Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1 (14 page)

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
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“What are you doing up?”

“I heard a noise and got out of bed.”

“Well, go
back
to bed.” He felt bad being curt, but he didn’t have time to deal with her, not with the fate of their family hanging in the balance.

“Not until you tell me what is going on,” she argued, literally putting her foot down with a small stomp. “Where were you and Dad all day? Where is Uncle Rick?”

“I really don’t have time to explain, Ellie, please. I’m going to find Uncle Rick now, and I’ll be back in the morning. I promise.”

“You didn’t keep your last promise.”

“Neither did you,” he countered. Ellie shifted on her feet, and Jeremy could have sworn he saw her blush, but it was too dark to be certain. He thought quickly. “Look, it’s
really
important that you keep this one, okay?”

“Keep this one what?”

“Keep this secret,” he said patiently. “You can’t tell anyone where I’m going or what I’m doing, not until morning, at least. When I get back, I’ll explain everything to you.”

She frowned and bit her lip. “You have until eight to spill the beans.”

He looked at the clock mounted behind her; it was nearly one o’clock. “Ten,” he countered.

“Nine o’clock, and if you’re a minute late, I’ll tell Mom everything.”

Jeremy grinned. “You don’t know anything,” he said, “but go ahead and try. I’ll be back way before then.”

“You promise?”

“Yes, Ellie,” he sighed. “Cross my heart, blah, blah. Can I go now? We’re going to wake Mom up if we talk any longer.”

Ellie nodded and stepped aside to let him pass. “Be safe, big brother,” she whispered, sounding more serious than he had ever heard before.

He looked at her and gave a quick smile as he touched the bandage on his head. “I’m always safe.”

She snorted, and Jeremy ducked out the front door. He started off in the direction of the Tower, taking the dirt path that was most easily visible in the moonlight.

His thoughts flashed back to the jungle memory, obviously of his uncle’s time in Brazil. Everything had been dying, and he knew now that the earlier story had been a complete lie. They had taken out the drug lord, but not without also poisoning the rest of the jungle. Plants and animals had died by the thousands at the hands of one man, the very same man who felt confident in facing a grown black bear with only a small knife.

And now he was here, planning who knew what with the fate of the valley.

His uncle was the most dangerous man alive, and Jeremy had to confront him.

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

 

 

It was past
one in the morning when Brennan finished typing his report of the failed raid on the warehouse.

By then, news of what had befallen Bishop’s team had reached the rest of the precinct. They had already sent a relief squad, but the only officers returning from her squad came in body bags. Bishop herself was still missing, whereabouts unknown.

He cursed as he slammed the door to his apartment shut behind him.
I should have been there with her
. It was stupid to split up; even if they had hit the wrong place first, at least they would have known where Leviathan
was
. The door to his left creaked open, and he had his sidearm up and ready with a twitch.

“Woah, woah!” Greg said, slowly emerging from the bedroom. “Uncle Arty, it’s me.”

Brennan had forgotten that his nephew was staying with him. His heartbeat slowed precipitously as he lowered the gun. “I’m sorry,” he said. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “I’ve—it’s been a long day.”

“Long week,” Greg said morosely. Brennan nodded sympathetically. He shrugged out of the bulletproof vest he still wore and slung it over a chair. Greg raised an eyebrow. “They let you keep those?”

“Occupation just got a lot more dangerous,” Brennan said. “We lost half a dozen good officers tonight.” The words were raw on his tongue. He still couldn’t believe how far south their plan had gone.
His
plan. He had never consulted Bishop on what they should do with Sam’s lead; he just made a plan and ran with it.

“What happened?”

“We had a lead that went horribly wrong. And Bishop…” Brennan said, his voice trailing off. “She was taken.”

Greg’s eyes widened with comprehension. “Was it a theater? Did she go missing at a theater?”

“What?” Brennan looked at him, confused, until he remembered his nephew’s Chamalla-induced vision. “No,” he said. “It was an, uh, a factory, in uptown.”

“Oh.” Greg looked everywhere else in the room for a few seconds before his eyes finally fell back on Brennan. “I’m sorry. To hear that she’s missing, I mean.”

Brennan grunted.

“It’s better than if she were dead, right?” Greg continued. “I mean, she wasn’t among the dead officers, so they probably want her alive for some reason.”

