Okay, apparently my heart was in decent shape. Because I managed to avoid going into cardiac arrest the second I heard the man on the phone say those words. Though it was a pretty near thing. My stomach flipped over and I spun around to look out into the darkness as though he had been standing right behind me, even if that was ridiculous. A thousand thoughts and questions were screaming through my head.
I knew who it was immediately. When he said he was Paige’s father, he wasn’t Mr. Banners. Not the way he said it, not–no. This was Pittman. Benjamin Pittman. I knew his voice from that time inside Paige’s head, facing his digital doppelganger. It was him.
What the hell? How did he get the phone number? How was he talking to me right now? Was he still on Breakwater? Did he do something to Irelyn? How? Was it one of his goons? Had they somehow found out that the woman was looking for Paige and took her? Was she alive? Was she okay? Fuck, fuck! How–what? Paige and Raige were both going to lose their minds, lose… lose everything. We had sent Irelyn down to Florida and now somehow Benjamin Pittman had the phone number we had been using to call her? There was no way that was a coincidence. It couldn’t be. Something was really wrong. And when those two found out, they were going to–
“I’m waiting,” the man snapped, his voice interrupting my panicked rush of thoughts. Clearly, this was a man who was accustomed to people immediately jumping to answer his questions and follow his orders. Probably because so many of the people he worked with were mindless drones he had built. “Give the phone to my daughter, whoever you are. Unless you think she would prefer to never learn just how I acquired this number.”
Grimacing for a brief moment, I tried to force down the panic so I could respond without sounding completely out of my depth. I was, of course, but I didn’t want to sound like it. “Sorry, she’s not exactly here right now. You want me to have her call you back? Is this a good number to reach you at, or is there a Breakwater switchboard that we need to go through?” How I managed to get those words out and make them sound at all casual (and even snarky) while my heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest was completely beyond me. There was obviously something really screwed up in my head.
From the way the man on the other end of the line paused, I could tell he was taking a second to figure out how to respond to that. And probably smothering outrage that I wasn’t immediately hopping to follow his every whim. When he finally spoke again, his voice had a forced, brittle calmness that wasn’t at all convincing. “I have very little time on this call, for reasons you obviously know. Take the phone to my daughter and make sure she has it Sunday evening at ten pm your time. I will call back then, and she had better answer. Otherwise, there will be consequences she does not want to bear. Do you understand me, boy?”
Well, what was I supposed to say to that? I didn’t dare mouth off to him too much, not when his men here in the States could possibly be holding Irelyn hostage. A rush of almost staggering guilt at the thought of what we had accidentally sent the helpless woman into ran through me, even as I swallowed hard before responding. “Sunday night at ten. Got it. She’ll have the phone then.”
“Good,” came the snapped response. “See that she does.”
With that, the line went dead. He disconnected without another word. I was left standing there in the darkness of the construction site with the phone held to my ear in silence for a long moment before slowly lowering it. Although my mouth was silent, my brain definitely wasn’t. Fuck, fuck, fuck! What was I supposed to do now? It was late, and I had no idea if Fred and Wren were even still awake, or if they had gone straight to bed. Could I disturb them just to get inside so I could talk to Paige and Raige? Would going there right this second to tell them what was going on be a good idea? We couldn’t do anything about it right now anyway. But how angry would they be if I waited hours before telling them? Even if they couldn’t actually do anything about it, they probably wouldn’t like not being told. And yet… and yet… would it be worse to not tell them yet, or to go straight to the shop and wake up everyone there just to let Raige and Paige know that there was this huge problem they were completely incapable of doing anything about right then?
In the end, I decided that waiting was the best choice. Again, no one could do anything about it right now. It was the middle of the night in Detroit, Irelyn hadn’t answered the phone any of the other times we called, and now that crazy fuck had this number. That was all I knew, and it was impossible to actually do anything about it now. Not to mention the fact that tomorrow and the next day were already going to be busy with all the stuff I had lined up as it was.
