Flicker & Burn: A Cold Fury Novel

BOOK: Flicker & Burn: A Cold Fury Novel
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T. M. GOEGLEIN

G. P. Putnam’s Sons
An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS • A
N IMPRINT OF
P
ENGUIN
Y
OUNG
R
EADERS
G
ROUP.

Published by The Penguin Group.

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, USA.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.).

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.

Copyright © 2013 by T. M. Goeglein.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission in writing from the publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Reg. U.S. Pat & Tm. Off. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Published simultaneously in Canada.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Goeglein, T. M. (Ted M.)

Flicker & burn : a Cold fury novel / T. M. Goeglein.

pages cm

Summary: Still searching for her missing family, sixteen-year-old Sara Jane battles new pursuers and discovers more about her cold fury and more about the past murders and vendettas of the Chicago Outfit. [1. Secret societies—Fiction. 2. Missing persons—Fiction. 3. Violence—Fiction. 4. Chicago (Ill.)—Fiction. 5. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title. II. Title: Flicker and burn.

PZ7.G5533Fl 2013 [Fic]—dc23 2012043305

ISBN 978-1-101-60336-9

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

 

PRELUDE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

For Michael and Dora, with love

PRELUDE

MY NAME IS SARA JANE RISPOLI.

It’s not my birthday and I haven’t eaten cake since I turned sixteen, but I’m plagued by ice cream.

If anyone offers me a cone, I’ll break his nose.

I’ve been chased for the past month by a creepy black truck that sells frozen treats, and just when I’ve shaken it, the little nightmare comes tinkling around the corner again.

I have a movie-obsessed sidekick with a roller-coaster weight problem, and an ill-tempered Italian greyhound that’s not really my dog but I love him anyway, sort of.

I have a classic 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible in dire need of bodywork and a badass 2000 Ferrari 360 Spider that’s like driving a fuel-injected comet.

I have a boyfriend who’s finally, actually my boyfriend and who accommodates this decidedly non-petite nose and these braces, but has no idea who he’s really dating.

I also have an ancient, worn leather notebook that chronicles a century of Chicago’s most valuable criminal secrets but refuses to yield the secret I desire most—ultimate power—holding it mute and indecipherable within its last chapter,
“Volta.”
The whole thing is held together by rubber bands and masking tape, while my last measure of sanity is held together by an unyielding determination to track down my missing parents and little brother. Every breath I take is fueled by a cold flame of fury that burns in my gut with a need for vengeance and revenge.

I’m alive because I have the notebook.

What I don’t have is a real clue where my family is.

They’re not dead, but there are ways of being alive that are worse than death.

I hold no mercy for my enemies because mercy is for suckers.

I don’t have any plans for the future other than to continue breathing.

I throw a hundred hard combination punches at a heavy bag every day, and it never feels like enough.

When I’m not being chased, I chase back. And when I’m not studying the notebook, I roam the streets of Chicago, where one day soon I’ll either catch the people who have my family or be caught by them—either way I’m ready to fight to the death.

As long as I have the notebook, I have a weapon.

As long as the possibility exists that my family’s alive, I’ll keep looking.

Every violent, unspeakable step I take to save them makes me into someone else. I remember the other Sara Jane, but it’s no longer completely me, and that’s okay.

She would’ve only slowed me down.

1

I WALKED FROM ROOM TO ROOM THROUGH GRAY
midday light, inhaling the odor of stale floor wax and dust, listening to a grandfather clock tick into the void. A thin sunbeam shone weakly at the bottom of the staircase, and I stepped into it, feeling no warmth. The home I grew up in, stripped of the people I loved, crowded my heart with unbearable loneliness.

My family was violently kidnapped four months ago.

