"Latency" - by Elizabeth Bear
"...there is no God. Nature sufficeth unto herself; in no wise hath she need of an author..."
--Donatien Alphonse François, marquis de Sade, JustineAct I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
New Richmond, WI, February 2012
Barry Petrewski lived in a hole in the ground. It was a fairly nice hole, as such things go, with many books, comfortable furniture, and a good kitchen--by Russian standards, a very good kitchen.
An American would have thought it ripe for replacement.
A house stood over Barry's hole, but it was just camouflage for the neighbors who would have thought it odd if Barry lived in a hole without a house over it. Not that the neighbors were close by. Barry's camouflage rose from a sweep of rolling countryside, tangled unworked fields and rows of battered windbreak trees. A tan van with a green plumber's logo occupied the cracked driveway. The bright chrome of its bumpers was pitted with rust, but the engine ran perfectly.
Once upon a time the hole had been a bomb shelter, but the Cold War was as dead as the Soviet Union, as dead as the automaton doctors who had made Barry an automaton too. The irony amused him--how wonderful that he should escape from the Russian automatons and come to rest in a shelter designed to protect people from the excesses of Kruschchev. Now it was Barry's shelter: a place to keep him safe.
Him, and all his pretty ladies, while he experimented and learned to make more automatons.
Now it was time to let one of the ladies go. Barry was sad about that, but excited also, because it meant soon he would get to start looking for a new one.
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C.
Hafidha Gates had a hole in her brain.
She tried not to think about that. It was counterproductive, and so she occupied herself with other things. Just now she was working late. Reveling, in fact, in the opportunity to work late. To work. To do something useful and relevant and powerful with her time. To maybe save a goddamned life or two. On her own schedule. Under her own power.
It was a sad kind of freedom. She could come here, to the Hoover Building. She could go home, to Arlington. There were a limited number of stops in between she was allowed to make, for food and exercise.
They didn't bother with a monitor anklet. It wasn't like anything electronic could chain this Prometheus, and small humiliations just gave the Bug that much more ammunition. But waiting at home for her was one Chaz Villette, with permission to read her mind...
...and not disappointing him was the strongest chain anyone could have placed on her. Stronger even than the pulses generated by the electrodes penetrating her skull, beneath scars hidden now by half-inch coils of hair she was still deciding what to do with. It's like a chance to start all over.
She'd call Chaz before she left. He'd have dinner ready when she walked in the door. Playing house, that was all it was... No. Bug, you don't get an opinion. He'd have dinner ready. And she could have some, as much as she wanted, off a real plate with real flatware--just as soon as she finished going over these Midwestern unsolved murders, hoping again that a pattern would emerge.
A pattern didn't... but Lisa Marshall from Down The Hall did. She poked her head in the door of Hafidha's Sanctum and cleared her throat. Hafidha had already caught the motion in her bicycle mirror.
Hafidha wondered who in Lisa's family was the schizophrenic, or if it was some other fairly dramatic and stigmatized disability. Whatever the source, Lisa was the only member of the BAU team who'd managed neither to flinch at all nor to be inobviously restraining herself from flinching when Hafs came back to work.
"I'm all ears." Hafidha spun her chair around and leaned it back for a better angle up at Lisa.
Lisa's broad cheeks wrinkled with her grin, but it fell away quickly. "Got something I think might be one of yours."
She held out a file folder.
Gingerly, Hafidha took it. There was never any telling what the contents of one of these things was, and paper copies were so damned slow. You actually had to look at the horrible photos instead of just assimilating them. The scene photos and descriptions hadn't used to bother her, but the Bug enjoyed them. Paper was slower, and so the Bug liked it more.
This didn't take long. The photos weren't so bad, until she got to the last one. And then she looked up. "Shit." She flipped the photo, her eyes on Lisa's face. "She's alive?"
"Alive," said Lisa. "Missing three years of her life. And, apparently--also missing a baby." She paused. "The investigating detective is a Saul Zingermann. Homicide guy? He knew about the--" her windmilling gesture took in the WTF, in all its seedy bureaucratic glory.
Hafidha, as it happened, knew about Saul Zingermann.
"I'll call Reyes," Hafidha said.
A twangy guitar pulled Danny out of the warmth of sleep and Gray's arm snugged tight around his middle. Behind the darkness of the bedroom blackout curtains, he couldn't tell if it was night or morning, but a squint at the clock said 11:15 pm. He'd barely been down a half hour--
"Shit!" he said, as it sunk in that the tune the Austin guitar was playing was Junior Brown's "My Wife Thinks You're Dead," and that it was coming from his phone. Hafidha wouldn't be calling this late out of idle companionship. Hell, he wasn't sure yet that he was comfortable with her calling at all--but he was a good enough actor not to let her see his unease.
Gray stirred as Brady lunged for the phone. "Hafs?"
"We've got a live one in Minneapolis," Hafidha said. "I've already run it past Reyes, and he said call in the troops. So I'm calling. But I can't raise Chaz--"
"Not answering his phone?"
"He's supposed to be home waiting for me to call," she said.
Her voice vibrated with strain. Brady wondered how good of an actor she was. She might be out, she might be managed--but he could never allow himself to forget that a monster lived inside of her now. There were some times when he still wondered...
It could be a trap.
It could be. And it could be genuine worry and need. "It's out of my way," he said. "I'll be late in."
"Dad won't run the briefing without both of you. Thank you, Danny."
"No problem. See you when I get there." He thumbed the red symbol and heaved his feet to the floor before he could think too much about it. He'd call Reyes and double check before he left. He trusted Hafidha. He just didn't trust the Bug.
"Work?" Gray asked, sliding a hand down Brady's side.
Brady grunted unhappily.
"Go." Gray pulled the covers up--and incidentally, away from Danny, who shivered as cold air stroked his skin. "Love ya."
"I love you," Danny said in reply. He ran a hand over Gray's dark hair to reinforce it. Just in case.
You never knew.
Chaz wasn't answering his phone, and Reyes was already walking in through the parking lot of the Hoover Building when Brady called him. That didn't stop Brady from parking his car in front of the wrong condo and walking across a square of winter-brown grass to reach Chaz and Hafidha's windows before he went to the door. You couldn't be too careful.
He peered through half-drawn curtains to see a cozy living room with a gas fire and one lamp burning, a tablet computer face-down on the sofa beside it. More lights burned down a hallway behind the stairs. Faintly, Brady heard music--the White Stripes--and the clatter of pots. He caught a glimpse of Chaz's coathanger shoulders and bent elbows as Villette moonwalked across the gap, his left hand protected by a pot holder where it clutched a saucepan handle.
Chaz's head came up as soon as Brady's gaze touched him. He turned to the window and nodded, though Brady would have bet his face was hidden by reflections from the better-lit inside. It was still creepy, even though it was Chaz.
A moment later and the music had dropped, and Chaz was at the door, rolling cuffs down over his wrists as he held the door open with an elbow. Chaz's shirt was white flannel, with thin red lines forming squares through the warp and weft of the fabric. It looked like an empty tic-tac-toe grid multiplied about a thousand times.
Brady stepped inside on a gust of spring chill and shut the door behind him. As soon as the latch clicked, Chaz said, "Hafidha?" with a worried crease down his brow.
"She sent me," Brady said. "We've got a go. You drop your phone in the john?"
Chaz's eyes widened. "Shit," he said, pushing a lock of hair curled and frizzed by cooking steam out of his eyes. "I left it plugged in in the bedroom--"
Brady said, "No foul. Grab your bag and I'll drive you."
