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       Losing Lila, p.9

           Sarah Alderson
 

  Alex got out of the car and opened the back door, releasing me from its crush. I clambered out and Alex leaned in past me. ‘You guys stay here until we call you. Lock the doors,’ he said to Suki who looked like she was about to argue with him. ‘Here,’ Alex said, handing a gun to Key, ‘just in case.’

  Mrs Johnson’s eyes grew round. ‘Mary mother of Jesus, what you doing with guns? Joe Junior, what kind of trouble you getting yourself mixed up in? And why you dragging your poor old mama into it? Mrs Williams’ boy never goes getting himself into trouble. And if he did, he sho wouldn’t bring his mama into it.’

  Alex slammed the door on them and we walked to the corner of the road, hoping Key didn’t turn the gun on his mother before she’d done her sifting business. Demos, Harvey and Alicia fell in behind us.

  ‘Lock your door,’ I mouthed to Nate as we walked past his van. He looked like a little puppy, waiting for his owners to return.

  ‘Are they going to be OK out here?’ I asked, looking around at the eerily dark streets.

  ‘They’ll be fine,’ Alicia said. ‘I can hear if anything goes wrong.’

  Two telepaths, I thought. Handy. Like having our very own silent walkie-talkies.

  The others fell back as we approached the door.

  ‘Good luck,’ Alex whispered, before disappearing into the shadows at my side. I heard my footsteps getting louder, my heartbeat pounding like a drum in my ears.

  Demos took up a position on the left of the door and nodded at me. I took a breath and knocked. A part of me, the inner voice which had been quiet over the last few days, started screaming at me to run – to run very fast in the opposite direction. But the door opened before I could unglue my feet and obey my survival instinct.

  The man who answered was the tank-shaped one. The one I’d thought we’d need a battering ram to get through. Hopefully Demos was just as good. The man squinted at me, then he recognised me and his face contorted in disbelief. He cast his eyes up the street behind me.

  ‘About that job . . .’ I said before he could notice the car and the van parked there.

  He looked back at me, uncertain whether I was insane or if he’d misunderstood my English, but then he grinned a leering kind of grin and called out over his shoulder, something in Spanish I couldn’t understand. He let the door fall open. And Demos stepped right in front of me.

  We all strolled in, past the tank one, frozen now mid-leer, and stood in front of the other two who had been caught by Demos mid-step, confused expressions slapped on their faces. Carlos was sitting behind the desk, one hand resting on his gun which was lying flat on the table and the other setting down a shot glass.

  Harvey and I went straight for the guns, easing them with glances out of their hands and floating them towards us. Alex walked over and patted the frozen men down, removing three knives and one machete in the process. He threw them into the corner of the room and took the gun I hovered in front of him.

  On the table in front of Carlos were stacks and stacks of white bricks wrapped in cellophane. One brick lay slashed open like an upended bag of icing sugar, spilling its powdery contents all around. There was a razor blade and several hundred-dollar bills rolled up next to it. I had seen scenes like this before on CSI.

  ‘We hit the mother lode,’ Demos said with a smile, surveying the room.

  Alex grinned back. ‘Easy as stealing candy from a baby. Lila, can you help?’

  ‘Sure,’ I said, lifting the stacks with just a glance in their direction and depositing them into the bags that Alex was holding open.

  ‘We need the money too,’ Alex said to Demos.

  There was no money in sight, except for the rolled-up dollar bills on the table. ‘Wake him up or whatever it is you do,’ Alex said, nodding at Carlos.

  ‘Alicia, you ready?’ Demos asked.

  ‘Yep,’ she nodded.

  Carlos blinked at us, his eyes focusing immediately on the gun Alex was pointing at him. He grabbed for his own gun, realised it wasn’t where it should be and frowned. Then he noticed his men were all frozen solid and I watched the panic flare across his face.

  ‘You,’ he growled at me.

  ‘Yeah, me,’ I shrugged at him. ‘Hi, we’ve come for all your money and all your drugs. So, tell us where the money is or else this man over here is going to do really bad things to you.’ I pointed at Demos who was busy focusing on the henchmen. This negotiating with a Mafia boss was more fun than I’d expected it to be.

  ‘Where’s the money?’ Carlos repeated, laughing, banging his hand on the table. ‘You think I’m going to tell you where my money is? Jesus!’ he yelled.

