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Chapter Twenty-One: Blood is Thicker Than Water
Lisa looks uncertain. She turns her hands over and over again, glancing to me for reassurance. ‘Do you think…’ she pauses. ‘Do you think I should ring the doorbell?’
I’m about to suggest that’s a good idea, rather than give her parents a heart attack by strolling in, when the door opens. Alison Johnson’s face peers out. She takes in me first then her gaze drifts to Lisa. As if in slow motion, her hand goes to her mouth and her eyes widen. A beat later, her surprise is overtaken by delight and she throws herself out of the door, clutching onto Lisa as if she can’t believe she’s real.
‘You’re here! You came back!’ She hugs her tightly. ‘Jonesy! Jonesy! Get out here!’
There’s a thump and the station caretaker appears. His reaction is virtually identical to his wife’s. He’s holding a mug of tea which slides from his hand, splattering all over their cream carpet. He doesn’t even notice me, he simply rushes towards her, enveloping both Lisa and his wife in an embrace.
‘Lisa!’ He starts to cry. ‘Lisa!’
I take a step back. I don’t belong here; this moment is for them and I’m intruding. Jonesy looks up for a brief second and mouths a thank you in my direction. I give him a brief nod and move away.
Alison starts wailing. ‘I thought you were dead. I thought you were never coming back!’
As I turn away, I reflect on my suspicions when I first came here and the way I’d picked up on Alison’s use of the past tense. It wasn’t that she had wanted her daughter to be a corpse, she hadn’t dared to allow herself to believe otherwise. Her subconscious knew how dangerous hope can be.
Family will do that to you; you might argue and fall out and even spend periods of your life hating your blood relatives, but there’s no stronger link. There’s no one more important.
I clench my teeth to try and stop my tears from flowing. It doesn’t work. As my vision is blinded and my chest begins to heave and wrack with sobs, I start to run.
The hospital is bright and busy with white-coated people. The woman at the front desk raises her eyebrows when she sees me. It’s obvious she knows who I am. I don’t need to stop and ask her where to go – I know exactly where I’m heading.
I turn to the lifts and hit the button. After several seconds, I give up on waiting and head for the stairs, taking them three at a time. I sprint down the corridor, ignoring the surprised heads turning towards me.
He’s in a room of his own; he’ll be pleased about that. In fact, I can just imagine his voice my head: ‘Can’t mix with the hoi polloi, Bo. That simply wouldn’t do.’
I half smile, wiping away the last of my tears, and step over to my grandfather’s bed. There’s a cumbersome ventilator by the side helping him to breathe. He doesn’t look like he’s asleep, he looks like he’s dying.
My knees give way and I clasp his hand in both of mine. His skin feels like paper and his fingers are thin and bony.
‘I’m sorry,’ I gasp. ‘I’m so sorry. I should have been here. I shouldn’t have left your side for anything.’
His chest rises and falls with unerring regularity. If I concentrate, I can hear the bustle outside: beeping machines, hushed voices, concerned visitors… It all fades away. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just my grandfather and me.
A sharp pain abruptly lances my calf. I let out a half screech and scoot away, tripping over my legs in a bid to extricate myself from this new threat. Whoever it is, I won’t let them hurt my grandfather though. I raise my hands and my fangs lengthen. I’ll kill them.
The damn cat meows then starts washing itself. It pauses to look up at me with slitted eyes, as if to ask me where the hell I’ve been. I rub the spot on my leg where it bit me and smile ruefully. I guess I deserved that. Although how in hell the vicious beast managed to gain entrance to a sterile hospital, I have no idea. If my grandfather were awake, he’d have told the administration in no uncertain terms that he needed his cat to assist in his recovery, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine who else would have that kind of clout.
Then I pause. I slowly pick myself up from the floor and look at him. He still looks remarkably ill but his eyes are open and they have that familiar ferocious glint of intelligence in them. He’s awake.
He opens his mouth and whispers something but I can’t catch it. I lean down and ask him to repeat it. ‘You are a Blackman,’ he says huskily. ‘Blackmans do not writhe on the floor, no matter how dire the situation may be.’
