“You didn’t call 911.”
“I was upset. Distraught.”
“You don’t seem distraught.”
“No, now I’m pissed off. And in shock. And cuffed to a table.” Victor raised his voice, because now seemed like an appropriate time to do so. “Look, Eli was drunk. Maybe he still is. He told me it was my fault. I kept trying to explain that it had been a heart attack, or a malfunction in the equipment—Angie was always messing around with voltage—but he wouldn’t listen. He said he’d call the police. So I left. Made my way home to talk to him. And that’s where I was heading when the cops showed up.” He looked up at the detective, and gestured to their current situation. “As for this EO stuff, I’m as confused as you are. Eli’s been working too hard. His thesis is on EOs, did he tell you that? He’s obsessed with them. Paranoid. Doesn’t sleep, doesn’t eat, just works on his theories.”
“No,” said Stell across the table, making a note. “Mr. Cardale neglected to mention that.” He finished writing, and tossed the pen aside.
“This is insane,” said Victor. “I’m not a murderer, and I’m not an EO. I’m a pre-med student.” At least the last one was true.
Stell looked at his watch. “We’ll keep you overnight in a holding cell,” he explained. “Meanwhile, I’ll send someone over to see Mr. Cardale, test his blood alcohol level, and get his full statement. If, in the morning, we have proof that Mr. Cardale’s testimony is compromised, and no evidence ties you to the death of Angela Knight, we’ll let you go. You’ll still be a suspect, understand? That’s the best I can do right now. Sound good?”
No. It didn’t sound good at all. But Victor would make do. The hood stayed off as an officer led him to the cell, and on the way he made careful note of the number of cops and the number of doors and the time it took to reach the holding area. Victor had always been a problem-solver. His problems had certainly been growing bigger, but the rules still held. The steps to solving a problem, from elementary math to breaking out of a police station, remained the same. A simple matter of understanding the problem, and selecting the best solution. Victor was now in a cell. The cell was small and square and came complete with bars and a man who was twice his age and smelled like piss and tobacco. A guard sat at the end of a hallway reading a paper.
The most obvious solution was to kill the cellmate, call the guard over, and kill the guard. The alternative was to wait until morning, and hope that Eli failed a breathalyzer, that the security cameras were limited to the entryways, and that he’d left no material evidence in the lab to link him to the death.
Picking the best solution really depended on your definition of best. Victor examined the man slumped against the cot, and got to work.
* * *
He took the long way home.
The first touches of dawn warmed the sky as he walked, rubbing the dried blood from his wrists. At least, he consoled himself, he hadn’t killed anyone. Victor was, in fact, quite proud of his restraint. He thought, for a moment, that the chain-smoking cellmate might be dead, but he was still breathing, the last time Victor had checked. Admittedly, he hadn’t wanted to get too close. As he made his way home, he felt a trickle of wet on his face and touched the place below his nose. It came away red. Victor wiped his face on his sleeve, and made a mental note to be more careful. He’d pushed himself a lot in one night, especially considering he’d died first.
Sleep. Sleep would help. But it would have to wait.
Because first, he had to deal with Eli.
TWO DAYS AGO
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
Victor stood in the bathroom and waited for the hotel to quiet around him. Beyond the door he heard Mitch lead Sydney back to bed, muttering an apology on his behalf. They should never have picked her up, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that she would come in handy. She had secrets, and he planned to learn them. Still, he really hadn’t meant to hurt her. He prided himself on control, but for all his efforts, he hadn’t found a way to fully manage his power during sleep. Which is why he didn’t sleep, or at least, not much.
He ran cold water over his hands and face, waiting for the faint electrical buzz to stop. When it didn’t, he turned it inward, wincing as the humming vanished from the air around him and reappeared in his bones, his muscles. He clutched the granite counter as his body grounded the current, and several long moments later, the shudder passed, leaving Victor tired, but stable again.