“What reason would that be?” Brennan snapped. He moved to tower over his nephew. “How is that supposed to make me feel better, knowing she’s probably suffering somewhere? These people wouldn’t spare her out of pity, or because she’s a woman! No, they’re going to make her miserable for every second of life she has left. She is going to die, and it won’t be quick, and it will all be
my
fault!”

Greg retreated to the couch, and Brennan realized he was putting a safe distance between them. “I was only trying to help,” he said. “Even if she is being tortured, that means she is still alive somewhere, and
that
means you still have a chance to find her. Are you really going to waste your time wallowing in self-pity, or are you going to rescue her?” His eyes held a flinty gaze that made Brennan look away in shame.

“You’re right,” he admitted. Brennan felt his anger, hot and roiling inside. Slowly, it oozed out of him like a toxic sludge, something that would only harm him if held on to. His fists unclenched, and the lines on his face became less severe. With a wearied sigh, he grabbed a Coke and joined his nephew on the couch. “We still have no idea where Bishop is being kept. Her phone was dropped during the assault, and they must have destroyed or discarded her communicator.” He held up his arm in explanation, showing the black glass band wrapped around his wrist.

Greg winced. “You don’t all have GPS locators embedded in your neck or something?”

“You’ve been reading too much science fiction,” Brennan said. His gaze moved carelessly around the room as he spoke. “No, none of that, and Sam can’t find her any more than the department can.” His frown deepened. “There’s no other—”

His eyes landed on the bulletproof vest hanging from the chair. There, poking out of one of the side pockets, was an evidence bag. Grimacing, he lifted himself from the couch, set down his Coke, and retrieved the small zipped bag from its hiding place. Inside, clearly visible through the plastic, was the single Chamalla patch from the warehouse crate.

“Is that what I think it is?” Greg asked. There was something covetous in his voice that Brennan didn’t like.

“Yeah,” Brennan said absently, moving to put it away again.

“No!” Greg shouted, holding up a hand. “Just…no. Hold on,” he said. “I think I know a way I can help you.”

“You do?” Brennan arched an eyebrow. He followed his nephew’s hungry stare to the bag in his hand. “No,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

“Please, Uncle Arty,” he said. “I can find her.”

True
.

The small voice in his head rocked Brennan on his heels. That simple statement, more than anything, convinced him of his nephew’s sincerity.

Brennan knew he wouldn’t find another opportunity like this. There was too much going against him and not nearly enough time left for Bishop. But Chamalla was potent, even deadly. Was it worth the risk of Fracturing his nephew?

Even if he came through it safely, Brennan didn’t know if he could live with that choice, if he could knowingly put his nephew in such a dangerous position. He moved ever so slightly toward the couch. “You realize what you’re suggesting?” he asked. Greg nodded, his eyes never leaving the patch. “And you realize the consequences it might have?”

Greg sharply locked gazes with him. “I can find her,” he repeated.

True.

Brennan sighed, and he knew his soul would be tarnished by his selfish choice. He tossed the evidence bag toward his nephew. Greg caught it a little too eagerly out of the air. Brennan watched as he ripped the patch free from its packaging and positioned it delicately over the broad side of his bicep. It sizzled slightly as it made contact with his skin, a sound that horrified Brennan, but then his nephew arched his back and he knew it was too late—the Chamalla was already working its way through his system.

When his head lowered again, his brown eyes were dull and unfocused. Greg sighed in bliss. “Ahhh, that’s so good,” he murmured.

Brennan pressed a fist against his forehead. “Greg,” he said patiently, “I need to find Bishop.”

“What? Uncle Arty, what’re you…?” The question trailed off as his eyes trained on a bare spot on the wall.

“Greg!”

“Hey!” he suddenly cried. “Don’t go in the theater! Uncle Arty, you need to go ahead of her! It’s chivalrous!”

“I need you to focus, damn—”

Greg’s eyes suddenly zeroed in on Brennan. The intensity of his stare was unnerving, but not nearly as unsettling as the slender rings of blue that surrounded his pupils like azure halos. “She’s in uptown,” he said, his voice eerily calm. “In the abandoned hospital.”

“How do you know?” Brennan asked. A chill ran down his spine as he kept his nephew’s gaze.

