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Lila shortcuts, p.8
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       Lila Shortcuts, p.8

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  He indicates we both sit. So, after exchanging a glance, we do.

  ‘We know that you’re here on a full athletic scholarship,’ he says looking at me, ‘and that Mr Wakeman has both athletic and academic scholarships.’

  Thanks for pointing out how much smarter Alex is, I think to myself, while glaring at the guy.

  ‘We know that you’ve got FTSE 100 companies sniffing around, as well as NBA coaches.’

  He stares at Alex as he says that and I shuffle in my chair until he looks my way. ‘And I’m sure there will be other offers flooding in for you both,’ he adds with a curt smile.

  I narrow my eyes at the guy thinking that his recruitment spiel needs work.

  ‘But we think we’ve got a more appealing offer,’ Hicks says, leaning forwards with a smile. He reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulls something out which he then tosses across the table towards me.

  I pick it up. It’s a photograph of a guy I’ve never seen before. It looks like it’s been taken from CCTV footage and in the background I see the Wells Fargo bank logo. The guy’s about forty I guess, with dark hair and hooded eyes. He’s staring into the camera with what you could call a lazy crocodile smile.

  Alex leans over my shoulder to look at the photo. ‘Who’s he?’ he asks.

  ‘That’s the man that killed Jack’s mother,’ Hicks says.

  I look up. My heart has flown like a clenched fist into the wall of my chest.

  ‘What do you mean? How do you know this?’ Alex asks before I can put words together into a coherent sentence.

  ‘We work in intelligence,’ Hicks says, pressing his lips together like he’s just let slip a secret he shouldn’t have.

  I’m out of my chair before I know it. ‘Who is he?’ I yell.

  Hicks regards me coolly. ‘Take a seat and we’ll tell you.’

  Alex nudges my chair with his foot and I slowly sit, not taking my eyes off the guy. Is this some kind of sick joke?

  ‘Who is he?’ I repeat through gritted teeth.

  ‘His name is Demos. That’s the name he goes by at any rate. We have no further records on who he is, where he comes from, or his background. We’re still working on that.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Why what?’

  ‘Why are you working on that? Why isn’t he in custody? Where is he?’ I have a million questions. I can’t get them all out. I’m grabbing at words, at thoughts. I want answers to everything. And I want them now.

  ‘Calm down,’ Ciccone says and I realise that I’m shouting.

  Alex leans forwards, partly blocking me, as though he has read my mind and is trying to pre-empt me leaping forwards and slamming the guy’s head into the table.

  ‘How do you know who killed Melissa?’ Alex asks, his voice low. ‘The cops don’t even know. It’s a cold case.’

  ‘Because we’re not the cops,’ Hicks says with a smug smile. ‘We’re better than them.’

  ‘Have you caught him?’ Alex asks.

  ‘No,’ the guy admits with a shrug.

  ‘You’re showing us a photograph of some random guy,’ Alex says. ‘That’s not proof of anything.’

  I frown. He has a point. I realise my fingernails are digging into my palms. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Where’s the proof he did it? Who the hell is he?’

  The two of them glance at each other and then one of them slides a piece of paper over to us.

  ‘You need to sign this before we can tell you anything more.’

  ‘A non-disclosure agreement?’ Alex asks, picking up the piece of paper and frowning at it.

  I take a deep breath and unclench my jaw. ‘You’re not going to tell me about anything else until I sign a piece of paper?’ I ask, trying my hardest to remain calm because seriously this guy is just asking for my fist to meet his face.

  ‘What we’re about to share with you is extremely sensitive. There are only a few people even in government who know what it is we are working on. Not even the President has been fully appraised of the full remit of our work.’

  Alex glances across at me but I already have the pen in my hand. I’ll sign the damn thing in blood if it means they’ll tell me who killed my mother.

  I throw the pen down and Alex picks it up and signs his name too without a word.

  Hicks takes forever reading it over, checking our signatures, before placing the piece of paper into his briefcase and locking it. I think I’m going to burst out of my skin with the waiting but finally he looks up and says, ‘Good. You’ve agreed that nothing we say goes beyond these four walls.’

  ‘Just get on with it,’ I growl.

