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Losing lila, p.11
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       Losing Lila, p.11

           Sarah Alderson
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  Sara frowned. ‘Let’s get back to the story, then,’ she said, looking down at her notes. ‘You said Demos arrived at the house and from that point you don’t remember what happened.’

  I made a non-committal sort of sound, a gurgle in my throat.

  ‘So, at what point do you start remembering?’ She looked up expectantly.

  ‘Um, I’m not sure how long after, but the next thing I knew we were in their bus and driving somewhere. Then the bus stopped and Demos told Alex he had to go back to the base to break a prisoner out and he said that if Alex did it, he would let us both go.’

  ‘Right. And Alex said yes?’

  ‘He had to,’ I blurted. ‘They were going to kill me if he didn’t.’

  Sara bit her lip and studied me for a few seconds. ‘What happened to the car? Jack’s car? It disappeared – turned up in a second-hand car dealership outside of Palm Springs. The owner said a young couple on their way to Vegas to get married had traded it in.’ She raised an eyebrow. ‘Know anything about that?’

  ‘Yes, it was us.’ I had my lie ready. ‘Demos made us do it. He wanted the money.’

  Sara was chewing her lip. This was the weakest part of the story. She knew as well as I did that Demos didn’t need money. He robbed banks for a living. ‘And I think he wanted to leave a trail so you’d think we were on our own.’

  Sara nodded and wrote something down. ‘So, in the two days you were with Demos,’ she said, continuing on, ‘did you have a chance to talk with him? Did he say anything to you?’

  ‘Not really, no.’ I looked down at the table. ‘He didn’t speak to me. He only spoke to Alex.’ More scribbles. I sat in silence, swallowing, breathing, trying to stop my feet from jigging up and down.

  ‘And Jack? How did Jack get into this? Why did Alex call Jack and arrange for him to meet you?’

  ‘Demos told him to.’


  ‘Because Alex said he couldn’t break into the base by himself. That he needed help. They let him call Jack.’

  ‘And when Jack met you, what did he say?’

  ‘He wanted to kill Demos. He tried to, but you can’t fight Demos. He’s impossible to fight. He makes you do stuff. Stuff you don’t want to do.’ I petered out at the sight of their blank faces.

  ‘So, Demos made Jack and Alex come back to the base to break out two prisoners,’ Dr Pendegast said. ‘And when they brought the two prisoners back and Rachel, what happened then?’

  ‘They did the exchange. Demos demanded they give him Rachel too. They didn’t want to, but he just took her. Then the Unit arrived and we were caught up in a huge gunfight. It was really scary.’ To my own ears I sounded like the world’s worst liar, like the kid in the school play who only gets given one sympathy line and even that is delivered so poorly the entire audience cringes.

  Sara didn’t cringe, though; she just nodded. I swallowed again. She leaned across the table and took hold of my hand. ‘Lila, Jack and Alex fired on their own men. Did Demos make them?’

  I didn’t like blaming Demos, but it wasn’t as if it was going to hurt him any. The Unit had already sentenced him to death. What were a few more guilty verdicts going to do? Increase the wattage? And this way, I reasoned, I was protecting Jack and Alex.

  ‘Yes,’ I answered.

  Sara leaned back heavily in her seat.

  ‘But you have to understand,’ I carried on, ‘they had no choice. They were being controlled. Demos, he has this amazing power. I’m telling you he can make you do things. Anything!’

  ‘In which case, how did you manage to get away?’ Dr Pendegast asked.

  ‘After Ryder got shot and Jack . . .’ I closed my eyes, trying to push the image away. ‘After that, it was chaos. I think Demos must have lost control or something because Alex pushed me into the car and we managed to drive off.’

  Again there was silence. The two of them were just nodding at me thoughtfully.

  ‘And Rachel? What happened to her? Did you see?’

  I looked between them both then shook my head. ‘I saw her being put in the RV – the bus – by Demos. But I have no idea what happened after that.’

  ‘Here’s the thing, Lila,’ Dr Pendegast said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward across the table. ‘What we can’t understand is why you would leave Jack and why both of you wouldn’t just come straight back. Instead you’ve been on the run for over a week and when the Unit got close to finding you – to bring you in for your own safety – you ran from us. Can you explain why?’

