Killing rites, p.16
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       Killing Rites, p.16

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 16


  “Ozzie’s not mine. She came with the job. I don’t know how she got here originally. Being loyal to disloyal people’s my bet. Lived by catching rabbits and birds. When she got old and weak, she started hanging out at the back door, stealing scraps. ”

  “And now she’s part of the place. ”

  The dog chuffed happily.

  “Sort of,” Midian said. “The guy that owns the place still wants to shoot her, but I let her come in when it’s cold out. I’ve got a soft spot for down-on-their-luck predators. Don’t know where it comes from. ”

  “Can’t imagine. ”

  “So we’re good?” he asked.

  “Of course we’re good,” I said, but when I stood up to go, I found I didn’t want to. I wanted to sit back down and pet the dog and drink the coffee and talk all night. I had a powerful flash of resentment toward Ex and Father Chapin and all the rest. Men who were risking their lives to help me. I looked down.

  “You want to talk about Eric, don’t you?” Midian asked.

  “Yeah. And about a million other things. ”

  He lifted his beef-jerky arms to the RV like he was displaying a treasure.

  “You know where to find me,” he said.

  “All right, then. ”

  “Yeah,” he said. “All right. ’S good seeing you, kid. ”

  The wind outside was biting cold and it smelled like snow. Low gray clouds had rolled in while I wasn’t watching, smothering stars and moon. I wrapped my coat around me and ran around the side of the restaurant. The parking lot was nearly full now, and it took some maneuvering to get the car to the ragged blacktop. The heater roared discreetly, and I turned up the music to carry over it. China Forbes sang “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love” and I sailed through the darkness, feeling something like peace for the first time in weeks.

  I cried after Chicago without knowing particularly what I was crying about, but I had been alone and there hadn’t been any catharsis in it. Tears wouldn’t clean me. I’d thought at the time it was only because I was so thoroughly blackened. Now I wondered if it was just that I’d done it alone. If Chogyi Jake had been there instead of recuperating in Chicago, if I hadn’t broken the thing off with Aubrey, and there had been someone to talk to. Someone to confess to. Would it have been different?

  I tried to imagine what it would have been like if I’d gone to Ex. On the one hand, it was kind of unthinkable. From the moment I told him I had a rider, he’d been focused on fixing the problem. If I’d talked to him about guilt, he’d have handed me over to God, and it was a long time since I’d taken comfort there.

  But on the other hand, what if he’d listened? What if he’d put his arm around me and let me cry his shirt wet. Would it have stopped there? Would I have wanted it to? Maybe the kind of intimacy where I could tell him about what I was afraid of and guilty over would have led to the other kind. And maybe that was where we were going anyway.

  The road went under the highway, and I reached the ramp up, signaling my lane change even though there was no one in sight. I swung the nose of the car to the left, crossed the oncoming lanes, and flew up toward the interstate like a crow taking wingirst fat flakes of snow spattered against the windshield, and the car knew to start the wipers without my touching anything. The GPS glowed, guiding me. There was more traffic, and I checked my blind spot as I merged.

  “Please don’t do this to me,” something said with my mouth.

  My heart started spinning like a bike wheel. My hands dug hard into the wheel, white-knuckled. I drove eighty miles an hour down a dark, mostly unfamiliar road, waiting for my body to speak to me again.

  Chapter 10

  The crows were there when I pulled up, watching me from the dead branches. The snow was coming down harder now, grabbing any stray ray of light and trading it back and forth until the world was a deep gray that never quite made it to black. I trudged up to the blue double doors through half an inch of fresh snow, humming the melody to “White Christmas” without any particular pleasure. My jaw ached with the tension of the drive. My hands were balled in my pockets. Winter drifted down around me.

  I opened the blue doors, and the light spilled out. Behind me, the crows lifted into the snow-heavy air, their caws like threats and accusations. I walked into the warmth and shook the snow and water off my coat. In the darkness, the electric lights seemed even more out of place strapped on the ancient adobe walls. Jesus was staring down from his cross or collapsed on his mother’s lap in every room. I found them in the kitchen. Tamblen squatting like a bear and poking at the fire. The whiskey-voiced Tomás sitting across a checkerboard from Ex. Miguel looking even more like Benicio Del Toro sitting on the same gray couch as thin-bodied, thin-faced Carsey. And Father Chapin standing by the tiny window, looking out into the snowy courtyard.

