All this week, I'm promoting by book Raze, Shine #6. Today I'm posting chapter one of RAZE. Hope you enjoy!
My name’s May. My sister’s called Lillie. Mom named us after her heroine, May Lillie, a genuine cowgirl who wrestled broncos, shot pistols, and starred in old western flicks. Mom loved the woman so much she named both her daughters after the lady.
My dad was a cowboy from Texas. Lillie’s dad was a street kid from New York. Mom’s gone now, so my sister and I stick together. We’ve learned we have a knack for raising hell. Believe it or not, that’s what we do for a living.
“You gonna finish that?” Lillie pointed to my chocolate-drizzled donut. Chocolate is the food of the gods. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
“I’m fixin’ to.”
“Fixin’ to? Nobody talks like that in New York.”
“I do.” I took a bite out of the donut. Heaven saturated my taste buds. Mmm, chocolate.
The restaurant crowd pressed in around us. We ignored them, tucked into our booth at the back. Our seat on the west wall gave us a spectacular view of the city. Skyscrapers surrounded us. Their glass panels reflected the morning sunlight. The diner smelled of grease. Shouting erupted as New Yorkers called out their food orders. My sister claimed that she loved it here. I still couldn’t comprehend why.
Lillie pulled out her tablet. With her corn-silk yellow hair, dark eyes, and olive skin, Lillie could pass for my sister, but that’s where the similarities stopped. She wore skinny jeans, a nose ring, and a gray Death Metal t-shirt. I stuck with my worn-in cowgirl boots and plaid shirt. She called me a hick, I called her a freak. That’s what sisters do, right?
“What’s on the schedule today?” I asked Lillie.
“Paula Conrad. She’s meeting us here. Her youngest daughter went missing and she wants us to find her.”
“And how are we supposed to help?”
“Guess she wants us to chainmail whoever took her daughter.”
“Razor. She’s already tried the cops?”
“No idea. Guess we’ll find out. But while you’ve been stuffing your face, I’ve been doing some research.”
“Nerd,” I muttered between bites of chocolate goodness.
“Loser,” she shot back.
Lillie pulled her tablet close and tapped the newsreader app. I leaned in as the din from the morning rush overpowered the broadcast.
“. . . six month anniversary. Residents are slowly recovering after an alleged Shine attack that left most of Seattle demolished. A memorial was held on the ruins of the Space Needle.”
In other news, a total of seven teens between the ages of thirteen and fifteen are still missing from the Bronx and Manhattan boroughs. Authorities are enforcing a strict curfew and urge anyone with information to contact them as soon as possible.”
Lillie clicked off the reader as a woman and a teenage girl loomed over us. Ms. Conrad and one of her children, I assumed. The girl looked fifteen, sixteen tops. Freckles spattered her nose and cheeks. She wore her strawberry blond hair in a sloppy ponytail. Grass-stains marred her soccer t-shirt. Her eyes darted away from mine.
Ms. Conrad looked as if she were trying hard to keep from crying. When she looked at me, I felt a sense of silent pleading, and something else. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Ms. Conrad?” Lillie asked.
She nodded and took a seat in the booth. Her daughter squeezed in beside her. “You’re the Wheaton sisters?”
“Yes,” Lillie answered.
“This is my oldest daughter, Karmen. I hope we’re not late.” She smoothed strands of mussed hair away from her face. Her voice cracked as she spoke. I noticed one of her hands trembling as she placed it in her lap.
“How can we help you?” Lillie asked.
She forced a smile. “I guess you’ve heard about my daughter?”
“She’s one of the missing teens?” I asked.
“Yes, her name’s Ashleigh. She’s only thirteen. God, she’s just a baby.” She held her breath for a moment. “She’s all we’ve got.”
Karmen rested her fingers on her mother’s hand.
“We’re sorry for what you’re going through,” Lillie said.
“Ms. Conrad, why did you come to us? Why not ask the police for help?”
“I already have. But they can’t help. Not really.”
“They won’t listen, and . . .” she exhaled. “And I can’t tell them everything, you know?”
Lillie leaned forward. “What can’t you tell the police?”
She didn’t answer.
“Ms. Conrad, you came to us for help. What can’t you tell the police?”
She shook her head. “No. It’s nothing really. Forget I said anything.” She snatched her purse off the table and rummaged through it.
“Ms. Conrad,” I said, sinking my southern drawl into the words. “My sister and I don’t agree on music or boys or pretty much anything, but there is one thing we do agree on. We don’t believe in blabbing. Keeping secrets is what we do best. If there’s something you need to tell us, then do it.”
