Vengeful, p.6

Vengeful, page 6

 

Vengeful
 



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  Finding other EOs was hard enough.

  Finding specific ones, with restorative abilities, was even harder.

  Their latest lead was Will Connelly, who’d bailed from a hospital bed, sans discharge, a mere two days after his accident. The doctors had been stunned.

  That suggested a healing ability.

  The question was whether he could heal Victor.

  So far, no one could.

  “Well?” called Connelly over the music.

  “Glen Ardoch,” Victor called back, nodding at a bottle on the back wall. It was empty.

  “Gotta grab some more,” said Connelly, flagging another bartender before ducking out from under the bar. Victor waited a moment, then followed, trailing the other man down the hall. Connelly’s hand was on the open storeroom door when Victor caught up.

  “I’ve changed my order.”

  The bartender swung around, and Victor gave him a single forceful shove, tipping Connelly down the flight of stairs.

  It wasn’t a long flight, but there was a wall of metal kegs at the bottom and the bartender crashed against them with a noise that would have called attention, if not for the wailing of the band overhead.

  Victor followed, taking the steps at a more leisurely pace as the man straightened, clutching his elbow. “You broke my fucking arm!”

  “Well, then,” said Victor, “I suggest you fix it.”

  Connelly’s expression changed. “What? What are you ta—”

  Victor flicked his fingers and the bartender staggered, biting back a scream.

  There was no need to quiet him. The bass from the club overhead would have been loud enough to drown out a murder.

  “Okay!” gasped Connelly. “Okay.”

  Victor’s hold dropped away, and the bartender straightened. He took a few steadying breaths, and then his whole body shuddered, the motion so small and fast it seemed more a vibration than a shiver. As if he were rewinding. A fraction of a second, and his arm hung easily at his side, the pain gone from his face.

  “Good,” said Victor. “Now, fix me.”

  Connelly’s face crumpled in confusion. “I can’t.”

  Victor flexed, and the man staggered back into the crates and kegs. “I—can’t—” he gasped. “Don’t you think—if I could help other people—I would? Hell—I’d be a—fucking messiah. Not working—in this shithole bar.”

  It was a valid point.

  “It only works—on me.”

  Fuck, thought Victor right before his phone rang. He dragged the cell out of his pocket and saw Dominic’s name on the screen.

  Dom, who only called Victor when there was trouble.

  He answered. “What is it?”

  “Bad news,” said the ex-soldier.

  In the storeroom, Connelly had grabbed a bottle off the shelf behind him and now lunged toward Victor. Or started to. But Victor raised a hand, and Connelly’s whole body slammed to a stop as he caught the man’s nerves, pinned them in place. He’d been practicing, since the night he moved Sydney. He’d learned that pain and motion were both facets of control. Hurting a body was simple; halting it was harder—but Victor was getting the hang of it.

  “Go on,” he said to Dom.

  “Okay, so you know a lot of the guys who come out of the military, they go into private sector. Security. Task force. Muscle-for-hire kind of jobs. Some of it’s aboveboard. Some of it’s not. But there’s always work for people in a certain field, if you’re willing and able.”

  Connelly was still fighting Victor’s hold, throwing all his weight against it as if they were arm-wrestling. As if this were a battle of muscle, not will.

  “So I’m having drinks with an old army buddy,” continued Dom, “well, he’s drinking bourbon, I’m on club soda—”

  “Summarize,” urged Victor, forcing the bartender to his knees.

  “Right, sorry. So he tells me about this new job posting. It’s under the radar—no public listings, no paper ads or online posts, just word of mouth. No details. Nothing but a name. Letters, really. EON.”

  Victor frowned. “EON?”

  Connelly tried to shout, but Victor clamped his jaws shut.

  “Yeah. EON,” said Dom. “As in ExtraOrdinary Observation and Neutralization.”

  Victor stilled. “It’s a prison.”

  “Or something like it. They’re looking for guards, but they’re also training officers to hunt down people like us.”

  Victor turned the information over in his mind. “What else did your friend tell you?”

