Citaat:Summary: This might not be the best solution when your dad is hurting you. But you can't argue with the results
Byron had just finished browning his onions and garlic and was about ready to add the rice to the frying pan when his phone buzzed.
He stared at it. One hand still holding the wooden spoon over the pan, while with the other reaching for the bowl of uncooked rice. Silently cursing whoever it was that was about to ruin his risotto.
On the stove, the onions and garlic continued to sizzle. They were on the verge of going irreparably dark now and Byron really should add in that rice and the chicken stock that had been simmering away for the past hour, if he wanted to salvage his cooking.
The phone buzzed again.
It was probably nothing. It was probably just his buddy Spencer, although why on earth Spencer would want to call him, Byron didn’t know. But out of the very few people who had his number, Spencer was the only one likely to call. All the others (all three of them, mind) would text. Very brief texts they would be, too: Jim Hancock, 38. By the day after tomorrow. Accident.
Or: Suzie Corden, 55. Tonight – tomorrow morning. Owns a lot of silk scarves, incorporate those.
Or, on one memorable occasion: You’ve got no particular love for the royal family now, do you? That had been… an interesting assignation. To say the least.
Truth be told, Byron liked to make the arrangements with his clients himself. But sometimes times were slow, and having someone on his payroll to send a job his way now and again, had been worth it. At least it meant he had something to do, rather than sit around and watching his tomatoes grow.
Although if those tomatoes were going to be ruined because of bad timing, Byron was going to find himself looking to hire someone else very soon.
The rice disappeared into the frying pan with a satisfying dry rustle. He poked at it with the stirring spoon, distributing the slightly over-browned onions and garlic throughout and then added the first cup of chicken stock. There. All he needed to do now was keep an eye on it, stir occasionally and add more stock when the first cup had been soaked up by the rice.
And then the phone buzzed again.
‘Oh for the love of…’
With a snarl and a curse, Byron turned the heat to low and snatched up the phone. ‘Spencer, what the hell, I told you I was…’
‘Are you Mister Byron?’
Byron blinked. Because that did not sound like his buddy Spencer, who had a voice like chewed up gravel with a Southern drawl so thick you could stick a spoon into it. ‘Who’s this?’ he asked, not dialing back his frustration one bit.
‘Are you Mister Byron?’ the voice on the other end repeated with infuriating insistence. Byron knew nothing whatsoever about children except that this sounded like one, and she sounded moderately intelligent. Which meant he pegged her age anywhere from five to twelve. ‘Only Mister Spencer gave me this number because I need help but he couldn’t help me but he said mister Byron could help me. Are you Mister Byron?’
Byron blinked again and then, very slowly, put the stirring spoon down. ‘Mister Spencer gave you my number?’
‘Yes,’ the girl replied, apparently now satisfied that she had the right person. ‘Because I need help.’
Spencer, what the hell are you playing at? Byron pinched the bridge of his nose, dumped the rest of the chicken stock into his risotto and wished it luck, and then retreated out of the kitchen to the living room. ‘OK. First of all, what’s your name?’
‘Persephone,’ the girl said, and right away Byron understood why she might need help. ‘But everybody calls me Percy.’
‘Alright, Percy,’ he said. ‘Has Mister Spencer told you how I usually help people?’
Because for some reason, he did not think this little girl needed his kind of help. His kind of help was usually only reserved for cheated spouses and dodgy businessmen, and involved a lot of bleach and covering of tracks afterwards.
‘My daddy has been hurting me. Very bad.’
Then again, maybe she did.
Byron sat down at his dinner table, one hand reaching for the little notebook he kept his appointments in. ‘He’s been hurting you? How bad?’
‘Very bad.’ The girl’s voice sounded smaller now, not as puffed up in an attempt to be mature as before. ‘And then he takes me to the hospital but he lies to all the doctors because he tells them I’ve fallen down the stairs or that I’ve had an accident with my bike but that’s not true! But the doctors just tell me to be more careful even though it wasn’t my fault at all and then we go back home and he gets all angry again because it took so long and it’s so expensive to go to the hospital and he says it’s all my fault but that’s also not true and…’
The words came out in a flood, tumbling over each other and painting a very vivid picture Byron could see all too clearly. He didn’t cut in; he just sat and listened to Percy pouring her heart out to a complete stranger who killed people for a living.
He also had a niggling feeling he now knew why Spencer had given this girl his number. And he wasn’t too sure he liked it, either.
The voice at the other seemed to finally reach a longwinded conclusion. ‘So that’s why I need help, and Mister Spencer said that he wouldn’t be able to help me because he doesn’t live in New York anymore but you do and so will you help me? Please? I know you might want money but I have saved up all my allowance and if it’s not enough, Mister Spencer said he would pay the rest if you really needed it.’
Did Mister Spencer now. After this conversation had ended, Byron was going to have a very long and interesting chat with his old buddy Spencer about tricking your friends into turning a new leaf. Never mind that he had been contemplating turning that leaf for… several years? Yes, three, or wait, no, five years now and had never really gotten around to it.
Never mind that he knew he was not as into this game as he used to be. Never mind that he was catching himself more and more often right before he made a crucial mistake, never mind that he might be getting sloppy.
Never mind that he might have needed a nudge in the right direction. Using a kid was low, and Spencer knew it. Or else Byron would be happy to tell him so. At length.
‘I won’t need money, baby,’ he said, cursing himself the moment he heard the endearment leave his mouth. ‘I just have a couple more questions for you and then I’ll see what I can do, alright?’
Fifteen minutes later, Byron ended the call, stood up, and went back into the kitchen where he was just in time to give his risotto a vigorous stir before it started to burn. All things considered, it turned out to be surprisingly edible.
