Vengeful, p.24

Vengeful, page 24

 

Vengeful
 



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  But nothing happened.

  After a long, empty second, Campbell’s hand fell away, and Victor knew that he’d found another dead end. But he’d seen Campbell’s power. It should have worked. It had to work.

  “I’m sorry,” said the man, shaking his head. “I can’t help you.”

  “Why not?” snarled Victor.

  For the first time, Campbell backed away. “When I said I could—I meant—I can heal a violence done by someone else. But whatever’s happened to you, however you’re hurt, you’ve done it to yourself.”

  Victor’s anger sliced through him like a knife, sudden and deep. His hand clenched into a fist, and Campbell staggered back into the brush, a pained sob wrenching from his throat.

  “Get up,” demanded Victor. But he raised his hand as he said it, forcing Campbell upright. “Fix me.”

  “I can’t!” gasped Campbell. “I told you, I can only heal the innocent. You’re not a victim.”

  “Who are you to judge me?” growled Victor.

  “No one,” said Campbell. “The power judges for itself. I’m sorry, I—”

  Victor shoved Campbell away with a snarl. Behind his eyes, he saw his death—not the most recent, or the one at Eli’s hands, but the very first, the one in the lab at Lockland, the way he’d climbed onto the table, pressed his bare back against the cold steel, summoned death to him like a demon, a slave, an order.

  In the woods, Campbell had struggled back to his feet.

  Victor half expected the EO to run, but he didn’t.

  Darkness had swept in around them, but even in the lightless woods, Victor saw the genuine sadness in the other EO’s eyes.

  Victor briefly considered letting the man go. But if he’d found Campbell, it was only a matter of time before EON did too. Their reach seemed farther by the day.

  “I’m sorry,” said Campbell again.

  “Me too,” said Victor, drawing his gun.

  The shots echoed through the woods.

  The body collapsed, and Victor sighed, and slumped back against the nearest tree, the humming louder than ever in his head. He closed his eyes, suddenly, immeasurably tired.

  If you kill all the EOs you meet, how are you better than Eli?

  Whatever’s happened to you, however you’re hurt, you’ve done it to yourself.

  His cell broke the silence. Victor dragged his eyes open and answered the call, rising to his feet. “Dominic.” He heard the telltale sounds of a bar in the background. “You have news?”

  “There’s a new EO,” said Dom. “A bold one. Name’s Marcella Riggins.”

  “Is she a viable lead?” asked Victor as he started back the way he’d come.

  “No,” said Dom. “Her power is definitely of a destructive nature.”

  Victor sighed. “Then what is she to me?”

  “I just thought you’d want to know. She’s just drawing a lot of attention.”

  “Good,” said Victor shortly. “Then EON can waste their time hunting her instead of me.”

  He knew, of course, thanks to Dominic, that they were already chasing him. Or rather, chasing someone. And he had a good idea who was leading the charge.

  Victor had been disgusted, but not surprised, when he’d learned about the way Stell was using Eli Ever. Putting him back to work. Eli always did have a knack for finding his way to the center of a stage, and Stell had fallen for his charms before. Victor wondered if that was why EON hadn’t gotten closer. Not because their pet had failed to see Victor’s hand in the killings, but because he had.

  It would be so like Eli, that self-righteous, self-absorbed need to handle things himself.

  And every day the noose failed to tighten, Victor’s suspicions grew.

  As for Marcella Riggins, let her have the spotlight, as long as she could hold it. When it came to EOs, there was a kind of natural selection. Most had the sense to stay in the shadows, but when the need for attention outweighed a sense of self-preservation, the scales tended to balance themselves.

  And people like Marcella never lasted long.

  XIII

  THREE WEEKS AGO

  JUST OUTSIDE MERIT

  RAIN slipped through the warehouse roof, the steady drip of water masking the clip of Marcella’s heels against the concrete floor. The old cannery sat on the outskirts of town, a skeleton of pillars and steel beams and a rotting roof, one of the designated parcels of neutral ground in the city.

  Their voices drifted through the bones of the building.

