“This is it,” he said. “When this is over, I’m out. I’ll live off it, or maybe I’ll go legit, and find security holes for a living. I don’t know. I only know I won’t have to think about the next job.”
“You’re getting out? For real?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Weren’t you listening to me? I’ve been talking about this for years. I’ve got a plan. The plan says I’ve got to raise a certain amount of money. In combination with what I’ve saved so far, I’ve got the money. That’s it, when I get the money I’m out.”
She blinked. “I’m sorry. Everyone says that, but no one ever does it. You’re really getting out when this is over.”
He grimaced. “Why is that so unbelievable? You know this is a hard life. Jail is the best case scenario. Death is more likely than anybody wants it to be, and if even if you don’t die you know that at any minute now some bastard with a hard-on for justice could blast through the door and beat you unconscious. Yeah, I want out.”
“It’s unbelievable because that’s all I ever saw of you was the job–the current job or the next job. No breaks. No vacations. When you were done with one, you planned the next.”
“Look, I told you what I wanted. Not my fault if you didn’t believe me.”
She stood up, pushing her chair back so far it nearly fell over. “Well, fuck you then.”
He got up as she did, stepping out from behind the table to block her in case she stormed out. “Please don’t go. I know you’re angry at me. I know I deserve it, but I need you because I need someplace to hide, and not only someplace to hide. I need someone who has the skills to keep me alive.”
She looked up at him, mouth closed, jaw unmoving, but she was listening. He kept on talking. “I’ll pay you, and I’ll pay you a lot. Here’s why: Syndicate L had the information. I stole it from their data center. I covered my tracks there, but if they find out it was me, they’ll try to kill me. I don’t know what they’ve got on their side, but they’re organized crime. I can’t take them on alone.
“That’s not all either. Today a shapeshifter killed almost everyone in their data center after I walked out the door.”
Tiffany’s mouth twitched in what might almost have been a smile. “Problem solved,” she said. “Are you sure you need me?”
He glared at her, and she laughed. “You know better. The cops can’t ignore that many deaths at once. Neither can the local heroes. I’ll have all of them on my tail. Plus the guy who killed them all? I think I know who he is. I think he’s that guy from the Rocket’s team–Gunther–you know, ‘Immortal’.”
“I’ve never heard of the guy, but expose him. He’s a hero, and he’s committing mass murder? Prove it and they’ll be too busy going after him.”
“That’s not the way it works. I can’t prove it because he took down the power and there are no pictures of what happened next. Even if there were, he looked like someone else while he did it. Besides, attention slides off him. The boards are divided as to whether that’s a magic thing or whether he’s just that good.”
He pulled out his phone. “Look at this.” He clicked a few times, and held it up to show a World War II era poster promoting war bonds. America’s “League of Heroes” was composed of The Rocket in golden powered armor, a woman in ghostly white, and several men in army fatigues. One of the men in fatigues carried two short swords.
“Look at the guy with the swords. Now look at this.” He scrolled down, and it was obvious that he was viewing an online forum, pointing at pictures in one post after another–a medieval tapestry showing a battle, a wall from an Egyptian pyramid, a Sumerian tablet, a cave painting.
“Oh, come on.” She tapped twice with her finger. “Typical internet conspiracy bullshit. How many people must there have been in history who carried two short swords, two knives or whatever he’s got.”
He held up a finger. “One more picture. If you don’t believe me, I’ll go.”
She sighed. “Fine. One more, but I’m telling you it doesn’t take much to look like you’re immortal. Plenty of sorcerers manage it. They could easily manage the shapeshifting too.”
He showed her the last picture. It was of a page from a book. It showed several men. Each of them carried two identical swords. Each had different facial features, skin tone, build, height, and clothes. The background illustration’s colors changed to match the clothes, implying a progression.
Ben couldn’t read the calligraphy, but from the way her eyes widened, he guessed that Tiffany could.
“I have that book–not an original, but a copy. One of the Dark Circle made a pdf.”
She grabbed a tablet off the kitchen counter.
Ben stood next to her so he could see the screen. “Didn’t they try to kill you? When did they start sharing pdf’s of spell books?”
Tiffany frowned as she touched the tablet. “There are so many things wrong in what you just said it’s hard to know where to start. First, it’s not a ‘spell book.’ It’s a guide for summoning and negotiating with demons and other supernatural creatures–
“Gunther’s a demon?”