I can’t help myself, I start to laugh. Then I hug him but immediately pull back because I’m afraid I might hurt him. The cat leaps onto the foot of his bed and curls into a ball. It keeps one eye open, fixed on me just in case I try any funny business. For once I don’t care; the bloody thing can do whatever it wants.
‘We’ve not had much luck in getting hold of your granddaughter,’ a woman says, her shoes squeaking as she walks into the room. She catches sight of me and halts, then smiles. ‘I take that back.’
I lick my lips. ‘How … how is he?’
My grandfather clears his throat. ‘There’s no need to talk about me in the third person. I’m not dead, you know.’ He grunts. ‘Much as this woman here is trying to change that.’
The nurse rolls her eyes. ‘Now, Mr Blackman, you know those blood tests were for your own good.’
‘I don’t see how jabbing me repeatedly with a needle is for my own good,’ he grumbles.
She smiles at me. ‘We were having trouble finding a vein.’
There’s yet another mumbled protest. ‘I’m still here, you silly woman. You don’t have to speak about me as if I’m a child.’
I raise my eyebrows. Happiness fizzes through me but I’m concerned about the effect his words will have on the nurse. She takes it all in her stride. I suppose she’s used to curmudgeonly old men.
‘I should have been here,’ I tell them both. ‘When did he…’ I pause and look at him. ‘When did you wake up?’
‘Late last night,’ the nurse says.
At the same time, my grandfather speaks. ‘It was thirteen minutes past one. I know because the damned clock was annoying me.’
I frown. ‘What clock?’
The nurse leans in towards me. ‘He pulled out his IV and threw its pole at the wall. Smashed the clock in one move. Not too shabby for someone who’s been in a coma for months.’ The corner of her mouth lifts. ‘You know we’ll still charge you for that, though.’
I sink down into the chair by his bed. ‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper, barely noticing the nurse make a discreet exit.
‘I wasn’t here when you woke up.’
He tuts. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. It was the middle of the night. I’m sure you had better things to do.’ He pauses. ‘It’s not night-time now.’
‘How did you get here?’
‘I guess I’m past the newbie stage of vampirism,’ I say softly. ‘I can withstand the sun.’
He manages to smile, although I can tell it’s an effort. ‘Well done you.’
‘I think it’s down to the laws of nature rather than anything I did myself.’ I take his hand. I have to tell him what a crappy granddaughter I’ve been. He deserves the truth.
I suck in a breath and meet his eyes. ‘I didn’t come and visit,’ I admit. ‘Not once.’
He wheezes. Alarmed, I stand back up, ready to scream for the nurse again. He’s not in difficulty though – he’s laughing. ‘And why,’ he gasps in between laboured breaths, ‘should you have come? I don’t imagine I was scintillating company. Although I rather hope that you put down the bitch who put me here.’
‘Not me. But, yes, she’s gone. A lot has changed in the months you’ve been … sleeping.’
‘Comatose, you mean.’
He raises his arm and I grasp his hand again. He struggles to prop himself up. I try to protest but he’s determined. ‘There’s a har
dness about you that wasn’t there before.’
I drop my gaze. ‘I’ve done some … things.’
He emits another choking laugh. ‘I can imagine.’
‘No.’ I bite my lip. ‘You can’t.’ It’s an effort to find the words. ‘Connor died. I quit New Order.’
‘And,’ says a voice from the doorway, ‘she’s been working with a goddamn Kakos daemon.’
I freeze. I release my grip on my grandfather’s hand and slowly turn. O’Shea bobs his head in greeting. ‘Hey, old man,’ he says. ‘I knew you were too stubborn to stay asleep for long.’ My grandfather mutters under his breath.
I still can’t move. ‘How did you know?’ My voice is strangled. ‘Did Maria tell you?’
O’Shea steps in. I notice that he’s clutching a bedraggled bunch of flowers. ‘Here,’ he says, thrusting them forward. ‘I nicked them from another room.’
He glances at me. ‘What?’
‘How did you know?’ Fear ripples through me. This is too much. X will go crazy.
