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Excerpt: Shadow Seer

Excerpt: Shadow Seer

Book 2: The Scroll of Shadows

Chapter One

During my decade as a field intelligence operative for Advanced Global Protection’s Psychic Section, I’d been involved in a lot of shit. Seen stuff that would haunt me forever. But before Friedrich Weber elbowed his way onto my team I’d never hated my job, and until Operation Star, I’d never wanted to kill a colleague.

What kind of human being leaves a little girl whose leg is blown off to bleed out on the street simply to satisfy his personal desire for power? What kind of man tasers the person applying the tourniquet because she tells him to screw himself, his report to Head Office, and his fucking ego sideways? 

And what kind of idiot actually expects no retaliation?

Let me think . . . That would be Weber. Which meant he wasn’t only a gutless control freak, but he also hadn’t learned a thing about me during our previous three missions. 

It wasn’t enough for him to direct his security guys to haul me into AGP’s Berlin office through the underground entrance while he swaggered through the front doors. He wanted to watch and snigger as his goons dragged me out of the van—my eyes running, my face covered in snot and drool—and dumped me onto the concrete floor. He didn’t even have the sense not to gloat within arm’s reach as they hauled me to my feet and sliced through the plastic ties cuffing my hands. 

I couldn’t have resisted the temptation, not even to save my job, which was now well and truly screwed. Every part of me hurt like hell, but the moment I was free, I let go the rage I’d kept leashed and muzzled in the van, and slammed my fist into Weber’s face.

That’s for the little girl,” I said as he howled and clapped his hands to his nose. “This”—I followed up with a knee to the groin—“is for the taser, and this”—I rammed an elbow into the back of his neck and he folded, gagging, onto the concrete—“is just because I feel like it, you unutterable bastard.” 

As I swiped at the drying crud on my face and watched him writhe on the ground, it occurred to me that I should have been on the ground myself by this time. But there hadn’t been a sound from Weber’s boys. I looked up to find them standing, their hands frozen in mid-reach for weapons, staring at something over my shoulder.

“Easy, Emma.” It was Helmut Becker, an AGP Task Force officer. “I was at the incident and saw them take you down, but I couldn’t get there fast enough to stop it.” As he spoke he moved into my line of sight. “Beat them home though. You okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” But I’d never been tasered before, so what did I know? “The kid?”

“Still alive when the medics arrived, but it didn’t look good.” Somewhere in the vast car park tires squealed. “That’ll be the team now.” One of Weber’s guys started forward as, behind me, the elevator dinged a single chime. “Don’t,” Helmut said. “Don’t move, you sons of bitches, or I swear to God I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

The idea was a tempting one. I refused to acknowledge the burning return of circulation in my hands, and stared at the tallest of Weber’s bodyguards. “Does Head Office only employ fuckwits and morons? Did you not see what happened out there?” 

Weber’s moaning curses were becoming more coherent. Any second now, one of these fools would decide to get involved. 

The bodyguard shifted his feet. “Mr. Weber said—”

“The hell with Mr. Weber. Read your own regulations. I don’t care what you do in the States or in bloody Timbuktu. Here in Germany we have this little thing called section thirty-two, paragraph six, subsection three C: A military client’s refusal to take a P-Section operative’s recommended action does not mean an automatic withdrawal of AGP assistance to civilian casualties in any emergency generated by said refusal.” I sucked in breath. “Military casualties, yes. Civilian? No. There were kids in that facility when it blew. Hostages, for God’s sake. What kind of men are you?”

I was saved from doing something completely asinine by the arrival of an AGP incident van. It barreled the wrong way down the one-way lane, screeched into the parking space next to where I stood, and had barely come to a rocking halt before one of its occupants leaped out and stood, braced and ready, beside Helmut. A moment later the driver shoved his door open and swung down, steaming cold fury. 

“Did the kid make it?”  I asked him.

The bleakness in his eyes told me the answer before he shook his head.

I leaned over a groaning Weber, tempted to give him more to groan about. “And that’s on you, you dickless wonder. You killed that little girl as surely as if you put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger, and my operation report will say so. In triplicate.”

“Bitch.” Weber hauled in breath and spat out blood. “I’ll have your job for this.”

“Maybe, but not before I have your arse for her.” The elevator dinged again, and Weber attempted to get up. “Stay down or I’ll put you down.”

“That was a threat.” He subsided back to the floor, scrabbling at his pocket with one bloodied hand. “She threatened me; you’re all my witnesses.” He pulled out a white pocket handkerchief and pressed it to his nose, so his next words came out muffled. “Head Office will back me up, Fraulein Braun. You don’t scare me.”

Sure I didn’t. Which was why he was sliding frantic looks toward the now open elevator. 

“I scare the crap out of you.” And in that moment I was livid enough to make certain of it. “You bring your self-righteous, know-it-all arse within ten meters of me again, and one night you’ll wake up to find yourself in the middle of Potsdamer Platz naked and howling at the moon. And that’s no threat. It’s a promise.”

“Howling—” His eyes went wide. “That’s just psychic woo-woo crap; it’s not real. You can’t make someone do that.”

Ethically, no. In practice? “Want to bet?”

His gaze skittered away from me. “Colonel St. Clare will hear about your actions tonight.” 