  I thought he was swearing. ‘Jesus!’ he yelled again, which was when I realised he wasn’t swearing, he was calling to one of the men behind us whose name must have been Jesus.

  ‘Your friends can’t hear us,’ Alex answered. Carlos scowled again, confusion in his eyes.

  ‘It’s in a safe,’ Alicia interrupted. Carlos’s mouth fell open and I caught a glint of gold. He switched his gaze to Alicia.

  ‘Where’s the safe, Carlos?’ Alex demanded.

  ‘You think I’m going to tell you?’ Carlos shouted, tipping the contents of his shot glass down his throat. He reached for the bottle and I noticed his hand was shaking.

  ‘It’s next door. Under the floor,’ Alicia said.

  ‘Hey, how are you doing that?’ Carlos shouted, leaping from his seat.

  ‘Uh-uh,’ Demos tutted, freezing him instantly. Carlos blinked, struggling against Demos’s invisible hold. I wanted to stay and watch, but Alex dragged me into the adjoining room.

  There was a table in the centre of the room. I shoved it to one side with a flick of my eyes and it slammed into the far wall. The rug beneath lifted up and Alex took hold of an iron ring set into the floor and started to pull. I leaned over his shoulder and helped. The door in the floor flew back revealing a hole, about two metres square. Face-up in the hole sat an old-fashioned bank safe with a combination lock.

  ‘We need numbers. The code!’ Alex yelled through the open door to Alicia.

  ‘I’m not telling you anything. Nada,’ Carlos spat.

  ‘You don’t need to tell me anything, I can read your mind,’ I heard Alicia say. ‘5 – 12 – 63 – 18 – 71,’ she called out and Alex spun the dial.

  The safe clicked. Alex reached in and pulled it open. It was spectacular. The bricks of money were just there, waiting for us, like gift-wrapped presents in a stocking.

  ‘Lila?’ I looked up. Alex was nudging me with his eyes.

  ‘Oh sorry,’ I mumbled, taking off my backpack. We started transferring the contents of the safe into it. The money floated upwards and I stacked it in fat towers inside my bag and, when that was full, I started loading up a duffel bag that Alex had brought with him. He hefted the bags onto his shoulder.

  ‘Allow me,’ I said, grabbing them out of his hands before he could do anything and whisking them through to the other room. I let them hover in front of Carlos.

  ‘How are you doing this? Who are you people?’ Carlos asked, his stare turning bug-eyed and a vein starting to pop purple on the side of his temple. ‘You think you’re going to get away with this?’

  Alicia looked at Demos, and then at me and Alex, before turning back to Carlos. ‘Yeah, I think so,’ she grinned at him.

  ‘I know your faces. I know your name, Lila. I’m going to hunt you down,’ Carlos hissed. ‘You’re never going to sleep sound again because you know I’m going to be there in your nightmares. And then one day,’ his voice dropped to a whisper, ‘boof, I’m going to be there for real. And that day you’re going to wish you’d never been born.’

  A hooting laugh interrupted his monologue. It was Demos. ‘You’ve been watching too many Godfather movies, my friend,’ he said. Then he leaned in close to Carlos and winked. ‘And besides, you’ve not yet met Mrs Johnson.’

  16

  We could hear her long before we could see her.

  ‘There’
d best be twenty-four-hour room service in this hotel, Joe Junior,’ she was saying. ‘And a robe. I want one of those white fluffy bath robes and a jacuzzi too. I bet Oprah got herself one of those—’ She stopped short when she walked into the room.

  ‘How in the name of Jesus my saviour are you doing that?’ She stared wide-eyed at the scene in front of her.

  ‘That’s Demos. Like I told you, Mama, he’s got a very special power. He can stop people doing what they want to be doing. Make people do stuff they got more sense not to be doing.’

  ‘Well, that’s a quite remarkable thing,’ Mrs Johnson said breathily, her hands fluttering.

  ‘Mrs Johnson,’ Alicia said, ‘I know this is an unusual scene and a strange request, but we’d like you to, um . . . use your power on the people in this room . . . remove every memory they have of us from tonight.’

  ‘And from before, any memory they might have of Alex or me,’ I butted in.

  ‘Yes, all the memories they have of Alex and Lila too,’ Alicia agreed.

