Killing rites, p.30
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       Killing Rites, p.30
 

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 30

 

  At the door, I gestured to Alexander. He opened his door, let Ozzie clamber past him, and eased himself to the ground. He walked slowly, like a man in pain. Ozzie pushed past me into the room, wagging and sniffing everything she came to. When Alex got to the door, I took his arm and helped him to the bed.

  “You’re still pretty messed up,” I said.

  “Yeah, I am,” he said. “On the mend, though. ”

  He lay back, his head on the pillow, palms pressed to his neck and chest. He took a few long, careful breaths. I sat on the little chair. Ozzie came and sniffed at my knees, turned around three times, and lowered herself gingerly to the floor with a long, contented sigh. She, at least, was having a great night.

  “What did the doctors say about it?”

  “They decided it was a lightning strike,” he said. “Ball lightning. The kind that wanders around looking for something to bump into. I just told them I didn’t remember what happened, and they seemed comfortable with that. ”

  “Yeah. I can see that. ”

  “They don’t know how well it’s going to heal, or over what kind of time period. It looks like it didn’t kill the bone, though. That would have been bad. ”

  “That was an option, was it?”

  “It was a fear. But at least I know where my first scar’s coming from. Father Chapin always says the people with the scars on the outside are the lucky ones. It’s the ones on your soul that hurt worst. ”

  “Well, there’s a cheerful way to look at it,” I said. “I’ve got a few scars too. I had this rider in Denver stab me with its fingers. And then this one?” I held up my arm and pulled back my sleeve, showing the long knot of white. “Voodoo god in New Orleans popped me open like a ballpark frank. ”

  “Ouch. ”

  “Yeah. New Orleans was hard. Chicago was worse. ”

  “Where’d you scar up from that one?”

  “Hands,” I said. “Hands and soul. ”

  “Ah. Were you fighting against the … the one inside you?”

  “No,” I said. “That was before I knew she was there. We were on the same team back then. ”

  “And are you now?” he asked.

  “Am I what?”

  “On the same team. ”

  I started to answer, then stopped. The wind was hissing and gusting outside. Cold radiated from the window behind me, just enough of a chill to make the room’s warmth seem cozy. I knew it was listening, wondering what I would say. I wondered too.

  “We are. For now,” I said. “I don’t really know much about her. I mean, Black Sun. Black Sun’s daughter. Voice of the Desert. But I don’t know what that means. Chapin tells me she’s youo I guess I know that. But how old is old, and how long has she been riding shotgun on my life? Who am I without her? That’s why I came here. To find that out. ”

  “I thought you came here to get rid of it. ”

  I thought about that.

  “You’re right. I did. ”

  “But that changed,” Alexander said, and let his head fall back against the pillow.

  “I guess so. ”

  “Chapin shouldn’t have accepted you,” Alexander said with a sigh. “No offense meant, but this was a bad idea from the start. The old man screwed up. ”

  Ozzie whined, her leg twitching as she chased dream rabbits. The television next door switched to the deep, authoritative voice of a news announcer. On the bed, Alexander folded his hands over his chest. The urge to defend myself was like an itch. What was wrong with me? Why shouldn’t Chapin have taken me on? But I knew. I’d come out of fear and desperation, but I didn’t believe the things Chapin and Alexander—and Ex—did. I had once, or almost did, anyway. But I’d come looking for a cure to a disease. What they had on offer was redemption from evil. The two looked the same if you squinted, but I was starting to think they were really pretty different.

  “Why do you think he took the case, then?” I asked. “My keen fashion sense?”

  “Xavier,” Alexander said. “He couldn’t refuse him. They’ve got too much history. ”

  “You mean the girl who killed herself. Isabel. ”

  “I guess so. I mean, that was all before my time. I know it was a massive clusterfuck—Sorry. Language. I know it was a huge mess. When that one went south, everyone blamed themselves and each other. There was a visit by the bishop. Chapin had to go to Rome for a while. I don’t know what happened while he was out there. But Xavier was gone, and I don’t think anyone really got over it. Chapin still won’t talk about it. ”

  “But you know?”

  “We’re priests,” Alexander said with a laugh. “Petty ecclesiastical gossip is what we do. ”

  “So what went wrong? I mean, I know Ex was sleeping with her, and that she killed herself while he was around. But why didn’t the exorcism work?”

  Alexander’s eyes opened, and he looked over at me. His beard really was awful, but if he’d shaved it off, he’d have looked about twelve. No way to win.