  ‘Telekinesis, mind reading, astral projection,’ he says, leaning back in his chair and toying with the pen. ‘Do you know anything about these things?’

  ‘Other than from watching X-men when I was a kid?’ I ask, rolling my eyes. I am seriously about to do some damage to something or someone. Preferably someone.

  ‘They’re not just fictional concepts,’ he says staring right at me, without an ounce of humour in his eyes.

  Neither of us says anything for a long beat. Then very slowly Alex starts to stand up. I follow him.

  ‘Sit down,’ Hicks orders.

  For a moment the air in the room fizzes with energy. Alex doesn’t make a move to sit down. Neither do I. Alex shakes his head at the guys. ‘You’ve come in here with all this information about us,’ he says, waving his hand at the files on the table. ‘You’ve shown us a photograph of a man you say killed Jack’s mother but haven’t given us any proof, and now you seem to think it’s funny to mess with us. So, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be out of here.’

  ‘Not so fast,’ Hicks says and he tosses a thick manila folder towards us. Photographs come slipping and sliding out. I blink at them then start grabbing for them like a starving man after a loaf of bread – images rushing at me; pictures of my mum, of my home – my old home – crime scene photographs – a trail of blood – broken furniture – yellow tape – images of that man Demos – another photograph of a girl with flaming red hair – another of a boy with longish hair.

  I don’t understand. I don’t understand what they add up to. I look at Hicks in bewilderment. He points at the photograph in my hand.

  ‘She’s an empath,’ he says. I glance down. I’m holding the photograph of the girl with red hair. ‘She can read emotions, alter them.’ He points at the photo of the boy. ‘The boy’s a sifter. He can remove memories from people’s minds. Together, they’ve been robbing banks all across the South West, raiding gun shows, building an arsenal. This guy,’ he stabs his finger down on a mugshot of a guy with a shaved head and stubble. ‘This is Harvey James. He was in San Quentin for armed robbery and a slew of other crimes. He’s telekinetic. Can move things just by looking at them. Jail had him on lock-down in a containment wing. Didn’t have a clue what he was able to do. These guys broke him out. Walked in. Walked out. We’re talking a maximum security prison and they walked into it like it was Target and breezed right out again with him in tow.’

  Alex and I just stare at the guy like he’s talking another language.

  Hicks reaches across the table and picks up a big black and white glossy photograph of the man called Demos.

  ‘This is the man who killed your mother.’

  As if on cue, Ciccone passes across another folder – this one even thicker – ‘And this is why,’ he says.

  A ringing noise blasts me and I jerk awake. My hand flies instinctively to my gun. It takes me a second to realise it’s just the doorbell and not the alarm. It’s dark out. I must have fallen asleep. The paperwork on Suki lies scattered over the kitchen table. I check my watch. It’s gone eight. The door buzzes again. It must be Alex. Crap. I haven’t had a chance to read through the data he sent through. It’s only then that I remember Lila is in the house. I cock my head but don’t hear anything and figure she’s probably still sleeping.

  I get up and head to the front door, rubbing my neck which now has a cr
ick in it. My head’s fuzzy, pieces of my dream coming back to me like the hazy memories of an amnesiac. I wonder what made me dream of that? It seems like a lifetime ago since we sat opposite those guys and signed on the dotted line. We didn’t even discuss it. They dangled my mother’s killer in front of us like a carrot, told us they’d train us, equip us and pay us to catch the guy. What was there to do other than sign?

  As soon as I open the door Alex walks past me into the hallway, glancing briefly into the living room. ‘Where’s Lila?’ he asks.

  ‘She’s upstairs, sleeping,’ I say.

  A frown passes across his face. ‘How’s it going? Is she OK? Did you talk to her?’

  I follow him into the kitchen. ‘No. I held off. I thought you know, maybe you could ask her what the deal is.’

  Alex is rooting through the fridge. He pulls out a carton of milk and turns back around to face me, eyebrows raised.

  ‘You’re better at interrogation than me,’ I shrug.

  ‘Fine. OK. I’ll talk to her.’ He drops down into a chair and starts rifling through the paperwork spread out there, his fingers drumming the tabletop.