So, already feeling guilty about my decision, I started to head for home. I would sleep a few hours, give time for Wren and Fred to wake up, then go over there and… and let Paige and Raige know what was going on. It definitely wasn’t a conversation that I was looking forward to, but they needed to know. We could decide what to do about it from there, though I was pretty sure it would be limited to waiting for their father to call. Which was just super-fantastic.
Clearly, I hadn’t already had enough shit going on this weekend. I needed even more than all this to avoid total boredom. Maybe I’d get lucky, and end up getting kidnapped by another gang leader for a face to face. Cuélebre hated me, right? And he had to be in a bad mood with everything that was going on over there. He could definitely show up right now and punch me in the face. I wouldn’t even be that surprised.
Okay, I was going to stop thinking about that and tempting fate, no matter how sarcastic my mental voice was. It was time to go home and sleep, or try to, before anything else happened.
But hey, at least spending time with Tomas and Maki wouldn’t be the most anxious part of my day anymore.
The second Izzy and I were up later that morning, I made sure she knew I had something important to talk about. The two of us were on our way out the front door to take a car service ride before nine o’clock, and yet both of my parents were already gone. From what one of the maids said, they had left by seven, despite the fact that my dad wasn’t home until almost three.
Yeah, they were obviously busy too. But I couldn’t think too much about what all that was about. Probably just more stuff involving the gang war, yet… no, Cassidy. I had to shove that out of my mind. I had enough to deal with right in front of me. My plate was full, so no reaching across to grab something else to pile it on even more. Whatever was going on with my family’s business could wait. It would have to wait, no matter how paranoid my brain got about the possibilities.
Having the driver drop us off by a small diner, the two of us grabbed some breakfast sandwiches to go, and ate while we walked down the street. Keeping my voice low despite the fact that there was no one around, I told the younger girl exactly what had happened in the middle of the night right after I’d split off from her and the others.
Needless to say, she was pretty freaked out upon learning about that call too. And she was just as worried about Irelyn and guilty about what we had sent the woman into. The two of us walked in silence for a minute once I’d finished explaining the situation, but a quick glance that way showed me how Izzy’s expression was twisting pensively. With a visible cringe, she finally announced, “They’re going to be really upset.”
My own grimace immediately matched hers. “Tell me about it. I wish I had a solution or more information to give–hang on.” Producing the phone from my pocket, I considered it for a second before looking at the other girl. “Should I try calling Irelyn again? I mean, maybe Paige’s dad was just bluffing when he implied that he had her. He could have just gotten the number without having her, somehow. Or maybe whoever has her actual phone will pick up.”
“Unless he has the phone,” Izzy pointed out flatly.
“How would he–” In mid-sentence, I stopped. “Okay, I was going to ask how he could have gotten the phone, but obviously he has ways of calling out, even if he’s limited on when and for how long. Maybe he had a way of having the phone sent to him on the island. Or… or…” I trailed off, looking at the phone in my hand. Before I could change my mind, I tried calling Irelyn once more. No answer, of course. Unsurprising though still disappointing. A part of me had been desperately hoping that she would find me and reveal that Benjamin Pittman really had been bluffing.
But of course, we weren’t that lucky. After trying once more to no avail, I put the phone away, shoving it deep in my pocket while shaking my head. “I don’t know what to do about it. I just–fuck. God damn it. This whole thing is just so screwed up, you know?”
With a slight nod, the other girl reached out to touch my arm. “We need to go over there. You need to tell them what’s going on. Even if they can’t do anything about it right now, they need to know. They deserve to know.”
She was right, of course. Letting out a long breath, I nodded. “Yeah, let’s get changed and go that way.
“I just hope Irelyn’s okay. Because if she’s not, I don’t think anything, not even being on a secret island thousands of miles out in the ocean, is going to stop those two from going after their dad.”
Izzy didn’t end up accompanying me all the way to the shop. Not because she didn’t want to, but there was a call from one of the officials back at the Minority base, asking for her to come in to help out with something. She couldn’t exactly defer without drawing questions, so with a promise to check in later, she took another Uber that way. Or rather, to one of the secret entrances to the Minority base. Which was still freaking cool to hear about. The fact that they had doors scattered all over the city that would all transport them to the base–or rather, the clubhouse as they called it– was awesome. And I would’ve been even more enthused about learning more about how that worked if my focus wasn’t on Irelyn, and what I had to tell Paige and Raige about all that.
