13+ When fifteen-year-old Riley Crane finds out her best friend Olivia is being abused at home, she knows just who to turn to: her mother Claire, writer and spokesperson for President Gray’s Parental Morality Law. Under this law, Task Force Officers remove children from their homes if their parents do not meet certain guidelines, taking them to government-run boarding schools.
When fifteen-year-old Riley Crane finds out her best friend Olivia is being abused at home, she knows just who to turn to: her mother Claire, writer and spokesperson for President Gray’s Parental Morality Law. Under this law, Task Force Officers remove children from their homes if their parents do not meet certain guidelines, taking them to government-run boarding schools. Once they arrive, supervisors rehabilitate them, turning them into productive members of society. Or at least that was how it was supposed to work…
Now, after a government official threatens to make Riley the law’s latest victim, Riley and Claire must rely on Cain Foley, a gifted killer with a tongue as sharp as the knives he carries, to get them out of America alive. Though he slices through men’s necks as if they are warm butter, Riley can’t seem to keep her cheeks from flushing every time he speaks. But when they stumble upon a deserted boarding school, Riley sees that escaping the country is only part of their problem. Together, Riley and Cain figure out that a killer can save a life, and a mother can damn a nation.
I kept my eyes straight ahead as we made our way toward the bartender. His head had a big gap in the middle where hair should be, and the hair that remained on the sides overlapped the top of his ears. His shirt had once been white, but streaks of yellow lined the armpits and stretched downward, much like his skin: overused and under-cared-for.
Bo set his bag on an empty barstool and waited for the bartender to turn around. His back was to us, but I could see that he was drying a glass over and over again. Mom waved at him. “Excuse me, where can we find a man named Cain?”
I was facing away from the bar’s customers, but I could swear I felt them staring at us after Mom spoke, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The bartender set his glass down hard. He turned his greasy face toward us. And laughed.
“Haha, lady…you’re in waaay over your head. If Cain wants to find you, he’ll find you. Lookin’ like he already did.” His eyes moved toward the barstool where the bag of money had been. The stool sat empty.
“Oh my God! Where’d it go? Bo!” Mom’s head swirled around. Bo glared at the bartender.
“Don’t look at me, man, I didn’t take it. SHE did.” He pointed toward a doorway at the back of the bar. The beautiful, dark haired woman from the picture stood there, letting the bag dangle gracefully from her long fingers. She smiled.
“Misplace something?” She let the bag fall from her grasp, and Bo jetted over to grab it. When he was bending over to get it, Jordyn shoved it away with her foot and made him chase it a couple times before she gave in. The bartender found himself laughing at us once again. “Follow me.”
The doorway Jordyn had been standing in front of lead to a staircase. We formed a line behind her and followed her down into the darkness. Though there were no lights, Jordyn hit every step. I tried hard not to stumble but managed to snag my toe more than once.
Jordyn lectured us: “Did you see how easy that was? The three of you are going to have to be more careful if you’re gonna make this trip. I can give you clothes, shoes, and a route, but I can’t give you plain old common sense. Even Cain can’t give that to you.”
I almost tumbled headfirst down the stairs, but Jordyn caught me and stood me back up.
“I’ve never seen anything like it…just coming into a bar with a bag of money dressed like THIS?” She picked at Bo’s suit with two fingers, like he was infested with some contagious disease. Her eyes then turned to Mom. Jordyn looked her up and down, from her stilettos to the bobby pins that held her hair back. “Were you TRYING to stick out like a skinny kid at fat camp? If I hadn’t been there, those guys woulda stolen your money and had you thinkin’ they did you a favor. Then we’d all be screwed.”
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I glanced backward. The staircase stood almost vertical, and it reminded me of an old fairy tale where a bear cub disobeyed the rules and wandered deeper and deeper into a cave. I remembered it didn’t turn out too well for the bear.
The room only had one light, and it hovered above a gray metal desk at the far end of the room. Though the desk was free of any office supplies that would help someone put it to some use, I saw a man sitting at it with his back toward us. He slouched in his chair.
Five cots lined the room, and each had only one thin blanket. The blankets barely covered the tops of the cots, and the fabric was stained brown with age. A black backpack sat at the edge of each of our beds. The cement floor clinked with each footstep, and I doubted we would be able to stay warm that night. The heat outside couldn’t seem to find its way in, and there was a chill in the basement that went straight to my bones.
Or maybe it was him.
“Cain, they’re here.”
The man turned in his chair.