"I've got to change," said Chaz, brushing ineffectually at a soup splatter on his front. "Come upstairs. You can brief me while I get a clean shirt."
Danny snorted. "Tell me that wasn't a come-on."
"Brady!" Chaz was already halfway up the stairs. "That's sexual harassment."
"Only because you need a promotion," Danny said. The stairs didn't creak under his weight. Nice place.
When he turned to the bedrooms, it was obvious which one was Chaz's. Towards the front of the house, and the door stood open. The walls were still eggshell white, and Hafidha wouldn't have stood for that in her own room for longer than it took to choose new colors. The fact that the downstairs walls were already fresh, sandy shades of rose and plum and gold confirmed his analysis.
Chaz stood by a pile of clothes on the bed, stripped to the waist. The scars beside his shoulder blades had faded to matching yellow-white slices; Brady bit his lip as he remembered long, liver-colored gashes, the gleam of bone at the bottom. A moment passed before he realized the salient point here: He's not hiding the scars anymore.
Chaz raised his arms, sliding a silk thermal undershirt over his head. The neck snagged on his hair; as he tugged, the angled ranks of muscles below his ribcage tensed. So that's what three percent body fat looks like.
At least the kid had muscle now.
He tucked the shirt into the waistband of his jeans and followed it with another base layer. This one was Smartwool; the one atop that was polypro. Then a turtleneck and a blazer. He kicked off shearling slippers and ducked under his bed for shoes. He was already wearing wool socks.
"Kitting up for Everest?"
Chaz snorted as he backed out from under the bed. "Whatever I gained, it doesn't keep me warm."
"Grab another layer," Brady said. "We're going to Minnesota."
Hafidha turned her head and glanced the length of the rectangular table. There was Chaz and Brady behind the table and Falkner standing alongside the door. Reyes in his usual spot at the head, and Sol and Nikki across from the boys. With Hafidha standing beside the whiteboard, they all fit now--even with Sol present--and she hated that as much as the Bug loved it. Her hand tightened on the dry-erase marker in her hand--one she had no intention of using--and she frowned at Reyes.
"Go ahead," he said.
Hafidha reached out with her mind--it felt good, so simple and clean--and flipped a photograph of a dark-haired white woman up on the screen. "Bethany Keene," she said. "Age 26, flight attendant, based out of Tampa. Or she was, until she disappeared out of a Minneapolis hotel three years ago, without a trace."
"Security cameras?" Lau asked.
"Showed her entering the building," Hafidha said. "And leaving the elevator to go to her room. And then nothing. No sign she'd ever left. But she was gone. Until three days ago."
The next photo. Hafidha avoided looking at it with her eyes--she'd already seen the copy in Doctor Lisa's folder--but it was just as easy for her to read the ones and zeros and know exactly what the image was. The same young woman, but wizened, glassy. With dry, frizzy hair, her olive complexion faded to a horrible greenish color--but not dead. Sitting up in an institutional bed, hunched forward in a hospital gown, her shoulders up to protect her throat.
"She was dumped outside a Minneapolis hospital emergency room. She was hemorrhaging from childbirth."
"Childbirth?" Lau rocked forward; a lesser agent would have been half out of her seat.
Sol swallowed and steepled his fingers. "Much as I hate to say this, it wouldn't be the first time a serial rapist kept a... dungeon. Or even forced women to conceive and give birth."
Lau folded her fingers around each other. "True. But what makes it one of ours?"
Hafidha looked at Reyes.
Reyes nodded and spoke. "Do you folks remember Detective Zingermann? The Tom and Betty Johnson case?"
Brady's shoulders rose like those of the young woman in the photo. "Do I ever."
"Good cop," said Falkner.
Reyes continued, "He'd been working her disappearance as a possible homicide. When Bethany Keene turned up alive, he was notified because he'd flagged her name at every E.R. and morgue in the Twin Cities. And once he got a chance to talk to her, he called us. Or rather, he called the BAU, and asked them to pass it down the hall. Bethany can't remember the last three years."
"Traumatic amnesia? Was she drugged?"
"My first thought too, Villette. And the hospital reports--of all things--traces of Phenazepam in her blood."
"That's not one of your standard date rape drugs," Brady said.
Chaz got one of his faraway expressions. Hafidha knew he was thinking--as she was--of Daphne. Of how Daphne would have been ready with chapter and verse of the pharmaceutical, ripped from the pages of the Physician's Desk Reference.
"It's an epilepsy drug," he said at last, slowly. "But not a common one, is it?"
"Not in the west," Hafidha said. "But they used a lot of it in Russia. And it can have side-effects on recollection, according to the doctors Zingermann talked to. Still, it wouldn't just obliterate this woman's memory of an entire pregnancy. "
"So he called us?" Brady asked.
"No," Hafidha said. "He called us because he said he got the impression that there was somebody else in Bethany's head with her. Sort of like, he said... sort of like how he felt when he was talking to Betty Johnson."
"Right," said Reyes. "Lau, I'm going to stick you with the scutwork, but you're the best for the job. See if you can get Tan seconded, and try to set up interviews with Keene's family and coworkers in Florida. The geography and timeline make me think it's probably a wild goose chase, but it's possible that this was personal, and somebody tried to make her look like a target of opportunity by taking her while she was in another city. Everybody else--wheels up in an hour. Except Hafs." His gaze rested on her with a physical weight. "You have the con."
He paused, regarded her out of coffee-brown eyes. Hafidha realized it was her voice that had spoken. She scrambled to make it seem like she hadn't been protesting being left behind. "I'll start with security films from the hotel, if Zingermann can have them shipped to me."
"Good idea," Reyes said.
New Richmond, WI
The new girl was so pretty. Before Barry unpacked her, he paused to admire the clean lines of her limbs, the way her hair fell across her shoulders and her face. She didn't move--usually by the time he unzipped them they were stirring a little--and the left hand reached under her nose to feel for breath. He would have slapped it back, but he was curious, too.
The left fingers curled. Barry saw disturbed hair flutter as if in a gentle breeze. Alive, then, and he snatched the left hand back before it could do more than give her cheek a gentle caress, brushing her hair away from her eyes.
He had to get her into her kennel before the drug wore off.
Somewhere over Virginia
On the plane, when they'd all retreated to their corners, Chaz slipped up beside Reyes and crouched in the aisle beside his chair. He spoke softly, angling his face so his hair hid him. "If he's a gamma and he's raping them to make them pregnant...you know what he's breeding. If any of them live--"
There was a pause. Their gazes met as Reyes turned, inclined his head.
"I know," Reyes said. He pushed a hand across thinning coils of hair, fingers flexing as if he resisted the urge to scratch. "Believe me. I've thought of it."
New Richmond, WI
Barry needed both hands to support the new girl down the hall. The first few times, he'd had to drag a girl, hurting her until the left hand cooperated. The left hand was weak. Sentimental. Evil and pathetic and not at all a proper automaton. It shook as he hauled the new girl past the two kennels that were still full. The girls inside withdrew to their beds as he went past. They knew better than to come up to the wire when he was bringing someone new in, no matter how much they wanted to.
He put the new girl in the third kennel and cut her ropes with a sheath knife he wore at his belt, careful to take both the blade and the rope pieces with him. The door stood open, and the concrete floor still smelled faintly of bleach. He'd made it very clean for her. She wouldn't get sick on him. He made sure her bubbler was connected and running, and that she couldn't reach anything but the welded, rounded parts she couldn't pull loose or hurt herself on.
He locked the door behind himself when he left.
