Vengeful, p.20

Vengeful, page 20

 

Vengeful
 



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  People. Rios was one of the only soldiers who referred to the EOs that way.

  “Who’re you hunting?” asked Holtz, who’d clearly resigned himself to living vicariously.

  “Some crazy housewife,” said Bara. “Burns holes in shit. Found her husband’s secret apartment, at the Heights.”

  Holtz—who had had many girlfriends—shook his head. “Never underestimate an angry woman.”

  “Never underestimate a woman,” amended Rios.

  Bara shrugged. “Yeah, yeah. Place your bets. Poke your fun. But when she’s rotting in a cell, you’re all buying me drinks.”

  MEANWHILE, IN MERIT . . .

  JUNE closed her eyes and listened to the rain beat against her black umbrella.

  She wished she were in a field somewhere, arms spread wide to catch the thunder, instead of standing on the curb outside the sleek urban high-rise.

  She’d been waiting for nigh on ten minutes before someone finally came through the revolving doors, and just her luck, he was all paunch in an ill-fitting suit, complete with five-o’clock shadow and a comb-over.

  June sighed. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, she supposed. She started toward the building, brushing past the man at the corner. The barest touch—the kind that goes unnoticed amid the jostle and drip of a rainy day—and she had all she needed. He was on his way and she was on hers. She didn’t bother changing, not until she reached the Heights’ front doors.

  An older man sat behind a concierge desk in the lobby. “Forget something, Mr. Gosterly?”

  June made a short, gruff sound and muttered, “Always.”

  The elevator doors opened, and by the time they closed behind her, the reflection in the polished metal was hers again. Well, not hers. But the one she’d started with that morning. Peasant skirt and a leather jacket rolled to the elbows, a sly smile and hair that fell in loose brown curls. She’d picked it off the subway like a girl shopping the racks. It was one of her favorites.

  As the elevator rose, she pulled out her cell and texted Syd.

  For a long moment, nothing. And then three dots appeared beside the girl’s name, to show that she was typing.

  June watched, restless for an answer.

  When it came to Sydney, she’d never been good at waiting.

  IV

  THREE YEARS AGO

  CAPITAL CITY

  IT had taken an entire year for June to find them again, and when she did, it was entirely by accident. Almost as if it were fate.

  The trouble was, June didn’t believe in fate. At least, she didn’t want to believe in it, because fate meant everything happened for a reason, and there were too many things she wished never had. Besides, it was hard to believe in a higher power or a grand design when you killed people for a living.

  But then fate—or luck, or whatever it was—went and handed her Sydney.

  A year of looking for the man in black, with no luck, and then, fifteen hundred miles from Dresden, where they’d first crossed paths, June cut through a park on the way to a job and saw the blond girl again.

  A year—but it was impossibly, undeniably her. She had been—and seemed to still be—at that age where changes happened overnight. Bodies grew inches, curves—but the girl looked the same. Exactly the same. Same blond bob and ice blue eyes, same narrow build, same giant black dog waiting like a shadow at her side.

  June scanned the park—there was no sign of the man in black, but she glimpsed the other one sitting in the grass, tattoos wrapped around his forearms and a book open on his knee. She saw a flash of pink nearby, a forgotten Frisbee. She picked it up, spun it between her fingers, and then lobbed the plastic disc at the man’s head.

  It connected with a light crack, and June jogged up to him, a bouncy young brunette, all apologies and sunshine.

  “It’s all right,” he said, rubbing the back of his head. “Takes more than a Frisbee to knock me over.”

  He offered it back, and when her fingers brushed his, his life flickered through her like a film reel. He was so open, so human. Mitch Turner. Forty-three. Foster homes and skinned knees and bloody knuckles in a street brawl. Computer screens and car tires screeching. Handcuffs and a prison cell and a cafeteria, a man with a makeshift knife, a muffled threat, and then—June saw a face she recognized.

  And thanks to Mitch, she now had a name to go with it.

  Victor Vale.

