Home > The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(11)

The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(11)
Author: James S.A. Corey

In the meantime, he moved from one place to the next. He told people he would go one place, and then arrived at another. He considered all his habits with the uncompromising eye of a predator, and killed the ones with flaws. Anything that connected him with the patterns of the past was a vulnerability, and wherever possible, he chose to be invulnerable. It wasn’t the first time he’d been through this. He was good at it.

And so when it took Timmy the better part of a week to find him, Burton’s annoyance was balanced against a certain self-centered pride.

The office was raw brick and mortar, newsfeeds playing on five different screens. A sliding wooden door stood half open, the futon where Burton had slept the the night before half visible through it. Oestra, whose safe house it was, sat by the window looking down at the street. The automatic shotgun across his legs seemed unremarkable. Timmy had been searched by three guards on the street, and he’d been clean. Even if he’d swallowed a tracking device they would have found it, and the big slab of human meat would have been bleeding out in a gutter instead of smiling amiably and gawking at the exposed ductwork.

“Timmy, right?” Burton said, pretending uncertainty. Let the boy feel lucky he’d remembered that much.

“Yeah, chief. That’s me.” The openness and amiability was annoying. Burton glanced toward Oestra, but the lieutenant was squinting at the brightness of the day. Burton scratched his leg idly, his fingernails hissing against the fabric of his pants.

“You got something for me?”

Timmy’s face fell a little. “Just news. I mean, I didn’t have any stuff. Nothing to deliver or anything.”

“All right, then,” Burton said. “What’s the news, Tiny?”

Timmy grinned at the irony of the nickname, then sobered and began his report. Burton leaned forward, drinking in all the words as fast as they spilled from Timmy’s lips. When Oestra risked a glance back, it was like watching a bird singing away while a cat stood in the too-still pose of a carnivore waiting to pounce. The details came out in no particular order: Erich was in a safe place, Timmy had been taking food to him, the fake profile deal had been interrupted by the security crackdown, Erich’s original deck was gone but he had a replacement, the police probably had his DNA profile now. Oestra sighed to himself and looked back out the window. On the street, a half dozen young men who hadn’t just condemned their friends to death slouched down the street together.

“He’s sure about that?” Burton asked.

“Nah,” Timmy said. “We didn’t hang around and watch them find the deck or anything. I figured it’d be better, you know. To get out.”

“I see.”

“Erich wanted to go get it. Grab the hardware, I mean.”

“That would have been a mistake,” Burton said. “If security had the deck and the man, that…well, that’d be bad.”

“Was what I thought too,” Timmy said.

Burton sat back, the leather of the chair creaking. Back past the bedroom, Sylvia started running the shower. Sylvia or Sarah. Something like that. One of Oestra’s, provided with the bed. “Where’s the safe house?”

“I’m not supposed to say,” Timmy said.

“Not even to me?”

The boy had the good sense to look uncomfortable. “Yeah, not to anyone. You know how it is.”

“Is there anyone there with him?”

“Yeah, I got a friend there.”

“A guard?”

“Not really, no. Just a friend.”

Burton nodded, thinking hard. “But he’s secure?”

“He’s on the water. Anyone starts coming in, he’s got a boat and about a dozen decent places to hide. I mean, nowhere’s a hundred percent.”

“And you’re protecting him.”

“That’s the job,” Timmy said, with a shrug and a smile. Burton couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was about the boy that was so interesting. Over the years, he’d had hundreds just like him who came through, worked, disappeared, died, were fed to security or found God and a ticket out of town. Burton had a nose for talent, though, and there was something about this one that kept bringing him back to the sense of the boy’s potential. Perhaps it was the casual logic he’d used when he’d killed Austin. Maybe it was the deadness in his eyes.

Burton got up, raising a finger. Timmy sat deep in his chair like a trained dog receiving a command. Sylvia—whoever—was singing in the bathroom. The splash of water against porcelain covered the sound of Burton opening the gun safe, pulling out the pistol and its magazine. When he stepped back into the main room, Timmy hadn’t so much as crossed his legs. Burton held the gun out.

“You know what this is?” he asked.

“It’s a ten-millimeter semi-auto,” Timmy said. He put his hand out halfway to it, and then looked up at Burton, his eyes asking permission. Burton nodded and smiled. Timmy took the gun.

“You know guns?”

Timmy shrugged. “They’re around. It feels…sticky.”

“It’s got a resin of digestive enzymes,” Burton said. “Won’t hurt your skin much, but it won’t hold prints and it breaks down any trace evidence. No DNA.”

“That’s cool,” Timmy said, and started to hand it back. Burton tossed the magazine onto the boy’s lap.

“Those are plastic-tipped. Organ shredders, but they don’t work on armor,” Burton said. “Still, step up from that homemade shotgun you’ve used, right?”


“You know how those things all go together?”

Timmy weighed the pistol in one hand, the magazine in the other. He slid them together, checked the chamber, flicked the safety on and off. It wasn’t the practiced action of a professional, but talented amateur was good enough for his purposes. Timmy looked up, his smile blank and empty. “New job?” he asked.

“New job,” Burton said. “I know you and Erich grew up together. Is this going to be a problem for you?”

“Nope,” Timmy said, slipping the gun into his pocket. There hadn’t even been a pause.

“You’re sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure. I get it. They’ve got him in the system now. If they get him too, there’s all kinds of things he compromises. If they can’t get him, nothing gets compromised, and I’m the only guy who can get close to him without him seeing it coming.”

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