Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Six

Matt taunts his captive.


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6. Gently Down the Stream

 

Killbane had always scared Matt. It was a deep-seated, probably almost primeval response, and he didn’t think it was at all unreasonable. To start with, the man was fucking huge, and Matt was… not. For most of his life he’d been getting the shit kicked out of him by people with big muscles, small brains, and whopping great inferiority complexes, and perhaps that did mean he automatically cringed in the presence of someone Eddie Pryor’s size. It wasn’t just that, though.

Yes, Killbane was massive, and yes, the attachment he had to his Luchadore mask was creepy at best, but it was nothing compared to how it actually felt to sit opposite him at the Syndicate boardroom table and look into his eyes. There was something about them that was… off, somehow.

As a matter of fact, Matt didn’t like having to turn up for meetings at all, and not just because of Killbane. Being invited to discuss matters in Mr. Loren’s private office was one thing, but the big boardroom—with its massive circular table, enormous and gaudy sculptures, tacky-vampire-club-red walls, and rather overdone marble-and-glass-with-red-and-pink-trim décor—felt like a performance, and in those circumstances Matt was always terrified he was going to forget his lines.

Oh, the idea was appealing enough: sitting in fancy swivel chairs at a very dramatic table in an extremely opulent building, having subtly nuanced conversations that barely hinted at the massive power wielded by the tiny group of people in that room. It was all very James Bond. Unfortunately, in practice, it meant an annoying drive across town and an uncomfortable few hours spent in the presence of people who—when they were actually there in the flesh, rather than safely cordoned behind a web link—scared the shit out of him.

Mr. Loren always went full super-villain in that room, and the DeWynter twins weren’t much better. Matt found them to be disturbingly calculating, albeit very intelligent and capable, but the way they played on being identical—from the matching clothes and makeup to the occasional finishing each other’s sentences—got under his skin. They were unnerving… yet it was Killbane who truly frightened him.

He told himself it was silly; the man was a cartoon clown, a two-legged caricature of violence, and Loren had him on a tight leash. Still, it made the meetings uncomfortable.

Matt didn’t care to admit it, but the reality of life as a member of the Syndicate was not as glamorous as he’d hoped. Like last year, just after he was recruited, when Mr. Loren had been travelling to Cairo and said he wanted to be sure there were no nasty surprises during his trip. Matt had thought he’d been officially invited.

For a whole three days, he’d thought he was really going to get an all-expenses-paid trip to Egypt—five-star hotel, VIP treatment of the kind accorded to filthy rich billionaire arms dealers—and what he ended up doing was sitting in front of a computer, combing through a mountain of surveillance and GPS data, working on a seven-hour time difference, and barely leaving his workstation for piss breaks. To be fair, he had foiled an assassination attempt by MI6, but it wasn’t as if Mr. Loren had been demonstrably grateful for it.

Of course, gratitude was hardly what Matt expected from this gig. He didn’t need it. He didn’t want it, not really. What mattered was respect. Being part of the club—playing the game, even if it was by Loren’s movie-star-villain rules—and reaping the rewards it brought. And that, Matt could do.

Naturally, he was under no illusions that, if he slipped up, Mr. Loren would have any compunction at all in having him killed… but that was part of the—well, not fun, exactly. Challenge? Yes. Something like that.

And so, there he was: sitting in a large, fancy leather chair, fiddling absently with his phone, and trying not to watch Killbane strike poses against the massive faux neo-classical sculptures that lined the room. The man’s immense bulk had been poured into a dark grey silk suit somewhat at odds with his red-and-green mask—although complete with Luchadore green tie and Morningstar pink hankie crisply tucked into his breast pocket: the disturbing point at which “mobster businessman chic” met “unhinged sports fanatic”—and, horror of horrors, he’d been trying to make small talk with Matt while they waited for Loren and the DeWynters. Something about how all the sculptures of horses and centurions in this room recalled the motifs of Trajan’s Column. Had Matt ever been to Rome? No? He ought to go; it was a city that understood history, and without history power was nothing. Matt nodded, smiled weakly, and made some small noises of non-committal agreement.