He gives me a droll look. ‘Seriously? How stupid do you think I am?’ He pauses. ‘Not as stupid as you, that’s for sure. Bo, you can’t trust those things. They’re evil through and through.’ I stare at him, slack-jawed. He sighs. ‘You’re working for a mysterious daemon who I don’t know? Who has unlimited resources? Not to mention all that business with Rogu3 last year and killing a Kakos daemon live on television.’ He scoffs. ‘It wouldn’t take a genius to work it out.’
‘Devlin, this is important. You can’t tell anyone, you need to keep your mouth shut.’ I fling panicked eyes at my grandfather. ‘It’s a condition of our … relationship. He’ll kill anyone who knows the truth.’
For the first time, O’Shea looks nervous. ‘Oh. You could have said.’
‘How was I supposed to know you’d work it out?’ I howl.
He shrugs feebly. ‘Oops.’ The cat starts to growl as he runs a shaky hand through his hair. ‘What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Unless you tell him that I know, he’ll be none the wiser.’
‘He can read minds, you idiot!’ I curse loudly. ‘We need a guard here now. I can call Arzo. Foxworthy, too. I can…’
‘Bo.’ I look at my grandfather. ‘Relax.’
‘How can I relax?’ I shake my head. ‘You don’t get it! He made it very clear that he would be forced to take action if I told anyone.’
‘You didn’t tell anyone.’
‘Shhhh. I’ve been unconscious for several months, you know. This is rather a lot to take in at one time.’
I fumble for my phone. I have to speak to X, I have to pre-empt whatever he’s planning. Maybe if I offer myself up first… I dial his number, ignoring the tremble in my hands as I hold the phone to my ear. It rings and rings and rings. He’s not answering.
‘This is really bad,’ I mumble. ‘Really, really bad.’
My grandfather sighs. ‘Honestly, Bo. The half-breed is right. Sometimes you really are stupid.’
‘It’s not like I sought him out,’ I protest. ‘He came to me!’
Sternness flickers across his expression. ‘Not that. I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing a Kakos daemon does is without design. He sought you out.’
I stare at him. He’s known more tribers and been involved in more tricky situations with them than I could ever be. That’s what happens when you’re fool enough to become head of MI7, the country’s supposedly secret organisation that deals with all things triber. Despite all that, I had no idea he’d had anything to do with any Kakos daemons. Ever.
He sighs. ‘This would have been planned all along.’
‘People would have found out about him eventually. Do you really think you could keep this a secret forever?’
‘I was keeping it a secret though! I’ve known him for ages!’
‘And he’s probably disappointed that you’ve not let the cat out of the bag before now. This will be his end game. He’ll be after one of us, after whoever ends up knowing the truth.’
‘No. Sure, X is a Kakos daemon and I know I can’t fully trust him but he’s not all bad.’
‘He’s a Kakos daemon, Bo. Que sera sera.’
O’Shea swallows. ‘Shit. This is pretty bad.’
I glare at him. ‘You bet your skinny arse it is.’
His bottom lip juts out. ‘My arse is pert and cute.’
‘I’m glad someone can make a joke at a time like this.’ I ball my hands up into fists. ‘I have to find him. I have to explain.’
‘He’s not going to be found unless he wants to be.’
‘That doesn’t mean I can’t try!’ I throw back.
My grandfather sighs. ‘Go. It won’t do any good.’
‘He’s saved my life before,’ I protest.
‘Because he wanted to use you for his own ends.’
‘So you’re saying I should give up? Let him do whatever he wants because I broke his stupid rule?’
‘No,’ my grandfather says calmly. ‘You need to find out what he really wants and take things from there. You can work it out.’
The nurse comes back in. Her beaming smile is inappropriate considering the dread churning in my stomach. ‘He needs to rest.’
‘He has done nothing but rest for months,’ my grandfather snaps.
She’s right: my grandfather doesn’t need this. X will listen to me if I talk to him. I know what he’s said before but there has to be a way out of this. There’s always a way out.
