Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1 (4 page)

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
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“This,” Nathaniel finally said, gesturing to Jeremy’s bandaged head, “could have been so much worse.”

Jeremy wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t been expecting a tearful confession or anything, but his father’s words still spoke measures. It was as close to a bonding experience as they’d had in years. He looked his father directly in the eyes.

“Family comes first,” Jeremy said, his tone even.

Nathaniel eyed him appraisingly and nodded. He patted Jeremy’s knee through the blankets and left the room without another word.

Unable to move, uncomfortably warm now beneath the blankets and basking in the fire’s glow, Jeremy watched his father’s shadow disappear down the hall. He didn’t know what to make of the memories that lingered in his head, as fresh as if he had experienced them himself. His father had received the call about Jeremy’s absence, he realized, just as he himself must have been lying unconscious on the floor of the Tower, head bleeding profusely against the cold stone.

And it had indeed been his father who rescued him from the old fort. The vision had flooded into him with the others, as vivid as his own memories. Unbidden, the captured images flooded his mind as he laid back down to rest.

His father had entered the first level of the Tower sometime after sundown, though light still filtered in through the windows of the second floor. His face had turned ashen when he saw Jeremy’s motionless body lying against the stone table, and he’d carried him in both arms like a child. Nathaniel had stepped through the doorway of the ranch house while the moon hung low in the sky, and the next few hours had been frantic with Annabelle’s fussing, Ellie’s plaintive cries, and the attentive care of the doctor.

Another memory pushed to the fore, picking up earlier in the evening when his father had been leaving from work.

Jeremy emerged from the elevator and turned to see Dr. Kai waiting as he strode into the parking deck.

“Why am I here, sir?” she asked, her tone just barely on the side of tolerant politeness.

“I need some bloodwork drawn up discreetly, and I know you are loyal to this company and to me. I understand you requested updated equipment in the diagnostics lab.”

Dr. Kai nodded.

“Consider it done,” Jeremy said in his father’s voice.

“Th-thank you, sir.”

“Of course. And remember, absolute discretion.”

The memory dissolved as a powerful wave of agony pulsed from Jeremy’s temple and he lost his fight with consciousness.

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

 

Brennan arrived just
two minutes late of his estimate.

The apartment smelled stale, stagnant, and the specter of death loomed close by. He let himself in and marched straight back to his sister’s room. A pair of lit candles feebly fought against the cloying odors emanating from Madison Warner’s body, but they were no match for the final stages of her Fractured decay.

He was dismayed at the state in which he found her. It was obvious that she had not been able to leave her bed for several days. Her skin, once full and beautiful, now clung tightly against her bones, giving her face a hauntingly gaunt impression. The full bags under her eyes were colored like watery tea, and her eyes themselves were equally moist and ruddy. They stared lazily at one corner of the room, and she was either uncaring of Brennan’s presence or unaware of it altogether. Her body writhed in bed, unattended, with her arms and legs shooting out violently at random intervals as she babbled at invisible phantoms.

Brennan grasped one of her clammy hands and held it between his own. He rubbed the top of it reassuringly as he spoke to her soothingly. “Maddy,” he said. “Mads, I’m here. It’s Arty.”

His nephew, Greg Warner, appeared in the doorway. Greg was on the cusp of manhood, average height now but with a few inches still to grow. He brushed some of the dark hair from his eyes as he looked down on his ailing mother. “Thank you, Uncle Arty,” he said, biting at his thumb. “She was like this when I got back. I did exactly what you told me to do, but I don’t know, I guess it didn’t work.”

“When you got back?” Brennan echoed. “Why weren’t you here? You’re supposed to look after her!”

Greg’s uncertain frown turned into a scowl. “I have a life, too, you know. It was only for an hour!”

“I send money to support you two,” Brennan said, failing to keep the frustration out of his voice. “What was so important that—?”

His voice had risen to a near shout, and Maddy stirred beneath him in another bout of fitful struggling. Brennan gave his nephew a withering look and focused again on his ill sister. He held her down until the shaking ceased again. Her long-term patch use had left her body devastated. Brennan lifted the sleeves of her shirt to reveal her thin, pale arms. Faded scars lined both arms, their square shapes barely visible after years without using.

“She didn’t get her hands on anything?” he asked, repeating the visual exam with her legs. Maddy moaned incoherently and pushed at his arms. Her eyes focused on the empty space behind him and followed something that could not be seen. Brennan frowned down at his older sister.

