“No, nothing,” I said, and stood. My legs were still a little wobbly, but I was reasonably sure that they would support my weight. “Get the leashes, and then let’s get out of here.”
Nathan smiled. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I said. He tossed me Minnie’s leash, correctly assessing my condition as “up to the bulldog, not quite ready for the Lab.” Beverly stood up, tail wagging and attention fixed on him. She was clearly aware of whose leash that was, and what it meant for probable walkies. “Do we have anything remotely like a weapon?”
“Just the carving knives from the kitchen,” said Nathan. He bent to clip the leash to Beverly’s collar. “And the dogs, I suppose. Our friend from the hall clearly learned that a dog can be a weapon.”
“I’ll get the knives,” I said, and turned.
Walking to the kitchen served a dual purpose: it let me get the carving knives from the butcher’s block next to the microwave, and it also let me assess my ability to walk in a straight line without hurting myself. My head spun a little, but that was it; apart from that, and a general all-over weakness, I seemed to be mostly okay.
Nathan had made an effort to wipe down the kitchen table, but there had been other things on his mind, and he’d missed more than a few streaky patches of my blood, now dried to a dark reddish brown that looked almost like coffee stains against the wood. I stopped to look at it for a few seconds, waiting for my throat to tighten and my stomach to clench. It didn’t happen. This was my blood; it had been created to keep me alive while it was inside me, and it did a very good job. Now that it was outside of my body, it didn’t really matter anymore. I was almost relieved to realize that my opinion about that sort of thing hadn’t changed now that I was in mortal danger, instead of just being marginally confused by the world around me.
“Coming!” I gathered both knives, careful to hold them away from myself, and walked back to the living room with Minnie at my heels.
Nathan had the terrarium balanced atop my roller bag, held in place with a bungee cord. He was holding Beverly’s leash in one hand and his suitcase in the other. He put the suitcase down long enough to take the knife I offered him. “All right,” he said. “As soon as I open the door, run for the elevator. If anyone tries to attack you or stop you from getting there, do whatever it takes to get them out of your way.” He paused, looking startled by the words that were coming out of his mouth. “Oh, God. Is this my life now? ‘Do whatever it takes,’ and planning attacks on the elevator call button?”
“The key word there is ‘life,’ ” I said, tucking the remaining knife into my belt before bending to clip Minnie’s leash on. She wagged her stubby tail and panted at me, clearly overjoyed by the prospect of going for a walk, no matter how strange the circumstances surrounding it happened to be. “This is your life now, because this is a life that lasts long enough for us to get back to your mother’s place. We can disappear with her. We’ll be safe until this blows over.”
Nathan frowned. “Sal… do you honestly think this is something that’s going to ‘blow over’?”
I didn’t have an answer.
The hallway was empty when Nathan and I cautiously peeked our heads out of the apartment door, the dogs straining at their leashes and eager to be on their way. It was a struggle to keep my grasp on Minnie’s lead, making me even more grateful that Nathan was able to handle Beverly. I at least stood a chance of restraining Minnie if she decided to go for a sleepwalker. With Beverly… there would have been no chance, and things would have ended poorly for everyone involved.
The power hadn’t flickered once. I was choosing to take that as a good sign, and kept reminding myself that it was a good sign as I half ran, half stumbled down the hall, hampered by both my overall bodily weakness and the suitcase-slash-terrarium construct that I was dragging behind me. We’d abandon our things at the first sign of trouble—nothing either one of us owned was worth our lives, except for maybe the dogs, and we’d already risked death to save them—but if we were going to be at Dr. Cale’s for a while, we were going to want a few familiar things around us.
The idea of going into hiding in someone else’s secret lair made the drums pound harder in my ears. I had only recently escaped from the house of Sally’s parents, who had been determined to keep me penned up like a child rather than admitting that I had grown up to be someone other than their daughter—although maybe that was all Sally’s mother speaking. Her father had his own reasons for keeping me captive, and they had nothing to do with the pretense that I was Sally Mitchell. Motives didn’t change the fact that I’d been a prisoner for my entire life, and now I was willingly going into a new kind of cage. I guess that in the end, the urge to survive is stronger than almost anything else.
Nathan pressed the elevator call button. We stood there nervously, our shoulders touching, as if physical proximity could provide us with some measure of protection. The panel above the elevator dinged comfortingly, marking the approach of our way out. I was starting to think that everything was going to be okay…
And Beverly was starting to growl.
It was soft at first, almost subsonic when it caught my attention. I looked down at her. She had her ears pressed flat against her skull, giving her an angular, predatory cast, and her lips were drawn back, showing the pale lines of her gums around the white, dangerous angles of her teeth.