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I.D.


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I.D.


  Watchers I.D.

  Peter Lerangis

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  A Biography of Peter Lerangis

  WATCHERS

  Case File: 1449

  Name: Baby 5

  Age: 0

  First contact: 40.08.19

  Acceptance:

  1

  SHE IS BORN.

  She breathes.

  She feels.

  She shrieks.

  At the cold. The light. The pain.

  No retreat now. No comfort.

  Just instinct.

  A pair of hands lifts her. Wraps her in a blanket.

  “We did it,” whispers a deep voice. “Again.”

  She turns to the sound. Tries to focus on a face.

  A door opens.

  She moves. Sheltered by the arms.

  Warm.

  Her screams fade to whimpers.

  She goes limp.

  She sleeps.

  When she awakens, the arms are carrying her through a shaft of blazing white.

  “Did the mother leave a note?” asks a voice. Different. Softer. Higher.

  “No.” The deep one. The one that makes her rumble.

  “Look at the resemblance. It must be the same mother.”

  “Have you notified the ICU, Dr. Rudin?”

  “Of course.”

  “Would you get the paperwork started for the adoption process?”

  “Same agency as the last?”

  “Please hurry. I need your help.”

  “What shall I tell your daughter?”

  “Tell her I’ll be another couple of hours.” Words. Rhythms. Gentle. Yes. “Please have somebody order her dinner.”

  Motion. Speed. Sleep.

  Before leaving Dr. Black, Julia Rudin adjusts the sleeping infant’s head. Briskly but delicately. In midstride.

  On the back of the baby’s neck she spots a red arrow-shaped birthmark. The same as the other foundling—how long ago? A year?

  As Dr. Black barges through the ICU door, the child’s face is peaceful. Trusting.

  Dr. Rudin turns away and walks to a small waiting room. There, a twelve-year-old girl reads a magazine.

  “Sorry, Whitney,” the young doctor begins. “Sort of bad news. Your dad told me—?

  The girl puts down the magazine and looks up. “Eve,” she says.

  “What?”

  “That’s the baby’s name. Eve.”

  “How do you know?”

  Whitney smiles. And shrugs.

  As the girl turns to pick up the magazine again, Dr. Rudin notices something on her neck.

  A mark. Red and arrow-shaped.

  What is he doing?

  He has a plan. If it works, he’s a genius.

  If it doesn’t

  He’s a murderer.

  2

  “WOULD YOU COME INTO the den, dear?”

  Eve stopped eating.

  She knew.

  She knew from Mommy’s tone of voice.

  Nice.

  And worried.

  Nice and worried was a bad combination.

  But why? Why now?

  Because I need to know sometime, Eve thought.

  Mommy and Daddy had never told her the truth about where she came from; they didn’t want to admit it, but Eve knew, oh, yes she did, it was OBVIOUS, because she didn’t look like them—not in person, not in pictures, not the slightest bit—and just because she was only six years old didn’t mean she was stupid or anything.

  “Eve, darling? Did you hear me?” her mom called again.

  Eve tried to answer, but no sound came out.

  I can’t go in there.

  But she had to.

  Somebody had to. Or Mommy would get mad.

  Eve closed her eyes. She reached into her brain. She could be someone else.

  Caroline.

  [Yes. That’s me.]

  Caroline wasn’t afraid. She had a great big room and her parents weren’t allowed in. She was smart and strong and nothing bothered her.

  [I don’t have to go inside until I want to!]

  Eve looked up from the kitchen table. “Wait a minute! I’m eating!”

  Did Mommy and Daddy yell? No sir, not at Caroline—and you bet they would have yelled at plain old Eve.

  Caroline was so cool.

  Eve took her time finishing. And then cleared her plate. And then found her yo-yo.

  And then went inside.

  “Yeah?”

  Mommy was sitting on the sofa, Daddy in the armchair. But the TV wasn’t on and they were leaning forward. Smiling.

