Serena’s fingers loosened on the gun, and she let it slide from her sister’s face. Sydney kept her eyes squeezed shut. The gun had left a mark on her forehead, a small dent where she’d leaned into the weapon, and Serena reached out and smoothed it away with her thumb. Only then did Sydney’s eyes drift open, the strength in them wavering.
“Why—,” she started.
“I need you to listen now,” cut in Serena in her even tone, the one that no one—not even Eli—knew how to refuse. An absolute power. “I need you to do as I say.” She pressed the gun into Sydney’s hands, and then took her by the shoulders and squeezed.
“Go,” she said.
“Where?” asked Sydney.
Serena let go and gave her sister a small push backward, away, a gesture that once might have been playful, normal. But the look in her eyes and the gun in Sydney’s hands and the cold night hardening around them served as a vivid reminder that nothing was normal now. Sydney tucked the gun into her coat, but didn’t take her eyes from her sister, and didn’t move.
“Go,” snapped Serena.
This time, Sydney did as she was told. She turned, clutched the scruff of Dol’s neck, and the two bolted between the cars. Serena watched until her sister was a speck of red, and then nothing. At least she’d have a chance.
A phone rang in the pocket of Serena’s coat. She rubbed her eyes, and answered.
“I’m here,” said Eli. “Where are you?”
Serena straightened. “I’m on my way.”
TWENTY MINUTES UNTIL MIDNIGHT
THE FALCON PRICE PROJECT
She cut through the Esquire’s parking garage and onto a side street that looped back around to the front of the hotel, and ended up a few yards to the left of the main doors. A cop stood several feet away, his back to her as he sipped a coffee and talked on his cell. Sydney felt the weight of the gun in her pocket—as if the hidden firearm would draw more attention than a missing girl in a bright red coat clutching the collar of a giant black dog—but the cop never turned around. It was late and the cars on the main road were sparse, the traffic clumping as the night wore on, and Sydney and Dol sprinted across the street, unnoticed.
She knew exactly where she was going.
Serena hadn’t told Sydney to go home. She hadn’t told her to run away. She’d told her to go somewhere safe. And over the course of the last week, safe had ceased to be a place for Sydney, and had become a person.
Specifically, safe had become Victor.
Which is why Sydney ran to the only place she knew Victor would be (at least, according to the profile he’d had her put up on the police database that night, the one she’d read through a dozen times while waiting and then working up the nerve to hit the Post button).
The Falcon Price high-rise project.
Down the block, the construction site was a spot of dark in the city, like a shadow between streetlights. There was a thin shell of wood surrounding the abandoned high-rise, two-story walls, the kind people loved to vandalize because they were both temporary and highly visible. The shell was plastered with posters and signs, tagged here and there by street art, and underneath it all, a few construction permits, and a building company logo.
Officially, there was only one way onto the construction site, through a front gate—also made of wooden sheeting—which had spent the last few months chained shut.
But earlier that day, when Mitch had brought her here to revive Officer Dane, he’d shown her another way in, not through the chained-off gate, but around the back of the building, through a place in the shell where two broad panels of wood overlapped slightly. He’d widened the gap between the sheets to let them through, the panels snapping shut again behind them. Sydney knew she could squeeze into the construction site without touching the walls, since even when the panels hung closed there was a small triangle of space near the bottom. She let go of Dol’s neck, and worried the dog would bolt, but he didn’t, only stood there watching Sydney crawl through the gap. Dol looked both distressed by Sydney’s decision, and determined to follow her. When she made it to the other side and stood, brushing dirt from her pants, the dog crouched down, and squirmed through the gap in the boards.
“Good dog,” she whispered as he stood and shook off.
Inside the wooden shell was a kind of yard, a large stretch of dirt strewn with bits of metal and plywood and bags of concrete. The yard was dark, shadows on shadows making the path from the wall to the building dangerous. The building itself towered, unfinished, a steel and concrete skeleton draped in layers of plastic sheeting like gauze.