“There isn’t much time.” Greg’s head suddenly lolled, and when it bobbed up again, the blue rings had disappeared from his eyes. Whatever prescient power had been there before had evidently vanished. “There isn’t much time,” he repeated thickly, sounding drunk.

His heartrate soared as adrenaline surged through his veins. Brennan reached out and quickly tore away the patch from his nephew’s arm; he didn’t want him to be any more exposed than he already was. Still, several minutes had already passed, and there was no way of telling how much of the patch had been absorbed into his skin.

The patch squelched as it unclenched its hold on Greg’s arm, and his nephew cried out in sudden pain as red, welted flesh revealed itself beneath. “Don’t take it off!” he yelled, but it was too late. Brennan held the patch by the tiniest bit of its corner, a rim of unsaturated cloth that didn’t hold any of the corrosive chemicals. He curled it into his pocket and hurried for the door.

Brennan couldn’t waste a second. He knew where to go now, and Bishop’s life hung in the balance. The bulletproof vest hugged his chest snugly. He looked over at his nephew and frowned. He didn’t want to leave him here alone, but there was no time to make better arrangements. It took a moment to secure the small liquor cabinet and the bedroom door, and he left the bathroom unlocked for when Greg eventually needed to purge his body of the toxins surging inside. He locked the apartment door behind him.

As he hit the stairs, he pulled out his phone and made a call.

“Yeah, Sam? I need you.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

 

 

The full moon
shone on Jeremy as he made his way toward the Tower.

Pale, ghostly light gave sinister shadows to the black walnuts that inhabited the valley, and he passed Ellie’s favorite pond on the way; its water was inky black in the dead of night. His feet ached and the sore muscles in his legs protested when his stride lengthened out. Still, with firm ground beneath his feet and the strong light of the pregnant moon to guide his path, he managed a solid pace. Familiarity was making the distance pass more quickly as well. He could see where their steps had sunken into the mud a day and a half ago, and when he reached the rocky outcropping, the faintest outline of the fort was visible off in the distance. It was only logical that his uncle would return to their campsite.

All the while, he kept his ears perked and his eyes open for the black bear. Crickets chirped in the night, and once or twice he was spooked by a rustling in the bushes, only to find that it was a squirrel or small skunk running from the sound of his footsteps. The whole trip, the only apparent danger he faced was the possibility of falling in the dark and injuring himself. If he was left alone out here, tired and hungry and injured, he could very easily die. His parents wouldn’t notice his absence until morning, and by then it might be too late to do anything for him. The best he could do was to remain alert and move with caution. It wasn’t until he was walking through one of the denser patches of trees that he realized his uncle might not even be around at all.

“If I were him,” Jeremy said aloud, pushing past a stubborn branch, “I would have moved far,
far
away from here by now. And now I’m talking to myself; probably not the best indicator of my mental health.”

He walked until he broke through the tree line and then collapsed to the ground. He simply lay on his back; the wrapped-up mirror in his back pocket rubbed flat against him. Unobstructed by trees, the infinite majesty of space looked down upon him. Jeremy’s eyes had adjusted to the dark, and without any real light sources in the valley, he paid witness to countless stars in the sky above him.

Three thousand stars
. The figure appeared in his head, and he realized it was one of Annabelle’s memories resurfacing. Astrology had been one of the areas of her studies at the university. Approximately six thousand stars were visible at any time from the equator; compensating for living in either the northern or southern hemisphere, that number was halved.

“Three thousand,” Jeremy murmured. It seemed like there were so many more. There were more people in his high school than there were visible stars in the sky. His mother’s memory wanted to go on, to point out that some of the lights were actually galaxies that contained billions of stars. In that case, there would be—

He shook his head and curled up his legs, holding them close within his arms. There was so much he knew now, so much that had come from the memories of his parents—and now his uncle—that threatened to overwhelm him. That knowledge was too much to keep in one head. He felt it, even now, the cumulative life experience of a century and a half. Uncle Rick’s memories had been the hardest to absorb because Jeremy knew—he
knew
—that each story he had told them as children was darker and truer than they had ever suspected. Absorbing all of that misery, that chaos, would surely drive him to madness. He would need to learn how to control these memories before they consumed him, especially if he wanted to become a Sleeper like Old Ben.