He'd made mistakes with some of the early girls. He was very careful not to make the same mistake twice. His program allowed him to learn.
As he walked past the kennels on the way out, the left hand reached out to fondle the wire of the kennels as if comforting a sobbing child.
Chaz recognized Saul Zingermann waiting behind a line of barriers and orange cones on the tarmac before the plane rolled to a halt. The Minneapolis detective was a bulky shadow in a parka, backlit by floods, but no amount of weatherproofing could hide his awkward stance and the characteristic tilt of his head. He started forward as the stairs rolled up, and by the time the team was descending he awaited them at the bottom.
"Sure glad you came," he said, shaking hands all around. Chaz stood at the back of the group, shoulders hunched and hands shoved into his pockets. He knew he was shivering visibly; it was a good excuse.
Zingermann continued, "I heard about Agent Worth. I am--" He shook his head and finished helplessly. "She was a good cop. I'm sure I'm not half so sorry as you are."
"Thank you," Falkner said. "There's enough sorrow to go around."
Under the knit cap and the hood of the parka, Zingermann was medium-tall, spare, with smooth cheeks and a nose like Jean Reno's. Elizabeth Johnson had called him "funny-looking in a handsome sort of way," which Chaz supposed was the racist old bat's code for "Jewish." Chaz would have said he had a nice face, unassuming, that promised to grow craggy and weather well with age. It was a face you could trust; a face that encouraged you to confidences.
He was a damned good interviewer.
"Saul," Todd said as Zingermann's hand reached his.
"Sol," Zingermann answered, with a flicker of grin. "Let's get inside before our eyelashes freeze together."
The car waiting for them was a police 4x4, three rows of seats making room enough for everybody in the truncated team. Brady got shotgun in deference to his shoulders, while Chaz crunched himself up in the back row next to Todd. Falkner and Reyes rode in the middle.
"I got your message," Zingermann said, turning over his shoulder to Reyes briefly before starting up the engine. It was still warm, and a little bit of heat even filtered back to Chaz. "I've held off informing the family. You said Agent Lau was enroute?"
"We'll do it in person," Reyes confirmed. "It might be revealing."
Zingermann nodded. "If anybody can get something useful out of them, it's Nikki," he said.
Chaz didn't miss the admiration in his voice. Wonder Woman powers, activate.
"I sure didn't have much luck. It might be there's nothing useful to get." From another cop, it could have been a self-justification. From Zingermann, it was a wry acknowledgement that their job had a lot of dead ends.
"I'm assuming you'll want to go straight to the hospital?"
"Please," Reyes said. "We can get settled in once we've met Ms. Keene."
"I have identified three other possibly linked cases."
Chaz leaned between Falkner and Reyes so he could snake a hand forward. "Files go here."
Sol held the flashlight while Chaz bent over papers and photographs, rapidly developing a headache and a case of nausea from reading in the dark, in a moving car. The files were dusty and smelled of long storage.
Three dark-haired women, all missing persons in the Twin Cities over the past fifteen years. All vanished from inside hotels. Each never heard from again. There appeared to be no other connections between them.
"Detective," Chaz asked. "How many missing persons files did you go through to find these?"
"Don't ask," Zingermann answered, turning into the parking lot of a well-lit medical complex. "...all of them."
New Richmond, WI
Barry always saved the best for last.
The wailing in the kennels told him the new girl was waking up. He didn't worry too much about the crashing: she wasn't going to get out, and while she might bruise herself on the wire, there wasn't a lot more damage she could do to herself. She had water and a mattress and a drain: she'd be fine until he got back. It would take some time to tame her so he could safely see to her medical needs. He'd start once the sedation wore off. It was a chore, but soon she'd be as well-behaved as the others.
In the meantime, he let himself through the soundproofed doors to his own living quarters. He was careful to lock them, and to hide the key before he opened the interior set. She couldn't be allowed to find out where he kept it--or even that it existed. She had to think that the power to open the doors rested only with him.
It was good that he took precautions, because when he stepped into the living room she was sitting at the low table with a book open in front of her, a page pinched between her fingers. Three empty bags of chips were spread out around her; she was halfway done with the fourth. Orange cheese powder smeared her face, her skinny fingers, and the paper. She had to kneel up to see over the edge of the coffee table.
Barry paused before the door as it latched.
"Hello, Papa," she said in Russian.
"Hello, Zhenya," he said. "What are you reading?"
"Something from your shelf," she said. "It's called Justine. I don't understand it."
"It's about grown-up men and women," Barry said. "You don't need to understand it yet."
"Oh," she said. "But the protagonist is a little girl--"
"Much older than you," he said. "You are two. She is twelve. Someday you will be twelve, too, and you will understand. Are you hungry, Zhenya?"
Her face lit up. "Starving," she said.
Somewhere over Florida
Arthur Tan's head rocked gently against the oval window of a 737, haloed by the sunrise shimmering off myriad parallel scratches in the transparent plastic. Lau, in the aisle seat, watched a slender filament of drool explore his sculptured chin and tried not to think about how many compression cycles this aged piece of equipment had undergone.
The bump of the landing gear deploying opened his eyes. He blinked and pitched the bridge of his nose, then stifled a yawn.
"Sleeping on duty, Agent Tan?"
"My partner had my back," he said. He checked his watch and turned to glance out the window. His left thumb fiddled with his wedding ring.
"Padma's not happy about the midnight call?"
He rolled his eyes at her. "Are you?"
"You notice," Lau said, "I go home to... not even a cat."
"She's not taking it out on me. I just... well, I miss her when I travel," he said, ducking his chin.
"I judge your manliness positively for this admission." Lau winked.
Tan smiled--there and gone, like Jeremy Brett. "And Naima. Although Naima's--"
"Living up to the toddler reputation," he said. "But that's not what's bugging me."
If it wasn't marital pressure, then it was looking for comfort in the wedding ring. "Celentano."
A guess, but she said it with certainty.
Tan huffed, and did a creditable Joe Mantegna. "'Well, I have come to inform you that now it's your turn to do us a favor.' Wait, was that racist?"
Lau shrugged. "Probably. But Victor would make a pretty good mob boss."
"You're telling me." He winced, working his jaw to pop his ears.
"He's putting pressure on you."
"How did you guess?" He looked at his hands. "Reyes had better watch his back, Nik. Brutus is leaning in for that kidney shot."
First light was just beginning to gray the eastern sky, still too dim to compete with the puddles of light under the streetlamps, as Falkner and her team crossed ice-scarred asphalt and picked their way between the small heaps of plow scruff that marked the curb. "Hasn't been much of a winter," Zingermann said apologetically.
"Don't feel like you need to produce more on our account," Brady replied. Falkner gave him an assessing glance while his attention was distracted. Shoulders tight, jaw set. Cracking jokes reflexively. Probably feeling all the shame and dismay of their last trip out here.
But holding it together. Doing his job. She thought about the Brady of days past, simmering while they combed eastern Texas for any sign of Chaz--full of rage and fear that leaked out of him at any provocation. This was a stronger, saner man--more level and more healed. Some good things had come out of the past few years, and Falkner needed to hang on to that.
Especially when Celentano was calling her in early for closed-door conferences.
When they entered the hospital, Falkner sent Todd to start working through the medical reports. Brady took Zingermann and the car, intending to review the physical evidence and walk through the hotel where the abduction had occurred. An agent from the Minnesota field office would be by to deliver a second car for the team's use.
Falkner was relieved to see that Bethany Keene had been given a private room and some clothes slightly more dignified than a hospital johnny: scrubs and paper slippers, with a men's terrycloth robe to lend her warmth. She still sat in the bed like a schoolgirl waiting to be punished, an image that left Falkner equal parts homesick and infuriated.
