Vengeful, p.4

Vengeful, page 4



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  Victor was trying to focus through the rising sound in his skull, as she asked all the same questions, and he gave all the same answers. He laid out the symptoms—the noise, the pain, the convulsions, the blackouts—omitting what he could, lying where he had to. The doctor listened, pen scratching across her notepad as she thought. “It could be epilepsy, myasthenia gravis, dystonia—neurological disorders are hard to diagnose sometimes, when they present overlapping symptoms. I’ll order some tests—”

  “No,” said Victor.

  She looked up from her notes. “Without knowing what exactly—”

  “I’ve had tests,” he said. “They were . . . inconclusive. I’m here because I want to know what you would prescribe.”

  Dr. Clayton straightened in her chair. “I don’t prescribe medications without a diagnosis, and I don’t diagnose without compelling evidence. No offense, Mr. Lassiter, but your word is not sufficient.”

  Victor exhaled. He leaned forward. And as he did, he leaned on her, too. Not with his hands, but with his senses, a pressure just below pain. A subtle discomfort, the same kind that made strangers bend away, allowed Victor to pass unnoticed through a crowd. But Clayton couldn’t escape so easily, and so the discomfort registered for what it was—a threat. A fight-or-flight trigger, simple and animalistic, predator to prey.

  “There are plenty of dirty doctors in this city,” said Victor. “But their willingness to prescribe is often inversely proportional to their skill as a physician. Which is why I’m here. With you.”

  Clayton swallowed. “The wrong diagnosis,” she said steadily, “and the medication could do more harm than good.”

  “That is a risk,” said Victor, “I’m willing to take.”

  The doctor let out a short, shaky breath. She shook her head, as if clearing her mind. “I’ll prescribe you an anti-seizure medication and a beta blocker.” Her pen scratched across the page. “For anything stronger,” she said, tearing off the sheet, “you will have to admit yourself for observation.”

  Victor took the slip and rose. “Thank you, Doctor.”

  Two hours later, he tipped the pills into his palm and swallowed them dry.

  Soon, he felt his heart slow, the buzzing quiet, and thought, perhaps, that he had found an answer. For two weeks, he felt better.

  And then he died again.




  VICTOR was late, and he knew it.

  Linden had taken longer than expected—he’d had to wait for the garage to clear, wait for them to be alone. And then, of course, wait for the death he knew was coming, see it through so it didn’t follow him back to the house where they’d been for the last nine days. It was a rental, another one of those short-stay places you could book for a day or a week or a month.

  Sydney had chosen it, she said, because it looked like a home.

  When Victor walked in, he was met by the smell of melted cheese and the crack of an explosion on the large TV. Sydney was perched on the arm of the couch, tossing Dol pieces of popcorn while Mitch stood at the kitchen counter, arranging candles on top of a chocolate cake.

  The scene was so extraordinarily . . . normal.

  The dog spotted him first, tail sliding back and forth across the hardwood floor.

  Mitch met his gaze, forehead knotted in concern, but Victor waved him away.

  Syd glanced over her shoulder. “Hey.”

  Five years, and in most ways Sydney Clarke looked the same. She was still short and slight, as round-faced and wide-eyed as she’d been the day they’d met on the side of the road. Most of the differences were superficial—she’d traded the rainbow leggings for black ones with little white stars, and her usual blond bob was constantly hidden by a collection of wigs, her hair changing as often as her mood. Tonight, it was a pale blue, the same color as her eyes.

  But in other ways, Sydney had changed as much as any of them. The tone of her voice, her unflinching gaze, the way she rolled her eyes—an affectation she’d clearly taken on in an effort to stress her age, since it wasn’t readily apparent. In body, she was still a child. In attitude, she was all teenager.

  Now she took one look at Victor’s empty hands and he could see the question in her eyes, the suspicion that he’d forgotten.

  “Happy birthday, Sydney,” he said.

  It was a strange thing, the alignment of Syd’s birthday with her arrival in Victor’s life. Every year marked not only her age, but the time she’d been with him. With them.

