From the book
Goose Island, Chicago, Illinois
Thursday, 5:28 p.m.
"Calm down, dude. If you keep going on like this, your brain will explode. And I really don't want to get any of it on me."
Penni DePaul recognized the voice of the man speaking as she followed the redheaded behemoth named Geralt through the narrow gate on the side of the big warehouse that housed Black Knights Inc.
"It's not my head I'm worried about," came a booming bass response. "It's yours. I mean, Ozzie, man, you know that woman is buckets o' crazy, right?"
"Maybe," Ozzie replied just as Penni rounded the corner, stopping when Geralt's gigantic biker boots took root atop the patio pavers. "But if she is, she really puts the hot in psychotic. Am I right?"
Peeking around Geralt's massive back, Penni's eyes landed on Ethan "Ozzie" Sykes. He was sitting in a bright red Adirondack chair with his back to her. And from what little she could make out, he was looking pretty good for a guy who'd nearly had his leg blown off. The leg in question was secured in a brace and propped on the stone lip of a big fire pit built into the center of the courtyard behind the warehouse. The courtyard itself was surrounded by outbuildings and a fifteen-foot-high brick wall topped by razor wire and a crap-ton of security cameras.
To the inexperienced, Black Knights Inc. looked as it was meant to look, like the work area and living space for a group of rough and rowdy guys who built fantastical custom motorcycles in a not-so-nice part of town. The latter requiring all the high-tech security, don't you know? But Penni wasn't inexperienced. She was well aware of the cold, hard facts behind BKI's chrome and leather facade. On her last assignment she'd worked with Ozzie and two more of the Black Knights, and she could say without a shadow of a doubt that they did a whole lot more than design shiny things that ate asphalt for dinner and roared like steel beasts.
The motorcycle shop was nothing but a front for the most secretive, most whispered-about government defense firm ever to be redacted from all of Uncle Sam's files. Granted, it was a really excellent front, considering that the three guys she'd worked with during The Assignment-that's how she'd come to think of the mission that had changed her life forever-had all been a little bit scruffy and a whole lot tattooed. Handsome-as-sin Hells Angels look-alikes...
"And if you must know," Ozzie went on, "I happen to like crazy. It makes for really interesting conversations. Besides"-he took a swig from a beer with a red label that read "Honker's Ale"-"she seems like she'd be a hellcat in the bedroom."
"Kee-rist, man!" The guy who belonged to the bass voice was sitting at a picnic table laden with what appeared to be huge vats of potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. He plunked his beer bottle atop the table's surface with enough force to send foam geysering from the longneck.
"I know that pretty face of yours means you're used to women throwing themselves at your feet," he added, "but the only reason she flirted with you at the bar last night is because she's a fuckin' reporter who's been nosing around this place for years looking for a fuckin' story. So even if a nutso in nylons is your screwed-up idea of a cup of tea, her fuckin' J.O.B. should make any appeal she has shrink up quicker than an Eskimo scrotum."
The man certainly had a mad penchant for colorful descriptions. And f-bombs. And scars. His craggy face was lined with more than its fair share.
Penni didn't know exactly what she'd expected to happen after the taxi dropped her in front of the mammoth gates of BKI...