Lucid Fate, Dreamwaker Saga #3 (Hardcover)
Lucid Fate, Dreamwaker Saga #3 (Hardcover)
Everyone makes mistakes, even psychopaths. This time, the mistake is murder, and the evidence may lie in plain sight.
Free from her mental prison but with her sanity crumbling, Wynter and her friends take advantage of Jezebel’s injuries and double their efforts to reunite her with her dreamwaker boyfriend.
Despite her vulnerabilities, Jezebel discovers that she can wield her dreamwaker power from beyond her hospital bed. But she forgets to acknowledge a dreamwaker’s free will.
When a mysterious murder rocks the town, the sheriff discovers the murder weapon holds the answers he’s looking for, until it disappears in front of his eyes. Running their own investigation, Wynter’s friends unlock Jezebel’s secret and use it against her, gaining a much needed advantage.
Together once again, Wynter, her dreamwaker boyfriend, her friends, and the sheriff formulate one last plan to connect Jezebel to her crimes, a plan perfect in its simplicity.
But evading consequences is Jezebel’s specialty... and she has no intention of peaceful surrender.
Friends and enemies. Betrayal and revenge. Love triangles... and squares. Take a trip into the past, where the line between dreams and reality blurs, friends become lovers, and the consequences can be deadly. Raise your fists because these villains deserve a punch in the face.
Book Data (for book nerds like you and me)
Book Data (for book nerds like you and me)
Publisher: Frankenscript Press
Audience: Trade/General (Adult)
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Look Inside Lucid Fate (Dreamwaker Saga #3)
Note: The Dreamwaker Saga is meant to be read in order. If you have not read book one and two, this sample will be a spoiler.
Don’t Give Up
August 2, 1986
“Don’t touch anything,” Anson said to the nurses and doctor attending to Jezebel. He zeroed in on the doctor’s name tag as they navigated the gurney past him. It read, “Maguire.”
“Everything in this room is part of an ongoing investigation,” he continued, “including whatever you find in her gut.”
Dr. Maguire daggered her eyes at Anson. “You and I both know this scene is compromised. Get out of our way. We have a life to save.”
Anson speared the trigger guard of Jezebel’s pistol with his pen, lifted it off the floor, and followed Dr. Maguire and the nurses out so they could see it. Globs of congealed blood dripped off the grip. “She brought a gun into this hospital with intent to kill. She’s a psychopath and you should let her bleed out. You hear me?”
Anson felt a warm hand on his shoulder. He turned to find Jake and Madeline, a comforting smile on her face. “Easy, Anson. They’re only doing their jobs. Everyone deserves care.” Her eyes followed the gurney as it rolled down the corridor. “Even her.”
“Not if I was in charge.” Anson returned to Wynter’s room and transferred the pen and the hanging pistol to Cash. “Hold this. And don’t touch the gun. I got to grab evidence bags from the Suburban.”
Anson headed for the elevators at a brisk pace. He noticed blood on his right hand, Jezebel’s blood, and wiped it on his pants in disgust as he approached the patient transport elevator.
Jezebel stared at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, floating past her eyes like the broken white lines dividing the lanes on the interstate.
Where’s the ’Cuda?
The pain in her abdomen radiated throughout her body with every breath and every beat of her heart, chasing away any coherent thought. Sweat beaded on her face and soaked through her shirt and hair.
A team consisting of two nurses and Dr. Maguire rolled Jezebel into the patient transport elevator. One nurse held a wad of gauze on her wound with a gloved hand, while Dr. Maguire tested Jezebel’s iris response with her penlight. The second nurse rolled a cardiac unit alongside the gurney.
Dr. Maguire peeled the bloodied gauze away, careful not to disturb the clotting, and examined the wound’s entry. The back end of the inch-wide glass shard sat just above the surface of Jezebel’s abdomen and cast the elevator lights into reddened refracted patterns on Jezebel’s skin. Other than the blood, the glass looked like ice, refreshing and cool. “The glass is stemming the flow of blood. I’m sure surgery would rather avoid a laparotomy, but there may be no other choice. She’s running out of time.”
The second nurse punched the button for emergency surgery. The doors closed quickly, then reversed as Anson jammed his foot in the door. He used his hand to keep the doors from closing.
“The world would be better off without her in it.” Anson pointed at Jezebel as he glared at the doctor.
Jezebel half-grinned back at him. “Deputy Dolt,” she hissed from the back of her throat.
“Let go of the door, Sheriff,” Dr. Maguire said. “You’re delaying emergency medical treatment. Besides, you’re way out of your jurisdiction. I could have you arrested.”
Anson gritted his teeth with the knowledge that the doctor was right, and begrudgingly let go of the door. “The world would be better off—” The door slid closed once again and cut him short.
The elevator lurched upwards.
“Dizzy,” Jezebel croaked out. “Hurts.”
Dr. Maguire glanced at the clipboard lying on top of Jezebel’s legs. “Jezebel... Caine?”
The nurse applied new gauze to Jezebel’s wound. “That’s what that good ol’ sheriff back there said.”
“Immortal,” Jezebel whispered.
Dr. Maguire cocked her ear and leaned toward Jezebel. “What was that?”
Jezebel extended her neck and tried to project her voice, unsuccessfully. “I’m immortal.”
Dr. Maguire faced the two nurses. “Says she’s... immortal.”
“Is she high on drugs?” one of the nurses asked.
Maguire shook her head. “Her eyes were clear, pupils responsive.”
The elevator doors opened to the surgical floor and the nurses wheeled Jezebel out.
“If she’s not fixed soon,” Dr. Maguire said, “she’s going to find out the hard way that immortality is a fantasy. God help her if her renal artery is lacerated.”
The nurses guided Jezebel into an operating room and Maguire briefed the two attending surgeons, anesthesiologist, and scrub nurse, careful not to break the sterile field.
The inner doors to the operating room closed and the doctor and two nurses stepped out.
“She’s in good hands now,” Dr. Maguire said.
Moments later, inside the operating theater, Jezebel’s thoughts of immortality turned black. Not even Ransom would be able to break through the anesthesia.
With every waking moment, Wynter remembered more about what had put her in the hospital and what had happened while she was in a coma. Her brain, her memory, her ability to summon, and how it all worked was still a huge enigma. Medical science had advanced by leaps and bounds over her short lifetime, but doctors and scientists had barely mapped the human brain’s inner workings with any great detail. Who knew what those doctors and scientists would subject her to if they discovered the power she and her friends held.
Two years ago, she had researched and written a report on comas and near death experiences for her 9th Grade Biology class. She had discovered that there was no common type of experience. Everyone’s recollection was different. Some patients reported remembering nothing, floating in a vast sea of blackness, and others recalled dreams so vivid they rivaled their waking perceptions.
Wynter’s experience added a new dimension of complexity. She could talk to her friends within her dreams, exist among them as a dreamwaker, and remember all of it. This kind of power could only be experienced firsthand to be believed. She had it and so did her father Nolan. The best part: it was a power she could share, as long as Ransom was with her.
But it was a power she was never meant to lose. Once Jezebel got her grubby hooks into Ransom, Wynter’s world and her sanity began to slowly unravel. Reconnection was always in the back of her mind and as time pressed on, more of her usual thoughts were pushed aside. Her great grandmother had taken her own life because of it. Wynter needed that control back in order to survive. After the hospital discharged her, her only goal would be to recapture that control. With the help of her best friends Quinn, Cash, and Jake, Wynter believed in her heart they would be able to help make her world right again. She had no choice.
However, Madeline would never approve of Wynter’s intentions, especially after her coma at the hands of Jezebel. So she decided not to tell her. Deceiving her mother would be difficult; Wynter had always confided in Madeline and trusted her implicitly. But some secrets and plans were never meant for adults. This realization set her mind at ease.
Visiting hours had ended and Quinn, Cash, Jake, and Madeline had left for the night. Her nurse wrangled dinner from somewhere, a barely palatable meal of reheated chicken, broccoli, and potatoes, with a square of lime Jell-O for dessert. The meal certainly hadn’t come from the cafeteria. Despite the sub-par food, Wynter ate every bite.
Her full stomach lulled her to an intentional sleep for the first time in a week.
Wynter opened her eyes to what she thought were stars spinning above her head. As her eyes focused in the surrounding darkness, she realized that they weren’t stars at all, but reflections from a hanging disco ball.
Wynter eased herself up onto her elbows. She wore a white babydoll T-shirt that exposed her midriff, denim shorts, and her favorite rainbow knee-highs that extended down her calves, culminating in a pair of white rollerskates with hot pink rubber wheels.
“The Starlite,” she whispered to herself, smiling. But it wasn’t the Starlite, not exactly. The familiar disco ball spun above her and she ran her fingers across the smooth wooden floor, but there were no sideboards she could see. Apart from the glow of the disco ball above and its reflected points of light, the rink faded into dark shadows.
Wynter sat up and worked herself into a kneeling position. Her arms and legs felt sluggish and it took all her effort to keep her balance.
Wynter’s blood ran cold. “Jezebel!” She spun around in an attempt to find the source of Jezebel’s voice. “Where are you?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, Whinerrr.” Jezebel’s laugh echoed around Wynter’s head.
“Show yourself, you fucking coward!” Wynter cocked her head and heard a low rumble beyond the shadow’s terminator. “What the...”
The rumbling melted into the sound of rollerskate wheels on wood. Jezebel’s figure breached the edge of darkness and rolled toward Wynter. She wore all black, aiding her obfuscation: black T-shirt, shorts, socks, and rollerskates. But her face grinned back at Wynter just as it always had, like a beacon from hell. A knife sat tucked alongside her waist.
Wynter felt a cold shock travel up her spine and raise the hairs on the back of her neck. The odor of blood hung heavy in the air, but she could see no evidence of it.
“Here’s what’s going to happen.” Jezebel’s words slurred together like she was drunk or stoned. “You’re going to bring me out of your dream so I can cut your throat for real.”
Jezebel slid the knife out from within her right side, not her waistband like Wynter had first thought. Thick ruby-red blood dripped off the blade’s razor edge that looked more like glass than metal. She licked some blood from the knife’s tip.
Wynter began skating backward. “If you think I’m going to make you a dreamwaker, you’re crazy.”
“Dreamwaker, huh?” Jezebel propelled herself forward on black rubber wheels. “Is that what you call it? Cute.”
“What about your precious Ransom?” Wynter scowled as she increased her speed. “You kill me and he’s gone forever.”
“Fuck him.” Jezebel snapped her fingers and “One Way Or Another” by Blondie broadcast from the inky shadows. She narrowed her eyes and pumped her legs, laughing maniacally.
Wynter’s legs still felt wobbly. Had she fallen, that would have meant game over, but her strength returned surprisingly quickly. She spun on one leg and bolted in the opposite direction, away from Jezebel. But despite her speed and the cool wind on her face, she felt like she was getting nowhere. The rink’s floor moved past her feet but the glow of the disco ball above her remained stationary, as if it was attached to her body by an unseen support.
Wynter glanced over her shoulder to see Jezebel gaining on her with every stride. She could not let Jezebel touch her.
“Going to get you, Whinerrr.” Jezebel laughed. “Going to get you get you.”
Wynter could feel the heat of Jezebel’s hatred as she grew closer and closer. A few more seconds, a few more strides and she would be able to reach out and grab Wynter’s collar.
“This stops NOW.” Wynter braked, squatted, and swung her left leg out in a wide arc. Jezebel’s knees struck Wynter’s backside first, then her legs and feet slid out from under her. She landed on the floor hard, knocking the knife from her hands, but Jezebel was on her feet in seconds.
Wynter raced after the knife as it slid across the waxed wooden surface. Without stopping, she crouched again and grabbed the knife as she rolled past it. Spinning to face Jezebel’s frenzied approach, Wynter held the knife to her left arm.
“Stay in your own head, you bitch!” She ran the crystal blade’s edge across her forearm. The skin split open without blood, smoking and charred as if the knife had been red hot. Pain filled her body like she had swallowed a molten ingot and—
Wynter sat up, panting. Her cardiac monitor beeped frenetically, signalling her blood pressure and pulse were at dangerous levels.
A nurse burst through the door. She checked the numbers on the cardiac monitor, steadily falling as Wynter calmed herself.
“You gave me quite a scare,” the nurse said as she inserted a tympanic thermometer in Wynter’s ear until it beeped its reading. She jotted notes on Wynter’s chart.
“Sorry. I had a nightmare.”
The nurse poured water into a paper cup and handed it to Wynter. “Must’ve been a bad one, huh?”
“Yeah,” Wynter said softly. She ran her right hand over her left forearm, the skin smooth and unbroken. “But I won.”
“You killed the monster?”
Wynter nodded, a hint of a smile on her face. “I did.”
The nurse glanced at her watch. “There’s still a few hours until breakfast. Try and get some more sleep.”
“I think I’d like to stay awake for a bit,” Wynter said. “Got anything to read?”
“Let me take a look.” The nurse hustled out of the room, returning less than a minute later with two publications in her hand. “Popular Science or Mad Magazine?”
Wynter balked at the two options, then said, “I’ll take the Mad Magazine, thanks. I think my brain could use a break.”
“I’ll leave them both, just in case you change your mind.” The nurse set the magazines on Wynter’s lap and left the room.
Wynter picked up the Mad Magazine. The cover depicted Hulk Hogan holding Alfred E. Neuman in a strangle hold around his muscled body. She glanced at the cover of Popular Science. It featured “Buick’s performance car for the 1990s.”
She set Popular Science down. “Mad. Most definitely.” Wynter flipped through the pages, giggling at the stupid jokes. It was just what she needed. As her body relaxed, her eyes grew heavy again. She fought against her body’s weariness, but sleep would always be a relentless and endlessly patient opponent who would accept nothing but victory.
With the Mad Magazine open to a satire of TV’s Moonlighting, Wynter’s body rewarded her with a dreamless sleep.
After breakfast, Dr. Cornell performed a neurological exam to assess Wynter’s recovery. She passed most of the tests with flying colors, with the exception of standing and moving her limbs.
