Dev sat in the back of the Art Room, his headphones on. He sat with his computer on his lap, his gaze hooded in thought. It was Friday, two days since Jack and Elle had left. Yesterday, both the cars they had borrowed were returned. Tucked in the windshield wipers was a small note: Stay out of our world
Dev felt his lips curve upwards a little. Like hell he would. He knew they didn’t mean it, anyway. They were just scared. And after a few hours researching Jasper Bentley, Dev didn’t blame them. The man was insidious. He had his claws in just about everything in the City. And what he didn’t have, his brother, Dominic, had sapped up. Dev knew the big money players in the City. Wynters was the biggest name. Everyone knew that. From there, there were some middling names that were well off, but hadn’t done anything to warrant public interest. Then there were the Bentleys. The whole family was old money, old power. Political power. Brent Bentley was a big name in the political end of the money game. No wonder Jasper’s name had been familiar. And no wonder they were all so scared. Anything Jasper was involved with was not good. He had the rich boy pass though, which meant anything Dev did would have to be through back channels.
He glanced up from his laptop. At the front of the room, a group of second years were hanging out, laughing and talking. Dev’s gaze narrowed in on the one he wanted. He pulled an earbud out of his ear, calling out, “Hey, Nik? Can I talk to you a second?”
The second year in question, Nikola, was a beautiful boy, dark hair, dark eyes, gold skin. He clapped his friend on the shoulder, coming over. He dropped into the seat in front of Dev, an easy smile on his face. “What’s up, Dev?”
“How’s your brother doing these days?” Dev asked, no preamble.
Nik thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “Same old. Why? Need him to hook you up with something?”
Alexia, Nik’s older brother, used to be the poster boy for model behavior. But after a devastating scandal that rocked the moneyed world, he’d withdrawn. No one knew exactly what had happened, but it had been big enough to cause gossip for weeks. Now, Lex was often found in less than legal situations. He always could talk his way out of it, though. That was a talent of his that hadn’t faded with time.
“I need to talk to him about something. How do I reach him?”
Nik pulled his phone out, swiping through it a moment. “This is the number you’d best reach him at. If he asks, say you’re my friend. Is everything okay?”
Dev glanced up from where he was copying the number. “Yeah, I just need to talk to him about something. A friend of mine got beat up pretty badly, and I figured Lex was a good bet on how to get back at the ones who did it.” Not entirely a lie.
Nik’s brow cleared instantly. He grinned at Dev. “You’re awesome, bro. Let me know how it turns out!”
Dev smiled politely, and Nik got up to go back to his friends. Dev sat there, staring at the computer for a long moment. There was little chance that Jasper would have fighters fighting among themselves, which meant that this little gladiator club was made up of more than just him. Which meant that in order to get Jack and the others out, he needed a better idea of the players involved.
He pulled up Bentley Incorporated’s website, going to events. Under that tab, there were albums of pictures from all the events they had hosted in the past. He clicked through them, searching. Finally, he clicked on one. Jasper was smiling into the camera. His eyes were cold though. With him were two men, neither were Dominic. Dev stared at them for a long moment. One of them was maybe Sam Wethers, he couldn’t be sure. It had been a good two years since Dev had gone to the rich people parties his parents flocked to for hospital funding.
The other one was Ian Kingsley. Dev knew him. Knew that Ian was deeply involved in whatever had cast Lex out of the glittering Olympus. Ian Kingsley was his bribe for Lex.
He shut his computer, glancing at the clock. Lunch was almost over. He didn’t want to be here anymore. He slid his computer into his bag, and stood. After waving goodbye to Nik, he went to the bathroom. It took barely any time at all to make himself look ashen. He unscrewed the lid of the cinnamon he carried with him, swallowing some. He coughed a few times, then after a final glance at his reflection, he went to the nurse’s office.
He smiled weakly at her, leaning against the threshold. “Hi Ms. Timothy. I thought I was feeling better, turns out I’m not.” He pitched his voice so that he sounded like he should be sent home, not to a hospital.
Ms. Timothy looked at him critically. “Okay, honey. Go home. Get some rest. Should I call your mother?”
“She’s in a surgery. My dad might be almost done with his board meeting, though. You can try him.”
He saw the uncertainty in Ms. Timothy’s gaze. “I’m sure you can just call them when you’re home. Take care, love.”
“Thanks,” Dev smiled wanly, and made his way through the front office. As soon as he hit the parking lot, he slipped his phone out of his pocket. He flipped through the contacts. He hit dial as he buckled up.
“Hello?” The voice was warm, soothing. The kind of voice that belonged to someone one knew could fix problems.
“Hi, Lex? This is Dev, Nik’s friend. I have some thing’s I’d like to discuss with you. Do you have time today?” He said, pulling out of the parking lot.
There was a long beat of silence. “Shouldn’t you be in class?” Lex said finally, in a voice that was part amused, part resigned.
“Jasper Bentley,” Dev replied, and the line went silent. Dev waited.