He was not looking forward to Mr. Loren’s arrival. Not after what had happened with the penthouse.

The old man seemed to have taken the news relatively well when it happened—inasmuch as Matt had been able to relay anything useful beyond “I don’t know what happened but nothing went boom oh god what’s going on”—but his silence in the past twenty-four hours had been unsettling, and then there was this summons.

The Syndicate’s board, as Loren liked to call this little group, usually met once a week. This meeting would, once he got here, convene two days earlier than normal, and Matt assumed it meant Mr. Loren had a plan for dealing with the Saints. He hoped so, anyway.

After everything that had been hitting the news—first the guard armoury job, then what the media was calling “a disturbance at a private party”, closely followed by an “unrelated incident” in which a helicopter crashed into a warehouse roof—people were getting restless. The news had already picked up a couple of sightings of the Saints’ Boss and her lieutenants in Steelport… reporting it, of course, as celebrities paying a visit to the local soon-to-be-opening Planet Saints. Matt had been surprised Mr. Loren hadn’t suggested going after the location; shooting up the store would have sent a message, but apparently that wasn’t subtle enough for him.

Trouble was, after the past couple of days, Matt was pretty sure that “subtle” wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Killbane flexed, striking a pose against one of the sculptures, his chin jutting out and those staring eyes fixed on some point in the distance. Matt suspected that, whatever the man was looking at, it was very different to what the rest of the world saw.

“It’s all about the crown, Matty,” he was saying… something about pride and power, and how true kings knew when to take control.

Matt hadn’t really been listening. He winced. He hated the “Matty” thing. Hated the way Killbane’s gravelly voice made it sound jovial and avuncular, even though it rang so very false that it made him want to take off his skin and scrub it clean from the inside.

“Y-Yes. Yes, I imagine it, um… is,” he agreed lamely.

His phone spun faster in his fingers, his nervous fidgeting moving into compulsive tic territory. He’d prepared a selection of evidence from the penthouse’s surveillance feeds to show Loren. The building was still a complete mess, and most of Matt’s surveillance had been knocked out, but a few cameras were still working… the ones the Saints hadn’t found yet. They’d destroyed the more obvious security cams, but most of Matt’s bugs were extremely well hidden. It was just a shame there was little to nothing of use from them. The Saints were just camping out in the place, moving in vehicles and weaponry, so there’d been nothing worthwhile for him to spy on, but the very fact they seemed so relaxed had him worried.

“That’s the problem with these people,” Killbane drawled, smiling as he dropped his pose and began to move unhurriedly back to the table. “No sense of the right way to do things. There’s no honour to it.”

He leaned on the wide, smooth surface—black marble with a red porphyry insert, and the Syndicate’s five-pointed star inscribed on it, the outline limned with Morningstar pink—and gave Matt a long, hard look, his mouth still curled into the last half of that mirthless smile.

“What? Come on, Matty… you think these Saints are really going to be a problem?”

Christ, the mask was creepy. The way it covered everything but his eyes, the tip of his nose, and his mouth and chin…. Matt always caught himself wondering if there were horrific scars underneath or, rather, if Killbane thought there were. Perhaps there was something about the face of Eddie Pryor that the man couldn’t bear to admit was connected with him. Old memories, things he felt guilty for… who knew?

Matt blinked. That was a rather profound thought, but it had distracted him from the fact he should have said something. He cleared his throat, tapping a black-polished thumbnail against the back of his phone.

“I…. Well, I don’t know. I-I don’t—” The large double doors at the centre of the room opened, announcing Loren’s arrival, flanked by the DeWynter sisters. Matt drew a breath and tried really hard not to sound tentative. “I just think that the Saints aren’t going to back down.”

He glanced at Mr. Loren. Oh god, he was wearing the eye patch today. An actual eye patch. He’d gone full super villain, definitely. This couldn’t bode well.

Killbane smiled broadly, though his eyes glittered like wet rocks: dead and a little bit dangerous. “Matty… there’s nothing to worry about!”

Matt tried to suppress the urge to squirm in his seat. He usually got the feeling no one was listening to him but, usually, it didn’t matter. He could just carry on with what he did best—secure in the knowledge that the rest of the Syndicate could barely tell one end of a coaxial cable from the other and wouldn’t question him—and let them handle the strategic business.

