She finishes off the water rather than answer. Carefully standing the empty bottle on one corner of the table, she sits back in the chair and slowly rubs her bandaged hands up and down her arms.
Victor stands and shrugs out of his jacket, walking around the table to drape it over her shoulders. She tenses as he walks near, but he takes care not to let his skin brush hers. When he returns to his side of the table, she relaxes enough to slide her arms through. It’s large on her, draping in baggy folds, but her hands emerge comfortably from the cuffs.
New York City, he decides. Warehouse-style apartments, restaurants open extremely late. Plus she said trains instead of metro or subway—that meant something, didn’t it? He makes a mental note to contact the New York office and see if they can find anything on the girl.
“Were you in school?”
“No. Just work.”
A tap on the window sends Eddison out of the room. The girl watches him leave with some satisfaction, then turns a neutral expression back on Victor.
“What made you decide to go to the city?” he asks. “It doesn’t sound like you knew anyone there, didn’t have a plan for when you got there. Why go?”
“Why not? It’s something new, right? Something different.”
She arches an eyebrow.
“What is your name?”
“The Gardener called me Maya.”
“But that wasn’t what you were before.”
“Sometimes it was easier to forget, you know?” She fidgets with the edge of the cuffs, rolling and unrolling them with quick motions. Probably not much different than rolling silverware sets when it came to it. “You were in there, no chance of escape, no way of going back to the life you knew, so why cling to it? Why cause yourself more pain by remembering what you don’t get to have anymore?”
“Are you saying you forgot?”
“I’m saying he called me Maya.”
I was mostly isolated from the other girls until my tattoo was finished, with the exception of Lyonette, who still came every day to talk with me, to rub ointment over my raw back. She let me study her mark with no sign of shame or disgust. It was a part of her now, like breathing, like the unconscious grace of her movements. The level of detail was stunning and I wondered how much the intricacy suffered when it came time to refresh the brightness of the ink. Something kept me from asking, though. A good tattoo took years to fade enough that it needed to be touched up; I didn’t want to think about what it would mean to be in the Garden for that long.
Or worse, what it could mean if I wasn’t.
The drugs still appeared in my dinner, which Lyonette brought to me on a tray along with her own. Every few days I woke up, not in the bed, but on the hard leather bench, with the Gardener running his hands along the previously inked areas to test how they were healing, how sensitive they were. He never let me see him, and unlike my room with its semi-reflective glass everywhere, the dull metal walls gave me no hope of catching a glimpse.
He hummed as he worked, a sound that was somewhat lovely on its own but clashed horribly with the mechanical hum of the needles. Golden oldies, mostly: Elvis, Sinatra, Martin, Crosby, even some Andrews Sisters. It was a strange kind of pain, choosing to lie there under the needles and let him write his ownership into my skin. I didn’t see that I had many options, though. Lyonette said she stayed with each girl until the wings were done. I couldn’t explore the Garden yet, couldn’t look for a way out. I wasn’t sure yet if Lyonette knew there was no way out or if she just didn’t care anymore. So I let him put those damn wings on me. I never asked what would happen if I fought, if I refused.
I almost did, but Lyonette paled so I changed the question to something else.
I thought it had something to do with the way she never took me through the halls, only out into the Garden itself, through the cave behind the waterfall. Whatever she didn’t want me to see—or didn’t want to show me, which isn’t the same thing at all—I could wait. Cowardly, I guess. Or pragmatic.
It was near the end of the third week in the Garden that he finished.
All morning he’d been more intense, more focused, had taken fewer and shorter breaks. The first day he’d inked along my spine and worked in the outline for the wings and the veins and the blocks of the larger patterns. After that, he’d started at the wing tips and worked his way back in toward my spine, rotating between the four quadrants of my back to keep any one area from getting unworkably raw. He was nothing if not meticulous.
Then the hum stopped and his breaths were short and fast as he wiped away the blood and excess ink. His hands trembled at their work where before they’d been nothing but steady. Cold, slick ointment came next, rubbed carefully into every inch of skin. “You’re exquisite,” he said hoarsely. “Absolutely flawless. Truly a worthy addition to my garden. And now . . . now you must have a name.”
His thumbs stroked along my spine, where the first ink was done and the most healed, traveling up to the nape of my neck to tangle in my pulled-up hair. Greasy ointment clung to his hands, leaving my hair matted and heavy in his wake. Without warning, he pulled me down the bench until my feet were on the floor, my upper half still on the leather. I could hear him fumbling with his belt and zipper and I screwed my eyes tightly shut.
“Maya,” he groaned, running his hands along my sides. “You are Maya now. Mine.”
A hard knock on the door stops her from describing what came next, and she looks both startled and grateful.
Victor swears under his breath and lurches out of his chair to the door, jerking it open. Eddison motions him into the hallway. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he hisses. “She was actually talking.”
“The team going through the suspect’s office found something.” He holds up a large evidence bag filled with driver’s licenses and identification cards. “Looks like he kept all of them.”
“All of them that had one, anyway.” He takes the bag—Christ, that’s a lot of cards—and shakes it a little to see past the first layer of names and pictures. “Did you find hers?”
Eddison hands him a different bag, a small one holding a sole piece of plastic. It’s a New York ID and he recognizes her immediately. A little younger, her face softer even if her expression isn’t. “Inara Morrissey,” he reads, but Eddison shakes his head.
“They’ve scanned the rest and are starting to run them, but they put this one first. Inara Morrissey didn’t exist until four years ago. The Social Security number matches a two-year-old’s who died in the seventies. New York office is sending someone to the last listed place of employment, a restaurant named Evening Star. The address on the ID is a condemned building, but we called the restaurant and got the apartment address. The agent I talked to whistled when he gave it to me; apparently it’s a rough neighborhood.”
“She told us that,” Victor says absently.
“Yes, she’s so trustworthy and forthcoming.”
He doesn’t answer right away, absorbed in studying the ID. He believes his partner that it’s a fake, but damn, what a fake. Under ordinary circumstances, he has to admit he’d be fooled by it. “When did she stop showing up for work?”
“Two years ago, according to her boss. Taxes support it.”
“Two years . . .” He hands the larger bag back and folds the plastic bag around the single ID until he can tuck it into his back pocket. “Have them run these as quickly as possible; borrow techs from other teams if they can get away with it. Identifying the girls in the hospital has to be a priority. Then get us a couple of earbuds so the techs can pass along updates from the New York office.”
“Got it.” He scowls at the closed door. “Was she actually talking?”