A COMMANDING VOICE CAME FROM BEHIND THE BLINDING WALL of light.
"If it isn't Hunter Braque, skinny white boy looking like his mother didn't have time to dress him."
Even blinded and terrified, I flinched at this unfair fashion analysis. I might be wearing gray cords and a dried-chewing-gum-colored shirt, but I was going for social invisibility.
"I am undercover, you know," I protested.
"Yeah, you look it," a deeper voice called from the opposite direction—the big bald guy.
"And who have we here?" the first voice said.
I heard the rumble of skates on the concrete floor. I agonizingly pried my lids apart and saw Mwadi Wickersham gliding gracefully out of the retina-searing glare. I glimpsed more figures surrounding us, covering every escape route. The trucker cap and cowboy boots of Futura Garamond strolled out of the blinding wall of light. He stared at Jen's feet.
"Yo, look, she's got the laces," he said. A murmur of recognition passed through our captors.
"So she does," Mwadi Wickersham said, dark glasses peering down from her skate-enhanced height. "Did you come up with those yourself, honey?"
Jen squinted back at her. "Yeah. What do you mean, the laces?"
"Mandy had a picture on her. We've all been talking about them." Mwadi nodded, an imperious queen pleased with her subject. "Nice work."
"Let us go!" I demanded, if high-pitched noises can be construed as demanding.
Mwadi Wickersham turned toward me and said, "Not until we get a deal signed."
I turned toward Mandy, who was giving me the glare she reserves for people who perpetually insist that clam diggers are coming back.
"W-Wait," I stammered. "What deal?"
"The biggest deal of my career, Hunter." She sighed. "Do you think maybe you could not screw it up?"