very pregnant, very scared lady who'd still been prone to dissolve into tears over the near tragedy.

The cops who'd been by had been, if not tearfully grateful, at least cautiously pleased by the whole thing, and more than willing to accept the explanation she'd come up with as to how she, Manny and Lucia had come to intercept the killer. She figured there would be more questions, but nobody seemed too unhappy with her just now.

Not even Laskins, who'd called to gruffly inform her that the Society would be picking up the medical bills. Again.

’’Hey,’’ Borden said, and leaned forward. ’’Rest. You look wiped out.’’ He pressed a warm kiss to her forehead, moved to her lips and brushed them very lightly with his own, and she felt a surge of lightning heat that had nothing to do with the painkillers pumping through her system. ’’I'll see you tomorrow.’’

’’Hey. Counselor.’’

He paused in the act of retrieving his jacket from the chair. He looked nearly back to normal. The cut on his forehead had been sutured, and his color was good. There'd be plastic surgery coming, for the skinned part of his arm, but he seemed to be dealing pretty well with that.

Better than she was, with the memory of his scream on the phone.

’’You never told me how they got you.’’

’’I went outside,’’ he said. ’’I was going to get us coffee.’’

’’There's coffee in the break room. You know that.’’

He shrugged slightly. With his good arm. ’’I wanted to get you Starbucks. Kind of a joke.’’

The smile melted her like butter. She watched him go, smiling, and shut her eyes to savor the warmth of the sunlight slanting over her face.

Naturally, the room didn't stay quiet long. She heard the door swing open again, and cracked an eyelid. Lucia was moving slowly, but she was moving on her own, and dressed in street clothes instead of backless gowns. A distinct improvement, though it was, Jazz thought, the very first time she'd ever seen Lucia without full battle-dress makeup.

She looked young and very, very vulnerable. There was a livid purple bruise on her cheek where she'd hit the concrete in the shed after taking a bullet in her flak vest.

’’Hey,’’ she said, and leaned against the wall as if she was either too cool or too exhausted to make it across the room to the visitor's chair Borden had last occupied. ’’How are you feeling?’’

’’Like I took a double-barreled shotgun blast to the chest,’’ Jazz said. ’’By the way, remind me to send thank you notes to the Kevlar people.’’

’’You're taking it easy, right? Cardiac bruising's nothing to take lightly.’’

’’I'm fine,’’ Jazz assured her. ’’No exertion for me for at least two weeks before they let me out of here. And then I'm on light duty for a month, they say.’’

Lucia nodded and tucked her glossy straight hair back behind an ear, then walked over and seated herself. ’’They said you could have died. Commotio cordis. Sudden noninvasive impact to the chest, disrupting the heart rhythm.’’

’’Yeah, well, I didn't die,’’ Jazz said. She didn't really want to talk about it, or about that moment when she'd felt her heart stop, or the light and the visions.

’’You heard about the envelope they found at his house, right? The one postmarked yesterday morning?’’

The killer - his name had been, prosaically, Dave Jennings - had never opened it. The police had, in their forensic analysis. It was a red envelope. It had said, on clean white paper that carried no logo or watermark of any kind, three words. Use head shots.

’’Good thing he doesn't check his mail,’’ Jazz said somberly.

’’I think all this happened at the last minute,’’ Lucia said. ’’There was a voice mail on your cell phone telling you to check FedEx as soon as you got in, but it came while you were in the air.’’

’’Yeah, and I was a little busy panicking over the plane hurtling toward the ground,’’ Jazz said. ’’I'm guessing the people sending us the messages? Not Actors. At least, not Leads.’’

’’You think?’’ Lucia smiled slightly. ’’Presuming we buy any of this crap.’’

’’Presuming.’’

Not that either of them would admit to it.

Jazz shook her head and let herself sink down on the pillows again. The world seemed soft-edged. Gentle. Quiet. Trees rustled outside of the hospital window and blended with the sound of turning pages as Lucia settled in with a book.

’’Sleep,’’ she heard Lucia whisper, as her eyes drifted shut. ’’I'll be here.’’

Two weeks later, on the day she was scheduled to leave the hospital, Jazz had a new visitor. Lucia was gone to get the car;Borden had disappeared for a meeting with some attorney or other to go over paperwork. Even Manny was MIA, although he'd dropped by to furtively provide her with the password to get into the loft. After some persuasion, she'd also gotten him to give her the new address rather than send it to the dead drop.