This time, something felt different. Something was different.

Loren already had a cigarette smouldering in his fingers. He normally did. He put it to his lips, and Matt was grateful for the flow of the semi-arctic air conditioning in the boardroom, because at least it prevented the smoke spooling around Loren’s head from making everything smell like an ashtray.

The DeWynters—moving in unison so perfect it might have been choreographed, and there was another creepy thought—peeled off behind him and took their respective seats, while Loren moved to his own wingback chair, pausing to draw a shiny black glass ashtray within reach before he sat down.

“My thoughts exactly, Mr. Killbane,” he said, tapping the ash off his cigarette but not bothering with even the curtest of good mornings. He looked up, his gaze moving briefly over Matt with a coolness that felt slightly threatening. “The Saints are no more than a white noise of empty threats.”

Matt bit his tongue. They’d defused the bomb. The Boss had chased Anton halfway across the city in a fucking helicopter—they were still waiting to get his body back from the morgue, but the inside man the Morningstar had at the coroner’s office said it was a point-blank shot in the forehead, plus a few broken ribs and minor injuries. Matt wasn’t even sure what the final death toll from the penthouse disaster was going to be, or how much it had pissed off the Morningstar’s clients—the ones who were still alive, anyway—but, with the Saints now holding ground right in the middle of the downtown district, he didn’t see how Loren could still be so dismissive. If that was white noise, it was pretty bloody deafening.

Loren drew on his cigarette. “They have had their little burst of excitement, they have made a mess. What do they do now, hm? Do you really think they can touch us in any significant way? The Saints have over-extended themselves. They will soon learn by just how much.”

Killbane let loose a soft chuckle, like the dry rustle of paper. The DeWynters just sat there looking imperious and impassive, and Matt chewed the inside of his lip, still turning his phone over in his fingers. He pulled up the feed clips he’d compiled, unmuted the video and set it to run before he slid the phone across the table, shooting it towards Loren. Damn it, someone needed to start listening to him.

“They were better organised than we expected,” he said, as the sound of gunfire, breaking glass, and screaming erupted from the video. “The trap might have been sprung, but it didn’t catch anything… I-I really think y— er, we, underestimated them.”

He blinked nervously as Kiki gave him an icy glare. Viola was peering at the video over Loren’s shoulder. Matt knew it by heart; he should have done, the number of times he’d gone through it. The way the Saints’ leader had made straight for her targets—the computer in the office, the elevator codes—and the calm savagery with which she’d picked people off. It was eerie. And the thing with the helicopter…! That hadn’t exactly been “calm”, but he had to give the woman credit for having a great big pair of brass balls.

Matt cleared his throat as the video ran to its conclusion, the sound of departing rotor blades whirring under the yells and shooting from the penthouse. “Whether or not they had help from inside, sir, I’d say… with the utmost respect… ‘empty’ is no longer applicable.”

Loren glanced up sharply, glaring at him. The temperature of the room seemed to drop by several degrees, and Matt shifted awkwardly in his seat. His phone came skimming back across the table towards him, and he caught it gratefully, somehow feeling much better once he had it in his hand again.

“It is of no consequence,” Mr. Loren said firmly. “They are nothing more than a minor inconvenience. A small obstacle. An annoyance. It will pass soon enough—they do not have the capacity to take on a united front. And we are united, are we not?”

Matt nodded glumly. “Of course.”

He wanted to add a “but…”, although he knew better than that, so he kept quiet. All the same, Loren’s attitude annoyed him. How stupid could people be? He didn’t even know if it was denial or flat-out arrogance, but either way it seemed ridiculous… unless the old man had another contingency plan. He probably did, Matt supposed. Mr. Loren never went into a room without knowing four ways to get out of it.

Killbane was off on one again—the strongest part of an army was its unification; the Saints’ undisciplined chaos would bring them down; they’d all get the same as Johnny Gat—and Matt disliked the gloating. It seemed like tempting fate… not to mention the fact it reminded him that Gat’s body was apparently somewhere in this building. That was just another element of creepy. What did Loren plan on doing with it? Stuffing him and using him as a coffee table? Ugh.