Before he had gained this power, whatever it was, there had been no question of where he would end up. He would have gone to Odols University, graduated with whatever degree he wanted, and then returned home to live off his father’s wealth. Perhaps he would have traveled like Uncle Rick, but that was before he’d discovered the truth behind all of those stories. His uncle was not a man to be admired or copied. But Old Ben had been drawn to his power and offered him another life, one with purpose. Not a boogeyman, as the children’s tales told, but a peacekeeper. A Sleeper.

But that dream could never be fulfilled if Uncle Rick was allowed to stay.

Jeremy’s joints popped as he stood, and the moon watched him balefully as he began to walk. The leaves rustled as the wind blew gently through them, and keeping his mind occupied on other things made the steps pass more easily. It was a pleasantly warm summer night—
early morning
, Jeremy amended. It was easily a couple hours past midnight by now. It was the hour that ghosts walked the earth, when humans were supposedly closest to death.

His short rest break had done wonders for his body, and he didn’t realize the progress he made until the land started to slope gradually upward beneath his feet. His eyes glanced up and caught the distinctive rise of the fort’s stone walls. Flickering orange light danced against the stone archway of the entrance.

His heartbeat sped as he crept up the ditch in front of the fort and leaned against the wall to peek around the corner.

There, seated on a hunk of rubble and tending to a small fire, was Uncle Rick.

He hunched over the little source of warmth with a haggard look, and there was a fresh cut that ran down the side of his face. His clothes were tattered, and he didn’t seem to notice Jeremy as he moved closer to the edge of the fire’s light. Beside him, to Jeremy’s surprise, was a long, crude wooden spear. Its shaft was longer than he was tall, and the last half foot of it tapered to a deadly point. The wood of its tip was darkened, stained with blood.

Jeremy must have made some noise, a scuffle of his shoe, because his uncle suddenly rose from his seat. He turned toward Jeremy with startling speed, the rough-hewn spear gripped tightly in his calloused hands. It was half extended toward him out of sheer reflex.

He gulped. “Uncle Rick,” he said quickly. “It’s me, Jeremy.”

“Jeremy?” his uncle whispered. “What the hell are you doing here?” He lowered the spear and brought forth a flashlight from his side. It shone brightly in Jeremy’s face, which was good, because the hand he raised to shield his eyes also hid his bared teeth. Uncle Rick might have been caught off guard by the meeting, but
he
was prepared.

“I came to find you, Uncle,” he said, his voice breathy. He tried to sound nonchalant, but his heart was hammering on the inside. Nearly getting run through with a spear could do that to someone. “Where is the bear?”

Uncle Rick leaned the spear against the heavy canvas tent. “We came to an understanding,” he said dryly, gesturing to the equally dry stain at the pointed tip. He sat down again by the fire, affixing Jeremy with a critical eye. “You didn’t have to come all this way,” he continued. “I would have been home by sunrise, or maybe midday at the latest. Your dad made it home safely, too?”

“Yeah,” Jeremy said. He struggled to maintain his composure, to keep any emotion from slipping into his voice. He took a step closer. “He and Mom are at home, sleeping.”

“As you should be,” his uncle said sternly. “What on earth were you thinking?”

“I thought I needed to come find you.” Another step closer. “You worry me.”

“You could have gotten lost,” Uncle Rick scolded, “or injured yourself, or there could be more dangerous animals around. I can take care of myself. You, on the other hand…what you did was reckless!” His face reddened. “I don’t care how worried you were for me. And when we get home, I’m—”

“No, Uncle. I didn’t say I was worried for you.” Jeremy was nearly within arm’s length of the spear now.
One more step.
“I said you worry me.”

Confusion drained some of the color from his uncle’s features. “I don’t understand.” He seemed to just now realize how close Jeremy had come to him, and dancing flames were reflected in his eyes. His lips curled at the edges. “If this is some kind of joke—”

“No joke,” Jeremy said. His voice was utterly calm, eerily dead of emotion. Likewise, his hand reached out and grasped the haft of his uncle’s spear as if it were the most natural thing. It was rough on his palm and slightly too wide for his grip, but it would do.

“Jeremy, put that down!” Uncle Rick rose to his feet and placed the fire between the two of them. “I don’t know what game you’re playing at, but it needs to stop this instant! Stop it!” His voice was deep and rich, tapping into his power of persuasion.

