The revenger, p.7
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       The Revenger, p.7

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Look what I’ve become.

  The mirror used to be a happy place. When Sara was a baby, it was one of the first games she liked to play.

  “Who’s the pretty girl in the mirror?” Savvy would ask her chubby-cheeked daughter. When Sara squealed with her baby attempt at conversation, Savvy would lean over and blow raspberries on Sara’s skin.

  Oh, the laugh. It was so addicting. They would stay at the mirror until Sara got bored or hungry. Savvy would have stood there forever, needing nothing more than a small room filled with her daughter’s delight.

  Savvy had taken a scalding hot shower next, hoping to shock herself out of this trembling need to be so vicious. But as her skin became fiery red with the merciless searing, it had just matched her insides and their torment. There was no relief.

  And when she’d stepped out and wrapped herself in a robe, she’d known that Sagan wanted her. The air had told her. Her spine had told her. He’d been back at her camera.

  As she’d padded back into the scope of his electric sight, she’d spotted an elegant notebook sitting on the desk in her room and swallowed a smile. As she’d sat with a pen and the book, it had taken everything she didn’t have any more not to lift her head and meet his pounding gaze.

  Finally, once she’d finished writing the message that would give her a little peace, she’d let her eyes give in to the demand. She’d almost gasped as Sagan’s attention poured over her. It had been hotter than the shower—and every inch of her skin had felt him.

  Yet she’d managed to simply tap her message and wink, maintaining a false veil of calm and control, shielding her desperation to choke the living shit out of him.

  Savvy sighed and rolled over. Now that the sun was high enough to officially call it morning, she left the bed and dressed in the bathroom. Finding anything in that closet she was willing to put on was a task. The best she could do was skintight jeans and a tank top. Her only choice of footwear was heels, of course. She chose red ones.

  After she’d brushed her hair and stepped back into her room, there was a knock on the door. She guessed the timing was perfect because someone in the house was watching her. Bugs, probably. It wasn’t Sagan this time; she hadn’t wanted to burst into flame.

  When it was clear the visitor would not enter without permission, Savvy took a moment to brace herself against ripping the person’s head off when she opened the door. The auras were with her all the time—taunting, needling, irritating. When she turned the doorknob, there was Boston, struggling to seem casual. The red in his aura was like a flag to a bull, and she salivated to beat it out of him.

  “Did you sleep well?” he asked and then cringed,

  Savvy felt a moment of sympathy despite herself. What could he ask her, really? What could be their small talk? A jailor and his prisoner. He’d brought her three deliveries of super-crappy food yesterday.

  “My TV needs more channels.” She looked away from him, trying to calm her itchy limbs, clear her cloudy vision.

  There was an awkward silence. Her TV would never have more channels, and they both knew it.

  “Can I get you something to eat?” Boston ran a hand through his hair.

  Savvy shook her head. The last thing she could dream of doing was stuffing cereal past the large lump in her throat.

  The strain of standing still made her sweat. There was more endless quiet. Boston shuffled his sneaker-clad feet. He seemed to be dressed for a run. It had been a million years since Savvy had punished herself with that type of exercise. When she’d played soccer in college, the coach had demanded five miles a day, and she’d stopped the moment she left the team. Yet ragged breaths and tortured muscles seemed really appealing now. Maybe running would help contain her need to go on a violent rampage.

  “Were you about to go to the gym?” Savvy didn’t meet his eyes.

  “I usually run on the beach in the morning.” Boston picked lint from his shorts.

  “I take it you can’t leave me. Are you their first line of defense?” Savvy nodded toward the rest of the house. The red auras called to her like free candy.

  Boston massaged his neck. “Um, I guess. Mostly I’m here to make sure nobody hurts you.”

  He met her eyes, and the deep blue reflected his disbelief that she needed protection from anyone.

  “I’d go on a run with you. I’ve got to do something; my mind is melting here. I can’t even breathe anymore.” Savvy watched, fascinated as the gold in Boston’s aura marbled in front of his red.