  He looked terrible. Shadows hung around his eyes, seeping into his skin. His hair was so short it could barely look disarranged, but it managed. The square of his shoulders and his upright head made me think less of strength and more of bloody-minded endurance. Yesterday, he’d been fighting a demon. Losing to it. And for weeks before that, tracking down the thing’s spawn. What Aubrey would have called the daughter organisms. And now, me. No rest for the wicked, no peace for the good.

  “Hey,” I said, trying for a lightness I didn’t feel. “How’s it going?”

  “Good that you’ve come back, young miss,” Chapin said. “We have a schedule set. If you are willing, we will begin tomorrow. The rite itself. ”

  “No more prep work?” I said, my stomach tightening and hope soaring up my spine. Nothing more to do, no more hoops to jump through, just getting whatever was in me back out and taking my real life back.

  “None. Only, I must warn you of one thing. If we are to attempt this, you must be constant in your own rejection of the beast. Knowing as little as we do of this infesting spirit, there are longer paths we can take. Paths that are more certain, perhaps, but at the cost of time. But I believe, and my good friend Xavier agrees, that you are strong enough to reject the evil in your heart. If we are wrong about you, the rite will fail. Time and effort wasted. ”

  It felt like a challenge. I felt the distant touch of anger. I’d come here for help, not a lecture on how I needed to really mean it or else everything would be my fault.

  “I can do it,” I said. “I mean, I’m not sure exactly what it is, but whatever I can do to make sure this works, I’ll do it. ”

  “Your resolve must not waver,” Chapin said.

  “Won’t. ”

  He smiled and reached out, putting a hand on my shoulder.

  “Then tonight, rest. We will all rest. And in the morning, we will begin. We will find its name, and then God will free you of this burden. ”

  I took a deep breath.

  “Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate what you’re doing. For me. ”

  “Well, this should be quite the event, shouldn’t it?” Carsey said. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. ”

  “You should rest now, Father,” Tomás said, rising from the checkerboard, red and black disks abandoned behind him. “We all should. ”

  Ex appeared at my side. I’d seen him look worse, but only a few times. And besides the fatigue—within it—there was something else. A fierceness.

  “We’ll be back in the morning,” he said.

  We walked out to the car together. The snow was still falling, and there was already a scattering of white on the black of the car, the heat of my drive not enough to defeat the cold. The priests huddled in the doorway behind us, watching us go.

  “For that, he made you wait?” I asked.

  “Chapin wanted to see you when he asked if you’d keep your resolve. ”


  “He wanted to see if he believed you. ”

  “A little creepy, but okay, whatever,” I said. “How’s your back?”

  “Hurts. Why? You want me to drive?”

  “Yeah. It talked to me. After you called, before I got here. Makes me a little nervous about having the steering wheel. ”

  I passed him the key chain. We got to the car, and I slid down into the passenger’s seat. Ex closed his door, put the fob in place, and the engine purred to life. In the headlights, the snow was pure and perfect.

  “What did it say?” he asked.

  “It asked me not to do pretty much exactly what we’re about to do,” I said.

  “Ah,” he said.

  “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go. ”

  The road conditions were awful. I turned off the music and tried not to talk just so that Ex wouldn’t be distracted from the slush and ice and the New Mexican drivers trying to take the highway turns at seventy. In Taos, we stopped at a drive-through, fueling Ex on a greasy burger, fries, and a diet soda. Then it was back into the treacherous black.

  When we reached our place, we didn’t even try driving up the hill; we parked at the bottom and walked up. The other condos were lit up, glowing in the dark. Someone in a bright green coat the approximate proportions of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was hooting and twirling around outside of one, his arms out to embrace the sky. I hadn’t thought about it, but it would be a pretty good night for skiers. He waved at us as we headed in toward our door. I waved back. He shouted something I couldn’t make out, but it sounded happy.

  Once we were inside, Ex cranked up the heat. The gas fireplace ignited with a soft huff, then hissed. The sound left me anxious. I washed my hands more for the sound of the water drowning out the voice of the flame. Ex groaned and lay down on the floor, his feet to the grate.

  “Did you get any food down there?” I asked. “Or was that burger the only food you’ve had since lunch?”

  “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m just … tired. ”

  “Council of war took it out of you?”

  “It was a little fraught. You can’t have that many men working together on something this hard without some fault lines. They’re all dedicated to the work, and they all love Chapin. ”
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