As the conversation turned to facts, figures, the details of operations—number-crunching, profit margins, Kiki’s interminable PowerPoint presentations—and the minutiae of what changes, in the wake of the Saints’ arrival in Steelport, would be made to the way on-the-ground representation was handled, Matt began to read between the lines.

Mr. Loren wanted things tightened up. Shipments would now be moved by teams with more intensive security. The new assault rifles—the same as the ones the Morningstar had recently sold via government contract—would be dispatched to operatives, and a zero-tolerance policy was to taken regarding the Saints. Anyone seen to be a member of their crew would meet with trouble of the most terminal nature and, as regarded the possibility someone within the Syndicate had leaked information, that was also a matter which, if proven, would be dealt with using extreme prejudice.

Matt leaned back in his chair, staying quiet for the most part. Perhaps Loren was taking it all more seriously than he’d first thought. He had his orders, anyway—keeping an eye on the Saints’ movements, and making life difficult for them. That would be easy enough. He could start by getting into the energy company’s system and causing a few glitches; shut off the power to the penthouse, mess up whatever he could access. Easy. Probably not enough, but a start.

“—the program isn’t ready, though,” Viola was saying, looking concerned. “They’re barely anything more than animals at this point. I don’t even know if—”

Loren turned down the corners of his mouth, shaking his head. “It is of no matter. We merely deploy animals to hunt animals, hm? A few encounters with Mr. Kirrlov’s progeny, and I am sure the Saints will rethink the wisdom of their actions.”

Matt said nothing. He’d seen the files regarding the “project” the Morningstar kept hidden away… god, that was in the labs under this building, too, wasn’t it? Oh, yuck. He wanted to shudder, but settled for burrowing a little deeper into the broad collar of his jacket. Human cloning—if you could call the things that they’d made human. He stayed out of it, and gladly. It wasn’t his responsibility. All he had to do was manage the server farms and computer networks that kept the lab quietly powered, and arrange—when required—for certain pieces of medical or scientific equipment to “appear”. Fortunately, the Deckers had a shell company that dealt with biomedical research, so that wasn’t a problem… and didn’t need Matt to think too deeply about it, which was just the way he preferred certain things.

He turned his phone over in his fingers again, worrying at the edge of the case with his thumbnail. If Loren was prepared to let the brutes out, he must be more worried than he was letting on, and that meant Matt was probably right about this whole mess.

It was time to move Agent Kensington again.

~o~O~o~

Matt drove straight back to Burns Hill after the meeting, still fuming with quiet irritation. Rolling the windows of his Criminal down and blasting aggrotech at the unsuspecting pedestrians helped a bit, but didn’t eradicate his frustrations entirely. He was just hitting the Stanfield Tunnel when his phone rang.

“Yeah?”

“Matt.” Kirsten’s voice was urgent, terse—no playful preamble. “I got Saints moving. They just hit a Morningstar warehouse north of the park, made off with a shitload of coke. I think they’re trying to tell us they’re not leaving.”

The fluorescent amber glow of the tunnel’s lights bounced off the dash, and Matt cursed under his breath.

“You want me to do anything? Tip off the cops, or—?”

“No. Not yet.” Matt glared at the little green Emu he was currently stuck behind, unconscionably tempted to just try driving over the bloody thing. “Leave it. Give them some space and let’s see what they do next. It’s not like they’re going to launch a full-out assault on the Syndicate Tower.”

“You hope,” Kirsten supplemented dryly.

He scoffed. “Yeah, right…. Listen, I want you to start monitoring the Planet Saints store, too. Anywhere they’re likely to be. Anything good off the penthouse feeds yet?”

Kirsten heaved a theatrical groan. “No. Boo-ooring. I’ve been watching all morning and all I’ve seen is three glaziers, a bunch of builders, and a pool boy go in. I swear, it’s like the start to a bad porno. Nothing doing inside—don’t know where the crazy chola bitch is. Are you coming back here?”

