Oh, this is so much better!
I mean, Adam does his best, but anything he writes is at best second-hand, having gotten the story from me or Cass (yes, Cass has been in on these things too, but she’s still busy and I’m more-or-less retired). Sometimes it’s third- or fourth-hand.
But when it’s me doing the intros, you know you’re getting the stuff right from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
This bit was…uncomfortable. I really thought, just for a moment, that I was going to lose Cass. Oh, rationally, I knew I wouldn’t, but here we were, in the middle of Vegas, and she’s asking me about my past, something I didn’t talk to anyone about. Yeah, it had kept us alive, but damn. I wasn’t comfortable with it.
Yeah. Soul-baring time.
Okay, okay, Adam made me promise to remind you to get your pre-order for the next book in, and also that you can win autographed paperbacks of the books, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and don’t forget, you can buy this book in any format you want just by clicking an image or the button at the bottom.
Whew. Glad to be done with that felgercarb.
Chapter 10: Where the Sidewalk Ends
‘We’ve got to talk.’
‘And drink. It is vitally important that we talk, and drink. Now.’
Cass’s face showed her confusion, so Kendra said, ‘Kidding. What do you want to talk about?’
They were walking west along East Flamingo Road, gradually making their way into the tourists’ part of town. The homes and buildings around them were small and crowded, but well-kept. There weren’t many people about, being near dinner, and the sun was still bright in the summer sky.
Cass still cast nervous looks around before speaking again. ‘How do you know all this?’
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‘It’s amazing what you pick up,’ began Kendra.
‘Cut the crap! There is no way – none! – that a sensie actress and producer would know how to kill a man like that, or what to do with a commpad, or any of the other things that have kept us alive this afternoon!’ She stopped and took Kendra’s arms, turning her to face her mesmerizing blue eyes. ‘Tell me the truth, Kendra. If you love me, you’ll tell me.’
‘I’ll tell you,’ said Kendra. She started walking again, and Cass let her. They walked in silence for a couple blocks while Kendra composed her thoughts. Finally, she spoke again.
‘I work for a company you’ve probably never heard of. We don’t make anything; we don’t advertise; hell, hardly anyone knows we exist! Our directors look for people who have the potential to make massive changes to the course of human history, and do whatever it takes to expedite their progress. Protection is one of our jobs. We also help with funding, provide research assistants, that sort of thing. In return, we get a tiny slice of the profits. About one percent, is what I was told. I‘ve worked for them for six years now, from just before you went to work at HLC‘s optics division.’
‘Uh-huh. And what’s your job?’ Cass’s voice was cool, unemotional.
‘Not research!’ laughed Kendra, trying for levity and failing. ‘I never did very well in science! You remember Bio? When we had to dissect the pig?’
A small, wistful smile tugged at Cass’s lips. ‘You fainted when I removed the skin.’
‘That’s about when I figured that I wouldn’t be following you in your classes, and changed my focus.’
‘Is that so? I always thought it was Billy Donovan in Econ.’
‘Him too, though if I’d paid more attention to class, and less to him, maybe…’
After a moment of silence, Cass prompted her with, ‘Maybe, what?’
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‘Maybe my business wouldn’t have failed.’
‘But – what? I thought – I saw your films!’
‘I made plenty of money,’ Kendra agreed. ‘For other people. I got paid, but not real well, not at first. I was a dumb eighteen-year-old who’d never been away from home. I could whine and say they took advantage of me, but I knew what I was doing, what I wanted. I wanted sex, I wanted to get paid, and I didn’t want to go to jail. Sensies. Simple.’
‘Your production company – you’re rich!’
‘No, my production company failed. I was still performing as much as I could, to bring in more money, because I was losing it on the films I made.’
Ken shrugged. ‘Near as I can figure out, I just didn’t watch the bottom line closely enough. I paid the actors too much, got paid too little on the distribution end, and took too much out as my cut. Stupid mistakes, but after a couple years I couldn’t keep up anymore. That was in ‘06. One morning, I get email from this group, called themselves OutLook. They said they wanted to invest in my company, they loved my work and knew that they’d make a ton of money in the end.’
‘So what was the catch?’
‘There wasn’t one – at first. Then they gave me a ’production manager’, stone bitch named Amanda Talbott, and I gotta admit, she really knew her stuff! Amanda – no way you ever called her Mandy! – renegotiated all the contracts, got the books in order, generally straightened everything out. That went on a few months before the other shoe dropped. It was pretty gentle, actually. No threats, no violence.’
‘How’d it happen?’
‘Amanda and I were having our usual weekly meeting, and she just said, ‘It’s time for us to talk.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that what we’re doing?’ and she just laughed at me. ‘I mean about paying back OutLook.’ ‘Paying back?’ ‘You didn’t think that it was a gift, did you?’ It got loud from there, for a while. But once I calmed down, and gave her a chance, she explained it all pretty well. They offered to keep the company going, let me draw my salary, and all I had to do, at first, was go for training.’
‘The training was done by the CIA – the Corporation for Intelligence and Assassination. I never knew where they took me; I was bound and blindfolded the whole trip’
‘Wait a sec – back up. Assassination?’
‘You asked, remember? Turned out, I have quite a talent for it.’
Cass nervously asked, ‘Have you – ‘
‘Killed? Yes. This was my eighteenth in self-defense.’
‘Eighteen?’ Cass looked at her friend and would-be bride warily.
‘Plus twelve more on assignment,’ Ken admitted. ‘But they were all bad,’ she assured Cass.
‘And what was I? Another assignment?’ Cass pulled her hand away.
‘No! You weren’t ever – ever – an assignment!’ She grabbed Cass’s hand back. ‘When we met again at the premiere, that was the best thing that had happened to me in years! Everything after – falling in love, moving in together – none of that was planned or faked! That was real!’
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‘I want to believe you, Ken-doll, I really do.’ Aiyana’s voice cracked.
‘Then believe this.’ She dropped to her knees, heedless of the rough concrete, and gazed upward. ‘Aiyana Rosewind Cassidy, I love you. Will you marry me? Tonight? Now?’
Aiyana fell as well, her arms wrapping around Kendra. ‘I thought you said we couldn’t? Not with our real names? And the fakes won’t -’
‘Fuck the fakes! I want you to be my wife tonight! It’s a risk, using our real ID, but if I can’t have you, now, legally, then running ain’t worth it!’
No more words were necessary or, at that moment, possible.