but I knew the company had been playing with some dangerous new material. We could both be polluted.”
Dangerous new material, like magic elements. Yeah, tell me about it. Magic or a tool of Satan, which would I rather believe? Pink confetti looked like Disney magic to me. Maybe the devil was filming a show-and-tell on How to Destroy a Planet.
“I bet Dane didn’t work down there,” I pointed out. “So who do you want to believe is polluted, himor you? For all I know, Acme opened a gate to hell.” I didn’t think any environmental scientist in the world could begin to explain the Zone, so I saw no reason to muddy the waters with questions. But I gave him a small bone to chew on. “Paddy says Acme is still experimenting with the new element. Did you know he’s actually sane, or is that a new development?” I cocked my head at him with interest, preferring this topic to my damning hobby.
“With Paddy, it’s hard to tell.” He poured a second glass of whiskey for himself but didn’t immediately drink it. “He’s Dane’s father, Gloria’s only son, but he doesn’t communicate with the family as far as I’m aware. His number isn’t in Dane’s cell phone. Dane’s mother ditched Paddy years ago. Last I heard, she was in France. She’s not in his address book, either.”
Dane/Max shrugged and continued. “Since my—Max’s—grandmother still owns half the firm along with Gloria, she was the one who asked Paddy to hire me, but I’m pretty certain Paddy never contacts the MacNeill side of the family anymore, either.”
The MacNeill side was Max’s side. Paddy’s cousin was Max’s mother. Referring to one’s original self in the third person was a trifle confusing, although it was even weirder for me to hear him refer to Dane that way, since physically, in my eyes, he was now Dane.
“I think I’m too tired for this,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “You have an inside track on the grannies. Why don’t you give them a visit and see if either one spills the family secrets? Let’s blame our predicament on Acme and see how that flows.”
“If we’re going nuts and hearing Dane in flames, it’s Acme’s fault?” he asked with a hint of amusement, almost sounding like my Max. “And you still want to go back to the Zone?”
When he put it that way . . . I stood up and pulled on my jacket. “Yeah. Because even if the people living in the Zone are nuts, they’re nuts in a positive way. They’re good people. I like them a whole lot better than your greedy family. It’s only when Acme steps into the picture that trouble starts. And maybe, just maybe, I’m meant to be there to keep Acme from hurting anyone else.”
He frowned dubiously. I knew I couldn’t ask Max for more help. He was a senator who needed to keep his job.
“You just keep your bimbos from blackmailing you, and I’ll try to keep your family from killing you—again.” I stood on my toes and kissed his handsome cheek, enjoying his solid masculinity in the only way I could. “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. Talk to the old harpies. Tell them the anesthesia from taking out the bullet messed with your memory and see what they tell you. Let me know if you learn anything, and I’ll return the favor.”
He let me go, although I could tell by his fisted hands that he was having difficulty keeping them off me. Old habits die hard.
• • •
If driving home with the wind in my face was my idea of a Saturday night date, I decided I was better off staying in with Milo.
I’d spent a few miserable weeks the previous May dodging Vanderventer’s security goons. The habit was almost ingrained by now, especially after seeing Dane in person, so to speak. I didn’t take a direct route back to my place. I steered the bike down dark alleys and waited for traffic to flow by. I didn’t spy any tails.
Out of curiosity, I swung the bike behind the empty warehouse across from the town house where I made my bed. I knew a