Page 21

Angie Knight was dead.




THE hotel room was pain and noise and chaos.

Victor came to, dazed, trapped between the school lab and the hotel room, Angie’s scream in his head and Sydney’s in his ears. Sydney? But the girl was nowhere to be seen, and he was being pinned back against the couch by Mitch, whose whole body was shaking visibly from the effort, but unbudging as the room hummed around them.

“Turn it off,” growled Mitch under his breath, and Victor woke fully. His eyes narrowed, the humming died, and everything in Mitch slackened, all signs of pain gone. He let go of Victor’s shoulders, and slumped back onto a chair.

Victor took a low, steadying breath, and ran his hand slowly over his face and through his hair, before his attention settled on Mitch.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Mitch looked tired, unamused, but safe. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to intervene. Victor knew that when he had bad dreams, other people always suffered.

“I’m swell,” Mitch said, “but not too sure about her.” He pointed to a nearby shape in too large sweats, and Victor’s gaze swiveled to Sydney, who sat on the floor, dazed. He’d shut down their nerves the moment he realized what was happening, or at least dulled them as much as he was safely able, so he knew she was physically all right. But she did look shaken. A pang of guilt, something foreign after a decade in jail, nudged his ribs.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. He reached out to help her up, but thought better. Instead he stood, and made his way toward the hall bathroom.

“Mitch,” he called back. “See she gets to bed.”

And with that he closed the door behind him.




VICTOR didn’t revive Angie. He didn’t try. He knew he should, or should want to, but the last thing he needed was more evidence of himself at the crime scene. He swallowed hard, cringing both at his ability to be so rational at a moment like this, and at the thought of the term. Crime. Scene. Besides, he could feel that she was dead. No charge. No energy.

So he did the only thing he could think to do. He called Eli.

“Where the hell are you, Vale?” A car door slammed in the background. “You think this shit is funny—”

“Angie’s dead.”

Victor hadn’t been sure whether or not he would say that, but the words had formed and spilled out before he could catch them. He’d expected them to hurt his throat, to lodge in his chest, but they flowed out unrestricted. He knew he should be panicking, but he felt numb, and the numbness made him calm. Was it shock, he wondered, this steadiness that came to him now, that had been so easy to summon with Angie dying at his feet? Or was it something else? He listened to the silence on the other end of the phone until Eli broke it.

“How?” growled Eli.

“It was an accident,” said Victor, maneuvering his cell so he could pull his shirt back on. He’d had to step around Angie’s body to reach it. He didn’t look at her.

“What did you do?”

“She was helping me with a test. I had an idea and it worked and—”

“What do you mean it worked?” Eli’s tone went cold.

“I mean … I mean it worked this time.” He let it sink in. Eli clearly understood, because he stayed quiet. He was listening. Victor had his attention, and he liked that. But he was surprised that Eli seemed more interested in his experiment than in Angie. Angie, who had always kept his monsters back. Angie, who was always getting in the way. No, she had been more than a distraction to both of them, hadn’t she? Victor looked down at the body then, expecting to feel some shade of the guilt that had washed over him when he’d lied to her before, but there was nothing. He wondered if Eli had felt this strange detachment, too, when he woke up on the bathroom floor. Like everything was real, but nothing mattered.

“Tell me what happened,” pressed Eli, losing patience.

Victor gazed around the room at the table, the straps, the machines that had once hummed but now appeared to have burned out, fuses blown. The whole place was dark.

“Where are you?” he snapped when Victor didn’t answer.

“The labs,” he said. “We were—” The pain came out of nowhere. His pulse quickened, the air thrummed, and a breath later Victor doubled over. It crackled over him, through him, lit up his skin and his bones and every inch of muscle in between.

“You were what?” demanded Eli.

Victor clutched at the table, biting back a scream. The pain was horrific, as if every muscle in his body had cramped. As if he were being electrocuted all over again. Stop, he thought. Stop, he begged. And then he finally pictured the pain as a switch, and snapped it off, and it was gone.

His pulse dropped, the air thinned, and he felt nothing. Victor was left gasping, dazed. He’d dropped the phone to the linoleum. He reached down a shaking hand and lifted the cell back to his ear.

Eli was practically shouting. “Look,” he was saying, “just stay there. I don’t know what you’ve done, but stay there. You hear me? Don’t move.”

And Victor might have actually stayed put, if he hadn’t heard the double-click.

The landline in their apartment had been provided by the university. It made a faint double-click when it was lifted from its spot on the wall. Now, as Eli spoke to him on his cell and instructed him to stay put, and as Victor tried to get his coat on, he could just make out that small double-click in the background. He frowned. A double-click, followed by three tonal taps: 9-1-1.

“Don’t move,” Eli said again. “I’ll be right there.”

Victor nodded carefully, forgetting how easy it was to lie when he didn’t have to look Eli in the face.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll be here.” He hung up.

Victor finished pulling on his coat, and cast a last glance at the room. This was a mess. Aside from the body, the scene didn’t scream murder, but the contorted shape of Angie’s corpse showed it wasn’t exactly natural, either. He took a sanitary wipe from a box in the corner and cleaned the bars on the table, resisting the urge to wipe down every object in the room. Then it would look like a crime. He knew he was written on this lab, somewhere, despite how careful he’d been. He knew he was probably on the security footage, too. But he was out of time.

Victor Vale left the lab, and then he ran.

* * *

AS he made his way toward the apartment—he needed to speak to Eli in person, needed to make him understand—he marveled at how good he felt physically. High from the chase, and from the kill, but free from pain. Then, at the edge of a streetlight, he looked down and saw his hand was bleeding. He must have caught it on something. But he didn’t feel it. And not just in the adrenaline-blots-out-minor-injuries way. He didn’t feel it at all. He tried to summon that strange humming air, tried to lower his own pain threshold a fraction, just to see how he was really faring, and ended up doubled over, bracing himself against a light post.

Not so good, then.

He definitely felt like he’d died. Again. His hands ached from gripping the handles on the table, and he wondered if any bones were broken. Every muscle in the rest of his body groaned, and his head hurt so much he thought he might be sick. When the sidewalk began to tip, he threw the switch back. Pain blinked out. He gave himself a moment to breathe, to regain himself, and straightened in the pool of light. He felt nothing. And right now, nothing felt amazing. Nothing felt heavenly. He tipped his head back, and laughed. Not one of those maniacal laughs. Not even a loud laugh.