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Authors: Peter Clines

Ex-Purgatory: A Novel (31 page)

BOOK: Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
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“Would you have trusted me less? Would it have changed how you felt about my abilities?”

“No,” he said. “No, of course not. It wouldn’t change anything.”

He held out his hand. She took it and squeezed.

“In our world,” she told him, “my father is dead. If I had any reason to believe you would have encountered him, I would have told you everything. I still will once we have resolved this current situation, if you wish.”

St. George managed half a smile. “Are you sure?”

“Of course. It is important to me that we are open and trust one another.”

“I meant, are you sure he’s dead? It seems like the Quilt family is known for their toughness.”

Her eyes dropped and her fingers loosened. “I am certain he is dead in our world.”

There was a moment of silence between them.

“Ahhhh,” said St. George.

“Again, I will tell you everything, if you wish.”

The hotel entrance was a block away. A man with a camera leaned against a car. He perked up when he saw Stealth.

St. George looked at the man, then up at the hotel. “Maybe I should come with you.”

She shook her head. “It will attract far too much attention for me to enter the hotel with an unknown man. Also, the Quilt of this world is still enough like my father that he will react poorly to surprises.”

“Do I want to know how he’s not like your father?”

“I would think not,” said Stealth, “but I will tell you if you feel it is important to know.”

“I’ll probably sleep better if I don’t,” said St. George with another half smile.

“You will,” she said. “Wait here. This should take fifteen minutes at the most.”

Stealth marched onto the hotel grounds with long strides, moving past the handful of paparazzi before they could register the chance slipping away from them. A few quick cameras clicked and snapped, but she did not pause for them. She heard one man mutter about the fact she was wearing the same clothes she’d left in the night before.

She had not been here before with her own mind and memories. It was, she could admit, disconcerting to be exposed in front of so many people. To not be wearing her mask.

The doorman pulled open the door for her before recognition sparked in his eyes. Heads turned as she slipped out of her coat and hung it over her arm. She scanned the lobby for any sign of Barry but saw nothing. A few whispers reached her ears while she waited for the elevator. One girl, a Welsh tourist judging from her T-shirt, raised a Canon PowerShot S30 camera and took a picture.

The S30, Stealth noted, had been new in 2003.

The elevator pinged and the doors sealed her off from the lobby. There were thirty seconds of solitude before the doors slid open on her floor. She found the plastic keycard in her pocket and opened the suite.

Two of the couch pillows had been moved, and so had the oversized television remote. The vertical blinds had been rotated to the left. She could smell furniture polish. From the lines in the carpet and the faint scent of an electric motor she knew someone had vacuumed the suite. A subtle odor of tobacco lingered beneath the electric scent. The vacuumer was also a smoker.

The door clicked shut behind her. Her heart beat nine times. The only sounds were the almost subsonic rumble of the refrigerator in the kitchen area and the low whistle of central air conditioning.

She stepped across the suite, the coat-draped arm held out ahead of her. Her feet landed toes first, and the soft carpet muffled her steps. The knob on the closet door scraped as she turned it. The hinges rustled when the door opened.

Two flat cases hung on either side of the closet. They were bright blue, a color chosen to attract attention and thus deflect it at the same time. On casual examination, each one looked like an oversized garment bag. Against the back wall sat an oversized Versace suitcase, a pink monstrosity one would expect to find in a traveling supermodel’s closet.

From her memories of this world, she knew each of the blue cases contained an array of frames and straps designed to keep their contents secure. One held an array of hand-to-hand weapons—knives,
, collapsible batons, brass knuckles. The second case contained a quartet of Glocks, a pair of Colt pistols, a trio of Mk23 USSOCOM pistols, two micro-Uzis, and a Heckler & Koch G36 rifle her father had converted into a breakdown model. The pink suitcase held the gun leather, belts, and ammunition.

Stealth reached out and unzipped both of the garment bags at the same time.

Both were empty.

There was no need to double-check. Even before she had finished opening them, the weight of the hanging cases told her everything had been removed. She prodded the suitcase. It felt full, but the contents would be useless without the weapons.

“What are you doing?”

She spun, her arms flying to a defensive position as her weight shifted to her back leg.

Quilt stood six feet away. Just out of reach for a kick. His hands were behind his back. His stance appeared open and relaxed.

They stared at each other for a moment.

His hands came out from behind his back. They were empty. His left forefinger had a small patch of oil, half the size of a dime, alongside the nail. He reached up and adjusted his glasses. He did not blink. His eyes were on hers.

If he’d meant to fight, his gaze would’ve been at the top of her sternum. It gave a clear view of the body without the distraction of the opponent’s eyes. Stealth was not sure why she thought the Quilt of this world would now consider her an opponent.

She lowered her hands. Not to her sides, but low enough to show a degree of concession. “I require the weapons,” she told him. “Where are they?”

Her father’s head shifted and he allowed himself a single blink. “The pistols are in the safe, as always,” he said. “The blades are in my room. They were due to be cleaned and oiled. Why do you need them?”

“It would be difficult to explain.”

He dipped his chin, a concession of his own. He turned and took a few steps across the suite toward his room. “Do you require a blade or pistol? Or a combination?”

“I will need all of them.”


a side door to one apartment complex at the top of some steps. The door swung outward so nothing could surprise them from behind. Exes didn’t do well with stairs, so being eight steps up gave them some safety in the front. There were three cars parked on the street in front of the staircase, forming a bit more of a barrier.

The top of the staircase gave him a clear view of the street and half the intersection. He panned his head back and forth across, watching each pedestrian and each car that drove by. Studying the drivers reminded him of the checkpoints in Iraq.