  “Not much. But he gave me a card. Some cloak-and-dagger shit. Just those three letters on one side, a name and number on the back. Nothing else.”

  “Whose name?” asked Victor, even though he had a feeling he already knew the answer.

  “Director Joseph Stell.”

  Stell. The name scraped against Victor’s skin. The cop who’d first come for him at Lockland, on the heels of Angie’s death; the reason he’d spent four years in a solitary cell, and another six in standard; the same man who’d tracked Eli to Merit a decade later, only to fall under Serena Clarke’s spell. Stell was a dog with a bone—once he got his teeth in, he didn’t let go. And now—this. An organization designed to hunt EOs.

  “I thought you’d want to know,” said Dominic.

  “You were right.” Victor hung up.

  What a mess, he thought, shaking his head. Victor Vale was dead and buried in Merit Cemetery, but all it would take was a hunch—hell, bodies were dug up for a dozen reasons. And he’d left behind an empty coffin. The beginning of a trail. Not an obvious one, but enough to cause trouble. From there, how long would it take EON to catch on? To catch up?

  “Let me go,” growled Connelly through locked teeth.

  “All right,” said Victor, releasing his hold. The bartender staggered, unbalanced by the sudden freedom, and was halfway to his feet when Victor drew his gun and shot him in the head.

  The music continued to rage overhead, unbroken, undisturbed.

  * * *

  “FIVE marshmallows,” said Sydney, perched on the kitchen counter. Tonight her hair was a shock of purple.

  “That’s too many,” said Mitch at the stove.

  “Fine, three,” said Syd.

  “What about four?”

  “I don’t like even numbers—hey, Victor.” Syd swung her legs absently. “Mitch is making hot chocolate.”

  “How domestic,” he said, shrugging out of his coat. They didn’t ask about his evening, or Connolly, but Victor could feel the tension in the air like a taut string. His silence on the subject was answer enough.

  He caught Mitch’s eye. “I need you to find out everything you can about EON.”

  “What’s that?” asked Mitch.

  “A problem.” Victor relayed Dominic’s intel, watching Sydney pale and Mitch’s face shift from surprise to concern. When he was done, he turned toward his room. “Start packing.”

  “Where are we going?” asked Syd.

  “Fulton. Capstone. Dresden. Capital City . . .”

  Mitch frowned. “Those are all places we’ve already been.”

  “I know,” said Victor. “We’re going back. We need to clean up.”

  A shadow crossed Sydney’s face. “You’re going to kill them,” she said. “All the people you’ve met with . . .”

  “I don’t have a choice,” he said simply.

  “Yes, you do,” said Sydney, crossing her arms. “Why do you have to—”

  “Some know my condition. Some know my power. But all of them have seen my face. From here on out, we leave absolutely no trace, and that means before we go forward, we have to go back.”

  A trail of bodies, or a trail of witnesses—that was the choice they were faced with. Neither option was ideal, but at least corpses couldn’t give statements. Victor’s solution was logical, but Sydney wasn’t having it.

  “If you kill all the EOs you meet,” she said, “how are you better than Eli?”

  Victor’s t
eeth clenched. “I take no pleasure in this, Sydney, but if EON finds them, they’ll be one step closer to finding us. Do you want that to happen?”

  “No, but—”

  “Do you know what they’ll do? First they’ll kill Dol, and then they will take you, and me, and Mitch, and we will never see the light of day, let alone each other, ever again.” Sydney’s eyes widened, but Victor went on. “If you’re lucky, they’ll lock you in a cage. Alone. If you’re not, they’ll turn you into a science experiment—”

  “Victor,” warned Mitch, but he only stepped closer. Sydney stared up at him, fists clenched. He knelt so they were eye to eye.

  “You think I’m acting like Eli? You think I’m playing God? Fine, you play, Sydney. You decide, right now, who should live. Us, or them.”

  Tears hovered on her lashes. She didn’t look at him, kept her gaze focused on his shirtfront as her lips moved, short and soundless.

  “What was that?” he asked.

