Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1 (9 page)

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
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Bishop faced Brennan squarely, hands on her hips, her mouth set in a stern frown. “We aren’t going to keep them from rolling on Nettle’s pharmacy?”

Brennan shook his head. “If we stay there, they’ll just move to another pharmacy. The patches are easy, and it would be impossible to cover every store that sells them. There can only be a handful of places that can supply the amount of Chamalla that they need, though. If we hit their source of the drug, we’ll put them out of business.”

“This is so cool,” Wally said, watching the exchange with wide eyes.

Brennan placed the damp NicoClean patch over one of the corpse’s empty eye sockets; its edges lined up neatly with the red, ruined skin.

Bishop made a sign of the cross.

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

 

When the sun
rose, it did so in secret.

Thick clouds, dark and foreboding, moved in from the west and settled over the valley. The light drizzle of the night before had been replaced by a steady downpour that hammered against the roof and drenched the valley. Every so often, the fabric of the sky would be torn asunder by a bolt of fire, followed by the beat of a god’s drum that left the earth trembling. Wind howled outside the Scott ranch like a horde of banshees.

Storms like these were not infrequent in the Midwest, and each time one came along, it was a terrible thing to behold.

“Out of nowhere!” Uncle Rick remarked, his loud voice managing to rise over the cacophony around them. Though it was impossible to tell by looking at the sky, it was midmorning, and everybody was gathered around the table for breakfast. His father and Uncle Rick had been talking about their plans to renovate the valley when Jeremy joined them, though that conversation fell quiet when his mother emerged from his parents’ bedroom. The topic had abruptly shifted to the weather.

“Oh, please,” Annabelle said. “You two don’t fool me for a second. Go on talking about whatever it is I interrupted,” she added, feigning indifference.

It’s a trap!
Jeremy mouthed, and his uncle hid a smile behind a napkin as he pretended to dab at his mouth.

“I have never seen such temperamental weather,” Uncle Rick blustered. He gestured at the rain that pelted against the windows; pellets of hail had joined the mix. “Sunny just yesterday, without a cloud in the sky! A light drizzle last night, sure, but this is just obscene!”

“Come on, Derrick,” his father said. “You’re exaggerating now. You’ve been all around the globe! A little rain isn’t anything new to you.”

“This is not
a little rain
.” Uncle Rick shook his head. “You Midwesterners.”

“You were born here, too, you know.”

He ignored Nathaniel’s comment. “One time,” Uncle Rick began, looking between Ellie and Jeremy, “I was in South America, in Brazil. The climate down there is damp. Humid. The clothes were clinging to my back, but my sweat must have smelled like honey, because we were getting bitten left and right by mosquitoes. The air was so thick with them that we couldn’t open our mouths, in case we accidentally swallowed one.”

“Eww!” Ellie exclaimed, wrinkling her nose.

Uncle Rick laughed. “It’s true! My buddy Jimmy and I, we shed all but our lightest fatigues, and there was still no respite from the heat.”

“Fatigues? You were never in any military,” Annabelle argued.

“We were dressed as local militia,” he confided, “so we had to look the part. Anyway, we were lost and dying of thirst. The closest town was over thirty miles away through dense rainforest.” Jeremy opened his mouth to talk, but his uncle overrode him. “I can guess what you’re thinking: we were in the rainforest, so there was water everywhere for us to drink. But there wasn’t.”

Uncle Rick licked his lips, the phantom sensation of thirst apparently getting to him. “We were
disguised
as local militia, but the men we encountered were nothing but thugs, men who offered their ‘protection’ services and burned down entire villages if they refused. Their boss was a drug lord dealing mostly with heroin, and—”

“I don’t think this is a story you should be telling the kids,” Annabelle said, frowning.

“But he was just getting to the good part,” Jeremy pleaded.

His sister echoed him. “Yeah, the good part!”

“Ellie, you’re definitely too young to hear this.” Annabelle looked sharply at Uncle Rick. “Another time in more adult company, perhaps.”