Wynter clutched the side of the bed for stability but even her arms weren’t strong enough for the task. The doctor reached out to steady her.
“Are my legs supposed to feel like Jell-O?”
“Even after seven days, your muscles weaken,” Dr. Cornell said. “And your brain must relearn how to move. But don’t worry. You’re doing well. Just to be sure, I’ll arrange for a walker to be brought to your room.”
She raised a brow at Wynter’s empty breakfast tray and smiled. “Looks like you’ll need no help regaining your strength.” She jotted notes on Wynter’s chart. “I’m going to schedule a CT scan of your brain to make sure no wires are crossed in that head of yours.”
“Does a CT scan hurt?”
“Nope.” Dr. Cornell hung Wynter’s chart down at the end of the bed. “You’ll be in and out in less than fifteen minutes. It’s an amazing machine.” She helped Wynter back into her bed. “You should get in the habit of going to the bathroom on your own, if you’re able. Just buzz a nurse if you need help.”
“Thanks, Doctor Cornell.”
As the doctor stepped out of the room, Madeline entered, followed by Quinn, Cash, and Jake. Cash had a white bandage on his left ear, and bright yellow fiberglass strips wrapped the top third of Jake’s cast.
“Oh, hon. How do you feel?” Madeline scurried to the side of Wynter’s bed. She reached out and touched Wynter’s forehead, then stroked her cheek lightly.
“I feel fine, Mom. Seriously.” Wynter sighed. She glanced at Quinn, winked, then clutched her stomach with stiff fingers. “On second thought...”
“What is it?” Madeline froze, ready to jump into action. “Are you in pain? Should I get the nurse?”
Wynter’s feigned concern melted into a smile. “No, Mom. I’m kidding. But I am fucking hungry!”
Madeline gasped and tapped Wynter’s shoulder lightly. “Language! And don’t do that to me, Wynnie. I’ve been through enough this past week. I don’t need your jokes and sarcasm.”
“Sorry, Mom.” Wynter made her best puppy dog eyes. “I bet Dad would’ve laughed.”
“Yeah.” Madeline chuckled to herself. “He probably would’ve.”
“I think I can help with the hunger.” Cash handed a white plastic bag to Wynter.
“Is it...?” Wynter peeked into the bag. “Yes! Thank you, thank you.”
Cash chuckled and nodded.
Quinn shared a glance with him and gave him a playful shove. “Such a romantic.”
“Well, what is it?” Madeline knew she was standing on the outside of an inside joke.
“It’s...” Wynter reached in and pulled out the contents of the bag. “A Hostess Blueberry Pie and a Coke.” She found Cash’s eyes with hers and sent him a look of warmth and gratitude. “You know me so well. Thanks.”
Cash rocked on his heels as his neck and cheeks flushed red.
Jake chuckled. “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”
Cash elbowed him in response.
Wynter unwrapped the fruit pie and took a bite. “So good. Way better than the oatmeal and melon chunks they gave me for breakfast. Like, gag me.” She cracked her Coke and took a sip. “Did you guys go back home last night?”
“Nah,” Jake said. “We crashed your mom’s motel room.”
Wynter stopped eating and scanned the faces of her friends. “Oh. I’m so sorry. You guys must be bagged.”
“I don’t see how,” Madeline said. “Everyone got a great sleep last night.”
“Come on, Mom. You snore.”
Madeline recoiled, mildly insulted. “No, I don’t.”
“You do so.”
“I absolutely do not.”
Wynter took a bite of her pie and turned to Quinn, Cash, and Jake. “Did my mom snore last night? Did you guys sleep at all?”
Quinn, Cash, and Jake shared knowing glances. Jake cleared his throat. “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”
“Hmph.” Madeline alternated her gaze between Wynter and her friends. “Well. I think I’ll go find Nolan.” She stepped toward the door.
“Mom, don’t be mad,” Wynter called after her. “I love your snoring.” She grinned and sipped from her Coke.
Madeline pulled the door open and looked back at her daughter, a sparkle in her eye and a small lopsided smile on her face. “I know, honey.” She stepped out into the corridor and released her hold on the door. Cash caught it before it closed and crossed the corridor to the waiting alcove. He grabbed two chairs and carried them back to Wynter’s room.
“Excuse me, young man.” A nurse spotted him part-way across the corridor and gave him a questioning look.
“It’s temporary,” Cash said. “I’ll put them back when we’re done. I promise.”
Hands on her hips, the nurse considered Cash’s words with narrowed suspicious eyes. “Okay.” She turned to walk away, then stopped and faced Cash again. “What’s your name?”
“Cash Hawkins, ma’am.”
“I’m going to hold you to that promise, Cash Hawkins,” she said.
Cash nodded. As he carried the chairs back into the room, Wynter and Quinn were mid-conversation. “Sorry guys, got busted for stealing chairs, but it’s all good.”
“Dude, you’re such a rebel,” Jake sat in the chair Cash had slid behind him. “My leg is eternally grateful.”
Cash dragged his chair to the opposite side of the bed, next to the cardiac monitor. He gave Wynter’s right hand a brief and gentle squeeze and took a seat. Both Quinn and Jake noticed the gesture.
“If I had to guess,” Wynter said to Quinn, “I’d say my mom knows that my dad made me a dreamwaker. They’re pretty good about talking things through.” She peeled more wrapping from her pie and bit into the remaining pastry.
“If your mom knows that, what else does she know?” Quinn paused as if waiting for a mind-blowing answer. She glanced at Jake and Cash before continuing. “Do you remember why your dad’s in the hospital?”
“He’s here?” Wynter sat up, concern clear on her face. She set her pie and Coke on the rolling side table by her bed. Cash and Jake exchanged looks.
“He’s one floor up in recovery,” Quinn said. “Remember why?”
“No, I...” Wynter’s eyes darkened and thickened with tears. “He was burned. Our trailer... Jezebel torched it?” She looked at Quinn. “All our stuff?”
Quinn nodded. “I’m so sorry, Bug.”
Wynter covered her face with her hands, but instead of tears she let loose a muffled scream.
“The doctor said you might forget things,” Quinn said. “We hate reminding you, but we need you to remember as much as possible.”
“Is my dad okay?” Wynter spoke through her hands as if that might protect her from the truth.
“His legs were burned and...” Quinn looked to Cash for support.
“He had a heart attack on the way to the hospital,” Cash said. “I rode with him in the ambulance. But he’s going to be okay. His doctor said so.”
Wynter dropped her hands from her face. Instead of tears, her eyes contained fiery rage. “My gear? My books?”
“It’s all gone,” Cash said.
“Fuck.” Wynter leaned back against her pillow and stared at the ceiling. “I hadn’t returned Vinny’s favorite telephoto lens yet. He’s going to fire me, then kill me.”
“Vinny’s not going to do shit,” Jake said. “We’ll make sure of it. None of this is your fault.”
Wynter gripped her bedcovers with white knuckles as she scanned her friends’ faces. Her eyes were clear but still steeped with anger. “We have to kill her.”
“No, Wynter,” Cash said. “That’s a bad idea.”
“Why?” Wynter faced him, her red hair flipping over her pillow. “She almost killed me and my dad. And Quinn, Jake, even you.”
Cash stood and paced beside his chair. “If we kill her and get caught, then we could go to prison. You want to risk that?”
“So we don’t get caught.” Wynter crossed her arms in defiance.
“Easier said than done,” Jake piped up. “This ain’t the movies.”
“Got any better ideas, shithead?”
“Easy, Bug,” Quinn said.
“No, actually I do.” Jake raised his voice and propped himself up on his crutches. “Let Anson handle it. Not bringing in the police back when Jezebel sideswiped us was a fucking mistake.”
“You know why we didn’t get Anson involved,” Quinn said to Jake. “Ransom was in Jezebel’s head. We had to get him back first.”
“Ransom this, Ransom that.” Jake scowled. “Look where chasing his ass got us. Fucking move on already.”
“I can’t move on, Jake. Okay?” Wynter pointed at Jake’s leg. “You need that cast to heal, right? Ransom is like that for me. I’ll never be the same if I don’t get him back.”
Jake watched a single teardrop roll down Wynter’s face. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m just frustrated.”
“We all are,” Cash said.
“So what happened to Ransom?” Jake faced Quinn. “You drove him here. Didn’t he kiss her?”
“I’m sorry.” Quinn sighed deeply and fanned her face with her hands. “This is all my fault.”
Wynter reached over to Quinn and took her hand. “It’s Jezebel’s fault.”
“Just tell us what happened,” Cash said.
“The plan worked.” Quinn grabbed a tissue and wiped her nose and eyes. “They kissed and everything was cool. I went to get a couple of coffees and when I got back, Jezebel and Roxy were there. I had to fight to get past Roxy. A gun went off and when I got into the room, Ransom drifted. Jezebel did something because she said he was back in her head again.”
Quinn sobbed into her tissue. “If I hadn’t left for those fucking coffees, none of this would’ve happened.”
Jake hobbled next to Quinn and placed his hand lightly on her shoulder. “This isn’t on you, Quinn. Jezebel pulled the trigger.”
“And technically Ransom didn’t die,” Cash said. “He just got reset. It could have been much worse if you hadn’t gone for those coffees.”
Jake pulled his chair closer to Quinn’s and placed his arm around her shoulder. “The silver lining: Ransom stabbed the bitch. Jezebel’s going to need time to heal. That’s something she can’t control and it gives us an advantage.”
“It’s only an advantage if we can figure out a plan in time that’s foolproof,” Quinn said. “So, what are we going to do?”
“I still like the idea of bringing out a creature, like a sabretooth tiger—no wait—one of those hellhounds like in The Omen.” Jake turned to Quinn. “Remember those things? What kind of dogs were they?”
“Rottweiler,” Quinn said. “But Jake—”
“Right. Rottweiler. Scary as shit.” A mischievous grin spread across Jake’s face. “Those dogs were mean. We could just sick it on Jezebel and she’d be ripped apart. Jesus, remember that hallway scene?”
“I do,” Quinn said. “But we can only summon people. Right, Wynter?”
Wynter nodded at Quinn. “Yeah.”
Jake shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “That’s a stupid rule if you ask me.”
“Let’s say that you could summon a hellhound,” Cash said. “How do you get it to do what you want it to do? Just say ‘Attack Jezebel’?”
“Totally!” Jake gave the impression that he had everything all figured out. “Any hellhound I bring out of my dreams is going to understand English.”
“It just doesn’t work like that, Jake,” Wynter said.
“Okay. No animals. What about a ninja assassin? Or the actual terminator from The Terminator?” Jake’s eyes glossed over in awe. “Can you imagine? Schwarzenegger blowing Jezebel away?”
“Sorry, Jake,” Wynter said. “The person we summon has to have some kind of special meaning for us.”
“Schwarzenegger does has a special meaning for me.” Jake said. “He’s my all-time favorite movie action hero.”
“A special personal meaning, Jake.” Wynter smirked at him.
“Has anyone tried it?”
Quinn shrugged and Cash and Wynter shook their heads.
“Shouldn’t we at least try? If anyone could do it, it’d be you, Wynter,” Jake said. “You’re the master summoner.”
“I can’t do any summoning if Ransom isn’t back in my head.” Wynter popped the remaining piece of blueberry pie into her mouth.
“That reminds me.” Jake pulled himself up onto his crutches to stretch his legs. “You’ve all summoned someone right?”
All three nodded.
Jake turned to Cash. “Who did you summon?”
“I’ve summoned Ransom and my twin sister Sierra.”
Jake’s brows crunched, confused. “You have a sister?”
“Had a sister,” Cash said. “Long story short, she died when we were six.”
“Shit, dude. I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“No reason you should. I don’t talk about her much.”
Jake turned to Wynter. “You summoned Ransom, and...” He looked at Quinn. “Who did you summon?”
Quinn did her best to conceal the panic in her eyes. “I... I summoned Ransom, too.”
Jake did a double take. “Wait. What?”
“That’s how the power to summon is transferred, remember?” Quinn said. “The last person to kiss Ransom gets him in their head. But they also get the power to summon other special people.”
“You kissed Ransom?” Jake looked at Quinn, confused and a little bit hurt.
Quinn shrugged it off. “It was just a kiss, nothing special. Just to get the power.” She glanced at Wynter with saddened eyes. “But no one will be as powerful as Bug, the master summoner.”
“Well, my dad is probably more powerful than me,” Wynter said.
“Hmm. Okay. Here’s where I get confused.” Jake paced on his crutches at the foot of Wynter’s bed. “If we can only summon people who are special to us, where did Ransom come from? I mean he doesn’t look like anyone we know.”
“Really, Jake?” Quinn motioned at Cash. Jake followed her gaze, a subtle smile on his face.
“Yeah, right, guys.” Cash blushed.
“He’s totally made up,” Wynter said. “From all the things I like in a guy. And before you ask, I guess I can do that because I’m the master summoner.” She smiled and held her hands up like she was addressing a congregation. “I like the sound of that.”
“Could your dad create some kind of super assassin then?” Jake stopped to adjust his baseball hat, his eyes cool and serious. “Totally made up?”
Wynter shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never had a reason to ask.”
“We should ask,” Quinn said. “Most definitely.”
Cash looked at his friends, his doubt showing through. “Is that our plan then? Ask Nolan if he’s a grand master summoner?”
“That and getting me out of here.” Wynter stretched, then drank from her Coke. “I’m no good to you guys in a hospital bed.”
“Seems a little flaky,” Cash said. “The plan, that is.”
“We need to know what Nolan can do first. If he can summon a super assassin...” Quinn smiled and winked at Jake. “Then we got something to work with. Otherwise—”
“Otherwise we’re fucked.” Cash stood and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Not necessarily,” Jake said. “If we get Ransom back and get a whole bunch of people to kiss him, then teach them how to summon, we could build an army.”
Cash shrugged. “That might work. If we can get Ransom back. But who would we ask? How long would training take? It’s got to be fast because you know Jezebel’s going to recover fast. The enemy always does.”
