Prax came to a sudden halt in front of a door that looked like a hundred other doors they’d already passed, set into the wall of a gray corridor that looked like every other gray corridor.
“This is it. He’s in here.”
Before Holden could respond, Prax was hammering on the door. Holden took a step back and to the side, giving himself a clear view of the doorway past Prax. Amos stepped to the other side, tucking the case of chicken under his left arm and hooking his right thumb into his waistband just in front of the holster. A year of patrolling the Belt, cleaning up the worst jackals that the governmental vacuum had left behind, had instilled some automatic habits in his crew. Holden appreciated them, but he wasn’t sure he liked them. Working security certainly hadn’t made Miller’s life any better.
The door was yanked open by a scrawny and shirtless teenager with a big knife in his other hand.
“The f**k—” he started, then stopped when he saw Holden and Amos flanking Prax. He glanced at their guns and said, “Oh.”
“I’ve brought you chicken,” Prax replied, pointing back at the case Amos carried. “I need to see the rest of the camera footage.”
“Coulda got that for you,” Naomi said in Holden’s ear, “given enough time.”
“It’s the ‘enough time’ part that’s a problem,” Holden subvocalized back at her. “But that’s definitely plan B.”
The skinny teen shrugged and opened the door the rest of the way, gesturing for Prax to enter. Holden followed, with Amos bringing up the rear.
“So,” the kid said. “Show it, sabé?”
Amos put down the case on a filthy table and removed a single can from the box. He held it up where the kid could see it.
“Sauce?” the kid said.
“How about a second can instead?” Holden replied, moving over to the kid and smiling up at him agreeably. “So go get the rest of the footage, and we’ll get out of your hair. Sound good?”
The kid lifted his chin and pushed Holden an arm’s length back.
“Don’t push up on me, macho.”
“My apologies,” Holden said, his smile never wavering. “Now go get the damned video footage you promised my friend here.”
“Maybe no,” the kid said. He flapped one hand at Holden. “Adinerado, si no? Quizas you got more than chicken to pay. Maybe a lot.”
“Let me get this straight,” Holden replied. “Are you shaking us down? Because that would be—”
A meaty hand came down on his shoulder, cutting him off.
“I got this one, Cap,” Amos said, stepping between Holden and the kid. He held one of the chicken cans in his hand, and he was tossing it lightly and catching it.
“That guy,” Amos said, pointing at Prax with his left hand while continuing to toss the chicken with his right, “got his baby girl snatched. He just wants to know where she is. He’s willing to pay the agreed-upon price for that information.”
The kid shrugged and started to speak, but Amos held up a finger to his lips and shushed him.
“And now, when that price is ready to be paid,” Amos said, his tone friendly and conversational, “you want to shake him down because you know he’s desperate. He’ll give anything to get his girl back. This is a fat payday, right?”
The kid shrugged again. “Que no—”
Amos smashed the can of chicken food product into the kid’s face so fast that for a moment Holden couldn’t figure out why the hacker was suddenly lying on the ground, blood gushing from his nose. Amos settled one knee onto his chest, pinning him to the floor. The can of chicken went up and then pistoned down into the kid’s face again with a sharp crack. He started to howl, but Amos clamped his left hand over the boy’s mouth.
“You piece of shit,” Amos yelled, all the friendliness gone from his voice, leaving just a ragged animal rage that Holden had never heard there before. “You gonna hold a baby girl hostage for more f**king chicken?”
Amos smashed the can into the hacker’s ear, which immediately bloomed red. His hand came away from the kid’s mouth, and the boy started yelling for help. Amos raised the can of chicken one more time, but Holden grabbed his arm and pulled him up off the gibbering kid.
“Enough,” he said, holding on to Amos and hoping the big man didn’t decide to clobber him with the can instead. Amos had always been the kind of guy who got into bar fights because he enjoyed them.
This was something different.
“Enough,” Holden said again, and then held on until Amos stopped struggling. “He can’t help us if you bash his brains out.”
The kid scooted backward across the floor and had his shoulders up against the wall. He nodded as Holden spoke, and held his bleeding nose between his finger and thumb.
“That right?” Amos said. “You going to help?”
The kid nodded again and scrambled to his feet, still pressed against the wall.
“I’ll go with him,” Holden said, patting Amos on the shoulder. “Why don’t you stay here and take a breather.”
Before Amos could answer, Holden pointed at the terrified hacker.
“Better get to work.”
“There,” Prax said when the video of Mei’s abduction came up again. “That’s Mei. That man is her doctor, Dr. Strickland. That woman, I don’t know her. But Mei’s teacher said that she came up in their records as Mei’s mother. With a picture and authorization to pick her up. Security is very good at the school. They’d never let a child go without that.”
“Find where they went,” Holden said to the hacker. To Prax he said, “Why her doctor?”
“Mei is …” Prax started, then stopped and started over. “Mei has a rare genetic disease that disables her immune system without regular treatments. Dr. Strickland knows this. Sixteen other kids with her disorder are missing too. He could keep them … he could keep Mei alive.”
“You getting this, Naomi?”
“Yep, riding the hacker’s trail through security. We won’t need him again.”
“Good,” Holden said. “Because I’m pretty sure this bridge is thoroughly burned once we walk out the door.”
“We always have more chicken,” Naomi said with a chuckle.
“Amos made sure the kid’s next request will be for plastic surgery.”
“Ouch,” she replied. “He okay?”