The door slid open to reveal two figures. For a second, before his eyes adjusted to the light, he thought they were painted white. Then he separated out the elements that made up the whole. Their hands were gloved, their faces covered with white surgical masks, and they wore white scrubs like he'd seen at a clinic once.
The only points of color came from their skin, eyes, and hair. The tall one on the left had dark skin, sort of like the color of really thick toffee, the kind that made your teeth stick together. It was all sort of glowing and rich and would have been pretty if he hadn't known that she was there to hurt him. Her eyes were a freaky, pale bluish gray - like a wolf's, he thought - her hair so dark brown it was almost black. He decided to name her Blue.
The one on the right had deep blonde hair, hazel eyes, and the kind of golden skin he'd seen on some rich tanned babes, but never on a woman who looked like she sprayed her hands with antiseptic after shaking, she was that clean.
"This way." It was the Blonde who spoke, but as Jon walked out without argument - no use in fighting before he knew the lay of the land - he was certain it was Blue who was in charge. That woman had hips, serious shoulda-been-hot curves, but there was something off about the way she walked, the way she watched him.
In fact, there was something weird about both of them. Before they'd started walking, he'd looked straight into their faces and could have sworn that there was nothing looking back at him. Those eyes. Dead eyes. That's what they were. They reminded him of the eyes he'd seen on some of the street girls, the ones that weren't quite there anymore.
But that made no sense. These women were dressed like scientists, not street pros.
Then they turned a corner and he heard the screams. "Jesus," he whispered. "That's a little girl."
"What kind of monsters are you?" He'd meant to play this cool but f**k it, there was some stuff you didn't do, not if you were human.
Blue glanced at him over her shoulder and he realized she wasn't human, not by a long shot. "We're the kind of monsters responsible for your nightmares." Then she opened a door. "Come inside."
Clay nodded to the shopkeeper and jogged back to where Nate stood waiting by a lamppost. "Tally did a good job. That guy confirms he saw Jon. He remembers the kid."
"Who wouldn't?" Nate looked down at the holo-slide Talin had salvaged from her apartment. It bore a jagged crack down one side but was otherwise undamaged. "He's even prettier than Dorian."
It was true. The boy was male without question, but he was also good-looking enough to be on a catwalk. "Boy like that on the street - " Gut tight, he shoved a hand through his hair. "We could be looking in the wrong direction."
"Yeah, I thought so, too, so I checked up on the gang tat." Nate tapped at the spiderweb pattern on the boy's neck, half-hidden by long white-blond hair. "The Crawlers aren't some toy gang. If the kid survived in there, he's got brains and balls. I can see him taking up a career as a bank robber but not as a pro selling his body."
The angry disgust Clay felt was reflected in Nate's face. To DarkRiver, children were everything. They would fight to the death to protect the cubs, but neither man was a romantic. As Clay knew from brutal experience, changelings, too, sometimes fell short. So did humans. Ironically, as Max had said, it was the cold, merciless Psy who appeared to take the best care of their children - aside from the forcible imposition of Silence. There were no Psy street kids, no Psy orphans, no Psy child prostitutes.
Clay looked down the street, at the teenagers he could see hanging out on the corner, all smirks and punk bravado when they should've been in school. "Never thought I'd say this, but the Psy are good at one thing."
"Yeah," Nate agreed, even as the teens gave them wary glances and began to disperse. "We never see their kids f**king around like this. But we never see anything the Council doesn't want us to see. Maybe they simply erase their mistakes."
"You're probably right. Hell, they called Sascha a mistake." And despite the fact that he preferred to keep his distance from Sascha and her too-perceptive gift, Clay knew she was something good, something worth bringing into this world.
"Yep." Nate blew out a harsh breath. "Look, I'll put out the word that we're looking for Jon. We've built up a good network with the businesspeople around here."
Clay nodded. The human and nonpredatory changeling shopkeepers helped DarkRiver in return for the pack's protection against gangs. Over time, as DarkRiver had cleaned house to the extent that no major criminal networks operated in their territory, that relationship had evolved into one driven less by necessity and more by shared interests. "While you do that, I'm going Down Below."
Nate made a face. "That place gives me the creeps. Have fun."
Down Below was literally that. After a short delay caused by taking care of a persistent annoyance, Clay found a backstreet alley, lifted open an antiquated manhole cover, and dropped into the narrow passage that would lead him down into the shattered remains of the unused subway tunnels. A hundred and twenty years ago these tunnels, and the trains that utilized them, had been the height of technology. Then had come the seismic events of the late twentieth century, which in turn had led to innovation in safer methods of transportation. The city's sleek, clear skyways had long since eclipsed the subways.
Coughing against the dirt, he pulled the manhole cover closed behind himself. It was a good thing he had the night vision of a cat because it was pitch-black down here. Tally would hate it, he thought. His leopard wasn't too pleased, either.