  I grab a few steaks out of the refrigerator and some salad, figuring I had better start making some dinner as Lila will probably be awake soon.

  ‘So what else did you find out?’ I ask Alex, gesturing at a picture of Suki.

  Alex starts rattling off data. ‘Twenty years old. Grew up in Tokyo. Her father’s a businessman. He’s funding her ‘studies’ here in the US. I doubt that he’s aware that his daughter’s a psy or that she’s currently running him into debt while simultaneously rescuing the US economy from financial Armageddon. But we haven’t had a trace of her since yesterday. She’s gone to ground.’

  I scowl at a photograph of Suki, grinning up at me from the table.

  ‘She’ll show up again,’ Alex says quietly. I know he’s just trying to reassure me.

  ‘You think she’d be that stupid?’ I ask.

  ‘She gave herself away pretty quickly in the bar, didn’t she?’ Alex answers. ‘I don’t think we’re dealing with a superior mind here.’

  He has a point. I play through the scene in the bar again. How did we let her get away? She slid right under that guy’s arm and was out the door before we’d even had a chance to draw our weapons. And Demos was waiting for her outside. It was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh. And I let him get away. Anger rises with tidal wave force inside me.

  ‘He was there,’ I say, disbelief running through my voice. ‘He was right there. Goddamn it, Alex, we could have caught him. He’s playing with us. It’s just a game to him.’

  ‘One slip up, Jack, that’s all it will take. Next time we’ll be ready. We’re going to catch a break, I feel it. They’re tracing Suki – as soon as she uses any form of ID, spends a cent on her credit card, registers her name at a motel, signs into Facebook, we’re on it.’

  I nod. ‘I’m on call tonight,’ I say, suddenly remembering.

  ‘You want me to come over if you get a call-out?’ Alex asks. ‘Just in case Lila wakes and you’re not here?’

  ‘That would be great. Thanks.’

  Man, sometimes when I stop to think about it, I realise how much I owe Alex. More than I’ll ever be able to repay that’s for sure. But it’s like with Lila. I don’t know what to say to him. I mean, the guy gave up a potential NBA deal, or a job at a FTSE 100 company and a lifetime wearing a suit and pulling a seven figure salary, all to chase psychopaths on what amounts to a pretty lousy wage. But Alex has never said anything that makes me doubt he’s not one hundred percent committed to this. I don’t have a brother but I know for a fact if I did I couldn’t love him more than I love Alex. He’s my brother. It goes unsaid. It’s always gone unsaid. That’s why I don’t say anything now.

  Alex looks up then and catches me staring at him. ‘You OK?’ he asks.

  I open my mouth and for one second I think I might be on the verge of telling him how grateful I am, but thankfully, before I can embarrass myself with a bromantic declaration, we hear a noise overhead.

  I start jamming the papers into a folder and then I stuff it in a drawer. ‘Remember we say nothing of this to Lila, OK?’

  Alex nods. He doesn’t need reminding.

  After a few minutes we hear a light tread at the top of the stairs. Alex beats me to it. He’s ahead of me, striding into the hallway and I’m not sure what happens but Lila trips or something and takes a tumble down the stairs. Luckily Alex catches her before she can break her neck, which is good because I don’t think she’s covered on my insurance.

  She rests against him for a beat and I’m aware once again that she’s like, grown up, and it messes with my head.

  They hug and I see Alex is noticing too that she’s changed, because he can’t take his eyes off her and for a second I get this uncomfortable feeling like maybe he’s checking her out, but then I dismiss it because, for one, that would be totally absurd as he’s basically her brother, and for two, Alex never checks any girl out, or rarely enough that it would be weird for him to start now with my sister.

  He follows her into the kitchen though and I swear I see his gaze fall to her ass. Did I really just see that? No. I’m just paranoid. It’s Alex. Besides Lila is . . . hang on . . . is she wearing make up?

  Alex pulls out a chair for her and I turn my attention back to the steak I’m cooking for dinner because it’s less complicated to deal with.

  I start pounding it and almost manage to tenderise my fingers when I hear Alex asking Lila straight up what the deal is with her coming here. I thought he was supposed to be playing good cop, working the subtle interviewing angle. I guess though we still have room to work up to thumbscrews.