“Daytona and Hunter would do it,” Wynter said. “They owe me big time.”
Quinn perked up. “Maybe my boss at FreshWhip? And Anson and Mercy?”
“How about our parents while we’re at it?” Cash balked. “I don’t know, guys. This is getting complicated.”
“A complicated plan is better than no plan,” Jake said.
“Keeping things simple has power.” Cash nodded at Jake. “Your super assassin idea has my vote.”
“I’ll talk to my dad,” Wynter said. “What are you guys going to do?”
Cash grimaced. “I got to work. I’m surprised that Finn hasn’t fired my ass yet.”
“Finn’s a teddy bear in disguise,” Quinn said.
“Are you sure we’re talking about the same guy?” Cash and Quinn laughed.
“Maybe I should practice summoning someone on my own?” Quinn glanced at Wynter, who responded with a thumbs up.
“I’ve got to dub that video I took of Jezebel shooting up the Starlite,” Jake said. “Anson’s going to love that.”
Cash faced Wynter. “Call when you find out about your dad’s superpowers?”
Wynter smiled at him and nodded. “Yeah.” She reached for Cash’s hand and gave it a soft squeeze. “And thanks.” Her eyes flicked to the Coke can and Hostess wrapper, then back to Cash. “For everything.”
“Happy to do it.” Cash headed for the door, pulling it open for Quinn and Jake. “Bus or taxi?”
“Oh, shit.” Quinn looked in her wallet and shook her head. “I can’t afford a taxi. Can you?”
“Bus it is.” Cash glanced back at Wynter as Quinn and Jake shuffled out into the corridor. She waved at him and he waved back. “Call us as soon as you find out, okay.”
“For sure.” Wynter watched Cash ease into the corridor as the door finished its gentle arc. She finished off the can of Coke, smiled, and rested her head on her pillow. The gentle but incessant pulse of the cardiac monitor had been her constant companion for a week without her knowing it. But after almost a day awake, she looked forward to moving on. Making a plan with her friends, even one that was as simple as asking her dad to summon a super assassin, gave her hope that Ransom would soon be back where he belonged. Back in her head.
But there was a seed of an idea in the back of Wynter’s mind, an idea she couldn’t yet grasp through the receding fog of her coma. Perhaps in time it would hold another answer.
Anson shifted in his chair uncomfortably and glanced at the clock across the corridor. Its face read quarter past one in the morning. He briefly contemplated trying to gain access to the operating room as an observer, but after his run-in with Dr. Maguire and the nurses assigned to Jezebel, he thought better of it. He had already burned that bridge.
Instead, he had moved to the fifth floor recovery room and settled into the waiting alcove. After what felt like endless hours, he stood, stretched, and strolled to the nurses station. A young nurse blinked up at him. She noticed his attire and focused on his badge.
“Can I help you with something, Sheriff?”
Anson placed his hat on the counter and cleared his throat. “Yes. Could you tell me when Jezebel Caine will be out of surgery?”
“I’m afraid that’s determined by the severity of her injuries—”
Anson leaned on the desk with both arms. “How severe are they?”
The nurse spotted Anson’s passive intimidation a mile away. “I’m sorry. I can only share details with Miss Caine’s family.”
Anson scanned the corridor left and right. “Are they here?”
“If you’d like to wait, there’s a seating area just over there.” The nurse pointed back where Anson had just come from.
“I know. Thanks. I’ve been sitting there for four and a half hours already.” Anson gave her his best smile. “Sure you can’t give me any info? Anything at all?”
The nurse smiled sweetly at him and for a second Anson thought he had gotten through to her. “Sheriff, you know how this works. If you want information, you’ll need a warrant.”
Anson nodded. “Thanks.” He knocked his knuckles on the countertop and headed back to the waiting room. “Wait.” He sidled up to the counter again.
The nurse showed signs of agitation as she tilted her head in a silent question.
“Nolan LaCroix. Could you tell me what room he’s in?” Anson watched the nurse’s expression turn to one of curiosity mixed with doubt. “Funny story. See, Nolan is the father of Wynter LaCroix, who just came out of her coma one floor down. I’m Wynter’s godfather. And Jezebel Caine put them both here.” He paused. “Not really a funny story I guess.”
The nurse blinked at him.
“Just Nolan’s room. That’s all I’m looking for,” Anson said. “I’m not even going to talk to him. I just want to peek in—”
“Room 523.” The nurse pointed down the corridor. “Remember, I can see you. I don’t want to call security on the Sheriff of Newhaven.”
Anson thanked the nurse and hustled down the corridor to room 523. He looked back at the nursing station and gave a thumbs up.
He poked his head into Nolan’s room. The lights had been dimmed and his cardiac monitor beeped softly by the bed. Nolan’s chest rose and fell in peaceful sleep.
Anson pulled his head out of the room and walked back to the waiting area, giving the nurse another thumbs up. He took a seat close to the corridor where he could keep an eye on the nurses station and found an old issue of Popular Science. He flipped it open and pretended to read about flying diamond wing design.
Twenty minutes later, the nurse stepped away from her desk, perhaps on her break or needing the bathroom. Anson checked the corridor was empty and wasted no time returning to Nolan’s room, this time going inside.
He helped the door close and turned to see that Nolan was awake.
“Morning, Anson,” he said in a raspy voice. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Uh, right. Just want to check in. See how you’re doing.”
“Doing fine,” Nolan said. “Doctor says my legs are healing well, but it might take another few weeks. Hopefully most of that will be at home instead of here.”
“Have you heard—”
“That Wynter woke up? Yeah. Maddie told me.”
“And Jezebel’s here, too.”
Nolan nodded. “I know. She’s going to make a complete recovery.”
“How...” Anson gave him a questioning look. “How do you know that? I couldn’t get any information from the nurse.”
Nolan shrugged. “Not sure. Just a feeling I guess.”
“Look, Nolan...” Anson chose his words carefully. “I got a question for you, and it might sound a little strange.”
“Do you know how Wynter was at the Starlight last night and here, at the same time?”
Nolan regarded Anson with cool blue eyes that also conveyed warmth. “If I were to say ‘no,’ would you believe me?”
“Then, no. I have no idea how Wynter could be in two places at once.”
Anson sighed. “Alright. Glad to hear you’re okay.” He glanced back at the door. “I’ll check back later.” He eased the door open and peeked out. “Shit,” he whispered.
Nolan furrowed his brows and whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“The nurse is back. Last thing I need is to be thrown out by security.”
“That’s Julia,” Nolan said with a smile. “She’s an eyeful but she takes no shit from anyone.”
“I noticed.” Anson thought for a moment, then grinned. “Can you buzz her?”
“I thought you wanted to avoid her?”
“I’ll stand behind the door when it opens,” Anson said. “You talk to her, and I’ll slip out of the room. Easy peasy.”
“Got it.” Nolan found the call button by his bed and pressed it.
Anson heard the pat of soft-soled shoes approaching the room. He took his spot by the door’s hinge and waited.
“This is exciting, eh Anson?”
Anson shushed him just as the door swung open.
“Nolan?” Julia stood at the door blocking Anson’s getaway. “What can I get you?”
Nolan spoke in a whisper, then waved her over. Julia let go of the door and approached his bedside. Anson curved his body around the leading edge of the door and stepped into the corridor before spinning around and poking his head into the room again.
“Everything okay in here?”
Julia eyed Anson suspiciously. “You weren’t in the waiting area a moment ago. I fully expected you to be in here.”
“Bathroom.” Anson smiled at Nolan. “How you doing, buddy?”
Nolan gave Anson a thumbs up.
“He’s just thirsty.” Julia shooed Anson. “Out. Visiting hours aren’t for another five hours.”
Upon hearing Anson address her by name, Julia softened a little.
“I’m just going to be out here... waiting.” Anson crossed the corridor and took a seat in the waiting area.
A minute later Julia left Nolan’s room and headed back to the nurses station. She gave Anson a suspicious glance as she passed by.
Anson pushed three chairs together, stretched out on them, and set his hat over his face.
Jezebel had derailed his earlier plans with Mercy. The girl was like a force five hurricane, leaving nothing but injury and destruction in her wake.
Anson had realized far too late that he had forgotten to call and update Mercy about what was going on. He hoped that she would forgive him yet again for letting his work take priority over his personal life, but he knew also her forgiveness would only last so long. He was skating on thin ice as it was. He tried to dream of Mercy to ease some of his guilt, but try as he might, Anson’s dreams slipped back into work mode with Jezebel front and center. He was asleep in minutes even though his makeshift bed was as comfortable as a slab of concrete.
Anson felt someone rocking his shoulder. His eyes cracked open to see Jezebel crouching over him, almost nose to nose.
With one fast and fluid movement of her right hand, Jezebel produced a Bowie knife with a blade as long as her forearm. She placed the tip of the blade under his Adam’s apple. “Bye bye, Deputy Dolt.” She pushed the blade through his windpipe, blocking his airflow and his attempt to scream.
Anson gasped and forced himself up off the chairs. Julia took a step back, her eyes locked on him wildly. “Sheriff Jacobs! You surprised me.”
Anson tried to speak but could not. He rubbed his throat and his hand came away thickly covered with his own hot blood.
“I wasn’t finished.” Julia yanked the Bowie knife out of Anson’s neck and threw it on the floor. She extracted a scalpel from her pocket and swung its blade swiftly against his gaping wound, slicing through his remaining neck muscles and tendons like they were gelatin.
Anson threw his legs off the chairs. His hat tumbled off his chest to the floor as he stared at the seams between the tile.
Where’s the blood?
Cool air flowed into his lungs with every breath. He grabbed his neck. There was no slash, no blood, just a sheen of cold sweat covering his skin and his heart jackhammering in his chest.
Anson felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Julia looking down on him with concern. He stood and scrambled backward. His hand went instinctively for his gun as he eyed her hands. No scalpel.
Julia must have seen the fear in his eyes because she took a step back as well. “I’m sorry Sheriff Jacobs.” She crouched, picked up his hat, and handed it to him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Anson’s hand moved from the butt of his gun to the proffered hat. He ran his hand through his hair before taking the hat and placing it on his head. “Thanks.” He glanced at her. “Sorry. Bad dream.”
“It looked like it.” Julia glanced over her shoulder at the clock across the corridor. It read five after seven. “My shift’s over but I wanted to let you know your patient of interest is now in recovery room 513. She’s still sedated, so questioning her won’t be possible, but you can poke your head in and take a look... if that helps.”
Anson ran a hand over his throat once more, his recent dream still vivid in his mind. “I’m sure a good slap would wake her up.”
Julia narrowed her eyes at him, unimpressed.
“I’m joking, Julia,” Anson said.
“I hope so.” She gave him a sideways glance. “How do you know my first name, Sheriff Jacobs?”
“Didn’t you tell me—”
“I most certainly did not.”
“I, uh, must have overheard you talking with someone in the hallway.”
Julia stared at Anson disapprovingly and he stared back, hoping the interrogation was over.
Anson broke the uncomfortable moment of silence. “I’ll see myself to room 513. Thanks for your help.” He stepped past her and hurried down the corridor, feeling her eyes on him all the way. Anson paused at the door to Jezebel’s room. He looked back and saw that Julia hadn’t moved from her spot at the waiting area. He tipped his hat, pushed the door open, and stepped inside.
One wall reflected the morning sunshine that beamed through the window and bathed the room in a warm glow. Considering it was Jezebel in the hospital bed, connected to a cardiac monitor, a pulse oximeter, and various IV lines to keep her alive, the warmth felt wrong. Cold and dark would have been more fitting.
Jezebel’s arms and legs were bound to the bed with padded leather restraints. “At least they got that right,” Anson said to himself. He imagined handcuffs instead, secured uncomfortably tight. The thought sent a shiver down his back.
He couldn’t help wondering how she ended up the way she was. Jezebel’s mother Frankie, a narcissist through and through, would never win mother of the year but her daughter took the sociopathic cake. Anson made a mental note to find out more about sociopaths. If he understood what made Jezebel tick, perhaps he could gain an advantage and stop her once and for all.
Anson stood beside the bed and watched Jezebel breath, her chest rising and falling, gently, steadily. He glanced toward the door to the room. The corridor outside was quiet. Not many people visited their loved ones this early in the morning it seemed.
He stepped closer to the bed but made sure there was still ample distance between them. Even though she was restrained, the image of her Bowie knife at his throat still remained crystal clear in his mind. Anson suspected that part of his recent dream would never fade.
It would be so easy. The restraints are a bonus.
Anson imagined holding his hand over Jezebel’s nose and mouth. Popular film and TV had perpetuated the idea that suffocation was quick and painless. From his police training, Anson knew that it would take an average of seven minutes to end a life by suffocation. Nurses and doctors would respond to her monitoring equipment sooner than that. And death by suffocation was far from painless. Instead, victims experienced a demise that was both violent and terrifying. That aspect suited Jezebel perfectly.
But it would never happen, even if there was a hundred percent chance of getting away with it. In all Anson’s years as a sheriff, and as a highway patrol officer before that, he had never taken a life, either intentionally or by accident, nor had he fired his gun at anyone. That was one perk of living in a small town. Gun violence was extremely rare. Then came Jezebel to screw up the odds.
The only scenarios in which he could imagine drawing his weapon were ones of self defense or to protect a civilian. If Jezebel had Wynter at gunpoint, would he have the nerve to pull the trigger? Anson hoped so, but he also hoped it would never come to that. Irrefutable evidence was his weapon of choice.
“Your luck is running out, Jezebel Caine,” Anson said in a hushed voice. He turned and headed out of the room.
Jezebel’s eyelids cracked open. She turned her head on her pillow and squinted toward the door to her room. “Is it, Deputy Dolt?” She smirked and watched the door slowly swing closed.
Dr. Maguire and two nurses stood by Jezebel’s bed.
“I’m sorry, Miss Caine,” Maguire said. “It’s going to take at least a week to heal properly.”
Jezebel shook her head, working herself into a frenzy. “That’s bullshit. I got to get out of here now!”