Greg shook his head. “She’s getting worse, isn’t she?”

The question twisted a knife in Brennan’s heart. He knew that his sister might never recover from the damage her addiction had inflicted. It had robbed her of her family, her sanity, and now perhaps even her life. It was made worse by the fact that the moment the question was asked, in Brennan’s heart of hearts he
knew
it to be true. Knowing the true nature of things was something he’d always been gifted with, though it felt like a curse at the moment.

“Right now, I think it’s too soon to tell.” He heard the falseness of his own words, but the hope he was giving his nephew was of the same kind that he himself held on to now. “We’ll do everything we can for her.” That much was true.

“Of course,” Greg said, nodding.

Maddy was back under control, and Brennan succeeded in getting her to drink some water. When he was sure she wouldn’t relapse into spasms, at least not for the moment, he gestured to Greg to leave the room so they could let her rest. They retreated to the living room, where Brennan sat down directly across from his nephew.

He was tired. The case of Zachariah Nettle’s murder wasn’t any closer to being solved, and he realized that Bishop should have called him by now, or even earlier in the evening. He was about to enter a fourth day without sleep. And he was fairly certain that his nephew was lying to him, or at least not telling the whole truth.

His power had never led him wrong before, and of all the problems he could think of, this one was the most immediately reconcilable.

“Greg,” he started, and he heard the detached detective tone of his own voice. “Do you love your mother?”

“Yes.”

True
.

“Would you do anything for her?”

“Of course.”

True.

Brennan sighed deeply. “Why did you leave her this afternoon?”

There was a fraction of a second when Greg hesitated before answering, but Brennan saw it. “I went to a friend’s house,” Greg said. “Just for an hour.”

True.

“What did you do at your friend’s place?”

“You know, just played games.”

False.

“You’re lying to me,” Brennan growled.

“I swear I’m not!”

Brennan leaned forward and gripped the armrests of Greg’s chair, his face only inches from his nephew’s. Greg stared with wide eyes as Brennan searched his face. “Are you using, Greg?”

“What do you mean, using?”

“Don’t play games with me!” His hold on the chair was painful, white-knuckled, but he was in control of his anger. Greg sunk back slightly into the cushion. “Patches. Are you using patches?”

“N-no, Uncle Arty,” he stammered.

He didn’t need his power’s input to know that the kid was lying. Brennan sighed, grabbed his nephew by the arm, and tore his shirt’s sleeve off at the shoulder. Greg shouted in protest, but Brennan’s attention was entirely devoted to the blistering square of seared flesh, the signature mark of a patch. The drug was soaked up through the skin, and the strong toxins in the patch ate away at the flesh.

“You’re lying,” he growled, his hand tightly gripping Greg by the elbow.

Greg tried unsuccessfully to squirm out of his grasp. “Okay, I did it once. Today was the first time.”

False
.

Brennan gave his nephew a look which barred any contention, and Greg’s face crumpled. Words started spilling out of his mouth, tripping over one another to get out in the open.

“Almost two years now,” he admitted. He sounded guilty—ashamed, even—though no color rose in his cheeks. “But it’s fine. I never use too many at once, and it isn’t often. I have it under control.”

“Your mother never thought she was abusing the patches either.”

Greg scowled. “You have no idea what it has been like living here. With
her.
She can go days without recognizing me. When she does talk to me, it isn’t really me she is seeing, but as if she’s talking to somebody she
wants
me to be. Her ideal son. Or maybe an old friend of hers, I don’t know. The way she is now is the way she has been for years.” He made a crazy sign with one hand. “Completely detached.”

“Watch it,” Brennan growled. “She’s still your mother. And my big sister.”

Greg held up his hands. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

Brennan could feel that truth, which stung worse than the words themselves. He had no idea that his sister’s condition had deteriorated to such a level. Or maybe he had simply not wanted to see it.

“So one night,” Greg continued, “I was curious. I took one of the patches from her nightstand when she was in one of her stupors. It was incredible.” His voice became mystified as he recalled the memory. “The room started swirling, like when you get the spins from drinking too much—”

Brennan gave him an even look.

“—which I would have absolutely no idea about.”

He gave a skeptical harrumph.

Greg’s eyes glazed over. “And when you’re patched, it’s like—you’re free of everything. You see the world not for what it is but what it should be. The
perfect
world. You’re a free spirit.” The mystified tone left his voice. “Then that world breaks apart, and you’ll do anything to get back to it.”

