Chapter Twenty-Five

FOOD," MALLON ANNOUNCES AS he barges into the room, waking me up. It's late, and he's carrying his lamp. The familiar urge to kill fills me as soon as I see his face, but I force myself not to attack. I swallow it down like unspewed vomit, the nauseous unease sitting heavy in my gut. I get up and stand opposite him, and although he tries to hide it, I can see the nervousness in his eyes. The longer we remain facing each other, the more confident he slowly begins to become. But I can still feel his fear. I can almost taste it.

"You, my man," he says as I take the tray from him and sit back down on the bed and start to eat, "have done incredibly well."

"Thanks," I mumble, my mouth full. Truth is, I don't give a shit what he thinks. I'm just relieved, excited almost, that I managed not to attack. It's hard, almost too hard, but I force myself to keep control. I try to concentrate on the food to distract myself, but the urge to kill him refuses to fade. I struggle to keep it in check, almost dropping the tray and lunging at him when he moves. I manage to regain my focus at the last second. This is almost impossible. It's a constant fight, almost like I'm having to remember to breathe.

"I'm really pleased," Mallon continues, even the sound of his voice making my guts twist with agitation. "You've really understood what we're trying to do here. You know, most people take a few more days to get to this stage, but you, you've got brains. You've worked it out in no time."

"Not a lot to work out really, is there?" I say, trying to keep up the illusion. "It's like you said, the more you fight, the less you get."

"Exactly."

He watches me a while longer as I polish off the rest of the tasteless food. I glance up and see he's looking at me like a proud parent, and it dawns on me that he really does believe all the bullshit he's been spinning. I feel vastly superior to this idiot. He thinks he's the one in the driver's seat, but I'm in control. The mental advantage I have now makes it easier to cope.

"So what next?" I ask, feeling calmer and more assured. I decide to hedge my bets and see how far I can push him.

"What do you mean?"

"What's your plan? Do you just want to keep me locked up here forever? Is this some kind of rehabilitation program you've started? Or are you going to start experimenting on me and cutting me up into little pieces?"

Smug bastard starts laughing.

"You're good! No, to tell you the truth, Danny, what happens next isn't up to me."

"So who decides?"

"Two people."

"Who?"

"You, for one."

"And...?"

"And Sahota."

"Sahota? Who the hell's Sahota?"

"You'll find out tomorrow."

He starts moving toward the door. Suddenly this is a conversation he doesn't want to have.

"You can't just walk out now. Who is Sahota?"

I stand up again and move toward him, but all that does is make him move faster. He stops midway out of the door-just beyond the reach of my chains-and turns back to face me.

"Boss man," he says simply. Now he's definitely playing games again, feeding me just enough detail to keep my interest, then clamming up and leaving me dangling. It's all he's got left. Other than these physical chains, information is the only advantage remaining. If he was any closer I'd rip his fucking throat out. He pulls the door shut, but then stops and opens it again. "Wait. There's something I forgot to tell you."

"What?"

"Your daughter..."

"You found her?!"

I can't hide my sudden interest and emotion. Please tell me something...

"No," he says, shaking his head. "You've got to understand, Danny, information's hard to come by these days. You learn more from what you're not told than from what you're told. The Central System is creaking under the weight of what's happened and-"

"Tell me!"

He sighs and takes a deep breath, drawing it out as long as he can.

"There's good and bad news."

"Give me both."

"The bad news is there are no records of her anywhere."

"So how can there be any good news?"

"Can't you see, that is the good news. It means she might not be dead."

"She might not be dead... that's all you can tell me?"

"Be thankful for small mercies, Danny. As far as I know, my daughter's still lying on the kitchen floor with a bloody hole where her face used to be. I could have been standing here telling you the date your girl died and where they burned her body. As it is, you've still got some hope. What you do with it is up to you."

He slams the door shut and locks it.

vi

SIX A.M. SANDWICHED BETWEEN two heavily armed military jeeps and chaperoned by columns of soldiers and militia fighters, several hundred displaced refugees were led out along Arley Road. With no regard for personal preferences, friendships, partners, or relatives, specified numbers of individuals were filtered off toward each building. No one resisted or complained. They were too tired and too scared to show any defiance or opposition to what they were being told to do. Their choices were stark: put up with it or fuck off and take your chances on your own. And anyone who dared show any resistance to the military would be on the street with a bullet in the head. Public order had to be maintained.

***

"But there's no more room in here," Mark protested, blocking the door of room 33. "I told them last night-"

Uninterested, the soldier shoved him out of the way and forced his way in.

"What's the problem?" Kate asked, getting up from the end of the bed and standing in his way, instinctively wrapping her arms around her pregnant belly, cradling and protecting her unborn child.

"There's no problem," he answered quickly, his tired, gruff voice muffled by his face mask. "New roommate for you, that's all."

"But that's crazy! We don't have enough space as it is. How are we supposed to-"

The soldier put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back down onto the bed, then turned and walked back toward the door again, pausing only to sidestep Mark. Mark knew there was no point trying to argue; at best he'd just be ignored, at worst he could be accused of being a Hater and "removed." Kate chased after the officer, far less concerned about the potential repercussions of her outburst. Behind her, her parents sat up to try to see what was happening. Her father, weakened by age, fear, and malnutrition, simply lay back again when he couldn't see anything, too tired to care. Her mother, once an intelligent, demure, and gentle woman, balanced on the end of the bed half naked, screaming like a banshee.

