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CHAP TER ONE Arora Fråyja Shit. Managed to stay hidden all these years only to get busted now. Gotta make a break for it – I can worry about the handcuffs later. Officer Dumbass will be back any moment to take me into interrogation; no way am I getting out once I’m behind locked doors. Lots of people in the lobby still – they’ll be good for a diversion – if only I can sort out the details in time. I just need to cause a panic, something quick and dirty so I can get the hell out of here. It’d be a lot easier to think if this creepy little kid sitting across from me wasn’t ogling my body. Maybe I light him on fire and toss him into the crowd. What am I thinking? They already confiscated my gasoline flask. Plus it’d take too long to get the blaze rolling and I don’t have that kind of time. Focus. Only five uniforms in the room right now, only one close enough to get to me before I get to the door. I just need to put enough bodies between me and him to give myself a fair lead – “Hey.” It’s that greasy gawker, trying to get my attention. He’s in cuffs too, though I can’t imagine what for. Kid’s so scrawny it looks like the things would slip right off his wrists if only he’d put his hands down instead of resting them in his crotch. Try not to think about it Arora, you’ve got bigger problems right now. “What’s your name?” So maybe I pick him up and toss him at the closest blue. He can’t weigh more than ninety pounds, shouldn’t be a problem. Plus I’d probably make his night; he could spend the next week in his chat

rooms telling all his other afraid-of-the-sunlight cyber geeks about how the pretty girl touched him. “I’m Alqali. See how that works? Now you tell me your name.” I’ll give him this; he’s got more confidence than a kid looking like him should have. Ignoring him doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, maybe I can dupe him into playing along. He can be my unwitting accomplice; get him to act like an idiot while I slip out. “Name’s Lyra, Lyra Belacqua; and if you keep staring I’m gonna make you pay for it.” “Really, you seem a little young to be a whore?” “You’re lucky we’re surrounded by cops or your nose would be smashed into your brain right now. That comment just volunteered you as my patsy. You’re gonna help me get the frak out of the place.” “Hmm…tempting, but I think I’d rather just give you a twenty and be on my way.” Creep lifts up his hands and I see that he’s already freed himself from his handcuffs – so that’s what all the fidgeting by his junk was about…hopefully. Guess I didn’t give the kid enough credit. He flashes me a smart-ass grin and a wave with his hands before burying them back in his lap as his officer and mine come over to haul us down the hallway. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I’m boned. Officer Barbrady “Were you able to find anything out?” “She’s got no ID, no cell phone, not even a transit pass,” says Rawlins. “Pretty sure the name she gave me’s a fake too.” “Yeah?” “Called herself Hermione Granger.” “Sounds made up to me. What about fingerprints?”

“Running them through the database now, but it’s going to take a while to find a match. Even then, it’s all too easy to purchase fakes these days.” “Have I.A. follow up with social services, check the missing children reports. She’s only seventeen, somebody has to know who she is or have reported her missing; she didn’t fall out of the damn sky.” “Right away sir.” I walk over to the two way mirror and see her in the adjacent room, sitting eerily still, the way that a predator would if lying in wait to stalk its prey. Shoulders hunched, forearms resting on the table, narrow eyebrows furled in a glare. Not that she was really cleaned up to begin with, but she looks like all hell now. Random strands of black hair have been pulled free from what previously appeared to be a well managed plait. It runs nearly all the way down her back. She’s got an ugly purple bruise underneath her right eye, makes it look like she’s winking at anyone who’d look her way, but she’s far from friendly. Just then she peers over at the mirror, at me, like she knows I’m there and knows she’s made eye contact. It’s a little unsettling. She’s just a kid, I remind myself. In spite of her ramshackle appearance, one glance at her would tell anyone that she could have been some high-school all-star’s wet dream prom date. She’s tall and slender, was probably a lanky preteen, but now she’s filled out everywhere it counts. If she could dump the combat boots, maybe throw on a skirt and a little makeup, she’d have all the guys stumbling over themselves. Instead, she looks like an advert for some battered women’s shelter. I think about sharing these thoughts with Rawlins, but then again, I share too much with him as it is. I’m about to ask him why he’s still here and not following up on leads, but he chimes in before I can. “Where’d they pick her up at?” He asks as he sidles up next to me to get his own peek at her. “Flanagan’s on Grand avenue.”

“Tough neighborhood, what’s a girl like her doing down there?” “Looking to pick a fight from what I hear. She wandered in, waited for the first horny prick who tried to fondle her cookies and then snapped a pool cue across his face. Bartender said she managed to take five guys out before our boys brought her in.” “Christ.” “You’re telling me.” “Want me to go in there with you?” “Thanks, but I think I can handle her.” Rawlins walks over to the door, turns the knob, but doesn’t open it. He looks back at me wearily. “Sir?” “What?” “Do you have any idea why the door’s locked?” “What do you mean?” I say as I push him out of the way, suddenly convinced that he doesn’t know how to turn a knob. “Call Stevens at reception and tell her to come let us out.” “Umm.” “What now?” “Landlines are dead too.” I take out my cell phone; try to dial out – nothing. Rawlins scurries back over to the interrogation room window, then motions to me. I look inside. “Fuck me.” Arora Fråyja Remember. Just keep breathing. Kept me waiting for ten minutes now. Trying to break me down, but it won’t work; I won’t give them the satisfaction. Sit me in this crappy chair, creaks every time I move – almost as annoying as this fake fluorescent lighting, clicking and humming above me. Damnit.

What am I gonna do? You know how you get when you’re in these situations. Stay in the moment; don’t let your mind trap you. What do you see? How can it help you? There’s nothing useful here, just a bunch of crap pretending to be something it ain’t; waxy artificial plant, covered in a layer of dust, barely noticeable in the corner where the light doesn’t quite reach it. Door behind me seems like I could just get up and walk out, except for the metal bolt on the other side. Look at the mirror to my right, runs nearly the length of the wall, only it’s not really a mirror. Catch a glimpse of my reflection, enough to know I don’t want to see it again, at least not until some of the swelling’s gone down. Footsteps outside the hall. Nothing I can do now but hope they don’t figure it out. Can’t stop curling my hands into fists, the repetition helps keep me in the present. Dried blood flakes off them onto the polished table top, where I see myself again, glaring back at me. Everywhere I look, there you are. Gotta stay focused; can’t let these walls collapse in on me. The bolt slides open, it’s time. Are you ready? Just keep breathing. Steady. Then everything goes black. “Lyra the liar, you coming or not?” I recognize the voice, the scrawny kid from the lobby, what’d he call himself? Alkaline? Alcohol? It’s not important right now. All that matters is that he’s breaking me out of here, and I’ve got a better shot with him than I do staying here. “Yeah.” I sprint towards the door and into the hallway. The whole place has gone dark and I can hear the nervous chatter coming from down the hall, everyone wondering what’s happened.

“This way, and stay close to the wall,” he whispers as he heads off in the opposite direction. Twice before we reach the emergency exit, I hear the clip-clomp of policemen running down the hall, inches away from us but unaware. We reach the door and push it open as an officer’s flashlight spots our escape; but it’s too late, we’re out into the alley and on our way to freedom. Just as a safety precaution we run at a dead sprint for at least five minutes, until we think we’ve successfully halted their pursuit. My lungs burn and my legs feel numb; I can’t imagine what Twiggy must be feeling like, but he doesn’t complain once the whole time. We take another five minutes to collect ourselves, neither of us talking, both drowning in the sound of awkward silence and heavy breathing. He’s the first one to speak. “So, Arora Fråyja, want to grab a bite to eat?”

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Chapter One  

Chapter One

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