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I walked into the Order’s chapter carrying a bag.
The female knight who had originally escorted me walked out of the nearest office. A slow smile stretched her lips.
“What truck ran you over?”
“Did a child come here looking for me?”
The female knight nodded. “Follow me.”
I followed her into her office. Monkey sat in a chair, munching away on chocolate chip cookies and drinking from a large mug. She saw me and grinned, presenting me with chocolate stained teeth.
I slumped against the doorway. Oh good. I was so scared.
I hadn’t gotten much out of the boy. He could barely talk and then the doctor sedated him with a concoction of painkillers. Before he fell asleep, he told me that the hairy asshole was looking for Monkey and me. It took me almost thirty minutes to get to the chapter and the entire time I was picturing Monkey’s broken body discarded like garbage in some ruin.
“Your bag is dripping,” the female knight observed.
I held the bloody bag up. She reached to the side, pulled a metal pan from a drawer, and placed it on her desk. I set the bloody bag into it. She sat behind the desk. The plaque on it said “Stella Davis.”
I leaned against the wall and looked at Monkey. “What happened?”
She swallowed. “I went to get cookies.” She gave Stella a suspicious side eye. “In that place you told me about.”
Clearly the knight of the Order couldn’t be trusted with sensitive information. Stella rolled her eyes.
“I ate a cookie, and I hid the rest. Then I went back to the Mouse House. There was a big taker there.”
Taker stood for a dangerous person. Someone who would hurt a child, someone who took them, and they would never be seen again.
“What was the taker doing?” I asked.
“Talking to Dougie. He had a dog with metal needles on it.” Monkey took another small bite from her cookie.
Talking to this kid was like pulling teeth. “Could you hear what they were saying?”
Stella growled. “What did you hear?”
“Dougie wanted money.” Monkey shook her head in disapproval. “Greedy greedy. Takers don’t give you money. The taker was asking where I was, and Dougie lied.”
Stella leaned forward. I shook my head at her. “What did Dougie lie about?”
“Dougie said he knew where I was. He didn’t know. I snuck away. Dougie asked for money, and the taker told him to bring me to him first. Dougie tried to get money upfront. Then the dog growled, and I ran away.”
“What did you do next?”
“I went to the secret place, got the cookies, and came here. Like you told me to.”
Stella glanced at me. “She showed up here about two hours ago. She’s eaten three cookies and drank almost a quart of milk.” She looked at Monkey. “Where is it all going?”
“In my tummy.” Monkey rubbed her bloated stomach and smiled.
Nick Feldman loomed in the doorway. “What’s going on here? Who is this child?”
“She’s a material witness,” I said.
Nick pointed at my bag. “And what is this?”
He squinted at the bag. “Well now I feel bad. I didn’t get you anything. Why is your evidence bleeding all over Knight Davis’ desk?”
I stepped to the desk, opened the bag, and pulled it down. The two knights and Monkey stared at the Honeycomber’s head.
“The taker!” Monkey said.
All humor evaporated from Nick’s face. “Pick that up and bring it into my office.”
He turned and marched down the hallway.
Stella leaned forward and whispered. “Ohhh, you’re in trouble.”
Monkey made big eyes. “Ohhh.”
Hilarious. I picked up the tray and followed Knight Protector Feldman.
“Close the door,” Nick ordered, siting down behind his desk.
I shut the door and put the tray in front of him.
“He’d battered a child, put him on a chain, and dragged him across half the city to find me.”
“And were there witnesses to this encounter?”
“And will these witnesses be believed if called to testify?”
“I don’t know. Do you think the Methodist Bishop of Northern Georgia is sufficiently upstanding?”
Nick fixed me with a flat stare. “Where did this incident occur?”
Well I don’t know, in a dark strip club full of disreputable scum hell bent on villainy? Where did he think it happened? “In front of St. John’s Methodist Church. There were multiple witnesses. Why aren’t you asking about the boy? The little kid this piece of shit had on a chain?”
“How is the boy?”