  This time, he heard it.

  “Us.”

  X

  FOUR WEEKS AGO

  HALLOWAY

  VICTOR braced himself against the sink, waiting for the drug to hit his system, wondered if the effects were, at this point, placebic. Less medicine and more a misplaced hope. For calm. For time. For control.

  He pushed off the counter and returned to the bedroom, to the dresser, to the shallow stack of paper there, Jack Linden’s face staring up from the top. Black streaks cut across the profile, erasing line after line after line until only two words remained. Five letters scattered inelegantly across the page.

  F I X M E

  Victor stared at the words for a long moment, then crumpled the paper and flung it away.

  They were running out of leads.

  And he was running out of time.

  3 minutes, 49 seconds.

  “Victor!” called Syd impatiently.

  He straightened.

  “Coming,” he called, drawing a shallow blue box from the top drawer.

  The living room was dark.

  Sydney knelt in front of the coffee table, where a small altar of presents waited beside the cake. Eighteen candles burned on top, their tips sending up colorful sparks. Mitch crossed his arms, looking pleased.

  “Make a wish,” he said.

  Syd’s eyes shifted from the cake to Mitch before landing on Victor.

  A shadow crossed her face, just before she blew the candles out.

  * * *

  EIGHTEEN candles—Sydney marveled at the number as she nudged them into even lines beside the half-eaten cake. Eighteen. Dol tried to lick a fleck of chocolate icing from the table, and Victor nudged the dog’s face away as Mitch handed Syd her first present. She took the box, shook it with a mischievous grin, then tore the paper off and pulled out a red bomber jacket.

  She had seen it in a shop window a few cities back, and stopped to admire it, admire how cool the lanky mannequin looked, the S curve of its body, hands on hips through the deep side pockets.

  What Syd didn’t say then was that she’d wanted the mannequin’s shape as much as the clothes resting on it. On her, the jacket was too big—the sleeves a good six inches longer than her arms.

  “I’m sorry,” said Mitch. “It was the smallest size they had.”

  She managed a smile. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll grow into it.”

  And she supposed she might. Eventually.

  Mitch handed her the second box, a package with Merit on the return label. Dominic. She missed him—Victor was always on the phone with the ex-soldier, but none of them had actually seen him since they left Merit. It was the one city they never went back to.

  Too many skeletons, she supposed.

  Now, Sydney staggered at the weight of Dominic’s present. Inside was a pair of steel-toed combat boots, each with a sole three inches thick. Syd dropped to the floor and laced them up. When she got to her feet, she made Mitch stand eye to eye with her so she could see how tall she was. She came to his sternum instead of his stomach, and he ruffled her wig playfully.

  At last, Victor held out the shallow blue box.

  “Don’t shake it,” he warned.

  Syd knelt at the table and held her breath as she lifted the lid.

  Inside, nested in velvet, lay the skeleton of a small, dead bird. No feathers, no skin, or muscle—only three dozen attenuated bones perfectly arranged in the narrow blue folds.

  Mitch cringed at the sight of it, but Sydney rose, clutching the box to her like a secret.

  “Thank you,” she said with a smile. “It’s perfect.”

  XI

  FIVE YEARS AGO

  MERIT

  THE night Victor died, Sydney couldn’t sleep.

  Dominic had taken a handful of pills, washing them down with whiskey before collapsing on the couch, and it was only a matter of minutes before Mitch, bruised and bloody and a thousand miles away, sank into his own fitful doze.

  But Syd sat up, with Dol at her feet, thinking of Victor’s body in the morgue, of Serena’s charred corpse in the Falcon Price lot, until finally she gave up on sleep entirely, tugged on her boots, and snuck outside.

  It was just before dawn when Sydney reached the Falcon Price project. The darkest part of the night, Serena used to say. The time when monsters and ghosts came out.

  The construction project was marked off with crime scene tape.

  Sydney folded herself small and slipped behind the plywood fence, into the gravel lot. The police were gone, the noise and lights were gone, the chaos of the night reduced to numbered markers, and drying blood, and a white plastic tent.