He met his gaze in the mirror and began to unbutton his shirt, exposing the scars from the bullets of Eli’s gun one by one. He ran his fingers over them, touching the three spots where he’d been shot the way a man might cross himself. One tucked under his ribs, one above his heart, and one that had actually hit him in the back, but at close enough range that it passed right through. He’d memorized their position so that when he did see Eli, he could repay the gesture. Hell, if the bullets lodged, there was a chance Eli would heal around them. It gave Victor a modicum of pleasure to think of that.
Perhaps the wounds would have earned him some respect in prison, but by the time he’d integrated, they were long faded. Besides, Victor had found other ways of asserting himself at Wrighton, from the subtle discomfort inmates felt when they displeased him to the instant agony he used more sparingly, the kind of pain that left them gasping at his feet. But he didn’t only cause pain; Victor also took it away. He’d learned to gift painlessness, to trade it. Amazed by the lengths men would go to avoid any form of suffering, Victor had become a dealer in a drug only he could provide. Jail had, in some ways, been pleasant.
But even there Eli had haunted him, tarnished his enjoyment by clinging to his thoughts, whispering in his head, ruining his peace. And after ten years of waiting, it was Victor’s turn, to get into Eli’s head and do some ruining.
He rebuttoned his shirt, and the scars vanished again, from view but not from memory.
TEN YEARS AGO
Victor hoisted himself up onto his windowsill, thankful that he’d left it cracked, and that they lived on the first floor and thus he was only forced to contend with the five steps’ worth of height leading from the street up to the building’s entrance. He paused on the sill, straddling it as morning light seeped into everything around him, and listened for sounds within the apartment. The place was quiet, but Victor knew Eli was home. He could feel him.
His heart fluttered gently with the thrill of what would happen next, but that was all it was, a flutter. No pounding panic. This new calm was becoming unsettling. Victor struggled to assess it. The absence of pain led to an absence of fear, and the absence of fear led to a disregard for consequence. He knew it was a bad idea to break out of the cell, just as he knew what he was about to do was a bad idea. A worse idea. He could track his thoughts better now, marveled at the way they circled round to solutions that bypassed caution and favored the immediate, the violent, the rash, the way a crippled man favors his good leg. Victor’s mind had always been drawn to those solutions, but he had been impeded by an understanding of right and wrong, or at least what he knew others saw as right and wrong. But now, this... this was simple. Elegant.
He paused long enough to smooth his hair in the mirror, distressed by how grungy death and half a night in a cell had made him look. Then he met his own eyes—the new calm had made them a fraction paler—and his reflection smiled. It was a cold smile, a slightly foreign one, bordering on arrogant, but Victor didn’t mind. He rather liked that smile. It looked like something Eli would wear.
Victor stepped out of his room and made his way gingerly down the hall to the kitchen. On the table were a set of knives and a notebook, half a page filled with Eli’s tight script and dotted with blood. As for Eli himself, Victor could see him on the living room couch, head bowed forward in thought, or maybe prayer. Victor paused a moment to watch him. It seemed odd that Eli couldn’t sense Victor’s presence the way Victor sensed his. That was the problem with an inward ability like healing. Self-absorbed to the last, he thought as he took up a large knife and dragged its tip along the table, eliciting a high scratch.
Eli spun up from the couch in a fluid motion. “Vic.”
“I’m disappointed,” said Victor.
“What are you doing here?”
“You turned me in.”
“You killed Angie.” The words snagged slightly in Eli’s throat. Victor was surprised by the emotion in his friend’s voice.
“Did you love her?” he asked. “Or are you just mad I took something back?”
“She was a person, Victor, not a thing, and you murdered her.”
“It was an accident,” he said. “And it’s your fault, really. If you had just helped me...”
Eli ran his hands over his face. “How could you do this?”
“How could you?” asked Victor, lifting the knife fully from the table as he spoke. “You called the cops and you accused me of being an EO. I didn’t rat you out, you know. I could have.” He scratched his head with the tip of the knife. “Why would you tell them something so silly? Did you know they have special people who come in if there’s an EO suspected? Some guy named Stell. Did you know that?”