She supposed that meant he was improving. That, and the love bite on his neck that without a doubt must have come from the lips of Pansy Taylor. Who didn't hate him.

She was getting her clothes together, heartily ready to get the hell out of the hospital, when the door opened behind her.

It was Kenneth Stewart.

The KCPD detective leaned against the closed door for a couple of seconds, staring at her, and crossed his arms. ’’You don't look so bad,’’ he said. ’’Heard you took one in the chest.’’

She tapped her breastbone lightly. ’’Flak vest.’’

’’Heard you damn near shot the face off a baby-raper.’’

She didn't answer that one. She wasn't happy with that memory, even knowing who the man had been, what he'd done. Even knowing that firing that shot had allowed a beautiful little girl to return safe to her mother.

There was no way to avoid seeing it, over and over again, in her nightmares.

’’Bet you think you're the golden girl, don't you?’’ Stewart asked, raising his eyebrows. He looked pale and doughy and unpleasantly shiny, as if he'd been jogging. His eyes were open wide, his pupils too small. She'd always wondered if he took drugs. He never quite looked right in the head to her.

’’Is there a point you're going to get to, or are you just here to kiss my ass?’’ she asked. She wished she had a gun, because Stewart made her feel the lack, but of course that wasn't possible in the hospital. Though she strongly suspected Lucia was always packing.

Stewart pushed away from the door and came toward her. ’’What's the crap I'm hearing about photos that show McCarthy across town at the time of the murders?’’

’’It's not crap,’’ she said, and folded up a black hoodie before stuffing it in her canvas bag. ’’They've passed every test. My partner also found one of the guys in the pictures. He's willing to testify to their authenticity.’’

’’It's crap,’’ Stewart repeated. He was closer now. She could smell a sharp, metallic scent coming off him, like gun oil and sweat. ’’I know exactly where he was. Pumping rounds into the backs of the heads of three people.’’

’’Pictures say different.’’

He was way too close. In her space, trying to get her to react, and boy, she wanted to. She wanted to slam her fist into his face, but she knew better, knew he was waiting for it and besides, she'd promised the doctor she'd be good.

’’The pictures are fakes,’’ he said softly. ’’I'm going to prove it. McCarthy's not getting off on this one. Not ever.’’

She gave him a slow, liquid smile. ’’Evidence is going before the court next Tuesday,’’ she said. ’’It's exculpatory. The conviction's going to be vacated.’’

Stewart's eyes flared heat, then narrowed. ’’Maybe he doesn't make it to Tuesday.’’

She almost hit him. Almost reached for his throat.

She said nothing.

Behind him, the door opened, and Jazz looked over his shoulder to see Lucia standing there, tense and ready. ’’Jazz?’’ she asked.

’’I'm fine,’’ she said. ’’Detective Stewart was just dropping off - what was it you were dropping off?’’

’’Congratulations,’’ he snapped, and turned and walked away, brushing past Lucia as if she wasn't even there.

Jazz let out a slow breath, tilted her head and got a similar wide-eyed look from her partner.

’’Well?’’ Lucia asked.

’’I think we'd better go warn Ben,’’ Jazz said. ’’Just in case.’’

Jazz hadn't given it much thought, really, about how much time Lucia had spent in and around Ellsworth during the investigation. How many times she must have dropped in to talk to McCarthy.

But when they sat down at the table in the visitor's area - no claustrophobic booths here, it was just open plain tables with preformed benches, much more accessible - and McCarthy walked in from the prisoner's door, the first one of them he smiled at was Lucia, and that look...

That was a look Jazz had never seen in his eyes before.

She glanced sideways at Lucia, who was staring back, and caught the same glint.

Well, she thought blankly. Huh. That's...interesting. She couldn't decide if it was interesting-bad or interesting-good. McCarthy had always been her territory, more or less...not in a romantic sort of way, but in a proprietary sense, anyway. He'd been her partner. Her friend.

She cut her eyes toward Lucia again as McCarthy walked over and slid onto the bench across from them. Yes, that was the look. A hungry look. Something open and - odd, for Lucia - vulnerable.

’’Hey.’’ McCarthy nodded at Lucia, and then - with reluctance, it seemed to Jazz - transferred his smile to her. ’’Jazz. You look good. How you healing up?’’

’’Not so bad,’’ she said. ’’I guess there can't be too many people who've taken it like that and lived to tell about it. Even with a vest.’’

