Devon lounged with the confidence of one above the law, a girl on his lap in the back of the anonymous, grey hatchback he was currently using as transportation. Next week it would be some other vehicle. But the confidence would be the same. Old time music, made before the Nation fell, with heavy bass, pulsed from the car and seemed to say, “Here I am, what are you going to do about it?” to the entire world. As if anyone would dare threaten Devon. He seemed untouchable even by the Queen’s men. That was why I was here.
Devon wasn’t above the law. Maybe some people thought so, maybe even he thought so, but I doubted it. He was smart. I’d been watching him for ten minutes now from the shadows in the parking garage where he had chosen to do his business today, but this wasn’t the first time I’d watched him. This was just the only time I’d needed to. Devon wasn’t above the law. He was next to it.
The thugs that never seemed far from him came and went, some staying longer, others gone in the blink of an eye. They all treated Devon with the deference of a king. He wasn’t much older than I was.
I sighed, and stepped out of the shadows. Matching his confidence seemed like the best option. I had nothing else. Quickly, I approached the king of bartering, ruler of the Black Market, with nothing but a favor to ask.
Although I tried to be silent, my shoes still made a squeaking sound against the concrete floor of the mostly deserted parking structure. I resisted the urge to look behind me. I knew they hadn’t followed, but being in the open felt cold, exposed. He saw me immediately. Perhaps he’d known I was there all along. The thugs split, creating a path for me. I entered as if it was my right to do so. Although I still didn’t look behind me, I could feel Devon’s men close the gap in my wake. I felt protected.
Devon said nothing when I stopped in front of him, just raised an eyebrow, and tried to stare me down. I met his gaze, and remained silent. He wasn’t used to a challenge. When people came to him, they always wanted something. They were humble, pleading, begging. They didn’t meet his gaze. I had noticed this in the past. Instead of anger, fear, or annoyance at my silent persistence, Devon smiled. “Now, Rory, what is a nice girl like you doing here?”
I hadn’t realized he knew my name. Why would he? “I would like to speak with you privately,” I said clearly.
“Yes,” I replied. No other explanation. His curiosity was peaked.
“Well friends, we were about done for the day weren’t we?” Devon asked after looking away from me for the first time. I heard a few murmurs behind me, but he waved them off. “You can’t really be worried about her can you Spence?” he said to one of his minions, possibly his security. I sensed it was also meant for me. In case I wanted to be a threat. Behind me I heard the shuffle of people fading as they disappeared into the shadows, as I had just appeared. Exposed again. The girl on his lap made no move to leave, just draped a bangled arm around him, her chest close to his face, and proceeded to look bored.
“Now, what can I do for you?” Devon asked as any business owner might to a customer who just entered his shop. He pretended to look bored, glancing at his phone as if I wasn’t worth his full attention. I knew I had it nonetheless.
“I need something,” I said. He nodded. He knew. Everyone who came to him needed something. “I need to get out of here.”
“Out of here?” he said amused. “The exit to the parking garage is just over there.”
We were playing a game, and he was playing stupid. I hate games. For the first time I looked behind me. Any minute they could be here. Then it would be too late. I didn’t have time to play twenty questions. Even with someone like Devon. “I need to get out of Arrowhead. Now.”
Devon’s head quickly came up and his eyes found mine, questioning this time. The smile was gone. I met his gaze, and in my eyes he saw how serious I was, possibly, just how desperate I was. “What can you give me in return?” he asked. Everything is a deal with the king.
I took a breath, then calmly told him the truth, “Nothing. I have nothing.” Devon looked surprised for only an instant before he forced himself to hide it. He waited for me to say more. “I have nothing to give you, but if I don’t get out of here, if the Queen’s men find me, I–” I what? I didn’t know. I only knew it would be bad.
Devon knew what it meant to be running from the Queen’s men. “They’re after you now?” I nodded. “How long have you been running?”
“A few hours,” I responded.
A brief pause. I expected to be laughed at, to be told everyone has something to give. I expected he’d ask me to beg, or he’d tell some hidden goon to throw me out, or take me straight to the Queen herself. Instead, he nodded back. “Baby,” he said to the girl draped over him like scarf, “Go up and make sure we’re all clear.”