Her tone would brook no argument. Ellie protested by refusing to eat the rest of her breakfast, which would only make her more irritable later when she got hungry. Jeremy had finished eating by then, as had his father and uncle, and they excused themselves quietly from the table.

“Breakfast was delicious, thanks, honey,” Nathaniel said, kissing his wife on the cheek.

Uncle Rick mirrored the gesture, and a peculiar expression flashed across her face. ‘Pleasant surprise’ was how Jeremy would have described it. Everybody helped clear the table, with the exception of Ellie, who stalked off to her room.

“She adores his tales,” Nathaniel said.

Annabelle accepted his dirty plate. “She’s too young for that kind of story,” she insisted.

Nathaniel nodded. “You’re right, there. But Jeremy isn’t.”

She vigorously scrubbed the plate clean before placing it in the drying rack with a little more force than was necessary.

Jeremy listened discreetly; he had his face turned toward the window, as if he were wholly focused on the tempest outside. His face gave no indication otherwise; he had long ago learned the art of eavesdropping.

He found it difficult to think of them as Mom and Dad anymore. Ever since he had absorbed their memories—a fact which still freaked him out—he remembered every moment of both their lives with crystal clarity and surround sound. They had been together since their time at the university, and to each other they were simply Annabelle and Nathaniel. Jeremy rubbed at his uninjured temple. The memories were affecting his own perception of them as well. And then there were the nightmares.

For the past two nights, he had had cripplingly terrifying dreams. He never remembered what they were when he woke up—not like he remembered his encounter with Old Ben—but rather they left a kind of psychic scar. Sometimes, he had difficulty reaching a memory of his father’s, or he couldn’t recall a particular day in his mother’s life. They were little things, the kind of absence that would go unnoticed over a lifetime. But he, Jeremy, who had taken in those lifetimes in a matter of seconds, saw them as clearly as missing pieces from a jigsaw puzzle.

Somehow, whatever he had done to absorb his parents’ memories had been incomplete.

The scarred memories lived out their existence in forgotten dreams, though; his unconscious mind suffered each night from whatever horror resided in those missing moments. And each morning, he awoke with an awful feeling inside, like a sickness in his heart.

Even now, as he watched the rain fall and listened in on his parents’ now idle chit-chat, he felt the phantom memories.

He looked across the room at Uncle Rick, who reclined easily in a chair that was decidedly
not
facing one of the windows. He considered taking his uncle’s memories, too, but quickly decided against it. There was already too much to absorb right now; between his father, his mother, and himself, he had almost a solid century of memories. No wonder he had stood out so clearly to the Sleeper.

Jeremy bit his lip. Old Ben was a mystery, too. Jeremy had never given much consideration of what to do after high school; he had assumed that the university would be the next logical step for him, just as his parents had done. But what if that wasn’t the case?

What if my destiny is to become a Sleeper?

He frowned. When he was younger, Sleepers had always been the boogeymen. Every child in Odols grew up with that belief. Over the years, he had come to know them as a make-believe tale, something told to children to make them behave, similar to Santa giving coal to those on his naughty list. If the encounter last night was any indication, Jeremy realized, it meant that his entire upbringing had been a lie. Sleepers were real, and they were keepers of the peace.

Old Ben had offered him the chance to be an agent for good in Odols. By operating in the shadows, never mentioned outside of old wives’ tales, the Sleepers were rendered all the more effective.

The aching in his head returned. He didn’t mention it outwardly to his family, especially not after the fainting episode from last night, but he felt their eyes watching as he abruptly left his spot by the window. He thought about grabbing a few painkillers before heading back to bed to sleep out the storm, but it would have only confirmed their suspicions. He gritted his teeth and walked straight to his room. He threw a log on the fireplace and it fell with a burst of sparks before slowly catching flame. Within minutes, the room was dry and warm from the crackling fire as a deluge poured down just outside.

He looked at the summer reading book that he had set aside on the table. It was still open to the first page, face down, just as he had left it. Near it was a small stack of other books, also on the reading list, none of which Jeremy had bothered to open. Now he had no need; they had all been read before by either Annabelle or Nathaniel. There was something conspicuously off about the surface of his reading table, though, and it took Jeremy a moment to realize what was different.

