Chapter Twenty Eight
I corner Newton when he’s the last one left, the cop shop abandoned for the night. Small town crime means they leave only one guy to man the single room jailhouse at night. The rest go home to sleep through the dark hours when humans get up to their worst of habits. Pulled out of bed by emergency calls, these cops usually show up with sleep still crusting their eyes and their heads and their dreams.
Newton is locking up, keys in the door, when I slink up like a shadow and scare the piss out of him.
“Bella.” Newton flattens against the wall, all the blood draining from his face. He goes as pale as I am, his fingers pressed against the drywall like his grip might be the only thing holding him upright. “Where the fuck have you been?”
“Staying with a friend.” I look off in the direction of Edward’s haunted house, the smell of it strong despite the fact it’s at least fifteen miles away.
“Your dad. You know about your dad, right?” He looks scared to tell me, worried he might have to break the news, and even though I feel sad, terribly, horribly sad, I can’t bring myself to well up tears. I probably look like some unemotional asshole to him right now.
“Yeah,” I sigh. “I was at the funeral.”
“I didn’t see you there.”
“I couldn’t deal. I stayed out of sight.” That, and the fact that it just happened to be one of the three sunny days of the whole entire year. I couldn’t very well show up at the graveside sparkling like a goddamn Tiffany ring, now could I? I’d never hated the sunshine so much in my entire life. I spent that entire night lying in the dirt piled on top of the casket, on top of my dad, just wishing I’d gotten there a moment sooner, an hour sooner, a day sooner, enough to save him or even just explain how everything got so fucked up.
“People have been asking about you.”
“I bet,” I grumble.
“No, they’re not,” I snap. “They think it was me.”
“They don’t,” he mutters, sounding unconvinced.
“Yes, they do. They think I murdered Alice, and now they think I murdered my dad, but you know what, Newton? I didn’t kill either of them.”
I glare at him. “Yes. I mean no. I mean… it wasn’t me. Either of them.”
Newton’s eyes pinch at the ends, and he peers down at me in the gloom, almost reaching out to touch my arm. Almost. “You ok, kid? You don’t look so good.”
I glance away, sure that he’s noticing my pale skin and my dark eyes and my limp hair. I talk with my lips tight so he can’t spot my fangs. “I need your help.”
“I have to clear my name.” I did not intend to become the town horror story. They didn’t even know the worst of it, but I sure wasn’t going to let them vilify me in the history books either. I shove the keys into Newton’s chest, getting a sick satisfaction out of the way he flinches. There are three rusted silver keys on a single ring. I found them after rooting around in the rotting leaves and musty, molding dirt near that shitty old car in the woods. The whole time, I laughed to myself about how I spent my last moments there wishing Edward and I could just go on a real date without me being weird and him being dead. Now I was searching for a three-years-dead dude in the muck and the mire.
Oh, how the tables have turned.
It took half an hour, but I finally found something. A limp pair of pants, nearly disintegrated with age, those keys rattling in the pocket. It was no wonder there was nothing left of that asshole, all these years later. His body had obviously been strewn around by wild animals after Edward drained him, his clothing scattered three years deep in the leaves. There might not be much to tie him to the car, to tie him to Alice, but it was better than nothing.
I left Alice’s stuffed leopard on the front seat for good measure.
“Two miles north of the Depot. Straight north.” I glare at Newton. “Don’t go west. Don’t go east. North.”
“What am I supposed to do with these?” Newton dangles the keys between us, looking confused.
“Your fucking job. For once.”
When I slump through the front door, feeling more defeated by my conversation with Newton than I probably should, Edward is not alone. He stands, rubbing his palms on his pants, looking drawn. More so than normal. I frown at him before I notice the man standing behind him.
He looks like he crawled out of a cave. His hair is long and tangled, and his clothing is worn and dirty, ripped apart and patched back together a hundred times over. His shoes are scuffed and covered in mud. He has deep dark eyes and dirt around his nails and crooked yellow teeth, to say nothing of his fangs. His smile doesn’t look at all like a smile, but more like the beginnings of the snarl right before the carnivore pounces on something smaller and weaker and cornered.
“Bella,” Edward says, gesturing toward the stranger. “This is Laurent. He is visiting from the north.”
Laurent doesn’t hesitate. He steps forward and reaches for me, a hand held out in my direction. I swallow down my revulsion to shake the man’s hand. I don’t know what it is, precisely, but my gut does not like him. Neither does my nose.
“She is yours, Edward?” Laurent asks, eyes all over me, his tongue running the edge of his upper lip. I literally can feel him peeling my clothing off in his mind, and I wrench my hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it clean on my jeans.
“I’m no one’s,” I snap. Edward flinches. Barely, but he does.