Falkner came in with just Chaz. He was male, but unless he chose to turn it off he was also about as unintimidating as it was possible for an FBI agent to be--and all of Falkner's female agents were busy elsewhere. Worth would have been the right woman for this job, on so many levels. But Worth was a hole that couldn't be filled, so they'd just have to work around her.
Chaz stayed just inside the door, his back to the frame, effacing himself so effectively that Falkner was pretty sure he was using the mirror. She walked into the room alone, pausing at the edge of the bed curtain. Grant the victim as much agency as possible.
"Ms. Keene? May I sit down? I'm Supervisory Special Agent Esther Falkner, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and my partner is Special Agent Charles Villette. Detective Zingermann has asked us to become involved in your case--"
Keene blinked, her hands a little less white across her knees. "He believed me?"
"He called the FBI," Falkner said with a smile. She held up a tiny recorder, and when Keene nodded she laid it on the bedside table and switched it on. A formality only, when Chaz was present. "He's been looking for you for three years, Ms. Keene. We all want to find out who did this to you."
Keene hugged her knees even tighter, but only with one hand. She wasn't thin--wherever she'd been, she'd been well-fed, and probably hadn't gotten enough exercise judging by the slack flesh of her forearms--and she couldn't curl up as tightly as she obviously wanted to. Still, her left hand reached out, clutching the bed rail. She rocked back and forth, pulling against the rail and then slumping back. It reminded Falkner of a chimpanzee in a too-small cage, though the comparison shamed her as soon as she thought of it.
"I don't believe me," she said.
Falkner edged to the chair beside the bed, judging that Keene was too distracted to give permission, and that she'd be more comfortable if Falkner wasn't looming. She leaned forward, elbows on her knees. She knew it showed the gun when her jacket gaped, but she wanted to make herself solid and nonthreatening. She thought about Bethany's mother, and what Falkner would want done if it were one of her own daughters in that bed.
"Your body believes you," she said, gently.
Bethany began to beat against the railing with her left hand.
She looked at it, brow furrowing, and made a grab with her own right hand to the wrist. The left hand strained, then went limp, fingers half-curled in what Falkner could read as despair--or frustration.
"I can't remember anything! How can I help you if I can't tell you where I was, or what happened to me?"
There was a sound from the door, and Falkner startled as she realized she'd forgotten Chaz was in the room. She turned in time to see a peculiar expression cross his face--a kind of transparency. He glanced left. His hand shot out and snagged a chair. He spun it, straddled it, and leaned forwards over the back, arms folded.
"I don't know about that," he said. "Tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me what happened to you."
Falkner opened her mouth and then made herself close it again. Bethany was staring at Chaz with a look of ferocious concentration. The left hand, still cradled in her lap, twitched spasmodically. Chaz nodded, eyes on Bethany's face.
She said, "I told you I don't--"
"You do," he said. "It's okay. Somebody just... hid the memories from part of you. The part that talks. But there's a whole bunch of parts of a human being, Ms. Keene. Usually they find ways to talk to one another--we call it intuition, hunches. The voice of our guardian angels. But something's happened to the part of your brain that translates between the other parts and your conscious mind."
"How do you know that?" Bethany asked, eyes wide. Her hands folded themselves in her lap now, almost primly.
"I'm a translator," Chaz said. He'd obviously planned this bit out in advance, because there was no hesitation. "I can do what the damaged bit of your brain does, normally. Do I have your permission?"
Bethany nodded, lip pinched between her teeth. "What do I do?"
"Just relax," Chaz said. "You understand that this may not be things you want to hear?"
She laughed like somebody rattling broken crockery in a box. "I miscarried a baby I don't remember existing, Agent..."
"Villette," Falkner supplied.
"Villette," Bethany said gratefully. "I was apparently held captive and r-- raped, and I don't remember three years of my life. How can knowing what really happened be worse than whatever I--" she gasped, kept going. "--whatever I make up in my head?"
Chaz smiled in that way that rearranged his face from goofy Muppet to enchanting Muppet. Falkner wanted to push his hair out of his eyes. He said, "I think you're very strong. Are you ready?"
"What do I need to do?"
He shook his head. "Just remember. And don't worry if your conscious mind doesn't seem to be coming up with any details. Let it wander. I'll do all the work."
She gave him a dubious look, eyebrow raised. He nodded.
Bethany Keene closed her eyes, and Chaz Villette spoke with her voice.
"There are cages. Three cages. Like runs in a dog pound. There are girls in all of them. Me, and there's Amber and Brigit. We're not supposed to talk, to have names. But we talk when he's not there.
Brigit is a computer programmer. She had just come to St. Paul for a job and was living in a hotel until she found a place. Amber is a student from England. She is--she was--doing a year at the University of Minnesota.
Except Brigit... He takes her away in a wheelbarrow. And then there's Madison. Madison's older, she's thirty-one. She doesn't look it. She's in the kennel next to mine, and I have to watch while he--
On the digital recorder, Chaz's perfect version of Bethany's voice choked off. Reyes winced, his finger hovering over the kill switch. Falkner, across the desk in the unused administrative office they'd appropriated, let herself nod.
With an audible sigh of relief, Reyes pushed the button. "Just give me the précis for now."
Falkner reached down deep and found the detached, clinical part of her self she used for reporting bad news to superior officers, then and now. "He punished them if they talked, if they humanized themselves to him in any way. He fed them, kept them clean and warm. He had an accent. German or Polish, she thought. She's not very good with accents. Amber said Russian. He raped them on a regular schedule. Bethany said that his left hand... seemed to try to impede his actions. To comfort her."
"Alien hand syndrome," Reyes said. "It happens when there's damage to the corpus callosum and the left and right hemispheres can't talk to each other any more. They're left guessing what's going on in the other half of the brain." He snorted. "Like being married."
"Maybe for some people," Falkner said.
Reyes shot an amused look across the desk. "And he's somehow forced it upon his victims. Locked the knowledge of what he's done to them away inside part of their brain that can't communicate it."
"That's not a really dangerous manifestation, at least." Falkner said.
Reyes' scarred lips pressed thin. "Not unless he can do it at a distance," he said.
"Call Brady and Sol," she told him. "I'll go talk to Chaz."
"Ms. Alicia Keene?" Lau said, to the emaciated woman framed in the door of her house. Her complexion was as transparently pale as an English rose; Lau couldn't imagine how anybody could stay that white in Florida unless they never left the house. She shouldn't be more than fifty-five, but she dressed--and looked--ten years older. Lau watched her appraisingly. Skinny as she was--
"Yes," said the woman. Guarded. Eyes like a whipped dog's, waiting the next blow.
Lau held up her identification. "I'm Nicolette Lau. This is Arthur Tan. We're with the Federal Bureau of Invest--"
Alicia Keene staggered backward, fingers slipping from the doorframe. She sat down hard on the floor, blue slacks riding up blue-veined calves. White cotton socks slumped atop her orthopedic shoes. Her hand pressed her mouth, and as Lau jumped across the doorsill to crouch beside her, she struck ineffectually at Nikki. "No. No, no, no!"
"Bethany's alive," Lau said, grabbing the hand that pawed at her, holding Keene's attention. Keene's hand felt like sticks wrapped in tissue paper. Not a gamma: just somebody who couldn't remember or care enough to eat. "Ms. Keene! Look at me! Bethany's alive. She's at a hospital in Minneapolis. We've come to take you to her."