“Are you familiar with the café The Rose?” Lex said finally.
“Meet me there in half an hour.”
The line went dead and Dev flipped on his turn signal. He knew the Rose. It was a beautiful little café that was super popular with the wealthy and the romantic. Interesting that Lex would choose that, as he was neither.
Dev parked, and got out of his car, shading his gaze as he looked at the café. At 1 pm on a Friday, the place was surprisingly busy. He made his way inside, nodding at the maître de, his gaze scanning for Lex. He saw him in the back table, looking like a raven among swans.
Dev slid into the seat across from Lex, who looked up from his phone. His gaze took in Dev’s youth, his lips flattening into a line. But then his gaze met Dev’s, and his expression cleared.
“Dev. I’m Lex. I’m sure you know me. Now, tell me about you.” He said, lifting a hand for a server.
“I have heard that you have connections. I have need of them,” Dev said simply.
The server came by, and both ordered coffee. Dev ordered black with a little cream. Lex ordered black with the entire sugar container. As the server left, Lex met Dev’s sardonic gaze, and shrugged. “Life is bitter enough. Now. Which connections of mine are you interested in?”
“I want to get some fighters out of the Ring.”
Lex raised a brow. “Hence, Jasper Bentley,” he mused. His long fingers wrapped around the saltshaker, fiddling with it. His gaze was hooded in thought. “First things first. You have to understand the Districts.” He reached into his pocket, bringing out a small map of the City. He pulled a pen out of his breast pocket. “There are five of them, all dealing with different elements.” Lex quickly made four overlapping circles. “North Haven is drugs. All drugs that hit the streets, they either make, import, or export.” He put an X in the top circle. “East Haven, weapons. They traffic all firearms, legal and illegal. Partly because that’s where several industrial factories are located. Makes it easier to hide.
“South Haven, money. They are the place to go if you need to clean money, so they have tight relations with North and East. South keeps North and East clean and they flood South with the good stuff.”
The server came, and Lex accepted his coffee. Dev nodded to the server, giving her a smile. She smiled back, and left. He sipped his coffee, then asked, “What does that leave for West?”
Lex met his gaze, his eyes darkening. Lex put an X through the left circle. “West Haven is what you were talking about. The Ring. And the Club. Because Jasper deals in people. He sells them, as fighters, as pets, whatever suits him. North supplies his club, Secret, with drugs. East supplies him with his muscle, his enforcers. South cleans their money.” Lex drew arrows from the other districts to the West district. He looked up at Dev. “The other districts all have sponsors, but Jasper is the one who runs the show.”
There was a warning in Lex’s voice, a threat. Dev ignored it as he pointed to the map. “That’s only four. What’s the fifth District?” He asked.
Lex looked down at the map. He circled the leftover territory that sat on the outside of the West Haven District circle. “That is neutral territory. Because it’s by the docks, it’s under all the district’s protection. It’s also where the Ring is held, to keep any one district from having an unfair home advantage.”
Dev nodded slowly. He reached out, glancing at Lex for permission. He took the map at the other man’s nod, and studied it closely. Jack and the others had to be under West Haven. Jasper wouldn’t have been such a big threat if he was simply a sponsor of another district.
He looked up at Lex. “When’s the next Ring match?”
Lex paused sipping his coffee. His eyes widened. “What? You’re not thinking-” he broke off at Dev’s cold gaze. He sighed. “Tonight. Tickets are going for 7.5k.”
Dev didn’t even blink at the price tag. “Get me in,” he said coldly, placing money onto the table for the coffee. He took out two cards, one plastic, one paper, placing them on top of the money. “Call me when you have the ticket.”
Lex took the two cards. The paper one had a simple phone number. The plastic one was black with silver embossment. A credit card. His eyebrows shot up as he looked up at the youth, who was standing, clearly done with their interaction. “Yours?” He asked, holding the card in question.
Dev’s lips curved slightly, lifting a shoulder. “Keep it. I have more.” He said easily. Lex remembered that shrug, remembered what it was like to not have to look at the price before setting down his card. This kid had power.
Lex nodded, slipping both into his front pocket. “Fair enough. I’ll contact you tonight with the details.” He stood, offering the kid his hand. The boy shook it. His skin was cool, his skin soft. Pure aristocrat. But the sharpness in his gaze, the coldness, that belied the appearance of a coddled upbringing. Sure, the kid didn’t have calluses or scars, but something had hardened him far younger than he deserved.
“I look forward to working with you, Lex,” he said, his lips lifting again in a small smile. There was a spark of warmth in the brown gaze, but it was faint. He inclined his head, and left, leaving Lex to look after him, the black credit card weighing heavy in his front pocket. Lex sat down again, sipping his sweet coffee. He wondered who had convinced this glacial youth to undertake this foolhardy mission. Lex glanced at the door to the Rose. Lex’s money was on someone who had told Dev to stay away. Lex smiled. He knew that however cold the kid appeared, he would be more than capable of setting Jasper Bentley’s world on fire.