Home > Veiled (Alex Verus #6)(9)

Veiled (Alex Verus #6)(9)
Benedict Jacka

Now that I thought about it, this was probably the first time I’d been to a Keeper facility voluntarily. All the other times that I’d been here or to one of their other stations, it had been because I’d been forced to. I’ve never been officially arrested, but in practice there isn’t very much difference between “you’re under arrest” and “you’re going to come here and answer our questions or we’ll make you.” It tends to colour one’s memories of a place. I didn’t have good associations with this building, and I wasn’t really looking forward to talking with Caldera. A small but definite part of me was hoping she’d say no and give me a reason to leave. After fifteen minutes an apprentice came and escorted me upstairs.

Once you get past reception, Keeper HQ gets a lot busier, filled with noise and people. The stairs and corridors are narrow and there are always people squeezing past, and there’s a clamour of typing and talking in the background. If you were dropped in the middle of it and didn’t know what to look for, you’d probably think it was a civil service building of some kind. Keepers don’t wear uniforms or carry weapons (they don’t need to), and to most people they just look like ordinary men and women. But if you do know what to look for, it’s not too hard to spot them. Keepers move differently from ordinary people; there’s a sort of unconscious power and arrogance in how they carry themselves. They have a different way of looking at you too—a quick once-over, sizing you up as a suspect. I didn’t let myself get visibly tense, but I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable. I might not be a suspect, but I didn’t belong here.

Caldera’s office was on the second floor. It was medium-sized, with two desks, two computers, some paperwork, Caldera, and another Keeper I didn’t know. Caldera gave me a glance, held up a hand, then turned back to the other guy. “I know what it says,” she was saying. “This isn’t a Section Three.”

“So you want to do what?” the other Keeper said. He was tall and athletic-looking, with blond hair. “Just let the guy go?”

“There’s sod-all we can charge him with.”

“Karla’s not going to be happy.”

“Fuck Karla,” Caldera said. “She wants this guy so badly, she can do it herself.”

“Or she’ll just take it out on us,” the man said, then held up his hands to forestall Caldera’s answer. “All right, all right. I’ll try and sell her.” He walked out, giving me a curious glance as he passed by.

“Hey, Verus.” Caldera typed something into her computer and blanked the screen, then waved me over. “Grab a seat.”

Caldera is a member of the Order of the Star, the division of the Keepers that enforces the Concord and national laws amongst adepts and mages. She’s an Englishwoman of thirty or so, shorter than me and a fair bit heavier, broad and stocky.

I first met Caldera about a year and a half ago. I was being chased around London by a bunch of adepts who wanted to kill me for something I’d done while still an apprentice, and Caldera had become involved because of the Richard connection. The whole thing ended badly for pretty much everyone concerned, but if there’d been one silver lining from my point of view, it had been the working relationship I’d developed with Caldera. I’d seen her a few more times since then, usually under similar (if slightly less dangerous) circumstances—I’d want some favour or a bit of information, she’d want something I could find out with my divination magic, and we’d figure out some sort of deal that gave us both what we wanted. We’d even had a couple of drinks together, from time to time. But we’d never quite made the jump from acquaintances to friends, and to be honest that was probably because of me—I could never quite forget the organisation she worked for.

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