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Authors: A. M. Jenkins

Night Road (16 page)

BOOK: Night Road
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COLE
made sure the next motel they stopped at had a pool. He couldn’t wait to get away from the rotten little punk. Let Sandor stay in the room with him; Sandor could dole out support and understanding. Whatever else was wrong, the kid sure hadn’t been lacking for someone to pat him on the back and be his buddy.

Cole waited in front of his own door, watching to make sure Gordo and Sandor got into their room. As soon as their door shut, he stuck his key card into the slot.

But as he turned the handle, Sandor was back, standing at his shoulder. “Are you all right?” he whispered.

Cole opened the door and set down his suitcase. “I’m fine,” he said, but he was annoyed to feel his face getting
warm for the second time in two nights. He stepped in and flipped on the lights.

Sandor stayed in the doorway. “I’m surprised you told him about all that. You’re usually as closemouthed as a clam.”

“I’m regretting it now, let me tell you.”

“Oh, don’t regret it. You can’t control how people respond to your overtures. It was good of you to reach out in the first place.”

“Is that what it was?” Cole said. “Reaching out?”

“Yes, and don’t let this discourage you.”

“I’m not discouraged. I’m just taking it as it comes. Now if you don’t mind babysitting the Missouri Kid, I’m going to go for a swim.”

 

This hotel pool was a small rectangle, rigidly outlined in concrete. Good enough.

Cole swam laps—back and forth, back and forth—until his frustration had worked itself loose and was beaten aside by the sheer repetition and effort of exercise.

His arms had begun to feel rubbery, so he turned over and floated on his back for a while, staring up at
the sky. He listened to his lungs draw in each long, slow breath and then release it even more slowly.

When he got out, the night air was a little cool on his wet skin, so he wrapped the towel around his shoulders before stretching out in one of the white lounges.

The moon was out, bright white, clouds sliding quickly across it to be outlined briefly in silver before moving on. He’d managed to put his irritation aside, but he couldn’t help thinking about what Sandor had said.

Cole hadn’t been reaching out. No, it had just been a lesson for Gordo, that’s all. And the kid
was
an idiot. He thought good intentions made up for a bad outcome. He was wrong.

Cole knew. He had sat there with Bess curled up against him, his arm curved around her, and he’d thought it out. Decided that Fate had offered a lifeline. There, beside him, was the chance to have a companion—not just any companion, but the companion of his heart.

So he’d taken her life from her—fused her body to her eternal soul so that the soul could never, ever escape. He hadn’t thought about that at the time. He’d thought only of himself, of what
he
wanted. What
he
was missing.

It didn’t matter if no one else blamed him. It didn’t matter if everyone else had moved on. The one person who could absolve him was gone, disappeared into her own shell of a body.

He let himself think about that shell. It was a particular torture he only used on rare occasions, but he brought it out now: bones healed askew. Head permanently at an awkward angle on her once-broken neck. Horrible.

It
was
horrible. The worst thing he’d ever seen.

So…why didn’t the picture bring its usual stab of self-loathing?

He was tired. That’s what it was. The swimming had worn him out. And maybe the events of this trip had burdened him to capacity, so that there were no available feelings left to be whipped to shreds.

Still, it was a little strange. And hard to explain. How could the worst thing he’d ever experienced be…just another picture in his head?

COLE
stayed in his own room the rest of that night, avoiding Gordo completely. The next evening, not knowing what to expect, he arranged his features into a neutral expression and wheeled his suitcase toward Sandor and Gordo’s room.

Funny—only a couple of weeks ago he’d longed for silence, but now the thought of spending a whole night in a quiet and tense car was unappealing.

When Sandor let him in, the blow-dryer was going in the bathroom. Cole thought that was a good sign; maybe Gordo had gotten the bile out of his system.

Sandor took his place on the bed, leaning against the headboard, and Cole seated himself in the scrubby tweed armchair, preparing to be inundated by the TV news Sandor had been watching.

But the TV shut off with a click. The picture shrank instantly into nothingness, leaving the screen a blank.

Cole looked around to see Sandor holding the remote. “Gordo is very unhappy,” he informed Cole.

“Ah.” Maybe not quite out of his system yet.

“I have come up with an idea to help him,” Sandor said. “We should get him a dog.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m completely serious. We could go by a pet store. What do you think?” He sat looking at Cole, eager and hopeful.

He
was
serious.

“You’re
insane
,” Cole burst out. “I can’t even believe you’d say something like that.”

“They have very small dogs these days, and little bags to carry them in. We could get a quiet one, who only wants to sit with his master and be held. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to provide a helpless creature with everything in the world it desired? And look at it this way. If Gordo gets into a difficulty, he can feed off the dog!”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Come now. You know that you yourself have been in a pinch once in a while—”

“That’s not the same thing as carrying a dog around for a snack. God, it reeks of—of—of the way Frederick treats his omnis!”

