“Where the hell did that dog come from?” asked Mitch.
“I get to keep him,” said Sydney.
“Is that blood?”
“I shot him,” said Victor, searching through his papers.
“Why would you do that?” asked Mitch, closing the laptop.
“Because he was dying.”
“Then why isn’t he dead?”
“Because Sydney brought him back.”
Mitch turned to consider the small blond girl in the middle of their hotel living room. “Excuse me?”
Her eyes went to the floor. “Victor named him Dol,” she said.
“It’s a measurement of pain,” explained Victor.
“Well, that’s morbidly appropriate,” said Mitch. “Can we get back to the part where Sydney resurrected him? And what do you mean you’re going to send Eli a message?”
Victor found what he was looking for, and turned his attention to the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windows and the sun beyond them, trying to gauge the amount of light that stood between him and full night.
“When you want to get someone’s attention,” he said, “you wave, or you call out, or you send up a flare. These things are dependent on proximity and intensity. Too far away, or too quiet, and there’s no guarantee the person will see or hear you. I didn’t have a bright enough flare before, a way to guarantee his attention short of making a scene myself, which would have worked, but I’d have lost the advantage. Now, thanks to Sydney, I know the perfect method and message.” He held up the news article and with it, the notes Mitch had made for him on Barry Lynch, the supposed criminal from the foiled bank robbery. “And we’re going to need shovels.”
The shovel hit wood, and stuck.
Victor and Sydney cleared the last of the dirt away, and tossed the shovels up onto the grass rim around the grave. Victor knelt and pulled the coffin lid back. The body within was fresh, well preserved, a man in his thirties with dark, slicked-back hair, a narrow nose, and close-set eyes.
“Hello, Barry,” said Victor to the corpse.
Sydney couldn’t take her eyes from the body. He looked slightly … deader … than she would have liked, and she wondered what color his eyes would be when they opened.
There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.
“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”
* * *
THE corpse shuddered, opened its eyes, and sat up. Or at least, it tried to.
“Hello, Barry,” said Victor.
“What … the … hell…?” said Barry, finding the lower two thirds of his body pinned beneath the bottom half of the coffin lid, which was presently being held shut by Victor’s boot.
“Are you acquainted with Eli Cardale? Or maybe he goes by Ever now.”
Barry was clearly still grasping the exact details of his situation. His eyes snapped from the coffin to the wall of dirt to the night sky, to the man with blond hair interrogating him and the girl sitting at the grave opening, swinging her small legs in their bright blue leggings. Sydney looked down, and was surprised and a bit disappointed to find that Barry’s eyes were an ordinary brown. She’d hoped they would be green.
“Fucking Ever,” Barry growled, banging his fist against the coffin. He flickered in and out of sight a little each time, like a shorting projection. The air made faint whooshing noises, like far-off explosions every time he did. “He said it was a tryout! Like, for a Hero League or some shit—”
“He wanted you to rob a bank to prove you were a hero?” Skepticism dripped from Victor’s voice. “And then what?”
“What the fuck does it look like, ass hat?” Barry gestured down at his body. “He killed me! The bastard walks right up in the middle of a demonstration he told me to do, and he shoots me.”
So Victor was right. It had been a setup. Eli had staged a killing as a rescue. He had to admit, it was one way to get away with murder.
“I mean, I’m dead, right? This isn’t some shit prank?”
“You were dead,” said Victor. “Now, thanks to my friend, Sydney, you’re a bit less dead.”
Barry was spluttering curses and crackling like a sparkler. “What did you do?” He spat at Sydney. “You broke me.” Sydney frowned as he continued to short out, lighting up the grave in a strange, camera-flash kind of way. She had never resurrected an EO before. She wasn’t sure if all the pieces would—could—come back. “You broke my power, you little—”
“We have a job for you,” cut in Victor.
“Fuck off, does it look like I want a job? I want to get out of this fucking coffin.”
“I think you want to take this job.”
“Blow me. You’re Victor Vale, right? Ever told me about you when he was trying to recruit me.”
“It’s nice that he remembers,” said Victor, his patience wearing thin.
“Yeah, think you’re high and mighty, causing pain and shit? Well I’m not afraid of you.” He flickered in and out again. “Got that? Let me out and I’ll show you pain.”
Sydney watched Victor’s hand tighten into a fist, and felt the air hum around her, but Barry didn’t seem to feel anything. Something was wrong. She’d gone through the motions, given him a second chance, but he hadn’t come back the way the ordinary humans had, not all the way. The air stopped humming, and the man in the coffin cackled.
“Hah, see? Your little bitch messed up, didn’t she? I don’t feel a thing! You can’t hurt me!”
At that, Victor straightened.
“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away. Hey,” he called up to Sydney, who was still swinging her legs over the side of the grave. “How long would it take for an undead to become dead again?”
Sydney wanted to explain to Victor that the people she resurrected weren’t undead, they were alive, and, as far as she could tell, they were perfectly mortal—well, aside from this little nerve issue—but she knew where he was going with this and what he wanted to hear, so she looked down at Barry Lynch, and shrugged dramatically. “I’ve never seen an undead go dead again on their own. So I’m guessing forever.”
“That’s a long time,” said Victor. Barry’s cursing and his taunts had died away. “Why don’t we let you think on it? Come back in a few days?” Sydney tossed Victor his shovel, and a spray of dirt tumbled down on the coffin lid like rain.
“Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait,” begged Barry, trying to claw his way out of the coffin and finding his feet trapped. Victor had nailed his pants to the wooden floorboards before they got started. It had been Sydney’s idea, actually, just to be safe. Now Barry panicked and flickered and began to whimper, and Victor rested the spade under the man’s chin and smiled.
“So you’ll take the job?”
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
“WHAT happened back there, Sydney?”