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Daniel made his way slowly back to the compound thinking about Natanya. She was certainly intriguing, in a hard and bitter sort of way. Still, he supposed, someone who had lived through what she had would be hard. Or insane.
Absently, he avoided entering the warm confines of the compound, where subdued laughter echoed through the heavy door, and instead chose to take a walk among the cliffs behind the remnants of Carsten’s pyre. Carsten had been one of his oldest friends, although not part of his cohort; as an Elder, Daniel was forbidden from functioning within the realms of the cohort, which could at times lend itself to be a lonely existence. Favoritism was a real threat, however.
He grew up with Carsten; both were born within a year of each other. Carsten’s parents had been close friends to Daniel’s father, so the two were as close as brothers. He had understood Daniel’s feelings of being a social outcast and worked diligently to make him feel welcome. Daniel hoped he could do as much for Natanya now.
Looking sadly at the last glowing embers of the flame, Daniel muttered, “Goodbye, old friend. May you find the peace we never had in this life.”
He turned and stared out over the turbulent, gray sea. They used to play along these bluffs many years ago; so long ago, it seemed. So far out of reach. He was steadily pounded with the salty spray of the waves beneath the cliff, but he hardly noticed, so intent upon his memories was he.
“Daniel.” The voice startled him a bit, and he involuntarily jerked.
“I’m sorry to have startled you.” Turning, he saw Jun, a fellow Elder and occasional lover of his standing there. She was a warm beauty in this starkly cold setting: regal and classy, with long black hair that spilled over her shoulders and brown, almond-shaped eyes, she seemed ten feet tall despite her petite stature.
He shook his head. “It is fine. I was just lost in some old memories and did not hear you approach.”
Her smile softened her face. “I am so sorry for your grief. You and Carsten were close, despite our regulations.” She reached over and took his hands in hers. They were wonderfully warm.
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “We were brothers in all but parentage. His death is a devastating blow to our people.”
Nodding, Jun motioned for him to follow her and began walking back toward the compound.
“The Elders need to talk. We need to discuss Natanya and what to do about her.”
Daniel paused, forcing Jun to stop with him.
“What do you mean?” He stared at her intently, which made her strangely uncomfortable.
“I guess it is just us. No need in being subtle, I suppose.” She hesitated, then dove right in. “You know as well as I that there is something wrong with the girl. She is not like the rest of us. Her capacity for violence, her tendency to be a loner... even her abilities, are not what I would consider standard for a member of the Magen. Carsten tried to socialize her—we all know it—but it seems he has failed.”
Daniel listened to her without interrupting. When she finished, he said, “Everything you just said could be said about me, too. It has, as a matter of fact. And yet here I am.”
“Yes, well...” June was clearly uncomfortable, but pressed on. “But we know why you are the way you are. Your mother. And yet, despite that, you chose our way! You exemplify what it is to be Magen. But we do not know what it is that makes Natanya tick! And now, after all this, she wants to go and start a war with the Karam all by herself!”
“And I would argue that a war has been raging for centuries already,” Daniel replied. “Carsten is just the latest casualty in an extensive line over the centuries. Perhaps she is correct. Perhaps it is time that we stepped up and did our part to save ourselves.” He held up a hand to forestall any further comment.
“It’s cold, Jun. I’m tired. I’m going to go do a little reading in front of a raging fire, quite possibly with some brandy at hand. If you feel that the Elders need to meet, make the call. I’ll be there. Other than that, I’m done for now.”
Turning without waiting for a reply, he headed back toward the compound and the confines of his cozy room.
Natanya closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. The headache was back, and she wasn’t happy about it. It had been throbbing off and on for days, ever since Carsten’s death. As she brooded about Carsten and his last moments (Natanya, he had said. That was all, but she still felt agonizing moment of his passing), someone knocked on her door.
“What?” she asked crossly. Slowly the door opened and Max poked his ridiculous green head in timidly.
“Still hurting?” he asked, acutely unaware of how murderous she was presently.
Biting back a sharp reply, she merely grunted. He came inside and closed the door, then took a seat across from her.
“How long do you think it’ll last? I’ve never experienced residual pain before.”
“A bit,” Natanya grimaced. “Depends on how close you were to the person. This is a bitch, but I’ve felt worse.”
“Yeah, but why you, I wonder? Carsten was closer to Mikael than you, wasn’t he? And yet he gave you his final moments.”
“You see how furious Mikael is. Maybe Carsten thought I could handle it better. He wanted us to know what happened to him, but Mikael couldn’t have taken it. It would have driven him mad.”
Max nodded thoughtfully at that and fiddled with his lip ring, another ridiculous adornment of the younger Magen. There was an awkward silence, then Natanya cleared her throat.
“Is there something else you wanted, Max? This headache is really killing me.”
“Oh, yeah. So you’re going after Guenther and his cohort, right?”
Natanya wanted to strangle him. The questions were beginning to bore through her brain like an ice pick. Taking a deep breath, she nodded.
“Yes, I am going after them. I will kill them all. It won’t stop the Karam completely, but maybe it’ll buy us time to get resources together to save ourselves. If I can find him,” she added as an afterthought.
“I think I might be able to help with that,” he said. “I have a guy, a private investigator, back in New York, that I do computer work for. You know, skip tracing and all that.” Natanya stared at him blankly.
“Um, okay then. Well, he is good at tracking people down. And here’s the good part: he has the added bonus of looking for one of Guenther’s cohort members. Jonah, specifically. Seems Jonah gave his sister a bad batch of drugs and she OD’d last year. He wants to find him, and not to turn him over to the police, if you get my meaning. Anyway, I can set up a meeting with you two and maybe you can help each other out.”
Natanya ran her hand through her hair and sighed. “Does this private investigator know about us?”