  He nodded as if he understood perfectly what she was saying, what she needed. “Let’s go.” He took a determined step for the door.

  “Dude, if I run in this getup, I’ll bust out of these pants, and the heels will get stuck in the sand. I’ll probably break my leg. But I couldn’t find anything else to wear.” Savvy stepped aside as Boston walked in.

  “Well, you’ll have workout clothes. The girls have to stay fit—that’s one of the boss’s rules.” Boston pulled open the drawers in her closet.

  A wave of nausea washed over as Savvy considered what the man had said. She would be one of Sagan’s “girls.” Whatever that entailed. The thought of being close to Sagan made her fists curl.

  After a moment, Boston found what he was looking for. He tossed her a pair of shorts and a running top. While he rooted around for sneakers, Savvy contemplated her options. Sagan had someone watching Tobias, and until she could figure out how to keep her brother safe, she was a puppet—or worse.

  Boston turned with a victorious grin. “Look at that! I found my way around in a chick’s closet.”

  His gold was so bright in that moment that Savvy felt her heart swell a bit. If it weren’t for the red threading through here and there, being around Boston would almost be bearable.

  He waited outside as she changed. She left her previous outfit in a ball on the floor and walked through the unlocked door to his room once she was ready. Boston had an intensely dorky-looking fanny pack clipped around his waist. He zipped it open to retrieve his cell phone, and she could see he was serious about his job. His gun and a very sharp knife took up the rest of the space in the pack.

  He dialed quickly and looked toward the camera mounted on the ceiling. “I need to get out without running into anyone.” He listened and then closed the phone. “Let’s go, Savvy.”

  They ran out into the hallway, down a side set of steps, and hit the door like they had just robbed a bank. Soon they were wrapped in the warm beach air.

  “Sorry about that. I just figured you didn’t want to see anyone else.” He tucked his phone into his pack and zipped it.

  And then the jogging began. At first it was effortless for her supercharged body, like cutting hot butter. But as she moved farther down the beach, farther from the concentration of evil, her breaths came harder. Her muscles seemed to remember she was human and started to feel the strain. Her vision sharpened, and her desire to pound Boston to a pulp even waned.

  He slowed to a walk, and she was grateful. After catching her breath, she was able to talk. “So are you, like, transmitting the run?”

  He had a glisten of sweat, but he was obviously in better shape than she was. “No. There are no cameras out here. It’s just us.”

  “He’s not a good man.” Savvy heard Sara’s screams again in her memory. She didn’t have to clarify to whom she was referring; it could only be Sagan.

  “I haven’t met a good man in a long time. Not here.” Boston’s aura now rivaled the reflection of the sun on the water. It seemed he could be honest out here—if she could keep up. “A lot of people living in the house have done horrible things, including myself. But sometimes you don’t have a choice about the sins you commit. Just so you know.”

  She got what he was trying to tell her. Paying attention to who had gold mixed with the red in their aura was crucial. She liked it better when she just reacted. But she couldn’t just rage on people if they’d been forced to commit acts they wouldn’t normally choose. She seemed to be s
ome sort of revenger, and if her targets hadn’t earned their retribution, everything would go all wrong. She knew this as solidly as she knew her own name. Savvy bent and picked up a smooth rock. She tried to skip it, and it sunk immediately.

  “Wow. Were you angry at the rock or just proving that gravity works?” Boston picked up a similar rock and skipped it four times before it sunk below the surface.

  “I’m sorry. Did you steal that fanny pack from your grandmother, or did you buy it new?” Savvy tried another rock; it sunk as well.

  Boston’s dimples highlighted his smile. After unsuccessfully trying to teach her to jump her rock across the water, Boston led the way as they began to jog back. She didn’t want to go, as it felt like crawling back into a tomb where she’d previously been buried alive. When the house loomed before them and she felt so very strong again, she decided to ask the question she was afraid of.

  “So, I’m supposed to be a whore for him, is that right?” Savvy looked for Boston’s blue eyes.