  In Mitch’s mind, the man was lean but not yet gaunt, washed out in prison grays instead of fitted blacks. A flick of his wrist, and another man who threatened collapsed with a scream.

  That meeting, like a hinge in Mitch’s mind—beyond that moment, his memories were all marked by Victor’s blue eyes, his pale hair. Until they found her. Sydney, bloody and rain-soaked in a too-big coat. Sydney, who wasn’t human. Sydney, who Mitch didn’t know what to do with, how to handle. Sydney, and now a different kind of fear.

  Loss.

  And tucked into all of that, like a slip of paper in a book, a last memory. Another blond girl. A body buried by fire. A choice smothered by regret.

  “Sorry,” June heard herself say again, even as the man’s memories flashed through her head. “My aim is just awful.”

  “Don’t worry about it,” said Mitch, radiating kindness, warmth.

  He sat back in the grass with his book and smiled. June smiled back and said good-bye, her focus already turning to the girl under the tree.

  * * *

  Unknown Number: I forgot to tell you.

  Unknown Number: My name is Sydney.

  June cradled the cell phone in her palm. She already knew the girl’s name, of course, but it was better, coming from her. June wanted things to happen naturally, even if they hadn’t started that way.

  Nice to meet you, Sydney, she wrote back. I’m June.

  Good, she thought with a smile.

  Now they could be proper friends.

  V

  THREE WEEKS AGO

  THE HEIGHTS

  THE elevator chimed as it reached the fourteenth floor. June stepped out into the hall and approached the cream-colored door. She half expected to find a spare key on the doorframe or under the mat, but there was nothing. No matter. Two thin bits of metal and a half minute later, she was in.

  Marcella Riggins’s apartment was pretty much what she expected: leather sofa, plush white rug, copper sconces, all money, no soul.

  Still, there were a few surprising touches. The chunk of wood missing from the bedroom door, the rotted line like burned paper showing the path of destruction. The tiny, glittering pieces of glass on the counter and strewn across the floor. But the thing June inspected first was the record player. It was the kind rich people bought for decoration instead of function. But a small stack of albums leaned beside it, even if they too were just for show, and June flipped through until she found something upbeat, savoring the scratch of the needle.

  Music poured into the apartment.

  June closed her eyes and swayed a little.

  The song reminded her of summer. Of laughter and champagne, the cold splash of pool water, of veranda curtains and strong hands and the scrape of the slate walk against her cheek and—

  The song scratched to a stop as June removed the needle.

  The past was the past.

  Dead and buried.

  She wandered through the bedroom, drew an absent hand across the clothes in the closet—half of which appeared to have fallen victim to Marcella’s wrath. Her cell buzzed.

  Syd: I’m so bored.

  Syd: I wish I was there.

  June wrote back.

  June: You could be.

  Syd: I can’t.

  The words were routine, at this point, even if they both knew the outcome wasn’t really possible.

  After all, June could be anyone, while Sydney, it seemed, could only be herself. Conspicuous in its constancy, Sydney’s presence would negate June’s own advantage. And, of course, there was the matter of the others—of Mitch, and more importantly, of Victor
. June hadn’t, at first, understood the nature of that relationship, or the degree of Sydney’s attachment, until Sydney finally broke down and told her everything.

  * * *

  IT was last fall, and they were on one of their late-night calls, each of them perched on a rooftop, cities apart but under the same sky. Syd was tired—tired of living out of a backpack, tired of never settling down, tired of not getting to live a normal life.

  June had wondered, of course, why they moved around so much—had spent a good long while assuming they were on the run. But there was more, she knew it, and she’d been waiting for Syd to confide in her.

  That night, she was tired enough to tell the truth. “Victor’s looking for someone who can help him.”

  “Help him how?”

  “He’s sick.” A long pause. “I made him sick.”

  “How could you make him sick?”

  “I thought I could save him. I tried. But it didn’t work. Not the way it should have.”

