She leaned over to brush her lips against his, and the tart, smoky taste of red wine assaulted his senses. Her hair, streaked with green from the neon sign outside their bedroom window, fell across her face as he drew her down to him.
They pulled apart when the bedroom door flew open, and Ronan bounded through. He bounced onto the bed between them, his carefree happiness filled the drab room, and she glowed in his presence — a mother’s love untouched by the realities of their life. Fletch captured Ronan, and tickled him until they were all breathless with laughter. They fell asleep then, huddled in the middle of the bed, arms wrapped around one another.
They took Ronan to the park for his birthday. He darted ahead of them chasing fantasies. Why hadn’t Fletch noticed the activity around them? Why had he been so oblivious to the group dressed in too fine a class of rags, as they marched and yelled their slogans? The line of police emerged out of nowhere, bristling with weapons and riot gear, and rushed forward to put down the insurgents.
“Daddy!” Ronan’s terrified screams pierced the morning as chaos erupted around them, and the police never slowed their onslaught against the now united front.
Fletch found her cradling the lifeless, trampled body of their son. The image would haunt him forever. All the light had drained from her leaving her hollow, her face smeared with tears and dirt. Her anguish so intense it twisted in Fletch’s guts like a knife. He would have preferred that. Would have willingly traded his life to have Ronan’s back.
Months after the funeral they stood facing one another in the silent emptiness of their flat. She couldn’t let go, couldn’t get past the pain, and he couldn’t bring her back from it. She wrapped her hand around the gun Fletch held, and guided it to her own breast, the muzzle above her heart.
“I will always love you,” she whispered, and caressed the back of his knuckles as he squeezed the trigger.
The lockdown on the Shadows caught Fletch on the outside. Being topside always drove his dreams down paths he didn’t like — always dredged up memories he worked very hard to suppress.
He knew other ways back into the Shadows, ones the cops didn’t know about, but he opted not to use them. The city’s growing restlessness over the past week had caused his to escalate in proportion. Combined with a sense of urgency he found impossible to ignore, Fletch’s patience came to an end. Venturing into the Tracks would likely get him killed, but nights like this, that didn’t bother him.
He sucked in a deep breath of garbage scented night air and forced calm through his body, directing his attention back to the battered journal in his hands. He’d memorized the address scrawled across the last page, as well as the roughly drawn map showing the best route. Pete hadn’t been the best cartographer in the world, but Fletch could make out enough detail to get him there without being seen. He only wished he knew what he’d be looking for.
He slipped the journal into the pocket of his knapsack and checked the rest of his equipment — all souvenirs of a previous life when honor and duty had meant something. Back before everything had gone to shit. Fletch had come damn close to going to shit right along with the rest of it, but Pete, that crazy son-of-a-bitch, had managed to talk him off the ledge and give him something to believe in. Then the bastard went and got himself shot before they could prove a damn thing, and Fletch had to take cover fast.
No better place to get lost than the Shadows. Nothing but lost souls down there.
He took another breath, and wished he had a shot of Bosner’s booze instead. There were plenty of reasons venturing into the Tracks made his skin crawl. Besides the fact security had only increased since the Master’s incident, the possibility existed that certain people in the Tracks might still recognize him. Dead was dead, but getting there quick beat the hell out of the slow, painful route any day of the week.
And then there were the ghosts; his own personal hell.
These days there weren’t many ways to get into the Tracks unseen. Fletch knew most of them, but with the curfew in force and cops as prevalent as roaches after dark, he had to settle for one that put him further from his target than he liked. He’d hoped to lose his tail on the way in — most likely one of Jack’s boys — but the rat clung to him like maggots to garbage.
Fletch considered just letting his shadow tag along, but that had too many risks attached to it, so he melted into the darkness, doubled back and waited. He began to think he’d actually lost the tail when a movement across the street caught his eye. The figure darted across to his side of the street, and Fletch fell in behind. He closed the distance between them, slipped his arm around the boy’s throat, a hand over his mouth, and spun him off the street and into an alley. Before the kid had a chance to react, Fletch had him pressed up against the wall, a knife across his throat. Mosh, he should have known.
“Tell me why I don’t kill you,” he said, his voice low.
Mosh’s eyes widened. “Shit, Fletch, I didn’t do nuthin’.”
“You’ve been shadowing me for days. Why?”
Mosh clamped his mouth tight, and Fletch increased the pressure on his blade until a thin line of red appeared on its edge.
“Mav wanted to know what you were up to.” It came out in a rush.
Fletch fought the urge to take his anger for Maverick out on Mosh — bad enough Maverick had his nose where it didn’t belong, he’d knowingly put the kid in danger. What did Mosh know? He just followed orders. Fletch had done that once upon a time. Which is why he knew if he told the kid to beat feet back to the Shadows, he wouldn’t.
“Do you know what happens if we get caught here?” he asked.
Mosh’s Adam’s apple bobbed against the knife blade. “Dead, I guess.”
“Eventually,” Fletch said. “But they’ll have you begging for it long before it comes. So you’re gonna stick to me like glue, right? You’re not gonna make a move unless I tell you, and when I do tell you there won’t be a single question. Hear me?”
Mosh nodded, but Fletch kept the knife against his throat until he saw the agreement reach the kid’s eyes.
“When I move, you move,” he said, and sheathed the knife. “If trouble happens, and I tell you to go, you light out of here, back the way we came. Got it? You don’t try anything. Just flat out beat it. These aren’t Greylands cops we’re dealing with.”
Mosh didn’t say a word but Fletch could see the fear behind the street bravado. Good. The kid might just make it out alive.
Fletch had to give the kid credit; he knew how to move without making a sound. He mirrored Fletch’s steps, and didn’t once hesitate when signaled to move ahead, or to cross a lit patch of road. Fear could sometimes be more of a motivator than trust.
Still, it took the better part of an hour, slinking through alleyways and darkened back roads, to get to the address in Pete’s journal. More than once they had to lay low until a Tracks patrol passed them by. It seemed odd, even with the tension everywhere, that there should be so many at this time of night. The closer they got to their target, the more prevalent the patrols became. That part made sense. From Pete’s map, the building occupied a spot just off the main square.
And as Fletch hunkered down to survey it from the shelter of a doorway, a cold realization settled over him. He recognized the place. It had been some sort of city hall, and Pete had been obsessed with it. He damn near got them both killed when he tried to force his way in through the front door in broad daylight.
Fletch hung his head and closed his eyes. Pete, I’m trusting you weren’t as crazy as everyone thought. You better damn well have been right about this.
A nudge from Mosh brought his head back up. Fletch narrowed his eyes as he followed the kid’s gesture. Three figures moved quickly out of the heavy shadows of a tree-lined wall and made their way toward the building’s back entrance.
“Looks like we’re having a party,” Fletch muttered.
The three cut across an open space and through a patch of light, and Fletch swore. He felt Mosh shrink back behind him, recognizing the group’s leader in the same moment he did.
What the fuck was Jack doing here?