Dragon Bound(10)

By: Thea Harrison

“I can’t believe you would just walk away.” He looked as petulant as a little boy.

“I walked away a couple of months ago,” she reminded him. “You just wouldn’t stay gone. Now pick up that piece of paper and swear the binding oath, or I’m leaving and you’re never going to get what I stole. That would mean you’ll have to renegotiate a different payment plan with those ‘associates’ of yours on the money you owe them. Wouldn’t it?”

She didn’t have to say how those different payment options would go. She could tell he knew his life was on the line. Keith regarded her, his mouth turning down at the corners. “You know, it could have been good.”

She shook her head. “Only in your dreams, cowboy.”

He walked over to the spell and picked it up, reluctance in every step. She held her silence as he paused one last time. She could tell he was trying to think of a way to get out of reading it. But there was nothing he could do, and they both knew it.

He read it in a fast, ill-tempered tone. “I, Keith Hollins, hereby swear never to talk about Pia or her secrets in any way, either directly or by inference or silence, or I will lose my ability to speak and suffer unremitting physical pain for the rest of my life.”

He gave a shout as the magic activated. The paper burst into flame. Pia sighed as a weight lifted, just a little, from her shoulders. She went to stuff her things into her backpack.

Keith said, “Okay, I did what you wanted. Now we go to pick up what you stole. What is it—a gem, a piece of jewelry? It had to be something you could carry.” Avarice crept back into his eyes. “Where did you hide it?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t hide it anywhere.”

“What?” Realization dawned. He bared his teeth like a feral dog. “You had it on you the whole time.”

She drew a folded linen handkerchief from her jeans pocket and handed it to him. He tore it open as she shouldered her backpack. She walked out the door as the swearing began.

“Oh, fuck me. You stole a goddamn PENNY!”

“Bye, baby,” she said. She walked away. The hall misted in front of her. She gritted her teeth until pain shot through her jaw. She would not spill one more tear for that loser.

He shouted after her, “What is a dragon doing with a penny in his hoard? How do I know this goddamn penny is even his?”

Well, there was a question.

She thought about reminding him his “associates” could verify a real theft. She thought about telling him she knew a fake would have gotten him killed, but the poor dumb schmuck was doomed anyway.

Either Cuelebre would find and kill him, or sooner or later he would piss off one of his “associates.” They would want to know how he got hold of Cuelebre’s property. And now Keith wasn’t going to be able to tell them. How awkward was that.

Then she thought of telling him about her own stupidity since it hadn’t occurred to her to try to pass on a fake to him. Despite a few unusual abilities, Pia didn’t have a larcenous bone in her body. She couldn’t think with the cunning of a criminal.

Besides, she hadn’t dared to do anything but the job once she had realized real Power moved in the shadows behind him. Something was brewing. It was bigger and worse than anything Keith could imagine or she would want to. It smelled dark like assassination or war. She wanted to run as far and as fast as she could away from it.

Never in a million years would she have imagined finding a jar of pennies amid all that blinding treasure in Cuelebre’s lair, or that “take a penny, leave a penny” would come to mind. Everybody did it at gas stations. Why the hell not.

She thought of a whole conversation she could have had with him. Instead she shook her head. It was past time to leave.

“You’ll be sorry!” he shouted at her. “You’ll never find anyone else that will put up with all your bullshit!”

She gave him her middle finger and kept walking.

Alow-level panic continued to urge Pia to run. After several lip-chewing minutes, she decided not to return to her apartment. The difficulty of the decision surprised her. She didn’t own many things that mattered. Her furniture was just furniture, but she did have a few mementos from her mother and she was fond of some of her clothes. Aside from possessions, the real wrench was breaking from the continuity of what home she did have.

Don’t let yourself get too attached to people, places or things, her mother had said. You have to be able to leave everything behind.

Be prepared to run on a moment’s notice.

The definition of their lives had hinged on this. Pia’s mother had kept stashes of cash and different identities for them in a half-dozen places throughout the city. Pia had memorized public transportation routes, lock combinations and safety deposit numbers for all the locations by the time she was six years old. They’d had regular escape-from-New-York drills where she would go through the routes and get access to the documents and cash while her mother followed and observed. The picture IDs got updated as Pia had grown older.

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