The Final Enlightened Ignorance Snippet is here!
With Enlightened Ignorance coming out in just a couple of days, this is your chance to get the final early look at the latest Opus X novel!
A couple of hours later, Erik and Jia emerged from the small restaurant they’d ducked into for a late lunch. It had been a pleasant-enough meal despite the lack of beignets, and fortunately, it was only a small distraction from the cause.
Despite the progress that morning, their investigation had already encountered a roadblock. During a call right after lunch, Rena’s manager, Leonard Carl, had made it clear that he had no time for an interview until the following day.
He also made it clear that Euterpe would not tolerate an interview with their star until the detectives had talked to him. Since he had agreed to talk to them the following morning, they couldn’t accuse him of stonewalling, but it was still annoying.
Jia kicked the hard surface of the parking platform as they emerged from the restaurant. “He’s all but screaming they need to coordinate their stories.”
“Maybe.” Erik shrugged. “Or they need to prep her because they think we’re going to bust in there and accuse her of murder. It’s no big deal. I doubt a one-day delay is enough for them to pull anything major, and we’ve got them flagged if they go anywhere. Even if they aren’t required to stay in town, we’ll know if they leave. It gives Emma more time to go deeper into the records. She still might find something.”
“You’d be surprised at what people leave in publicly accessible places,” Emma commented, excitement in her voice. She claimed she only helped Erik out of idle interest, but she seemed to enjoy taking down criminals as much as the detectives did.
Whether that represented an inherent bent toward justice or was a product of her time aiding the detectives remained unclear.
Jia nodded, satisfaction spreading across her face. “If they can’t run, I suppose it doesn’t matter, and just because there might have been a murder, it might not involve them.”
“But you suspect them?”
“The manager and Rena are the most likely suspects unless Malcolm or Emma can find a secret jealous lover we don’t know about.”
“Two to one, it’s a jealous lover,” he mused before turning to her. “That makes sense,” Erik admitted. “But remember your biggest fan, Sampson. We’ve focused on money and power, but not every crime is about that.”
“You think she had a stalker?” Jia’s face twitched into a mask of disgust. “I hadn’t considered that. It’s not impossible.”
“It might explain why she was growing paranoid. She might have been watched but just assumed it was someone at Euterpe rather than someone closer. Or it might have even been someone stalking Rena, and she got between them.” Eric wiped crumbs off his chest. “That might be why she got tense about work.”
“But why not report the stalker?” Jia asked.
“Maybe her bosses didn’t want the negative attention.” Erik shrugged. “There’s something a little sloppy about all this that might fit with that, but it’s just a theory.”
Jia waved a hand. “They’re all theories. We need concrete leads.” She gave a firm nod. “We’ll squeeze something from the manager and Rena tomorrow. Even if they aren’t involved, they might give us new leads.”
Erik and Jia wandered down a long row of parked flitters facing another row, heading toward the MX 60. Flitters lifted into the sky in the distance before zooming away from the parking platform to join the thick swarms of flying vehicles flowing around the commerce tower. Five men in long coats chatted quietly near a black luxury flitter in the opposite row. They glanced at Erik and Jia with frowns.
One of the men’s eyes widened. He leaned closer and whispered furtively to the others. They all took quick peeks at Erik and Jia.
“Wonder what that’s about,” Erik murmured. A stray thought led to his next suggestion. “Emma, can you run facial recognition on those guys?” He slowed his pace.
Jia matched him, still looking forward but keeping the men in the corner of her eye. “Friends of yours?”
“Not anyone I know, but I’ve got a lot of fans.” Erik grinned. “So does Lady Justice. Hey, maybe they saw the interview, and they’re interested in a date.”
Jia rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Obsidian Detective.” She poked him in the chest. “You’re not dating anyone either.”
“They’re not my type.” Erik’s smile grew.
“They are your type.” Emma transmitted directly to Erik and Jia’s ears. “At least one of them is a former associate of a criminal organization that was present in the Shadow Zone before the increase in police activity in the last year.”
“Wait.” Erik stopped, his hand slipping under his jacket and resting on his pistol. “Who are they? Gray Circle?”
“No, the gentleman in question seems to have worked for a syndicate that called itself the Southwestern Brotherhood. He’s not currently wanted. Instead, he’s on probation with the threat of transportation. The others don’t have criminal records, and it might raise questions if I try to use a broader database.”
“Don’t worry about it. Knowing one guy’s a piece of trash is enough.”
Jia grimaced. “They didn’t transport or imprison a gangster?”
“He was rather helpful in fingering some other people in the organization, according to police records, but it’s unclear whether they know that,” Emma explained.
Erik frowned. “I remember hearing about the Southwestern Brotherhood, but we didn’t take them down. That was all local EZ action.”
“Yes, but it was in the wake of what you two set in motion,” Emma explained.
