Home > False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)

False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

1

“Here it is.” Nin smiled and spread an arm toward the front of the four-story, solid gray apartment building, her enthusiastic flourish making her purple pigtails bounce.

“Uh.” I’m sure there were better words to describe my first reaction to the monolithic poured-concrete structure, but they eluded me. The sign above the double glass doors read Paradise Cove. Hah. “You said your friend owns this?”

“And will give you a good deal on the rent, yes. He promised.”

“How good of a friend is it? And did he pick it up at the same time as he purchased matching gulag barracks in Russia?”

Nin’s brow creased. Maybe gulag hadn’t come up on her word-of-the-day apps when she’d been learning English. But as usual, she pieced together the meaning behind my sarcasm. “You do not like the style? I believe it is called brutalism. Is that not perfect for an assassin who brutalizes people for a living?” Her smile returned.

“I’m a half-elf assassin. That means I like trees and leaves and nature and junk.” There wasn’t a single tree lining the busy street behind us, and the cars honking and buses rumbling past assaulted my sensitive ears. “Didn’t you say this is supposed to have a water view?”

I turned to face a gas station across the street. Lake Union was in that direction, but I couldn’t see it through the blocks of intervening buildings.

“Or was your friend referring to the pond-sized puddle that was blocking the exit of the alley where we illegally parked?” I shook off my still-damp boot.

This was supposed to be my day off, and my therapist Mary had made me promise to relax. Hunting for an apartment in the overpriced Seattle area was possibly not the most relaxing thing I could have chosen. Just finding a parking spot around here was stressful. But I didn’t really know how to relax. Mary had suggested I get a massage but had been nonplussed when I’d asked if I had to take my weapons off for that.

“Perhaps the lake is visible from the upper levels.” Nin reached up to pat my shoulder, avoiding the sword scabbard strapped to my back, Chopper’s hilt poking up behind my head. Since she was a quarter gnome, she could see the weapon. To most mundane humans, it was invisible unless I took it off. “Let us go inside,” she added.

“That’s not necessary. Thanks, Nin, but this isn’t quite my style.”

“But it is only two blocks away from Dimitri’s coffee shop. Now that you are a partial owner, it will be good for you to be close so you can keep an eye on everything. His soft opening is this week, remember.”

“I remember. But my apartment in Ballard isn’t that far away.” The apartment my landlord had strongly suggested I leave, due to everyone from dark elves to orcs to government agents coming by this summer to ransack my unit. He didn’t even know my now-frequent visitor Zav—or Lord Zavryd’nokquetal, as his fellow dragons called him—was the one responsible for crushing the outdoor chairs on the rooftop deck on a regular basis. As Zav had informed me often, dragons landed where they wished.

“Did you not say the rent is being increased?”

“Yeah, and mine is going up a lot more than anyone else’s. The landlord wants me gone.”

“I do not think it is legal to single out specific tenants to pay higher rent than others. Come, we have a meeting with Mr. Jeong, the superintendent.”

Reluctantly, I followed her through the front door.

Mr. Jeong, a thin man with white wispy hair ringing his bald pate, was as short as Nin. I felt like an ogre towering over them in the small, stark lobby. My senses told me that he didn’t have any magical blood, so he couldn’t see Chopper or Fezzik, the compact submachine pistol in my thigh holster.

Even on days off, I rarely went anywhere without my weapons. In theory, there shouldn’t be anyone after me right now—we’d cleared the dark elves out of Mt. Rainier, and Zav’s sister and all the dragons who hated me for killing one of their kind had left Earth—but I had irked plenty of magical beings over my career, so I always felt like a walking target.

Mr. Jeong greeted us politely and led us off on a tour of the building.

“This is the recreation room.” He pointed through an open door to two Ping-Pong tables, a stained mustard-yellow couch, and a wood-framed tube TV that was as old as the building. “And the laundry room.” It featured dirty white coin-operated washers and dryers from the ’80s. One was shaking and rattling like a paint mixer as it crept away from the outlet restraining it by its power-cord leash.

“And now I will show you to the available unit.”

“Can’t wait,” I muttered.

Nin frowned as she swiped a finger across a layer of dust covering a wall-mounted vending machine offering generic boxes of detergent for two dollars apiece. When she walked out, her shoe made a sticking noise as she passed over a suspicious dark spot on the cement floor. Maybe Paradise Cove wouldn’t meet her standards after all.