“Look, you might think you’re immortal, but the human body has limits. You can’t speed up the healing process.”
“I am immortal!” Jezebel thrashed against her bed, tugging at the securely fastened restraints on her wrists and ankles. She glared at Dr. Maguire standing at the foot of her bed. “Roxy’s going to pay for this. She’s fucked up too many times.” She pointed at one of the two nurses standing at the side of her bed. “Get her on the phone. She’ll get me out of here.”
Dr. Maguire’s patience was wearing thin. “Miss Caine, we need you to calm down. You’ve just had—”
“Calm? I’ll show you calm!” Jezebel gritted her teeth and yelled at the top of her lungs, then flexed her arms like she was trying to arm curl a barbell that was too heavy. “Don’t tell me what to fucking do!”
Dr. Maguire tried again. “You’ve just had major surgery and if you—”
“Let me out of here, NOW! Wait!” Jezebel spotted Wynter and her red hair duck out of the partially opened door. “That’s her, for fuck’s sake! She did this! She did this to me! What are you waiting for? Get her!”
The second nurse looked at Dr. Maguire, unsure what to do.
“Go.” Dr. Maguire hooked her thumb toward the door. “What’s she going to do? Run after her?”
The second nurse hurried out the door after Wynter.
“That’s the first thing you’ve done right, you bitch.” Jezebel spat a thick gob of spit into Dr. Maguire’s face.
Without hesitation, the doctor moved to within an inch of Jezebel’s face, the spittle dripping off her cheek. “Listen here, bitch.”
The doctor placed her hand over Jezebel’s mouth and pushed her back against her pillow, cutting off Jezebel’s words instantly. “You’ve just had major surgery. If you keep acting stupid, you’re going to tear your sutures, which will lead to more surgery and more recovery time.”
Dr. Maguire glanced at the remaining nurse and made a quick nod. The nurse stepped away and busied herself at a side table. Jezebel jerked her head toward the nurse, but the doctor forced it back.
“No. Don’t look at her. Look at me. And listen. You need to shut up and cooperate.” Dr. Maguire matched Jezebel’s furious gaze with her own. “I can have you admitted to the psych ward so fast it’ll make your head spin. You think it’s hard to get out of here? Wait until you’re in there.” The doctor stared at her. “We clear?”
Jezebel nodded, then felt a cool tingle in her arm. She glanced left to see the second nurse inject the contents of a hypodermic needle into her IV line.
“Just a mild sedative, Miss Caine,” Dr. Maguire said. “To help you calm down. Are we good?”
Jezebel nodded. Dr. Maguire removed her hand and Jezebel made an uncoordinated attempt to bite it. The doctor grabbed a tissue and wiped the spittle away from her face.
The first nurse returned to the room as the second nurse and Dr. Maguire were leaving.
“I acted unprofessionally back there,” Dr. Maguire said. “I would appreciate it if you kept it under your hats.”
The second nurse nodded. “Under the circumstances, I think you were totally professional. Not sure I would have kept my cool.”
Dr. Maguire turned to the first nurse. “Did you find out anything with that other patient?”
“No,” the first nurse said. “Just a lookie-loo.”
Dr. Maguire pulled open the door, waited for the two nurses to exit, and followed them out. “I got to say, the more I get to know Miss Caine, the more I’m beginning to side with that sheriff from Newhaven.”
“Jacobs,” the first nurse said. “It was right there on his uniform. I’ve made a habit of remembering the hunky cops.”
As the nurses and Dr. Maguire headed down the hallway discussing the finer aspects of the Halston police force, Jezebel sunk into a dreamless sleep. But her last conscious thoughts were of Wynter and revenge.
A nurse arrived late-morning to take Wynter for her CT scan. Wynter had been willing to use the walker that an orderly had delivered earlier in the morning, but the nurse insisted on transporting her in a wheelchair.
“It’s important that you’re relaxed for the scan,” the nurse had said as she disconnected Wynter’s monitoring equipment. “Plus, it’s standard protocol.”
The CT scan itself was a non-event. Wynter laid back on a motorized table and set her head in a form-fitting pillow to reduce movement. The CT technician lined up Wynter’s head to the center of a donut-shaped machine he called “the gantry.”
“Hold your breath for me, please, Wynter,” the technician’s voice buzzed from an intercom within the gantry.
Wynter drew a breath and held it. Machinery within the scanner began to spin and click as the table moved laterally through the center of the machine. She wondered if the scan would affect her ability to summon. Or maybe it would give her superpowers.
The technician repeated the process two times, the table moving slower the second time. After a brief pause, the technician’s voice sounded from the intercom. “We’re all done.”
“That was fast,” Wynter said to herself. Dr. Cornell had said the scan would take fifteen minutes, but it actually took less than half that. A different nurse transported Wynter back to her room, a round trip of about half an hour, and just in time for lunch.
Wynter found herself ravenous. She wolfed down a dry burger, cold fries, and postage-sized piece of carrot cake, washing it down with lukewarm tea. In any other situation she would have tossed the entire meal, but she found she did not care. Her body wanted food.
She buzzed the nurse on call. “Can you please unhook me from all the machines? I’d like to visit my dad.”
The nurse gave her a confused look. Before she could ask the obvious question, Wynter added, “Oh, sorry. He’s a patient here too. Upstairs.”
The nurse removed the blood pressure cuff from Wynter’s arm and the pulse oximeter from her fingertip, coiled the leads, and hung them on the cardiac monitor stand.
“I guess I could’ve done that,” Wynter said. “Looks easy enough.”
“It’s better if we do it.” The nurse jotted a few notes onto Wynter’s chart. “Makes it official. You’re going to use the walker, right?”
Wynter glanced at the aluminum frame with handles and rubber feet and sighed. “My legs were pretty wobbly this morning, so yeah.”
“Good. If you’ve never used a walker before, they’re real easy.” The nurse gave a quick demonstration. “Push the walker forward a bit, then take a step, using the handles for balance. Then repeat. You try.”
Wynter repeated the sequence a few times and moved several feet towards her door. “This is going to take forever.”
“It’s not fast,” the nurse chuckled. “But I’m sure your dad’s worth the effort.”
Wynter smiled. “He is.” She shuffled along the floor toward the door. “They don’t call me Speedy Gonzales for nothing.”
The nurse laughed. “Don’t be too long, an hour at the most, and rest when you need to. Let us know when you’re back.”
Wynter set out down the corridor. Slide, step, step. Slide, step, step. In actuality, she moved faster than she thought she would, arriving at the elevators in ten minutes. She paused to catch her breath, then tapped the up call button.
The elevator doors slid open. She managed to shuffle inside and tap the button for the fifth floor before the doors closed.
Wynter took a moment to rest as the elevator ascended. Her mind wandered. Would she use a walker like this when she grew old? Would her dad’s burns force him to use one now? And if so, how long would he need it? Her worries grew darker as she approached the fifth floor.
Annoyed with herself, Wynter pushed her thoughts aside and focused on seeing her dad but the yelling that filtered through the elevator doors stole her attention.
“Dad?” Her voice echoed within the confines of the elevator before the doors opened to a profanity-laced tirade.
Wynter knew in an instant that it wasn’t Nolan yelling and she breathed a sigh of relief. She began to slide-step-step toward the nurses’ station at the end of the corridor. With every step, she could feel her legs regain a small portion of their original strength. But when every step took a few seconds, even a corridor like this one appeared daunting.
Wynter passed the source of the commotion, room 513. A familiar voice screeched from behind the door, “You’re fucking dead! All of you!”
Wynter felt the pit of her stomach drop.
There was no window to this room from the corridor and she realized that she was in no danger. Wynter shuffled to the door and pushed it open enough to see the medical staff attending to the patient.
Was it really Jezebel? Wynter had to know for sure. She pushed through the door a bit more. Jezebel had her arms and legs restrained to the bed. She raised her chest and extended her neck as far as it would go.
“Don’t tell me what to fucking do!” Jezebel pulled at the leather restraints. “Let me out of here, NOW!” She turned her head and caught a glimpse of Wynter at the doorway.
“Wait. That’s her, for fuck’s sake!” The tendons in Jezebel’s neck stood out in angry ropes. “She did this! She did this to me! What are you waiting for? Get her!”
Reveling in Jezebel’s fury, Wynter had moved away from the doorway too slowly. Her cover blown, she returned to her previous mission: slide-step-stepping to the nurses’ station.
Wynter had moved several feet down the corridor before a nurse stepped out of Jezebel’s room and approached her. The nurse stopped in front of the walker and placed her hand lightly on the top cross beam.
“Excuse me, miss,” the nurse began. “Do you know the girl back there, in room 513?”
“I, um...” Wynter panicked. She couldn’t tell the truth. A simple lie would be best. “No. I just peeked in there to see who was yelling. Sorry. I know it’s, like, none of my business.”
“She’s a handful alright.” The nurse looked her over. “Do you need help with something?”
“I’m just visiting my dad.”
“What’s his name?”
The nurse smiled. “Ah yes, Nolan. He’s a wonderful man. All the nurses love him. Unlike...” She motioned back at Jezebel’s room. “He’s in room 523. Second to the last room on your left.”
“Thanks.” Wynter resumed her two-step boogie down the corridor, keeping her eyes forward. Her legs felt stronger even after such a short time, but she was glad to have the walker for support. Thanks to the nurse, and ironically to Jezebel, she wouldn’t need to walk all the way to the nurses’ station.
Wynter arrived at room 523, took a deep breath, and used the walker and her body to push through the door. “Hey Dad. Long time no see.”
Saturday’s edition of the Newhaven Register obscured Nolan’s face. At the sound of Wynter’s voice, he flipped a corner of the paper down. His eyes lit up and a wide smile filled his face as he dropped the paper on his lap.
“Wynter! This is an unexpected surprise.” He spoke a little louder than a whisper.
“Is this a bad time? I can come back—”
“Are you nuts?” Nolan laughed hoarsely. “Get your butt over here right now and give me a hug.”
“Give me a few minutes.” Wynter slid her walker toward the side of the bed, one step at a time. “My legs aren’t operating at a hundred percent yet.”
“That makes two of us.” Nolan shifted his body toward Wynter, held out his arms, and pulled her into a tight embrace, nearly toppling the walker in front of her. “God, Wynter. I was so worried about you.” He released her and studied her face. “Are you okay?”
Wynter sat in the chair next to the bed. “I’m fine, Dad. Well, except for the legs, but I’m getting my strength back pretty quick. I might be out of here by tomorrow.”
“It’s going to take me a while longer, but I heal fast.” Nolan thumped his chest twice with his fist.
“I hope so.” Wynter flipped up a corner of the newspaper. “The Register, huh?”
Nolan chuckled softly. “I’ve made a few friends in here.”
“The nurses on this floor love you, apparently.”
“Don’t tell your mom.” Nolan winked at her and flashed a wide, warm grin.
Wynter took his left hand in both of hers like she was praying to a rosary. “It’s so good to see you. I mean, like when you made me a dreamwaker, that was good, but seeing you for real? That’s totally awesome.”
“I agree,” Nolan whispered. “Most excellent.”
Wynter smirked at him.
“What? Did I get that wrong?”
“No,” Wynter said. “It just sounds weird when you say it.”
“I guess I need practice.” Nolan refolded the newspaper and set it aside. “Anson was here last night. Asking about you. Second time he’s done that.”
Wynter shifted in her chair. “Did you tell him that you summoned me yesterday?”
“No, but I think he knows, or at least suspects something.”
“You know Anson,” Wynter said. “He won’t believe something unless he, like, sees it with his own eyes. Sometimes even that’s not enough.”
“He’s stubborn,” Nolan said. “Just like someone else I know.” He smiled at her.
Wynter fell quiet for a moment. “Dad, we’re going to get Jezebel, once and for all.”
Nolan’s eyes widened. “No. Bad idea. That girl is too dangerous.”
“We have to. I have to. She’s got a part of me I need back. And she’s hurt too many people close to me.”
Nolan pursed his lips and sighed. “I’m guessing I won’t be able to convince you otherwise.”
Wynter faced him, her eyes set and determined, and shook her head.
“Is there anything I can do to help you and your friends be safe?”
“There might be,” Wynter said. “You summoned me, made me a dreamwaker. How did you do that? I thought I was the only one.”
A cup of water sat on the rolling table next to Nolan’s bed. He took a sip. “I did for a while, too. But I could summon people when I was your age. But not whenever I wanted, like you can.”
“But you chose to summon me yesterday.”
“Yes, but I guess the passage of time and everything else that’s happened allowed me to do it.” Nolan looked at her and whispered, “I don’t think I could do it again. At least not for a while.”
“I’ve got this power to summon whenever I want to,” Wynter said. “We were hoping that since you’re my dad, you’d like have that power too, maybe even superpowers, so that you could summon a super assassin or something.”
Nolan reclined against his pillow and crossed his arms. “You’d want me to bring out someone to kill Jezebel?”
Wynter nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Hmm.” Nolan thought for a moment. “Even though it wouldn’t be me doing the killing, it just wouldn’t feel right. In the end I’d be responsible.”
“But your assassin wouldn’t leave a trace. Once Jezebel was gone, they could drift away.”
“Yes, and leave us with the memory of what we’d done,” Nolan said. “We’re not psychopaths like Jezebel. If we kill, that memory could haunt us for the rest of our lives. It could end up destroying us.” He placed a hand on Wynter’s shoulder. “You should let Anson take care of Jezebel.”
“But Dad, he won’t listen without evidence.”
“Keep trying. You’re stubborn too, remember?”
“We have been trying.” Wynter laid her head against her arms on the bed and looked up at her father. “And Jezebel keeps winning.”
“I know you’ll figure it out,” Nolan said. “And I’ll help in any way I can, except for summoning super assassins.”
“You know, you never answered my question.”
Nolan looked at her, confused.
“Can you summon a super assassin?”
Nolan smiled wistfully. “No. Your great grandmother had the true power of summoning, then it skipped a couple of generations. You’re it now, kid.”
