Chapter 61

                “You want to blackmail a dreamwalker?” It wasn’t the craziest plan Alice had ever heard, especially not from Nick, though it did almost demand a bit of theatrical reeling as she processed the boldness of what he was proposing. While the others were off at work or costume shopping, Nick had called her over for what he would only describe as a “very important discussion.” She’d thought perhaps he wanted to talk over the idea of a couple’s costume, though what she’d gotten was much more true to the man she’d accidentally fallen for.

                “Blackmail feels a bit strong. I’d prefer to use the carrot before the stick,” Nick said. “But yes, I will have the stick on hand just in case it’s needed. The bigger question is whether or not you’re okay with this. The whole plan somewhat hinges on using your brain to make contact, since you’re the only person he comes running to.”

                Nick wasn’t wrong, outside of allegedly doing a favor for Globe, Abridail hadn’t been so much as mentioned in anyone else’s Rich-induced naps. The “why” was at least simple to puzzle out, Abridail was checking in on her, since he was good friends with her mother. Or, at least he claimed to be. Nick’s idea certainly had risk, there was the chance that Abridail could ignore them, leave, and never show up in a dream again. But it also had merit, there was a chance she could finally squeeze the answers Alice so desperately wanted out of the mysterious man. What had happened to her mother, where she was, and what on earth any of it had to do with Globe. Freshman Alice would have rejected the idea outright, but years of Subtlety had changed how she thought. Now, Alice’s first concern was making sure all the details were in order.

                “And you’ve got someone who can replicate Rich’s power, an unknown Super that I’m just supposed to trust?” Alice asked.

                Nick fidgeted slightly, the sofa cushion beneath him gently rustling. It was the sort of thing she’d have missed before, though now she knew it marked his discomfort with the topic. He didn’t like this aspect of the plan either, it seemed.

                “We’re using a carefully selected resource, one who understands the scale of importance in discretion without knowing the actual stakes. As much as we can trust someone under contract, we can trust her,” Nick said.

                “This woman is who, exactly? Another contact from Vegas like Eliza and Jerome?” Alice kept pushing, determined to root out whatever Nick was hiding from her. She knew he kept her in the dark about a lot of his off-campus activities, and even appreciated the need for it since she spent her weekdays underground with DVA agents. Still, what kind of Subtlety student would she be if she didn’t try and glean every bit of information she could from a source?

                “She’s someone who comes on excellent referral.” Nick’s fidgeting stopped, he’d realized she was probing and his mind visibly went from “empathetic friend” to “information defense” in the span of a glance. “We can call it off, if you’re not comfortable with this, I know it’s asking for a lot of trust from you. Just know that if this lead peters out, I don’t have any more strings to pull on. The hunt for your mother is going to hit a dead end.”

                Alice rested her arm on the back cushion of the couch as she considered her next move. She didn’t entirely believe Nick that this was their last hope, that seemed a little too convenient and melodramatic to be genuine, but she could accept that this was their last good lead. Shelby Adair was clearly hidden extremely well, and someone was intent on keeping her that way. Even Nick’s information sources had limits. Abridail knew things, or he was the world’s most incredible, sadistic bluffer. Either way, she could live with taking on a strategy where some parts were kept secret from her far easier than she could live with letting a real lead on her mother slip away.

                “I want a show of trust,” Alice said at last, arriving on the decision Nick had no doubt been expecting. Her conditions, however, she hoped to take him by surprise with.

                “The asset doesn’t do that sort of thing,” Nick told her. “Just the contract and the pay.”

                “Not from her, from you.” Alice leaned a few inches forward, narrowing the small gap on the couch that separated she and Nick. “You’re asking me to take a lot on faith here, and while I can understand why, you have to admit it’s a bit lopsided. So I want a show of trust from you, just for good measure.”

                Nick’s eyes, absent any golden glow as Alice watched carefully for the telltale giveaway, scrutinized her carefully while he tried to puzzle out where she was going with this. “What did you have in mind? You do know that a lot of my secrets are actually the family’s secrets, meaning I can’t share them without endangering you.”

                “Oh no, I don’t need anything as grand as all that. I just want you to trust me with something very near and dear to your twisted little heart.” Alice let a pause drag on between her words, savoring the rare occasion of getting to keep Nick uncertain for a few moments. “I want you to let me choose your Halloween costume this year.”

                From the way he recoiled, Alice had a hunch he’d have preferred if she asked for the family’s deepest, darkest secrets.

                “I’d get some veto approval in this process, right?” Nick asked, hurriedly trying to define the deal’s parameters.

                “Not a bit. You stay in the dark until the actual day arrives, at which point I show up with a costume and you wear it. No argument, no worming out of the deal, and I expect any complaining to be kept to a minimum.” She wasn’t even trying to hide the sadistic grin on her face as she laid down terms, mind already spinning with possibilities. This, at least, would give her something to focus on until the dream-meeting could happen. Her other option was to dwell, and she had neither the time nor inclination for that. “It’s a pretty paltry request, compared to you asking me to let a stranger trap me in my own head. I do promise not to make you look too bad, though. After all, I can’t have an embarrassment on my arm.”

                If he really tried, pushed and prodded in the right ways, they both knew he could slip out of the deal. What he had asked was necessary, hers was nothing more than a fun ploy. Nick was smart, however, and he recognized that even if he managed to weasel free from the demand, it would be a hollow victory. Sometimes winning wasn’t as important as everyone walking away happy with a deal, or least not mad about it.

                “Fine,” he said, lowering his head in defeat. “Just try not to make me look any sillier than what Vince comes up with. I’m supposed to be helping them shop right now, so odds are he’s going to pick something completely idiotic.”

                “I’ll do my best,” Alice assured him. “So, when do we get this show on the road, anyway? I can ask off from Six-Shooter this weekend if needed.”

                “Sadly, the asset has a schedule of her own, which means we have to use her when she’s available.” Nick pulled his head back up, and Alice noticed a bit of the old taunting spark back in his eyes. He’d given in to her condition, but it seemed he still had a trick or two of his own to unveil. “If you’re ready to get a jump on things, I’ve got the date of her first availability. It won’t be until late, and she can only work for around an hour at a time, so I doubt it will even interfere with our plans.”

                “We don’t have any plans,” Alice said. “Just work, Wednesday game nights, and of course… oh you have got to be shitting me. Really? That’s really the first night this asset of yours is available?”

                “I triple checked, just to be sure,” Nick replied. “After that, we can’t book her again for three weeks. So, if you don’t mind waiting-”

                “No, no I’d rather get this done with, or at least find out it won’t work.” Alice tilted her head back and let out a long breath at the ceiling. “Of all the days though… it really had to be Halloween?”

                Nick nodded in agreement at the awful timing.

                “Fucking Halloween.”