So, bracing myself for what I had to say, I changed into my costume before making my way to Wren’s shop where she and Fred were waiting. They were barely up when I arrived, and even that only because I’d called ahead. The two of them had just gotten dressed and were staring at me blearily as I handed the bag of food over as a peace offering. “Sorry, guys. It’s really important.”
With that, I gave them a brief version of what happened the night before, telling the two about the phone call and my worries about what was now going on with Irelyn. Needless to say, it immediately woke them up even more than the scent of sausage and bacon had. Both of them had a lot of questions. Unfortunately, they were the same questions that I already had, so they wouldn’t be getting any answers from me. Not immediately, anyway. Telling them I had to go upstairs and talk to the others, I left the two with the breakfast I brought over and went up, dreading the conversation that I was about to have.
Needless to say, Paige and Raige were both confused as to why I was back so soon. They immediately asked if Irelyn had called, which made me wince. I thought my reaction was subtle, but Paige’s eyes immediately narrowed. She was half-sitting up, her back slumped against the corner of the couch. “What is it? What happened?”
Right, there would be no beating around the bush for this. They needed to know the whole truth. So, taking a deep breath, I quietly told them exactly what had happened from the moment the phone had buzzed in my pocket. I told them exactly what I had said and what he said. And what he implied.
Before I knew what was happening, Paige’s body was on its feet. She–or rather they– jerked upward and lashed out with a punch toward the nearby wall, hitting hard enough to put a slight dent in it despite the fact that I was pretty sure it was reinforced. At the same time, they (and it was definitely both of them) blurted, “I’ll kill him!”
Only then did the two of them seem to realize what had just happened. Paige had a look of confusion and surprise, just before her entire body collapsed. One leg went one way, her arm flailed out, and her head sort of jerked a little. It was like they were both trying to control the body and it wasn’t working. Not when they weren’t completely in sync.
Quickly moving that way, I took a knee. “Are you guys okay? Look, he’s going to call back Sunday. Like I said, he wants you to be here to answer the phone. Well, Paige anyway. He didn’t say anything about Raige. I guess he doesn’t know what happened there, or if–I dunno. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know you’re around. He definitely doesn’t know the whole situation.”
I was obviously rambling a little bit, so I cut myself off and simply helped them turn over. I could see the anger and frustration on their face. What they really wanted to do in that moment was somehow teleport to that island and beat their father’s face until there was nothing but a puddle of unrecognizable mushy liquid left.
Finally, Raige spoke first. “Either he has Irelyn or some of his people do. Which…” She trailed off, then added, “We need to say it.”
The same mouth spoke then, but it was obviously Paige. “It’s not our place to expose that.”
“But it’s relevant, Paige,” came the response from Raige. “You know it’s relevant. She deserves to know the whole story. If she doesn’t, and something happens to Irelyn because she didn’t know…”
“I’m the she, right?” I quickly cut in, frowning in confusion. “What exactly should I know? What’s going on? Is there something you haven’t told me about this whole thing?”
There was a long pause as Paige clearly considered and debated internally. Actually, she was probably literally debating with Raige inside their head. Whatever this was about, it was big enough that she was still resisting the idea of talking about it. Finally, her eyes shifted to focus on me, her voice quiet. “Help us get over to the couch. Then I… then we can talk.”
Okay, now I was very confused. But I shook that off and did as she asked, helping them get the body up and over to sit down once more. Dropping next to them, I squinted. “Now are you going to tell me what all that was about? What do I not know about what’s going on? Because if there’s something big, I should probably know about it before we try to plan anything.” Inside, I was trying to think of what Paige could possibly have been holding back. I was trying not to be paranoid and understand that she had a reason to keep quiet about whatever it was, but a part of me was angry at the thought that she had been keeping more secrets. Truthfully, I was pretty sure most of it was my lingering hang-ups and personal feelings about the past few years of dealing with the way Paige had been forced to act. But knowing that didn’t make it go away.