“In a bit. I’m heading to the Parkview farm,” Matt said, finally watching the accursed Emu move forward. “Yes! Go on, bloody go… ugh! I, er, I want to move Kensington. Just in case. Can you give Jax a heads-up I’m coming?”

“Sure thing, oh glorious leader,” she deadpanned. “You have any dry-cleaning to pick up while I’m at it?”

Matt smirked. “Well, actually—”

“Fuck you. I’ll see you later.”

He grinned. “All right.”

~o~O~o~

The thing about heading a gang of hackers was that, by their nature, most of the Deckers were solitary types. They didn’t fit in with the mainstream, and plenty of them could be prickly at the best of times. There were certain elements of the crew who hung around mostly for the parties and the cachet of being gangbangers without the actual likelihood of terribly regular violence, just as there were those who used their affiliation as an excuse to pick fights.

They were a diverse bunch and, broadly speaking, it was like herding cats. Matt often envied the organisation that the Morningstar had—all those rank and file members, paid to do the dirty work—or the ease with which Killbane’s Luchadore idiots would accept orders. Every time he asked someone to do something, it was “Why?” or “Do I have to?” or “Not unless you pay me”. It was enough to give a man a complex.

One of the few exceptions to this rule was Jax. Matt liked Jax. He was trustworthy, and he cared about the things the Deckers stood for. He understood, although he was a little prone to taking the extreme option to solving any given problem. It had taken a long time to convince him that they didn’t need to kill Kensington, for a start—and even longer after Matt had put him in charge of guarding her. Mind you, she had that effect on a lot of people.

He parked the Criminal a little way down from the small industrial complex that lay at the point Burns Hill’s suburbs faded into concrete and grey pre-fab, and walked to the non-descript-looking building on the corner. But for the dark blue sedan with tinted windows parked outside, and the couple of Deckers lounging in the parking lot—both in heavy black cargos and dark cybergoth tops, flagging only a little blue in their clothing—it would have been hard to know there was anything of note here.

Matt nodded to them, and waited while they unlocked the door. Inside, the place was dark and cool, the rooms gutted out and filled with server banks. The Deckers had several server farms like this dotted around Stanfield, and one or two on the other side of the river. It made sense to Matt not to keep all their proverbial eggs in the same basket, just in case anything ever went down at the reactor. Funny, but when he’d thought about it, he’d been planning for cyber attacks or fed raids. He really hoped he wasn’t going to have to deal with the Saints. There was a strong possibility most of the Deckers who hung out at the reactor would… well, not come out of that fight intact, he thought, quickly pushing the possibility from his head. Ridiculous, really. It was the Morningstar who’d drawn their attention for now, and if Mr. Loren was setting his science project loose on the city, that should certainly keep them occupied.

Matt padded past the row of machines, comforted by the humming that emanated from the rows of black and grey boxes with their bundled loops of cables and gently flashing lights. He felt comfortable here. There was complexity, but also order… a living, growing nest of information, data pouring in and out like sand, flowing second after second.

“Matt. Kirsten said you were coming.”

Jax met him at the door to the small apartment at the back of the building—just enough to keep the people who took care of the location comfortable—arms folded across his chest, and a sour scowl fixed to his face. He was taller than Matt, with his flattop hair bleached to platinum blonde and his eyes outlined in turquoise, which formed quite a contrast to the darkness of his skin. Jax favoured a cybergoth look heavy on dark colours and manmade fibres, though there were a few flashes of Decker blue on his clothes. Over the time they’d known each other, Matt had done a little kenjutsu sparring with him, and was aware of just how good he was with a katana, though the only weapons Jax wore right now were a hunting knife and a stun gun on his thick, heavy belt.

“I think we should move our friend,” Matt said by way of greeting, slightly worried by that scowl.

Jax curled his lip. “Can we move her six feet under the ground? Look what that bitch did. Bit me.”

He unfolded his arms, showing a bandage on his left hand, cotton wadding bound between his forefinger and thumb. Matt winced.

“What happened?”

“She tried to get out. Tried to get my taser and make a fucking break for it. Didn’t get far but, shit, she’s got teeth.”