Then, slashed photos smiled from shattered frames. Gutted couches yawned next to splintered chairs, and muddy-bloody handprints and footprints of strangers smeared the walls and floor. Today, the living room stood bare before me; I’d had the remnants hauled away, but the emptiness was even worse than the torn and battered furniture that had seemed so wounded. Now the room was plainly dead, and it made me feel dead inside. With one hand on the banister, I looked into the hall mirror, seeing my dark hair pulled into a careless ponytail, my usual attire of worn Cubs T-shirt and beater jeans hanging limply from my body. An aggressive nose, lip-stretching braces, and high cheekbones—my face looked back, dominated by blue eyes flecked with gold, and I noticed something missing from them. Where there had once been hope, even in the darkest moments, now there was only tired despair. It seemed as if for every true fact I discovered, two lies followed, stoking a hatred that has simmered for months.

It’s hard to admit, since it’s directed at my parents.

Their disappearance and that of my younger brother, Lou, was a result of the duplicity baked into the Rispoli family history. My mom and dad showed me only one of their two faces, and by omitting the full truth, they lied to mine every day. The despair in my eyes—they put it there, and it isn’t fair. And then the idea of fairness reminds me that no matter what they didn’t tell me or how much damage it caused, no one deserves their tortured existence. The hatred fades and I love them again, completely.

I looked away from the mirror and creaked upstairs to the second floor.

My unconscious will and heavy feet led me to Lou’s room, where I shut the bedroom door. Overcome by a weary sense of desolation, I lay on his bed, flipped on his rocket ship clock, and looked at a green, glowing moon on the ceiling intersected by a faint
1:58 p.m.
My family felt farther away than that cold, distant satellite.

As empty as the house was, it paled next to Rispoli & Sons Fancy Pastries.

Our family business had not churned out a cake, pie, or molasses cookie in months. It occurred to me that regular customers would notice that the place was perpetually dark, so I papered over the windows and hung a sign that read R
EMODELING!
P
LEASE
P
ARDON
O
UR
D
UST!
My greater concern was that the Outfit would grow suspicious—if just one nosy thug linked my dad’s absence as counselor-at-large (while I fill in for him, my excuse is that he’s ill) to the bakery’s closure, every crook in Chicago would start whispering “rat.” For my family’s survival and the preservation of my own neck, I can’t allow anyone to assume that he’s become an FBI informant.

Closing my eyes, yawning deeply, I tried to picture my family’s faces as a song tinkled outside the house like an off-key kiddie piano, and Frank Sinatra crooned along—

Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town,

Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around, I love it!

My ex-nanny turned assailant, Elzy Zanzara, used to belt it out when I was small, and it startled me awake. I blinked up at the moon intersected by a flashing
2:15 p.m.

Outside the door, wooden stairs creaked softly as someone tried not to be heard.

I stared at the doorknob turning slowly, silently, and leaped like an insane linebacker, throwing all of my hundred and five pounds against the door and twisting the lock. Someone on the other side hit the ground hard as I flew to the window and looked down at the Mister Kreamy Kone truck blocking the Lincoln. Moments later, a shoulder assaulted the door like a battering ram. Wood groaned, hinges complained, but the lock held; another shot like that and I wouldn’t be so lucky. I yanked open the window and grasped the frame, my hair moving in a humid breeze, filling me with the paralyzing memory of a slow-moving Ferris wheel. But then adrenaline trumped fear and I scrambled out, inching along the narrow ledge toward a maple tree’s creeping branches. It was too far away, so I stretched, slipped, grasped at empty air, and then desperately pushed off with my other foot, hoping to reach the tree, which I did. In fact I hit every branch on the way down, kissing earth with a thud, feeling like I’d been tenderized by hockey sticks. The bedroom door split and shattered above me as I rolled to my feet, ignoring waves of nauseating pain, poised to sprint for the car, when something in my gut made me stop. It felt like a mistake to look up at the window but I couldn’t help myself.

It was leaning on the ledge with both hands, staring back.

I say “it” because the gender was indistinguishable.

