“Ready?” Chubs asked once we were standing in the file room. I punched in the code, bringing him into the small hallway that connected it to the cells. The door at the other end of the hall had a small window he could observe us through.
“You have to stay here the whole time,” I said. “You can’t come in. I know you think he can’t affect you, but I’d rather not test the theory.”
“Hell no, I’m not coming in. If he takes over your head, I’m going to lock you both in there together and go get help.” He shot me a sharp look. “That’s not allowed to happen. Make sure you don’t put me in that position.”
I nodded. “One more thing. No matter what happens, I don’t want you giving Liam specifics of what I’m going to do. Good or bad. Promise me.”
“What exactly are you planning on doing? Using your body to get him to talk instead of your—wow, I can’t even finish that sentence, my brain is already trying to purge it.”
My fingers tightened around the sack of food. “Nothing like that. I’d just rather not have this serve as a reminder of how far I can go.”
I pushed by him, stepping through the door and shutting it firmly behind me. I glanced back over my shoulder and met his gaze through the glass. Then he stepped back, just out of my line of sight.
“Taking time out of your busy schedule of sitting around, doing nothing to come for a quick visit? I’m honored.” Clancy sat in the middle of his cot reading, back against the wall. Blanket and pillow were neatly stowed beside him, both requests previously granted by Cole in the vain, stupid hope it might butter the kid up to be more loose-lipped. As I opened the door’s flap to throw his brown-bag meals in, Clancy flipped to the next page in his book, marked it, and set the book down on top of the pillow.
He might as well have thrown the copy of Watership Down at my face.
“Oh,” he said, all innocence. “Have you read it? Stewart brought it in for me since I’ve been such a good boy. I was hoping for War and Peace, but beggars can’t be choosers, et cetera et cetera.”
It was an old edition of the book—the cover was wrinkled by mistreatment and there were ancient-looking library stickers on its spine. The pages had yellowed, curved under too many rough grips. But I had a feeling if I brought it up to my nose, it would have that scent—that one indescribable fragrance that no amount of cleaning could ever scrub from libraries and bookstores. A few more books had been stacked neatly beneath the cot—battered copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, Sons and Lovers, a book called A Farewell to Arms. And a copy of a blue book—Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers—that had been torn to shreds and tossed across the cell.
Typical Cole. I wondered who he’d picked to watch his back last night.
“What did you give him for it?”
“Some crumbs of information he was desperate for.” Clancy glanced inside the bag as he sauntered back over to his cot. He combed his dark hair back off his forehead, grabbing the book again. “It’s only by virtue of everyone’s sheer stupidity here that they haven’t figured out what he is. He telegraphs it so obviously. Gets so pathetic when he asks about them—”
“Why that book?” I interrupted, well aware that Chubs was listening. My mind was jumping from memory to memory, trying to remember when I had told him about loving the book. The way he was holding it, pressed against his chest, made me want to go in there and rip it out of his hands before he tainted that, too.
“I remembered you mentioned it at East River,” he said, sensing the unasked questions. “You said it was your favorite book.”
“Funny, I don’t remember it ever coming up.”
Clancy returned my tight-lipped smile. “Must have been one of our more private conversations, then.”
Private conversations? That’s how he rationalized all of those invasive lessons, when I let my guard down and let him inside my mind—all on the grounds of him trying to “teach” me how to control my abilities?
“‘...your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies,’” he read, “‘and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.’” He snapped the book shut and leaned back against the wall. “Never thought I’d find a story about rabbits fascinating, but even they have their appeal, apparently.”
“Do you even understand what you just read?” I asked, angry all over again. In the story, the lines had been spoken by Lord Frith, the rabbits’ god. He was addressing El-ahrairah, a prince of his kind, who’d let his warren’s population spiral out of control, too proud of their strength. In retaliation for his arrogance, Lord Frith turned the other animals of the forest into the rabbits’ enemies and natural predators. But, at the same moment, he had gifted them with the traits and skills they’d need to have a fighting chance of survival.
Leave it to Clancy to mentally cast himself as the hero in every story.
“I do, though I think I prefer this one to make my point: A rabbit who does not know when a gift has made him safe is poorer than a slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.”
I shook my head. “Stop. Just stop. This is low, even for you.”