Waves of haze-inducing command crashed against the walls of his mind, and he fought to resist Uncle Rick’s influence. Jeremy laughed harshly. He idly caressed the tip of the spear, as if testing its point. The bear’s blood had dried, and flakes of it came off beneath his touch. “That won’t work on me anymore, Uncle,” he said. His eyes flashed with firelight as he looked up sharply. He was aware of the flush in his face, a heat for which the flames were not altogether to blame. He shook the spear as he spoke. “See, it took me a while, but I finally have you figured out. It all makes sense now, really. I can’t believe I didn’t see through you before.”

“I have no idea what—”

“Do
not
lie to me!” Jeremy feinted with the spear, and his uncle took several steps back. “I’ve only just discovered mine, but you’ve had
your
power for a long time now, haven’t you? Ever since you were young.”

His uncle’s mouth gaped a few inches, though no words came out.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. And who did you first use it on?” Jeremy checked his memory. “Oh, that’s right. You told the kids who were picking on your little brother to leave him alone. You were smaller then, no bigger than any of those older kids, but they listened to you. And you wondered.”

They took another step together, Jeremy advancing and his uncle retreating, the space between them always just barely longer than a lunge could carry the spear.

“You wondered, and you tried it on your parents. Your mother was gone, so you tried it on your dad. He got his shit together, and soon you boys no longer lived in the uptown slums. It could have stopped there, but it didn’t. You wanted
everything
to be the best.” Jeremy broke off in a laugh that bordered on maniacal. “And you know what? I can understand that. I sympathize, I really do.” Another tandem step; they were in the middle of the courtyard now, equally far away from the entrance and the Tower. “You used it on my father—your
brother
—and even
then
you meant well! Do you remember what you said to him?”

Uncle Rick’s face was a mask of horror. “How do you know all of this?”

Jeremy ignored him. “You said, ‘Do well in school, be successful, and make us all proud.’” The memory was fresh and crisp in his mind. He fixed a venomous glare at his uncle. “And then you added, ‘Find a girl.’ As an
afterthought
. And he did! He did all of that! Poor as he had been, terrified as he was of being alone, you helped him become successful and happily married.” Jeremy’s heart grew heavy as he lived out the emotional memories of both his mother and father. “They found love,” he said quietly.

“Jeremy, I think this has gone far enough. There are some things in my past that I haven’t told you, and I’m not proud of that, but if you could just put down the spear so we can talk—”

“No!” The rage and fury he had discovered in those memories boiled up inside. He gripped the spear in both hands and jabbed. “Does this look like a negotiation?!”

His uncle dodged away from the weapon’s point and fell back on his hands and rear. He scrambled backward toward the main entrance of the fort.

“Your command drove my father to do great things, just like you wanted,” Jeremy said. He was surprised by the strength of his own voice; if he hadn’t kept his arms moving with the feinting jabs, they would have been shaking. He was at his limits, both physically and mentally. “But his work never ended, and you jumped into the void it made between him and my mother!”

“We were in love,” Uncle Rick argued. His power still flowed into his voice, but the deep tones that hinted at persuasion rolled off of Jeremy, incapable of swaying him.

“She was confused, and you took advantage of it,” Jeremy accused. “You still come and go as you please, and they never question it because you
make
them think it was their idea to begin with! You’ve come and had your time here—now I think it’s time for you to go.”

“Go? Please, Jeremy, think about what you’re doing.” He rose to his feet, snarling, uncaring of the spear pointed at his chest. “If you’re going to kill me, you’ll have to do it like a man.”

Jeremy was dwarfed by his uncle, and he fought to hide the rush of fear he felt. If he screwed up, if his plan didn’t work or his uncle resisted, he could easily be overpowered by the larger man. He gulped as he reached behind his back and grabbed the mirror that had been tucked away in his waistband. Some of the cloth had come loose, and jagged glass bit into his fingers as he gripped it.

“I want you to go,” Jeremy said. He carefully held the mirror aloft, aimed at his uncle; the spear in his other hand kept his uncle from making a grab for it. Drops of blood fell from the edge of his palm as the two locked gazes. “And you’re going to give the order yourself,” he said, “so that you can never return.”

Uncle Rick glanced between Jeremy and the mirror. “Is this really what you want? For me to go and never return?”

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
13.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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