“Great,” Wynter said. “So it’s not possible for someone else to have the true power? Like some of my friends can summon, and unfortunately so can Jezebel.”
“Your great grandchild may be blessed with the power.”
“Possibly,” Nolan said. “But the power isn’t transferable in its entirety. Your friends can only summon people they have a strong connection with. While you were able to summon Ransom, a person completely unique.” He tapped his temple. “Created with your own imagination... although he does look a lot like—”
“Dad...” Wynter’s cheeks flushed despite her attempt to prevent it. “Is it that obvious?”
“If I’ve noticed the similarity between Cash and Ransom, then surely others have too.”
“I guess.” Wynter clasped her hands in her lap. Thoughts of Cash and Ransom competed for attention in her mind. If she had to choose, could she? The fact remained that she needed Ransom back to become whole again. “Dad? Where are we going to live now?”
“Mom’s got a motel room in Halston.”
“But that’s temporary. I don’t want to live in a motel. Or in Halston.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll rebuild.” Nolan spoke calmly, just above a whisper and it reassured her. “That’s what insurance is for.”
Wynter bit her lower lip, then said, “Maybe I’ll stay at Cash’s place.”
Nolan regarded her with surprise. “You? And Cash? Under the same roof? What do you think your mom would say about that?”
“Absolutely not!” Wynter said in her best Madeline impression. “But I think I could change her mind.”
“You think so?” Nolan laughed. “You’re welcome to try.”
“What do you think of the idea?”
Nolan opened his mouth to speak then, paused to reconsider his words. “I’m not crazy about the idea, but I trust you and Cash to do the right thing.”
Nolan yawned and stretched. Wynter took that as a cue and stood up. Her legs felt slightly steadier under her than they had before.
“Looks like we’re both tired.” She leaned in and gave Nolan a hug, her red hair spilling around his face. “I’m going to go back to my room. I had a CT scan of my head and I don’t want to miss the results.”
“A CT scan? Nothing bad I hope.”
“The doctor said it was, like, the last check before I get out of here,” Wynter said.
“Okay. You better scoot, then.” Nolan pecked her on the cheek. “I think I’m due for a dressing change. You most definitely don’t want to be here for that.” He took another sip of water.
Wynter slid her walker toward the door, turned and waved. “Bye Dad. Say hi to Mom for me. And if staying with Cash comes up...”
Nolan nodded. “I’ll put in a good word.”
Wynter pulled the door open and shuffled through into the corridor. She briefly contemplated exploring the fifth floor to avoid Jezebel’s room, but after hearing no profanity echoing off the walls, she reconsidered. What could Jezebel do anyway? Restraints kept her tied to her bed. The direct path was the best.
Wynter slide-step-stepped back toward the elevators. She gave Jezebel’s door a wide berth and arrived at the elevators faster than she expected.
Once in the elevator, she thought about her dad. The visit had felt bittersweet. Seeing him had been the best part. But Wynter did not look forward to having to tell Quinn and Jake that their plan for Nolan summoning a super assassin was a bust.
Stepping into the elevator to go down, Wynter lifted the walker for a few steps.
Getting stronger, most definitely.
But it would take more than strength to get Ransom back out of Jezebel’s head. Wynter needed a back-up plan to share with Quinn and Jake. As she stepped from the elevator to her fourth floor home away from home, she began to brainstorm.
The Killing Moon
Jezebel opened her eyes to a familiar fabric pattern above her. The stitching reminded her of the repeating diamond shapes on a storm drain cover. The gray fabric had discolored at the seams where dirt had collected over the years, unavoidable considering that the Barracuda was just as old as she was.
She reached up and ran her fingertips over the plush surface, at once reminded of velour, the cardinal sin of clothing fabric. Her fingers left a visible mark depending on the direction she moved them. A little farther away she spotted two partial hand marks from a memorable night of sex with a high school senior last summer. She had briefly tried to scrub the prints away, but they had become permanent after drying. Maybe it was the sweat or the lube. Instead, she left the stains as they were, wearing them like a badge of honor.
Jezebel sat up and oriented herself. The back seat of the Barracuda seemed bigger and more comfortable than she remembered it being. She climbed over the center console, slid into the bucket seat, and gripped the steering wheel.
Jezebel seemed to melt. “I’ve missed you, baby.”
Through the front windshield, the headlights revealed a vast expanse of highway that faded into darkness. There was no traffic and no identifying landmarks or signs.
“Where the fuck am I?”
The passenger door opened and Ransom hopped in. “Where do you want to be?”
“Not sitting next to your sorry ass.” A switchblade materialized in Jezebel’s hand and she engaged the blade. She thrust the knife’s point at Ransom.
“Should’ve thought of a gun instead.”
Jezebel reconsidered her attack when she saw the pistol in Ransom’s hand. He pulled the slide and rocked the hammer back.
“Shoot me then, you prick,” Jezebel hissed. “It’s just a dream anyway.”
Ransom shook his head slowly. “No. I want out of your head.”
“Too bad.” Jezebel jammed the knife blade into the ignition and cranked it. The engine turned over with a growl and settled into a low rumble. She slammed her foot on the gas and the Barracuda responded like a whipped horse. “Not going to happen, fuckhead.”
The dashed median on the asphalt shooting by underneath the vehicle was the only sign that the car was moving.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m just driving,” Jezebel said. “Feels good. Now shut the fuck up.”
Ransom turned on the radio and laughed. “Road To Nowhere” by Talking Heads echoed through the car’s interior. “Classic,” he said.
“Shut it off.”
“And if I won’t?”
Jezebel glanced at the pistol in Ransom’s hand and remained silent. An idea had been percolating in the back of her mind and in order to test it, the dream had to continue.
“You can’t just keep driving forever,” Ransom said.
“Really? Watch me.”
The road flew past like they were in a game of Atari Night Driver. Jezebel concentrated on the road ahead. This was her dream, and with the exception of Ransom, she could control it.
A speck appeared on the road ahead. Jezebel smiled wildly. It was working. She floored the gas pedal, the speedometer pushing past a hundred miles per hour.
The speck changed and stretched as it got closer to the car, slowly taking shape.
Ransom squinted ahead. “What is that?”
“You’ll see.” Jezebel gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, watching the object get closer, transforming into the image in her mind.
Two hundred feet away, Jezebel jammed her foot on the brake. The Barracuda shuddered under the strain as it shot past a white blob that looked more human with every second that passed. She yanked left on the steering wheel and sent the car into a slide, turning it one-hundred eighty degrees.
Ahead, in the headlights, stood a figure. Jezebel rolled the car closer and smiled with satisfaction.
Ransom stared straight ahead, eyes wide. “What the hell. That’s... that’s you!”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Jezebel jumped out of the car and ran to the front bumper. In front of her stood an identical version of herself, head to toe. Same hair style, same outfit and shoes.
“Show-off,” the Jezebel clone said.
“It ain’t bragging if you can pull it off.” Jezebel grabbed the shirt of her clone and yanked her toward her, kissing her hard.
The clone pushed her back. “What’s your fucking problem?”
“Just testing you out. Making sure you got it.”
“Of course I got it.” The clone pushed her back again. “I’m you.”
“And you’re going to need a name. I’ll call you Jezebel Too.” Jezebel looked her over again. “You need a hoodie.”
“You mean this?” Jezebel Too reached over her shoulders and pulled a black hood out of thin air. The rest of her shirt took the form of a matching hoodie.
Ransom hung his head out the passenger window. “Nice work, Jazz. You can finally go fuck yourself.”
Jezebel ignored the barb. “You’re going to be my dreamwaker now. You ready?”
Jezebel Too returned a familiar grin. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
Jezebel whispered something in her ear, then turned to Ransom. “Hope you like the darkness, fuck face.” She grabbed Jezebel Too by her hoodie, threw her onto the hood of the Barracuda, and vanished.
Jezebel woke in her hospital bed surrounded by the shadows of early morning. Jezebel Too careened over the side of her bed and hit the floor with a thump, banging her head on the tile. Her leg struck a metal garbage can and sent it and its contents flying. The receptacle hit the wall and rolled on its side, creating a loud clatter.
“Fuck! Hide!” Jezebel whispered loudly.
Jezebel Too rubbed her head, still dazed from her impact. “What?”
“Hide! These bitches can hear a pin drop.”
The sound of hurried footsteps echoed down the corridor toward Jezebel’s room.
“What are you fucking waiting for! Quick! Or we’re both in deep shit.”
Jezebel Too stood uneasily on her feet and looked around the room. “Hide where?”
“Fuck if I know...” Jezebel’s eyes darted left and right, looking for a good spot, any spot. As the footsteps drew closer, she settled on the window and pointed. “Behind the curtains! Go!”
Jezebel Too ran to the corner of the room and stepped behind the thick woven curtains. She tried her best to settle the movement of the fabric.
“Stop moving!” Jezebel said in a forced whisper. “And shut up.”
As the curtains settled in front of Jezebel Too, the shadow of feet paused just outside the door to her room.
The nurse pushed the door open, washing the room in light. Jezebel cast a casual glance at the curtains beside the window and realized a glaring error in her plan. The curtains were too short. Jezebel Too’s legs and shoes were in full view. She refocused her eyes at the end of the bed.
The nurse scanned the room. “Do you need help with something, Miss Caine?” She picked up Jezebel’s chart and noted the cardiac monitor’s data.
“Do I look like I need help?” Jezebel scowled and shook her head.
“I heard a noise.” The nurse resumed her examination, her eyes settling on the toppled garbage can and its refuse near the bed. She glanced at Jezebel’s restraints, then stepped closer to the bed, righting the can.
The nurse gave Jezebel a distrustful look and rechecked the restraints one by one. “How’d that garbage can get knocked over?” She squatted to her knees and began collecting the spilled garbage and returning it to the can.
Jezebel raised her arms against the restraints. “How the hell do I know? Maybe this dump has rats.”
“It doesn’t get knocked over on its own,” the nurse said as she worked.
“What was your first clue, genius?” She flexed her legs and tugged at her restraints again. “I can’t wipe my own fucking ass. How could I knock that over?” Jezebel spotted motion in the corner where Jezebel Too had hidden, but now Jezebel Too was in full view, moving silently across the room.
The nurse moved the garbage can back into place and stood. She could find no explanation that placed the blame on Jezebel. “While I’m here, do you need anything? The bedpan?”
Jezebel Too had crept past the nurse, then stopped and turned. Slow careful steps brought her within striking distance. She was practically breathing down the nurse’s neck.
Jezebel tried to hide her anger and angst at having her plans not followed to the letter. Her only choice was to roll with Jezebel Too’s poor judgment. “There was one thing...”
The nurse placed one hand on her hip, preparing for a flippant answer. “Yes?”
Jezebel Too attacked the nurse from behind and put her into a sleeper hold. The nurse’s fingers scrabbled for purchase, but Jezebel Too’s grip was fast and tight. The nurse’s legs thrashed chaotically, and her eyes bugged out as she struggled.
Thirteen seconds later the nurse slumped into unconsciousness but Jezebel Too continued her grip.
“What are you, stupid?” Jezebel strained to keep from yelling. “Why’d you do that?”
“For fun and excitement. What else?”
“Let her go you dumb bitch,” Jezebel said. “We don’t want to kill her.”
“Why not?” Jezebel Too stared back at Jezebel and increased the pressure on the nurse’s carotid arteries. “She was annoying.”
“What are you, crazy?”
“Crazy. Like you.” Jezebel Too smiled at Jezebel and for the first time, Jezebel felt her own psychopathic energy thrown back at her.
“You have a job to do,” Jezebel said. “Let her go and do it.”
Jezebel Too released the nurse and let her collapse to the floor. She flipped her hoodie over her head and bolted from the room.
From her restrained spot on the hospital bed, Jezebel could only see the nurse’s unmoving legs, white hosiery, and her white Oxford shoes.
“Come on, come on...,” Jezebel whispered. “Wake up.”
She counted in her head. By the time she reached ten, Jezebel began to panic. It was an unfamiliar feeling, one that she was not prepared for. How would she explain a dead nurse in her room? Her internal count reached fifteen, then twenty. What was she going to do?
“Wake the fuck up,” Jezebel hissed under her breath.
Then the nurse’s foot moved, then her leg. A hand reached up to the rail on the bed and the nurse pulled herself up.
“What happened?” the nurse asked, rubbing her neck.
“Weirdest fucking thing,” Jezebel said. “You just dropped to the floor, and less than a minute later, you woke up.”
“No.” The nurse scanned the room with wild eyes. “Someone choked me from behind.”
Jezebel shrugged and tried her best sweet and innocent look, hoping it would pass. “I didn’t see anyone. I swear.”
The nurse squinted at her with distrust. “I know what I remember.” She turned and walked out of the room.
“Wait,” Jezebel said. “You asked me if I needed anything. Remember?”
The nurse stopped and turned. “What can I help you with, Miss Caine?”
“Can you set up the television? I can’t sleep.” Jezebel smiled as sweetly as she could manage. “Please?”
The nurse sighed. “You’re going to have to use headphones.” She rolled the TV/VCR combo unit out from the corner of the room, plugged in the headphones, and set them on Jezebel’s head. She turned on the TV and placed the remote control in Jezebel’s right hand. “If I hear a peep, the TV’s gone.”
The nurse stood waiting. It took Jezebel a moment to clue in. “Thanks?”
“I should hope so.” The nurse turned and headed for the door, smoothing down her skirt as she went. “Don’t drop the remote,” she said as she slipped into the corridor.
Jezebel watched her door swing close, returning the room to the pre-dawn darkness she had awakened to, but now illuminated with a flickering television glow.
She flipped through the TV’s channels, most of them static or test patterns, until she found the only channel with a picture. Jezebel groaned when she realized it was a rerun of The Waltons. Anything would have been better. Her favorite show was Miami Vice, but it never aired in the wee hours. She wanted to close her eyes and dream of a threesome with Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, but had to stop herself. She couldn’t sleep. Her dreamwaker needed time to do her job.