  Sad-smiling.

  “Have a seat, dear.”

  Think. Say something. Do something.

  [Just sit.]

  Eve tossed back her hair and sat on the sofa.

  “Sweetie…um, remember when your teacher asked everyone in the class to bring in old baby pictures?” Mommy asked.

  “And you wanted to know why we didn’t have any photos from the hospital?” Daddy added.

  “Or photos of Mommy pregnant?” Mommy said.

  Here it comes I hate this no no no

  NO…[Yeah. So?]

  “I’m sure you’ve been…well, expecting this—? Mommy said.

  “Suspecting,” Daddy corrected gently.

  “Right. The truth is, Eve, Mommy never was pregnant, because…”

  Crying. Mommy was beginning to cry.

  I can’t hear the words I CAN’T…

  And when Mommy finally said it, when the truth came out exactly the way Eve always thought it would (the A word, the A word), Caroline was history. She faded away, leaving Eve all alone. And Eve was falling, falling into a hole that had no bottom.

  “We know how you must feel,” Daddy was saying.

  “We love you just the same,” Mommy added. “This doesn’t change anything.”

  Yes it does, it changes EVERYTHING.

  She wasn’t theirs.

  An agency. They got her from an agency.

  Somebody you paid money to.

  NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO…

  Eve stood up from the sofa. She turned and walked to the bookshelf.

  “Eve?” Mommy said.

  NOT EVE. I CAN’T BE EVE. And not Caroline, because she ran away.

  Alexis.

  Yes. That’s who she’d be.

  Alexis wouldn’t stand for this. She’d be mad. REAL mad.

  [I hate them. I hate their house. HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO ME?]

  Eve wrapped her hand around a vase and pulled. With a loud smash, it hit the floor and broke into a million pieces.

  Daddy leaped off his chair, but Mommy held him back.

  Eve began yanking Mommy’s college books from the shelf. They made a cool swishy noise when they hit the floor with the pages open. Eve burst out laughing.

  [WHEEEEEEEEE!]

  She ran into the living room. Mommy’s African violets looked so soft and perfect, all bright in the sunlight. She grabbed one of them and crushed it. Then another. The next one came out by the roots.

  “Eve, stop that!” Mommy called out.

  [You’re not my mommy, are you? I can do whatever I want!]

  Daddy was picking up the pieces of broken pottery, on his knees, looking like he wanted to be angry but had forgotten how. “Oh, Eve,” he said.

  Stop stop stop what am I doing?

  And just like that, Alexi
s was gone, and Eve was tumbling again, falling hard.

  So she thought of Danielle.

  Danielle found the whole thing so ridiculous. Daddy on his knees, the purple flowers all crumpled like wilted lettuce.

  She began to laugh. She sat on the living room sofa, doubling over.

  But the moment she hit the cushions, Mommy sat next to her. And the laughing stopped.

  Mommy’s eyes were wide and brimming with tears.

  Danielle shouldn’t laugh. She was being so bad.

  So who? Who?

  Eve reached again.

  Maybe Bryann. Sad, delicate Bryann.

  Eve could feel the pressure welling up in her eyes.

  Then Mommy leaned toward her. And hugged her. And the arms felt the same as always. Big and warm and just right. Like a mother’s.

  When the tears came, they weren’t Bryann’s. Or anyone else’s.

  They were Eve’s.

  And she thought they’d never end.

  New report.

  Go ahead.

  W.G., of Bloomington, Indiana, Alzheimer’s.

  Age fourteen?

  Yes.

  Like the others.

  3

  “THIS IS THE BEAST?” KATE Cranston gazed down the slope. “I’d call this, like, early intermediate.”

  Eve stopped. She kept her skis pointed along the beginner trail, which crossed the Beast and wound gently through a wide wooded path.

  Eve was a much better skier than Kate. Even though she was only in eighth grade, not quite fourteen yet, she practiced with the high school team and could beat some of the ninth- and tenth-graders.