  Lila just mutters something totally lame that doesn’t answer the question at all, but does Alex push her on it? No. He decides to drop it and switch the focus to me by asking when Sara is arriving. I glare at him over the fat frying in the pan. Great. I’m ready to get out the thumbscrews and he’s just thrown me to the wolves.

  Lila is staring between us in confusion. Yeah, OK, I know it’s probably hard for her to believe that I have a girlfriend but she looks like I’ve just told her I’m dating Justin Bieber. It’s not that hard to believe surely?

  ‘You, you have a girlfriend?’ Lila splutters.

  ‘Yep, little sis, I do have a girlfriend,’ I say.

  Her face splits into a grin and she hops up onto the counter beside me and starts grilling me and I wish to God Alex had kept his mouth shut. Alex has to lift her off the counter so he can reach something in the cabinet behind and for a brief second she stops talking but the next moment she’s back to interrogating me.

  She doesn’t let up all through dinner, wanting to know everything about Sara short of her bra size. She smirks when I tell her she’s twenty-six and then she fires a million questions at us about work which we have to tag team to deflect. Eventually I turn the tables; ‘So, talking of living arrangements . . .’ I say.

  Lila looks down at her plate and starts sawing at a bit of gristle. She cuts off a miniscule piece and puts it in her mouth and starts chewing. And chewing. And chewing. Alex and I watch her not saying anything. Eventually she swallows and puts the knife down.

  ‘Lila, are you going to tell us why you’re here?’

  I see her mind frantically working. I actually see the lies forming. I watch her as she tries them out silently in her head and I want to tell her not to bother because she has the most transparent face on the planet. She’s the world’s worst liar. Even before she opens her mouth I know she is lying.

  And yet she still does it. She makes up some crap about it being revision time and wanting to check out colleges and I don’t care if it is a lie, I jump on it because no way in a million years is Lila coming back here for college. I will sooner see her interned in a nunnery in Switzerland or yak-hearding in Outer Mongolia than allow her to come back here for college. Ain’t happening. I tell her as much, though in what I
consider a fairly amicable tone.

  Alex doesn’t say a word through the argument that ensues. He just watches in silence as she stabs pieces of steak around her plate like she’s spear fishing.

  ‘Is this about a boy?’ I blurt. I just need to know. I can’t play the whole patient understanding card anymore.

  Lila looks totally dumbstruck by my suggestion but then she stares down at her plate and blushes even while she stammers out a denial. I knew it! It is about a boy! I’m going to kill him. Alex kicks me under the table though and I rein it in. He’s right. I need to get the boy’s name and she’ll never give it to me if she thinks I’m going to beat the shit out of him. I have to act cool.

  ‘Lila, you can’t just skip off around the world without telling anyone first,’ I say, employing a tone I’ve heard Rachel use before to tell off new recruits.

  Lila starts arguing but I cut her off and before I know it she’s storming out the back door. It slams behind her. I glance over at Alex. He’s leaning back in his chair watching me with raised eyebrows and a semi-amused told you so expression on his face.

  ‘What?’ I say.

  He shakes his head at me in silence then gets up from his seat and heads after her. I let him go. I can see that Lila is not going to listen to me but maybe she’ll listen to Alex. When we were kids she used to have a major crush on him. It was too funny. She’d follow him everywhere. I once found a schoolbook she’d covered in hearts and their entwined initials. I showed it to Alex expecting him to laugh his ass off but he didn’t. He actually punched me for the first and last time in our friendship. But the point is, Lila would always do whatever he asked of her. I used to exploit it by getting her to bring us food and drink when we were playing Playstation or dive-bombing in the pool.

  I get up and glance out the window to see how it’s going out there. Alex is standing behind her, shielding her and I can see he has his hand on her shoulder. He twists her around to face him and in the light from the kitchen I see the expression on Lila’s face and wonder if it’s possible that she still has a crush on him. But then she scowls up at him in the exact same way she scowls at me and I laugh to myself. Alex clearly hasn’t had much luck at getting through to her either, and clearly the crush is a thing of the past. Which is good because I don’t think I could handle my sister crushing on my best friend now that she has boobs.

 
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