  The labyrinth of lies was just getting so deep I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my way out. I took a deep breath. ‘Alex knew he couldn’t come back here. Not after what happened. He knew you’d be angry with him for breaking those prisoners out. I tried to convince him – I told him we had to come back – that you’d understand. I told him we had to find out about Jack, but he wouldn’t listen. And then, when you found us in Mexico City and almost caught us, he told me that it was getting too dangerous and that he didn’t want me around anymore. I don’t think he ever really wanted me around, he just didn’t know how to tell me.’ I looked at my hands twisting in my lap then forced myself to look up straight into Sara’s eyes. ‘So, I came back,’ I said.

  ‘Why’d it take you so long to make that decision?’ Sara whispered, hurt in her eyes.

  I felt a sob in my chest heave its way into my mouth and suddenly I was crying. Actually crying. Real tears were rolling down my cheeks. ‘Because I wanted to stay with Alex. I love him.’ It was about the only true thing I’d said so far.

  Sara handed me a tissue and came and sat next to me, putting her arm round my shoulders. ‘You poor thing. I’m sorry for all the questions. We’re just trying to understand what happened.’ I nodded through my sobs.

  ‘Lila, just one more thing,’ she said. ‘Do you know where Alex is right now? I know you probably don’t want to tell us, that you want to protect him, but we really do need to talk to him. If you can tell us where he is, it would be really helpful.’ She squeezed my arm.

  As if, I thought. You can shoot me with a thousand of your brain-frying guns before I’ll tell you anything.

  ‘We just need to speak to him,’ Sara said with a tired smile, ‘to verify your version of events.’

  ‘You’re doubting them? You think I’m lying? Why would I lie?’

  She looked uncomfortable for an instant. ‘No, Lila, that’s not what I meant. Look, honestly, we just want to talk to him, and to Jack when he wakes up. We understand they can’t have been acting of their own accord. We realise that they were under the influence of Demos. Do you know where Alex is now?’ she asked again.

  ‘No, I don’t know where he is,’ I said. ‘The last time I saw him he was putting me on a plane in Mexico City.’ I managed to produce more tears at that point.

  After a few minutes I wiped my eyes and looked up. The machine was still recording. Dr Pendegast was still writing notes, his pen scratching the paper furiously. Sara was just watching me and across the smoky grey glass of the mirror, I was sure I saw a shadow flicker.

  ‘Can I see Jack now?’ I asked, pushing my chair back and standing up. ‘Can I see my dad?’



  He walked towards me, his face grim with anger. But then he grabbed me hard in his arms and I didn’t feel any anger, just waves of relief and love.

  ‘Sorry, Dad,’ I mumbled.

  He didn’t let me go. ‘God, you had me so worried,’ he whispered in my ear. Then he took stock of me. I’d not seen him in almost a month, but I was aware I’d changed in a lot of ways, not least my hacked-short hair. He shook his head and then pulled me back against his chest. It felt good. It went some way to soothing the ache I was feeling between my ribs.

  We were in a hospital room reserved for family in the intensive care unit. The hospital was a military one, bang in the centre of the base. It already felt like Jack was under arrest. The whole place was swarming with uniforms. Ev
en the doctors were Marines, wearing uniforms under their white coats. There was an armed guard outside Jack’s room, just in case he woke up from a coma, discovered he wasn’t paralysed and decided to escape, I assumed.

  ‘Where they hell have you been?’ my dad said, dropping into a chair. I noticed now how wretchedly awful he looked. Like he hadn’t slept in days. As if he was living on coffee and vending-machine food. ‘And what happened to your hair? Why did you cut it?’

  ‘I’ll explain later,’ I said, casting my eyes about the place. Alex had warned me that the Unit would most likely have bugged Jack’s room and that they’d definitely put a bug on me too. Something in my clothing because they couldn’t get me drunk and tattoo me as they’d done with him and Jack. I wasn’t sure if they’d bugged me already, but I wasn’t about to risk opening up to my dad and telling him everything.

  ‘Have you seen him? How is he?’ I asked to put a brake on his asking any further questions about where I’d been.