But on the ground floor, several layers of plastic in, Sydney could make out a light.
It was diffused so much that if the yard hadn’t been so dark, she might not have noticed it. But she did. Dol pressed himself against her side. Sydney stood in the yard, unsure what to do. Was Victor here already? It wasn’t midnight yet, was it? She didn’t have her phone, couldn’t tell by the moon even if she knew how to read the moon because there was no moon above, only a thick layer of clouds, glowing faintly with reflected city light.
As for the light within the high-rise, it was steady, constant, more like a lamp than a flashlight, and somehow that gave Sydney comfort. Someone had set it there, had prepared, had planned. Victor planned things. But when she took a step toward the building, Dol barred her path. When she went around him, his jaws circled her forearm, and held fast. She twisted, but couldn’t get free, and even though the dog was careful not to bite down, his grip was solid.
“Let go,” she hissed. The dog didn’t budge.
And then, on the other side of the building, beyond the thin wood shell, a car door slammed. Dol dropped Sydney’s arm as his head snapped toward the sound. The noise, sharp and metallic, reminded Sydney of a gunshot, and sent her pulse spiking, the word safe safe safe safe pounding with the blood in her ears. She sprinted for the building, for the sheets and the steel and the shelter, tripping over a stray iron bar before reaching the hollow high-rise frame. Dol followed, and the two vanished into the Falcon Price as, somewhere, on the opposite side, someone dragged the front gate open.
* * *
Mitch slammed the car door, and watched Victor and Dominic drive away. He’d planned to circle around to the back of the high-rise, pry open the loose wooden panel, and get in that way, but when he stepped up to the front gate, he saw it wasn’t necessary. The chains had been cut, the snaking metal coiled on the ground at his feet. Someone was already inside.
“Great,” whispered Mitch, withdrawing the gun Victor had given him.
Incidentally, Mitch had always hated guns, and the events of the evening hadn’t made him any fonder. He pushed open the gate, wincing as the hinges screwed into the wood responded with a metallic whine. The yard was dark and, as far as he could tell, empty. He ejected the magazine on the gun, checked it, put it back, and rapped the barrel of the weapon nervously against his palm as he made his way to the center of the yard, halfway between the wooden shell of the fence and the steel skeleton of the high-rise, to a patch of dirt that was as open as possible.
A faint glow coming from the high-rise did little to illuminate him, but given his size and the sheer lack of other people, Mitch felt painfully confident he would be noticed, and soon. A stack of wooden beams, tarped against the weather, sat a few feet away, and Mitch sank onto them, checked his gun a second time, and waited.
* * *
Serena’s phone rang again as she crossed the street, making her way down the now nearly deserted block toward the Falcon Price high-rise.
“Serena,” said the caller. It wasn’t Eli’s voice.
“Detective Stell,” she replied. She could hear the open and close of a car door.
“We’re on our way now,” he said. The line was muffled for a moment while the phone’s speaker was covered and orders were given.
“Remember,” she said, “you’re to stay outside the fence—”
“I know the orders,” he said. “That’s not why I called.”
Serena saw the signage of the abandoned high-rise, and slowed her pace. “Then what is it?”
“Mr. Ever had me send officers to a bar to clean up after an incident. There was supposed to be a body.”
“Yeah, Mitchell Turner’s,” she said.
“Only I get a call from the officers just now. There was no body. No signs of a body, either.” Serena’s boots slowed, and stopped. “I don’t know what’s going on,” said Stell, “but that’s the second time things haven’t lined up and—”
“And you didn’t call Eli,” she cut in softly.
“I’m sorry if that was wrong...”
“Why did you call me instead?”
“I trust you,” he answered, without hesitation.
“I trust you,” he said again, and Serena’s heart fluttered a little, both at the officer’s small display of evasion, the defiance of it, and at her own control over him. She started walking again.
“You did well,” she said as she reached the wooden walls of the construction site. And there, through the gap in the broken gate, she saw Mitch’s hulking form. “I’ll take care of it,” she whispered, “trust me.”