  “. . . in his own office . . .”

  “. . . it can’t stand . . .”

  “. . . who’s going to handle . . .”

  “. . . just one woman . . .”

  “. . . no way she’s working alone . . .”

  “What is it with men and places like this?” mused Marcella, her voice loud enough to carry as three heads came into sight. “I swear, you always pick the most morose places to gather.”

  The men turned toward her. Joe Kolhoff. Bob Mellis. Jack Caprese. She’d half expected to find them sitting at another round table, these self-proclaimed knights of Merit, but instead she found them huddled in the center of the dreary, leaking space.

  Unbelievable, thought Marcella. Her husband reduced to ash, Tony dead at his desk, and yet they still didn’t even bother to draw their guns. Neutral ground rules dictated that bosses didn’t carry, but surely no one actually went into a meeting like this without at least one piece of artillery.

  “Is it the ambiance?” Marcella wondered as she made her way toward them. “Or does like simply call to like? Defunct. Outdated. Obsolete. So many old buildings in this city,” she said, nails trailing across a concrete pillar. “It’s insane the money they waste on repairs and refurbishments. Sometimes it’s better to just raze the whole thing and start fresh, don’t you think?”

  “The once-late Marcella Riggins,” sneered Kolhoff. “You’ve got some nerve—”

  “Oh, I like to think I’ve got a great deal of nerve, Joe.”

  “If you had a damn bit of sense,” said Mellis, “you would have run.”

  “In these shoes?” she teased, glancing down at her steel heels. “And miss this lovely meeting?”

  “You weren’t invited,” said Kolhoff.

  “What can I say? My ears were burning.”

  “How did you find us?” demanded Caprese.

  Marcella wandered between the pillars, nails skating over concrete. “My husband used to have a saying. Knowledge may be power, but money buys both.” Her hand fell away. “Turns out some of Hutch’s men were more than willing to change sides, in exchange for a promotion.”

  “Bullshit,” hissed Caprese. “Family doesn’t turn.”

  Marcella rolled her eyes. “The amazing thing about these families of yours,” she said, dragging her hand along another pillar, “is that they’re only family to the ones on top. Head far enough down the tree, and you find a whole lot of people who don’t really care who’s in charge, as long as they’re getting paid.” She let her eyes wander to the warehouse wall, the lot beyond, where half a dozen black sedans idled. “I wonder how many of your men will jump at the chance to work for me, the moment you’re gone.”

  Kolhoff bristled. Mellis drew a knife from his back pocket, flicking it lazily open. Caprese, finally, produced a gun. “I always thought you were a brazen bitch,” he said, training the barrel on her, “but you’re obviously a stupid one, too, coming here alone.”

  Marcella continued her path between the pillars, unconcerned by the weapons. “Who said I came alone?”

  Jonathan’s dress shoes tapped out a rhythm on the concrete as he came into sight. He moved as if in a trance, his dark eyes trained on Caprese as he walked straight toward him. The mob boss squeezed off a shot, and the bullet struck the air in front of Jonathan with a burst of blue-white light before ricocheting off, sparking on the concrete floor.

  “What the fuck . . .” snarled Caprese, firing again and again as Jonathan closed the distance be
tween them, bullets skating off before one finally bounced back, hitting Caprese squarely in the knee. He gasped, and buckled, clutching his leg.

  Jonathan didn’t say anything. He simply drew his own gun, aimed at the kneeling man’s forehead, and fired.

  Kolhoff and Mellis froze, their eyes wide as Caprese’s body slumped, lifeless, to the cold ground.

  Marcella clicked her tongue, pressing her hand flat against the final pillar. “If you had a damn bit of sense,” she said, red light seeping from her palm, “you would have run.”

  The concrete beneath her hand gave way, and as it did, the other pillars began to shudder and lurch, each already weakened by her passing touch. The building let out a heavy groan as the columns crumbled and the roof bowed, buckled.

  Mellis and Kolhoff were running now, but there was no point. June had already locked the doors. A massive chunk of stone came crashing down, Marcella in its path.

