It wasn’t much, but it was a start. And as he tossed his takeout container in the trash and snapped the television off, Eli wanted to go, to run, not away, but toward something. He had a goal. A mission.
But he knew he had to wait. He counted down the days until graduation, all the while feeling the attention of the professors, the counselors, and the cops on him like the sun in summer. At first it was glaring, but eventually, as the months wore on, it lessened until, by the time he took his exams, most even forgot to look concerned when he entered the room. When the year finally ended, he packed casually, did a last, lazy pass through his place, and locked the door. He slid the key into a school-sanctioned white envelope and dropped it off in the mailbox outside residential services.
And then, and only then, when the campus of Lockland had vanished in the distance, Eli shrugged off the name Cardale in favor of Ever, and went out to seek his purpose.
* * *
Eli didn’t enjoy killing.
He did quite like the moment after. The glorious quiet that filled the air as his broken bones healed and his torn skin closed, and he knew that God approved.
But the killing itself was messier than he anticipated.
And he didn’t like the term. Killing. What about removal? Removal was a better word. It made the targets sound less like humans, which they weren’t really... semantics. Regardless, it was messy. The profusion of violence on television had led Eli to believe that killing was clean. The small cough of a gun. The quick jab of a knife. A moment of shock.
The camera cuts away and life goes on.
And to be fair, Lyne’s death had been easy. So had Sykes’s, really, since the car had done the work. But as Eli peeled a blood-soaked pair of latex gloves from his hands, he found himself wishing the camera would cut to a more pleasant moment.
Wallace had put up a fight. Late fifties, but ox-strong. He’d even bent one of Eli’s favorite knives before snapping it right in two.
Eli leaned against the brick wall and waited for his ribs to notch back into place before hauling the body toward the nearest pile of trash. The night was warm and he checked himself for blood before leaving the alley, the quiet already fading, leaving a strange sadness in its wake.
He felt lost again. Purposeless. Even with his lead, it had taken him three weeks to find the EO. It was a slow, clumsy pursuit. He’d wanted to be sure. He’d needed proof. After all, what if he guessed wrong? Eli had no desire to rack up a body count of humans. Lyne and Sykes had been exceptions, victims of circumstance, their deaths unfortunate, but necessary. And, if Eli was being honest with himself, sloppy. He knew he could do better. Wallace had been an improvement. As with any pursuit, there was a learning curve, but he firmly believed in the old saying.
Practice makes perfect.
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
Victor and Sydney sat in the hotel room, eating cold pizza and looking over the profiles Mitch had set out for them. Mitch himself had gone to run an errand, and even though Victor’s eyes tracked over the profile of a middle-aged man named Zachary Flinch, his mind was far more on the cell phone—ready and within reach on the counter beside him—and on the name Stell, than his papers. His fingers tapped out a quiet beat on his leg. On the opposite side of his phone sat the profile of a younger man named Dominic Rusher.
Sydney sat perched on a nearby stool, finishing her second slice of pizza. Victor saw her steal a glance at Eli’s newspaper photo, tucked beneath the corner of the third profile, which belonged to the blue-haired Beth Kirk. He watched as she reached out and drew the article free, staring down at it with her wide blue eyes.
“Don’t worry, Syd,” said Victor. “I’ll make him hurt.”
For a moment she was quiet, her face a mask. And then it cracked. “When he came after me,” she said, “he told me it was for the greater good.” She spat the last three words. “He said I was unnatural. That I went against God. That was the reason he gave for trying to kill me. I didn’t think it was a very good reason.” She swallowed. “But it was enough for my sister to hand me over.”
Victor frowned. The issue of Sydney’s sister, Serena, still bothered him. Why hadn’t Eli killed her yet? He seemed hell-bent on killing everyone else.
“I’m sure it’s complicated,” he said, looking up from the profile in his hands. “What can your sister do?”
Sydney hesitated. “I don’t know. She never showed me. She was supposed to, but then her boyfriend kind of shot me. Why?”
“Because,” he said, “Eli’s keeping her around. There must be a reason. She must be valuable to him.”
Sydney looked down, and shrugged.
“But,” added Victor, “if it were based on value alone, he would have kept you around. His loss is my gain.”
A ghost of a smile crossed Sydney’s mouth. She tossed her pizza crust to the black mass on the floor. Dol perked and caught it before it hit the ground. He then hoisted himself to his feet, and made his way around the counter to Victor, eyeing his crust expectantly. Victor fed it to him, and gave the dog’s ears—which came to his stomach, even sitting on the stool—a short scratch. He looked from the beast to Sydney. He really was collecting strays.
