I think Lorraine expected more of a reaction from us, but—though impressed—we were a study in silence. “Tough crowd,” she said and dismissed the girl.
“Now,” Lorraine said, hanging up the tube and turning to face us. “If none of that was your cup of tea, I have lending agreements with other stables. By no means are your choices limited to what you see here.”
“Stables,” Emma said. Her voice was flat, but I could tell she was boiling just below the surface. “So you admit you treat them like animals?”
Lorraine studied Emma for a moment. Her eyes flitted to the man in the overcoat standing guard in the back. “Course not,” she said. “These are high-performance assets. They’re well fed, well rested, trained to perform under pressure, and pure as the driven snow. Most have never touched so much as a drop of ambro—and I’ve got the papers to prove it in my office. Or you could just ask them. Numbers thirteen and six!” she shouted into the speaking tube. “Come tell these people how you like it here.”
The little boy and girl got up and shuffled to the window. The boy picked up the speaking tube. “We like it here very much,” he said robotically. “Mam treats us real nice.”
He handed the tube to the girl. “We like to do our work. We …” She paused, trying to recall something learned and forgotten. “We like our work,” she mumbled.
Lorraine dismissed them irritably. “And there you have it. Now, I can let you test drive one or two more, but beyond that I’ll need some kind of down payment.”
“I’d like to see those papers,” Emma said, glancing back at the overcoat man. “The ones in your office.” Her hands, clenched at her sides, were starting to go red. I could see we needed to leave before things turned ugly. Whatever information this woman might’ve had wasn’t worth the fight, and rescuing all these kids … well, as callous as it sounded, we had our own kids to rescue first.
“Actually, that won’t be necessary,” I said, then leaned in to Emma and whispered, “we’ll come back to help them. We have to prioritize.”
“The papers,” she said, ignoring me.
“No problem,” Lorraine replied. “Step into my office and let’s talk turkey.”
And then Emma was going and there was no unsuspicious way to stop her.
Lorraine’s office was a desk and chair crammed into a walkin closet. She had only just closed the door behind us when Emma sprang at her, pushing her hard against it. Lorraine swore and shouted for Carlos but went quiet when Emma held a hand to her face that glowed hot as an oven coil. On Lorraine’s blouse, two blackened handprints smoked where Emma had pushed her.
There was a thump on the door and a grunt from the other side.
“Tell him you’re fine,” Emma said, her voice low and flinty.
“I’m fine!” Lorraine said stiffly.
The door rattled against her back.
“Tell him again.”
Lorraine, more convincing now: “Get lost! I’m doing business!”
Another grunt, then receding footsteps.
“You’re being very stupid,” Lorraine said. “No one’s ever stolen from me and lived.”
“We don’t want money,” Emma said. “You’re going to answer some questions.”
“Those people out there. You think you own them?”
Lorraine’s brow furrowed. “What’s this about?”
“Those people. Those children. You bought them—do you think you own them?”
“I never bought anyone.”
“You bought them and now you’re selling them. You’re a slaver.”
“That isn’t how it works. They came to me willingly. I’m their agent.”
“You’re their pimp,” Emma spat.
“Without me they’d have starved. Or been taken.”
“Taken by who?”
“You know who.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
The woman laughed. “That’s not a good idea.”
“Yeah?” I said, taking a step forward. “Why not?”
“They have ears everywhere, and they don’t like being talked about.”
“I’ve killed wights,” I said. “I’m not scared of them.”
“Then you’re an idiot.”
“Shall I bite her?” said Addison. “I’d really like to. Just a little.”
“What happens when they take people?” I said, ignoring him.
“No one knows,” she said. “I’ve tried to find out, but …”
“I’ll bet you tried very hard,” Emma said.
“They come in here sometimes,” Lorraine said. “To shop.”
“Shop,” Addison said. “That’s a nice word for it.”
“To use my people.” She looked around. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I hate it. You never know how many they’re going to want or for how long. But you give them what they ask for. I’d complain, but … you don’t complain.”
“Bet you don’t complain about what they pay,” Emma said contemptuously.
“It’s not hardly enough for what they put ’em through. I try to hide the little ones when I hear they’re coming. They bring ’em back roughed up, memories blanked out. I say, ‘Where’d you go? What’d they make you do?’ But the kids don’t remember zip.” She shook her head. “They get these nightmares, though. Nasty ones. It’s hard to sell ’em after that.”
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