“Except that Gordo will love his dog, as Frederick does not love his omnis. I see it now: The boy has lost one life and doesn’t feel connected to the new one yet. A dog would help him through the transition.”

“A
dog
is not going to help.”

“I disagree.”

“Sandor, nobody has a dog. Nobody! Where do you think Gordo’s going to keep it? In the car? In hotel rooms? Is he going to take it with him every time he feeds?”

“Actually,” Sandor said, “I think it might help him get a little closer to the girls. Girls love little dogs, you know. He could tuck a Chihuahua or a Yorkie under his jacket. Or even a mutt—you can tell how big a puppy will get by the size of its paws, you know. If we got one with paws about the size of Q-tips—”

“No.
No!”

“But we must do
something
for him. I have been trying to remember what it was like when I was new to all this. Things were much simpler then, back in Boravia
when I was a boy. But even so I was wild, cruel, self-absorbed for many long years. It’s the same with all of us. Including
you,
” Sandor said pointedly. “There’s no denying that one commits thoughtless acts when one is young, lonely, and afraid. One commits acts that cannot be taken back; is it not so? Do you know what I am saying, Cole?”

Cole shook his head. He didn’t trust himself to speak.

“A dog would help him feel more connected.”

“Sandor. It’s a logistical impossibility.”

“It would give him something to feel. If we want to remain human beings, we must feel; don’t you agree?”

The blow-dryer stopped.

“All right,” said Sandor. “We will set the discussion aside for now.”

“We’re going to set it aside
forever.
There’s no way, Sandor. Do you understand? No way in hell.”

He was so vehement about the whole thing that he had trouble clearing the emotion from his face when the bathroom door clicked open and Gordo came out.

Cole gave Sandor one warning look—
Don’t you dare say anything about a dog!
—then turned, ready to give Gordo a calm, removed, no-hard-feelings nod of greeting.

But Gordo would not look at him. The kid brought his things out in a big pile, deliberately dumped them into his open suitcase with his old sloppiness, and zipped up the suitcase without a word.

Cole decided
he
would not speak either. Even if he wanted to, what could he say:
The sooner you drop the attitude, the sooner everything will get back to normal?

Gordo’s “normal” was long gone.

All three were silent in the car. Cole hoped Sandor wasn’t thinking about dogs.

Cole quickly spotted a likely place for a feed, a boxlike bar. He disliked bars and had hoped to gradually get away from them; the omnis in them had often had too much to drink and were smelly breathed and repetitive. But bars were still easiest for Gordo, and Gordo wasn’t at his most agreeable right now, so that was where they must go.

Cole had already passed the exit, so he had to double back. Another glance in the mirror, and he had to fight the urge to inform Gordo that he looked like a duck when he was pouting.

“All right,” he said when they were in the parking lot, “I guess we’re ready.”

He turned off the engine and got out of the car, feeling to make sure his wallet was in his back pocket as he walked around to Sandor’s side.

Gordo had not emerged.

Cole peered in: The kid was still buckled and showed no signs of moving. So Cole gave the window a sharp rap.

Slowly, deliberately, Gordo turned his head to give Cole a seething blast of a dirty look.

All right, so he was still upset. Cole made a rolling-down-the-window gesture at Gordo; he would talk to him, lay out the choices calmly.

But Gordo ignored him.

Sandor had gotten out, and the front passenger door was still open. Cole bent into the car to look back at Gordo.

“Is there a problem?” he asked. If his voice had a slightly acid tone to it, he still felt he was being reasonably polite, under the circumstances.

“I’m not going to do it.”

“Not going to do what?” Cole glanced back at the boxlike building. He didn’t like bars either, and it wasn’t the nicest place in the world; but it wasn’t a dive either. Gordo, he felt, was in no position to object.

“Any of it. I’m not going to drink people’s blood anymore. The whole thing’s sick. I’d rather starve.”

In a rush, Cole felt as if he were standing outside himself, watching from a distance. He was standing in a potholed parking lot in god-knew-which city, trying to talk sense to a hemovore who thought he had an aversion to drinking blood.

Sandor leaned in now. “Gordo. I know it’s hard, but you must get out of the car.”

“No,” said Gordo, stubborn.

“It’s not sick at all,” Sandor wheedled. “It’s perfectly clean. Perfectly humane. More so than the cows killed to make the hamburgers you ate a few weeks ago.”

“I didn’t eat any hamburgers a few weeks ago. I haven’t had a hamburger in months.”

Sandor put his whole upper body into the car. “I’m sorry for everything that’s happened to you,” Cole heard him say, dripping with sympathy. “I know it’s a difficult adjustment. But you need to feed.”

“I’m never feeding again.” Gordo sounded as if he meant it.

This time Sandor emerged to shake his head sadly at Cole.