  June hesitated then. She’d seen Sydney save small animals, knew what her intervention meant. “You resurrected Victor?”

  The answer was barely a whisper. “Yes. I’ve brought people back before . . .” And then, still so softly, “But it’s harder, when they’re like us. You have to reach so much farther into the dark. I thought I grabbed hold of all the thread, but it was frayed, pieces everywhere, and I must have missed one, and now . . . his power isn’t working right.”

  That last bit, like an opening in armor, a chance to ask the question that had plagued June since the day she brushed arms with the man in black. The mystery of his power—she’d glimpsed something, in Mitch’s mind, the vague shape of it anyhow, had gleaned more from the big guy’s fear, and from the careful way Sydney spoke, that Victor could do more than start cars or solve puzzles with his eyes closed.

  “What is Victor’s power?” she asked now, heard the girl swallow audibly.

  “He hurts people.”

  A small shiver. “Sydney,” June said slowly. “Has he ever hurt you?”

  “No.” And then, “Not on purpose.”

  Anger cut through June like a knife. Anger, and the grim determination to pry Sydney free from Victor’s vise.

  So far, she hadn’t succeeded.

  It didn’t stop her from trying.

  “If you ever want to leave . . .”

  But June always knew the answer before it came.

  * * *

  JUNE sighed. Sydney still blamed herself for Victor’s situation, and until June could find a way to separate the girl from her shadow, Syd would say those same two words.

  June put the phone away, turning her attention back to the task at hand, and the issue of Marcella Riggins. She plucked a framed photo from the dresser. No question, the woman was a stunner. Black hair, pale skin, long limbs. Pretty in the way that made nothing else about you matter. June had been that kind of pretty, once.

  It was overrated.

  June tossed the photo onto the bed and went to the window, intending to keep watch for Marcella.

  Instead, she spotted a black van idling at the mouth of an alley.

  That wouldn’t do.

  She donned the Mr. Gosterly costume a second time and went back downstairs. As she stepped through the revolving doors, she shed the aspect in favor of something even less form-fitting—a middle-aged man, haggard from too many nights spent sleeping rough. The homeless fellow staggered, as if drunk, and caught himself against the hood of the idling van. Then, without looking up, began to unbuckle his worn belt and relieve himself against the vehicle.

  A door swung open, slammed closed.

  “Hey!” shouted a voice, grabbing her borrowed body from behind.

  June turned and stumbled forward into the soldier, as if losing his balance, and as she did, a switchblade slid out from her fingers with a neat little snick. She drove the blade up into the soldier’s throat, then eased his body down against the alley wall.

  One down.

  How many more to go?

  MEANWHILE, ACROSS TOWN . . .

  MARCELLA sat on the patio of Le Soleil, sipping her latte as rain dripped from the awning and a hundred strangers passed beneath black umbrellas.

  She couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. She was, of course, used to being noticed, but this felt different. Intrusive. And yet there was no obvious source.

  Despite her concern, Marcella wasn’t in disguise—lying low had never been her style. But she’d conceded to a more subtle aesthetic, with her black hair in a simple high ponytail, her trademark stiletto pumps exchanged for more functional heeled black boots. Her nails, freshly painted gold, rapped against the side of her cup as she studied the subway station across the street. Marcella mapped out the station in her mind, envisioning the escalators that led down one level, and then two, terminating at the bank of storage lockers that ran along a white tile wall.

  The locker in question was one of five they had, scattered across Merit. It had been Marcella’s idea, to skim off the funds, in case a situation arose. Admittedly, she’d never envisioned a situation quite like this.

  A siren wailed, and Marcella’s fingers tensed on her coffee cup as the patrol car whipped around a nearby corner. But it surged past without stopping, and Marcella exhaled and brought the latte to her lips.

  It was strange—in the days since her confrontation with Marcus, she’d been on edge, waiting for the cops to show up at any moment. She wasn’t a fool. She knew they were the ones who’d kept her survival a secret. Knew her departure from the hospital was anything but subtle. And yet no one showed up, either to kill or to collect her.