He glanced back at Dr. Morris. “I could use your help,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure what Mr. Burke looks like.”

Dr. Morris—Danielle—stood with her back to the door behind him. It seemed to calm her to be surrounded. She was still vague in his memory. He seemed to remember her being much larger and brasher. He guessed part of that had to be the Cerberus battlesuit. She hadn’t said much since George and Karen Quilt left.

No, he corrected himself. St. George and Stealth. He knew those were the right names, but his mind kept defaulting to the other ones.

“He’s bald and black,” said Madelyn.

“You just described me.”

“And he’s in a wheelchair.”

“Probably not if he’s in a cab,” said Danielle. She leaned forward and looked either way down the street. “He’s got light brown eyes. He smiles a lot. He’s really thin because his power …” She closed her eyes and brought up her fingers, but the memories came before she snapped. “His power eats him up.”

The description brought an image to Freedom’s mind, but it was still too vague.

Madelyn still hung on Freedom’s neck. He barely noticed her weight. Every now and then she’d shift her hips against his back. It disturbed him at first, and then he realized she was trying to make her legs work.

Her skin was cold. He could feel it on his neck, even through her sleeves. She gave off no warmth at all. He’d felt bodies like that before. Another reminder of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He remembered the name Stealth had used. The Corpse Girl. He still wasn’t sure what it meant. He just knew seeing Madelyn had filled him with a great sense of relief.

A man walked by pushing a three-wheeled baby stroller. He chattered away on his phone and gave only a glance to the people up on the steps. A few more strides carried him past a decorative planter and out of sight. His voice continued for a few moments and then it faded, too.

“This sucks,” said Madelyn.

He turned his head enough to see her in the corner of his eye. Her skin looked pale in the bright sunlight. “How so?”

“I figured once we all got back together everything would start making sense again. That everything would be fine.”

“Fine how?”

“Just, you know … fine. Back to the way things are supposed to be. We’d all get together and something would pop and we’d all be good again.”

“In my experience,” said Freedom, “most problems aren’t solved that easily.”

Danielle snorted.

The world rippled around them. One moment the hotel was tall and pristine. The next, the bottom half was wrapped in overgrown
ivy. Two balconies near the top were marked with black halos of soot.

A car in the middle of the street came to an abrupt halt and gained three years’ worth of dust. Two of the figures across the street vanished, and the other two went from walking to staggering. The planter in front of them exploded with wild growth.

“Be careful what you wish for,” muttered Danielle.

“Whoa,” said Madelyn.

“You saw it this time?” asked Freedom.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m still seeing it. Home again, home again, like Mom used to say.”

“Should we stay here?” asked Danielle.

“We should be good,” said Freedom. “The plants hide us a bit more now, and the stairs still give us restricted access.”

“Also means we’ll have a harder time spotting Barry,” she said.

Madelyn looked at the hotel. “You think they’re okay inside?”

“They’re fine,” said Freedom. “The exes can’t hurt St. George.”

“Stealth’s just human, though, right?”

Danielle snorted again. “She’s not ‘just’ anything. If I had to bet, I’d say she has better odds of coming out of there than Geor—shit!”

Freedom turned in time to see Danielle slam herself back against the door. Her breath was fast and her arms pulled in tight against her ribs. Her eyes were locked up above Freedom’s shoulder, on Madelyn.

He turned his head and a dead girl looked back at him from a few inches away. Her skin was white, even more so against her dark hair, and her eyes looked like dusty chalk. He could see the retinas, but there was no color or shine to them.

The Corpse Girl blinked twice. “What?” She looked at Freedom, then Danielle, and back. Her hand came up and patted at her head. “Is there a bug in my hair?”

“I think you might … you’re getting better,” Freedom said.

“Yeah?” She shifted on his back and glanced over at Danielle. Then she noticed her own hand. “Oh, that’s right,” she said.

A scream echoed down the street. It was far away, but it
sounded like a man’s voice. A moment later it rang out again. It was words this time, but it was too distant to be understood.

Freedom straightened up and felt Madelyn shift on his back. He listened to the echoes for a moment. It was coming from the north, he was almost certain.

“Was that him?” asked Madelyn. “I’m not sure.”

Danielle had her head cocked, listening, with her eyes closed. “I think it might’ve been,” she said.

Freedom went down the stairs in long strides, taking two at a time. “Whoever it is,” he said, “they need some help.”

The three of them headed north. A few exes spotted them and stumbled their way, but they were easy to outpace. Danielle stayed so close to Freedom she was almost pressed against him. They covered two long blocks.

“Maybe we should yell for him,” said Madelyn. “We could try to triangulate or something.”

“No,” said Freedom, shaking his head. “We don’t want to attract any more exes.”

“Definitely not,” agreed Danielle.

Another shout echoed across the street and she winced. This time Freedom pinpointed the source. A battered yellow cab sat in the southbound lane of Doheny alongside a dark and dusty sedan. A figure in the backseat of the cab slammed against the rear door again and again. The shape in the front moved much slower.

They got closer and Freedom saw the cab had suffered some kind of collision. Most of the driver’s side was dented and caved in. The other side was blocked by the sedan. The cab’s tires were flat on the pavement and crumbling.

In the backseat of the cab was a thin black man. He had bristle-short hair, as if he’d been shaved bald and let it grow back. His chin had a few days’ worth of stubble, too. The man saw them and waved. “Thank God,” he called out. “Get me out of here.” He’d rolled down the window, but it went only halfway. Probably to discourage dashers.

BOOK: Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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