Web of Deceit - (Elemental Assassin, #2.5)

Jennifer Estep - (Elemental Assassin, #2.5) Web of Deceit

The girl was a natural-born assassin.

Cold, calm, centered. Confident in herself and her abilities. As she bloody well should be. I hadn’t spent the last three years training her to be a shrinking violet.

As an assassin myself, as the Tin Man, I’d killed my share of bad sorts—for money or revenge, mostly. Sometimes, because they’d simply needed killing. But the years and the injuries and the blood had started to wear on me, more so since a job of mine a few years back had gone so badly for everyone involved—and a couple of innocent folks had died as a result. Eventually, every assassin needed an apprentice, a fresh face and a clean set of hands to take over and do what needed to be done—and Gin Blanco was mine.

I’d dubbed her the Spider, partly because that’s what she’d reminded me of the first time that I’d seen her cowering in a small crack in the alley that ran behind the Pork Pit, my barbecue restaurant in downtown Ashland. Thin arms, long legs, gaunt face. To me, Gin was a granddaddy long legs spider come to life, full of poison but not strong enough to bite back at those who’d done her wrong—yet.

Mostly, though, I’d named Gin the Spider because of the scars that adorned her palms. A small circle surrounded by eight thin rays. A spider rune. The symbol for patience. Gin had that all right—in spades. She’d had gotten the scars after a particularly nasty Fire elemental had tortured her by melting a silverstone medallion shaped like the rune into the poor girl’s hands. But Gin had lived to tell the tale, one of many ways in which the girl was a survivor, as well as an assassin.

Now, I stood in the coal-black shadows across the street from a row house, one of many that littered Southtown, the part of Ashland that was home to the downtrodden, down-on-their-luck, and just plain dangerous. With its peeling gray paint, plywood-covered door, and barred windows, the house had a forlorn, abandoned air. Everything about it suggested that no one lived there any more, and the steps leading up to the front porch sagged like the skin under an old crone’s neck. The outside was a disguise, though, a misleading façade like so many other things, so many other people, wore in the southern metropolis of Ashland.

Inside, I knew that the house boasted the finest things that money could buy. Expensive furniture. Bone china. Gilded mirrors. Beds made up with silk sheets. Even fucking mints placed on the pillows just so. The expensive fixings made it easier for a soul-sucking giant scumbag like Jimmy Fontaine to lure the rich folks who lived in the elegant confines of Northtown down here to his dressed up drug-and-kiddie whorehouse.

Jimmy Fontaine was something of an Ashland success story—a white trash gangbanger who’d put together enough cash to fix up a place, increase the quality of his drugs, and market his services to a richer clientele. Which, in turn, upped his own profits even more. Fontaine’s game was simple. He hooked runaway, teenage girls and boys on drugs, then made them turn tricks in his row house in order to get their next fix—or just enough fucking food to eat for the day. And when he ran low on volunteers, Fontaine snatched kids off the street to be the grist in his ever-grinding mill.

The giant’s most recent victim had been Violet Wong, a pretty, bright, happy, sixteen-year-old girl who’d left home one night to go to a party with some of her friends—a party that she’d never come home from. A week later, Violet had been found dumped in a Southtown alley, dead from a vicious beating. As if that hadn’t been bad enough, the autopsy had shown that the girl had been brutalized from a series of rapes and had enough drugs in her system to kill a cow.

Two days after Violet’s funeral, Victor Wong, the girl’s distraught father, had asked me to find out who was responsible and do something about him—permanently. Because that’s what I did—tracked down people who did bad things and made them pay with their very lives. Me. Fletcher Lane. The assassin known as the Tin Man.

People talked, the way that they always did in Ashland, and the rumor mill had quickly led me to Jimmy Fontaine and his gussied-up row house. I’d spent a week doing recon, then another prepping Gin for this,