  The Beast wasn’t a super-hard trail. But on a day like this, when the trail disappeared into the whiteness of a gathering snowstorm, and the lodge was visible only as a faint cluster of lights below, slower was better.

  “Uh, Kate? I need both my legs,” Eve said. “I’m hoping for another ski trip or two this winter.”

  Kate didn’t take the hint. “Race you.”

  “Kate, stop it—?

  “Afraid you’ll lose?”

  “No way, but—”

  “I’ll go by myself.”

  Eve hated these conversations. But Kate was Kate. She would go down alone. And if anything happened to her, Eve would feel responsible.

  Eve began turning downhill. “You know, this is a dumb idea.”

  “On your mark…” Kate replied. “Get set…”

  She shoved off. “Byyyyyyyye!”

  “Hey!” Eve protested.

  She jigged her skis into place. Crouched.

  Knees together. Body forward, over the skis. PUSH—left…right…left…

  Eve gained ground fast. Kate’s movements were wild, jerky.

  “WOOOOOOO!” Eve screamed.

  Kate screamed back.

  The whipping snow felt like sand against Eve’s face. Below her, the lodge was materializing out of the whiteness. Looming up fast.

  She didn’t see the other girl coming.

  Just a flash of red and yellow.

  Then a crash.

  Eve’s shoulders lurched sideways. Her knees twisted. She hit the slope, sending up a spray of white. Her cheeks scraped the icy surface as her skis flew off.

  She stopped sliding a few yards east of the lift line.

  The other girl was lying toe to toe with Eve, on her back.

  Eve scrambled to her feet. No broken bones. That was a relief.

  Kate skied to a stop beside them. “What was that?”

  Eve was standing over the stranger. The girl wasn’t moving. Her skin was flushed, her eyes fluttering.

  “Are you okay?” Eve asked.

  “Uh-huh,” the girl replied.

  “She doesn’t look okay,” Kate murmured. “I’ll get some help.”

  As Kate skied back toward the lodge, Eve knelt over the girl and felt her forehead. Red-hot.

  The girl grimaced and tried to sit up.

  “You have a fever,” Eve said. “Just stay still and wait for the ski patrol.”

  “I can’t breathe.” The girl was pulling at her down coat now, trying to yank it open.

  Eve cradled the girl’s head in her lap. She helped her with the zipper. “I’m Eve.”

  “Tanya,” the girl said. “Where’s my mom?”

  “I’m sure she’s coming. Sit tight. You’ll be okay.”

  Eve looked over her shoulder. Three ski patrollers were speeding toward them, pulling a sled.

  “I’m—I can’t—? Tanya’s eyes flickered shut. Her breaths were shallow and erratic. The redness was purpling.

  She’s passing out.

  “Breathe!” Eve urged. “Hang on, they’re coming!”

  Tanya nodded vaguely. Her eyes opened, frightened and pleading. “Help me.”

  Arms. Pushing.

  Eve lost her balance. She scrambled to her feet.

  Three burly ski patrollers were kneeling around Tanya.

  They asked her a few questions, then gently eased her onto the sled. One of them began to shout into a walkie-talkie.

  As they pulled her away, a crowd formed around Eve. A bright sea of Gore-Tex and nylon. In the distance, she spotted an ambulance swerving into the parking lot to meet the sled.

  She tried to elbow her way forward.

  “Eve, are you all right?” Mom’s voice.

  “Yes!” Eve shouted. Tanya was vanishing, swallowed up by the gawkers.

  “What did you do to her?” That was Kate.

  “It wasn’t me!” Eve said.

  She could hear mutterings: “food poisoning”…“broken leg”…“hotdogging.”

  No. Something worse.

  As the ambulance sped away, siren blaring, Eve began to shiver uncontrollably. The wind seared through her coat.

  Mom and Dad were on either side of her now.

  “Sh-she skied r-right into me,” Eve explained. “S-s-something’s wrong with her.”

