"CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR SHOE?"
She lowered the binoculars, turned to me, and smiled.
"I'll have you know these are patented."
I looked down: she'd redone her laces. They were a deep green now, threaded into a hexagon around the tongue, then knotting up in the middle, bringing to mind a cat's eye but sideways. Everything else was standard Logo Exile except for her jacket—sleek, black, and sleeveless, shining in the sun, oversized.
"Don't worry. My interest isn't professional," I said.
"Yeah, Mandy called and told me." She looked down. "Turns out I did get you fired after all. Just took a little longer than we thought."
"I'm sorry, Hunter."
So that was why she'd called. She felt guilty. This was a mercy meeting.
My lips parted, but nothing came out. I wanted to tell her what I'd realized about the Jammers, but everything I needed to say was too big to fit in my mouth. Jen waited for a moment, then raised the binoculars to her eyes again.
"What're you looking at?" I managed.
"The Brooklyn waterfront."
I turned to stare across the river, where a few features of the navy yard were discernible in the expanse of industrial buildings, winding highways, and crumbling dock space.
Of course. Jen never gave up.
'"See you at the factory?" I quoted. That's what Mwadi Wickersham had said after the hoi aristoi had broken in, all violet and violent. The Jammers had been scheduled to relocate on Monday, but with serious forces in motion against them, why not a day early?
"You figure they'll stay in Brooklyn?"
"Yeah. I think they belong in Dumbo."
"It's the cool part of town, I hear." We stood shoulder to shoulder. "Seen anything interesting?" I asked her.
"You weren't followed, were you?"
"Don't think so. Walked up through Stuyvesant Town, then back down along the river. Not much cover in Stuy Town."
She smiled, said, "Roger this," and handed me the binoculars.
They were heavy, military, camo-printed. Our fingertips touched for a moment.
The waterfront jumped into detail before my eyes, every quiver of my hands amplified into an earthquake. I steadied my grip, following a bicyclist along the Brooklyn Promenade.
"What am I looking for?"
"Check out the Domino Sugar factory."
I swept ahead of the bicycle, everything a blur with my speed. Then the familiar, long-stained factory walls flashed across my view. I backtracked, found the unlit neon letters of the name, the diagonal sugar chute that connected two buildings. Finally, a small, empty lot between the factory and the river.
"Rental trucks," I said softly. A few figures moved between the trucks and an open loading dock. "Jen, did you ever trace the license number of the truck we saw in front of the abandoned building?"
"Uh, no. Turns out I have no idea how to do that."
"Me neither. But… have you ever seen professional movers wearing all black? In summer?"
"Never. And see how they're parked? All squeezed up against the wall like that, so you can't see them from the street."
I lowered the binoculars. The trucks were grains of yellow rice to the naked eye, the human figures no bigger than iron filings moved by a hidden magnet. "They weren't expecting anyone to be watching them from Manhattan."
"Yeah, those field glasses were fourteen hundred bucks. Former Soviet Union military. But the guy said I can return them tomorrow if I don't like them."
"Jesus, Jen." I handed the binoculars back very carefully.
She raised them to her eyes, leaned against the railing, the binoculars' neck strap dangling over the water now. "The client must have coughed up some serious cash for the shoes. I heard they were turning those buildings into residential condos. Beautiful Manhattan views at a million a pop."
"Not all of them, apparently. My guess is that they've got a TV studio in their part of the factory, an editing suite at least, and who knows what else. So the Jammers are probably zoned light industrial."
She smiled. "Postindustrial, you mean."
"Not yet. But give them time."
We stood there in silence for a while, Jen following the movements across the river carefully, me just glad to be there—analyzing how the Brooklyn waterfront had changed over the years, watching Jen's buzzed hair ruffle in the wind, liking the way it felt to be beside her, even if this was as close as we'd get from now on. j
“How do you like your jacket? ' she said.
"My what?" Then a strobe of recognition flickered in my brain. I reached out, touching the black, silken surface with its pattern of tiny fleur-de-lis. It was the lining of my thousand-dollar disaster, now on the outside. The horrendous rip was gone, along with the sleeves, the seams re-sewn to pull the jacket's elegant lines into its new inside-out configuration.
