Killing rites, p.34
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       Killing Rites, p.34

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 34


  “No,” she said. “And anyway, that isn’t what it did with me, remember?”

  “I hate to do the dog-pile thing,” I said, sweeping a french fry through my ketchup. “But that’s my experience too. The Akaname attack was going on at the same time as the exorcism. ”

  The restaurant was a few blocks off the main drag. The decor was prepackaged plastic in reds and yellows, but the food was good. We’d taken a booth near the back so that we could talk with something like privacy. The decision to get out of the hotel room and track down food had been easier than I’d expected. When I’d brought up the possibility that the police might very well be looking for us, Alexander pointed out that kidnappers usually didn’t hang out in restaurants with their captives, and that by staying in the room and never coming out, we’d actually be acting more like criminals. And then Dolores had calmly threatened to throw a screaming fit if she didn’t get to go out.

  The more she talked, the more she impressed me. It wasn’t just that she’d been through two demonic possessions in the last few days and was now hanging out with two grown-ups she barely knew. There was a calm about her, and a maturity, that only broke on our way out of the apartment when Ozzie was apparently startled by her own fart. Dolores collapsed with laughter. And in fairness, it was kind of funny.

  “I just don’t see how that’s possible,” Alexander said. “You were on consecrated ground—”

  “When Soledad came back, it was already in her,” Dolores said. “She sat right there with your boss and it was inside her. ”

  “But are we sure that it was there during the rite? If the timing—“

  Dolores put down her burger and lifted her eyebrows. It was an expression of challenge and disbelief that came straight off daytime TV, and not the good shows. I wanted to laugh, but I also wanted the conversation to keep moving forward. I tried to imagine what Chogyi Jake would have said if he’d been there.

  “So, Alexander,” I said. “I’m hearing you say that you have a hard time beliving that the Akaname attacked when Dolores and I say it did. ”

  “I am,” he said. “All of the protections it would have had to go through. And the Mark of St. Francis. You were wearing that, Jayné. And we know it was working because it stopped the Black Sun from taking control. It wasn’t ineffective. ”

  “But my report and Dolores’s don’t convince you,” I said. “Why is that?”

  Alexander opened his mouth, closed it, looked down.

  “This isn’t easy to say. ”

  “Do your best,” Dolores said gently. Without saying a word, she’d seen what I was doing and started taking her cues from me. Seriously smart kid.

  “Don’t take this the wrong way, but Dolores has been through a lot. Sometimes when a person has been through the kinds of things she has, their impressions and memories can be a little scrambled. Disoriented. And you’ve still got a rider on board, so your report has to be treated with an extra level of scrutiny too. Not that—“

  “You have one in you right now?” Dolores said, her eyes going wide.

  “Yeah,” I said. “But it’s not like the ones you had. The thing that’s in me has been there for a really long time, and we’ve got a truce going. ”

  “Is it an angel?” she asked.

  “I don’t think so, honey,” I said. “It’s just what I’ve got to work with. Alexander, I understand we don’t have enough evidence here to totally convince you. But can you at least see that we need to investigate?”

  “Yes,” he said. “I mean, of course there’s a problem. If these things have been targeting the people we’ve helped, it’s absolutely our responsibility to go back and check on people. It’s just that I don’t see how a rider could be in one of the priests. ”

  The front door of the restaurant opened and a middle-aged woman ushered in two boys. She looked tired. Outside, an old man with a cane was trying to negotiate a sidewalk of melting snow.

  I understood Alexander’s problem. He was an expert. Chapin and Ex and Tomás and Tamblen. All of them were experts on exactly this kind of thing, and that was the one thing that brought them all together. To say that they’d been tricked, that a rider had slipped through their defenses without being seen, meant rethinking everything that group meant. And, just like all of them, Alexander had given up a lot in order to be who and what he was. Dolores crossed her arms, scowling. All she saw was a grown-up who thought she didn’t know what she was certain of. There was a rage building in her that would explode if Alexander didn’t flex a little. I understood that too.

  “Okay, look,” he said. “We can get all the information, go to Chapin, and—”

  “Unless it’s Chapin,” I said. “Then we really can’t. ”

  At the front, the two boys were shouting each other down over something. Their mother stood at the counter, ordering slowly and carefully so that she be heard over the pandemonium. I took another fry and a sip of my Coke. The salt and the sweet made a great combination.

  “Who, then?” Alexander said. “That same logic goes for anyone. What if it’s Carsey? What if it’s Miguel?”

  “What if it’s Carsey and Miguel?” Dolores asked.