The sheet of paper on which he had written his father’s signature was missing.

It wasn’t hidden beneath any of the books, nor had an errant gust of wind blown it to the floor. It was simply gone. Neither hidden nor misplaced, there was only one other option: it had been taken. Jeremy’s stomach pooled in his feet. His parents had been in here last night after his collapse; surely his father must have seen the paper. Would they suspect it had been a simple forgery? He had done it before for class field trips. It had its flaw, of course, with the awkward ending to the double-T that deviated from his father’s muscle memory signature.

But then where was the paper now? And why had it not been mentioned at breakfast?

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

 

Noel walked Brennan
across the street to his apartment and shoved him firmly onto the bed.

“To be honest,” he said, “I’m half-hoping this is heading in the direction it looks like.”

She punched him on the shoulder, and it wasn’t gentle. “You’re a pig.” He tried to rise, but she pushed him down again until he was resting against the pillow. It felt like an angel’s bosom beneath his head.

Brennan patted the open space next to him. “You’re welcome to join.”

Bishop cocked an eyebrow. “I think not,” she said flatly.

“Sorry,” he slurred. “Get tired when I’m weird.” He frowned. “Wait, that didn’t come out right.”

“I understood what you meant,” she said, smiling slightly before her expression sobered. “The answer is still no. Sleep now. You haven’t had a decent night’s rest since this all started.”

It had been years, actually, but he thought it best not to correct her. The bedspread was heavy and warm, especially since he still wore all his clothes from the previous day.

Bishop laid a hand on his arm. “Sam told me you’ve been having nightmares,” she said gently. “And there’s broken glass all over your living room floor.” He began to protest, but she held up a hand. “I’m not looking for an explanation. Not yet, in any case. But if you’re having any kind of trouble, I’m here to listen. That’s what partners are for.”

Brennan looked at her through heavy-lidded eyes. They had spent the dark hours of the morning working side-by-side, narrowing down the list of places where Chamalla shipments could be unloaded. Long hours passed during the tedious work, and by the time the rain started to fall in earnest it was a miracle either of them had managed to stay awake through it all. Brennan suspected he might have nodded off on one or more occasions.

The short walk from the precinct to his apartment had left them both drenched. He had already been thoroughly damp even before their conversation with Wally, so the downpour was only an unfortunate escalation for him; Bishop was completely unprepared for the state she now found herself in. Heavy rain fell outside even as she sat on the edge of his bed. He rose feebly, and she pushed him down again. “Sleep,” she said firmly.

He couldn’t tell her what was troubling him. Not yet, anyhow. But he also wasn’t about to make her trudge home in the rain. “Aye aye, cap’n,” he replied. He mumbled slightly, and the muscles that kept his eyes open had already decided to shut down. “There’s a couch,” he said lamely, gesturing blindly with one arm.

“Why, yes, I believe there is,” he heard Bishop reply.

“Sleep,” he suggested, as much to her as to himself.

He felt the bed shift as he stood, and a second later heard the bedroom door close softly behind her as she left. His body was spent, and he could feel the long pull of sleep tugging at him from not too far away. Still, he didn’t want to ruin his bed with wet clothes, and the fix would take less than a minute.

Wearily, he freed himself from the comforter and stood up abruptly before he could change his mind. His fingers worked clumsily to unbutton his dress shirt, and he had to peel it off one sleeve at a time. The same went for his pants, which clung tightly against his thighs. Finally, he divested himself of the last bit of clothing he had on and collapsed back into bed. He had barely rotated into position and lain his head on the pillow when he was transported to another place.

 

ф ф ф

 

The room was
wide enough to fit two buses side by side, and large, ornate crystal chandeliers hung on long chains of copper from the vaulted ceiling far above. The walls were adorned with blurred portraits of men and women with firm jaws and narrow noses, wearing clothes that dated back gradually through the centuries; some were as far back as the Old World, across the Atlantic.

Brennan stood upon an expansive tile mosaic of black and gold and white. The tiles were irregularly shaped and, seen from where he stood, were arranged in a way that formed a symbol in the floor, but its shape was unknown to him. Brennan’s mouth opened in a small circle. He recognized the hall of the mansion he had once called home.

