I found Eleni and Isra in the cave, Tereza in the music room, Marenka in the room that would no longer be hers, with Ravenna and Nazira helping her pack all of her embroidery stuff. Willa and Zulema were in the kitchen watching Lorraine cry hard enough to set her wig askew, Pia was at the pond studying the sensors for the water level. One by one I found them and passed the news along, and they walked quickly away.
Sirvat was the last one I found, her entire front pressed against the glass of Zara’s display case. The intricate black, white, and orange-yellow wings of a Pearl Crescent filled her back, and her eyes were closed as she stood motionless.
“Sirvat, what the fuck are you doing?”
She opened one eye to look at me. “Trying to imagine what it’s like in there.”
“Seeing as she’s dead, I don’t think she can help you with that. She doesn’t know either.”
“Can you smell it?”
She shook her head and backed away from the glass. “The formaldehyde. My biology teacher used it to preserve specimens for dissection. They must have a ton of it in that room, because the smell is so strong here.”
“It’s where he prepares us for the cases,” I sighed. “Sirvat, we need to stay in the rooms. The shit’s hitting the fan.”
“Because of Keely?”
She touched the locked door, protected by its lock code. “We always had to be really careful with the formaldehyde. Even diluted in alcohol, it’s not always stable.”
I never felt bad for not being closer to Sirvat. She was a strange duck.
But she let me pull her away and toss her into her room. I ran back up onto the cliff and up one of the trees to try and see if anything was going on, but I couldn’t even see the house, much less the front of the property. The Gardener had plenty of money and plenty of space, a bad combination when it comes to psychopathic tendencies.
The lights flickered violently and I hurled myself over the edge of the cliff, scraping and banging as I clambered down the rough holds and through the waterfall to get to my room before the walls came down.
Bliss handed me a towel. “It occurs to me, half an hour too late, that we might have been better off all getting together in one place in the Garden. If Desmond tells the cops that we’re in the inner greenhouse, they’d insist on checking it out, right? If we were out there, they’d see us.”
“Believe it or not, I thought of that.” I stripped off my soaked dress and pulled on the dress I’d been given at Desmond’s arrival, the one with the back. It wasn’t one of the Gardener’s favorites because it obscured the wings, but at the moment I didn’t care. I wanted to be running, to be fighting, to be doing almost anything but sit in that tiny room and wait. “If he’s able to talk the police out of investigating, or if he was able to convince Desmond not to make the call, what do you suppose he’ll do to anyone who disobeyed the room call?”
“Bliss . . . I’m scared,” I whispered. I sank down onto the bed and reached for Keely’s hand. She took it and curled into me, seeking comfort. “I hate not being able to hear anything.”
Marenka and I had once experimented with shrieking at the top of our lungs during a maintenance session. Our rooms were right next to each other’s and we couldn’t hear a thing. Even the vents closed when the walls came down.
Hours passed before the walls went up. We stayed in the rooms at first, too scared to move, for all we’d hated sitting still. Then we couldn’t stand it anymore and walked out into the Garden to see how our world had changed.
Maybe, finally, it was for the better.
“Was it?” Eddison asks when it’s clear she’s not going to continue.
Inara rubs her thumbs against the sad little dragon, one of her scabs catching on the brow ridge and tearing away.
Victor trades a look with his partner. “Grab the coat,” he says, pushing back from the table.
“We’re going to take a little ride.”
“We’re doing what?” Eddison mutters.
The girl doesn’t ask any questions, simply takes his jacket and shrugs into it. The little blue dragon stays in one hand.
He leads them down into the garage, opening the front passenger door for the girl. She looks at the car for a moment, her mouth crooked in an expression he can’t really call a smile. “Something wrong?”
“Except for coming here and to the hospital, and presumably from New York to the Garden, I haven’t been in a car since the taxi heading to my Gran’s.”
“Then you’ll understand if I don’t offer to let you drive.”
Her lips twitch. The easy laughter and comfortable atmosphere they’d finally achieved in the room is gone, vanished in the face of what they’ve been working toward all along.
“Is there a reason I have to sit in the back?” Eddison complains.
“Would you like me to invent one?”
“Fine, but I get to pick the music.”
The girl arches an eyebrow, and Victor grimaces.
“He likes country.”
“Please don’t let him pick,” she says pleasantly as she slides into the seat.
Chuckling, he waits for her legs to be clear before he closes the door.
“Where are we going on our little field trip?” Eddison asks as the men cross to the other side of the car.
“First stop is coffee, then we’re going to the hospital.”
“So she can check on the girls?”
Rolling his eyes, Eddison lets it go and settles into the backseat.
When they arrive at the hospital, coffees in hand—tea, for Inara—the entire building is surrounded with news vans and gawkers. The part of him that’s been doing this job for too long wonders if every parent who’s ever lost a girl between sixteen and eighteen is out there with a candle and a blown-up picture, hoping for the best, or maybe even hoping for the worst so long as the nightmare of not knowing is finally over. Some stare at their cell phones, waiting for a call that, for many, will never come.
“Are the rooms blocked off for the girls?” she asks, angling her face away from the passenger window and letting her hair fall forward to hide her further.
“Yes, with guards at the doors.” He squints ahead at the emergency entrance to see if he can get away with bringing her in through there, but four ambulances fill the bay with a flurry of activity around them.
“I can walk past a few reporters if I need to. They can’t honestly expect me to talk about it.”
“Did you ever watch the news in the city?”
“We caught it every now and then at Taki’s when we were getting food,” she answers with a shrug. “We didn’t have a TV, and most of the people we hung out with only had their sets hooked into game platforms or DVD players. Why?”
“Because they do expect you to talk about it, even when they know you’re not allowed to. They will shove their microphones in your face and ask you personal questions with no sensitivity and they’ll share your answers with anyone who cares to listen.”
“So . . . they’re like the FBI?”
“First Hitler, now reporters,” Eddison says. “I’m thrilled you have such a high opinion of us.”
“I clearly don’t know enough about reporters to find them offensive, so I don’t know that it’s too terrible.”
“If you don’t mind wading through them, we can head in,” Victor says before either of them can add anything else. He parks the car and walks around to open the door for her. “They’re going to be yelling,” he cautions her. “They’ll be loud and in your face, and there will be cameras flashing everywhere. There will be parents asking questions about their girls, wanting to know if you’ve seen them. And there’ll be people insulting you.”
“There are always some people who feel that the victim must have deserved it,” he explains. “They’re idiots, but they’re often vocal. Of course you don’t deserve it, no one deserves to get kidnapped or raped or murdered, but they’ll say it anyway because they believe it or because they want a few seconds of attention, and because we protect free speech, we can’t do anything about it.”
“I guess I grew so used to the horrors of the Garden, I forgot how awful Outside could be.”
He’d give anything to tell her that it isn’t true.