  “I came to you because I knew you hadn’t been there when the thing tried to get into me,” I said. “But I knew I was taking a risk. We can’t assume it’s just in one person. Everyone in your group is suspect. And that aside, I’m pretty sure if I waltz into the joint in San Esteban, Chapin’s first impulse would be to throw me in the cellar. ”

  “It probably would,” Alexander said, then spread his hands. “So what’s your plan? If you don’t want me to take this to Chapin, where do we go? Father Amorth in Rome? The Pope? You wanted me to come witness what had happened to Dolores and Soledad. Who am I supposed to bear witness to?”

  “Ex,” I said.

  THE PLAN wasn’t a masterpiece of elegance, but I figured it didn’t need to be. I was pretty sure if I called Chogyi Jake, he’d be willing to broker a meeting. But Ex would be tempted to use it to spring a trap, and Chapin would insist on it. If I warned them I was coming, they’d have the opportunity to do something stupid. So I’d just show up, and I’d show up where Chapin wasn’t, and that meant the little condo.

  We got there in the early afternoon. The day was bright, but the sun was hidden behind mountains and pines. Traffic on the thin road to the ski valley was thick and slow, and when I finally turned off, aiming for the dirt hill that I’d run down a few days before, it felt a little like coming home. Someone had shoveled enough dirt and sand on top of the ice and snow to give the cars traction. The black sports car was parked at the hilltop. I pulled in behind it and killed the engine. At the condo just down from mine, a girl was struggling out to a minivan on a pair of crutches. Her left leg was encased in a bright pink brace.

  “Is there a problem?” Alexander asked.

  It had seemed easy, coming up. It had seemed obvious. Sure, the last time I’d been around Ex, he’d chained me to a ring in the cellar. When he saw me, all he saw was the rider. And Chogyi Jake? I’d almost gotten him killed in Chicago, but worse than that, I’d ditched him. For weeks, I’d excluded and lied to him. Even now, Ex was the one who’d called him first when things went south. My friends were in there, and now that I was here, I had the unshakable fear that they wouldn’t be my friends anymore.

  But I couldn’t drive away. I couldn’t even just sit there in the SUV while it cooled down to freezing. The plan was still the plan, and it was still obvious. It was just hard.

  “No problem,” I said. “Let’s get this done. ”

  I got out of the car and held the door open while Ozzie scrambled up from the backseat to go out the same door I had. Alexander got Dolores. I wished I’d bought her warmer shoes. The door of the condo was closed, but I could hear their voices through it. Ex sounded tired and grumpy. I made out the words can’t and no matter what. Chogyi Jake sounded as calm as he alwa
ys did. He could have been offering to sacrifice his own life or asking if there was any curry left. I put my hand on the doorknob, pulled back and started to knock, then went back to my first impulse. It was my condo, after all.

  They were in the main room. Chogyi Jake was sitting on the couch. As I stepped into the little kitchen, Ex stopped pacing and stood frozen in front of the fireplace, looking up at me. The dark circles under his eyes and the pale, waxy look of his skin told me how little he’d slept, how hard he’d pushed trying to find me. Trying to save me. Seeing the damage he’d done to himself for my sake, I could only wish he hadn’t.

  Alexander, behind me, cleared his throat.

  “Hey, guys,” I said, sounding nervous even to myself. “So. What did I miss?”

  Chapter 21

  I’d forgotten how strong Chogyi Jake was, and how he smelled like sandalwood incense and Dr. Bronner’s soap. I leaned into the embrace and closed my eyes. His arms were solid, and his forehead—pressed against mine—was warm. I’d expected him to feel fragile, as if nearly getting kicked to death in Chicago would have made him partly insubstantial. I didn’t even know I’d assumed it until being wrong surprised me. Tears welled up in my closed eyes, and something deep and warm bloomed behind my rib cage.

  “I was worried,” he said so softly that even Alexander standing two feet behind me wouldn’t have heard the words.

  “I know,” I said. “Sorry. ”

  Another hand touched my shoulder, and I turned. Ex bundled me into his arms without quite getting me away from Chogyi Jake, so that we wound up in a comfortable group, each of us hanging on to the others. The tension and fear I’d felt on the way in evaporated, and I had the powerful physical memory of being six years old at an amusement park with my parents.

  None of us stepped back first. The moment just came that the reunion was over, and we were ourselves again. I introduced Chogyi Jake to Alexander and Dolores, and we all went to sit around the fireplace. When I retold what I’d done, I glossed over the part about Midian being there. I called my lawyer and went to ground for about a day.
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