“It’s got to be an Ascendants plot, right?” I ask.
“Almost certainly,” R8PR says, once again leaned back in his reclining chair as if it were his new throne. He props up his feet and places them on the coffee table, which makes me furious on instinct. It’s not my home, but I’m still furious. “Gold, and pretty much any metal, is untraceable if you smelt it down. The best money laundering conduit available on planet Earth. But of course smelting isn’t such an easy task. Not many own the facilities that could operate such high heats, which clearly indicates that a higher-up organization is involved.”
“Like someone with a factory.”
“That is one option,” he says. “Come, Morgan, sit down.”
“No thanks. I like it here.” I’m standing in front of the balcony window, watching the cityscape at sunset. It’s so pretty, all the grays and greens lit against the sky’s fading orange. R8PR’s penthouse is so well-cooled that you can hardly feel the absurd heat outside, though I guess it’s a bit cooler when you’re up 106 floors. But I enjoy this nice view of Atlanta that doesn’t require a bunch of sweat building up at my upper lip just to look at.
“You and your cityscapes,” he says.
“Me and my… I’m ignoring that before you turn it into something.”
“You’re always looking out for the city, Morgan. I’m impressed about your tendency to take a step back and look at the place as a whole. It really helps ground you in the realization that all those tiny deeds you do, all the small heroism to save the day for just a couple people, adds up to an entire city changed.”
“I’m still ignoring it.” Then I turn around and ask, “But where do we go from here, anyway? This case is moving so much faster than I ever expected. Mighty Slammer’s an agent of the Ascendants, maybe, and she’s destroying all these restaurants and being paid in gold bars for it, for some reason. So then… what next?”
He further leans back and puts his hands behind his head. “I really don’t know the answer to that question,” he tells me. “I really don’t.”
“It’s a dead end so far,” he says. “Mighty Slammer may be a moron, but the person or people contacting her certainly aren’t. None of her e-mails had any information that could be traced back to whatever all this gold bar business is. I simply don’t know.”
“And of course, you’re never one to take leaps based on hunches and half-formed evidence,” I say.
“Deductions are about facts, not guesses. We can’t even assume that the Ascendants are truly involved. I don’t want to make any conclusions until we can be certain.”
“And so how do we become more certain?”
“Capture Mighty Slammer, I guess,” he says. “But she hasn’t appeared in a few days now. Aside from that, I can’t think of anything that’d be feasible or legal.”
“Legal… You’re going to make me do some really sketchy stuff soon, I can feel it.”
“I won’t,” R8PR says. “Whether or not you do anything illegal or highly illogical is up to you. You’re the one with the hunches.”
I sigh. “Yeah, I’m self-aware enough to know that it’s usually me who gets me in the dumbest trouble. And this time ain’t gonna be an exception.”
“That’s what heroes do. They keep the peace by jumping into the fray when nobody else will.”
“I’m not doing this philosophical thing tonight. Not in the mood.”
“One day you will be.”
“Well, I…” R8PR trails off. Wait, R8PR trailed off? That’s incredibly rare. Guy almost never shuts up.
“…” I try to think of a witty response, but nothing comes out.
“Huh.” R8PR chuckles. “I think we ran out of things to talk about.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of weird. I was expecting at least a couple minutes of more banter.”
Odd, and a bit awkward too.
“…I really hope Karina comes back to Georgia soon,” I say. “She really balanced us out.”
“I am starting to realize that as well,” he says.
I turn back to the balcony window and watch the city turn from evening to night. We don’t chat that much after that. There’s not that much to talk about. Just hunches and guesses and plots and plans, all swirling up in my brain.
How are we going to catch this madwoman?