’’Not too many,’’ he agreed. His hair had grown out more, and was curling on the ends. Silver threads gleaming all through it like hidden treasure. His eyes flicked over to Lucia again, as if he couldn't keep them away for long. ’’But you're taking it easy, right?’’

’’Yeah, yeah, everybody interrogates me about that. I'm fine, okay? How about you? How's the arm?’’

He extended and flexed it. ’’Healed,’’ he said. ’’Ribs, too. Collarbone's still a little tricky, but it'll do.’’

’’We want to make sure you keep them that way,’’ Jazz said. ’’Stewart came to see me this morning.’’

McCarthy went still, arm still flexed, fist clenched. She heard tendons crack, but his face had gone expressionless, his eyes hidden and dark. ’’Yeah?’’ he asked neutrally. ’’Dropped off hearts and flowers?’’

’’Not exactly. He said you might not make it to the hearing on Tuesday,’’ she replied. ’’You're going to watch your back, right? Night and day?’’

’’Jazz, no way I'm letting them get to me now. Too much to hope for.’’ He looked at Lucia again, a little longer this time. ’’What about the pictures? Any leads on who sent them to Manny?’’

’’No, but we authenticated them,’’ Lucia said. ’’The photographer's name is Harrison Rohrman, he's a private investigator out of Michigan. He got the pictures by accident, actually. He was photographing everybody who came out the back door because he was waiting for a husband to duck out with one of the strippers. divorce case. He had no idea the pictures were important.’’

’’But somebody knew,’’ Jazz said. ’’Somebody who recognized you in them and dropped them to Manny, knowing he'd be able to do something with them.’’

’’Meaning?’’ McCarthy's hands stretched out flat on the table. Jazz thought about reaching for them, but before she could, Lucia's hand moved and stroked lightly over his knuckles, then retreated.

As if she couldn't help herself.

McCarthy's hands moved after hers, then stopped.

Neither of them willing to commit, not in front of Jazz. She felt heat in her face, felt like an outsider, and hated it.

’’Meaning,’’ she forced herself to say, ’’it was probably somebody from the force who doesn't want to be identified as helping you out. Somebody Stewart might go after out of sheer revenge.’’

McCarthy nodded. ’’Yeah, there are still a few guys who'd step up and do that, at least anonymously. Hell, I don't care who did it. So long as the judge admits the evidence, I'll just be grateful.’’

’’You know this won't mean you get reinstated,’’ Jazz said. ’’The payoffs - ’’

’’Yeah, my lawyer talked about it. There's a deal on the table, if the evidence gets admitted. I get time served on the extortion. Community service, and I lose my pension, but Jazz, I deserve that. We both know it.’’ McCarthy shrugged. ’’I should've been better than I was. I will be, from now on. If I can't be a cop anymore, that's okay. I'll find another way. The important thing is that I'm not stuck in here anymore. That I can have a life again.’’

His eyes flicked to Lucia, then away. Not quite an admission of interest, but...

Jazz swallowed, forced a smile, and said, ’’Yeah. That's great.’’

On Sunday, Jazz woke to the sound of gunfire, and came bolt upright in bed. Mooch shot off the comforter with a growl and stalked away. She rolled over, grabbed her pistol from the nightstand and shrugged on a robe over her white T-shirt and sweatpants before easing open the bedroom door.

The door read, Jazz's Room, in shiny black letters, along with Authorized Personnel Only. Inside the room, things looked like a normal bedroom - like her old bedroom, in fact, down to the curtains and the battered furniture - but outside, it was still disorienting to see that it was a freestanding cubicle sitting in the middle of a concrete warehouse floor.

Not that the place was empty. Over to the right was the freestanding kitchen, to the left was the curtained-off entertainment room, and beyond that was Manny's private space where even she didn't dare go.

The lab, however, was directly in front of her, and as she looked in that direction, she saw Manny pull off a pair of safety goggles and make safe an automatic pistol. He spotted her standing in the doorway, and waved, then looked awkward.

’’Um - did I wake you up?’’

’’With the gunfire?’’ She gestured at the pistol he'd just put down, and the ballistic tank of water he'd fired into. ’’Oh, no. Had to get up anyway.’’

’’Sorry. It's just that - ’’

’’Never mind, Manny. Really. I'm awake.’’ She stretched, realized she was still armed and dangerous, and went back to replace the pistol in its drawer next to her bed. When she came back, Manny was in the kitchen, pouring a cup of coffee. He handed it to her and leaned on the counter, staring at her with one of his puppy-dog expressions.