  ‘He’s OK. They’ve done everything they can. We just have to wait. He’s lucky. It only hit his spleen, but another few centimetres and the bullet would have hit his spine. As it is, it lodged very close to one of the vertebrae. They had to operate to remove it.’

  I closed my eyes and heaved in a breath or two. When I opened them, my dad was looking at me, waiting, expectation hanging like smog in the air.

  ‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’ he said. ‘They won’t tell me. Sara’s been great, but she can’t say anything. Damn security nonsense.’

  I thought the effort of not speaking was going to kill me. The voice in my head was screaming, Mum’s alive. Mum’s alive. She’s here. She’s right here. But I couldn’t open my mouth. The screaming just carried on in the vault that was my head.

  ‘Can I see him? Can I see Jack?’ I mumbled, unable to meet my dad’s eye. He led me through into Jack’s room with a sigh.

  The first thing I noticed was the insistent beeping of a machine. Then the hush-hush of a ventilator. I walked slowly over to the bed and there was Jack, looking like he was sleeping and dreaming of kittens. His face was so peaceful, without a trace of his habitually raised eyebrows and ironic half-smile. I took his hand in my own. It was warm but lifeless. The bruising on his knuckles from where he’d punched the tree after finding out that I was a psy was now barely visible. I steeled myself and glanced down at his body. There was a large gauze bandage covering his lower abdomen which, other than for the suckers covering his upper chest, was otherwise bare.

  I bent down. ‘Hey, It’s me, Jack. It’s Lila. I’m here,’ I whispered quietly in his ear.

  Nothing. The machine kept up its rhythmic beeping and the ventilator told me to hush. After what felt like just a few minutes my dad tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Come on, let’s get you out of here. It’s late.’

  I glanced up. The clock on the side said 21.23. I had been awake for something like thirty-six hours and it suddenly felt like it. It had been over twelve hours since I’d said goodbye to Alex. I wondered where he and the others were now. He’d said it would take them just over a day to make it across the border.

  ‘You need something to eat and we need to talk,’ my dad said, hovering by the door. I kissed Jack goodbye, gave his hand one last squeeze and we left.

  ‘Has Sara been to see him at all?’ I asked my dad as we made our way out of the hospital.

  ‘She’s been here every day. I take it she and Jack are,’ he paused, cleared his throat, ‘dating?’ I nodded.

  ‘She seems like a lovely girl.’

  I nodded again. I had thought so. Now I had no clue whether she was lovely or a two-faced bitch. And I had no clue how I was going to find out either.

  ‘Where are we going?’ I asked my dad.

  ‘I thought we could go back to Jack’s. I’ve been staying here in the visitors’ room,’ he indicated a door off to the right, ‘but I could use a decent bed tonight and I think all your things are still at Jack’s.’

  I let out a sigh of relief. That’s exactly where I wanted to go. Where I knew Alex would look for me, but would the Unit just let us drive straight off the base? ‘How are we getting there?’ I asked my dad.

  ‘Sara’s arranged for a car. I told her the plan and she said it was fine. They’ll have security at the house, though.’

  ‘Why?’ I asked, feigning innocence.

  My dad stopped in his tracks and looked at me. ‘Lila, you were almost kidnapped just the other day from that house. Until they catch the . . . until they catch him we’re having round-the-clock security.’

  Him. He was referring to Demos. I looked away, my teeth grinding so hard my jaw hurt.

  I stood to one side in the hallway, watching my dad carefully. His eyes lit first on the coat rack. He stood there startled, blinking at it in confusion. Then his gaze fell on a painting hanging on the wall and he winced. I kicked myself. I should have warned him that half the furniture here was from our old house in Washington, but I hadn’t been able to open my mouth in the car. I’d been so scared that if I did, I’d let something slip.

  My dad wandered through into the living room. I followed him and found him standing in front of the bookcase, staring at the photograph of my mother.

  She’s not dead! I wanted to scream it out loud again. Instead I bit down on my lip and went into the kitchen to put the water on to boil. After a few minutes my dad joined me.

  ‘So, are you going to tell me where you’ve been?’ he said when I put a cup of tea in front of him. ‘I was worried sick, Lila. I thought I’d lost you. What the hell happened? I get a message saying that you’d all gone camping. I phoned the Unit and they told me that Jack and Alex were on a mission. I come over and find my son in a coma and my daughter’s disappeared. Then suddenly you’re back and acting like nothing has happened.’