  She wondered what she would do when they did.

  “Anything else?” asked the waiter.

  Marcella smiled up at him from behind her sunglasses. “Just the check.”

  She paid and stood, flinching a little as she did—the burns were healing, but her skin was still tender and tight, aching with every motion. A useful reminder of Marcus’s crime, and a shortcut to summoning this new power, if and when she needed it.

  Marcella crossed the street and into the station.

  She made her way to the lockers, found the number—the day they met—and spun the code Marcus had habitually used into the combination lock.

  It didn’t open.

  She tried a second time, then sighed.

  Her husband continued to disappoint her.

  Marcella wrapped her fingers around the lock, and watched it rust away, the metal crumbling in her palm. The door swung open, and she pulled a stylish black-and-gold purse from the cubby. She drew the zipper back and examined the stacks of cash totaling fifty thousand.

  It wasn’t enough, of course, but it was a start.

  For what? she asked herself.

  The truth was, Marcella wasn’t sure what to do next. Where to go. Who to become. Marcus had gone from being a foothold to a shackle, a hindrance.

  Marcella took the purse and made her way back up to the street, and hailed a cab.

  “Where to?” asked the driver as she slid into the backseat.

  Marcella sat back and crossed her legs.

  “The Heights.”

  The city slid past, innocuous enough, but when Marcella climbed out of the cab ten minutes later, she felt it again, that prickle like eyes against the back of her neck.

  “Mrs. Riggins,” said Ainsley, the Heights’s concierge. His voice was steady, but his gaze lingered on her as she crossed the lobby, a careful tension in his face. He was standing too stiff, too still, working too hard at seeming calm.

  Shit, thought Marcella, stepping smoothly into the elevator. As it rose, she unzipped the black-and-gold bag and reached past the money, fingers closing around the familiar grip of a handgun.

  Marcella drew the weapon out, admiring the sleek chrome finish as she ejected the clip, checked the rounds, slid the safety off, each gesture performed with studied ease.

  It was like wearing heels, she thought, racking the
slide.

  Just a matter of practice.

  VI

  TWO YEARS AGO

  MERIT ARMORY

  IT was her birthday, and they had the whole place to themselves.

  Marcella could have picked a restaurant, a museum, a movie theater—any place she wanted—and Marcus would have found a way to make it hers for the night. He’d been surprised when she’d chosen the gun range.

  She’d always wanted to learn how to shoot.

  Her heels clicked across the linoleum, the bright fluorescents glaring down on case after case of weapons.

  Marcus laid a dozen handguns on the counter, and Marcella ran her hands over the different models. They reminded her of tarot cards. When she was young Marcella had gone to a carnival, snuck into a little tent to learn her fortune. An old woman—the perfect image of a mythological or mythic crone—had spread the cards, and told her not to think, just to reach for the one that reached for her.

  She had drawn the Queen of Pentacles.

  The fortune teller told her it symbolized ambition.

  “Power,” said the woman, “belongs to those who take it.”

  Marcella’s fingers closed around a sleek chrome Beretta.

  “This one,” she said with a smile.

  Marcus took up a box of bullets and led her through into the shooting gallery.

  He lifted a target—a full silhouette, head to toe, and marked by rings—and clipped it to the line. He hit a button, and the target skated away, five, ten, then fifteen meters before it stopped and hung suspended, waiting.

  Marcus showed her how to load the magazine—it would take her months to manage without chipping a nail—and offered her the gun. It felt heavy in her hand. Lethal.

  “What you’re holding,” he said, “is a weapon. It only has one purpose, and that’s to kill.”

  Marcus turned Marcella to face the target, and wrapped himself around her like a coat, tracing the lines of her body with his own. His chest to her shoulders. His arms along her arms, hands shaping hers around the gun. She could feel his excitement pressing against her, but the gun range wasn’t just a kinky setting for a birthday fuck. There would be time for that, later, but first, she wanted to learn.

 
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