Killing rites, p.14
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       Killing Rites, p.14

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 14


  “Agreed,” Ex said. “That was Jayné. ”

  “She can go,” Chapin said. And then, to me, “Please return to us this evening. ”

  I got the car key out of Ex’s coat pocket. It wasn’t actually a key at all but a little magnetic fob that made me think of a thumb drive. When I stepped out into the twilight and closed the blue double doors behind me, the cold seemed a little better than it had in the morning. In the west, clouds glowed gold and pink and gray. In the east, the sky was almost black. The little house down the road had its television on again. The Quonset huts were closed and quiet, and the boys who’d been lounging on the street were gone. The clock in the car said it was 5:32, but it felt later. I started the engine, cranked up the heat, and leaned back into the soft leather. Part of me wanted to get on the highway and keep on driving south until I hit someplace warm. Brazil, maybe. I was almost sure the part that wanted that was me. Almost.

  I didn’t know where I was going, but the GPS had a menu option to find nearby restaurants. It cycled for almost a minute before the map pulled back and a half dozen red dots appeared on the face of northern New Mexico. The closest was a cluster of fast-food joints fifteen minutes away. They were at the highway, and pretty much screamed truck stop. More dots stippled the map near Taos. One, off almost by itself, was labeled O’Keefe’s. I remembered Carsey saying it was good, tapped the dot, and let the car figure out how to get there.

  I didn’t like who I was being. Yelling at Carsey had felt good when I’d done it, but the truth was I hated being on a hair trigger. Once upon a time I’d been calmer. Less anxious all the time. Less likely to freak out.

  I wanted that Jayné back, and I didn’t know how to get her.

  Twenty minutes later, O’Keefe’s was a light in the darkness. A gravel-and-ice parking lot with a half dozen trucks in it. An old sign painted in green and gold and lit with the kind of exterior light you can get from Wal-Mart for twenty bucks. When I got out of my car, an ancient black Labrador appeared at my side, wagging and sniffing at me. The wooden stairs that rose to the front door were warped and uneven. A girl who could have been fifteen greeted me when I walked in the door and pointed toward a table at the back. The walls were wood and hung with hunting trophies and old rock posters: Rush 2112 tacked up next to a bear’s stuffed head. The tables looked like they’d been gathered from estate sales, no two the same. The chairs were all random sets too, and the heat came from a potbellied stove in the middle of the room. Six men in Day-Glo yellow safety jumpsuits sat around a table next to mine, speaking Spanish. Two old men sat together across the room, leather cowboy hats hung on the backs of their chairs, and talked in low voices. Apart from the world’s youngest waitress, I was the only woman there.

  The menu was printed on white copy paper. I picked the steak because it was at the top. The girl brought me a Coke and a glass of water and then went away I was t>

  Sitting there, alone and not alone, I wondered whether the rider was aware of my thoughts. I didn’t know if it could pick through my mind like a kid in a sandbox searching for treasure or if I was as hidden from it as it was from me. But I hoped that it couldn’t. I wanted—maybe needed—something that was my own, and if it wasn’t my body, all that was left was my thoughts.

  Because my body wasn’t mine. The fact sat there like a toad, malefic and poisonous. Something was inside me, and had been since who knew when. I couldn’t get it out, not by myself.

  And that was why I was gnawing at myself like a wolf caught in a trap. Father Chapin and Ex and all the others were there to help me, and so I was going to give my body over to them. I wasn’t taking control. At best, I was choosing who got to control me because I was too weak to do anything for myself. I needed Ex and Chapin, and I resented them because I needed them, and above anything, I just didn’t want anybody else to know.

  The shame pulled my shoulders in, thickened my throat. All my secrets pressed down on me—I was a killer, I was the puppet of a demon, I was a stupid little girl playing at games she didn’t understand. If I’d been stripped naked in public, it wouldn’t have been worse than this. I felt like I was going for an abortion.

  “You okay, lady?” the girl said, sliding the plate in front of me.

  “I’m fine,” I said, not meeting her gaze. “Thanks. ” When she retreated back through the kitchen door, I picked up the knife and fork and cut joylessly through the meat in front of me. It had been cooked in red wine and black pepper and onions grilled until they were sweet, and the first bite exploded and melted and brought me suddenly back to myself. The greens on the side were squash and broccoli with butter and garlic that made them taste more like themselves.

  I know this, I thought. I’ve had this before.

  I stood, my breath fast, adrenaline speeding the blood through my veins. Three steps to the door, and I pushed through. The kitchen was small and sauna hot. The smells of garlic and meat, tomato sauce and basil, wine and cigarette smoke, were like walking backward in time.