Brennan lightly shook Greg’s horribly burned arm. “This is the price for that ‘perfect world’,” he said dryly before releasing his grip. He stood up and backed away from his nephew.

If what his nephew said was true—and he knew that it was—then the patch had made a fantasy world for Maddy to escape to, even as it caused her real life to crumble around her. She was in that world even now.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Greg asked.

“Mad?” Brennan supposed he should have been, seeing as how he was the only real adult in the kid’s life, a life which was on the verge of being hopelessly wasted. “I’m not mad. Disappointed, I should say. You’re a bright kid, Greg, when you aren’t repeating your mother’s mistakes.” It hurt to speak ill of his sister, but he had to be honest with himself; she had made some terrible choices, and her son was now flirting with following that same path.

Greg, for his part, mostly just stared down into his lap. He chewed his lip and went to bite his fingernails several times, always checking the motion before his hand reached his mouth. Brennan realized that he was probably itching for a patch, even now.

“I’m taking all of the patches you have here,” Brennan said. “Now.”

“What?” Greg looked up in alarm. “Why?”

“Really? You’re really asking me that?”

Greg stood, and though he was a full head shorter and a hundred pounds lighter, he stared directly into Brennan’s eyes. “I don’t have anything here,” he said.

False
.

Greg’s eyes wavered, unable to keep focused on one spot for long, and they darted to one side as he licked his lips. Brennan raised an eyebrow and started walking in the direction of his nephew’s nervous gaze. “There’s nothing here,” Greg repeated, a hint of desperation in his voice.

The apartment was small, and space was at a premium. Chairs and tables were arranged in just the right way to allow for legs to pass by, yet Brennan noticed a wide-backed chair positioned strangely against one wall. Sitting in it would have been awkward for conversations, and it didn’t directly face the television, either. Ignoring his nephew’s plaintive noises, Brennan grabbed the back and one arm of the chair and shoved it aside. Behind it, set low in the wall, was a black metal ventilation grate no larger than his hand.

“See? Nothing,” Greg declared quickly. “What are you—?”

Brennan silenced him with a raised hand and knelt down to peer into the vent. It was dark, but he could just barely make out the shimmer of plastic about a foot inside. His fingers looped around the fine metal filigree and pulled, and the vent pried free of its casing. He reached in with one hand, cringing as he broke a fresh spider’s web, and tightened his hand around the small bag inside. It was full of two-inch square patches.

“You can’t just come in here and take my stuff!”

“I’m a cop, Greg. You’re lucky I’m not arresting you right now. That’s what would be happening if it were anyone but me.”

“This is an illegal search and seizure,” Greg argued. He made a grab for the bag of patches, but Brennan held him back with a stiff arm.

“No, this is a concerned family member holding a cold-turkey intervention.” He marched into the kitchen and tossed the patches into the trash bin, then lifted the trash bag out and pulled the elastic bands tight. “Is this everything?”

Greg nodded sullenly.

“Say it out loud.”

“Yes,” he said through gritted teeth.

True.

“Good.” Brennan felt the tension easing out of his face, and he placed a fatherly hand on Greg’s shoulder as he looked his nephew in the eye. “I’m serious about this. You
cannot
go near this stuff. It’s toxic, and I can’t let you follow your mother’s path.”

“I’m not having nearly as much—”

“Greg! This is not a negotiation. What your mother is going through…” His voice trailed off as he shook his head. “I should have been looking out for her. It’s my fault that she is the way she is now. I won’t make that mistake again.”

His heart chilled slightly at his own revelation. He had never admitted, never
recognized
before, that his sister might not have been Fractured if only he’d been more attentive. Even if it was just a speech to set his nephew on the right path, there was a vein of truth to it as well.

“There’s something else you should know,” Greg said quietly.

“What is it?”

“I told you how it feels to be patched, right? How liberating it is? Well, it also made me see things…”

“It’s a hallucinogen, Greg. Whatever you saw was just an illusion.”

Greg bit the corner of his lip and frowned. “That’s just it, though. It felt so
real
, and it concerned your partner, the lady cop.”

“Bishop?” His eyebrows stitched together in confusion. “Why would you be hallucinating about her?”

“I’m trying to tell you, I think it was more than just the drug!” Greg ran a nervous hand through his hair. “She was lying there on the stage, surrounded in blood. Her clothes were drenched with it, and she was holding her hands against her stomach like she had been shot.”

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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