“We’re not killing her,” Matt said, at which Jax pouted sulkily. “We’re not! She’s still useful… besides, it would be bad if it got traced back to us. Killing a fed.”

“Ex-fed,” Jax pointed out. “Technically, she’s a treasonous fugitive. And they’d only tie it to us if they found the body. Maybe not even then. Anyway, I thought the Syndicate handled that shit. Or has your sugar daddy not got our asses covered after all?”

It was Matt’s turn to scowl at that remark. “Loren’s got everything locked down just fine, but I don’t think he’d thank me for giving him that kind of shit to deal with. Now are you going to stand there bitching like a little girl all day, or can I go in?”

Jax narrowed his blue-rimmed eyes, and Matt met his glare head-on.

“Fine. Where d’you want Ginger taken, anyway?”

“Not sure yet.” Matt paused, one hand on the door handle. “I was thinking about the barge. We can move it all downriver if the city starts getting hot, and no one’ll be able to track it.”

“And she might fall overboard and drown,” Jax added, brightening considerably. “I like how you think, Boss.”

Matt scoffed, the smile he’d started to crack stiffening and dying on his lips. Boss. Nobody ever called him that unless they were being facetious. Jax unhooked the stun gun from his belt and passed it over.

“Here. Just in case.”

Matt was going to decline the offer… but that really was a very large bandage, and he knew what Kensington could be like. He took the taser, shoved it into his pocket and, opening the door, slipped into the apartment, heading for the room at the back which he liked to mentally refer to as the guest suite. It was small, but—like the rest of the rooms—not uncomfortable. The entire apartment rather resembled an economy travel lodge, although the alternative possibilities could have been much worse.

Really, it was one of the nicest accommodations a captive FBI agent—oh, right, former FBI agent—could hope to find herself in. The only things missing were windows and, of course, access to the outside world. Kinzie had unfortunately already proven to be too much a menace when she was allowed that.

“Good afternoon, Agent Kensington,” Matt said brightly as he let himself into the room, smiling widely. “And how are we today?”

At the sound of his voice, the slumped figure shackled to the padded chair in the centre of the beige carpet raised her head. Her coppery hair was lank, pinned back in a dishevelled ponytail, and her glasses perched on the end of her nose. Her jeans and grey hoodie were rumpled, but fairly clean: Matt had prided himself on the fact the Decker weren’t monsters. She had access to a small bathroom, albeit supervised access—they weren’t stupid, either—and she was provided with clean clothes, maybe even the occasional newspaper. It should have been a fairly tolerable captivity, really. Shame she couldn’t be civilised about it.

Miller!” Kinzie snarled, trying to lunge out of the chair she was attached to. Her arms were pinned behind the back of the seat—a pair of handcuffs that jangled as she moved—and though her legs were free, the chair itself had been bolted to the floor. All she succeeded in doing was spitting out a mouthful of swearwords and jolting herself against her bonds, then flopping back into the seat while she gave him death-ray eyes.

Matt grinned and leaned nonchalantly against the door. He rarely had the opportunity to feel so fucking powerful in physical space. There was something profoundly pleasing in just standing there, watching the woman who had come dangerously close to shutting him down get herself so frustrated that it looked like she might either cry or have a seizure.

Tsk, tsk, Agent Kensington. Really.” He shook his head, tutting gently as Kinzie swore, for about the third time, that she was going to kill him… slowly, with a pencil, apparently. Goodness, but she was creative when she was angry. Matt raised an eyebrow. “I thought you liked handcuffs.”

Kinzie stopped, and just gave him the most solemn look of pure, unfiltered hatred that he’d ever seen on anyone. It made the air in the beige, stuffy little room positively crackle. She looked as if she was going to say something, but her mouth just hung partly open, and she continued to glower at him with unflinching ire. Matt’s smile grew ever wider. He ought to make a point of coming to see her more often, he thought. After all, she was one of the very few people on the planet who almost understood him.

“I’m going to kill you,” Kinzie said quietly. It wasn’t an outraged yell of a threat this time; it sounded almost sweet, like a little promise she was making to herself. “I am. I am going to kill you.”