There was another momentary pause before Paige answered. “I want you to know that your secret is safe with me. I wouldn’t tell anyone who you really are or… or any of that unless it was an absolute emergency and… and telling people like Alloy your real identity was the only way to save you.” As she spoke, her gaze met mine intently. “I promise, I take keeping secrets like that seriously. I would only tell someone if it was completely necessary.”
My head shook slowly. “Okay, I guess I’m glad you–wait.” Yes, I had been slow on the uptake, probably because of how distracted I was about everything going on. But even I wasn’t that slow. It came crashing into my head as I gave a sharp double-take, my eyes widening. “Wait, wait a second. Are you saying–are you–is Irelyn a–” Abruptly, I shoved myself to my feet, spinning on my heel to stare down at them as my mouth worked a few times in total disbelief. “Who?” The word came blurting its way out after a few false starts and sputters. “You’re saying Irelyn is Touched? Who is she? Is she Star or Fell? Wait, is she Deicide? Is she Brumal? Is–” I was trying to sort through all my mental images of female Touched in the city who could possibly match her description, or at least get close to it.
Then it occurred to me. One Touched who hadn’t been seen in the city for these past couple weeks who could possibly fit. “Trivial,” I blurted. “She–no, fuck. She can’t be Trivial. Trivial only came over from the Nebraska Minority last year. She–” I frowned, realizing who the other person who had been missing for awhile was. “Wait…”
“Yeah,” Paige confirmed flatly, her gaze meeting mine. “You got it.”
Okay, now I was reeling again. “Irelyn is Flea? But she looks–I mean she’s not…” Trailing off in the midst of pointing out that the woman’s eyes looked Asian through the mask, I remembered the way Amber’s costume turned her hair from black to blonde and as part of that, shifted her facial features slightly to look different than her normal self. “Oh. But that still, um, feels a little wrong?” It wasn’t quite blackface or–but it wasn’t great. Yeah, not great. But it did help keep her identity secret.
“She doesn’t alter her face,” Paige informed me as though reading my mind. “Her grandmother’s Japanese, but she mostly takes after her father. If you block everything else and only see her eyes, you can see the resemblance. Anyway, she’s been doing that since she was on the Minority. From back in the old days, you know, when Touched were first becoming a thing.”
She was right, I remembered. Flea had been one of the earliest Touched in the city, and definitely the youngest as far as I was aware. At least the youngest who had joined a team and actively done anything. She wasn’t quite there at the start, but it was only a couple years into things, back when they were still working out the details in the system. Flea had been a little kid back then. It was part of why she used the name Flea. She was tiny and jumped around a lot. Between that and her health/stamina draining power, Flea fit. She just kept the name as she grew up. Probably because it meant a lot to her by that point.
“Keeping identities secret was harder back then,” Paige informed me. “They didn’t have the system and rules that exist now, so they had to be very careful, especially with Irelyn being as young as she was. Her parents wanted her to–they wanted to profit off what she could do, the way parents of a child actor or model can. But they needed her identity to stay secret, so they came up with that. No one would even look twice at Irelyn Banners because they’d be looking for an Asian girl.”
My mouth opened and shut a couple times before I grimaced. “That makes sense. And if she is part-Asian it’s not nearly as… Anyway, I guess the point is she’s… she’s Flea. Wait, we talked to her! I talked to her, repeatedly! We told her about the whole Cup situation. We–she was–the whole time I–”
“Yup,” Raige (don’t ask how I knew it was her) confirmed. “That was her. And now she’s in trouble.”
I had no idea what to do with this new information. My mind was spinning. “I–if he knows she’s–oh. How does he–but how did–if she’s–” Yup, definitely spinning. “What do we do?”
“Answer the phone when he calls Sunday,” Paige answered.
“And you guys get me a body,” Raige added.
“So both of us can go rip him apart limb from limb.”