“Just when I thought I was out,” he muttered.

The portraits on the walls resolved into the distinct faces of Brennan’s ancestors. Short tables were spaced along the walls as well, topped with doilies and vases which were worth more than what he now earned in a year.

The hall, large enough to host a hundred people—as it once had on numerous occasions—was eerily deserted.

Brennan descended a curved marble staircase and pushed open a heavy door of solid oak, entering into one of the adjacent rooms. It was smallish, dimly lit, and a hazy smoke hung lazily in the air. A single light hung over a green felt pool table. The smoke had a rich scent to it, and Brennan had a fleeting sense of nostalgia as he inhaled. This was his father’s office.

Brennan had never been allowed to enter during his father’s meetings, and so he had had no idea as a child what sort of treachery the man was up to. On one occasion, he had barged in by accident, unaware of a meeting in progress. He had been greeted by empty stares and an ugly scowl from one of the men, a large brute with a scar over one eye. The younger version of himself had been terrified, though the man was far less intimidating in retrospect. He had almost certainly not been a rival of Brennan’s own current size, and being half-blind could only have been a hindrance to him.

In fact, as a cop, he now saw the entire room in a different light.

There was a surprising amount of malice hanging in the air. Perhaps as a child, that had been what unconsciously kept him from entering the room. The smoke was not only hazy, but it was also thick and cloying; in the small confines of the room, it was suffocating. But his father was nowhere to be seen.

Brennan left the room and wandered around the rest of the house, walking down long hallways and climbing great staircases. Everywhere he tread, empty furniture and deserted rooms greeted him. His footsteps echoed loudly in the barren estate.

Where is everybody?

He called out, bidding anybody to appear, but his voice was answered by silence. As he walked, no longer taking heed of where his feet carried him, Brennan recalled the first memory he had of living in the house.

“One, two, three…” Maddy counted, covering her eyes with both hands. She paused and peeked out at Brennan. “You’re supposed to go and hide now, dumdum.”

He nodded sharply, and she began her count anew—at ten. He had ninety seconds to find a hiding spot, and he knew exactly where he would go.

Brennan took off at a dash, his footsteps silenced by the thick socks he wore. He climbed two flights of stairs and turned corners blindly as he distanced himself from her, his body invigorated with the energy only extreme youth could provide. He arrived in front of the room he had found the day before, an enormous room with empty shelves lining all four walls. Mom and Dad had yet to order new furniture, and there were only a few of the previous owners’ pieces remaining, all covered in large, white tarps. He flung himself beneath one of them, rested on a chair, and quieted the excited giggle that rose to his lips.

“Ready or not, here I come!”

Brennan found himself standing in that same library now; his steps had led him here without thinking. He smiled slightly as he looked around the room. The shelves, solid units set inside alcoves in the wall, were less imposing than he had thought as a child; the tallest one was still within arm’s reach for a man of Brennan’s height. But the ambience had remained unchanged. The twilight of the setting sun filled the room, and motes of dust floated in and out of sight as they passed through the sunbeams. Brennan breathed deeply; the library had a delicious aroma to it, the smell of books and wood. He sat down heavily in one of the luxurious leather armchairs and let his fatigue flow out of him, down through the chair’s pegs and into the aged hardwood floor. The room took away his pain and worries and it left him feeling relaxed, refreshed, and rejuvenated. He closed his eyes and let himself sink into the chair’s comfortable embrace.

There was nothing in the world except his calm, steady breathing of the rich aroma of books. He felt a sense of ease and comfort that had been estranged from him for many years. The soft, golden light of the room was like a warm blanket over his weary eyes. In a way, this solitude was Brennan’s personal form of paradise. He didn’t believe in an afterlife, neither heaven nor hell; but this, here, this library and the life of leisure, this was his dream.

He had had it once, long ago.

“And it could be like this once again,” said a soft voice. “Forever.”