I bend over and kiss my grandfather’s cheek, smoothing his hair. ‘I won’t let him hurt you,’ I promise.
‘I’ve been in a coma, Bo. It’s not me he wants.’
Our eyes meet for a second and I nod.
‘Do you think it’s me?’ O’Shea asks shakily.
I look at him. ‘I don’t know,’ I mutter. ‘But I’m not going to let him take you either. Let’s go. We can find him together.’
Despite his earlier jokes, O’Shea is clearly terrified. To his credit, he nods. ‘Okay, Bo.’
‘I’m really glad you’re alive,’ I tell my grandfather. ‘I do love you.’
He smiles. ‘I love you too, Bo. Don’t do anything reckless.’
I bite my lip. Sure. No problem.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold
I don’t say anything to O’Shea as we stride down the hospital corridor. In theory, it shouldn’t be hard for him to keep up with me; I do have remarkably short legs. But my determination to get out of here before X does anything rash makes me move at an incredible pace. We forego the lifts and run down the stairs. When we reach the bottom, O’Shea finally speaks up. ‘You don’t even know where he is, Bo! Slow down.’
‘That’s why we need all the time we can get to try and find him,’ I say through gritted teeth.
‘It’ll be alright.’
‘You don’t know that,’ I snap. At least O’Shea came here and told me. At least I might have a chance to find X. I stop in my tracks and turn. ‘How did you know I was here?’ I ask.
O’Shea frowns. ‘At the hospital? I didn’t. Michael asked me to come by and speak to that woman who was attacked. I was on my way to her when I heard a few doctors gossiping that the Red Angel was in the building.’
I ignore his remark about the gossip and focus on his reason for being here. ‘Tara Wilkes. The woman Medici used as an excuse for his little execution party.’
He nods. ‘That’s the one. She’s about to be sent home. I was going to ask her a few questions to see if we could find out more about what Medici is planning. It’s unlikely, but maybe one of her attackers said something to her. It was worth a shot.’ He points ahead. ‘In fact, there she is.’
I follow his finger. Looking pale and sitting in a wheelchair, but otherwise alive and fairly well, is the woman in question. Damn it, O’Shea is right. It’s not just X that I have to worry about.
I check my wat
ch. This might be my only chance to speak to her. I’ll have to spare a few minutes.
‘Tara!’ I call. I march over to her. She flinches dramatically. In theory that shouldn’t be surprising considering why she’s in hospital, but I’m hardly likely to be a rapist. I try to soften my approach but I’m not sure it works. ‘I’m Bo Blackman. It’s nice to meet you.’
Her eyes are wide and saucer-like. She doesn’t say a thing. Is she a damned mute? As I frown at her, her head bows, her long straggly hair covering her face. Her fingers twitch at her loose cotton trousers as she turns her wrist. I watch her movements. She’s checking her watch. I wonder if she’s waiting for someone to come and rescue her from me. Then I see her other wrist. There, only just concealed by a hospital band, is a slim gold charm bracelet. It only has one charm – a tiny golden tree.
My body goes very still. ‘Why are you afraid of me?’ I ask.
Her head remains bowed. I try again. ‘Tara,’ I prod gently. ‘You shouldn’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you.’
Other than jerking her fingers, she doesn’t move. I lose my patience and grab her fringe, yanking her head upwards to force her to look at me. There are a few cries from people around us but I ignore them.
‘You’re supposed to be dead,’ she snarls.
O’Shea starts. I lean down and hiss. ‘Well, guess what? I’m not.’
She checks her watch again then she pulls her shoulders back as if mustering her strength. She looks at me again. ‘It doesn’t matter, monster,’ she spits. ‘Because everyone else will be soon.’
‘What do you mean?’
She laughs and I slap her hard across her face. I see two security guards approaching me from the far corner. Just try it, guys. Just try to cross me and you’ll see what happens.
She flashes a mixture of disgust and ire at me. ‘The martyrs will be doing their job right now.’
My insides turn to ice. ‘Tell me.’
She hawks up a ball of phlegm but, before she can do anything with it, I grab her neck and heave her upwards, dragging her out of her chair.