  “Ready for me to light the candles?” asked Mitch.

  Victor shook his head. “Give me a few minutes to change,” he said, slipping down the hall.

  He closed the door behind him, left the lights off as he crossed the bedroom. The furnishings really didn’t suit him—the blue and white cushions, the pastoral painting on one wall, the books on the shelf picked out for decoration instead of substance. The last, at least, he’d found a use for. An attractive history text sat open, a black felt-tip pen resting in the center. At this point, the left page had been entirely blacked out, the right down to the final line, as if Victor were searching for a word and hadn’t found it yet.

  He shrugged out of his coat and went into the bathroom, rolling up his sleeves. He turned the faucet on and splashed water on his face, the white noise of the tap matching the static already starting again inside his skull. These days the quiet was measured in minutes instead of days.

  Victor ran a hand through his short blond hair and considered his reflection, blue eyes wolfish in his gaunt face.

  He’d lost weight.

  He had always been slim, but now when he lifted his chin, the light glanced off his brow and cheekbone, made shadows along his jaw, in the hollow of his throat.

  A short row of pill bottles sat lined up along the back of the sink. He reached for the nearest one, and tipped a Valium into his palm.

  Victor had never been keen on drugs.

  Sure, the prospective escape held some appeal, but he could never get over the loss of control. The first time he’d purchased narcotics, back at Lockland, he wasn’t even trying to get high. He was just trying to end his life, so he could come back better.

  Irony of ironies, thought Victor, swallowing the pill dry.




  VICTOR hadn’t spent a lot of time in strip clubs.

  He’d never understood their appeal—never been aroused by the half-naked bodies, their writhing oiled forms—but he hadn’t come to the Glass Tower for the show.

  He was looking for someone special.

  As he scanned the hazy club, trying not to inhale the cloud of perfume and smoke and sweat, a manicured hand danced along his shoulder blade.

  “Hello, honey,” said a syrupy voice. Victor glanced sideways and saw dark eyes, bright red lips. “I bet we could put a smile on that face.”

  Victor doubted it. He had craved a lot of things—power, revenge, control—but sex was never one of them. Even with Angie . . . he’d wanted her, of course, wanted her attention, her devotion, even her love. He’d cared about her, would have found ways to please her—and perhaps found his own pleasure in that—but for him, it had never been about sex.

  The dancer looked Victor up and down, misreading his disinterest for discretion, or perhaps assuming his proclivities went to less feminine places.

  He brushed her fingers away. “I’m looking for Malcolm Jones.” Self-styled entrepreneur, specializing in all things illicit. Weapons. Sex. Drugs.

  The dancer sighed and pointed toward a red door at the back of the club. “Downstairs.”

  He made his way toward it, was nearly there when a small blonde crashed into him, releasing a flutter of apology in a high sweet lilt as he reached to steady her. Their eyes met, and something crossed her face, the briefest flutter of interest—he would have said recognition, but he was sure they’d never met. Victor pulled away, and so did she, slipping into the crowd as
he reached the red door.

  It swung shut behind him, swallowing the club from view. He flexed his hands as he followed a set of concrete steps down into the bowels of the building. The hall at the bottom was narrow, the walls painted black and the air thick with stale cigar smoke. Laughter spilled out of a room at the end, but Victor’s way forward was blocked by a heavyset guy in a snug black shirt.

  “Going somewhere?”

  “Yes,” said Victor.

  The man surveyed him. “You look like a narc.”

  “So I’ve been told,” said Victor, spreading his arms, inviting a search.

  The man patted him down, then led him through.

  Malcolm Jones was sitting behind a large desk in an expensive suit, a gleaming silver gun resting atop a stack of bills at his elbow. Three more men perched on various pieces of furniture; one watched the flat-screen mounted on the wall, another played on his phone, the third eyed the line of coke Jones was cutting on his desk.

  None of them seemed overly concerned by Victor’s arrival.