Tan was right behind Lau, just inside the door. Dividing his attention between interior and exterior. The cop's hard-learned understanding: just because they were on a mission of mercy didn't mean there was no danger.
"Alive?" said Keene.
"Alive," Tan confirmed.
She sat upright, wobbly but determined. "Let me tell my husband. And call a neighbor for the cat. I'll get my coat."
In the hall outside, Chaz leaned against the wall, arms folded in that pose that looked like he was hugging himself against a chill. Falkner stopped when she saw him, but let the door swing shut quietly and the knob latch. "You did good in there."
"Thank you." A pause while he looked for words. If he'd prepared this speech, it was deserting him. She gave him the time. He said, "How are you doing?"
She shrugged. "This is no worse than a lot of them."
"I meant Celentano."
"Do you think I don't know he wants a tighter rein, and whether... whether what happened to Daphne was a mistake or not, he's going to make it into one."
"I can handle it," Falkner said.
"You can handle anything," Chaz said, his taut body language uncoiling into earnestness. "Just don’t forget that you don't always have to. Not alone, anyway. Not without help."
She stilled. He put a hand on her shoulder.
"God," she said. "Look at you, all grown up."
It just came out, and for a moment she was terrified she'd said the wrong thing, offended him. But he stilled too, and then he smiled and gave her a squeeze before letting his hand drop away. "One for all," he said. "All for one."
"Even if we're coming apart at the seams?"
He was really tall when he stood up straight. It was easy to forget that the rest of the time. "Especially then."
An average-sized hotel, even one that didn't keep particularly good track of its guests, still had a lot of security cameras, and Hafidha was getting a too-in-depth overview of all of them while she tried to remember not to scratch at her damned scalp anymore. Yes, Virginia. The Government does put microchips in your brain. Brady had been unable to get access to the actual room from which Bethany Keene had disappeared, but the hotel staff swore the one two doors down was an exact duplicate.
He was currently crawling under the bed, muttering into his headset that this should have been Lau's job, while Zingermann held the flashlight. Hafidha--her monitors flickering with images of people bored in elevators, people kissing in elevators, people staring irritatedly forward and trying to ignore their traveling companions in elevators--could just pick up Zingermann's dialogue.
"We did all that C.S.I. stuff," he said. "You know, stuff with Keene's cell phone. Stuff with the carpets. There was a clean glass in the sink, but it had been rinsed. Lip prints on the edge. We got to use all kinds of forensics stuff we can hardly ever break out."
"Missing White Woman Syndrome," Brady said tiredly. Rustling and scraping sounds told Hafidha that he was crawling back out from under the bed.
"Afraid so." Zingermann actually sounded apologetic. "Pretty one, too. I'm guessing you didn't actually find anything under the bed in the wrong hotel room, three years later?"
Bellhops and businesswomen, tourists and housekeepers paraded past on Hafidha's monitors--and behind her eyelids. Luggage carts and room service trolleys and housekeeping carts. Maintenance hauling a replacement fridge. Bethany Keene, riding an elevator up with a bellhop with a large rolling bag, another uniformed flight attendant, and a bored-looking businessman with a leather overnight bag. Bethany and her coworker got off at the same floor; the bellhop and the businessman continued up.
"Did anybody check on her fellow flight and cabin crew?" Hafidha asked.
"Spotless," Zingermann answered, after Brady consulted with him briefly.
Hafidha rolled her eyes. "Danny, please tell Detective Zingermann to put on his headset, if he has one? I'll patch him in."
She overheard Brady saying, "Just do it--she's got skills--" and a moment later she had conferenced Zingermann into the call.
"There. Much cozier. So, Brady, what did you discover under the wrong bed?"
"Well," he said. "I discovered that somebody could hide there. Or hide a body there, though we know that's not what happened to Bethany. But it's a useful data point."
"Huh," said Zingermann.
"It's a gift of his, Detective," Hafidha said. "What else?"
"I looked over the scene photos. Based on those, no signs of a struggle in the room--"
"No signs of a struggle at all," Zingermann said.
That silence would be Brady nodding. Hafidha heard the light thumps of his shoes on the carpet as he paced. "The room has a peephole and a security bar. Hafidha, say you're an attractive, slight young woman who travels for a living. Your coworker is next door. Is there any way a stranger gets into your hotel room without you making enough of a fuss that your coworker hears it, no matter how soundly she sleeps?"
The same bellhop was riding down again, this time in the company of two older women with expensive hair. He got off the elevator at Bethany's floor. Something caught Hafidha's attention.
"Suitcase," she said.
"Like lost luggage?" Zingermann asked. "I'd open the door for that."
"Flight attendants don't check bags," Brady said.
"No," said Hafidha. "You'd open the door for hotel staff, right? I've got a bellhop here who's been riding the elevators up and down with the same rolling bag. Now maybe he missed his floor--"
"Crap," Brady said.
"But the suitcase doesn't drag like there's anything in it. And Danny? It's a really... big... bag."
She heard the thrill of the chase in his voice. "Get me a screen cap of his face on my phone and I'll buy you three hot fudge sundaes."
Zingermann chimed in. "Can you find him leaving?"
"On it," Hafidha said. Her fingers were picking through her hair again, probing the beaded scars. She jerked them down and curled them around the arms of her chair.
Jellybeans. Something to do with her fingers that wasn't trichotillomania.
New Richmond, WI
She shivered with nerves, not with cold. This place was warm, in spite of the concrete floor and the yellow cotton jersey nightshirt that brushed her bare knees. It was bright, too, from the overhead fluorescents on the other side of her chain-link ceiling.
She could smell the laundry soap in her shirt, and see the old faint stains on the front and the darker color at the seams where the fabric wasn't as faded. The garment had belonged to someone else before her. Or maybe the someone else was her; maybe she'd had it for years and years. But she couldn't remember what the stains were.
Me and a gun...
Her left hand clenched on the knitted collar and pulled hard. She didn't have anything else to wear, though. She cupped her right hand around the left and pinned it against her breastbone to keep it still.
The others wore the same kind of shirt: blue for the woman on the other side of the chain-link wall, and gray for the woman in the--the space--beyond. Room. Except rooms weren't made of fencing. These were like the enclosures where zoos kept animals when they weren't on exhibit. When they were sick or being--
Me and a gun...
She tried to relax, because the shivering made her teeth chatter, and she wanted to speak. She twisted her fingers in the wire that separated her from the woman in the blue shirt. "I have to pee," she said. "What do I do when I have to pee?"
The woman was dark-haired, and she sat on the bare mattress with her legs stretched out straight on the floor. She turned her head slowly, and her face seemed to come back to life. It was pretty now, instead of like a bad painting.
"The drain," she said.
There was one in the floor. "Just...like that?"
The woman in the blue shirt nodded. "What's your name?"
For one awful moment nothing occurred to her. "Marnie," she answered, and it felt true. "What's yours?"
The woman in blue frowned and closed her eyes. "Madison. My name is Madison."
The woman on the other side of Madison rose and clutched at the wire between them. "My name is Amber. I'm nineteen years old."
Amber sounded like someone on TV. Masterpiece Theater. England, that was it. Maybe that was why she seemed older than nineteen. "Why are we here?" Marnie asked.
"I don't know." Madison's far hand, her left, clawed at the mattress.
Me and a gun and a man on my back...
That was from a song, Marnie realized. Not even one she liked. Boys for Pele was her favorite Tori Amos album, not that one. Sometimes you got songs in your head for no good reason.
"We've been here a long time," Amber said.