’’Manny, why are you test-firing a gun? Since you don't do violent-crime work?’’

’’Yeah, well...’’ He shrugged. ’’I've been thinking of getting back into it. A little. This is nothing, though. The insurance company wants to prove that the owner of the gun shot up his own house and then claimed it was a drive-by. Oh, here. Message.’’ He reached over for a pad of paper and slid it across to her. Written in Manny's neat calligraphy was Call Borden cell phone. ’’He didn't want to wake you up.’’

She yawned and nodded. ’’What time is it?’’

’’Six o'clock.’’

She froze, blinking. ’’In the evening?’’

’’Yeah,’’ he said apologetically. ’’I thought you - the doctor said you should sleep as much as - ’’

’’Manny, I was supposed to go to the office!’’

’’Yeah, well, you really don't need to go until - ’’

’’Manny!’’

’’Sorry.’’ He held up his hands and turned away, shoulders hunched. She glared at him for a second, then shook her head and grabbed the cordless phone from the counter as she headed for the bathroom.

It was impossible to stay mad at Manny, especially in the bathroom, which was very possibly the most heavenly place she'd ever seen. Marble, massaging jets of water, a tub big enough to hold three or four...it was hard to hold a grudge. She still thought of it as Manny's bathroom, but really, it was hers now, too. For the time being.

Weird.

As she toweled her hair dry with one hand, she dialed Borden's cell phone one-handed. He answered on the second ring.

’’Are you in town?’’ she asked.

’’Well, across it,’’ he said. ’’Meeting with some corporate clients. Just finished.’’

’’I was planning on going to the office, but Manny's blown that by forgetting to tell me to wake up.’’

’’That's his job now?’’

’’Shut up.’’

’’Who's a grumpy late riser?’’

’’I'm starving. And I want dinner. I heard you eat, sometimes.’’

’’When the company's agreeable,’’ Borden said. ’’I'll be there in - twenty minutes. Tell your boyfriend not to shoot me on the way in, okay?’’

She smiled and hung up on him, but he had a point about Manny. Not the boyfriend part, the shooting part. Manny was taking guard duty way too seriously. Even Lucia thought he'd gone a little loony on the subject.

She put extra time in at the mirror, experimenting with makeup and blush and eyeliner, and when she was finished, she decided it wasn't too humiliating. She still looked like Jasmine Callender. Just not the one who got drunk and beat up truckers.

After some thought, she chose a black pantsuit with a plain white French-cuffed shirt - Lucia's shopping influence - and some mid-heeled shoes. By the time she was slipping them on, Borden's rental car appeared on the security monitor, and she had to race to tell Manny not to activate his more extreme self-defensive measures.

She met Borden downstairs, in the garage, and found him leaning against his sedan, looking tall and lawyerly. Very legitimate.

His eyes widened at the sight of her, and he straightened up. She deliberately slowed down, enjoying the effect.

’’Counselor,’’ she said, and gave him a long, measuring look. ’’Something wrong?’’

’’Yes,’’ he said. ’’I'm pretty sure there are some laws being broken, I'm just not clear on which ones.’’

He walked around and opened the door for her. Handed her in, fingers warm around hers.

She didn't let go. She tugged hard on his hand, tipping him off balance and down to her seated level.

Grabbed his tie and kissed him.

Warm, slow slide of lips, just as hot and sweet as she remembered from that strange, dizzying day at Simms's prison. His lips parted, and she plunged her tongue into the opening, tasting coffee and caramel. His tongue scraped hers, teased, stroked. She moaned, deep in her throat, and grabbed a handful of his hair to try to get him deeper into her. It was unbelievable, really, how much she wanted this.

Wanted him.

She let him go, but he didn't go far, one arm draped over the car door, staring at her with those warm eyes. He licked his lips slowly, tasting her, and said, in a voice she hardly recognized, ’’What was that for?’’

’’For - ’’ She couldn't think of a single thing to say, and suddenly it came to her, foolish and charming and strange. ’’For not hating me.’’

He reached down and fitted his hand along her cheek. His thumb brushed over her damp, parted lips. ’’Who says I don't?’’ he asked. ’’Sometimes.’’

’’Are we going to sit here all night?’’ she asked.

’’Maybe.’’

’’You're a complete bastard.’’

He smiled. It was such a satanically beautiful smile that she felt herself light up inside, light up and burn, and he stood, shut her door and walked around to the other side.