Jia reached for her stun pistol. “Do you think they’re up to something in an Uptown parking lot? This isn’t the Zone. There’s a lot more surveillance.”
“Conspiracies begin with talk,” Erik replied. “And I don’t like them suddenly looking nervous.” He nodded toward the MX 60. It was only a few flitters ahead. “Let’s keep going.”
“Fine,” Jia muttered through gritted teeth, keeping the men in the corner of her vision.
Erik understood how she felt. He didn’t like leaving possible scumbags on the street, and he didn’t intend to. The detectives would be in a better position near his vehicle. If anything happened, at least it was armored.
They continued walking slowly toward the MX 60. They were almost at the flitter when one of the men called to them. “Hey, Blackwell.”
Erik turned, keeping his hand in his jacket. “Yeah? Need something?”
“It is you, isn’t it?” The man offered Erik and Jia a hungry smile. “The man who takes you out would be a legend.” His gaze slid to Jia, nodding. “Her, too.”
Erik chuckled. “Fair enough. Any man who takes me out deserves it. They would make a movie about him.”
“Glad you agree.” The man jerked up his hand, grasping the butt of a pistol as things seemed to slow down. Jia’s heartbeat punctuated each second.
She and Erik pulled their weapons first, Jia her stun pistol, Erik his slug-thrower.
The other suited men hadn’t had their hands on their weapons.
Erik popped his gun into position and squeezed the trigger, barely thinking, relying on muscle memory and practice to aim his weapon. The bullet roared from the gun and ripped into the chest of the would-be legend.
The gangster yelled in pain, eyes shut, falling forward.
Jia pulled her trigger. A white stun bolt flew from her gun and nailed the man to his left at the same time. His eyes rolled up as he pitched forward. She pivoted and fired at the next-closest man.
Beside her, Erik fired two shots into the remaining men. Both screamed, one falling forward, the other back.
None of the gangsters managed to get off a shot.
“HOLD!” Jia shouted.
Erik and Jia advanced to the pile of wounded and stunned men.
They kicked the men’s weapons away. Jia kept her stun pistol trained on them as Erik stowed his pistol and pulled binding ties out of a pocket.
“Great!” He smirked. “Just have enough. Lady’s smiling, or maybe she’s frowning, which is why I’m in this situation.” He knelt and began binding their hands. “See how lucky you guys are? If I was down a tie, I might have needed to ask Lady Justice over here to stun someone. She gets frisky with the trigger at times.”
“Keep it up,” Jia replied. “I’ll get frisky with it right now and accidentally on purpose commit a friendly-fire officer-on-officer issue.”
“Promises, promises.” Erik grinned.
“Uniformed officers are en route,” Emma reported. “I’m monitoring nearby drones to ensure there are no gun goblin reinforcements.”
The leader winced in pain and groaned. “You…shot me. You bastard.”
“You were trying to kill us.” Erik laughed. “Don’t try to kill people, and you won’t get shot. If you’re going to try to become a legend, you damned well better bring your best game. So, too bad. At least you’re not dead. By the way, you’re under arrest, idiot. All Article 7 rights apply. Do you need these explained to you?”
The man let out another long groan. “I thought I was lucky,” he whispered. “I was going to earn my way back in.”
Jia’s angry gaze roamed over the wounded men, then she scoffed. “The Lady can be unkind. You’re a damned moron. Now you’re not just getting transported, you’re going to prison.”
Flashing red and blue lights in the distance signaled an approaching patrol flitter.
“Sorry, but Neo SoCal’s getting cleaned up,” Erik announced. “Haven’t you heard? The sooner you learn that, the better. But it’s your lucky day after all.” He stood, then headed toward his MX 60. “Because I’m going to patch you up.” He had stuck his head in, so his voice was muffled. “We need you nice and healthy before you go to jail.” He stood back up, his voice clear again, the smile on his face adding an annoying tone to his voice. “Can’t have you bleeding out on the parking platform.”
Emma snickered. “You two do seem to have an amazing talent for attracting gun morons.”
“I thought you preferred gun goblins?” Jia asked.
“I’m going with the moment,” Emma replied.
“I was mostly worried they were going to shoot someone else’s flitter.” Erik walked back, shaking his head. “Then we’d have twice as many reports to fill out. But hey, at least we have something to do until Rena’s manager meets with us tomorrow.”
Jia chuckled. “That’s your take on random gangsters ambushing us?”
“We shot them first,” Erik argued. “I don’t think it counts as an ambush.” He knelt to rip open the shirt of the complaining man. “If anything, I think we ambushed them.”
“Nope. They ambushed us.” She sniffed. “They’re just terrible at it.”
Jia’s comment was punctuated by the moans of one of the morons she’d shot.
“Stop your whining.” Erik pushed aside the shirt to affix the first patch. “It’s unprofessional. Real killers don’t whine.”
Hahaha, gun goblins got what they deserved!
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