"Try it on." She slipped out of it.
It fit me as beautifully as it had two nights ago. Slightly better, as things sometimes do when they're inside out. And this new jacket— unexpectedly sleeveless, silken ersatz Japanese, and bow-tie resistant— didn't belong to the non-Hunter; it was all me. "Gorgeous."
"Glad you like it. Took all night."
Her hands felt the seams down the sides, ran across the breast pocket (originally inside, now out), felt the fit across the shoulders. Then they slipped around my waist.
"I'm sorry, Hunter."
I breathed out slowly, looking into her green eyes. Relief flooded through me, as if some terrible test were over. "Me too."
She looked away. "You weren't the one being a bitch."
"You were just telling the truth. Possibly in a bitchy way, but the truth. I watch too much. Think too much."
"It's what you do. And you do it in a really cool way. I like the stuff in your brain."
"Yeah, Jen, but you want to change things—and not just how people tie their shoes."
"So do you." She turned to look out across the river. "You were just trying to make me feel better yesterday, pretending the Jammers weren't such a big deal. Weren't you?"
"Not exactly." I took a deep breath, because in between crippling bouts of feeling sorry for myself all night, I'd actually thought about this. "Jen, I'm not sure about the Jammers. I think they shoot for easy targets. And they take risks with other people's brains. You can't just go around rewiring people without asking. The moment someone gets seriously hurt, the whole trickster thing kind of loses its quirky appeal, you know?"
She thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. "Maybe. But that just means they need us to help them out. Your analytical skills, your vast database of useless facts. And my, uh, original thinking or whatever. We can help them. And they're just so cool."
"I know they are." I remembered my first day at school here in New York, realizing how far down the pyramid I'd fallen. I was suddenly a dork; anyone could see from the moment I walked into class. And I could see in turn who the cool kids were. It was like they were glowing, bright razors, so sharp that it hurt to look at them. I've been able to spot the cool kids ever since, no matter how young or old they are.
But since that day, I've never really trusted them.
So why did I trust Jen? I wondered. This was the girl who'd broken up with me only twelve hours before over… a pile of shoes. Or rather hated me because I hadn't stayed there to help, oblivious to her conviction that if she lost this one chance with the Jammers, she'd lose her cool again, as easy as tripping over a crack in the sidewalk.
Which was a nutty thing to believe but very Jen.
Anyway, she'd stopped hating me now.
"Maybe we'd make them even cooler, Hunter."
I looked at her and laughed, knowing that I'd help her find them. Because Jen thought she needed them, and I needed her. "Sure, we would."
She looked at the factory. Shrugged. "I've got a present for you."
"Another one?" I said.
"The jacket wasn't a present. It was yours, bought and paid for."
I twinged. "Not paid for yet, actually."
She smiled and put the binoculars into her backpack (in their thick, padded, Soviet-era case, I was glad to see). Pulled out a paper bag. Before she even had it open, I caught a whiff of burned plastic.
"I told you I'd find one. You should have stayed with me. If I'd had some help, it might not have taken two whole hours." She unwrapped it carefully as she spoke. "Just one, right at the bottom of the pile."
My mouth dropped open.
The shoe had remained miraculously untouched by the heat, the panels still pliable, their silvery, liquid-metal shine unblemished. The laces ran through my fingers like tendrils of sand. The eyelets glittered, tiny bicycle spokes spinning in the sunlight.
I'd almost forgotten how good they were.
"Smells like the fire," Jen said. "But I stuck a couple of shoe deodorizers in it, and it's already better. Just give it time."
"I don't care what it smells like."
I needed this too, I realized. It didn't take much to rewire Jen. Her brain was something unique, poised to turn ten years old again at the drop of a paka-paka attack, ready for every rooftop emergency door or plummeting j air shaft or secret revolution. But I hadn't felt this way in so long—like I could fly or at least dunk from the free-throw line, like the mortar in my brain was loosening. I took the shoe from her and held on tightly.
"Still think the Jammers are so bad?" Jen asked.
I swallowed, looked out over the river at the enemies of all I held dear, and gave them the Nod.
"They have their moments."