It was my turn to look surprised. I resisted the urge to squeak, “REALLY?” and tried to look like I’d expected his help all along. The girl, Baby, unwrapped herself from him, and casually stepped out of the car. She wandered off up the stairs, her glittery, silver heels clicking, and disappeared out of sight.
Devon silently waited until she was out of sight before he too casually rose from the back of the hatchback. He’d been lounging on some type of cushion, which he now removed from the car and set on the concrete floor. The few other items cluttering the back were also removed and set next to the cushion. He worked silently and so I stayed silent too. I stopped resisting and looked behind me again. Nothing but shadows. “Don’t worry,” Devon said as I turned back. “Someone will tell me if we should be expecting visitors.” He held up his cell phone. “No texts mean no one to worry about right now.”
“How do you get cell reception here?” I asked. If I could get cell service, it would change everything. I could finally get a hold of Ben.
“Short distance transmitter,” he replied. Maybe I could use his phone. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he said, responding to my thought before it was even finished. “Both the caller and the receiver have to be within a half mile or so, and both phones have to be equipped with a receiver. I can’t call a friend for you.” I sighed, wishing Ben had gotten one of the messages I’d left him. Of course I may not know if he had, since my phone’s reception was sketchy at best.
I expected Devon would ask for an explanation as to why I was running from the Queen’s guard, but he didn’t, so I didn’t give one. Instead he pulled up the floor of the hatchback’s trunk. Underneath it was a compartment. “It’ll be tight,” he said. “I don’t usually do… human trafficking, so comfort has never been a concern. But you are small enough. You should fit.”
I nodded. The compartment looked like it may have held a spare tire at one point, but now it was larger. It was dirty and there was raw metal on its sides and floor. Good thing I wasn’t claustrophobic. I stepped up to it, prepared to get it.
Devon held up his hand to stop me. “Not yet. We’ll wait for Baby to let me know everything looks good. Then you’ll get in and I’ll drive us up to the street. I’ll pick up Baby, and we’ll go. About half the time I get stopped and the car gets searched.” I grimaced, or flinched or something, because Devon smiled wryly and continued, “Given that the Guard is already looking for something,” he pointed to me, “I think we can count on being searched today. But they have never found one of my compartments, so hopefully we’ll be okay. If they do find it, I’m not responsible for what happens and will do whatever it takes to save myself. You are taking the risk.”
“Understood,” I said. “Where will you take me?”
Devon shrugged, “Somewhere outside the Compound, in the Town. Depends on how things look and if we’re being followed. After I drop you off you’re on your own.” I nodded again, and he looked at his phone. No message from the girl yet. “If the Queen’s Guard is really after you, Rory, I recommend you get yourself as far away from Arrowhead as you can. Don’t look back until your feet are in the Ocean in Siliconia,” he said, naming one of the furthest micro-nations away from Arrowhead.
“I’ll be fine if I can get out of here,” I said, thinking of Ben and Philip and Lynn. How stupid I’d been to get separated from them. How stupid we’d all been to think anything good could result in our coming here. Devon looked at his phone again, still no message.
“It shouldn’t take this long,” he worried. “We need to check on her.”
“There’s a place over there,” I pointed to the left, “where you can get a pretty good view of the street from down here,”
“I know,” he said. “I’m surprised you know about it.”
I shrugged and started walking towards it, “being observant can pay off.”
“One of my mottos,” he said walking beside me. We approached the stairwell, and climbed to the first landing, still below ground. If you stood on the concrete column at the edge of the landing, and stretched towards the next flight, there was a mesh covered drain at eye level that allowed you to see into the street. It was relatively easy to see through the mesh into the sunny street, but very difficult to see back down the drain into the dark parking garage.
We were silent. Although no one was likely to see us, sound would have no trouble slipping its way through the drain. Devon strode a step ahead of me and jumped onto the concrete pylon before me. Annoyed, I waited below. For a few seconds he scanned the street through the limited scope of the drain hole, then he gasped and stepped back, stumbling off the column.
I jumped up. What had he seen?
I saw the silver glittering stilettos at the same time I heard Baby cry, “Let me go!” The sexy shoes were surrounded by the dull black boots of the Queen’s men. And Baby sounded scared. Quickly I turned to Devon. He had gone pale, and for the first time in all the quiet moments I had watched him, the confidence was gone, and he wasn’t sure what to do. I, however, knew exactly what to do.