  A vampire stood at a narrow prep table, his flesh ropy and desiccated, his eyes the yellow of old ivory. The mouth was a ruin and his skeletal hands were the dark of dried meat. For a moment, we stared at each other, unmoving. When he took the cigarette from his mouth, I swear the skin creaked.

  “Jayné Heller. As I live and breathe,” Midian Clark said, smoke curling out from behind stained teeth. “What’s the matter, kid? You look like shit. ”

  Chapter 9

  “Lemme get this straight. You broke up with Captain Milquetoast, killed some poor bastard, and figured out your body’s got a dual-boot operating system all in the same week?” he said with a sticky-sounding chuckle. “No wonder you’re looking rough. ”

  I didn’t know where to start. Aubrey isn’t milquetoast or How do you know about dual-boot computers or How many cigarettes do you smoke in a dy anyway? Instead, I shrugged and leaned back on the little vinyl couchlike thing that was the closest Midian’s RV had to guest seating. Over the last half hour, I’d told him everything—the thing with the guy in London, our adventure in New Orleans, the catastrophe of Grace Memorial, each bit of my last year spilling out like I was talking to my best friend.

  The RV was parked out behind the restaurant, and probably had been for the last decade. The tires were gray and tiny; dead-twig weeds had lived and died where the missing hubcaps let dirt accumulate. The interior was clean and neat apart from the patina of cigarette tar that turned the white surfaces amber. The combined scents of old smoke and coffee and garlic oil made me think of my grandfather. Midian stood in the tiny galley as if the four feet between us really made it a different room. His tiny espresso machine hissed and burbled as he steamed the milk for me. He still wore the white shirts and forties-style high-waisted pants he’d had in Denver. Zombie Bogart.

  “What about you?” I asked. “You’re looking … wetter. ”

  He grinned, ragged lips exposing teeth like old stones.

  “I try. ”

  “What happened to you? I had a plane ready for you at the airstrip. When you didn’t show up, I thought the Invisible College caught up with you after all. ”

  “Yeah, I appreciate the thought, but I figured it’d be better if I just took off. Headed south, kept my head down, stayed off the grid. Northern New Mexico’s not a bad place to vanish if you’re looking to. All the locals know you don’t belong, but they aren’t generally talking to anybody else, so it doesn’t get out far. And if you pull your weight, speak Spanish, and don’t start off every conversation with an Indian by pumping their hands, making eye contact, and asking ’em to tell you how they’re feeling, you can make a niche. ”

  “Even with the looks?”

  “Yeah, well. I told ’em I’m a veteran. Burned in Iraq,” Midian said, then took a long drag on his cigarette, the cherry blooming red and fading to gray. “Actually, I feel kind of bad about that. But I figure passing myself off as a serviceman isn
’t exactly the low rung in my hierarchy of sins, y’know?”

  “You mean feeding?”

  “I mean feeding,” he said. “I’m still trying to get my feet under me on that score. Turns out if you fast for a couple of centuries, it takes it out of you. I’ve been pretty much keeping to goats and rats. ”


  He looked over at me.

  “That was a joke, kid. ”

  He poured the steamed milk into the espresso, the careful shaking of his hand forming a perfect rose in sepia and white on the surface. When he passed it over, the ceramic was hot against my fingers. His voice made me think of Tom Waits in the later part of his career.

  “I’ve been trying to keep a low profile. Mostly I’m just harvesting the kinds of guys nobody misses. Some guy deals smack to middle school kids, no one really cares when he drops out of sight, ou know?”

  “Misdemeanor murder. ”

  “Yeah. I love that term,” he said, then turned and leaned against his counter. It creaked under his weight. His eyes flickered over me with something like sorrow.

  “So you want to finish the latte and we can get this over with?”

  “Get what over with?”

  “I know why you’re here. We don’t have to dance around it. You came to kill me, and I’m not up for dying just yet. So—“

  “I didn’t come to kill you. I came for dinner. I didn’t even know you were here,” I said. “Besides, I wouldn’t do that. You’re my friend. ”

  I had never astonished a vampire before. He crossed his arms. A gust of wind pushed against the RV, rocking it gently on its ruined springs. I felt the breath of cold through the cracked window at the back of my neck.

  “Damn. You have got it bad. I figured we were doing that moment of camaraderie for old times’ sake thing before we went all Bushido on each other,” he said.

  “Just wanted some coffee,” I said.
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