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Portrait of a marshal th.., p.3
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       Portrait of a Marshal: The 2nd Unhidden Story, p.3

           Lissa Price
 
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  I wave my phone over it and grab the name. “Margaret Surratt.”

  “Don’t go bothering her. She’s a respected member of the community,” the Old Man says. “She won’t know anything.”

  I glance at the photo of her. She’s wearing pearls. Looks respectable.

  “One more. Jenny.” I show him a picture of my granddaughter.

  He types in her name. Three photos of Starters named Jenny pop up. The photo of mine is the only one I care about. She was a donor. Oh, Jenny, why did you do this? But no time to dwell on that. The renter who comes up—also Margaret. Still with the pearls.

  What kind of respected community member rents out multiple Starter bodies … and why?

  #

  I rush to the address the Old Man gave me. Margaret’s name came up as the renter for all of the dead girls. She’s rich, from a society family, and a deacon at her church. A real pillar of the community.

  Her home is a mansion in Beverly Hills, a short drive from Prime. I park my car down the street close enough to watch, far enough so she won’t notice if she happens to look outside. Her place has a huge lawn and no gate, that sort of open feeling that suggests the people inside have so much security they have nothing to fear.

  I pop my miniscope in my right eye and look at her windows. I only see two people: a housekeeper dusting the lamps inside, and a guard patrolling the grounds outside. I keep watching, hoping to catch a glimpse of Margaret.

  After a while, a white sports car comes up the street. A Starter, a real looker, is at the wheel, long blond hair and a perfect face.

  Perfect?

  She doesn’t notice me. She zooms past and then turns into the driveway of Margaret’s mansion. It can’t be Margaret’s granddaughter, because she wouldn’t be able to return home with a Prime makeover. So odds are it’s Margaret herself, renting yet another body.

  Why didn’t the Old Man tell me that? I rub the back of my neck. Maybe he didn’t know.

  I wait. It isn’t long before she reemerges in the sports car, pulling out of her driveway. As she passes, I notice she has on a shimmery trance dress, the kind rich Starters wear to clubs.

  And sure enough, that’s where she leads me, all the way downtown to a club for Starters. A valet takes my car, and I’m grateful Prime gave me nice clothes, because everyone is dressed to kill here. It’s called Club Rune, and maybe because it’s still early, they let me past the velvet rope. Or maybe it’s Trace’s good looks that get me in.

  I see her at the bar, her tan legs wrapped around the stool, her blond hair hanging almost to her waist. I make a point not to make eye contact as I take a stool next to her. Before long, she notices Trace’s handsome face.

  “Well, hello there,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “Who are you?”

  “Trace. What’s your name?”

  Her eyes look up, as if she’s trying to remember. “You can call me Jodi.”

  I’m wondering if she thinks I’m an Ender inside or just a great-looking Starter. Does she care? She certainly wouldn’t guess I’m a marshal inside.

  “You come here a lot?” I ask. It’s a standard line, but I actually want to know.

  “I do,” she says, sipping her cocktail. “Not always looking like this.” She gives me a wink. “And what about you?”

  “It’s my first time,” I say.

  “First time in the club … or first time?” she asks with a wicked grin.

  “I’ve never been here before. My grandparents don’t let me out much.”

  By choosing to play the real Starter, I’ll find out how far she’ll go. Her eyes light up.

  “Then I should give you the special tour.” She leans closer.

  A sharp, happy scent fills my nose. She runs her finger down my jacket lapel. “Would you like that, Trace?”

  She draws out my name so it almost sounds dirty.

  “Maybe,” I say. “What will I get to see?”

  I play along, walking a fine line between flirtation and innocence.

  “Just follow me,” she says, her eyes almost slits.

  She pulls a wad of cash out of her bag and peels off some bills, enough to cover both of us, then places them on the bar. She slides off her stool.

  I follow her as she sashays her way through the arriving partiers to a door that leads to a back hallway. It’s not meant to be seen by the customers; it’s unpainted and dark. We enter and it leads to a stairwell.