  Only Jones bothered to look up. He wasn’t young, but he had that hungry, almost wolfish look that came with people on the rise. “Who’re you?”

  “New customer,” said Victor simply.

  “How’d you hear of me?”

  “Word spreads.”

  Jones preened at that, clearly flattered by the idea of his budding notoriety. He gestured at the empty chair across the desk. “What are you looking for?”

  Victor lowered himself into the chair. “Drugs.”

  Jones gave him a once-over. “Huh, would have taken you for a weapons guy. Are we talking heroin? Coke?”

  Victor shook his head. “Prescription.”

  “Ah, in that case . . .” Jones waved a hand, and one of his men rose and opened a locker, displaying an array of plastic pill bottles.

  “We’ve got oxy, fentanyl, benzos, addy . . .” recited Jones as the other guy lined the bottles on the desk.

  Victor considered his options, wondering where to start.

  The episodes were multiplying, and nothing he did seemed to make a difference. He’d tried avoiding his power, on the theory that it was a kind of battery, one that charged with use. When that didn’t work, Victor changed tactics, and tried using his power more, on the theory that perhaps it was a charge he had to diffuse. But that approach yielded the same results—again the buzz grew louder, again it became physical, again Victor died.

  Victor surveyed the array of pills.

  He could chart the electrical current’s progress, but he couldn’t seem to change it.

  From a scientific perspective, it was damning.

  From a psychological one, it was worse.

  The pain itself he could hijack, to a point, but pain was only one facet of the nervous system. And only one aspect of most opiates. They were suppressants, designed not only to smother pain, but also sensation, heart rate, consciousness—if one kind didn’t suffice, then he’d need a cocktail.

  “I’ll take them,” he said.

  “Which ones?”

  “All of them.”

  Jones smiled coolly. “Slow down, stranger. There’s a house limit of one bottle—I can’t go giving you my whole supply. Next thing I know, it shows up on a corner at triple the price—”

  “I’m not selling,” said Victor.

  “Then you don’t need much,” said Jones, his smile tightening. “Now, as for payment—”

  “I said I’d take them.” Victor leaned forward. “I never said anything about payment.”

  Jones laughed, a humorless, feral sound, taken up in a chorus by his men. “If you were planning to rob me, you could have at least brought a gun.”

  “Oh, I did,” said Victor, holding out his hand. Slowly, as if performing a trick, he curled three of his fingers in, leaving his thumb up and his index extended.

  “See?” he said, pointing the finger at Jones.

  Jones no longer seemed amused. “You some kind of—?”


  There was no gunshot—no earsplitting echo or spent cartridge or smoke—but Jones let out a guttural scream and fell to the floor as if hit.

  The other three men went for their own guns, but their actions were slowed by shock, and before they could fire Victor leveled them all. No dial. No nuance. Just blunt force. That place beyond pain where nerves snapped, fuses blew.

  The men crumpled to the floor like puppets with their strings cut, but Jones was still conscious. Still clutching his chest, searching frantically for a bullet wound, the wetness of blood, some physical damage to match what his nerves were telling him.

  “The fuck . . . the fuck . . .” he muttered, eyes darting wildly.

  Pain, Victor had learned, turned people into animals.

  He gathered the pills, dumping bags and bottles into a black leather briefcase he found leaning against the desk. Jones shuddered on the floor before rallying, his attention latching on to the glint of metal on his desk. He started to lunge for it, but Victor’s fingers twitched, and Jones sagged, unconscious, against the far wall.

  Victor took up the gun Jones had been going for, weighed the weapon in his palm. He didn’t have any special fondness for guns—they’d been rendered largely unnecessary, given his power. But in his current condition, it might be useful to have something . . . extraneous. Plus, it never hurt to have a visible deterrent.

  Victor slipped the gun into his coat pocket and snapped the briefcase shut.

  “A pleasure doing business with you,” he said to the silent room as he turned and walked out.


  JUNE adjusted her ponytail and slipped through the velvet curtain into the private dance room. Harold Shelton was already inside, waiting, rubbing his pink hands on his thighs in anticipation.