Matt smirked and made a show of inspecting his black-polished nails. “Quite a trick if you can do it from there, love. No… I just thought you’d like to know that you’re going on a little trip soon. Change of scene. You’ll like that, won’t you?”

She narrowed her hazel eyes until they were just glinting slits of hatred behind her thick-framed glasses. “What the fuck?”

He tucked his hands into his pockets, secretly glad to be able to close his fingers around the taser, just in case. Kinzie looked seriously pissed off. Matt shrugged.

“Oh, you know how it is. Things change. And I thought maybe you were getting bored with this little room. You might like to see the world.”

She winced, then curled her lips back. “Look, if you’re going to kill me, why don’t you just do it?”

Matt grinned, tilting his head to the side to give her a long, teasing look. “My dear Agent Kensington… whyever would I do that? You’re much more interesting alive. At the moment. Besides, I don’t think I’ve found all your little breadcrumbs yet. I know you left them. You tried so hard, didn’t you? So very hard to make people see. Shame they didn’t believe you.”

She gritted her teeth, her shoulders tensing as she seemed tempted to tug on the restraints again. If he’d moved closer, Matt was in no doubt she’d have been trying to shatter his kneecaps. The sheer weight of pent-up rage and frustration rolling off the woman was staggering—forget knife, the atmosphere would have needed a chainsaw to cut it—and he really did find that entertaining.

It wiped the entirety of the morning’s meeting, and everything to do with Killbane, right out of Matt’s mind. For now, anyway.

He smiled lazily, enjoying her struggles. “Ooh, I meant to say. You’ll be pleased to know I found the keylogger you tried to plant in the DeWynters’ system. Very naughty of you, trying to crack open the membership list for Safeword. What was the matter? Didn’t they comp you for the VIP parties?”

As a matter of fact, weeding out all the damage and inconvenience Kensington had caused before he’d been forced to take her down had cost Matt a considerable amount of time and effort. He would never have allowed her to believe that, naturally… but he was enjoying the gloating far more than he ought.

“I suppose Kiki and Viola thought you weren’t quite—hmm, I don’t know—up to the job?”

Kinzie let out a strangled cry of rage and fought against the handcuffs. Matt closed his finger on the taser in his pocket, just in case. She looked really ticked off… probably still not over all those photos from her so-called “secret” online profiles being forwarded to her bosses, along with the video of her flogging some guy at a play party. Matt didn’t really see the appeal of all that S&M stuff, though some of the outfits were impressive. Still, he would have thought someone so used to dishing out pain and humiliation would have been a bit better at taking it.

He crouched down a little, bringing himself on a level with her eyeline, though still well out of striking distance.

“Aww, what’s the matter? Poor widdle Agent Kensington not as good as she thought she was? So sad. Never mind,” he added, straightening up before she had the chance to hock one in his eye. “You’ll have plenty of time to think about all the things you could have done better while you’re settling in to your new place. If you’re really lucky, maybe I’ll give you some pointers. Show you how a real cyber god does things.”

Matt let himself out of the room again as Kinzie gave vent to an expletive-laden yell of rage. He slipped back out of the apartment and into the gentle hum of the servers’ whispering. Jax was leaning against the wall, waiting for him.

“You get anything out of her?”

Matt shrugged. “She’s not going to tell us everything she did. Not yet. Doesn’t matter—we’ve recovered enough of her hard drive to put most of it together, and she’ll spill the rest eventually. I just like knowing where she is. It’s safer that way.”

Jax gave him a strange look for a moment, but said nothing. Matt tossed the taser back to him and made a show of looking for his car keys.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll let you know when the barge is ready. Probably two nights’ time, no more than that. I don’t want to leave it much longer.”

“Sure.”

“Right, then.”

Matt cleared his throat, and let himself out of the building, squinting a bit in the daylight. One step at a time, he reminded himself. Take everything steadily, and don’t panic.

After all, it wasn’t as if the Saints were going to cause that much mess in Steelport, let alone start screwing up his enterprises. All the same… it was probably better to be forearmed than forewarned.

He needed to get back to the reactor, and start hunting for his own trail of breadcrumbs.

 


On to Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Seven


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