  It’s dark, a little light spilling out from higher up. She stops and grabs me, pulling me to her, and presses her lips against mine. She smells like peppermint and something floral, and her lips are soft and hungry. I let her call the shots. I’m enjoying it, I admit; it’s been decades since I’ve been kissed this hard, this frantic, this desperate.

  She pulls me closer, until her back is up against the wall. I let my hands caress her long, silky hair, and then something makes me stop. I pull away and look at her.

  “What?” she asks. “You want someplace more … private?”

  I nod. She’s my age, in reality, so this isn’t as bad as it could be. But she thinks I’m a real Starter, a boy one-fifth her age, and she knows darn well what she’s doing. And, I remind myself, she might be a killer.

  “Don’t worry. I know just the place,” she says as she puts her long leg on the next step.

  “There?” I ask.

  She motions above with her head. “Paradise.”

  I follow her up the stairs, trying not to look at her hips. I slip my hand inside my pants pocket to feel for the thin smartcuffs.

  We reach the landing and turn to go up another level.

  “We’ll be completely alone. No one can see us,” she says with a giggle.

  She pushes open the door that says roof and we go outside. She’s right; no one can see us. The roof is large, with vents and stacks and another stairwell at the far end. There’s no other building nearby, just the ink-black night sky. The cool air blows our way and I reach for her wrist to slap the cuff on her.

  But she yanks back her hand and the cuff snaps, capturing only air.

  “You’re not so innocent after all.” She smiles.

  I go for the other wrist and slap the cuff on it. “Sweetheart, I’m just an innocent marshal.”

  She whips her other arm away before I can connect the cuffs together.

  Her eyes examine my face, no doubt struggling to adjust to the fact that I’m an Ender inside. She backs away.

  “How did you find me?” she asks.

  I follow her very slowly, so as not to spook her. “Prime told me about you, Margaret.”

  “They’re supposed to be confidential. Who told you my name?”

  “The Old Man.”

  She reaches behind her back, pulls a gun out of her purse, and aims it between my eyes.

  For a split second I start to go for my gun, but I realize I can’t. I can’t hurt this innocent girl’s body.

  “You don’t want to do that,” I said. “Margaret.”

  “Don’t call me that. When I’m in this body, I’m Jodi.” She holds the gun steady. “And your name is goodbye.”

  She’s about to shoot my poor donor’s body. Sweat beads on my—his—forehead.

  “This guy”—I gesture to my body—“Trace, lost his parents in the wars. He needed money desperately, badly enough to rent out the only thing he had of value: himself. Please, you can’t kill him. He doesn’t know you.”

  “But he could remember,” she says.

  “Like your past donors?” I see a flicker in her eyes so I go on. “You did some things you’re not proud of when you were renting, and you’re afraid people will remember. Maybe the donor will remember and give you away.”

  “They get replays. Memory surges. Memories that could ruin me.”

  “So when you got back in your body, you killed them.”

  “They’re unclaimed, who cares?”

  “Not all of them.”

  She moves closer to me, the gun pointed at my head
Trace’s head.

  “Killing Trace won’t help,” I say. “I’ll still be around to talk.”

  “Then you’ll be next.”

  She starts to pull the trigger. I can’t help but squint in reflex. But she doesn’t finish. Is the gun jammed? No. It’s something else. She has the will but cannot shoot.

  “I can’t do it,” she says with a puzzled expression. “I had no trouble before … as myself.”

  She goes from confused to angry in seconds.

  Oh. She can’t kill.

  “Looks like Prime thought ahead.” I wrest the gun from her hand.

  She gives me that determined look, the one I’ve seen a million times, where they know the lies and the stories won’t fly. But they still refuse to give up. They’re going to grab that sliver of hope that somehow, some way, they can squeeze through some rip in time and make a getaway.

  She runs behind a stack on the roof.

  I pull out my phone. “I have to talk to the Old Man, now! This is an emergency!”

  He gets on the phone.

  “You didn’t tell me she was renting somebody!” I shout.

  “I didn’t know,” the electronic voice says too calmly.

  I crane my neck to see where she’s hiding.