  She watched it fall, fascinated, limbs fizzing with excitement and fear.

  “Jonathan,” she said, but he was already looking, and the air around her shimmered with blue-white light just before the rubble struck. Rocks shattered against the forcefield and slid off, raining harmlessly down around her.

  Marcella remembered the first time she witnessed a demolition. The thing that struck her most, after that initial boom, was the quiet grace, the way the whole behemoth had sagged sleepily, sinking less like a mass of bricks and steel than a failed soufflé. It was, admittedly, a little less peaceful from this angle, and not nearly as quiet.

  But Marcella savored it all the same.

  Savored the men’s screams, the warping metal and the broken rock and the way the whole world shook as the building fell down around them, burying Kolhoff, and Mellis, and Caprese. Three more men who’d stood in her way.

  The wreckage carved a circle of destruction around Marcella, around Jonathan, leaving them unharmed, though barricaded. Contained. But there was nothing that could hold her now. Marcella brought her fingers to the nearest block of concrete and pressed, her whole hand flaring crimson, a violent light spreading like fire up her arm.

  The concrete weakened, cracked, shattered, the obstacles laid to waste, the path made clear.

  Marcella had yet to test the limit of her power. Or rather, had yet to find it. The destruction came so easily.

  She strode out of the ruined building, Jonathan trailing like a shadow.

  June was waiting at the edge of the rubble, eyes wide. “That wasn’t exactly subtle.”

  Marcella only smiled. “Sometimes subtlety is overrated.”

  June gestured to the suited men spilling out of the waiting black sedans. “And what do we tell the cavalry?”

  Marcella considered the men.

  “Let’s tell them,” she said, “that the Merit mob is under new management.”

  * * *

  MARCELLA collapsed onto the cream leather sofa, laughter bubbling across her lips. “You should have seen their faces, June . . .”

  The city stretched beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass, glittering in the last shards of light.

  Marcella had always wanted to live in the National.

  Now that she was here, Hutch’s penthouse felt like a temporary stop on the way to bigger, better things. But it was still a pretty one. Especially now that the blood had been scrubbed out. A few stubborn flecks remained, but Marcella didn’t mind them. No, they were reminders of what she’d done. What she was capable of doing. Enemies reduced to stains under her feet.

  As far as the standard personnel were concerned, Tony Hutch had gone on holiday, something he was prone to do.

  He’d always been a man of many vices, used to his privacy.

  Jonathan slipped like a ghost down the hall, but June lingered, perched on the edge of the sofa.

  “You know,” she said. “One body doesn’t draw much notice. The trouble is when they start adding up. Mob boys don’t exactly phone the feds every time someone bites it, but you’re testing them. Do you not remember what I said, about EON?”

  “All the more reason to stand out.”

  June crossed her arms. “How do you figure?”

  Marcella curled a clump of black hair absently around one finger. “When people stay in the dark, it’s easier to make them disappear.” She sat up. “I just brought down an entire building. You can be anyone you want. And Jonathan can render us untouchable. We’re not just impressive, we’re invincible. We should stand out.”

  June shook her head. “If you want to survive—”

  “But I don’t want to survive,” sneered Marcella. “I want to thrive. And I promise you, I’m just getting started.”

  The girl rolled her eyes. “What now? You’re going to throw yourself a fucking party?”

  A slow smile spread across Marcella’s mouth. It wasn’t such a bad idea.

  “No,” said June. “No, that was a joke—”

  A gunshot went off from another room.

  “Dammit,” hissed Marcella, rising to her feet.

  June followed, and together they found Jonathan standing in one of the bedrooms, the gun hanging limply from his fingers, a hole in the far wall where the bullet had ricocheted.

  “What are you doing?” demanded Marcella.

  “Didn’t work,” he murmured. “Thought it might. Now that Caprese’s gone . . .”

  “Sorry, Johnny,” said June, “apparently you’ve still got work to do.”

  He sank onto the bed, head in his hands.

  “Just wanted . . .” he said, gripping the gun in both hands, “to be with Claire . . .”