Maybe it should be simple to discern one’s sex when he or she is covered in something skintight, but this thing’s body was model-thin and androgynous—a life-sized is-it-a-Barbie-or-a-Ken? It wore a weirdly militaristic uniform in the same fathomless shade of black as the ice cream trucks, so taut and glossy it could have been latex, complete with a jaunty cap and elbow-high gloves. A thick leather belt cinched its nonexistent waist, and when it perched a foot on the ledge, I saw its pants tucked into tall boots. The only other color in the ensemble was red letters,
MKK,
encircled by the red outline of an ice cream truck, stitched on its breast and shirtsleeve. Even stranger, something silver and shiny hung from its neck. Its rigid face was composed of delicate, sexless features covered in snow-white flesh with a thin blue line for a mouth, giving it the appearance of a death mask.

And then it removed its sunglasses.

Its eyes pulsated like electric cherries.

So shiny, so red, and so sickly wrong.

I was stuck in the ghoulishness of it, my feet magnetized to the ground, when the thing leaped from the window. It fell quickly and landed deftly on both feet, and I turned and sprinted for the Lincoln, jumped inside, and locked the doors. I fumbled keys into the ignition and cranked the engine just as the thing threw itself onto the hood like a vampire-monkey. We were inches apart, its wet breath steaming the glass between us. Fear and injustice flooded my chest as a cold blue flame flickered beneath it; I was calm but furious, seeing the demonic thing for the very first time. It had been chasing me for a month, hidden behind its own impenetrable black windshield. Mister Kreamy Kone trucks were windowless vending machines on wheels with no way to see inside; customers deposited money, made a selection, and out it popped. Until I’d learned that a small fleet of them surrounded my home the night my family disappeared, I’d never noticed them around Chicago; I had no real idea how long they’d been on the streets or where they came from. The truck that pursued me was always in motion, and I’d even wondered if it was unmanned and remote-controlled.

Now I had an answer as my burning blue eyes locked onto its glowing red eyes.

We were face-to-face, and I deployed ghiaccio furioso with a vengeance, searching its psyche for its very worst fear, but—nothing. I blinked again and cold fury bounced back, stinging my brain like a cloud of angry bees. The windshield wasn’t the problem—I’d conducted experiments of ghiaccio furioso on (poor) Doug, trying to ascertain its power, and I knew glass was no barrier against my concentrated rage. I still couldn’t summon cold fury at will, but when the intense emotion kindled deep in my gut, I’d learned to control it in the same way that a stovetop flame can be turned up or down.

The thing’s eyes widened, showing fat clusters of veins pumped full of blood.

Its pupils pulsated in time to its heartbeat, nearly thump-thumping out of its skull.

It drew its head back, hammered it against the windshield, shook it, and did it again even harder.

Broken glass rained down as I leaned on the gas, tearing through a hedge onto Balmoral Avenue. The creature flew up and over the top of the car while I cranked the wheel, hauling ass onto Clark Street and up Lawrence Avenue at eighty miles per hour. I was sure I’d thrown it free. I sat back cautiously listening to the world hum past, which became a violent slitting of fabric, a determined ripping of seams as I was sliced in the neck by a hunk of windshield as sharp as a surgical tool. The creature slashed through the convertible top, swinging at my face, missing, and gashing my shoulder while I swerved crazily, trying to shake it off. Car horns screamed, more glass bit and tore at my neck, and I remembered the loaded .45 in the glove compartment. I scrabbled for it with desperate fingertips, bumping it to the floor, and lunged for the cold metal with one hand on the wheel and the seat belt gagging my neck. The frantic wail of a vehicle brought me upright. I veered out of the oncoming traffic lane just as the creature stuck its alabaster face through the convertible top and I squeezed the trigger, blasting once, twice, three times. The thing shrieked and rolled onto the trunk, trying to grip it with all fours as I accelerated, yanking the steering wheel from side to side. First one black glove slipped, then a boot, and then it disappeared as a moving van veered awkwardly and failed to brake, followed by a sick, wet
thunk!

In an instant the creature was gone for good.

A couple blocks later I pulled to the curb and gulped air, shocked to be alive. I shouldn’t have survived, yet there I sat in (almost) one piece, heart hammering in my chest, blood oozing down my neck and raging in my ears. The creature’s demise was good because I was safer, but bad because it was a link to my family, but good because I wasn’t dead and could still try to find them, but bad because—

Because a piano began to plunk and a voice began to croon.

Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around, I love it!

My eyes darted to the rearview mirror as the black truck materialized on the street behind me, slip-sliding through traffic. It wasn’t possible—I’d seen the thing get hit by a van with my own eyes, or at least thought I had, or at least I’d
heard
it—and yet it was six cars back, then two, gaining rapidly, and without thinking my foot fell like lead on the gas. The back tires shrieked as I tore across lanes, eyes filling with tears as I saw the sign:

CONSTRUCTION AHEAD—WILSON AVE. CLOSED—NO LOCAL TRAFFIC

I made a lunatic right turn, cars screeching and biting curbs behind me as I squinted into the rearview mirror. There was the truck, on two wheels then bumping onto four, on my tail as I sped past the wooden barriers and hit chewed-up Wilson Avenue, which was waiting for new concrete to be laid. It was like driving through the Grand Canyon, all deep craters and ragged potholes, and just as deserted—there were no other cars, sidewalks were empty, construction equipment was unattended and idle. There was an end-of-the-world quality to it—I was in one of the largest cities on earth rocketing though an uninhabited wasteland, pursued by a relentless creature—and the bleakness of it all made me miss the sign posted at the cross street where the road rose up.

WILSON AVE. BRIDGE RECONSTRUCTION—NO ADMITTANCE!

Or maybe I did see it and just sped up.

Maybe I’d finally had enough of searching for my family, which was as futile as chasing shadows, and enough of that childish emotion, hope. A whispered notion occurred to me then, that today was a fine day for
me
to die too, and that an easy way laid just ahead.

Flying up the incline, knowing the Chicago River lurked on the other side, I realized what a relief death would be. All I had to do was keep rolling! And there it was, my side of the bridge—a steel skeleton with girders wide enough to drive on but nothing underneath except a seventy-foot drop. The other half of the bridge was gone. After a long span of air, Wilson Avenue continued on the opposite side. I looked out at the gap of nothingness and wondered how it would feel to be a part of it—to float for a split second with the wheels spinning and then plummet headfirst into the dark, churning water. Solving my problem in one fell swoop seemed unquestionably correct, like doing myself a favor. My foot wavered between gas and brake; gas won, and I floored it thinking of freedom, of peaceful resolution. Except there would be none without knowing what had happened to my family—no peace, no resolution, only an eternity of unanswered nothingness—and I jammed on the brakes. But the steel was slick, and the car skidded to a slow, slippery stop with the front tires at the very edge of the last girders to nowhere.

In front of me, the summer wind whistled.

Below me, deep brown water swirled.

My heart hammered at my chest, and somewhere far away a duck quacked.

For a moment all I could hear was my own disjointed breathing. And then, quietly, Sinatra began crooning behind me as the truck crept up the bridge, eased to a halt, and the creature slid out from behind the darkened windshield, staring intently. I looked into the rearview mirror, wondering why it wasn’t torn and bleeding, when its mouth moved and it ferociously licked at pinkish soft-serve ice cream. When it was done, it flicked its hand like shaking liquid from a cup. Something silvery glinted as the thing climbed back into the truck, and I knew it would come for me now, or, more accurately, my brain. Months earlier, Lou told me the captors had invaded my dad’s head. It would be the same for me; besides invaluable gray matter, the rest of me was just gristle.

Some days really are fine to die,
I thought, stepping out of the car and onto the bridge.
But maybe it requires some help to do it.
I moved carefully, slipping a bit on the slick steel, regaining my balance as I glanced through the girders beneath my feet. All I could see were construction cables and, farther down, the river, and I stopped only when I was equidistant to the truck and the edge to nowhere behind me. The creature now had a clear shot. Standing perfectly still, I pointed at it and then touched my head with the same finger. “You want this? What’s inside?”

BOOK: Flicker & Burn: A Cold Fury Novel
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