  Mrs Johnson spun on her axis towards me. ‘What’s a little bitty girl like you doing getting yourself mixed up with people like this?’ she said, pointing her handbag in Carlos’s direction and tutting loudly.

  ‘It’s complicated,’ I offered weakly.

  ‘Remember I told you a little of what was going on, Mrs Johnson?’ Alicia said sweetly. ‘About how these men were going to help us, in a roundabout way, rescue Lila’s mother and brother from some bad people?’

  Mrs Johnson looked a little uncertainly back at Alicia. ‘What? Bad men like this? I know you asked for my help, but these men don’t look like the kind of men I want my Nate getting involved with. What was in those bags I saw floating on out of here?’

  ‘Nothing to trouble yourself with, Mrs Johnson. Just some stuff we needed to borrow,’ Demos spoke up, his gaze still on the middle distance, as he focused on holding Carlos and his men.

  Mrs Johnson wiggled her shoulders, settling her bosom like a ship in a dock, and offered Demos a look that could have given him a run for his money when it came to freezing people. ‘You think I’m stupid, young man?’

  ‘No, Mrs Johnson,’ Alicia said, shooting a warning glance at Demos. ‘It’s just that we know how much you love Nate and Joe Junior and they speak so highly of you and your ability, and poor Lila over here,’ she pointed at me and I obliged by looking as sweet and innocent as I could, which wasn’t as sweet and innocent as I might have looked a month ago, ‘Lila needs our help.’

  Mrs Johnson observed me for a moment. ‘You poor child,’ she said at last. ‘What they did to your mama.’ She shook her head and reached into her handbag for a handkerchief. ‘It’s a crime. That’s what it is. You need my help, Nate’s asked me to come down here, so my help’s what you gonna get.’

  She rounded quickly on Key. ‘But I’m expecting to see one of those big drinks with the little bitty umbrellas and the cherries on sticks waiting for me on the balcony when I get to the Hilton. I want a vacation that’s going to make even Mrs Williams stop talking about that badass boy Marlon Junior and that vacation he took her on to Florida last Christmas.’

  With a monumental effort, Key kept his mouth shut and nodded. Mrs Johnson turned her round body towards Demos. ‘Now you tell me who I’ve got to work on first.’

  Demos nodded his head in Carlos’s direction. ‘I’m going to let him go. Be ready.’

  ‘Lord have mercy,’ she muttered as she shuffled over to the table. She put her handbag down and I hoped she hadn’t noticed the white powder it was now resting in. She reached across the table, muttering to herself in distaste, and put her hand on Carlos’s temple, like she was being forced to touch a dead rattlesnake.

  I saw Alex move quickly to stand behind Carlos and wondered what he was doing. ‘OK,’ he said.

  Carlos snapped into consciousness, immediately trying to pull back from the ginormous woman in her Sunday best who had appeared from nowhere and who was now holding his head like it was a bowling ball she was about to slam for a strike. Alex rammed him down into his seat, holding his shoulders so he couldn’t move. Mrs Johnson didn’t let go either. I saw Carlos’s eyes go wide then start to turn dreamy.

  After five seconds Mrs Johnson said, ‘OK, you can freeze him up again or whatever in the name of Jesus it is you’re doing. No point in me doing this if you’re just going to let him see you all again, is there?’

  She shuffled over to the other men and with each one the episode was repeated until the three of them had their memories wiped as clean as a disinfected surface.

  When they reached tank man, Alex paused. ‘Lila, I’m going to need some help on this one. Can you hold his arms?’

  I looked at the arms, like uprooted tree trunks. ‘I’ll give it a go.’

  I focused on the arms, imagining they were just sticks, twigs even. When Demos unfroze him, he made an instant lunge and Mrs Johnson went skittering backwards. It was like wrestling against the tide, but then I got him under control, pinning his arms to his side. I noticed Harvey and Alicia glancing at me. They hadn’t known quite the extent of my power – that I could move people now as well as objects. I wondered whether I was a whole new category of subhuman. I wasn’t quite like Demos, but I knew Harvey and Bill couldn’t move people.

  ‘Right, let’s go,’ Alicia said once Mrs Johnson had finished wiping memories.

  Key moved to escort his mother out of the building. She was still talking about Acapulco as he pushed her into the van.