  Marcella sighed, and pulled the weapon from his grip. His moroseness was killing her buzz.

  “Come on,” she said, turning on her heel, “we all clearly need a drink.”

  She didn’t look back, but she heard Jonathan drag himself up from the bed and follow them into the main room.

  June was in a restless mood, trading one aspect for another with every step. An old woman with a tattooed sleeve. A young black man in a tailored suit. A pretty twentysomething in a white minidress.

  “You’re making me dizzy,” snapped Marcella.

  June slumped onto the sofa, and took on a new aspect. She wasn’t Marcella—couldn’t be—but she was clearly meant to be close. Porcelain skin and black hair and legs for days. The face was too wide, the eyes green instead of blue. They followed Marcella to the sideboard lining the wall, with its collection of rare, expensive bourbons.

  She set the gun on the crystal top and poured Jonathan a few fingers of something dark and strong. No ice.

  “You missed quite a speech,” said June. “Our girl’s got big plans.”

  Marcella didn’t rise to June’s baiting. She handed the drink to Jonathan. “That’s right,” she said. “And you’re clearly meant to be a part of them.” Marcella turned to June and offered her a glass. “What about you, June?”

  She wasn’t just asking about the drink, and they both knew it.

  The other EO shook her head, but she was smiling, a playful, almost dangerous light in her eyes. “I’ve said my piece. Do as you please. After all, if EON comes calling, they won’t catch me.”

  June took the drink, and Marcella held up her own. “A toast, to bigger, better—”

  The window shattered behind them.

  The bullet would have caught Marcella in the back, if Jonathan hadn’t still been staring at her. Instead, it ricocheted in a burst of light, followed in quick succession by three more, shots whistling through the air.

  One of them struck June. She stumbled, fell, her shape sloughing away as she did. For a second, barely a fraction of a second, Marcella saw the girl’s true form again—the auburn hair, the band of freckles—and then that person was gone, replaced by a stranger, launching their body out of the line of fire.

  “I told you—” started June.

  “Not the time,” snapped Marcella, as a decanter nearby exploded into glassy shards. “Keep your eyes on me,” she ordered Jonat
han. And then she turned, set down her glass of whiskey, and took up her gun.

  The shots continued, a hail of fire that turned the air blue and white as Jonathan’s forcefield reflected every shot. Marcella moved with a careful, calculated grace, forcing herself not to flinch amid the onslaught. It was exhilarating, knowing that her life wasn’t, for the moment, in her own hands. Knowing that if Jonathan looked away, the shield would fall, and she’d be hit.

  But sometimes, you had to have a little faith.

  Marcella marched across the penthouse to the shattered floor-to-ceiling windows, the jagged rim of glass gaping open like a mouth. She touched the edge, and the remaining shards crumbled, crystals caught up and swept away by a gust of cold night air as Marcella stepped through the empty window, heels grinding on glass and sand and debris.

  This, she thought, crossing the balcony, is why you don’t hide.

  This, she thought, lifting her own gun, is why you let them see your strength.

  Marcella squinted through the flash and spark of Jonathan’s shine, trying to find the flares of light that marked the sniper’s rifle in the dark as she fired, again and again, emptying her clip into the night.

  XIV

  TWO WEEKS AGO

  DOWNTOWN WHITTON

  SYDNEY ran her fingers over the small bones.

  Dol had found the bird in the gutter earlier that day, if it could be called a bird—it was a gnarled mess of sinew and feather, a single ruined wing. It was pitiful to start with, and worse still after Syd had pried it from the big dog’s mouth, and now it lay sadly on a worn kitchen towel atop her borrowed bed. Dol watched, his chin resting on the comforter.

  Somewhere beyond the doors, Mitch was making dinner, and humming an old song. They each had their own ways of coping with the stress, the fear, the hope. She turned her attention to the bird.

  “What do you think?” she asked Dol.

  The dog sighed, still sulking over the stolen prize. She scratched his ears—the closer he was, the stronger she could feel the threads that bound them, and the easier it was to remind her fingers what they were searching for.

 

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