"Are you sure?" The woman in the blue shirt sucked her lips in over her teeth. "No. I was home just last week. I had a conference to go to, so I packed--" She stopped and shook her head. "I'd remember you, I think. What's your name?"
The woman in the gray shirt blinked and looked down at her fingers tangled in the wire. She gave a little sob, then blurted out, "Amber! My name is Amber. I go to university. Oh, my god. What am I doing here?"
The woman in the blue shirt closed her hands hard over her knees; the skin paled around her fingertips. "And my name is Madison. What's your name?" she asked, turning.
"Marnie," she said, pretty sure it was. "I want to leave. I'm not supposed to be here. Please, tell me how to leave."
Outside Amber's cage (It's a cage! They trap things, put them in cages, and make them--) she could see a door set in a cinder-block wall. The latch rattled and clicked, as if a key was working the lock.
The other two women started backward. The one in gray stumbled over the edge of her mattress and half-fell against the wire. The one in blue pulled her legs in and yanked her shirt down over them, pressing her back to the wall.
Their faces were blank, but not empty.
"What is it?" Marnie whispered.
"I don't remember," said the woman in blue, and her voice came out high and thin with fear.
Marnie backed away from the door. "I've never seen Barbados," she said as the doorknob turned.
That was from the song, too. She wondered what it meant.
Chaz's phone shrilled the Looney Tunes theme, and his heart skipped in his chest. Beside him, Falkner startled and then smiled.
He slid the slider and said, "Hey."
"Hey," Hafidha said back. "I just uploaded a film to your phone. I need your best supervillain guess as to how much that rolling bag weighs."
"One moment." He switched the call to speaker and minimized it, then opened the email-waiting icon. A grainy security camera video showed a broad-shouldered bellhop heaving a rolling bag's stuck wheel out of the gap between an elevator floor and a hallway. "It's a small video..."
"Hah," he said. A familiar pinch of headache between his eyes. "Hundred forty. Give or take."
"How much does Bethany Keene weigh?"
"She's gained weight since she was taken."
"Fine, you've seen photos. How much did she weigh?"
"Hundred thirty," Chaz said reluctantly.
"She's in the bag."
"She's in that bag," he confirmed, while Falkner leaned over his shoulder, her mouth pinched in dismay. "You got a good cap of that guy's face?"
"Brady's already showing it around the hotel staff."
Chaz heard Falkner's breath come out in a puff. "Good work, Hafidha."
August Keene was a bulky man with a drinker's nose. Sensitive as she tried to be to his grief and shock, Lau took an instant dislike to him--one that was not ameliorated by the dubious look he gave Tan and the twice-dubious echo that bounced off Lau. Her opinion wasn't improved on the way to the airport, in Tampa morning traffic, as she overheard him lean towards his wife and stage-whisper, "Both Oriental? Aren't they supposed to have a white guy? At least to drive?"
She would have rested her head in her hands, but it would have been unprofessional.
Tan caught her eye sideways. In Robocop's voice, he murmured, " Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. Even douchebags."
Her struggle with unprofessionalism dissolved into a tight-lipped sneeze of laughter.
"What?" Keene asked, leaning over the back seat.
Lau waved a hand beside her face. "Allergies," she said, indicating watering eyes. "Please excuse."
Falkner's phone rang ten minutes later. "He's not an employee," Brady said, his tone vibrating with suppressed excitement. "He never was."
"But you got something anyway."
"Reyes said the witness identified an accent? Eastern European?"
"The hotel had a guest at the time. One Buryan Alexeivich Petrewski, naturalized citizen of the United States and, Hafidha tells me, resident of New Richmond, Wisconsin. Which happens to be about an hour from here, so why does he need a hotel room? But that's not all--"
The pause hung heavy, until Falkner realized they were all waiting for Daphne to fill it. Chaz must have figured it out a second sooner, because he said--
"Epilepsy! He was treated for epilepsy in the Soviet Union, wasn't he? They severed his corpus callosum to inhibit the seizures?"
"Brain surgery," Brady confirmed. "God damn, can they all be this clean?"
On the heel of his words, Reyes slammed through the door, bouncing with adrenaline. "Marnie Ericsen," he said. "Twenty-two, nursing student in town for a job interview. Did not make her flight home yesterday evening, and her mother can't raise her on her cellphone. Failed to check out of her hotel room, and all her bags are still in it."
"We know where he lives," Falkner said. Her fingers curled as if her palm itched. "When?" she said.
With every tick of the clock, a young woman could be--was--suffering horrible things. But they had a better chance of getting her back alive if--
She saw the black math happening behind Reyes' eyes, the equations the same as the ones she ran. But he was team leader. He was the one who had to open his mouth and say the horrible words.
"We wait for Lau and Tan."
In the elevator up to Bethany's floor, Ms. Keene kept touching her face. "Do I look all right?" she said. "I've lost so much weight. Will she recognize me?"
The door slid open and they emerged into the hall. Quick steps slowed, became reluctant... but the Keenes grasped each other's hands and rallied. Forged on.
Tan knew better than to offer her a verbal reassurance that might turn out to be a lie. He said, "Sometimes these things take a while. Agent Lau and I will make sure you have contact information for victim resources, a competent therapist--"
They were at Bethany Keene's door. Chaz stood beside it, silent and sunken-cheeked. He smelled like pancakes and acetone. As the Keenes hesitated before the door, he took Lau's elbow and drew her and Tan aside.
"Eat!" she hissed, glowering at him. He winced; Tan was profiler enough by now to read the unstated sentence that passed between them. What would Worth say?
Even unsaid, it struck home. But he squared his shoulders and said, "We've got your armor in the cars. Brady and Hafidha found him."
The armor for Tan was borrowed from the local field office. He was a tall-ish, medium broad guy, like a lot of agents; it fit respectably well. As he was fitting the chest straps, Brady came up beside him. They were of a height, but it looked bigger on Brady--maybe because he was twice as wide. "I'm sorry about this," Brady said. "But you're about to get a cold, sudden dunking into what the ACTF does for a living. You should know that if we corner this guy... we may not be able to take him alive."
Tan hoped Brady wasn't suggesting that this team looked for opportunities to put people down. The ACTF had a lot of violent resolutions, but Lau and Reyes were both rated among the best in the Bureau at conflict resolution--and when Tan had mentioned the high kill rate to Celentano, Celentano had just nodded and said, "It's an unfortunate side effect of what they do."
"Like snipers?" Tan had said.
With the memory of Celentano's ironic nod framed in his memory, Tan said, "I understand."
Brady said, "You will soon enough. For now... stick with me or Nikki. If it goes south--I won't tell you not to shoot unless somebody tells you, because I trust your judgment and I don't want you to hesitate. But bear in mind that things may not be what they seem. He may have... a weird kind of control over the minds of the hostages. Like Stockholm syndrome, but more of it. And if you start shooting, don't stop until you're sure he's not getting up again. Treat him like a fucking angel dust horror movie zombie. You won't be far wrong."
"Got it," Tan said, queasy to his core.
"Welcome to the arcane secrets of the WTF," Brady said. "Sorry about this in advance."
New Richmond, WI
Chaz picked his cuticles in a slowing SUV. The afternoon light reflected off a clapboard farmhouse with a tall porch and a fresh, unobjectionable coat of white paint. A band of trees would have shaded it in summertime, but now straggled naked across a rolling slope like a rank of exhausted refugees. It was a pleasant-looking place, outside of a little two-story brick town distinguished by a water tower of Midwestern proportions.