Accepting this temporary fate, she sighed and settled into the episode. Soon she discovered a smile had formed on her lips. Despite a few bumps, everything was rolling along just the way she wanted them to. Ransom was still trapped in her head and Jezebel Too had taken on a mission that she couldn’t do herself.
Even with restraints, Jezebel was in control. She was the boss and she planned on keeping it that way. After The Waltons finished, an episode of Little House on the Prairie began. She cycled through the channels again and ended back where she started.
Jezebel strained to focus on the TV show. It had been just over an hour since Jezebel Too had left, barely enough time to complete her mission. She fought to stay awake, but the pull of sleep was stronger. Mixed with the boring antics of the Ingalls family on the TV in front of her, the outcome was inescapable.
Her eyes slipped closed. Jezebel ended up dreaming of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas after all.
Jezebel Too stepped out of the hospital and into the cool night air. She pulled her hoodie tighter around her head and strolled to the parking lot. At quarter past four in the morning the lot was full of vacant spaces. Spotting the Barracuda was easy.
She reached under the rear bumper and located a small metal box on the left side of the gas tank, held in place by strong magnets. Jezebel Too pried the box off and slid the top open. Inside was the Barracuda’s spare key.
She grinned. “There you are.” Jezebel Too replaced the empty box, unlocked the door, and slid into the driver’s seat. She placed both hands on the wheel and pictured the road flying past underneath the car. “Time to make it real.”
She turned the key and the muscle car rumbled to life around her. The smell of oil, gasoline, and exhaust mixed with the early morning air was intoxicating. She drove the car out of her parking space and headed toward the lot’s exit.
Jezebel Too merged onto Interstate 94 heading west. The highway opened up in front of her, no traffic ahead or behind, just like in the dream. But she had to remind herself that this was real as she roared past a speed limit sign.
“Fuck fifty-five,” Jezebel Too stamped on the gas and the Barracuda lurched forward.
Three-quarters of an hour later, she exited onto Main Street and followed it through the center of Newhaven. Lit signs and shuttered businesses greeted her as she cruised the familiar streets for the first time. She turned left onto Mortimer Avenue, rolled past Jake’s house, and pulled into Roxy’s driveway.
She really wanted to lay into the Barracuda’s horn but that would have drawn too much attention. Plus, it wasn’t part of the plan.
Jezebel Too killed the car’s engine, stepped out, and looked up at Roxy’s house. Compared to what Jezebel had lived in all her life, it was a palace. “Fucking richy bitch.”
She followed the walkway around the side of the house to the back door. “Breaking and entering is so much easier...” She lifted a small adobe pot to the left of the stoop and a brass key sat there, shimmering in the moonlight. “When you know where the key is.” She unlocked the door, shoved the key in her pocket, and stepped inside.
Hints of sunrise mixed with the street lights seeped through Roxy’s bedroom window on the second floor of the house. Even in the low light, it was clear that Roxy had everything a teenaged girl could ever ask for.
Next to her bed sat a white, ornate dresser with brass handles. A lamp with an orange and white striped shade sat on the top of the dresser with various necklaces and pendants hanging off it. A pink pushbutton phone and a digital clock radio nestled beside the lamp. The clock read eight minutes after five.
Opposite her bed stood a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with books, mainly mixed genre paperbacks written by every author one could imagine. Her desk sat close enough to the bookcase to look like they were one connected piece of furniture.
Roxy’s stuffed animal shrine filled the small vertical space between her desk and her closet, with some of her more important stuffies laying claim to the back corner of her desk’s work surface. Her mother never wasted an opportunity to tell her that she was too old for stuffed animals. Roxy ignored her.
The rest of her wall space was filled with a varied selection of rock and roll posters, including a-ha, Duran Duran, Kiss, Depeche Mode, Van Halen, The Sex Pistols, and Ozzie Osbourne. A particular favorite was a black and white portrait of James Dean in the rain. The coveted spot on the ceiling above her bed featured a poster of a shirtless and sweaty David Lee Roth.
Between the foot of her bed and the wall sat a small color TV with a cable box on top.
She’s got everything, alright.
Jezebel Too stood at the foot of Roxy’s bed, watching her sleep. She wanted to get rid of her and take over her life. But that wasn’t part of the plan. Nothing she wanted to do was ever part of the plan. She felt anger rise to the front of her mind.
“Getting rid of you might not be part of the plan,” she whispered to herself, “but having fun sure is.”
Jezebel Too grabbed two fistfuls of covers at the foot of the bed and yanked them back, exposing Roxy in a Hello Kitty T-shirt and panties to the cool air of the room.
She leaped onto the bed, straddled Roxy, and grabbed her shirt collar. “Wake up. Time to die.” Jezebel Too hissed.
“What?” Roxy squirmed to get away, then stopped, groggy and confused. “Jazz?” She rubbed her eyes. “What the fuck? What are you doing? Get off me.”
Jezebel Too considered her request, then moved her hands up. She wrapped them around Roxy’s neck in a tight choke hold, a move far more painful than the sleeper hold she had used on the nurse back in Halston. Roxy’s face turned deep red as she fought for air. She reached to her left, found the cord to the bedside lamp, and pulled, knocking it to the floor.
With nowhere to go and her strength leaving her, Roxy settled her panicked and tear-laden eyes on Jezebel Too’s.
Jezebel Too leaned in until she was nose to nose with Roxy. “You fuck up again, and I’ll kill you.” She released Roxy’s neck and rocked back until she was sitting on Roxy’s pelvis.
Roxy fell back onto her pillow, panting, sweat soaking into her T-shirt and sticking it to her body. It took a moment for her breathing to return to a semi-normal state. “I didn’t fuck up. That was the plan. If things went to shit, I was supposed to split. You told me that.”
“And you’re the one who...” Roxy listened for sounds of her parents waking. She continued, whispering, “You’re the one who pulled the fucking trigger. Now, let me up.”
What Roxy said had been true. Jezebel had told her those things. Jezebel Too raised her hips and let Roxy shift herself into a reclined position at the head of her bed.
Roxy rubbed her throat. Red and purple hand marks had already begun to surface on her neck. “Why did you choke me?”
Jezebel Too stared at Roxy past the point of comfort. “I’m getting used to being real.”
“What?” Roxy squinted at Jezebel Too as if to make sure that her eyes weren’t deceiving her. “What are you talking about? You’re real. Most definitely real... How did you get out of the hospital so fast?”
“I didn’t. I’m a dreamwaker, idiot,” Jezebel Too said. “Jezebel pulled me out of her dream. She calls me Jezebel Too. My job was to fuck you up. So here I am.”
Roxy eyed her dubiously.
“Don’t believe me? Turn on the light.”
Roxy reached over the edge of the bed and rescued the lamp. Setting it back on top of her dresser, she turned it on. Warm, orange light flooded the room.
“Ransom stabbed me, remember? Right about... here.” Jezebel Too moved her left hand to the right side of her abdomen and pointed. “It was deep. Remember the blood? Before you ran like a chickenshit?”
“Was just doing what you told me to do,” Roxy said.
“Shut up.” Jezebel Too grabbed the bottom hem of her hoodie and raised it up high enough to expose the bottom swells of her breasts, far higher than she needed to. “Jezebel got out of surgery about three hours ago. Do you see stitches? Or a scar?”
Roxy’s eyes widened. There was no scar.
“Go ahead. Touch my skin if you want.”
“That’s okay,” Roxy said. “I can see what you’re talking about.”
“Can you?” Jezebel Too pulled her hoodie over her head and tossed it aside. “Jezebel made me in her image, but perfect in every way.” She ran her hands up her abdomen, between and over her breasts, and down to her hips.
Roxy found it hard not to stare. There were no freckles or moles or imperfections of any kind. Jezebel Too’s skin was perfect. Too perfect.
Jezebel Too let her eyes roam across Roxy’s moistened T-shirt, following the hills and valleys of fabric over her breasts, lingering on her panties, before meeting Roxy’s eyes again. There was undeniable heat between them, but Roxy wanted none of it.
Jezebel Too gripped the bottom of Roxy’s T-shirt and ripped it up the middle, separating Hello Kitty into two pieces and exposing Roxy’s bare chest.
“What the hell, Jazz!”
Roxy covered her breasts and scooted backward awkwardly on her elbows to examine the damage to her T-shirt. Jezebel Too countered and grabbed her hips, pulling her back, almost taking off her panties in the process. She placed her full weight on Roxy’s hips.
“What are you doing?” Roxy hooked her hands onto the top of her headboard and struggled to break free. “Let me go!”
Jezebel Too grabbed Roxy’s wrists and pressed them into her pillow next to her head. She leaned over her, close enough to feel the heat of Roxy’s body on her nipples, and kissed her hard. “I want you to make me cum,” she hissed into Roxy’s ear. “Right now. I know you want to.”
Roxy ceased her struggle and matched Jezebel Too’s gaze. “After you nearly choked me to death? Fuck you.” She bucked her way out from under Jezebel Too, pushed herself off the bed, and scrambled in a frenzied backward crab-walk across the floor to the bookcase. It was a bad move and left her trapped.
Jezebel Too ran around the bed. “Come on, Rox. Let’s have some FUN!” She kneeled, grabbed Roxy’s ankles, and pulled her back toward her.
Roxy managed to wrap a hand around a baton balanced next to her desk and swung it around, connecting with the side of Jezebel Too’s head.
Jezebel Too let go of Roxy’s ankles and slumped to one side, stunned. She refocused on Roxy, her eyes narrowing. “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance.” She lunged for Roxy, her fingers splayed like talons.
Roxy used the baton to block Jezebel Too’s attack. But before she could inflict any damage, Jezebel Too vanished in a flash of bright blue energized ozone. The key to the back door plus the keys to the Barracuda rattled to the floor.
Roxy waited to make sure that Jezebel Too was really gone. She also listened in vain for parental footsteps which she knew would never come.
She crawled to her dresser, pulled out another T-shirt. She removed the tattered Hello Kitty T-shirt and tugged the fresh one over her head.
Roxy pulled herself to her feet, faced the window, and used the torn Hello Kitty shirt to wipe her tears. She could see the Barracuda parked in the driveway below, the hedges that lined the north side of her yard, and the road beyond. Dawn was breaking over Newhaven.
Across the street, she thought she sensed movement, but didn’t care enough to pursue it. One thing Roxy was sure of: She had had enough of Jezebel’s shit.
Jake lay staring at his ceiling trying to distract himself, constructing images out of the random patterns in the stippled texture. His left leg had developed an itch within his cast that he couldn’t reach, and it was driving him crazy. He had tried a pencil, a ruler, and even an unbent coat hanger but nothing worked.
He was crippled, hot, itchy, and aggravated. And he could look forward to another six weeks of this torture.
All because of Jezebel.
Anger seeped to the front of his mind, and he began to think of ways he could enact revenge. Jake’s ideas flowed. He could poison her, cut her precious Barracuda’s brake lines, give her tainted drugs, blow up her gas tank. He knew the expanding list, inspired by Hollywood blockbusters, was over the top and required toning down. Besides he couldn’t intentionally kill Jezebel, even if that’s what his dark desire wanted. Still, it was fun to think up ways to get rid of her.
Just as he sat to grab a pad of paper, Jake heard the low rumbling outside the house. He felt it in his chest before he heard it and recognized it instantly. He hopped to the dormer window just in time to see the black Barracuda pass his house and turn into Roxy’s driveway. The engine cut out and he heard a car door open and close.
Jake had found his distraction. He grabbed his camcorder and slung it off one shoulder, grabbed his crutches, and hustled to the stairs. He had been on crutches for only ten days and he had become fast and proficient with them. But the stairs were a hurdle he had not yet conquered.
“Got to become a stair master.” He chuckled quietly to his joke.
Navigating the stairs in the dark was an added danger. He sat and slid down the steps one at a time, carrying his crutches with him like he was the new kid at the playground. He paused at the front door and listened for sounds of his parents.
Nothing. The coast was clear.
Jake turned on his camcorder and pressed record, then eased the front door open. He hopped down the front walk, his bare foot gripping the concrete, and turned west, following the sidewalk until he was facing Roxy’s house from the opposite side of the street. He set his crutches down and eased himself into a neighboring hedge for support.
“This is Jake Peterson reporting for Action Five News. I’m standing outside Roxy’s house where suspicious activity has been reported.” He aimed the camcorder at the back of the Barracuda and zoomed in. The streetlight offered just enough light to read the license plate.
“Bingo.” He zoomed out, framed the car and house in the viewfinder, and waited.
Who drove the Barracuda here? And why?
Unanswered questions swirled in his head. When the recording timecode passed five minutes, he felt his impatience build. Birds had begun their early morning wake-up songs.
“Come on, come on,” Jake said to himself. “Don’t leave me hang—”
A light appeared in the left-most top floor window. Jake zoomed in and filled the viewfinder’s frame. From his vantage point, he could see the tops of posters on the back wall of the room.
“Depeche Mode and... Ozzie Osbourne?” Jake laughed to himself. “What a combo.”
A figure moved past the lower corner of the window and disappeared. Jake held the camera steady. “We’ve got movement folks,” he whispered.
Superimposed on the viewfinder’s screen, the low battery indicator began to flash. “Shit, no. Don’t cut out on me now.” Jake kept the window in frame and ignored the warning.
A figure ran from right to left and disappeared below the window sill. Jake glued his eye to the viewfinder. In that moment, all his aspirations of starting a video game company vanished, replaced with a life as a private investigator.
The room flashed brilliant blue for a second, then returned to normal.
“What the hell was that?” Jake braced the camcorder with both hands in case it happened again. Instead, a figure stood up and faced the window. “Roxy?”
The figure raised something to their face (a towel?) and wiped, before reaching left to the light. They paused, then turned off the light. The room became a dark square, void of detail.
“There you have it, folks,” Jake whispered. “Mysterious shit is happening in Newhaven. This is Jake Peterson, signing—”
The camcorder clicked off. All at once Jake felt exposed. Whoever was in that room could see him, but he couldn’t see them. His advantage had been flipped. He waited a moment but realized it was only getting lighter as time passed.
