Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes—especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.
I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”
Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…
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Excerpt from Vacant
Tommy sprawled out on the floor, pencil in hand while he did his homework against the floor. Math, probably, judging from the rows of numbers and letters in familiar forms. He had a set of headphones on listening to the radio; pricey things, those, to be so small and yet properly analog and therefore not Tech-law-restricted. His head bopped in time with a beat I couldn’t hear as his pencil slowly leaked numbers and formulas on the page. Algebra, of course; I had no idea whether that was advanced or behind in the normal world for his age. It didn’t really matter, I guessed. I had no similar work, and I was still strung tighter than an over-tuned guitar.
Loyola was on a chair not far from him, checking a previous page of work for progress. I noticed his gun was out, set on a low table within easy arm’s reach with Loyola pointed towards the door. His body language was relaxed, but it was a sham; he was seated forward, at the edge of the chair. For all of his slumping, he could be up and moving within a few seconds. I was about the same in Mindspace.
I was seated back in the armchair, trying to read an FBI procedures manual and not having a lot of luck.
I looked up. Someone was walking down the hallway in our direction, with a sense of specific purpose, if I could trust my senses. I didn’t recognize the mind from earlier in the day. It wasn’t Sibley, I didn’t think, but at this point that didn’t mean anything to me.
“Heads up,” I said.
Loyola was on his feet, gun ready, and I was moving towards Tommy, my own attention on the door as the mind got closer and closer.
Tommy got to his feet and said, “That’s Dad again,” with the kind of dismissive attitude only a kid could really pull off. “Don’t shoot him.”
I reluctantly let go of the defense I’d been building for us both and pulled more of my attention into the real world.
Tommy opened the door, and we saw the bruised-face and classic-pre-Tech-Wars haircut of Quentin Parrish, the boy’s father, who had his hands in the air and his mind pulled into as small a profile as he could make it. He had a hat in hand.
Loyola lowered the gun, slowly, but did not put it up.
“Apologies for startling you gentlemen,” Quentin said, then when he saw the words had registered, he smiled the large smile of a man who was used to charming his way into anything he wanted. “Not that I don’t appreciate you watching my son with that kind of hair-trigger, but what do you say I lower my hands, you lower your gun and mind, and we have a nice conversation, huh?”
“Fine.” I took a deep breath, intentionally trying to lower my adrenaline level and heart rate, and eased away from Tommy in Mindspace.
Tommy glanced back at me, I nodded, and he threw himself at his dad, who caught him up in a bone-crushing hug.
“Excellent to see you, boy,” Quentin said. “You been doing your homework?”
“Yeah,” Tommy said, and pulled away.
“You realize you just walked into a building full of lawyers and cops,” I told Quentin. “And then in to a judge’s private chambers without so much as a by-your-leave.”
“Oh, they know me here.” Quentin smiled that too-bright smile.
“You’re a con man and you’re showing up to a courthouse, where they know you,” I said, slowly, trying to get my head around the concept.
“And why shouldn’t they?” he asked me. “I’m not guilty of anything at the moment.”
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