“Sit, please, let’s sit.” Edward beckons me to the counter, and they resume their seats. I can’t bring myself to settle beside them, so instead, I stand close enough that I can feel Edward against me. He has a strangely calming effect on me these days, like a sugar pill for my overbearing anxiety.
“How do you two… ?” I wave my hand between them, and Edward gives me a rueful smile, as though he doesn’t want to expose me to something dirty.
“Laurent is my maker.”
“He turned you?”
Laurent nods, a grin on his face as he takes a sip of whiskey. “1907, I do believe. A bar in London, rather run-down if I remember correctly. Terrible whiskey, tasted like the wrong end of a prostitute.”
Gross. I didn’t even want to know what that meant.
“He got me drunk and drug me into the alleyway when I was too far gone to stand alone.” Edward’s mouth twists to the side as though he just ate something rotten. “I think it’s fair to say he took advantage of me.”
Laurent claps a solid hand to Edward’s shoulder, grinning widely. “You were always my favorite newborn, Edward. Your hunger? It was a privilege to witness.”
“Leaving me there to turn in broad daylight didn’t seem very caring of you.” Edward huffs into his glass, sipping his drink.
“Don’t mistake my affection for cruelty.”
The stifling tension is shattered by a girl entering the kitchen through the back door. She’s not much older than I am, even though she looks a thousand decades deep. Her skin is smooth, pale, and pure, but her face is dirty, and her arms are smudged dark with bruises. Her clothes are just as ragged as Laurent’s but without the careful patchwork, barely hanging together. Her red hair is dull and wild and matted with leaves. Her mouth is a tight line. Her shoulders are slumped underneath an invisible weight.
Her eyes are on her feet.
She stops close to Laurent and drops a heavy bundle on the floor, stepping back without looking up.
“You may wait for me outside.” Laurent waves a dismissive hand in her direction, and she nods once before turning away, leaving just as silently as she appeared. I frown after her, the air around her smelling of desolation.
Laurent notices me staring after the girl. “Tanya,” he tells me. “I found her in the forest outside of Warsaw.”
“Found her?” I don’t like the sound of that at all.
Laurent’s mouth breaks into an evil smile. “Stumbled across her, shall I say? Copulating with a boy in the bushes like a common dog.” He licks his lips, the memory obviously still heavy in his mouth. “The boy tasted of diesel fuel, but she was such a mouthful, I couldn’t let her go.”
Tanya has walked down the steps off the porch and is standing in the field behind the house with her face toward the sky. Her eyes are closed, and her mouth is pulled down at the edges, and I think that if she had any tears left in her body, she would be crying.
“You’re keeping her? Against her will?” That nasty feeling in my stomach churns again, all acid and bile and disgust.
“She carries my belongings, warms my bed. I can see that it is different between you.” Laurent gestures to the scant amount of space between Edward and me. “Typically, new vampires are beholden to their makers for the first decade of their new lives.”
“Beholden,” I say.
“Yes, she is mine. As you are his, whether you admit to it or not.” Laurent glances at Edward, and I do too, but he’s looking at his hands, studiously ignoring us both.
“How long until you set her free?” I ask, looking back out toward Tanya, but she has disappeared from view.
My mouth opens, ready to spit some vitriol about slavery and fetishism and men always being shitty, even in the afterlife, but Edward cuts me off.
“I haven’t known you to venture beyond the ice fields, Laurent. What bring you so far south?” He sounds uninterested, like boring small talk is just about all he can bear right now, but I know he’s just steered us clear of an all-out brawl in the kitchen.
“The demon in Seattle, have you not heard? The underground has been talking about nothing else for weeks now.”
“There’s a demon in Seattle?” I ask. How fitting. I always hated that place.
“She’s been ambushing groups of people, decimating whole families. Thirty-six so far, and that’s just the rumors. There must be more. No control, children.” Laurent shakes his head as if he actually regrets the loss of human life. “Very little impulse management.”
“A child?” Edward’s voice hovers just above a whisper, and he’s gripping my hand hard enough to make it burn. If I were still human, it would probably be shattered to smithereens in his grip.
Laurent nods. “She couldn’t have been more than ten, but she fought me like a centuries-old vampire might. I still bear the marks.” He lifts his sleeve to reveal a faded trio of pale purple scratches on the snow white skin of his arm. “Terrible, really. One of the harder jobs I’ve taken. No one likes killing children.”
If I had a heart, it would have stopped beating. If I had blood, it would have ground to a halt. If I could speak, I’d be babbling incoherently. But I have none of that. Instead, I have a bone-deep, stomach twisting feeling of dread. Laurent casually kicks at the dirty cloth bundle at his feet, and as it unfurls, out flops Alice, a concrete thump on the floor at our feet.
Deader than ever before.