“No,” Max said slowly. “He thinks I’m really good with computers, which I am,” he added defensively. “I don’t always rely on my gift. But no, he doesn’t know about us at all.”
“Then he has no idea what he’s getting into. If he ever caught up to Jonah on his own, he would be killed.”
“Right, which is why I’ve been having no luck in tracking him down.” Max shrugged. “I just tell him he’s one slippery fucker.”
“But you can follow his movements, right?”
“Oh absolutely. But he’s always gone after I find another incident. Guenther and his cohort never stay put for long, which is why I think Ryan – that’s the PI – would be helpful to you.”
“Okay,” Natanya said. “I’ll meet with this Ryan and see what he has to say. I don’t want him to know more than he absolutely has to about us, though.”
Suddenly, Natanya’s door flew open, banging hollowly against the wall and rattling the artwork hanging next to it. Max started violently and his laptop went crashing onto the floor. Elise rushed in, looking frantic.
“It’s Mikael. He’s gone! He waited until he was away and then sent me a telepathic message saying he was tired of waiting and he’s going after Guenther now. Natanya, he’s going to die!”
“Did you try talking to him?” Natanya asked, although she knew it was futile. If he had chosen to go off alone, he wouldn’t be answering anyone.
“Yes,” Elise was saying, “but he won’t talk to me.”
“Fuck,” Natanya grumbled. “Elise, keeping trying to get ahold of him. Max, take me to meet this friend of yours. Now.”
Ryan peered through the camera lens at the couple making out in the black VW Beetle. How in the hell could they do that in such a small car, he wondered. The car belonged to the woman and was a chick car if ever one existed. The driver side door cracked open, causing the interior light to illuminate the inside.
Perfect, Ryan thought as he began snapping shots.
The door closed again, bathing the car in inky blackness. That was okay; he’d gotten all the pictures he needed for his client, a wealthy older man who suspected his trophy wife of fucking anyone who would have her.
“Well,” he muttered. “Looks like you’re right about that one, gramps.”
He watched the car for another minute, lost in his own thoughts, then grinned to himself. Picking up his cell phone, he dialed 911.
“Hello, operator? Yeah, I’d like to report a car hanging around outside my apartment building. Black VW Beetle. Looks like it’s double parked. The address is 225 Madison. Thanks.” He hung up before the operator could ask more questions and chuckled to himself. Nothing he hated worse than cheating spouses, and in his profession, he was knee-deep in them.
Back at his office, he was reading through paperwork when the door opened and Max entered, followed by a rather nondescript woman in a long leather duster and dark clothing. She was wearing sunglasses and her short-cropped hair had a windblown look. Looking around, the woman took off her sunglasses and Ryan saw she had the greenest eyes he’d ever seen, impossibly green, like emeralds backlit by moonlight.
“Max, good to see you again. Do you have that info I asked for?” He shuffled through papers, trying to be casual, because frankly the woman unnerved him. She had a way of staring without blinking, like she was peering into his soul and found it wanting.
“That’s what I’m here to talk to you about. This is Natanya, an old friend of mine. She can help you, I think, and I think you can help her too.”
Ryan motioned for the two to take a seat. After they were settled, he leaned back in his chair.
“So we have things we can help each other with? A little quid pro quo, perhaps?” Ryan smiled suggestively. The woman was unmoved.
“Look, Mr. O’Malley, Max tells me you’re good at finding people, except for one person in particular. A guy named Jonah. I can help you find him, but in return I want you to help me find his co—his friend, Guenther.” Natanya remained expressionless as she spoke, and Ryan noticed that, up close, her eyes were unusually dull. Her whole demeanor was rather robotic and detached. He was used to tears, to screams and bitter anger and rage, but this placid, calm stoicism was something new to him. He could not get a reading on her, which disturbed him greatly.
“Ryan, please. Call me Ryan. I can probably help you, sure. But what do you know about this Jonah? What did Max tell you?”
Natanya sat back. “Jonah is a tool. I’ve known him a long, long time, so there’s nothing Max could tell me that I didn’t already know, with the exception that his habit of pushing dirty drugs caught up to some of his clientele. Your sister, I believe?”
Ryan nodded. “My younger sister, actually. Shelly. She died last year, and I did some work looking for her dealer. I got his name, but that’s all. He’s vanished.”
“Yeah, he does do that frequently.” Natanya stared at Ryan intently. “And what was it you were planning to do if you caught up to him?”
“I’m going to kill him.” Ryan held Natanya’s gaze. “The fucker killed my sister, a woman who was sick. There’s no telling how many others he’s killed. I will end him before he can hurt anyone else.”
“Wow, a lot of killing going on lately, huh?” Max fidgeted in his seat as he warily eyed the pair. They ignored him.
“Killing is not easy.” Natanya gazed at Ryan, unblinking. “It shouldn’t be.”
“And yet,” Ryan said, “I somehow doubt it’s too hard for you.”
Natanya smiled crookedly, but Ryan noticed it failed to light up her face at all.
Cold, he thought. It’s like she has no emotion whatsoever.
“Fine.” He sat back in his chair. “You help me, I’ll help you.”
Natanya gave him a curt nod and stood. “I’ll get in touch with you in the next day or two. I have something I have to do first. Max?”
Max stood and gathered his equipment. “Thanks, man. You have no idea what a help this will be.”
Ryan leaned forward and whispered, “Your friend. Is she single?”
Stammering, Max looked over his shoulder to see if Natanya was in earshot. “Um, well, I guess, but she… she’s rather… intense.”
“Yeah, I got that.” He waved to Max as he exited ahead of an impatiently waiting Natanya,
“Huh. Intense indeed,” he muttered, then turned back to his computer.