He turned off the stove. Grabbed a plate, dumped a pile of steaming rice onto it and went back to the dinner table. And his notebook.
Persephone Black lived in Brooklyn with her father, who she was afraid of, and a dog, which she also didn’t like (‘he growls. All the time.’). Her mother was… somewhere. Byron didn’t know, and hadn’t asked, if she was dead or had just upped and left, which was a very real possibility when living long enough with a scumbag like Alfred Black. Who had an arrest record as long as Byron’s arm, and a depressingly repetitive one at that. Domestic violence. Domestic disturbance. Drunk and disorderly. Domestic. Domestic. Domestic.
Byron had never met the man, but he already ranked very high on his list of least favorite people. And that was quite a long list as well.
Well. If he did his job right (and he always did), he would never have to meet the man in person. There were just a couple of things he had to arrange first, and then Mr. Black would be good to go.
‘Byron, my man. It’s been a while. Everything alright?’
Byron rolled his eyes. ‘Cut the crap, Spencer. You know why I’m calling.’
Spencer’s broad grin was almost audible. ‘She called you, didn’t she.’
‘Yes, she did. And don’t worry: I’m gonna chew you out about this at length as soon as I’ve got the time, but for now: can I borrow your hacker? Just for an hour or so, shouldn’t take him too long.’
‘Oh, right. The hacker. Well, if you need him to falsify certain records so that you would appear as Miss Black’s next of kin in the highly unlikely event her dad met with an accident on his way to work…’
‘Damn you, Spencer.’
‘… that’s already been arranged,’ Spencer finished gleefully, and Byron could strangle him. ‘Tell Percy I said hi.’
After that illuminating call with Spencer, Byron briefly contemplated getting his life into some semblance of order first, before taking things any further. But that would take time, and every day he waited was another day Alfred could use to beat Percy into a pulp. Better to act fast, then.
Besides. A girl who had no qualms about calling an assassin to take out her dad, could probably deal with sleeping on the couch for a while.
And so it was that two days later, on a dreary Monday morning, Alfred Black’s car spontaneously caught fire the moment he put the key into the ignition. Sadly, the doors were locked and did not open no matter how hard he pounded them, so poor Alfred did not stand a chance of getting out alive. It’s sad, but these things happen.
A few hours later, Byron was running up the stairs of a police station with an expression of intense worry on his face. He skidded to a halt in front of a very large and very fat sergeant, did not even bother to shake the man’s hand but instead demanded, in a voice dripping with panic: ‘Percy. Is she… is she alright? Please, I got a call about Alfred and I need to know if she’s alright, please!’
‘She’s alright, Mr. Shelley,’ the sergeant said in what he probably thought was a soothing voice. ‘She’s alright. She was already on her way to school, fortunately. She’s waiting for you right through here.’
With his tongue in his cheek, both because of the alias and the usual pride in a job well done, Byron meekly followed the sergeant through a maze of corridors until they ended up at a blue door that stood slightly ajar.
The sergeant opened the door and stepped to the side. Byron went in, and stopped.
There was a girl sitting on an uncomfortable plastic chair in the corner, shoulders hunched and knees drawn up. Her elbows wrapped tightly around them as if to huddle in on herself completely. All Byron could see of her face was a mop of dark hair and two puffy, red-rimmed eyes and for a moment, he had to fight very hard to keep his own face in check.
‘Hey, Percy? It’s me.’ He coughed. ‘Shelley.’
Percy looked up. Blinked once, twice before Byron saw the penny drop and her mouth fall open.
‘Shelley!’ she squeaked, right before she launched herself off the chair and into Byron’s arms. He caught her, even as she knocked the wind right out of him with the force of her hug.
‘I didn’t know you’d come,’ she whispered into his shirt as Byron wrapped his arms around a frame that was way too skinny for his liking. ‘I knew you’d… done something, but I didn’t know you’d come here.’
‘Of course I would,’ Byron muttered back, glad the sergeant couldn’t see his grin. ‘Spencer told you I’d help you, didn’t he?’
It was almost dark when they finally left the police station. The sergeant had had some questions for Byron, and then for Percy, and then someone from Social Services had had some questions for Byron as well, and for Percy, and then it turned out that Spencer’s hacker friend had done such a good job with Byron’s records that the Social Services lady tried to pressure him into considering taking in, what she called ‘other little lost ones in need of help’.
Byron had politely but firmly declined.
But now, they were sitting in the back of a cab heading to Byron’s apartment. Percy’s Frozen backpack lay forgotten on an empty seat as she stared out of the window, taking in the sights of the city sliding by. Byron didn’t care to watch the outside; he sat taking in this girl, even skinnier than he had at first thought, with unruly black hair that was going to be a nightmare to brush each morning, and a vivid bruise standing purple and blue against the pale skin of her throat.
That car fire hadn’t come a moment too soon, then.
‘So tomorrow we’ll go to the store,’ he said, drawing Percy’s attention away from the glittering lights outside. ‘Get you some stuff you might need. And I’ve also got the keys to your old place, so we’ll go there too and pick up anything you might wanna take with you from there, alright?’
Percy nodded. Byron smiled. ‘It’s gonna be a weird couple of weeks, kid. Not gonna lie. Might even be a weird couple of months, depending on how things go, but you’re safe now. I ain’t gonna hurt you and if anyone tries, I’ll hurt them right back. You got that?’
Percy nodded again and then, after debating with herself for a whopping two seconds, flung herself into his arms again. ‘Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!’
Byron laughed, tightening his arms around her shoulders. ‘Not a problem, kid. Not a problem at all,’ he said, and did not let her go until the taxi pulled up at his apartment.
Fortunately, there was just enough risotto left in the freezer for two.
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