  “Well, she is. A Starter named Jodi. Margaret’s in your place, in a chair, now.”

  I see her burst out of her hiding place and run across the large roof.

  “Margaret!” I shout as I pocket my phone.

  She stops and turns around.

  “Give up!” she shouts back at me. “Or she’s dead.”

  I know what she’s doing. She’s going to run off the edge of the roof. She’s going to kill this donor, too.

  “Don’t!” I shout.

  “Or what?” She gives a wicked half smile. “You’ll kill her?”

  She knows she has me. I wait, afraid to move. Afraid I’ll set her off. But I want to get closer. She’s going to kill her one way or the other, if not now, then later, and she’s all the way across the roof.

  My legs itch to move forward. Maybe slowly? How to save this girl’s life? What can I say that will reach Margaret?

  Before I can do anything else, she spins and runs for the edge. I bolt, running as fast as I can. But I see it’s impossible. I’m not going to make it. Not going to save this one.

  I’ll give up Trace to save Jodi, I decide in a split second. But will I have the chance?

  Margaret goes for the edge. She’s closing in. Almost there, carrying poor Jodi’s body to her death.

  She gets to the edge. But just before she can take that fatal leap she slumps to the ground.

  My heart stops. I run to her and kneel down.

  She’s unconscious. Her head is scraped and bleeding from where she hit the ground. I feel for her pulse. It’s there.

  “Jodi,” I say, gently patting her hand.

  Her eyelids flutter. She moves her head from side to side, then opens her eyes. They’re full of fear.

  “Jodi?” I say.

  She tries to sit up.

  “Easy,” I say.

  She’s clearly disoriented, but is starting to trust me. I help her into a sitting position.

  “What happened?” she asks, fragile as a fawn.

  I lean in and hold her in a tight hug. “You’re all right,” I whisper into her ear. “You’re safe.”

  I close my eyes and hold her to me for a long time. The girl I saved. The other faces flash through my mind, the ones I couldn’t save—Dawn, Indie, Jenny—but they’re not angry. They’re grateful.

  #

  I stand high on the hillside, not far from the Hollywood sign, a few yards from my car. It’s another world up here, with the earthy scent of the sweet dry grasses. I’m back in my own old, tired Ender body. I bend my aching legs and squat to dig a hole in the dirt with my hands. When it seems deep enough, I place the pink shoes with the rhinestones inside.

  Grandpa, I just have to have these shoes.

  She was so happy that day.

  I push the dirt over them and pat it down too many times.

  I’m stopped by my phone ringing. I straighten slowly, wipe my hands with my handkerchief, and answer it.

  “Marshal.” It’s the Old Man’s electronic voice.

  “It’s you,” I say. “You pulled the plug on Margaret. Thank you.”

  “I can’t have an Ender killing my best donors. Even one of my best renters.”

  “She can live out the next hundred years of her life in prison,” I say. “Now you, you’ll always be in business.”

  “Everybody wants to be someone else,” he says.

  That’s because they don’t know who they are.

  My feet hurt, my legs ache. I look out over the city below and see war-scarred pockets blackened by fire or reduced to rubble. But most of it still stands.

  The Old Man’s mask crackles. “Do you blame them?” he asks.

  I hang up and shut my tired eyes. In the darkness behind my hundred-year-old eyelids, I search for the answer.

  About the Author

  Lissa Price has studied photography and writing, but the world has turned out to be her greatest teacher.

  She has walked with elephants in Botswana, swum with penguins in the Galápagos, and stood in a field at sunset amid a thousand nomads in Gujarat, India. She has been surrounded by hundreds of snorting Cape buffalo in South Africa and held an almost silent chorus with a hundred wild porpoises off the coast of Oahu. She has danced in mud huts at weddings in India and had tea with the most famous living socialite in Kyoto.

  When she sat down to write, she found that the most surprising journeys were still inside her mind.

  She lives in the foothills of Southern California with her husband and the occasional deer. Visit her at LissaPrice.com.

 


 

  Lissa Price, Portrait of a Marshal: The 2nd Unhidden Story

 


 

 
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