Okay. Cole grabbed the handle of Gordo’s door and pulled it open. This kid was worse than an omni. At least omnis either followed directions or were easily manipulated.

“You will feed,” Cole informed Gordo. “And you’re going to do it now.”

Gordo’s eyes narrowed. “No. I’m not. So back off.”

Sandor looked at Cole and shrugged:
What should we do?

What indeed? They couldn’t physically force the kid to feed. If there was some kind of reverse psychology or cajoling that would work, Cole didn’t know what it was.

He slammed Gordo’s door shut and stood for a moment, trying to think.

“We’ll move on,” he decided. “Gordo’s trying to manipulate us into going to Missouri. Which we are
not.
So if he doesn’t want to feed, fine. He’s not used to missing a meal. At least, he hasn’t missed any since I’ve known him.”

“Definitely not used to it,” Sandor agreed. “In the Building, every time I came around a corner, there he was, feeding off someone.”

“Charming. Let’s just get in the car and go. Likely
he’ll be ready when we stop for the day.”

At least,
he thought as he got into the car,
the kid’s seat belt is buckled.

They did try again, as they hit the outskirts of Wheeling. Sandor and Cole both saw the billboard at almost the same time and exchanged glances.

“Gordo,” Sandor said, “look at that billboard.”

It was an advertisement for a gentlemen’s club, a girl curled seductively on her side.

Cole thought he’d better let Sandor do the talking. Sandor was better at this sort of thing than he was.

“I’ll bet you’re curious to see inside a place like that, aren’t you, Gordo?” Sandor asked.

Cole could see that Gordo
was
curious; he didn’t move his head, but Cole could see his eyes following the billboard as they passed.

“Two more exits,” Sandor said. “Let’s try it. Gordo, I’m sure you will find some lovely—”

“You two can go. I’m not leaving this car.”

Cole had a sinking feeling that the project was doomed, but he pulled off the freeway at the proper exit and found the place without difficulty. It seemed to be in a building that had once been something else, such
as a theme restaurant or a miniature golf place, with wooden planks for walls and a square tower rising in the middle.

Again Gordon refused to get out. Just sat there like a lump with Cole and Sandor waiting outside the open car door.

“Exactly what do you hope to accomplish by all this?” Cole asked.

“I hope to die,” Gordon said. “That’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to die. Or hibernate, or whatever you call it. I’d rather starve than live like this anymore.”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Cole said, exasperated. “You won’t starve. You’ll lose control first.”

“Watch me.”

“It’s not about
watching
you. You can try all you want, but you’ll fail. And the longer you wait, the more spectacularly you’ll fail.”

“You don’t know me. When I want something bad enough, I go for it. I’ve held my breath till I passed out.”

His arms were crossed; his face was like stone.

He meant every word he said. The kid really
meant
it.

Cole shut Gordo’s door and walked around to the driver’s side.

“Now what?” Sandor said over the roof of the car. “Do
you want to move on, or should you and I go ahead and feed, or what?”

Cole bent to give Gordo a quick glance. Even in the shadows of the backseat, he radiated anger.

“We can’t force him to go in,” Cole told Sandor. “And he shouldn’t be left alone. You go ahead, and I’ll stay out here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I need to think anyway.”

Sandor disappeared inside, and Cole got into the car again. Gordo was a lump in the back.

Cole ignored him.

If Gordon gets completely out of hand,
Johnny had said.
If you feel he’s becoming a danger to the rest of us.

Gordo
wasn’t
getting out of hand—no, the kid was just having a little tantrum, that was all. He didn’t have the focus to hold off feeding for very long. He’d probably forget about his little rebellion by tomorrow night.

But if he didn’t? If he continued to refuse?

Cole leaned his head back against the headrest. He knew his body appeared relaxed, calm, but he felt as if the kid were edging him up against a cliff, forcing him to fight to keep his footing.

Gordo still sat in his usual spot. He hadn’t said a
word. But after a few moments a soft noise began to intrude on the silence in the car, at intervals, so low that at first Cole thought it was the wind, or something far down the street.

But when he finally lifted his head and looked around, he saw that it was Gordo.

The kid had fallen asleep. He was still tightly buckled, sitting upright against the seat back, but his eyes were closed and his head drooped to one side. His mouth had relaxed and from this came the deep, regular sound of breathing.

He looked as if he couldn’t hurt a fly.

Cole turned around again. He sat staring at the car parked ahead of him, considering.

Likely the boy was simply worn out. Yes, that was it—tired, and overwhelmed.

As soon as Sandor came back, they’d find a place close by. Let the kid have extra downtime. Maybe he just needed a night off from feeding. Maybe a good day’s sleep would solve the problem.

Maybe tomorrow night he’d wake up agreeable and willing again, and with his feet back on the ground.

BOOK: Night Road
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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