“Yes, he will.” Probably already had, so I had nothing left to lose by making my feelings quite clear. “And he’ll hear about yours too. You might be Head Office’s blue-eyed boy, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re a gutless sack of shit.” I straightened, stepped over him, and stalked into the elevator. “Come on, guys. Let’s go.”

Helmut and the others marched in, executed a smart about-face, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway. None of Weber’s guys had moved to help him up, possibly because they realized how close to danger they were sailing. 

I pressed the button for P-Section’s public floor and waited till the doors slid shut. Then I said, “For heaven’s sake, Helmut. Don’t move, you sons of bitches, or I swear to God I’ll shoot you where you stand? Were you trying to start a fight?”

“I merely followed your example, fearless leader.” Helmut glanced at my reflection in the mirrored wall. “Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking the same thing.”

Leon swung round on me. “If you want him dead just say the word. That bastard was laughing. Laughing. While that kid fucking bled to death he was laughing. By the time I got to her. . . ” His fingers curled into fists at his sides. “I couldn’t save her. She was my niece’s age. Eight. Nine at the most.” 

And scared. So scared. “It wasn’t your fault, Leon. No one could’ve done better.”

“Fuck that.” Victor didn’t turn around. “It shouldn’t have happened. Me? I’m going to rip Weber’s tongue out of his throat and strangle him with it.”

“Sounds good. But if we’re voting here”—Helmut cleared his throat—“I want the Potsdamer-Platz-naked-and-howling-at-the-moon deal first.”

“Oh yeah,” Viktor said. “Emma, could you really make him do that? Please say yes. I want to dream about that tonight.”

I couldn’t blame him. “Dream away then. I’ll run the idea past the colonel.”

“If you do,” Helmut said, “I’ll give a month’s pay to be there to watch his face.” His lips went tight. “He’s going to go apeshit about tonight.”

“Which is why I’ll see him alone.” I stopped their protests with a shake of my head. “Chain of command, remember? My mission. My screw-up.”

Viktor snorted. “Your mission, sure. Your screw-up? Hell, no. Weber’s no more liaison material than I am. And Head Office thinks he can take Beth’s place? He’s worse than useless; he’s asshole material—probably why your last four mission results have been shit.” He stopped as Leon elbowed him sharply in the ribs. “What?” Viktor’s chin lifted and his mouth went hard. “Like Emma doesn’t know?”

“Leave him alone,” I said. “He’s right.” The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and they stepped out. I held the doors.

“Just a moment.” Why was it so hard to find the right words? “Whatever happens, I want you to know that you guys are the best damned Task Force unit in the European section. Thanks for what you did tonight, all of you. Now, go clean up, have a couple of beers. Wind down. If Weber’s guys come into the bar and get pissy, walk away.” I released the doors. “See you in the morning.”

As I spoke, all three had turned various shades of embarrassment. 

Helmut cleared his throat. “Emma, why don’t you co—”

Whatever he’d been going to say was lost as the doors swished closed. Just as well. I couldn’t have faced beer and pizza. All of us would be remembering other times, celebrations at the end of successful missions. There’d been a lot of them. For six years Helmut, Leon, Viktor, and Matthias had enjoyed the kudos of being the Task Force unit assigned to P-Sec’s top operations team—Beth and me. Then disaster hit us. Now Matthias and Beth were dead, and I’d returned to them a broken stranger. Nothing could ever be the same again.

The elevator beeped, a reminder I was being watched, so I leaned forward for an iris scan and requested the thirty-second floor. 

I’d marched out of the elevator and had a moment of disorientation before I realized I’d been operating on autopilot and requested the offices floor, not that of my apartment. I swung around, but it was too late. The numbers above all four elevators plummeted toward zero as the entire bank headed for ground.

Great. Just great. I could either stand there like an idiot or I could take the stairs. It was only another five floors.

I’d have taken the stairs too, if my body hadn’t chosen that moment to remind me it was heading for its fourth day without sleep and getting grouchy about the lack. Fortunately, I wasn’t far from several stashes of good chocolate and a coffee maker. My office. Weaving slightly on legs that were beginning to tremble, I headed for the end of the corridor.

“Operative Braun,” one of the night staff administrators said as I staggered past her. “Are you okay?”

I blinked. The dark gray flooring had been so highly polished it reflected the light from the fluorescents. “Yes. Thank you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Thank you.” I wasn’t the one who sounded about three degrees from panic. What was wrong with her?

“Because the colonel asked to be informed when you arrived. I’ll do that now, shall I?”

“Good idea.” But, now I thought about it, trying to have a sane and civilized discussion with my boss while I was seething and wanting to rip a chunk off a co-worker was probably not a bright idea. 

So I stopped. Turned carefully. Formed my mouth into a smile. “On second thought,” I said, enunciating with painful precision and wondering why the girl had put the reception desk between us and turned a subtle shade of green, “tell him I’m fine. Say I’m going to write my report and it’ll be on his desk first thing in the morning.” 

She nodded, swallowing convulsively, and darted off into the night supervisor’s office. 

I continued down the corridor and into my office. Nice try, Emma. But no cigar. Coffee would have to wait. Five minutes, and the colonel would be hammering on my door to find out just what the hell kind of mess I’d dumped in his lap.

.oOo.