It commanded a view of the road, and in all directions. There was no way they were surprising Mr. Petrewski. The team had discussed their options on the way in. The ambulances and local P.D. stayed well back as the borrowed FBI Suburban Assault Vehicle pulled up beside the county highway. They would go hard and fast, and hope for the best.
"Oh, God," said Zingermann, over the noise of the engine. "We could have cracked this case three years ago."
"Hafidha could have cracked this case three years ago," Brady said, unexpectedly kind. "You worked it better than anyone else would. You preserved the evidence."
"On three," Reyes said, and whatever Zingermann might have answered was lost in the sound of helmet faceplates lowering and locking into place.
Todd, the civilian, stayed in the car.
"Hafidha," Falkner said into the headset. "Booby traps?"
"She can do that?" Tan said, incredulous.
"All the way from D.C., Artful," Hafs purred. "You haven't seen half my bag of tricks."
"Agent Tan," Falkner said. "You were bomb school."
"You know what an IED looks like?"
His helmet rasped on Kevlar as he nodded. "Anything at all."
"Well." Chaz could tell she was joking; he wasn't sure Arthur could. "Keep an eye out for that."
Because of the presumed presence of hostages, they hit the house like a SWAT team, front and back, amidst shattered wood and shattered glass. It looked like such a nice house.
So many of them... looked like nice houses. Chaz, following Falkner, should have been distracted by the hammering of his heart, the tunnel-vision of adrenaline, the dizzying pulse stretching his arteries. But there was nothing.
It was so... quiet in the house. The nice house, the dusty, uninhabited house. It looked like a hotel room, like a model home decorated by a blind time-traveler from the 1970s.
A chorus of "Clear!" rang through still air. Chaz heard his own breathing, saw it fog and vanish on the inside of his helmet. He and Falkner paused in the kitchen. He saw Brady, Lau, and Tan emerge from the basement, heard Reyes and Zingermann tromp down from upstairs.
"Nothing," Brady said. "No sign of anyone."
"No sign that anyone ever lived here, really," Falkner said. "But somebody pays to keep the power on--"
Barry heard the tromp of shoes across the floor of his camouflage, the shattering of doors as they were broken open. He crouched beside the new girl, who lay limp as knotted rags in his arms, squeezing liquid into her mouth from a water bottle. "Drink," he said. She swallowed, unwillingly, greenish fluid overflowing the corners of her mouth. He imagined her expression burned with rage, though--really--he could see it unfocused in the futile struggle to prevent his control of her.
She was just an automaton. He could make her do anything, and she wouldn't even remember it afterwards.
The left hand pushed her hair out of her eyes. Barry was too busy to slap it away.
"Hafs," Falkner said to thin air. "Help me out here."
Hafidha's voice came through the headset clear as glass. "Well, his electric bills are pretty high for a guy who never dusts and keeps the thermostat set at fifty. No phone, gas heat--hello."
"We're on the clock, Hafidha," Reyes said.
"It's too old for any building permits to be online, but the property was surveyed back in the seventies, and Dig Safe has the coordinates of a septic tank and gas line added in 1962. Guys. It's got a bomb shelter."
The words fell into sudden stillness. Two heartbeats, then Falkner snapped Find it and everyone scattered. Tan, too, moving as if somebody had slapped a sheaf of program cards into his reader. Falkner had the confidence of command in her voice, and people--even (or perhaps especially) trained agents--responded.
Except for Chaz Villette, who stood in the middle of the room turning like a statue on a rotating pedestal. Tan thought he was frowning, but it was hard to tell through the faceplate.
Villette lunged like a toy powered by a wound rubber band, dropping to both knees and ducking under the dusty, lineoleum-surfaced table. The floor was black asbestos tile, the kind that would leave a layer of gook on the bare feet of children who ran across it regularly. But Chaz ignored it, and instead dug his nails in to a particular spot on the wainscoting.
"Dammit," he mutterd, pulling back a bleeding hand, nail torn to the quick. "Brady!"
He didn't bother coming out from under the table or dragging it aside. He just stood, and Tan jumped eight inches in the air as the table crashed, upside-down, to the floor.
"Hidden door," Chaz said, pointing as Brady materialized silently beside them. Tan didn't jump again, but only because his nerves had snapped. "Get us in."
"It opens out," Brady said.
The hinges on the half-height door were countersunk and had been concealed by a table leg. There was no visible means by which to open it.
Brady punched them out of the wall by prying it open with a Halligan tool, splintering wainscoting and rending the wallboard behind. The lock on the other side of the door shattered as he grabbed the edge in a gloved hand and yanked. The door landed on top of the overturned table; Villette and Brady shared a glance.
In the resulting gap, the head of a metal ladder gleamed in a well-lit shaft. "You wouldn't want the cannibal post-apocalyptic neighbors breaking in and eating your canned goods," Villette said, his thin voice dripping with irony.
"Guys?" Tan barked into his headset to summon the rest of the team. "I think we got it."
The ladder was nerve-wracking. Tan was ashamed to find himself glad that Brady went first. His skin crawled at the thought of how horribly exposed the big agent was coming down, even though he kicked back off the ladder and dropped the last eight feet to land in a crouch. Lau landed behind him a half-second later, facing in the opposite direction.
"Clear," she said. And then, "We've got cages."
Tan found himself the fifth person into a clean, well-lit concrete space. Gray metal shelves of dry and canned goods lined one wall, and several doors led to what must be adjoining rooms or corridors. This was not just a bomb shelter. It was a bunker, an absolute monument to cold-war paranoia.
"Should turn this into a museum," Brady said.
"Like Auschwitz," Zingermann said--the first words he'd muttered in minutes, though Tan had heard him gag.
A sweet smell, sickly, filled the room. Tan didn't raise his faceplate to get a deeper whiff--but as he turned, he saw a dark-haired woman clutched the wire of a cage very much like a dog's kennel run--eight feet long, perhaps six feet tall and four feet wide. Two identical cages stood beside it, and a woman lay curled on a mattress in each.
"Antifreeze," the standing woman gasped. "He... somebody. Somebody drank..."
Reyes was on his headset to the paramedics. Brady crouched beside the wire. He put his hands beside the woman's, but did not touch her.
Her eyes closed with concentration. Her tone changed, became professional. She recited, as if from a textbook: "Symptoms of Stage 1 ethylene glycol poison... poisoning include: intoxication, nystagmus, headaches, incoordination, confusion--"
Tan came to stand behind Brady. Sweat stood in cold beads on the woman's brow despite the heat of the room. Somehow, whatever Petrewski had done to her brain, to her memories--the undamaged person inside of her was finding a way to communicate.
"Kidney failure," she said. Her eyes opened, her expression full of confusion, like a drunk who hears what he is saying but doesn't identify the words or the voice. "If it's not treated. Do you understand?"
Brady said, "Marnie Ericsen?" The student nurse.
"Daniel Brady. FBI. We'll get you out; we'll get you medical assistance." She'd never know that his calm demeanor, his reassuring professionalism, were one hundred percent grain-fed eleventh-grade acting. Tan only recognized it because he used the same trick himself. "Which way did he go?"
She shook her head. "I don't--"
But silently, her left hand pointed.
By then, Lau was moving fastest. She'd held back from the cluster by the cages, unable to force herself to move close. But she'd seen the captive woman's gesture, and her nervous system responded to it as if she'd been fired from the taut string of a bow. She could feel Tan and Brady behind her, Falkner staying behind with Zingermann to secure the other rooms, Reyes and Chaz at Tan's heels. They moved sideways, backs to walls, inching over one another like crabs.
The corridor wasn't long, and the door at the other end stood open. Lights were on inside. It was a living room, and there was another open door beyond.