“Fuck it.” He crouched to pick up his crutches and hustled back to his house. Butt-scooting back up the stairs, he stowed his camcorder on his desk and rolled into bed.
But Jake could not sleep. His brain buzzed with what he had just seen and recorded on video. The pre-dawn surveillance mission had succeeded with another pleasing side effect: the itch inside his cast was gone.
Who had driven the Barracuda?
He sat up, dressed himself, and powered up what he liked to call his “custom designed video editing suite.” In actuality, this was just two VCR machines hooked up to each other. Jake could do crude editing, but he used the machines mainly for making copies.
He plugged the camcorder’s battery to charge, removed the small VHS-C cassette, and popped it into an adapter. He played the tape back several times, watching the blue flash of light in slow motion.
He began making dubs of his early morning work, one tape for himself, one for Anson. He kept the master in a safe concealed in his closet behind a false wall. Not even his parents knew of his secret stash.
Jake paused the playback and advanced the recording one frame at a time. The blue flare in Roxy’s bedroom lasted only a few frames. It reminded him of...
Wynter vanishing at the Starlite!
So much had happened over the weekend, he had forgotten about Wynter’s disappearing act at the Starlite on Saturday. He ejected the master tape and inserted his dub of his covert garbage can video that he had recorded just over a day ago. Jake pressed play and fast-forwarded to the moment just after Jezebel shot Wynter.
He discovered to his horror that falling debris from the ceiling had jostled the garbage can concealing his camcorder. Most of the shot had been obscured, leaving only Jezebel visible in the top corner of the screen.
Jezebel crouched and reached forward with her pistol. A blue burst of energy that lasted no more than a split second flooded the unblocked areas of the screen, just like what he had seen through Roxy’s bedroom window.
Jake sat back in his chair, conflicted. The Starlite sting operation had failed spectacularly. Yet, with his recent surveillance mission, he had uncovered a detail no one had considered. A satisfied grin spread across his face.
“Whoever drove the Barracuda was a dreamwaker.” His voice sounded stark within the confines of his room.
The obvious answer was Ransom, but could there be something he was missing? Jake intended to find out.
Wynter woke at six-thirty feeling refreshed. She swung her legs off the bed and tested her muscles. They felt stronger. She grabbed the walker just in case but raised it above the floor. With quick, tentative steps, she moved across the room to the one exterior window. She winced at the brightness of the morning sun, already well beyond the horizon.
A portly food service worker knocked on the door and rolled in a cart. “Good morning. Breakfast is served.” On a tray sat a bowl of oatmeal, two pieces of dry toast, a smattering of scrambled eggs and a small cup of orange juice. “I know it’s not much, but it’s a damn sight better than the IV ‘meal’ the doctors had you on, not that you’d remember that.” He air-quoted the word “meal,” then transferred the tray to Wynter’s rolling bedside table.
“You better taste it before you thank me,” the service worker said, chuckling as he left.
Wynter set her walker aside and hopped onto the bed. Then it dawned on her that she had walked from the bed to the window and back under her own power. She smiled to herself and shoveled in a mouthful of oatmeal.
Even with a plate cover, the time it took from kitchen to bedside was enough to congeal the oatmeal into a puck that needed a knife and fork rather than a spoon.
“I could teach their cooks a thing or two,” Wynter said to herself quietly.
“I bet you could.” Madeline stood at the door watching her.
“Mom!” Wynter pushed the rolling table out of the way, ambled over to her mom, and gave her a tight hug.
“That’s what I needed.” Madeline held Wynter in her arms, then ran her hands over her hair. “And without the walker, too. I’m impressed.”
Wynter looked back at the walker beside her bed, surprised. “I completely forgot to use it.”
Wynter turned her nose up. “It’s something to chew.”
“Maybe this will help.” Madeline pulled a Burger King bag from her purse and handed it to her.
Wynter tore into it and extracted a bacon and egg Croissan’wich. “Oh God, Mom, thank you.” She sat on the edge of her bed and took a bite. Her body relaxed as she chewed. “So good. And it’s still warm.” she said, muffled through her mouthful.
“So, I was talking to your dad yesterday.” Madeline took a seat next to the bed. “He was saying that you’d like to stay with Cash when you get out of here.”
“Wait.” Wynter waved her hands while she swallowed her mouthful. “I know what you’re going to say, that it’s out of the question. It was, like, just an idea, Mom. I know you’re staying in a motel here, and that it’s temporary, but I don’t want to stay in Halston. Cash is a good guy. He’s my friend and I trust him. But if you say no, that’s okay.” She paused and sipped her orange juice. “Maybe I could stay with Quinn instead.”
Madeline regarded her daughter thoughtfully. “Are you done?”
Wynter nodded and took another bite of her Croissan’wich.
“A year ago, I would have said you’re too young, Wynnie,” Madeline began. “But you’re almost seventeen. You’re reliable, a good worker. You do well in school, and you’ve done nothing but make your dad and I proud.” She took Wynter’s free hand in hers. “Remember, your dad and I weren’t much older than you when we had you.”
“It’s not like I’m going to marry Cash, Mom.”
“I’ve seen the way he looks at you... and the way you look at him.”
“We’re just good friends.” Wynter popped the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth.
“Friendship and love go hand in hand. And trust me, I know the power of young hormones. Look at your dad and me. We got married after knowing each other for a week, and we’re still together.”
“If Gramma and Grampa had forbidden you from marrying Nolan, what would you have done?”
Madeline smiled. “Oh, we would have gone and done it anyway.” She raised a brow at her. “Does that mean you’re going to do whatever your heart desires?”
“No, but whatever I do, I’m going to be, like, smart about it.”
Madeline sighed and studied Wynter’s face fondly. “I don’t want to be the parent who holds her kid back and denies her experiences solely on the basis of age.”
Wynter pushed her scrambled eggs around her plate with her fork. “What are you saying?”
“Is Cash’s dad still working nights?”
“I see. That’s the only part of this idea that I have a real problem with,” Madeline said. “You said you trust Cash. I trust you.”
“So, what are you saying?”
Madeline didn’t answer right away.
“I’m saying that it’s okay with your dad and I if you stay with Cash for a while... until we get back on our feet. Just let me know where you are,” Madeline said. “It has to be okay with Cash’s dad too, of course.”
In the back of Wynter’s mind, a little voice rejoiced. If it had had a body of its own, it would have been hopping up and down. She did her best to rein in her excitement at taking one more step towards adulthood. “Thanks, Mom. I won’t let you down.” She leaned toward Madeline and hugged her.
There was a quick knock at the door and Dr. Cornell stepped into the room. “Oh, is this a bad time? I can come back in a few minutes.”
Wynter shook her head. “No, come in.” She eyed the doctor excitedly. “Is this about my CT?”
Madeline faced the doctor. “What CT?”
“Mrs. LaCroix, your daughter had a CT scan of her brain yesterday,” Dr. Cornell said. “It’s standard procedure after a coma as well as after a traumatic brain injury.”
Madeline shivered. “I hate those words.”
“I told Dad about the CT yesterday,” Wynter said. “He just forgot to tell you.” She looked at Dr. Cornell. “So does my pretty little head get out of here?”
Dr. Cornell chuckled and nodded at her. “The scan came back clear. So yes, you can go home, Wynter.”
Wynter let go a small squeal of elation, ran to the doctor, and wrapped her arms around her neck. “Thank you so much. For everything.”
“I’m glad everything turned out the way it did,” Dr. Cornell said. “But if you experience any unexplained nausea, headache, blurry vision, dizziness, or see stars, you get your butt back here. Understand?”
Wynter nodded. “Got it, doc.”
“Is your mom going to drive you home?”
Wynter looked at Madeline and they both smiled, a new understanding bridged between them. “No, I’m going to call a friend to pick me up.”
“I’ll have one of the nurses get started on your discharge papers.”
Wynter ran to the door and pulled it open.
“Wynnie!” Madeline said. “Where are you going?”
“To call Quinn, of course.” Wynter disappeared out the door before Madeline could respond.
She stood and held out her hand to the doctor. “Thank you, for all your expertise and hard work.”
Instead of shaking her hand, Dr. Cornell pulled Madeline into a brief but firm hug. “It was my pleasure.”
“It’s been quite a roller coaster ride,” Madeline said. “Not one I care to repeat any time soon.”
Dr. Cornell nodded as she jotted some notes into Wynter’s chart.
“Now I get to focus my attention on my husband upstairs.”
Dr. Cornell paused as a connection clicked in her head. “Nolan LaCroix, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.” A flicker of worry flashed in Madeline’s eyes.
“I should have put two and two together. Your last name is quite unique.”
“Is there something I should know?”
Dr. Cornell laughed. “Not unless nurses fawning over him left, right, and center is a worry. They love him up there.”
Madeline raised a brow, suspicious yet playful. “Funny. He never mentioned that little detail.”
“Something to talk about, I guess?”
“You got that right.” Madeline followed Dr. Cornell out of the room and watched her hustle down the corridor. She turned the other direction and spotted Wynter talking at a payphone, waving her free hand by her head excitedly and playing with her hair.
Madeline’s love for Wynter swelled in her heart. Her baby would be okay. More than okay. She would thrive. The ugly business with Jezebel was far from over and would likely end up in court, but she reassured herself that Wynter’s life-threatening roller coaster ride was over.
Regardless of her earlier misgivings about staying at Cash’s place, Madeline felt confident that Wynter would do the right thing. It left her the time to focus on Nolan’s recovery and finding a new home.
Sweat broke out on Jake’s neck, a combination of his exertion, the morning sun heating the neighborhood, and his nerves. He leaned on his crutches outside Quinn’s house and stared at the front door’s large brass knocker, briefly contemplating whether he was going to go through with his plan or not.
On one hand, he had agreed to pursue anything that led to Ransom. On the other, this was Quinn’s house at quarter to seven on a Monday morning. He could be seconds away from committing social suicide.
Jake glanced at Blue Belle parked in the driveway as if the car could give him any assurances. “Fuck it,” he said for the second time this morning. “I’ll do it for Wynter.” He reached forward and rapped the door. When he didn’t hear any immediate response, he rang the doorbell too, then regretted the decision immediately. A series of chimes that sounded larger than life echoed through the interior of the house.
Soft, padded footsteps approached the door, followed by the sound of a retracting deadbolt. The heavy oak door swung open without a sound and revealed a slender Asian woman wrapped tightly in a terry cloth housecoat sewn to resemble a kimono. Despite the early hour, not a hair looked out of place.
Jake grinned awkwardly up at her from his crutches. “Uh, hi.”
She looked down at him and gave him a once-over. “Yes?”
“You must be Quinn’s mom.”
“Yes. I am.” Mrs. Benoit waited for Jake’s response. “And you are...?”
“Oh, sorry.” Jake squared up his Nintendo baseball cap. “I’m Jake, ma’am. Jake Peterson. I’m one of Quinn’s friends.”
“It’s awfully early to be calling, Jake,” Mrs. Benoit said.
“I know, but it’s kind of important.” Jake looked at her and tried to turn up his charm.
Mrs. Benoit glanced at Jake’s leg cast and determined he wasn’t a threat. “Come. Wait inside. I’ll call Quinn.”
Jake navigated his crutches over the stoop. Mrs. Benoit closed the door behind him and padded down a marble-tiled hallway. He followed her into a well-appointed kitchen with modern brushed steel appliances. He noted a cordless phone on the wall much like the one at his house.
“I was just making some tea,” Mrs. Benoit said. “Would you enjoy some?”
Jake nodded. “Uh, yes, Mrs. Benoit. Thanks.”
She grabbed a second cup from the glass-fronted cupboard. “Please. Call me Lotus. I think I’ve heard Kirin talk of you.” She poured some tea into a cup and handed it to him.
“Good things I hope?” Jake sipped the tea and winced at its bitter flavor. He imagined it was how a freshly cut lawn might taste.
Lotus laughed lightly. “Oh yes. All good.” She approached a buttoned panel on the wall beside the cordless phone and pressed one of the buttons. “Kirin?” Her question floated in a sing-song voice. “You have a visitor. Jake’s here.”
A few seconds later, a clatter echoed from a room on the opposite side of the house, then the thumping slap of bare feet on polished tile.
“She’s up. You must be important.” Lotus winked at him. “That’s quite the cast on your leg.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of why I wanted to talk to Quinn,” Jake said. “Well, it’s related... uh, long story.”
Quinn entered the kitchen wearing black silk tap pants and a loose fitting T-shirt with Fast Times at Ridgemont High written across it. Her hair stuck out at odd angles.
“Jake!” She stepped quickly toward him. “What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”
Quinn’s bare legs and short tap pants caused Jake’s brain to short circuit for a moment.
“Jake?” Quinn eyed him with concern.
He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, everything’s fine. I wanted to catch you and Cash before work.” Jake glanced at the digital clock above the gas range. “Shit, Cash has probably already started work.” He placed a hand on his mouth. “Sorry, Mrs. Benoit, uh, I mean Lotus.”
Quinn glared at her mother. “Lotus? Seriously, Mom?”
Lotus shrugged and sipped her tea. “What? That’s my name, Kirin.”
“And my name is Quinn, Mom.” She rolled her eyes, huffed in frustration, and turned to Jake. “What’s so important?”
Jake rocked on his crutches nervously. “Kind of wanted to talk to both of you at the same time. But I saw the Barracuda last night... no, this morning. Two hours ago.”
Quinn stared at him, her eyes wide and expectant, waiting for details. Even in her pajamas with her hair sticking up, Quinn rocked Jake’s boat. He stared back at her, motioned to the front door, then took another sip of his tea, swallowing with a grimace.
“You gave him green tea, Mom? Ugh. Don’t drink that.” Quinn took the cup and set it on the counter. “Give me fifteen minutes.” She ran back the way she came, and Jake watched her go.
Jake gave Lotus a sheepish look. “Sorry about the tea.”