’’I'm taking you someplace special for dinner,’’ he said as he backed out of the garage.

’’Is it quiet?’’

’’No, it's very loud. Mariachi bands. Small children screaming. People talking on cell phones. And there's a buffet - ’’

She grinned. ’’Sounds perfect.’’

He was staying at the Marriott, the nicest one, and valeted the car and ushered her into the lobby with a hand at the small of her back. Like they were about to dance. Guided her to the elevator and pressed the button for the ninth floor.

She watched him in silence as the floors flashed by.

’’The restaurant's on the ninth floor?’’ she asked.

’’Best in town,’’ he agreed. ’’Very exclusive.’’

They didn't touch. He led her down the carpeted hall once they'd arrived on the right floor, down to a door at the end of the hall, and opened it with a flourish.

It was a suite. A nice one, with a king-size bed and a respectably sized bathroom and a view.

He shut the door, watching her.

’’Where's the food?’’ she asked.

He reached over and swung open the minibar. Tiny little bottles of liquor. Miniature champagne. Candy bars.

’’Screw the food,’’ she said, and then he was on her, hands in her hair, pushing her back against the wall, and she couldn't believe she'd ever thought he was weak, because there was no way on earth she had the strength to push him away, not now.

Not ever.

His hands moved under the jacket, trailing fire, tugged the hem of her shirt free and found a path beneath it. She gasped into his mouth, arching against him, as his palms stroked over her breasts and circled her nipples into hardness, then slid around to the small of her back to pull her tighter against him.

His mouth was hot and hungry and all over her, all over her neck, traveling down, tongue tasting every pulse point as she gasped for breath.

He moved her hands back, pinning them up against the wall, and she felt something fierce and hot shudder through her. Something powerful.

He felt it, too, and raised his head to meet her eyes. This close, his eyes were enormous, hot, full of something too dangerous and too violent and too perfect.

She moaned and let her head fall back, surrendering.

Just...finally...for the first time in her life...surrendering.

Everything we do matters.

She lost thread of that in the stroke of his skin on hers, in flashes of heat and light and a fast, almost brutal rhythm thudding in her head, in her heart, her back against the wall, climbing, struggling...

’’James,’’ she whispered, and felt him shudder and spiral into her, heat and light and a perfect crime of passion, committed in hot blood and without regret.

Guilty as charged.

The next morning, she woke sore and exhausted and utterly filled with light, and rolled over to find Borden sitting on the edge of the bed, already dressed.

’’Hey,’’ she murmured. He smiled. It looked sad, that smile. Not what she'd expected. She sat up, instinctively pulling the covers close over her skin. ’’What?’’

He reached out and touched her hair, pushing it back from her eyes, caressing the tender skin at her temples. Long, gentle fingers. His thumb brushed her lips, a soft echo of the need in the night.

’’We missed the hearing,’’ he said. ’’McCarthy's hearing. They held it off-schedule, because he was designated at-risk in the prison. The judge admitted the photographs into evidence and the prosecution moved for the conviction to be vacated.’’

She felt an odd stab go through her. ’’We...we missed the hearing? What happened?’’

’’Ben's out,’’ Borden said. ’’He walked away a free man an hour ago.’’

She let out a cry. It was half fury, half joy. He'd been set free, and she hadn't been there, hadn't been there - how could that have happened? How could she have missed that moment, after all this time? All this work?

Had he looked for her? Been disappointed not to see her?

’’We have to go,’’ she blurted. ’’We have to go see him - ’’

’’Jazz, he's okay. Lucia was there, he's with her,’’ he said. ’’There's something else. Lucia got a red envelope thirty minutes ago. Hand delivered.’’

’’And?’’

’’So did you,’’ he said, and turned to pick it up from the foot of the bed. ’’Someone slid it under the door while I was getting dressed.’’

She took it from him and pulled out the sheet of paper. It was on the letterhead, not of Gabriel, Pike &Laskins, but of Eidolon Corporation.

And it said, in printed, plain block letters, ONE OF YOU HAS MADE A MISTAKE.

She looked up at Borden. Thought about the night, about the fury and perfection of it.

Thought about Ben McCarthy, walking free from murders he didn't commit.

About the look in Lucia's eyes at the prison.

Everything you do matters.

’’Why would they send this?’’ she asked. ’’It's nothing, right? A mind game?’’

Borden shook his head and reached out to pull her head close and plant a burning kiss on her forehead.

’’I don't know,’’ he murmured against her hair. ’’I don't know.’’

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