The hum of voices quieted as the diner’s morning rush ebbed. She stared out the window. Choppercars whizzed around the towering buildings. Below the skyscrapers, a sea of yellow taxis filled the street, but she seemed focused on something else. “I can’t,” she whispered.
“Not even for Ashleigh?” Karmen asked in a quiet voice.
She stared at Karmen. A look passed between them. I wondered if they’d had this conversation before. “No.” She looked at me with a steely determination in her eyes. “This isn’t why I came here.” She pulled a picture from her purse and passed it across the table.
I took the photo. The girl looked like her mother, with light hair and the same nervous smile.
“I want you to find her,” Ms. Conrad said, “not interrogate me. She’s been gone four days. She was with some friends on her way home from school. The cops searched the area but didn’t find anything. Please help her. I know you’ve found people before. I’ll pay as much as you want.”
“First we need information. Anything you can tell us will be helpful. No secrets, no lies.”
Tears shone in her eyes. “They’d take her if they found out,” she whispered.
Karmen squeezed her mother’s hand. “Mom, it’s okay. You can trust them.”
I studied Karmen. She seemed like an honest person, but I wondered why she trusted us. She’d never met me or my sister.
Ms. Conrad exhaled, then replaced the picture in her purse. “The government. Ashleigh is a Shine.”
So that’s why she didn’t want to tell us. Shines were people with unusual abilities. If the government found out, Ashleigh would be taken to a facility. Probably never see her mother again. No wonder Ms. Conrad guarded her daughter’s secret.
“How long have you known?” I asked her.
“Not long. Karmen noticed it first. Ashleigh started levitating objects in her sleep about six months ago. She didn’t even know she was doing it. Then one morning at breakfast she levitated her oatmeal.” She let out a breathy laugh. “Right out of her bowl, spilled it all over herself.”
“And on me,” Karmen added.
“What did you do after that?” Lillie asked.
“I made her promise to keep it a secret. I couldn’t let them take her away from me.”
“So your daughter’s been hiding her abilities for six months. Are you sure she didn’t tell anyone?”
She didn’t answer. Her silence spoke volumes.
“Who did she tell?” I asked.
“It was her best friend, Gemma. Ashleigh came home from school one day. She was acting strange. I asked her what was going on and she said Gemma was a Shine, too, just like her. I begged Ashleigh not to tellGemma about her own abilities, but she wouldn’t listen. The day Ashleigh went missing, Gemma went missing as well.”
“Both on the way home from school?”
“Could the government have found out and taken them?”
“No. The government has to contact the parents first, fill out paperwork. They wouldn’t just kidnap her. This was someone else.”
“What about the SSS?”
“Maybe. But if they did it, wouldn’t we know by now?”
“True,” Lillie said. “What about Revens?”
“The bounty hunters?”
“It makes sense.”
“But we’ve got the same problem. Revens wouldn’t be quiet about it. If they’re trying to collect a bounty on a Shine, the police would’ve known.” I turned to Ms. Conrad. “Do you have any idea who might have taken them?”
That look in her eyes returned, but this time I knew what it was. Terror. “There’s a street gang, they call themselves the Xeros. They take Shines like her—the ones who’ve just discovered their abilities—and make them fight against each other. It’s an awful game, most of them die, and if they don’t die, they wish they did.”
I’d never heard of the gang, and Lillie and I usually knew about groups like that. They must’ve been very good at hiding. But that begged the question. How did Ms. Conrad know? Lillie must’ve been thinking the same thing.
“How do you know about this gang?” my sister asked.
“Because I was fourteen when they took me.”
I almost laughed. “How is that possible? Shines have only been around for a few years.”
“The Xeros haven’t always used Shines. Before that, they went after anyone different, anyone they thought would be interesting in a fight. I’d been a resident at a mental institution a few times. They thought I had issues, so they took me.”
Lillie stared at Ms. Conrad. “What sort of issues?”
“Depression, anger problems, that sort of thing. Nothing major, nothing that warranted what they did to me.”
“They forced you to fight?”
“How did you escape?”
She pressed her swollen eyes closed.
Karmen turned to me. “She’d rather not talk about it.”
“No, it’s okay,” Ms. Conrad said. “They need to know.” Her voice softened. “I knew I was about to die,” she said. “There were others stronger than me, more vicious. When we weren’t fighting, they kept us tied up. One day, I found a box cutter on the field. I kept it. I used it to cut through the ropes. I’d almost escaped when they found me again.
“The next time, they chained me. I still had my box cutter. I knew what I had to do.” She took a deep breath, and then carefully rolled up her sleeve. Her forearm twisted around with a click. She removed a prosthetic arm from her elbow. She placed it on the table with the quiet clanking of plastic against metal.
“No one else made it out alive.”