Still, Lau almost tripped over the body. A white man in his late fifties or early sixties, hair cropped in close bristles around a balding pate. He was gaunt, his color yellowish--which wasn't just the light, or the gray maintenance coverall he wore.
He lay on his back, and his left hand was clutched around the hilt of a knife. The blade vanished up under his sternum; the blood had stopped pulsing minutes before. Slashes on the palm of his right hand might have oozed lazily still, but it was impossible to tell behind the rest of the blood.
"Gamma," Lau said, crouching to take his wizened wrist. No pulse; she hadn't expected one. The sticky wetness under her knee wasn't blood; it had spilled from a water bottle that still contained a puddle of greenish fluid.
"Old gamma," Chaz said. "I guess we were right about the evil hand."
He was thinking of Eddie. She knew because they were all thinking of Eddie.
"That's the opposite of an evil hand," Brady said.
Zingermann looked up from the dead man and stopped, gun half-risen again, striding towards that open door. "Hey guys? Look at this stuff, would you? This is a little kid's room."
Reyes found her, jammed between a bureau and the wall. She'd gotten herself in there; it didn't seem likely that she could get herself out. But it had kept her safe long enough for the sane part of Buryan Petrewski to do what he should have done long ago. Reyes felt his own judgment of the dead man, unprofessional and savage, and was not moved to censure himself for it.
Maybe Petrewski should get credit for protecting a child. Maybe he should be pitied for having to spend his life locked in a skull with... God, there weren't even words. Abductor? Rapist? It was inadequate.
Reyes couldn't help but feel that if Petrewski had found the strength to sacrifice himself on behalf of the half-dozen or more adult women he'd tortured over... well, they'd find out. Sooner or later. How long he'd been at it. How many there had been.
If they ever found all of them.
For now, Reyes smoothed his face and held the little girl's warm hands to steady her until Brady got the dresser hauled gingerly aside. She didn't cry; she didn't fuss over the dead body or the room full of scary strangers.
Reyes picked her up, an arm under her bottom. She wore a frilly blue dress and white socks, patent leather shoes that looked like a memory of a different era. She might have been two. Reyes turned to look for Falkner or Tan--or even Chaz. Somebody with some child-rearing experience. And if she was a gamma? A beta? She certainly wasn't acting like a normal child, but like one of those creepy children from historic literature. Young MacDuff. Pearl.
A problem for tomorrow.
Until the little girl raised her chin and looked at him with huge, dark eyes fringed with seal-brown lashes, and said very seriously, in Cuban-accented Spanish, "I'm Zhenya. Will I have to get a job? Who will take care of me now?"
"Villette," Reyes said.
"I don't speak Spanish," Villette replied, shaking his head as if he had a fly in his ear.
"Is that Spanish?" the little girl said. "I've never spoken that before. The music in it is very pretty."
Reyes leaned against the observation window of the examining room, watching Amber Silsbury's reunion with her daughter. He didn't shift as Todd came up on his left.
"All three of the women are going to make it," Reyes said. "Let's hear it for hemodialysis and Fomepizole." He didn't mention their psychological state.
Todd didn't ask. He nodded to the window. "How's Zhenya?"
"Autumn," Reyes said.
"Winter, actually," Todd said. "Use your verbs, Steve."
Reyes snorted. "Her name is Autumn. Her mother is left-handed. She wrote it out for me." He was proud of himself, that he said it completely without irony. "Amber named her daughter Autumn. I think we should call her that."
"She's a beta."
Reyes nodded slowly. He couldn't take his attention from the young woman and the child. There was no bond there, no affection. Amber held her daughter with... revulsion. Resignation. Her left hand would not touch the girl at all.
"Yeah," Reyes said. "I noticed."
Todd laid a hand on his shoulder. "Vaya con dios."
Reyes finally dragged his gaze off the victims to glare at his old friend. "That's my line."
Todd said, "You don't believe in God."
"When it comes to you, I don't think He cares too much about who believes in Him."
Reyes knew it was coming, of course. He would have guessed on the plane; actually Villette walked up beside him at the creamer counter of the airport coffee shop. Reyes hadn't even attempted the tea.
"You can't put her in care," Villette said. "She's a little girl. Idlewood--"
"She can stay with her mother."
An incredulous bark of laughter. "Did you see them together? Her mother can't even touch her. Can she raise a little girl with the intellect of a thirty-year-old genius, who can speak any language you can? No matter who you are?"
"Her mother is going to stay with me." Reyes slopped coffee onto his hand. It was hot. He set the cup down with exaggerated care despite the burning, thinking about the gom jabbar, and pressed his fingertips to his mouth. "Kay and Casey have already agreed to offer support services."
"You can't do that," Villette said. "Ethics--"
Their gazes crossed. Reyes knew he smiled.
"Fuck ethics," Reyes said. "I quit. I retire, more precisely. Amber is willing to stay in my spare room with the girl for a while. We'll see if they connect. If Amber can learn..." He shrugged.
Stephen Reyes, at a loss for words. Who are you?
"Reyes--" A breath, and Villette choked on it.
"Don't," Reyes said. He turned; he put his back to the coffee counter and ignored the irritated stares of a delayed customer who was probably mistaking this for a lover's quarrel. "Don't. I know what I did wrong, and I can't fix it. But I don't have to make the same mistake again."
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.
Silently, Chaz handed the book to Hafs, its shiny jacket slick against her dust-smoothed fingers. She glanced at the dust jacket: Murder in the Second City, by Rupert Beale. She already knew it, but she opened the book anyway and read the epigraph aloud: "...there is no God. Nature sufficeth unto herself; in no wise hath she need of an author... --Donatien Alphonse François, marquis de Sade, Justine.... Why'd you bring me this?"
"It's from Petrewski's bunker."
Hafidha tossed the book on the floor. "Barry was trying to understand himself."
"Aren't we all?"
"I've been going through his files--" --thousands and thousands of hours of writing, on 3.5 disks. Many of them hopelessly decayed, and she was having to machine-translate them from the Russian, and hand over the sections that looked important to the Bureau's linguistics people. "You want the worst first?"
"The Anomaly maximizes pain," Chaz said.
She looked at him. The Bug would take it as a dig. But Hafs knew better, and the twitch of his lips told her he knew it too. "Ovulation charts for the captives. He was taking their temperatures."
"Jesus," Chaz said.
"Good thing his swimmers were apparently as fucked up as the rest of him, or there would have been an army of baby betas in that hole. Also, he seems to have been obsessed with the idea that he'd been made into an automaton. Surgically, in the Soviet Union. That they'd taken his family from him and made them automatons too. He wanted his son back. He wanted everybody else to be an automaton too."
She tried to flip her braids. They weren't there. "He wanted to own everybody."
"I could have told you that from the antifreeze." Chaz crossed his arms, uncrossed them. Hugged himself the other way round. "So something bugs me."
"'Bugs' you, Baby Bro?" It could have had an edge to it. Even she wasn't sure, and from the lift of his eyebrows, neither was he.
"Yeah," he said. "How did Petrewski figure out what he needed to do to make Autumn happen? Or was she just..." he flinched. "...an accident?"
What is this fascination with the monsters of the past? Are we so pathetic, we twenty-first century humans, that we can conjure at this late date no horrors more compelling, more appalling, than de Sade, Vlad Dracula, the wretched Jack the Ripper? The petty devils of another age are safely quarantined by time. But to examine our own demons with open eyes requires a fortitude not all possess.
--Rupert Beale, Ph.D., Murder in the Second City