  He refused to meet her gaze. “I don’t know, Savvy. I’ve never seen him like this before—like he is about you.” He glanced around and shook his head. They would soon be under surveillance again.

  After he ran her up to her room like she was Elvis escaping rabid fans, he said he would bring her some food. Savvy took another screaming hot shower and tried to avoid the hope that Boston might be on her side. It could all be a mirage. She would have to be very careful.

  Chapter 13

  Collared Like a Dog

  After another distracted day at work, Toby stood in Savvy’s kitchen, taking huge gulps of the water from his glass. He hadn’t bothered to refill the filter pitcher in the fridge since Savvy wasn’t around to care about it. Tap was just fine for him. And he didn’t think about food now until he was already hungry, so he just ate crap.

  Three weeks. Savvy had been missing for three weeks as of today. He slammed the glass down and ran his hand through his hair. Frustration felt like it had mass and choked him continually. His trips to the police station had been fruitless.

  He heard the same excuses all the time: She was a grown woman. Savvy had depression problems and was known for doing irrational things—like trying to take her life. More than once.

  Fuck. He couldn’t get them to understand this was urgent. It was so important. The phone call from Dr. Sethen yesterday had been especially disheartening. First, he’d had to convince the guy to even talk to him, patient confidentiality be damned, since his sister had disappeared without a trace. Toby remembered him as the doctor interested in analyzing and identifying the substance from Savvy’s crash, but they hadn’t heard from him in months.

  After a long-winded and perplexing discussion about energy and a German physicist who had established that energy in one form can disappear but the same amount of energy will appear in another form, Dr. Sethen had explained that the green sludge that had burst from the truck that hit Savvy’s van and covered her face after the accident was something known as Compound E, and until now he had not thought it actually existed.

  “It seems, Toby, that someone, somewhere has created a substance we thought was only a theory. It can hold energy in a liquid state, and that is what Savvy absorbed. I really wish she were around for a full physical because I would love to run some tests on her. Evidently the chemical lies latent inside living beings for a period before any effects can be identified, and over time it settles into their organs, binds to their blood cells.” The doctor was not nearly as good with human emotions as he was with analyzing a difficult microbiology equation.

  “So, it’s like oil? Liquid energy?” Toby had jotted down various words in the small scrap of clean white space at the bottom of the newspaper.

  “Yes, in that the compound is a liquid, but oil needs a stimulant—something to propel it from one state to the next by burning it, or the like. This theoretical type of liquid energy is available just sitting still. I’ve done some tests with the little bits I was able to save from Savvy’s clothes…” The doctor had seemed lost in thought as he paused. “I wish the truck hadn’t exploded. A sizable sample would help me continue testing the substance.”

  Toby had pressed on the pencil until the tip snapped off. The accident had taken some very important people from this world. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the energy slime this dude had an academic boner for. He’d pushed a question through his grinding teeth. “What did the tests tell you?”

  “Well, the structure of Compound E completely defies the registered beliefs we have for energy. It has so many applications, but of course, I needed to try to replicate Savvy’s accident. I applied the substance to some mice and observed them with the help of my interns. For several weeks, there were no measurable effects, but then suddenly the mice became ridiculously strong. They could chew through their metal cages, and they attempted to bite some of the students, while others could handle the mice with no problem. Have you seen any changes in Savvy besides her depression? I’m not sure if the process and timing would be similar in humans or not.”

  The doctor had listened with baited breath. Toby had felt his hopes and excitement trying to pull the answer through the phone.

  “No, she was just really sad. No change at all,” he’d answered quickly, though he still had no idea why he’d felt compelled to lie. “So how are the mice doing?”

  What can I expect my sister to be like when I find her, if I find her?

  “Please keep in mind that mouse trials and human trials are inherently dissimilar,” the doctor had continued. “Our DNA and bone structure, intellectual functions—it’s all very different. And as you pointed out, Savvy isn’t having any of the symptoms we’ve witnessed in the mice.” The doctor cleared his throat.