  Inside that tent, Serena’s body. What was left of it. The fire had been hot—hot enough to reduce most of her sister to blackened skin and brittle bones. Syd knew the fire was out, but as she reached a hand into the charred remains, she still half expected the bones to burn her. But there was no heat, no warmth, no promise of life. Half of the bones had already crumbled, others threatened to fold under the barest touch, but here and there a few pieces retained their strength.

  Sydney started digging.

  She just wanted a token, something to remember her sister, a piece to hold on to. It wasn’t until she was elbows-deep in the scorched heap that she realized what she was really doing.

  Looking for a way to bring Serena back.

  * * *

  SYDNEY started dying, but only in her dreams.

  The nightmares began when they left Merit. Night after night, she’d close her eyes and find herself back on the frozen lake, the one that had cracked and broken and swallowed her and her sister up three years before.

  In her dreams, Serena was a shadow on the far shore, arms crossed and waiting, watching, but Syd was never alone on the ice. Not at first. Dol stayed close, licking at the frozen ground, while Dom and Mitch and Victor formed a loose circle around her.

  And in the distance, walking toward them across the lake, a man with broad shoulders and warm brown hair, an easy stride and a friendly smile.

  Eli, who never aged, never changed, never died.

  Eli, who made every hair on her neck stand on end in a way the cold never did.

  “It’s okay, kid,” said Dom.

  “We’re here,” said Mitch.

  “I won’t let him hurt you,” said Victor.

  They were all lying in the end.

  Not because they meant to, but because they couldn’t make it true.

  The lake made a sound like branches breaking in the woods. The ice began to splinter beneath their feet.

  “Get back!” she called, and she didn’t know if she was talking to them or to Eli, but it didn’t matter. Nobody listened.

  Eli made his way across the lake, coming for them, for her. The ice stayed smooth and solid beneath him, but every time he took a step, someone else disappeared.

  Step.

  The lake shattered beneath Dominic.

  Step.

  Mitch sank like a stone.

  Step.
r />   Dol crashed and went under.

  Step.

  Victor plunged down.

  Step.

  One by one they drowned.

  Step.

  And then she was alone.

  With Eli.

  “Hello, Sydney,” he said.

  Sometimes he had a knife.

  Sometimes he had a gun.

  Sometimes he had a length of rope.

  But Sydney’s hands were always empty.

  She wanted to fight back, wanted to hold her ground, wanted to face the monster, but her body always betrayed her. Her boots always turned toward the shore, slipping and skidding as she ran.

  Sometimes she almost made it.

  Sometimes she wasn’t even close.

  But no matter what she did, the dream always ended the same.

  XII

  FOUR YEARS AGO

  DRESDEN

  SYD sat up with a gasp.

  She’d woken to the sound of cracking ice, the hiss and snap of a lake giving way. It took her a moment to realize the sounds hadn’t followed her out of her dreams; they were coming from the kitchen.

  The sound of cracking eggs.

  The hiss and snap of bacon in a pan.

  Sydney’s parents had never made breakfast. There was always food—or at least, there was always money for food, in a jar by the sink—but there were no family meals—that would have required them to all be in the house at the same time—and unlike in the movies, no one was ever woken by the smell of breakfast, not on Christmas morning, not on birthdays, and certainly not on a random Tuesday.

  Whenever Sydney woke to the sizzle of bacon or the pop of a toaster, she knew that Serena was home. Serena always made breakfast, a veritable banquet of food, way too much for them to eat.

  “Hungry, sleepyhead?” Serena would always ask, pouring her a glass of juice.

  And for a groggy moment, before the details of the room came into focus, Sydney almost leapt from the bed to ambush her sister in the kitchen.

  Sydney’s heart quickened. But then she saw the strange apartment walls, and the red metal tin on the unfamiliar nightstand, containing all that remained of Serena Clarke, and the reality came rushing back.

  Dol whined softly from the edge of the bed, obviously torn between his loyalty to Syd and his canine love of food.

 

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