Mr. Jeong led us through a fire door and into a cement stairwell more suited to a parking garage than a residence.

“No elevator?” I asked.

“No need. There are only four floors. You will get excellent exercise.”

I shot Nin a dirty look as we climbed, imagining ascending with laundry baskets and arms full of groceries.

“Perhaps if you got some roommates, you could afford to rent a house,” she suggested. “That is what I do. You have seen my house in Queen Anne. There is a fenced yard and a washing machine and dryer on the covered porch. It is very nice.”

“I can’t have three roommates. I have to have privacy for my dragon visitor.”

Mr. Jeong frowned back at us as he headed down a whitewashed hallway on the third floor.

“I did not think he stayed over.” Nin raised her eyebrows. “But perhaps you could put a whiteboard on your door to leave messages or have a do-not-disturb magnet to alert your roommates.”

“How very college dormitory.”

Besides, Zav did not stay over. He visited to pick me up to go hunt villains out of town when he deemed my Jeep—my human conveyance—too slow. A couple of times, we’d hung out on the couch and I’d shown him the delights of Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers, but he’d been clear that we couldn’t be romantically involved until I learned enough magic to protect myself from enemies who liked to compel me to attack him.

Mr. Jeong unlocked a door and took us into a single room that served as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. “Here we are. The rent is very affordable. Only sixteen hundred dollars a month. No credit check required if you pay first and last months’ rent today.”

“Is that not less than you pay for your current place?” Nin asked.

“It’s the same, and my current place is a lot nicer.” Maybe not orders of magnitude nicer, but it was in a modern building with a parking garage and had a small balcony with room for a little table and two chairs. I walked to the window to see what kind of view there was. It looked out into the alley, right down onto the pond-puddle, my Jeep, and a giant trash bin overflowing with cardboard boxes. “Is there parking?”

“There is street parking,” Mr. Jeong said.

“Legal street parking?” I opened the window and poked my head out to make sure there wasn’t a ticket distributor in sight.

“Many of our residents save money by not owning a car and using public transportation.”

“That’s not going to work for me. I travel for work.”

“We were told that there’s a water view,” Nin said to Mr. Jeong.

“Yes. You can see the lake from the roof.”

“Oh, is there a deck up there?”

“No.”

I rolled my eyes. “Nin, I’ve seen enough. I’m going to pass.”

“We should at least check out the bedroom. Maybe there is a better view from there.” Nin looked around the apartment for a door leading to a bedroom.

“It’s right here.” Mr. Jeong stepped forward to what I’d guessed were double doors to a closet and pulled down a Murphy bed. The previous renter had left the sheets. How thoughtful.

“You’re right, Nin. The view from the bedroom is fabulous. It looks right at the refrigerator. Maybe I can stick some nice art on the freezer door.”

Nin spread her arms. “The options in your price range are limited. The cost of housing is very high in Seattle. I know this because I am still saving to buy a home and bring my family over from Bangkok. I read an article that said the booming tech industry is responsible and that people are calling this the next San Francisco. This is problematic for anyone who is not in the tech industry.”

“Tell me about it.”

I sensed someone with magical blood walking through the alley below and looked out the window again to check. My hand strayed to Fezzik as I anticipated some threat.

But it was a thin older woman packing a purse instead of a gun. Admittedly, the purse was large enough to carry a gun—and twenty boxes of ammo—but I doubted she was dangerous. She wore a slouch hat and a white T-shirt with a giant tarot card in the front. The orcs who liked to attack me usually favored black leather and metal.

“Can you not take on more freelance work?” Nin asked. “Your duties for Colonel Willard do not take up all of your time, do they?”

“Most of it. And helping Zav takes up the rest.”

“Does he pay you to help?”

“Dragons don’t have money.”

Mr. Jeong was still in the room, and his eyebrows climbed at this second mention of dragons.

“Val,” Nin said sternly. “That is unacceptable.”

“I can’t help it. Zav isn’t in the tech industry either.” Besides, he’d promised he would soon take me through a portal to the elven home world to help me find someone to teach me magic. I could do pro bono work for a while if it led to me learning how to more thoroughly defend myself. “What is that woman doing?”

Tarot Lady had stopped to cup her hands around her eyes and peer in the window of my Jeep. I’d left it partway down because it was a sunny August day, but she would need a coat hanger to unlock the door. Given the size of her purse, it was possible she had one.

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