  “She wasn’t possessed,” he said. “She was a paranoid schizophrenic. There was never anything they could have done for her. Carsey says that her delusions were easy to confuse with the real thing, and Xavier pushed for accepting her case. Apparently he has a kind of thing about saving women he’s attracted to. ”

  I laughed and I groaned.

  “Oh,” I said. “He really does. ”

  “So Chapin ran her through the rites, and afward, when it was clear they hadn’t done anything useful … she didn’t take it well. ”

  “Understatement. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “So,” I said, “Ex felt like he’d failed God because he broke his chastity vow. Chapin felt guilty because he hadn’t protected Ex and he hadn’t helped the girl. Had even hurt her, maybe. Wow. Yeah. Clusterfuck. And so here I am, with a real live, no-question-about-it rider. And so I get to be the big chance to go back and do everything right. Everyone gets redeemed. ”

  “Chapin and Xavier do,” Alexander said. “That’s not exactly everyone. ”

  “What did the others think?”

  “I don’t know, really. By the time they were really putting it on the front burner, I was pretty much out of it, remember?”

  That was right. It hadn’t actually been a week since Ex and I had walked up to the blue doors at San Esteban. And probably not an hour after that before the wind demon had gotten free. My whole time with Alexander before this had been those few minutes before Chapin had come out of their ongoing rite and Carsey and Alexander had gone in.

  My fingers started tapping against the armrest. I shifted in my seat, my bruised rib aching but not screaming with pain. I put myself in the past. How exactly had it gone? Father Chapin had come out. Alexander and Carsey had gone in. And the wind demon had broken free. Something was shifting in the back of my mind.

  “How much do you remember about the wind demon getting loose?” I asked.

  “Not lots,” Alexander said. “We were doing the long form. It’s very effective, but it’s also a real pain. Chapin always says that running a marathon’s easier. You have to trade off. No one person has the strength to go through that form of the rite alone. But we’d traded off a dozen times before. We’re good at working in shifts. Only when Carsey and I got in, it was loose. We tried to get it back under control, but it didn’t go too well. And then …”

  He gestured to his chest. And then it had tried to kill him, only I’d come in. And the Black Sun inside me had saved me and them and—in particular—Ex. As a reward, we’d beaten her until she broke and tried to rip her apart. We, meaning Chapin and Ex and the others, but mostly meaning me. It hadn’t seemed like a shitty thing to do at the time.

  Ozzie sighed in her sleep. She seemed pleased. Caught her dream rabbit, maybe.

  “Has Carsey ever had a rider?” I asked.

  “I don’t think so,” Alexander said. “I mean, that happens sometime
s. Occupational hazard. Carsey’s problem is women. ”

  “Really?”

  “Every couple of years, he goes off for a few days, comes back, and gets stuck with weeks of penance. He always seems to feel really bad about it. And from what I hear, he’s getting better at holding out against it. ”

  “Carsey, though? Really? I pegged him for gay. ”

  “Oh no,” Alexander said. His voice was getting weaker. “Effeminate, sure, but he’s about as heterosexual as a celibate gets. Tamblen’s gay. Miguel gets drunk sometimes and blasphemes. Tomás used to gamble, but he went to some kind of heavy-duty rehab for it and he seems good now. Chapin struggles against wrath. A lot. We’re human. We’re flawed. We do the best we can. ”

  “What about you?” I asked, and he chuckled.

  “I think maybe there isn’t a God,” he said.

  The pause lasted for hours.

  “You’re shitting me,” I said. “You’re an atheist?”

  “No. I’m a believer who suffers doubt. ”

  “But you’re in a hotel room with for sure one rider, and waiting for at least one more. By yourself. No backup. And, no offense, but you’re still kind of messed up. That’s a lot of faith for someone without much faith. ”

  He shrugged.

  “If I’d been more sure of myself, I might not have come. I’ve always wanted my own Nineveh,” he said. And then: “You know, if it’s okay, I think I need to sleep a little. ”

  “You bet,” I said. “I’ll keep watch. ”

  “Thank you,” he said, then pulled the covers around him in a rough cocoon and closed his eyes. Ten minutes later, he was snoring. The heater clicked on, followed shortly after by the smell of burning dust. I wished I had my laptop. It wasn’t even midnight. The other rider might not come before morning, but if it did, I wanted to be awake for it. Fatigue plucked at me, my body trying to convince me that maybe just shutting my eyes for a minute wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I went to the bathroom and washed my face and hands in cold water. I paced the five steps between the closet and the door. I fought to stay alert.
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