  “I’ve missed you, Jeannie.”

  Jeannie was home sick with food poisoning.

  June was just borrowing her body.

  “How much have you missed me?” she asked, trying to sound soft, breathy. The voice wasn’t perfect, it never was. After all, a voice was nature and nurture, biology and culture. June could nail the pitch—that came with the body—but her real accent, with its light musical lilt, always snuck through. Not that Harold seemed to notice. He was too busy ogling Jeannie’s tits through the blue-and-white cheerleading outfit.

  It wasn’t really June’s preferred type, but it didn’t have to be.

  It just had to be his.

  She did a slow circle around him, let her pink nails trail along his shoulder. When her fingers grazed his skin, she saw flashes of his life—not all of it, just the pieces that left a mark. She let them slide through her mind without sticking. She knew she’d never borrow his body, so she’d never need to know more.

  Harold caught her wrist, pulling her into his lap.

  “You know the rules, Harold,” June said, easing herself free.

  The rules of the club were simple: Look, but don’t touch. Hands in your lap. On your knees. Under your ass. It didn’t matter, so long as they weren’t on the girl.

  “You’re such a fucking tease,” he growled, annoyed, aroused. He tipped his head back, eyes glassy, breath sour. “What am I even paying for?”

  June passed behind him, draped her arms around his shoulders. “You can’t touch me,” she cooed, leaning in until her lips brushed his ear. “But I can touch you.”

  He didn’t see the wire in her hands, didn’t notice until it wrapped around his throat.

  Harold started fighting then, but the curtains were thick, and the music was loud, and the more people fought, the faster they ran out of air.

  June had always liked the garrote. It was quick, efficient, tactile.

  Harold wasted too much energy clawing at the wire instead of her face. Not that it would have made a difference.

  “Nothing personal, Harold,” June said as he stomped his feet and tried to twist free.

  It was the truth—he wasn’t on her list. This was j
ust business.

  He slumped forward, lifeless, a thin line of spittle hanging from his open lips.

  June straightened, blew out a short breath, put away the wire. She studied her palms, which weren’t her palms. They were marked with thin, deep lines where the wire had bit in. June couldn’t feel it, but she knew that the real Jeannie would wake up with these welts, and the pain to go with them.

  Sorry, Jeannie, she thought, stepping through the curtain, flicking it shut behind her. Harold was a big spender. He’d shelled out for a full hour of Jeannie’s teen queen, which gave June a good fifty minutes to get as far from the body as possible.

  She rubbed the welts from her hands as she started down the hall. At least Jeannie’s roommates were home—she’d alibi out. No one had seen June go into Harold’s room, and no one had seen her leave, so all she had to do—

  “Jeannie,” called a voice, too close, behind her. “Aren’t you on the clock?”

  June swore under her breath, and turned around. And as she did, she changed—four years of collecting everyone she touched had given her an extensive wardrobe, and in a blink she shed Jeannie and picked out someone else, another blonde, one with the same shade, same build, but smaller tits and a round face, clad in a short blue dress.

  It was a bloody work of art, that shift, and the bouncer blinked, confused, but June knew from experience—when people saw something they didn’t understand, they couldn’t hold on. I saw became I think I saw became I couldn’t have seen became I didn’t see. Eyes were fickle. Minds were weak.

  “Only dancers and clients back here, ma’am.”

  “Not gunning for a peek,” said June, letting her accent trip rich and full over her tongue. “Just looking for the ladies’ room.”

  Max nodded at a door on the right. “Back out the way you came, and across the club.”

  “Cheers,” she added with a wink.

  June kept her pace even, casual, as she crossed the club. All she wanted now was a shower. Strip clubs were like that. The smell of lust and sweat, cheap drinks and dirty bills, so thick it coated your skin, followed you home. It was a trick of the mind—after all, June couldn’t feel, couldn’t smell, couldn’t taste. A borrowed body was just that—borrowed.


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