  We followed after them, leaving Demos inside to hold them all until we got clear. Suki pulled up in the car and Alex and I jumped in. I turned round and checked the trunk. We were in possession of several hundred kilos of cocaine and what was probably well over a million dollars. Demos climbed into the back next to me.

  ‘I love it when a plan comes together,’ he said, winking at me.

  17

  ‘I am very annoyed that I didn’t get to meet this Mr Carlos,’ Suki huffed, sticking out her bottom lip.

  ‘Don’t be,’ I said as I dropped the last bag of drugs on the floor of the hotel room we’d rented using some of the money we’d stolen. We’d gone up in the world, taking over the entire penthouse floor of the Four Seasons hotel.

  ‘Why did Alicia get to see inside his head? I wanted to do that.’

  ‘Because, Suki, Alicia can speak Spanish and you can’t.’

  She grunted. ‘I know how to say culo.’ She pouted some more. ‘I always miss out on the fun bits,’ and then she started rifling through the white and green bundles stacked on the table.

  Harvey and Demos were making neat towers of the money and the drugs, counting it out and weighing it. It was more than we’d ever hoped to get. More than we would need.

  Suki read my mind instantly. ‘Does this mean there’s going to be money left over for some shopping?’ she asked Demos. ‘Because I need new shoes.’

  Demos chuckled, which was a sound I’d never heard him make before. It almost made me smile to hear it. ‘Suki, you’ve almost as many shoes as Imelda Marcos.’

  ‘Who?’ she demanded jealously.

  ‘We didn’t tell you,’ Harvey said, ‘but the reason we got rid of the RV was because you’d turned it into a giant dressing-up box.’

  Everyone burst out laughing as Suki stood glaring in the centre of the room. Maybe it was the tension evaporating, maybe it felt good to laugh, but I couldn’t join in. I got up instead and went to find the bathroom.

  I stood in front of the mirror, staring at my reflection, at my elfin cropped hair and the dark smudges of shadow under my eyes. Would I ever look like a happy, normal, well-rested seventeen-year-old girl again or was that girl gone forever? I was about to turn the tap on when I heard Demos’s voice on the other side of the door. I tiptoed over and pressed my ear to the wood panel.

  ‘You heard something, didn’t you?’ he was saying. ‘When you read Thomas’s mind – what did you hear?’

  I heard someone take a breath. ‘It
wasn’t what I heard – it was what I saw.’

  It was Alicia talking. I strained harder to hear her, hoping she wouldn’t pick up on my proximity.

  ‘Demos – it was awful,’ she said. ‘Like he’s trapped in some nightmare – there were just fragmented pictures, images of things that they did to him. I can’t even explain it – I’m not sure what they mean. I just saw white rooms and flashes of faces. The things they’re doing in there – I could just hear screaming. It brings it all back.’ Her voice became muffled as if Demos had taken her in his arms. ‘That could have been me,’ she murmured.

  ‘Did you see Melissa?’ Demos asked.

  ‘Yes,’ I heard Alicia say, more clearly now. ‘I saw her.’

  My whole body went rigid, my heart hammering so wildly I was sure that Alicia would hear it.

  ‘Is she OK?’ Demos asked.

  Alicia paused again. I heard her sigh. ‘No, Demos, she’s not OK. We need to get her out of there.’

  I closed my eyes and was aware that they’d both fallen silent on the other side of the door. I held my breath and waited a full minute trying to compose myself. When I left the bathroom, Demos was standing just outside, leaning against the wall, waiting for me.

  ‘Hi,’ I said, jumping half out of my skin. I hadn’t expected him to still be there.

  ‘You heard,’ he said by way of reply. His face was heavily shadowed in the gloomy hallway.

  ‘Maybe,’ I shrugged.

  ‘I’m sorry.’

  ‘You know,’ I said, swallowing what felt like a golf ball that was lodged in my throat, ‘it’s not your fault. What Amber said earlier – it isn’t true. She just wants someone to blame and you’re the nearest person. But none of us think it’s true.’

  Demos studied me for a few seconds. ‘I don’t know, Lila, maybe she’s right. This did all start because I wanted revenge for what they had done to your mother. What am I doing asking the others to help me now – after what’s happened to Ryder and to Thomas?’

  ‘I don’t believe you ever asked us, Demos. We don’t need asking. This is not your personal battle – it belongs to all of us. It’s our fight. All of ours.’ I remembered Alex’s words earlier.

 
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