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.Phin sneezed, the force of it held back, but the sound still echoed on the metal stairwell.“What is that?” he whispered.“Great big vats of gremlin piss.”“You’re joking.”“I wish.” I wasn’t.I’d seen them with my own eyes, surrounded by thousands of gremlins scurrying to and fro, leading their short and meaningless lives crowded together in the dark.Occasionally leaving to perform favors for others, to gather food for their broods, or to generally cause havoc around the city.At the eighth floor, we stopped at a reinforced fire door.Dozens of tiny feet scampered on the other side of the door, moving away.I pressed my ear to the metal and listened.Silence.Stepped back and slammed my open palm against the door several times.“Ballengee be blessed!” I shouted, just as Wyatt had done.Hoping it worked again.Instead of footsteps, I heard more silence.I repeated my greeting, louder this time.Phin winced, rebalanced the bakery boxes in his hands.“Maybe they’re on strike,” he said.The lock turned.No footsteps scampered away this time.I pulled the latch and pushed the door open.The stink of the piss reservoirs struck like a solid object—thick, cloying, and nasty.I walked into it, willing my roiling stomach to behave and my face to remain neutral.No faces, no vomiting.Phin didn’t follow me.On the catwalk that overlooked hundreds of cardboard and newspaper nests dotted among steel production vats stood the same yellow-skinned, rabbit-eared, knob-kneed ancient gremlin with whom we’d dealt before.At least, I thought it was the same one.His distended belly hung low to the floor, the tufted fur in his ears and on the top of his head the same shade of green.His sharp red eyes held a hint of recognition as they looked at me, and suspicion for Phin.“Favor again?” the gremlin asked, the tiny voice a perfect match for his twenty inches of height.“Yes,” I said.“And I brought payment.”I crooked a finger at Phin.He stepped inside the room, nose wrinkled and lips pressed so tight they disappeared.Beads of sweat formed on his brow and nose.He crouched and put the boxes on the floor and then backed out the door, into the slightly less smelly stairwell.The gremlin didn’t seem to notice, eyes fixed on the boxes.Drool started to seep from the corners of his fanged mouth.I lifted the first lid to show off the chocolate cheesecake hidden within, and the gremlin squealed.He clapped clawed hands together like a delighted child.“All three for a favor,” I said.“What?” it asked.“I need you to hack into the Metro Police Department’s intranet and access the files of everyone over the rank of Desk Sergeant.”“Impossible.”I blinked.“Why?”“Cannot.”Okay.Time to backtrack.Dregs tend to think literally, taking words and requests at face value.Sarcasm, humor, and metaphors went over their heads.Something in my request was impossible for the gremlins to accomplish; therefore, my request was deemed impossible in total.Take it down a notch, try again.“I need access to the MPD’s intranet system and passwords for secured servers,” I said.“Can you provide the passwords and site keys I need for total access?”“Do,” the gremlin said, with a curt nod that set its long ears wobbling.“More?”Once I had the passwords, all I needed was someone who knew how to hack those systems and get the information I wanted.Not, apparently, within the scope of a gremlin’s abilities.“No, that’s it.”It pointed at the stack of cakes.“Extra.More to do.”I glanced over my shoulder at Phin, who shrugged in an unhelpful manner.To the gremlin, I said, “Can I take a rain check?”The gremlin stared dumbly.“Keep the cheesecake,” I said.“I’ll ask another favor later.”“Fair,” it said.“Yeah, fair.How long until I have my information?”“Tomorrow return, sunrise.”Terrific.Now to figure out what to do in the meantime.“Sunrise tomorrow,” I said.“Thank you.”The gremlin nodded, snapped its gnarled fingers, and took a sideways step.Three smaller gremlins scurried out of the darkness and retrieved the bakery boxes, only to disappear again.Probably to glut themselves.The elderly gremlin gestured to the door; I took the hint and backed out.Phin made short work of the stairs.I had to take them two at a time to keep up, relieved to leave the thick alcohol odor behind.He burst through the metal security doors, into the afternoon sunlight, and promptly vomited onto the cracked, crumbling blacktop.Skin paler than white, devoid of any sign of his earlier tan, he retched up whatever he’d eaten that day, and then some.I stood to the side while he finished, his entire body trembling with the effort.The violent reaction surprised me—and concerned me a hell of a lot more than I wanted to admit.It stank up there, sure, but not that badly—unless it was more than just stink.On the paranormal food chain, weres and gremlins were pretty far apart, not only in physiology but also in psychology.Weres came in many shapes and sizes and temperaments.Gremlins came in one size and shape, and all acted basically like one another; individuality was rare, if it occurred at all [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]