"There's enough of them in here already. We don't want more. You take them and find somewhere else for them to go. You can't..."

Kate ran back to silence her, leaving Mark at the door to placate the soldier.

"Gurmit Singh," the trooper announced as he shoved an elderly Asian man into the room. Singh protested with a high-volume, high-speed torrent of Punjabi, which was neither understood nor acknowledged by anyone. A battered leather carryall was thrown into the room after him, containing the sum total of his worldly possessions. He tripped over the bag, almost losing his light-orange-colored turban in the process, then turned around and continued his vociferous tirade. When the soldier pulled the door shut in his face, he simply turned again without pausing for breath and continued unloading at Mark, who shook his head.

"Don't understand," he said, desperate to shut the man up. "Speak English."

"No English," he snapped back, then continued his rant in Punjabi.

"He can't stay here," Kate's mother screamed from the bed. "We can't have his type here..."

Singh pointed at her, or was it at the bed? He rubbed the small of his back, then thumped his hand on the mattress and raised his voice to an ever louder, even more uncomfortable volume. Mark tried reasoning with him, desperate for him to be quiet. Singh ignored him, then picked up his bag and angrily sat down in the armchair in the corner of the room, still yelling furiously and pointing at the bed.

Kate stood by the hotel room door, her hands over her ears, desperately trying to block out the endless, directionless noises coming from both her mother and Gurmit Singh. Mark tried to hold her, but she pulled away from him, almost recoiling from his touch.

"I can't stand this," she sobbed. "Either they go or I go."

"None of us can go anywhere. For Christ's sake, Katie, that's the problem, there's nowhere else to go."

"I don't care. Kick them out. Throw them out on the street if you have to."

"Who are you talking about now?"

"You know exactly who I mean. It's too dangerous. We've got to think about ourselves and the baby and just screw the rest of them-"

"I can't. You know I can't-"

"Then I will. I mean it, Mark, if you don't get rid of them, I'll leave."

"Katie, there's nowhere for them to go. Please, sweetheart, just calm down and-"

"Don't patronize me. Don't tell me to calm down. How can I calm down when-"

"Shh," he begged, putting his hand up to her mouth. "Please don't shout, Katie, they'll hear us. Don't do anything that'll give them any reason to come back in here. You know what'll happen if they do."

"Maybe I should," she said, pushing him away. "Maybe that's exactly what I should do. Maybe if they knew what was going on here they'd help. They'd come up here and get rid of-"

"Shut up!" he hissed angrily, covering her mouth again.

Gurmit Singh, who had just started to quiet down, suddenly exploded into life again, startled by the appearance of Lizzie, who emerged from the bathroom.

"Who the hell's this?"

"Mr. Singh," Mark answered. "He's just been delivered."

"But we don't have any space-"

"We can't have his kind here," Kate's mother yelled, reaching out and grabbing hold of Lizzie's arm and pulling her closer. Lizzie shrugged her off.

"Too many here," Singh yelled back, suddenly switching to English. "Back bad. Need bed."

"Oh, you can do the language when it suits you, then," Kate sneered at him.

"What's going on, Mark?" Lizzie asked.

"Nothing we can do about it," he began. "We don't have any say-"

"We can't go on like this," Kate interrupted, desperate tears welling up in her eyes.

"We have to-" Mark started to say.

"Tell me what I'm supposed to do, then, Kate," Lizzie snapped angrily. "I heard what you were saying. I know what you want-"

"Then do something about it!"

"Where else am I supposed to go? What do you want me to do?"

Another outburst from Singh interrupted the argument. He got up from his seat and pushed between them, still gesturing toward the bed. Furious, Lizzie shoved him back down again.

"Back off!" she spat before turning to face Kate again. "Put yourself in my shoes, Katie. What would you do?"

"She can't stay here. It's not safe. You're putting all of us at risk."

"Look around, we're already at risk. Everyone who's left alive is at risk, for Christ's sake."

"Calm down, both of you," Mark whispered, trying unsuccessfully to separate the two women, worried that their noise would bring the soldiers back.

"I'm not going to calm down," Kate yelled, throwing open the bathroom door and pointing inside. "That thing in there is evil."

"That thing in there is my daughter."

"She killed your sons!"

"I know, but she's still my daughter."

Lizzie knelt down in the doorway. Curled up on the floor in front of her, chained to the sink pedestal, gagged and bound and heavily sedated, lay Ellis. Lizzie stroked her hair and ran her hand gently down the side of her tranquilized face.

"She could kill you, Lizzie. She could kill all of us."

"I know, but I can't let her go. Try to understand..."

"There's nothing to understand."

"Yes there is. What if your baby turns out to be like this? Will things be different then? Could you imagine giving your baby up?"

"No, I-"

"She's my daughter, Katie, and no matter what she is, what she's done or what she might still do, she's my responsibility. I'll protect her and fight for her until the bitter end."

"If we go on like this," Kate warned, "that will be sooner than you think."

***

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