"That's what it says on the degree on his wall."
Talin smirked, pretending amusement, though her stomach was a pit of nausea as she tried not to think about what Jon might be suffering at that very moment. "So, Boy Genius, what did you do - take an online course and get your degree in ninety days?"
"Clay, can I bite her?"
"No." Clay scowled at her. "I'll do it for you. We ready to go?"
"Yeah. You organized the other end?"
Clay nodded, reaching up to rub absently at his temple. "A guy I know will drop off a truck near the landing zone. It'll look beat up but it's been retrofitted for speed and defense."
"What about your snake friend? Any luck tracking her down?" Talin asked.
"No, so let's hope we don't need her. You're the easiest to disguise," he said, "so you'll drive into Cinnamon Springs, with - "
Her phone beeped. "Sorry," she said, scrambling to pull it out of her pocket. "Probably one of Rangi's kids." She flipped it open. "Hello."
Clay and Dorian were already turning to finish loading up the plane with what looked like surveillance gear.
"Talin. It's Dev." The Shine director's tone was edgy.
Very aware of both men returning to her side, she slid her arm around Clay and spread her hand against the stiff line of his spine. "Dev?"
"You with the cat?"
"He can probably hear this conversation then."
She looked up. Clay and Dorian both nodded. "Yes."
"Good," came the surprising response. "Someone's been trying to contact you through your Shine e-mail account."
Her hand clenched on the phone. "And you know this because you've been spying on me?"
"No." His voice turned cutting, then he sighed, as if in frustration. "Because of the kidnappings, I recently put in place a secret macro program. It scans everything going through our servers, red-flags and sends me a copy of anything that sets off certain triggers."
Her outrage disappeared. "You were trying to catch the mole."
"Yeah." Ice came through the lines. "I know it's a breach of privacy, but I don't give a shit. Shine is meant to be a safe place and I'll make it safe again even if I have to rip open every fuc - "
Suddenly, the phone was no longer in her hand. Startled, she found Clay had taken it. "Stop yelling at Talin," he ordered.
Scowling, she held out her hand. He returned the phone, but only after another comment. "Yes."
"Yes, what?" she asked him as he handed it back.
Muttering about chauvinist pigs, she put the phone to her ear. "Dev, I want to find these bastards, too. This e-mail - when did it come in?"
"Four minutes ago. I could send it to your phone but I'd rather do it through a more secure channel. Any options?"
"Wait." Reaching into the plane, Dorian pulled out a sleek silver something from his knapsack before motioning for the phone. She handed it over and he said some technobabble on it before handing it back and flipping open the device, placing it on the floor of the plane.
She put the phone to her ear. "Did you get that?"
"Yes. Give me a second."
She nodded at the device Dorian was messing with. "Very tiny laptop?"
He shot her a distracted grin. "You could say that. This sweet thing is our attempt at creating a Psy organizer. The versions they allow on the market are nothing compared to the goods they keep for themsel - Tell Dev I've got it."
Moving around Clay to stand between the two men, she bit off her impatience as Dorian opened up a miniature e-mail screen. Clay's hand rested on her back, but then Dorian put one of his on her shoulder as he straightened and moved to let her take the central position.
The contact startled her, but it was okay. Dorian was...Pack. Shaking her head at that odd thought, she focused on the message.
Jonquil Duchslaya is alive, but he won't remain that way if you don't fight for him within the next twelve hours. I'm willing to help you with that task, but you must do something for me - something of equal value - in return. The risk-benefit ratio is too unbalanced otherwise.
"That's it?" she said, trembling.
"Yes." She jerked at Dev's response, having forgotten she still held the phone to her ear. "Any way it could be legit?" Dev asked.
She was too shaken up to answer.
"Why use 'fight for him'? It's an odd choice." Clay began doing that thing with her ponytail again and maybe it was that that calmed her down enough to think.
"Oh, God," she whispered. "When we had that bust-up, I told him I'd fight for him if he fought for himself."
"Give me that." Dorian slipped the phone out of her lifeless fingers. "Did you trace the e-mail?" A pause. "You're sure?"
As she waited, Talin's earlier anger grew into an inferno, but this time, it was directed not at a disease she couldn't name, but at this faceless stranger. "Who is this person to demand something for Jon's life? What right do they have?"
Clay's body grew very still. "The language - it's Psy. A life reduced to a risk-benefit ratio." He paused. "Judd's contact must've come through, set things in motion. I owe him."
Glancing up at him, Talin noticed he was rubbing at his temple again. She was about to reach up with her own hand when Dorian spoke.
"Fine," he said, ending the call. "Dev got another hit - the possible mole this time - but he told me that he had someone trace the e-mail. It was easy, because whoever sent it didn't know how to hide their tracks."