Brennan’s eyes shot open. To his left, in the doorway, stood a slim figure of average height and reddish skin. It was the same man who had been impersonating a nurse in his nightmare. This time, he was dressed in the attire of a butler from Brennan’s youth, complete with the Brennan family crest embroidered on the blazer.

“You have a beautiful home,” the man commented, stepping lightly into the room.

Brennan watched him through veiled eyes. “You tried to kill me last time,” he said. He shifted slightly in his seat, positioning for a better view of the would-be assassin.

The butler shrugged. “Those were my orders. Why would you leave such a life?” he asked, gesturing to the mansion in general.

“You’re already inside my head,” Brennan replied. “Why don’t you find out for yourself?”

“I have tried,” he said simply. “Your defenses are—” The butler hesitated. “You aren’t the man I was expecting.”

Brennan, sitting as he was in the comfortable chair, barked out a harsh laugh. “That would be an understatement, to say the least. Were you even told
why
I was assigned as your target?” He chuckled in spite of himself. “I mean, come on, assassination on the first meeting?”

The butler stared at him silently, but his eyes spoke volumes.

“That’s not what we do,” Brennan continued. His voice was quiet, but it carried across the room like a deadly curse.

“I don’t question orders,” the butler said. There was an accusatory tone in his voice.

“And I don’t follow them
blindly
. That’s what can get a man killed.”

“You know that we Sleepers can never retire, not with what we know.”

“I’m out,” Brennan said. “I’m living a normal life; just leave me be.”

“Not with what we know,” the butler repeated. “You’re a threat, whether you realize it or not. With the knowledge you have, you can’t be allowed to wander around unprotected and unsupervised. I’m here for your memory in service, nothing else.”

“My memory…” Brennan said uncertainly.

“As a Sleeper, yes,” the man replied, his voice measured and reasonable. “Nothing else.”

Brennan was surprised, but the only reaction he showed was narrowing his eyes by a hair. The powers of a Sleeper were incredible enough on their own. As far as Brennan knew, though, there was no such ability as memory-stealing in the repertoire of a Sleeper. If such a thing were possible, their dispute could end right here. But it would mean sacrificing his memories as a Sleeper, years of his life given to service. Years of obedience, betrayed by the actions of his former mentor.

And above all, Brennan didn’t think it wise to let the Sleeper take another step closer.

“My memories are
mine
,” Brennan growled. He sensed the other man tense in response, and he tried a different approach. “There was a reason I left the service. If I could just talk to you for a moment, man to man, you might realize you’re playing on the wrong team.”

The two men stared at each other from across the room.

“Those aren’t my orders,” the butler said softly.

The temperature of the room dropped suddenly. Wood groaned and creaked and splintered as the water trapped inside froze and expanded rapidly. The air became thick, like mud, and time slowed as the butler Sleeper went to draw a concealed knife from behind his back. From years of experience, Brennan knew that the Sleeper would turn the draw into a fluid throwing motion.

But he was prepared this time.

The moment that he had stepped into the library, he’d known that it was a trap. As wonderful as that room had been for him in his youth, the light had never been
that
beautiful nor had the books ever been
that
ornately arranged. The memory had been altered, romanticized, to make him want to stay and be calm and relaxed.

In a word, it was too
perfect
. And if Brennan knew anything by now, it was that the world wasn’t perfect.

“This is my dream, dammit,” he said, rising from the chair. His movement was fluid, prepared—and as fast as a striking cobra. He wrested control of the atmosphere away from the Sleeper and kept the slowing, numbing influence from touching him. Brennan crossed the room in two short strides and knocked the Sleeper off his feet with a powerful strike to the chest.

Upon later reflection, the fight was horribly one-sided.

The Sleeper arched gracefully as he glided slowly through the air from the punch. Brennan grabbed the man by the ankle and lashed him bodily in the opposite direction. He heard a pop as the Sleeper’s ankle dislocated, and bones crunched when his face collided with the hardwood floor. The wooden boards, already weakened from the abrupt drop in temperature, cracked violently under the impact, and splinters of wood buried themselves in the man’s face. His mouth gaped in a voiceless scream of agony.

BOOK: Brooding City: Brooding City Series Book 1
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