Victor’s cell rang.
He dropped the paper and lifted the phone, all in one motion. “Yes?”
“Got him,” said Mitch.
“Dane or Stell?”
“Dane. And I even found us a room.”
“Where?” asked Victor, pulling on his coat.
“Look out your window.”
Victor strode up to the floor-to-ceiling panes, and took in the view. Across the road, and two buildings down, was the skeleton of a high-rise. Wooden construction walls encircled the scaffolding, a banner that read FALCON PRICE was plastered on the front, but there were no workers. The project had either been paused, or abandoned.
“Perfect,” said Victor. “I’m on my way.”
He hung up, and saw Sydney already off her stool and clutching her own red coat, waiting. He couldn’t help but think she had the same expression as Dol, expectant, hopeful.
“No, Sydney,” he said. “I need you to stay here.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because you don’t think I’m a bad person,” he said. “And I don’t want to prove you wrong.”
* * *
Victor wound his way through the plastic sheeting that cordoned off the unfinished spaces of the high-rise’s ground floor, his steps echoing off concrete and steel. The fine coat of dust on the more exposed outer rooms of the building suggested a recently abandoned project, but the quality of the materials and the prime location made him think it wouldn’t stay abandoned for very long. Buildings in transition were perfect places for meetings like this.
A few veils of tarp later, he found Mitch and a man in a foldout chair. Mitch looked bored. The man in the chair looked indignant and, under that, terrified. Victor could practically feel the fear, a fainter version of the radarlike ripple caused by pain. The man was lean, with short dark hair, and a sharp jaw. His hands were bound behind his back with duct tape, and he was still in his uniform, the collar darkened in places by blood. The blood came from his cheek, or his nose, or perhaps both, Victor couldn’t quite tell. A few drops had dripped onto the badge over his heart.
“I have to admit,” said Victor, “I was hoping for Stell.”
“You said either one would do. Stell was out. I caught this one on a smoke break,” said Mitch.
Victor smiled beatifically as he turned his attention to the man in the chair. “Smoking’s bad for you, Officer Dane.”
Officer Dane said something, but the duct tape over his mouth made it unintelligible.
“You don’t know me,” continued Victor. He put his boot on the side of the foldout chair, and tipped it. Officer Dane tumbled out, hitting the floor with a crack and a muffled yelp, and Victor caught the chair before it fell, turned it in one lithe motion, and sat down. “I’m a friend of a friend. And I’d greatly appreciate your help.” He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I want you to tell me your access codes to the police database.”
Officer Dane frowned. So did Mitch.
“Vic,” he said, hunching over so Dane wouldn’t hear. “What do you need that for? I hacked you in.”
Victor didn’t seem to care if the officer overheard. “You gave me eyes, and I’m grateful. But I want to make a post, and in order to do that, I need a recognized ID.” It was time to send another message, and Victor wanted every detail perfect. The flagged profiles had author tags, and as Mitch himself had pointed out, all of them belonged to one of two people: Stell or Dane.
“Besides,” said Victor, sliding to his feet, “this way’s more fun.”
The air in the room began to hum, the exposed skeleton of the building reflecting back the energy until the whole space buzzed.
“You should wait outside,” he said to Mitch.
Victor had perfected his art, could pick a person out of a crowd and drop them like a stone, but he still didn’t like bystanders. Just in case. Now and then he got a touch too zealous, and the pain spilled over, leaked into others. Mitch knew him well enough, and didn’t ask questions, just tugged a veil of plastic tarp aside, and left. Victor watched him go, flexing his fingers as if he needed them supple. He felt a faint pang of guilt at involving Mitch in this at all. It’s not as though hacking was the only reason the man had ended up in such a high security prison, but still. Abducting an officer was a serious offense. Not as serious as the crimes Victor himself was about to commit, of course, but given Mitch’s record, it wouldn’t look good. He’d considered dismissing his friend as soon as they were on the free side of the Wrighton Penitentiary fence, but the simple fact was that Victor didn’t possess superhuman strength, and someone would have to help him dispose of bodies. That, and he’d grown rather accustomed to Mitch’s presence. He sighed, and turned his attention to the officer, who was trying to speak. Victor crouched, his knee digging down into the man’s chest as he peeled the duct tape back.