Lotus waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. Not many like it.” She studied Jake, standing strong on his crutches. “I’ve never broken a bone before.”
Jake shook his head. “I don’t recommend it.”
“You like my daughter, don’t you?”
Somewhere in the house the shower turned on.
“Um.” Jake cleared his throat. “Uh, yes, Mrs. Benoit. I think she’s great. Her knowledge of pop culture is totally amazing.”
“Yes, she is amazing,” Lotus said. “She’s also like bakuchiku.”
Jake furrowed his brow.
“Bakuchiku. It means firecracker in Japanese.”
Jake smiled and nodded, grasping the reference at once. “I like that, too.”
“Then you two will get along fine.” Lotus set her cup in the sink. “Would you like anything else? Cereal, perhaps?”
“I’m good, thanks.”
Lotus tightened the drawstring of her housecoat. “I must get ready for work. Please, make yourself at home.”
“I think I’m going to wait outside,” Jake said. “It’s nice out.”
Lotus nodded and walked in the direction Quinn had gone.
Jake worked his crutches back toward the front door, pausing by the entry to a sunken living room complete with a large sectional sofa and a fireplace featured on one wall.
He opened the front door and stepped out into the morning sun, planting himself carefully on the stoop. Jake had this urge to go jogging before the day heated up but the goddamn iridescent yellow cast on his leg quashed that idea. Thankful his leg no longer itched, his thoughts drifted back to the previous night.
Ten minutes later, Quinn stepped out from the house wearing her FreshWhip uniform. She smelled like strawberries.
Quinn helped Jake to his feet. “Sorry about my mom back there. She can be mega annoying.”
“I didn’t find her annoying. Seriously.” Jake smiled at her as he positioned his crutches under his arms. “But that tea...” He remembered the taste and shuddered. “Holy crap.”
“Yeah. Both my parents drink it. It’s pretty gross.” She skipped down to Blue Belle. “Let’s go.”
They both climbed into the car. Jake had to slide the seat back to be able to fit his cast in. Quinn started the engine and backed out onto the street.
“Your house is pretty awesome.”
“Thanks.” Quinn turned right onto Main Street. “Maybe next time I’ll show you my room.” She glanced at him and smiled.
Jake felt his cheeks heat up. “Sure. Sounds cool.”
“So what did you see last night?”
“Whatever,” Quinn said. “This is more than just about the Barracuda, isn’t it?”
Jake shrugged and smirked. He enjoyed drawing things out, especially if it made Quinn squirm.
“You’re not going to tell me? You could walk the rest of the way, you know.”
“Come on, Quinn. We’ll be there in a couple of minutes. Stop busting my chops.” Jake turned toward her. “And thanks for the ride. I really appreciate it.”
“We’ll see how much you appreciate it when you have to walk home.” The sign for Finn’s Gas N Go flashed a few hundred feet ahead. Quinn side-eyed Jake and a small smile curved up on the edge of her lips. “Just kidding. I couldn’t do that to you.”
Quinn turned into Finn’s and took her usual parking spot. Cash waved at them through the front window.
“Okay, hot shot. You’re up.” She stepped out of the car, then leaned back in to look at Jake. “And this better be good.”
Jake pulled himself out of Blue Belle and headed toward the store. Cash held the door open for them both.
“This is a surprise,” Cash said. “Am I missing something?”
“Ask Jake.” Quinn perused the junk food aisle. “Is Finn here?”
“Not ’til eight.” Cash leaned into Jake and motioned at Quinn. “What’s going on?”
Jake rested his arm on the front counter. “I couldn’t sleep last night.” He tapped his cast with his index finger. “Around five I heard the Barracuda pull up to Roxy’s place.”
Cash stepped around to the back of the counter. “Are you sure it was the Barracuda? I mean, last we saw that thing it was parked at the hospital.”
“Come on, Cash,” Jake said. “We all know the sound of that car a mile away. Yeah. It was the Barracuda.”
“Who was driving?” Quinn asked.
Jake frowned for a moment. “It was dark. I couldn’t see. But by the time I got down to the street with my camcorder, the driver was gone.”
Cash’s interest was piqued. “You shot video?”
Jake nodded. “I did. Was a regular Magnum P.I.”
“Got to work on that mustache.” Quinn winked at him.
Cash crossed his arms. “What did you see?”
“For the longest time, nothing at all,” Jake said. “But then Roxy’s bedroom light went on. That’s when things got weird. I saw something move by the window, then, like a few seconds later a blue flash of light. Just like when Wynter drifted at the Starlight last Saturday.”
“Anything else?” Cash spotted a customer roll up to the pump. “Hold that thought.” He ran out and began filling the customer’s tank.
Quinn moved closer to Jake. “Could you see who passed the window?”
Jake shook his head. “It was fast and it was in the corner. Plus, whoever it was, they were too far from the window to see anything.”
Cash imprinted the customer’s credit card, handed them their receipt, and ran back into the store. “So what else happened?”
Jake shrugged. “Roxy stood in front of the window for a bit, then turned out the light.”
“I’m going to want to see that video,” Cash said.
“Thought you might.” Jake shifted on his crutches. “My question is who was driving?”
“It could be anyone,” Quinn said.
Cash shook his head. “Not anyone. It can’t be Jezebel. She might be strong, but no one is up and driving hours after having major surgery.”
“Can’t forget the blue flash. That makes it look like it was a dreamwaker, and that means it could be anyone Jezebel’s connected with.” Jake reseated his ball cap as a shiver ripped down his back. “Shit. It really could be anyone.”
“My money’s on Ransom,” Quinn said.
“I don’t know. I want it to be Ransom, but the last time she saw him, she shot him.” Jake’s eyes clouded in thought. “I think she’s trying to control him, keep him in her head.”
“On second thought, yeah.” Quinn glanced at Jake. “She’d never trust him with her precious Barracuda.”
“There’s one other problem with it being Ransom,” Cash said.
Jake blinked at him. “What’s that?”
“As far as I know, Ransom can’t drive.”
“Wait. Of course,” Quinn said. “Who would Jezebel trust enough to drive that car?”
Jake and Cash thought for a moment. “Roxy?” Jake said.
“Exactly.” Quinn’s eyes flashed with excitement and Jake fell in love with her all over again. “It makes perfect sense. Roxy as a dreamwaker drives the Barracuda home from the hospital, then drifts when she gets home.”
Cash considered the idea. “It could work. But I’m still going to want to see that video.”
“Sure. No prob—”
The phone next to the cash register rang. Cash picked it up. “Morning. Finn’s” He paused to listen, then glanced at Quinn. “It’s for you.”
Quinn scrunched her brow and took the phone. “Hello?” She relaxed and covered the receiver, whispering, “It’s my mom.” She listened. “Okay... I will. Thanks. Bye.”
“What was that about?” Cash asked.
“Wynter’s getting out of the hospital today and needs a ride.” Quinn looked at the two guys and smiled. “Party at Jake’s on a Monday? Think your parents would go for that?”
“Yeah,” Jake said. “They’d be cool as long as it wasn’t too late.”
Quinn faced Cash. “Want to come to the hospital?”
“Jake? You in?”
“I really want to say yes,” Jake said. “But I don’t want to sit in the back of Blue Belle with this fargin’ icehole cast.”
Quinn flashed her eyes at him. “Johnny Dangerously?”
Jake laughed. “You still got it.”
“Was there any doubt?” Quinn turned to Cash. “I’ll pick you up around six, okay? Your place.”
“Sounds good,” Cash said.
“Want a lift back home, Jake?”
“Sure you’ve got time?”
“Most definitely,” Quinn said. “It’s not even eight o’clock.”
“Then, sure.” Jake glanced at Cash, and he sent him a subtle nod and a thumbs up.
Quinn and Jake waved goodbye. Within minutes, the teens found themselves headed north on Main Street, back the way they had come half an hour ago.
Jake dug into his jeans for his wallet. He pulled out some bills and placed it on the dash.
“What’s that for?”
“Money for gas,” Jake said. “It’s only fair. You’ve been driving us around lots lately.”
“I don’t mind.” Quinn smiled at him sweetly, then turned left onto Mortimer Avenue.
Jake took a moment to untie his tongue. “I liked your idea back there, about Roxy. It would explain a lot.”
Quinn’s smile evaporated. “Speak of the devil. Look.”
Ahead, the Barracuda backed out of Roxy’s driveway, with Roxy behind the wheel. She wore a dark hoodie.
“Stop the car,” Jake said.
“Just do it. Stop.”
Quinn pulled to the curb. Before she could say anything else, Jake jumped out of the VW and made a stilted approach toward the black muscle car. She leaned out of Blue Belle’s side window. “Jake! What the hell are you doing?”
Jake did not respond but instead continued his advance. Roxy shifted out of reverse and steered toward Jake in the road. He made sure she could not drive around him by staying centered with the Barracuda’s front bumper.
“Jake?” Quinn popped her door open. Jake raised an arm back toward her with an open hand, indicating “stop.” Understanding the signal but still confused, she closed the door and watched.
Roxy rolled the Barracuda slowly forward as Jake stepped closer. She glowered at him through the windshield. They both stopped in a standoff, Jake five feet from the front bumper.
Jake would have never considered the move if Jezebel had been driving. Jezebel was too far gone. He banked on Roxy not being a complete psychopath, that she might have some empathy or a partially active moral compass.
He had no idea how long they stood facing each other with nothing between them except the low grumble of the car’s engine. Time seemed to melt away.
Jake took a step forward. “Did you drive the ’Cuda home this morning?”
Roxy simply stared back without uttering a word.
“What happened last night? I—”
Roxy punched the gas. The Barracuda vibrated in place, spewing blue clouds of acrid smoke from behind. Then she let up on the gas, returning the engine to a rough idle.
Jake let the burnt rubber miasma roll over him, then took another step forward. Through the windshield, he spotted something that turned his theories upside-down.
“Your neck... It’s all bruised.” He tried his best to show concern despite his fear that Roxy would run him down at any moment.
Roxy took one hand off the steering wheel and pulled her hood over her head, shrouding the bruises in shadow. “Move,” she said in a low growl.
“Who did that to you? Was it Ransom?” Jake refused to give up. “Who was it, Roxy?”
Roxy shook her head. “FUCK YOU!” She shifted into reverse. The guttural rumble of the Barracuda’s engine ramped up into a scream, and the car shot backward through another drift of smoke. She turned the wheel hard left, and the Barracuda spun a hundred-eighty degrees. She fed the car just the right amount of gas to correct for the spin and tore down the road away from Jake.
He watched until the Barracuda’s taillights disappeared at the opposite end of the street. Jake turned and stepped toward the sidewalk in front of his house.
“Holy shit, Jake.” Quinn hopped out of the VW and ran to him. “That was fucking amazing.”
Jake shrugged. “Thanks.” He turned his head to look back down his street again, but Quinn intercepted him, turning him back to face her with both her hands.
She tipped up on her toes and planted a firm, warm kiss squarely on Jake’s lips. He stumbled one step backward, unprepared for her advance, and used his crutches to regain his balance. There it was again, the smell of sweet strawberries.
Quinn dropped back to her soles and smiled at him.
“Whoa.” Jake’s wide eyes met her rich, dark ones. “What was that for?”
“For being badass.” Then Quinn whacked him against the shoulder. “And that’s for being dumb! She could’ve run you over.”
“Well, she didn’t,” Jake said, pleased with himself. “The gamble paid off.”
Quinn escorted Jake to his front door and he stepped inside. Pots and cutlery rattled from the kitchen.
“I think I have a new theory about what happened this morning.” Jake said.
“You replacing my idea already?” Quinn pouted at him playfully.
“No, but maybe adding to it,” Jake said. “Maybe Roxy was attacked.”
“I don’t know.” Jake glanced at Roxy’s house down the street. “We can talk about it tonight.”
Jake nodded. “Sounds good.”
Quinn kissed him quick on the cheek. “Later, badass.”
Jake laughed and watched Quinn walk back to Blue Belle. She moved with a lightness that he admired, like not many things bothered her. She started the engine, waved, and drove away.
The smell of fried bacon lured him toward the kitchen, but not even his recent kiss with Quinn could tear his mind away from his new theory.
Roxy could barely hold onto her anger as she drove the Barracuda along Main Street. She had intended the drive to calm her down, but it had done the exact opposite. At first, she had focused her rage at Jake, for asking questions she couldn’t answer and for blocking her path. But he was only trying to help. She couldn’t fault him for that. She even liked him and had had a secret crush on him ever since middle school. She had told no one. As she approached the downtown strip, past storefronts preparing to open their doors for business, she realized her true anger was at Jezebel.
Correction. Jezebel’s dreamwaker. Jezebel Too.
“She almost killed me,” Roxy said to the empty car. “She would’ve killed me.” The gravity of her own words sunk in like shards of glass and Roxy found herself shaking, her hands gripping the steering wheel in an attempt to calm herself down. She pulled over to the curb, breathing rapidly.
Roxy turned on the radio in hopes that music would help sooth her anxiety. “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads was playing and she turned the radio off a second later. She didn’t need any reminders of Jezebel. She was already a permanent fixture in her head.
Soon her heart rate and breathing had returned to normal. Her mind began asking questions again. If the real Jezebel had been in her room last night, would she have done the same thing? Dreamwakers had free will, so it was possible that Jezebel Too was even more psychotic than Jezebel. Maybe it was like a photocopier: you always degrade the original when you make a copy.
Roxy glanced out the windshield to orient herself and realized that she had parked in front of the Newhaven Police Station. There were lights on inside. Maybe Anson was there.
She could go inside right now and confess to everything. It would be so easy. Being Jezebel’s partner in crime, Roxy’s story would easily pass as fact. She might avoid jail time.
But it wasn’t Jezebel who nearly killed her. It had been her dreamwaker clone. She couldn’t implicate someone, or some thing, that wasn’t real. A confession would end up becoming just one more fuckup that Jezebel could hold over her head.
“Fuck that.” Roxy shifted out of park and pulled away from the curb. Jezebel Too had better watch her step because next time it would be different.
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