  All at once Toby had realized he didn’t want to know. Whatever it was, he was fine not knowing. But everything in his head had emptied out as he looked for the end button on his cell phone. How could it be so hard to find? He pressed it every damn day.

  The doctor’s voice had been loud, every word clearly enunciated. “The mice have all expired. Eventually they turned on everyone, even those they’d seemed to like. In the end they seemed to get even stronger, but then they died in a rather…well, listen... Please—”

  Finally he’d been able to hang up. But he couldn’t unhear the words.

  He stared down into the bottom of his empty water glass. The police were still treating Savvy as a missing person. But if he didn’t find her soon, he wasn’t even sure she would be classified as a human anymore. If the mice had turned on everyone, maybe even he wouldn’t be able to talk sense into her. Maybe she wouldn’t even be found alive.

  Toby wiped his hand across his lips. He would do tonight what he’d been doing every night: ride his motorcycle until his eyes were blurry, listening for the screams of scared-shitless grown men.

  *~*~*~*

  In the last three weeks Savvy had eaten enough frozen dinners to make her want to blow up the microwave. Tonight she and Boston sat in front of his TV with another salt-filled concoction, watching a prerecorded, steam-cleaned show. She liked to think her media was censored because Tobias was raising hell, and he was handsome enough to make the newscasters want to air his pleas for information on her whereabouts.

  “You know what? If I have to eat another one of these damn meals I’m going to scream. Why do we eat such crap here?” Savvy set down her fork.

  She expected him to give her some criminal-style answer, like trying to avoid being poisoned.

  Instead he shrugged. “That’s all we ever have. The guys get fast food; the girls eat, like, nothing.”

  Savvy’s fancy prison appeared to have all the trappings, but she knew differently now. There was no caterer, no chef. Food was only what the people in the house brought in. Some of the rooms were finely appointed, but others were sparse and cheaply furnished.

  “Dude, get me the card the bastard sent me.”

  Boston raised one inquisitive brow and then left t
o get the credit card Savvy had sworn she would never accept from the boss.

  Silas Sagan sent her flowers every day—huge, exotic arrangements.

  Dutifully, Boston brought them up from downstairs and handed them to Savvy. Savvy had read the first card, which was attached to the stem of a Casablanca lily:

  Thinking of you ~ S.S.

  She never opened another one. She’d also taken the vase to her balcony and heaved it toward the ground below. It had smashed on the sand, scattering flowers everywhere, and she’d felt his eyes race up her spine, watching her destroy from oceans away.

  He must have enjoyed it, because every day the routine continued. He’d send her a vase of blooms, just to watch her toss it out like garbage. She wished there were a nice pile of her destruction accumulating below, but the groundskeepers ushered the evidence into trash bins soon after her temper tantrums were complete.

  Boston returned, and Savvy took the credit card from him. It had been another gift from “Thinking of you. ~S.S.,” and unlike the flowers, which Boston didn’t seem to care about, he’d refused to let her toss it.

  “It’s worth too much,” he’d told her.

  At the moment, Savvy was inclined to think he might have been right. She logged on to Boston’s computer and surfed a very limited version of the Internet. She was pleased to see she had access to an online grocery store, and in no time she’d stuffed a ridiculous amount of fresh vegetables and meat into the digital shopping cart. After expediting the order, she clicked the computer shut and smiled. Soon she’d have everything she needed to make a real meal. The next dinner she and Boston shared would be homemade meatball lasagna.

  Cooking in the kitchen the next day served as a renewed exercise in self-control. She usually avoided the assholes who lived in the mansion. Savvy had found a few ways to ignore the auras’ calling, to keep herself as focused as possible in the face of their distraction, in the weeks she’d been living in the strange mansion. But every time she didn’t tear the owner of a red aura to pieces, she worried she was letting Kal and Sara down. What if they were waiting as eagerly for their next visit with Savvy as she was?

 
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