  “Let’s go inside, honey,” Dad said, putting his arm around her.

  There. Tanya’s family.

  A mom, dad, son. The resemblance was unmistakable. They were being escorted by a ski official toward a station wagon.

  “Excuse me?” she called out, jogging after them. “Wait!”

  The man helped the family into the backseat and shut the door. He shot Eve an impatient look.

  “I was the girl Tanya collided with,” Eve said. “Where did they take her?”

  “Keene Mountain Hospital,” the man replied, climbing into the driver’s side.

  “Is she going to be okay?” Eve pressed on.

  The window rolled open. “Too early to tell,” the man said.

  “What happened to her?”

  The car’s engine roared to life, but not enough to obscure the answer.

  “Heart attack.”

  Bernsen. Second case this week.

  The girl with her is Case 1449.

  So there’s hope.

  But she doesn’t know.

  How old is she?

  By their measurements, thirteen years, eleven months, and two weeks.

  She’d better find out soon.

  4

  “NO HISTORY OF HEART trouble on either side of the family, Mr. and Mrs. Bernsen?”

  “No.”

  “Has Tanya been taking any new medication?”

  “No.”

  “Any signs of illness, weakness, shortness of breath?”

  “Well, yes. But she has occasional asthma. She insisted she’d be all right skiing…”

  Eve could hear the voices all the way in the waiting room. They floated in from an examining area down the hall. She hated listening. Tanya’s parents sounded so wounded and confused, the doctor so cold and clinical.

  She tried to ignore them.

  Sit tight. Give it a few minutes.

  Someone would be out soon. A doctor who knew about cases like this, who’d tell them that Tanya was going to be just fine.

  Kate was sitting to Eve’s left, eyes
fixed on a TV that droned overhead. Mr. and Mrs. Hardy sat to Eve’s right, reading magazines. Around them, patients walked in and out, some on crutches, almost all wearing plaster casts—sprains, broken bones, injuries you were supposed to get at a ski resort.

  Not a heart attack.

  The eyes.

  Eve couldn’t stop thinking about Tanya’s eyes. The way they’d looked at and through Eve at the same time. The way they’d seemed to focus on something just behind her. Something dark and horribly unexpected, but somehow inevitable.

  Just once had Eve ever seen anything like it—a year earlier, the only time she’d been hunting with her dad. They’d just about given up when they’d spotted a deer within range. The moment Mr. Hardy had taken aim, it turned toward them. Its eyes had instantly flashed with the knowledge that it was going to die. But rather than run, it had leveled its gaze at Eve. Not in fear, exactly, or even panic. Something more like accusation. As if to say, Not now. Not like this. Not fair.

  Eve had screamed. Her dad’s shot had gone wild, and the deer had fled. Even so, Eve thought about those eyes for weeks.

  Now she’d seen them again. Closer.

  But human. And much more terrifying.

  Tanya was her age. Fourteen-year-old kids didn’t get heart attacks.

  Things like this happen, and there’s no explanation.

  Eve had to see her again. She had to see what Tanya really looked like. Without the death stare. With hope. With something like a normal, everyday kid expression.

  It seemed like hours before Tanya’s parents finally returned to the waiting room.

  “She’s out of Intensive Care,” Mrs. Bernsen said. “Serious condition.”

  “Meaning better than critical,” her husband explained. “But worse than stable. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

  Tomorrow?

  They’d all be home by then.

  “Well, best of luck,” Eve’s dad said, standing up.

  “We’ll call,” her mom added.

  After a grim farewell, Eve left with her parents and Kate. A light snow was falling as they walked into the parking lot.

  “A teenage kid with a heart attack?” Kate murmured. “It’s bizarre, Eve. It’s unnatural. Especially with no family history.”

  “Stuff like that can skip generations,” Eve suggested. “Maybe she got it from, like, a great-grandparent.”

  Kate shook her head. “Dream on.”

  “What do you think it is?”

 
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