Killing Masters had been a mistake. Not in the ‘oops, we hit the wrong target’ kind of way, but in the narrow-minded, not thinking of the consequences way. Fletch had a good idea who had ordered the hit, but no one would be able to predict the fallout, or the repercussions to the Shadows. In the immediate aftermath, security in every corner of the Golden Tracks had been heightened ten-fold, which made venturing past the wall a fool’s gamble. Bosner could be called many things, but not a fool. He didn’t care if Fletch made it out alive, but he didn’t want anything happening to his girl. So, until security relaxed, Bosner’s job remained undone, a fact that didn’t bother Fletch at all. He couldn’t imagine an easier way to get killed than venturing into the Tracks with someone who’d never been there tagging along.
Unfortunately, while Master’s murder kept him out of the Tracks, it also meant no information from Bosner regarding Mosh’s new pet. The man didn’t pay until the job got finished. That meant Fletch would have to try other sources.
The girl jumped, and nearly dropped the piece of painted glass she carried as she spun around to face him, a dark scowl on her face. “Jeezus, Fletch, you scared the crap out of me.”
The scowl deepened. “I doubt that,” she said. “What do you want?”
He glanced past her, to the row of tents in their haphazard encampment. Rats lived better than they did. He pulled his attention back to Reason. “I hear you got yourself a roommate,” he said.
“What’s it to you?”
Fletch shrugged. “Just wanted to welcome her into the fold.”
Suspicion flickered in Reason’s eyes. “Leave her alone, Fletch.”
“Why is it I get the feeling you don’t like me?”
“Because I don’t.”
She tried to move past him, but Fletch side-stepped out and blocked her. He closed his hand around her upper arm.
Reason pulled back. “Let go of me.”
“Live up to your namesake,” he said, his voice soft. “All I want to do is talk to her.”
“Well, maybe she doesn’t want to talk to you.”
Reason twisted and Fletch let her go, but didn’t move out of her way. “Where is she?”
“Don’t know.” Reason took a step back. She looked like she wanted to bolt but had no place to go. “She’s probably with Pops and Bull, just like every other day. Now shove off.”
“Is there a problem, love?”
Fletch stiffened at Maverick’s voice from behind him, the recognizable lilt laced with undisguised threat. He didn’t turn to face him, and didn’t attempt to stop Reason when she stepped around him with a haughty toss of her head.
“Nope,” she said. “Not any more, Mav. Later, boys!”
“What’re you up to?” Maverick asked, as Reason scampered away.
Fletch made a noise in his throat. Seemed he couldn’t count on anything but bad luck these days. He slid a look over his shoulder at Maverick. “Nothing that’s your business, Scotty.”
Maverick sauntered around to stand in front of him. “I told you not to call me that.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be licking Jack’s boots or something?” Fletch pushed his bad luck to the limit by taunting Maverick, but his mood had gotten progressively worse as the day wore on. The more everyone in the Shadows mothered the new girl, the harder it would be for him to get close to her without taking it to the extremes. And that had the likelihood of blowing up in his face.
“You’re a real piece of work, you are,” Maverick said. “God only knows why Jack puts up with you. Me? I’d just as soon toss you back into whatever hole you slithered out of.”
“Then it’s lucky for me Jack keeps your leash nice and tight.”
“Just stay away from Damsel,” Maverick said.
“Go piss on some other tree, Scotty.”
Maverick shoved Fletch back against the wall, and held him there with a beefy forearm across his throat. The bigger man’s mouth twisted into a snarl when Fletch pressed the tip of his knife against his ribs.
“You can walk away,” Fletch said, his voice icy cold. “Or not.”
Maverick’s lip twitched. He lightened the pressure on Fletch’s throat but didn’t remove his arm. “One of these days,” he said, matching venom with venom, “you and I are gonna finish this.”
“Looking forward to it.”
Maverick pushed off, and flicked his gaze down as Fletch returned the blade to its sheath, as though checking to make sure it had really been a knife. Or, more likely, so he knew where it was coming from the next time. Then he twisted his head to the side and spit before walking away. Fletch watched until he rounded the corner, then headed in the opposite direction.
“I gave her the day off,” Pops said, without looking at Fletch. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Why’s everyone so protective of this one?” Fletch leaned against the door jamb, and watched Pops reorganize a shelf of odds and ends.
The old man gave him a sidelong look. “Probably cause you’ve been sniffing around. Jack tells me you wanted to take her on. When have you ever wanted to train anyone?”
Fletch shrugged. “First time for everything.”
“Funny how some firsts turn out to be lasts.” Pops shoved a box onto the shelf, and spun his cart around to face Fletch. “For a smart man, you played this all wrong, you know that? Whatever it is you’re after, you could’ve had more help than you can imagine. But you’ve gotten on the wrong side of everyone, including me. Didn’t have to be that way.”
“I work better alone.”
“Do ya, now? Then why is it you stay down here? What is it you’re looking for?”
“Who says I’m looking for anything?”
The old man snorted. “I ain’t blind or deaf. Only thing most everyone down here’s after is survivin’ from one day to the next. It consumes every waking minute. You?” His bright eyes bored into Fletch’s. “Surviving’s just a sideline for you.”
Fletch winced at the ear piercing squeals as Pops rolled his cart to a nearby stool. He hoisted himself onto it with practiced ease, and leaned his elbows on the countertop. His unflinching gaze started to get on Fletch’s nerves. He should’ve known better than to expect anything from Pops. He’d allowed desperation to override common sense — another good way to wind up dead. Fletch shook his head and started for the door.
“What branch were you in?” Pops asked.
Fletch froze mid-step. He pivoted slowly back around, and forced his expression to stay neutral. “What?”
“I’ll guess some covert group — Special Forces or something like that. There’s always been something about the way you move.” Pops rubbed his chin. “Don’t worry, I doubt anyone else has picked up on it. I wasn’t even totally sure until your reaction just now, and I’m pretty observant.”
“I’m surprised you’re not dead yet.”
“I’ll keep it to myself,” Pops said. “Provided you tell me what your game is.”
Fletch moved to the counter’s edge. “How about you keep it to yourself, and they don’t pick your corpse off the tracks?”
“You’re not gonna kill me, son.” Pops smiled up at him with not even a flicker of uncertainty or fear. “Because that’s not your way, and besides, you don’t want that much heat.”
“You’re pretty sure of yourself, old man.”
The smile never faded. “That’s why I’m not dead yet.”