I recognized him from the photo Bo showed us, but the photo had not done him any justice. His eyes were the blue of blue M&Ms. I didn’t think they made people with eyes that blue. The way he moved his hands was like they floated through the air, in one endless, graceful motion. His hair was the brown like the brown of Mom’s favorite dresser, the one where all the pictures of Aidan rested. I stifled a smile.
I noticed a long tattoo on his forearm, stretching the length of it in a deep brown, nearly matching his hair. I never wanted a tattoo myself, but I was always curious about what people loved enough to paint on their bodies with ink and needles. His tattoo was a long rectangle, stopping a couple inches below the top of his wrist to stretch out into two sections that wrapped around to the other side of his forearm. The long rectangle started again after the two offshoots jetted off, and the whole shape was covered in complicated patterns. I stared at it for a long time, squinting so that I could make out every detail. After he moved his arm slightly, I could see the other side of the tattoo. I realized the shape was a cross.
“Money?” Cain didn’t move from his slouching position. His fingers rested intertwined in front of his chest. Jordyn snatched the bag away from Bo and set it on the desk. It landed with a thud. Finally, Cain shot out of his chair and ripped the bag open while keeping his eyes on Bo. “Not nearly enough for your lot.” Cain pushed the bag over the side of the desk and let the money spill onto the floor in a storm of green snowflakes.
Bo’s voice quivered. “What do you mean? This is your asking price. So this is what I brought.”
Bo’s voice wasn’t supposed to quiver.
Cain smiled widely, in that way that people do when they think the person they’re speaking to is a complete idiot. “Look, we’ve got one government rat, that would be you, and a woman who’s the face of all this mess. With more risk comes more reward.” He smiled and gestured around the room. “That is supposed to be the American dream you people work for after all, right?” He stepped in a wad of green money and gently rubbed it into the floor with his foot. After he was done, he sat back at his desk, looking rather pleased with himself.
Mom stepped toward him. “Please, we swear we’ll get you your money. It’s not my daughter’s fault. We’re all she’s got!” Mom tried to stand strong and still, but I could see her hands were shaking.
I marched past her.
When I reached Cain’s desk, I hopped right on top of it and sat down. He may have been good-looking (really…really good-looking), but I wasn’t thrilled about the way he was talking to us. “You’re kind of a jerk, aren’t you? My mom’s been through enough tonight. If you aren’t gonna help us, just say so.”
He looked at me square in the eyes.
I stared right back.
He grinned. “I’d have to agree. Not much fear in you, huh, Riley?”
I shook my head. Right then another piece of information about him crept out of my memory, another clue that would help me rediscover him. Crossing my legs in a sitting yoga pose, I asked, “Did you really kill a man in a room with nothing but an orange, a glass of water, and a toothpick?”
Cain’s eyes met mine. He laughed. His laugh sounded like a children’s choir singing, short little notes one right after the other.
He leaned toward me like he was going to tell me a secret. I could smell fresh mint as his breath brushed my face. “Ah, you must have seen that TV report about me.” Of course. I had seen a documentary on him a few months earlier. And if I remembered correctly, the reporter didn’t exactly praise him with flying colors. “Mostly garbage, some truth.” He paused, running his hand gently across his desk. “I like you, so I’ll tell you…it was a grapefruit…and three men.” He winked. Looking around my shoulder, he declared, “Alright, I’ll do it.”
Mom thanked Cain for his understanding, but as the words fell from her lips, she gestured for me to back away from him and stand beside her. I could see Jordyn roll her eyes from across the room. She must not have gotten the message about leaving my mom alone. “Why don’t you want to help us? What did we do to you?”
“It’s nothing personal, just worried about how we are going to get THESE two across the border,” she pointed to Bo and Mom, “without getting ourselves killed in the process.” After looking them over once more, she sighed. “I have my work cut out for me. I hope nobody here has an aversion to dressing down.”
Cain smiled. “That’s why you’re the best, Jordyn. Get them dressed and ready…we’re leaving at first light. I need them ready to run out the door the minute I say so. Oh and you…” He pointed at Bo, then at the money on the floor. “Pick that up.”
Goodreads ** Amazon ** Barnes&Noble
About the author:
Renee N. Meland lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two dogs. She is currently working on the third book in The Extraction List Series (the second is available now). Her favorite obsessions are Rome, learning new recipes, and exploring the world around her. She is an avid reader of speculative fiction, and believes that telling stories is the best job in the world.
Thank you very much for hosting me :)
Post a Comment