“Three broken ribs, a concussion, numerous soft tissue injuries. The Methodist hospital is treating him. He’s stable and they hope a magic wave comes soon enough. But then he’s only a street kid. Not someone important. Definitely not a victim who’d be believed if called to testify.”
Nick’s expression softened slightly. “That’s life on the street. There are hundreds like him out there. Sometimes they get away, sometimes they don’t. When you have finite resources, you learn that you can’t save everyone. If you try, it will shred you until you unravel and there will be nothing left.”
“You sound just like someone I know.”
“Perhaps you should listen to them.”
Listening wasn’t the problem. It was seeing a broken child and turning my back. That I still couldn’t do. My grandmother was born a princess. Nick was born into a middle-class family. His parents’ marriage wasn’t the happiest and it eventually crumbled, but he always had a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in, and food on the table. He knew his parents loved him.
I tapped the greasy skull. “Who is he?”
“Jasper. No last name. Rapist, kidnapper, slaver. He didn’t discriminate. Any shitty job that paid what he asked.”
“Someone hired him to either look into the Haywood murder or make sure I didn’t.”
Nick grimaced. “Probably the second. He was cunning in a way, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”
“Do you know who usually hired him?”
“He was what you might call an independent contractor. I’ll tell Knight Davis to get you the list of known associates. Don’t get your hopes up. Jasper lived in the Honeycomb. It used to be a trailer park for retirees. Now it’s a place that scrambles reality. Nobody goes in there, and few of the Honeycombers venture out into the city. We don’t even know how many of them are in there. Could be ten, could be a hundred.”
Nick fixed me with his stare again. “Do not go in there. That’s an order. You won’t find any witnesses, you won’t get any information. Nobody will talk to you. They will walk you into a wall and you’ll disappear.”
On that we agreed. Going into the Honeycomb was pointless. I was much better off trying to find out who hired Jasper.
I realized Nick was waiting for confirmation.
“I promise to not enter the Honeycomb. But if I were to hire someone from the Honeycomb, how would I go about it?”
Nick sighed. “Which part of not going into the Honeycomb was unclear?”
“I said I wouldn’t. But they must hire them somehow. Do they just stand at the edge of Honeycomb Gap and scream at the top of their lungs?”
Nick shook his head. “I tried, I honestly tried. There is a phone line.”
“Into the Honeycomb? How?”
“Nobody knows. Rumor says it works, and if you know the number, you can dial it and someone will pick up.”
I stared at him.
Nick shrugged. “You asked.”
“Do you know the number?”
“No. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
A faint idea began to form in my head.
“Whatever you’re thinking, I don’t approve.”
“Do you ever approve of anything?”
“Yes. Right now, I approve of you getting the hell out of my office. I will handle the Jasper fallout. Do what you need to do and don’t get killed.”
And here I was, planning to die a gruesome death. “You said that to me before.”
“I want you to really listen to me this time.”
I got up and walked back to Stella’s office.
Monkey crouched on the chair, crestfallen.
“What is it?”
“She’s eaten all the cookies,” Stella said dryly. “Now she has a tummy ache.”
“The Knight Protector told me to ask you for a list of Jasper’s known associates.”
Stella heaved a sigh and got up. “Wait here. Don’t touch anything.”
She left. I looked at Monkey. She looked back at me.
“Do you have a mom?”
“Aunt, uncle, cousins? Any living relatives?”
She shook her head.
I had to keep her safe and off the streets. What was I going to do with her? I need to find a secure place with someone who would watch her twenty-four seven, because left to her own devices, she would take off. Someone strong enough to protect her from another Jasper.
Stella returned with a single piece of paper. I glanced at it. Four names. An impressive file. A veritable cornucopia of information.
I kept my voice casual. “Thanks. Also, the phone line into the Honeycomb, is it more on the east or the west side of the Gap?”
“West. Just past Martha street.”
I nodded to her and held my hand out to Monkey. “Come on.”
She hopped off the chair. “Where are we going?”
“To see some nice people. They will keep an eye on you until it’s safe.” And they would also keep her from running away.
She glanced up at me. “Will they feed me?”
“Okay.” She took my hand and we walked out of the chapter.