  I didn’t say anything. I just kept stirring my tea.

  ‘Lila, you can’t do that to me,’ he said, and beneath the anger gravelling his voice was a note of utter desperation, a choking sadness that made tears spring burning to my eyes. ‘This is why I didn’t want you back here,’ he said.

  ‘I know,’ I said, looking up at him.

  ‘It’s not safe.’ Well, he was right about that.

  There was a pause. My dad looked down and studied the tabletop. ‘But I guess you’ve figured that out by now.’ Another pause. ‘They told me he’d kidnapped you,’ he said in a strained voice. ‘Did he hurt you at all?’

  I was startled. ‘Huh?’

  ‘Did he hurt you?’ he repeated, this time through clenched teeth.

  ‘No, Dad.’ I shook my head. He wouldn’t hurt me; he didn’t hurt Mum. Demos is a good man.

  ‘What did they tell you?’ I asked, swallowing. ‘What did the Unit tell you happened?’

  ‘When I got to the base, they said you’d run off somewhere with Alex. They didn’t know where. They told me you’d been kidnapped by . . .’ He couldn’t say Demos’s name. I reached across the table and took his hand. He looked up at me and gave me a quick smile. ‘Sara told me that the Unit had gone after you and that Alex and Jack had rescued you. What they won’t tell me is how Jack got shot. And they wouldn’t tell me where you and Alex were.’

  I nodded, trying to buy time. My dad was pretty much in the dark, then.

  ‘Where were you?’ he asked again, pleading this time. ‘Why didn’t you come back?’

  I needed to tell the same story I told Sara I realised, just in case the Unit was listening in on this conversation. ‘Alex was scared to come back,’ I said. ‘After . . . after what Demos made him do.’

  At the mention of Demos my father stood up from the table, his chair scraping the floor. He stood with his back to me, his hands resting on the edge of the sink.

  ‘I tried to get him to come back,’ I said.

  ‘I don’t understand this. I’m going to talk to whoever’s in charge. This is ridiculous. Alex and Jack saved your life and now they’re in trouble. It’s outrageous.’ He
turned back to me. ‘Don’t worry, Lila, I’ll sort it out. They won’t be in any trouble.’ He came and knelt down by my chair. ‘Do you know where Alex is?’

  I pressed my lips together and shook my head. ‘No.’

  ‘I didn’t want you to know about any of this, Lila.’

  I looked at him, confused.

  ‘I hoped you’d never know about the people who killed your mother. I was trying to protect you.’ He pushed his hands through his hair.

  ‘I know,’ I said.

  He sat down again at the table. ‘So, you know about Demos. I guess you know everything.’ I knew more than he could ever guess.

  ‘You know what he can do?’

  I nodded. I know about Mum too. I’m one of them.

  My father got up once more and went and stood by the window, looking out. ‘The Unit has got to stop him,’ he murmured to his reflection.


  The beeping of the machine was driving me insane.

  Goddamn you, wake up. I need you.

  The door opened and I glanced over my shoulder. It was Sara. Her face was drawn, stress marking clear lines round her mouth. She crossed straight to Jack’s side and took his hand in hers, leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. I watched her out of the corner of my eye.

  ‘How’s he doing?’ she asked.

  My dad was standing at the end of the bed, studying Jack’s chart. ‘No change. Vitals are good, though.’

  ‘How long will he be in a coma for?’ she asked.

  ‘Who knows? The doctors won’t tell me much even though I am one.’

  A little frown puckered Sara’s brow. She sank into a chair. ‘This bureaucracy is crazy.’

  ‘What will they do when he wakes up?’ my dad asked Sara.

  She took hold of Jack’s hand again and started to stroke his hair. ‘They’ll move him to the Unit’s HQ.’


  ‘Because they need to question him, Dr Loveday.’

  ‘Michael, please, call me Michael.’

  ‘OK, Michael. Jack’s in trouble. He opened fire on his own men. Several men were wounded, three were killed. Even if he was acting under duress, they still need to follow protocol and investigate.’

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